A Different Kinda Luv by Tanaine Ja’Cole Jenkins (June 2006 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  iUniverse, Dec. 2005
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  213
Website:  http://www.adifferentkindaluv.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

It might seem like it’s all about the bling in Tanaine Jenkins’ debut novel, A DIFFERENT KINDA LUV, but once you get into the adventurous romance story, it goes so much deeper. Absorbing until the last page, Jenkins knows to capture your attention.

Best friends Nickaya “Nick” Rivera and Jordan “Jae” Taylor have been through it all. Growing up together since kids, the pair has nurtured each other through rough childhoods, survived their college years, and matured into successful entrepreneurs. The friends own Flavors, a popular gay nightclub they bought in the college-town of Tallahassee. However the ladies couldn’t be more different.

Jae is the more level-headed of the duo, the one who works to the bone in both business and love. She works hard to keep Flavors the best in the city. And when in love, she falls hard, giving much of herself to the relationship. That led her to stay in a miserable relationship for so long with A’lanna. But she finds comfort in Tamiera, someone who is the total opposite of controlling A’lanna. Tamiera is down-to-earth, loving and thoughtful. The two make a great couple, but Jae doesn’t want to move too fast. She soon realizes, though, when you find a different kinda luv, you hold on to it.

Nick, on the other hand, ain’t studying love and is all about the you-know-what. Women are simply playmates, and she’s the one holding the cards. That is, until she meets Suenos, Tamiera’s friend. Nick allows her in her heart just a little, spending more time with her than with any woman Jae’s seen her with. Nick knows Suenos is a special lady, but she’s not sure she wants to turn in her playa card just yet. She’s not quite convinced if this is a different kinda luv.

Jenkins’ book delves into a lot of action that will keep you flipping the pages. It’s a read in one night kind of book because you won’t want to put it down. The fast cars, the crazy parties and the beautiful women will capture both studs and femmes alike. A little slow at first, it picks up and keeps you on the edge of your seat till the end; the ending will leave with watery eyes. Jenkins, grammatical errors aside, is a good storyteller—and that counts for a lot.

Cause everybody’s looking for a different kinda luv. And in Jenkins’ book, it’s certainly possible.

Reviewed June 2006

In Fear of Losing You by Ericka K. F. Simpson (Mar-Apr. 2006 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  Publish America, Nov. 2005
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  240
Website:  http://www.publishedauthors.net/e_factor

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Commitment-phobia never read so good as in Ericka K. F. Simpson’s IN FEAR OF LOSING YOU, where good friends Kelly “Sweets” Owens and Katrina “Kat” Stanton are two 20-something soft studs looking for love in all the wrong places and coming up empty. However their reasons why are completely different.

Sweets is the optimistic romantic, a person who falls in love with just about every woman she meets. Overcompensating for the mistakes made with her ex Lisa, Sweets’ is determined to meet the right woman who will complement her life. Instead, she runs into chickenheads who have no problem breaking her heart. After several disappointing chances at love, Sweets still thinks God will bring her the one who will truly love her.

Kat, on the other hand, won’t let love destroy her. The ambitious businesswoman finds her pleasure in as many women as possible and subjects them to her “rules before engagement” terms. She only indulges in her flings for about six weeks–her breaking point. After that she moves from the ex to the next, never getting too close to anybody. Even when she thinks she has a chance at happiness with a beautiful femme, she pushes it out of her life, refusing to show love as her weakness.

Both women are smart, successful, and charismatic, but love is not their strong suits. They have a lot to learn about being true to themselves and their hearts.

In Fear of Losing You is a great book, and Simpson is a wonderful storyteller. The trials of these two women will consume you, and the colorful cast of characters adds a unique flavor to the novel. I was engaged at every page. Simpson handles the plot smoothly, and taking control of her grammatical errors would make the book better. However the story is a winner, and one every black lesbian should have on her shelf.

Reviewed March-April 2006

Unconventional Love by Yvette Michelle Hall (Feb. 2006 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  PublishAmerica, Jan. 2005
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  153
Website:  http://www.submergebooks.com

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

When a novel with the title UNCONVENTIONAL LOVE appears, you’re never quite sure what to expect. Would it contain a passionate romance, a puzzling mystery or some nail-biting intrigue? Yvette Michelle Hall’s debut novel is a wild roller-coaster ride that has all of those things and more, and the author paints a picture with words where things aren’t always as they look.

The protagonist of Unconventional Love is Rocky, a blonde-haired, Robert-Redford look-alike who works as an auto mechanic. While out one night with the boss and a potential client, Max Constantino, she introduces herself to Coco, a sexy, pecan-tan stripper, and they exchange phone numbers at the end of an extremely private dance. Pretty soon, they’re spending a lot more time together and become live-in lovers. Despite Rocky’s disdain for her seedy profession, Coco manages to dance her way into Rocky’s heart – but it also sets her up for danger after she’s abducted.

The novel also follows the relationship of Max and his wife, Leslie, a woman who is tired of her husband’s cheating ways. What she doesn’t know is that Max’s most recent lover has a little something extra – and is blackmailing him to keep it underwraps. Meanwhile, Leslie’s having her own fun with a handsome stud, one who just might turn her out.

There’s a lot more – I mean, a lot more — going on in Unconventional Love, but that you’ll have to read for yourself. The point of Unconventional Love – a novel with several plot twists and turns – is discovering just who is who in this jumbled story. Hall pulls it together nicely, and the book’s quick pace will have you wondering what will happen next. Although the author’s occasional stiff delivery and dialogue can derail the flow, Hall is a good writer who I believe will definitely improve with each novel.

Don’t let this stop you discovering this great novel – and learning just how unconventional love can truly be.

Reviewed February 2006

You Make Me Wanna by Nikki Rashan (Jan. 2006 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  iUniverse, Nov. 2005
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  202
Website:  http://www.nikkirashan.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Kyla, Kyla, Kyla.

The naïve heroine from Nikki Rashan’s Double Pleasure Double Pain is back in YOU MAKE ME WANNA, this time armed with the truth about who she is. This sequel picks up where Kyla left off, trying to decide between the man she is to marry and the woman who stole her heart. When she finally does choose, Kyla has lost them both, and instead heads to Atlanta with out-cousin David to begin her newly-minted lesbian life.

In “the gay Mecca of the South,” Kyla throws herself in numerous sexual affairs with women, avoiding at all costs a deeper connection. She’s still holding on to the hurt she felt from her two previous relationships that went sour. It prevents her from giving herself completely to another woman, afraid to feel any type of pain again.

Until she meets Asia, the exotic beauty Kyla spies one afternoon. Enraptured by her luxurious locks and ebony complexion, Kyla wants to meet this woman and does after a set up by David’s boyfriend, Marlon. And just one meeting with Asia tells Kyla that she’s the one. They begin a courtship, and Kyla has to deal with letting go of her past to commit to her future. Their relationship is built slowly, as Asia’s been hurt, as well, but their love for each other heals the wounds.

You Make Me Wanna definitely keeps your attention. Kyla is an engaging character who has an honest voice. You will journey with her through love at first sight and on her way to happily ever after. The secondary characters — David, Marlon, and friend Nakia – added something extra to the tale, as the three characters deal with their own issues.

Rashan wraps up the Kyla saga very well, settling all unanswered questions from the first book, and manages to make Kyla a character to remember. She feels like an old friend who’s coming back to catch you up on her life…and you’re hanging on to every word.

Reviewed January 2006

Am I My Sister’s Keeper? by S. Stephens (Dec. 2005 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  iUniverse, Sept. 2005
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming Out
Pages: 164

Website:  http://www.sstephens.info

Rating: ★★★★★ 

When your head is torn between your sexuality and the expectations your parents, where does that leave your heart? That is the struggle starkly captured in S. Stephens’ debut novel, AM I MY SISTER’S KEEPER? Stephens brings the protagonist Elise James to life, along with her grueling inner struggle to both stay true to herself while pleasing her family.

Elise has acknowledged her attraction to women since she was 15 years old. With that knowledge, she delved into the world of same sex relationships only to have it blow up in her face when her parents learn of her “lesbian episodes.” It plants a wedge between Elise and her parents, and ruins the relationship with her younger sister, Lynn. It’s then Elise realizes the world does not accept her kind of love, and after a four-year respite at a college far from home, she leaves women behind to live a “normal” life. She doesn’t want to put her family through any more pain and yearns to be the daughter her parents could be proud of.

After settling at home in Miami, Elise begins dating Grayson, a high school classmate. They become serious very quickly, and are engaged within weeks – to the pleasure of her parents, but to the chagrin of her other “family” – best friends Carmen, Iran and Donna. They know Elise is simply fooling herself being with Gray. In spite of disagreeing with her decision, the friends take Elise out to celebrate, and that’s where Elise meets Symphony.

Symphony is the type of woman Elise has always desired – smart, sexy and self-confident. Despite being engaged to Gray and, she begins seeing Symphony on the sly, carrying on a wicked tryst. Elise is torn between the perfection of Symphony and the perfect life she has mapped out for herself with Gray.

Meanwhile, baby sister Lynn is falling through the cracks. Lynn always looked to Elise, but because of Elise couldn’t be true to herself, she fails Lynn. Their parents spent so much time trying to keep Elise “straight” that Lynn acts out to receive any attention at all. When Lynn’s so far gone that the worse happens, it takes the whole family by shock, but finally brings them together.

Am I My Sister’s Keeper? is a heart-wrenching tale of a woman who sacrifices her heart and soul to please her family. It takes her a while but Elise figures out that being herself, without qualms, takes true courage. S. Stephens writes a true story with intensity and a great ring of truth. The plot is carried out smoothly, to a climax that will keep the reader hanging on for dear life. Make room on your bookshelf for Stephens as she is an author worth reading every single time.

Reviewed December 2005

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

Rainbow Heart: You Have No Control Over What the Heart Decides by Toy Styles (Oct. 2005 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  iUniverse, Inc., June 2005
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  144
Website:  http://www.toystyles.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

A girl comes of age and acknowledges her sexuality in Toy Styles’ debut novel, RAINBOW HEART: YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER WHAT THE HEART DECIDES. This saga stars Evelyn Kelly, and her quest to love herself enough to be who she is.

At the novel’s start, Evelyn is 13 years old. Her world revolves around her crew that includes younger sister Tammy and friends Kiesha, Tiffany, and May. The girls share their lives and troubles at home, always leaning on each other for support. As the fivesome grow up in their Washington, D. C. neighborhood, they each have trials of their own. Sisters Kiesha and Tiffany live with a crackhead mother, while May endures sexually abusive father. Evelyn and Tammy have the best home life, being raised by their overbearing but loving mother.

But as close as the girls are, Evelyn has always felt different. Evelyn’s not quite like the other girls, with their crushes on boys. This is evident from the first chapter as her sister teases her constantly about not having a boyfriend. She’s never had one, and doesn’t want one.

She’s only comfortable around her girlfriends, especially May. The two share a special bond that no one, even jealous sister Tammy can break. Evelyn adores May, and they have this special connection. Although she doesn’t know what it is, Evelyn feels a deeper love for her that she can’t explain. Things turn sad for them, though, when Evelyn has to move from D. C. to Texas They lose touch after a while, and she is simply heartbroken. She never stops thinking about her, even when the story fast forwards 10 years later.

At 23, Evelyn is seriously dating Antwan, or at least Antwan is serious about her. Evelyn’s not so sure she’s in love. She feels something isn’t right between them. Antwan doesn’t have a clue as he’s ready to propose marriage.

By this time, Evelyn has a new best friend and roommate, Six, who’s gay. She confesses this to her, and the two enter a secret relationship. This is enough for Evelyn to know she’s gay – and that she has to break it off with Antwan.

No better place to out yourself than your own birthday party. After her sister Tammy manages to bring all of the fivesome back to surprise her, including May, it gives a bold Evelyn the courage to announce to family and friends her true self. Does her family accept her? Will she get back with May, and what about Six…and Antwan? Evelyn doesn’t have all the answers, and author Styles plans to answer them in the next two books in this trilogy.

All in all, Rainbow Heart is a novel that keeps your attention. Toy Styles is a great storyteller, but the grammatical errors do take away from the story. But that aside, you will want to know what happens next-and to see exactly where Evelyn’s heart takes her.

Reviewed October 2005

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

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

Changes by S. D. Lewis (Aug. 2005 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  AuthorHouse, Aug. 2003
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  268

Rating: 4 out of 5

CHANGES is the revolving story of 20-somethings Lelani, Jasmine and Moe, players in the game of love–all at different skill levels.

Lelani is the rookie, a mere virgin to both love and sex. Best friend Jasmine has had her share of rocky relationships, including a strained one with her baby’s father. And Moe is the stud extraordinaire, who’s had more women than she can count (or keep up with). These unique women are looking for different things from love–until their paths cross in several different and dramatic ways.

Jasmine, who says she’s bisexual, begins a sensual flirtation with Moe, who regularly visits Jasmine’s self-owned salon to deliver FedEx packages or to get her hair hooked up. They have a great first date, and although Moe believes Jasmine could be “the one” to make her give up the game, Moe still can’t let go of her wicked ways.

Meanwhile, Lelani is looking for “the one” herself. She thinks she may have found it in L.D., Moe’s best friend. The pair meet one day when Lelani is distraught and strike up a quick friendship that gradually turns into something more. But all the romantic dinners and picnics in the park dissolve after Lelani asks to meet her mother; L. D. simply can’t take it there because of the ex who still has a piece of her heart.

This is when the drama erupts. There’s a lot of back and forth, but the story ends happily, with everyone getting their relationships intact, even playa-playa Moe.

Lewis has created a credible plot in Changes that keeps you riveted. She manages to give each woman a distinctive voice, as each woman has her own story to tell and changes to make.

Reviewed August 2005