Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amy Caudill’s Reviews > Flower Power Trip

Flower Power Trip by James J. Cudney

Flower Power Trip (Braxton Campus Mysteries #3) by  James J. Cudney (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review 

The third volume in this cozy mystery series features the male protagonist, Kellan, invested in a mission to help two of his bosses solve a mystery surrounding one’s past while being stalked by his wife whose family faked her death to save her from a rival mob family’s hit. 

Kellan is a new professor of media studies at Braxton University, in Braxton, Pennsylvania, the small town where his family lives and is active in politics, and social organizations.  Since his wife’s disappearance, he’s also a single father.  None of these responsibilities prevent him from getting too involved in “assisting” the local sheriff in solving a murder mystery and possibly finding a new romance. 

While he doesn’t necessarily go looking for trouble, Kellan can’t resist when his friends and coworkers need his help, and thus he’s drawn into one potentially dangerous situation after another.  Whether it’s breaking into a crime scene, debating withholding evidence, or with the blessing of the police setting a trap for a murderer, Kellan will do what is necessary.  If only someone could help him with his personal life…

The fact that the protagonist is male is unusual for a “cozy mystery” series, but the author does an excellent job with his characters and the plots are always deep, involved, and convoluted enough to intrigue mystery fans.  As the series develops, we begin seeing more complicated twists in the relationships with supporting characters and the development of plots that are only hinted about in the first books.

Why is Kellan getting postcards from his wife, who is supposedly in hiding?  When he has time to sit down and put them altogether, it leads to a cliffhanger that ends this book while also setting up the next in the series, Mistaken Identity Crisis.

I award this book four stars for originality and developing plots that were ongoing in the series, though I did struggle to remember their original introduction as background stories in the last book.  Perhaps I should have refreshed my memory of the series before I started this novel.  Anyway, this is a good solid mystery, but I would recommend reading the books in order for maximum comprehension.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1) by  Ernest Cline (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

This story is a modern-day epic quest featuring a hero’s journey, most of which is accomplished online.  What follows is a tale that contains action, violence, romance, subterfuge, and puzzles wrapped in a package that will, depending on the age of the reader either fill them with nostalgia or mystification of the trivia and culture of the 1980s.

Despite the fact that I had watched and enjoyed the movie based on this novel, twice, I had to psych myself up a bit before I sat down and read the 579 page book.  I admit that I was a little daunted by the length of the story, but I was glad in the end that I did. 

Ready Player One by author Ernest Cline details a semi-apocalyptic world of the not-so distant future where the economy, the environment, and overcrowding have pushed the population at large to seek relief from their mundane existence in an online community called the Oasis.  One of the two creators of the Oasis, James Halliday, left as his will and legacy a contest that would grant the winner his fortune and control of this virtual universe.  The main character of the story, Wade Watts, is a teenage “Easter Egg Hunter,” or gunter for short, determined to win this prize.

At this point the movie begins to deviate from the book.  While the major premises and most of the characters remain the same; the quests for the ultimate prize and the nature of the virtual world are quite different.  The world of the novel is in some ways darker, while the challenges to find the clues are both more cerebral and less flashy, and speak of the full-time commitment many have made in pursuit of the reward.

Wade Watts lives mostly in the Oasis, barely existing in reality, which his interactions in both ably demonstrate.  His only friends are those in the Oasis, none of whom he had ever met in real life, at least in the beginning.  When they do meet, Wade must decide if the differences they present in real life mean they are not the same people he has come to depend on online.

The quest to find Halliday’s Easter egg is the focus of not just Wade’s life, but also a huge group of dedicated gunters, and a rival internet company, IOI, that wants control, no matter the cost.  Headed by Sorrento, an unscrupulous businessman and gamer, IOI is not afraid to use every dirty trick online and in real life to achieve their goal-domination and commercialization of the Oasis.

I award this book five stars for originality in plot, as well as a story filled with memorable characters and nail-biting action.

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Pharaoh Key

The Pharaoh Key by Douglas Preston

The Pharaoh Key (Gideon Crew series) by  Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child

Amy Caudill‘s review

Following the culmination of righting one wrong from his greatest failure in the last book, Return to the Ice Limit, Eli Glinn has summarily shut down Effective Engineering Inc., leaving everyone else, including his long-time second in command and friend Garza, and Gideon Crew, high and dry with no explanation or compensation.

While being forced to clean out his office, Garza discovers a long-running search has completed its function, and decides to take the data with him as he leaves.  Determined to get the best of Glinn for his apparent betrayal and get a better payout for their extensive efforts,(Garza;,) and make his last remaining months meaningful, (Gideon;) they team up to uncover the mystery of the Phaistos Disk, a legendary artifact believed to be from the time of the ancient Pharaohs.

Keeping their illicit mission under the radar from Glinn is not exactly easy, and neither is going into an untraveled and “forbidden” area of the desert which is under disputed control of multiple governments.  The two protagonists re plagued with troubles almost from the start, and are forced to team with a mysterious woman who claims to be an archeologist, but in reality is much more.

Their journey will take them into a settlement in the middle of nowhere that has been completely isolated from civilization, perhaps going back as far as Moses and the ancient Egyptians dynasties.  What secrets does the Phaistos Disk hold, and is the world actually ready for the truth?  This last adventure for the action-packed series doesn’t disappoint in terms of danger, intrigue, romance, and mystery.

I thought this book was a fitting conclusion to the Gideon Crew series.  Each of the three main characters has some resolution of their own.  Eli Glinn, having regained his health and solved his biggest problems,  finally takes the time to reflect on his behavior, his feelings for the woman he loved and lost, and the role his own actions played in the reactions of his subordinates/colleagues/friends.  Manuel Garza finds a destiny he never would have imagined, but also finds he is content for perhaps the first time.  Gideon Crew has seemingly made peace with his life and his pending death, though the authors don’t actually show that event.  Does this mean there is a chance there will be another Gideon Crew book in the future?

I award this book five stars and recommend it to not only fans of the writing duo of Preston and Child, but to any fans of adventure stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by  Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

This irreverent look at good and evil, angels and demons, and the oft-predicted end of the world features the work of two masters of fantasy and mayhem in a humorous yet horrifying story that screams about human nature and the state of the world as we know it.

A demon, Crowley, and an angel, Aziraphale, have been on Earth since the time of Adam and Eve, (in fact it was Aziraphale who wielded the Flaming Sword in the Garden of Eden, and Crowley, then called Crawly, was the serpent who convinced Adam and Eve to sin.)  Since the pair have few colleagues/enemies who have shared so much time and history with them, they tend to gravitate toward each other.  That is, they meet for drinks, and more or less stay out of each other’s way while they carry out their assigned duties/a.k.a. intervention into human life.

Crowley is charged with delivering the infant who will become the Antichrist; though through a series of events involving bureaucracy and human blunder the child goes home with the wrong family, growing up without either divine or evil influence.  Adam Young is to all appearances an ordinary human boy, unaware that both sides of the divide anticipate the events that are prophesied to culminate on his eleventh birthday.

Crowley and Aziraphale decide that they like Earth as it is, and are not in a hurry to return to Hell/Heaven, where things are too boring, predictable, and unvaried without human creativity and influence.  They attempt to find the child Antichrist before he destroys the world, but are hampered along the way by Witchhunters, traffic jams, and a host of roadblocks.

 In the end, though, the Angel/Demon duo is helpless to do anything but watch as Adam Young comes into his own, and decides the fate of humanity.  Or is it really just a part of some Ineffable plan that neither demons nor angels have been informed about?  And does a sixteenth century convicted witch named Agnes Nutter really have all the answers?

I was familiar with the book long before I actually read it, thanks to the popular series it has spawned (but I have yet to watch,) so I was able to imagine the television actors in the role of the two main characters.  For me, this made the book even more enjoyable. The satire is so relevant and so in keeping with human nature, which in Pratchett and Gaiman’s world would naturally infect both angels and demons.

I award this book four stars, it would be five but for someone who is not British, some of the slang and local references are really obscure to the point that parts of the book required re-reading and numerous references to the included footnotes to get the jokes.  Still, it is a good read, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a satirical fantasy that doesn’t take itself at all seriously.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows (The Cthulhu Casebooks, #1) by  James Lovegrove

Amy Caudill‘s review

In one of the more creative takes on the stories originally penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, James Lovegrove combines the classic Holmes with stories from another period author, H.P. Lovecraft, for a detective horror fiction that pays tribute to both genres.

In the forward to The Shadwell Shadows, the first book of the trilogy The Cthulu Casebooks, the author claims to be a distant relative of Lovecraft, who “inherited” these manuscripts from his estate.  He has decided to share with the world the unbelievable and potentially panic-inducing tales as a public service, letting the readers make up their own minds as to validity.

He portray a very different first meeting for Holmes and Watson, where Watson’s war wounds came from a brush with the supernatural, and Holmes’ early cases have already demonstrated that there are inexplicable events happening in Victorian London.  He states, as the narrator in Watson’s voice, that the true events that happened during Holmes and Watson’s long association were too controversial, too fantastical, to bring to public knowledge.

The basic plot of this volume revolves around a number of mysterious deaths, mostly of indigents and outcasts of society, that Scotland Yard spend little effort on and so fail to connect.  However, Holmes does find a connection, and follows it, along with his new roommate Watson, to an opium den run by a wealthy immigrant who has delved into studies of dark rituals and old gods that are all but forgotten in polite society.  This is only the jump-off point to awareness of monsters in the dark, magic rituals and horrors that Holmes and Watson would rather unlearn, but cannot run from, because there are other lives at stake.

While this book makes references to a number of “classic” Holmes cases, the contents of this volume are written not as a collection of stories, but rather as one long continuous tale.  The epilogue also mentions the subjects of the next two volumes, hinting that this collection is one long tale of the “true” events of their joined career.

Lovegrove has done a credible job imitating Doyle’s style and characters, while placing them into situations where the paranormal is a reality that can be seductive and dangerous.  I really can’t say I’ve read much Lovecraft for myself, though I am aware of his creations from various other sources, from popular movies and other fiction.  I believe Lovegrove’s allusions to Lovecraft’s work are just as meticulous as is his borrowing of the Holmesian mythos.

I thought this a very interesting read and would recommend it to fans of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian era-fiction and classic horror tales alike.  I award this book four stars and intend to seek out the next work in the series.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Beyond the Ice Limit

Beyond the Ice Limit by Douglas Preston

Beyond the Ice Limit (Gideon Crew, #4; Ice Limit #2) by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review 

This fourth outing in the Gideon Crew series by the writing team of Preston and Child also fulfills a fervent wish from multiple fans over the years to serve as a sequel to a previous stand-alone story by the duo, called The Ice Limit. 

While this book continues the storyline of the last Gideon Crew novel, it also includes the culmination of years of work for pre-existing characters such as Eli Glinn and Manuel Garza, who we have seen in not only the original solo book, but also in the prior three Gideon Crew novels and in a couple of the authors’ Pendergast series books as well. 

Glinn has apparently spent the intervening years gathering resources and making plans to return to the site of his greatest failure, and with his return to health after The Lost Island and the inclusion of Gideon, is finally ready to attempt to repair the damage done by the alien “seed.”

The nature of this creature, once thought to be a giant meteorite, eludes the explorers as they make their way to where it “planted” itself, in the “Screaming Sixties” latitude between the bottom tip of South America and Antarctica.  Is the creature, nicknamed the Baobab because of its resemblance to the terrestrial tree, plant or animal?  Is it a creature or a machine?  The crew members probe these questions even as the Baobab begins to exert its influence over them in inexplicable and later horrifying ways.

The combined efforts of Gideon, Glinn, Garza, and latecomer Sam McFarlane (from the original book) desperately try to stop a force that seems to undermine them at every turn.  Will they succeed in destroying the creature, or is the Earth doomed to be the breeding ground of more of these “seeds?”  The action and the drama don’t stop until the very end in this book.

I am a big fan of the two authors, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, of both their individual works but especially those they create together.  The two seemingly work seamlessly as one when collaborating, though I suppose after so many joint projects they probably have it down to a science by this point.  Their characters are engaging but flawed, each different but well-developed, and help to drive the story that already has a fantastically complex plot.  This particular book dips more into the sci-fi genre than many of their others, but the result is still well-paced and thrilling.

I award this book 4.5 stars for an exciting read, that those new to the authors and series can enjoy (almost) as much as those who have read any of the previous books.  I recommend it for fans of science fiction and thrillers alike.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Bloodless

Happy New Year everyone! As you can see, I’m starting off this year by reviewing a book I finished late last year. I have a number of books I plan to read this year, though hopefully I will have some new original material to share in the coming months (cross fingers!) For now, allow me to tell you about the latest book in a series I have been following for years.

Bloodless by Douglas Preston

Bloodless (Pendergast, #20) by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review

It isn’t often that authors can have a character so decidedly return to the roots of what made a book so intriguing in the beginning, but the writing team of Preston and Child have successfully done just this thing.

FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast began his fictional career by hunting a gigantic monster through the NY Museum of Natural History.  Now, he’s chasing another, even larger monster through the streets and cemeteries of Savannah, Georgia. 

Pendergast has made a career of handling curious cases that often border on paranormal intrigue.  So it is not surprising that though they are still recovering from the ordeal that became their last investigation, Pendergast, along with his recent partner Agent Armstrong Coldmoon, and his ward, Constance Greene, are intercepted by Assistant Director Pickett before they can part ways.  A series of troubling murders has beset Savannah, and rumors of the bodies being found completely drained of blood seems tailor-made to Pendergast’s expertise.

Will the investigators find proof that the legendary Savannah Vampire actually exists?  A group of ghost hunters making a movie certainly hope so, even if part of the crew has to fake the evidence.  Meanwhile, an overbearing Senator seeking re-election causes another complication to an already difficult investigation that includes twists with a device that can see into the future and the true identity/fate of D.B. Cooper from the famed unsolved mystery fifty years earlier.

The authors, as usual, have done a superb job with well-developed plots, enormously well-researched locations and scenarios, and enough twists and turns for a roller coaster.  For long fans of the series, I don’t want to give anything away about the relationship developments between certain characters.  For those who have never read this series before, don’t be afraid to give it a shot.  You will be able to pick up most of the important points, though I suggest after reading this book you go back and start the series from the beginning to see what you may have missed.

I award this novel five stars and recommend Bloodless to fans of detective procedurals, thrillers, and paranormal stories.  It really has something for everyone.  Happy Reading!

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Library of the Dead

The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu

The Library of the Dead (Edinburgh Nights, #1) by T.L. Huchu
Amy Caudill‘s review

In a bleak, somewhat dystopian world where magic-users are accepted as part of the landscape, a young girl attempts to earn dubious living carrying messages back and forth between the living and the recently dead.

 The setting is Scotland, but one where law and order have given way to a world divided into those who have wealth and power and those who struggle to survive by whatever means they can.  Civilization is barely hanging on by a thread, and a lot of citizens, including our protagonist, Ropa Moyo, live on the fringes in a “camper city” reminiscent of the tent cities of the 1930s era U.S. depression.  Ropa, a street-smart girl of fourteen, plies her trade take care of her family, her Gran and younger sister, Izwi. 

Ropa’s regular customers are her lifeblood, but they know the score-either pay, or have someone from the living pay, or she doesn’t pass their messages along.  So when one persistent ghost who wants only to have someone find her missing son, Ropa brushes her off, repeatedly.  Finally convinced by Gran to do a good deed and help, Ropa becomes involved in a mystery that involves more than a few missing people, children and indigents, a new drug sweeping Edinburgh’s underground, and a house that seems alive and able to possess its unwilling residents.

During all of this, Ropa reconnects with her old school friend, Jomo, who has a new job that he isn’t supposed to talk about but shares with Ropa he is an apprentice in the magician’s only Library of the Dead.  Ropa, after a death threat, is initiated into this illustrious community and soon makes a new friend, the paraplegic medical doctor Priya, who can make her wheelchair float upside down.

These three unlikely heroes will be the only ones who seemingly care about the missing children, the insidious drug, and the implications the manifest evil have on the city.  Successfully shutting down the operation, there are questions still to be answered; who is the Tall Man that the criminals seem to defer to?  He never makes an appearance, at least in this book, but this is the first book of author H. L. Helchu’s Edinburgh Nights series.  Will Ropa be allowed to study magic, and can her new “mentor” be trusted? 

I both loved and was sometimes irritated by the characters in this book.  I found some of the language used by the fourteen year old character offensive, but I accepted that her circumstances might have exposed her to more vulgarity.  Overall, the character Ropa is written as being mature beyond her years in many respects, but still a young girl with vulnerabilities and insecurities.  She has good friends, and family to steady her, and the ending of the book both gave hope for her future as well as a setup for further problems. 

I am interested in seeing how this series develops and give this book 4.5 stars.  I would recommend it to fans of dystopian fantasy, but caution some of the language and situations are better for mature readers.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews > The Murder on the Links

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot, #2) by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review

In this classic Agatha Christie novel, we see her most illustrious detective, Hercule Poirot, reunited with his loyal sidekick, Captain Arthur Hastings in a case that involves murder, blackmail, and multiple secret identities.

Poirot is summoned to the home of a millionaire expatriate in France, only to find his intended client has been murdered before he could arrive.  Thanks to his long term of service and contacts with the French police, he is invited to consult on the case, and soon finds obscure clues that elude the current “star” of the police force, Monsieur Girard. 

Girard scoffs at Poirot’s methods, and soon begins his own separate investigation, hunting for clues that fit his theories, and ignoring pieces of evidence that do not appear to tie in with these.  This leads to an arrest of an innocent man, and then the confession of an innocent woman to save the man, before a ruse perpetuated by Poirot in collusion with the widow of the original victim leads the real killer to reveal herself in the final chapter.  (Sorry, spoilers!)

But all is still not what it seems, as multiple personages have hidden pasts and dark secrets that will soon come to light, and there are multiple issues caused by cases of mistaken identity before the whole mess can be sorted.   In the end, Poirot will be triumphant, Hastings will be in love, and the real culprits either caught or on the run.

All in all, this is a very satisfying mystery, with enough twists and turns to satisfy the most diehard fan.  The Murder on the Links shows why Dame Christie is still the queen of mystery a century later.  While the reader must understand that the action takes place in the 1920s and so make allowances for different manners, clothing styles and vocabulary; the crimes are really timeless and could easily have occurred in a more modern setting.   I give this book five stars and recommend it to readers of mystery everywhere.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Dark in Death

Dark in Death by J.D. Robb

Dark in Death (In Death, #46) by J.D. Robb (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review 

When a delusional aspiring novelist seeks to prove herself a better writer than her idol, she turns the bestselling author’s work into real-life murder.

In this latest book in the In Death series starring a cast of characters headed by Lt. Eve Dallas of the NYPSD in the not-very distant future, the antagonist believes her would-be mentor has stolen her manuscript, and begins a plot of revenge.  Taking the penname of A.E. Strongbow, the murderer, who we see only in shadows for the majority of the book, begins to act out the main scenes in her rival’s series, which is a set of bestselling police procedurals with similarities to J. D. Robb, otherwise known as Nora Roberts, own work.

 The misguided would-be writer plans to conclude her “series” of murders with the innocent author, Blaine Delano, and Dallas herself, as Dallas forces Strongbow to “write” her in by deliberately antagonizing her during a TV interview.

Unfortunately for our antagonist, Dallas and her team begin to figure out the intent of the criminal and alert her planned victims.  Reading, or in the case of some, re-reading the book series that is her inspiration helps the police pinpoint her probable next targets and warn them.  A near miss where Strongbow leaves evidence behind leads to a trail of clues that help pin down her identity, and then location. 

Still, in the end the fate of the killer comes down to a victim that fights back, and the timely arrival of Dallas, her husband Roarke, and her partner Peabody.  Once in interrogation the killer is only too happy to gloat about her success, and can’t comprehend her murder spree is done before she gets to write the final chapter.

Dark in Death, as always with this series, is highly entertaining.  One does not need to have read other novels in the series to enjoy it, but prior exposure does help the reader understand the relationships between the vast cast of secondary characters and situations in the series. The story flows even as events become complicated, and the scenes between the principals, Dallas and Roarke, Dallas and Peabody, and Dallas and her police squad and friends serve as relief from the often gruesome deaths that figure prominently in each book.

 I award this book 4 stars and recommend it to any readers who enjoy a good police procedural with a side of science fiction and romance.