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 Reviews the Books of Sophia Kell Hagin

Every year since 2013, I’ve reread the last ten chapters of Whatever Gods May Be, starting with chapter twenty-three, which begins with “The instant she strode into the yard with the rest of the Red Cross team, Jamie noticed her, and noticed that she seemed to be a study in contradictions.”

Marine Jamie Gwynmorgan, a prisoner of war in a not-too-distant future conflict in Southeast Asia, meets Senator Lynn Hillinger. There follows non-stop action and consequences as Jamie leads a prison break and firefight through the jungle. The first twenty-two chapters of this book, by the way, are excellent as we follow Jamie from recruit to training to heart-breaking actions all the way to survival… to meeting Lynn. This novel isn’t a lesfic romance. However, Jamie has an undefined relationship with Lynn that is tender and love-centered and forged in crisis. There’s a moment when they first embrace that holds so much compassion that I cry alongside Jamie. This entire novel rests in my memory, but I seek out the book’s ending annually to re-live Jamie and Lynn meeting and persevering.

Then I re-read Shadows of Something Real cover-to-cover (or as we say these days, 0% to 100% on my kindle). In this middle book of the trilogy, I am flummoxed by how many women I love in this novel. Lynn and her wife Rebecca, their daughters Robin and Dana and Dana’s partner Lily, and Rebecca’s mother Mary. They all live together at Great Hill, a compound of very strong, smart, fierce women who are waiting for Jamie to realize she is family, too.

Shadows of Something Real is about the aftermath of war on 19-year-old 1st Lieutenant Jamie, the powerful corporations who underwrote the conflicts Jamie survived physically if not emotionally, and the battle for information intelligence and privacy that seems more true-to-life every year that I reread the book. What once seemed like paranoid future fantasy now seems like today’s almost reality, as if “near future” might be next week.

This novel is a thriller, but also a romance, so much the sweeter for Jamie after all she’s survived. Adele (Lily’s sister and just as bad-ass as the rest of the family) is the emotionally open woman Jamie needs. Thankfully, all these women are humanized by their flaws. Lynn admits to her own overconfidence and sometimes manipulations, Dana is briskly single-minded as she addresses security issues, and Jamie romanticizes Adele always being right in their relationship, when Adele is just as mistake-prone as us all.

This book is chock-full of evil politicians and corporations, high-tech gadgetry and life-and-death struggles. Highly recommended, even to folks who don’t tend toward massive woman crushes like me.

Which brings us to Omnipotence Enough, which has a killer of a set-up: 15 years after the events of Shadows of Something Real, Jamie wakes up in an unknown prison, subject to solitary confinement and at the mercy of armed custodian robots who use pharma and force to control her. Jamie’s been abducted off the street, and she has no idea how long she’s been imprisoned and if Adele and her family are close to rescuing her.

The point of view also switches in this last book to first person, as Jamie records her imprisonment into an audiostick. This ramps up the uncertainty and claustrophobia. I was equally delighted to return to Jamie’s world and fearful I’d not get to meet again Adele and Lynn and their family.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, but let’s just say that the themes of political evils-doers and powerful corporations continue from the previous books. What has changed is Jamie, a more mature and self-possessed woman navigating physical and mental recovery that’s all the more courageous for her shakiness.

Jamie survived so much over her life, and I so want her to find stable happiness. I think any lover of thrillers will enjoy Omnipotence Enough, but readers of the earlier books will feel a special investment in this last journey.

Well done, Sophia Kell Hagin. I look forward to your future novels, for the adrenaline and compassion and all the future woman crushes sure to come.

You can purchase or download samples of all of the books by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Artemis by Andy Weir

I was excited to get into this book when I got it from NetGalley. But then I got even more excited when I found out that Rosario Dawson was going to narrate it. She’s got a great voice. So I waited. What a fantastic job she did. She made Jazz and the rest of the characters come to life.

I was going to include the blurb but it’s long so I’ll give a quick summary without giving anything away.

Jazz Bashara is a woman who knows how to get what people want. She’s a super-smart smuggler with many skills. Sort of a less strong Xena, if you will, but much more straight and with lots of knowledge of science and metallurgy. When she agrees to pull off a job that will set her up for life, all hell breaks loose and she finds herself on the run.

If you read Weir’s previous book, The Martian, it shouldn’t surprise you that there’s lots of science going on in the story. Initially, I thought that aspect was pretty cool, but it did get to be a bit much for my non-scientist brain. It gave a lot of authenticity to the story but, after a while, I could feel my attention waiver until something else happened.

I guess I should get the things I didn’t care for out of the way and then I’ll get to the things that really worked for me.

Besides the heavy science-talk, I found a lot of what happened very predictable, especially the last several chapters. I was talking back to the narrator to let her know what was going to happen because, surely, Jazz should have figured it out by then. The only other thing I can think of right now is that some things were repeated that didn’t need to be. Just little things, but they still stood out to me. It’s a weird thing that my brain does that very well won’t bother the vast majority of readers but there you go…

Ok, now the good stuff! Weir builds Artemis so completely. Like I did with The Martian, I had to remind myself a few times that the city and characters were all pretend. Fantastic world building and Jazz is very well fleshed out. I was a bit sad when the book ended. I wanted to spend some more time with these people. And, of course, did I mention what a great job Rosario Dawson did?

Even with the little things that I didn’t love, I will still read this one again. I enjoyed it that much. And Jazz is a character I’ll want to spend more time with.

Big thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ebook. And thanks to Rosario Dawson and Audible for doing such a great job on the audio!

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

CAB Reviews Vagabond Heart by Ann Roberts

Let’s start with the blurb:

Contractor Quinn O’Sullivan has traveling in her blood. Her aunt is a famous travel writer while Quinn herself moves from one apartment complex to the next as her team remodels them.

When dear Aunt Maura kicks the bucket on her beloved Route 66, she leaves a dying request for Quinn—to take her on one last adventure.

Suda Singh is the total opposite of risk-taker Quinn. As an emergency room doctor, Suda is calm, methodical, and intuitive. But most of all, Suda is safe.

When the two women are thrown together by Quinn’s latest injury, Suda offers to accompany Quinn on the adventure of a lifetime.

Can Quinn and Suda find love, three cats, and the mysterious woman named Rain, all on America’s fabled highway—Route 66? Join Ann Roberts on this adventure of a lifetime in Vagabond Heart.

I’m going to admit that I am pretty negative when it comes to the “Romance” genre. Maybe it’s because I’m old and lately they all seem to be cut from the same cloth. The author looks up Romance Formula #127 and follows it. The character names change but, otherwise, it is what it is. So you’re asking yourself why did I even attempt to read this one? It was the sentence in the blurb: “When dear Aunt Maura kicks the bucket on her beloved Route 66, she leaves a dying request for Quinn—to take her on one last adventure.” Yeah that one; it grabbed my attention so I threw caution to the wind and said I’d read it.

I am so very glad that I did.

The story starts off with a bang and kept my interest all the way through. It’s been forever since I picked up a book that I had trouble putting down. This one could easily make it into my read again pile.

Reasons why:

Both Quinn and Suda are interesting characters and their interactions didn’t feel scripted or overplayed.

The author managed to weave in several real life xenophobic /bigotry issues which just made the characters feel like they were operating in real life without detracting from the story. In fact, I’d say it enhanced the story because we need to call more attention to these things.

I’ve never been on Route 66 but based on the descriptions and the adventure it’s on my bucket list moving forward.

I’d easily give this story 4.5 out of 5 stars. I could have given it 5 but I hated the character Rain.

This book was read in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase Vagabond Heart 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 Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

This is my third Scalzi book and he is now solidly my favorite science fiction author. Of course, I’ve not read a load of sci-fi books but, wow, this guy’s style and voice pull me in and won’t let me go.

The Collapsing Empire is the first in a new series that is filled with political intrigue, cool science stuff, personal conflicts, and plenty of bad-ass powerful women. Also very queer-friendly in a matter of fact way.

Here’s the blurb:

Our universe is ruled by physics. Faster than light travel is impossible—until the discovery of The Flow, an extradimensional field available at certain points in space-time, which can take us to other planets around other stars.

Riding The Flow, humanity spreads to innumerable other worlds. Earth is forgotten. A new empire arises, the Interdependency, based on the doctrine that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war—and, for the empire’s rulers, a system of control.

The Flow is eternal—but it’s not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well. In rare cases, entire worlds have been cut off from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that the entire Flow is moving, possibly separating all human worlds from one another forever, three individuals—a scientist, a starship captain, and the emperox of the Interdependency—must race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

From the prologue straight through to the last word, I was completely engrossed in the story. And Wil Wheaton’s narration is an added bonus. He did a stellar job. I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I already regretted knowing it would end and would be at least another 18 months until the next in the series is due to be released. I console myself with knowing that I’ll have to reread this one before diving into the sequel.

If you’re a science fiction fan, I highly recommend The Collapsing Empire. And if you’ve never really wanted to give the genre a shot, this might be a great launching off point.

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