All posts by Amy Caudill

About Amy Caudill

I am a a writer and dreamer of different worlds, who dabbles in paranormal and science fiction, a fan girl at heart who loves books and movies in equal measure. Join me as I explore and sample some of the best in media available as well as some original writing.

How Will You Celebrate Fall (In a Year of Crisis?)

How do you show your appreciation for the season? Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

While the weather is definitely starting to cool off here in the Midwest, and a number of leaves are already falling to the ground, many of the other usual signs of the season are muted this year.  I have seen a few of the neighbors changing the décor on their front porches, and there are pumpkins for sale in the local grocery stores, but, not much else. 

There are less Halloween decorations and costumes available, less talk about the season on the news, for obvious reasons.  This year we are under a quarantine, which means even in areas that do allow for trick-or-treating it is unlikely that many will feel safe allowing their families’ participation, not without justification.

I remember when my children were young, the year of the awful events of 9/11, and the nation was gripped by terror.  That year, following those eye-opening and life-changing tragic events, many families were in fear of going out, of taking part in normal events.  We flew American flags in defiance, all the while waiting for the next attack, the next crisis. 

When Halloween came around that year, fearing for our children’s safety but not wanting to deny them the joy of the season, we stayed home and invited the extended family over for our own celebration.

All the children came in costume, and the adults were assigned different rooms, hallways, and corners of the limited space with a bag or bowl of candy to give out so the kids could “trick-or-treat” before we had a party with games, food, and creepy music.  Later, we would recall that Halloween as one of the best we ever celebrated, despite the fear that inspired the planning.

The point I wish to make is, don’t let the current situation get you down.  Yes, we are under threat, yes we must take precautions, but that does not mean you cannot enjoy the season.  If it makes you happy, decorate for fall.  Festoon your space with mums, pumpkins, and what have you (I already have a few of my own in place.)  While circumstances dictate we must adhere to a certain amount of isolation, we can still enjoy ourselves and allow our kids to have fun and make memories that will last.

However you decide to celebrate, or even if you choose not to, I hope you get the chance to enjoy the beauty of the crisp air, the brilliant colors, the tantalizing aromas, and the sweet tastes of the season.  Happy Fall!

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review 

Ten strangers from different walks of life meet as they embark for an island off the coast of the English shore, the invited guests and newly hired staff for the mysterious owners.  These ten people soon realize none of them have actually ever met their hosts/employers, just as a storm strands them there, with no way to communicate with the mainland.  Then, the bodies start piling up, as the unwitting residents realize a murderer walks among them.

This beloved Agatha Christie story, originally published in 1939, has also been published under the title, Ten Little Indians, and has been produced, and imitated, multiple times as movies, plays, television shows, and has served as inspiration for other author’s works.  In some versions the guests are stranded on a snowy mountain that can only be reached by cable car, but much of the plot remains the same.

Dame Christie’s plot draws on an old children’s poem, which the murderer, unknown to the end, utilizes as both inspiration and methodology.  The poem, alternately called “Ten Little Indians” or “Ten Little Soldiers,” depending on the version, details grisly ways these unfortunates decrease in number until all have met their fate.

It takes several deaths for the remaining party to realize that their numbers are dwindling, in accordance with the rhyme.  However, they still have difficulty reconciling how the killer can perform these outrageous deeds, unseen and unknown, especially on an isolated island.  Wittier guests realize that the murderer must have set things up ahead of time, but repeated searches of the island prove futile as the body count rises, and the survivors grow more and more suspicious of each other.

What the “tribunal,” presided over by Justice Wargrave, a retired judge, determines is, in accordance with a recorded message left for the party on the first night, each of the guests has participated in a wrongful death or murder, but has escaped justice in some manner.  Each victim first denies and then admits the truth, if only in their own mind, before their demise.

Still, the reader is left wondering clear to the end of the story as to the actual identity of the murderer, as several good suspects fall prey to the unseen killer.  In fact, Christie only reveals the actual murderer after the end of the story, in a document attached to the end, like an afterward, which reveals the murderer’s thoughts and actions in his/her own words.

It is not surprising that this story is one of the best-selling books of all times, and is a tribute to the author is work is so absorbing and timeless.

I give this book five stars, and recommend it to all fans of mystery, crime, and to any who have ever watched a movie or television production based on Agatha Christie’s work.

It’s Labor Day Time Again!

This coming weekend marks American holiday Labor Day.  Though the official holiday is Monday, September 7th, for many the celebrations will begin this Friday and continue throughout the extended weekend.

Photo by Aaron Schwartz on Pexels.com

What a year it’s been!  At this time last year, most of us were planning to celebrate this American holiday in our own style-with family and neighborhood gatherings, cookouts, and fireworks shows.  What a difference a year can make!  Now, many of us fear, not unreasonably so, to venture out unless absolutely necessary.

Labor Day, officially a federal holiday celebrating the efforts of American workers, and unofficially the” last hurrah of summer,” means many things to different people.  Some take it as a welcome break from work, as federal and state offices will be closed, as well as many businesses.  For others, it’s about shopping the big sales, or an excuse to party, or just a last summer blowout as children are returning to school.

This year, though many schools are finally back in session, albeit many are using a method of staggered attendance, the holiday doesn’t have quite the same meaning.  Many, my husband included, are still working at home and will be for the foreseeable future. 

However, for many, including the adults in my family, it is still a paid holiday we intend to enjoy.  While we are planning a cookout, we will be having a smaller crowd this year, and any shopping we do will probably be accomplished online.  Still, the day gives us a perfect excuse to pull out our smoker, and prepare too much good food, which will furnish leftovers for a few days at least.

Labor Day also means that autumn is just around the corner, and I’m already looking forward to cooler temperatures, putting up fall and Halloween decorations, and planning autumn treats to bake and share.

While the world is a vastly different place right now, we still can take joy in the day and wherever else we can find it.  I choose to be optimistic that things will get better.  In the meantime, we need to continue about our lives as best we can.  This means planning as near a normal holiday celebration as possible, and rejoicing in the time we have as a family.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

Amy

TV Talk: Reasons to Watch The Umbrella Academy (Season 2) — My Midnight Musing

One of the hottest new shows on Netflix is an extremely outside-the-box superhero show that is equal parts X-men academy and family drama. Thanks to Lois from My Midnight Musing for this review of the recently released second season.

The Umbrella Academy proved to the world that you don’t need Marvel to create compelling superhero dramas. This show took the world by storm with its eccentric family dynamics and bizarre concepts. The second season of the show takes us back to the 1960s where the Hargreeves siblings find themselves scattered through time as they […]

TV Talk: Reasons to Watch The Umbrella Academy (Season 2) — My Midnight Musing

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Vendetta in Death

Vendetta in Death by J.D. Robb

Vendetta in Death (In Death, #49)
by J.D. Robb (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

In this 49th installment of the futuristic cop series, Eve Dallas takes on a serial killer that uses the moniker Lady Justice to justify her personal brand of torture and murder.

Eve is set against a foe that attacks men that have used and abused women.  She targets rapists, adulterers, thieves-those who Eve would normally seek to lock “in a cage” or an off-planet prison.  Unfortunately, these men have become victims, and Lt. Eve Dallas always stands for the victim, no matter whom or what they were in life.

Luckily, Eve doesn’t have to go it alone.  She has a whole crew of supporting characters, from the detectives and police officers under her command, to her family and friends that are there to lend a hand or a friendly ear when she needs one.  When she has to face off against the granddaughter of a legendary movie star, she’ll have plenty of help to take down the criminal and save the latest victim, all under the auspices and the rules set by the NYPSD. 

At this point in the series, the characters, from Eve and Roarke, to Peabody and McNab, even Feeney and Summerset are so familiar.  While some circumstances may change and events may alter lives in some way, the characters remain true to their core values. The readers have seen so much of their lives, read as they’ve changed and grown, that it’s easy to feel like we know them; that they are old friends.  

However, the stories are still totally absorbing; the way Dallas’ mind works; the way she puts herself into the shoes of the killer she’s chasing, is always fresh and exciting and is a credit to the author for her ability to continue to reinvent the characters with each new novel. 

While there is continuity in the series, a reader new to J. D.  Robb’s work need not be daunted with the thought of traversing that many books, as each story is a self-contained novel.  Still, once one becomes hooked, it’s hard not to grab the next one or go back and discover what other cases are available.  It certainly will take a while for most readers to run out new material, as the series also includes a number of short stories in collections.

I give this book five stars, and recommend it to any readers interested in sci-fi, police drama, and action stories with powerful female characters.

Making the Most of Your Staycation

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

As I was driving home from work one night this week, I heard the radio announcer call our current times “The Era of the Staycation.”  How apt and how current he was.

Due to the coronavirus that is impacting us all in so many ways, people are staying home.  Some of us are working at home, others have lost their jobs, and some are simply choosing to stay home because of health concerns.  Many recreation facilities and events that we might normally visit or attend at this time of year are closed, either temporarily or for the duration. 

Whatever the reason we are not venturing out, we are spending the time and possibly the money we would normally put towards a summer vacation in the security of our own homes.

Since we are staying home, many of us are choosing to make upgrades to the place we live 24/7.  We are spending our resources on sprucing up our spaces; with paint, with landscaping, with pools and recreational equipment.  In short, we are making our homes a vacation destination tailored to our needs and desires.  If you have a large budget to make upgrades, think how best to spend your dollars so that whatever changes you make will add long-lasting value and function to your home.

If you don’t have a large vacation/remodeling budget, there are still things you can do to make your enforced staycation fun, memorable, and happy for entire family.  Even minor changes, such as paint or houseplants can give your space a new look.  Try “shopping” around your house for furniture, art, pillows, and lighting that might look better in another spot, or simply refresh your scenery. 

Plan activities to set the mood for fun and relaxation.  Let the kids camp out in the backyard, and consider moving the TV to a patio for family movie night.  If you don’t have a fire pit, you can always make s’mores in the microwave to eat on your deck or balcony.

To get a completely new view, try sites such as https://artsandculture.google.com/ where you can take virtual tours of parks and museums from your computer or blue toothed TV.

The choices for a staycation are limitless; all it takes is a little imagination and effort, and of course, those closest to you for a truly memorable vacation at home!  I hope you get to enjoy one soon!

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Shadowed Souls

Shadowed Souls by Jim Butcher

Shadowed Souls by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author) (Editor), Kerrie L. Hughes (Goodreads Author) (Editor)
Amy Caudill‘s review

I picked up this anthology of short stories for some “lighter” reading after having concentrated on a number of 500 page plus novels recently.  I appreciate the theme the collection contained; i.e. supernatural “monsters” that are not evil, or necessarily seeking to do bad things, but only trying to live their lives. 

While the anthology had an impressive list of contributing authors that have won awards and sold numerous books, the stories themselves felt like a mixed bag to me.  Some I really liked and enjoyed; others not so much.

While all the stories were very well written, some appealed to me more than others.  As a writer myself, I understand the challenge in developing characters into living, breathing entities for a reader’s imagination in only a limited number of pages, as well as creating an entire plot from introduction to climax.

One of the better stories in my opinion is by one of the editors, Jim Butcher, called “Cold Case,” and is a story from late in the Dresden Files series featuring a pair of the minor characters, Molly and Warden Ramirez, who rarely get much individual attention on the page.  Unfortunately, I had already read this particular short story in a different collection of Butcher’s, but it is a very good one and I didn’t mind reading it again.

Among the remaining stories are several that are humorous, including one by Seanan McGuire called “Sleepover” that includes a very different viewpoint of a succubus trying to live an ordinary life, which is interrupted by a group of human nerds who kidnap her in an attempt to force her to help rescue one’s kid sister from a bogeyman.

One of my other favorites from the anthology is Kevin J. Anderson’s “Eye of Newt” which features one of his series regulars, named Dan Shamble, who is a zombie and a private investigator.  Dan has to help his client, a talking newt, recover a stolen eye from an improbable group of suspects.

The remainder of the stories included contained a number of unlikely heros/monsters ranging from a woman who carries the soul of her dead twin sister to a huntress who has been raised from the dead to lead another member of her organization out of literal hell.

For readers who enjoy a plethora of paranormal characters, or who are looking to sample fare from their old or new favorite author, this collection offers a number of possibilities in a book that can be read one short story at a time, or collectively in a few short hours.  I give it three stars, and recommend it to any fan of the paranormal genre-romance, detective or urban fantasy.

Easy Chicken and Dumplings

An unexpected rain storm after a week of sunshine and warm summer weather prompted me to make one of my family’s favorite simple but filling comfort food recipes.  I hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients:

1 32 oz. carton chicken stock (or broth, if you want a thinner, more soup-like dish)

3 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 1 ½ lbs.)

1 can condensed cream of chicken and herb soup

¼ tsp poultry seasoning

1 can (16 oz.) refrigerated biscuits

2 medium carrots, chopped (1 cup)

3 celery ribs, chopped (1 cup)

Directions:

In 4 or 5 qt. Dutch oven, heat stock, chicken, soup and poultry seasoning to boiling over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low.  Cover; simmer five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Increase heat to medium-high; return to low boil.

Flatten biscuit dough by either rolling on floured surface or by hand.  Either cut into strips with a pizza cutter or tear into pieces about 2 inches wide and long.

Add vegetables and dough pieces a little at a time to boiling mixture.  Reduce heat to low.  Cover; simmer 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent dumplings from sticking.

Ladle into bowls and serve warm.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Turn Coat

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, #11) by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

Harry Dresden, wizard/private investigator of Chicago, has faced a lot in the last few years.  He’s helped stop warlocks, necromancers, and a host of creatures from Faerie from destroying the world, multiple times.  He’s fought, and trained, other wizards in a war against the Red Court of Vampires.  He should have a little credibility with the White Council of Wizards, right? 

The one member of the Wardens (police force) of the White Council who has always held a grudge against Harry shows up on his doorstep, wounded and hunted, accused of murder and treason.  Will Harry risk everything he’s worked for, his friends and family, to prove Morgan is innocent?  And what will be the price Harry has to pay?

Meanwhile, a large Native American shapeshifter supernatural being is hunting Harry and Morgan, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants, including taking Harry’s brother hostage.  How does the shapeshifter tie in with the traitor, or traitors inside the Council, and who are their allies, wizard, vampire or otherworldly being? 

Harry sees only one choice-call out all the players, to one spot, on one night, in a battle royal for the ages. 

This eleventh book of the series features a Harry that is showing signs of character growth.  He’s beginning to plan his responses instead of just rushing into danger impulsively.  He actually devises his next several steps ahead in order to trip up the traitor/traitors in a way that will provide proof to the Council of what is really going on under their noses, not that he shares that information with the reader until after the fact. 

While there are those who still do not trust him, he’s managed to impress several members of the High Council, including Listens-to-Wind, who offers to mentor him in higher magic’s. His future looks bright, at the same time his world is still in turmoil.

The White Council officially denies the existence of the Black Council, despite the evidence that their counter is working to undermine them.  Thomas, in recovering from the torture the skin walker did to him, has “fallen off the wagon” and returned to feeding on the sexual energy of humans.  And now Harry, with a select few believers, is planning their own little group to investigate the conspiracy and risk being labelled traitors themselves.  Of course, all this is just par for the course for Harry Dresden.

This book is has a different feel to some of the earlier books of the series.  No longer is Harry involved in relatively small plots against a few people or the citizens of Chicago, but the whole world is at stake.  Meanwhile, a more grown up Harry still shows the sarcasm, humor, and concern for others that drew me in to the books in the first place, backed up by his constant need to deal with paranormal forces that exist unseen and unknown in the middle of a modern day city.

I award this book 4.5 stars, for shear energy and plot depth, as well as character development.  The only thing I found at fault was the fate of several members of Harry’s friends and family, who were sacrificed as the stakes become ever higher in the conflicts erupting in the author’s universe.

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.