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.

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. 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Suddenly Psychic

Suddenly Psychic by Elizabeth   Hunter

Suddenly Psychic (Glimmer Lake, #1)
by Elizabeth Hunter (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

From Elizabeth Hunter, the author who made elemental vampires cool and believable, comes a new series featuring three women who, having survived a near-death experience, discover they have developed paranormal abilities.

One of the trio sees ghosts, one has prophetic dreams, and the third receives visions when she touches objects or people.  The three women, all in their mid-forties, that’s right, they’re not following the usual teenage trope, have to cope with the sudden onset of powers while dealing with ordinary, normal life things.

Robin is a mother of teenagers whose life and marriage is in a rut, and cannot imagine telling her husband about her new gift.  Monica, the receptor of dreams, is grieving over the recent death of her husband, and coping with children of her own. Val, a divorcee and single mom, runs a business but cannot touch her customers without triggering a vision.

When Robin begins to suspect there is a link from one of her “spectral visitors” to her elderly grandmother, the three women come together to solve a seventy-year old murder mystery.  Along the way, they work on their issues, personally and as a group.  They also explore their gifts in an attempt to understand and control them.

I have to say I love the premise of this series. The fact that three middle-aged women are dealing with this gives this series a different slant than if these books were designed for young adults.  That being said, after some initial disbelief/denial, the three seem to accept their plight fairly easily.  Okay, Val struggles the most, but none of them consult any experts-medical, theological, etc., to try and figure out why this is happening to them.  By the end of the story, they manage to cast out an evil ghost with only information found on the Internet. 

I would have liked to see them struggle a little more, have a steeper learning curve maybe?  Perhaps that will occur in later books, because as I mentioned, this is the first of series, the second, My Semi-Psychic Life, having just been released a few months ago.

Overall, the book was very enjoyable and I would recommend it to fans of urban fantasy and paranormal mysteries and award it four stars.

A Moment of Beauty

A simple thing of beauty.

A few days ago, my daughter bought a pack of sparklers to share following a family celebration held on a warm evening in our backyard.  She insisted I take one in hand which she then lit for me, and watched as I held it on our deck in the near dark.  I was hesitant, only because I had never actually held one before.  But when my sweet daughter offered, I couldn’t refuse.

I had never held a sparkler in my hand before.  I’m a grown woman, just turned forty-nine, for the first and only time, thank you, but I have always harbored a small fear of those tiny sparks of fire, undoubtedly left over from childhood.  My parents, bless them, were like many, slightly overprotective, and instilled in me a heavy dose of caution in respect to campfires, matches, and by extension, fireworks.

Oh we used to go to the city shows when I was little.  I remember sitting on the tailgate of our pickup truck or standing on a hill or in a parking lot, wherever we could find the best spot to see the fireworks shows the city would produce.  I would stay close to my parents, ears firmly covered with my hands, while we watched and oohed and aahed at the vivid colors on display.

Later, I recall watching firework celebrations with my own kids, though larger crowds in our adopted home city often made actually getting to a show and finding room to watch more awkward or problematic.  We did manage though a few trips to see fireworks from the Reds stadium downtown, and once on a memorable family vacation to Florida.

I stood and watched that little sparkler as the long stick burst into crackling flashes, a ball of light similar to the head of a dandelion, ready to be released into the wind.  I held on tight to the end as it burned down, a personal firework at close range, though without the bright colors and loud boom that accompanies the larger ones.

How could something so beautiful, so innocent, hold so much secret meaning.  Though it lasted only a few moments, that ephemeral flare was a reminder that life is fleeting, and deserves our full attention.  We should make the most of the time we have; as families, as communities, as human beings.

In this day and age, fear and uncertainty are plagues that haunt us all.  It is more important than ever that we take the time to see beauty, to enjoy the little moments, to share in new experiences when we have the opportunity.  We need to live in the moment, like most of us have always aspired to do anyway.

I have you have some special moments of your own as we move into this weekend, a special holiday for those of us in the U.S., as we celebrate Independence Day on Friday.  Make the most of it!

Amy

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Death in the Clouds

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie

Death in the Clouds (Hercule Poirot, #12)by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review 

When I did a post last week about the celebrated author Agatha Christie I had not yet had the leisure to finish reading this lesser-known entry in her vast body of work.

 To be honest, when I read the first couple of chapters, I was afraid that this would be a more modern retelling of The Murder on the Orient Express, one of my favorites, as it entails a murder committed on an airplane mid-flight in a cabin full of people.  Luckily, the superficial resemblance to that other story ended quickly, as Hercule Poirot, the private detective, is both a witness, and (to some) a possible suspect in the case!

The victim is a “money-lender” a famed character in Paris who uses blackmail material as collateral for her loans.  Who out of the passengers would benefit from her death?  The case is complicated when the victim’s staff, following her pre-stated instructions, burns all the evidence of her clients’ misdeeds.

Poirot, assisted by detectives in both France and England, interviews witnesses and seeks clues that involve passengers from numerous walks of life, with more than a couple of hints of new romance blossoming out of the tragic event on the otherwise routine flight from Paris to London.

As usual, Christie wove a tale with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, with a pace just fast enough to maintain interest but not get the reader helplessly lost. I was actually able to anticipate one or two small clues before they were revealed, but the major villain was still a complete surprise. 

The uniqueness of the methodology of the murderer was notable; as a blow-dart gun, a wasp and snake poison were, and still are, unusual elements in a murder of any sort, especially on a luxury flight.  Perhaps this is why the writers of Doctor Who chose to utilize this story, among others, when they did an episode that featured the real-life disappearance of the author among mysterious circumstances.

Overall, a very good story, and as usual, a stand-alone, so new readers to the author will not be lost.  I have to give this one five stars for originality, plot, well-developed major and secondary characters, and a slightly humorous but absorbing murder case.

100 Years of Stories-Agatha Christie

Who doesn’t love a great mystery? This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of the “Queen of Mystery’s” first novel, A Mysterious Affair at Styles, which I reviewed last year (see my review here. ) While the bestselling author of all time is no longer with us, her stories survive and even thrive, as reprints, as well as inspirations for movies and televison shows.

Even those who have never read her novels have most likely heard of The Murder on the Orient Express, which was last made into a movie in 2017, and the official author’s website contains a listing of many current and classic productions based on her amazing work.

Born in England in 1890, the daughter of an English mother and an American father, the young Agatha Miller was an avid reader who created imaginary characters and wrote poetry even as a child. By age eighteen she was writing short stories, but did not begin writing detective fiction until World War I, when her husband, Archie Christie, was posted to the War Office in London.

In the 1920s she became a sensational news story for her personal life as she disappeared for several days soon after Archie asked for a divorce. When she was later found, she claimed no knowledge of where she’d been or even her identity for a time. She eventually recovered but that event was never successfully explained, though much has been speculated. That particular time in her life was even made into an episode of the BBC show Dr. Who, which features the author and includes elements form several of her books.

The late authoress was known for writing intriguing characters, including a number of heroic and intelligent female detectives and adventuresses, most notably Miss Marple and Tuppence Beresford.

I myself have read numerous of her books, and have reviewed several of them on my Goodreads site.

A Quick and Easy Summer Dessert

Hello everyone! For the past week we’ve been enjoying summer weather in the Midwest-temperatures soaring into the high eighties and low nineties, interspersed with pop-up showers that go as quickly as they come about!

To combat the heat, I created this really simple dessert recipe, which my daughter liked so much she demanded I write it down, so now I’m sharing it with you. Enjoy!

Amy

Mixed Berry Trifle

Ingredients:

16 oz. frozen pound cake, thawed

3 cups berries, (I use a mixture of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and strawberries)

1 4 oz. pkg instant cheesecake flavor pudding

Milk

8 oz. container frozen non-dairy topping, thawed

Directions:

  • Slice thawed pound cake into cubes, layer one third into glass trifle bowl or other large bowl.
  • Spread one third berries over cake. 
  • Beat pudding mix with milk according to package directions, spoon one third over cake and berries.
  •  Repeat layers with rest of cake, fruit, and pudding. 
  • Top with Cool Whip, and chill for at least 30 minutes to one hour before serving. 
  • Refrigerate leftovers.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Small Favor

Small Favor by Jim Butcher

Small Favor (The Dresden Files, #10) by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review: 

Harry Dresden, Chicago-land wizard and Warden of the White Council, was forced to make a deal with the devil (a.k.a. Queen Mab, of the Winter Sidhe,) in a previous book, Summer Knight, and now she’s come to collect her due. 

The Small Favor she wants is not exactly small, though.  Johnny Marcone, the head mobster of Chicago, and a new signatory of the Unseelie Accords, a sort of Geneva Convention between magical races, has been kidnapped by a group of Fallen Angels who possess humans by means of a silver coin and turn them into monsters.  Harry has dealt with the Denarians before and barely survived.  Now a whole gang of them is back, and the lives of everyone Harry knows is at stake.

Small Favor is not quite a typical example of The Dresden Files to date.  Harry is not hired by a client to solve a mystery that relates to a supernatural event, unless of course you count his working for Queen Mab to find a kidnapped mobster, and then a little girl who possesses the collective knowledge of the human race is kidnapped as well.  Instead, the story is much broader and farther reaching, while expanding Butcher’s universe and continuing the development of his cast of characters.

The battles just keep getting bigger as more dangerous foes and friends come to play, and this time it’s Fallen Angels against the Knights of God, the Wizards of the White Council, Sgt. Murphy of Chicago PD, and elements of Marcone’s criminal empire.  With so much at risk, Harry could use some straight answers, but all he gets is more questions, like why Mab cares about the fate of a mortal mobster in the first place?

While the present tension and action is quite enough of a story for one book, there are hints that there is much more below the surface than the author is revealing in this novel.  Towards the end of the story, Harry is introduced to an actual Archangel, though he is unaware of this at the time, who says that he is impressed with Harry’s work.  Is this foreshadowing for the rest of the series?  Will there be other angels or even higher powers mentioned in future stories? 

Jim Butcher has woven another involving tale that leaves the reader hungry for more.  The action scenes take up a good portion of this book, but they are well-paced, and there is plenty of room left for the “hocus pocus,” witty banter, moral dilemmas, and romantic angst that are such a part of the series.  I have to give this one five stars, and set my sights on the next book in the series.