Nikki reviews Your Little Red Book by EJ Runyon


From the blurb: Alexis, a broke young artist with problems reading and writing, keeps her little red book close at all times. It holds her life. She wants to be sure she’s gotten it all down as it comes. She narrates to herself in illegible script, unaware of her unique style of recording her own world. Here we have one half of a She said/She said scenario. Maureen, a successful owner of a small chain of Art Supply stores, catches Alexis in her store with a pocket full of stolen tubes of paint. And she’s smitten from first glance. Knowing all too well the pitfalls ahead, Mo wants only to help. Only for a while. Only in any way she can. No one told her she’d have to fight nearly every step of the way. And therein lays the other half of said scenario.”

The author takes underused pov choices to make this a unique narrative. Lexy meets Maureen by attempting to steal art supplies from her shop, which begins a bit of a tumultuous romance between the two that neither expected. Their alliance is somewhat unbalanced, with Lexy wanting to be worthy of attention and happiness, but not quite sure how to get there herself.

Lexy keeps a little red book and always scribbles in it, always in indecipherable code which is never explained. Is she illiterate? Severely dyslexic? I have no idea. Her second person pov is indescribably done in future tense, which feels almost as though the red book is telling her how to interact to scenarios, how other people will respond. Instead of what IS happening it’s all stated as what WILL happen. I assumed at some point this would have some fascinating twist explaining WHY this choice was made but that never happened. Is she hearing voices? Does she think the book is talking to her? Are there little green men? That would have all been viable options, but it was just left as it was without any justification for the pov choice. Maureen’s chapters are done in first person, and often rehashes what we’ve already experienced in Lexy’s pov, or vice versa. Additionally, Maureen has a difficult relationship with her daughter, and you never really can tell if her relationship with Lexy is to compensate for this loss or a truly genuine love.

By the end, I didn’t really find the characters particularly likable and couldn’t see what Maureen and Lexy saw in each other. A lot of the story was somewhat difficult to discern, and many passages I needed to re-read several times before moving on (and often still didn’t get it but I just kept going anyway). There seemed to be a lot that the author counted on the reader figuring out themselves, obscure connections that I just couldn’t follow. This and Lexy’s unconventional pov was just all too much to wade through for me.

You can download a sample or purchase Your Little Red Book by clicking here.

Nikki reviews Girls in Ice Houses by Linda Morganstern


Maxie Wolfe is a paparazzo with seemingly questionable morals and a lack of empathy for those celebrities her photographs affect. She has mountainous attachment issues, stemming from her childhood with an artistic megalomaniacal mother. As described in the novel, Maxie is the result of an experiment in motherhood, which is a very sad way to think about oneself, though very accurate for their dynamic. Maxie buries her emotional baggage under a thick veneer of apathy, and for much of the first half, Maxie’s issues and flaws make her extremely difficult to relate to or empathize with. Honestly I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to finish it through the middle third, but I am glad I did.

Maxie spends much of her time navigating a reluctant friendship with Fisher, a woman she meets in unlikely circumstances, resulting in them both requiring anger management classes. At one point, Fisher convinces Maxie to join her on a trip to her family’s home in the midwest, and Maxie’s reticence towards relationships of all sorts continues to be tested.

I had some issues with the story, as too much emphasis was on cryptic dialogue that started to become annoying, but this was hiding a depth of connections that would otherwise be ruined, so I sort of get why that was necessary. Additionally, the middle dragged on and as a reader, you never quite know why many things are happening until towards the end. As for that, the lengths to which circumstances are connected felt excessively complicated. I can imagine some would have given up at this point, as I almost did. The end of the novel, though not tying up everything completely, did result in a satisfyingly full arc for Maxie. I didn’t expect to like Maxie at all, but by the end I was pleasantly surprised by her once I eventually navigated her difficult past. I can imagine some will be turned off by her, of course, but if you push through, I think you’d agree that she’s worth the trouble, no matter what her mother thinks.

You can download a sample or purchase Girls in Ice Houses by clicking here.

Nikki reviews Heyday by Marnie Woodrow


This is the story of a middle-aged widow named Joss, who is trying to find meaning to her life after the death of her long-time partner . It is also the story of Bette and Freddy, two girls in 1909 who meet in a serendipitous trip on the Figure 8, a roller coaster at Hanlan’s Point in Toronto. The young girls strike up a close friendship immediately, with Bette grieving the death of her grandmother (and best friend) and Joss attempting to escape her difficult past. Both young girls find joy and love at Hanlan’s Point but their journey is fraught with adversity.

The setting is gorgeously rendered. You can fully imagine the amusement park, smell of the lake, the confines of Bette’s house which is increasingly rife with tension. I tasted the cotton candy, smelled the exhaust from the rides, and felt the heat of the summer. The amount of research that went in to creating this world was a very nice touch, and helped me feel further immersed in the story.

The characterizations were quite good, with only a couple that were a bit one-dimensional (Freddy’s paramours). However, the main characters and Bette’s father were fully developed and complete with flaws and heartache. I felt for them all, desperately hoping for a happily ever after. Do they all get one? I’m not gonna tell ya!

The dialogue was very good, all individual for each character, with built-in personalities, flaws and quirks that I appreciated. Some of the secondary characters were a little flat, but the mains were SO well-structured that that didn’t particularly bother me.

However there was one thing I wish could be more clearly delineated. Each chapter is from a different character’s POV. One being Joss in the present day, then separate chapters for Bette and Freddy (and at one point Bette’s dad got into the mix). However, there was no identifiable thing at the start of the chapter to say “hey this is Joss, jump forward to present, thanks!” Sometimes it took me a few sentences or a paragraph to figure out whose head I was populating. Later on in the story that didn’t bother me as much because there was generally a “Joss, then Bette, then Freddy” cycle for the vast majority, but it’s still something to keep in mind when reading.

Additionally, the end of the story kind of left some things hanging without resolution. I never felt a good connection existed to demonstrate why Joss’ story was presented alongside Bette and Freddy’s romps at their amusement park, or at least not one sufficient enough to satisfy me. So fair warning to those that need everything spelled out and presented with a nice pretty bow at the end. I have my theories on the ending, so if you’ve read it I’d love to hear from you!

Overall, a very enjoyable read that I feel like could have been a bit stronger with some tweaks, but that stuff might not bother anybody else but me.

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

Cheri Reviews My Sister’s Grave by Robert Dugoni


I bought this ebook, and the audible version, for a few dollars back in October of 2014. I really didn’t know what it was about – I still haven’t read the blurb! – but I saw friends of mine putting it on their lists and giving it pretty high ratings so I figured for the price, I’d go ahead and grab it. I’d eventually get to it. It sat on my TBR list until a few days ago when a friend mentioned she was going to read it and I decided to join her.

In a nutshell, this is the first in a series featuring the protagonist, Tracy Crosswhite. She’s not the only one in the book with a POV but she’s the main character. She’s a homicide detective in Seattle who’s sister disappeared twenty years earlier. She always felt that the man convicted of her sister’s murder had been framed and the focus of her life seemed to be proving it. The discovery of her sister’s remains takes Tracy back to her hometown and forces her to deal with people and feelings she thought she wouldn’t ever have to face again.

After that, lots of stuff happens that you’ll have to read about if you decide to pick up the book. By the way, it’s still dirt cheap or free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

Before I get to the things that I liked, there were a few things I didn’t care for. The author uses some of the same words and phrases to describe things. For example, it got a tad annoying to have each person blowing on and flexing their freezing fingers and how their bodies were numb or going to shut down. Or talking about the sashes of doors and windows. There are plenty of other examples but it got to the point where I would roll my eyes and just move on. There were also several places toward the very end that felt overly cheesy and melodramatic with the intent of emotionally manipulating the reader but didn’t actually make me feel anything.

There are also loads and loads of flashbacks. Most of them didn’t disrupt the flow and I felt that they added to the story the way they were done. But if you’re someone who absolutely hates flashbacks, you may want to download the sample to see how it goes for you.

I recommend reading this one with your eyes instead of the audio. I listened to a good chunk of the first half and had a tough time knowing when I hit a transition to the past since there were no announcements and I needed cues from the narration to place me in the right time. The narrator also made all the characters who Tracy views as antagonistic sound like total douchebags. Definitely one for the eyes.

The good parts far outweighed any of my negative feelings about the stuff above. The mystery was well done, I thought. I made my pick for the bad guy fairly early but quickly dismissed that one. After that, I just didn’t know and I was very satisfied with the way it played out. I thought the action bits were exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat. I was certainly engaged throughout and had a tough time putting the book down.

All in all, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It was by no means perfect but it kept my attention and had me yelling out in surprise or shock several times. Once I got to about 60%, it was nearly impossible to stop. Not to say that the first half wasn’t good, it just wasn’t as quick-paced. Once things get moving, they don’t stop.

I absolutely think it’s worth a read and I’m looking forward to starting the next in the series soon.

You can download a sample or purchase My Sister’s Grave by clicking here.

Sunny Reviews Blurred Lines by K.D. Williamson


Blurred Lines by K.D. Williamson brings up an interesting discussion and almost makes me wonder if the double meaning of the title was intentional. The book originated as Rizzoli & Isles fan fiction and, with some editing, ended up being published as an original novel. I did not read the fan fiction version of this story, but I will admit to being a long-time fan of the TV show. I’ve even dabbled in a little R&I fan fiction writing myself. This book was recommended to me by a couple of people who really liked it and thought I would too.

I think I would have enjoyed this book a little more if I had NOT been a fan of Rizzoli & Isles. The characters were so obviously based on the TV characters that it was impossible for me to envision them any other way. Even though the physical descriptions and names were changed, they had the exact same character traits and behaviors as those on TV. In my mind, I was watching the TV show as I read – which could be a real compliment in the fan fiction world. I got really frustrated early on with the names because they weren’t the names I was used to the characters being called – especially the secondary characters. Once I got familiar with the new names, the story flowed a little smoother for me.

That said, I actually liked the story and the relationship between Kelli and Nora. Again, had I not been so familiar with Rizzoli & Isles, I think I may have really liked the characters – eventually. I thought that Kelli was a real ass in the beginning and Nora wasn’t very likable at all, but they both sort of grew on me by the end, especially when they began interacting more with each other. Kelli’s profanity was a little over done, and the subplot of Antony, the drug-addicted brother, seemed to be an unnecessary distraction to the rest of the book, but Kelli and Nora had good chemistry and it was fun to see them learn how to find their way as a couple. There were a couple of things that were alluded to that I don’t think would really make sense to a reader if they weren’t familiar with Rizzoli & Isles – Jane/Kelli’s history with Korsak/Williams and Williams’ personal relationship with Kelli’s mother (which I think happened only in the books and fan fiction, but not in the TV show.) The setting was changed from Boston to Seattle, but there was one line late in the book that threw me: Kelli and Nora are in the car and made a turn “toward Beacon Hill.” I’ve since learned that there’s a Beacon Hill area of Seattle too. Another blurred line! The setting didn’t really play a huge part in the book, so I didn’t really have a problem with that change like I did with the character names.

The part that I did have a problem with and just couldn’t get past was this: these were not original characters. As a reader and occasional writer of fan fiction, I don’t believe that a story that was written and posted for the masses to read as fan fiction should be removed from that realm and published as an original work that will then be sold for personal gain. I felt the same way about the 50 Shades books. Part of the reason fan fiction is tolerated by a lot of writers and creators who feel their work has been stolen or at least infringed upon, is that fan fic writers will not profit from their work! That’s the whole reason to put the little disclaimer at the beginning – something like: These characters are not mine and no profit will be made from their use in this work.

I’ve read a lot of published books that were based on the Xena characters. While they have the physical traits of Xena and Gabrielle, I’ve never really felt like I was watching a Xena episode while reading a book. If I read a book that I think would make a good movie, I often visualize an actress who I think fits the character. So, I do realize that there can be some gray areas (maybe not 50 shades, but still gray) in writing and creating characters. I also know that some very accomplished writers of lesbian fiction got their start in writing and adapting Xena fan fiction into published novels. But, in my opinion, that still doesn’t make it right to use someone else’s characters without their permission and/or the legal authorization to do so.

I think it’s great that fan fiction writers are being recognized as talented, publishable writers. I just wish that the publishers and editors and others who recognize this would encourage them to write purely original stories. I have no idea if the 50 Shades books were changed dramatically or held fast to the original characters. I’ve not read any of the books nor seen the any of the movies (original or adapted.) The Blurred Lines characters were given new names and new physical descriptions, but there is no question in my mind that these characters are still Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles. Ms. Williamson tells a good story and is not a bad writer at all. I hope in the future she will use those talents to create new, original characters that stand on their own and do not blur the lines between fan fiction and a truly original novel.

You can purchase or download a sample of Blurred Lines by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Departure from the Script by Jae


I’m late to the party a lot. It can take me years to finally read a book on my TBR list but, if I hear enough good things about it from folks I trust, I’ll get to it.

The Hollywood Series by Jae has been on that list for a mighty long time. It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of Jae’s historical fiction. I’ve read Backwards to Oregon more times than I can count – the sequels nearly as many times. Second Nature and the Portland Police Bureau series is another favorite. So I was pretty hopeful that I’d find another set of books to immerse myself in for a good long while.

Departure from the script is a quick read that focuses on Amanda Clark, aspiring actress, and photographer Michelle Osinski. They meet under less than ideal circumstances but quickly become close. As it happens in most romances, emotional and physical attractions happen fast!

The story, itself, was interesting. Even though the book is novella length, very unlike Jae, I felt connected to the characters. We don’t get a load of background on either of the leads but what we do get gives us a great idea of their histories and personalities. We even get to spend some time with the families as we really get to understand what’s important to each of them. I very much liked Amanda and Michelle.

The writing was good and the dialogue felt natural. These women felt like real folks and it’s always a joy to read a romance that has believable situations and genuine characters. There were no misunderstandings or exaggerated angst – I had not a single instance of wanting to shake the hell out of someone. I don’t think I had any bullshit moments, either. I think the only thing that got a sigh from me was the number of times physically and/or emotionally close moments were disturbed. Even the characters mention it at least once. But, honestly, I liked them and the story so much, it was very bearable.

If you’re a fan of Jae’s romances and haven’t read this one yet, you’ll probably enjoy it very much.

You can download a sample or purchase Departure from the Script by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon


More and more of my reading time has been devoted to mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. I’m one of those readers who loves to try to solve the mysteries quickly and note somewhere exactly where in the book I think I figured it all out. Try Not to Breathe was great fun to try to puzzle out. I won’t give anything away here, though, so don’t worry.

Here’s the blurb:

Some secrets never die. They’re just locked away.

Alex Dale is lost. Destructive habits have cost her a marriage and a journalism career. All she has left is her routine: a morning run until her body aches, then a few hours of forgettable work before the past grabs hold and drags her down. Every day is treading water, every night is drowning. Until Alex discovers Amy Stevenson. Amy Stevenson, who was just another girl from a nearby town until the day she was found unconscious after a merciless assault. Amy Stevenson, who has been in a coma for fifteen years, forgotten by the world. Amy Stevenson, who, unbeknownst to her doctors, remains locked inside her body, conscious but paralyzed, reliving the past.

Soon Alex’s routine includes visiting hours at the hospital, then interviews with the original suspects in the attack. But what starts as a reporter’s story becomes a personal obsession. How do you solve a crime when the only witness lived but cannot tell the tale? Unable to tear herself away from her attempt to uncover the unspeakable truth, Alex realizes she’s not just chasing a story—she’s seeking salvation.

Shifting from present to past and back again, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer until its heart-stopping conclusion. The result is an utterly immersive, unforgettable debut.

That pretty well sums it up. But it gives the impression that we’re only getting Alex and Amy’s POVs and that’s not actually true. We also regularly hear from Jacob, Amy’s old boyfriend who has never really gotten over her and spends quite a lot of time with her in the hospital, to the detriment of his marriage.

I want to say right off that I truly enjoyed this book. The characters – Alex, Amy, and Jacob – were fairly complex and realistic. I think the author did a fantastic job with Alex. The detail with which her alcoholism is discussed and the manner in which it’s presented to the reader helped to bring the character depth and life. She was flawed and real and I cared for her. Amy’s progression was also interesting and I shuddered a few times thinking about what it would be like to be her. And Jake, poor Jake, I wouldn’t describe what I felt for him as heartbreak, but something close. I don’t think anyone could not feel bad for the guy.

The mystery, itself, I thought was well-done and I wasn’t certain who the bad guy was until I hit 83%. There were a couple red herrings thrown in for good measure but, ultimately, I found the way the story played out very satisfying. There was enough focus on the individual main characters to make us care about them and hope for their success but not too much as to take away from the reason they’ve all been brought together. The balance felt just right to me.

While I definitely recommend this book, it certainly wasn’t perfect. There was one character given a POV for two or three chapters who I don’t think needed to be included. It felt jarring to move between Alex, Jacob, and Amy steadily only to be dropped into this other character’s head when it didn’t seem to add anything to the plot. I don’t recall any information given that couldn’t have been provided in another way or that was truly necessary.

There was one thing that Amy did several times that I found unbelievable and made me grimace each time: she referred to the mystery man as “my secret.” As in, when she would have said or thought his name, she replaced it with “my secret” or a variation of that. If she were talking to someone else, maybe, just maybe that would fly but I cannot imagine anyone who would be thinking to themselves replacing a proper first name with something like that. It’s just not how we think – at least not how I would ever think of someone I knew. It felt unnatural and simply a way to avoid using a name which would have, obviously, given away the bad guy.

I also found the penultimate chapter a bit flat and somewhat of a let-down. Once I figured out whodunnit, I wanted to steam on through to the end and have justice done in a blaze of glory or some other exciting climax and that just didn’t happen. Yes, everything was wrapped up in a way that was pretty unique, I think, but not very thrilling.

Even with the slow wrap-up, I still found this book a great read. I was engaged the entire time and actively working to solve the mystery. I only wish I would have had access to the audio version. With the right narrators, I bet it’ll be great. Also, the end was left open to a possible series – I hope I read that correctly – which I would definitely be interested in. This is the author’s debut novel and I can only imagine how good the next book will be.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase Try Not to Breathe by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Backcast by Ann McMan


It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Ann McMan for a long time – both as an author and as a human being. I’ve read nearly all of her books and have enjoyed them to varying degrees but this one, Backcast, is, in my opinion, her best work yet.

The book covers what happens when thirteen women, most of them authors of lesfic, come together to participate in an artistic endeavor. Throughout the book, we’re treated to plenty of funny and thought-provoking scenes and revelations while following the various characters over their two-week adventure in writing, relationship-building, and, for a few, fishing.

For me, the best and most important parts of this book are the essays each participant writes giving glimpses into their pasts. I’ve said it before and I stand by this statement: Ann McMan writes serious and touching fiction. Yes, the woman is hilarious with great timing and wordsmithing but her ability to get to the souls of the characters and strip them bare is incredible. The thirteen essays included as part of Backcast touched me and, several hours after finishing the book, continue to weigh on my mind. We’re not told who wrote which essay and, while I was able to figure a few out, I plan to go back and read them again. Partially to figure out who each belongs to but mostly because I want to take my time with them and truly absorb them. They are that good, that real.

I had received an ebook copy from Bywater Books for review and then received a signed copy as part of a donation to Lambda Literary in honor of our friend, Sandra Moran, and, later, after a recommendation regarding the audiobook, purchased a copy from Audible. The audiobook is how I finally decided to finish the book and I’m happy I did. The narrator does a pretty good job. Although, I’m sure the author would have created a fantastic narration herself. Maybe for the next book. Which I hope will hold even more serious investigation of the human condition because I truly believe that is where this author shines.

So, if you haven’t already, give Backcast a shot. Even if you don’t dig the essays as much as I did, Phoebe and the CLIT Con Thirteen will make it worth the price all on their own.

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

Nikki Reviews When it Raynes by CD Cain


Rayne Amber Storm is a recent graduate with a bachelor’s in biology, on a summer break at home in Louisiana before starting medical school. She spends her days with her beloved Meemaw while dodging her mother’s schemes to marry her off. Throughout the narrative, Rayne is struggling with her self-identity and how she fits in the world, but nothing seems to ever grow from that, and a satisfactory resolution to these issues is missing. She’s questioning her sexuality and relationships, but she’s passive in how she handles both. The secondary characters are poorly developed, Grant in particular. He serves as a one-dimensional obstacle without the benefit of interesting characteristics. In addition, Rayne seems to have trouble communicating her feelings, which stagnated many of the interactions in the book for me.

The strongest relationship is clearly with Meemaw, the one person Rayne always turns to as a mother figure, and my favorite character in the story by far. She is a no-nonsense lady who loves her granddaughter unconditionally, which Rayne seems to be lacking elsewhere in her life. However, the relationship with Rayne’s mother (Charlie Grace) confused me a bit. Rayne spent much time complaining about how poorly they got along, including how Charlie Grace attempted to rule her life. However, the interactions between them described within the context of the story seemed unremarkable, and not particularly angsty. Charlie Grace buys her a brand new jeep for graduation, wants her to get married to a nice guy, and go to church, much like every mother in America. I had a difficult time seeing much reason for any antagonism, and Rayne’s strong reactions to her felt melodramatic as a result.

This book required a much more thorough editing, and at some point I actually wondered if it had been edited at all. Punctuation is sometimes missing (or misused) but more noticeable are the frequently repeated phrasing and words throughout. There were times when strikingly similar sentences were written directly following each other, which should have been caught. Additionally, the dialogue needs work to improve its consistency. The preponderance of casual Louisiana dialect spelled out phonetically isn’t a problem, per se, but it is not uniform, jumping in and out of using contractions somewhat arbitrarily. Meemaw in particular would randomly not use contractions, making her suddenly sound very formal and out of character.

The writing itself is problematic, particularly in the overly flowery language that lacks execution and comes across as nonsensical metaphors. I’ll put some examples here so you can see what I mean:

– “The wants of his desire were evident in his state and needed not to be expressed with words.”

-During a dancing scene, “Charlie Grace appeared escalated into a world of freedom found in a rhythmic beat.”

-“My body stirred again as I realized a warmth with the stinging of the vision behind my closed eyes.”

-“I couldn’t be too judgmental of his ambition as I too had never focused on the present for my vision of the future”

Those lines made my brain slam on the brakes and re-read them multiple times, which caused the flow of the story to feel disjointed. It’s not just wordy, it’s mixed metaphors that don’t particularly fit in the way they are presented. I’m a huge fan of flowery descriptions, and writing with a lyrical and poetic bent, when done masterfully. However, it missed the mark in this book, and that should have been reigned in significantly. As Mark Twain said, “don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do,” and I’m betting Meemaw would agree with him.

You can download a sample or purchase When It Raynes (Chambers of the Heart Book 1) by clicking here.

Sequella, Corey, and Kitty Review Without a Front: The Warrior’s Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey


Kitty: It’s a three-way!

Corey: A review, Kitty. A three-way review.

Sequella: A sequel! Finally! About time after that damn cliffhanger.

Corey: Do we even need to do a synopsis? I cannot imagine anyone jumping into this book without first reading Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge. But let the record show I sobbed with both happiness and angst almost immediately after tapping open Chapter 1.

Kitty: Oh please let me provide the synopsis! I bookmarked exactly —

Corey: Kitty! You will not give away the number of sexy times in the book. Let the readers discover that on their own.

Sequella: I think Kitty is still sitting in the co-pilot seat waiting for the Lancer.

Kitty: But… neck ridges… and… other ridges…

Corey: Just hush your mouth. Sequella, thoughts on the end to the cliffhanger?

Sequella: Just for the record, cliffhangers should be outlawed and it would have been no problem to end The Producer’s Challenge two or three chapters before it. However, the cliffhanger was a great way to shove the happy couple and me off cloud nine and start kicking some ass. (Them, not me. I was just cheering from the sidelines).

Corey: We’ll be of that generation that says “Remember when we had to wait an entire month for the sequel? Young readers these days get instant gratification, the spoiled brats.” Even then, it was only a download away from our e-readers once released. Did you go through a few recovery steps, Sequella, trying to deal with your reading addiction?

Sequella: Are you asking me how much time I spent on the Chronicles of Alsea website looking for updates or how often I googled Lancer Tal only to come up empty handed?

Corey: Ha! I just kept re-reading the completed books and cursing in Alsean. Anyway, The Caphenon was action-oriented, and Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge got down to both politics and romance. Without a Front: The Warrior’s Challenge seemed to bring back the action in a fierce way.

Sequella: The sword fighting was awesome!

Corey: Yes! And so much more intimate than the Voloth attacking the entire planet in The Caphenon. I really personalized my hatred of the bad guys in this book.

Kitty: Not ALL of the action centered around hate and swords.

Corey: Yes, Kitty. Now, let’s get down to other important questions. In an earlier review, I declared my caste to be scholar. Sequella, I am guessing you are a crafter?

Sequella: Of course. The caste system is something I like very much about Alsea. I like guessing castes for all people that are never directly mentioned but also part of Alsea. What about the Lancer’s cook or the people flying the public transports?

Kitty: I would be a religious scholar, because I love hearing all those women scream “Oh Fahla” when —

Corey: — when they pray. Ahem. Speaking of which… You know I love me some Lead Templar Lanaril. Who are you most eager for DeLancey to feature in future Alsean books?

Sequella: Ahhh…my favorite question, because that means MORE sequels. Lanaril is definitely someone deserving another story. Also, there is already a hint of another Lhyn and Ekatya story happening between the end of The Caphenon and the end of The Warrior’s Challenge. And the one I am most anxiously waiting for is Vellmar! She is a sword throwing Xena lookalike in my head.

Kitty: Colonel Razine. Someone with such perfect mental control who’s done such dark things for the right reasons, makes me shiver. So much promise for more intrigue with that one, and can you imagine if she ever did let herself give up some control… in the right situation, away from the job… Purr.

Sequella: What did you think about the end of the book? Too shiny and overdone?

Corey: Nope. In fact, I appreciated the time spent with Jaros in the aftermath, as well as with the rest of the Hol-Opah family/community. And Micah’s revelations, too. I was loving the eight whole chapters of reading in the final section; the opposite of a cliffhanger. Very satisfying, particularly because I am expecting many more Chronicles to come.

Sequella: Absolutely! So we agree we all liked it? I got the “stop-reading-rest-your-eyes” warning from my reading app five times. That’s how hard is was for me to put the book down and participate in real life.

Corey: Oh yes! I read so steadily that I had to stop and charge my e-reader even though it advertises “A single charge can last up to six weeks (based on a half hour of reading per day)…” You do the math on how much I read in one day. Kitty, what did you think? Kitty?

Kitty: Leave me alone. I’m checking out my bookmarks.

Sequella: And, last but not least, some survival tips for the looong wait until the next sequel:
1. Reread, starting with The Caphenon. There will be smaller things that you didn’t discover on your first hasty OMG-it’s-so-good read.
2. Check the Ylva site for any announcements about upcoming sequels or maybe a short story in one of their anthologies. You never know, there might be something for your inner Kitty McSaucerton in the next Slippery Folds anthology.
3. Make sure at least one of your friends also read the Alsea books. It’s nice to have someone with whom to discuss your addiction.
4. Read Fletcher’s Star Trek: Voyager fanfiction. It’s perfectly fine to never have watched the TV show. And I can promise you, Lancer Tal is in there waiting to be discovered. She is different from the improved version in the published books, but it’s still nice to visit with her.
5. Are you a writer yourself? Write Alsea fanfiction! This will help you AND us! Make sure you include some nipple clamps for Kitty’s enjoyment.

Corey: Okay, you went there. I’m just going to sit over here, blushing.

Kitty: Purrrrrrrrrr.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of Without a Front: The Warrior’s Challenge by clicking here.

Corey Reviews The Princess & the Prix by Nell Stark


I must quibble with Bold Stroke Books’ description of Her Serene Highness Pommelina Alix Louise Canella of Monaco as an “ugly duckling.” Alix is smart and an introvert and reserved, with strong features and a careful heart and basically swoon-worthy. When she meets Formula 1 driver Thalia d’Angelis while networking to support Alix’s humanitarian efforts, their glaring differences and sexual spark promise a great ride.

I’m not that familiar with Formula 1… except for viewing the documentary “Senna” about Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, I only know Formula 1 is that international motor sport that is not NASCAR. Stark provides an excellent introduction to Formula 1, enough that I appreciated the athleticism and the strategy involved. Thalia’s rise in the sport is believable and I got caught up in her successes and her flame-outs.

Personally, Alix’s royal status is the least interesting thing about her (eh, I’m from peasant stock). Since she herself seems to find her royalty an obligation that is only useful to her philanthropic efforts, I appreciate her pursuit of excellence within the boundaries of societal expectations. The constant security surrounding her becomes one plot point among many, such as how her “coming out” with be received by other royalty and the press. Thankfully, she can call on Princess Sasha of Great Britain for help, even though I cannot help giggling whenever I read the word “princess.” I blame Disney.

The Princess and the Prix is my favorite Nell Stark novel to date. Alix’s maturity and pragmatic approach to life forces Thalia to own up to her own irresponsible behavior, without losing my sympathy for Thalia’s struggles in a misogynistic sport. Thalia has some growing up to do, and some truly profound incidents on and off the track along with Alix’s sometimes brutal honesty hurry her along on that path. Their relationship and their separate and shared lives are worth investing both emotions and reading time.

You can download a sample or purchase The Princess and the Prix by clicking here.

Corey Reviews Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey


“Corey, are you avoiding posting this book review until after the sequel is published?”

“Maybe?”

“Coward.”

That, folks, is an actual conversation inside my head, because Fletcher DeLancey’s Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge is both a great novel and a horror of a cliff-hanger. You absolutely should read this novel RIGHT NOW, but please no threats of bodily harm if you finish it before Without a Front: The Warrior’s Challenge is published in late November 2015.

Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge continues the Chronicles of Alsea that began with the series’ first novel The Caphenon. And yes, you should also read The Caphenon first. Not only is it excellent science-fiction and world-building, but you’ll also want to get to know the main characters and plot lines developing up to Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge.

Oh I love this book.

Lancer Andira Tal and the people of Alsea are recovering from the psychological and physical damage from fighting off the Voloth, as well as grappling with the profound changes new technologies such as matter printers bring to their society. Lancer Tal faces intrigue within the High Council and hidden pain within her own heart now that Captain Ekatya Serrado and Lhyn Rivers are far across the universe.

I appreciated the return of secondary characters such as Lead Templar Lanaril Satran. As Lanaril reveals more about her beliefs and her intellect and compassion, she’s becoming lodged in my heart. I really hope the author has plans for her by, oh say, book 7 in the series or sooner.

When Salomen Opah of the Producer Caste challenges Lancer Tal to live and work at Hol-Opah in order to better understand the impact of rapid societal changes on ways of life outside the cities, the novel builds a relationship worthy of two very strong and very different women. Of course you will root for them to overcome obstacles, but I must salute the author for creating a real dilemma to their joining.

Nothing annoys me more than silly, flimsy misunderstandings between lead characters… the kind that make you throw up your hands and yell at the page, “Will the two of you just TALK to each other? Geez.” In this novel, the two women’s dilemma is legit. And also the basis of some scrumptious, teasing physical interactions. But still… legit. Oh, just go read the darn book and find out for yourself.

Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge is not just about the romance, however. A political intrigue plot builds chapter-by-chapter and leads to that cracking great ending. Folks, IT IS WORTH IT. Please, no one hurt Fletcher DeLancey… We want her healthy enough to finish editing the next book in the series. So no reader violence, please, and just enjoy the sexy alien neck ridges. Mmmmm.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews On Fear by Ellis Avery

I received an email at the end of August from author Ellis Avery asking if I’d be interested in reading and sharing my thoughts on her newest essay, On Fear. This is the second offering in The Family Tooth series. I had read the first essay, The Sapphire and the Tooth and was very moved by the author’s writing regarding events and emotions surrounding her mother’s death. I knew I would want to continue with the series so I jumped at the chance to check out book two.

Then life got in the way and the essay got buried in my email inbox. Well, my podcasting partner, Andy, and I are scheduled to talk with Ellis on Cocktail Hour tonight so I thought this would be the perfect time to bust it out. I plugged it into my text-to-speech reader and got down to business. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

After three years on a drug called Humira, prescribed for a crippling autoimmune condition, Ellis Avery was diagnosed in 2012 with leiomyosarcoma, a rare uterine cancer, and given a 26% chance of five-year survival. When Avery learned that there was no evidence to show that the radiation and chemo she was offered would save her life, she turned down treatment. But even brave decisions can be terrifying: suddenly, Avery had to learn how to cope with constant fear – that she had made the wrong choice, that her doctors would call with bad news, that her time was limited. ON FEAR, the second essay in a series on Kindle Singles, tells the story of how Avery learned to live one moment at a time, from meditating to singing in the shower to befriending a black cat named Fumiko. While most readers will never face leiomyosarcoma, all of us sometimes face fear: Avery’s essay offers hard-won wisdom, tools, and hope. ON FEAR is the second in a series of essays on grief, illness, and food entitled THE FAMILY TOOTH.

Much like the first in the series, On Fear gets right down to the nitty-gritty. One of the things that I enjoyed the most about this author’s style is the way she lays it all out. At first glance, her writing seems very direct, without many emotions showing but they’re all right there, just under the surface. I could feel her fear and her need to try to control that fear. And like my experience with reading The Sapphire and the Tooth, I saw so much of myself in her words. I have a nice sized collection of fear videos and it felt good to know that I’m not the only one who isn’t quite sure how to make them stop and that I’m not alone in my inability to give love and encouragement to my inner-child.

I know that I’ll read her essays again and I’m certain that I’ll discover some nuances that I missed the first time through.

You can download a sample or purchase On Fear by clicking here.

Blu Reviews The Courage to Try by C. A. Popovich

“From Great Danes to Pomeranians to polydactyl cats, in the rural town of Novi, Michigan, veterinarian Dr. Jaylin Meyers treats them all. But being brought up in the foster care system, she’s learned not to count on anyone staying around.

New vet tech Kristen Eckert has no time for a relationship. She’d much rather take care of horses, shoot skeet, or ride her Appaloosa. Their mutual attraction takes them both by surprise, and they are drawn into a relationship.

But Jaylin is frightened by the idea of relying on someone else and withdraws. When Kristen is injured in an auto accident, can Jaylin find the courage to risk her heart with Kristen or will she let her chance at love vanish forever?” – Synopsis as supplied by Bold Strokes Books

C.A. Popovich’s second novel, The Courage to Try, returns us to a setting and cast of characters familiar from Edge of Awareness (Published in September 2014). Readers who have not read the latter can comfortably slip into this undemanding romance without experiencing any plot deficit. Novi, Michigan is the town to which Jaylin Meyers, carrying the scars of her foster-childhood, moves, accompanied by her dog Railroad. Extricating herself from an abusive relationship, she attempts to reboot her life aided by a support group and is making conscious choices about her life path, location and relationships. Jaylin’s caring nature is offset by her tentative interactions with the feisty employee assigned to her.

Kristen is the more dynamic character who is simultaneously less relatable. A Porsche-driving, skeet-shooting vet tech who is navigating her father’s dementia, she is hounded by a stranger who has a hidden agenda. Kristen expresses herself most on the back of Zigzag at local barrel racing competitions, and it is in this setting where we gain a deeper understanding of her hurts, needs and aspirations. She is decisive in so many aspects of her life but frustratingly reverses relationship-oriented decisions, flip-flopping from declarations to maintain distance, to struggling to keep her hands off Jaylin.

The Courage to Try is peppered with a wide variety of ideas, from partner-abuse to abandonment, from attraction to grief, yet does not fully develop any to satisfaction. Like me, animal lovers should enjoy the devotion the characters have to their four-footed wingmen, but may similarly wish the dialogue between Jaylin and Kristen were more realistic and their developing relationship suffered from less vascilation.

The novel’s 33 chapters would have benefitted from a trim, saving the reader from re-learning already shared information. Regarding pace – the story appears to be becalmed and then rush to a sudden, dissatisfying conclusion. The attraction between Jaylin and Kristen is not quite convincing this reader, surprising me more than the two women and leaving me feeling rather disconnected from the story. The Courage to Try offered much but perhaps overstretched, resulting in a tenuous plot that needs tightening.

*Note: This was an advance review copy provided through NetGalley – scheduled for release on October 6, 2015 from Bold Strokes Books.

You can download a sample or purchase The Courage to Try by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews The Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton


I found out about this book from the Daily Deal email I get from Audible. I read the blurb, saw the star rating was pretty good, listened to a sample, and dropped my $2.95.

Agatha Raisin, an advertising professional who has taken an early retirement and moves to the country, decides to enter a local baking competition. She figures she’ll make some friends and get a little notoriety when she wins. She’s pretty sure she’ll win since she cheats by purchasing her quiche from a well-known quichery in London. Unfortunately, someone dies after eating it. Who the murderer was isn’t too tough to figure out – and the author doesn’t really try to hide it – but figuring out how it was done is main point of the book. That and laying the foundation for a series.

I was pretty quickly engaged and found the various characters inhabiting the small village in the Cotswolds great fun to get to know. I loved the secondary characters, even the most snooty of them. I laughed out loud several times. The narrator did a fantastic job of bringing them to life. I can certainly see how the series could become addictive. The humor and the personalities of the residents alone make me want to read the next one right away.

The only thing that really pulled me out of the story is the way the POV style changed. For probably the first half of the book, we’re getting Agatha’s POV in a third person but that eventually changes to more of an omnipotent POV. First it’s just Agatha, then it was Agatha and whomever was in the scene with her, and toward the end, characters not in a scene with her were featured. I found it distracting but it may not be something that other folks even recognize.

All in all, it was a fun read and I’m likely to eventually read the next in the series. And try to find the TV movie that was made based on The Quiche of Death.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of The Quiche of Death by clicking here.

Nikki Reviews All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


In this bestselling novel set at the collision of France and Germany during World War II, we meet Marie-Laure, a blind French girl living with her loving father in Paris, and Werner Pfennig, a technically savvy orphan with a talent for fixing radios. Marie-Laure spends her days in the Museum of Natural History, home of a mysterious diamond and where her father serves as a locksmith. Werner’s skills land him at a Hitler Youth academy, known for it’s brutal training.

I’m a bit torn about this book and my opinion on it. The craft of the writing was delectable, and his descriptions of the cities and sounds from the POV of the blind girl were impressive, to say the least. The research was top-notch, and the emotions it evoked stayed with me and I was always irritated when I had to stop reading it, it pulled me in so.

But there’s something missing and I have a hard time putting my finger on it. We are following these two children through the rise of Nazi Germany and the invasion of France, and there are multiple characters that are given a POV throughout the story. This was a bit confusing when it first happened, but flowed well throughout the rest of the narrative. However, it feels like the story was going toward this crescendo, all these characters playing their parts surrounding this mysterious diamond, coming together slowly over time, but then…

There’s an event that we get flashes of from the very beginning: the bombing of Saint-Malo, France. This is the endpoint the author is taking us to, or so I thought. And when we do get there it is powerful, and I enjoyed the emotionally difficult road that took me there. But then I almost wish it had stopped, with the promise of an uncertain future and an unknowable fate for Marie-Laure and Werner. But it doesn’t. It keeps going to meet up with the secondary characters that were certainly integral in the plot, continuing to follow the same journey, unbeknownst to them.

I just don’t think I understood the point of the continuation. Was it for closure? To find out what happens to the intelligent blind girl Marie-Laure? To revisit the secondary characters I found so fascinating? But to me, the most interesting part of the story was Marie-Laure and the circumstances surrounding Werner’s rise in the Hitler youth, watching these two children that are caught up in the machine of “progress”. I was bearing witness to those daring to fight against the rise of a tyrannical dictator, in addition to those who got swept up under the guise of patriotic duty (whether involuntarily or with great abandon).

Saying this, I’m sure if it had stopped right then in the battle-strewn streets of Saint-Malo, I would have said “BUT THEN WHAT HAPPENS.” So, take that for what it’s worth. Overall I did love reading this book, and it kept me solidly enthralled with every turn of the page. I am a sucker for stories daring to humanize those we want to paint with a broad stroke of ENEMY versus ALLY. I love books that live in the gray area between “what is right” and “what is wrong,” and the many conflicts that arise from this juxtaposition. I still highly recommend it, for those interested in such a read.

You can download a sample or purchase All the Light We Cannot See by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Still Alice by Lisa Genova


Trying to make a serious dent in my To Be Read pile, Still Alice by Lisa Genova was next on the list. It’s a powerful, interesting, moving, and well-written book. I definitely recommend it.

You can download a sample or purchase Still Alice by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews All the Little Moments by G. Benson

After reading some pretty heavy stuff, I decided to go for what I thought would be a quick, light romance. I grabbed All the Little Moments, got the text-to-speech running on the old Kindle app, and got down to business. You can check out the video review below for a more comprehensive review but I think I’ve found a new author to add to my go-to list. I guess she better get busy with some new books…

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of All the Little Moments by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen

Thanks to NetGalley and figuring out how to get text-to-speech to work on the Kindle app, I’ve been able to kick up my advanced copy reading. I just finished Tess Gerritsen’s upcoming Playing with Fire. This was my first experience with the author who brought Rizzoli and Isles to life and I’ll sum up my review in a few words: I really freaking liked this book! A lot.

If you want more words, you can watch the quick video review embedded below.

You can pre-order Playing with Fire by clicking here. Or, if it’s after October 27, 2015 when you see this, you can use the same link to purchase or download a sample.

Cheri Reviews The Murderer’s Daughter by Jonathan Kellerman

A quick review of the upcoming psychological thriller from Jonathan Kellerman, The Murderer’s Daughter, which is slated to be published on August 18th.

Bottom line: I liked it. Interesting story, interesting characters, flashbacks were many but mostly well done. Creepy and enjoyable.


You can pre-order (or after 8/18/15 you can purchase or download a sample of) The Murderer’s Daughter by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Officer Down by Erin Dutton


I nabbed an advanced copy of Erin Dutton’s upcoming novel, Officer Down. If you don’t have time to watch the video, here’s the verdict: I enjoyed the book and I was skeptical because I’d been disappointed by the last few of her books (I haven’t read For the Love of Cake so I can’t speak to that one). This one felt much more like the Dutton of old, whose work I loved.

Nikki Reviews Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee


Do you remember the first time you realized your father didn’t have all the answers? I do. I was in college and I disagreed with my dad about something (I don’t remember what it was) but that was the first time I realized “whoa, he doesn’t know everything and neither do I.” That is what I thought about after reading this new Harper Lee book.

There’s a lot being said about this highly anticipated installment, and much discussion focuses on parts of the book that make people so angry. It was always going to be this way. You can not have a sequel to a literary classic come out decades later under somewhat questionable circumstances and not have everyone automatically hate it. People were never going to be able to separate their biases because To Kill a Mockingbird has been an entire culture’s moral compass, and the yard stick literature is held up against since it’s inception.

The largest obstacle to this is the oft-spoiled character of Atticus Finch, himself. He who has served as a paragon of truth and justice for so many years is not as we remember him. However, I believe we need to recognize something. In To Kill a Mockingbird, we never saw the whole picture. We were watching things through the eyes of a child, and that experience didn’t exist in a cultural vacuum. Scout saw her father as the greatest of men, so that is how we saw him. She saw the world in black or white, racist or advocate, without recognizing there is a large spectrum that humans fit into. In this novel, we are seeing him as he is now, and likely how he always was: a man living in the South, trying to live his life the best he can in accordance to his beliefs and love of justice. Imperfect. Complicated.

But now we have to try and put aside the pedestal the original is sitting on, to see these characters without decades of baggage. For if you go into this book looking for all the ways it lacks compared to a timeless classic, you will find them. I went into this book looking to revisit a character that I fell in love with as an adult within the first 15 pages. I wanted to revisit the literary style of Harper Lee, with her uncanny ability to vividly portray a world that we hope no longer exists, but must recognize it still does. I implore you to read it to see how Scout has grown up and become her own woman, with thanks to the man that raised her to be exactly as she is, which is a beautiful thing indeed.

After reading and loving so very much about it, I have come to the conclusion they made the right choice in rejecting this book originally, forcing Harper Lee to delve into Scout’s past. Through that, we were given the Atticus Finch we needed, a paragon of virtue in a volatile time. But I also think this is the Atticus Finch we need now, serving as a painful reminder there is still so much to fight for, and we need to see in ourselves the prejudices we have always had, but never see clearly enough.

You can download a sample or purchase Go Set a Watchman by clicking here.