In Champagne, Jelly Beans and Chocolate, Author R.L. Taylor tells the engrossing story of Royce Tyler, a talented man broken by soul wrenching circumstances that left him deeply depressed and ultimately homeless.  Royce is left to pick up the pieces after his parents are murdered in their liquor store by a perpetrator who evades justice, only to emerge as a basketball star headed to the NBA. Thanks to the high-priced lawyers funded by his uncle, a medical doctor and the murderer’s business manager, James Michael’s criminal actions are a distant memory as everyone feeds his ego in the hopes of scooping up money and fame from their association.

Meanwhile, Royce is homeless after losing his parents, their liquor store and home in an attempt to keep things afloat. Sleeping in his car at night and washing up in cheap motel bathrooms by day in preparation for the next round of job interviews, Royce runs into his high school love, Paula Daniels. Successful all by herself and hardened by rich men’s desire to possess her, Paula shields her heart while collecting the entrapments these men have to offer. The deception begins as Royce, despite his circumstances, attempts to woo her based on their shared history.

Ultimately, Royce pulls his life together and seeks redemption not only for himself but for all people who, fallen on hard times, find themselves abused and mistreated due to their homeless status. Taylor is a great story teller.  Your allegiance will sway to Royce as he attempts to resurrect his life while Paula’s materialistic and opportunistic ways make her less than appealing. But then Taylor tips the scales as Paula becomes a stronger woman of substance no longer allowing others and their offerings to influence her desires.

In the end, Michael and his uncle’s selfishness and greed seal their fates, while Royce rises to the cause and claims success both personally and professionally with Paula by his side. Paula gains all the wealth she could ever dream of because coupled with financial security, Royce offers her unflinching love.

Taylor touches on many topics, including greed, homelessness, loyalty and depression. While there were altercations, dialogue and deceptions that tried my patience as a reader, I quickly realized how the main characters improved for the better and that in this story just as in life, we don’t always do or say the right thing.

Taylor proves that a great love story can be enjoyed without all the overdone sexual content often found in today’s love stories. For an engaging story that delivered sweet love and devotion, Champagne, Jelly Beans and Chocolate earns 4 out of 5 Sable Seals.

Publisher: Another Clue Publishing

Format: E-book

A Review of Amber Green’s Steal Away

The promise of independence, bright city lights and singing gigs is what lures Twilight Amery to an Alabama field along a cargo train route just outside her home town. She may not be a runaway slave but picking cotton is a memory not far enough in the distance.  As she stows away among train’s cargo headed for Harlem, she shares her stash and her dreams with two men on a similar journey. Twilight and the men, one gay the other bi-sexual, form an interesting triangle of lust, jealousy and vulnerability.

After the cargo cars are raided and the trio barely escapes, their adventure truly begins. Without enough money for the trio to make it to Harlem, the lay-over at an Atlanta whorehouse singing and dancing for tips. In exchange for some loving of her own, Twi is the perfect decoy for the complicated relationship between massive and possessive Daniel Stone and equal opportunity lover Hector.

A wrestling challenge turns deadly while Stone is defending both his and Twi’s honor and safety against a strong and menacing debt-collector. The three are forced to flee to Harlem with their winnings only to discover that death doesn’t stop the repercussions of their fatal deed from finding them.

Green paints an interesting story with plenty of time period details. However, the reader will soon realize that the story is all about the journey and very little about the destination as the trio is forced to flee again when their whorehouse troubles fail to be resolved. While the jealousy between Twi and Stone subsides as both realize that neither of them alone would be enough for the charming Hector, their interactions become emotionally suffocating threesomes where eventually there is always an odd person out.

Amber Green’s Steal Away earns three Sable Seals for the characters you come to care about and the fine details of the time period.

Format: E-book

Publisher: Loose Id

The feelings of love are binding even if the bodies aren’t in the relationship between Lynette Clayton and her womanizing former football star husband Marcus Clayton. Lynette’s love for Marcus leads them to remarry after his numerous infidelities had led them down the road to divorce.  Now in Atlanta with their five-year-old son and their new one-year old baby girl, the Claytons appear to have finally built the family they both wanted. That is until, the Charlotte sports reporter, Renee Toliver calls one evening to break the news that Marcus’ family does not include all the children he has fathered.

With this information, Marcus is forced to come clean about an affair he had with the reporter that ended when he and Lynette remarried. Lynette doesn’t take the news well and runs back into the arms of her former lover while making Marcus continue to pay for his past misdeeds. As the relationship continued to unravel the reader realizes that there’s nothing former about Eric at all. This truth becomes apparent when Lynette and Marcus discover that she is 8 weeks pregnant and Lynette believes the baby belongs to Eric and not her husband Marcus.

Site Map LaReaux puts the reader in a difficult situation. You want to feel that Marcus is getting what he deserves but you can’t help but feel disgusted by Lynette’s hypocrisy. It might be a case of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” but it seems more like Lynette has forgotten that there are three fingers point back at her all the while she’s pointing the judgmental finger of adultery at Marcus. When Marcus figures out Lynette’s secret you actually do feel sorry for him even though he comes from a long line of cheaters himself. In fact, Marcus’ father points out that after all is revealed, neither one of them is any better than the other. Lynette welcomes Marcus’ two year old son into her heart and Marcus knows he must do the same with this new baby if he has any hope of keeping the family together. After three months apart and a clumsy one night stand with Renee, Marcus is finally ready to clean the house he and Lynette have dirtied together. Lynette’s pregnancy is an extremely difficult one and when the new baby girl arrives, its quickly apparent that the baby has Marcus’ genes. LaReaux ends the story letting us now that now the Claytons have grown up enough to be the support each other needs and the parents those children deserve.

What’s Done In The Dark earns three Sable Seals.

Publisher: Blue Planet Publishing

Format reviewed: Ebook

A Review of the Anthology Unearthed

Unearthed, is an anthology of eerie circumstances that reveal buried secrets.  Shawn McPike’s “Last Fragment”,  David A. Stelzig’s “Help Me”, Seth E. Lender’s “Crown of the Earth” and Edmond Chang’s “Illusion” all involve haunting truths that need to be bright to light.

Taking a project without meeting the client leads a construction contractor, Stuart Nichols to discover that a simple flooring job has more in store for him when he is confronted by a woman’s voice emerging from beneath the dining room’s subfloor. A nosey neighbor and a puzzling apparition trap him in a frame-up that requires him to go on the run in order to clear his name.  McPike builds nice suspense and sends chills with the description of the contractor’s encounter with the voice.

In David A. Stelzig’s “Help Me”, you instantly root for the down and out police sargent Mario  who provides safety to his former lover despite his alcohol-induced haze. It’s his chance to do right be a woman from his past after being haunted by the unfortunate events that took his sister and his more recent love away from him. His good intentions cost him what’s left of his career and his sanity as he fails to realize until the very end that nothing is what it appears, not now and certainly not in the past.

Seth E. Lender’s “Crown of the Earth” tells the story of Nichole, a police detective looking for answers in her sister’s brutal murder. The absence of her sister’s boyfriend makes him an instant suspect but the witnesses retelling of the events suggest there’s something unnatural about the incident. The detective’s search for truth leads her to near-by Toronto where the outlaws rule by fear and vigilantes with supernatural powers attempt to set things right. Amidst the city’s chaos, the detective and her supernatural chaperone discover her sister’s murder was merely a by-product of a bigger struggle between a street and corporate gangs’ attempt to rule the city and eventually the world.  A mind-scrambling injection that turns normal civilians into murderers is at the center of the struggle. Lender does an excellent job of engulfing the reader in this chaotic city where darkness rules and the light dare not enter.

Finally in Edmond Chang’s “Illusion” we encounter a hardworking Asian man named Thomas who reaches the pinnacle of success in both his career and his marriage. However, everything  begins to unravel after a visit from his best friend’s mother to solicit his help in warning his friend about his wife Helen. Later that evening, Thomas’ wife informs him that his best friend’s mother had passed away days earlier. Thomas feels determined to warn his friend, but his attempts and the occurrence of other spirits only prove to make the task difficult. As the danger increases through the discovery of infidelities, deception, murder and attempted murder a sudden switch in the plot plays up the novella’s title. Everything appears to be unlike what it seemed originally. Chang makes every effort to clear up loose ends but the plot switch creates more confusion than it resolves.  Because the story drags on too long and suspicions that were never alluded to in the beginning are thrown in at the end to resolve the the questions that remain, the reader is left unsatisfied.

Unearthed earns two sable seals. McPike and Stelzig brought suspense to great heights causing the reader to see the story through. However, putting the strongest stories at the front of the anthology made for an overall weaker reading experience.

Publisher: Midnight Showcase

A Guest Non-Fiction Review by Mike of Artists Inlet Press

Mr. Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death, written a decade earlier, explains the years leading up to our Aldous Huxley Brave New World condition. This volume traces our plight over centuries leading to the implications of the book’s subtitle, “The Surrender of Culture to Technology.” Just as with Amusing, Postman’s insights lead us to another so-that’s-what’s-going-on! revelation.

What happened to us, as a western society, as a culture? We’ve evolved over centuries, never the same from one to the next. But as the author reminds us, we tend to trace our cultural history over a long span by focusing on technological innovations — the printing press, the industrial revolution, the assembly line, the computer. Our mistake is in assuming that we remain pretty much the same, that we just live in different technological surroundings. This ignores the fact that not only do we change our environment, but the developed technology changes us as well. And there is the key to understanding where we are today.

Marshall McLuhan’s famous epigram, “The medium is the message,” was always difficult for me to grasp, let alone accept. I mean, if someone calls me and says that a riot has erupted downtown, the information is clear whether I receive it on the phone or the radio. This book made the process clear by tracing the way the media message has been delivered over the past five centuries. What becomes apparent to even a cursory reading of Technopoly is the meaning of the word “message.” Postman clearly demonstrates that a message involves more than a simple transfer of facts; it involves the significance of the facts, how we comprehend them, and infer meaning from the circumstances of their delivery. This is largely determined by the medium. We can think of the difference between standing on a street corner, witnessing a brutal beating, and reading about it in the newspaper.

The book elaborates three historical stages to describe the changes in information delivery. The first of these begins with the Middle Ages and continues through the early signs of industrial revolution. The author refers to society during this period as “Tool Users.” It was a time when the daily work habits of people were separate from their beliefs; the implements used to farm or build cathedrals had little to do with their views on life or God . With the advent of industry, organized and efficient, we entered the “Age of Technology,” remaining there through most of the twentieth century.

Postman goes out of his way to avoid diminishing the effects of science and medicine; the machinery which made a forty-hour week possible and the discovery of penicillin. But to fully accept the book’s premise, that we are being shaped by the way we are fed information, requires a suspension of bias. Anyone in love with technology will be hard-pressed to accept the author’s viewpoint, especially as he describes the current age which he calls “Technopoly” in which society reveres technology for its own sake with no regard for consequences.

His claim that the average citizen has become less significant in our landscape of technological innovation and the notion that progress, in the sense of social betterment, has become irrelevant might be difficult to admit. That the medium influences the message is clear, but the reader’s response might be a shrugged “So my iPod is more important to me than the songs on it. So what?” But this misses the point. Postman’s book wasn’t written as an indictment, but rather as an exposition of the processes by which media determines the message we receive. His arguments are accessible and informative. We must draw our own conclusions regarding the benefits of technology. Postman is only a messenger. The reader needs to recognize the medium and interpret the message against today’s social landscape.

**********************************

Mike lives in Florida as a retired high school English teacher. He devotes most of his time working on his websites and writing on Artist’s Inlet Press. This becomes a marriage of productivity and convenience because Florida summers tend to keep people inside away from the heat. His writing output tends toward social criticism. Mike’s hero is Jack Kerouac.

A Review of J&J’s Duets

In Jeanie Johnson and Jayha Leigh’s Duets: Veiled Passions & A Little Bit of Dis, the reader gets two contemporary steamy erotic romance novellas. The first,  Veiled Passions takes place at a Arizona resort where an Engineering conference is taking place. The beautiful full-figured Isoke Morehouse with stunning yet distinctly African features discovers she is the object of affection for her Scandinavian boss who she refers to as Roar.  His feelings become apparent when an argument between Isoke and a surly male co-worker becomes physical. Despite properly defending herself, Roar becomes outraged and steps in to beat up and later fire the men involved. Now that his feelings are known Roar, a loner, feels even more compelled to keep his distance as he feels Isoke will never be his. Thanks to the meddling of his business partners/friends, Isoke is made aware that Roar’s actions were more than just disgust for the abuse of women.  Already being attracted to him, Isoke feels free to act on her feelings and the rambunctious love making begins and ends with words of commitment.

Johnson and Leigh’s A Little Bit of Dis, the second half of the Duets, has a similar feel. The romance brews among a work environment where a spoiled rich white man pines after his equally successful and intelligent full-figured African American marketing mentor. The insults fly only to mask the sexual tension between them. Karlo is not only the master in the boardroom, she is  the object of desire for every man that encounters her. Her rapid wit and diva-esque demands clearly articulate that she is the one in charge. Dario, who is every bit of the Italian Stallion, can only bask in their heated exchanges until they become more personal due to his jealousy. Not to be controlled, Karlo quits leaving Dario to devise a scheme to bring her out of hiding so he can make her his wife. The idea of envisioning what you desire is not lost on Dario as he publishes a false engagement announcement for him and Karlo to bring things to a head. Karlo challenges him physically, intellectually and sexually with a confrontation in Dario’s office that they, their colleagues, their superiors nor the police will soon forget.

At first when reading Johnson and Leigh’s stories, it was nice to see full-figured black women who were strong, intelligent and attractive get the attention and respect they deserve.  Pure confident divas, their personas as educated women in control seemed a bit overboard and the flawed alpha males seemed a bit much. Roar in Veiled Passions had quite a few redeeming qualities until his desires became known and then he appeared rather brutish. Dario, in A Little Bit of Dis, didn’t appear to have any redeeming qualities other than his ability to love Karlo despite her intolerable arrogance.

What made these stories work was the sheer fact that they are fantasy. Who hasn’t imagined having wanton sex with an especially desirable co-worker? Who hasn’t feared acting on impulse of attraction with someone he or she works with? Thankfully there are laws in place and societal mores that require that we conduct ourselves with a bit more tact. Johnson and Leigh’s Duets: Veiled Passions & A Little Bit of Dis allow us to imagine what fun we can have if we could let go and just be ourselves expressing what we think and most importantly what we feel.  Plus they do it with humor and in a style that keeps you reading to the end hanging on every word as if told by your closest girlfriend.

With that I give Johnson and Leigh’s Duets: Veiled Passions & A Little Bit of Dis three out of five Sable Seals.

Publisher: Beautiful Trouble Publishing

Format: Ebook

Devilish erotic delights overtake boring community college Professor Rick Michelson in Jaxx Steele’s short story The Devil Made Me Do It. Rick has been in an interracial relationship with Terry, a small African American hard bodied male bartender with pleasure on his mind for seven years.

Rick is conservative and straight-laced while Terry has a lusty fire within. One evening has Rick awaits the return of his lover, the devil referred to as Lou, visits him with a demand. Submit to note-guided sexual obstacle course for my entertainment and the enjoyment of my friends put Terry and your school in danger with your refusal. Rick succumbs and his is pushed to his sexual limits.

While the homosexual sex sequences were erotic even for a heterosexual female like myself, I found some of the dialogue between Terry and Rick to be flat. I also felt their roles played into the stereotypes of effeminate and masculine gender roles. Rick was prideful and masculine while Terry was feminine and sexually charged.

With the nearly 50 page story ending with Rick wondering if all of his sexual escapades of the previous night were just a dream, I felt a little let down. However, the experience did leave the reader knowing that Rick had finally loosened his restraint. With that Jaxx Steele’s The Devil Made Me Do It, earned 3 out of 5 Sable Seals.

Ebook

Red Rose Publishing

In Catch Me, If You Can, told through a series of flashbacks, Brenna Lyons tells the story of how New Yorker Angelo Maretti copes with his twin sister Angelena’s rape and murder plus the threat to his own life. As Angelo and his companion and love interest Marissa Rizzulo attempt to stay one step ahead of Enrique Ortega, the man responsible for his family’s heartache, an elaborate vengeful plan to have the Ortega culprits meet their demise without a connection to the Maretti and Rizzulo families is triggered by Angelo’s male family members.

With dialogue that resembles any mobster flick the Orgeta, Rizzulo and Maretti families are easily interchangeable.  In the stories brief 58 pages, Lyons does manage to draw the reader toward caring what happens to Angelo and Marissa as they attempt to heal hurts with their love. Unfortunately, the flashbacks are dizzying and the reasoning behind Angelena’s assault and murder are never truly explained. Nor is it clear why Angelo becomes the target despite the lack of direct retaliation.

As a result, Brenna Lyons short story Catch Me, If You Can earns 2 Sable Seals.

Format Reviewed: Ebook

Publisher: Under the Moon

The World Outside the Window is a short story anthology that explores the perception of the outside world from a window frame as told by 19 different onlookers. These onlookers are conjured up from the imagination of 19 Amazon.com Shorts writers. Many have other writing accomplishments to their credit but all have chosen to tell a story as perceived by someone looking out the window into a world from which they are distantly connected.

The same building from which this window resides takes the form of an asylum, a hotel, an apartment building and many other structural functions. The idea of these stories is interesting because we never know how our own biases color the interpretation of what we witness. While only a of few of the 19 stories are purposefully told from a different setting, all the stories do what short stories should. They get us into the story quickly and stir emotion good or bad about the main characters. Whether it is a multimillion dollar businessman under close watch due to his poor character judgment or poor black widow with two daughters and a farm to tend suddenly accepting the help of a young white man passing through town, the anthology displays the varied talents of each writer. Even tales of misery after the loss of a child and the demise of a marriage as told by Pamela Kinney in Misery Loves Company or the beauty of second chances and survival as told by Lana M. Ho-Shing in Etude and Smoke Rings which chronicles her experience in New York’s Wall Street on September 11th are shared in the compact short story format and don’t fail to satisfy.

While some stories like The Mailbox by Larry L. Evans and Twilight by Matthew Alan Pierce tells stories of war and family, others like Suspicious Activity by Curtis M. Hendel and House Arrest by Richard Lord, leave readers scratching their head unsure of what they just read. Then Neal’s Noel by Jay Osman, Fallen Star, Rising Star by Mark Terence Chapman and Only There Was No Wind by Jim Wilsky tell the story of strong bonds in boyhood friendships.  None of the stories surprised me more than Anthony Waugh’s Smile, which shows the dark depths of obsession from the vantage point of the obsessed.

The World Outside the Window earns 4 out of 5 Sable Seals for the 19 interesting journeys it offers.

Publisher: R.J. Buckley Publishing

Title: Annual Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival
Location: Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Link out: Click here
Description: LIGHTS
CAMERA
INSPIRATION

Sponsored by Macy’s, the 8th annual Run and Shoot Filmworks Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival celebrates the African-American film community by featuring up and coming filmmakers.
Start Date: 2010-08-11
Start Time: 09:30
End Date: 2010-08-14
End Time: 09:00

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