Category Archives: Challenges

Review of No Tea. No Shade. by Billione

No Tea. No Shade.I picked up a copy of Billione‘s No Tea. No Shade. from Amazon, when it was free.

Description from Goodreads:
Detroit poet Billione (pronounced bill-LEE-yon) ventures into new territory with his first novel entitled No Tea. No Shade. Inspired by the late E. Lynn Harris, Billione offers an insightful glimpse into the life of Chauncey King: a closeted, black, gay man nearing 40 who seems to stop at nothing to get what he wants. 

On the surface, this dapper, charismatic, successful Editor-in-chief of the Detroit Daily news seems to have it all. However, Chauncey goes from reporting the news to being the center of his own scandal after coming face-to-face with his turbulent past. His life seems to unravel until he meets Malcolm Dandridge at a local bathhouse and realizes that in order to be happy he must first face his biggest fear.

OK, I’m going to start with my hesitation to read this book, that being a debut author billing himself as well known enough to go by a single name and that name being more prominent than the title of the book. This being the origins of the term Big Name Author. Further, that name taking place of precedence in the book’s blurb, with its pronunciation coming before any other information about the book. It takes a lot of confidence put yourself out in the world this way, but experience makes me wary of such authors, as they often have more ego than skill.

I found that to be sadly true in this case. Now, let me be fair, the book is sweet. It has a nice theme about being true and open with yourself and the author obviously knows his character well. However, the writing is amateurish. Names and titles are used far too often in dialogue to feel natural. There are too few contractions, inconsistencies in POV and contradictions in the plot. The timeline of the flashbacks is uncertain. There is far too much tell and no where near enough show. The plot lurches along in a clunky manner, everything resolves itself far too easily (most off page even) and there is a frankly ridiculous epilogic lead-in to a sequel. It is not a smooth or satisfying read.

The author does show promise though. Perhaps when he has as much experience in writing prose as he does poetry he’ll be one to watch.

Review of Moments in Time (Moments in Time #1-3), by Karen Stivali

I won a signed copy of Karen Stivali‘s Moments in Time (#1-3) from Just Love Romance. I read it as part of my #DiverseRomanceBingo challenge, as it contains a bi character, Jewish characters and is written by an #OwnVoices author.

Description from Goodreads:

Moment of Impact
Beyond Collin Fitzpatrick’s dorm room, the students of his conservative college think he’s straight, as does his Catholic family, who’d disown him if they learned the truth. Inside, he’s safe with his sexy roommate Tanner D’Amico. Tanner wants to show the world how much he loves Collin, but Collin’s not sure he’s ready for the impact stepping outside will make.

Moment of Truth
Collin expected to spend another summer fixing cars and working at the college pizzeria. Instead, he’s living in a beach house on Fire Island, and for the first time, he and Tanner can publicly be known as boyfriends. Being “out” takes some getting used to, and doubt and jealousy threaten their happiness. Collin and Tanner must confront the truth or risk losing it all.

Moment of Clarity
Spending the summer on Fire Island brought Collin and Tanner closer than ever, but back in their conservative college town, new challenges confront them.

When Collin’s relationship with Tanner becomes an issue in his brother’s custody battle and Tanner struggles with feelings for his heartbroken friend Wendy, Collin wonders if everyone would be better off without him. In order to save them both, Tanner must make it clear his love for Collin is all that matters.


Hmm, there is plenty to appreciate here. It’s a sweet read about two university-aged guys falling in love. And it is sweet. It’s nice to see a confident bi character. It’s nice to see Catholic and Jewish characters. It was nice that the guys didn’t go from virginal to straight porn sex in an instant and that sex could be something other than penetrative. I liked that there wasn’t a lot of angst about who did what to who and what that did or didn’t make them. I liked Collin coming exploring himself for the first time and Tanner’s patience with him. And I just plain liked Collin and Tanner.

However, the plot often felt like little snippets of life between extended sex scenes. There was far too much sex for me. Not that I mind a lot of sex, but the balance of sex to plot felt too heavily weighted toward sex. I got bored with it. I thought a lot of the conflict felt contrived (and often predictable) and the easy way everything miraculously resolved itself in the end was too pat and easy to be believable.

Lastly, I had major concerns with the representation of women in the novelettes. There are basically only six women in the whole book. One is the classic saintly mother. Of the other five, one was willing to abandon her friends for a boyfriend and willing to steal another’s lover. A second was a wife/mother who cheated on her husband, abandoned her children and was vilely homophobic. A third was a homophobic mother that disowned her gay son and the last was a girl who actively pursued a man she knew to be in a committed, monogamous relationship. I get that this is a book about men loving men, but why does that mean women are so often only presented as the enemy? As if we can only be saints, which less face it removes them from the human realm and consideration, or dangerous to the male characters in the book?

For the most part however, I enjoyed this and have no real qualm recommending it to readers.

What I’m drinking: Loyd: The Magical Experience Flowery Earl Grey (seriously, that’s what it’s called!) I’d add a link, but it’s kind of frightening, in this day and age, how little web presence Loyd tea apparently has.

Join me in the #DiverseRomanceBingo challenge.

Those of you who read this blog on any sort of regular basis know I’m a sucker for challenges, doing several a year, most concurrently. So far this year alone, I’ve challenged myself to read a weeks worth of books with Omega in the title. Then, I felt obligated to do alphas too. I started the year with a broken wrist, so I challenged myself to read all my short stories and novellas. (They require shorter reviews, usually; less typing.) I’ve been adding on to the tail end of last year’s Annoying Closeup Guy challenge, as I’ve found I have more books with him on the cover now. And of course I’m doing the Goodreads challenge, which I pledged a shocking (even for me) 300 books this year. (I wanted to account for so many shorts, so I upped my goal. I expect to surpass it.) I say all that because I intend to add another challenge to the list and this one I think is more important than any of those.

A few weeks back, I went through the books I’d read so far this year, looking to see how diversified the authors were. I honestly went into this expecting to find that I read a fairly diverse group of authors and could feel confident in my position as alley and amplifier of minority voices. I was severely disappointed. I found that despite my good intentions and opinion of myself, nothing was being translated into actual action. The vast majority of the books I’d read were by cis-gendered, straight, white women. Have I done better than someone who isn’t paying attention? Probably, but not by much, and not by enough to feel smug about it. (Not that I should anyway.)

The simple fact of the matter is that any time I picked up a book without actively searching out and choosing a book by an author from a minority group, it was invariably by a white woman. And this was true for the characters in those books too. They were overwhelmingly able-bodied, white people. So, I committed myself to do better; to search out authors of color, authors who are trans or non-binary, or queer, or have a neurological difference, or aren’t American. Diverse characters is a natural by-product of that. And I’ve found a challenge to support this.

#DiverseRomaneBingo card

Let me introduce you to the #DiverseRomanceBingo card. I came across this in a group I’m a member of, though there has hence been a Goodreads group established for it. The challenge began yesterday, Sept 17th, and runs until the end of the year, with the goal being to complete as many squares as possible in that time. This requires reading a book that includes the descriptor in the box and reviewing it is strongly encouraged.

Some will be no problem. I read plenty of M/M books. But others will take some searching. I can’t think of a romance, off the top of my head, that qualifies as having a Desi main character or love interest. The Indian subcontinent just ins’t somewhere a lot of characters in books published in English come from. It will require effort on my part to find a book for that square and as I’d like this challenge to also support #OwnVoices (which is a square, but also a broader goal) I’m hoping to find a romance by a Desi author to boot.

But this brings us back to my earlier disappointment and the realization that truly supporting diversity in publishing takes more than happy thoughts. It takes effort and action. This is what makes the bingo card so appealing to me. It makes such action accessible and engage-able. Obviously, it’s not enough. But it creates a visible and accomplishable goal that moves the participant in the right direction.

I’ll be starting this afternoon with Karen Stivali‘s Moments in Time series. It’s my understanding that some of the main characters are Jewish and bi. Those are some of my boxes. The book is also written by a #OwnVoices author, but you’re only allowed to tick one box per book and I’m choosing this one for the bi MC box. And I will continue in just this manner until the end of the year, when I’ll write a wrap up post. We’ll see how successful I am. Intentionality is important. So, I’m hopeful. Plus, some friends and I got together and put together some ideas.

I invite anyone who is interested to download the card and join me. Drop a link to your own post and/or #DiverseRomanceBingo reviews and I’ll check them all out. I do want to add a final word of caution, however. This is something that has to be approached respectfully. As soon as it’s reduced to just a game or something done for the social justice cookie, we risk tokenizing, objectifying and even commodifying the individuals represented. No amount of amplifying the group can excuse injuring the individual. Having said that, let’s spread the word and thank those responsible for creating the card. (You know who you are.)