Book Review – The Camelot Gambit

TITLE:  The Camelot Gambit – Night Shade/Forensic Files Book 7
AUTHOR: AJ Scudiere
PUBLISHED: 2019
FORMAT: Kindle e-Book

 

I have read AJ Scudiere before, but never this series, so I knew what I was getting into in term of writing style, but not a thing about these characters. I was assured it wouldn’t matter, so I decided to jump in anyway.
Donovan and Eleri are undercover FBI agents in the fictitious town of Curie, NE, populated almost entirely by a hand-picked group of geniuses and their families. One of their neighbors has been murdered, and they’ve been assigned the case, determined to figure out who the killer is before the think-tank type town discovers they’re there.
The murder itself is slim on clues… They know the victim was bound and that he didn’t really struggle, but they don’t know why he stopped breathing or what the motive is. As the bodies pile up, they’re more confused as ever and have to finally break their cover for the safety of several people in the town. But is it too late? And are Donovan and Eleri even smart enough to understand what’s going on?
Okay. So, on one hand, this book is definitely what you’d expect from AJ. It’s well written in neat, proper sentences, and she’s definitely done her research (hell, I’m beginning to think she may be smart enough to live in Curie herself…)
On the other hand, a couple things. First, this is part of her NightShade series, which means cases that the FBI have deemed a little abnormal. It also means that the agents are a little abnormal themselves, although that’s glossed over and hinted at early on with no good explanation and then explained later. So, yes, you can read this book on its own, but you will be missing quite a bit of back story about the agents.
Second, some of the things in the book seem a little too forced. Curie is supposed to be a uber-smart town, with neighborhoods playing up to its geeky residents. So you can go to the coffee shop and order an E=MC2 or pick by scientist at the diner. One neighborhood is named after C’thulu, and some houses are Frank Lloyd Wright or The Shire inspired, but then it gets weird. Kangaroo Court is where the geeks have whatever odd pet they want, for instance. And it just stuck out as weird.
Also, be prepared for some really bad puns and inside jokes along the way – a few I think even went over my head. Fun side note. I keep telling people “I’m reading a book where they named the pig Atinlay…” and waiting to see who gets it or not. I may need smarter friends (bye, Mom!)

The book itself seems to have two parts. The first half has a whole lot of frustration from its undercover agents and most of it is spent with them saying “… So we don’t know how or why he died or who would want to kill him…” And I felt as frustrated as they must have felt because I thought I read about fifty unnecessary pages in all of that where not a lot happened and not a lot was established beyond ordering a coffee. There was a definite upswing after the second murder, though, and I was much happier with the second part of this book. Stuff was happening. They were slowly working their way through the how and why and who, but they were finding things and making progress. It was finally more about the case than about Curie. And we were finally getting information about the agents, so I was finally able to piece together who Donovan and Eleri were in some sort of meaningful way about 2/3 through the thing.

There wasn’t a lot outright annoying about the story – although LeDonRic’s name seemed like the author couldn’t decide which name to pick so she used them all at once. Fortunately, he was less involved as the story progressed. Mostly, I think the things I had issue with were just from not knowing the back story of the recurring characters.

So even though the book *CAN* stand alone, it definitely would have helped to know a little more about the characters at the beginning. In all, I think the book was pretty solid, and I don’t regret that I took the time to read it.

Four out of Five for sure.

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Book Review – The Shadow Constant by AJ Scudiere

The Shadow Constant
AJ Scudiere
2013, Paperback

So, AJ happened to like my last review of one of her novels so much that she keeps giving me stuff to review.  I was going to review something else but she really wanted this one done before the end of the year.  The things we do for people.  *giggles*

Anyway.  Shadow Constant is about four people who are renovating a plantation and find a few things in a wall, one of them being the plans for a machine created by Eli Whitney.  Plans that people are willing to kill for.
As the book progresses, we see the length that people are willing to go to get the plans and the determination of these four in saving them.

I have a few issues with the book.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but you’ve been warned.

  • Kayla has Asperger’s, and we know this because every two pages, somebody in the book makes sure to tell us.  There are a lot of [character] wasn’t sure if the problem was Kayla’s Asperger’s or something else… going on in the story.
  • Guns happen in this story and the terminology is wrong in a few places.  The author and I disagree over this.  She said she did it on purpose since the characters in the book don’t really know guns.  But the book is 3rd person narrated, and even though it’s limited to just a couple main perspectives, it’s still a 3rd person narrator.  And if they know what they’re smelling after a gun went off (and no, I don’t mean gunpowder), they know the difference between a clip and a mag because somewhere along the line, someone tried to up sell them or corrected them when they asked a seemingly-stupid question.  Trust me, even if they went to a show vs. a shop or whatever, they heard the right words at some point.
  • Kayla’s kiss.  I saw it coming, I groaned.  That whole relationship wasn’t needed.

Aside from that, the last third or so of the book felt a little off for some reason, but I don’t know why.

With that said. I had issues from the beginning with this review because I kept comparing it in my head to Phoenix, which is a silly thing to do since the two books are totally unrelated [AJ’s first five novels were written to stand alone], but still.  Phoenix was one of those books that I can’t get out of my head.
Right from the start, I thought it was weird that there is seemingly nothing that I can point to and say “There.  That’s AJ.”  I mean, yeah, she’s good at things, but there’s nothing here that I point out and say “OMG, This is totally an AJ book” if I didn’t otherwise know it.  It’s not good or bad, it just is.  But while I was still comparing the books in my head, it was weird to me.  And it took a while to get that comparison to stop.  Because, seriously, the books feel like they’re written by two different people.  It’s probably a product of the POV – even though it’s third limited, the books feel like their main characters, and these are vastly different main characters – and like I said, not good or bad, it just is.
And even though I was a little disappointed that this book didn’t feel like the other one did, I found myself thinking about it at weird times.  It’d just pop in my head.  So there is that.

Still, I’m going to have to apologize to AJ here.  I know she wanted a five star review, because she told me so.  But as I said, there were a few issues in the last third of the book and a couple ongoing things that drove me nuts.  I think the story is totally worth reading, but I just couldn’t find that extra something that elevates a four-star rating (read this) to a five star (buy this).

I really have agonized over this review, but in the end, I think I have to give this a four-page rating.

Book Review – Phoenix by A.J. Scudiere

Title: Phoenix
Author: AJ Scudiere
Format: Paperback
Written/Published: 2012

I met AJ several years ago at the Southern Festival of Books (if you’re in Nashville, check it out!), where I won a copy of a small short story collection, and accepted it in full zombie makeup (did I mention it was also World Zombie Day?).
So the last time I saw her, we were chit-chatting and catching up when the blog came into the conversation and she offered me a copy to review. Talk about a no-brainer.

She picked the book, and this is what she gave me; I promptly stuck it somewhere in the dredges of my TBR pile, behind current library books and blog tours. It was a little more mainstream than I usually read, anyway, and I’d get to it eventually. After finishing a pretty good fantasy novel, I needed something in a different vein, and this was sitting there – mocking me. I’d already had it for almost three months at this point.
The story is that of one Jason Mondy. A firefighter on a firecall, he quickly rose to hero when he pulled two kids out of a burning building, one under each arm, and went back in for their kitten. It didn’t hurt that he’s in his early thirties and fairly good looking. But something about this just wasn’t right to Jason. Even though he couldn’t explain it, something was unsettling about this one, and he quit sleeping and when he did, his dreams woke him up.
In the middle of a heart-to-heart with his captain, he listened while his captain told a few stories of bad days – an apartment fire where his partner died but they saved the kids – Chief Adler’s worst of the worst. Then he told Jason to go home to his mother, sleep in the safe bed of his childhood, and hoped he’d feel better.
And that’s when the real bombshell had been dropped. He’d been adopted – he knew that – but his brother hadn’t. Wait, what?

Now, Jason’s life, or what he knew from it, had unraveled faster than a sweater at the hands of a kitten.
Okay. As a writer, reading is a little different than it is to non-writers. For instance, I might read something and then spend a minute getting past the thought of how *I* would have done it. There are some writers who are forgettable. But there are some that I read, and I want to read again and again to learn from. These are the writers that I curse out of jealousy. Janine Spendlove is one, A.J. Scudiere is definitely another one.

There are side stories that I would never have thought about adding in. Bear Mountain and everything that comes with it was genious. And there were so many details that I didn’t expect when I read them and then said ‘duh’ because they were that obvious in hindsight.
There’s the “secret boys club” that his roommate teased him about – the group of guys he had brought into his secrecy about his past and the details they were unearthing.

Oh, and as an added bonus, the prologue of the book is written in second person, to put you in Jason’s head for a minute, so you do the actions that he does. And I love second person with every fiber of my being, so I can’t help but be excited about that.

Yeah, there are a few issues – even though the book itself is third person, the begining of each chapter gives you something to tell you the focus of that chapter: Jason’s name when it’s a chapter about him, the shift schedule complete with rank/title for the firehouse, whatever. The firehouse schedule, though, is way too small to read it well, and I found myself ignoring it after a bit. More of a “oh, look, the firehouse” sort of thing than carring who was where, even though there was a bit of information to be gained there.
A few things were also convenient. Jason’s new roommate, for instance, of course proved to be helpful. But he came by her naturally, so I was okay with it in the end.

Also, there were a few loose ends, but none with major story lines, so I was mostly okay with those, too, even though there were a couple spots where I wanted more.

I think the most telling though was that I was fighting sleep but wouldn’t put the book down. As soon as I was finished I rushed it straight to my mother. “This book, you must read it.”
Five out of five pages.

 

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