The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus (& Giveaway!)

Publisher/Date: Dutton Books for Young Readers; Sept. 2019
Genre(s): Romance, Magical Realism, Young Adult
Pages: 320
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Rating: ★★★★★ 

Reading THE STARS AND THE BLACKNESS BETWEEN THEM by Junauda Petrus feels like the spiritual balm needed in times like these when we need our ancestors more than ever. The romance between 16-year-olds Audre and Mabel is a lyrical, tender love story about the healing magic of love.

When Audre is sent from Trinidad to live with her father in America, she’s still in pain over being caught by her mother in a compromising position with the pastor’s granddaughter – and simultaneously separated from her first love. She is shipped off to Minneapolis, to a father she sees on occasional visits. While in Trinidad, she adored her grandmother, Queenie, and consumed all things of the earth – food, nature, spirits, magic. In America, she has to adjust to a new country and new customs.

What makes it easier is Mabel, the daughter of her father’s best friend, who she spent time with in recent years. They hit it off pretty well, and it’s clear a connection is forming between the girls who used to spend summers eating raspberrries from Mabel’s family garden.

Even through the growing attraction, Mabel is going through her own crisis, dealing with a mysterious pain that is far more serious than she thought. Mabel seeks answers to both living and dying, and with the help of Audre, is given the answers via her ancestors near and far. The spirit of Whitney Houston also plays a prominent role in Mabel’s life.

What I loved about The Stars and the Blackness Between Them is the pure, unyielding love between Audre and Mabel. At 16, to deal with life and death, while still being alive and in the moment is something Junauda Petrus captures with such a depth. The narration, mostly by these two young women, also includes the dreams and thoughts of people in their lives, such as Audre’s grandmother Queenie, whose visions provide courage in the face of the unknown. The inclusion of an incarcerated man who corresponds with Mabel seems even more relevant to the ongoing saga of Black people held hostage by an unjust society.

For those reasons, The Stars and the Blackness Between Them is a book that should be read and loved and celebrated.

Reviewed June 2020

GIVEAWAY!

 

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Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Publisher/Date:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Sept. 2015
Genre(s):  Romance, Coming of Age
Pages:  336
Website:  http://www.chinelookparanta.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

I love coming-of-age stories. The transition one makes from child to adulthood is an evolution I watch with fascination. Ijeoma’s growing up is especially captivating because the 11-year-old lives with the threat of falling bombs, food rations and army takeovers during the Nigerian Civil War in UNDER THE UDALA TREES by Chinelo Okparanta (author of Happiness Like Water).

Set in the town of Ojoto, the time is 1968, and the juxtaposition of her typical experiences of a girl her age – attending school and watching the boys play Policeman – contrasts sharply with worries of her father, a drafter obsessed with any report about Biafra’s attempt to defeat the government. Ijeoma sees him poring over newspapers that line his study or listening to his radio-gramophone, and prays for an end to the conflict so that her father, as well everyone around them, can return to normal life.

A subsequent attack leaves Ijeoma fatherless, and fearing her daughter’s safety and well-being, her mother sends her to be a housegirl to a grammar school teacher and his wife in neighboring Nnewi. An adjacent hovel with only a table and mattress – no bathroom or running water – becomes her new home, and Ijeoma has to contend with her new surroundings as well as her mother’s abandonment to prepare them a new life.

Working for the childless couple proves mindless, until she meets Amina, a girl about her age whom she discovers has no family, and luckily, convinces her caretakers they could use an extra pair of hands with chores. They share Ijeoma’s small confines, but it’s where their attraction begins to blossom. Ijeoma and Amina come from different tribes – Ijeoma is Igbo, Amina is Hausa – but they shyly explore the other under the moonlight and stars while taking nighttime baths. Both without family, both working to earn their keep, the girls begin a love affair that sustains them and blinds them to the danger of being found out – until they are found out – and then Ijeoma returns to the care of her mother.

This is where Udala finds its footing. Ijeoma becomes bombarded with the decisions of whether being gay is God’s will or an abomination as her as her mother emphasizes with daily Bible studies and incessant scripture quoting. Her questioning of God’s word leads her to believe that the world is not as black and white as the pages of her Bible, but her mother sees her daughter’s life only in terms of being married and having children. Ijeoma is reluctant to take this path, but it seems the only way out in a country where being gay can be a destructive decision to make.

Under the Udala Trees is a lot of things: a coming-of-age tale, an exploration of Nigerian folklore, an examination of religious doctrine. But quite simply, at its heart, Trees is a bittersweet love story written incredibly well by Okparanta. While the religious overtones can sometimes bog down the story, it leads to Ijeoma becoming introspective about what God sincerely wants. I found the story, despite its somber nature, to be hopeful with every page toward the novel’s end. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about Trees that makes me feel as if Ijeoma finds her happy ending.

Reviewed February 2016

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Cream by Christiana Harrell

Publisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Aug. 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Sexuality
Pages:  230
Website:  https://www.facebook.com/girlnovel

Rating: ★★★★★ 

CREAM is my first Christiana Harrell book. *hangs head in shame*

But it definitely won’t be my last because Harrell, whose Cream was a 2014 Lambda Literary Award finalist, truly proved her talents with a book surrounding the life of a character I loved and rooted for the entire way.

Cream is her stage name, a strip club performer with an androgynous appearance and a beautiful body. Dancing for men became a means to an end after being in a foster home after her parents’ abandonment. The first few pages introduce this past and her take-no-shit personality that serves her well as a stripper.

But it also gives credence to why she moves from city to city. Why she’s never befriended hardly anyone since her group home days. And why, even with the fights she’s had (and won), there’s still there’s an innocence about her.

Cream’s sexual naivety is the meat of this book. It’s shown in the way she was drawn to her friend Kitty – until she suddenly left Cream’s life. In the way she latched onto Payton, the daddy’s girl who shows her being a stud is her real meal ticket – both professionally and romantically. And when finally she finds unconditional love, she almost runs in the opposite direction.

And this realness is what I loved about Cream, both the book and the character. This gullibility Cream owns is not a Mary Sue plot device, it’s a journey Harrell writes so we can take this journey with her main character. You feel as if you’re a newbie right along with her, from Kansas City to Atlanta, and everywhere else in between.

Just the way Cream drops her boxers on the stage, Harrell’s writing leaves it all on the page. There’s very realistic dialogue, the sex is on fire, and Harrell’s voice is loud and clear through Cream without muddying the two voices. Her supporting characters also play a big role in the book, to the point where I thought Cream molded herself to any woman who offered her a hand.

That leads me to my next point that one of the most interesting aspect of Cream hinges on the sexuality of the characters. Though Cream dressed and performed as a stud based on Payton’s advice, it should be noted that Cream sometimes questions defining herself as a stud. Until meeting Payton she wasn’t aware of what a stud was, which at times I did find a skeptical. I could say it was because of her upbringing and her singular focus on survival, but never thinking about who you are sexually was a small part of the book that nagged at me. But her exploration of who she is was genuine.

Cream definitely fulfilled my expectations. The love she found and the book’s conclusion were so fulfilling, and worth the learning curve Cream took to find what I think she was always looking for – whether she could admit it to herself or not.

There’s a reason why Harrell has more than 10 books to her name. I plan to read every one of them.

Reviewed June 2014


8 Quick Questions for Christiana Harrell about Cream

Tell us about your book, Cream.
Well, in as few words as possible, Cream is simply a story about a woman who learns some hard lessons about love and money, while discovering her identity and sexuality along her journey.

Who is Cream?
I want to say that Cream could be any of us, but she’s just too unique to be categorized. She’s carefree, she makes her own rules, she has tunnel vision, she just is.

One of the things I enjoyed about your novel was it felt as if you put yourself in the head of Cream: being on the stage, discovering her sexuality. How did you create her as a character? Any research involved?
Oh, there was plenty of research (lol). If you noticed, in the novel I mentioned real stud strippers like Face and Juicebox. I watched every video that I could find, but this time for “research,” rather than enjoyment. I watched their moves carefully and their facial expressions. I had to pay attention to costumes and audience reaction. Basically, none of the things I would normally pay attention to. We tend to forget that during the fantasy they create, they are people and they have lives outside of those neon lights. I try to be my characters in my real life when I write them. The people around me get some great entertainment.

Is Cream based on a true person or situations?
Cream is part fiction and part non-fiction. I don’t remember how this person came up, but my ex-partner and I were talking/gossiping like most couples do and she was telling me about a “stud” that lived the same lifestyle as Cream. The little bit that I learned made me want to give her a story. I didn’t know this person myself so I had to fill in the blanks. Literally, all I had to go on was a dancer who danced for both men and women because she was “about her money.

The gist I took away from Cream is that sexuality can’t be defined by roles or labels. Was that your message?
That was definitely one, the biggest one. Roles seem to be a big deal in our community when they really shouldn’t be. If people can read about Cream and accept her the way that she was, then they can accept anyone.

Will you continue Cream’s story?
I thought about it, but if I did that, I’d have to continue so many others. I couldn’t stand the pressure

What’s next for Christiana Harrell?
At the moment, I’m working on the second stud in the “Stud Life Series.” Her name is Magic. There are three others that have to come after her. That should keep me busy for the next two years or so. Hopefully, one of them will get an award. I won’t complain.

Cream was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in the Lesbian General Fiction category. Congratulations! How did it feel to be finalist?
Aw man. I literally almost fell out of my chair. The day that I submitted the novel, I honestly did not expect to hear anything back. You’d be surprised how much I doubt myself. Being a finalist definitely gave me confidence, but now I have to top Cream and I’m not sure that’s possible. Either way, I’m happy and humbled for the experience.

Want to know more about Christiana Harrell? Read her Sistahs on the Shelf interview A Sistahs Favorite Things interview.

Happiness, Like Water by Chinelo Okaparanta

Publisher/Date:  Mariner Books, Aug. 2013
Genre(s):  Short Story, Love, Family, Religion, Women’s Issues
Pages:  208
Website:  www.marinerbooks.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

When I picked up HAPPINESS, LIKE WATER by Chinelo Okparanta, I saw it profound that I was drawn to this book about girls and women in Nigeria, the same country where almost 300 girls were stolen from their dormitory in April, only to be sold as chattel or hidden away. In Okparanta’s short story collection, her characters wrestle with their own issues of love, faith, and sorrow. Happiness grabbed me at the first couple of pages, and I couldn’t stop reading – and thinking – about a woman’s worth.

Set in a land with lush landscapes and sweltering days, the women’s plights – from coveting a lighter skin color, to falling in love with the same sex – are captured in heartbreaking detail. It deftly embodies what lengths women would go through to have what they believe is happiness.

Highlights include “Grace,” surrounding a religion professor with an inquisitive student posing questions about sexuality and the Bible, with both eventually discovering the tough answers lead to each other; “Runs Girl” featuring a young woman who learns there is a price to doing the right thing for the right reasons; and the unreliable narration of “Story, Story!” drew me in to a woman’s despiration to have a baby.

Yet by far, my favorite story from Happiness is “Tumours and Butterflies,” which drew me into the tumultuous relationship between a daughter and father so focused on his child’s missteps he fails to see his own. There’s a loss of innocence one has, even as an adult, when you realize your parents are toxic to your well-being. Okparanta portrays this feeling well.

What Okparanta also does well is convey the realities of Nigerian women and families in America. Okparanta, a Nigerian immigrant to the U.S. at the age of 10, allows us to see how the United States is treated as a promise land of sorts in her native country, where dreams can be fulfilled.

After reading Happiness, Like Water, I can see exactly why Okparanta won a 2014 Lambda Literary Award just a few nights ago because I was enamored with her writing. The way she turns a phrase, even when a story takes a sad turn, is comforting. The lesbian stories are handled with care, providing some of the happier moments. Happiness envelopes you into the life of the characters, who have experiences that could shared by any woman in any country, but are more sentimental to Black women in particular. But the sadness is truly palpable in Happiness. There were only couple of stories I felt had an abrupt ending, but it didn’t take away from the strength or authenticity of Okparanta’s voice.

Reviewed June 2014

Descendants of Hagar by Nik Nicholson (Jan. 2014 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  AuthorHouse, July 2013
Genre(s):  Historical Fiction
Pages:  398 pages
Website:  http://www.niknicholson.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

I’ve stated in a previous post that DESCENDANTS OF HAGAR was outright the best book I read in 2013. The reason why belongs to Madelyn “Linny” Remington, the heroine of this tale set in a fictional version of Zion, Georgia in 1914.

Linny carried away my heart in world that wasn’t made for modern women: where women are voiceless without a man; when marriage was an arrangement between a father and the man he chose for his daughter; where a woman’s only calling and accomplishment is to bear children.

And in this sheltered life stood Linny, treated like a son instead of a daughter, groomed to build and work beside men, and given a voice unlike her own wedded sisters who were expected to keep quiet. At 20 years old and unmarried, she could have been considered an old maid, but she never saw her worth tied into being betrothed.

Underneath the way Linny’s expected to take on a masculine work ethic lies the heart of a woman. She can hunt and slaughter, but her favorite time is sitting in the women’s quilting circle, connecting with the grandmothers, mothers and sisters of Zion, relishing the women’s stories and lost dreams.

Nicholson creates Linny’s most significant female relationship with her great-great-grandmother, Miemay, who ensures Linny’s purpose wasn’t being someone’s wife. Miemay, an ex-slave and the only woman in Zion to own land and businesses (without ever learning to read), is highly respected as a town elder. This knowledge she passes on to Linny, slowly giving her control over her affairs. Whereas Linny believed she was following the wishes of the woman who practically raised her and spending time with a woman with more head smarts than five men combined, Miemay was preparing Linny to be self-sufficient.

There are so many layers to unravel in Descendants of Hagar, and Nicholson has done her research to tie them in a vibrant arrangement. Linny’s strong voice brings to life a woman’s sexuality in a post-Reconstruction era novel and all the challenges it brings – a single woman taking care of her own home without a man’s help, feeling slighted by her mother because of her unlady like ways, being treated like one of the guys but being left out of their conversations.

Family is also one of Hagar’s solid storylines, because Nicholson touches on just how important kin is to Zion, not only to provide a foundation but also to its prosperity. All of the work done in Zion, from the construction of houses, to picking cotton, to running the main store, is kept in the family, and working together has allowed them to be better off than many in the poor white towns surrounding them – but also creates worry about the next threat from will bear “strange fruit” in their own backyards. Linny’s relationship with family is tenuous, most especially with her parents and brothers, but the love from her sisters is her lifeline. Though they treat her with kid gloves at times, they depend on her, admire and envy her unencumbered life, and add such a great life to this novel.

And falling in love is aspect of Hagar that’s significant but not an overpowering part of the novel, which I enjoyed. I assumed there would be some romance, but I appreciated how Nicholson didn’t make it the bulk of this tale. The love between her and Coley is realistic of and fits into the context of the time. Coley means well, and I like how she allows Linny to think outside the box, but Coley is a piece of work. Just get to know her.

Descendants of Hagar is a potent story – somber, sweet, funny, uplifting, enriching – and Nicholson does a fantastic job of capturing this time period. She truly did her homework. This makes me even more excited for the sequel, Daughter of Zion, out this fall.

Full Circle by Skyy

Publisher/Date:  Urban Books, May 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Drama
Pages:  354
Website:  http://www.simplyskyy.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

This is what happened when I opened my mailbox to find FULL CIRCLE waiting there…

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Why the jig? Because Full Circle is the fitting end of a series that began with three best friends – Denise, Cooley, and Carmen – at Freedom University, and finalizes the family they’ve made with Lena, Misha and Nic. What happened in the three previous books – Choices, Consequences and Crossroads – comes completely together in Full Circle and is so good it’s worth the back-and-forth these characters experience page after page.

At first reading, it seems as if everybody is living in the past. Lena, mother to 4-year-old Bria, can’t help thinking about the what-ifs with Denise, only because she’s single and hasn’t had a relationship since Crossroads‘ Terrin. Seeing Denise everywhere – on TV, in movies, on gossip blogs with her girlfriend Farih – only furthers the helplessness she feels about her mundane life. Thus the pining begins…

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Denise, the once-college basketball star, is rising actress in New York and also a part of a powerful lesbian couple with girlfriend/model Farih. Dubbed the black Portia and Ellen, their life appears magical, but behind the scenes, Farih is obsessed with reviving her waning career at Denise’s expense. All Farih cares about is being back on top, and it leaves Denise time to wonder why she and Lena couldn’t make it work. Seeing Lena in Atlanta brings those feelings back, and again they circle around one another without landing the plane…

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Meanwhile, Cooley is still on the grind as manager to both Denise and Sahara, her long-time girlfriend. Cooley has settled into a great relationship with Sahara, something we never could have predicted based on Cooley’s playa mentality three books ago in Choices. Cooley thinks Sahara is the best thing since sliced bread, and would give her just about anything – her heart included. So when something sinister happens to test Cooley’s love, we find out whether Cooley slips back into her trademark way of using sex as a band aid, or trusts that being in love can help you get over the hurt. Let’s just say the growth from Choices Cooley to Full Circle Cooley is tremendous. She’s not the same, and though she slips, she never falls. Skyy truly shows Cooley’s growth as a character.

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Things get more complicated when Misha is back in the picture. Cooley’s first girlfriend, the first one she ever gave her heart to, is back hanging with the Freedom University crew, still married with a husband and son. There are so many things she had to give up to be married – her education, her career, her dreams, lesbian pussy – that she wonders if it’s all worth it. Her husband is stifling her in the worst way, but this is the life she wanted when she left Cooley, right? Right?

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Back in Memphis, Carmen is set to walk down the aisle to Nic, her hardworking stud. They’ve settled into domesticity, and along with her tedious job as a teacher, Carmen finds her life boring as compared to Denise and Cooley’s fast-paced, sumptuous careers in entertainment. They can afford things Nic can’t, and though she would never trade Nic for anything, her envy could ruin her impending nuptials. All she wants is the fairytale wedding…

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I truly enjoyed this book. Full Circle is just a fun, thoughtful read. It’s a page-turner, and definitely something that will get readers talking. The writing, though slack in parts, is some of the best Skyy’s done.

In this final book, she gives readers what they wanted, and if you’re a true fan of Skyy, Full Circle is a fitting end to a series you’ve followed for six years. Skyy built characters we love for better or worse. Despite their many faults, we’ve trailed from undergraduates to grown women, seen their mistakes, yelled at them when they just couldn’t get it right (yes you, Lena!), cussed Cooley every which way, and shed a tear when love brought them together (here’s looking at you, Carmen & Nic). You can’t ask for much better than that.

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I wonder what characters Skyy will create next. She’s got a hard act to follow, but I think she can do it.

Reviewed June 2013

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Broken in Soft Places by Fiona Zedde

Publisher/Date:  Bold Stroke Books, May 2013
Genre:  Bisexual, Romance, Drama
Pages:  264
Website:  http://www.fionazedde.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Leave it to Fiona Zedde to come up with a tantalizing theme for her latest book – polyamory – a subject that black folks might do, but don’t talk candidly about. Being a part of a couple that openly allows the other to have sex with someone outside their relationship is usually left to whispered conversations. Zedde shows us in BROKEN IN SOFT PLACES that it’s not only possible, but there may be a reason why people engage in or stay away from this type of coupling.

Sara Chambers could never resist the enigmatic Rille Thompson since their first meeting at a college party, Sara as an innocent freshman to senior Rille’s big-lesbian-on-campus status.  Sara spent a good amount of time wishing Rille could be hers only, however, Rille resisted being tied down to anything singular in nature, including her lovers – be they female or male. Sara and Rille attempted to find freedom in each other for different reasons, but their feverish connection proves combustible right before Rille graduates.

Fast forward to present day, and the pair found their way back to each other, despite the many wounds Rille inflicted on Sara way back when. Much hasn’t changed, except now Sara is an attorney and Rille is a physics professor. And they have someone else occupying their bed. A man named Steven.

Sara never liked this arrangement from the start, and it weighs on her, never having Rille to herself, a situation Sara has allowed since their college days. The good thing is Sara recognizes why she stays with Rille, a woman with no self-control, and why being with Rille makes her feel somehow feel whole. Or does it? Can she untangle herself from Rille’s dominance as she allows monogamy to pass her by? Will she keep allowing her heart to be baby-sat by a woman someone who doesn’t know what love is?

Layers upon layers disintegrate the more you get to know the people in Broken in Soft Places. I can’t say enough about the flawless writing Zedde endows the reader, words coming together seamlessly and alluringly like Zedde knows how to do. She also dug deep in her portrayal of the war-torn Sara and Steven, and to a smaller extent, Rille. *sigh* Rille is so callous and as I read, she just got under my skin (the sign of a good character). I couldn’t stand how she treated Sara, and really anyone who stood in the way of her pleasure principle (Freud would have a field day with her on his couch). Yet, I did feel some sympathy for her that she couldn’t open up herself to love. And frustrated that Sara couldn’t find the love she wanted and deserved.

Reviewed June 2013


 5 Quick Questions for Fiona Zedde about Broken in Soft Places

Polyamory is such a taboo subject in the black community. And you’ve written Broken In Soft Places, such an invasive book about it. What was your motivation? Is it a taboo subject? I didn’t realize that. I know it’s not overtly accepted in most mainstream spaces but I think many people live it. There are women who know about and accept their wife or husband’s other lover. Couples that regularly have threesomes or identify as swingers. Groups of friends with benefits. My motivation for writing Broken In Soft Places as I did came from needing to talk about one of the elephants in the room; something we all know about but seldom explore in fiction. These polyamorous relationships exist but discussing the truth around what happens with the people involved is what can be considered taboo.

What do you say to readers who are surprised by the three-way relations in your novel? That’s a good question. I’ve already had readers express a certain amount of shock by the plot and characters of the novel. My response is that I wanted to write something different, true and challenging. I don’t exactly think of it as controversial, but it could be thought-provoking. I’ll always write lesbian characters (like Sara) but their sexual relationships may not always be monogamous or even easily defined by the constructs of accepted social behavior. And their stories, just like in real life, may not end as expected.

Sara is a fractured soul and Rille is a free spirit if I’ve ever seen one. What did it take to write both characters who seem polar opposites? I started off writing about Sara and all the pain she was suffering. And it was through her “broken” spirit that Rille’s character was born. I wondered what type of woman would Sara be attracted to and why? When the answer came to me, it wasn’t about how this woman would look and identify, but about her attitude in the world. This attitude is what Sara wants to embrace for herself. She desires freedom. She wishes she didn’t care what the world thinks. She wants to be stronger. Rille is the embodiment of all these yearnings.

Have you ever been in a poly relationship? No, I haven’t. I’ve been approached about being in one; it isn’t for me.

If you could have a threesome with any celebrities, whom would they be? Michelle Rodriguez and Eve, but Michelle would have to be tied up. I’ve heard she gets violent.

I am Your Sister: Season 2 by Ericka K. F. Simpson

Publisher/Date:  EKS Books, Apr. 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Religious, Family, Stud’s Point of View
Pages:  287
Website:  http://www.ekfsimpson.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Forgiveness. An 11-letter word whose concept is hard to give and even harder to do.

It is also Symone Holmes’ Achilles heel, and the emotional theme flowing through Ericka K. F. Simpson’s I AM YOUR SISTER: SEASON 2. The college basketball star is all grown up in the sequel to the previous I am Your Sister, but she learns life gets harder out of school and off the court.

At the novel’s start, Symone has a female b-baller’s dream: she’s the top draft pick for the WNBA,  about to graduate college, and considering forever with the love of her life, Regina. Nothing could make the point guard happier. Then she gets a phone call that her mother has had a stroke – and it brings her unhappy history with her mother front and center.

The relationship between Symone and her mother Paula became rocky the summer before her sophomore year in high school when it was “discovered” that Symone liked girls. Through flashbacks, a flood of painful memories continue to haunt Symone, reliving her mother practically disowning her. Paula refused to acknowledge her daughter’s lesbianism, and their bond disintegrated to zero contact. Moving on with her life, it took being away at school for Symone to put the past behind her but she never forgave her mother or herself.

This guilt takes its toll on her relationship with Regina in ways Symone didn’t realize. It’s the answer to why she is never able to fully open up. Why she feels she couldn’t bring Regina home to her family. Why never she allows Regina to share in her past hurts. Really, Symone could blame her generational curse for her inability to share her emotions, passed on from the male elders in her family, but she knows she can’t rely on excuses when both her mom and her future wife need her. It’s time to truly play ball, and this time, she needs this victory to heal her heart.

I’ve mentioned before that I am Your Sister is one of my favorite books, mainly because Symone is such a complex character. Simpson puts her everything into Symone, and after reading her memoir, Living With 3 Strikes (which you should definitely pick up), I understand how Simpson is inspired by her own experiences in IAYS2. This gives Symone the touch of realism that I’ve come to expect from this writer.

Symone is deeply-drawn, far from perfect, and trying on her adulthood with the help of God. She doesn’t pretend to be something she’s not and doesn’t apologize for whom she is. There’s also a down-home appeal to this Virginia-reared stud, one I found refreshing.

I am Your Sister 2 does have its minor flaws –  the ending left me flabbergasted – but between the laughter and the “wows” I had while reading convinced me that I will always have a soft spot for Symone Holmes.

Now I’m ready for another season.

Reviewed May 2013

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

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

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

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