Monday, May 26, 2014

Review- Cream by Christiana Harrell

By Christiana Harrell
Aug 31, 2013
Contemporary/Lesbian/Stud/Romance/Erotica/African American
230 Pgs
Kindle Edition

Cream, an androgynous beauty, knows what it’s like to be abandoned, broke, and used. Left to the state by her parents and taken under the wing of her selfish foster mother, Cream sets her focus on one thing: money. She dives head first into the exotic lifestyle of stripping. Starting out in gentlemen clubs, drama seems to follow her wherever she goes. Instead of facing the turmoil, she moves on to the next city, causing more chaos than what she left behind.

She thinks she has life all figured out until she crosses paths with Payton, a daddy’s girl with lots of cash and a lust for women. Payton makes her learn things about herself that she never saw possible and with her new discovery comes a big change in her look and personality.

Cream is at the top of her game, surrounded by money and beautiful women. Then, one wild night forces her to discover yet another truth about herself and face the reality of her lifestyle. Will she continue to dwell in her unstable comfort zone? Or, will she finally open her eyes?

If I could ever call a book a reader whisperer, this would be it for me. Cream spoke to me in so many awesome and amazing ways. It’s such a raw and powerfully positive story of growth and acceptance. Cream as a character is also one of the most intense, real and dynamic female leads I’ve read in a long time.

What I loved so much about Cream is that she’s written as someone having a nice combination of savvy, rough street smarts and innocence. It’s that underlying innocent part of her, the part she’s managed to keep even with all the negative obstacles she’s had to deal with that helps her change and grow once she allows that part of her to emerge. That’s not to say she doesn’t have a lot of flaws and isn’t a nasty shit at times. But this is what makes her an interesting, complex character.

I also got off on how the author wrote this book. The way this story is written: language (colloquial), pacing, character development, were all spot on for me. The growth of Cream is slowly done and we get to see her change as she learns from her relationships and experiences. It’s a natural progression and I liked that it wasn’t rushed or that she suddenly had an epiphany that wasn’t natural to her character.

That the author wrote a character who works in the sex industry but isn’t being controlled, or doing it for “good” reasons, was a huge plus for me. Cream chooses it after that first night. She did have a crappy childhood. And she ends up stripping because she was pimped out by someone who should have protected her. But she embraces it, becomes the best stripper, and uses it to her advantage. She also enjoys it and makes no excuses, nor does she blame the world for it. And shockingly, she stays unaffected by the sexual nature of it, never having any attractions or sexual encounters.

One of Cream’s worst characteristics is being unable to get close to people and running all the time. She seemed to be missing the empathy chip for a good part of this book and I wondered if she’s actually just out of touch with her feelings, or if she really feels as emotionally cold towards others as she acts. But it’s clear after a while it’s a survival technique. It’s also what throws her into meeting new people and having experiences that push her out of that. 

Of course, both good and unsavory characters enter her life. And I will say that what was appealing to me was that there were no stereotypical characters. People who you’d think would try and take advantage of Cream don’t and those who you’d think would normally be nice, aren’t. I loved that.

This story is about Cream, but several other characters are very compelling as well. Payton is an interesting character in that she starts Cream on the road to growth, albeit, unknowingly. She’s the impetus for Cream to see that she has a lot of talent and helps her career flourish.  She’s also the one who turns Cream on to women, suggesting she’s not just a lesbian, but a stud. At first it felt like Payton would be a very positive influence on Cream in all aspects, not just her career, but things didn’t go as I thought.

Then there is Tasia. Tasia is the antithesis of pretty much everyone Cream has met. Tasia, like Cream, has been abused on several levels, but has kept her heart, hope and humanity. Even when she’s so clearly treated like shit from her fiancé and by her best friend, she still manages to keep hope that one day she will find love. This is not to say she’s a doormat. Like Cream though, she’s managed to keep some innocence locked away but it’s more on the surface for her.

Tasia and Cream meet mainly due to a betrayal, but more so because Tasia looks very much like the only “friend” Cream had ever had and probably the only person she had any feelings of love towards. Although Cream tries her usual shtick with Tasia, keeping things at a distance, something about Tasia’s vulnerability and positivity worms its way into Cream’s psyche and slowly breaks down her hard core emotional wall. Tasia also has an easy going, loving, but non-threatening or needy way about her that sparks something in Cream wherein for the first time in her life she finds herself opening up to another person and caring about their well-being.

I know there are some negative aspects to this book. There were some editing issues and well, I know intellectually it’s not subject matter for everyone; it represents a fairly specific world. Also, some (lesbians) might not like that Tasia’s sexual orientation is not really clear and it’s written more as she loves Cream vs being attracted to women. And also for my taste, even Cream, while clearly into women and not ever having an attraction to men, won’t commit to stating she’s a lesbian. However, I got so sucked into the story and the characters, I didn’t notice those things or they didn’t bother me. 

I would love to read another book by this author.

Heat level: 4-5- some graphic sexual situations, but more tell than show. But graphic language used.

Grade: 5 Stars

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Review- The View from 16 Podwale Street by Paul Alan Fahey

The View from 16 Podwale Street
By Paul Alan Fahey
July 8th 2012
Era Historical 1930’s/ Lesbian
48 pages
Publisher: JMS Books LLC
Kindle Edition

April 1939. Warsaw, Poland. To the casual observer, the houses on Podwale Street look very much alike. Yet at 16 Podwale, nothing is as it seems. Within, the walls hold many secrets that could destroy the lives of its inhabitants as they witness the city’s ever-mounting tide of Nazism.

Wealthy recluse Elwira Malinowska is more an observer than participant in life. In her seclusion at 16 Podwale, she watches the world pass her by. Then Raz Zielinsky comes to work as a housemaid for her father, and Elwira’s life is suddenly divisible by two -- the time before Raz and the time after.

Years pass, and the women become lovers. They depend on each other. Elwira is Raz’s protector, and Raz is Elwira’s conduit to the outside world, where people speak of nothing but the continual threat of war with Germany.

Elwira, a steadfast Catholic, believes Pope Pius XII will intervene to save Poland from the rumblings of a maniac and an imminent invasion. But when the Pope fails to mediate peace and the political situation worsens, Elwira and Raz plan their escape to freedom.

Will their plan succeed? Or is it already too late?

This was a very unique and different story for me. I loved the writing, the flow of it, the descriptions of WWII Poland---pre-German invasion, and the characters. It’s not the usual fare. And although not overtly expressed, I enjoyed the subtle way both characters were shown to have a lesbian relationship. It actually fit the characters, who they are, and the time period.

The blurb pretty much expresses what the story is about so I’ll go from there. I thought Elwira and Raz have an interesting relationship. On the surface, and to some degree in their day to day life, they don’t have equal standing in the relationship. Raz often reminds Elwira that her status is that of house servant even though in private they are lovers. Although Elwira disputes it all the time, she’s still a very proper woman of her station and still treats Raz as a servant, at least on the surface. Part of it is appearances for when she has callers, but mainly it’s because she’s totally dependent on Raz for various reasons, including having a disability that keeps her from going outside during the day.

This is an interesting dynamic to me because emotionally, physically, and probably even financially, Raz could survive without being dependent on Elwira for a roof over her head and a job. However, she feels loyalty towards her and will not leave even though Elwira’s not wanting to face reality might ultimately cause her great harm. They’ve just established a working relationship in which they have a loving, supportive relationship but within those parameters.

While I felt the relationship was a good part of the story, much of it is also about the time period and how Elwira and Raz try to keep functioning in a politically turbulent and quite dangerous time. One of the strong themes is Elwira’s total belief in the Pope and that he will save Poland from an invasion by Hitler and the Germans. She’s very innocent and somewhat naïve as she disputes warnings from outside callers and Raz that the Pope really has no ability to affect the political scene. Her Catholic faith is strong and very important to her and she feels her belief will save them.

Raz is not as believing as she goes out daily for shopping and other errands and hears the constant gossip and chatter of impending war. She’s also well aware that she and Elwira, but particularly Elwira due to her “disability,” will be subject to a particularly bad fate if Poland falls to the Germans and Hitler. People like them, who love the way they do will not be spared. Much of the story is Raz trying to convince Elwira that maybe they should think about leaving before any invasion, while Elwira stalls, holding on to her tradition, family home, and religious belief. It did create a great tension and impetus to keep reading to see the outcome.

Then there are the two regular gentleman callers who don’t exactly try to woo Elwira, but visit with her and talk in a “gentile” way about the current events. One of them has told Elwira that he is very concerned and has a contact who he can pay to get him and his pregnant wife out. They gain her confidence and she starts believing in their concerns for her welfare. What happens ultimately is not what one would expect.

The only thing about this story that I felt was not explained was how the two gentlemen even knew Elwira and why she would allow them to visit when she clearly was in love with Raz and felt she could not live a normal life. Other than that…

This is well worth the read. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for an ambient period historical from an interesting time and place.

Heat level: 0

Grade: 4 ½ Stars

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review- Business with Pleasure by Keziah Hill

Business with Pleasure: Hot Down Under
By Keziah Hill
Jan 1, 2013
Contemporary/ Erotica/ f-f-m
48 pgs
Publisher: Momentum

For sculptor Lottie Williams, entering her sculpture, Triumvirate, in the Carve the Wind exhibition is the culmination of her career.

What she doesn’t count on is the incendiary lust between her and the curators, James and Magda. While she’s at first happy to play, she rapidly gets out of her depth when she confuses business with pleasure. Against the wild backdrop of the Pacific Ocean her work is displayed to great acclaim.

But all she wants, all she can think about is being back in the bed of the two people who have laid claim to her heart and soul.

I’m going to come right out with it, this is a short, hawt and juicy piece of stroke fiction. It’s really basically one long sex scene, but wow, what a sex (string of scene/s)!

I thought the set-up was good. While on the beach working on an art piece that she wants to enter into an exhibition, Lottie keeps seeing a man who intrigues her. She doesn’t know he’s the owner of the gallery that is sponsoring this event, she only notices how buff and nice looking he is.

When she goes to the gallery to present her piece to the owners, a husband and wife team --James and Magda, she’s shocked to see it’s the guy she’s been eying on the beach. After a discussion reveals that both Magda and James have been admiring Lottie’s work for a long time and were hoping she would enter a piece,  the conversation starts turning sexual as Lottie’s piece is quite erotic. Magda and James overtly try to seduce Lottie and she easily goes along with it. There is a brief blip in this love fest though when Lottie suddenly feels unsure of their intentions as she’s heard rumors about them, but the author managed to infuse a fair amount of real warmth and genuine feelings of attraction between all three.

What is most enjoyable about this story is that all three click sexually without any hang-ups or hesitations. You know that feeling when you can just be yourself and feel free to get your freak on without judgments or fears of being rejected? That’s the kind of feeling this story evoked in me.

Moreover, there was no feeling of one of the parties being left out or any two having a better connection. This is something that I’ve read in threesomes and not liked. No, Magda and James are both equally attracted to Lottie and she to both of them and they all mix it up without any angst. And it’s all left off with them deciding to keep it going.

The only negative thing I’ll say about this is that the author used the word “savage” to describe James way too many times. It felt like it was on every page, although realistically I’m sure it wasn’t.

If you’re in the mood to read a short, erotic f/f/m, I definitely recommend Business with Pleasure.

Heat Level: 5- pretty much the whole story is sex and it’s written graphically with strong, blunt sexual language.

Grade: 4 Stars

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Review- Love and Devotion by Jove Belle

Love and Devotion
By Jove Belle
Dec 17, 2013
Lesbian/Contemporary/Romance/Friends to lovers/Small town
240 pgs
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Kindle Edition

KC Hall loves her family, her small East Texas town, and her best friend, Emma Reynolds. All of that takes a backseat when her lover beckons. Lonnie is blond, beautiful, and willing. She’s also married and a lifelong friend of KC’s mama.

KC knows the affair is a bad idea, but she just can’t help herself. When presented with the lush landscape of Lonnie’s body, KC subscribes to the philosophy of “orgasm first, think later.” Unfortunately, a secret that big is impossible to keep in a close-knit community where everybody knows everybody else’s business. The scandal would hurt her entire family.

Emma is KC’s exception, the one woman she loves enough to not have sex with. When Emma confesses that she’s loved KC since high school, KC is terrified. One wrong move and she could lose Emma completely.

Is she willing to let her family pay the price for her good time? Or will she turn to Emma to discover the true meaning of love and devotion?

I have read several of Jove Belle’s books and I’ve enjoyed them. This one looked appealing to me so I went for it. It’s a good story. Definitely a good friends to lovers story. However, even though I enjoyed it for the most part, it seemed to drag and felt like it went on and on forever. I feel that it was mostly due to how drawn out this story was from the time Emma lets it be known she has more than “just friends” feelings for KC and KC realizing that she’s always loved Emma.

For some, how this book starts out might be off-putting. KC is having an affair with her mother’s married best friend Lonnie. That’s a no-no for several obvious reasons. But the way it’s written, I was intrigued and not really bothered because as the story progresses there is character growth and understanding of the negative consequences to everyone involved. And also, this is a more complex story involving several characters; it’s not just about those two and the sneaking around.

I’ll start with KC. In her career life she’s totally together and on top of things. She got her master’s degree and has a great job that offers her a good living with a flexible schedule. She lives with Emma, her best friend from high school, and as far as their relationship goes, they are very close friends only. From KC’s side, Emma is the one person who grounds her and she feels comfort with when they are together. They actually sleep in the same bed together and cuddle, which I thought kind of weird if they are trying to keep things platonic, but manage to keep things from going further.

KC is also very close to her family and takes care when issues happen with her younger sister. She’s community oriented in that she goes to church with her family every Sunday and follows all the rules and expectations of being in a small community where everyone knows each other…on the surface.  Her main flaw though, and it’s one that is cause for a lot of grief between her, Emma, her sisters, and Lonnie, is that she’s flighty and irresponsible when it comes to her love life and sexual desires. This is where she has no scruples, nor any common sense. And the fact that she’s having an affair with her mother’s friend and a married woman is not sitting well with anyone. However, Lonnie has her hooked and KC finds it hard to break away from her even though she knows it’s wrong.

As this story is mostly about KC, meaning she’s the center of it, Emma is not really as developed or shown to the reader. All we get to know about Emma is that she’s always loved KC as more than just a friend and that she is will not agree to be with KC until KC gets really clear she wants to be with Emma. This, even though she wants KC more than anything. I have to respect her on that. She knows what’s been going on between KC and Lonnie and she knows that even though KC is professing her love and desire to be with her, KC will still not commit totally.

And this is the crux of why this story dragged. KC admits to herself that she wants Emma and she gets possessive and jealous when Emma meets up with a former lover, but she’s unwilling to completely break it with Lonnie even though she knows for Lonnie she is only desired for booty call. Even at that, it’s never a sharing or exchange of giving. Lonnie never satisfies KC, it’s only about her, which kind of pisses KC off. She’s also not clear that she can commit given her history. What I felt could have been cleared up fairly quickly got drawn out due to KC’s being wishy-washy.

On the plus side of that, it’s good to show the natural progression of character growth and love in a relationship, which the author did superbly here. We get to see KC’s process and how she goes from existing for lust to discovering that love is more worthy of her energy.

Other than that, there are a lot of interesting characters and I did enjoy the small town feel even if I don’t believe a small Texas town or church in a small town would be so accepting of the gay population like they are in the one portrayed here. But I did like that KC’s and Emma’s families accepted them as lesbians and as a couple.

I definitely recommend Love and Devotion if you’re really into the small town, church going, family oriented type of story in which everyone has a happy ending. And also if you like the friends to lovers story. It excelled on that point.

Heat level: 3 – some graphic sex, but scattered throughout the story.

Grade: 3 ½ Stars

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review-Little Black Dress by Scarlet Chastain

Little Black Dress
By Scarlet Chastain
August 12, 2013
70 pages
Published by Evernight Publishing

Kindle Edition

Paris: The romance and fashion capital of the world. So what the hell makes Jamie Scotts, an IT geek from New York, think the city of lights holds the answers? Driven by need for change, she lies to her boss about her fluency in French and becomes the company’s first international sales person. Fluent? She can barely ask for directions to the ladies’ room.

Jamie’s a duck out of water with her low maintenance style and New York accent. Her unsuccessful sales pitch almost sends her home, until she meets the epitome of elegance, Giselle Bianchi. An unlikely relationship blossoms as the dress designer takes Jamie under her wing. Giselle’s guidance not only reveals Jamie’s missing je ne sais quoi, but also unlocks repressed passion with the help of a little black dress.

I read Scarlet Chastain’s Bella Key and really liked it, so when I was in the mood for something short, sexy and emotionally satisfying, I picked up this story. It totally hit the spot and was exactly what I wanted.

Jamie is a smart woman on the fast track in her company. She’s been the top sales person and convinces her boss that she can get the company’s product into the European market. The chutzpah and sales skills that got her where she is in the US doesn’t exactly translate in France, where she’s lacking language skills, sophistication and cultural nuance to open the doors. In a moment of serendipity, Giselle enters her life and things change drastically.

Giselle is an elegant but down to earth woman who has built her own business in the fashion world. She sees Jamie having a hard time at a café and decides to step in to help. They start up a friendship as Giselle helps Jamie navigate the world of doing business in France.

This is a short, but sweet and complete, nothing left hanging or short-changed, story of two women who hit it off and open up to each other without too much ado. Both characters are nicely written and they just click with each other. The setting felt real and added a lot to the feeling that these two are on a romantic adventure and falling in love.

I like these stories by Scarlet Chastain.  They are great for a quicky feel good romance with some juicy sex.

Heat level: 3

Grade: 4 stars