The Other Side of Paradise by Staceyann Chin

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Publisher/Date:  Scribner, Feb. 2010
Genre(s):  Coming of Age, Lesbian Real Life
Pages:  261
Website:  http://www.staceyannchin.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Staceyann Chin – writer, prolific poet, political activist and purveyor of knowing your pussy – never had life easy. Growing up in Jamaica without a father and being abandoned by her mother almost promised her future would end up a tragic story. Yet, out the rubble of her childhood grew the unwavering spirit that turned her into the courageous woman you see on stage belting out her poems with such fervor.

In THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE, the reader gets to see the upbringing that birthed an artist. After being brought into the world Christmas Day, she is left behind with her brother, Delano, in the care of her grandmother. There, in the town of Lottery, Staceyann’s inquisitive and highly imaginative mind got her into adventures in school and at home, and allowed her to fill in the gaps of her mother’s whereabouts and her father’s identity. There, she also blossomed thanks to her grandmother’s nurturing, despite longing for her mother’s return.

When her mother does come back for them, it was clear to the nine-year-old that her mother is unfit to raise two young children. The siblings were quickly separated when their mother sent Delano to his father and left Staceyann with her auntie in an area called Paradise. What she experienced is anything but. The crowded, run down house of horrors was Staceyann’s nightmare. Abusive hands, harsh rules and unbearable conditions plagued her, but also helped her to protect and save herself.

From there, Staceyann’s quest for stability led to the discovery of her sexuality. After finally freeing from her auntie, she can be without the fear of punishment. She flourished at school, and later college, where she fell in love with a girl. Unafraid, Staceyann made this pronouncement to her classmates in her usual vociferous fashion. In Jamaica. Where violent homophobia runs rampant. But that’s of no matter to Staceyann Chin. She’s who she is, and makes no apologies.

That’s the heart of This Side of Paradise. While the seeds of neglect were planted with her mother’s disappearance, Staceyann cultivated this angst into the fruit of hope and fortitude. It helped that she had a wicked sense of humor and quick wits to match. Paradise is hard to swallow at times. Knowing she’s survived is the all the happy ending you need.

Reviewed August 2010


Bliss by Fiona Zedde (Sept. 2005 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Kensington Publishing Corporation, Aug. 2005
Genre:  Romance
Pages: 297
Website:  http://www.fionazedde.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

The tagline on Fiona Zedde’s debut novel, BLISS, reads, “Every woman wants it.” If “it” is based on the steamy scenes found within these pages, then Zedde ain’t never lied.

Zedde’s book is a tasty, colorful journey to a woman’s sexual satisfaction. Bliss Sinclair, an uptight accountant, lives her life by the numbers. She has the boyfriend, the good-paying job, and a spacious apartment–the things some define as success. But no one knows that her relationship with Yuen isn’t as great as it seems. And no one knows how she lays awake a night, suffering from bouts of insomnia. What’s missing in her life is passion: passion about her boyfriend, her job, her life.

That is until she meets Regina, an author who chronicles her sexual experiences through her books. They share a flirtation that leads to Sinclair dumping her boyfriend. Regina teaches Sinclair the pleasure of woman, and opens her up to a buffet of sexual indulgences Sinclair never thought she’d savor. Then as quickly as she came, Regina dumps Sinclair, telling her that a month is her limit with flings. Sinclair is heartbroken, believing that she had found the woman of her dreams, someone who had taken her to sexual heights she’d never climbed before.

To get away from the disaster she calls her love life, Sinclair takes her father up on an invitation to Jamaica. Days later, Sinclair returns home to the roots she abandoned after her mother was killed on the island. After her death, her grandmother took her to the States, and she never looked back. Now she’s reintroduced to her homeland–and her father’s new wife, a stepbrother, and a half-sister she never knew she had.

Lydia is the daughter her father illegitimately conceived, and the girlfriend of the woman Sinclair finds fascinating. Sinclair would never dream of taking her sister’s lover, but Hunter is tantalizing with her perfect ebony skin, sleek body, sensuous lips, and long dreadlocks. Sinclair and Hunter become friends through Lydia, and share a connection.

Everything changes, though, when Lydia and Hunter decide to mutually separate. Soon Sinclair and Hunter slowly act on their growing attraction. It isn’t long before their lust blossoms into deep affection. Despite her joy in finding Hunter, Sinclair is still scared–to fall in love and to leave love behind. She’ll be returning to America soon, without Hunter. Or does she?

Bliss is a novel you’ll want to read in one sitting. Zedde’s writing is intensely stimulating, as she brilliantly captures the spirit of the island. And the sex scenes were detailed so vividly, you could envision every touch or stroke. You will root for Sinclair and Hunter, as you can tell they truly belong together.

Zedde leaves nothing to the imagination, but with each page, makes you wish for that “it.”

Reviewed September 2005