Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Blood of the Earth

Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter
Blood of the Earth (Soulwood, #1) by

Faith Hunter (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review
Nell Ingram doesn’t think she’s special; actually she’s afraid that the strange “gifts” she has, if discovered by the God’s Cloud of Glory cult she escaped from as a child, would see her burned at the stake. So she lives alone, almost completely isolated save for her mystic connection to the forest that she barely understands. Being alone protects her; being alone is comfortable, but her quiet isolation is not meant to last. Forces meant to help and harm are both coming her way, and Nell will be forced to use her strange connection to the Earth to save lives.

This first book in a new series by author Faith Hunter revisits a world where “paranormals” live and work side by side with ordinary humans, and both groups are touched by good and evil. When Homeland Security’s special division for dealing with paranormal crimes, PsyLED, saves her life, Nell Ingram is forced out of her self-imposed isolation to assist in a case involving the kidnapping of multiple young girls, and work with a group of individuals whose gifts are just as unique as her own.

Nell’s insider knowledge of the God’s Cloud of Glory church, which is suspected to be involved in the kidnappings, makes her a valuable asset. In order to save the lives of the innocent girls, one of whom is her own sister, Nell will have to face her past, and push her strange powers in ways she’s never before imagined.

I picked up this book as a choice from my local book club, and I really wanted to like it simply because of the location; the setting is mainly in East Tennessee, in and around Knoxville, an area that is near and dear to my heart. While the descriptions of the region and are spot on, I had more difficultly with the plot.

The story seemingly meandered along for the first half of the book, before the pacing finally picked up somewhere along the last third of the text. Granted, some of this was necessary world-building, but it seemed to me to be a bit excessive in mass. Still, by the end I was fully invested in the action, and cheered Nell and her team on as they reached a very satisfying ending, and epilogue.

I offer this story three and a half stars, and would recommend that readers interested in paranormal and urban fantasy stories check out this series as well as other works by Faith Hunter.

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Wicked Deeds

Wicked Deeds by Heather Graham
Wicked Deeds (Krewe of Hunters, #23) by

Heather Graham (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review
A romantic getaway for a just-married couple, an historic Baltimore restaurant, and a murder makes for a typical beginning for this 23rd installment of the author’s Krewe of Hunters series. The series focuses on a team of FBI agents, all whom possess to some degree abilities to see, hear, and interact with the dead, and use these special “gifts” to unravel murders that local police and other agencies cannot solve.

What sets this novel apart from the rest of the series is the strange dreams, followed by waking encounters, with the ghost of a most famous historic personage, Edgar Alan Poe himself. Poe is a regular visitor to the Black Bird restaurant, which is dedicated to his life and work, and is the home of The Blackbird Society, a Poe fan group. When the restaurant becomes the scene of the murder of another, modern famous author, Poe volunteers to assist agent Griffin and historian and future-agent Vickie with the case.

As the members of The Blackbird Society insist on “helping”, Griffin and Vickie cope with multiple séances, more murders and disappearances, and a trip to a house that could have come straight out of a Poe short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” As they unravel the clues to the modern murders, Vickie finds strange links between the modern cases and the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe’s own death, which the ghostly author cannot consciously recall.

I thought this novel was by far one of the most engaging books by author Heather Graham I have read in some time. The premise of the story, while in lines with the successful series, contained more originality and twists and turns than some of the prior books in the series. Her protagonists are always likeable, but it is rare that the multiple secondary characters and antagonists, such as socialite and would-be seer Liz Harcourt, are portrayed with such depth of development. The characterization of Poe himself was equal parts comic-relief and intrigue that makes the reader ponder the various theories concerning his mysterious demise.

The only issue I had with Wicked Deeds is in the final chapter, which seemed overly drawn out and forced in length. While it was nice to see the characters have some closure, this particular scene seemed a little superfluous, especially after the level of excitement that preceded it. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book, and give it five stars, with recommendations for any reader who enjoys paranormal/urban fantasy/murder mystery/romantic stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Prince of Fools

Prince of Fools by Mark  Lawrence
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  Amy Caudill‘s review

Prince Jalan Kendeth is a pampered, self-centered rogue, a scoundrel, a womanizer.  He’s hardly hero material, which he will tell you himself, except that when trying to escape one battle he accidentally led a charge into another one, a feat that made his people call him hero and his enemies call him devil.

When Jal tries to escape an enchantment the mysterious “Silent Sister” has placed over an opera house full of patrons, he literally runs into a fierce Norse warrior named Snorri Snagason.  Both men are impacted by the failed curse, which causes them harm either if they part ways or make direct contact with each other.  Effectively bound together until they find a way to reverse the curse, Jal joins Snorri on a mission to rescue his kidnapped family.  The fact that he’s wanted by the local crime lord has nothing to do with it.

Jal and Snorri begin a quest that leads through wilderness, barbarian towns, mountains filled with undead soldiers, and ruins of “ancient”civilizations as they draw ever closer to a fortress planted on the edge of a glacier, the “Bitter Ice.”  What they find there, and what they are willing to sacrifice, may determine the fate of the world.

This story is told mostly through the point of view of Jal, who paints a picture of a dark, unforgiving world, where the value of a man can be measured by the sharpness of his steel or the gold in his pocket.  The narration is occasionally broken up by the storytelling efforts of Snorri, whose flashbacks reveal hints into the larger plot.

This latest installment into the author’s Broken Empire universe started off a little slow, but picked up momentum about a third of the way in.  The suspense kept me practically on the edge of my seat towards the end of the story, and I was still guessing all the way up to the final chapter.

Though this book is the first of a trilogy, and is part of a larger universe, it still had enough resolution to be read as stand alone, which is a plus to me.  For all of these reasons, I award this book 4.5 stars, and recommend it to anyone interested in the fantasy genre, as well as fans of paranormal and dystopian stories.

 

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
Odd Thomas (Odd Thomas, #1) by

Dean Koontz (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

In the original novel that drove a series of bestsellers, Odd Thomas is a humble soul distinctly lacking in what many would consider ambition.  His goals in life are simple: to help others using his unusual gifts whenever possible, to love Stormy Llewellyn to the best of his ability, and to live as normal a life as possible.

When Odd sees a cluster of otherworldly bodachs following a customer who enters the Pico Mundo Grill during his shift as a fry cook, he feels compelled to investigate.  Odd knows from long experience that the ominous spirits, which few others can see, are drawn to death and mayhem, and their presence in such large numbers surely heralds an approaching calamity.

Odd quickly finds himself in deep trouble while tracking a serial killer fanboy, who is apparently aware of every move Odd makes.  Unfortunately the villain’s intended target is unclear, and to make matters worse, the fanboy killer is not working alone.  Also, unfortunately, the conspirators go after the people Odd loves.

This riveting story quickly drew me in, and kept me on the edge of my seat with every page turned.  Odd Thomas is a true hero; he doesn’t see himself as such, but he thinks nothing of placing himself in harm’s way to save the lives of others.  The fatal flaw in Odd’s gift is that he can’t always tell immediately whether someone he sees is a ghost or the living, leaving a pall of uncertainty over his course of action in this story.

From Koontz’s descriptions of the ghosts and spirits Odd encounters, to the friendly and otherwise-normal nature of his protagonist, to the rich tapestry of secondary characters that surround Odd, the author presents a cast of heartwarming characters made all the more touching by the dangers that lurk around the corner.

This novel represents the best in paranormal thrillers, and I enthusiastically give it five stars.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Furyborn

Furyborn by Claire Legrand

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Amy Caudill‘s review

Sep 30, 2018  ·  edit

Hold onto your hats, readers, when you dive into the world of author Claire Legrand because you are about to embark on a very wild ride, that will take you deep inside an entire new culture and mythology, before slamming you repeatedly back and forth thru time.

Furyborn is the story of two young women, separated by a thousand years in time, but linked in enigmatic ways that are only are only revealed slowly through this first book in a trilogy by the author.

Rielle, a temple student and member of the royal court in the past, hides a terrifying secret; she may possess the power to control all seven of the elements worshipped by the people of the kingdom of Celdaria.  Once she successfully harnesses these powers, she could be the prophesied Sun Queen, the protector, or her counter, the Blood Queen, the destroyer.

Eliana, a bounty hunter who seeks “marks” for the empire to support her mother and younger brother, has a secret of her own.  She is invulnerable, but has no understanding as to why, except for the myths of magic users and angels passed down through the ages, which have been all but destroyed by the empire that has nearly conquered her world.

Each subsequent chapter of this mammoth volume switches back and forth between the two stories of the two extraordinary girls, living completely separate lives in vastly different environments.

How could the two stories possibly be related?  They share a world, even though they are separated by time, and the reality of the former becomes the mythology of the latter.  There is also the fact that certain objects, like an unusual necklace, and the names of certain characters, which at first appearance could be only coincidental, transcend the gap of the centuries.

When I first began reading this massive volume, a choice for my local book club, I admit I found the time switch confusing through the early chapters.  There is a lot of information, characters, and history involved in the world building to keep track of, compounded by the fact that the story takes place in two separate time periods simultaneously.  However, as I continued reading, I was able to separate the two stories, only to begin to see links between them.

The trials that Rielle must face are exciting but a little predictable by the end.  She conquers the elements- wind, fire, water, metal, shadows, light, and earth, in a manner reminiscent of other stories of trials of heroes.

Meanwhile, Eliana faces horrors of her own in an age where science can create mutations controlled by a malevolent force, and the very soldiers of the despotic Emperor are only shells that once were human.

The connection between the two main characters is explained by the end of this volume, but so many questions are left unresolved.  What will happen to Rielle that leads to the situation that Eliana is in, a thousand years later?  What will happen to Eliana, who is in the middle of a war against the empire?  Will the angels, banished in the ancient past, succeed in returning to the world of the future and conquer it?

I know this is only the first book of a trilogy, but I confess I was disappointed with just how much of the story was left unresolved at the end. I also wondered if the next two books, not yet released, would be written in the same manner, forcing the reader to shift back and forth in time.

Perhaps all this suspense is a good thing, though it will be difficult to wait until the next book comes out next year to see the answer to my questions!  Overall, I award this story 4.5 stars for excellent character development and world building, with a plot full of twists and turns that keeps the reader guessing.  I would recommend this story to any fans of epic fantasy worlds, strong female characters, or time travel storylines.

 

 

 

Graphic Novel Review-They’re Not Just for Kids

Recently I’ve shared reviews of a number of books that I’ve read for my local book club.  This month, the club is doing something a little different-we’re reading graphic novels.  I know many of my long-time readers may wonder why a grown woman, with grown children, would choose to read what essentially is perceived to be a comic book.  The truth is that graphic novels have come a long way, to the point they are actually considered a sophisticated art form.

While some graphic novels are still collections of a series of comic books that go together to form a longer story, bound into a book format, that definition no longer encompasses the whole usage of the term.  Many graphic novels are refined works, sometimes retellings of existing novels or sometimes new, independent stories, where illustrations play at least an equally important part to the text.  Though some are designed with children in mind, many graphic novels often include more mature or darker themes than would generally be expected to be found in comic books, and can contain any type of subject matter, from fiction to non-fiction.

The challenge set for my book club specifically is reading graphic novels with paranormal themes.  Since some of these are shorter than regular novels, I decided to review a few of them together in one post.  This is just a small sample of what can be found in your local bookstore, comic shop, library, or online.

Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir
Archival Quality 
by

Ivy Noelle Weir (Goodreads Author), and
Steenz (Goodreads Author) (Illustrator)
This original story found exclusively in graphic novel format features a young woman who has suffered a nervous breakdown, resulting in the loss of her beloved job as a library assistant. Anxious to put her life back together, Cel answers an ad for an archivist position at The Logan Museum of Medical Oddities.

From the very first, she finds her new job full of surprises. She is required to live in an apartment inside the library building, because she is expected to do her work at night. Her boss has a habit of appearing and disappearing at the most inopportune times. Cel begins having dreams of a young woman who was tortured in the building, which at one time housed an asylum. Then she begins suffering mysterious nosebleeds and losing time.

What is happening to Cel, and how does it relate to the mysteries of the museum? Was the woman a patient at the asylum, and why is the only record of her a picture found misfiled in the archive? How is the board, whom none of the employees ever see, involved?

While I sympathized with the main character, Cel, and was drawn into the mystery, many of the other characters seemed annoying or unnecessary to the storyline. Cel was the only one fully developed, while the others, such as her boss Holly and boyfriend Kyle seemed to be used more as plot devices to move the action along than as actual individuals important to the plot. The artwork was fluid and enhanced the tone and scope of the novel, despite the “comic” nature of the characters. If this story was produced in another format, I would say it would make a good short story or novella, perhaps in a collection of horror stories. Overall, I give it three stars.

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Jim Butcher's Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin 
by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)Mark Powers 

and

Joseph Cooper (Illustrations)
Author Jim Butcher has augmented his popular novel series, The Dresden Files, with a set of graphic novels. While some of these are retellings of other books in the series, Ghoul Goblin, #3, co-written by Mark Powers, is an original addition to the Dresden universe. Consisting of a set of six comics bound into one volume, this beautifully illustrated story is as detailed as any of the author’s novels.

Deputy Sheriff Prescott “Pres” Tremaine travels to The Windy City to hire Harry Dresden, wizard for hire, to investigate events that have unfolded in his small Missouri town. A family of seven orphans, the Talbots, has been devastated with the deaths of their two eldest under mysterious circumstances. Dresden recognizes the handiwork of supernatural forces in the crime scene photos, and agrees to investigate.

Arriving just in time for the funeral of the two Talbots, Harry runs afoul of both the remaining Talbots, led by the skeptical eldest remaining brother and the town sheriff, who refuses to believe anything out of the ordinary is at play, even when the undertaker, who turns out to be a goblin in disguise, attacks.

Despite being warned away, Dresden begins his investigation that soon shows there is more than one supernatural presence in the small town. The Talbots are under a curse, one which draws the residents of the Nevernever to them like flies to honey, and now two separate creatures are competing for territory, and the right to see who can end their line first.

The only thing this graphic novel has in common with comic books was the fact that each page was covered in artwork, but the quality far outweighed the illustrations of any comic I read as a kid. From the very first page, where Harry is fighting a water demon in Lake Michigan the reader is drawn into a world where the supernatural lives alongside our own.

The characters were well-developed, with the depth and attention to detail I’ve come to expect from Butcher. The story, while containing less text than usual for the author’s work, nevertheless was just as complete and riveting as any I’ve read in this universe, and easily fit inside the chronology as a case for Harry Dresden. I award this graphic novel five stars and would recommend it to anyone interested in The Dresden Files novels, paranormal or thriller stories, or just dipping their toes into the world of graphic novels.

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Odd Is on Our Side by Dean Koontz
Odd Is on Our Side (Odd thomas Graphic Novel, #2)
by

Dean Koontz (Goodreads Author),
Fred Van Lente (Goodreads Author),
Queenie Chan (Goodreads Author) (Illustrator)
In Odd is on Our Side, Odd Thomas, a character from Koontz’s series of novels, sees dead people and tries to assist them in crossing over. This graphic novel features a Halloween celebration in Odd’s native Pico Mundo, CA. Odd, with the help of his girlfriend Stormy, investigates when Odd begins seeing bodachs, ominous heralds of death, creeping around town.

In a plot that is one part Sixth Sense and one part Scooby Doo, Odd follows clues that leads him on a wild goose chase after devil-mask wearing teens stealing jack-o-lanterns to toss downhill for the annual Pumpkin Roll, to a young costume-wearing ghost, and into the history of the man who poisoned the town’s trick-or-treaters twenty-five years earlier.

In the end, Odd and his friends find that the true danger comes not from the supernatural, but a criminal in disguise, and only they have the means and the knowledge to save the town.

Despite a full cast of quirky characters, including resident eccentric novelist Ozzie Boone, his editor Valerie Malovent, and the helpful shade of Elvis Presley, this story is mostly plot-driven, with numerous twists and turns that kept me on my toes yet all came together in the end. The illustrations were all done in black and white, and while not as detailed as in some other graphic novels I’ve read, conveyed the action well and were an integral part of the story. In fact, some pages were wholly or mostly artwork, but still carried the weight of the tale.

This was a very enjoyable story that I thought did very well in this format and I award it four and a half stars, and recommend it to fans of the paranormal as well as fans of Dean Koontz’s works.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Into the Drowning Deep

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1) 
by

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Amy Caudill‘s review

Imagine if a multi-media corporation launched an expedition to uncover the truth of the existence of a legendary sea monster, the mermaid.  Imagine a ship sailed into the Marianna Trench, to search for evidence that the myth was actually based on fact, and crewed by scientists and cameramen.  Imagine they actually found what they were looking for, and were not at all prepared for it.

The Imagine Corporation has one failed expedition under its belt already; the crew of the Atargatis was a total loss, leaving behind grieving family, and impending litigation.  Seven years after the initial tragedy, a new expedition is organized, with twin goals of proving the existence of mermaids and restoring the image of the company.  The Melusine sets out with a new crew, many of whom have studied the footage recovered from the doomed Atargatis.  They know that the “mermaids” are out there and hopefully, they will survive long enough to get some answers this time.

I don’t often read horror stories, but Into the Drowning Deep was a recent choice of my local book club and I was intrigued enough to stay up late at night reading it through.  The preface contained flashbacks and reports drawn from camera footage of the doomed Atargatis, done in a manner that reminded me eerily of The Blair Witch.  As the story continued, I realized the monsters themselves and the action present would make a far better horror movie than many I’ve seen.

The author uses multiple points of view, as several of the narrators fall prey to the invaders, with a lot of thrills and action in the plot.  Grant also finds moments in the story to comment on the purpose of the expedition and of life itself with gorgeous prose, such as this quote from Chapter 18, where Luis Martines is musing on the job they have set out to do:

“Let deforestation do away with Bigfoot, let sonar destroy Nessie, but the sea would always be deep, always be dark, always be filled with wonders.”

The author clearly demonstrates that the ocean is stronger and more mysterious than man is capable of understanding or conquering.

In fact, the misnamed “mermaids” are truly more than the crew of the Melusine can handle-they are smart, fast, and strong, they can breathe air, and their secretions are toxic to humans.  Can the crew, led by a sirenologist and an Imagine executive survive long enough to raise the broken shields on the ship and trap the mermaids inside, or will they all be devoured by something even more deadly from the deep?

This book is truly an exciting read, which I give five stars, and recommend to anyone interested in horror, paranormal stories of creatures, or thriller stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Storm Front

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) 
by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

I recently reviewed another book by author Jim Butcher, Brief Cases, which was my personal first foray into the realm of The Dresden Files.  That review is posted here.  Drawn in by the book of short stories, I couldn’t resist going back for more.

In this first installment of the tales of Harry Dresden, modern wizard extraordinaire, Harry is asked to consult on a grisly double homicide by the police department, and at the same time takes on a case of a woman’s missing husband.  His investigations are quickly hampered, though, when the killer strikes again.  Dresden realizes dark magic is involved in the murders, and that there is a link between the two cases.

Before he can discover the identity of the dark wizard who conjured these crimes, he runs afoul of crime boss Gentleman Johnny Marcone, who wants to halt the investigation for his own reasons, as well as the Chicago P.D., and the wizarding governing body, the White Council, who suspect he may be involved in the murders.

A physical attack makes Harry realize he is meant to be the next victim, and survival becomes just as important as finding the truth.   These two goals will take every ounce of resolve and every bit of magic at his disposal.

Butcher skillfully draws readers into a world that combines arcane spells with mundane issues such as car troubles and pizza delivery, and leaves them hungry for more. The author’s first person narrative, reminiscent of noir fiction, moves along at a brisk pace with plenty of action and a matter of fact delivery of the possibilities of magic, tempered only by the character of its denizens.

Harry Dresden is a paranormal, urban fantasy hero with skills to rival Merlin, paired with enough angst-filled background to equal The Dark Knight and the lone-wolf sensibilities of gumshoe Sam Spade, right down to his black duster trench coat.  All of this wrapped up in a package of a flawed, human nice guy just trying to make a living in modern day Chicago.

I award this novel five stars, and recommend this book to any readers who are interested in urban fantasy, paranormal, or detective stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : More Spooky Tales Inspired by Real Ghost Stories: Can You See Me, The Good Neighbor, & Other Ghostly Encounters

More Spooky Tales Inspired by Real Ghost Stories by Autumn Chills
More Spooky Tales Inspired by Real Ghost Stories: Can You See Me, The Good Neighbor, & Other Ghostly Encounters (Spooky Stories Series Book 2) 
by

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Amy Caudill‘s review
Are you looking for a quick paranormal read that won’t leave you too afraid to turn the lights off at night? Check out author Autumn Chills’ anthology featuring an assortment of spirits that are as friendly as Casper, as benevolent as angels, and as heart-warming as a hug.

This short story collection includes tales of otherworldly beings such as a mischievous prankster at a movie theater, a beloved grandmother who gives romantic advice from beyond, and an unseen housekeeper who loves to take care of her home’s new inhabitants. Unlike many other books in this genre, these stories are all family-friendly and I would recommend this  5- star collection to paranormal fans of all ages, or simply to anyone seeking a condensed, uplifting read.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Bookshop of Yesterdays

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson
The Bookshop of Yesterdays 
by

Amy Meyerson (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

Miranda Brooks had loved spending time with her Uncle Billy, the owner of Prospero Books, and the designer of grand scavenger hunts, until his mysterious disappearance shortly after her twelfth birthday.  Sixteen years later, she receives a package in the mail, on the same day she learns that Billy has died.  The package contains a book sent by Billy, with a clue hidden in its pages.  As she travels to San Francisco for his funeral, Miranda learns that he has left her his beloved bookstore.

The Bookshop of Yesterdays is more literary fiction than genre mystery, not the type of book I read frequently, but I still found myself caught up in the tale of a young woman searching for answers about her past.  Author Amy Meyerson, under the guise of Billy’s letters to Miranda, leads readers on a hunt for clues derived from passages of classic literature.

As she follows his trail, Miranda uncovers the untold story of Billy’s life, as well as unexpected information about her own.  Why did he disappear that day, and who is the woman in the photo she finds at his apartment?  What deep, dark secrets did Billy take to his grave, which Miranda’s parents are still hiding from her?

Miranda discovers that everything she thought she knew about her own life was wrong, and she’s not certain how to deal with it all.  Now that she knows the truth, will she go back to Philadelphia, to the life she has made there, or will she stay, and keep Billy’s legacy alive?

This novel from debut author Meyerson expertly combines quotes from classical literature, including such diverse writers as Shakespeare and Mary Shelley, with a mystery containing the story of one woman’s life.  I recommend this work to anyone with a love of mysteries or a passion for books, and give it four stars.