Category Archives: Book Reviews

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.  

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities

Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities by James Lovegrove

Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities (The Cthulhu Casebooks, #2) by

James Lovegrove

Amy Caudill‘s review

In the second volume of author James Lovegrove’s trilogy The Cthulhu Casebooks, he once again combines the characters from the classic author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with creatures and situations from another classic author, H.P. Lovecraft.

The second book opens approximately fifteen years after the conclusion of the events of the first, as the author shares a somewhat edited manuscript he supposedly inherited from Lovecraft himself, which was written by the real Dr. John Watson.  As before, the text is told in one continuous linear story line, and bears only passing resemblance to Watson’s “fictional” published stories, which are supposedly both a source of income for Watson and Holmes and a sanitized outlet for Watson to share the horrific events the duo have endured.

In “reality,” the “true” events Watson and Holmes have participated in and resolved are much more terrifying than dealing with thieves, murderers and forgers. They are the main champions in a very small selective group of men who are aware that the Old Gods and Gods from Outer Realms are alive, present, and capable of enacting and reacting to events and beings on Earth.  They remain dedicated to not only thwarting and containing this evil, but protecting the world at large from knowledge and panic over its existence.

The first and third parts of this narration are the usual for Holmes and Watson; an event causes a spark of concern, an investigation that leads into danger, a clue appearing at an opportune moment, and a confrontation that may become deadly. 

The second part of the story is actually a journal read aloud by the heroes that was written by Zachariah Conroy, depicting his own encounters with the arcane through a fellow student and colleague, Nathaniel Whateley, at the fictional Miskatonic University, an Ivy League school in Massachusetts. Whateley possesses a copy of the same book that Holmes has fiercely guarded, that allows him to conjure and control various creatures of the supernatural order.  Unfortunately, Whateley does not possess Holmes’ strength of will and moral constitution, and Conroy is too involved in his experiments to understand the true nature of the beast they will release, until it consumes him.

In the end, we see a return of a supposedly dead body-jumping nemesis, as two lives are forever destroyed, and a great threat upon humanity is held back, but for how long?

This novel, as with the first, is faithful to the characterizations of Holmes and Watson while placing them into situations Doyle never envisioned, and at the same time contains enough Lovecraftian horror to satisfy diehard fans of that genre.  Overall a well done and engaging story, that I give five stars.  I will definitely check out the third volume of The Cthulhu Casebooks in the future, and perhaps some of James Lovegrove’s other Sherlock Holmes stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

When I picked up this book I expected a paranormal adventure, perhaps with some female bonding, but what I got was a book that while containing a true horror tale was more about clashes between social classes and genders in 1990s Charleston, South Carolina.

The main character, Patricia, is a typical southern housewife-devoted to her career-minded, neglectful husband, and her two children who have their own issues, and has obligations to society to meet.  She also has a mother-in-law who is senile living in her garage room and a new neighbor that is definitely too good to be true.  Thankfully, she has her friends in the local book club to depend on when things get rough.

Who knew, that in 1990s Mt. Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston, the biggest obstacle a group of women would face when confronting a proven killer who has preyed on children and women for decades, would not be the monster himself.  Instead, the real obstacles include their own beliefs regarding reality and religion, but also their overbearing, dictatorial husbands who when they ask for assistance refuse to believe them and are afraid they will embarrass themselves or more realistically, their husbands and their standing in the community.

The men believe the women have concocted this fantasy about James Harris, who is their new business partner, because they are bored housewives who spend too much time reading lurid and fanciful literature for their monthly book club meetings.  The monster, James Harris, insinuates himself into their sheltered little society in such a way that the families all depend on his good graces for their good fortune.  The men do not want to upset their partner, and the women are afraid to go against their husbands, because in some situations, they will pay with beatings and forced medication.

Patricia’s own husband, the doctor in the group, is convinced she is having a breakdown, and rather than listen to her, prescribes anti-depressants and accuses her of destroying their family.  In the face of the overwhelming obstacles, the women let the fight go, until events that include a reappearance of Patricia’s now dead mother-in-law and a fatal attack on one of their own force them to band together and act. 

This book, the first I have read by author Grady Hendrix, is so much more than a horror novel.  It does contain truly terrifying scenes that are not for children or anyone who does not appreciate gore, but the blood and mayhem is not the main focus of the book.  I award the author five stars, and applaud him for a novel that contains depth of plot that surprised me.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

This epic story follows the lives of three sisters, descendants of witches, who have been separated by fate and falsehoods, but are brought together again through mutual pain and longing.

The Eastwood sisters, each having endured separate tragedies, find each other again in New Salem in the 1800s.  They have been apart for some time, but one half-conjured spell is enough to forge an unbreakable link between the three.  While they are rediscovering each other, and dealing with their past issues, they come to realize they meet the archetypes necessary to call back the Lost Tower of Avalon, the last stronghold of witchcraft on Earth which was burned by men who feared the witches’ power and independence.

Bella, The Crone, is a librarian who prizes knowledge, and will become the wise mentor of the group who catalogues all their recovered spells.  Agnes, The Mother, single and pregnant in a time when that was not at all acceptable, but who is stronger and more capable than she realizes.  Juniper, The Maiden, is a fierce warrior, fearless, but with a dark history that will play a part in the outcome.

Together, the three will become The Last Three and uncover The Lost Tower, giving women the power to make their lives a little more bearable in an age when women are considered property and not afforded any real rights, not least of all the ability to vote for their leaders.

The author skillfully hides the lost spells of witches in children’s rhymes and fairy tales, the last place any man would think to look, to keep them safe for future generations.  One male witch, however, seeks to root out and destroy all knowledge of witchcraft so that he alone has power, and can enthrall a city to his bidding.  In the end, the only way to stop a new round of witch burnings, and save Agnes’s daughter, is to destroy the hold Gideon Hill has on the city.  It won’t be easy though, because he has just been elected as Mayor of New Salem and has made puppets of half the population. 

There were multiple points in this 530 page tome where I felt, okay, they have reached their end goal, what could possibly be left?  However, the author quickly wrote in another roadblock, another obstacle to overcome.  While the story was long, it was absorbing, and only in a couple of places, like midway through, did I feel the pacing was slow.

Overall, a very good story, one that takes the reader in completely unexpected directions.  The characterization of the three, as well as the antagonist and a few secondary players, was well drawn.  I especially enjoyed Juniper, who started out so brash and angry at the world but by the end had actually come around to feel empathy for Gideon Hill and was unable to kill him, despite very good reasons to do so.  I give this book 4.5 stars and recommend it to anyone interested in fantasy or paranormal novels that contain very strong, independent female characters.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Scorpion’s Tail

The Scorpion's Tail by Douglas Preston

The Scorpion’s Tail (Nora Kelly #2) by  Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child

Amy Caudill‘s review

When Corrie Swanson is given a seemingly routine field assignment by her boss at the Albuquerque field office of the FBI, no one expects that the shooting of a cop at a ghost town will lead to the uncovering of plots of conspiracy, murder, lost treasure, and a huge cover up on a military base. 

Corrie once again relies on the assistance of Nora Kelly to excavate a corpse found in High Lonesome, a relatively untouched ghost town, but one with recent signs of looting and of course, a shooting.  Both Corrie and Nora, the main protagonists in this series, are alumni of multiple novels in authors’ Preston and Child main series, the Agent Pendergast books.

In the last book of this series, Old Bones, Corrie and Nora did not exactly part on good terms, but they seem to respect each other’s abilities and cannot deny that on some levels they need each other’s help.  There is much made of their dynamic, these two who are not friends but connected through their sometime association with Pendergast, as reluctant partners, drawn into the investigation more and more despite pressures from Corrie’s bosses and status as a rookie and Nora’s delayed separate work and aspirations for a promotion to Chief of Archeology at the Santa Fe Archeological Institute.

When the victim is identified as the former owner of a ranch on land appropriated by the military for the first atomic test, and evidence suggests the test is actually what caused his death, the FBI, with Nora in tow, visit the Army base to ask uncomfortable questions of its commander, General McGurk, who apparently has familial ties to the area.

Who is involved in the looting and cover up?  Who is making sure that no witness survives, including trying to kill Nora and Corrie as they make covert trips back to High Lonesome, where only a part of the mystery will be solved.

This book has excellent pacing, going back and forth between multiple scenarios and points of view, as par for the writing team.  The reader is skillfully drawn into the story, without much clue as to where the next clue will appear and the next antagonist show his true colors.  In the end, the token appearance by Pendergast, (in only one short chapter near the conclusion,) will the final mystery be uncovered and the guilty receive their due punishment.

Another excellent novel from two of my favorite authors, that I award five stars for action, drama, strong female leads, all in a FBI procedural that contains so much more.  With the next novel, Diablo Mesa, already out, I’m sure I will be revisiting this universe very soon.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : An Eye for an Eye

An Eye for an Eye by Carol Wyer

An Eye for an Eye (Detective Kate Young, #1) by Carol Wyer (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

The first book in this series introduces us to Detective Inspector Kate Young, a driven, successful British cop who has recently survived a trauma that is at first only alluded to in flashbacks and offhand comments, but the reader soon becomes aware affects her entire life, professionally and personally.

We meet Kate as she is attempting to come to terms with a tragedy she witnessed, while being on medical leave.  Each day is a struggle, without the job that gives her purpose.  When her boss calls her in to head a murder investigation, Kate worries that she is being set up to fail.  She has to deal with a team that is concerned with her mental state, a couple of higher-ups that want to look over her shoulder and yet withhold vital Intel, and the fear that she is losing her mind.

The murderer soon strikes again, and a list of potential future targets includes one of her bosses, all while Kate is undergoing withdrawal from anxiety meds and trying to direct a team of seasoned cops who may or may not have her back.  Will she be able to keep it together and prove she can still do the job before she is removed from the case or the killer strikes again?

Carol Wyer has written an excellent mystery with a complicated, driven heroine that I enjoyed reading very much.  The actual antagonist was presented as a minor character in the story, someone that no one would have expected to be a criminal mastermind at first introduction, which gave the book a delicious twist. 

That being said, the background plot was a little bit easier to guess.  Maybe I’ve read too many mystery stories, but I figured out the mysterious fatal weapon before the detectives uncovered that information.  I also understood the secret tragedy that Kate would not admit to herself until three quarters of the way through the book.  I am intrigued with the direction the author chose to help Kate deal with her issue, and how that creates another character foil for her through the end of the story and probably into the next book. 

I probably will pick up a copy of the next story to see how that situation further develops, as well as the tantalizing bits that her husband left for Kate to investigate about corruption in the police force.  All in all, a very good story and a strong start for a series.  I give this book four stars.

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.