Cheri Reviews The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

When I saw this book on NetGalley, I thought it sounded interesting and that I might enjoy it. It was different from my usual blood and guts mysteries and lesbian romances so I figured I’d give it a shot. I never would have guessed that I would be swept away in a fantastic fairy tale of sorts.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

After the first couple chapters, I couldn’t have stopped reading if I’d been ordered to. The language, the characters, the setting, the history, every single thing about The Bear and the Nightingale made me want it to never end. The way the author wove the story reminded me of Neil Gaiman at his best. I feel at a loss for words to describe how great I think this book is. I’ve talked several people into picking it up with phrases like “it’s incredible” and “just trust me, it’s fantastic and you’ll love it!”

I did a mix of listening to the audio book (which is wonderfully narrated) and reading the ebook and I’m happy I did it this way. I was able to get the voice and pronunciations in my head and still see how the words were spelled. Whichever way you decide to be absorbed into the story, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. This book is just wonderful and that it’s a debut novel is even more special. From what I saw on the author’s Goodreads page, there’s a sequel already nearing completion. You can bet I’ll be snapping it up as soon as I can.

I can’t think of anything else to say except I hope everyone who enjoys fairy tales, good versus evil, strong female characters, and beautiful writing will give The Bear and the Nightingale a try.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to discover and fall in love with this book.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of The Bear and the Nightingale 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.

Sequella Reviews Jae’s Shape Shifter Books

I admit, it took me a while to turn my attention to Jae’s shape shifter stories. Even though I liked all of her books I’ve read so far, I kept pushing them to the back of my reading pile. I have no idea why…

After finishing Second Nature, I immediately turned my attention to the second full length novel, True Nature. And when I say full length novel, this actually means a really long story in Jae speak, much longer than the usual ~80.000 words you find in lesfic romance.

True Nature revisits wolf shifter Kelsey Yates who made an appearance in Second Nature, where she almost killed Jorie, one of the lead characters. Struggling with distrust from her boss, high expectations from her parents, and part of her past, Kelsey sets out to rescue an adolescent shape shifter boy from his adoptive mom, Rue. Of course, circumstances are different than they originally appeared and slowly, a relationship between Kelsey and Rue develops.

For me, what stands out in this book is the relationship between Kelsey and Rue. I would have expected the shape shifter, Kelsey, to be the stronger character of the two. Especially since she is a wolf shifter, and they tend to be invulnerable and on top of everything in other fantasy novels. This is not the case here. Kelsey is not interested in following her Dad’s role as alpha of the pack at all. Instead, she is drawn to Rue’s strength and dominance and is happy with an omega position.

Chronologically, Manhattan Moon happens before True Nature. It’s not important in which order you read both books though. In Manhattan Moon, we meet two characters that have been shortly introduced in True Nature. Shape shifter Shelby, a psychiatrist, and Nyla, a human nurse, work together at a hospital in New York. The attraction between them grows, but Shelby knows that she needs to protect the Wrasa secret and should try to find a “more suitable” mate instead. Jae perfectly captures Shelby’s struggle about not wanting to do the “right” thing and you will feel yourself wincing whenever she might get confronted by fellow Wrasa about dating a human.

Nature of the Pack is a short story that starts where True Nature ended. If you’re not ready yet to let Kelsey and Rue go, you definitely need to read it. Although, it’s way too short for my liking!

You miss Jorie and Griffin? The book ended too soon? I know that feeling. At least there is Natural Family Disasters with a collection of five short stories connected to Griffin and her family.

You can download samples or purchase all of Jae’s books by clicking here.

Alberta Reviews 96 Hours, Heart Block, and Second Nature

96 hours by Georgia Beers

96 hours is set in the first days and weeks of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

Abby Hayes, a young woman in her late twenties, is on a return flight from London to New York to visit her mother for a few days. After having quit her job a few years before so she could experience life and travel around the world, she’s what you would call a free spirit. On the same plane, Erica Ryan is returning from a business trip that didn’t quite turn out as planned. Living for her work and ready to be home so she can continue to work on a solution for her product, she’s more than a little frustrated when all of a sudden the plane is redirected to a small town in Newfoundland. With nearly 7,000 other passengers they learn of the 9/11 attacks and try to cope with the horrible reality of the aftermath. Trapped for nearly a week in this small town, Abby and Erica have to learn to work together to make the whole situation as bearable as possible.

I started this book a bit apprehensively since I was afraid it might be more about the attacks on the Twin Towers than about the characters and I wanted to read a novel not non-fiction. I needn’t have worried. Georgia Beers uses the backdrop of 9/11 as a setting for two very different characters to look beyond their own perspective. It is never a tool to paint the world in black and white and good and evil – something I unfortunately have come across while reading stories set around the attacks. One of her main characters describes this best when she sits in a bus in New York a few weeks after 9/11 and is devastated by the hateful looks some passengers throw at everyone that looks like someone from the Middle East.

The secondary characters are equally well developed, with their own backgrounds and perspectives. Something I came to expect from Georgia Beers’ books. Her characters are always well developed and seem very real – no superheroes, no perfectness. Everyone could be someone you might actually meet in the grocery store or on the street. The whole story has a very slow pace since most of it takes place within a week. As a reader that gave me the chance to experience this claustrophobic atmosphere along with the characters, the waiting around, not knowing what to expect.

I recommend this book to everyone who is interested in reading about three-dimensional characters in a very difficult situation and a slowly developing romance. If you are looking for an action-driven plot in the midst of 9/11 this is not the book for you.

Heart Block by Melissa Brayden

Emory Owen, owner of a multi-million dollar news agency, isn’t all too thrilled that she has to take care of selling and cleaning out her late mother’s mansion. Never having been close to any of her family and especially not her mother, she’s not willing to invest too much of her time into her childhood home. When a friend recommends a cleaning service to take care of the house, she accepts right away.

Sarah Matamoros is a young woman, working for her mother’s cleaning house business. She tries to balance her life around the job, taking care of her eight-year-old daughter Grace and finding enough time for her large Mexican family.

When she meets the owner of her newest project, Emory Owen, she’s at first taken aback by the aloof, all-business like behaviour of a daughter that has just lost her mother. As time passes, the two so very different women get to know and love each other. But is that enough to overcome the obstacles of two very different worlds?

Having read Melissa Brayden’s “Waitng in the Wings”, which I really liked, I was curious whether she’d be a one-hit-wonder or if her second book would be equally as interesting. And it is. Her characters are well developed and especially the little girl was most definitely not a plot device – which in the books I’ve read is unfortunately quite often the case with children. I especially liked the way Emory developed new insights throughout the book. There were a few problems I didn’t really get since simple communication could have solved them pretty easily but it didn’t take away from my reading enjoyment. The book features interesting secondary characters in real worlds as well, with jobs, friendships, responsibilities and families.

All in all I’d like to recommend this book to anyone that’s interested to read a story that’s – much like the author’s other book “Waiting in the Wings” – not your formulistic lesbian romance.

Second Nature by Jae

Jorie Price is a writer of fantasy books, working on her newest project – a book about shape shifters.

Griffin Westmore is a real life shape shifter, assigned to stop Jorie from publishing her novel since it comes very close to the reality of their world and might endanger her species. When she realises that there is more to her assignment than trying to stop Jorie from finishing her book, she starts an investigation into her own ministry – a decision that puts her, as well as Jorie’s life into mortal danger. But there is only one way to save them and that involves trusting a human with her greatest secret and at the same time trusting her own estranged family to support her decision.

Second Nature is not your typical lesbian romance novel. Having read several of Jae’s previous books, I was curious if she’d be able to draw me into her fantasy world as well with her writing skills. She did. Developing not only interesting and three-dimensional protagonists and secondary characters, she also created a very complex and thought-out setting – a world where shape shifters exist in a parallel world to “regular” humans. She manages to make their worries to be found out believable and their struggles with their identity very convincing. After all, those are circumstances, a lot of minorities that have to hide in an unfriendly society have to face. So I wouldn’t consider that a fantasy aspect.

But even though this part was not fantasy for me, the rest of the book most certainly is. The characters are not humans with an additional skill – like an additional sense or special powers like Spiderman or Harry Potter, who are first and foremost humans, no, they aren’t human – at all! They are as much animal, if not more so, as they are human. So if you are not into the fantasy genre, this book is not for you. One of the protagonist’s for example is a cat shifter. Which means, even in her human form she walks like a cat and only tries to disguise it and she sees colours like a cat does and not like a human.

If you are new to this genre – like I was – and you are willing to open your mind to this world then you’ll find a novel full of suspense and action, of romance and fleshed-out cast of characters and a storyline that had me reading until late at night. And if you are already a fantasy fan then you’ll love this book.

Morningstar by Darcy Town

Let me start by saying that I have read the whole series, and yes, I really, really liked it. Loved it.

The Morningstar trilogy is about fallen angels, mythical creatures, religions re-interpreted and completely upended. There is a lot of sex (all kinds of it), drugs, violent behavior and events, lack of morals..

What’s great about the story:
The characters are well written and their journey and history make them well-rounded and multidimensional. You do come to care about them. Actually, I dare say you sometimes care more about the secondary characters than the main ones, but you will love all of them, and I wouldn’t discard any of them too early. They all grow throughout the trilogy. There’s a definite good plot there that you just have to follow and see how it unfolds. And you won’t be disappointed.

The spin that the author puts on religions was a big attraction to me but I have to say that this is not for everyone and some may feel lost early on because of it. This group of creatures is just as interesting (and sometimes more) as any bunch of werewolves or vampires. Also, the “victor writing history” approach when talking about Lucifer may be offensive for some. The sex, violence, and mixture of all religions may also be a turn off for others. If you’re still reading at this point, you may be like me and should just read all three books.

What could be improved on:
It could be better edited. I completely disregarded a bunch of things because I loved the plot and characters, but I am aware that others would be unable to get past it.

There are definitely some scenes that I would do without. They unnecessarily lengthen the story.

And voila! I’ve made my case and I really hope you take a chance on this. But remember: it has to be all three books! Just the first one is really not enough.

Reviewed by Incognito

Check out Darcy Town’s Amazon Page

Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adororation by Sarah Diemer

Sarah Diemer 1) is self-published, 2) writes Young Adult, and 3) tells reimagined or new fairy tales and myths – all things that set off my inner alarms because I’m a harsh critic on all three of those and they tend to make me hesitate before hitting the “Buy Now” button.

Can I say, for the record, that I was an idiot for hesitating?

Sarah Diemer has proved me wrong. Again and again and again. And I love her for that.

And now? Well, now I am her biggest fan (but not like in Misery) – almost to the point where I am tempted to steal her away from her wife and have her spin tales for me every night. Very much like Scheherazade; but, without the threat of decapitation because I’m just not into that sort of thing – and I already said I wasn’t quite as big a fan as Kathy Bates was in Misery – almost, but not quite. Sadly, I also like her wife’s writing (they have collaborated on another book of shorts) – so I will leave them to create beautiful stories together and wait oh so patiently for them to be released.

Diemer’s writing has been a delightful discovery for me and I strongly recommend her as an author. She has a wonderfully lush style of storytelling that elevates her fantasy and fairy tales to a magical level. Her characters are memorable and the stories themselves are captivating. In addition to the YA novels and stories under Sarah Diemer, she also writes under the name Elora Bishop. I haven’t had the opportunity to read those books yet, but they are loaded onto my tablet in anticipation of a quiet evening with no distractions.

Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration is a collection of some not- so -short stories that celebrate and embrace the monster. In her introduction, Deimer muses that “Monsters were wild. Monsters were strong. Monsters were fierce and fee. If I was monstrous … perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing.” The title itself is fantastic and captures the nature of this anthology perfectly and I found myself devouring it – unable to put the book down after finishing each tale.

There’s a dark and often bleak tone in most of the stories – completely fitting for a monster anthology. But these are also love stories and the sharp edge of tragedy makes the stories all that more rich and poignant. I found that most of the stories stayed with me long after I closed the cover and she masterfully weaves themes of love, struggle, desperation and hope into rich and vibrant worlds and characters. None of the stories are simple – there’s a moral complexity that forces the reader to look at things from a different perspective. Each story surprised me in the way it unfolded or ended – which kept me hooked as I wanted to know where she was taking the story next. Not all of them have a Happily Ever After – but they are all satisfying and perfect for the tone Diemer sets.

The collection offers five dark fantasy and one science fiction story that were all published and are still available individually; but, do yourself a favour and pick up the anthology and I guarantee you’ll be captivated by all the stories.

Mana is a Runner, stealing souls from After to reanimate those who have died – the most recent soul she steals is her lover, Far. Zombie love? Yeah. But it works. The bleak and barren city, the creepy After, and Far’s desperate desire to die juxtapose perfectly with Mana’s overwhelming love for Far and her determination to keep that love alive. Far is an odd tale – almost surreal in the way that it unfolds and definitely in the way it ends. This one left me with quite a bit to think about once I finished it.

The Witch Sea
I adored this one. For three generations, Meriel’s family has sacrificed everything in order to maintain a barrier that imprisons the sea god Galo and his army, preventing them from destroying humanity. Alone, Meriel maintains the net just as her mother and her grandmother before her. When Nor, a selkie- like creature breaches the Meriel’s island she also breaches Meriel’s conviction – making her question the task that she has inherited. Who’s the monster here – Galo and his followers or Meriel? The prose in this one is beautiful and lends a lush and magical quality to the story. Definitely a stand out in the collection and I’ve gone back to read it a few times.

Seek is a different kind of love story. Seek is a knight, intent on winning the hand of the most beautiful woman in the realm –because she deserves the best. It appears to be a simple sword and sorcery type fantasy where the protagonist must complete a series of tasks to win the maiden-fair; but, Diemer has a little something else up her sleeve with this one. I wasn’t a fan of Seek the character; but, I was a fan of Seek the story.

Our Lady of Wolves
Now this was a dark one. A handful of villagers have managed to survive ongoing siege by some rather nasty monsters. Completely cut off from the rest of the world (not even knowing if there is a rest of the world at this point) for years, they are desperate, terrified and resigned. With nothing else to lose, Kelly ventures to an ancient church to beseech Our Lady of the Wolves, a goddess that the villagers had abandoned years ago, to save them. Triste and her wolf appear – offering to lead those who will take the chance to leave. I’ll put this one up as a stand out story.

We Grow Accustomed to the Dark
After the first four fantasy stories, Diemer turns to a post (peri?)-apocalyptic tale. The Rapture hits while Kate and Celia are on their way home from school and, being lesbians, they didn’t make the first cut. The Rapture has always been a fascinating concept to me – why these people and not those – it is the ultimate in prejudice. Add in the fact that Diemer subscribes to my idea that angels aren’t really all that nice (read the bible … they have flaming swords and raze cities) and you’ve got a dark story.

The Forever Star
This one is tied for my favourite with The Witch Sea. It may even surpass it. I will have to read them both again. And again. And again. The Forever Star is a wonderful blend of fantasy and science fiction and is absolutely beautiful – both in its narration style and the story itself. Elaine and her sisters have woven the worlds and stars from the beginning of time and will continue to do so forever. After eons of watching the stars she’s created burn out and die, Elaine feels an emptiness she can’t understand. Lonely and restless, she leaves her sisters. Maggie is an engineer on a world that is dying – sun flares of enormous magnitude are incinerating everyone and everything that isn’t protected by a shield that is quickly failing. The rest is just fantastic.

This review is focused on her collection of short stories; but, I really can’t write anything about Diemer without mentioning and recommending The Dark Wife, a revisionist novel about the Persephone/Hades myth. Diemer provides some interesting twists on the standard myths and gods – with Hades as Zeus’ sister, her title as “Lord of the Dead” a bitter joke. Just take my word on it. Buy it. You’ll like it.

Click here to purchase Love Devours: Tales of Monstrous Adoration