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 The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

I started this book last year sometime and put it away. It just didn’t grab me. I received a copy through the publisher, via, and started immediately. But after two sittings, I put it down and promptly forgot about it. It stayed on my “quit but will go back” shelf until a few weeks ago when I saw the audio book was available at the library and decided it was time to give it another shot. This time around, with the help of a couple of pretty good narrators, I was able to stick with it.

Here’s the blurb:

The town of Henbane sits deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks there still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother, a bewitching stranger who appeared long enough to marry Carl Dane and then vanished when Lucy was just a child. Now on the brink of adulthood, Lucy experiences another loss when her friend Cheri disappears and is then found murdered, her body placed on display for all to see. Lucy’s family has deep roots in the Ozarks, part of a community that is fiercely protective of its own. Yet despite her close ties to the land, and despite her family’s influence, Lucy—darkly beautiful as her mother was—is always thought of by those around her as her mother’s daughter. When Cheri disappears, Lucy is haunted by the two lost girls—the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t save—and sets out with the help of a local boy, Daniel, to uncover the mystery behind Cheri’s death.

What Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills, and beyond that horrific revelation is a more personal one concerning what happened to her mother more than a decade earlier.

The Weight of Blood is an urgent look at the dark side of a bucolic landscape beyond the arm of the law, where a person can easily disappear without a trace. Laura McHugh proves herself a masterly storyteller who has created a harsh and tangled terrain as alive and unforgettable as the characters who inhabit it. Her mesmerizing debut is a compelling exploration of the meaning of family: the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.

This is definitely a book about secrets and family in a small community. Lots of secrets. The best part of this book, I think, is the way in which the author reveals them. There’s not a lot of “ah ha!” moments or fast-paced action scenes but, instead, a nice, slow build up that allows the reader to live in the heads of the characters. We know what they know. Of course, we suspect more and sometimes we’re right, but not always, and everyone was not what they seemed. What was definitely consistent was the role that the bonds of blood and commitment had with the cast of characters. I felt like I truly understood why they acted in the way they did and I don’t think I had to suspend disbelief a single time. I didn’t like them all and was disgusted by several of them but they felt genuine in their actions and thoughts.

I’ve gone back and forth between 3.5 and 4 stars and have decided to go with four. Here’s why… The main characters, Lucy and Lila, were written well and were both engaging POVs. I liked that they were done in first person, while the other POVs were in third. It set them apart and I felt more involved in their stories.

The secondary characters who were given POVs were pretty well done, too. Although there were a couple that I didn’t really think were necessary: Crete and Gabby. The rest added to the story and gave some important information in a way that was entertaining and felt natural within the book.

As for the feel of the book, it was dark but I don’t think it was nearly as much of a mystery as I had thought it would be and, while there were a couple of places that had me sitting near the edge of my seat, there wasn’t anything that could be called thrilling. Suspenseful would be a better description, I think.

Ultimately, I enjoyed and would recommend this book to friends who like something a bit darker. I do wish it had been more intense, though.

You can purchase or download a sample of The Weight of Blood by clicking here:

Cheri Reviews Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon

More and more of my reading time has been devoted to mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. I’m one of those readers who loves to try to solve the mysteries quickly and note somewhere exactly where in the book I think I figured it all out. Try Not to Breathe was great fun to try to puzzle out. I won’t give anything away here, though, so don’t worry.

Here’s the blurb:

Some secrets never die. They’re just locked away.

Alex Dale is lost. Destructive habits have cost her a marriage and a journalism career. All she has left is her routine: a morning run until her body aches, then a few hours of forgettable work before the past grabs hold and drags her down. Every day is treading water, every night is drowning. Until Alex discovers Amy Stevenson. Amy Stevenson, who was just another girl from a nearby town until the day she was found unconscious after a merciless assault. Amy Stevenson, who has been in a coma for fifteen years, forgotten by the world. Amy Stevenson, who, unbeknownst to her doctors, remains locked inside her body, conscious but paralyzed, reliving the past.

Soon Alex’s routine includes visiting hours at the hospital, then interviews with the original suspects in the attack. But what starts as a reporter’s story becomes a personal obsession. How do you solve a crime when the only witness lived but cannot tell the tale? Unable to tear herself away from her attempt to uncover the unspeakable truth, Alex realizes she’s not just chasing a story—she’s seeking salvation.

Shifting from present to past and back again, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer until its heart-stopping conclusion. The result is an utterly immersive, unforgettable debut.

That pretty well sums it up. But it gives the impression that we’re only getting Alex and Amy’s POVs and that’s not actually true. We also regularly hear from Jacob, Amy’s old boyfriend who has never really gotten over her and spends quite a lot of time with her in the hospital, to the detriment of his marriage.

I want to say right off that I truly enjoyed this book. The characters – Alex, Amy, and Jacob – were fairly complex and realistic. I think the author did a fantastic job with Alex. The detail with which her alcoholism is discussed and the manner in which it’s presented to the reader helped to bring the character depth and life. She was flawed and real and I cared for her. Amy’s progression was also interesting and I shuddered a few times thinking about what it would be like to be her. And Jake, poor Jake, I wouldn’t describe what I felt for him as heartbreak, but something close. I don’t think anyone could not feel bad for the guy.

The mystery, itself, I thought was well-done and I wasn’t certain who the bad guy was until I hit 83%. There were a couple red herrings thrown in for good measure but, ultimately, I found the way the story played out very satisfying. There was enough focus on the individual main characters to make us care about them and hope for their success but not too much as to take away from the reason they’ve all been brought together. The balance felt just right to me.

While I definitely recommend this book, it certainly wasn’t perfect. There was one character given a POV for two or three chapters who I don’t think needed to be included. It felt jarring to move between Alex, Jacob, and Amy steadily only to be dropped into this other character’s head when it didn’t seem to add anything to the plot. I don’t recall any information given that couldn’t have been provided in another way or that was truly necessary.

There was one thing that Amy did several times that I found unbelievable and made me grimace each time: she referred to the mystery man as “my secret.” As in, when she would have said or thought his name, she replaced it with “my secret” or a variation of that. If she were talking to someone else, maybe, just maybe that would fly but I cannot imagine anyone who would be thinking to themselves replacing a proper first name with something like that. It’s just not how we think – at least not how I would ever think of someone I knew. It felt unnatural and simply a way to avoid using a name which would have, obviously, given away the bad guy.

I also found the penultimate chapter a bit flat and somewhat of a let-down. Once I figured out whodunnit, I wanted to steam on through to the end and have justice done in a blaze of glory or some other exciting climax and that just didn’t happen. Yes, everything was wrapped up in a way that was pretty unique, I think, but not very thrilling.

Even with the slow wrap-up, I still found this book a great read. I was engaged the entire time and actively working to solve the mystery. I only wish I would have had access to the audio version. With the right narrators, I bet it’ll be great. Also, the end was left open to a possible series – I hope I read that correctly – which I would definitely be interested in. This is the author’s debut novel and I can only imagine how good the next book will be.

A big thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

You can download a sample or purchase Try Not to Breathe by clicking here.

Sequella, Corey, and Kitty Review Without a Front: The Warrior’s Challenge by Fletcher DeLancey

Kitty: It’s a three-way!

Corey: A review, Kitty. A three-way review.

Sequella: A sequel! Finally! About time after that damn cliffhanger.

Corey: Do we even need to do a synopsis? I cannot imagine anyone jumping into this book without first reading Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge. But let the record show I sobbed with both happiness and angst almost immediately after tapping open Chapter 1.

Kitty: Oh please let me provide the synopsis! I bookmarked exactly —

Corey: Kitty! You will not give away the number of sexy times in the book. Let the readers discover that on their own.

Sequella: I think Kitty is still sitting in the co-pilot seat waiting for the Lancer.

Kitty: But… neck ridges… and… other ridges…

Corey: Just hush your mouth. Sequella, thoughts on the end to the cliffhanger?

Sequella: Just for the record, cliffhangers should be outlawed and it would have been no problem to end The Producer’s Challenge two or three chapters before it. However, the cliffhanger was a great way to shove the happy couple and me off cloud nine and start kicking some ass. (Them, not me. I was just cheering from the sidelines).

Corey: We’ll be of that generation that says “Remember when we had to wait an entire month for the sequel? Young readers these days get instant gratification, the spoiled brats.” Even then, it was only a download away from our e-readers once released. Did you go through a few recovery steps, Sequella, trying to deal with your reading addiction?

Sequella: Are you asking me how much time I spent on the Chronicles of Alsea website looking for updates or how often I googled Lancer Tal only to come up empty handed?

Corey: Ha! I just kept re-reading the completed books and cursing in Alsean. Anyway, The Caphenon was action-oriented, and Without a Front: The Producer’s Challenge got down to both politics and romance. Without a Front: The Warrior’s Challenge seemed to bring back the action in a fierce way.

Sequella: The sword fighting was awesome!

Corey: Yes! And so much more intimate than the Voloth attacking the entire planet in The Caphenon. I really personalized my hatred of the bad guys in this book.

Kitty: Not ALL of the action centered around hate and swords.

Corey: Yes, Kitty. Now, let’s get down to other important questions. In an earlier review, I declared my caste to be scholar. Sequella, I am guessing you are a crafter?

Sequella: Of course. The caste system is something I like very much about Alsea. I like guessing castes for all people that are never directly mentioned but also part of Alsea. What about the Lancer’s cook or the people flying the public transports?

Kitty: I would be a religious scholar, because I love hearing all those women scream “Oh Fahla” when —

Corey: — when they pray. Ahem. Speaking of which… You know I love me some Lead Templar Lanaril. Who are you most eager for DeLancey to feature in future Alsean books?

Sequella: Ahhh…my favorite question, because that means MORE sequels. Lanaril is definitely someone deserving another story. Also, there is already a hint of another Lhyn and Ekatya story happening between the end of The Caphenon and the end of The Warrior’s Challenge. And the one I am most anxiously waiting for is Vellmar! She is a sword throwing Xena lookalike in my head.

Kitty: Colonel Razine. Someone with such perfect mental control who’s done such dark things for the right reasons, makes me shiver. So much promise for more intrigue with that one, and can you imagine if she ever did let herself give up some control… in the right situation, away from the job… Purr.

Sequella: What did you think about the end of the book? Too shiny and overdone?

Corey: Nope. In fact, I appreciated the time spent with Jaros in the aftermath, as well as with the rest of the Hol-Opah family/community. And Micah’s revelations, too. I was loving the eight whole chapters of reading in the final section; the opposite of a cliffhanger. Very satisfying, particularly because I am expecting many more Chronicles to come.

Sequella: Absolutely! So we agree we all liked it? I got the “stop-reading-rest-your-eyes” warning from my reading app five times. That’s how hard is was for me to put the book down and participate in real life.

Corey: Oh yes! I read so steadily that I had to stop and charge my e-reader even though it advertises “A single charge can last up to six weeks (based on a half hour of reading per day)…” You do the math on how much I read in one day. Kitty, what did you think? Kitty?

Kitty: Leave me alone. I’m checking out my bookmarks.

Sequella: And, last but not least, some survival tips for the looong wait until the next sequel:
1. Reread, starting with The Caphenon. There will be smaller things that you didn’t discover on your first hasty OMG-it’s-so-good read.
2. Check the Ylva site for any announcements about upcoming sequels or maybe a short story in one of their anthologies. You never know, there might be something for your inner Kitty McSaucerton in the next Slippery Folds anthology.
3. Make sure at least one of your friends also read the Alsea books. It’s nice to have someone with whom to discuss your addiction.
4. Read Fletcher’s Star Trek: Voyager fanfiction. It’s perfectly fine to never have watched the TV show. And I can promise you, Lancer Tal is in there waiting to be discovered. She is different from the improved version in the published books, but it’s still nice to visit with her.
5. Are you a writer yourself? Write Alsea fanfiction! This will help you AND us! Make sure you include some nipple clamps for Kitty’s enjoyment.

Corey: Okay, you went there. I’m just going to sit over here, blushing.

Kitty: Purrrrrrrrrr.

You can download a sample or purchase a copy of Without a Front: The Warrior’s Challenge 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.

Cheri Reviews The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Like many other folks who read The Cuckoo’s Calling, I eagerly awaited the publication of the sequel, The Silkworm. As soon as I could, I pre-ordered it on and checked my account at least hourly on release day to see if it was available yet. It seemed to take forever but, eventually, I was able to download it to my tablet and get to listening.

Before I go any further, here’s the book’s blurb from Amazon:

When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days–as he has done before–and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives–meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.

When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…

A compulsively readable crime novel with twists at every turn, THE SILKWORM is the second in the highly acclaimed series featuring Cormoran Strike and his determined young assistant, Robin Ellacott.

Sounds good, right? I know! And it was good. Very good. I want to say right off that I love Cormoran Strike. In some ways, he’s such a tragic character. With the exception of his now thriving private detective business, his life mostly sucks. He’s alone, living in the attic flat above his office, he has near constant pain and troubles with his leg, which he lost from the knee down while in the Army, and he seems to be noticing his assistant, Robin, in ways that he probably shouldn’t be. But business is good and Strike has taken on a case that he actually cares about when he decides to help Mrs. Quine find her wayward husband.

I’m not going to get into the story itself much because I think the blurb does a great job of letting you know what the book is about. What I will say is that, with few exceptions, all of the characters were interesting and unique. These didn’t feel like cookie-cutter, two-dimensional characters just filling space on the virtual page (I listened to the audio book, remember). They each felt genuine, if sometimes over the top. But knowing a few intensely narcissistic authors personally who would have fit in with those in the book, it still felt within the realm of possibility.

For the most part, I couldn’t stop listening. There were several portions of the book that I listened to more than once because didn’t quite get what was going on. This happened almost solidly during the sections describing Quine’s book, which was bizarre and disturbing, just as his death was bizarre and disturbing. Galbraith (JK Rowling) can write some twisted shit. Seriously. And I loved it. I spent much of the book moving between one character to the next as I thought I had the murderer pegged. Yeah, I was wrong every damn time.

I cannot wait until the next book in the series is published. I hope she’s nearly done with it because I want more of Strike and Robin. But not Strike and Robin together. I don’t want to see Cormoran happily in love. Not with anyone. I’d be fine with having him unrequitedly in love, though. I know that’s very selfish of me but since he’s pretend, I don’t feel too badly about it. I love tragic Cormoran Strike. I can’t even imagine him with a happy home life to go to at the end of the day. Nope, can’t see it.

What I want you to take from this rambling review is this: I enjoyed this book immensely and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a dark thriller with great characters. Great and awful characters.

You can download a sample or purchase The Silkworm by clicking here.

Molly Jones Reviews Cop Town by Karin Slaughter

Anything’s legal if you can get away with it…Welcome to the Atlanta Police Department.

Atlanta circa 1974 definitely wasn’t the best place for a new female cop to cut her teeth. Kate Murphy, the heroine of Karin Slaughter’s latest novel Cop Town, is dispatched straight into this maelstrom of resentment and political upheaval, fresh out of what passed for training, and wearing a uniform far too large and designed for humiliation. On her first day, the only advice from her supervisor is to strap down her breasts to avoid giving her male colleagues a heart attack. Most new recruits wash out quickly, and Kate – Jewish, attractive, raised on the good side of town, but with a husband dead in Vietnam – is adamant that she won’t be one of them. What she doesn’t know is exactly how much of herself she will have to lose in order to survive.

Regular readers of Karin Slaughter will already be familiar with the themes and era in Cop Town. Slaughter stuck a tentative toe into these waters in Criminal, splitting the action there between present day and flashbacks to 1974. With Cop Town, however, she has plunged right in, creating a brand new cast of characters but returning to Criminal’s central issue: the battle facing women trying to carve out a career in a male-dominated environment whilst working in a city crippled by poverty and besieged by violence and racial tensions.

Sticking to her usual strategy, Slaughter splits Cop Town’s narrative into three points of view, neatly contrasting Kate’s deer-in-headlights vision of the Atlanta PD with that of more seasoned cop Maggie Lawson. Thrown straight in at the deep end, Kate embarks on her chosen career the day after the so-called Atlanta Shooter executes his fifth police officer. As discrepancies about this latest murder come to light, she and Maggie leave the boys to their tub-thumping and set out to investigate the leads that everyone else is ignoring. Anyone hoping for buddy movie-type bonding is going to be disappointed though; the two women are the antithesis of each other, and a large part of the novel’s tension arises from their edgy, at times downright hostile relationship. If the male officers are belligerent, dead-set on retribution, and largely drunk, the women are almost as bad. Having run a gauntlet of roaming hands and verbal abuse to reach the locker room, Kate then faces a second, more subtle but just as brutal ordeal from her female colleagues. It’s a neat and effective scene that establishes the dichotomy at the heart of the book: to succeed, Kate must chip away at everything she is, eroding those fragile parts that her enemies can prey on and carving out a new, tougher identity. In working out what of herself to sacrifice and what values to try to preserve, Kate realises she’s capable of far more than she ever would have predicted, and that not all of these changes are changes she can be proud of.

Slaughter’s third point of view belongs to Fox, the murderer at the heart of the manhunt, and it is his voice, motivations, and methodology that are perhaps the weakest elements of the novel. Obviously enamoured of her period research and determined to make that count on the page, Slaughter seems to have forgotten that she still needs a strong storyline to carry the novel through. Instead we get Fox, a walking cliché of bitterness and prejudice, conveniently obsessed with Kate, and dead set on a nefarious path. Unusually for Slaughter, the murder plotline is linear and simplistic, with few red herrings and little in the way of shocks. While you may not guess the identity of the perp, it certainly doesn’t rock your socks when he’s finally unmasked.

Although lacking in twists and turns, Cop Town is by no means an easy read. At times, the relentless barrage of misogyny, racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism is a little like being smacked over the head by a blunt object, while the humour that leavens the onslaught is blacker than midnight and should come with some sort of health warning. If you found the flashbacks in Criminal too raw to stomach, you’ll probably want to steer clear of this one, but if you’re in the mood for lovingly recreated period detail, a rough ride into a troubled city, and an insight into a past many would rather forget you could do a lot worse than add Cop Town to your summer reading list.

You can download a sample or purchase Cop Town by clicking here.