Living as a Lesbian by Cheryl Clarke (Feb. 2014 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  A Midsummer Night’s Press, Jan. 2014
Genre(s):  Poetry, Politics, Sexuality
Pages:  152
Website:  http://www.sinisterwisdom.org

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

LIVING AS A LESBIAN is a book right wingers warn you about. About riots and clits and pride in being black and lesbian, Living takes these subjects, infusing them with her observations and insight, pouring a wickedly-worded brew that wakes up your senses.

To read Living is to know Cheryl Clarke. Born in 1946, this poet, educator, essayist, feminist and activist was raised in segregated Washington, D.C. where she became captivated by words, learned deprecating humor from her mother, father and aunt, and spent time spying on grown folks conversations. Clarke saw and felt the turbulence of the 1960s, especially the violent outcome following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a disturbance that haunts her still to this day. This unjust world nurtured her poetry beginnings, especially when she was an English major at Howard University from 1965 to 1969. Her Chocolate city education – followed by a Masters and Ph.D. from Rutgers University, where she later retired after 41 years as a professor – is what lead her to become the rebel she is, even to this day.

This realization of Clarke is integral to reading Living. It frames the words you’ll find inside: metaphors draped in turquoise, descriptions of dirty politics and provocative sex, jazz riffs that carried Clarke into adulthood.

When I was approached to review Living, I was told it was a reprint of the book originally published in 1986. In saying yes to this review, I was slightly intimidated. Clarke is one of our living legends, a woman who has written influential essays and pronounced her lesbianism proudly and apologetically. She doesn’t mince words, but instead asserts her own capabilities as a black gay woman. In Living, Clarke poetry reflects this strength and her considerable knowledge of the world through her black lens.

Unfortunately, almost 30 years later, Living still has resonance. The police brutality Clarke refers to in “Miami: 1980”, still as relevant with our black men being gunned down by crooked cops, mostly recently with recent FAMU grad Jonathan Ferrell last year in North Carolina. The unadorned passion Clarke shows to her woman in “Kittantiny”, can be found in our own bedrooms. The same white privilege Clarke denounces in “we are everywhere” now shows up in racially inappropriate social media posts and half-assed apologies (I’m looking at you, Madonna). When blacks are increasingly undervalued, Clarke told you that back then with “urban gothic”.

And poor people
black, purple, umber, burgundy, yellow,
red, olive, and tan people.
In neat-pressed vines.
On crutches.
In drag.
With child and children.
Dissidents, misfits, malcontents, and marginals
serving out our sentences on the streets of
America
spread-eagled against walls and over car hoods.
Frantic
like rats in a maze
an experiment in living
down at the jail,
the courthouse on the highway.

I think it should be said that Clarke’s Living as a Lesbian can be complex, daunting almost. It’s not a quick read, and it should definitely be consumed with plenty of thought and afterthought. Some of her references are from a different time, but the reprint of Living does include Clarke’s notes that fill in the gaps, for the generations that might not understand her references. It’s as if Clarke is a godmother of sorts, passing along the history that she’s seen and overheard and lived, and that is worth the challenge Living presents.

Reviewed February 2014

About Cheryl Clarke

Cheryl Clarke is a poet, essayist, scholar, and activist. She is the author of four collections of poetry: Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women (originally self-published in 1981 and distributed by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press in 1982); and for Firebrand Books Living as a Lesbian (1986), Humid Pitch (1989) and Experimental Love (1993). Her most recent books are the critical study, After Mecca: Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement (Rutgers University Press, 2004), and The Days of Good Looks: The Prose and Poetry of Cheryl Clarke 1980-2005 (Carroll and Graf, 2006). She is the recipient of the 2013 Kessler Award from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at the City University of New York. Clarke played June Walker in the 1996 feature film The Watermelon Woman directed by Cheryl Dunye. She lives and writes in Jersey City, NJ and Hobart, NY. She and her lover, Barbara Balliet, co-own a used and rare bookstore in Hobart, N.Y., the Book Village of the Catskills.


Soft Tsunami by Claudia Moss (Oct. 2013 Pick of the Month)

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softtsunamipotmlogoPublisher/Date: Mariposa Publications, Sept. 2012
Genre(s): Poetry
Pages: 126
Website: http://claudiamoss.webs.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Who is Claudia Moss?

I’ve been asking myself that since I read her novel, If You Love Me, Come in 2011. I was so in love with that book, the troubles of four women connected and intersected by the power of love. Its similar style to one of my all-time favorite books, Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, intrigued me to learn more about its creator.

In my discovery, I found Miss Moss, also known as the Golden Goddess to be a storyteller, a word weaver, a mama, a mentor, a radio host and most of all, a poet.

Based on her newest work, SOFT TSUNAMI, I could say she’s something of an enigma, but that wouldn’t be accurate because her poems lay out her maturity, her sensualness, her grown woman assertiveness. There’s nothing in her words that can be interpreted as meek or mild, only confidence, and that’s what I loved most about her book.

So I touch you softer than quill skimming rice paper
A message of calligraphy teasingly rough
Sighs in the taste of us
Transcribed in wetness
Before an indelicate deluge
Squirts
Across my body
To dry in dainty spots on your Soul
Touch-tethered to mine

Reading her poems, I also call her a whirlwind. There’s a flurry of emotions, sensations and passions that speak to and for any femme confident in her sexuality, and her love for the womanly form is mesmerizing. Studs, take notice of this femme form:

‘Cause you don’t know what to kiss first
her smooth sexy feet
those cheeks, Oooh those cheeks
have you humming stupid yummy tunes
about her tight crescent moons
dipped in a sepia glaze
her waist lining towards her cute kitty

Her style may scream raw, but she also can give and receive love, and is humble in its presence.

Others bow to
Wondering how we two
Share a current so rare
So true
You see, I recite her
And she–
She interprets me.

But don’t get it twisted. Just like a raging tide, Moss can batter your heart with a line so venomous, you’d wish you hadn’t crossed her.

i’m not frightened of the walkin’ away
and don’t think the way you lay the pipe is yo’ ticket to say
ladies already lined up to play
with the goddess you took for granted
like the door don’t swing both ways

Yet above all, Moss is a Lyrical Lady, her Soft Tsunami celebrating and opining the life of a woman who has is living a full life, but steady embracing what the universe continues to teach her.

Tender-hearted, sometimes I bow to tongues sharpened on the
cutting board, but I am my own unguent, my Band-Aid
against the lacerating wounds of the mouth, when I remember
I AM.
Today I live the lessons I teach.
I am untamed, free.
I do what I want to do, say what I want to say,
indiscriminately.

So this is Claudia Moss. Lover of natural hair, butches, Backwoods women, and fine literature. While her words may be slightly repetitive, with Soft Tsunami, she wants you to know whom she is. Now I can truly say I do.

Reviewed October 2013

Read the Pick of the Month Interview With Claudia Moss

About Claudia Moss

Claudia Moss is the author of two novels, Dolly: The Memoirs of a High School Graduate (her Holloway House debut, adolescent novel) and If You Love Me, Come (her latest, self-published novel). Her short fiction has appeared in a host of anthologies including Longing, Lust, and Love: Black Lesbian Stories (Nghosi Books), Gietic: Erotic Poems/Kinky Short Stories (Gia Bella & The Siren), The Lust Chronicles (e-book), The Hoot & Holler of the Owls (Hurston/Wright Publications), Purple Panties (Strebor Books), SWING!: Adventures in Swinging By Today’s Top Erotica Writers (Logical-Lust Publications), Life, Love & Lust and Her Voice: poetry (Lesbian Memoirs). Her poetry has also appeared in Venus Magazine. She is also the author of the independently published Wanda B. Wonders series, which introduces the enigmatic Everywoman, Ms. Wanda B., who is a humorous social commentary, unafraid to voice her opinions on contemporary life in shades of black and white.


The Space Our Love Demands by Kionne Nicole (Apr. 2013 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Resolute Publishing, Aug. 2012
Genre(s):  Romance, College Life
Pages:  207
Website:  http://www.respublishing.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Does distance really make the heart grow fonder? Or does distance lead to distraction?

That’s the test Hadiyah Matthews faces in THE SPACE OUR LOVE DEMANDS, the debut novel from Kionne Nicole.

Hadiyah is in a new city, Louisville to be exact, pursuing a graduate degree and trying to cope after a breakup with long-term girlfriend, Charity. They were together seven years, and after things went sour, they mutually decided it was better to be apart than to be miserable together. Being on her own is hard, but Hadiyah is there to get an education – until Fatma comes along.

Fatma is a distraction with a capital D. The brown beauty captures Hadiyah’s senses from the first moment they meet, and Hadiyah catches a rainbow vibe from her classmate. She might be mistaken, though. Fatma is definitely attracted; between the research and studying, they flirt and feel each other out, but is she available?

More so, is Hadiyah available? Charity is still fresh in her mind. When another opportunity presents itself in the form of Adrienne, Hadiyah is even more confused about what she wants. She wants to explore and get to know herself, and these women – as well as great friends – teach her about life and love, its pleasures and its high cost.

The Space Our Love Demands is a witty novel that touches on a few serious issues. Long-term relationships, sexuality and labels, Afrocentricity, local pussy…it’s all in there. And the supporting characters – Tee is my absolute favorite; she needs to have her own book now – only make Space better. Hadiyah’s learning curve, after being in a seven year relationship, is fast and almost makes your head spin. The good thing is she may be blinded by the women in her life, but she ultimately sees things for what they really are.

Reviewed April 2013


Once and Future Lovers by Sheree L. Greer (Dec. 2012 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 2012
Genre(s):  Romance, Short Story
Pages:  118
Website:  http://www.shereelgreer.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Love.

The four letter word conjures so many images and thoughts and emotions that can be hard to express.

Sheree L. Greer captures the sentiments beautifully in her short story collection, ONCE AND FUTURE LOVERS. Her book highlights the simplest and most complicated forms of affection from the romantic to the familial, to the straight to same-sex varieties.

And it all flows like butter.

Once begins with a tender story, “I Do All My Own Stunts,” as a woman lives the metaphor of “getting back on the bike” to find love again. To her, the feeling of flying when in love is worth the tumble and pain one may have to endure – and she can’t wait to experience it again.

“The Beginning of Something” is truly an old-fashioned love story. Arthur Turner meets a seemingly virtuous woman named Christine. She’s stunning, but at 26, has never been married and doesn’t want to leave home. Arthur, having lived a tough life, desires to see the world and intriguingly finds this same quality in someone else – Iris, Christine’s sister.

It all comes full circle in “Dreaming Woman,” a heartwarmer about Zaire and her two loves: Daryan, her best friend, unaware of Zaire’s passion for her; and her grandmother, Mama Iris, who Zaire lovingly takes care of and enjoys spending time with. Two different kinds of love, but the admiration Zaire has for Mama Iris bolsters her courage to declare her love for Daryan and allow her into her world.

Once and Future Lovers can be considered an exceptional debut novel. The narration of each story exudes genuine human interactions that are relatable to any sexuality, race or gender. Love can’t be defined by those things, and Greer presents this knowledge in a splendid way.

Reviewed December 2012


Girl in the Mirror by Alix B. Golden (Aug. 2012 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  I Bleed Ink Publishing, Aug. 2012
Genre:  Romance
Pages:   204
Website:  http://www.alixbgolden.com

Rating: ★★★★½ 

You can’t run from your past, and you certainly can’t run from the GIRL IN THE MIRROR.

While the prequel to this novel, Girl, Shattered, is available now, Mirror is its full-length story from blogger turned book author Alix B. Golden with many layers – a surprise love, suspense, drama, parental woes – yet the center of them is Christen Calhoun. The by-day bank teller is uninspired by her job and only finds comfort in her camera; it doesn’t pay the bills, and it doesn’t suit her father’s dreams for her.

Neither does dating women. Especially the ones Christen involves herself with. Still reeling from her last burn with thieving ass Alicia, she decides a no-strings attached relationship is exactly what she needs in Kam, a writer she meets online with a girlfriend. Christen sees nothing wrong with the two having a fling. At least that’s how it begins. It ends just as badly.

*girl in the mirror shakes her head*

Christen could never tell her Pops about these dead-end hookups. Since a young girl, it’s always been just the two of them after her mother’s passing. He never understood her decisions – staying in Savannah after graduation instead of returning to Atlanta, why she couldn’t find a man and make him a “Grandpappy” – nevertheless he did want to see her happy.

The problem is Christen can’t please herself. She suits her personality to the women she dates, and every bad romance she gets her further away from whom she is. When she looks in the mirror, the truth stares back, but then loneliness sets in and fools her heart into thinking it’s love.

It’s only when the worst imaginable happens that Christen returns home to find the love she needs – and makes the girl in mirror finally smile back.

Golden’s Girl in the Mirror shines. What I liked most about Mirror is its dimensionality. The storyline took several twists and turns, tying nicely to make an enjoyable novel. In Christen, you see a woman with so much potential go from settling to avoid being alone to realizing her true reflection is what’s important.

Reviewed August 2012


the bull-jean stories by Sharon Bridgforth (Jan. 2012 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Red Bone Press, Aug. 1998
Genre:  Poetry
Pages:  109
Website:  http://www.sharonbridgforth.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

na/i’s a wo’mn
whats Lovved many wy’mns.
me/they call me bull-dog-jean i say
that’s cause i works lik somekinda ole dog
trying to get a bone or two
they say it’s cause i be sniffing after wy’mns
down-low/beggin and thangs
whatever.

the bull-jean stories, written by accomplished author and playwright Sharon Bridgforth, is a Southern-fried poetic masterpiece. Like bites of mama’s golden fried chicken, the words coat your pallet with a flavor that warms the soul. The rhythm of Bridgforth’s tale of a rough-talkin’, blue-collar bulldagga in the 1920s likens itself to prose that creates a vivid love story.

bull-jean is a willing participant in love, as narrated by neighbor Cuss. Cuss watches and reports every bull-jean sighting with the expressiveness of an old lady busybody. Through her eyes, we see bull-jean fall in love faster than greased lightning, having no problem expressing her feelings to the one she loves.

am asking you to be my wo’mn
whole and complete in all essence
i want to make this journey/this Life
wid you i want to wake
to the smell of your hair/the taste
of your neck each morning/i
want you curled in to me so i can
turn you open/to the
light of your eyes

Every chapter is a lesson learned because bull-jean can’t find the right woman. She becomes enamored with the wrong ones, and never feels like she’ll love again. It’s a place we’ve all been, and Bridgforth tells it with such devotion and passion.

By the book’s end, we witness a woman who had to go through to get it right. Short but sweet, Bridgforth’s writing captures the black lesbian song of the South, a time when being gay or black wasn’t a desirable status to the powers that be. Yet, bull-jean was not ashamed, just a woman who lived her life and sacrificed and took care of the people she loved.

the bull-jean stories has a blues, spiritual and inspirational soundtrack, one that sheds light on our history and reminds us our kind of love has been around for generations – but it’s still the same refrain.

Reviewed January 2012


Dying for a Change by Sean Reynolds (Feb. 2011 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Suspect Thoughts Press, Sept. 2009
Genre(s):  Mystery, Suspense
Pages:  256
Website:  http://www.booksbyseanreynolds.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

The year is 1965, the place is Chicago. The streets are hot, not just because it’s August, but because racism lives and breathes with a fierce determination to tear apart any civility between blacks and whites.

In the midst of this is cool-as-a-fan Chan Parker, 33-year-old numbers runner, working her dead-end profession with all the enthusiasm of a broken toaster. With her boyish good looks, she makes much more money than the average Negro, but being on the bottom rung of a mobster operation making its money off the backs of blacks isn’t her idea of a career. As Chan says in DYING FOR A CHANGE, “Prostitution is doing any job you would rather not do, and I was beginning to feel whorish.”

The bright spots in Chan’s life are her 55 black-over-black T-Bird, her eclectic jazz collection, and best friend Henrietta Wild Cherry. A 300-pound drag queen, Henrietta has been Chan’s rock since childhood, and when the lady asks for help finding a fellow dragster who’s come up dead, Chan is hot on the trail of discovering what happened to Miss Dove.

Dying for a Change paints a vivid scene of old Chicago as she and Henrietta track down a killer. In the midst of it all, Chan’s job proves to be a more of a liability while discerning who’s on the right side of the law – and who’s twisted in the game.

Sean Reynolds’ prose in Dying is deftly captivating, and the slang from 1960s Chicago is authentic, refreshing, and a character in its own right. As you read, you’re transported to that time of juke joints and back rooms, a time when being the wrong color on the wrong side of town could mean trouble. Dying is a mystery, history lesson and cool suspense at the same time.  I would have liked to see more romance, but nonetheless, Reynolds knows her genre, knows her people, and most importantly, knows how to tell a fantastic story.

Reviewed February 2011


M+O 4EVR by Tonya Hegamin (Aug. 2010 Pick of the Month)

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m+o4everPublisher/Date:  Houghton Mifflin, Apr. 2008
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming Of Age, Young Adult
Pages:  176
Website:  http://www.tonyacheriehegamin.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

The dreams we have as children are very powerful, involving fearless feats and aspirations we carry to adulthood, cradled in the hope that the dreams will become reality.

That’s what Opal anticipated when she made the decision to take her best friend, Marianne, away from their small-town life in M+O 4 EVR. The novel from Tonya Marie Hegamin relates an emotional excursion of what happens when wishes are deferred by life’s disappointments.

Best friends, Marianne and Opal’s bond was an unspoken one, full of longing and hurt and not-so-unrequited love. The girls lived in their Pennsylvania town as outcasts, the only few Black faces in the mountainous county. They only had each other, as little girls who held hands on their first day of school, a shield from the world that couldn’t possibly understand them.

Home is where their hearts are. Opal is raised by sassy Gran while her parents travel to provide for her; Marianne lived with her white mother and grandfather, and never knew her black father. Their families were intertwined and nurtured the girls’ closeness. They were privy to the love Opal had for Marianne, though it was never said – even to Marianne herself.

While Marianne has some idea of Opal’s feelings for her, she can’t see past her own pain to reciprocate. Marianne felt lost in her own skin and never wanted to accept her “loser” status assigned based on her light complexion. She strived to be popular, one of the cool kids. And eventually she did attain the crown – becoming the first black homecoming queen – at the expense of leaving her best friend behind. The victory was short-lived when only hours later, a tragedy strikes Marianne, and all the dreams Opal had for them dissipate.

All Opal wanted was have Marianne to herself, in the way she did when they danced through the milkweeds, carved their names into their favorite tree, or pressed lips together under the blackberry bushes. Now all she’s left with is painful memories and theories on how things got to this point. For Opal, her ache came from knowing what they could have been. But with her future in her hands, she soon discovered things happen for a reason.

The sentiments M+O 4 EVR are sweet, raw and heartfelt. Who can’t relate to the story of innocent love and the slings and arrows of growing up? Hegamin writes about loss and love, while also tying in the spirit of a runaway slave to anchor the tale to how much we sacrifice for the love of one person.

However in the end, we and Opal learn taking care of ourselves is what’s most important.

Reviewed August 2010


Lesbian Funk: A Journey Into the Oblivion by The Lesbian Goddess (Nov. 2009 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Women of Choice, Apr. 2009
Genre: Erotica
Pages:  149
Website:  http://www.womenofchoice.com 

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

The road to pleasure is paved with great sex, and The Lesbian Goddess is your chauffeur with her newest novel, LESBIAN FUNK:  A JOURNEY INTO THE OBLIVION.

The third installment of the Orchids series is narrated by Kaili as she discovers what makes her tick through a roller-coaster orgasmic journey. In each episode, her hidden fantasies become real, those desires she never thought would surface. Her first adventure involves a woman, and Kaili is bewildered by what this means. Coming from a failed, sexless marriage to being seduced by a woman – her therapist, nonetheless – leaves her gloriously spent but confused.

Following this, Kaili changes venue and relocates to Arizona. She thought leaving everything behind would suppress her lesbian tendencies, yet moving only magnifies her problems; she ends up in more relations with women, each exploit more captivating and hotter than the last. Kaili can’t believe what has become of herself; it’s as if she’s someone else.

And it’s somewhat true. Throughout her romps, Kaili is led by an unknown female voice taunting her psyche, there from the initial affair with her therapist. Who is this mysterious spirit directing inner-most desires, telling her how and where to get off? That’s what Kaili wants to know, and her search guides her to a sexual height she’s never known.

The Lesbian Goddess is known for her poetic raunchiness, an erotic wordsmith who’s not afraid to go there. Just like her previous collections, Lesbian Funk is no different. It paints a vivid picture of a woman enjoying the pleasures of the female form, and celebrates it through prose and poetry, the latter introducing each chapter. While the metaphysical aspect of the book may throw some readers, it’s unlike anything you’ve read before.

After all, everyone has a sexual alter ego. Sasha Fierce, anyone?

Reviewed November 2009


Girls Just Don’t Do That by Natalie Simone (June 2009 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Bookshelf Global Publishing, Sept. 2005
Genre(s):  College Life, Romance, Studs & Femmes
Pages:  230
Website:  http://www.nataliesimone.com

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Few understand the ordeals black lesbians go through in relationships, but Natalie Simone has compellingly portrayed what we feel in her debut novel, GIRLS JUST DON’T DO THAT.

Through the eyes of several main characters, the tale of six college women at the University of Georgia takes on several types of relationship woes.

First is Delia, a pretty tomboy type with a seemingly shy demeanor and thoughtful personality. She is the loner type, preferring to have a small circle of friends. Though her strikingly good looks could pull any woman on campus, Delia doesn’t play games with women’s hearts. So why she becomes involved with Jayne, her old high school nemesis, is beyond comprehension.

Jayne is the complete opposite of Delia. She’s a sorority-girl type, an arrogant, gorgeous beauty who was once overweight and made life miserable for Delia back in the day. Jayne’s homophobic behavior toward Delia pitted them against each other, but when they are now paired up on a class project, Delia lets go of the past and sees Jayne for the dime she’s turned into. She can’t help but become enraptured by Jayne’s charm, and they begin a one-sided relationship, where Jayne reaps all the pleasurable benefits. Delia knows she’s being played, but can’t free herself from Jayne’s cunning spell.

And while Delia is being used, her best friend Shavonne is being abused by her girlfriend, Tracy. She lives on eggshells night after night, not knowing what mood could set Tracy off on a rampage, especially when Tracy comes home drunk. In Shavonne’s eyes, it was all so good in the beginning, as in most abusive relationships. As the disrespect worsens every day, Shavonne felt she couldn’t tell anyone what was happening because “girls just don’t do that.” Who would believe that a woman could beat another woman? One thing Shavonne does know is that she has to get out – one way or another.

If someone had asked Stacy three months ago would she ever be attracted to a woman, the answer would have been no. Yet somehow Stacy – an aspiring lawyer from a well-to-do family – spots Kendal and is infatuated with what she thinks is a handsome dude. When she discovers Kendal’s a woman, Stacy can’t help being turned on by her feminine/masculine appeal. Though she has a boyfriend, Stacy’s body betrays her head when she’s around Kendal. Now Stacey has to decide whether to leave her two-year relationship headed toward a white-picket future, or be with the woman who completes her emotionally and physically. Girls just don’t do that, remember?

Simone’s Girls Just Don’t Do That, written several years prior, still resonates with readers. You’ll be drawn into these women’s lives and inner turmoil as they decide what’s best for them to be happy. As an added bonus, Simone includes “Dyke Categories” at the end of the book, which describes several types of stud and femme black lesbian personas. I like the fact Simone not only has the potent gift of storytelling but can also impart knowledge, as well.

Simone has a new novel coming soon, one that follows the scandalous Jayne, a person who refuses to declare herself bisexual even after sleeping with several women. After reading Girls, that’s one I’ll definitely pick up.

Reviewed June 2009


What Goes Around Comes Back Around by C. D. Kirven (Feb. 2009 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Outskirts Press, Nov. 2008
Genre(s):  Coming of Age, Coming Out, Identity, Self-Love
Pages:  224
Website:  http://www.cdkirven.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Karmic retribution allows the universe to make things happen the way the world intended. Yet we still have some control over our destiny, to shape the future based on our experiences and goals. C. D. Kirven’s debut novel, WHAT GOES AROUND COMES BACK AROUND, builds on this premise as we follow the coming of age of Kingsley Ross.

As the novel begins, Kingsley can be best described as passive, a 14-year-old girl who believes her grandmother’s words of what goes around comes around. She and her best friend, Tanya, spend their days doing typical teenage mischief, which returns to bite her in the ass. When it comes to getting what she wants, Kingsley doesn’t aggressively pursue her desires, and by adulthood, she’s living with glimmers of regrets.

One decision she laments is not allowing herself to fall in love. Uncomfortable with her blossoming lesbian tendencies, Kingsley fails to pursue a relationship with a woman she meets through a set-up, the drop-dead gorgeous Emery, who has the swagger to make Kingsley swoon despite her trepidation of being with a woman. They spend a glorious night together, leaving Kingsley more confused than ever. When Kingsley sees her months later – with another woman – it devastates her that she never told Emery how she felt. She let her fears prevent her from the love she could have had.

Seeing Emery moving on with her life, Kinsley vows to take charge of her own, experiencing everything the world has to offer. It helps her to see things clearly, to see that she was living by other’s standards – her family, society – instead of her own.

“I realized that all this time I had been thinking that I was no one on my own but everything with someone else. This was a lie that became my way of life. I am everything now…”

Nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, What Goes Around Comes Back Around captures a woman’s passage to herself. Through Kirven’s writing, it’s refreshing to see Kingsley grow from her antics as a teenager to a woman of her own. The transformation, described in colorful detail, is engrossing on many levels: Kingsley becoming an adult, accepting her sexuality, and discovering herself. Kirven allows you to take the ride with her character, and while a little bumpy, it leads to a place of self-fulfillment and love.

Reviewed February 2009


You Think You Know by Fina (Dec. 2008 Pick of the Month)

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youthinkyouknowPublisher/Date:  Seven Stages Publishing House, June 2008
Genre(s):  Erotica, Short Story
Pages:  132
Website:  http://www.finasflow.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

What you don’t know about YOU THINK YOU KNOW, the debut novel from author Fina, is that you can’t possibly know just how good it is to read a work of black lesbian fiction as passionate, honest and explosive as these 15 tales of love between women.

Each story electrifies with carnal desires and insatiable lust, while caressing the heart in sincere reflections. Nothing has ever felt this easy when it comes to describing  our lives and loves.

Take for example, the confusion expressed in “The Lesbian Circle of Destruction,” which revolves around the scandalous relationships we have as women-loving  women. Monogamy is a dirty word with these women, whose almost incestuous ties can be found in any small lesbian community. For instance, your best friend is sleeping with your ex, while you’re still pining away over your first love, who’s now your best friend. Talk about complicated.

What you see is what you get in “She Finally Let Me Have a Femme All to Myself.” Who can ignore a story that begins with, “Have you ever just wanted to eat some pussy?” It gets more uninhibited from there, in a way that grabs your attention and won’t let go.

Balanced with the hardcore fantasies of You Think You Know are thoughtful works about love, expressed in “You,” pinpointing the exact moment a woman falls in love, and “Family Night,” a piece portraying the life of lesbian parents finding time for each other when the kids aren’t around.

Fina points out that you’ll wonder what happened to “good old fashioned wholesome ladies,” and it’s true when you read “An Eye for an Eye,” wherein a stud finds herself caught between a wife and a mistress. You may think you know how the story ends, but trust me, you can’t envision this ending.

The assorted tales of You Think You Know are riveting, able to draw you with their simple, sinful sentiments. Grammatical errors aside, simply put: Fina can tell a story. What she’s also able to do is depict our relationships for what they are – both beautiful and ugly at times.

And that’s what you should know about You Think You Know.

Reviewed December 2008


The Highest Price for Passion by Laurinda D. Brown (Oct. 2008 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Strebor, Aug. 2008
Genre(s):  Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages:  272
Website:  http://www.ldbrownbooks.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

The past comes back to haunt in Laurinda D. Brown’s fifth solo title, THE HIGHEST PRICE FOR PASSION. Beginning in the volatile pre-Civil War era, her latest novel follows illicit exploits of slaves and masters as their lives intersect in the most perilous ways. Several characters narrate the story filled with infatuations and horrors that arise during a time when blacks were no more than tortured servants for white masters.

The fiery tale begins from the eyes of Amelia, a slave who recounts her life and the terror she endured escaping her master. Amelia, born from a white mother and slave, grew up knowing she wasn’t like the other workers around her. Yet because of the time and place she inhabited, she had to keep the appearance of being like the other black folks around her. One night her lineage is discovered, and it eventually leads to her disappearance.

But Amelia’s roots trace back far before her birth, tied to a shaky family tree with unspeakable secrets. Passion explores her heritage from her descendents and to a host of other characters from three generations ago – ones whose desires lead them to destructive behavior. There’s Massa Gray, who after years of rumors, can’t deny his attraction to the male form, including his own slaves; McKinley Wellsworth, whose notoriety as a hard-nosed master, is essentially a product of his tortured upbringing; and then there’s her own father, Josiah, whose attraction for Amelia’s mother couldn’t be contained and produced a love child he had to abandon.

Amelia, as she tells her life story, is aware of the passions that consume those around her, including her master and mistress. Both have strong connections to the beautiful slave, and she’s treated somewhat better than other blacks on the plantation. But Amelia knows her destiny and that there’s something more out there for her than a life of servitude.

Brown has a tackled a novel with historical significance with Passion, a book worlds apart from the contemporary novels she’s written such as Fire & Brimstone, UnderCover,Walk Like a Man and Strapped. The drama is still there, only from an earlier time and place. Brown has done her research with this story, and offers something different for black lesbian readers with Passion, a tale we should read not only for its compelling subject matter, but so that we can gain perspective with how far our race has come.

Reviewed October 2008


Passing for Black by Linda Villarosa (Aug. 2008 Pick of the Month)

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Publisher/Date:  Dafina, June 2008
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  262
Website:  http://www.lindavillarosa.com

Rating: ★★★★½ 

We’ve all dealt, in some form or fashion, with the issue of being black, being a woman, and being gay – at times feeling as if you don’t really fit on any side, but having to stay true to both aspects of yourself. In PASSING FOR BLACK, the first foray into fiction by renowned journalist Linda Villarosa, this entanglement is experienced by Angela Wright, a buppie struggling with both her sexual and racial identities.

By outside appearances, Angela’s life is seamless in her middle-class world, where she’s an editor at Désire magazine, engaged to a history professor at a prominent university and mingles with a Black elite inner circle. Yet it’s simply a facade. Angela has never felt secure with herself, and “passing” is simply her coping mechanism to deal with never feeling “black enough.” With her mother, Janice, considered a local heroine in the black female community, she always felt tragically compelled to live up to her mother’s roots. And at 29, she should be ready to be married after a six-year relationship with Keith, but something always holds her back. Namely, her attraction to women, a temptation she forbade herself from having for so many years.

But it’s one she can’t resist with Cait Getty, one of Keith’s colleagues at Amsterdam University. After spying the woman hanging posters for a lesbian sex conference, all pretenses of a white picket fence life fade away. Instead, she finds herself drawn to the androgynous vibe of this white woman, an activist whose fervor for women’s issues is only matched by her passion for Angela. With sandy brown hair, boyish good looks and British accent, Cait is nothing Angela expected to be infatuated with. In fact, she’s everything opposite of what her family and friends would see her with.

It leaves Angela, who’s normally indecisive and non-confrontational, torn as to whom she should be with. Her head tells her to do the right thing and stay with her “good black man,” while her heart demands she face her fears and be with the one person who makes her feel true to herself. It’s a hard decision, with consequences that will manage to hurt anyone involved.

And while Angela’s living an illusion, others in her life are also passing. Cait focuses so much lesbian rights that she ignores the plight of anyone else that doesn’t fit in her box. Keith feigns a “good Negro” veneer to his white superiors while alienating his own people. Even her best friend, Mae, learns to leave her Southern roots behind to be accepted in the workplace.

Yet Angela is the center of this provocative tale. When Angela decides her future much later, she satisfies her craving to be true to herself, and passing just isn’t good enough anymore. Because of Cait, everything she never thought she wanted turns out to be everything she needs.

Passing for Black makes for a challenging read. Villarosa tackles the subject of racial and sexual identity with class and a sense of humor. It’s down-to-earth enough for the casual reader, and speak to any black lesbian feeling out of step with their two worlds. Passing conveys that every woman’s journey to herself is never easy, but one she shouldn’t spend passing by.

Reviewed August 2008


Visions of a Cryptic Mystery: Volume One by Eternity Philops (June 2008 Pick of the Month)

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visionsofacrypticmysterypotmlogoPublisher/Date:  Black Tygre Publications, Apr. 2008
Genre(s):  Poetry, Short-Story
Pages:  126
Website:  http://www.eternity-philops.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

A sweet feeling washes over you when reading VISIONS OF A CRYPTIC MYSTERY: VOLUME ONE, a vibe of spiritual and sexual serenity.

Author Eternity Philops’ Visions is a beautiful view from which readers won’t be able to tear their eyes away. Excellent in its form, approach and creativity, Visions captures your senses. Both poetry and prose encompass this brilliant array of work that speaks to black lesbians everywhere. Its unique charm lies in Philops’ poems that clinch the mind with a metaphysical theme and her short stories that engage the heart.

Visions is categorized by three fragments titled Love, Loss and Life. The first, Love, captures the emotion and physical aspects of affection, with stories concerning unrequited love in “Almost First Kiss” and love beyond time in “Black Lace.” The poems in this section compliment these stories with an air of “Cosmic Intimacy.”

“Come soar with me
Be my love
We will stroll across a plateau of clouds,
Bathed in iridescent rays of sunlight
We shall picnic on the billowed hills of heaven,
As the soft rustle of God’s whispers blows gently
in our ears.”

The next section deals with the facet of Loss, as evidenced by the stories “Other Side of the Moon,” a tale of two women in love who never quite become one, and in “A Luncheon Scorned,” where a woman finally gives a former lover her just desserts. In this section, the poems underscore the feeling losing the most important thing in your life, as evidenced in “A Slight Wind.”

“Her whispered nothings are sweet
their smog a pollution
of my atmosphere
I’ve inhaled to deeply
the toxins of her tongue
Lungs full of a lover’s lies
I asphyxiate
for lack of pure clean truth”

In the final part of Visions, Philops writes about Life in its candor. In “Bait and Switch,” a con-woman finally meets her match and a workaholic learns there’s more to life than business in “An Affirmative Action.” The remainder of her poems in this section vary in themes from creation to dreams.

“Can I be your poet?
Can I write your journey
upon the eclipse of your soul
along the shadow of your benighted thoughts”

Philops’ Visions is a delight to read. It swiftly grabs you from page one, enveloping the reader in colorful and sensuous expressions that you won’t find in most Black lesbian novels. The poems are concise, inspired works of art that Philops has clearly mastered. The prose is mired in its every-woman appeal, making the reader both laugh and long for love. Philops, who wrote the first volume of over an extensive period and has plans for more, compares writing to opening the soul’s window, inviting you to see the view.

From reading Visions, the sight is quite exquisite.

Reviewed June 2008