Cheri Reviews Dead Souls by J. Lincoln Fenn

Per usual, I received this book from NetGalley months ago. I can’t say no to an interesting NetGalley blurb, apparently… So when it finally comes to the top of my TBR list, I’m ready for some good horror. Dead Souls doesn’t disappoint. Before we go any further, here’s the blurb from Goodreads.

When Fiona Dunn is approached in a bar by a man who claims he’s the devil, she figures it’s just some kind of postmodern-slash-ironic pickup line. But a few drinks in, he offers her a wish in exchange for her immortal soul, and in addition, Fiona must perform a special favor for him whenever the time comes. Fiona finds the entire matter so absurd that she agrees. Bad idea. Not only does Fiona soon discover that she really was talking to the devil incarnate, but she’s now been initiated into a bizarre support group of similar “dead souls”—those who have done the same thing as Fiona on a whim, and who must spend their waking hours in absolute terror of that favor eventually being called in…and what exactly is required from each of them in order to give the devil his due.

I finished the book a few minutes ago and everything is a little jumbled up in my head. I liked Fiona much more than I thought I would. She was smart, but not too smart, you know? She felt like a real person. The other Dead Souls were interesting from what we got to know and see of them. I do wish we would have gotten a bit more about a few of them but then I’d probably complain about too much info being given that had nothing to do with the story. As it was, I think this was a nice, tight, exciting ride.

The first half has more of a leisurely pace while we get the foundation we need but at about 45% through, whoo-eee, the story takes off and doesn’t stop until the last sentence. There are plenty of twists and turns, too. I had a great time reading this book.

I read the first 30% of the book with my eyeballs but when I saw it was available on Audible, I spent a credit and started over with Julia Whelan reading it to me. She did a good job but I don’t think I enjoyed the audio any more or less than the ebook. Whatever your format preference, if you enjoy dry humor, gory horror scenes, sympathetic-ish characters, and edge of your seat scenes, you’ll very likely dig this book.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of Dead Souls by clicking here.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this fun book. Maybe this will encourage a few late sales to make up for my inability to publish a review as a book is released. 🙂

Cheri Reviews The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

The Girl in the Tower is the second book in the Winternight Trilogy and I cannot wait for the third book. I’ve let my thoughts percolate for a while and my level of love for this series hasn’t diminished in the slightest. If you haven’t read The Bear and the Nightingale already, you should probably do that before reading the second book. You can check out my review for that one here.

Before I go any further, here’s the blurb for The Girl in the Tower:

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

The second in the series moves Vasya right into the middle of political intrigue and incredible danger. And she rises to the occasion just like I knew she would. I cheered for her and cursed those who tried to hurt her. Throughout the book there was so much beautifully written action and complex relationships that I didn’t want it to end.

What I love the most about both books in the series is how gorgeous the writing is. Arden weaves tales that are not only interesting and fun and emotional but so lovely to read. There are always passages that I read over a few times simply because I don’t want to move on from the images or emotions the words have evoked. This woman can write. It doesn’t matter if she’s describing a tree or a person or a shoe (I don’t specifically remember a shoe being written about but you get what I’m saying), the language is beautifully done.

I suppose you can tell that I definitely recommend this book. I think everyone who enjoys action-packed fantasy or fairy tales with a kick-ass heroine should read this series. And everyone else, too.

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

Thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with a copy.

Corey Reviews King of Thieves by Shae Godfrey

Cassandra Marinos, world class thief, meets Finnegan Starkweather, ex-Interpol bounty hunter, in San Francisco. That’s the elevator pitch and I expected something along the lines of Finn catching Casey with her ear to the safe, Casey using charm to slip away, Finn intrigued but conflicted, pursuing her And that would have been fine. But that is not this book. Author Shae Godfrey has something else in mind, and oh I loved it.

“San Michele di Serino, Present day” are the book’s opening lines, and the plot does indeed require location and time-stamps to keep you oriented, Even then, I consciously gave myself up to not understanding everything and letting the puzzle of action, family, revenge, justice, humor, and oh-my-god chemistry between these two women wrap me up.

As each bit of backstory fell into place, I wanted to return to previous scenes armed with new knowledge; but my strong need to read what comes next pushed me onward. The mutual seduction of Casey and Finn was equal parts sexy and sweet and urgent and languid. While I did have a moment of full-stop consideration when one sexual/relationship identity was brought forth, in the end I shrugged, decided it does work for Finn and Casey, and kept diving into their story.

Yes, I plan to re-read this book. Yes, I immediately one-click purchased the author’s other two books (knowing nothing except that they are fantasy novels, not of our world). Yes, you should read King of Thieves.

You can download a sample or purchase King of Thieves by clicking here.

Corey Reviews Who’d Have Thought by G Benson

Rarely do I want to write a book review before I’ve completed the first chapter of a book, but I was 2% into Who’d Have Thought by G Benson when I started lining up my squees of delight.

First, this novel includes an actual, living, breathing, “they” pronoun-using non-binary character. Luce isn’t the central character, but they have a life beyond pronouns in the story.

It says something about the strength of the gender binary that I fought my own anxiety until Luce’s sex-assigned-at-birth was revealed; yes, I was disappointed in myself. This book is the first I’ve read in which “they” is written in firmly as a third person singular pronoun. Although I’ve adopted this pronoun myself in real life daily conversations with non-binary friends and people of unknown gender identities, I could practically feel my reading brain recalibrating itself. Success set in, happily.

Second, Hayden is matter-of-fact pansexual. When she answers a Craigslist advert for someone seeking a wife-for-hire, she shrugs away the possible gender of Sam. Spoiler alert: Sam’s a woman.

Third, marriage equality means that the Harlequin romance trope of the fake marriage leading to real love has legitimately come to lesfic. Huzzah! Thank you Supreme Court.

Yes, I did need to suspend disbelief for such a plot device, but I laughed from the start (G Benson has some sharp skills with internal and external dialogue), and also dug how much nurse Hayden loathes the cold surgeon Sam. And, in the end, I read all night and can report back that the deepening of the relationship between Hayden and Sam was full-bodied and the reveal of why Sam needed a wife worth the wait… and something not found in a hetero Harlequin romance. Extra kudos to Frank the cat. Viva la lesfic, dear readers.

p.s. G Benson, can I respectively request a short story or online epilogue from Sam’s point of view? I’d like to give her brain a hug and ruffle affectionately her feelings for Hayden.

You can purchase or download a sample by clicking here.

Corey Reviews the Books of Sophia Kell Hagin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheri Reviews Artemis by Andy Weir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheri Reviews Eyes Like Those by Melissa Brayden

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

Here’s the blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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