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?”



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.


Cheri Reviews Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Here’s a quick video of me sharing my thoughts on this book. For those who don’t want to watch, I loved it and I highly recommend it. Very fun read.

You can download a sample or purchase any of the various formats of Ready Player One by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Bodies of Water by T. Greenwood

I don’t often take recommendations from people when it comes to reading material. There are, however, a small group of friends who know what I like well enough to make me take notice when they offer up a title. I just finished up one such recommendation a few minutes ago. For the life of me, I cannot remember who it was who told me to put it on my list. If I could recall who it was, I’d thank them for telling me to give it a shot. So if you’re reading this and recommended T. Greenwood’s Bodies of Water to me, thanks!

Bodies of Water shuttles the reader between the very early 1960s and the current time. Our narrator is Billie Valentine, housewife and mother who falls for another woman. This isn’t one of those tawdry lesbian romance novels about afternoon trysts between bored housewives. This is, instead, the somewhat tragic story of love found and lost and going on with life, even when it’s painful and seems impossible.

I was fully engaged in the story – both time periods of Billie’s life – and I genuinely cared about the characters. Well, most of them. The women were a bit more fleshed out than some of the male characters, one of whom did feel like a caricature of an abusive husband. It certainly made it easier to hate him but I would have liked a bit more about why he was such a controlling, violent dickhead.

I’d recommend this one to anyone, lesbian, bisexual, or straight, who isn’t bothered by bouncing back and forth between time periods. There are sex scenes but they’re not overly graphic and feel appropriate for the story being told. There’s a bit of a mystery or twist or something that’s supposed to sort of shock us at the end but I found it very easy to figure out. I was disappointed with just how easy it was to see what was coming but the rest of the story was still good enough for me to come away with a good feeling about the book.

I can also recommend the Audible version. The narrator does a fantastic job.

This book, and the Audible companion, are available through the Kindle Unlimited program. You can also purchase, download a sample of the ebook, or listen to a few minutes of the audio book by clicking here.

Thanks, again, to whomever told me to read Bodies of Water. I appreciate the recommendation!

Cheri Reviews The Art of Mapmaking by Thalia Fand

I don’t normally review erotic romance because it’s rare that I read it anymore. But I received a request from the author along with a free copy from audible. I do have a weakness for audiobooks. I also have affection for Dog Ear Audio, the publisher of the audiobook, so I figured I’d give it a shot. If I didn’t like it, I’d only be out a couple of hours but if I did, I’d enjoy myself and give a bit of exposure for a new author (I think. I haven’t checked if she’s written more) and Karen Wolfer’s great company.

The Art of Mapmaking is a short erotic romance that takes the reader from Sara’s dreams of seducing intelligent and attractive performer Casey to their coming true. I don’t want to say too much since the entire book is less than 2.5 hours long.

I was happy to get to see some relationship development before the sex started. I liked both of these women and was happy that they get together. I don’t think that’s a spoiler since, hello, it’s a romance. The sex was well done and we got more buildup than I thought there would be, which was a nice surprise.

I have to say that having someone act out sex in an audiobook is something that may take me a while to get used to. The narrator, Marie Debonair, did a great job. I felt like a voyeur and, because I have a strange affliction, giggled and laughed at every “pussy” mention. The moans and shudders and climactic exclamations were awesome and very authentic sounding. I kept thinking that if it had been me recording it, it would have taken hours because I’d have been on the ground laughing.

So, bottom line, I think anyone who enjoys erotic lesbian fiction will enjoy The Art of Mapmaking.

You can download a sample or purchase The Art of Mapmaking by clicking here. Click here to listen to a sample of the audio.

Corey Reviews No Good Reason by Cari Hunter

A new Cari Hunter novel? What mayhem will engulf her characters this time? The answer: Truly terrible things, as well as truly lovely things, abound in the mystery-thriller No Good Reason. “She hurt” are the opening words, and this is a bodily hurt. The plot takes off immediately as a captive woman makes her bloody escape and then — Well, this is not a romance, dear reader, so brace yourself.

After visiting America for her last two books, Desolation Point and Tumbledown, Hunter returns to the land of hot tea and the bacon butty in her latest novel. Our heroines are Detective Sanne Jensen and Dr. Meg Fielding, best mates forever and sometimes something more. Their relationship is undefinable and complicated, but not in a hot mess of drama way. Rather, they share unspoken depths, comfortably silly moments, rock-solid friendship, and an intimacy that will make your heart ache just a wee bit.

Sanne and Meg’s relationship may be a muddle, but goodness knows they’ll need to hold tight to each other. Truly nasty things await them as Sanne is the first on the scene when hikers discover a barely-alive woman in the North Peak district of Derbyshire. The mystery of the woman’s identity, who tortured her, where she was held captive and why, play out as Sanne and Meg struggle with the emotional and physical tolls of each twisty discovery.

Hunter is a paramedic when not authoring, so she knows her medical scenes and masterfully writes hurt/comfort. The people Meg and Sanne work along-side actually seem to live real lives and not just exist as secondary characters to prop up the plot. While I foresaw some turns in the case before the Derbyshire police, how everyone reacts to those developments seems much more important. And folks, many moments of cheer, shared laughter, and good eats sneak in around the angst and action.

I felt so much for the people in this book, which may be the highest compliment I can give the author. Damn you, Cari Hunter, you made me care.

Now go write the sequel.

Disclaimer: This reviewer once ate American diner food with the author at a Lesfic event, and also received British sweets through the mail from her. However, she wouldn’t write a review of this book if it was shite.

Cheri Reviews The Sapphire and the Tooth by Ellis Avery

As you may imagine, I get a lot of submissions from authors and publishers hoping for a review. The vast majority of these submissions never see a post here for various reasons. Many times it’s because the stories just don’t grab us enough to keep going until the end and we’d much rather quit and move on to a book that we want to share with others.

I received a submission from author Ellis Avery a few days ago asking if I’d be interested in reading and reviewing her essay The Sapphire and the Tooth which is available now as a Kindle Single. I had previously reviewed her novel, The Last Nude, and enjoyed it very much so I was pretty certain I’d enjoy her new release.

I wrote her back this morning and said I’d do my best to get a review posted within the next few days and then opened the attached file to check the length of the essay. I read the first couple of lines and I was hooked. Less than an hour later, I’m writing this review.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

A jeweler with a law degree, for decades Elaine Solari Atwood fought crippling arthritis with hard liquor, until she died of a brain aneurysm at sixty-eight, leaving behind two daughters in their thirties and a lifetime’s worth of unfinished business. Forced as a child to play nanny to five siblings, she grew up to become a mother who loved her girls as tenderly as her stifled pain and anger allowed. In THE SAPPHIRE AND THE TOOTH, award-winning author Ellis Avery, by way of telling the story of selling her mother’s jewelry in New York’s Diamond District, offers a searing portrait of alcoholism and difficult love. The first in a series of essays on grief, illness, and food entitled “The Family Tooth”.

Avery’s voice is clear and honest. I was immediately engaged in every aspect of the essay: Her relationship with her mother – and her mother’s alcoholism, the way she experienced the grief of her mother’s death, and the family history. She gives us glimpses into her mother’s past as an explanation, not an excuse, for her mother’s behaviors. As a child of alcoholic parents, I was able to relate to so much of what Avery and her sister experienced. In particular, the way adult children of alcoholics often emotionally revert back to scared kids when faced with a drunken, enraged mom or dad.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this short work is the way the author blends the mundane with the emotional. There were scenes that nearly brought me to tears, one that gave me goosebumps, and one line that I highlighted and read no less than five times.

I definitely recommend The Sapphire and the Tooth and I’m looking forward to getting the rest of the series.

You can download a sample or purchase The Sapphire and the Tooth by clicking here.

Corey Reviews Soul Selecta by Gill McKnight

Soul Selecta is an odd novel. A funny, stimulating, enjoyable read, but still a little odd. I like odd, however, so it’s all good.

The publisher’s blurb simply states “Soul mates are hell to work with,” and I salute this truth in advertising. The story opens with a prologue set in Sappho’s Seminary for Artistic Young Ladies (654 B.C.) and imagine every drama that ever could happen in a girls’ boarding school. The author efficiently hits them all, then zooms to the Elysian Fields and the first-person narrative of the Soul Selector. Our narrator lays out the rules of soul mates finding each other and announces that “herding horny cats is easier.” Yes, it’s that kind of book.

By chapter two, we are introduced to American high school student Jesse Colvin. I was rather peeved, because I dislike YA novels, yet I was enjoying reading about Jesse (totally against my cynical will). Jesse is the soul mate of one Norrie Maguire, living 3,000 miles away in Ireland. The Soul Selector begins herding…

The story switches back often to the Soul Selector and the rather hilarious Gods and Goddesses and their minions who make her job more difficult. Aphrodite is a hard-assed bitch. No one likes the slovenly Ares, God of War, who cannot be bothered to get off the couch and end all those destructive skirmishes on Earth. Eros is a sullen, pimply pubescent punk. Death is a frivolous, shy, fluffy, colorful dresser who just hates conflict. And our intrepid Soul Selector just wants to get her soul mates together, despite all the gods and goddesses and other interfering players on Mount Olympus.

Then, a moment arrived in the story and I dropped my kindle and asked my cat, “Wait. What just happened? Wait.” Then I grabbed the kindle up again and read furiously. Spoilers, sorry, I must not tell you more. Go buy the book and find out for yourself.

Soul Selecta ignores most lesfic plot arcs and completely entertained me with trashy Olympian gods, young lesbian love, some hot sex, a conundrum, and enough twisty fun that I consulted several times with my cats about what might happen next. Recommended.

You can purchase a copy of Soul Selecta by clicking here.

Corey Reviews The Caphenon

According to The Chronicles of Alsea website, I am of the Scholar Caste (secular): “scholars are thought of as arrogant, not to mention out of touch with real life” and “Secular scholars run the schools and universities, research laboratories, and other institutions dedicated to learning.” I don’t need a Buzzfeed quiz to see myself, and no doubt other readers of The Caphenon will identify with the Warrior, Builder, Producer, Merchant, or Crafter castes. After reading the first book in Fletcher DeLancey’s trilogy, I wandered around like a shekking fool, unable to let go of the magnificent new world and universe she created.

The Caphenon is a sci-fi story about Protectorate Fleet Captain Ekatya Serrado, her crew, and anthropologist Lhyn Rivers crash landing on Alsea, and their interactions with an alien society. Or it’s the story of Lancer Andira Tal and her Chief Guardian, Colonial Corozen Micah, and their first encounter with the Gaian aliens and a universe beyond their own world. Or it’s the story of Lancer Tal helping Ekatya and Lhyn recognize they are more than lovers, but also “tyrees,” or life bond-mates with a psychological and physical connection that for Alseans is also empathic. Or it’s the story of a technologically inferior race that happens to be the only known empaths in the Universe, who must find a way to defend Alsea against the relentlessly murderous Voloth, a race dedicated to wiping life off other worlds with their machines of destruction.

The Caphenon is all these stories wrapped up in an exciting plot that will satisfy both space opera fans and lesfic readers. The world-building is incredibly comprehensive (I’m still cursing in Alsean, which feels very satisfying in scholar-caste meetings on Earth). The author uses the first-contact obstacle of needing to interpret alien languages to explain details of politics, technology, family, and religion. I particularly enjoyed the “sex education” talk – while the Alseans are females and males, they can temporarily change their sex so either can produce or carry children. They rather pity the “gender-locked” Gaians. Alsean neck ridges are rather sexy, too. I hope the next two books show more sexy neck ridges (and other ridges), please.

The implications of Alseans’ empathic abilities fascinated me the most and provide a central theme in the novel. Since most Alseans can read each other’s emotions if they are not “fronting,” or blocking their emotions, they maintain strict cultural mores regarding physical touch and individual privacy. A simple hug becomes a “warmron” that after the “Rite of Ascension” at around age twenty is forbidden even between family members. Needless to say, Gaians’ people-hugging shocks Alseans no end. Gaians’ empathic blindness shocks them even more, making the supposedly “more advanced” aliens seem like children in Alseans’ eyes. Also, those poor Gaians lack face ridges, giving them an “embryonic” look that made me self-consciously cover my own face. My perspective of who the true aliens were in this novel kept changing, which was thought-provoking as both Gaians and Alseans showed their fully-complex selves.

Like I said, being of the Scholar caste means I tend to analyze all these magnificent societal details. But this novel also brings out the emotion. I squealed in happiness following the love story, and wept at the physical and psychological cost of war. I lost hanticks of sleep because I could not stop reading, and was aching for some hot shannel to drink.

I am so grateful for trilogies, because that means more Alsean novels and more reading happiness. Now please excuse me while I go swoon over the delicious relations between Lancer Tal, Captain Serrado, and Lhyn Rivers one more time.

You can download a sample or purchase The Caphenon by clicking here.

Nikki Reviews Barring Complications by Blythe Rippon

I’ve got to say I really enjoyed the writing and overall story of this book. It was well-edited, polished, and impressively researched, which I hugely appreciate. The story surrounds the attempted defeat of DOMA by the presentation of a case to the Supreme Court, which holds Victoria (Tori) Willoughby as one of the newest Justices to take the high court. She is a closeted lesbian, although many have suspected her homosexuality for years. Things get a bit complicated with the introduction of the prosecution, a flame from Tori’s past named Genevieve (Vee) Fornier. They parted as they took two different courses in their lives. Genevieve chose to be open about her sexuality from the start, fighting for LGBT rights throughout her career. Tori chose to reject their relationship (and her feelings) in order to stay on course with her lofty career goals. Both women got the careers they wanted, but at the expense of something that “might have been.”

As I stated, the research on this book is top notch. So much attention to detail gave me quite an outlook on the judicial system in a believable way, and the author should be applauded for her ability to educate the reader without boring them with legal jargon. The characterizations were excellent, and I really cared about the protagonists, wanting them to be successful both in their careers and out of them. The last third of the book dragged a bit for me, but it wasn’t because it was uninteresting, I just found it to be a bit unbelievable. So much attention is paid to the two women’s feelings in the past, and their yearning for each other, that the resolution of their relationship (and any associated scandal) felt kind of hurried and under-developed. It didn’t make me dislike the book at all, it just left me a little bit disappointed.

However, the secondary characters (who are DELIGHTFULLY snarky and adorable) really made me fall in love with them. The humorous interactions gave me insight into Tori and Vee’s personalities and were a breath of fresh air.

So overall, if you’re looking for a romance that focuses primarily on the getting together of two women, you might be disappointed in this one. However, if you’re looking for a really interesting take on the judicial system with a little bit of love on the side and likable characters, you’d do well to pick this one up.

Nikki reviews Cold and Lonely, Lovely Work of Art by S. Anne Gardner

Barbara (a one-dimensional housewife going through a divorce) happens upon a horrible neighborhood where she is almost raped by two men. She is ‘saved’ by Taya (known as the Black Angel). Taya doesn’t actually save her, she just takes her back to her sparse apartment so she can feed her microwaved noodles and then have sex with her after Barbara says “no.” When asked what makes her different from the men who nearly raped her, Taya responds “you will like it when I do it.” Sweet, right?

The characterizations in this book are some of the most painful to read I’ve ever seen. Taya seems to be a sociopath who is incapable of handling her emotions and goes from tender to murderous from sentence to sentence. She keeps returning to Barbara’s house to have sex with her (after Barbara says ‘no’. It’s a theme) then gets consistently furious afterward. I’ve learned that her favorite way to deal with her complicated feelings is to scream, ride off, then kill someone. At one point, Taya came downstairs at Barbara’s house and was really very nice to Barbara’s sons, offering to let them ride on her motorcycle. The one son says he wants to get a motorcycle when he gets older, but Taya says “no you need to go to college.” Because having a motorcycle means being a murdering drug lord like Taya? No.

Then she leaves and looks for a hooker to pick up that looks like Barbara. The pimp tells the hooker to let her do whatever she wants (because he knows she’ll kill them both if she doesn’t). Then Taya takes the hooker home, cuts her clothes off, hits her, and has sex with her “until she is unconscious” after causing her a lot of unnecessary pain in the process. Taya says (I’m paraphrasing) that she needs to hurt someone else to make herself feel better. Well, that doesn’t work, so she tells the hooker to go away. The hooker tries to offer to make her feel good, but Taya throws a knife at her which gets her in the arm. Then she shoots her gun into the darkness of her apartment a lot before lying down and calling Barbara to softly whisper “goodnight.”

In addition, the dialogue is painful and the writing overall has a serious need for correct comma usage.

If that sounds like something you will totally go for, then boy do I have the right book for you!

Nikki Reviews A House of Light and Stone by EJ Runyon

This is a story about Duffy (Defoe) Chavez, a ten-year-old living in East LA in the 1960’s. She is in-and-out of foster homes and has recently been reunited with her four siblings after being taken by child protective services when she was younger. It is told in first-person from Duffy’s POV and follows her along for approximately a year as she navigates a world where it is far easier to lie and cheat than to be kind. You are first introduced to her dysfunctional family: Artie and Justine are the oldest (and most protective of Duffy), Barbie (as the name suggests, very into clothes and being mostly horrible) and little Chase, who Duffy is basically raising while her mother works two jobs.

You are watching the story unfold through the eyes of the child, but a very perceptive and intuitive one. Duffy is a genius, and has tested out of sixth grade, but should technically be in 8th with her IQ. However, she is always hesitant to highlight her accomplishments because she knows this can trigger an abusive episode with her mother (Rennie). Duffy is targeted by Rennie far more than any of the other children, and often draws fire to protect her younger brother, Chase. The reason for which is alluded to later on in the narrative when Duffy overhears a conversation between Rennie and the woman (‘Lise) that owns the market down the street.  The two women are in a relationship off and on and briefly discuss a history between them involving the fathers of their children. However, this is never discussed again, which I found to be a bit of a disappointment. I recognize that Duffy wouldn’t have access to this history (and the mother would never tell her such a thing) but I felt that I missed out on exactly why it was painful for Rennie to be around her daughter, when Duffy tried so very hard to please her in every way.

The mother is an intriguing character, and it would be easy to paint her as a one-dimensional villain, heavy-handed and unloving. However, the author gives enough softness to her interactions to allow the reader to see her as she is, a woman that is complex, troubled, and incapable of dealing with loss. Despite the cruelty, Duffy, being the intuitive youngster that she is, recognizes that her mother doesn’t know how to cry and has to make her daughter cry for her. Which was a heartbreaking realization to witness from one so young. You also observe her siblings following along Rennie’s path in a lot of devastating ways, where being cruel is easier than taking care of someone.

The author is able to capture this girl’s voice so well that everything you see from her eyes is kind of magical. Which is impressive, given the hardships she faces. Even after being betrayed and mistreated by so many, she still sees so much joy in the world that it’s hard not to follow suit in our own lives.

That’s not to say that this book isn’t without problems. I noticed some repeated words in the second half that should’ve been caught in addition to a few awkward phrases that forced me to reread some passages. I can’t say whether this was because I was hearing it through a child’s filter, or if it was something that could have been cleaned up just a bit more. Additionally, there were some events that I would have liked to learn more about within the narrative.

Overall, this book was a breath of fresh air from a lot of books that I’ve been reading recently. I cried (a few times honestly) and there were points in the narrative that were just so difficult to get through, but I never wanted to stop. I believe this is a testament to the author’s skill and I highly recommend you pick this one up. But grab a box of tissues. The nice kind with lotion.

You can purchase or download a sample of A House of Light and Stone by clicking here.

Cheri & Nikki Review a Load of Books

We’ve been reading a lot of books over the past few weeks and want to talk about them so we decided a video chat would be a great way to handle it. Hope you enjoy it and find a book or two to read out of the deal.

Nikki reviews Year of the Monsoon by Caren Werlinger

This story follows Leisa, a social worker in Baltimore, who has found herself on shaky ground with her long-time partner Nan. The book opens with Leisa working the case of a young girl, Mariela, being found in her apartment with her mother’s corpse, where she had been for the last two weeks. Understandably, the girl is traumatized and will not speak or interact with anyone. The story then jumps around a lot, both in time and space, but basically follows Leisa as many conflicts seem to hit her and Nan from all sides (hence the year of the monsoon). You follow along their many trials and tribulations to see if they are able to withstand the storm of adversity that seems hellbent on tearing them apart.

This overarching theme does continue throughout the story, but the reader must navigate a lot of problems in the execution of the narrative. Although told in third-person, the perspective of who is speaking and when is highly variable from page-to-page, and often within the same paragraph. Some of these time/perspective jumps are understandable as it helps to put a situation or feeling into context. However, the vast majority of them happen with no transition so it is difficult to determine who is speaking at any given moment in time. I believe this occurs most times in order to explain a particular action or reaction of a character, although it is done in a way that is disjointed and difficult to follow. As an example, and early on so I’m not spoiling anything here, Leisa is speaking with the situationally-mute Mariela and transferring her mother’s ashes in the process. Leisa states (rather brutally) the cause of her mother’s death, then the dialogue shifts to her friend Maddie telling her at some point in the past to “always tell them the truth” before jumping right back into the scene. Although the intent must have been to demonstrate why the social worker would be so brutally honest with an extremely traumatized child, the result is an awkward transition and results in literary whiplash. This happened often in the story, and I never got used to it.

Additionally, there are so many characters and subplots/conflicts in this story that it is difficult to navigate. Now, I am a fan of complicated narratives with a lot of characters (After Mrs. Hamilton comes to mind as one I particularly enjoyed). However, at one point I think I counted 6-8 character names being introduced in a single paragraph. Several of the more prominent secondary characters (Jo Anne, Maddie and Lyn to be specific) seem to merely be there to introduce dialogue that should have occurred between the main characters, but never does. Actually, so much of the story is presented as an afterthought instead of within the narrative, that I felt I was never able to experience much of the plot. It was almost as though the author realized “I think I need to explain why this would happen” so some dialogue was thrown in to say “oh by the way, this happened back there” instead of going back and putting it in a more organic place. This happened regularly and never really improved.

I mentioned earlier about the many conflicts going on for both Leisa and Nan. However, every single one of the conflicts is presented superficially. I truly believe that if the conflicts had been limited to 3 or 4 (or even 5!) that the author could have made them each so much more interesting and effective for the reader. But as it is, the writing is too convoluted and wrought with problems to communicate the impact of each obstacle. Although I can’t really say that I enjoyed this book, I believe that with a lot of work it would be an intriguing story.