While there weren’t any reviews posted at Sistahs on the Shelf in 2015, I definitely was reading last year. So I present to you my favorite SOTS books read in 2015:
1. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
If done well, coming-of-age stories can make you fall in love, cry, and root for the protagonist’s journey into adulthood. Under the Udala Trees was that book for me in 2015. Tenderly written, this is the book that captured my emotions in the most heartbreaking way. Set during the Biafran War in late 1960s Nigeria, Udala Trees is a narrative that’s been done before – a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality – but Okparanta conveys Ijeoma’s life so beautifully and effortlessly as she loses her family to the war, braves the first plucks of love and being exposed, and suffers a life she’s made to want. Yet there is a small glimmer of hope in the pages – it just doesn’t come easy. (Read our 5-star review of her previous work, Happiness Like Water.)
2. Les Tales by Skyy, Nikki Rashan and Fiona Zedde
Hands down, the best short story collection I’ve read in quite some time, Les Tales is just that good. But why shouldn’t it be? Here you have three popular authors of black lesbian fiction writing about forbidden love, stories that are fully fleshed, captivating and give you feel after feel. (You might have seen me squealing in some instances…shhh). Skyy’s romance sets up the magic of the book, while Rashan’s plot involves a twisted but intriguing turn of events, but Zedde’s story – girl! –had my hormones all over the place. Zedde does what she does brilliantly – create extremely beddable love interests that you wish you could meet in real life. Overall, Les Tales contains hot sex scenes and striking characters. It only makes me sad that Nikki Rashan produced one her finest works in this collection, and she’s no longer with us.
3. For Sizakele by Yvonne ‘Fly’ Onakeme Etaghene
This was a debut novel that took me by surprise. For Sizakele is about NYU sophomore Taylor, an immigrant transplanted to the US as a young child, fighting to preserve her Nigerian culture in a world that overlooks the immigrant experience. She’s also struggling with girlfriend, Lee, mostly because of Taylor’s bisexuality, a serious point of contention between them. When Taylor befriends fellow Nigerian student Sy, she shares the pangs of her hot-and-cold romance, as well as the familiarity of their native land. It’s a connection she gravitates toward, in the midst of trying to figure out where she and Lee are headed and how best to live her life. For Sizakele is for anyone who’s survived a painful breakup, who questions whether love is enough, and whether the past can truly be healed. Etaghene also deftly portrays of the LGBT immigrant experience in America, something sorely needed in literature.
4. The Rules by S. Renee Bess
Both a mystery and a discourse in black lesbian authorship, The Rules is truly engaging. It’s the kind of book that throws a lot at you, but makes you think. Protagonist London Phillip’s anguish to find missing lesbian author Milagros Farrow makes for a compelling, character-driven story in the way that Bess is so good at. In any good thriller, there are the good guys, the bad girls and the one whose good intentions go horribly wrong. If you enjoy mature romance and themes, The Rules definitely fits the bill.
5. Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett
Jam on the Vine is a remarkable piece of historical fiction following Ivoe Williams from a precocious 5-year-old girl with a thirst for knowledge in the Jim Crow South to a woman launching the first female-run African American newspaper with lover Ona in Kansas City in 1919. The toils and triumphs Ivoe faces in the creation and distribution of her publication, named Jam! On the Vine, are the bread-and-butter of Bennett’s well-researched novel. She captures the strength black women employ to be heard and respected in one of the country’s most volatile times. While at times Jam moves densely toward Ivoe’s future endeavors, her family is richly drawn, and the love story is energetic.
6. Southern Comfort by Skyy
Her first full-length novel since the acclaimed Choices series ended in 2013, Skyy had a lot riding on Southern Comfort. She conquered that hurdle in creating the love long-distance love affair between British bred Willow and Tennessee native Katrina. The book jet sets between London and Memphis as the pair navigate a relationship and friendships from differing coasts. The result is good fun – even when drama rears its head as it tends to do in Skyy’s books. Based on Southern Comfort, I’m excited to see where she goes next.
7. All or Nothing by J. L. Dillard
An invigorating, empowering rompfest best describes All or Nothing, the first installment in J.L. Dillard’s The Pleasure Principle series. Sideline reporter AJ Arenas’ story begins when her engagement ends, and she decides to shed her good girl image – involving a dose of threesomes, secrets and, just maybe, love. AJ’s astounding to watch: her confidence and pursuit of her desires, be it woman or man, without hurting anyone. And I found her rendezvous with women to be hotter than fish grease. With All or Nothing, prepare to be pleased.
8. This Time by Monique Thomas
Monique Thomas writes everyday love stories, the kind that feel familiar and whose characters that could be your real-life friends. This Time is no different. When former roommates and one-time lovers Nina and Trish are reunited by a set up, the women’s’ drunken night together evokes the hurtful memories that haunted their years of no contact. Their road to forgiveness is so genuine and real. It’s a happily ever after worth the emotions it puts you through. This Time also features one of my favorite lines all year: “Just so you know I’m not a piece of guaranteed ass.”
9. Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz
The synopsis of Not Otherwise Specified depicts main character Etta to a tee: she’s a black, bisexual, bulimic, former ballet dancer who feels she doesn’t fit anywhere in her small Nebraska town. All of this could make Etta an utter mess, but she’s simply a teenager trying to find her way. Etta’s insecurities and struggles at 17 are what label her endearing because despite her shortcomings she’s very self-aware. At that age all you want is to do is find your place and friends who love you for you. I loved Etta; I rooted for her so much. There hasn’t been a character quite like Etta in young adult fiction, and I hope voices like hers get more exposure in 2016.
The continuing saga originating from 2012’s Royal BLU, Azure BLU is pure drama from beginning to end. It’s hopeful that the characters, Royal especially, have learned from their mistakes and matured as women. Some have, and some haven’t (I’m looking at you Royal). But I guess it’s all about growing up and learning what it takes to be in an adult relationship. Hopefully by Book 3, it’ll take effect; until then one can enjoy the flurry of these hookups.