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.

Corey, Kitty, and Sequella Review Catalyst by Fletcher DeLancey


Sequella: Wow, another sequel in the Chronicles of Alsea already. Amazing! Unfortunately it is still sitting untouched on my eReader.

Corey: What’s wrong with you? I’ve already read Catalyst, re-read Vellmar the Blade, and re-read Catalyst again. Or at least my favorite bits.

Sequella: Show-off! Real life is happening.

Kitty: And some nice alien bits there be. Also, Corey, you sound like a judgmental speed reader.

Corey: But… This is it! The novel that fills in all the adventures of Captain Ekatya Serrado and Dr. Lhyn Rivers out in the Universe while Lancer Tal and Bondlancer Salomen Opah were finding each other in the Without a Front books. And the framing is perfect: The first three days of the Alsean version of a honeymoon (“Alsean bonding break”) for Tal and Salomen in which family share stories –

Kitty: – and everyone avoids explaining to little brother Jaros why Tal’s neck looks like a treecat attacked her.

Sequella: So we get Tal and Salomen time? That makes me want to chuck real life out of the window and start reading immediately!

Corey: Right. Okay. So on one hand, all the shifting relationships amongst Ekatya, Tal, Lhyn, Lead Templar Lanaril Satran, and Lead Guard Vellmar are explored in the moment. On the other hand, Ekatya and Lhyn each share a wrenching story about their lives after the Voloth war described in the first Alsean book The Caphenon. A very early scene in which Ekatya helps Lhyn survive a PTSD-like episode lets us know she experienced something traumatic. And yes, it turns out to be VERY traumatic. Whew.

Sequella: How Sci-Fi is the book. Do we get new races? Societies?

Corey: Some of the tech aspects of FTL travel are explained (and felt), and you definitely get a dose of Space Opera political shenanigans and a military-style raid on a planet. Not so much world-building. I enjoyed the action, but my re-reads were all about the aftermath. So emotionally intense.

Sequella: Is this a book mainly about Ekatya and Lhyn, or is a new couple introduced, like it happens so often in Lesfic?

Kitty: Ahem. Dr. Wells.

Corey: Oh stop it, Kitty. You are so homosexist. Who knows who the ship’s chief surgeon is into? And there’s so much to learn about Ekatya, Lhyn, Tal. Salomen, Lanaril, and Vellmar… who needs new couples? One of my favorite moments is when Salomen points out to Tal that the Lancer doesn’t get to decide how to handle the connection between herself and Ekatya… That is something that involves all four women, including Lhyn. And the tensions between Ekatya and Lanaril are nasty intense. So awkward when your wife’s best friend makes you uncomfortable. Frankly, these books are developing into the ultimate friends-and-lovers-and-tyrees emotional mash-up. I adore it all.

Sequella: What about other kick-ass female characters?

Kitty: Dr. Wells…

Corey: Yes, Dr. Wells. But also so much more Lhyn, who is a warrior in her own way. I craved even more Lhyn. We finally get her perspective, but during such unusual and harrowing circumstances. Really, I wish I knew Ekatya and Lhyn as well as I feel I know Tal and Salomen.

Sequella: So Kitty and Corey, who of you liked the book better? Kitty, how many bookmarks did you place?

Corey: Oh, don’t get her started. Me, I highlighted 20 quotes that just made me squee and bookmarked 6 scenes for their (non-sexual) intensity. Basically, they make me cry or clutch my heart. The first time I read the book, the action sequences carried me along but I came back to re-read the emotions.

Kitty: I bookmarked two make-out scenes.

Corey: Sigh. Is that a spoiler? Bottom line, Sequella, is that life may be happening but you need to pause and go visit Alsea RIGHT NOW.

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

Cheri Reviews Cold to the Touch by Cari Hunter

Cari Hunter has done it again. I think this is my favorite of her works. I may say that after I read each book but it doesn’t make the statement less true. It means she continues to push the envelope with regard to the crimes and the characters and she does a fantastic job with it.

This episode of The Dark Peak series has Sanne, Nelson, and the rest of the crew chasing down a vicious serial killer. A killer who doesn’t get much media play until a more prominent member of the community is taken out. Meg is also dealing with some serious family issues and our favorite non-couple have their own set of problems that need to be worked out. Speaking of the romantic parts of the book, I swore at and declared my strong dislike for one character in particular several times. Ok, maybe two characters but I have to say that I was pleased with the way the book ended. That’s not giving away too much, is it?

I enjoyed the case, the characters, and the relationship. I liked it all. Combine that with the author’s fantastic writing skills and the superb editing and proofreading and it’s a winner! I was surprised, though, by just how bloody and graphic it was. I know that all of Hunter’s books have some blood and guts in them but this one seemed to take it to a new level. It wasn’t anything that I’d not seen loads of times in mainstream crime novels or thrillers but I guess I wasn’t expecting it. Honestly, it made me appreciate the writing just that much more. There were no parts of any crime scene descriptions that felt intentionally over the top or gratuitous and Sanne’s reactions to them were easy for me to relate to.

That’s probably one of the best things about this series: I can relate to the main characters and feel for them on a level that sometimes takes me by surprise. I like Meg and I can feel for her and understand her as a character but Sanne… Sanne moves me emotionally. I want to hold her and comfort her and protect her. I could go on and on but I won’t. What I will do is tell you, dear reader, that if you enjoy mysteries or thrillers or crime novels, you won’t be disappointed.

I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of Cold to the Touch by clicking here.

CAB Reviews Imperfect Truth by C. A. Popovich

Full disclosure, I picked this book up from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This following is the book blurb:

“Debra Johnson learned a valuable lesson when her pregnant lover left her for a man: Protect yourself at all costs. She made a list of requirements in a lover and uses it as a shield to protect her heart. At the top of her list is openness and honesty.

Alex Reed has to keep the secret of her federal witness protection program or risk her and her sister’s lives. She longs for a meaningful loving relationship but fears exposing a lover to danger.
Alex and Debra meet at a lesbian meet up group with intentions of only finding an event companion. Their undeniable attraction keeps getting in the way of that intention as Debra struggles to protect her heart and Alex her life.”

I admit it; I really wanted to like this book. I was intrigued by the premise but it turns out that was the only thing that was interesting. The pacing of the story is so slow that at the 50% mark I was contemplating ways to put myself out of my misery. Not to give away the plot but without exaggerating halfway through, all of the action consists of Debra consulting her “list” of requirements to be her friend let alone to date her. So when she’s not consulting the list to figure out how Alex is getting past her defenses, she’s complaining to anyone who will listen that Alex doesn’t trust her enough to tell her everything about who she is. A broken heart will make you whiney.

On the other hand you have Alex, who is in witness protection, and therefore unable to tell Debra about her past. She spends the first half of the book being paranoid and worrying how she can make any friends let alone meet a partner. Primarily worried about slipping up and sharing too much information.

At the 70% mark there was FINALLY some movement on the intrigue part of this story but by then I hated both characters and the only thing I found fascinating was the fact that I hadn’t clubbed myself to death with the book. I value my kindle too much to damage it that way. Ultimately, I invested more time into forcing myself to read this than I wish I had. What I find sad is I know I have read at least one other book by this author and it was a pleasant, easy beach read. This one seemed to lose its identity, torn between a romance and a thriller not quite making it on either front.

You can download a sample or purchase Imperfect Truth 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.

Cheri Reviews Departure from the Script by Jae


I’m late to the party a lot. It can take me years to finally read a book on my TBR list but, if I hear enough good things about it from folks I trust, I’ll get to it.

The Hollywood Series by Jae has been on that list for a mighty long time. It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of Jae’s historical fiction. I’ve read Backwards to Oregon more times than I can count – the sequels nearly as many times. Second Nature and the Portland Police Bureau series is another favorite. So I was pretty hopeful that I’d find another set of books to immerse myself in for a good long while.

Departure from the script is a quick read that focuses on Amanda Clark, aspiring actress, and photographer Michelle Osinski. They meet under less than ideal circumstances but quickly become close. As it happens in most romances, emotional and physical attractions happen fast!

The story, itself, was interesting. Even though the book is novella length, very unlike Jae, I felt connected to the characters. We don’t get a load of background on either of the leads but what we do get gives us a great idea of their histories and personalities. We even get to spend some time with the families as we really get to understand what’s important to each of them. I very much liked Amanda and Michelle.

The writing was good and the dialogue felt natural. These women felt like real folks and it’s always a joy to read a romance that has believable situations and genuine characters. There were no misunderstandings or exaggerated angst – I had not a single instance of wanting to shake the hell out of someone. I don’t think I had any bullshit moments, either. I think the only thing that got a sigh from me was the number of times physically and/or emotionally close moments were disturbed. Even the characters mention it at least once. But, honestly, I liked them and the story so much, it was very bearable.

If you’re a fan of Jae’s romances and haven’t read this one yet, you’ll probably enjoy it very much.

You can download a sample or purchase Departure from the Script by clicking here.