Category Archives: Book Reviews

Graphic Novel Review-They’re Not Just for Kids

Recently I’ve shared reviews of a number of books that I’ve read for my local book club.  This month, the club is doing something a little different-we’re reading graphic novels.  I know many of my long-time readers may wonder why a grown woman, with grown children, would choose to read what essentially is perceived to be a comic book.  The truth is that graphic novels have come a long way, to the point they are actually considered a sophisticated art form.

While some graphic novels are still collections of a series of comic books that go together to form a longer story, bound into a book format, that definition no longer encompasses the whole usage of the term.  Many graphic novels are refined works, sometimes retellings of existing novels or sometimes new, independent stories, where illustrations play at least an equally important part to the text.  Though some are designed with children in mind, many graphic novels often include more mature or darker themes than would generally be expected to be found in comic books, and can contain any type of subject matter, from fiction to non-fiction.

The challenge set for my book club specifically is reading graphic novels with paranormal themes.  Since some of these are shorter than regular novels, I decided to review a few of them together in one post.  This is just a small sample of what can be found in your local bookstore, comic shop, library, or online.

Archival Quality by Ivy Noelle Weir
Archival Quality 
by

Ivy Noelle Weir (Goodreads Author), and
Steenz (Goodreads Author) (Illustrator)
This original story found exclusively in graphic novel format features a young woman who has suffered a nervous breakdown, resulting in the loss of her beloved job as a library assistant. Anxious to put her life back together, Cel answers an ad for an archivist position at The Logan Museum of Medical Oddities.

From the very first, she finds her new job full of surprises. She is required to live in an apartment inside the library building, because she is expected to do her work at night. Her boss has a habit of appearing and disappearing at the most inopportune times. Cel begins having dreams of a young woman who was tortured in the building, which at one time housed an asylum. Then she begins suffering mysterious nosebleeds and losing time.

What is happening to Cel, and how does it relate to the mysteries of the museum? Was the woman a patient at the asylum, and why is the only record of her a picture found misfiled in the archive? How is the board, whom none of the employees ever see, involved?

While I sympathized with the main character, Cel, and was drawn into the mystery, many of the other characters seemed annoying or unnecessary to the storyline. Cel was the only one fully developed, while the others, such as her boss Holly and boyfriend Kyle seemed to be used more as plot devices to move the action along than as actual individuals important to the plot. The artwork was fluid and enhanced the tone and scope of the novel, despite the “comic” nature of the characters. If this story was produced in another format, I would say it would make a good short story or novella, perhaps in a collection of horror stories. Overall, I give it three stars.

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Jim Butcher's Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin 
by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)Mark Powers 

and

Joseph Cooper (Illustrations)
Author Jim Butcher has augmented his popular novel series, The Dresden Files, with a set of graphic novels. While some of these are retellings of other books in the series, Ghoul Goblin, #3, co-written by Mark Powers, is an original addition to the Dresden universe. Consisting of a set of six comics bound into one volume, this beautifully illustrated story is as detailed as any of the author’s novels.

Deputy Sheriff Prescott “Pres” Tremaine travels to The Windy City to hire Harry Dresden, wizard for hire, to investigate events that have unfolded in his small Missouri town. A family of seven orphans, the Talbots, has been devastated with the deaths of their two eldest under mysterious circumstances. Dresden recognizes the handiwork of supernatural forces in the crime scene photos, and agrees to investigate.

Arriving just in time for the funeral of the two Talbots, Harry runs afoul of both the remaining Talbots, led by the skeptical eldest remaining brother and the town sheriff, who refuses to believe anything out of the ordinary is at play, even when the undertaker, who turns out to be a goblin in disguise, attacks.

Despite being warned away, Dresden begins his investigation that soon shows there is more than one supernatural presence in the small town. The Talbots are under a curse, one which draws the residents of the Nevernever to them like flies to honey, and now two separate creatures are competing for territory, and the right to see who can end their line first.

The only thing this graphic novel has in common with comic books was the fact that each page was covered in artwork, but the quality far outweighed the illustrations of any comic I read as a kid. From the very first page, where Harry is fighting a water demon in Lake Michigan the reader is drawn into a world where the supernatural lives alongside our own.

The characters were well-developed, with the depth and attention to detail I’ve come to expect from Butcher. The story, while containing less text than usual for the author’s work, nevertheless was just as complete and riveting as any I’ve read in this universe, and easily fit inside the chronology as a case for Harry Dresden. I award this graphic novel five stars and would recommend it to anyone interested in The Dresden Files novels, paranormal or thriller stories, or just dipping their toes into the world of graphic novels.

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Odd Is on Our Side by Dean Koontz
Odd Is on Our Side (Odd thomas Graphic Novel, #2)
by

Dean Koontz (Goodreads Author),
Fred Van Lente (Goodreads Author),
Queenie Chan (Goodreads Author) (Illustrator)
In Odd is on Our Side, Odd Thomas, a character from Koontz’s series of novels, sees dead people and tries to assist them in crossing over. This graphic novel features a Halloween celebration in Odd’s native Pico Mundo, CA. Odd, with the help of his girlfriend Stormy, investigates when Odd begins seeing bodachs, ominous heralds of death, creeping around town.

In a plot that is one part Sixth Sense and one part Scooby Doo, Odd follows clues that leads him on a wild goose chase after devil-mask wearing teens stealing jack-o-lanterns to toss downhill for the annual Pumpkin Roll, to a young costume-wearing ghost, and into the history of the man who poisoned the town’s trick-or-treaters twenty-five years earlier.

In the end, Odd and his friends find that the true danger comes not from the supernatural, but a criminal in disguise, and only they have the means and the knowledge to save the town.

Despite a full cast of quirky characters, including resident eccentric novelist Ozzie Boone, his editor Valerie Malovent, and the helpful shade of Elvis Presley, this story is mostly plot-driven, with numerous twists and turns that kept me on my toes yet all came together in the end. The illustrations were all done in black and white, and while not as detailed as in some other graphic novels I’ve read, conveyed the action well and were an integral part of the story. In fact, some pages were wholly or mostly artwork, but still carried the weight of the tale.

This was a very enjoyable story that I thought did very well in this format and I award it four and a half stars, and recommend it to fans of the paranormal as well as fans of Dean Koontz’s works.

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Into the Drowning Deep

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1) 
by

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Imagine if a multi-media corporation launched an expedition to uncover the truth of the existence of a legendary sea monster, the mermaid.  Imagine a ship sailed into the Marianna Trench, to search for evidence that the myth was actually based on fact, and crewed by scientists and cameramen.  Imagine they actually found what they were looking for, and were not at all prepared for it.

The Imagine Corporation has one failed expedition under its belt already; the crew of the Atargatis was a total loss, leaving behind grieving family, and impending litigation.  Seven years after the initial tragedy, a new expedition is organized, with twin goals of proving the existence of mermaids and restoring the image of the company.  The Melusine sets out with a new crew, many of whom have studied the footage recovered from the doomed Atargatis.  They know that the “mermaids” are out there and hopefully, they will survive long enough to get some answers this time.

I don’t often read horror stories, but Into the Drowning Deep was a recent choice of my local book club and I was intrigued enough to stay up late at night reading it through.  The preface contained flashbacks and reports drawn from camera footage of the doomed Atargatis, done in a manner that reminded me eerily of The Blair Witch.  As the story continued, I realized the monsters themselves and the action present would make a far better horror movie than many I’ve seen.

The author uses multiple points of view, as several of the narrators fall prey to the invaders, with a lot of thrills and action in the plot.  Grant also finds moments in the story to comment on the purpose of the expedition and of life itself with gorgeous prose, such as this quote from Chapter 18, where Luis Martines is musing on the job they have set out to do:

“Let deforestation do away with Bigfoot, let sonar destroy Nessie, but the sea would always be deep, always be dark, always be filled with wonders.”

The author clearly demonstrates that the ocean is stronger and more mysterious than man is capable of understanding or conquering.

In fact, the misnamed “mermaids” are truly more than the crew of the Melusine can handle-they are smart, fast, and strong, they can breathe air, and their secretions are toxic to humans.  Can the crew, led by a sirenologist and an Imagine executive survive long enough to raise the broken shields on the ship and trap the mermaids inside, or will they all be devoured by something even more deadly from the deep?

This book is truly an exciting read, which I give five stars, and recommend to anyone interested in horror, paranormal stories of creatures, or thriller stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Storm Front

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) 
by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

I recently reviewed another book by author Jim Butcher, Brief Cases, which was my personal first foray into the realm of The Dresden Files.  That review is posted here.  Drawn in by the book of short stories, I couldn’t resist going back for more.

In this first installment of the tales of Harry Dresden, modern wizard extraordinaire, Harry is asked to consult on a grisly double homicide by the police department, and at the same time takes on a case of a woman’s missing husband.  His investigations are quickly hampered, though, when the killer strikes again.  Dresden realizes dark magic is involved in the murders, and that there is a link between the two cases.

Before he can discover the identity of the dark wizard who conjured these crimes, he runs afoul of crime boss Gentleman Johnny Marcone, who wants to halt the investigation for his own reasons, as well as the Chicago P.D., and the wizarding governing body, the White Council, who suspect he may be involved in the murders.

A physical attack makes Harry realize he is meant to be the next victim, and survival becomes just as important as finding the truth.   These two goals will take every ounce of resolve and every bit of magic at his disposal.

Butcher skillfully draws readers into a world that combines arcane spells with mundane issues such as car troubles and pizza delivery, and leaves them hungry for more. The author’s first person narrative, reminiscent of noir fiction, moves along at a brisk pace with plenty of action and a matter of fact delivery of the possibilities of magic, tempered only by the character of its denizens.

Harry Dresden is a paranormal, urban fantasy hero with skills to rival Merlin, paired with enough angst-filled background to equal The Dark Knight and the lone-wolf sensibilities of gumshoe Sam Spade, right down to his black duster trench coat.  All of this wrapped up in a package of a flawed, human nice guy just trying to make a living in modern day Chicago.

I award this novel five stars, and recommend this book to any readers who are interested in urban fantasy, paranormal, or detective stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : More Spooky Tales Inspired by Real Ghost Stories: Can You See Me, The Good Neighbor, & Other Ghostly Encounters

More Spooky Tales Inspired by Real Ghost Stories by Autumn Chills
More Spooky Tales Inspired by Real Ghost Stories: Can You See Me, The Good Neighbor, & Other Ghostly Encounters (Spooky Stories Series Book 2) 
by

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review
Are you looking for a quick paranormal read that won’t leave you too afraid to turn the lights off at night? Check out author Autumn Chills’ anthology featuring an assortment of spirits that are as friendly as Casper, as benevolent as angels, and as heart-warming as a hug.

This short story collection includes tales of otherworldly beings such as a mischievous prankster at a movie theater, a beloved grandmother who gives romantic advice from beyond, and an unseen housekeeper who loves to take care of her home’s new inhabitants. Unlike many other books in this genre, these stories are all family-friendly and I would recommend this  5- star collection to paranormal fans of all ages, or simply to anyone seeking a condensed, uplifting read.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Bookshop of Yesterdays

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson
The Bookshop of Yesterdays 
by

Amy Meyerson (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Miranda Brooks had loved spending time with her Uncle Billy, the owner of Prospero Books, and the designer of grand scavenger hunts, until his mysterious disappearance shortly after her twelfth birthday.  Sixteen years later, she receives a package in the mail, on the same day she learns that Billy has died.  The package contains a book sent by Billy, with a clue hidden in its pages.  As she travels to San Francisco for his funeral, Miranda learns that he has left her his beloved bookstore.

The Bookshop of Yesterdays is more literary fiction than genre mystery, not the type of book I read frequently, but I still found myself caught up in the tale of a young woman searching for answers about her past.  Author Amy Meyerson, under the guise of Billy’s letters to Miranda, leads readers on a hunt for clues derived from passages of classic literature.

As she follows his trail, Miranda uncovers the untold story of Billy’s life, as well as unexpected information about her own.  Why did he disappear that day, and who is the woman in the photo she finds at his apartment?  What deep, dark secrets did Billy take to his grave, which Miranda’s parents are still hiding from her?

Miranda discovers that everything she thought she knew about her own life was wrong, and she’s not certain how to deal with it all.  Now that she knows the truth, will she go back to Philadelphia, to the life she has made there, or will she stay, and keep Billy’s legacy alive?

This novel from debut author Meyerson expertly combines quotes from classical literature, including such diverse writers as Shakespeare and Mary Shelley, with a mystery containing the story of one woman’s life.  I recommend this work to anyone with a love of mysteries or a passion for books, and give it four stars.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Goblins of Bellwater

The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle
The Goblins of Bellwater 
by

Molly Ringle(Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

A chosen few know that there is another world that lives alongside our own.  Of course, those chosen don’t necessarily feel privileged with the knowledge, especially Kit Sylvain, the goblin’s liaison-under duress.  Kit is the latest member of his family to be subjected to a centuries old curse- if he doesn’t bring gold to the tribe of goblins that occupies the forest near Puget Sound on a monthly basis, they find someone to hurt, or kill, or even worse, become one of their number.

When Kit meets Livy, he can’t permit himself to fall in love, because he doesn’t want to expose anyone else to the goblins’ manipulations.  He doesn’t realize that he’s already too late on that front.  The goblins have chosen another victim, Livy’s younger sister Skye.  Skye is enthralled by a spell that will make her leave her humanity behind, and drag Kit’s cousin Grady along with her.

For The Goblins of Bellwater, author Molly Ringle created a background of an entire population of “fae” characters, those native to the Washington state area, and the encroaching goblin “weeds.”  I was intrigued by Ringle’s take on the origin of the goblins, as they were once human and “turned” into beings of nature, mischief, and violence.  While her goblins by far take center stage for the otherworldly cast, the imaginative and ultimately benevolent intervention of the native fae creatures help prevent a disaster of horror-story proportions.  The human characters are well-developed as well, with intricate backstories of their own and seemingly natural incidents that draw them to each other.

The plot somewhat reminded me of a movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010,) which featured a group of ancient beings that lured people into a basement to join their ranks.  However, this is a paranormal romance and not a horror story, so there was an escape clause, which Livy, the environmental scientist, was able to undertake thanks to the favor of the “other” fae in the woods.  Ultimately it takes the love, friendship, and willingness to sacrifice between the four young people to save them all, and stop the curse for all time.

This beautiful story should delight fans of the paranormal, romance, and urban fantasy books.  I thought it seemed a little slow in the beginning, but within the first hundred pages the action picked up and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.  I ultimately decided this novel deserved 4.5 stars, and I would definitely check out more of the author’s work in the future.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Brief Cases

Brief Cases by Jim Butcher
Brief Cases (The Dresden Files, #15.1) 
by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Jun 29, 2018  ·  edit

For readers who are not familiar with Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series, this collection of short stories offers a sampling of glimpses into a vast urban fantasy world.  In Dresden’s universe, faeries and wizards walk among the ordinary, unsuspecting populace, supernatural beings can be either good or evil, and some, such as Bigfoot, simply seek to live their lives in peace.

For fans of the series, these shorts “fill-in” some of the gaps the author feels exist in his chronology complete with commentary as to where they fit in continuity and why they are necessary.  Butcher includes stories involving both major and minor characters in his universe, with rarely seen points of view from sundry inhabitants of both the mortal world and the “Nevernever.”

I found myself drawn into this collection very quickly; though they are short stories they are filled with well-developed characters, vivid scenes, deep plotlines, and plenty of action to satisfy most any audience.  I award this book 4.5 stars and plan to check out more of the series for myself in the near future.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews: Artemis

Artemis by Andy Weir
Artemis 
by

Andy Weir (Goodreads Author)

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Jun 22, 2018  ·  edit

Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara is just your typical small-town girl-she works hard to make ends meet, hangs out with friends at the neighborhood watering hole, fights with her devoutly religious father, and occasionally runs afoul of local law enforcement.  That is, she’s typical until you take into account the “small town” is actually a colony on the moon, and she augments her work as a courier with running a smuggling operation that is mostly ignored and tolerated by the Artemis government.

As far as smugglers go, Jazz has integrity and a conscience-no weapons, no drugs, nothing overly dangerous for the fragile bubble-domes that support life on the unforgiving surface of the moon.  So when she’s approached by wealthy businessman Landvik Trond to sabotage an entire industry whose by-product is life-giving oxygen, she has to think twice.  When said businessman is murdered in his own home and Jazz finds the body, she knows she’s in trouble.

Jazz learns from the Artemis governor, Ngugi, that the man sent to kill Trond and herself works for a powerful Earth-side mafia organization with designs on taking over the colony.  She then enlists her friends and allies to find a way to stop the takeover bid.  However, a glitch in the life support systems leaves Jazz the only person awake and capable of stopping everyone on the moon from being killed.  The smuggler with a conscience chooses to risk her life to save the inhabitants of the domes she calls home.

In Artemis author Andy Weir skillfully weaves sci-fi with action, thrills, and gangsters in a book that transcends genre.  Parts of the story reminded me of Total Recall, particularly the oxygen drought and the journeys on the surface in EVA suits, but the story of Jazz, told in first person, is unique and special in so many ways.

The complex central character is both an anti-hero and a heroine in her own right.  She is self-involved and openly runs an illegal operation, but despite that she is a good, moral person who will go to any lengths to protect her family and friends.

This book was a choice for my local book club and I had not seen so much as a summary of the action before I began reading. I will say the novel was completely different than my expectations, but I was hooked from the very beginning. I rate this book a full five stars and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of empowered female characters, sci-fi or thriller stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews > Origin

Origin by Dan Brown
Origin (Robert Langdon, #5) 
by

Dan Brown(Goodreads Author)

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

When Harvard professor Robert Langdon accepts an invitation from his friend and former student Edmond Kirsch, technology guru and futurist, to attend an announcement at Spain’s Guggenheim museum, he has no idea what to expect.  He is aware of Kirsch’s flair for drama and near-prophetic insight into the trends of scientific breakthroughs, but that hardly prepares him for the multi-media presentation Kirsch is about to unveil.  Langdon doesn’t expect his former student to claim to have once and for all answered the most basic questions for humanity-where do we come from? Where are we going?  He certainly doesn’t expect Kirsch to be murdered in front of a live audience, before he can answer those questions.

Robert Langdon has had his share of adventures in the four previous novels from author Dan Brown, but none are quite like this.  Once again, Langdon’s knowledge of symbolism and art history allow him to puzzle through clues and hidden meanings most would overlook, as he seeks to fulfill Kirsch’s last wish and release his presentation online to a swelling audience that includes religious and anti-religion fanatics, scientists and conspiracy theorists.

Accompanied by Ambra Vidal, the museum director who has ties to the royal palace of Spain, Langdon uses the clues left behind by Kirsch and a remarkable AI the technologist developed named Winston to uncover the code needed to activate the presentation and perhaps change the world.  Unfortunately, Kirsch’s assassin is still at large and has new targets-Langdon himself and Vidal.

Meanwhile, insiders in the royal palace discover a link between Kirsch’s murder and an anonymous call from the palace just before the event.  Did someone inside the palace order Kirsch silenced?  Suspects include the crown prince, who is revealed to be Ambra’s fiancée, and Bishop Valdespino, the ailing king’s oldest friend.  Or are they all the innocent victims of a conspiracy perpetuated by the rival Palmerian church, where the assassin is a member?

As always, Brown delivers a story that draws deeply from the art, history, and scenery of its locations.  He spins tales involving codes and intrigues from the ages, and weaves them seamlessly into plots full of action and mystery. Origin, though, adds another element from its doomed character, Kirsch, that of science fiction.  This tale includes a surprising supporting character in the form of Winston, the next-generation computer AI that possesses the ability to act and influence the world, and take creative license with his creator’s instructions.

I will say this is the first time I’ve been able to pick up on some of the twists in a Dan Brown novel before they were revealed, but I was not able to do so until almost the end of the massive 456 page book.  The scope of the story, the believability of the plot, and the epic journey still rate this book 5 stars and I would recommend it not only to current fans of Brown, but anyone interested in mysteries, sci-fi, and action/adventure stories.

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews > The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures

The World of Lore by Aaron Mahnke
The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures 
by

Aaron Mahnke (Goodreads Author)

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

May 08, 2018  ·  edit

In his Amazon Prime series, Aaron Mahnke offers an overview of the lore from numerous cultures created by our ancestors in an attempt to explain the unknown workings of the world around them.  For example; how did a deadly disease contribute to a belief in the existence of vampires?  What geological features as said to be the home of fairies?

Now the writer, producer, and narrator of the series Lore has released an anthology titled The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures, which includes some of the most interesting encounters from the popular show as well as a wealth of additional stories and background information about the evolution of the myths, folklore, and campfire tales of “things that go bump in the night.”

The author uses historical accounts and descriptions of known “sites” of supernatural and unexplained phenomena to describe how a lack of scientific knowledge and fear of the unknown culminated in a belief in numerous supernatural creatures and phenomena.  Then he shares examples of the tales of happenings in a “story-telling” manner consistent with the scripts of the television series.

I found the scholarly portion of the book to be very informative but a little dry, despite attempts by Mahnke to inject humor and current events into his explanations of the supernatural.  By comparison, his accounts of the “events” read like very engaging short stories of horror and the paranormal.

After reading a large portion of the book, I decided I needed to watch some of the episodes of the show for comparison purposes.  I found that the podcast featured some of the same stories in the book, heavily dramatized and enacted, but seemed to focus more on one particular example instead of the multiples given in the manuscript.  While both were interesting, the dramatization of the show drew me in much more quickly than the volume, if only because the length of the episode was longer than each encounter narrated in the book.

Still, I found the book interesting enough to give it four stars and would recommend it to anyone who wants not only to get a chill out of a story of the paranormal, but also an understanding of why the story could make the reader feel fear in the first place.