Leave of Absence by S. Renee Bess (Nov. 2005 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  Borders Personal Publishing, May 2005
Genre(s):  Romance, Mature Lesbians
Pages: 147
Website:  http://www.reneebess.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Who says one can’t find love in the stodgy halls of academia?

Certainly not debut author S. Renee Bess, who has crafted LEAVE OF ABSENCE, a lovely novel about a high school teacher turned college professor. Kinshasa Jordan has retreated to Allerton University after a leave of absence from her New Haven, Connecticut high school, more so to escape a chaotic relationship than to teach undergrad English. Kinshasa is still smarting from the mental and physical abuse she endured from her ex, Michael, and moves to get away from the horrible memories.

At Allerton University, Kinshasa is introduced to the English department staff she’ll be working with for the next year and a half – a staff that has few people of color.

One of them, though, happens to be Corey Lomax, a full-time professor and part-time author. She was attracted to Kinshasa when she first spied her at a local restaurant days earlier, but the two women weren’t properly introduced until that particular staff meeting.

Being a lesbian, Corey’s curious as to what Kinshasa’s tea is, but keeps her distance since Kinshasa’s sporting a “don’t mess with me” vibe. Kinshasa has been hurt so much, she’s put a wall around her heart no one can penetrate.

It’s only when the two ladies are paired on a volunteer project at an inner-city school, that Kinshasa and Corey become more acquainted. Kinshasa becomes a member of Corey’s clique, which includes Allerton professors Simone and Charlene. Despite persistent egging by Simone to pursue Kinshasa, Corey is reluctant, especially after overhearing a terse phone call between her and Michael. The name “Michael” indicates to Corey that Kinshasa is straight-and off limits.

As the days wear on, and the two spend more time together, Kinshasa finds herself falling for Corey. Only she masks her attraction with indifference. When Kinshasa confronts Corey one night, their frenzy turns into passion and they end up more than colleagues.

At this point, Kinshasa’s teaching stint is almost up, and she has a decision to make: whether to return to her New Haven high school or stay at Allerton University. It also becomes complicated when Michael comes unannounced and wants Kinshasa back.

Leave of Absence is a well-plotted novel. Bess’ writing is effortless and thoughtful, although the ending wrapped up rather quickly. The novel is a simple love story that, like real life, develops slowly but fulfills its promise.

Reviewed November 2005

He Had It Coming by Camika Spencer

Publisher/Date: St. Martin’s Griffin, Sept. 2004
Genre:  Mainstream Fiction
Pages:  212

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Arrogant, misogynistic Marcus Brooks gets more than he bargained for in HE HAD IT COMING, Camika Spencer’s tale of sweet revenge by the hands of five fed-up women.

Marcus is a fiction writer who’s made best-sellers lists by creating books about sistahs being the black man’s burden. Haunted by memories of his own bitter mother, he believes women are no-good, manipulative creatures. How else could one explain the title of his next book, Bitches, which is inciting women to protest?

Raylene, Naomi, Gwena, Thelma and Latice, all members of the Second Pew Book Club, planned to stand with thousands of other disgruntled women. But when a chance meeting with Marcus leads to a horrible incident involving a homeless woman, the five friends hatch a better plan: kidnap him and teach him a lesson he’ll never forget.

The ladies, who praised Marcus Brooks’ first novel, now feel his attitude has gotten out of hand and he needs to be put in check. So they subdue him and take him to Thelma’s house where they handcuff him to pipes underneath the kitchen sink. At first, their plan is to make him write another novel to replace Bitches, but that plan is quickly abandoned. The ladies realize that holding Marcus is more difficult than they imagined, especially since they have to take shifts to watch him and he’s berating them at every turn.

And along the way, each woman is dealing with her own personal issues. Raylene caught her fiancé, a preacher no less, getting busy with another church member; Naomi takes her hard-working husband for granted, while Thelma’s substituting human love with the affections of a dog; Latice can’t deal with her wanna-be-grown son; and Gwena’s hasn’t told her girls that Marcus is a man from her past.

Then the worst happens. When they finally agree to let Marcus go, he’s already freed himself by breaking the handcuffs – and all hell breaks loose.

Spencer writes an intriguing book full of humor, suspense, and plain old fun. It also brings honest conversations about women and men. He Had It Coming is not a lesbian novel, but the camaraderie of the five women is one to be admired. It proves a black man is no match for a strong black woman – especially five crazy ones.

Reviewed November 2005

Intimate Chaos by Cheril N. Clarke

Publisher/Date:  Dodi Press, July 2005
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  219
Website:  http://www.cherilnclarke.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

We’ve all been in Sadira Cooper’s shoes – loving someone we know, deep in our hearts, is all wrong for us. But we believe beyond hope that she will become the perfect woman for us.

Sadira faced this dilemma and more in Cheril N. Clarke’s INTIMATE CHAOS.

The novel opens with a letter from Sadira’s ex, Jessie, apologizing for the mistakes made in their tumultuous relationship. Sadira’s reading of the letter takes her three years back, when she first met Jessie. Traveling on the subway, Sadira spots the dreadlocked beauty and is instantly attracted to her. She oddly asks for Jessie’s email address, and they exchange messages, getting to know each other and eventually dating.

Yet the more Sadira becomes acquainted with Jessie, the more Jessie runs away because of issues from her past. Meeting a thoughtful and romantic woman like Sadira scares her; it’s something Jessie’s never had. When things are good between them, Jessie pulls disappearing acts, going in and out of Sadira’s life without notice, hurting her in the process. She breaks dates, holds back her feelings, and doesn’t appear to genuinely care as much as Sadira does about their relationship. And every time Sadira tries to break loose from Jessie’s hold, she finds some way to come back into Sadira’s life.

Sadira knows that Jessie’s revolving door behavior and standoffish attitude is not how she wants to be treated. Even after friends and her twin sister, Khedara, all warn that Jessie is not the one, she still moves their relationship forward, and the two relocate to Miami to begin a new life.

With the move, things are good at first, and then their relationship spirals into its old patterns. Jessie still hasn’t opened up completely with Sadira and spends far too much time at work instead of being home. Things get so bad that Sadira is contemplating sleeping with her neighbor Kenya. It all comes to a head in the most dramatic fashion.

Intimate Chaos is simply that indeed. In Clarke’s novel, you’ll be exposed to Sadira’s innermost thoughts as she falls in love with a self-absorbed woman. Throughout the book, you get caught up in Sadira’s grief, almost to the point where you want to yell at her, “Wake up!” But you don’t; you simply feel her pain, as we’ve all been there before.

Clarke’s writing is enjoyable, and I look forward to other books by her. I just hope in the sequel, Sadira finds love with someone who’s emotionally available to love her in return.

Reviewed November 2005

Walk Like a Man by Laurinda D. Brown

Publisher/Date:  Q-Boro Books, Sept. 2006 (Reprint)
Genre(s):  Short Story, Erotica
Pages: 305
Website:  http://www.ldbrownbooks.com

[xrr rating=5/5]

Mind-blowing is the best way to describe WALK LIKE A MAN, Laurinda D. Brown’s first foray into erotic fiction. Brown compiles 11 tempestuous tales featuring the whole gamut of Black lesbian lust. Her writing is sharp, and the message is clear: exploring sexuality uninhibited.

In the prologue, Brown explains the book’s title and sets the tone for what’s between its pages. It begins with an unnamed narrator describing what it’s like making love to another woman-feeling like a man underneath the exterior of a female.

After the prologue, Brown puts it down. In “An A For Ashley,” Dee falls hard a pretty girl with a playa mentality, and goes so far as to tattoo an “A” on her arm. Once Dee finds out she’s been used, she seeks her revenge and shows Ashley who wears-or owns-the panties.

Next, Monique becomes “Mo,” in this tale of a girl abandoning her prissy ways and adopting a stud persona after to deal with being assaulted by a neighborhood store owner. Then in “Natasha,” an employee mixes business with pleasure when she embarks on a trip with her sexy boss.

Brown tackles sexual roles in “Dom and Dommer,” which humorously describes the relationship between two dominant women. Who wears the pants? Who pumps the gas? They can’t decide, but know that their love encompasses more than their sexual personas. Even including a little politics, Brown writes with heart in “Dress Right Dress,” about an older lesbian falling in love with an army lieutenant who abides by a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality.

Humor is also interspersed in these sexy stories, as evidenced by the next two tales. “Tastes Like Chicken” amusingly captures Iris as she finally savors the flavor of woman’s nectar. In “Pimp,” a womanizing stud gets beat at her own game by a sneaky one-night stand; she forgot to abide by Pimp Rule 1: Never leave your cell phone lying around.

Brown revisits Mo years later in the story “Strapped,” while in “The Greatest Love Story Never Told,” Frankie doesn’t get to share her feelings with the woman who stole her heart-her wife makes sure of that.

Finally, the bonus tale, “Caught Up,” ironically features four sides of a love triangle. Everyone has her own version of how things went down, including the wife, the cheater, the mistress, and her girlfriend.

Every story in Walk Like a Man is enjoyable. Brown has done an outstanding job creating these stories of passion and pain. It goes a lot deeper than simply getting you off, but touches on every aspect of sexuality. It also features an assortment of lesbian characters from the roughneck stud to the professional femme.

Definitely read at your own risk, as these tales will leave you craving more.

Reviewed November 2005