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

Publisher/Date:  Dafina, June 2008
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  262

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

Bare Necessities: Sensuous Tales of Passion by Hazel Mills

Publisher/Date:  Xpress Yourself Publishing, LLC , Feb. 2008
Genre(s):  Erotica, Short Story, Bisexual
Pages:  112

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

When passions are laid bare, it can be sensual, exciting and worth every minute.

The same can be said about BARE NECESSITIES: SENSUOUS TALES OF PASSION, the collection of naughty gems and poems written by Hazel Mills. Containing 11 stories of sexual candor, Bare Necessities combines a little bit of romance and a little bit of sin to create a short-but-sweet romp worth reading.

Bare Necessities begins with “A Lover is Born,” where Laila is introduced to Gabe at her book club meeting and is instantly entranced. She wants to get to know Gabe better, and what better way than to host the next gathering at her place. The bash is a success in more ways than one, as the two ladies manage to get their own party started.

In “Surrender,” a workaholic husband and wife put the spice back into their marriage by attending a couple’s retreat. Yet, this isn’t just a boring therapy session; it’s an experience that allows them to seek unknown pleasures, and from it the married lovers learn that it’s okay to let go and explore their freaky sides.

Then in the most poignant tale of Bare Necessities, “Sweet Home Alabama,” a Philadelphia transplant returns for her family reunion in Sweet Home, a small town with even smaller dreams. Despite escaping, Tracy has only one regret after leaving her hometown: abandoning her childhood sweetheart, Monica. She vows to find her – and finally be with the woman she never stopped loving.

There more treasures in Bare Necessities, and Mills doesn’t hesitate to give them to you. Her stories are funny, warm, and hot in just the right places. Even though the book has a mere hundred or so pages, it doesn’t fail to get you fired up. I look forward to reading more from Mills – hopefully in a book with a much higher page count.

Reviewed August 2008

Lookin’ For a Lover by Zaria

Publisher/Date:  New World Publishing, May 2008
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  30

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. If that’s true, the characters in LOOKIN’ FOR A LOVER are sure to have a spot saved just for them.

Lookin’ For a Lover, the debut novel from author Zaria, follows the path leading to love, one that had such high hopes but doesn’t necessarily end on that street. The main character, Zaria Jones, thought her long-desired dreams of being with a woman were finally fulfilled, but, like life, doesn’t always work out as planned.

Zaria is a thoughtful, no-nonsense day care director by day, and a true freak at night. Her fantasies are of the woman variety, and are so vivid that she begins to question her sexuality. Despite what her dreams suggest, Zaria denies her passion, believing that it’s just because she hasn’t found “a good man” yet. She’s looking but hasn’t had any luck, except for her maintenance man, Blade.

Her luck changes when she discovers her perfect mate is a woman, whom she meets by chance at a local bookstore. Zaria is instantly entranced by Charmaine’s hazel eyes and bodacious frame. They hit it off and soon begin seeing a lot more of each other. It gets real serious real fast. Zaria couldn’t have imagined her all dreams could have come true with her first lesbian relationship.

From there, Zaria’s ready to tell the world how happy she is. Everyone’s not exactly thrilled with the couple’s new-found love. It takes a strength Zaria’s never known to face the fact that she’s in love, and to get past the rejection from her family and friends. Zaria knows her relationship with Charmaine is worth the pain – or is it?

Lookin’ For a Lover is an intense but enjoyable novel. The book is filled with Zaria’s sugar-filled fantasies taken to the next level. Those moments alone will keep you enthralled, but the novel’s supporting characters and their storylines take the cake, as well. I definitely plan to read the sequel. With that being said, some of the book’s more outrageous situations will lead one to believe being gay is a catalyst to being crazy.

This makes for a more exciting read, but a sad one, nonetheless.

Reviewed August 2008

Love & Money Don’t Mix by KoKo B

Publisher/Date:  Angel Pearl Publishing, Dec. 2007
Genre(s):  Contemporary Romance, Intrigue
Pages:  220

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

If money can buy love, then it can never be true. This is the case in LOVE & MONEY DON’T MIX, the debut novel authored by KoKo B.

The story revolves around Amanda and Shaun, a seemingly perfect couple who first meet a party. Becoming inseparable almost immediately, the two grow together through the years, sharing their lives. There are things that bother Amanda, the narrator of this tale, such as Shaun’s uncomfortable distance from her family and her overly ambitious nature. However, Shaun is a go-getter in every sense of the word, and only wants to make a better life for herself and Amanda.

So when she takes a job with a dubious businessman, Russo Tolentino, the money is flowing and Shaun is thrilled to have such a high-powered post. In fact, the money’s so good, it blinds Shaun to the fact that there might be more than meets the eye with her boss. It’s only when employees come up dead that the couple realizes this job is placing their own lives in danger.

Someone is after them, and with crooked cops in the mix, Amanda and Shaun only have each other to lean on. Can their love be enough to get them through this unsavory situation?

Love & Money Don’t Mix is an intriguing book, one you could easily sit down and breeze through in an afternoon. While there are some interesting plot twists, the story doesn’t live up to its premise of a lesbian couple on the run. I felt Amanda and Shaun’s characters weren’t as fleshed out as they should have been, and therefore I wasn’t as invested in the couple’s struggles. The excessive grammatical errors don’t help either. With that being said, Love & Money is still a story that can hold your attention.

Reviewed August 2008