Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Murder at the Vicarage

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple, #1) by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review

The Murder at the Vicarage is the first of the Miss Marple books, a series featuring one of author Agatha Christie’s “detectives.”   However, in this novel most of the actual investigative work is not done by the detective in question.  The case involves a murder that takes place at a Vicarage in the small English town of St. Mary Mead, but most of the actual legwork is done by the Vicar himself, Leonard Clement, with assistance of the local doctor, and only marginally the local constable and his superiors. 

The “detective,” Miss Marple, is only mentioned briefly here and there, and appears in the book at only a few points to point out theories and possible suspects until half-way through the story, and then only takes a more prominent role in the final chapters. 

While she takes the role of “armchair detective” to a whole new level, Miss Marple does have some amazing insights gathered from her “hobby” of observing people.  She presents her views in a way that is far less invasive or potentially offensive than some of her fictional male counterparts; she actually keeps up the appearance of a demur, gentle, polite elderly lady while she is lecturing the police on their assumptions and mistakes.

I have long been a fan of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and have read a number of her stories without a “detective” central character, so this book was quite a surprise for me.  Having read a number of Christie’s works featuring Hercule Poirot and The Beresfords, I was at first dismayed to realize how little the series heroine was featured in this story. 

I am uncertain about how much I like this particular detective.  Since this was the first book I have read of the Miss Marple series, I don’t know what to expect from further stories.  I decided to just enjoy the story, which has the usual plethora of twists and turns, false blinds and potential murderers; even if the foot work is done mostly by a bored Vicar who is actually an engaging character in his own right.

 However, the more I think about it perhaps that was the author’s plan all along?  Christie certainly does not present Miss Marple in the same manner she does her other protagonists, but perhaps that is by design?  She does appear to be setting Marple up for a more prominent role that is not apparent here but may be built upon later.  I’m sure that I will give in to curiosity and check out another story in the collection at some point. 

Meanwhile, this book is an engaging mystery, with plenty of action to charm the fans of English mystery stories, and even a strong, independent female detective in the background to appeal to readers.  I give this book four stars.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Lost Island

The Lost Island by Douglas Preston

The Lost Island by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review

 When Gideon is approached by Glinn to steal a page from a famous Illuminated manuscript, on display in New York and in broad daylight from inside an incredibly secure exhibition, he has to think twice before accepting the challenge.  What clinches it for him is when Glinn hints that a secret map with the key to a “miracle cure” is hidden underneath the text.  A mysterious benefactor wants to find and distribute the cure that may possibly save Gideon’s life, as well as heal Glinn’s injuries.

Gideon finds himself summarily teamed with an inhospitable partner and recreating the voyage of Odysseus on the trail of a lost tropical island.  While on the course of this mission, they will encounter the last remnant of a civilization straight out of myth, and face a heartbreaking ethical dilemma.

The authors skillfully tie this latest book into their prior novel The Ice Limit, which introduces Eli Glinn and Effective Engineering Solutions; the mission where Glinn met his first real career failure and received his crippling injuries.  Glinn’s obsession and guilt over repairing the damage done on that mission to himself and others and undoing its consequences have overwhelmed his judgement.  His entire team, not just Gideon and Amiko, as well as the previously lost island come into great risk from his actions and lack of self-control.

Although Glinn’s motives are partially altruistic, as the secret client, a fact not revealed till near the end, his goal to fix his biggest mistake ends up causing another catastrophe.  He learns the hard way, and many pay the price for his hubris, that he is not fallible, and his methodology for preventing failure by mapping out all possible failures cannot conceivable account for every variable. 

Glinn is forced to admit he needs Gideon’s impulsive, instinctive methods to counter and balance his own methods.  Only his admission of his limitations gains Gideon’s continued assistance on the next mission.  While the “cure” seems to be helping Glinn, Gideon does not appear to be so lucky, so the only real thing he has left to live for is the chance to do so good before he dies.

This story, a definite departure from previous books in the series as it takes several fantastical turns, is nevertheless an excellent thrilling adventure.  Gideon’s character continues to grow as he wrestles with his conscience and awareness of his mortality.  It is nice to see other characters are capable of growth and change as well.

I award this book four point five stars for originality and amazing action, as well as depth of character and plots that tie into the authors’ greater universe.  I look forward to reading the next book in the series, but I may have to reread the original The Ice Limit book to refresh my memory before I go forward.  Still, this book and the Gideon Crew series are must-reads for fans of thrillers and mysteries, as well as fans of modern day treasure hunting stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Battle Ground

Battle Ground by Jim Butcher

Battle Ground (The Dresden Files, #17) by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

Since the last Dresden Files book, Peace Talks, ended on a dire cliffhanger, it comes as no surprise that Battle Ground picks up just hours after the action ended in the last novel.  The Unseelie Nations are forced to push their differences aside and ban together to stop an extra-universe invasion force; one that is led by the last of the ancient Titans, a being filled with hate and bent on destruction of everything. 

Harry is front and center as the Winter Knight, the battle commander of Queen Mab and Lady Molly, and finally accepts fully the power of the Winter Mantle.  He attempts to do so without allowing the power to overwhelm him and change his personality.  With this new ability he gains control over the forces of winter, along with the ability to sway humans under his control and the ability to know exactly where each of his “soldiers” is and how they’re faring on the battle field.

Harry comes close to losing it though, when SI cop Rudolph, who already holds a grudge against Dresden, kills Murphy in a blind panic.  Luckily, he has friends to stand by him and ground him, even if he would rather they remain safe than assist him.

There were a few moments in this book, which is really one epic battle that happens mostly over a day or two, where I thought that there would be no allies left to fight with Dresden by the end, and no bad guys left to fill the void.  However, Butcher planned his universe out well, because suddenly villains mentioned several books ago are on the scene, ready to snatch away the victory.

In the end, the battle may be won but the war has hardly begun, as the Supernatural forces are at odds with the Wizard’s Council, and humanity is all too aware of the supernatural community, which has done its best to remain under the radar till now.

I am sad that I have now caught up with all the published books in Dresden Files series, though one source indicated that Jim Butcher is considering a further five books to add to the saga.  I‘ll just have to wait patiently until the next release.  Meanwhile, I give this book five stars and recommend the series to any fans of urban fantasy, epic stories, and paranormal detective fiction.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Echo Wife

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

If the “other woman” is actually another version of you how can you be upset with her?  With yourself?  Or do you simply blame your knowingly unfaithful soon-to-be ex?  Evelyn Caldwell faces this dilemma when her husband appropriates her research into human cloning to make a copy of her that is more accommodating to his desires.  Naturally she leaves him, but when the clone named Martine contacts her, she cannot resist meeting her domesticated twin.

When she finally visits Martine at the home she shares with Nathan, she is not prepared for the chaotic events that have happened there, or the lengths she will have to venture to protect herself, her reputation in the scientific community, and the innocent lives Nathan has badly abused.

As Evelyn and Martine bond over shared love and hatred of their mutual “husband,” they explore both their differences and similarities.  Martine overrides her programming; and Evelyn reminisces about her life growing up, her early relationship with Nathan, and the experiences that have shaped her personality to make her who she is today. 

In the end, they may not like each other but they decide they need each other for what each can offer her “sister.”  The story ends in a surprisingly peaceful manner considering the hard road it takes the characters to get there.

The author raises many questions about the nature of humanity, the meaning of being human, and the ethics of human cloning.  Are they lab specimens or are they human beings?  Do they have the same feelings, the same desires, and the same life goals of naturally-grown humans?  Who has the right or the capability to decide their fates?

This book combines science fiction with a murder plot and relationship drama of multiple characters, a couple of who are at their core strong, independent females.  I recommend this book to readers across multiple genres and give it four stars for an interesting plot with many twists and a carefully thought-out administration of the “science.”

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Shadows in Death

Shadows in Death by J.D. Robb

Shadows in Death (In Death, #51) by J.D. Robb (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

Once again Eve Dallas is pitted against a vengeful and hate-driven murderer, only this time the culprit is not a previously unknown killer, but rather a childhood rival from Roarke’s past. 

The man who desperately wanted to be the acknowledged firstborn son of Roarke’s criminal father, despite genetic evidence; who resented Roarke for his recognized parentage; has decided it’s time he claims what Roarke “stole” from him, the name of Patrick Roarke.  The once vicious child thug has become a successful contract killer, and a job in New York seems serendipitous, especially when Roarke appears at Eve’s side at the sight of Lorcan Cobbe’s latest completed assignment.

As usual, there are sci-fi elements in the story coupled with the suspense and murder, as the foundation setting is the not-too-distant future, in a world that has survived and thrived after a social upheaval known as the Urban Wars.  However, the sci-fi elements are limited to technology that is not too fanciful or advanced, since at best the setting is only about forty years in the future.  The main focus is on the police procedural, along with elements of suspense and murder, and held together by the glue of the relationship dynamic between Roarke and Dallas.

This novel, the fifty-first in the series, is less than usual about solving a mystery, since we know the culprit very early in the story, but more about a manhunt coupled with the strength of the relationship between the main characters, as well as their relationships with the supporting cast. 

The NYPSD have embraced Roarke, Eve’s husband, and a frequent “civilian consultant,” as one of their own, and respond to the threat against him as they would to a fellow officer.  There is something very gratifying about seeing a huge group effort affected against the sadistic killer.

The conclusion gives long-time readers the satisfaction of seeing justice served with a side helping of teamwork, loyalty, and cooperation on an international scale.  However, those new to the series can still enjoy the various elements of the police drama, as well as the romance and friendship between various characters, as this ensemble effort showcases the some of the best of the larger universe. 

This is a definite must-read to those who enjoy strong female characters in a mystery-thriller environment with just a little bit of science fiction elements.  I award this story five stars as I am amazed the series is still going so strong after fifty-one (and counting) books.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1) by Charlaine Harris (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

This first novel in the Southern Vampire Series by author Charlaine Harris features an alternate universe where vampires knowingly walk among ordinary humans.  As a matter of fact, they are protected by laws regarding discrimination, murder, and illegal harvesting of their blood, which has pharmaceutical properties.

In this universe, Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress at a small-town Louisiana bar and has a secret of her own; she is a telepath who considers herself “disabled” for her inability to control her unwanted talent.  Naturally, she is attracted to the first vampire she meets, a homeboy-newly returned to native lands named Bill Compton, and one she cannot read like a book. 

This unlikely pair must navigate romance, prejudice, and serial murder amid of setting of changing landscapes and values in an unusual urban fantasy setting.

Who is actually killing the young women, all “fang-bangers,” girls who enjoy being bitten by vampires?  When Sookie’s grandmother becomes an unwitting target, the investigation is derailed momentarily, but the police seem determined to pin the crimes on Sookie’s brother.  Meanwhile, Sookie has problems of her own as the vampire hierarchy that Bill must answer to discover her secret gift and want to exploit her talent.

I’ve read a book in another of the author’s series previously, the Aurora Teagarden books, but I had never actually picked up one of this series, which was the basis for the TV series True Blood, until now.  I found the book to be both exciting, with plenty of action, and humorous, thanks to touches such as the “reveal” of Sookie’s boss at the bar as a shapeshifter, and the addition of the dimwitted vampire “Bubba,” a former celebrity whose change into a vampire went very wrong.

With a murderer on the loose, romance, rivalry, and a mafia-style subplot featuring the vampire organization, this book turns cozy paranormal mysteries on its head.  I award Dead Until Dark five stars and plan to read more of the series in the future.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews: Gideon’s Corpse

Gideon's Corpse by Douglas Preston

Gideon’s Corpse (Gideon’s Crew #2)
by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review

Loner, scholar, roguish hero-with-a-death-sentence-on-his-head Gideon Crew is back with a new adventure that begins shortly after the end of the last book.  Gideon is once again in front of Eli Glinn, ready to tell the man off after the completion of recent events, when Glinn reels him in once more.

A former colleague of Gideon’s is holding hostages in New York.  The culprit is the most unlikely terrorist Gideon can imagine, but events place a great deal of suspicion on the now dead antagonist.  Crew, with the assistance of FBI Agent Stone Fordyce, are soon investigating a possible nuclear threat to Washington DC, with a trail of clues that leads back to Los Alamos before Gideon himself comes under suspicion.

Framed as a terrorist, Gideon must make his way through the wilderness with an unwilling accomplice to find the true culprit(s) before “N” day, when the nation will be brought to a halt.  But is the threat what Gideon and the multi-agency task force believe it to be?  Who framed Gideon, and more importantly, who can he actually trust?

This is the second book in a series by the team of Preston and Child, more famous for their Pendergast novels.  While there are some similarities between Gideon Crew and Aloysius Pendergast, the two protagonists are quite different.  While both main characters share a troubled background, like fine dining, and a have a knack for solving difficult cases; Crew is younger, rougher, and more likely to venture outside of the law and morality.  Crew’s partners and love interests tend to either die or not stick around; reinforcing the idea that crew is a bit of a loner, one who would rather live in an isolated cabin and go fishing than interact with others.

In the end of this volume, Crew has apparently made peace with the idea that he is dying, and resolves to use his remaining time to help others by working for Eli Glinn and Effective Engineering Solutions, perhaps saving the world.  While this speaks well for his character, I was a little disappointed to have the diagnosis verified.  After all, Crew is a young man (character) with a great deal of potential if allowed to live, and have more adventures.  Besides, I could see Glinn using the “death sentence” as a hoax to get his own way.  I guess I’ll just have to keep reading the series to find out which is true.

I award this book four stars for incredible action and plot twists, as well as developing an antagonist who achieved some amazing influences on the government and military without being a member of either. 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Secret of Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review  

This novel begins by setting the scene for a misadventure between two comrades who may or may not be of suspicious character and nature, one whose true identity is not revealed until the very end of the story.

This book, referred to as the first in the Superintendent Battle series, does not contain a plot revolving around one of the author’s famed illustrious detectives.   Rather, Superintendent Battle, while a character in the story, takes more of a minor or secondary role, while the main protagonist is at once a suspect and the chief, if unofficial, investigator of events.

The famous estate of Chimneys, a landmark and tourist destination of England, is a seat of nobility and the location of historic meetings between government officials of various countries, as well as the site of a murder and the rumored repository of a stolen treasure.  When Anthony Cade, posing as his friend Jimmy McGrath, is invited there in an attempt to intercept a manuscript he has been charged with delivering to a publisher, he declines due to prior obligation.

However, Anthony soon finds himself on the way to the country estate anyway as coincidence or circumstance brings him to the aid of an English beauty, whose honor is questioned by some inflammatory documents Jimmy also imparted to him.  The following day brings forth an attempted burglary and multiple homicides, one of which Anthony helps conceal until the proper time comes for confession.

Who actually is the murderer/murderers? And how are the pending publication of a noble’s memoirs, the murder of the heir of a deposed monarch, and a missing diamond tied together?  Also, how many princes are actually present at Chimneys, and what is the real identity of the mysterious Anthony Cade, whose history is buried between Canada and the Congo?

Dame Christie keeps the reader guessing until the very last in this classic whodunit story.  Be very sure, dear reader, who you trust, because almost no character is actually whom they seem at first appearance.

I award this story five stars.  While it is not my favorite of all Christie’s books I have read, it is still an absorbing story with enough twists and turns to satisfy any mystery fan.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Peace Talks

Peace Talks by Jim Butcher

Peace Talks (The Dresden Files, #16) by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

In this highly anticipated return to the world of Harry Dresden, in the first novel added to the series in several years, Harry is faced with a conference that can either bring about the end of hostilities between the supernatural nations, or see the world destroyed.

It doesn’t make things any easier for Harry when he discovers that the leadership of White Council of Wizards, to which Harry still nominally belongs even as he’s serving as the Knight of the Winter Queen, is plotting to remove Harry from their ranks and thus their protection.  Of course, at the same time, Harry finds out he is about to become an uncle to his half-vampire half-brother’s child, just as Thomas for reasons unknown tries to assassinate the King of one of the member nations of the Unseelie Accords.

With many of Harry’s friends and allies either unwilling to help or having their hands tied, he reaches out to the leader of the White Court vampires, Thomas’s half-sister, to help him pull off a rescue under the collective noses of the supernatural world.

Even these events must take secondary priority as it becomes clear that the Peace Conference is in reality the opening volley in a war between the accorded nations and the Fomor, an ancient enemy newly returned.  While several nations offer assistance for a collective defense, the Winter Court is unable to help as an assault of the universe is affected against the Outsiders, the enemy from beyond the universe.

This latest book, while exciting and containing enough action to satisfy many readers, left me thinking something was lacking in the storyline.  There are no resolutions to any of the major plotlines in this book.  Granted this story is much shorter than some of recent novels, those usually showed at least some type of closure to at least most of the major points by the conclusion; while this entire book read more like a setup for the next book, Battleground, which was released a few months later.  I have yet to read the last novel, but I hope the resolutions missing from Peace Talks will be presented here.  Perhaps if the author presented this book as the first of a duology it would have given readers an idea of what to expect.

I’m giving this paranormal thriller four stars because, while the writing is excellent as usual, the plot seems uncomplete.  Still, I will have to get the next book ( the last to date) in short order to see if it meets my expectations.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews: Snow White Learns Witchcraft: Stories and Poems

Snow White Learns Witchcraft by Theodora Goss

Snow White Learns Witchcraft: Stories and Poems
by Theodora Goss (Goodreads Author), Jane Yolen (Goodreads Author) (Introduction)
Amy Caudill‘s review

I’m a big fan of the concept of rehashing fairy tales.  Heaven knows it’s not a new idea- it’s been done multiple times: by Disney; by modern authors; by producers of such mini-series as The 10th Kingdom and television shows such as Once Upon a Time; and these are frequently well-received.  So, when I find that Theodora Goss, an author I’ve read before, wrote an anthology in this genre, I had to check it out.

What I found was a collection of short stories and poems, some new version of famous fairy tales and others I was less familiar with, but ultimately an interesting compilation of shorts perfect for reading in the break room or when you have a just a few minutes to yourself.

Some of the stories were funny and poignant at the same time.  One of my favorites was the version of the little mermaid (not Ariel) and the Sea Witch, who have grown to be lonely old women who only have each other for company.  I also enjoyed the Cinderella story, as told through the voice of one of the stepsisters, who became a podiatrist after cutting off part of her foot in an attempt to fit into the crystal shoe.

Some of the stories were morbid; some were optimistic; as the damsels in distress took responsibility for their own destinies and realized they had modern ideals and independence, even if the world they lived in didn’t agree.  Some were a little depressing, such as the Red Riding Hood story which depicted the Huntsman as also being a werewolf. 

The writing was exceptional, though I wish the author spent more time (and words) on the story from which the collection takes its title.  Snow White has always been one of my personal favorite fairy tales, but this version is so short that perhaps only its theme is worth mentioning-the character wants to write her own ending to the story.

Still, it is a brilliant collection, and a quick read; a rather refreshing change from the 400-600 page tomes that normally attract me.  I easily give it 4.5 stars and recommend it to fans of both revamped fairy tales and strong female characters.