Category Archives: Book Reviews

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.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Gideon’s Sword

Gideon's Sword by Douglas Preston

Gideon’s Sword (Gideon’s Crew #1) by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review

I’ve long been a fan of the writing partners Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  Their Pendergast series is among my favorites.  The duo has also written another series that is only peripherally linked to that series by virtue of a supporting character that appears in both series, Eli Glinn.

Since I have (for now) finished reading the one series, I decided to turn my attention to the other.  Gideon Crew is a maverick in his early thirties who has had a difficult life, beginning with the trauma of watching his father gunned down in front of him when he was twelve for alleged treason.

A few years later, Gideon’s mother, on her deathbed, tells Gideon that his father was framed and she expects him to avenge his father’s death.  She tells Gideon to take his time; to learn; to grow; to study so that he can make those responsible for destroying their family pay. 

Gideon takes her words to heart, and the next few years see him making a career for himself as both an engineer and a jewel thief, honing skills necessary to take down a retired army officer who still has numerous contacts in the government.  This actually comprises only the first part of the book, which then takes an interesting turn.

Apparently the head of Effective Engineering Solutions, Inc., a firm specializing in “fixing” issues for multiple governments and interest groups headed by Eli Glinn, was impressed by Gideon’s takedown and want to recruit him.  They need him to help save the world as we know it; or at least intercept a Chinese scientist who may or may not be defecting and who may or may not have the details of a weapon of mass destruction with him.  Oh, and he arrives in the States in only a few hours. 

Naturally the mission is compromised by a Chinese assassin, Nodding Crane, who also is after the scientist.  Also, Eli Glinn delivers the news that Gideon Crew has only one year left to live.  Will he rise to the challenge by going undercover against Chinese and American agents, learn the truth about the “weapon” and avenge the death of his girlfriend; or will he take the money and retreat to his fishing cabin to live out what is left of his life?

(Spoilers!) Gideon leads the reader on a wild ride from start to finish, including a standoff worthy of the best of Preston and Child.  This new character, so different from the protagonists of their other joint series, is a reckless, irreverent, and wise-cracking, version of an anti-hero who doesn’t pull punches or hold back when lives or truth is on the line. 

I award this book four stars and look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews: Body on Baker Street

Body on Baker Street (A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery, #2)
by Vicki Delany (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

This second book in the Sherlock Holmes Bookstore series begins as a prima donna author demands that Gemma Doyle make her bookstore available for a last minute signing event.  Unfortunately, the author, who is famous for a series of Holmes-inspired novels revolving around the fictional romantic relationship between the original Sherlock Holmes and Mrs. Hudson, attracts plenty of attention, both positive and negative, even before the day of the signing.

Gemma Doyle, British expatriate, lives in West London, Maine with her Uncle Arthur, a character frequently mentioned but rarely seen, where the pair own a bookstore on 222 Baker Street.  The bookstore is dedicated to various versions of Sherlock Holmes literature and other works inspired by Conan Doyle’s original work, as well as collectibles and memorabilia.  Naturally, this is the perfect location to launch a new book based on the characters of Hudson and Holmes.

Unfortunately for Renalta Van Markoff, whose name is on the books she may or may not have written and whose ideas she may or may not have stolen from another aspiring author; this signing will be her last as she drops dead in the middle of the store.  There are no shortage of suspects in the murder of this mystery author, including her PA, who is actually her daughter, her marketing advisor, and her editor, not to mention multiple obsessive and disgruntled fans and critics of her work.

  The character of Gemma Doyle is portrayed as a modern-day female Sherlock Holmes, and she certainly shares some characteristics with the more famous detective.  Gemma is an intellectual-she sees things analytically which sometimes causes problems with others as she comes across as unfeeling or cold.  She is aware of her issues, though, and allows her Watson, Jayne Wilson, co-owner of the tea room next door, to be her moderating influence. 

Other relationships in this cozy mystery series seem a little more contrived, though, notably Gemma’s antagonistic battles with Detective Louise Estrada, who resents Gemma’s participation in cases as a civilian as well as her former relationship with Detective Ryan Ashburton, Estrada’s partner and Gemma’s former boyfriend.  While it is clear Gemma and Ryan still harbor feelings for each other, Louise’s hostility seems a little over the top.  It is unclear whether Louse is just feeling professionally threatened or if she has romantic feelings for Ryan as well.

Relationship issues aside, this is a very entertaining cozy mystery series and this particular book had a number of twists and turns that made reading it a delight.  I give this book four stars and recommend it to fans of the cozy genre, as well as fans of Sherlock Holmes-inspired works.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Skin Game

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15) by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

This latest addition to the Dresden Files Series shows Harry dealing with the consequences of the last book.  Harry has been marooned on Demonreach Island with a parasite in his head, one that will supposedly kill him without the shielding provided by the guardian spirit of the island.  He’s been isolated from his friends and family for the better part of a year, leaving them to deal with the consequences of a world in chaos after the supernatural community takes advantage of the void left by the destruction of the Vampires of the Red Court, literally at Harry’s hand.

Naturally, when Mab comes to call, she immediately orders him off the island, her only concession to Harry’s survival an earring that prevents the parasite from incapacitating him, at least for the next three days.  After that, unless Harry has successfully completed his assigned mission, is the probable end of Harry’s life.

And what does Mab want Harry to do?  Just join forces with a group of old enemies on a suicide mission into Hades’ domain, yes that Hades, to pull off a daring theft from the Underworld.  Harry is forced to work with the Knights of the Blackened Denarius, those fallen angels who have survived on greed and evil, with only Karrin and later Michael Carpenter, the former Knight of the Cross, on his side, as they break into an impenetrable stronghold to steal the Holy Grail.

This latest book is as exciting as a heist movie, but carries much higher stakes than a mountain of treasure-for inside Hades’ treasure trove are the weapons Mab needs to fight the enemy Outsiders, nightmarish creatures from another dimension.  Who will end up on which side of the conflict?  Who will betray the party, and who will be redeemed in the end?

While several elements of this novel remind me of Ocean’s Eleven and other similar stories, the style and the characters are clearly Butcher’s own, with villains and situations that dovetail nicely into the Dresden chronology.  Some have said the Harry Dresden stories have lost some of their magic over time, but I find the direction the author has taken has given new life to his ever-expanding universe. 

I have only a couple more books to read in the series (for now) and will be sorry to see its end.  Still, I’m sure there are a lot more excitement and world-changing moments to look forward to in the next volume, as soon as I get my hands on a copy.  I award this novel five stars, and recommend it to fans of paranormal stories, epic adventure, and romantic urban fantasy.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Impossible Girl

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

In 19th century New York a young woman, born under less than auspicious circumstances, makes a living in a male-dominated profession-as a resurrectionist.  Cora Lee and her alter-ego Jacob know how to find the best marks-the subjects with the most interesting anatomic anomalies that will draw top dollar from local medical schools and museums, once they die that is. 

Cora would never help someone along to the grave just to earn a fee; she knows all too well that if her secret got out, her own corpse would be a very profitable commodity.   Unfortunately, it seems some of her competition is not nearly as scrupulous.  Several of her cultivated future marks go missing, only to turn up dead from unnatural causes, and already stolen from the grave before Cora’s crew gets the chance.

Just as someone discovers the double life she has been leading, rumors of a girl with two hearts get out, and a museum of curiosities is willing to pay top dollar for the cadaver.  Unfortunately, the girl with two hearts is real; she is not dead; and she is Cora.  Will she become the next victim of the murderer/resurrectionist?  Who else knows Cora’s secret?  Who can she trust?

This story presents a murder mystery that is unique in both scope and subject.  It contains some unusual elements, such as a brief chapter narrated by each victim-their final moments, their fears and regrets.  These little chapters add additional shadowing to the story, which is told mostly from Cora’s point of view.  While the victims share what they know at the end, and shortly thereafter, the reader is still left hanging to the very last chapters of the book to find the identity of the real killers. 

Cora’s double identity, as a proper young lady who deals with doctors, medical schools and curators, as well as attending endless funerals to “scope out” the dig sites, and as her twin brother Jacob, a rough and tumble, rude, crude and unsavory character who leads the crew of grave robbers, manages to show both sides of her personality.  Cora is strong but vulnerable; naïve and street-smart; romantic and hard all at once.  The author has done an excellent job portraying this complex character, someone who has led a life most of us could only imagine.

Lydia Kang has obvious spent a great deal of time researching the time period and her character’s “profession,” as shown through her knowledge of period medical terminology and treatments, the street slang of the grave diggers, and esoteric knowledge of lifestyles and habits of the time.

I award this story 4.5 stars, and recommend it to any fans of Victorian-era mysteries, star-crossed romances, and strong female protagonists.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Cold Days

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Cold Days (The Dresden Files, #14) by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

Having survived his own murder and then a trip through the afterlife (or a reasonable facsimile,) Harry now is somewhat ready to face his sworn duty to the Queen of Winter, Mab. 

At least, he better be.  After all, it appears the whole world is going crazy.  There is a conspiracy among the fae, and Harry will have enough trouble sorting out exactly who is on which side.  He also has to kill Mab’s daughter, the Winter Lady, because either Mab or Maeve, or both are crazy, and may be under the mind control of the Outsiders.  Not to mention, none of his friends or family know he’s actually alive.  It’s just another day in Chicago for Harry Dresden.

In a way, this book feels like it’s tying up loose ends of the series, though I know there are already three more books written to date.  Harry has a chance to revisit places he’s been and fought before, as well as come to terms with and forge new relationships with both old allies and adversaries.  He seems to finally be coming into his maturity, and is just realizing, with the help of some very austere advisors just exactly how much power he has at his disposal thanks to events of previous novels.

Harry is a wizard, the New Winter Knight, and now the Warden of an island that officially doesn’t exist but holds a terrifying secret that forces from outside the universe are scrambling to unleash.  He even edges closer to starting a romance with Karrin.  Not bad for his first day on the job as the servant of a Queen the Sidhe.

As always I greatly enjoyed Butcher’s trademark style: his protagonist is as well known for his wisecracks as his courage, heroism, and enormous power.  While Harry may finally be growing up from the immature lone wolf he was in the beginning of the series, the stories remain fresh as the author provides new plots, new situations, and new villains to torture him with. 

I award Cold Days five stars, and am sad I am actually catching up to the end of the series.  I recommend this book to fans of urban fantasy, paranormal adventure, and epic universes that would satisfy both science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Crooked River

Crooked River by Douglas Preston

Crooked River (Pendergast, #19) by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review

Aloysius Pendergast’s vacation just wants a vacation with his ward, Constance Greene, when the new assistant director of the FBI, Walter Pickett, interrupts to send him on the most baffling case of his career.  Over a hundred disembodied feet wash ashore on Sanibel Island, Florida, each wearing identical green shoes.

Pendergast agrees to take the case, with the caveat that Pickett will allow him to use his own substantial latitude in the investigation, unlike the handicap of regulations he was required to conform to in the last book, Verses for the Dead. Part of this “latitude” translates into recalling his partner in the previous case, Agent Coldmoon, who is still recovering from his injuries suffered in line of duty.

The tension is broken somewhat early in the book by a humorous scene where the Coast Guard Commander Baugh, who is the nominal head of the task force investigating, decides to cross into Cuban waters to get surveillance footage of possible beheadings related to the source of the feet.  Unfortunately for the commander but fortunately for averting an international incident, the “beheadings” he allegedly witnesses is actually a volleyball game between prisoners and guards in a Cuban prison.

Forensic evidence soon reveals that all the amputations are self-inflicted, which raises even more questions as to why?  What could possess these people, who are discovered to be immigrants trying to illegally cross into the US from Guatemala, to cause them all to sever one of their own feet in an eerily similar manner?

Each chapter takes a different point of view as a number of subplots and interactions between various characters, major and minor, add to the increasing complexity of the overall story line.  The authors, Preston and Child, have long mastered this style; often writing alternate chapters (according to their shared website.)

Three quarters into the story, the authors reveal that the title takes its name form a location in the Florida Panhandle, a river near the site of a trench where the feet were stored, and carried away during a flood.  What will the investigators, separated by different branches on inquiry, learn about this hidden location, and will they be able to stop this horrible fate from happening to anyone else?  The answers lie in a quasi-military base conducting banned experiments with psychotropic drugs.

I don’t want to give any more spoilers, but I will say that this novel equals any of the best previous in the Pendergast series, and there are hints of another epic book to come as Pickett plays interference again in the final chapter of Crooked River.

I award this book five stars and recommend this series to any readers of police procedurals, thrillers, and even paranormal detective stories, though those particular elements are light in this book.  The story could well be enjoyed by those not familiar with the series, but some nuances will escape those who have not read previous volumes, so consider going back and reading more of the series.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Best Christmas Ever

The Best Christmas Ever by Heather Graham

The Best Christmas Ever (Krewe of Hunters #29.7)
by Heather Graham (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

You know your holiday season is overloaded when it takes over a week to read such a short, sweet story as this e-book by Heather Graham.  I acquired this some time ago, but successfully saved it to the current season, only to barely have time enough to sit and enjoy it.

This little addition to the Krewe of Hunters series, which portrays an elite team of FBI agents who all have the ability to interact with ghosts, follows the saga of two of the founding members of the Krewe, Jackson Crow and Angela Hawkins, as they enjoy a well-deserved Christmas holiday away from work in the country.  They invite their coworkers and friends of course, as they contemplate purchasing an historic house last visited in another story, Christmas, the Krewe, and a Large White Rabbit.

Naturally there a few surprises including a very distinguished ghostly visitor, or else this novella wouldn’t fit into the series, but with no crimes to solve this is really just a sweet backstory for the cast of this series.  With no murderers to apprehend, we are allowed to focus on the romance of the two principles as they embark on a new addition, or two, to their private lives.

This story is definitely better written than the last story I reviewed in the series, A Horribly Haunted Halloween, which actually comes later in the time line.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to any previous readers of the series.  Unfortunately I believe without prior knowledge of the characters and situations new readers might be somewhat lost; there simply isn’t enough of this short story to thoroughly explain all the relevant points to new readers.   Still, for diehard fans of the paranormal series, this definitely deserves at least 4 stars; more if there was a criminal in there somewhere.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Hallowe’en Party

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party (Hercule Poirot #39)
by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review

I realize it is a little past the season for stories that revolve around Halloween parties, but I didn’t have time to get to this book before Halloween this year and I didn’t feel obligated to wait another year before I read it.  This Agatha Christie classic, the 39th book in her repertoire, features the famous Hercule Poirot who is called in after a disturbing murder at said party, which takes place in the opening chapters.

Poirot’s old friend, Ariadne Oliver, who appears earlier in Dead Man’s Folly, appeals to Poirot for help when a young girl is murdered at the party she is attending.  Mrs. Oliver is a famous mystery author, and I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps the character was a bit of an author self-insert for Dame Christie as she talked theories of the case with the detective, and even did a bit of interrogation on her own.

Joyce Reynolds, a thirteen year old girl who is universally regarded as a compulsive liar, claims to have witnessed a murder in the past.  She is brushed off by her audience, a group of party-preppers as well as her peer group, as having simply made a bid for attention.  However, things take a nasty turn when she is found dead, drowned in the bucket using for bobbing for apples at the end of the festivities.

Numerous suspects are soon identified, including a couple of local school teachers, a couple of presumed forgers, now supposedly dead or missing, and a landscape gardener who lives in the garden he created for a local rich widow, whose disputed will following her death two years earlier provides the first leads in the case.

 The party that sets the scene is at the home of Rowena Drake, the niece of the late Mrs. Llewllyn-Smythe, who stood to benefit in Llewellyn-Smythe’s will before the last codicil (amendment) was uncovered.  She is also found to have ties to the gardener, and one of the perceived forgers who was also the late lady’s au pair.  However, Mrs. Drake is a respected member of society; a leader of charity groups; and her daughter was the best friend of the late Joyce Reynolds.  What secrets does she really hold?  It takes the shock of another murder before she is ready to reveal what she knows.

Another old friend, the now-retired Superintendent Spence, mentioned in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, also makes an appearance, and so this book, near the end of the series and presumably Poirot’s career, feels almost like a reunion as our intrepid detective solves the case, uncovers the true murderer, as well as his relationships to the victims, and saves the life of another.

I really enjoyed this story, with all its twists and turns, sorted affairs, and intrigue that abounds in what is reputed to be a quiet, respectable community.  Christie turns everything on its head, and provides a number of false leads, leaving the reader in suspense about the culprit to the very end.  I give this book five stars, and recommend it to any fan of mystery fiction.