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.

Cheri Reviews Edenland by Wallace King


I’m definitely one who enjoys historical fiction. When I saw Edenland listed on NetGalley, I decided to take a chance. Here’s the blurb from Amazon, if you’re interested:

Born a slave, Bledsoe had never left Our Joy plantation, and a daring escape offers his only chance for liberty. On the run he encounters Alice, an Irish indentured servant, committing what appears to be an act of murder as she burns down a shack in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina.

Faced with the threat of capture, Bledsoe and Alice become reluctant allies. An epic tale unfolds as their quest for freedom pulls them from swamp to city, from North Carolina to Virginia. Somewhere between injustice and loss, they discover a hidden place that seems an Eden, where their bond and love are forged.

But the Confederate army is on the march and soon tramples their tenuous freedom. Separated, they are cast into fates they never imagined. Through it all, the hope of deliverance drives them onward and the memory of their Edenland remains, burning bright against the darkness of slavery and the American Civil War.

I had pretty high hopes for this book but they didn’t pan out. I feel like I dredged through each of the 466 pages as if moving through molasses. There were a few entertaining sections, usually having to do with Alice being completely inappropriate or bumbling, but beyond that, the characters moved from place to place, encounter people, conflict ensues, and they’re off again – sometimes together, sometimes apart.

Besides the slowness of the telling, I never felt the chemistry or connection between Bledsoe and Alice. I don’t recall them ever genuinely liking each other or getting along and then, boom, they’re in love. Or maybe just Alice was in love since Bledsoe seemed fairly unfazed by their separation. Regardless, it didn’t feel legitimate to me at all. Neither did the many coincidences that happened throughout.

If you’re looking for a sweeping adventure or action-packed journey through the south during the civil war, this isn’t it. It was interesting to experience what life was like for various types of people during the era but it was a slog for me.

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

If you’re still interested, you can pick it up on Amazon through the Kindle Unlimited program which includes the audible version. The narrator does a good job except I increased the speed because he reads incredibly slowly. Which, of course, didn’t help the slow-moving story…

Cheri Reviews A Queer Kind of Justice by Rebecca S. Buck


For the past several years, I’ve participated in an A-Z title challenge, a challenge I have consistently failed to complete. It almost always comes down to the evil letters Q, X, and Z. This, the fifth year, I was determined to succeed. On December 30th, I found myself with just the letter Q left. It was the closest I’d ever come to reading a book starting with every letter of the alphabet so I set off on my quest to find a book I could read in just a few hours since I had family commitments for New Years Eve. The first place I looked was my collection of comics and graphic novels because, obviously, they’re short. When that didn’t pan out, I hit my bloated NetGalley list and found the perfect book for the occasion: A Queer Kind of Justice. I’ve read a few of Rebecca S. Buck’s books and already know that I enjoy her style and the topic of the book intrigued me. Here’s the blurb if you’re interested:

A diverse cast of lesbian, bi, and trans women, on both sides of the bars and through the centuries, find life-changing moments of love, hope, fear, excitement, passion, desperation, and inspiration. Prison. The very word sends shivers of fear through the soul. A place of gloom and shadows, where freedom is taken, humanity is lost. A place of cruelty and pain, of claustrophobia, soul-searching, and waiting. A place where guilt and innocence fade away, identity is transformed, and the voice that cries in the darkness is no longer heard. One aspect of human existence that has endured through the centuries: incarceration, implied guilt, punishment. But when all is lost, so much can be gained. It is in prison that the colours of freedom become sharper and brighter, more alluring because they are distant. It is here that impossible relationships become reasonable, that hopes are kindled by a word or a glance. It is where senses are heightened, as alert to danger as to love, to fear as to passion. It is where everything is at once ordered and disordered—and queer is only relative.

I wasn’t disappointed at all. Not only could I read through the short stories quickly but each one of them was different and interesting, focusing on various events and periods of time, as well as different aspects of being LGBTQ. I found each unique story engaging, entertaining, but also informative. I particularly liked the text from the author at the end of each story giving a bit more about the time or characters, some of which I did know a bit about.

If you enjoy historical fiction, I definitely recommend this book. And it starts with Q so that’s a big bonus for those of you who participate in A-Z challenges! Thank you, Ms. Buck, for helping me to finish my challenge with a well-written, well-researched, super entertaining book.

I was given a copy by the publisher quite a while ago through NetGalley for review. Yes, I’m very bad at timely reviews. Very bad.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of A Queer Kind of Justice by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly


As soon as I saw that Lilac Girls was about prisoners at Ravensbrück, I requested it for review. I had previously read Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein and wanted to get another perspective on the same place.

I’m not going to include the blurb here but you can click on the book cover above and it’ll take you to the listing on Amazon if you want to read it. The book is told from three different points of view: Caroline Ferriday, a middle-aged socialite who lives off her family money and volunteers with the French Consulate in NYC; Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish Catholic teen; and Dr. Herta Oberheuser, a young Nazi doctor. I don’t want to give away anything that happens but I had some very serious problems with this book.

It’s obvious that the author did a tremendous amount of research and she goes into some of that in the afterword. Unfortunately, I thought that much of what she wanted to convey to the reader ended up taking on the form of info dumps through the characters filling in what was happening with the war or the locations. It didn’t feel like it was a natural part of the narrative.

The book also felt disjointed. For more than half of it, Caroline is solidly concerned with France and her married, would-be boyfriend, Paul, while Kasia and Herta are entrenched in the rise of Nazism and life in Ravensbrück. There was no connection at all. I couldn’t, and still don’t, understand why so much time was given to Caroline’s character. She spent most of her chapters complaining about how her rich and idle peers treated her, whining about Paul being married, and later, upset and pouting about his wife not actually being dead. I found her to be a very unlikable character. Her issues compared to the women in the other parts of the book were trivial and she made me want to stop reading before I hit the halfway mark.

Kasia’s POV was the only one that seemed to have any depth at all. If the whole book would have focused on her and her family, I think I would have enjoyed it much more. Her eagerness to do something to help the resistance, her later guilt at having put her family in danger, and finally what follows toward the end of the book could have been deepened and expanded to grab me and teach me something and make me feel connected to her and the other rabbits. But as it was, I felt like we just barely scratched the surface of her character.

The person I wanted to know so much more about was Herta. We’re allowed to share some brief experiences with her as a teen and a young woman, desperate to succeed and be recognized in her field but after her first day at Ravensbrück, we get very little else from her perspective.  She was given very little depth and it was impossible to understand how she could go from being physically ill and protesting the idea of killing a prisoner to the woman she was by the end of the book. Why give her a point of view at all if not to allow the reader to experience her thoughts and feelings and help us to understand her? And there was no resolution at all unless you listen to the afterword. I was the most disappointed in the way this character was handled. I would have rather she had not had a POV and was left as someone we learned about through Kasia instead of being teased with the possibility of gaining insight only to be left wanting.

I haven’t read any other reviews or looked at any individual ratings but I have seen that the average is pretty darn high. But this book just didn’t work for me on any level. After listening to the author talk about her journey in writing the book (I bought the audiobook after it came out and read it that way instead of the ebook I got from NetGalley), I know she wanted to tell the world about Caroline and her work with the Rabbits and her other charity work. But I think it would have been more effective as a biography. As it was, I felt Caroline was a shallow, self-interested woman who did a lot for others but was still more concerned with her appearances and position, while not learning nearly enough about the other two featured characters.

For readers who are interested in a more immersive read about characters at Ravensbrück, I highly recommend Rose Under Fire.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing me with the ebook ARC of Lilac Girls in exchange for an honest review.

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.