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 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.

Corey Reviews Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey


“Corey, are you avoiding posting this book review until after the sequel is published?”

“Maybe?”

“Coward.”

That, folks, is an actual conversation inside my head, because Fletcher DeLancey’s Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge is both a great novel and a horror of a cliff-hanger. You absolutely should read this novel RIGHT NOW, but please no threats of bodily harm if you finish it before Without a Front: The Warrior’s Challenge is published in late November 2015.

Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge continues the Chronicles of Alsea that began with the series’ first novel The Caphenon. And yes, you should also read The Caphenon first. Not only is it excellent science-fiction and world-building, but you’ll also want to get to know the main characters and plot lines developing up to Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge.

Oh I love this book.

Lancer Andira Tal and the people of Alsea are recovering from the psychological and physical damage from fighting off the Voloth, as well as grappling with the profound changes new technologies such as matter printers bring to their society. Lancer Tal faces intrigue within the High Council and hidden pain within her own heart now that Captain Ekatya Serrado and Lhyn Rivers are far across the universe.

I appreciated the return of secondary characters such as Lead Templar Lanaril Satran. As Lanaril reveals more about her beliefs and her intellect and compassion, she’s becoming lodged in my heart. I really hope the author has plans for her by, oh say, book 7 in the series or sooner.

When Salomen Opah of the Producer Caste challenges Lancer Tal to live and work at Hol-Opah in order to better understand the impact of rapid societal changes on ways of life outside the cities, the novel builds a relationship worthy of two very strong and very different women. Of course you will root for them to overcome obstacles, but I must salute the author for creating a real dilemma to their joining.

Nothing annoys me more than silly, flimsy misunderstandings between lead characters… the kind that make you throw up your hands and yell at the page, “Will the two of you just TALK to each other? Geez.” In this novel, the two women’s dilemma is legit. And also the basis of some scrumptious, teasing physical interactions. But still… legit. Oh, just go read the darn book and find out for yourself.

Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge is not just about the romance, however. A political intrigue plot builds chapter-by-chapter and leads to that cracking great ending. Folks, IT IS WORTH IT. Please, no one hurt Fletcher DeLancey… We want her healthy enough to finish editing the next book in the series. So no reader violence, please, and just enjoy the sexy alien neck ridges. Mmmmm.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge by clicking here.

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.

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.