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.

Superbowl Reuben Dip

It’s time for a game and a celebration! Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels.com

Superbowl Reuben Dip

It’s time again for the ultimate American football game- the game that decides the winner of the national championship-and also at my house, the time we usually throw a casual little party.  For my family, the Superbowl is less about the game (apologies to avid fans out there,) and more about the excuse to entertain, to eat delicious food, and of course to enjoy the commercials and halftime show!

This year, of course, everything is different.  We are having a very small gathering; some of the usual most notable participants in the expensive commercial race are instead donating funds to COVID research (kudos to them!); and far more people will be watching the game from the comfort and safety of their own homes than attending in person or going to parties, sports bars, etc. to watch with friends or strangers.

Still, we can make the best of the current situation and embrace a festive mood.  To that end, I decided to share a recipe my family loves, that my husband actually perfected and makes for special occasions, Reuben Dip.  I hope you enjoy it!

Baked Reuben Dip

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. sauerkraut, rinsed and drained, available in bags in the deli section of most grocery stores
  • 8 oz. sliced corned beef, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 c. shredded swiss cheese
  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1/3 c. thousand island dressing
  • Mini rye breads, for serving

Directions:

  • In large bowl, mix ingredients well.
  • Transfer to greased 8×8 baking dish.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 27-30 minutes or until bubbly and browned at the edges.
  • Serve warm with rye bread or crackers.
  • This recipe can easily be doubled for larger crowds.
It’s hot and ready to eat!

Have a great game day and a great week!

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.

It’s a Brand New Year!

Happy New Year!Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

It’s a brand new year, and we can all finally say good bye to 2020 which caused so much heartache and adversity to so many. Of course, our problems are far from over. Luckily, amid the political unrest and the continuing health issues, there is a glimmer of hope; a vaccine is on the way. Some have already received it, with more scheduled to do so in the next weeks and months. I pray that this vaccine will prove to be the cure we all need.

On the writing front, I have to apologize for the somewhat irregular timing of my posts of late. While I thankfully remain healthy, we are short-handed at my day job at a time of year when we tend to be very busy, meaning I’ve have had a lot of extra hours and days spent working away from home when I would rather be writing. Hopefully this situation will be resolved soon.

In the meantime, I intend to continue writing as regularly as possible. I will most likely continue to share book reviews as I post them to Goodreads. I have set my goal for the year at the same level as last year, which is 30 books, meaning I need to read 2-3 per month. This may not sound like a lot, but considering many of the books I’m drawn to tend to average 400-500 pages, I have to be realistic in setting goals based on the free time I have available.

I will also continue to post topics about random things that interest me and hopefully you as my readers, and I also have plans for when things calm down a bit to work my on personal writing, so hopefully I’ll have some short stories or story bits to share as the year goes on.

I hope all of you out there are healthy, and as happy as possible. I wish those of you who set resolutions the best of luck in achieving them. May this year be kind to us all. We certainly need it to be.

Amy

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.

Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984

Image copied from Rotten Tomatoes

Like many I’m sure, my family sat down after our overly-indulgent Christmas dinner to watch the opening day release of a new movie, premiering concurrently in theatres and on HBO Max.  After the success of the first Wonder Woman movie, my family were all excited to see what would happen next to my personal favorite childhood heroine.

What makes this version of the Amazonian princess so special is not Diana’s powers, which have continued to grow since her discovery in the first movie that she is actually a goddess and the daughter of Zeus, but her humanity.  The Diana (played by Gal Gadot) living in 1984 is lonely; she has lost the love of her life; but she is also passionate about the truth, empathic, and is driven by her desire to help those in need.  These qualities set her apart from every other wanna-be super hero out there.

Diana uses a newly-discovered ability to create her comic-book invisible jet.

Diana’s unique qualities are especially highlighted when Dr. Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), a brilliant but socially awkward in the extreme colleague, makes a wish that actually duplicates Diana’s powers in her, though cannot imbue her with Diana’s noble character.

This “wish magic” is one facet of the movie I had issue with; this plot device, which is actually central to the story, as it creates both of the antagonists and also returns Captain Trevor (Chris Pine) to Diana’s arms; does require some suspension of disbelief from the audience.  However, after the introduction of this device, director Patty Jenkins and the wonderful cast and writers turn this fancy into a powerful story, which includes not only a number of absurd wishes but also dangerous ones as well as consequences that truly showcase the old saying “be careful what you wish for.”

Diana’s sacrifice, first of her powers, then of her most heartfelt wish, become a necessary sacrifice to save the world, a sacrifice that momentarily seems to be in vain.  The true catalyst for change though, is when Diana’s faith in humanity becomes the ultimate hero of the story when her words, broadcast unwittingly by Max Lord, appeals to the masses to undo what has been done before the world is literally destroyed.

The plot for this movie actually was more epic than the first one, and I can only imagine what is planned for the next sequel, already in the works thanks to the early success of this holiday release.  Will the next movie also premier concurrently in theatre and digitally?  Only time will tell, but I guarantee me and my family will look forward to seeing it.

Happy Holidays!

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Happy Holidays dear readers!

I have to apologize for the irregular timing of my posts of late. Many of us are currently dealing with the normal holiday activities such as shopping, wrapping, decorating, planning menus and get-togethers. Like I’m sure many of you, I have found myself a little overwhelmed with the bustle and craziness that is natural for this season. Add in some major upheaval in my day job, along with the added stress of dealing with the public due to necessary safety precautions this year, and I have had my hands full.

Still, I am hopeful that everything will come together, and this will be a wonderful holiday, not just in spite of the current situation, but because we are still able to celebrate. My family has been relatively lucky this year. We are all healthy; we are still working; and my daughter was able to get leave, so our immediate family at least is able to be together.

Even our cat Oreo is getting into the holiday spirit!

So while we still have to be careful around the public at large, and wear masks outside the house and try to stay 6 feet away from people, the holidays will still come according to our calendars. Instead of focusing on what is wrong with the world on Christmas, New Year’s, Hanukah, Cuanza, or whatever or whenever you choose to celebrate, I urge you to focus on what is good in our lives, the blessings that still exist despite the turmoil around us.

We all deserve a little peace and joy this year.

Thank you always for reading, and best holiday wishes from my family to all of yours. May 2021 dawn brighter, healthier, and happier for all of us.

Amy

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.