CAB Reviews A Kind of Justice by Renee James

Book blurb:
“Against all odds, Bobbi Logan, a statuesque transgender woman, has become one of Chicago’s most celebrated hair stylists and the owner of one of the city’s poshest salons. She is finally comfortable with who she is, widely admired in her community, about to enjoy the success she deserves.

Then her impossibly perfect life falls apart.

In the space of a few weeks, the Great Recession drags her business to the brink of failure, her beloved ex-wife needs help in facing a terrible tragedy, and a hateful police detective storms back into her life, determined to convict her of the five-year-old murder of John Strand—pillar of the community—and a sexual predator.

As the detective builds an ever more convincing case against her, both of them will be shaken by revelations—about themselves, about their own deeply held secrets, and about the bizarre ritual murder of John Strand.”

I didn’t realize this was the second book in the series, despite it clearly stating that in the title. Although, I don’t think it’s necessary to have read the first in the series, I did find myself wondering about the details of Bobbi’s back-story. As a result, there is a strong possibility that I will go back and read “Transition to Murder.” Having said that, I was sucked into “A Kind of Justice” from the outset. Bobbi Logan could have been written as a caricature of a stereotypical transgender woman. However, the author takes the time to make sure Logan is a well-developed and interesting character, juxtaposed against Detective Wilkins who is vulgar, crude, and obviously bigoted against the LGBTQ community. As the reader, we get to see the story develop from two distinct points of view: Logan’s and Wilkins’.

On a personal note, I found it interesting that I assumed based on Wilkins attitude that he was white, when in fact he is black. This made me re-evaluate my own point of view/prejudice. I was also happy to see Wilkins’ character development throughout the storyline. The author was able to move him from being a completely bigoted arse to a somewhat sympathetic character in a manner that felt natural.

Overall, I was impressed with the flow of the story and the characters themselves. I’d give this 4 stars and I will definitely keep an eye out for new stories coming from Renee James.

I picked this book up from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of A Kind of Justice by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni

When I saw a new stand-alone novel by Robert Dugoni on NetGalley.com, I couldn’t help but click “request.” I had already finished the first 3.5 (three novels and a short story) in his Tracy Crosswhite series and enjoyed most of them quite a bit. You can check out my review for the first in the series here.

The thing that I’ve discovered about Dugoni is that he can be very hit or miss with the execution of his stories. Sometimes they can be fast paced and intense and other times slow or have convoluted plots where detectives are able to deduce solutions out of what feels like nowhere. I’ve learned to be cautious with my expectations when it comes to this author. His newest release, The 7th Canon, was on the fast paced and intense side and it may be my favorite of the Dugoni books that I’ve read.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon if you care to read it:

In San Francisco’s seamy Tenderloin district, a teenage street hustler has been murdered in a shelter for boys. And the dedicated priest who runs the struggling home stands accused. But despite damning evidence that he’s a killer—and worse—Father Thomas Martin stands by his innocence. And attorney Peter Donley stands with him.

For three years Donley has cut his legal teeth in his uncle’s tiny, no-frills firm, where people come before profits. Just as Donley is poised to move on to a lucrative dream job, the shocking case lands in his lap, and he must put his future on hold while putting his courtroom skills to the test. But a ruthless DA seeking headlines and a brutal homicide cop bent on vengeance have their own agendas. Now, as he unearths the dirty secrets surrounding the case, Donley must risk his neck to save his client’s life…and expose the face of true evil.

I found myself liking Peter Donely quite a bit. He’s not the idealistic, young attorney out to save the world but a father and husband trying to figure out how to make a better life for his wife and toddler son. Once I got past the first few chapters, I struggled to put the book down because the story kept unfolding and I was completely caught up in not only the case, but learning about the lives of Donely and the private detective, Frank Ross, both of whom have dark days in their pasts that won’t let them move on.

At the end of the book, I was satisfied with the outcome of the case and where the characters ended this leg of their journey. If this ends up being a series, I would happily pick up book two. There is an audio version of this one but I’ve not heard any of it so I can’t speak to the narrator. I read this one with a combination of my eyeballs and a text-to-speech app.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase The 7th Canon by clicking here.

CAB Reviews Imperfect Truth by C. A. Popovich

Full disclosure, I picked this book up from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This following is the book blurb:

“Debra Johnson learned a valuable lesson when her pregnant lover left her for a man: Protect yourself at all costs. She made a list of requirements in a lover and uses it as a shield to protect her heart. At the top of her list is openness and honesty.

Alex Reed has to keep the secret of her federal witness protection program or risk her and her sister’s lives. She longs for a meaningful loving relationship but fears exposing a lover to danger.
Alex and Debra meet at a lesbian meet up group with intentions of only finding an event companion. Their undeniable attraction keeps getting in the way of that intention as Debra struggles to protect her heart and Alex her life.”

I admit it; I really wanted to like this book. I was intrigued by the premise but it turns out that was the only thing that was interesting. The pacing of the story is so slow that at the 50% mark I was contemplating ways to put myself out of my misery. Not to give away the plot but without exaggerating halfway through, all of the action consists of Debra consulting her “list” of requirements to be her friend let alone to date her. So when she’s not consulting the list to figure out how Alex is getting past her defenses, she’s complaining to anyone who will listen that Alex doesn’t trust her enough to tell her everything about who she is. A broken heart will make you whiney.

On the other hand you have Alex, who is in witness protection, and therefore unable to tell Debra about her past. She spends the first half of the book being paranoid and worrying how she can make any friends let alone meet a partner. Primarily worried about slipping up and sharing too much information.

At the 70% mark there was FINALLY some movement on the intrigue part of this story but by then I hated both characters and the only thing I found fascinating was the fact that I hadn’t clubbed myself to death with the book. I value my kindle too much to damage it that way. Ultimately, I invested more time into forcing myself to read this than I wish I had. What I find sad is I know I have read at least one other book by this author and it was a pleasant, easy beach read. This one seemed to lose its identity, torn between a romance and a thriller not quite making it on either front.

You can download a sample or purchase Imperfect Truth by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews God of the Internet by Lynn Lipinski


I don’t normally read books about terrorism but one about cyber-terrorism sounded like something I could sink my teeth into. Here’s a copy of the blurb from Amazon, if you want to read it:

When a hacker known as G0d_of_Internet hijacks millions of computers to do the bidding of an Islamic jihadist group, their first act is to disrupt the water treatment systems in Boston, Dallas and Los Angeles. Next, the power grids go down. Is this the start of a digital world war?

The only thing standing between the terrorists and their goal to weaponize the internet is a small band of white hat hackers, including cybersecurity guru Mahaz Al-Dossari and his wife Juliana.

The search is on for a couple hundred lines of code and a global hacker network before they can make good on their ultimate threat to divert money from the world’s banks. But G0d_of_Internet has been tracking their every move. And it’s Juliana, a PR manager lacking in technical skills, who may hold the key to unmasking the hacker.

I just re-read that for the first time since I started the book and I have to say it’s sort of misleading. Particularly who was involved with the white hat hackers and that anyone but the black hat hackers knew what the threats actually were before they happened.

It’s going to be hard to give a complete review of this book without giving spoilers so I’ll have to stick to impressions instead of specifics.

I was pretty involved and happy with the first several chapters. The story was compelling and the characters kept me interested. I made my first prediction as to who G0d_of_Internet was at the 25% mark but figured it was too obvious and looked forward to getting more clues. I thought I’d change my guess a few more times before the real bad guy was revealed. At 52% I was really hoping that my first guess was a drawn out red herring because no other suspects were being brought forth. By 96%, I was thoroughly disgusted by how easy everything fell into place and by the fact that so much had to have been going on for so long and the people closest to the bad guy never had any clue. There is so much I want to say about this but I don’t want to give away anything more. I checked a few minutes ago and this book is getting really good ratings and reviews so maybe it’s just me.

I thought the book had a lot of promise but the overwhelming number of things that didn’t make sense or that were just too easy made me happy to be done with it. I think if someone’s looking for a quick, easy read, this would be fine but anyone looking for a complex plot and characters with depth will be disappointed.

I received God of the Internet from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase God of the Internet by clicking here.

CAB reviews The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza


This is the first in a series of crime novels. I picked this up because I was intrigued by the cover art and the description on the jacket. Perhaps not the best way to pick a book but there are probably worse ways to go about it.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

“Her eyes are wide open. Her lips parted as if to speak. Her dead body frozen in the ice…She is not the only one.

When a young boy discovers the body of a woman beneath a thick sheet of ice in a South London park, Detective Erika Foster is called in to lead the murder investigation.

The victim, a beautiful young socialite, appeared to have the perfect life. Yet when Erika begins to dig deeper, she starts to connect the dots between the murder and the killings of three prostitutes, all found strangled, hands bound and dumped in water around London.

What dark secrets is the girl in the ice hiding?

As Erika inches closer to uncovering the truth, the killer is closing in on Erika.

The last investigation Erika led went badly wrong… resulting in the death of her husband. With her career hanging by a thread, Erika must now battle her own personal demons as well as a killer more deadly than any she’s faced before. But will she get to him before he strikes again?”

Let me just put this out there. I liked the book. I’d give it 3 1/2 stars because it held my attention and I was intrigued by the crime. I’ll admit the prologue set the scene really well and I was sucked right in. That doesn’t mean there weren’t issues.

When we’re introduced to Erika Foster and you know “something” is going on. The other police officers are more disrespectful than I would think if it were just because she’s a woman. There is also an edge to Erika that seems odd. So much so that I immediately felt like I was missing a huge back story, which prompted me to put the book down and do a quick search to make sure I hadn’t missed a prior book. I’ve done that before and in this instance it felt like I was missing some vital piece of information about the main character. Turns out you are, and although you get bits and pieces throughout the story it never fully resolves. If I’m honest, I wish THAT story had been the 1st in the series.

Then there is this weird dynamic between Erika and her boss, Chief Superintendent Marsh. He brings her onto the case and it seems they are friends and yet they don’t seem to respect each other. That and every chance she gets, Erika is disobeying orders. Funny enough, I found it pretty easy to gloss over this relationship as inconsequential and focus on the crime solving.

Finally, there is the POV. I was good with the writing the POV except when we see the murderer, the POV changes and I felt like there was this weird voice over happening. For example the author writes “The figure edged closer, amongst the packed-in crowd… ” Then anytime we are seeing the murder, “The figure” is referenced. Oddly, of all the things that could bother me, that one stuck out like a sore thumb.

Would I read the next in the series? When I was 3/4 of the way through this book, I would have said yes. At the end of this book they gave us a snippet of what’s to come with Erika Foster and I don’t know. It looks like it might be more of the same. That said, go ahead, read this one. Some of the language alone was entertaining.

You can download a sample or purchase The Girl in the Ice by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Capturing Forever by Erin Dutton


I’ve been following Erin Dutton since she first started publishing. I truly loved Fully Involved and A Place to Rest but have been disappointed to varying degrees by the rest. I’ve read all of her books with the exception of For the Love of Cake. When I saw that Capturing Forever dealt with a long-term couple who had separated but are now interacting with each other again, I decided to give it a shot. I’m one half of a long-term couple and like to see folks work out their issues to come back together. I also like that the plot is something different from the norm; a rebuilding and repairing rather than the excitement and unknown of the first time.

Here’s the blurb:

Jacqueline Knight is driven and ambitious, always focused on getting to the top. But when her father’s failing health demands her attention, she must consider putting her career on hold. Though she struggles with her new responsibilities, she won’t admit she can’t do it alone. And the last person she wants to accept help from is her ex, Casey.

Since their breakup eight years before, Casey Meadow s has concentrated on co-parenting their son and making a new life for herself. While she’s happy to offer her help, spending time with Jacqueline threatens to open the box in which she’s locked away their past relationship.

Will the lessons learned in eight years apart be enough to mend the mistakes of the past?

I was drawn in pretty quickly and came to care about the main characters, Casey and Jacqueline. The blurb, I think, is misleading though because Jacqueline very quickly accepts Casey’s help and comes to rely on her. They become a team in taking care of the man that Casey considers her own surrogate father since she lost her parents many years earlier. Throw into the mix their twenty year old son, Sean, a mutual good friend, Casey’s jealous girlfriend, and Jacqueline’s casual sex partner and there’s plenty of drama and potential obstacles to our leads reconnecting as friends, let alone anything deeper.

I was happy and feeling like the author had recaptured the story telling that made me such a fan early on. That is, however, until I got to about 80% in. At that point, Jacqueline’s feelings of self-pity and her inability to talk about the biggest thing that she felt stood in their way got to be too much for me. I don’t want to go into it too much for fear of spoilers but it was the same thing we see so much of in romance novels: intentional lack of communication for use as a plot device when it doesn’t feel authentic.

Along with the communication issues, the conclusion was rushed. All of the important stuff about the relationship and how they were going about making the problems of the past not follow them into a new relationship were glossed over in a couple of paragraphs as narrative instead of letting us see the changes. More attention was given to how seeing each other in different outfits made them aroused than how they were actually making it work. I cared about the characters and their relationship and wanted to experience them fixing the things that tore them apart, not to have it all neatly wrapped up for me. I remember feeling this way about several of the author’s books over the past few years.

So, while I went into the book with low expectations based on the past few books, I was very pleasantly surprised with the first 70% or so and then completely let down by the last 30%. The plot was predicable – I called nearly everything that was going to happen within the first few chapters – and I would have been ok with that if the conclusion hadn’t been so rushed and the communication issues would have felt legitimate.

If you enjoyed the author’s previous work, you’ll very likely be happy with this one. I’m sure I’ll read more from Dutton in the future, and probably pick up For the Love of Cake at some point, too. I can’t seem to help myself.

I received a copy of Capturing Forever from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase Capturing Forever by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly


As soon as I saw that Lilac Girls was about prisoners at Ravensbrück, I requested it for review. I had previously read Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein and wanted to get another perspective on the same place.

I’m not going to include the blurb here but you can click on the book cover above and it’ll take you to the listing on Amazon if you want to read it. The book is told from three different points of view: Caroline Ferriday, a middle-aged socialite who lives off her family money and volunteers with the French Consulate in NYC; Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish Catholic teen; and Dr. Herta Oberheuser, a young Nazi doctor. I don’t want to give away anything that happens but I had some very serious problems with this book.

It’s obvious that the author did a tremendous amount of research and she goes into some of that in the afterword. Unfortunately, I thought that much of what she wanted to convey to the reader ended up taking on the form of info dumps through the characters filling in what was happening with the war or the locations. It didn’t feel like it was a natural part of the narrative.

The book also felt disjointed. For more than half of it, Caroline is solidly concerned with France and her married, would-be boyfriend, Paul, while Kasia and Herta are entrenched in the rise of Nazism and life in Ravensbrück. There was no connection at all. I couldn’t, and still don’t, understand why so much time was given to Caroline’s character. She spent most of her chapters complaining about how her rich and idle peers treated her, whining about Paul being married, and later, upset and pouting about his wife not actually being dead. I found her to be a very unlikable character. Her issues compared to the women in the other parts of the book were trivial and she made me want to stop reading before I hit the halfway mark.

Kasia’s POV was the only one that seemed to have any depth at all. If the whole book would have focused on her and her family, I think I would have enjoyed it much more. Her eagerness to do something to help the resistance, her later guilt at having put her family in danger, and finally what follows toward the end of the book could have been deepened and expanded to grab me and teach me something and make me feel connected to her and the other rabbits. But as it was, I felt like we just barely scratched the surface of her character.

The person I wanted to know so much more about was Herta. We’re allowed to share some brief experiences with her as a teen and a young woman, desperate to succeed and be recognized in her field but after her first day at Ravensbrück, we get very little else from her perspective.  She was given very little depth and it was impossible to understand how she could go from being physically ill and protesting the idea of killing a prisoner to the woman she was by the end of the book. Why give her a point of view at all if not to allow the reader to experience her thoughts and feelings and help us to understand her? And there was no resolution at all unless you listen to the afterword. I was the most disappointed in the way this character was handled. I would have rather she had not had a POV and was left as someone we learned about through Kasia instead of being teased with the possibility of gaining insight only to be left wanting.

I haven’t read any other reviews or looked at any individual ratings but I have seen that the average is pretty darn high. But this book just didn’t work for me on any level. After listening to the author talk about her journey in writing the book (I bought the audiobook after it came out and read it that way instead of the ebook I got from NetGalley), I know she wanted to tell the world about Caroline and her work with the Rabbits and her other charity work. But I think it would have been more effective as a biography. As it was, I felt Caroline was a shallow, self-interested woman who did a lot for others but was still more concerned with her appearances and position, while not learning nearly enough about the other two featured characters.

For readers who are interested in a more immersive read about characters at Ravensbrück, I highly recommend Rose Under Fire.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with the ebook ARC of Lilac Girls in exchange for an honest review.

Cheri Reviews Curious Minds by Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton


I’d been hearing about Janet Evanovich for a very long time before I read One for the Money. Several of my relatives and friends swore she was just the best author ever and I really needed to stop putting it off and get into her Stephanie Plum series. Of course, that only made me more resolved to avoid them at all costs. I’m hard-headed like that. Once the movie came out, I figured I’d waiting long enough and dove in. What a hoot! I loved the characters and the language and the humor. I never did get around to finishing the series but I could certainly see why so many other folks devoured her books as soon as they came out.

Flash forward a few years and I see the first book of a new series that has Evanovich writing with an author I’d never heard of before. I like mysteries and I hadn’t been even remotely disappointed with One for the Money, so I figured I had nothing to lose by requesting it from the publisher for a review. As soon as I cracked the ebook open, I was hooked.

Our heroine is Riley Moon. She’s just started working for Blane-Grunwald, one of the worlds largest banks, and her first assignment is to meet with Emerson Knight, who is rich, handsome, and eccentric. Very eccentric. He’s concerned about his gold that is supposedly held in the vaults at Blane-Grunwald and Riley has been sent to make him feel better. What happens from their first meeting on is a non-stop ride filled with murder, mayhem, alien hunters, and lots of humor. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I laughed and there were even a few surprises which made it even more fun.

Anyone who has read Evanovich before and enjoyed her work will surely have a great time reading this one. And if you haven’t read her yet, what better way to get started than with the first of a new series?

You can download a sample or purchase Curious Minds by clicking here.

I was provided with a copy of this book through NetGalley and Random House in exchange for an honest review.

Cheri Reviews The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh


I started this book last year sometime and put it away. It just didn’t grab me. I received a copy through the publisher, via NetGalley.com, and started immediately. But after two sittings, I put it down and promptly forgot about it. It stayed on my “quit but will go back” shelf until a few weeks ago when I saw the audio book was available at the library and decided it was time to give it another shot. This time around, with the help of a couple of pretty good narrators, I was able to stick with it.

Here’s the blurb:

The town of Henbane sits deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks there still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother, a bewitching stranger who appeared long enough to marry Carl Dane and then vanished when Lucy was just a child. Now on the brink of adulthood, Lucy experiences another loss when her friend Cheri disappears and is then found murdered, her body placed on display for all to see. Lucy’s family has deep roots in the Ozarks, part of a community that is fiercely protective of its own. Yet despite her close ties to the land, and despite her family’s influence, Lucy—darkly beautiful as her mother was—is always thought of by those around her as her mother’s daughter. When Cheri disappears, Lucy is haunted by the two lost girls—the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t save—and sets out with the help of a local boy, Daniel, to uncover the mystery behind Cheri’s death.

What Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills, and beyond that horrific revelation is a more personal one concerning what happened to her mother more than a decade earlier.

The Weight of Blood is an urgent look at the dark side of a bucolic landscape beyond the arm of the law, where a person can easily disappear without a trace. Laura McHugh proves herself a masterly storyteller who has created a harsh and tangled terrain as alive and unforgettable as the characters who inhabit it. Her mesmerizing debut is a compelling exploration of the meaning of family: the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.

This is definitely a book about secrets and family in a small community. Lots of secrets. The best part of this book, I think, is the way in which the author reveals them. There’s not a lot of “ah ha!” moments or fast-paced action scenes but, instead, a nice, slow build up that allows the reader to live in the heads of the characters. We know what they know. Of course, we suspect more and sometimes we’re right, but not always, and everyone was not what they seemed. What was definitely consistent was the role that the bonds of blood and commitment had with the cast of characters. I felt like I truly understood why they acted in the way they did and I don’t think I had to suspend disbelief a single time. I didn’t like them all and was disgusted by several of them but they felt genuine in their actions and thoughts.

I’ve gone back and forth between 3.5 and 4 stars and have decided to go with four. Here’s why… The main characters, Lucy and Lila, were written well and were both engaging POVs. I liked that they were done in first person, while the other POVs were in third. It set them apart and I felt more involved in their stories.

The secondary characters who were given POVs were pretty well done, too. Although there were a couple that I didn’t really think were necessary: Crete and Gabby. The rest added to the story and gave some important information in a way that was entertaining and felt natural within the book.

As for the feel of the book, it was dark but I don’t think it was nearly as much of a mystery as I had thought it would be and, while there were a couple of places that had me sitting near the edge of my seat, there wasn’t anything that could be called thrilling. Suspenseful would be a better description, I think.

Ultimately, I enjoyed and would recommend this book to friends who like something a bit darker. I do wish it had been more intense, though.

You can purchase or download a sample of The Weight of Blood by clicking here: http://amzn.to/2aAKB8N.

Cheri Reviews The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon

I received this book quite a long time ago from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review. Unfortunately, I’m really, really far behind on all my reviews so I was pleased when I saw I could get the audio book from the library. I have much more time for ear reading and I enjoyed the narrator’s work on The Winter People so it was a win-win!

Here’s the blurb from Amazon (skip it if you want to be surprised. I won’t give anything away):

Once the thriving attraction of rural Vermont, the Tower Motel now stands in disrepair, alive only in the memories of Amy, Piper, and Piper’s kid sister, Margot. The three played there as girls until the day that their games uncovered something dark and twisted in the motel’s past, something that ruined their friendship forever.

Now adult, Piper and Margot have tried to forget what they found that fateful summer, but their lives are upended when Piper receives a panicked midnight call from Margot, with news of a horrific crime for which Amy stands accused. Suddenly, Margot and Piper are forced to relive the time that they found the suitcase that once belonged to Silvie Slater, the aunt that Amy claimed had run away to Hollywood to live out her dream of becoming Hitchcock’s next blonde bombshell leading lady. As Margot and Piper investigate, a cleverly woven plot unfolds—revealing the story of Sylvie and Rose, two other sisters who lived at the motel during its 1950s heyday. Each believed the other to be something truly monstrous, but only one carries the secret that would haunt the generations to come.

This is the first time I’ve read the blurb (the misspelling of Sylvie’s name isn’t mine but Amazon’s) and it’s pretty spot on. I’m glad I didn’t read it first because I had no idea what was going on. The story is told in three different time frames: the 1950s, the late 1980s, and 2013-2014. There are also quite a few POVs. Between the jumping times and changing points of view, I was nervous that I’d be yanked out of the story and have a hard time actually connecting with the characters. I’m happy to report that it wasn’t an issue at all. I became very quickly involved in the stories – Rose and Sylvie, teen-aged Piper, Amy, and Margot, and the grown-up versions of them all.

I don’t want to spoil anything for you if you’ve not jumped on the bandwagon and read this yet. I’ll say that I enjoyed this book more than I did The Winter People, which I did like. I felt that the story was tight and plausible – which can be tough to do when you’re talking about supernatural stuff. There were plenty of twists and I was so into the story that I didn’t want to stop and think my predictions through too much. Some stuff I had figured out but even a few of those didn’t turn out exactly like I thought. And the creepy, spooky feel of the book was fantastic. It reminded me of when I read Stephen King books in the 80s and 90s – the things that scare one the most are the things that could actually happen and this felt like that.

Besides the horror/supernatural stuff – which, by the way, is never very graphic – there’s a lot to do with family and friend dynamics. Honestly, there was a lot to like about The Night Sister.

I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for a well-written, entertaining, and creepy story with characters who feel genuine and complex. I hope Ms. McMahon has another book in the works.

Nikki reviews Wishbone by Elaine Burnes


Meg Myers is an animal control officer in the Boston area who spends her time having unemotional sexual flings with nameless women and dodging her alcoholic mother. We follow Meg as she navigates a string of emotional experiences, some positive and negative, while trying to find where she fits in the world.

This story actually didn’t pull me in for quite a while. I was starting to wonder if I would just be following around this woman while she investigated possible turkey murders and the occasional injured deer. However once it got going, it became very intriguing. In great chunks of the book, we are following Meg as she encounters different women in her life, all helping to guide her into being the woman she didn’t know she could be. All were necessary for her growth, for different reasons. We see her gift with abused/unwanted animals, but she doesn’t recognize how her work with these animals mirrors her own needs, and highlights the treatment she should have received from a damaged system in her youth. She only sees her propensity for violence as a negative, as opposed to what it really is, her desperate need to lash out at the unfairness of the world, and the injustice faced by so many innocent children that the system continues to fail.

The characterizations are really well done, with fully fleshed-out primary and secondary characters. One of my very favorite characters is a transgender female, whose parents are having a difficult time accepting her for who she truly is. It is rare that books have a believable transgender character, and I was sad she wasn’t in more of the book. However, she did fulfill a very important role, so I’m glad she got the attention and respect she deserved by the author. Honestly there were several secondary characters that I wanted to see more of, but once they moved on I only heard of them in passing. I wish there was more from them, as they all had such big impacts on Meg’s life, and brought interesting textures to the story. However I recognize that would have made the book gargantuan.

As for the familial discord faced by Meg throughout,  I felt as though rehashing the past abuse and neglect, in addition to her troubles with her mother, became a bit repetitive. Yes, I completely understand the need for this, but at some point I started skimming through those sections as I didn’t feel they brought anything new to the narrative. The book was long enough that I believe some of this could have been trimmed to make it a more efficient story. That being said, this was overall a well done book, once it finally picked up some momentum, and by the end I was glad I stuck with it.

Also FAIR WARNING this book should come with a *trigger: a dog dies* disclaimer. Meg is an animal control officer, so she experiences her fair share of animal investigations, but some were difficult to read about. If that’s a deal breaker for you, it’s better you know that now!

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

Nikki reviews Time of Our Lives by Jane Waterton


This book brings the reader into an all-lesbian retirement community in Austraila called OWL Haven. Here we meet a cast of characters all learning to live again after deciding to embark on some big life changes. Some are here for health reasons, some because of loneliness, others for the sense of community they so desperately need, building a family with each other they didn’t expect to find again.

Although a true ensemble piece with a multitude of characters (that can be quite funny together) most of the story centers around six women. Meg and Allie have been best friends for decades, Pat and Bella are dealing with a resurgence of cancer, while Daphne and Swallow (character’s name, not sure why) are finding unexpected love late in life. There are somewhat serious issues these women are having to deal with, their journeys coming with substantial bumps in the road. Even though most admit by this age they should probably know better than make the mistakes they do, they still manage to screw up a good thing on more than one occasion. They taught me the art of communication is something you never stop learning, even with decades of relationship experience under your belt.

This book isn’t without flaws, as some characters had responses that felt a little out of character for how they were presented throughout. Some instances made me wish Allie, Daphne and Pat would get smacked over the head a few times for their emotional immaturity and lack of self-awareness. However, these friends were all adorable together, had each others backs (even when they didn’t want them to) and made me laugh with their antics throughout. A sweet story about women in the twilight of their lives, and I’m glad I read it. Those of you I’ve heard complaining about the lack of romance storylines for women of a certain age, pick this one up as there’s plenty to warm your heart cockles.

You can download a sample or purchase Times of our Lives by clicking here.

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.

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 Morganstein


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.