Tag Archives: strong female characters

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

When I picked up this book I expected a paranormal adventure, perhaps with some female bonding, but what I got was a book that while containing a true horror tale was more about clashes between social classes and genders in 1990s Charleston, South Carolina.

The main character, Patricia, is a typical southern housewife-devoted to her career-minded, neglectful husband, and her two children who have their own issues, and has obligations to society to meet.  She also has a mother-in-law who is senile living in her garage room and a new neighbor that is definitely too good to be true.  Thankfully, she has her friends in the local book club to depend on when things get rough.

Who knew, that in 1990s Mt. Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston, the biggest obstacle a group of women would face when confronting a proven killer who has preyed on children and women for decades, would not be the monster himself.  Instead, the real obstacles include their own beliefs regarding reality and religion, but also their overbearing, dictatorial husbands who when they ask for assistance refuse to believe them and are afraid they will embarrass themselves or more realistically, their husbands and their standing in the community.

The men believe the women have concocted this fantasy about James Harris, who is their new business partner, because they are bored housewives who spend too much time reading lurid and fanciful literature for their monthly book club meetings.  The monster, James Harris, insinuates himself into their sheltered little society in such a way that the families all depend on his good graces for their good fortune.  The men do not want to upset their partner, and the women are afraid to go against their husbands, because in some situations, they will pay with beatings and forced medication.

Patricia’s own husband, the doctor in the group, is convinced she is having a breakdown, and rather than listen to her, prescribes anti-depressants and accuses her of destroying their family.  In the face of the overwhelming obstacles, the women let the fight go, until events that include a reappearance of Patricia’s now dead mother-in-law and a fatal attack on one of their own force them to band together and act. 

This book, the first I have read by author Grady Hendrix, is so much more than a horror novel.  It does contain truly terrifying scenes that are not for children or anyone who does not appreciate gore, but the blood and mayhem is not the main focus of the book.  I award the author five stars, and applaud him for a novel that contains depth of plot that surprised me.

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Once and Future Witches

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (Goodreads Author)

Amy Caudill‘s review

This epic story follows the lives of three sisters, descendants of witches, who have been separated by fate and falsehoods, but are brought together again through mutual pain and longing.

The Eastwood sisters, each having endured separate tragedies, find each other again in New Salem in the 1800s.  They have been apart for some time, but one half-conjured spell is enough to forge an unbreakable link between the three.  While they are rediscovering each other, and dealing with their past issues, they come to realize they meet the archetypes necessary to call back the Lost Tower of Avalon, the last stronghold of witchcraft on Earth which was burned by men who feared the witches’ power and independence.

Bella, The Crone, is a librarian who prizes knowledge, and will become the wise mentor of the group who catalogues all their recovered spells.  Agnes, The Mother, single and pregnant in a time when that was not at all acceptable, but who is stronger and more capable than she realizes.  Juniper, The Maiden, is a fierce warrior, fearless, but with a dark history that will play a part in the outcome.

Together, the three will become The Last Three and uncover The Lost Tower, giving women the power to make their lives a little more bearable in an age when women are considered property and not afforded any real rights, not least of all the ability to vote for their leaders.

The author skillfully hides the lost spells of witches in children’s rhymes and fairy tales, the last place any man would think to look, to keep them safe for future generations.  One male witch, however, seeks to root out and destroy all knowledge of witchcraft so that he alone has power, and can enthrall a city to his bidding.  In the end, the only way to stop a new round of witch burnings, and save Agnes’s daughter, is to destroy the hold Gideon Hill has on the city.  It won’t be easy though, because he has just been elected as Mayor of New Salem and has made puppets of half the population. 

There were multiple points in this 530 page tome where I felt, okay, they have reached their end goal, what could possibly be left?  However, the author quickly wrote in another roadblock, another obstacle to overcome.  While the story was long, it was absorbing, and only in a couple of places, like midway through, did I feel the pacing was slow.

Overall, a very good story, one that takes the reader in completely unexpected directions.  The characterization of the three, as well as the antagonist and a few secondary players, was well drawn.  I especially enjoyed Juniper, who started out so brash and angry at the world but by the end had actually come around to feel empathy for Gideon Hill and was unable to kill him, despite very good reasons to do so.  I give this book 4.5 stars and recommend it to anyone interested in fantasy or paranormal novels that contain very strong, independent female characters.

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 : The Murder at the Vicarage

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple, #1) by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review

The Murder at the Vicarage is the first of the Miss Marple books, a series featuring one of author Agatha Christie’s “detectives.”   However, in this novel most of the actual investigative work is not done by the detective in question.  The case involves a murder that takes place at a Vicarage in the small English town of St. Mary Mead, but most of the actual legwork is done by the Vicar himself, Leonard Clement, with assistance of the local doctor, and only marginally the local constable and his superiors. 

The “detective,” Miss Marple, is only mentioned briefly here and there, and appears in the book at only a few points to point out theories and possible suspects until half-way through the story, and then only takes a more prominent role in the final chapters. 

While she takes the role of “armchair detective” to a whole new level, Miss Marple does have some amazing insights gathered from her “hobby” of observing people.  She presents her views in a way that is far less invasive or potentially offensive than some of her fictional male counterparts; she actually keeps up the appearance of a demur, gentle, polite elderly lady while she is lecturing the police on their assumptions and mistakes.

I have long been a fan of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and have read a number of her stories without a “detective” central character, so this book was quite a surprise for me.  Having read a number of Christie’s works featuring Hercule Poirot and The Beresfords, I was at first dismayed to realize how little the series heroine was featured in this story. 

I am uncertain about how much I like this particular detective.  Since this was the first book I have read of the Miss Marple series, I don’t know what to expect from further stories.  I decided to just enjoy the story, which has the usual plethora of twists and turns, false blinds and potential murderers; even if the foot work is done mostly by a bored Vicar who is actually an engaging character in his own right.

 However, the more I think about it perhaps that was the author’s plan all along?  Christie certainly does not present Miss Marple in the same manner she does her other protagonists, but perhaps that is by design?  She does appear to be setting Marple up for a more prominent role that is not apparent here but may be built upon later.  I’m sure that I will give in to curiosity and check out another story in the collection at some point. 

Meanwhile, this book is an engaging mystery, with plenty of action to charm the fans of English mystery stories, and even a strong, independent female detective in the background to appeal to readers.  I give this book four stars.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Echo Wife

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

If the “other woman” is actually another version of you how can you be upset with her?  With yourself?  Or do you simply blame your knowingly unfaithful soon-to-be ex?  Evelyn Caldwell faces this dilemma when her husband appropriates her research into human cloning to make a copy of her that is more accommodating to his desires.  Naturally she leaves him, but when the clone named Martine contacts her, she cannot resist meeting her domesticated twin.

When she finally visits Martine at the home she shares with Nathan, she is not prepared for the chaotic events that have happened there, or the lengths she will have to venture to protect herself, her reputation in the scientific community, and the innocent lives Nathan has badly abused.

As Evelyn and Martine bond over shared love and hatred of their mutual “husband,” they explore both their differences and similarities.  Martine overrides her programming; and Evelyn reminisces about her life growing up, her early relationship with Nathan, and the experiences that have shaped her personality to make her who she is today. 

In the end, they may not like each other but they decide they need each other for what each can offer her “sister.”  The story ends in a surprisingly peaceful manner considering the hard road it takes the characters to get there.

The author raises many questions about the nature of humanity, the meaning of being human, and the ethics of human cloning.  Are they lab specimens or are they human beings?  Do they have the same feelings, the same desires, and the same life goals of naturally-grown humans?  Who has the right or the capability to decide their fates?

This book combines science fiction with a murder plot and relationship drama of multiple characters, a couple of who are at their core strong, independent females.  I recommend this book to readers across multiple genres and give it four stars for an interesting plot with many twists and a carefully thought-out administration of the “science.”

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 : Old Bones

Old Bones by Douglas Preston

Old Bones (Nora Kelly #1) by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review

The latest spinoff from authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child features two feisty alums from a handful of the Pendergast series books, Dr. Nora Kelly and newly-minted Special Agent Corrie Swanson of the FBI.

Readers of the series will remember Nora Kelly is an archeologist and the wife of the late investigative reporter Bill Smithback, another series regular who was (spoilers!) tragically murdered in an earlier book.  Nora has returned to her roots, working for the Santa Fe Archeological Institute, when she receives an offer to help find a lost camp of members of the infamous Donner party, where pioneers headed to California were stuck in a blizzard and resorted to cannibalism in an attempt to survive.

Meanwhile, Corrie Swanson, former Goth protégé of Pendergast, is a rookie at the FBI and anxious for her first real case.  What comes her way is a series of grave robbing’s and a murder that are inexplicably linked to the same camp, and the same group of pioneers, that Nora’s expedition is about to uncover.

A theft of human bones, uncovered at the dig site, as well as a presumed accidental death and a murder lead Corrie to closing down the dig, bringing her into conflict with Nora, as well as the rest of the party and local law enforcement.   However, events will soon occur that force the two strong women to rely on each other for survival.

This new book, the first of the planned “Nora Kelly series,” contains only a subtle hint of the paranormal energy that readers often encounter in books by these authors. An innocent child, a victim of the Donner tragedy and subject of campfire tales for the expedition, may or may not haunt members of the archeological support staff and render timely assistance on multiple occasions. However, in this case, as the authors are relying on real, historic events for their fictional plot, I think anymore of the normally present psychic energy would be a mistake.  The small amount they include is affectionate and respectful of the “haunting” subject.

As an avid fan of these authors and the main “Pendergast” series, I have followed the development of the vast array of characters that populate this universe and am happy to see these two women, both who have been friendly and at odds with Pendergast in the past meet.  Their introduction includes conflict and understanding, rivalry and mutual respect, and I am curious to see if Corrie Swanson appears again in the series.  If anything, Pendergast’s cameo in the last chapter of the book seems to foreshadow this.

I sat down and read the bulk of this book overnight, something I seldom have the luxury to do, which should indicate how much I enjoyed it.  Prior knowledge of the series/characters is helpful, but not necessary to enjoy it.  For the record, I am giving this novel five stars, and would recommend it to any readers of detective stories, historical fiction, and any readers who enjoy action stories featuring strong female protagonists. 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Where the Crawdads Sing by

Delia Owens (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Take a novel that is one part survival story, one part murder trial story, with a subplot of love, heartache, and retribution thrown in, and you have the plot for author Delia Owen’s first fictional book.

The bestselling author of nonfictional books about wildlife brings her expertise on nature into this story, as the main character, Kya, describes her home of the marshlands off the coast of South Carolina.  Kya’s isolation, thanks to being abandoned by multiple family members one-by-one, leads to her total immersion and dependence on her environment, culminating in her becoming an expert on the marshes and their importance to the world.

The author’s descriptions of the world where Kya lived are both beautiful and heartbreaking. The narration flows like the poetry Kya often quotes throughout the story. While the story weaves backward and forward through time, the author slowly moves focus from 1952, when Kya is first abandoned, to 1970, where her fate will be decided in a court of law.

Along the way, Kya faces prejudice, hardships, and loneliness, but ultimately finds peace in her surroundings and love of friends and recovered family.  Looked down upon by the local population because of her seclusion and poverty, she is labelled “The Marsh Girl,” a figure of scorn and ugly rumors.

Her perception by the locals as an outsider, even a savage, is in part what leads the local sheriff and the town in general hold her responsible for the death of a local celebrity, and try her for murder based on the most circumstantial evidence.  Luckily, Kya has a few true friends and honorable people in her corner, who seek the truth and stay beside her till the end.

I truly enjoyed this story.  It covers so much, in terms of plot and time, and includes several unexpected twists.  While there are plenty of stories where children survive alone in the wild, few evolve to a point where the characters are able to cast social commentary on the behavior of a small town, or reach the heights of becoming published authors.  Kya is truly extraordinary, and the life she leads is exemplary, all the more so because of everything she goes through.

Saying that, I was astounded at the direction the author took in the last chapter, the very last page, that through everything I thought about the book and the characters into an entirely new light- I really didn’t want to believe the ending.  This ending is the sole reason I give this book four stars; perhaps that seems unfair, but the last twist seems completely out of sync with everything I’d read up to that point.  Still, this is a very good book that I’d recommend to many readers, of mysteries, survival stories, and stories about strong female characters.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Leverage in Death

Leverage in Death by J.D. Robb
Leverage in Death (In Death, #47) by

J.D. Robb (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

The New York City of 2061 may have flying cars and off-world colonies, but crime is still the same for Lt. Eve Dallas, the NYPSD cop with the tragic past, and her multi-billionaire husband, Roarke, who has a checkered past of his own and tech skills that make Batman look like an amateur.

In the latest volume of this long-running series by author Nora Roberts writing as J. D. Robb, our heroes investigate a family man who is coerced into committing an atrocious crime- going into his workplace wearing a suicide bomber’s vest.  The true villains think they are oh-so-clever, but get greedy and target multiple other victims, until Eve and Roarke find clues to their identities and then go in for the arrest.

While the main plot is thrilling as always, with lots of false starts and leads that don’t pan out and crooks that aren’t necessarily guilty of the major crimes; what I love the most about this series is the amazing continuity in the storylines.  This continuity is largely fueled by the large supporting cast of characters that surround the main power couple.

Minor characters come and go in background plot and occasional main storyline features, but their subplots extend over multiple books and long-term arcs for the series.  The addition of these extra characters as they grow, develop, and live their lives “off-camera” as it were, adds a sense of time and normalcy into the frequently fast-paced murder investigations.  Case in point: this novel features two men who are involved in the kidnapping of three different families, as well as bombs that kill eighteen people, and all the action takes place over three days.

While Eve and Roarke’s lives are exciting in the extreme, they would appear as static, superhuman but unrealistic facsimiles if the reader was not allowed to see their interactions with other characters; to see Eve complain about dressing up for an event with friends, to see Roarke’s love of hanging out with the e-geeks, makes them seem all the more human, and amazing.

I award this novel five stars and would recommend it to anyone who likes strong, female detectives, or police dramas that contain equal amounts of plot and action.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1) by

Theodora Goss (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review :

Mary Jekyll, soon after the death of her mother, receives from the latter’s lawyer a number of papers belonging to her father, who died under mysterious circumstances when she was a child, as well as details of a bank account making payments on behalf of someone named Hyde.  Mary recognizes the name as one of her father’s former employees, who was accused of murder and disappeared around the time of her father’s death.

Suddenly left destitute, she takes the information to Sherlock Holmes hoping to claim a reward for the capture of the elusive Hyde. What she finds instead is a previously unknown half-sister, along with more questions about her late father’s involvement with a group called the Société des Alchimistes, or the Alchemist’s Society, that conducted sinister experiments in the name of science.

As she investigates, both on her own and with Holmes, she begins to gather a most unlikely group of acquaintances; young women who, like herself, are the daughters, and sometimes test subjects, of this group of mad scientists.  In addition to Diana Hyde, the fourteen year old wild child; there is Beatrice Rappaccinni, whose breath is literally poisonous; Catherine Moreau, a young woman who began life as a puma; and Justine Frankenstein, the incredibly strong but gentle giant of a woman.   Together these young women will face dangers that would have most men quaking in fear, and ultimately form an alliance of their own, The Athena Club.

The author of this book used a most interesting device, of having the “characters” chime in from time to time, helping with the narration and arguing how best to tell the story.  I found it rather humorous, having various characters argue with Catherine, the supposed writer, but these interruptions assisted in further developing the relationships between the various cast, and bringing to light the story that was being told as if it happened in their not-too-distant past.

This book did contain quite a bit of world-building, as this is the first book in a series, but what a world!  Each character, a “self-proclaimed” monster, tells her own story of her father’s experiments which led to her own creation.  The setup of all these backstories, however, prove to be integral to the plot of both the book and the series, as much information is uncovered that leads to the circumstances of the “current” murders, taking place in White Chapel, a.k.a. Jack the Ripper.  The resolution of the Ripper cases are somewhat secondary to the plot, though, as the ladies and Sherlock agree, the “stranger than fiction” crimes cannot be shared with the public, for the danger it would present to the group.

Though there are elements of the paranormal in this novel, and despite the players, this is not a horror story, but rather chronicles the beginning of a most unusual “club,” the victims and survivors, even if they themselves and others might call them monsters.  I award this book four stars, and would recommend it to any readers who love strong female characters, especially those from the Victorian era, as well as fans of Sherlock Holmes-style mysteries, paranormal stories, and urban fantasy.