Cheri Reviews The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni

When I saw a new stand-alone novel by Robert Dugoni on, 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.

Cheri Reviews Backcast by Ann McMan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 Reviews Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

I first heard about Still Missing from a really good friend who heard about it from a good friend of hers who was turned on to it by a good friend of hers. I know the friends in question but not really much about their tastes in reading material. But my really good friend had just started reading it and we enjoy reading things together so I was in! Here’s the Amazon blurb:

On the day she was abducted, Annie O’Sullivan, a thirty-two year old realtor, had three goals—sell a house, forget about a recent argument with her mother, and be on time for dinner with her ever- patient boyfriend. The open house is slow, but when her last visitor pulls up in a van as she’s about to leave, Annie thinks it just might be her lucky day after all. Interwoven with the story of the year Annie spent as the captive of psychopath in a remote mountain cabin, which unfolds through sessions with her psychiatrist, is a second narrative recounting events following her escape—her struggle to piece her shattered life back together and the ongoing police investigation into the identity of her captor.

The truth doesn’t always set you free.

Still Missing is that rare debut find–a shocking, visceral, brutal and beautifully crafted debut novel.

I thought most of the book was fantastic. Truly great. My friend and I would only have to type a word or two and immediately know what scene was being mentioned. We were both thrilled with how well the suspenseful and emotional scenes were written. Yeah, Annie’s voice when directly addressing the “Doc” got old very quickly but everything else about her descriptions of her abduction and what happened afterward felt authentic and drew me in. I couldn’t stop reading.

Unfortunately, once the mystery of who The Freak was and how he came to find Annie started unfolding, I had a hard time not putting the book away. Instead, I spent the last couple of hours of reading time highlighting some of the most ridiculous passages, rolling my eyes, grimacing, and uttering things that sounded like “ugh.”

I SO wanted to love the book from start to finish. The author did a great job of keeping me on the edge of my seat with well constructed, suspenseful scenes and made me cry several times while describing some of the most heartbreaking things a woman could experience. But the unfolding of the reasons behind the abduction just killed it for me. There were still some good scenes toward the end but I was pretty well disgusted by then. Maybe disgusted is too strong. Disappointed would probably be a better word.

Knowing that this is her debut novel does help and I rated it 3 stars over on Goodreads. I’m pretty sure I’ll read her second book and hope that Ms. Stevens came up with a story that will be more satisfying to me. Because, really, the woman can write some suspense and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to laying on the pain, fear, and anguish.

I have to say that while there are some plot issues, there are parts of this book that won’t leave me. The author created a couple of characters who felt incredibly real to me and she wrote scenes that were so clear in my head, I felt like I was standing in the same room. I’m certain that I’ll keep revisiting Annie and The Freak and the cabin in my head for awhile. If you think you can just grin and bear the unbelievable bits toward the end of the book, and you like this genre, you will still get some serious enjoyment out of the experience.

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

Cheri Reviews Timeless by Rachel Spangler and Balance by Georgia Beers

I’ve not been reading as much over the past few months as I usually do. Well, I’ve been listening to the last couple of books in the Song of Ice and Fire series but I’ve no plans to review them… I’m happy I was able to break my lesfic fast with these two books.

Here are the disclaimers: I know both Rachel and Georgia. I like them both and have enjoyed their books to varying degrees. I don’t, however, have any problem being completely honest about my opinions of their work. They both accept legitimate criticism of their books in the way authors should, with tact and professionalism. Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

I’ll kick it off with Timeless. I got a copy from Bold Strokes Books in preparation for the Cocktail Hour live event with Rachel this coming Saturday (which can be seen on the CH website – Even though it’s not really a review show, I wanted to see if Rachel has continued to grow and mature in her writing. I’ve read the last couple of her books and have enjoyed her progression.

Before I share my thoughts on Timeless, let me share the blurb with you:

What would you change about your past if you had the chance? What if you didn’t have a choice?

Stevie Geller doesn’t do conflict. She likes her job as a successful novelist and playwright because it allows her to peacefully ensconce herself in her New York City loft, avoid human interactions, and leave personal drama for the page and stage. When her agent asks her to return to her hometown of Darlington, Illinois, to accept an award, she agrees only because he promises the process will be quick and easy. One panic attack and concussion later, Stevie is forced to confront her past in ways that seem to defy reality. As if befriending a social outcast and confronting high school bullies weren’t enough, she also finds herself falling for a closeted teacher. Along the way, Stevie must decide if some things are worth fighting for. In her rush to escape the past, will she leave behind a better future, or are some conflicts really timeless?

Now that we’re all caught up, I want to say that I genuinely liked Stevie. I saw parts of myself in her and that’s always good when you’re reading a book, right? I was able to connect with her and get why she made some of the choices she did. I also liked Jody, the teacher. But I really loved the social outcast. For me, she was the focus of the book. I cheered for her and related to her and fell for her a little bit. Maybe even more than a little bit.

The romance was sweet and while it could have felt rushed, it didn’t to me at all. I even caught myself thinking, this is sort of fast; why doesn’t it bother me? It didn’t bother me because it was plausible and felt right. Rachel told a great story with a twist that made me stop what I was doing and nearly yell out “HOLY CRAP!” Seriously. I read the majority of this book with my ears and I was typing out an email when that moment came up and I had to stop typing to share with the recipient what had just happened and I wrote “HOLY CRAP!” Oh, I guess I should also admit that there was one scene that dealt with bullying – or the aftermath of bullying – that brought me to tears. I didn’t want to cry and I fought it but some tears fell.

I think Timeless is a quality book – although there were some typos that the editing team could have caught (typos are a major pet peeve of mine) – and I think fans of lesbian romance will really enjoy it. Love it, even. This one may be my favorite. Does She Love You? was a big winner with me but I enjoyed the story in this one very much. It’s not like anything I’ve read from this author before – different from any lesfic romance I’ve ever read, maybe. I can’t remember another book like this one, anyway. But I’ve not read as widely as many of you have so I could be wrong.

Next up is Balance. Now this one is much different from Timeless. And different from Georgia’s other work, too. Just for the record, I bought Balance and Balance Episode 2. They’re short – novella length maybe? – so I was able to pick up both books for the price of a cheap novel length ebook. Before we go any further, here’s what Amazon has as the book description:

The first in an ongoing series by award-winning lesbian fiction writer Georgia Beers, “Balance” introduces you to Norah Ellison, who has a gift…or is it a curse? She knows nothing about the women whose names appear to her in the morning, only that she must help them, and that time is of the essence. She’s spent more than a decade building a tiny team of trusted assistants, but even they can’t guarantee she can figure out what needs to be done–or ensure that she’ll get it done in time. (This story was originally printed in the collection “Outsiders,” released by Brisk Press.

That’s pretty vague and I don’t want to give away too much but you’ll find out what’s going on right away so I don’t need to blow the surprise here. I will say this, Balance isn’t a romance, it’s a suspense story. And it’s dark. Not super dark but we get to see some disturbing stuff – nothing graphic so if you’re squeamish, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Balance is told in the first person and by doing this, we really get inside Norah’s head and have to deal with the choices she makes right along with her. While this is a different type of story than we’re used to from the author, her voice comes through strongly and I’m so happy that it does. I’ve always loved Georgia’s voice, even in books that I didn’t like very much. Norah’s humor and the way she deals with her conflicting emotions felt natural and flowed so well. The author also did a great job with slowly building the tension and putting us right there with Norah, physically and emotionally.

I haven’t finished the second episode yet but if it’s as good as the first, I have a feeling I’m going to be wanting much more featuring Norah and Balance, Inc. I’ve tried to think of something to say that’s not glowing about this but I can’t come up with anything. I was a little thrown by the last sentence but what I questioned is cleared up quickly in the second book so that’s a good reason to pick them both up at the same time.

Secret Lies by Amy Dunne

*Note: This was an advance review copy provided through NetGalley – scheduled for release on December 1, 2013 from BSB or, according to Amazon, December 17th.

Secret Lies by Amy Dunne is a book that I read over two days, but stayed with me for quite a bit longer. Categorized as a Young Adult book, it deals with some rather difficult subject matter and is something that deserves a bit of reflection both during and after reading. This isn’t to say that the book is nothing but doom and gloom – but it also isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. I’m impressed at how well Dunne balances the darker story lines against the burgeoning romance between the two main characters to produce a remarkably good first novel.

Although they are both in the same school and grade, Jenny O’Connor and Nicola Jackson are virtual strangers when they literally run into one another and end up skipping classes. Both girls are hiding their own secrets – Nic is the victim of abuse at the hands of her stepfather, hiding the scars and bruises and isolating herself from everyone. Jenny seems to be a young woman who has it all – pretty and popular, she’s the natural leader of her friends; but, underneath she is emotionally paralyzed by the pressure of everyone’s expectations, as well as her own guilt and doubts, leading her to cut herself as a means to feel anything. As their friendship develops and solidifies over shared secrets, they each provide the support the other needs. Sounds like it is bound to be a complete angst-ridden train wreck, but Dunne handles the back stories without hand-wringing angst – giving a realistic and sensitive portrayal of abuse and cutting. At the same time Dunne captures the intensity of first love, weaving in all the overwhelming wonder and joy as well as the doubts and fears of coming out. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in this book.

Dunne has created characters that feel real and easy for the reader to connect with. I liked both characters and found myself easily caught up in their story. At times I thought Nic was a bit too grounded and maintained a level of maturity and strength and would have expected her to have more baggage to deal with as a result of her rather brutal home life. In counterpoint, Jenny’s development is much more apparent as the story progresses and she grows and matures, learning to deal with the issues and guilt that led to her cutting.

It was refreshing that neither one of the characters were waiting for someone else to save them. Jenny had already been seeking help from a therapist to deal with her cutting and Nic had her own plans to make enough money and get good enough grades to escape her home life. In meeting one another, they didn’t find a saviour; rather, they found someone to share their secrets and draw the strength they needed. The immediate seriousness of Nic’s situation was a bit more dire, and Jenny does have a few white knight moments – but I was so desperate for Nic to get out of that house that I was more than willing to accept Jenny’s invitation for Nic to stay with her family.

There are a few elements in the story that are a bit contrived and the romance develops pretty fast; but, Dunne’s writing invests the reader into the characters so much that I was willing to accept them and plunge ahead in the story. My biggest qualm was Nic’s plan to confront her stepfather in order to get proof of his abuse – the scars alone should have been more than enough, but I’m willing to go with it because there’s something canonical about teens making bad decisions in YA books. In most books actually since without characters making bad decisions, the book would end after the first chapter and everyone would live happily ever after.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author. Recommended.

Note: If you have any triggers around abuse, this may not be the best book for you to read. There are a couple of brutal scenes of physical abuse – complemented by even more brutal doses of ongoing psychological abuse from her stepfather. They are not gratuitous and are essential for the plot and character motivations.