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

Callaloo and Other Lesbian Love Tales by LaShonda K. Barnett

Publisher/Date:  New Victoria Publishers, Oct. 1999
Genre(s):  Short Story, Romance
Pages:  123
Website:  http://www.lashondabarnett.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Stories of love, loss and affection are finely written in CALLALOO &OTHER LESBIAN LOVE TALES. LaShonda K. Barnett book consists of 17 tasty morsels, each one portraying a distinct flavor of black lesbian love.

All of the tales are written realistically and with passion and soul, and cross various eras, locations and cultural variations for their inspiration. From the late 1950s to the present, Barnett presents these sensuous journeys that travel straight to the heart.

In the first story, “The Homecoming of Narda Boggs,” it’s 1959 Texas, and Jeannie Mae has fallen for the boss’ daughter, discovering that being with Narda is much more exciting than being with her beau, Booker. “Rituals” finds Nella and Muriel more settled with each other in their old age, while Lilah finds her cinematic muse with Kelsea, a white woman she tries hard not to love.

“Miss Hannah’s Lesson” is one of the highlights of Callaloo, and it beautifully portrays the love between a house slave named Sarah and her mistress, Miss Hannah. Hannah cares so much for Sarah she helps the girl learn to read in spite of the trouble it could cause. Through Sarah’s teachings, their love develops so effortlessly despite the differences in their skin color and stations in life.

Every sound has Lily “Remembering Hortense,” and food takes on a passionate meaning in “Breakfast with Dinah.” Shawn can’t play the fool anymore in “The Telephone Call,” while Dorie’s fascination with gay symbols in “Black Triangles, Rainbows and Dykes” helps her figure out whom she is.

Another highlight of Callaloo is the story “Meatloaf,” a woman who agonizes over her lover’s death, but realizes that life with Carmen wasn’t a walk in the park. She relives the pain of living with an alcoholic lover, and decides that she’s been grieving over Carmen far before her tragic death.

A girlfriend’s illness brings a couple closer together in “New Kid on the Block,” and “It Happened One Sunday Afternoon: A True Story” that a young girl falls for a much older woman despite what the world thinks. And Lynn gets a sensuous surprise when her girlfriend unexpectedly shows up in “Tennessee.”

“Losing Sight of Lavender” is a poignant tale about Sael, a lesbian in a HIV-positive support group coming to terms with her mortality. Going to her meetings helps her to reminisce on her life and hope for a better tomorrow despite the prognosis she’s been given.

“Bitter Wine” finds Leta rekindling a friendship with a childhood friend, while an anonymous couple recalls how they met in a “Conversation at Lucy’s.” Death takes its toll “When Sunny Gets Blue,” and a Linda brings a taste of home to her lover with a pot of “Callaloo,” the title story.

Barnett does an excellent job with Callaloo and these adoring tales. It shows the many forms love can take, and just how we all can’t live without a taste.

Reviewed February 2006

Loving Her by Ann Allen Shockley

Publisher/Date:  Northeastern University Press, Oct. 1994
Genre(s):  Romance, Mature Lesbians
Pages:  187

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

That which we call a rose by any other name is just as sweet, and the love between a black musician and a white writer can be just touching in LOVING HER, Ann Allen Shockley’s tragic story about an interracial romance.

When the novel begins, Renay Lee is packing her suitcase and trying quietly to escape with her daughter, Denise, to escape her abusive, alcoholic husband, Jerome. The mother and daughter run to Terry Bluvard, a wealthy white woman Renay’s fallen in love with. They live together quite nicely and Renay finally feels free from Jerome Lee’s suffocating grasp.

Renay met Terry while working as a musician in an upscale supper club, and introduces herself to the writer after she requests a song. It was something Terry that drew her to the woman so different from herself, a woman who grew up with a silver spoon her mouth, compared to Renay’s meager upbringing. Here was a woman who with one touch could make her feel things she never though possible, after years of detached feeling with Jerome Lee. Things at home with her husband are worse than ever and the last straw comes when Jerome sells her beloved piano, the one thing her hard-working mother was able to give her daughter.

So she runs to Terry, a woman who is able to give her what she’s been missing: love. They make a great home together, for themselves and Denise. Jerome Lee is a miserable mess, and tries his hardest to make life a living hell for her, terrorizing her and stalking their home at every turn. He can’t fathom that Renay can actually make it without him, and tries his hardest to get her back.

It all comes to a head when Jerome Lee discovers whom she left him for, and his outrage is evident: Renay’s left him for a woman! His anger leads to tragic events, and Renay has to figure out whether her guilt will allow her to love a woman despite the pain their relationship has caused.

Shockley makes it quite clear that love has no boundaries in Loving Her. Black or white, genuine affection is what’s most important. She doesn’t sugarcoat the romance between Renay and Terry, as they encounter many roadblocks to their love. Shockley spells out their pitfalls and outlines their sensitive love story with care. Flowery writing is still her trademark, and although it makes the story too long-winded at times, it kind of works here, keeping you on the edge of your seat.

Loving Her is a great love story for anyone who believes in beating the odds.

Reviewed February 2006

Speaking in Whispers: African-American Lesbian Erotica by Kathleen E. Morris

Publisher/Date:  Third Side Press, Oct. 1996
Genre(s):  Short Story, Erotica
Pages:  161

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Sometimes sweet, sometimes sour can best describe these outrageous tales of lesbian passion in Kathleen E. Morris’ SPEAKING IN WHISPERS: AFRICAN-AMERICAN LESBIAN EROTICA.

Morris has compiled 14 stories of lesbian lust with candor, with four interludes named for a season thrown in as a quick tease. The style and characters are contemporary, and some will leave you hot and bothered. Here, black lesbians are referred to as “wimmin” or a “womon,” Morris’ own term she coined.

In “HER,” a womon meets HER on a crowded train and lives out her fantasy with the stranger, while Loren has to teach her stud a “Lesson” she’ll never forget. Jaime gets a “Second Chance” at love with a new wommon after boarding up her heart.

Speaking in Whispers does manage to venture out for pleasure. A trip to “The Movies” gets a little freaky for one pair, and a spicy encounter with a womon at “The Club” gets Tita’s blood racing. In “The Painter,” an art student finds a new source of inspiration with a sexy classmate, while an overworked womon gets a different kind of treatment at “The Spa.” “Appetizers” are what’s on the menu for Carmen and Paula, two wimmin wanting to taste the rainbow.

Making time for love is also a theme in Speaking. At “The Festival,” a security guard at a wimmin’s camp can hardly find sometime alone with an exotic, dreadlocked beauty vying her a little of her attention. “The Honeymoon Cottage” is where it all goes down between Hillary and Sonia, two passionate wimmin with no time for each other between their busy schedules. Kimberly finally gets her fantasy with “Pongee,” a professor she’s lusted after for years and gets her chance with years later.

Other tales include a lover getting caught looking in her girl’s “Honey Eyes,” while there’s nowhere for desire to hide in “The Exit.” “The Gateway” leads Patrice to another dimension, one where an erotic alien is taught the real meaning of human sexuality.

Morris’ stories are titillating, but a few didn’t hit the spot. There were a couple of stories that left me hanging with how short they were, and there were a couple that just didn’t do it for me. And I’m not quite sure what the seasonal interludes were supposed to do. Morris also should focus more on making her stories more varied and wide-ranging, as sometimes I felt I was reading the same story twice.

But most of the tales I enjoyed, the ones that managed to do their job, leaving me craving for more.

Reviewed February 2006