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.

Nikki Reviews The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, PhD

“I am sure that if the devil existed, he would want us to feel very sorry for him.”

Harvard Psychologist Martha Stout spent years treating patients that suffered at the will of sociopaths. She then began studying the sociopaths themselves, culminating in this sort of “how-to” manual of spotting sociopathy in the world. That woman that cut you off on the way home, the boss that trampled his way to the top, that (ahem) elected official that seems to lack empathy; are they merely inconsiderate or are they sociopaths?

Four percent of humans (1 in 25) in this world are, in fact, sociopaths. They lack remorse and are incapable of forming emotional attachments to living (or non-living) things. We assume they are few, or rare. However Martha Stout has taught me that they are basically everywhere. Many assume that all sociopaths are cold-blooded killers, but that is also not the case. They are therapists, school principals, senators (presidents?), janitors, maintenance people, scientists, or any vocation you can think of. In order to better describe this, Stout gives us a handful of case studies, each being a culmination of many of her patients (and therefore can in no way be traced back to any individual in society). We meet “Doreen,” a psychologist who has zero qualifications or degrees but has charmed her way into many therapist positions caring for people that certainly deserve better. She loves manipulating people for sport while maintaining the reputation of being the nicest person her coworkers have ever met. There’s “Skip,” a high-powered businessman that maintains a presumably happy life with wife and children while sexually harassing women and climbing the corporate ladder with ease.

There are more, but that gives you a good idea of what to expect. Really, Stout describes the consistency found in sociopaths in all walks of life, giving some hints and tips on how to recognize their toxicity and how to avoid entanglements with them. Now this has the negative effect of me looking at everyone I’ve ever met with paranoia and distrust while trying to figure out how many sociopaths are currently living in a square mile of myself. But, it’s also very interesting to try and see the world from the eyes of someone with zero conscience (spoiler alert: look for charming, manipulative people that regularly want your pity).

The writing could get a bit repetitive at times (I believe she gave a definition of sociopath an approximate 800 times-slightly exaggerated), but it fit in well with my psychological interests and curiosities. I definitely found it pleasing enough to want to check out her other book, The Mask of Sanity.

You can download a sample or purchase The Sociopath Next Door by clicking here.

Corey and Sequella Review Outcaste by Fletcher DeLancey

Sequella: Hi Corey! Is Kitty going to join us for this one or is she still trying to get an appointment at the pleasure house?

Corey: I heard some mumbling from Kitty about curling up with a comfort giver and some deep purrs. I know the pleasure houses aren’t the main point of Outcaste, but maybe they are. This is the novel that fills in many questions readers of the series may pose about Alsean society, as we follow Rahel from her rebellion against the caste system as a youth (she wants to be a Warrior but her father wants her to be a Merchant) to her life as a caste-less worker on the docks (echos of exploited undocumented workers, taking work where available and defenseless against authorities), to survival sex and the dangers of living on the fringes of society.

Sequella: I always wondered what would happen to those that do not fit into a specific caste.

Corey: Me too! The first half of the novel also went deep into the families we create. I love me some Mouse. And also, librarian alert! We can all benefit from a librarian being on our side. What did you think about the pacing of the book?

Sequella: For me, the book consists of two parts. The first part is very slow and relaxed, in the second part everything is much more rushed and full of action. Personally, I liked the first part better and it could have gone on like that forever. What really fascinated me, though, was how this book fits into the Alsea universe we have read about so far. This book is both a prequel and sequel to Without a Front. I was very happy to see Tal and the Bondlancer again.

Corey: Yes, Outcaste gives you this deep backstory of a minor character in Without a Front, then skims over the action in the first three Alsean novels from Rahal’s perspective, then delivers new plot and insights with the core cast of characters. I loved getting deeper inside the Bondlancer’s mind and heart.

Sequella: When I got to the part that connects Outcaste to Without a Front, I wanted to go back and reread those since I did not remember the specific details. But of course I could not put Outcaste down and ended up with this unsatisfying feeling of missing connecting points. I can only recommend to everyone to prepare for Outcaste and reread Without a Front.

Corey: Yes, Outcaste is a book for readers of the series. If you are new to the Chronicles of Alsea, start with The Caphenon or maybe check out the novella Vellmar the Blade.

Sequella: *sigh* Vellmar!

Corey: Indeed. I want to make sure we mention another aspect of Rahel: She is “sansara,” which translates as “focused one” or not distracted by the need to join. Basically what we might term asexual, or not driven by sexual desire.

Sequella: Which also means that there is only very little romance in this book. Instead Rahel finds a lot of friends in unexpected places that help her along the way.

Corey: But her relationship with one mentor is really, really intense and, to me, satisfying, reminding me that sexual desire does not need to be the framing of a meaningful relationship. I still got all the feels. Finally, the end of this novel sets up new directions and developments for Alsean society and new books out in Protectorate space. Fletcher DeLancey, you are an unending source of new ideas. Keep writing, please please please.

Sequella: Yes! More! Now! Soon? Please?

Corey: Kitty just rolled over and purred in agreement. If she smoked, she’d be lighting up right now. Outcaste was THAT satisfying, despite my book hangover at work the next day from staying up all night reading. It’s worth it.

You can pre-order now by clicking here: http://amzn.to/2yuIy0a

Cheri Reviews Perfect Rhythm by Jae

Jae is the author of one of my very favorite lesbian romances, Backwards to Oregon, but I’ve not read several of her newer books. When the cover was revealed, I thought it was great and decided to keep it on my radar. Then when I had the opportunity to read an advanced copy, I jumped at it. One of the main characters in a lesbian romance being asexual definitely piqued my interest. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Pop star Leontyne Blake might sing about love, but she stopped believing in it a long time ago. What women want is her image, not the real her. When her father has a stroke, she flees the spotlight and returns to her tiny Missouri hometown.

In her childhood home, she meets small-town nurse Holly Drummond, who isn’t impressed by Leo’s fame at all. That isn’t the only thing that makes Holly different from other women. She’s also asexual. For her, dating is a minefield of expectations that she has decided to avoid.

Can the tentative friendship between a burned-out pop star and a woman not interested in sex develop into something more despite their diverse expectations?

A lesbian romance about seeking the perfect rhythm between two very different people—and finding happiness where they least expect it.

I knew the bare bones about asexuality so it was nice to get to know Holly and get a better understanding of some of the relationship hurdles she and other ace folks deal with. Besides the issues dealing specifically with asexuality, this is a pretty standard lesfic romance. Not too much angst but lots of relationship building and outside things going on that help to move our leading ladies toward finding love with each other.

Jae is a master at the slow building romance while giving the reader plenty of time to get to know the characters. The best part is that the reader isn’t beaten over the head with info dumps or flashbacks; everything happens organically and feels like we’re learning about our new best friends. There were a few times when I felt that some of the information about asexuality felt a bit too educational. But now I do feel like I understand the issues that asexual people and their non-asexual partners must go through.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to do this review is that I know that many of my friends haven’t read Jae in a while and I think they’ll like this book. Besides, more visibility and inclusion of the B,T, and A aspects of LGBTQA spectrum are needed. I think Perfect Rhythm is a great addition.

You can download a sample or purchase Perfect Rhythm by clicking here.

CAB reviews The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

Here’s the blurb right off:

“Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact. And most of its rules make sense.  Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . . Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples. And then one of them breaks the rules. The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life. And The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule. For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.”

 

Let me be blunt; if you’re about to get married and someone offers you the opportunity to join “The Pact” run away.  Run away as quickly and as far as you possibly can, and then run a bit further.   Unless it’s an ice cream pact, that might me ok, but a Marriage Pact: No, just no.

This book is creepy and engaging, like watching an episode of the old TV series “The Twilight Zone” or “Tales from The Darkside”.   If you’re old enough to know what I’m talking about and you enjoyed those shows, this book is up your alley.  If you like twisted and unexpected, it’s probably also up your alley.

The story itself is told from Jake’s point of view.  I was a little worried that style would be grating as I find that type of POV doesn’t usually hold my attention.  However, in this instance it worked well and kept the story flowing.  After completing the book I was surprised to find that I really didn’t like Jake. I found his motives throughout the story suspect and multiple times I thought he was kind of a tool.

As for the ending, no spoilers but I’d be willing to guess that there will be some who find it a bit ambiguous as it leaves an opening for the reader to interpret what happens next.  Usually, I find that frustrating but, again, it works with the story line.

I picked this book up from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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

Cheri Reviews Out of Bounds by Val McDermid

Confession time… This is my first real exposure to anything Val McDermid related. I’ve been aware of her for many years but never watched Wire in the Blood or read any of her books. I got very tempted to watch the TV show at one point because of my massive crush on Simone Lahbib but never did. I’d heard mixed things about her books and was never motivated to give one a chance. Until, as has been happening more and more for me, I came across Out of Bounds on NetGalley. I hesitated momentarily because it was the fourth in a series but a well-written book should be able to stand on its own. And, yes, this one did.

As soon as I heard the sample of the audio book, I knew that would have to be how I’d consume this book. I love Scottish accents. Helen Stewart from Bad Girls (see above reference to Ms. Lahbib) nearly had me drooling when she said “serious” and “suit.” It was hard not to pause and grin every time the narrator for Out of Bounds said “serious.” *sigh*

Anyway, here’s the blurb from Amazon:

When a teenage joyrider crashes a stolen car and ends up in a coma, a routine DNA test reveals a connection to an unsolved murder from twenty-two years before. Finding the answer to the cold case should be straightforward. But it’s as twisted as the DNA helix itself.

Meanwhile, Karen finds herself irresistibly drawn to another mystery that she has no business investigating, a mystery that has its roots in a terrorist bombing two decades ago. And again, she finds that nothing is as it seems.

Of course, I won’t give anything away about either case so no worries of spoilers here. Instead, I’ll tell you how much I enjoyed this book. I loved how many strong, smart, capable women were present and how they didn’t argue or fight among themselves. They were supportive and believable. I liked them and was happy that Karen had them in her life. I found the cases and the methods used to solve them interesting.

I definitely appreciated getting just enough information on the characters that were in previous books to help me understand the relationships. Info dumping to bring new readers up to speed sucks but there wasn’t any of that here. We found out what happened to Karen to make her depressed and lonely and were able to be a part of her moving on.

McDermid’s writing is smooth and vivid. Not once did I feel like I was being led around by the author but, instead, following characters who felt as real as I am. I’ll be hitting my local library once I’m done posting this to see what other offerings might be available.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing the ebook ARC.

You can download a sample or purchase Out of Bounds by clicking here.

Cheri Reviews Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney

I picked this up from NetGalley a very long time ago and after it sat on my TBR list for a while, I couldn’t remember what it was about or why I had been intrigued enough to request it. When I came across the audio version and listened to a sample, I decided it was time to give it a shot. I’m so happy I did.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

For the past thirty-three years, Angela Gillespie has sent to friends and family around the world an end-of-the-year letter titled “Hello from the Gillespies.” It’s always been cheery and full of good news. This year, Angela surprises herself—she tells the truth….
The Gillespies are far from the perfect family that Angela has made them out to be. Her husband is coping badly with retirement. Her thirty-two-year-old twins are having career meltdowns. Her third daughter, badly in debt, can’t stop crying. And her ten-year-old son spends more time talking to his imaginary friend than to real ones.
Without Angela, the family would fall apart. But when Angela is taken away from them in a most unexpected manner, the Gillespies pull together—and pull themselves together—in wonderfully surprising ways…

This book isn’t the type I normally read. It’s a general fiction, leaning toward women’s fiction I suppose. No blood and guts (except for a cut finger), no edge of the seat action, no lesbian romance. Just a very well written, well narrated book whose characters will stay with me for some time to come. I can even see myself wanting to reread it in the future. The only thing I didn’t care for was the narrator’s American accent. It was pretty awful. But she kicked so much ass on every other part, I didn’t really even care.

I can’t fully describe how I felt while listening to this book. Even though there were a lot of POVs and it’s a long book (nearly 17 hours of listening), I stayed engaged and curious. I smiled and laughed and even had a knot in my gut a few times. No tears though. While we spend the most time with Angela, I grew to care about every other character nearly as much. Such a beautiful, flawed, and loving family. I’m going to miss Angela.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ebook copy.

You can download a sample or purchase Hello from the Gillespies by clicking here.