Bare Necessities: Sensuous Tales of Passion by Hazel Mills

Publisher/Date:  Xpress Yourself Publishing, LLC , Feb. 2008
Genre(s):  Erotica, Short Story, Bisexual
Pages:  112

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

When passions are laid bare, it can be sensual, exciting and worth every minute.

The same can be said about BARE NECESSITIES: SENSUOUS TALES OF PASSION, the collection of naughty gems and poems written by Hazel Mills. Containing 11 stories of sexual candor, Bare Necessities combines a little bit of romance and a little bit of sin to create a short-but-sweet romp worth reading.

Bare Necessities begins with “A Lover is Born,” where Laila is introduced to Gabe at her book club meeting and is instantly entranced. She wants to get to know Gabe better, and what better way than to host the next gathering at her place. The bash is a success in more ways than one, as the two ladies manage to get their own party started.

In “Surrender,” a workaholic husband and wife put the spice back into their marriage by attending a couple’s retreat. Yet, this isn’t just a boring therapy session; it’s an experience that allows them to seek unknown pleasures, and from it the married lovers learn that it’s okay to let go and explore their freaky sides.

Then in the most poignant tale of Bare Necessities, “Sweet Home Alabama,” a Philadelphia transplant returns for her family reunion in Sweet Home, a small town with even smaller dreams. Despite escaping, Tracy has only one regret after leaving her hometown: abandoning her childhood sweetheart, Monica. She vows to find her – and finally be with the woman she never stopped loving.

There more treasures in Bare Necessities, and Mills doesn’t hesitate to give them to you. Her stories are funny, warm, and hot in just the right places. Even though the book has a mere hundred or so pages, it doesn’t fail to get you fired up. I look forward to reading more from Mills – hopefully in a book with a much higher page count.

Reviewed August 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

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

In the Game by Nikki Baker

Publisher/Date:  Naiad Press, Sept. 1991
Genre:  Mystery
Pages:  224

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

When your best friend’s lover turns up dead, do you:

a. accuse your friend of murder
b. hire her a top-notch attorney who begins stalking you after your affair goes sour
c. begin your own investigation that almost gets you killed
d. all of the above

If you picked D, you’re one step ahead in Nikki Baker’s debut, IN THE GAME, a mystery starring Virginia “Ginny’ Kelly as an amateur detective trying to piece together a crime of passion.

What begins as a romance through the personals for Ginny’s best friend, Bev, ends as a homicide. Bev meets Kelsey through the newspaper, and they do the whole U-Haul thing after only a month of dating. Ginny is skeptical of the whole arrangement, always having a soft spot for Bev and detesting the way Kelsey took advantage of her. The last straw is when Ginny discovers Kelsey is being unfaithful to Bev, and she has to find a way to tell her friend that her lover is no good.

But she never gets a chance to – Kelsey winds up dead shortly thereafter. Despite their differences, however, Ginny never wanted Kelsey to be killed.

On top of all this, Ginny has her own fish to fry with Em, her white lover of three years. They’ve reached a plateau in their relationship where it’s neither good nor bad, but just is; the lesbian bed death has hit their household and Ginny can’t find a cure — until she meets Susan, the attorney enlisted to help Bev in her sticky situation.

Aside from these issues, Ginny doesn’t want to see her friend framed for this heinous crime. The two have remained tight since their days at a lily-white business school, depending on each other in a world that caters to the white majority. They need each other for strength and that familiar, unspoken comfort that comes being sistahs. It’s only right that when Kelsey is murdered that Ginny try to track down her killer. What Ginny uncovers, though, is way more than she bargained for, cause Kelsey has way more skeletons in her closet than is allowed.

Baker manages to engage with In the Game, providing an interesting picture of an upper-scale, professional black lesbian. Ginny knows the game well enough to play it with finesse, and has a great sense of whom she is. The story was a little predictable in parts, but I will be glad to read more in this mystery series featuring a great sleuthing sistah.

Reviewed March 2008

London Reign by A.C. Britt

Publisher/Date:  Ghettoheat, Sept. 2007
Genre(s):  Street Life, Young Adult
Pages:  224

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

If your back is against the wall, what do you do? Do you cower in fear or fight back?

If you’re 16-year-old London Walters, the protagonist of LONDON REIGN, you’re both a lover and a fighter. For most of her young life, London has been fighting against everything – living with an alcoholic father, surviving the inner-city Boston streets, being gay and being perceived as a man. Unbeknownst to most women she dates, London is a man trapped in a woman’s body. The love-em-and-leave-em playboy needs a special woman that can handle her and give her a reason to settle down.

London thinks she might have the one – until one night she is forced to leave home. It’s not something she wants, especially since she would have to abandon her little sister, Shantell, whom she always promised to protect. But she leaves anyway, taking a bus ride to Detroit, where she settles with little money and nowhere to stay.

She looks for employment in an auto shop, and runs into the boss’ daughter, Mercedes. London finds her attractive but hesitates because Mercedes is a bitch with a capital B; she doesn’t want to mix business with pleasure. The pair begin dating, yet it comes to a head when Mercedes learns the truth about London’s past. It jeopardizes her job and her well being.

But London’s a hustler, and has never let anyone keep her down for too long.

A.C. Britt’s London Reign takes you into the world of doing what you gotta do to stay alive. London is a real stud-thug, but you see she has heart. Good storytelling is the gift you’ll receive in reading London Reign. You’ll want to know what happens next to the bad boy, and if she makes it out.

Reviewed February 2008

Every Dark Desire by Fiona Zedde

Publisher/Date:  Kensington, July 2007
Genre(s):  Erotica, Supernatural
Pages:  327

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Vampires run wild in Fiona Zedde’s third novel, EVERY DARK DESIRE, which chronicles the death of Naomi McElroy and her rebirth as vampire Belle.

Naomi’s life in Jamaica was mostly uneventful, until the night her desire for women takes her to a place she’s never been before — and leaves her lifeless. She then mutates into Belle and becomes one of them…

Belle is now a blood-sucking, cold-blooded vampire, recruited by a clan of men and women just like her. The ringleader, a sexy beast named Silvija, makes sure Belle learns the ropes of hunting for blood, fighting enemies and satiating her sexual cravings. It’s far from easy, what with Belle missing her daughter, Kylie, and the life she left behind. Taking orders from a taskmaster like Silvija isn’t helping matters.

And it especially doesn’t help that Belle’s falling for her.

Their encounters are extremely wickedly hot, but Belle can’t seem to get a good read on whether their affair means more to the unattainable Silvija. To a group of vampires who lack human characteristics, it’s hard to tell whether Silvija’s carnal desires are real, or just a part of the hunt and chase.

Zedde’s Desire is evident in every page. You see the growing yearnings Belle has for Silvija. The author’s trademark sex scenes leave nothing to the imagination, as you can visualize thrust and lick. However, I wish this same attention to detail was given to the plot. In reading I felt like the sex came every chapter, and the ending of the novel felt rushed. With that being said, Zedde is an excellent writer I would read again, as her previous works — Bliss and A Taste of Sin — were enjoyable.

Desire kept my pulse racing, but left me wanting more — whether that’s a good thing is up to you.

Reviewed December 2007

Sister Girls by Angel M. Hunter

Publisher/Date:  Kensington Publishing Corporation, May 2006
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Straight Books with Lesbian Characters
Pages:  304

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Interracial dating, drug abuse and lesbianism run rampant in SISTER GIRLS, the novel written by Essence best-selling author Angel M. Hunter. These four distressed sistahs have their problems cut out for them in this cookie-cutter plot that comes out a little flat.

Crystal, Susie, Elsie own the New Jersey law firm where Jewell works as a secretary. Although not exactly enemies, the ladies aren’t really that familiar with one another outside of work. But each has her own problems that eventually lead them to create a fast friendship.

Crystal is the former rape victim still holding on to the pain of that unfortunate act. Her nights are sleepless, and when she does lie down, her nightmares begin. By all appearances, she seems put together, but her pain leads to destructive behavior like drinking and dating a married man.

Hard-nosed Susie knows she has a drug problem, but doesn’t know how to stop. It’s all she can do to make it through the day without a hit. But when her fiancé returns with a marriage proposal, she knows she has to give up the white horse.

Elsie, the most easy-going of the four, is trying her best not to move in with her lesbian lover, Summer. It’s not that Elsie doesn’t love Summer; it’s just that she loves her privacy more. And now that Summer’s daughter has come to stay with her permanently, she definitely doesn’t want to step into a ready-made family. Her decision is made all the more complicated when her ex, Jenay, returns to town.

And single-mother Jewell finds herself uncomfortably dating a white man for the first time. But does her discomfort come from being with him or the fact that she still has feelings for her baby daddy?

Hunter’s characters and problems were the center of this sordid tale, but they didn’t exactly shine. Although you could easily relate to their problems, the women seemed one dimensional. And the ending leaves you hanging at the end. You could tell Hunter left it open for a sequel, but I wanted a better conclusion than what I got.

Sister Girls is an easy read, one you could probably finish in a few hours on a lazy afternoon.

Reviewed June 2006

Unconventional Love by Yvette Michelle Hall (Feb. 2006 Pick of the Month)

Publisher/Date:  PublishAmerica, Jan. 2005
Genre:  Romance
Pages:  153

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

Memory Mambo by Achy Obejas

Publisher/Date:  Cleis Press, Sept. 1996
Genre:  Hispanic Fiction
Pages:  249

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

While Achy Obejas’ MEMORY MAMBO starts off slow, by the next few chapters, you will be hooked on Juani Casas and her colorful Hispanic familia. The Casas will weave their way into your heart, dysfunctionalities and all. And believe me, they are dysfunctional with a capital D.

Juani, a Cuban immigrant whose family sought refuge in America, is surrounded by a cast of characters: dad, Alberto, mom Xiomara, and siblings Nena and Pucho. They settle in Chicago after Fidel Castro’s regime takes over the island and her mother decides it’s best to leave.

In America, a new life awaits them. It’s filled with new customs and better opportunities. The Casas family opens a Laundromat where the management is split between Juani and Nena.

Despite their great hardships to arrive in this country and their success here, the Casas and their extended family have serious issues. Papa Alberto drives the family crazy with his conspiracy theories about the U. S. government. Cousin Caridad weathers an abusive husband. Aunt Celia can’t sober her husband or stop him from cheating. And our poor protagonist, Juani, is a lesbian trying to work through her still-fresh break up.

Sounds like your typical all-American Cuban family, right?

In first person, Juani tells the sordid history of her family through flashbacks and with great detail. She gives the reader every idiosyncrasy of every one of her kinfolk. Juani’s vivid details of her life is not chronicled in exact order, but through the memories triggered by everyday events. For instance, a day in her life as a laundromat manager can make her think about the first time the family laid eyes on Jimmy, Caridad’s abusive husband-and how they lived to regret it.

In Memory Mambo, Obejas presents a family with history and, most of all, love. They are fiercely attached to each other, almost to the point of suffocation. Obejas writing is mesmerizing, and proves that no matter what the race, all families are simply the same.

Reviewed December 2005

My Woman His Wife by Anna J.

Publisher/Date:  Q-Boro Books, Dec. 2004
Genre(s):  Contemporary Fiction, Drama
Pages:  240

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Scandalous folks abound in Anna J.’s erotic thriller, MY WOMAN HIS WIFE, the tale of a possessed woman who’ll stop at nothing to get Jasmine Cinque, a married mother of two.

Blame it on Jasmine’s husband. After five years of marriage, kids and careers, the romance and spark has died in James and Jasmine’s marriage. Where they used to indulge in all-night, do-it-anywhere lovemaking, now the couple is lucky if they manage to get their groove on for more than five minutes. But after weeks of creative, persistent begging, James finally convinces Jasmine that a little menage-a-trois with sex kitten Monica would be the perfect pick-me-up.

It’s new and bizarre to Jasmine to be with a woman at first, even with her husband by her side. She’s not that into it at first, but then realizes that Monica can touch her better than her husband. She’s surprised that a woman could make her climb the walls.

Jasmine is now going back for more–without her husband. But as much as she loves how Monica makes her feel in bed, she doesn’t want it to go too far. She loves her husband, no matter how good (or bad) things are at home. But Monica has other plans. She wants Jasmine to herself, and her crazy ass will do it by any means necessary.

Trust me, Monica is capable. She involves everyone in her plot to snare Jasmine, even without their consent. In her plan, Monica attempts to become pregnant by James make Jasmine leave him, and even manages to strong arm Jasmine’s secretary, Shelia, to set James up.

I have to give Anna J. her props. My Woman His Wife has some off-the-chain sex scenes; you might need to have your lover by your side when reading the steamy tale. However, while My Woman wasn’t entirely bad, there wasn’t much plausible about it. How could these people not know that one was sleeping with the other, including the husband and the wife?

And it’s hard to believe that Monica, even as fine as she was, could make everyone fall under her spell, when they all had some notion she was crazy. You also didn’t get a real feel for any of the characters except Monica, whose troubled background was greatly detailed.

You almost feel sorry for Monica…but not quite.

Reviewed September 2005