Cheri Reviews Dead Souls by J. Lincoln Fenn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheri Reviews The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corey and Sequella Review Outcaste by Fletcher DeLancey

Sequella: Hi Corey! Is Kitty going to join us for this one or is she still trying to get an appointment at the pleasure house?

Corey: I heard some mumbling from Kitty about curling up with a comfort giver and some deep purrs. I know the pleasure houses aren’t the main point of Outcaste, but maybe they are. This is the novel that fills in many questions readers of the series may pose about Alsean society, as we follow Rahel from her rebellion against the caste system as a youth (she wants to be a Warrior but her father wants her to be a Merchant) to her life as a caste-less worker on the docks (echos of exploited undocumented workers, taking work where available and defenseless against authorities), to survival sex and the dangers of living on the fringes of society.

Sequella: I always wondered what would happen to those that do not fit into a specific caste.

Corey: Me too! The first half of the novel also went deep into the families we create. I love me some Mouse. And also, librarian alert! We can all benefit from a librarian being on our side. What did you think about the pacing of the book?

Sequella: For me, the book consists of two parts. The first part is very slow and relaxed, in the second part everything is much more rushed and full of action. Personally, I liked the first part better and it could have gone on like that forever. What really fascinated me, though, was how this book fits into the Alsea universe we have read about so far. This book is both a prequel and sequel to Without a Front. I was very happy to see Tal and the Bondlancer again.

Corey: Yes, Outcaste gives you this deep backstory of a minor character in Without a Front, then skims over the action in the first three Alsean novels from Rahal’s perspective, then delivers new plot and insights with the core cast of characters. I loved getting deeper inside the Bondlancer’s mind and heart.

Sequella: When I got to the part that connects Outcaste to Without a Front, I wanted to go back and reread those since I did not remember the specific details. But of course I could not put Outcaste down and ended up with this unsatisfying feeling of missing connecting points. I can only recommend to everyone to prepare for Outcaste and reread Without a Front.

Corey: Yes, Outcaste is a book for readers of the series. If you are new to the Chronicles of Alsea, start with The Caphenon or maybe check out the novella Vellmar the Blade.

Sequella: *sigh* Vellmar!

Corey: Indeed. I want to make sure we mention another aspect of Rahel: She is “sansara,” which translates as “focused one” or not distracted by the need to join. Basically what we might term asexual, or not driven by sexual desire.

Sequella: Which also means that there is only very little romance in this book. Instead Rahel finds a lot of friends in unexpected places that help her along the way.

Corey: But her relationship with one mentor is really, really intense and, to me, satisfying, reminding me that sexual desire does not need to be the framing of a meaningful relationship. I still got all the feels. Finally, the end of this novel sets up new directions and developments for Alsean society and new books out in Protectorate space. Fletcher DeLancey, you are an unending source of new ideas. Keep writing, please please please.

Sequella: Yes! More! Now! Soon? Please?

Corey: Kitty just rolled over and purred in agreement. If she smoked, she’d be lighting up right now. Outcaste was THAT satisfying, despite my book hangover at work the next day from staying up all night reading. It’s worth it.

You can pre-order now by clicking here:

Cheri Reviews Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney

I picked this up from NetGalley a very long time ago and after it sat on my TBR list for a while, I couldn’t remember what it was about or why I had been intrigued enough to request it. When I came across the audio version and listened to a sample, I decided it was time to give it a shot. I’m so happy I did.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth….
The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.
Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when Angela is taken away from them in a most unexpected manner, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways…

This book isn’t the type I normally read. It’s a general fiction, leaning toward women’s fiction I suppose. No blood and guts (except for a cut finger), no edge of the seat action, no lesbian romance. Just a very well written, well narrated book whose characters will stay with me for some time to come. I can even see myself wanting to reread it in the future. The only thing I didn’t care for was the narrator’s American accent. It was pretty awful. But she kicked so much ass on every other part, I didn’t really even care.

I can’t fully describe how I felt while listening to this book. Even though there were a lot of POVs and it’s a long book (nearly 17 hours of listening), I stayed engaged and curious. I smiled and laughed and even had a knot in my gut a few times. No tears though. While we spend the most time with Angela, I grew to care about every other character nearly as much. Such a beautiful, flawed, and loving family. I’m going to miss Angela.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ebook copy.

You can download a sample or purchase Hello from the Gillespies by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

I enjoyed Behind Closed Doors quite a bit so when I saw the author had a new novel coming out, I immediately put in my request with NetGalley. Then, as always seems to happen, other things got in the way and I ended up listening to the audio book after publication. Yes, I know how ARCs are supposed to work… But on the bright side, I can say that the narrator did a great job. So there’s that.

I expected The Breakdown to be pretty much the same sort of book as Paris’s first but I was mistaken. Instead, it reminded me a lot of The Girl on the Train, which I also liked. I know. I hated every new thriller being compared to TGotT but this one really did have me thinking of it while reading. A murder and a woman trying to figure out what the hell is going on but can’t remember everything and doesn’t know who to trust. Not exactly the same but some of the same feel.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside―the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

The story is told from Cass’s POV and Paris did a great job of really getting me into her head. There’s lots of information about what makes this character tick without big info dumps. Although there is a good chunk toward the end where some nastiness is laid out that definitely felt like dumping and I was disappointed with the way it was all put out there. I get why but it put an end to the action of the story for a while as I got caught up with what had been happening behind the scenes.

I nearly forgot to mention that I was very frustrated toward the middle of the book by the number of times Cass would fret and worry about whether she should tell various people what she knows or suspects but, ultimately doesn’t. There were a few times when I yelled at the narrator to either do it or just shut up about it. It was too much.

As far as what was going on plot-wise, I had most of that figured out early on. There were, of course, some red herrings that made me second-guess myself but, for the most part, I was in there. The very end, however, I didn’t get right and was happily surprised. I won’t give anything away but I was pleased with the way the book ended and had a big smile on my face.

So that’s two for two. Both Behind Closed Doors and The Breakdown go on my “yep, I recommend it” list and I eagerly await whatever comes next from the author.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this one.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of The Breakdown by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Spark by Catherine Friend

Catherine Friend’s book The Spanish Pearl is one of my favorite lesbian novels so when I saw on NetGalley that there was a new time-traveling book coming out, I jumped on it. And I devoured it in one day.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Jamie Maddox is worried about her grip on reality. Has her consciousness really been transported back to 1560, landing in the body of Blanche Nottingham? Not good, since Blanche, a lady-in-waiting for Queen Elizabeth I, is plotting a murder. The other possibility that Jamie faces? She’s had a psychotic break that has trapped her in an Elizabethan fantasy while another personality—let’s call her Blanche—has taken control of Jamie’s life and is jeopardizing everything.

Jamie is repeatedly zapped back and forth between the present and 1560 (or in and out of that twisted fantasy). Betrayal, murder, thunderstorms, and two doctors complicate everything as Jamie and Blanche battle to control Jamie’s body. Just as Jamie is running out of both hope and time, help—and love—come from a most unexpected place.

Sounds pretty interesting, right? I thought so, too!

There were some similarities with The Spanish Pearl but once the book got going, the only real commonality was time-travel and being very entertaining. The POV stuck with Jamie Maddox (who, by the way, shares her name with another current Bold Strokes Books author) and through her we are given wonderful glimpses of Queen Elizabeth I, the intrigues of her court, and some pretty visceral descriptions of what life was like then. I laughed several times, cussed a few characters out, and truly had a great time while reading this book.

If you’ve read any of Catherine Friends work before and enjoyed it, I have no doubt you’ll love this one. If you haven’t read anything by the author, this is a good place to start. Oh, and see if you can catch Jamie’s nod to The Spanish Pearl.

A big thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review Spark. It certainly brightened my day. I’m still smiling.

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

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.