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
Website | Instagram | Twitter

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

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When I Was Your Girlfriend by Nikki Harmon

Publisher/Date:  Mt. Airy Girl Press; Jan. 2016
Genre:  Romance
Pages: 214
Website:  http://mtairygirlpress.weebly.com/

Rating: ★★★★½ 

How can you be sure that your first love wasn’t your true love? Dee Armstrong leads a seemingly charmed life. She has a successful midwifery practice, a supportive family, and an exciting romantic life. But when Dee mistakenly believes she will have to confront her first love and first heartbreak, Candace, it sends her tumbling back into her memories to re-live the terrifying and exhilarating joy of being a teenager in love … with another girl. Suddenly convinced that Candace was her one true love, Dee sets off on a tumultuous cross country journey to find her in hopes of renewing their relationship. Her quest leads to some serious soul searching and the realization that maybe love wasn’t the only thing that she lost all those years ago.

WHEN I WAS YOUR GIRLFRIEND by Nikki Harmon is a rich romance tinged with nostalgia, a refreshing story about a woman looking for her first love.

Dee Armstrong recognizes the good things in her life: a rewarding career as a midwife in a thriving Philadelphia practice; co-workers and clients she adores; family and friends who provide support and pull no punches when it comes to advice.

The only thing to give Dee pause is her girlfriend, Pepper. While Pepper is primed to take their relationship to the next level after six months, Dee is not sure this is where she wants to be. This hesitancy gives way to thinking about all the women she’s been with, and the only one woman that she could ever say she was in love with: her high school sweetheart, Candace.

For 31-year-old Dee, high school was a while ago. Thoughts about a woman whom you haven’t talked to since breaking up in your senior year would be just that: notions about where she is now, whether she’s married or single, or has children; if she ever thinks about you after all this time. Yet Dee takes this to a new level and tries to track down the one who got away. Interspersed with this journey to the past that includes a road trip, cross-country flights and internet detective work, Dee is reliving the rise and fall of her young love with Candace, a dimension that adds depth to the story.

I really enjoyed this jaunt Harmon took me on with Dee because she’s a likable character, even when she’s being a little selfish and a tad presumptuous in her love scavenger hunt. Ultimately, she has a great heart, and her friends, Viv especially, made this book so easy to fall into. I also loved the inside look Harmon offers in Dee’s occupation as a midwife, how passionate she is about her patients and the new lives she facilitates into the world.

The biggest part of this story – the mystery of Candace – is what I gravitated toward. I mean, there are times when I was cautious about what she would find, but I had to know, just like Dee, what happened to her former love.

Harmon’s writing is well done; her descriptions of Philadelphia (or wherever else Dee landed), made me feel as if I were there. However, I feel the pacing of the novel could be better; at times there are big jumps from days to weeks that seemed a little incongruent. There was also one plotline involving one of her clients that could have been left out because it added nothing to the story. As far as the ending, all I can say is I’m happy, but I wonder what will happen next.

When I Was Your Girlfriend is a romance I indulged myself in over a weekend because who doesn’t want to know where her first love is? Read this story, and it just might make you look her up on Facebook. Just maybe.

Reviewed April 2016

Read the Sistahs Pick Interview with Nikki Harmon

Turn Me Out: The Novel by T. Ariez

Publisher/Date:  Amazon Digital Services LLC, March 2016
Genre(s):  Stud 4 Stud, Romance
Pages:  199
Website:  https://www.facebook.com/T.Ariez3

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Angel and Ace are best friends who happen to both be studs. When Angel realizes that she has developed feelings for Ace, she devises a plan that will go against everything she’s ever known and believed in. She is tired of the traditions and rules that make her feelings taboo and decides to risk everything. When she finally decides that she can’t take it anymore and throws caution in the wind, will it all be worth the risk?

In 2013, T. Ariez’s short story, Turn Me Out, introduced studs Angel and Ace who found themselves in the precarious situation of being attracted to one another. Two studs in lust? Where they do that at? Though it’s oftentimes inconceivable in our black lesbian community, Ariez made the romance between two best friends believable through her writing and characters in such a brief tale.

Fast forward to 2016, and T. Ariez has expanded her earlier quickie into TURN ME OUT: THE NOVEL, and this version is meatier than I imagined it would be. It broke me in several places. The novel pretty much follows the same basic premise as the short story, but focuses more on the “where do we go from here” aspect and explores Angel and Ace becoming a couple. This is where shit gets real.

Now I’m not a stud. So I don’t fully understand what it’s like be a masculine woman in a man’s world.

But it’s hard not to empathize with Angel as she contemplates her feelings for Ace, who’s as hard as they come. We’re in her head as Angel as she grapples with being in love with her best friend, the person who showed her the ropes of stud life and sheltered her during their teenage years. The lengths she goes through to tell Ace how she feels are real and moving and hard to read at times, but the affection they have for each other is hard-fought and raw. Their love scenes were some of the hottest because of this masculine, loving vibe between them.

My biggest concern, though, was how Angel felt she had change herself to what Ace wanted. Ace, Ace, Ace. It was all I could take not to slam her hand in a car door, mostly because of how she dealt with loving Angel. Her hangups, based on what people would think, about loving another stud were going to be the death of her friendship; I just wanted her to wake up and see what was in front of her. Ace was also spoiled, a stud used to bedding a different femme almost every night, and being in love was something she envisioned as a last resort. Until Angel.

I was so invested in Turn Me Out: The Novel. The resolution Ace comes to, and the fight Angel goes through to prove her love, is what makes this book special. I hope this book will help our community let go of the rigid stereotypes we place on each other and ourselves.

T. Ariez, I’m ready for the next one.

Reviewed March 2016

2 Sides 2 the Rainbow by Unique Waterfall

Publisher/Date:  Amazon Digital Services, Inc., Feb. 2015
Genre(s):  Romance, Drama, Studs and Femmes
Pages:  356
Website:  http://www.uniquewaterfall.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Say what you will about their love lives, but Ming, Nayla, Angie and Rachel know how to get down to business. The women of 2 SIDES 2 THE RAINBOW are good friends, but have professions that pair them with love interests that intersect in interesting ways. Unique Waterfall shows that the foursome is about their money, but when it comes to the studs in their lives, that’s where they mix business with more than enough pleasure.

Ming, the unofficial leader of the crew, is a lawyer trying to land a deal with the hottest stud in the modeling industry. There’s no way she can lose this account, even when a handsome samaritan stays on her mind after assisting her one night – unless that guardian angel is her new client’s agent. Even with that distraction, I loved Ming’s professionalism through it all; she seems to have her head on straight when it comes to what she wants and when her friends’ drama lands in her lap.

Especially with her friend Nayla. While her friends know her love for women, she’s apprehensive about coming out to her family. Even with her friends’ support, Nayla still can’t admit, even to herself, that she’s a lesbian. Meeting a stud who challenges her denial, Nayla is at a crossroads that one can sympathize with. Her struggle anchors the book and is the most compelling character to watch.

Angie, Ming’s assistant, is trying to find love also, but I mostly see her as comic relief to the other women. Rachel, hotel executive by day and opportunist by night, is my least favorite of the women, only because I didn’t get to know her enough throughout the novel. The stud love interests are passionate in their own special ways.

2 Sides 2 the Rainbow is a mix of fun and drama, but there are a a couple of hiccups: it needs an editor’s red pen in places, and the conversations between the women regurgitate too much what just happened in the scene before. However, Nayla’s struggles, Ming’s relationship and the bond between Ming and Nayla are the major pluses for me. Considering the book ended on the biggest cliffhanger, I’ll be happy to see how the women progress and what new they’ll get into in the upcoming sequel.

Reviewed February 2016

Surrender by Monique B. T. Thomas

Publisher/Date:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, June 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Mature Lesbians, Workplace Romance
Pages:  328
Website:  http://authormoniquebeingtruethonas.
wordpress.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

SURRENDER: TWO HEARTS AND A RAINBOW SERIES (BOOK 1) reminds me of the Harlequin romance novels I used to read sneakily under the covers at night when I was nine years old: swoon-worthy and full of feels.

That’s not to say that Surrender is a saccharine love story. It has the mature relationships and wisdom expected from Monique B. T. Thomas, the author of several titles including Love Relived and In its Rawest Form. In the start of a new series, Surrender offers workplace romance, criminal mischief, and a charming family storyline. Yet as in all her previous novels, the biggest draw is the chemistry between the main love interests, in this particular case, Robyn Sterling and Kenya Martin.

Robyn and Kenya serve two different stations in Pens & Things. Robyn is the CFO in the office supply company her great-grandfather built during the 1950s, now run by her father. While she toils at keeping the family business in the black, her love life is about avoiding relationships at all costs; the only long-term commitment Robyn values is to Pens & Things. So when the discovery of financial mismanagement in one of its stores launches Robyn, at her father’s request, into a scheme to save Pen & Ink’s bottom line, she’s eager to unearth the root of the store’s issues and get back to her normal routine. That goes awry once she meets Kenya.

A petite, dark-skinned lovely, Kenya is the overnight manager at the store Robyn’s supposed take over. Her job, which she takes seriously, is to handle the early morning deliveries and ensure stock is in place before the shop opens. Untouched by love also, Kenya is a respectful, dedicated and strong-willed worker, but finds herself flustered by Robyn – first by her gruff demeanor, then by her evident attraction to the commanding woman.

This is what sets everything – Robyn’s line of attack, a company cover up, and most importantly Robyn and Kenya’s love affair – into motion, a plot that Thomas handles so swiftly that it keeps the pages flowing.

Again, the best part is the romance brewing between the Pen & Ink employees. Two women who grew up in separate worlds – Robyn with a trust fund, Kenya in a foster home – both not expecting much from love, and finding what they needed in each other. It’s just an enjoyable love story that’s believable and great to immerse yourself in.

The supporting characters, most especially Robyn’s family members, are happy additions to the story. That’s also one of Thomas’ strengths: creating characters that are flawed but endearing.

There are some faults to Surrender – the editing could use work, the ending does wrap up too quickly – but honestly, I can’t wait to see where Part Two in the Two Hearts and a Rainbow series goes. If it’s just as engrossing as this one, I’ll be back to curling up on my couch with a good book.

Reviewed November 2014

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.

Maxi’s Place: Volume One by Literary Stud

Publisher/Date: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Apr. 2014
Genre(s): Romance
Pages: 128
Website:  http://www.literarystud.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

MAXI’S PLACE (VOL. 1), a bind-up of three previously published serial e-books by Literary Stud, is mixture of love, secrets and heartbreak simmering in one spot.

Yes, just like her tagline says, the popular hangout for the Dallas lesbian crowd features “good food, good music and great drama.” But the good thing is that the drama is not over-the-top, just enough to give fantastic character development and a sense that the next volume will promise better things.

Last year, I reviewed both Rumors Ring True (Part 1) and It’s Complicated (Part 2), and found both to be engaging.

Part 1 titled Rumors Ring True mostly surrounds hostess Ava and saxophonist Bailey discreetly flirting with each other while suppressing their mutual attraction, both wary to begin a workplace romance because of prying eyes and ears. Not to mention Maxi’s Place owner Cole wants to keep her establishment drama-free – which means no employee fraternizing.

Speaking of Cole, It’s Complicated (Part 2) allows readers a glimpse at the woman who knows how to run a restaurant like a well-oiled machine – and her office like a sexual revolving door. Under Cole’s management, every employee knows their role except head chef Tasha, the only one who can dish flak (and her favorite sandwich) to Cole without consequences because they have a genuine friendship that goes beyond the doors Maxi’s Place. It also acquaints us with bartender Logan and the beautiful nightmares that haunt her after her shift is over.

In the most recent installment, The Lies We Tell (Part 3), readers get a real tour of a night a Maxi’s Place. Ava and Bailey are still in the mix, Cole and Tasha find themselves at odds and Logan is trying to get her life back on track. I won’t say anything more because it’ll give away the book’s progression, but just know that Part 3 is the best of the series.

With five strong characters, Literary Stud moves from good, to great to excellent as each installment progresses. The story is stronger, as well. Where there was too much of Ava and Bailey in the beginning, everything smooths itself out, and everyone gets equal time. Maxi’s Place (Volume 1) is a good showcase of Literary Stud’s talent, and I would love to see what she would do with a full-length novel.

Reviewed April 2014

Sweat: Chapter One (A Lesbian Soap Opera) by LezIntellect

Publisher/Date: Amazon Digital Services, Inc., Feb. 2014
Genre(s): Romance, Drama
Pages: 22 (e-book short)
Website: http://diaryofablacklesbian.blogspot.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

The Plot: SWEAT: CHAPTER ONE introduces twins Odessa, a womanizing, prodigal daughter of sorts and Olivia, the responsible older sister (by two minutes) who’s been running their father’s successful hair care empire while Odessa is away in the Big Apple. She’s returned home to her family’s sprawling home and decides as usual she wants what she wants without a thought to what’s been happening while she’s gone. If she had only made a phone call or two, she would have discovered that Olivia has been taking care of things just fine in Atlanta.

The Good: Author LezIntellect makes it clear this first installment of Sweat is just the beginning. She has way more in mind for her characters; she promises Chapter Two will bring someone “dynamic.” She also knows a thing or two about how to write a descriptive setting and how to give her characters great backstories (even if we don’t know everything just yet), which makes me captived with Odessa and Olivia. And I love the cover artwork.

The Not-So-Good: Sweat‘s sentence structures can be a little redundant, but I have a (kind of) bigger issue. The thing about soap operas: every time you get closer to the truth, in comes a commercial. That’s how I felt when I got to the end of Sweat. Waiting chapter by chapter is going to be the death of me. *cue death music* *cut to commercial*

The Bottom Line: I have to know what happens next. I guess there’s a reason LezIntellect calls it Sweat.

Reviewed April 2014

Who is First Lady Wanda Davis? (Book 1: Greater Harvest Saga) by Michael Drain

Publisher:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, Dec. 2013
Genre(s):  Religious, Romance, Coming Out
Pages:  114
Website:  http://www.browninkentertainment.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Wife. Mentor. Friend. Shopaholic.

In WHO IS FIRST LADY WANDA DAVIS?, a story of the perfection it takes to be a pastor’s wife by Michael Drain, we’re introduced to all sides of Wanda, even the ones she tries to keep cleverly concealed.

Wanda Davis followed her husband, Howard, from their college days to the pulpit. In the years since his installation, she’s been the “perfect” pastor’s wife: steadfastly supportive of Howard’s mission, mindful of her words and actions, and helpful whenever needed. This dedication and her husband’s strong word ascend Greater Harvest Cathedral to megachurch status. Once a rock in the South Bend, Indiana community, the church is now in the wake of a scandal, and Howard thinks Wanda is a catalyst to getting the church back to its roots.

Yet Wanda is in the midst of her own spiritual storm.

Being a first lady doesn’t allow much room to be herself. Where she felt other wives in her position wielded their power in a greater capacity, Wanda felt stifled. She can’t speak her mind or tell what’s bothering her, lest she be judged. This pressure builds into an addiction she can’t shake: shopping. Hiding expensive clothes and thousands of dollars in mounting debt, Wanda’s compulsion may stem partly from her first lady pedestal, but it actually masks an even deeper craving: being with a woman.

As a pastor’s daughter, Wanda couldn’t reconcile her spiritual self with being a lesbian. After breaking it off with a female classmate in college, Howard was the man who accepted her as she was, and she saw him as her rock and deliverance.

Even when she didn’t see it, Howard has always believed in his wife and their relationship. He places Wanda front and center over the church’s women’s service during revival. Wanda, with her heavy heart, is not so convinced, especially when the occasion pairs her with an alluring event planner. How can she lead the women when she is so conflicted in her own soul?

The pastor’s wife element in Who is First Lady Wanda Davis?, the first in a series, adds something extra to Drain’s story, but I feel Wanda could be any woman confused in her sexuality and her love for God. Her turmoil in living up to the self-imposed standards of a first lady — and the behind-the-scenes church drama — are real to the black church. We do make it hard for our gay brothers and sisters, but what I found moving was how understanding Howard was to Wanda’s transition then and now as she figures out her life. Howard’s a good guy.

The book’s formatting could use work, and the sermons throughout are slightly repetitive, but Drain engages.

By the conclusion, I can tell something more sinister is coming in Wicked Harvest, Book 2 in The Greater Harvest Saga. I’ll be reading it.

Reviewed February 2014

Interview & Review Chat | Love Relived by Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas

Publisher/Date:  CreateSpace, Feb. 2013
Genre(s):  Romance, Friendship
Pages:  198
Website:  authormoniquebeingtruethonas.wordpress.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Friendship and love go hand and hand…or does it? Photographer Mahogany Williams and head museum educator Cheryl James are testing this theory after being childhood best friends, then later lovers — and watching their connection crumble over the years. Can they get it back together? I had to find out from Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas, author of LOVE RELIVED. So read on to see what she thinks about love and friendship in this Interview & Review Chat. The transcript follows below:

Sistahs on the Shelf: Oh, Miss Monique?!

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I am here.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Lol

Sistahs on the Shelf: Hey, how are you?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I am wonderful and antsy.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Don’t be. It’ll be painless, I promise.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Okay, so…let’s start with how long have you been writing?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I have been writing poetry since I was five years old and short stories from seven years of age.

Sistahs on the Shelf: So basically most of your life. What were you writing about at five years old?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Yes, I have been writing since I could put together words. My mother encouraged creativity and she always pushed me to read and write as much as I could. I used to sit at her desk and fill up yellow legal sized notepads with lines about my best friend at the time and my love of anything that had to do with basketball.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Oh, so this could have been the basis for Love Relived? Maybe?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Hmmm (inserts smile) I shall never tell.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Lol!

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: To be truthful my first girlfriend was at the age of seven and she was not my bff.

Sistahs on the Shelf: 7, huh? I was still dreaming of girls instead of kissing them at that age.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I had already had my first and second kiss that year.

Sistahs on the Shelf: *smh* *but impressed*

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: lol

Sistahs on the Shelf: Now about Love Relived, bffs in love. Tell us about your book.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Love Relived is a story that came to me as I was working on another book idea. The main characters are Cheryl and Mahogany, two women who were best friends throughout adolescence. My focus for the storyline was the aftermath of friends becoming lovers. Most people think that it can be an easy move to just get into a long lasting relationship, especially if the friendship had been so strong. That I believe is a myth that starts the relationship of wrong. Once Cheryl and Mahogany crossed the line the conflict began and there are really no answers for years leaving both with questions.

Sistahs on the Shelf: All very true.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Especially when one partner is struggling with her sexuality, like Mahogany, while the other knows who she is, like Cheryl.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Exactly! Mahogany is dealing with her own personal struggles. As close as she is to her friends not even they know that she was dealing with her sexuality. She feels as if she has an obligation to her family to be someone that she is not. She is strong but like so many of the strong she has a weakness. In Mahogany’s case it is her grandmother Mama Hanna. She knows her grandmother to be a God fearing woman and being gay is something that Mahogany doesn’t think she will accept.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Acceptance is something a lot of us have struggled with as black lesbians. I think you wrote Mahogany’s struggle realistically.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I tried my best to make sure that Mahogany came across real. We may not care if society accepts us as black lesbians but there are people who are close to us that we wish would love us no matter who we love or what we do.

Sistahs on the Shelf: But the crazy thing is where we think we’re hiding ourselves, some of our family members knew our tea before we poured it.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Yes! I have found that the only people in the “closet” are the ones that claim not to be in one.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Yep!

Sistahs on the Shelf: Speaking of realistic, is Cheryl and Mahogany’s relationship based on your or anyone else’s relationship?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: No one has asked me this question so kudos to you. (smile) When I first set out to write this book I had no particular thought process. I just let the words flow. It was not until I read the first draft back to myself that I realized that this was subconsciously personal.

Sistahs on the Shelf: How so?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: For one thing I have been in a situation where a friend and I have crossed an emotional line that was way beyond friendship. Although I explained my reluctance I did not shut down the feelings that I knew were growing. I tried to act as if I could use my charm and full blown cocky arrogance to move past the feelings and continue our friendship as if nothing had changed between us. That proved to be unrealistic and problematic. The line had been crossed and the friendship became difficult. When someone tells you they want to move forward with you romantically and you don’t it is a difficult thing. When said person is a very good friend the stakes are high. You have to deal with feelings of rejection, hurt, and anger. It is a dangerous game.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: So like Mahogany, I decided to run.

Sistahs on the Shelf: So what happened?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: We have both moved on. The friendship is done. We have not talked in years. We have mutual friends and it is crazy because we respond to their posts on Facebook without talking to one another. Life is something.

Sistahs on the Shelf: It sure is.

Sistahs on the Shelf: But crossing that friendship line…do you think it can be worth it?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: That is the billion dollar question isn’t it? The friends and lovers debate has been going on for years. For some it works and for others it is a disaster. I believe that it can work but when before a dating relationship can begin a conversation has to be had. You can’t bring up everything that pertained to our friendship. As I used to say all the time, once the line is crossed it is a different ballgame. The” me” you knew as your friend may not be the “me” you want as your mate. You really have to think about it.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: If I was a jerk to all my girlfriends, don’t assume that I will treat you different because we have a history as friends.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Huh, ain’t that the truth.

Sistahs on the Shelf: But having that history is “supposed” to make the relationship easier, let some people tell it.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: That is foolishness. Maybe for some that was the case and I applaud them. Most however don’t remember the way they watched you treat your other mates until something happens. By then you can’t bring it up because you were warned way in advance. As a matter of fact you as the friend had the clearest crystal ball of them all but for whatever reason you chose not to see. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that everyone can change. I know that personally. I am just speaking truth.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Speaking of being true, throughout Love Relived, Cheryl is stayed true to herself regardless of the changes Mahogany put her through. I loved that about her.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Thank you so much. Cheryl’s weakness is Mahogany. Though that is the case she refuses to let Mahogany’s confusion cloud her decisions and break her heart further.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I remember a line from your book that said, “It’s the crime of stealing hearts.” I loved that.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: That line is from a poem I wrote when I was around 18 years old called, ‘Robbing the broken’. It was really me boasting that I could say whatever, do whatever and still like a boomerang I knew the girls would come back. I used to be arrogant beyond. When I was writing that particular scene in Love Relived the line came to me again. Now that I am older it has a completely different meaning.

Sistahs on the Shelf: What meaning does it have for you [now]?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Now that I am older and have lived through a few trials in my life the line is a symbol of knowing that I didn’t want the love I was receiving but instead of saying that I took it anyway. That is a crime. Those girls could have spent time with someone who was worthy of their admiration.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Wow. That is some truth right there.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Thank you. I have learned lessons and through the teaching that my wrongs have showed me I am better.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Writing has helped tremendously. I can see certain characters clearly because of my experiences both personal and through friends.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I agree. Writing and reading especially have always opened my eyes.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Yes indeed!

Sistahs on the Shelf: Now Mama Hanna. I want her to adopt me, since I have no living grandparents. She is a hoot and a great sounding board for both her granddaughter Mahogany and by extension, Cheryl.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I love when she tells Mahogany: “Girl a pot unstirred never made good stew. It just sat and burned.”

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I adore Mama Hanna. She is lively, blunt and doesn’t miss a thing. She is the true meaning of unconditional love. The lines that she says in the book are me all day. I can make up a saying in a second.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I know that’s right! I follow you on Facebook.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Ha! Ha!! Yes I like to think I am a wise clown.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Yes, you are. Mission accomplished.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: LOL! Thank you.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Okay so one last question (I think). What new projects are in the works?

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: First let me just say that Lisa, a character from Loved Relived has her own story, In its Rawest Form, which is currently out. I began 2014 by putting out my latest Feeling for the Wall. This one is for those who have been in real love. I mean that kind of love that makes you smile but question. It also deals with what happens when after years of being together how life can get in the way with the day to day love. What happens when routine overwhelms us. I have two other books that I am working on now that I will be putting out sometime this year. One will be released this spring and the other in the fall.

Sistahs on the Shelf: You work hard, Monique.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I have been blessed with a partner who has made it so that I can live my dream.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I also have a short story collection and a few novelettes available as well.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I would like to add something if that is okay.

Sistahs on the Shelf: Sure, go ahead.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: The end of 2012 was one of the hardest years that I think I have ever been through. I was holding it together for the masses but inside I was scared and falling apart. I had a serious health scare and I lost my job. I was nervous to the point that I wrote out a will. I didn’t know if I would be here for 2014. Having already had one stroke due to stress I was told that I was on the verge of having another. That is why I dedicated every moment of 2013 to writing and family. I opened my eyes wide and really looked. I realized a lot of things about myself and I also learned how much my babe truly loves the heck out of me. I have gotten healthier and have learned to clear my mind and return to the “me” that I am. For that I will forever be thankful and I will not give up this chance to share my love of writing with the world.

Sistahs on the Shelf: That is heartbreaking and beautiful and inspiring. Your hard work is paying off.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I hope that it does. I didn’t want to leave this world without more of my work published.

Sistahs on the Shelf: You’ll have plenty of time to share more, I’m sure. I truly believe that.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: Thank you! I am in much better health and have moved back into my positive space.

Sistahs on the Shelf: I’m glad.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: As am I. I have more time to clown *lol*

Sistahs on the Shelf: *lol* You slay me, Mo.

Monique ‘Being True’ Thomas: I try.

Reviewed/Interviewed January 2014