Corey Reviews the Books of Sophia Kell Hagin

Every year since 2013, I’ve reread the last ten chapters of Whatever Gods May Be, starting with chapter twenty-three, which begins with “The instant she strode into the yard with the rest of the Red Cross team, Jamie noticed her, and noticed that she seemed to be a study in contradictions.”

Marine Jamie Gwynmorgan, a prisoner of war in a not-too-distant future conflict in Southeast Asia, meets Senator Lynn Hillinger. There follows non-stop action and consequences as Jamie leads a prison break and firefight through the jungle. The first twenty-two chapters of this book, by the way, are excellent as we follow Jamie from recruit to training to heart-breaking actions all the way to survival… to meeting Lynn. This novel isn’t a lesfic romance. However, Jamie has an undefined relationship with Lynn that is tender and love-centered and forged in crisis. There’s a moment when they first embrace that holds so much compassion that I cry alongside Jamie. This entire novel rests in my memory, but I seek out the book’s ending annually to re-live Jamie and Lynn meeting and persevering.

Then I re-read Shadows of Something Real cover-to-cover (or as we say these days, 0% to 100% on my kindle). In this middle book of the trilogy, I am flummoxed by how many women I love in this novel. Lynn and her wife Rebecca, their daughters Robin and Dana and Dana’s partner Lily, and Rebecca’s mother Mary. They all live together at Great Hill, a compound of very strong, smart, fierce women who are waiting for Jamie to realize she is family, too.

Shadows of Something Real is about the aftermath of war on 19-year-old 1st Lieutenant Jamie, the powerful corporations who underwrote the conflicts Jamie survived physically if not emotionally, and the battle for information intelligence and privacy that seems more true-to-life every year that I reread the book. What once seemed like paranoid future fantasy now seems like today’s almost reality, as if “near future” might be next week.

This novel is a thriller, but also a romance, so much the sweeter for Jamie after all she’s survived. Adele (Lily’s sister and just as bad-ass as the rest of the family) is the emotionally open woman Jamie needs. Thankfully, all these women are humanized by their flaws. Lynn admits to her own overconfidence and sometimes manipulations, Dana is briskly single-minded as she addresses security issues, and Jamie romanticizes Adele always being right in their relationship, when Adele is just as mistake-prone as us all.

This book is chock-full of evil politicians and corporations, high-tech gadgetry and life-and-death struggles. Highly recommended, even to folks who don’t tend toward massive woman crushes like me.

Which brings us to Omnipotence Enough, which has a killer of a set-up: 15 years after the events of Shadows of Something Real, Jamie wakes up in an unknown prison, subject to solitary confinement and at the mercy of armed custodian robots who use pharma and force to control her. Jamie’s been abducted off the street, and she has no idea how long she’s been imprisoned and if Adele and her family are close to rescuing her.

The point of view also switches in this last book to first person, as Jamie records her imprisonment into an audiostick. This ramps up the uncertainty and claustrophobia. I was equally delighted to return to Jamie’s world and fearful I’d not get to meet again Adele and Lynn and their family.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, but let’s just say that the themes of political evils-doers and powerful corporations continue from the previous books. What has changed is Jamie, a more mature and self-possessed woman navigating physical and mental recovery that’s all the more courageous for her shakiness.

Jamie survived so much over her life, and I so want her to find stable happiness. I think any lover of thrillers will enjoy Omnipotence Enough, but readers of the earlier books will feel a special investment in this last journey.

Well done, Sophia Kell Hagin. I look forward to your future novels, for the adrenaline and compassion and all the future woman crushes sure to come.

You can purchase or download samples of all of the books by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Artemis by Andy Weir

I was excited to get into this book when I got it from NetGalley. But then I got even more excited when I found out that Rosario Dawson was going to narrate it. She’s got a great voice. So I waited. What a fantastic job she did. She made Jazz and the rest of the characters come to life.

I was going to include the blurb but it’s long so I’ll give a quick summary without giving anything away.

Jazz Bashara is a woman who knows how to get what people want. She’s a super-smart smuggler with many skills. Sort of a less strong Xena, if you will, but much more straight and with lots of knowledge of science and metallurgy. When she agrees to pull off a job that will set her up for life, all hell breaks loose and she finds herself on the run.

If you read Weir’s previous book, The Martian, it shouldn’t surprise you that there’s lots of science going on in the story. Initially, I thought that aspect was pretty cool, but it did get to be a bit much for my non-scientist brain. It gave a lot of authenticity to the story but, after a while, I could feel my attention waiver until something else happened.

I guess I should get the things I didn’t care for out of the way and then I’ll get to the things that really worked for me.

Besides the heavy science-talk, I found a lot of what happened very predictable, especially the last several chapters. I was talking back to the narrator to let her know what was going to happen because, surely, Jazz should have figured it out by then. The only other thing I can think of right now is that some things were repeated that didn’t need to be. Just little things, but they still stood out to me. It’s a weird thing that my brain does that very well won’t bother the vast majority of readers but there you go…

Ok, now the good stuff! Weir builds Artemis so completely. Like I did with The Martian, I had to remind myself a few times that the city and characters were all pretend. Fantastic world building and Jazz is very well fleshed out. I was a bit sad when the book ended. I wanted to spend some more time with these people. And, of course, did I mention what a great job Rosario Dawson did?

Even with the little things that I didn’t love, I will still read this one again. I enjoyed it that much. And Jazz is a character I’ll want to spend more time with.

Big thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ebook. And thanks to Rosario Dawson and Audible for doing such a great job on the audio!

You can download a sample or purchase Artemis by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Eyes Like Those by Melissa Brayden

After a long spell of avoiding Melissa Brayden romance novels, I was so pleasantly surprised by Strawberry Summer that I took the plunge with her new one, Eyes Like Those. I was still wary, though, because it sounded an awful lot like the basic theme of the Soho Loft series, which is what pushed me over the edge in the first place.

Here’s the blurb:

When it comes to love, no one is in charge.

Isabel Chase is reeling. She’s just been offered her dream job as a staff writer on one of the hottest shows on television and quickly trades in the comfort of New England for sun, sand, and everything Hollywood. While stoked for what could be her big break, the show’s stunning executive producer has her head spinning and her feelings swirling.

Taylor Andrews is at the top of her career. Everything she touches turns to gold and the studios know it. Just when she’s on track for total television domination, Isabel Chase arrives in her office and slowly turns her world upside down. Isabel is intelligent, sarcastic, and dammit, downright beautiful. Unfortunately, she’s the one person that can take away all Taylor has worked for.

Will Isabel’s success lead to Taylor’s downfall? Or perhaps Isabel is all she needs…

The feel of the book is very much like the first book in the Soho Loft series with some exceptions. This is set in California and Isabel is a new addition to the group. The biggest exception, for me anyway, is that the group of friends don’t all speak with the same voice. What I mean by that is that they all have their own speech patterns and voice. Kiss the Girl was mostly killed for me because, without dialogue tags, I couldn’t tell who was speaking. The entire group of friends sounded exactly the same. That’s not the case here and it made me very happy.

Like Kiss the Girls, there were some very obvious clues about which pair of friends would be the subject of the next novel. And if not the next, definitely one of them. I believe I also caught foreshadowing for another member of the group in the epilogue. We’ll have to see how that shakes out.

So, what did I think of the story and protagonists? Mostly I enjoyed the book a lot. I never connected or loved Isabel but I did Taylor. Taylor felt very real to me and I saw parts of myself in her. I wanted to hug her and hoped for her to be happy. The journey of the romance was fun to be a part of and there are some very funny bits throughout the book. And there’s even a bad guy you’ll love to hate.

I think that anyone who enjoyed the Soho Loft series will love this one. It’s a pretty light read but still gets you in the heart parts.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for providing the ebook.

You can download a sample or purchase Eyes Like Those by clicking here.

CAB Reviews Vagabond Heart by Ann Roberts

Let’s start with the blurb:

Contractor Quinn O’Sullivan has traveling in her blood. Her aunt is a famous travel writer while Quinn herself moves from one apartment complex to the next as her team remodels them.

When dear Aunt Maura kicks the bucket on her beloved Route 66, she leaves a dying request for Quinn—to take her on one last adventure.

Suda Singh is the total opposite of risk-taker Quinn. As an emergency room doctor, Suda is calm, methodical, and intuitive. But most of all, Suda is safe.

When the two women are thrown together by Quinn’s latest injury, Suda offers to accompany Quinn on the adventure of a lifetime.

Can Quinn and Suda find love, three cats, and the mysterious woman named Rain, all on America’s fabled highway—Route 66? Join Ann Roberts on this adventure of a lifetime in Vagabond Heart.

I’m going to admit that I am pretty negative when it comes to the “Romance” genre. Maybe it’s because I’m old and lately they all seem to be cut from the same cloth. The author looks up Romance Formula #127 and follows it. The character names change but, otherwise, it is what it is. So you’re asking yourself why did I even attempt to read this one? It was the sentence in the blurb: “When dear Aunt Maura kicks the bucket on her beloved Route 66, she leaves a dying request for Quinn—to take her on one last adventure.” Yeah that one; it grabbed my attention so I threw caution to the wind and said I’d read it.

I am so very glad that I did.

The story starts off with a bang and kept my interest all the way through. It’s been forever since I picked up a book that I had trouble putting down. This one could easily make it into my read again pile.

Reasons why:

Both Quinn and Suda are interesting characters and their interactions didn’t feel scripted or overplayed.

The author managed to weave in several real life xenophobic /bigotry issues which just made the characters feel like they were operating in real life without detracting from the story. In fact, I’d say it enhanced the story because we need to call more attention to these things.

I’ve never been on Route 66 but based on the descriptions and the adventure it’s on my bucket list moving forward.

I’d easily give this story 4.5 out of 5 stars. I could have given it 5 but I hated the character Rain.

This book was read in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase Vagabond Heart by clicking here.

Nikki Reviews The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, PhD

“I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him.”

Harvard Psychologist Martha Stout spent years treating patients that suffered at the will of sociopaths. She then began studying the sociopaths themselves, culminating in this sort of “how-to” manual of spotting sociopathy in the world. That woman that cut you off on the way home, the boss that trampled his way to the top, that (ahem) elected official that seems to lack empathy; are they merely inconsiderate or are they sociopaths?

Four percent of humans (1 in 25) in this world are, in fact, sociopaths. They lack remorse and are incapable of forming emotional attachments to living (or non-living) things. We assume they are few, or rare. However Martha Stout has taught me that they are basically everywhere. Many assume that all sociopaths are cold-blooded killers, but that is also not the case. They are therapists, school principals, senators (presidents?), janitors, maintenance people, scientists, or any vocation you can think of. In order to better describe this, Stout gives us a handful of case studies, each being a culmination of many of her patients (and therefore can in no way be traced back to any individual in society). We meet “Doreen,” a psychologist who has zero qualifications or degrees but has charmed her way into many therapist positions caring for people that certainly deserve better. She loves manipulating people for sport while maintaining the reputation of being the nicest person her coworkers have ever met. There’s “Skip,” a high-powered businessman that maintains a presumably happy life with wife and children while sexually harassing women and climbing the corporate ladder with ease.

There are more, but that gives you a good idea of what to expect. Really, Stout describes the consistency found in sociopaths in all walks of life, giving some hints and tips on how to recognize their toxicity and how to avoid entanglements with them. Now this has the negative effect of me looking at everyone I’ve ever met with paranoia and distrust while trying to figure out how many sociopaths are currently living in a square mile of myself. But, it’s also very interesting to try and see the world from the eyes of someone with zero conscience (spoiler alert: look for charming, manipulative people that regularly want your pity).

The writing could get a bit repetitive at times (I believe she gave a definition of sociopath an approximate 800 times-slightly exaggerated), but it fit in well with my psychological interests and curiosities. I definitely found it pleasing enough to want to check out her other book, The Mask of Sanity.

You can download a sample or purchase The Sociopath Next Door by clicking here.

Corey and Sequella Review Outcaste by Fletcher DeLancey

Sequella: Hi Corey! Is Kitty going to join us for this one or is she still trying to get an appointment at the pleasure house?

Corey: I heard some mumbling from Kitty about curling up with a comfort giver and some deep purrs. I know the pleasure houses aren’t the main point of Outcaste, but maybe they are. This is the novel that fills in many questions readers of the series may pose about Alsean society, as we follow Rahel from her rebellion against the caste system as a youth (she wants to be a Warrior but her father wants her to be a Merchant) to her life as a caste-less worker on the docks (echos of exploited undocumented workers, taking work where available and defenseless against authorities), to survival sex and the dangers of living on the fringes of society.

Sequella: I always wondered what would happen to those that do not fit into a specific caste.

Corey: Me too! The first half of the novel also went deep into the families we create. I love me some Mouse. And also, librarian alert! We can all benefit from a librarian being on our side. What did you think about the pacing of the book?

Sequella: For me, the book consists of two parts. The first part is very slow and relaxed, in the second part everything is much more rushed and full of action. Personally, I liked the first part better and it could have gone on like that forever. What really fascinated me, though, was how this book fits into the Alsea universe we have read about so far. This book is both a prequel and sequel to Without a Front. I was very happy to see Tal and the Bondlancer again.

Corey: Yes, Outcaste gives you this deep backstory of a minor character in Without a Front, then skims over the action in the first three Alsean novels from Rahal’s perspective, then delivers new plot and insights with the core cast of characters. I loved getting deeper inside the Bondlancer’s mind and heart.

Sequella: When I got to the part that connects Outcaste to Without a Front, I wanted to go back and reread those since I did not remember the specific details. But of course I could not put Outcaste down and ended up with this unsatisfying feeling of missing connecting points. I can only recommend to everyone to prepare for Outcaste and reread Without a Front.

Corey: Yes, Outcaste is a book for readers of the series. If you are new to the Chronicles of Alsea, start with The Caphenon or maybe check out the novella Vellmar the Blade.

Sequella: *sigh* Vellmar!

Corey: Indeed. I want to make sure we mention another aspect of Rahel: She is “sansara,” which translates as “focused one” or not distracted by the need to join. Basically what we might term asexual, or not driven by sexual desire.

Sequella: Which also means that there is only very little romance in this book. Instead Rahel finds a lot of friends in unexpected places that help her along the way.

Corey: But her relationship with one mentor is really, really intense and, to me, satisfying, reminding me that sexual desire does not need to be the framing of a meaningful relationship. I still got all the feels. Finally, the end of this novel sets up new directions and developments for Alsean society and new books out in Protectorate space. Fletcher DeLancey, you are an unending source of new ideas. Keep writing, please please please.

Sequella: Yes! More! Now! Soon? Please?

Corey: Kitty just rolled over and purred in agreement. If she smoked, she’d be lighting up right now. Outcaste was THAT satisfying, despite my book hangover at work the next day from staying up all night reading. It’s worth it.

You can pre-order now by clicking here: http://amzn.to/2yuIy0a