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 The 7th Canon by Robert Dugoni

When I saw a new stand-alone novel by Robert Dugoni on, I couldn’t help but click “request.” I had already finished the first 3.5 (three novels and a short story) in his Tracy Crosswhite series and enjoyed most of them quite a bit. You can check out my review for the first in the series here.

The thing that I’ve discovered about Dugoni is that he can be very hit or miss with the execution of his stories. Sometimes they can be fast paced and intense and other times slow or have convoluted plots where detectives are able to deduce solutions out of what feels like nowhere. I’ve learned to be cautious with my expectations when it comes to this author. His newest release, The 7th Canon, was on the fast paced and intense side and it may be my favorite of the Dugoni books that I’ve read.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon if you care to read it:

In San Francisco’s seamy Tenderloin district, a teenage street hustler has been murdered in a shelter for boys. And the dedicated priest who runs the struggling home stands accused. But despite damning evidence that he’s a killer—and worse—Father Thomas Martin stands by his innocence. And attorney Peter Donley stands with him.

For three years Donley has cut his legal teeth in his uncle’s tiny, no-frills firm, where people come before profits. Just as Donley is poised to move on to a lucrative dream job, the shocking case lands in his lap, and he must put his future on hold while putting his courtroom skills to the test. But a ruthless DA seeking headlines and a brutal homicide cop bent on vengeance have their own agendas. Now, as he unearths the dirty secrets surrounding the case, Donley must risk his neck to save his client’s life…and expose the face of true evil.

I found myself liking Peter Donely quite a bit. He’s not the idealistic, young attorney out to save the world but a father and husband trying to figure out how to make a better life for his wife and toddler son. Once I got past the first few chapters, I struggled to put the book down because the story kept unfolding and I was completely caught up in not only the case, but learning about the lives of Donely and the private detective, Frank Ross, both of whom have dark days in their pasts that won’t let them move on.

At the end of the book, I was satisfied with the outcome of the case and where the characters ended this leg of their journey. If this ends up being a series, I would happily pick up book two. There is an audio version of this one but I’ve not heard any of it so I can’t speak to the narrator. I read this one with a combination of my eyeballs and a text-to-speech app.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase The 7th Canon by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Backcast by Ann McMan

It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Ann McMan for a long time – both as an author and as a human being. I’ve read nearly all of her books and have enjoyed them to varying degrees but this one, Backcast, is, in my opinion, her best work yet.

The book covers what happens when thirteen women, most of them authors of lesfic, come together to participate in an artistic endeavor. Throughout the book, we’re treated to plenty of funny and thought-provoking scenes and revelations while following the various characters over their two-week adventure in writing, relationship-building, and, for a few, fishing.

For me, the best and most important parts of this book are the essays each participant writes giving glimpses into their pasts. I’ve said it before and I stand by this statement: Ann McMan writes serious and touching fiction. Yes, the woman is hilarious with great timing and wordsmithing but her ability to get to the souls of the characters and strip them bare is incredible. The thirteen essays included as part of Backcast touched me and, several hours after finishing the book, continue to weigh on my mind. We’re not told who wrote which essay and, while I was able to figure a few out, I plan to go back and read them again. Partially to figure out who each belongs to but mostly because I want to take my time with them and truly absorb them. They are that good, that real.

I had received an ebook copy from Bywater Books for review and then received a signed copy as part of a donation to Lambda Literary in honor of our friend, Sandra Moran, and, later, after a recommendation regarding the audiobook, purchased a copy from Audible. The audiobook is how I finally decided to finish the book and I’m happy I did. The narrator does a pretty good job. Although, I’m sure the author would have created a fantastic narration herself. Maybe for the next book. Which I hope will hold even more serious investigation of the human condition because I truly believe that is where this author shines.

So, if you haven’t already, give Backcast a shot. Even if you don’t dig the essays as much as I did, Phoebe and the CLIT Con Thirteen will make it worth the price all on their own.

You can download a sample or purchase Backcast by clicking here.

The Bookgeek reviews Nightingale by Andrea Bramhall

While the West is continuously moving along to emancipate women and give them full equality, this is not true for a now sizable niche of immigrants from countries where the grip of patriarchy is often shrouded in religious, fundamentalist cloth is still the norm. We usually choose to ignore female genital mutilation performed right at our doorsteps, “honor” killings of women, forced arranged marriages, or sharia courts in the middle of our oh-so-enlightened society which take for granted and enforce the inequality of women. And the status of gay rights in those alternative communities is even worse.

Andrea Bramhall, the recent recipient for a Lambda Literary Award for her romance Clean Slate focuses her newest novel Nightingale on this “niche”. There are two strands of her story – “now” in Pakistan and “then” in England. The two story lines adroitly tell the love story of Hazaar and Charlie. Hazaar whose name means Nightingale in Urdu, is of Pakistani origin and, with the help of her doting father, escapes the family obligations, i.e. marrying and being an obedient wife. She was raised in Great Britain and studies music at a British university. This is where she meets Charlie. It is lust and love at first sight for both of them. But whereas Charlie lives openly as a lesbian and has an accepting family who embraces her new girlfriend, Hazaar lives a secret double-life. She plans to break with her family and especially her father, whom she loves dearly, eventually to live with Charlie, but life intervenes.

Years later Charlie is a skilled and slightly maverick negotiator with the British embassy in Pakistan. Her task is to help along with kids from Pakistani-British marriages or females who have been abducted to live in Pakistan under a very different set of values and laws. And with a single phone-call her sweet love story from her university years comes to life again. A new story, at times brutal and unsparingly told, unfolds of the life of a once British-educated woman now living under the age-old patriarchal rules which make her life vanish behind the walls of her husband’s house.

Hazaar’s and Charlie’s lives collide again and although this is a romance, this part of the book will have readers sit at the edge of their chair, nail-biting and repeating the mantra “thank Goddess for having been born as a Westerner into the 21st century”.

The story is well-told and with a doting Pakistani father doesn’t buy into the cliche of the evil Muslim father selling of his brow-beaten daughters into forced marriages. But it doesn’t put a varnish either on the contempt for women’s rights and the role of women in fundamentalist, patriarchal societies. Bramhall describes very well how torn Hazaar is as a young woman between the two worlds, modern and ancient. Without judgement she makes us understand Hazaar’s view of the world. However, she paints a bleak picture of traditional Pashtun society and its connection to the Taliban and seeing what happened to Malala Yousafzai (whose father is also very proud of her achievements) she is – as far as a Western reader can fathom this alien world – spot-on.

Andrea Bramhall put out a book which, although it contains a love-story, is difficult to be labelled as a romance. It is in the form a romance-cum-thriller a thought-provoking exploration beyond the curtains the genre of lesbian fiction usually accepts for itself. It is a story about a world divided, one where women have rights and another where they are suffocated and dominated by males, power-abuse and what not. The story stayed with me for days thinking about the fate so many women in our midst have to accept because we choose to look elsewhere, because we maybe don’t want to look too closely at what happens in the middle of our free societies.

There is a great cast of secondary characters to support the brilliant protagonists, the writing is superb and the editing well-done. If there is a small quibble, it is for me the hot sex in this book. Well written and enjoyable, it might still be something which could make it difficult to place this book e.g. into the hands of immigrants for whom even a chaste kiss on television is scandalous, let alone a full-blown sex scene (thanks to Ahmed, the Pashtun, who educated me about this many years ago in Delhi).

So let me recommend Nightingale to anyone, lesbian or feminist, who would like to read a thought-provoking, well-written novel about the clash of cultures happening on a daily bases right where we live.

You can download a sample or purchase Nightingale by clicking here.

Sunny Reviews Nudge by Sandra Moran

I finished reading Nudge by Sandra Moran over a week ago, but I’ve been holding off writing this review because I really want it to be worthy of the book. I probably should have turned this one over to another reviewer with a more eloquent vocabulary and better grasp of such thought provoking subjects. It’s a book with lots of what I like to call thinky-thoughts. It’s also a book I highly recommend. I may not be the most articulate reviewer, but I know good writing when I read it.

I also try really hard when writing a review to avoid spoilers. There are parts of this book that will be very hard to discuss without giving away some of the mystery, but I’ll do my best not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it. I’m giving you fair warning: there may be minor spoilers ahead. On that note, if you decide not to read any further than this paragraph, let me just say that this is an incredibly thought provoking book and I really enjoyed it. Go read it. Soon. Then come back here and discuss it with me!

On to the book… Sarah Sheppard is a New York advertising executive who is approached by a mysterious visitor asking her, at the request of God (also known as Infinity by those in the inner circle), to write, edit, and market to the masses an addendum to the world’s religious texts. The Addendum, as it becomes officially known, is to be an addition to the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, etc., to bring the world up-to-date on happenings and events after those original texts were written. Sarah, of course, thinks this is one big joke and refuses the offer. Things begin to happen, just as her mysterious visitor predicts they would, that baffle Sarah and make her second guess her decision. Then really strange things begin to happen that convince Sarah that she’s dealing with something beyond her level of comprehension. Oh, did I mention that Sarah is an atheist? Yeah, there is that little fact that really makes things interesting for her. She ends up begrudgingly signing a comprehensive contract to take on this daunting task, and is then whisked off to a remote estate in upstate New York. There she joins other scholars and theologians hand-picked in various fields of expertise to help her in her mission.

The book begins with a prologue that is really the final scene, so you sort of know where things are going to end up right off the bat. Sort of. When we actually get to that scene, we learn a lot more, but I found it to be a really interesting way to start off the book. I was amazed at the amount of research that went into this story as well as the amount of historical knowledge that was imparted in what I found to be a very interesting and palatable way. I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction, but this was done in a way that made it very readable and contributed a lot to the story. There are a lot of amusing little tidbits that make the book relatable and bring about a few chuckles. For instance, Sarah has daily meetings with Infinity via speakerphone much like Charlie ‘appeared’ to his Angels. Oh, and butter rum lifesavers… you’ll see.

I happened to see another short review of this book that criticized it because it wasn’t a ‘lesfic romance’ as the reader had expected. I could take issue with down-grading a rating just because a book wasn’t what you expected, rather than judging it on what it actually is, but that’s another discussion for another day. However, it prompts me to give you another warning: if you’re expecting hearts, flowers, and romance, you won’t really find that here. What you will find, behind its really cool cover art, is a very well-crafted tale that may make you question your own beliefs and wonder if people really are who they say they are.

So, what are you waiting for? Here’s a nudge: go read this book!

You can download a sample or purchase Nudge by clicking here.

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

The Children of Mother Glory by C. M. Harris

The summary on Bella’s site didn’t excite me much so I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it for the book group in which I sometimes participate. I’m not a religious person at all – I still refer to myself as being on God Strike, much to the dismay of my close friend who is also a Jehovah’s Witness. But that was only part of it for me. I wasn’t very keen on incorporating the GBT into my L reading. I know, that’s bad of me, but I’ve sort of gotten into this lesbian romance rut and it can be hard to break out of. But I’m so happy that I finally decided to read this.

The Children of Mother Glory was a great read. From beginning to end, I was completely involved in the stories. Each of them held my attention and drew me in – even when I didn’t want to care, I still did. When I was about halfway through, I had a hard time explaining to my wife just what the book was about. I think I can do a better job now but you will probably still want to check out the synopsis on the author’s site and on Bella’s site. In a nutshell, these four stories cover the LGBT spectrum for specific periods between 1909 and 2007 (I think it was 2007 – don’t have my copy handy to check and I didn’t write it down in my notes.) Each of the stories deals with members of the Potter Church, or Potterites, who are a pretty strict sect of Christianity. The church demands a lot of it’s followers and they take it very seriously. You can get the specifics about each story from one of the links above so I’m going to get into my review.

The four stories in the book are interrelated, all coming back to Mother Glory and Emma. It was nice to see the characters from the previous stories come up again throughout the book. One of the unique things about this book is that the individual tales aren’t wrapped up neatly at the end of their sections. The reader gets more of the tale in the parts that follow. I also thought the author changing tense and point of view was an interesting change. The first two were told in the past tense, third person. The third, set in the 1980’s, is told in first person, past tense, and the final is told in present tense, third person. It immediately made me wonder if the segment in the ’80’s perhaps relates more to the author. I guess I’ll ask her when she joins the book group tomorrow. Looking forward to that…

I highly recommend this book. I found the entire work interesting, different, and very well written. I do want to point out that one of the things that made it refreshing for me was that it was not a romance at all. There is physical intimacy in each of the stories but I wouldn’t classify this as a romance. I see it as a study of some of the issues LGBT people have had to deal with over the past 100 years or so. The religious aspect brought us a community of people to read about but it wasn’t the only thing that brought us all together.