Happy Independence Day!

I just wanted to wish everyone out there in the U.S. a Happy Independence Day tjomorrow!! With all the fear of contagion and political turmoil, I think that it is more important than ever to remember what this holiday stands for, and to come to together to celebrate not what issues we have with one another, but what brings us together as one nation. I linked this to a post I wrote a few years ago, because I think it is even more important today. Happy Holiday and stay safe out there my friends!

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Happy Fourth of July!  Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Tomorrow is officially the day we celebrate our Independence in the United States, but the festivities have already started!  (In my neighborhood, we’ve been hearing firecrackers go off in the evening all week!)

On this most important of national holidays, we recognize that our country, despite our differences, our problems, and our political debates, we all share a core of ideals and values.  We acknowledge that though we are far from perfect, we still have such potential, along with the freedom to choose our own destinies.

Tomorrow, and this week, is the perfect time to set aside our petty arguments and embrace that which makes us all Americans.  Take a moment to remember that we have servicemen and women overseas even now, sacrificing to keep our values and our safety intact.

white and red flag Happy Independence Day! Photo by Aaron Schwartz on Pexels.com

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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.

Mother or Monster:  What One Witch Would Do in the Name of Love

Official production photo copied from Ibiza-click.com

I realize this is the first time I’ve posted a movie review in a long time or for that matter anything other than a book review in a long time.  However, it has been a very long time since I have actually been to see a movie in the theater, much less on it’s opening weekend.  (Spoilers ahead!)

Today my husband and I went to see Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.  (Again, this is hardly the first time I’ve posted about the Marvel universe, but it has admittedly been a long time since I’ve done so.)

I have to say I was blown away.  I love Dr. Strange and Benedict Cumberbatch in anything, but what really got me excited was the evolution of Elizabeth Olsen’s character, The Scarlet Witch.  For fans of the movie and TV franchise, Scarlet Witch a.k.a. Wanda Maximoff was forced to kill her lover Vision to keep one of the Infinity Stones from the hands of Thanos.

The fallout of this, detailed in Wandavision, was an immensely powerful, grieving super being that had the ability to re-create the world as she wished it to be, by controlling minds and building illusions so realistic, she believed them herself.  When she was forced to dispel her illusions, she lost herself grieving for the life she imagined, the life that included two young boys. 

In the new movie, Wanda is aware of the multiverse thanks to studying a book of dark magic.  She is also aware that Dr. Strange is protecting a young girl who has the power to travel between multiple universes, including those where the two boys she lost exist.  Wanda is determined to possess this power for herself, heedless of the fact it will mean the death of the young girl, America Chavez, played by Xochiti Gomez, and all those who are protecting her as well as the integrity of the multiverse from incursion and destruction.

In the end, the only way to stop Wanda is by allowing her alternate-self’s children to see the monster she has become.  The boys fear her because they see what she would do to their real mother.  This leads to Wanda effectively stopping herself and destroying the evil book, so no one else can be tempted to do as she has done. 

Wanda is a grieving mother, denied the children she so desperately wanted.  Does that excuse her trip to the dark side?  Not really, but it’s hard to think of her as a true villain of the story.  The audience can be both horrified at the lengths she was willing to go, and empathize with her for her grief and loneliness.

I give this movie five stars, and can’t wait for the next installment in this franchise. This movie is currently showing in a theater near you.

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.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove

Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows (The Cthulhu Casebooks, #1) by  James Lovegrove

Amy Caudill‘s review

In one of the more creative takes on the stories originally penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, James Lovegrove combines the classic Holmes with stories from another period author, H.P. Lovecraft, for a detective horror fiction that pays tribute to both genres.

In the forward to The Shadwell Shadows, the first book of the trilogy The Cthulu Casebooks, the author claims to be a distant relative of Lovecraft, who “inherited” these manuscripts from his estate.  He has decided to share with the world the unbelievable and potentially panic-inducing tales as a public service, letting the readers make up their own minds as to validity.

He portray a very different first meeting for Holmes and Watson, where Watson’s war wounds came from a brush with the supernatural, and Holmes’ early cases have already demonstrated that there are inexplicable events happening in Victorian London.  He states, as the narrator in Watson’s voice, that the true events that happened during Holmes and Watson’s long association were too controversial, too fantastical, to bring to public knowledge.

The basic plot of this volume revolves around a number of mysterious deaths, mostly of indigents and outcasts of society, that Scotland Yard spend little effort on and so fail to connect.  However, Holmes does find a connection, and follows it, along with his new roommate Watson, to an opium den run by a wealthy immigrant who has delved into studies of dark rituals and old gods that are all but forgotten in polite society.  This is only the jump-off point to awareness of monsters in the dark, magic rituals and horrors that Holmes and Watson would rather unlearn, but cannot run from, because there are other lives at stake.

While this book makes references to a number of “classic” Holmes cases, the contents of this volume are written not as a collection of stories, but rather as one long continuous tale.  The epilogue also mentions the subjects of the next two volumes, hinting that this collection is one long tale of the “true” events of their joined career.

Lovegrove has done a credible job imitating Doyle’s style and characters, while placing them into situations where the paranormal is a reality that can be seductive and dangerous.  I really can’t say I’ve read much Lovecraft for myself, though I am aware of his creations from various other sources, from popular movies and other fiction.  I believe Lovegrove’s allusions to Lovecraft’s work are just as meticulous as is his borrowing of the Holmesian mythos.

I thought this a very interesting read and would recommend it to fans of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian era-fiction and classic horror tales alike.  I award this book four stars and intend to seek out the next work in the series.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Beyond the Ice Limit

Beyond the Ice Limit by Douglas Preston

Beyond the Ice Limit (Gideon Crew, #4; Ice Limit #2) by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review 

This fourth outing in the Gideon Crew series by the writing team of Preston and Child also fulfills a fervent wish from multiple fans over the years to serve as a sequel to a previous stand-alone story by the duo, called The Ice Limit. 

While this book continues the storyline of the last Gideon Crew novel, it also includes the culmination of years of work for pre-existing characters such as Eli Glinn and Manuel Garza, who we have seen in not only the original solo book, but also in the prior three Gideon Crew novels and in a couple of the authors’ Pendergast series books as well. 

Glinn has apparently spent the intervening years gathering resources and making plans to return to the site of his greatest failure, and with his return to health after The Lost Island and the inclusion of Gideon, is finally ready to attempt to repair the damage done by the alien “seed.”

The nature of this creature, once thought to be a giant meteorite, eludes the explorers as they make their way to where it “planted” itself, in the “Screaming Sixties” latitude between the bottom tip of South America and Antarctica.  Is the creature, nicknamed the Baobab because of its resemblance to the terrestrial tree, plant or animal?  Is it a creature or a machine?  The crew members probe these questions even as the Baobab begins to exert its influence over them in inexplicable and later horrifying ways.

The combined efforts of Gideon, Glinn, Garza, and latecomer Sam McFarlane (from the original book) desperately try to stop a force that seems to undermine them at every turn.  Will they succeed in destroying the creature, or is the Earth doomed to be the breeding ground of more of these “seeds?”  The action and the drama don’t stop until the very end in this book.

I am a big fan of the two authors, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, of both their individual works but especially those they create together.  The two seemingly work seamlessly as one when collaborating, though I suppose after so many joint projects they probably have it down to a science by this point.  Their characters are engaging but flawed, each different but well-developed, and help to drive the story that already has a fantastically complex plot.  This particular book dips more into the sci-fi genre than many of their others, but the result is still well-paced and thrilling.

I award this book 4.5 stars for an exciting read, that those new to the authors and series can enjoy (almost) as much as those who have read any of the previous books.  I recommend it for fans of science fiction and thrillers alike.