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 Strawberry Summer by Melissa Brayden

It’s been a couple years since I read a book by Melissa Brayden. I’ve enjoyed a few of her older books but her newer books seemed to be filled with characters that sounded so much alike that I couldn’t have told them apart without dialogue tags. I’ve always thought the author was a good storyteller but that wasn’t enough for me anymore. So what changed my mind and got me to give it another try? I’d heard from a couple of friends that this book was different; the characters each had their own distinct voices. That’s it. That’s all it took. So I requested a copy from NetGalley and cautiously began.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Just because you’re through with your past, doesn’t mean it’s through with you.

Margaret Beringer didn’t have an easy adolescence. She hated her name, was less than popular in school, and was always cast aside as a “farm kid.” However, with the arrival of Courtney Carrington, Margaret’s youth sparked into color. Courtney was smart, beautiful, and put together—everything Margaret wasn’t. Who would have imagined that they’d fit together so perfectly?

But first loves can scar.

Margaret hasn’t seen Courtney in years and that’s for the best. But when Courtney loses her father and returns to Tanner Peak to take control of the family store, Margaret comes face-to-face with her past and the woman she’s tried desperately to forget. The fact that Courtney has grown up more beautiful than ever certainly doesn’t help matters.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that this book takes over as my favorite of Brayden’s books. I was a huge fan of Heart Block but this one steals the prize.

The characters were a joy to read and get to know. Maggie’s family is loving, supportive, and charming. They’re the family we all wish we had, through good times and bad. Maggie is flawed and mostly self-aware, even though she counters it with denial, she’s not maddening about it. I was never overcome with the desire to shake her or Courtney and yell at them for making stupid choices or not talking to each other.

The first person POV was well-done and Maggie was a very real, human, complex character. It was a joy to be with her as she grew and dealt with joy and pain. As a matter of fact, all of the characters that we spend more than a few minutes with had depth and this made Maggie’s experience – our experience in her head – more engaging. I also think the structure of the story was a big success. Stories told in two different time frames can give a reader whiplash but that’s not an issue here at all.

There were even some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, which is always a bonus. And an even bigger bonus is that I don’t believe I had a single bullshit-calling moment. All in all, this book has everything that I require for a spot on the “I’m in a funk and need to re-read a favorite book” list. And that’s something I didn’t expect when I started reading it.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bold Strokes Books for the opportunity to read and review this one. I’m very glad they did.

You can download a sample or purchase Strawberry Summer by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Capturing Forever by Erin Dutton


I’ve been following Erin Dutton since she first started publishing. I truly loved Fully Involved and A Place to Rest but have been disappointed to varying degrees by the rest. I’ve read all of her books with the exception of For the Love of Cake. When I saw that Capturing Forever dealt with a long-term couple who had separated but are now interacting with each other again, I decided to give it a shot. I’m one half of a long-term couple and like to see folks work out their issues to come back together. I also like that the plot is something different from the norm; a rebuilding and repairing rather than the excitement and unknown of the first time.

Here’s the blurb:

Jacqueline Knight is driven and ambitious, always focused on getting to the top. But when her father’s failing health demands her attention, she must consider putting her career on hold. Though she struggles with her new responsibilities, she won’t admit she can’t do it alone. And the last person she wants to accept help from is her ex, Casey.

Since their breakup eight years before, Casey Meadow s has concentrated on co-parenting their son and making a new life for herself. While she’s happy to offer her help, spending time with Jacqueline threatens to open the box in which she’s locked away their past relationship.

Will the lessons learned in eight years apart be enough to mend the mistakes of the past?

I was drawn in pretty quickly and came to care about the main characters, Casey and Jacqueline. The blurb, I think, is misleading though because Jacqueline very quickly accepts Casey’s help and comes to rely on her. They become a team in taking care of the man that Casey considers her own surrogate father since she lost her parents many years earlier. Throw into the mix their twenty year old son, Sean, a mutual good friend, Casey’s jealous girlfriend, and Jacqueline’s casual sex partner and there’s plenty of drama and potential obstacles to our leads reconnecting as friends, let alone anything deeper.

I was happy and feeling like the author had recaptured the story telling that made me such a fan early on. That is, however, until I got to about 80% in. At that point, Jacqueline’s feelings of self-pity and her inability to talk about the biggest thing that she felt stood in their way got to be too much for me. I don’t want to go into it too much for fear of spoilers but it was the same thing we see so much of in romance novels: intentional lack of communication for use as a plot device when it doesn’t feel authentic.

Along with the communication issues, the conclusion was rushed. All of the important stuff about the relationship and how they were going about making the problems of the past not follow them into a new relationship were glossed over in a couple of paragraphs as narrative instead of letting us see the changes. More attention was given to how seeing each other in different outfits made them aroused than how they were actually making it work. I cared about the characters and their relationship and wanted to experience them fixing the things that tore them apart, not to have it all neatly wrapped up for me. I remember feeling this way about several of the author’s books over the past few years.

So, while I went into the book with low expectations based on the past few books, I was very pleasantly surprised with the first 70% or so and then completely let down by the last 30%. The plot was predicable – I called nearly everything that was going to happen within the first few chapters – and I would have been ok with that if the conclusion hadn’t been so rushed and the communication issues would have felt legitimate.

If you enjoyed the author’s previous work, you’ll very likely be happy with this one. I’m sure I’ll read more from Dutton in the future, and probably pick up For the Love of Cake at some point, too. I can’t seem to help myself.

I received a copy of Capturing Forever from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase Capturing Forever by clicking here.

Nikki reviews Wishbone by Elaine Burnes


Meg Myers is an animal control officer in the Boston area who spends her time having unemotional sexual flings with nameless women and dodging her alcoholic mother. We follow Meg as she navigates a string of emotional experiences, some positive and negative, while trying to find where she fits in the world.

This story actually didn’t pull me in for quite a while. I was starting to wonder if I would just be following around this woman while she investigated possible turkey murders and the occasional injured deer. However once it got going, it became very intriguing. In great chunks of the book, we are following Meg as she encounters different women in her life, all helping to guide her into being the woman she didn’t know she could be. All were necessary for her growth, for different reasons. We see her gift with abused/unwanted animals, but she doesn’t recognize how her work with these animals mirrors her own needs, and highlights the treatment she should have received from a damaged system in her youth. She only sees her propensity for violence as a negative, as opposed to what it really is, her desperate need to lash out at the unfairness of the world, and the injustice faced by so many innocent children that the system continues to fail.

The characterizations are really well done, with fully fleshed-out primary and secondary characters. One of my very favorite characters is a transgender female, whose parents are having a difficult time accepting her for who she truly is. It is rare that books have a believable transgender character, and I was sad she wasn’t in more of the book. However, she did fulfill a very important role, so I’m glad she got the attention and respect she deserved by the author. Honestly there were several secondary characters that I wanted to see more of, but once they moved on I only heard of them in passing. I wish there was more from them, as they all had such big impacts on Meg’s life, and brought interesting textures to the story. However I recognize that would have made the book gargantuan.

As for the familial discord faced by Meg throughout,  I felt as though rehashing the past abuse and neglect, in addition to her troubles with her mother, became a bit repetitive. Yes, I completely understand the need for this, but at some point I started skimming through those sections as I didn’t feel they brought anything new to the narrative. The book was long enough that I believe some of this could have been trimmed to make it a more efficient story. That being said, this was overall a well done book, once it finally picked up some momentum, and by the end I was glad I stuck with it.

Also FAIR WARNING this book should come with a *trigger: a dog dies* disclaimer. Meg is an animal control officer, so she experiences her fair share of animal investigations, but some were difficult to read about. If that’s a deal breaker for you, it’s better you know that now!

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

Nikki reviews Time of Our Lives by Jane Waterton


This book brings the reader into an all-lesbian retirement community in Austraila called OWL Haven. Here we meet a cast of characters all learning to live again after deciding to embark on some big life changes. Some are here for health reasons, some because of loneliness, others for the sense of community they so desperately need, building a family with each other they didn’t expect to find again.

Although a true ensemble piece with a multitude of characters (that can be quite funny together) most of the story centers around six women. Meg and Allie have been best friends for decades, Pat and Bella are dealing with a resurgence of cancer, while Daphne and Swallow (character’s name, not sure why) are finding unexpected love late in life. There are somewhat serious issues these women are having to deal with, their journeys coming with substantial bumps in the road. Even though most admit by this age they should probably know better than make the mistakes they do, they still manage to screw up a good thing on more than one occasion. They taught me the art of communication is something you never stop learning, even with decades of relationship experience under your belt.

This book isn’t without flaws, as some characters had responses that felt a little out of character for how they were presented throughout. Some instances made me wish Allie, Daphne and Pat would get smacked over the head a few times for their emotional immaturity and lack of self-awareness. However, these friends were all adorable together, had each others backs (even when they didn’t want them to) and made me laugh with their antics throughout. A sweet story about women in the twilight of their lives, and I’m glad I read it. Those of you I’ve heard complaining about the lack of romance storylines for women of a certain age, pick this one up as there’s plenty to warm your heart cockles.

You can download a sample or purchase Times of our Lives by clicking here.

Nikki reviews Your Little Red Book by EJ Runyon


From the blurb: Alexis, a broke young artist with problems reading and writing, keeps her little red book close at all times. It holds her life. She wants to be sure she’s gotten it all down as it comes. She narrates to herself in illegible script, unaware of her unique style of recording her own world. Here we have one half of a She said/She said scenario. Maureen, a successful owner of a small chain of Art Supply stores, catches Alexis in her store with a pocket full of stolen tubes of paint. And she’s smitten from first glance. Knowing all too well the pitfalls ahead, Mo wants only to help. Only for a while. Only in any way she can. No one told her she’d have to fight nearly every step of the way. And therein lays the other half of said scenario.

Lexy meets Maureen by attempting to steal art supplies from her shop, which begins a bit of a tumultuous romance between the two that neither expected. Their alliance is somewhat unbalanced, with Lexy wanting to be worthy of attention and happiness, but not quite sure how to get there herself.

Lexy keeps a little red book and always scribbles in it, always in indecipherable code which is never explained. Is she illiterate? Severely dyslexic? I have no idea. Her second person pov is indescribably done in future tense, which feels almost as though the red book is telling her how to interact to scenarios, how other people will respond. Instead of what IS happening it’s all stated as what WILL happen. I assumed at some point this would have some fascinating twist explaining WHY this choice was made but that never happened. Is she hearing voices? Does she think the book is talking to her? Are there little green men? That would have all been viable options, but it was just left as it was without any justification for the pov choice. Maureen’s chapters are done in first person, and often rehashes what we’ve already experienced in Lexy’s pov, or vice versa. Additionally, Maureen has a difficult relationship with her daughter, and you never really can tell if her relationship with Lexy is to compensate for this loss or a truly genuine love.

By the end, I didn’t really find the characters particularly likable and couldn’t see what Maureen and Lexy saw in each other. A lot of the story was somewhat difficult to discern, and many passages I needed to re-read several times before moving on (and often still didn’t get it but I just kept going anyway). There seemed to be a lot that the author counted on the reader figuring out themselves, obscure connections that I just couldn’t follow. This and Lexy’s unconventional pov was just all too much to wade through for me.

You can download a sample or purchase Your Little Red Book by clicking here.