Dying for a Change by Sean Reynolds (Feb. 2011 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  Suspect Thoughts Press, Sept. 2009
Genre(s):  Mystery, Suspense
Pages:  256
Website:  http://www.booksbyseanreynolds.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

The year is 1965, the place is Chicago. The streets are hot, not just because it’s August, but because racism lives and breathes with a fierce determination to tear apart any civility between blacks and whites.

In the midst of this is cool-as-a-fan Chan Parker, 33-year-old numbers runner, working her dead-end profession with all the enthusiasm of a broken toaster. With her boyish good looks, she makes much more money than the average Negro, but being on the bottom rung of a mobster operation making its money off the backs of blacks isn’t her idea of a career. As Chan says in DYING FOR A CHANGE, “Prostitution is doing any job you would rather not do, and I was beginning to feel whorish.”

The bright spots in Chan’s life are her 55 black-over-black T-Bird, her eclectic jazz collection, and best friend Henrietta Wild Cherry. A 300-pound drag queen, Henrietta has been Chan’s rock since childhood, and when the lady asks for help finding a fellow dragster who’s come up dead, Chan is hot on the trail of discovering what happened to Miss Dove.

Dying for a Change paints a vivid scene of old Chicago as she and Henrietta track down a killer. In the midst of it all, Chan’s job proves to be a more of a liability while discerning who’s on the right side of the law – and who’s twisted in the game.

Sean Reynolds’ prose in Dying is deftly captivating, and the slang from 1960s Chicago is authentic, refreshing, and a character in its own right. As you read, you’re transported to that time of juke joints and back rooms, a time when being the wrong color on the wrong side of town could mean trouble. Dying is a mystery, history lesson and cool suspense at the same time.  I would have liked to see more romance, but nonetheless, Reynolds knows her genre, knows her people, and most importantly, knows how to tell a fantastic story.

Reviewed February 2011

Be the Sun Again by Teryn

Publisher/Date:  LM Inc., Nov. 2009
Genre(s):  Coming of Age, Self-Love
Pages:  324
Website(s):  http://www.bethesunagain.com, http://www.lmwrites.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Where there is love, there is pain, says a Spanish proverb, and that’s the best way to sum up BE THE SUN AGAIN.

It is the story of Cicely, a girl who begins her life damaged by neglect from an unfeeling mother and absent father. She also bears the weight of her attraction to girls and an attachment to self-inflicted pain. Cicely’s only salve is praying, hoping God would remove her from the horrible situation.

In the meanwhile, Cecily finds Brenda, a girl who saves her by simply appearing on her doorstep. Their love of God unites them, and Cecily believes she’s found someone to live for. She and Brenda begin a young love affair, but soon addictions end their first pangs of love.

From there, Cecily flows from woman to woman, using love as a way to nurse her wounds. From the one-night stand with Alicia to Dawn, who showed what love could accomplish, and to the countless women who in some way, commiserated with Cecily’s afflictions. Through these relationships, the cutting becomes a deeper injury than medicine could cure, but she still manages to hold onto God.

After every breakup, God reveals to her what she should take from them. That, I believe, is the message of Be the Sun Again – relying on Him to help show you the way. It took Cecily loving many to finally love herself, and women who read Sun should learn from her. Being a victim is no way to live; finding your purpose is really what God intended.

Reviewed February 2011

The Butterfly Moments by Renee Bess

Publisher/Date:  Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC, July 2010
Genre(s):  Romance, Mature Lesbians, Suspense
Pages:  208
Website:  http://www.reneebess.com

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Who else could craft a story with the suspense of CSI and the drama of The L Word better than Renee Bess?

That’s THE BUTTERFLY MOMENTS, a novel with a mélange of characters who find themselves caught up in one way or another.

The star is Alana Blue, a veteran officer of the Philadelphia probation system. Attempting to make her last weeks before retirement as smooth as possible, she is given the task of supervising Rafaela “Rafe” Ortiz, a probie transferred because of a workplace impropriety. Alana knows she can handle Rafe; what she can’t handle is her attraction to the notorious bad girl.

This flirtation is the last distraction Alana needs. When her last relationship died, she cut herself off from finding someone new, using her job as a way to fill her days and nights. Her career is also a diversion from the strained relationship with her daughter, who blames Alana’s sexuality for breaking up their family.

As if this wasn’t enough, Philly Police Detective Johnetta Jones needs Alana’s help in solving a co-ed’s death. While finding the killer, the two progress to more than just professional relationship.

Johnetta’s heart, also, has been marred by her years on the force, but for Alana, she’s willing to open herself to the possibility of love. But as the pair’s romance blossoms, it may become stalled when Johnetta’s lead on the case point to a person close to Alana.

The Butterfly Moments is a graceful flight into the mind of Alana, to understand her life and occupation, as well as the supporting characters who fold impeccably into this mystery. Bess has always been the queen of slow-building romance, and Moments is as sensual as her others. The ending takes you to a climax you didn’t see coming.

Not bad for a retiree.

Reviewed February 2011

Cyber Case by Nikki Rashan

Publisher/Date:  Urban Books, Aug. 2010
Genre(s):  Romance, Suspense
Pages:  288
Website:  http://www.nikkirashan.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Attention Facebook and Twitter addicts: Nikki Rashan has written a novel that will make you think twice before you make that next status update.

CYBER CASE is the tale of two women whose love has been tested by the Internet.

Mortgage broker Jovanna and her criminal attorney girlfriend Melanie have an idyllic four year relationship. Surrounded by wonderful friends, the pair doesn’t think much about the world of cyberspace except to keep up with the people they love and the occasional acquaintance.

That all changes when one of Melanie’s clients, a lesbian named Sunday, contacts her on a mutual social networking site. Jovanna’s not keen on the idea of her woman mixing business with a friend request, but Melanie convinces her it’s strictly professional.

Straight-laced Jovanna isn’t worried at first. She isn’t the jealous type, and enjoys the life they’ve built as a trusting couple. But something changes. Sure, Melanie’s stress is normal when she’s working on a strenuous case; her secrecy isn’t. Melanie’s suspicious behavior – frequently checking her BlackBerry or shutting her laptop around her – raises Jovanna’s red flag.

Could Sunday’s enticing posts be to blame for Melanie’s shadiness?

Rashan’s Cyber Case tracks the ins and outs of how the internet can dissolve trust between partners.  The well-written story sprints to a great build up; by the novel’s close, it ends without a bang. The couple’s friends – all eight – are introduced with complete back stories that aren’t completely finished by the closing stages. Those things aside, Cyber Case is worth the read.

Now…back to your status updates.

Reviewed February 2011

Dangerous Pleasures by Fiona Zedde

Publisher/Date:  Kensington, Feb 2011
Genre(s):  Romance, Erotica
Website:  http://www.fionazedde.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Fiona’s taken a slightly different path this time with newest novel, DANGEROUS PLEASURES.

This route to love embarks with Renee, a recent divorcée searching for something completely different from the unfulfilling relationship with her controlling husband. His determination to change Renee compels her to want strictly physical relationships – the more anonymous, the better. If only she could convince her parents of that, who want to see her settled with the boy man next door, drab-ass Grant. Yet, her secretive one-night stands are all she needs – until there’s just one she can’t get enough of.

Mayson, Renee’s best friend and owner of a yoga salon, isn’t searching too hard for love either. Her bedroom is never lonely, plus she receives the affection she needs from her close friendship with Renee. Friends since they were schoolgirls, it’s the longest love Mayson’s had. Now that newest conquest, Kendra, is after Mayson, will that change the dynamic she and Renee have had for years?

Dangerous Pleasures has plenty of insatiable bliss. Renee and Mayson’s closeness is the pièce de résistance of Zedde’s tale, comfortable and demonstrative, whereas the conclusion is explosive. At times, though, the steamy exploits, which seem to appear almost every couple of chapters, were a smidgen too repetitive.

That aside, Zedde still delivers what women want.

Reviewed February 2011

Head Game by G.D. Ellington and K.J. Thomas

Publisher/Date:  Saviour Publishing Inc., July 2009
Genre(s):  Contemporary Romance, Street Life
Pages:  275
Website:  http://www.headgamesandmore.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

You can’t be mad at the antics in G.D. Ellington and K.J. Thomas’ HEAD GAME. It’s the way players play in this novel of love, crime, and deception. The thing to keep in mind is that characters are not always what they seem.

Geneta, for example, is a married business woman living a comfortable, but sexually deprived life. Her husband, Steven, is into lights-off, conservative sex. Tired of her needs being ignored drives her to be satisfied by someone, anyone else.

That’s where Kai comes in. The suave stud catches Geneta’s eye, and like most women in Kai’s life, she can’t resist the appeal of a round the way Brooklyn homeboy with street-wise charm and bedroom appeal. The head of a booming entertainment company, Kai isn’t easily swayed by the many women who want a piece of her.

But something is different about Geneta. After a night at the club, Kai is determined to make the voluptuous beauty her woman. Never mind that she’s married. Kai has a plan for that – and it doesn’t matter who she uses, as long as she gets what she wants.

Geneta, on the other hand, is confused by draw to Kai. What does this mean, that she can be sexually turned on by a woman? And what about her husband, who doesn’t seem to care about his wife’s comings and goings? As the women’s affair escalates, the games get much more complicated for everyone involved.

Head Game is a read in one-sitting book. Lavish sex, gender benders, and crazy twists invest the reader until the very last page. More than anything, I’m ready to see what happens next, because I’m sure a sequel is on the horizon. Geneta and Kai can’t end here.

Reviewed February 2011

Making Our Difference by Ericka K. F. Simpson

Publisher/Date:  EKS Books, Dec. 2009
Genre(s):  Romance, Family, Marriage
Pages:  184
Website:  http://www.ekfsimpson.com

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Monogamy isn’t easy. MAKING OUR DIFFERENCE, by Ericka K. F. Simpson, does it brilliantly.

In her third novel and the sequel to In Fear of Losing You, four lesbian couples deal with the ups and downs of monogamy and marriage, illness and faith, and parenthood. The women, united in genuine friendship, are bonded as family also because of the way the world perceives their sexuality.

If you remember Sweets from In Fear, she was the optimistic romantic. Now in new relationship with Janet, a single mother, she has the love she longed for. But as they get closer, Janet struggles with her sexuality while Sweets is left waiting for the woman of her dreams. Will Janet ultimately see that Sweets is the one?

Kat, a reformed player, has settled down with Cheyenne and made a success of her company, The Whole of Delaware. As she builds the 24-hour sports and activities center into a franchise, can she and Cheyenne truly have it all?

Happiness has shed its graces on Lex and wife Ayanna, their life almost perfect with one child and a new baby on the way, until Lex is diagnosed with cancer. Is their love strong enough to carry them through this rough time, especially with Lex’s family in opposition to their marriage?

Lastly, Genius and Ciara had a playful connection before, and are trying to make it exclusive. Will Genius trust her heart to Ciara, who’s been with several before (including Kat)?

Simpson weaves an excellent yarn in Making Our Difference with a well-drawn cast. God plays a big role in their lives, as well, an aspect that blends nicely (not doggedly) with the plot. The alternative ending is also great touch. The only negative in Difference is the excessive clothing descriptions.

That being said, Simpson nails the characters, and that makes all the difference.

Reviewed February 2011

Stud Princess, Notorious Vendettas by N’Tyse

Publisher/Date:  A Million Thoughts Publishing, May 2010
Genre(s):  Romance, Street Life, Suspense
Pages: 288
Website:  http://www.ntyse.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

The Plot: Sequel STUD PRINCESS, NOTORIOUS VENDETTAS picks up where My Secrets Your Lies leaves off, with estranged couple Sand and Rene each working for cold-blooded Chyna. The pimpstress is about getting ends and avenging her uncle’s takedown by an opportunistic lawyer. Using Rene and Sand as pawns, Chyna envisions her plan going down smoothly, until her employees and business begin to unravel. At the same time, the lovers are trying to find their way back after Rene’s infidelity and Sand’s murder accusation, but ironically, Chyna could be the catalyst that brings them together in dire circumstances against the ruthless beauty.

The Good: There’s enough murder, drug deals, and girlfights to engross the reader. Introduction of new characters also compliment an already jam-packed plot.

The Not-So-Good: Stud Princess is sufficient as a stand-alone novel, but as a sequel, the story doesn’t explain much from My Secrets. It would have been good to have a refresher at the novel’s onset to revisit what happened in the previous novel.

The Bottom Line: N’Tyse does her thing in Stud Princess. The romance-urban drama merges nicely to a gripping ending.

Reviewed February 2011

Taking a Chance at Love by Kesha Pride

Publisher/Date:  Pride Books, Oct. 2010
Genre(s):  Romance, Drama
Pages: 216
Website:  http://www.keshapride.com

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

“Aren’t doctors supposed to be refined? Classy?”

Drs. Tori Becker and Kenya Jackson are both those things, but they are also full of romantic frenzy as seen in Kesha Pride’s debut novel, TAKING A CHANCE AT LOVE, a black lesbian-Grey’s Anatomy tinged love story.

At 29, Tori has her to-do list covered. Graduate medical school. Finish residency. Become a partner in a medical practice. The partnership she accepts relocates her from Houston to Atlanta, and into a swanky new condo, where she runs into a gorgeous woman in her elevator. At her first day of work, that beauty turns out to be Kenya, who has to be Tori’s trainee for the next three months.

That makes things awkward, but they know to keep a level of strict professionalism. It’s hard, though, when Kenya is extremely attracted to how smart, sexy and intellectual Tori is. Kenya has had her share of liaisons – a long term and a few NSAs* – but can envision settling down with Tori.

Meanwhile, Tori and Kenya console themselves with other women, and that’s where the commotion comes in. Jealous lovers, ex-girlfriend entanglements, and criminal mayhem threaten what they don’t “officially” have.  And the more they date, the more they know true love is right in front of them; they’re just afraid of the repercussions if their fraternization is found out.

Taking a Chance at Love is a good, quick read. There are a couple things you’ll shake your head at, but other than that, the drama is plentiful. I enjoyed the medical setting, which Pride writes with realism. Every workplace has its own excitement, and Tori and Kenya’s Atlanta General Hospital is no different.

* no strings attached

Reviewed February 2011

This Is How We Do It by D. Alexandria

Publisher/Date:  RedThorn Art, June 2010
Genre(s):  Erotica, Short Story
Pages:  170
Website:  http://www.dalexandria.com

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Women are blessed with sexual prowess to varying degrees, from the most vanilla to a rainbow swirl, and THIS IS HOW WE DO IT captures all those kinky flavors, a veritable taste of what lesbian sex has to offer.

D. Alexandria, a former author at kuma2.net and writer for several anthologies including the Best Lesbian Erotica and Ultimate Lesbian Erotica series, at last boasts her own collection of freaky fiction. As her synopsis points out, “We need more than teasing kisses, tender caresses, whipped cream or wisps of lace.”

Simply put, this is a strictly sexual thang.

This is How We Do It is broken up into three interludes, one rawer than the next. It begins with “When She’s Mad,” where after a fight, a couple airs all their “dirty laundry” at a public rest stop. In “The Jewel of Storyville,” a famed whore in 1899 New Orleans is astonished when her baby-faced John pulls a deception that pleases them both.

The next section of the book is all about the thrill of getting busy, as evidenced in “Tag,” a version of hide and seek nothing like the version you played growing up. And a lot of the things you thought “Butches Don’t” do are disproved between two masculine bruhs just chillin’ for the afternoon.

The final interlude saves the pain for last. A student is taken to task in lieu of studying in “Pain Slut,” while a woman relives schoolgirl torture in “Penance.” The best of the bunch is “Flipping the Script,” a passionate role-playing tale.

This is How We Do It showcases D. Alexandria’s proficiency in erotica writing that’s grounded in real scenarios and playfulness. The moral of This Is How We Do It is that roles and hang-ups don’t matter – as long as you’re handling yours.

Reviewed February 2011