When Love Aint Enough by Vivian M. Kelly (May 2008 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  Gritz N Eggs Production, Apr. 2006
Genre:  Romance
Pages: 488
Website:  http://www.vivianmkelly.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

We’ve all suffered through the media’s obsession with black men on the DL, but what about sistahs on the down low, keeping their lesbian affairs hush-hush while using their heterosexual relationships as a cover?

That’s what Casey Banks contends with as you read WHEN LOVE AINT ENOUGH, the debut novel from writer Vivian M. Kelly. When we first meet Casey, she’s strung out over her longtime-lover Jade, who left to her marry a NBA superstar. Devastation overtakes her heart – along with glasses of Cognac and the sounds of Luther Vandross – and drowns her in despair. In her heartbroken haze, Casey recalls the road that led her to this low in her life.

A childhood filled with hidden desires, Casey always felt she could never act on her feelings for women. She carried her longing in a secret place, until she fell in love with her college sweetheart Nahdia, and knew she had to be herself. Yet, as quickly as love came, it faded as tragedy struck the happy couple.

Afterward Casey became emotionally numb, and time passes before she can open herself up again. She believes she could never find the connection she had with Nahdia, and it’s proven when she puts herself in trifling situations to have someone in her life. No one values her sensitive side, the one that will do anything for the right woman.

Now a promising new attorney at prestigious Norfolk law firm, Casey believes she’s found the perfect partner in Jade. A TV executive, Jade is everything Casey’s been looking for: beautiful, smart, and seemingly together. They truly enjoy each other’s company, whenever Jade can spare it. Jade doesn’t acknowledge their relationship publicly, and won’t admit that she’s gay – except when Casey’s between her legs.

To make matters worse, Jade doesn’t bother to let go her ex-boyfriend b-ball player, and doesn’t make any apologies for it to Casey. For Jade to treat their relationship like a dirty little secret leads to Casey’s depression and loss of self-esteem. She can’t handle it seeing the woman she loves in the arms of someone else. Can she pull herself together to see the writing on the wall?

Kelly’s novel proves love is definitely not enough to keep someone who doesn’t want to be kept. Jade strung Casey to the point that I was sick of her. Grammatical errors aside, you’ll get more involved with every page, and there are almost 500 pages to get through. When Love Aint Enough effectively demonstrates the expression love is blind, but anyone who’s been in Casey’s shoes will realize that your own sanity is more important than believing in empty promises.

Reviewed May 2008

Down Low Sistahs by Wakiem Freeman

Publisher/Date:  Apricot Books International, Feb. 2008
Genre(s):  Contemporary Fiction, Bisexual
Pages:  224

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

If you pick up DOWN LOW SISTAHS, here’s a warning: Read at your own risk.

Urban author Wakiem Freeman’s tale of sistahs gone wild is blunt in its approach, to the point that it might offend the delicate black lesbian reader. The eye-opening plot centers around a dude named Nicor, who can’t seem to find a straight sistah to save his life. He tells the story in the most graphic fashion, his exploits downright dirty.

How it all begins is with the surprise his girlfriend Tamar drops on his 25th birthday: she has a girlfriend. This comes after dating him for six months and seeing future with the tall beauty. While he imagined they’d be married and having babies, she was slipping out her female lover. Nicor is incensed, hating the fact he was played like a fiddle.

Nicor is determined to find an honest woman with no lesbian tendencies. Instead he runs into female after female with a scandalous past of licking the cat. Either they’re straight forward with it (no pun intended) or play it off by claiming “that’s just my cousin.” Nicor gets fed up with lies and decides to expose these down low sistahs for what they are. He’s tired of men getting browbeaten about having DL inclinations, when women are out here wilin’ out.

His revenge occurs when Nicor writes a song about these women and catches superstar media attention. It all comes together for the befuddled brotha – until Tamar attempts to re-enter his life.

Freeman, to his credit, does give a candid male perspective to women living double lives, unbeknownst to their male partners. This behavior does happen, but is it possible that every woman he dates has a female lover? What I also didn’t care for was the explicit sex scenes Nicor had with different (read: a lot) women that didn’t add much value to the story. It offended me that he can denounce down low sistahs for their callousness, but he could sleep with woman after woman with little regard. The disrespect surely goes both ways.

The author does grab your attention – even if it’s the wrong kind.

Reviewed May 2008

Grace After Midnight by Felicia “Snoop” Pearson

Publisher/Date:  Grand Central Publishing, Nov. 2007
Genre(s): Lesbian Real Life, Street Life
Pages:  240
Website:  http://www.myspace.com/bmoresnoop

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

“I’m not making excuses and I’m not feeling sorry for myself. Don’t expect you to feel sorry for me either. Just want to tell my story while it’s fresh.”

And so begins GRACE AFTER MIDNIGHT, the striking autobiography of Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, star of the critically acclaimed HBO series, The Wire. In the short but poignant memoir written with David Ritz, Snoop recants her upbringing in the tough streets of Baltimore, the place that both raised and almost killed her.

Born with cross-eyes and crack in her system thanks to a drug-addicted mother, Snoop had much to overcome in the first moments of her life. She was no more than three pounds at birth, but surpassed the grim expectations placed on her. After years in foster care, she was taken in by a loving older couple, Cora and Levi Pearson. They offered her a good home with Christian values and worked to make sure Snoop had a better life.

Yet it didn’t stop her from taking on the streets. By her pre-teens, Snoop had her first taste as runner whose quiet strength took her far in the game. At 12 years old, she was witnessing murders, drug deals, shakedowns, and way too much for a girl her age. One of her mentors, a man known as “Uncle,” took Snoop under his wing and tried to get her abandon her dangerous behavior, but it was too little too late when Snoop ended in the Jessup State Penitentiary at 14 for murder.

Snoop recalls this night in third person and tells the story of how she ended up killing a girl in self-defense. It landed her a six-year sentence for second-degree murder, but ultimately saved her. While there she turned her life around, gaining a new appreciation for doing the right thing. With Uncle’s help, she left there feeling like she could do anything – and quickly found her good intentions weren’t worth much. That is, until she met Michael K. Williams from The Wire, landing the role of a lifetime with no acting experience.

The rest is history.

Snoop’s story is compelling and heart wrenching. You see the innocence of a child wanting her mother and a heart growing cold from rejection. You also glimpse a woman truly turning her life around, trying to obtain the grace after midnight she found in prison. And you also witness a woman true to her sexuality, being openly gay all her life.

For that, she should be applauded. Bravo, Snoop, bravo.

Reviewed May 2008

Sister Girls 2 by Angel M. Hunter

Publisher/Date:  Urban Books, Mar. 2008
Genre(s):  Contemporary Fiction, Straight Books with Lesbian Characters
Pages:  288
Website:  http://www.urbanbooks.net/angel.html

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Sequels usually take off where the last novel begins, hopefully with the characters wiser than they were before. This is the case with SISTER GIRLS 2, but author Angel M. Hunter offers a twist from its predecessor by adding new women to the mix.

Wrestling with her sexuality in the last book, Elsie is back with a new job and different goals. She begins Essence of Self, a non-profit organization to benefit young women, and spends most of her time thinking about being a mother. While her biological clock ticks away, Elsie begins realize she made a mistake by letting go of her ex, Summer, and her young daughter. If she hadn’t broken it off, Elsie cold have had the family she wanted. Can she finally make things right between them?

Faith is the counselor employed at Essence, who might need a therapist of her own. She advises women on their issues, but comes home to an empty marriage with her husband Raheem. He saved her from the destructive path she once lived, and will never let her forget it. When she meets a man who loves the new woman she’s become, is it too late for her to save her marriage?

Harmony, the new receptionist at Essence, sees her job as a fresh start. Tired of working dead-end jobs, she wants to make something of herself, and give her three children a better life. Though they all have separate daddies, her boyfriend Shareef has been there for all of them. He wants to give Harmony the world, but she can’t appreciate all he does for their family. Will she figure out that Shareef is truly there for her?

Last but not least is Pastor Bella Gold, who provides a spiritual influence for the center. She struggles with her own demons from her past. Running a church is a responsibility she takes seriously, and feels if her congregation will never accept whom she was before. It gets more complicated when a face from her former days shows up in her pews. Has he come to ruin her chance for redemption?

Hunter’s Sister Girls 2, just like its original, presents readers with four women with pasts they can’t run from. They have to face the truth about their lives, no matter how painful. Unlike Sister Girls, though, it seemed as if the women were more disjointed, but they pull together by the novel’s close. Hunter dug deeper into her characters this time, and it made the experience a little more sisterly.

Reviewed May 2008