Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot, #4) by  Agatha Christie

Amy Caudill‘s review

While this was hardly the first novel by Agatha Christie I have read, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Dame Christie could surprise me with hidden depths in her characters and writing style.

This particular work, touted as number 4 in the Hercule Poirot series, opens with a Poirot who has retired and is living semi-anonymously in a small English village.  When a local wealthy man is murdered on the heels of the suicide of a local wealthy woman whom he was close to, someone close to the cases comes forward and pleads with the famed detective to assist.  

Poirot agrees, in part because he is already getting bored with his retirement, and enlists the local physician, Dr. James Albertson, to take over the duties of chronicler/assistant normally ascribed to his longtime friend Albert Hastings.  Together they will work with the local police as they interview the members of the household and examine several scenes for clues and rumors relating to the events of the murder.  Dr. Albertson, himself one of the last people to see Ackroyd alive, writes his observations knowing Poirot has guessed he is hiding information from the investigation.

While Dr. Albertson includes many of his thoughts in his narrations; he leaves out just enough that when Poirot reveals the truth, we are left realizing what an unreliable narrator the reader has had all along.  This is where I marveled at Christie’s design; the voice of the narrator seemed perfectly sober and honest up until the end; I had assumed that this new character was simply the Hastings for this story, when instead we got so much more.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and recommend it to aficionados of mysteries everywhere.  For those who haven’t tried the classic cases of Agatha Christie, her stories have timeless appeal for readers young and old.  I award this story five stars.

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The House of Silk

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

The House of Silk (Horowitz’s Holmes, #1) by Anthony Horowitz (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then it’s easy to see why Anthony Horowitz was granted something no other author has before-official endorsement from the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Horowitz was officially “allowed” to publish stories depicting the legendary detective.  Since I have recently re-read some of the original author’s short stories, I can attest that he easily captures the style of the original, including alluding in his stories to others from canon as well as current events of the day, just as Doyle sprinkled throughout his famous stories.

This tale contains two mysteries for the price of one.  Only in the final pages are readers permitted to learn what Holmes had long suspected, that the mysterious events around Carstairs and with the obscure House of Silk are connected.

We open with Holmes as he is requested to assist a local nobleman who thinks he is being stalked by a foreign gangster who he inadvertently wronged.  Unfortunately before that case is resolved, Holmes is detained and framed for murder in pursuit of another criminal.  

When a well-respected police inspector, a local nobleman, and a doctor with a reputation for charity bear witness against him, without him being permitted to speak in his defense, it appears Holmes may be doomed.  With even Mycroft’s hands tied, it appears Watson may be his last hope of avoiding a noose, especially when the latter has a clandestine meeting with none other than Professor Moriarty months before the events of Reichenbach Falls.

Watson comes to the rescue, only to find out he is too late, because somehow Holmes has already affected an impossible escape from an impregnable prison.  From this point on, Watson does his best to pursue unexplored avenues until he finally is reunited with the missing detective in time for them to make a shattering discovery as they call in police reinforcements to dismantle an establishment so evil that even the master criminal wants no part of it. 

I enjoyed this “new” Sherlock Holmes novel just as much as I’ve always loved the original works.  The name and legend of Sherlock Holmes have inspired an entire sub-genre of like-styled stories and books, as well as modern adaptations into television series and movies.  Horowitz has proven, backed by Doyle’s estate, to be a worthy successor to the detective’s legacy and I look forward to reading some of his other works.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Diablo Mesa

Diablo Mesa by Douglas Preston

Diablo Mesa (Nora Kelly, #3) by  Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child

Amy Caudill‘s review

Authors Preston and Child have taken their characters to a lot of different places, but this latest edition to the Nora Kelly series enters previously unexplored territory, starting with an archeological dig that crosses paths with a possible alien conspiracy.

When Nora Kelly rejects an offer made to  the Santa Fe Institute to work with billionaire Lucas Tappan on an archeological survey of the Roswell site, she loses her job, only to get a better offer from Tappan to work for him privately.  Skeptical but intrigued by his “evidence” of something actually crashing in the area, she accepts, and almost immediately uncovers two murder victims buried in the sand.

Nora calls the only FBI agent she knows, Corrie Swanson, with whom she has shared a couple of adventures and thinks of as sort of a friend.  Corrie is assigned the case, which leads her down a rabbit’s hole of conspiracies and more deaths, including that of her mentor.  And for some reason, she can’t quite trust the new mentor from Washington who is assigned as her temporary supervisor.

With a plot that involves an alien probe, a secret quasi-government cult, and an action-packed assault through a hidden underground bunker; this story has plenty of action; as well as a possible romance for Nora Kelly, whose husband Bill Smithback died  due to involvement in one of Agent Pendergast’ cases (see the authors’ largest and best-known series.)

This story features the adventures of Nora Kelly and Corrie Swanson, two alums from Pendergast novels and standalones from authors Preston and Child.  The two women are radically different in age, in outlook, and education, but through this series are drawn together through both shared experiences and their connection to one Agent Aloysius Pendergast.  The earliest book, Old Bones, has them at conflict, and as unwilling allies, but I sense by this third volume at least a thawing of emotions.  They agree to stay on a first name basis, despite coming together for official business.  If they will actually become friends remains to be seen, but I’m sure the authors have some interesting things planned for them in subsequent stories.

I’ll admit I was skeptical about some of the territory this novel  ventured into, but the authors have a talent for making the fantastic seem plausible, and I was deeply satisfied with the conclusion, as multiple antagonists (including Nora’s former bosses) received their just desserts.  I award this book five stars, and look forward to the next installment, Dead Mountain, due out in August.  

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Practical Magic

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic (Practical Magic, #1) by  Alice Hoffman (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

The original, and still the best in my opinion, book in this saga features the Owens witches as they face tragedy, grow up in a society where they are shunned because of their family name, and seek their own paths to love and happiness.

My first exposure to the series was the movie that came out in the 90s, and I admit I pictured Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman in those roles as I read this book for the first time.  I enjoyed the byplay between the sisters, as they sought to have normal, ordinary lives without use of spells, charms or hexes they learned at the feet of their aunts.

Sally, the oldest, has always been the responsible one.  She moves her daughters away from their small town to give them a chance at normalcy, and denies all aspects of her past, as she works hard to provide a life for her daughters, and prevent herself from falling in love again.  Gillian loves and leaves too many behind, until she hooks up with a violent, criminal boyfriend who forces her to use a little of the herbal remedies she learned from the aunts, and once spurned.  Unfortunately, her “remedy” backfires, leading to her arriving on Sally’s doorstep and reintroducing the two to a world they tried to leave behind.

Sally and Gillian were always extraordinary, and simple denial of their heritage and gifts is not enough to separate these parts of themselves, because eventually, the past always catches up.  Eventually, the grown sisters have to turn to the aunts to extract them from trouble, and in the process gain an acceptance of who they always were.

This is a beautiful story, and I can easily see how it inspired a series, which explores the characters of the “aunts” and the multiple generations of this family as they deal with their legacy.  The author switches back and forth between viewpoints frequently, but never in such a way to make it difficult to follow, as the plot continues at a natural pace that allows the reader insight into sometimes complicated characters.

While the novel is somewhat different than the movie, there is enough similarity between the two to satisfy most fans.  While this book contains elements of the supernatural, it is more or less a coming-of-age story with family drama and romance in plentiful supply.  I recommend it to readers across multiple genres and award it four stars.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews: Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Ready Player Two (Ready Player One, #2) by  Ernest Cline (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

This novel depicts the surviving members of High Five, the group that won Halliday’s “Easter Egg” contest in Ready Player One.   The now four former players settle into co-ownership of the Oasis Company, the largest virtual reality service on the planet.  However, all is not peaceful for long following their life-changing win. 

A moral dilemma soon causes a split in the group, concerning a new type of immersion device that plugs subscribers into the virtual reality world through a direct connection to their brains.  Halliday invented this device, but debated on whether to actually ever release it to the public.  Samantha (Artemis) is against it but the others including Wade (Parzival) are all for it, despite Arty’s warnings of dire possible consequences.

The group is brought back together for a board meeting that becomes a nightmare as an autonomous Halliday clone NPC slips into the meeting, stealing the Robe of Anorak from Wade and gaining its invincible, omniscient abilities.  The Halliday clone takes on the persona of Anorak, Halliday’s old online persona, and takes all of the users of the new immersion device hostage.

The only way Anorak will release the millions of subscribers from brain death by overexposure to the Oasis is if the group agrees to another quest, one that will revive a NPC version of Kira Morrow, one of the other creators of the Oasis and Halliday’s unrequited love.  With the fate of the world’s population hanging in the balance; Parzival, Artemis, Shoto, and Aech will have to don their gamer personas and come together again.

While this sequel was similar to the original book in many ways, as in it included a majority of its action inside the virtual world; it comprised completely different quests and virtual “planets” for the reader to explore.  It also focused much more heavily on consequences of actions and moral ethics than its predecessor, which makes sense since the players are now several years older with a larger array of life experiences under their collective belts.

 For instance, Shoto is now a father and Aech is getting married, Wade and Samantha had a short romance followed by a horrible breakup, and the group has spent several years trying to use their vast winnings to benefit the troubled planet and population at large.  With their collective maturity and a group of helpers that call themselves the “Low Five,” the team is as prepared as they’re going to be to deal with the new situation.

I enjoyed this book nearly as much as the first.  While it started slow, with Wade turning into a virtual emo over his breakup with Samantha and overusing the Oasis instead of dealing with his problems, the author was able to pick up the pace a quarter of the way in, and develop an action-based plot that seemed almost a natural consequence of the conclusion of the last novel.  The questions of morality, the future of the human race, and the legitimacy of “virtual” beings also added to the depth of what otherwise was a simple video game action movie.

I give this novel five stars, and recommend it to fans of the original story, as well as to sci-fi fans and role playing fans in general.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Chrysalis

Chrysalis by Lincoln Child

Chrysalis (Jeremy Logan #6) by Lincoln Child

Amy Caudill‘s review

This sixth book in the series by Lincoln Child features a virtual reality company being attacked through corporate sabotage, murder, and mayhem.

 While the technology in the world of Chrysalis is dazzling, the main plot of the novel lies outside in the “real” world, where inside sources seek to undermine the release of a new system that allows subscribers to experience shopping, sightseeing, etc., in a virtual format from the safety of their own home.   Unfortunately, if Jeremy Logan and the Chrysalis security team cannot find the saboteur, or deliver the ransom he/she/they are demanding, logging into the system just may prove deadly in real life.

Jeremy Logan calls himself an enigmaologist, someone who investigates incidents, coincidences, and events that cannot be easily explained.  Sometimes Jeremy finds a little bit of supernatural activity contributing to the subject of his cases, but often the solution lies in someone, or multiple persons, who have simply used unusually clever means to disguise their actions.

In this case, the reader is inundated with clues that point to a possible antagonist who has done something to the hardware, or software of the virtual world.  Intensive investigation proves these to be red herrings, and the culprit is much closer at hand than thought possible.  Jeremy races the clock to find the suspects before the ransom is due, only to discover they keep dropping dead, sometimes in front of the investigators. 

Someone is cleaning house, and the odds of finding the truth before the saboteurs release their killing machine is next to impossible.  Their only chance is a hail liberty journey into unexplored parts of the virtual system to track down compromised data before the deadline.

This book is an action-packed thriller that shows protagonist Jeremy Logan and author Lincoln Child doing what they do best, delving into the depths of the human mind to understand what motivates a murderer, a conspirator, or simply a devious plot.  I award this book five stars, and hope there will be more in the future.  Meanwhile, Lincoln Child is teaming up with frequent partner Douglas Preston in a new release of their joint series, The Cabinet of Dr. Leng, which I would love to get for Christmas!

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Mystery of Mrs. Christie

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

During the winter of 1926, famed author Agatha Christie disappeared for eleven days.  Mrs. Christie was subsequently found, but claimed amnesia of the circumstances of her disappearance once she was recovered.  The mystery of these happenings was never solved.  Marie Benedict is not the first to write about the real-life mystery surrounding the life of the author, but she makes a very compelling case in an historical fiction version of events.

I’ll admit that when reading the prologue and first few chapters of this story I wasn’t entirely sure who was the narrator, only that we were seeing the intimate thoughts of one of the parties involved, as well as a letter and instructions from one of the other main parties.  After a few chapters, the narrator became clear, and this revelation added to the drama already ensued.

Part one, which takes up three quarters of the book, alternates between each chapter with the point of view of Dame Agatha herself, and that of her first husband, Archibald Christie.  In the Agatha chapters, which take place in the past of the main storyline, we catch a brief glimpse of the author’s childhood and youth, followed by Archibald’s courtship of her and their married life.  In the Archibald chapters, which take place in the “present,” we see the events of the disappearance itself, along with the reactions of family and the public to the author’s disappearance.

The second part of the story is told completely in Agatha’s point of view, and details the events of her recovery and the consequences of her, and others’ actions.  This part of the story delves heavily into speculation on the part of author Benedict, but oh what a story she weaves.

Benedict’s Agatha Christie is the epitome of a strong female character.  She has suffered emotional neglect and betrayal at her husband’s hands, but reacts by literally becoming the heroine in her own story.  She “takes control of the narrative of her life” in order not to become the villain to her daughter.  In a time period when divorce and single mothers were frowned upon, she ensures that she has the most favorable outcome for herself and her daughter.  She engineers events so that her husband will be forced to admit his guilt, and thus accept the blame for their divorce, so her reputation does not suffer. 

I loved this book.  The author clearly did a vast amount of research into the Christies’ history, and told a very convincing story of the true events.  While we may never know if some of her theories and conclusions are real, the reader cannot help but wonder and perhaps hope that this is the way it happened.  I give this story five stars, and recommend it to fans of mysteries, especially those of Agatha Christie, and those of historical fiction and romances.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Loch Down Abbey

Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine

Loch Down Abbey by  Beth Cowan-Erskine

Amy Caudill‘s review

In a story that combines the social mores of Downton Abbey with the recent panic created by COVID-19, the staff of a noble household must determine if someone killed the head of the family, the Earl, or if it was a tragic accident.  With an entire household of self-involved relatives with numerous secrets of their own, an inept local police Inspector, and a staff largely bedridden with a mysterious plague, Head Housekeeper Mrs. MacBain has her work cut out for her.

In 1930s Scotland, a prominent family is on the verge of collapse.  Their family business is in ruin, not helped by the death of the father or the ascension to the title of his oldest son, Angus, who does nothing all day but hide in the tennis pavilion with his brother-in-law, Hugh. 

The younger son, Fergus, has had a plan to try to save the family fortune, but neither father nor brother listens to him.  After his father’s death, this situation puts him on MacBain’s suspect list, but she cannot find evidence to tie him in.  Of course, there are others with far more motive. 

When the will is read, the Earl’s wife’s Lady’s maid is left a stipend, as is the family ward, whom was rescued from an orphanage.  Why is Iris given the same stipend as the Earl’s younger children?  The more the family try to hide, the more the secrets will come out, thanks to a depleted staff and a number of family children running wild, as well as a desperate search for valuables to sell to save their home.

Meanwhile, the illness is forcing the remaining healthy staff to wear mask and gloves while waiting on the family, and shortages of flour, sugar, and toilet paper created some humorous situations and tantrums from the more entitled residents.

In the end, the mystery is solved, the spoilt occupants of Loch Down Abbey get their just rewards, and the Abbey is sold to begin a new era, with new owners that remain a mystery up to the end of the book.

This book was more of a spoof than an actual mystery, but it was an entertaining read.  I enjoyed the fact that it combined the setting of a period drama with modern day issues and did so while being true to the time period and the behavior of the characters.

I give the story four stars and recommend it to fans of both mysteries and historical fiction.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Truly Devious

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1) by  Maureen Johnson (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

A decades-old mystery, a young girl who is determined to solve it, and a cast of brilliant but dysfunctional teenagers who may or may not know more than they think-sounds like a good recipe for a book, doesn’t it? 

In the first volume of the series by author Maureen Johnson, Stevie Bell has just been accepted at the elite Ellingham Academy, a school for talented and exceptional teenagers.  One of her classmates is a web star for a series he supposedly wrote, starred in, and produced himself.  One is a bestselling author.  Another is an artist. There are also an engineer, a computer programmer, and Stevie, who studies cold cases and wants to crack the case surrounding the school’s now deceased and mysterious owner.

The book transitions back and forth between the present day and the events in the 1930s, when Albert Ellingham received a note, written as a poem with letters cut from newspapers and magazines, which seemingly foretold of the horrifying fate that befell his wife and young daughter.  Iris and Alice Ellingham, whom we only learn of from the accounts of others, were kidnapped, held for ransom, but never returned to Albert in the isolated mountain top school.

Iris’ body is later found, but of Alice there is no trace but a single shoe.  A major investigation by the FBI ensues, and a suspect is arrested, tried and convicted, but the little girl is never seen again.

In the present day, Stevie sees or perhaps dreams that a new message, in the same style and signed by Truly Devious, appears on her bedroom wall at night.  She is not entirely sure if it is real, but the next day a classmate is found dead.  Stevie finally has her chance to participate in a real investigation instead of simply reading about them, but will she endanger herself, alienate her friends, and destroy her relationship with her maybe boyfriend in the process?

I loved the setting of this book, in an isolated mountainside in upstate Maine.  The grounds of the mansion/school are beautiful, and add to the suspense of the story.  I also enjoyed the premise; a modern-day murder that echoes an older mystery; though there were a few points that irked me on this one.  Even though this is the first book of a quadrilogy, I would have expected at least some resolution by the end of its 420 pages.  The story moves at a slow pace, but at the end of this volume we have only one death and the disappearance of another student who may or may not have been responsible.  The solution to the older mystery, such as it may be, was not even touched on. 

I enjoyed the first book, but I’m not sure I liked it enough to stick with it through three more volumes to for the mysteries to be solved.  That is why I only gave this book three stars.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Innocents

The Innocents by C.A. Asbrey

The Innocents (The Innocents Mystery Series, #1) by  C.A. Asbrey (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

As if being a female Pinkerton detective isn’t hard enough.  Abigail Mackay has dealt with numerous skeptical local law enforcement officers, potential witnesses who have good reason to trust no authorities, and plenty of criminals who would rather shoot first and rob later, no questions asked.  But even her experience hasn’t prepared her for the likes of Jake Conroy and Nat Quinn, two outlaws with hidden depths and a peculiar moral code.

When Abigail is sent by Alan Pinkerton to investigate the train robbing gang of The Innocents, she literally collides with one of the Robin Hood-type outlaws.  Naturally though, it’s not them that rob the train she is travelling on; instead it’s a group of murderous bandits who are impersonating The Innocents to ruin their ~good name.  But why would a rival gang pretend to be another? 

This is only one question Abi has to answer when two prostitutes are murdered, and the real Innocents are conducting an investigation that parallels hers.  When Abi is shot and saved by the duo of Nat and Jake, she proposes an unlikely truce while they join forces to take down the murderers before more lives are lost.

The main characters are very engaging.  The dynamic between the two outlaws and the female federal agent is charged with electricity and sexual tension.  I was almost surprised that Abi didn’t end up in a love triangle, but probably the two males are too honorable for that to happen.  Perhaps Abi will be drawn to Nat; that certainly seemed the direction author C. A. Asbrey was going in the final scenes. However, considering this was only the first book in a series who’s to say for sure.

I also was intrigued enough by this story to actually Google female Pinkertons; yes they existed and one in particular helped foil an assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln.  Yeah for early female role models; I don’t remember any mention of this group in my high school or college history courses.

Overall, this was a very interesting historical fiction/detective/romantic western novel, and well worth checking out.  I give this book five stars.