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 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 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.

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.

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.

Cheri Reviews The Wolf’s Hour by Robert McCammon

My buddy, Andy, has been telling me how much she loves the work of Robert McCammon for a few years now. I never really cared to give him a try. Shapeshifter spys, post-apocalyptic tales, and ghost stories haven’t really been my preference over the past few years so I’ve not paid much attention to poor Andy’s suggestions of Mr. McCammon’s work. Well, that changed a week ago when we were looking for something to discuss on the next Cocktail Hour podcast. I told Andy she could pick the book we would read and discuss. I have to be honest and tell you that I subtly tried to talk her into picking something else but she stuck to her guns and I resigned myself to slogging through a long-ass boring book. I was just thankful that I had Audible credits available. How wrong I was. How very, very wrong. Before I go further, here’s the blurb:

On the eve of D-Day, a British secret agent with unique powers goes behind Nazi lines Michael Gallatin is a British spy with a peculiar talent: the ability to transform himself into a wolf. Although his work in North Africa helped the Allies win the continent in the early days of World War II, he quit the service when a German spy shot his lover in her bed. Now, three years later, the army asks him to end his retirement and parachute into occupied Paris. A mysterious German plan called the Iron Fist threatens the D-Day invasion, and the Nazi in charge is the spy who betrayed Michael’s lover. The werewolf goes to France for king and country, hoping for a chance at bloody vengeance.

It just didn’t sound like something I’d want to read. But regardless of my apprehension, it grabbed me and didn’t let me go. I hated to hit the pause button to go to work, pick up my child, or go to sleep. I dreamed about wolves and nazis and thought about what was going to happen next and kept modifying my predictions about what Iron Fist was. I dropped a tear at one point when one character discovered that he lost his family to Allied bombing. My stomach roiled during the descriptions of some of the “entertainment” on display for some upper echelon Nazis and friends. But mostly I cheered when the bad guys got what they had coming to them. There were lots of bad guys so there were lots of ass kickings to go around.

Probably the weakest part of the book, for me, was the wolf-shifter part. It was very interesting and I enjoyed it, to be sure, but there was just so much going on during the WWII portion of the book that I hated to have to wait to find what happened next! I guess calling Michael’s younger years weak is unfair, maybe it’s the slow part. The book wasn’t perfect; there were some words and phrases that were over-used and Michael was mostly the perfect man – I mean he even performed oral sex without being asked! I was ready for the book to end when it did but not because I just couldn’t take any more – the story was over and everything was wrapped up and I was ready to wish them all well and move on.

I’ve already purchased Swan Song. A massive “thank you” to Andy for picking such a good book for us to read. I’ll probably not doubt you again. Maybe. Probably not. You can download a sample or purchase a copy of The Wolf’s Hour by clicking here.

Blu Reviews She Rises by Kate Worsley

There are books I want to savour, to relish and appreciate and others are a quick thrill, a sudden satisfaction. Kate Worsley’s She Rises (released by Bloomsbury in 2013) is most definitely the former. Searching online, you will find a lot of reviews on this work and they range from the markedly impressed to the opposite extreme. Many, unfortunately, contain significant spoilers and will ruin the discovery that awaits you in this notable story. Some reviewers have held the author’s pedigree and mentor in mind and appear to have measured her against Sarah Waters. Other readers have been perturbed by the violence contained within the stories of Luke and Louise, questioning its purpose in their tales. I found She Rises to be exceptional in its ability to place me in the setting and to keep me enthralled and curious by the world I am invited to inhabit alongside these two teens.

Ms. Worsley swings us between the two main characters’ tales using crisply descriptive language to imbed us in their time and circumstances. While her writing is visual and lush, each scene is created with efficient skill and she succeeds in building a world and time period in my mind with words I instinctively understand, even as some sound foreign to my inner ear. Each alternating chapter provides us with one of the two storylines that eventually intersect and Ms. Worsley succeeds in using even the chapter lengths to contribute to the pace, dynamism and urgency of her story. Technically, this book is one of the better crafted stories I’ve read this year and the quality of editing is evident in its apparent disappearance. The pace swells and drops, bringing us closer and closer to the story’s’ climax – which some readers report to have found startling.

Luke awakens on board a boat, injured, disoriented and with a growing awareness that he is the victim of a press gang. He begins a desperate journey of survival, trust and resignation, all while intent upon returning to his love. Louise, a dairy maid is provided an opportunity to escape farm life, minimize her mother’s impact and to discover the fate of her brother. She too must learn to navigate a new set of societal rules and expectations as she pins her future to that of her new employer. While Luke appears desperate to return to someone he has been forcibly separated from, Lou is looking forward, cutting her ties to home and anticipating new relationships and experiences. Luke has a secret he must protect at all costs, and in the underbelly of the warship this proves more challenging than the new skills he must acquire, or the men he must guard against. He is disappearing into his new role and we become increasingly aware of the toll this change demands upon him. Louise’s decision to closely align herself with her mistress Rebecca is simultaneously naive and cutthroat in its purpose, and will have implications and consequences that unfurl throughout the book. We accompany both of these characters via their first person recountings of events, their fears and remembrances, learning about the harshness of life on board naval vessels and the pettiness found in city households.

Strong supporting characters are rich and deep, creating a detailed backdrop against which we come to better understand Lou and Luke. The author succeeds in keeping the personalities realistic and appropriate. Townhouse employees Billy Price, Hannah Shepherd, sailors Gilles De Clare and Nick Stavenger among others, make the stories all the more believable and we are not nudged out by flat, cliched characters.

Identity, abandonment, captivity, sacrifice, and manipulation are unveiled and examined from both Luke and Lou’s perspectives. Each is abandoned and cut others lose, give up long held identities, and discover ways in which to make their new world their own. Luke and Louise occupy and must operate in a world vividly different to ours. Their reality is harsher, less forgiving yet logical, potentially startling for the 21st century reader. Be prepared to see a rough, sometimes violent world that demands much from these teens. Captivity, abuse, and illness are experienced and take their toll on characters and readers alike.

If you are looking for a quick read, a light romance or thrilling adventure, then She Rises should be set aside, assigned to your TBR pile. It is, however, an ideal book for a buddy read or group discussion. You will find much to debate in this moving story, imbued with challenging issues that are just as relevant today as they were in the eighteenth century. Its conclusion is certain to lead to much thought and interesting conversations, and I, personally, found it frustratingly maddening while simultaneously satisfying. This is a debut novel of note that has me looking forward to the author’s future novels with much anticipation.

You can download a sample or purchase She Rises by clicking here.