Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Shadows in Death

Shadows in Death by J.D. Robb

Shadows in Death (In Death, #51) by J.D. Robb (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

Once again Eve Dallas is pitted against a vengeful and hate-driven murderer, only this time the culprit is not a previously unknown killer, but rather a childhood rival from Roarke’s past. 

The man who desperately wanted to be the acknowledged firstborn son of Roarke’s criminal father, despite genetic evidence; who resented Roarke for his recognized parentage; has decided it’s time he claims what Roarke “stole” from him, the name of Patrick Roarke.  The once vicious child thug has become a successful contract killer, and a job in New York seems serendipitous, especially when Roarke appears at Eve’s side at the sight of Lorcan Cobbe’s latest completed assignment.

As usual, there are sci-fi elements in the story coupled with the suspense and murder, as the foundation setting is the not-too-distant future, in a world that has survived and thrived after a social upheaval known as the Urban Wars.  However, the sci-fi elements are limited to technology that is not too fanciful or advanced, since at best the setting is only about forty years in the future.  The main focus is on the police procedural, along with elements of suspense and murder, and held together by the glue of the relationship dynamic between Roarke and Dallas.

This novel, the fifty-first in the series, is less than usual about solving a mystery, since we know the culprit very early in the story, but more about a manhunt coupled with the strength of the relationship between the main characters, as well as their relationships with the supporting cast. 

The NYPSD have embraced Roarke, Eve’s husband, and a frequent “civilian consultant,” as one of their own, and respond to the threat against him as they would to a fellow officer.  There is something very gratifying about seeing a huge group effort affected against the sadistic killer.

The conclusion gives long-time readers the satisfaction of seeing justice served with a side helping of teamwork, loyalty, and cooperation on an international scale.  However, those new to the series can still enjoy the various elements of the police drama, as well as the romance and friendship between various characters, as this ensemble effort showcases the some of the best of the larger universe. 

This is a definite must-read to those who enjoy strong female characters in a mystery-thriller environment with just a little bit of science fiction elements.  I award this story five stars as I am amazed the series is still going so strong after fifty-one (and counting) books.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1) by Charlaine Harris (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

This first novel in the Southern Vampire Series by author Charlaine Harris features an alternate universe where vampires knowingly walk among ordinary humans.  As a matter of fact, they are protected by laws regarding discrimination, murder, and illegal harvesting of their blood, which has pharmaceutical properties.

In this universe, Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress at a small-town Louisiana bar and has a secret of her own; she is a telepath who considers herself “disabled” for her inability to control her unwanted talent.  Naturally, she is attracted to the first vampire she meets, a homeboy-newly returned to native lands named Bill Compton, and one she cannot read like a book. 

This unlikely pair must navigate romance, prejudice, and serial murder amid of setting of changing landscapes and values in an unusual urban fantasy setting.

Who is actually killing the young women, all “fang-bangers,” girls who enjoy being bitten by vampires?  When Sookie’s grandmother becomes an unwitting target, the investigation is derailed momentarily, but the police seem determined to pin the crimes on Sookie’s brother.  Meanwhile, Sookie has problems of her own as the vampire hierarchy that Bill must answer to discover her secret gift and want to exploit her talent.

I’ve read a book in another of the author’s series previously, the Aurora Teagarden books, but I had never actually picked up one of this series, which was the basis for the TV series True Blood, until now.  I found the book to be both exciting, with plenty of action, and humorous, thanks to touches such as the “reveal” of Sookie’s boss at the bar as a shapeshifter, and the addition of the dimwitted vampire “Bubba,” a former celebrity whose change into a vampire went very wrong.

With a murderer on the loose, romance, rivalry, and a mafia-style subplot featuring the vampire organization, this book turns cozy paranormal mysteries on its head.  I award Dead Until Dark five stars and plan to read more of the series in the future.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews: Gideon’s Corpse

Gideon's Corpse by Douglas Preston

Gideon’s Corpse (Gideon’s Crew #2)
by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review

Loner, scholar, roguish hero-with-a-death-sentence-on-his-head Gideon Crew is back with a new adventure that begins shortly after the end of the last book.  Gideon is once again in front of Eli Glinn, ready to tell the man off after the completion of recent events, when Glinn reels him in once more.

A former colleague of Gideon’s is holding hostages in New York.  The culprit is the most unlikely terrorist Gideon can imagine, but events place a great deal of suspicion on the now dead antagonist.  Crew, with the assistance of FBI Agent Stone Fordyce, are soon investigating a possible nuclear threat to Washington DC, with a trail of clues that leads back to Los Alamos before Gideon himself comes under suspicion.

Framed as a terrorist, Gideon must make his way through the wilderness with an unwilling accomplice to find the true culprit(s) before “N” day, when the nation will be brought to a halt.  But is the threat what Gideon and the multi-agency task force believe it to be?  Who framed Gideon, and more importantly, who can he actually trust?

This is the second book in a series by the team of Preston and Child, more famous for their Pendergast novels.  While there are some similarities between Gideon Crew and Aloysius Pendergast, the two protagonists are quite different.  While both main characters share a troubled background, like fine dining, and a have a knack for solving difficult cases; Crew is younger, rougher, and more likely to venture outside of the law and morality.  Crew’s partners and love interests tend to either die or not stick around; reinforcing the idea that crew is a bit of a loner, one who would rather live in an isolated cabin and go fishing than interact with others.

In the end of this volume, Crew has apparently made peace with the idea that he is dying, and resolves to use his remaining time to help others by working for Eli Glinn and Effective Engineering Solutions, perhaps saving the world.  While this speaks well for his character, I was a little disappointed to have the diagnosis verified.  After all, Crew is a young man (character) with a great deal of potential if allowed to live, and have more adventures.  Besides, I could see Glinn using the “death sentence” as a hoax to get his own way.  I guess I’ll just have to keep reading the series to find out which is true.

I award this book four stars for incredible action and plot twists, as well as developing an antagonist who achieved some amazing influences on the government and military without being a member of either. 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Secret of Chimneys

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review  

This novel begins by setting the scene for a misadventure between two comrades who may or may not be of suspicious character and nature, one whose true identity is not revealed until the very end of the story.

This book, referred to as the first in the Superintendent Battle series, does not contain a plot revolving around one of the author’s famed illustrious detectives.   Rather, Superintendent Battle, while a character in the story, takes more of a minor or secondary role, while the main protagonist is at once a suspect and the chief, if unofficial, investigator of events.

The famous estate of Chimneys, a landmark and tourist destination of England, is a seat of nobility and the location of historic meetings between government officials of various countries, as well as the site of a murder and the rumored repository of a stolen treasure.  When Anthony Cade, posing as his friend Jimmy McGrath, is invited there in an attempt to intercept a manuscript he has been charged with delivering to a publisher, he declines due to prior obligation.

However, Anthony soon finds himself on the way to the country estate anyway as coincidence or circumstance brings him to the aid of an English beauty, whose honor is questioned by some inflammatory documents Jimmy also imparted to him.  The following day brings forth an attempted burglary and multiple homicides, one of which Anthony helps conceal until the proper time comes for confession.

Who actually is the murderer/murderers? And how are the pending publication of a noble’s memoirs, the murder of the heir of a deposed monarch, and a missing diamond tied together?  Also, how many princes are actually present at Chimneys, and what is the real identity of the mysterious Anthony Cade, whose history is buried between Canada and the Congo?

Dame Christie keeps the reader guessing until the very last in this classic whodunit story.  Be very sure, dear reader, who you trust, because almost no character is actually whom they seem at first appearance.

I award this story five stars.  While it is not my favorite of all Christie’s books I have read, it is still an absorbing story with enough twists and turns to satisfy any mystery fan.

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.