Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Haunted Be the Holidays

Haunted Be the Holidays by Heather Graham
Haunted Be the Holidays (1001 Dark Nights #91; Krewe of Hunters)by

Heather Graham (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

  

This novella addition to author Heather Graham’s Krewe of Hunters series features a disturbed would-be performer that focuses his vengeance on an unknowing rival whose only crime is her relationship to the man the criminal hoped to impress.

Haunted be the Holidays brings back a number of past “Krewe” members and recounts the further adventures of the author’s ever-expanding universe.  While this novella will have significant appeal to those who have followed the series from the beginning, reading of prior books is not strictly necessary to enjoy this one.

Krewe book alums Brodie and Dakota “Cody” are settling into their new life in Washington D.C., where Cody has accepted an active role in the productions of the historic Global Tower Theatre, now owned by Adam Harrison and ran by the spouses and partners of Krewe members.  Unfortunately, a street performer whose mask resembles that of a character in a play Cody is performing in sends Cody’s senses on alert.  What threat could a simple mask hold?  When the first body appears, disguised as a vampire and lying dead in a fake “cemetery” on Halloween, Cody, Brodie, and the rest of the Krewe will have to find out.

Though the basis for the plot includes a twisted failed actor who is seeking revenge for perceived slights, those details are not revealed till near the end of the story.  What precede it are a quest for the identity of the killer, research into the history of the theatre, and a search for any ties to Cody, who is threatened on-stage by a drugged performer.

However, the author merely implies that the killer may be descended from an illegitimate child of an historic pirate that once owned the Globe Tower, without tying that directly into the plot, as would typically happen in a Graham story.  To me, this loose plot point seems like a missed opportunity.  Instead, the killer just “happens” to choose the theatre for his finale, simply because his chosen victim is working there.

Luckily, the story’s climax makes up any weak points in the plot with a grand performance, literally, on center stage that includes a life-and-death struggle with the assistance of four benevolent ghosts.

I give this e-book four stars, and recommend it not just to fans of Graham’s books, but any who are interested in paranormal romantic mystery stories.

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Verses for the Dead

Verses for the Dead by Douglas Preston
Verses for the Dead (Pendergast, #18) by

Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author),
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Amy Caudill‘s review

A killer who writes poetry and leaves “presents” of his victims’ hearts on the graves of suicides brings FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast to Miami, but with a handicap to his usual methodology.  Pendergast’s tendencies to ignore procedure and go rogue have led the new Assistant Director of the New York office, Pickett, to assign loner Pendergast a partner.

Agent Coldmoon, a capable agent with issues of his own, has secret orders to try and prevent Pendergast from deviating from FBI procedure, but finds instead that he agrees with his new partner’s more outlandish methods and theories, especially when they begin producing results.

Mr. Brokenhearts, the serial killer’s non de plume, leads the agents on a merry chase through several states as the agents try to find connections between the current victims and the older deaths, which are proven to not be suicides after all but murders, before the murderer can strike again.

Old fans of the series will be bemused and delighted to be introduced to the brother of NY Times crime reporter Bill Smithback, Roger, a local reporter who seems determined to follow in his brother’s footsteps when he recognizes Pendergast at a crime scene.  Bill Smithback was a friend of Pendergast who became involved with and even assisted the agent on several cases, in a number of different books in the series, before his murder during an investigation.  Roger’s character plays a minor role in this book, but his appearance raises the question; will he appear again?

Verses for the Dead will delight readers with a dramatic climax that includes a battle through a swamp swarming with alligators, and a surprising twist to the serial killer’s story that appears in a late chapter.  The action doesn’t stop till the very last page, and leads to a satisfying conclusion.

While this particular volume contains only the barest hints of the paranormal as is present in several of the other books in this series, I’m happy to see that eighteen books in, with several spinoffs, the authors are still producing storylines and characters that are exciting, entertaining, and completely fresh with each new novel.  I award this book five stars and recommend it to fans of detectives and heroes ranging from Sherlock Holmes to Jason Bourne.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Death Masks

Death Masks by Jim Butcher
Death Masks (The Dresden Files, #5) by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

In an opening scene far-removed from the norm for The Dresden Files book series, Harry is making a guest appearance on a local talk show, discussing paranormal lore.  While for fans of the series it may seem that Harry has lost his mind, he actually is participating in a clandestine meeting with a spiritual consultant, the authentic kind.

However, Harry is blind sighted by another guest on the show, Paola Ortega, posing as a Professor who debunks supernatural “incidents,” though Harry knows this person is in reality far different than what he appears to be.  Ortega is a noble member of the vampire’s Red Court, and his real purpose for the deception is to issue a challenge to a duel with Harry, to end the war between the vampires and the White Council of Wizards.

Adding to this dangerous situation, a Vatican representative is in Chicago to hire Harry to investigate the local occult community for a stolen artifact.  Father Vincent doesn’t seem to believe in the paranormal, but he will go to any lengths to recover the Shroud of Turin, which he sees as only a historical relic.

Harry, however, knows the artifact is far more than just that, and also how dangerous such a thing can be in the wrong hands.  If certain groups, all whom are clamoring for Harry’s attention, get hold of the Shroud, it could mean the end of the world.  Between the impending duel with the vampire, a group of Fallen Angels whose servants can assume the form of monsters and friends alike, and the attentions of the local mafia headed by Marcone, Harry has a full plate.  Luckily he has God’s Knights of the Cross on his side.

Like the opening, the ending of this book leaves Harry in an unusual position, as he becomes just like the Lady of the Lake, holding a sword he is duty-bound to pass onto a worthy individual, as soon as he finds them.

I am amazed at how author Jim Butcher continues to keep this series fresh, with new ideas, new monsters, and creative new encounters with the supernatural, all while strengthening the relationships between existing and recurring characters.  His battles are vivid scenes that can thrill the reader, while at the same time Harry’s doubts and vulnerabilities make him seem all the more human.

Butcher continues the formula that is one part detective story, one part romance, and one part paranormal adventure, in a tale that will delight readers old and new alike.  I award Death Masks five stars, and look forward to the next book in the series, to see what happens with the continuing arc in the plot, but also for what Butcher comes up with next.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wicked Years, #1) by

Douglas Smith (Illustrator)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

What to say about the book that spawned an award-winning musical by bestselling author Gregory Maguire?  I had meant to read Wicked for years, but I finally found time to sit down and conquer this 500-page tome over the last week.

This very adult re-telling of the classic Wizard of Oz story goes into a great deal of behind-the-scenes action and into the minds of multiple players to rend far more detail into the world of Oz and its denizens than ever hinted at in the original story by Frank L. Baum.  Each section of the book contains enough detail and depth of storylines to form a separate volume of a series, but the author grants us the entire tale in one massive hardcover.

Maguire goes into detail about the origin of the “witches,” their backgrounds, and motivations, painting a picture of three-dimensional characters that are far more than mere bad guys, enough so, that when we are finally introduced to Dorothy in the very last section, we are able to feel sympathy, if not outrage, of the witch sisters’ plights.

While this story contains a great deal of political and religious debate, developing a complex world for the fabled land, the author uses a folk tale format for much of the story that entertains the reader and utterly ensnares them in his creation.

Witness the birth of Elphaba, the Munchkinlander afflicted from birth with green skin, and Galinda, the spoiled, vain Gilikinese maiden who are thrown together in the most unexpected of ways, to become rivals, friends, and finally stand on the opposite sides of the story.  Witness also Elphaba’s sister, sheltered and crippled, who rises to leadership in a revolt only to become a hapless victim of natural disaster.

The author leads the reader to question who actually is good and who is evil in the story?  Surely those labels are contrary and interchangeable at points, as the nature of beloved and not-so-beloved characters from witch, to wizard, to loyal or rebel citizenry are questioned.  The arrival of a small girl from Kansas just may be the powder keg that sparks the change of everything.

This is a story well worth the read, and easily earns five stars for fans of paranormal, fantasy, and modern retellings of childhood classics.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Michael’s Blood

Michael's Blood by S.S. Bazinet
Michael’s Blood (The Vampire Reclamation Project, #1) by

S.S. Bazinet (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review -Four stars to Michael’s Blood

 

This interesting but confusing book is the first in a series about redemption, specifically, that of a reluctant vampire named Arel.  Arel’s guardian angel, Michael, is attempting to heal Arel of his curse, but to do so, his charge must be willing to face the demons of his past lives, learn to forgive himself and accept that he is worthy of love.

How do you cure vampirism?  Apparently by feeding said vampire Michael’s angelic blood.  This intervention sets off a process that nearly kills Michael multiple times as it begins to transform him.

Arel doesn’t make it easy for Michael; he’s arrogant, demanding, and needy in turn, not to mention depressed and sometimes suicidal.  He stubbornly refuses Michael’s help over and over again until he is rendered unable to cope anymore.  Still Michael, with true angelic grace, is there for Arel time and time again, picking him up and caring for him till he’s ready to stand on his own two feet again.

Everything changes when Arel meets a group of people who are as drawn to him as he is to them.  Each of these flawed, but giving individuals figured prominently somewhere in Arel’s past lives, and as they become aware of their past relationships, struggle to integrate those old emotions and knowledge into this new life where they are all intertwined again.

While on the surface this story involves a number of different factors- i.e. vampires, angelic guardians, past life regression, the underlying plot is really a study of the human condition, equally parts uplifting and heart wrenching, until the conclusion which ends on a high note, save for an ominous message from someone in Arel’s vampiric past, thus setting up a cliffhanger for the next book in the series, William’s Blood.

I picked up this book as part of the author’s recent promotional giveaway, and shelved on my TBR list for a time.  I finally decided to sit down and read it this past week, and I’m not sorry that I did, because despite the surprising mix of genres, the book is very moving and uplifting, as this extraordinary group of individuals, both human and angelic, face everyday crises and come out the stronger for it.  The overall message of faith and hope is inspiring, and I recommend this series to any who need a little encouragement or who simply like a good read.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Sign of the Nine

The Sign of the Nine by G.S. Denning
The Sign of the Nine (Warlock Holmes #4) by

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Amy Caudill‘s review

This fourth volume of the adventures of Warlock Holmes is the broadest sweeping narrative yet.  Out-maneuvering Pinkerton detectives, overcoming Italian Mafioso’s, and uncovering folktale selkies, are just some of the encounters depicted in this paranormal spoof of Arthur Conan Doyle’s illustrious detective stories.

Our story begins as John Watson and Warlock Holmes reverse their characters more than usual for this author’s version of the famous duo.  Watson, determined to find Moriarty and Adler, begins experimenting with introducing a 7% solution of mummified Persian sorcerer into his blood stream in hopes of inducing prophetic dreams.

Watson’s “dream sequences” populate every other story in this anthology of linked narratives, as Watson poisons his body and gains Holmes’ suspicions, under a drug-induced hallucinated state that shows him truths about Moriarty’s past.  Watson’s addiction leads to an even greater role reversal for the master of deduction (Watson) and the bumbling sorcerer (Holmes) who is forced for once to be the responsible one, and attempt to save Watson’s life and soul in the process.

But how does Warlock manage to accomplish such a task with his limited understanding of humanity and human interactions?  Holmes decides Watson needs a love interest of course.  And naturally he chooses the latest damsel in distress to cross their paths, Mary Morstan.  It doesn’t matter that Watson is not the least bit interested in her, not to Holmes. Because he has determined Mary will be John’s salvation, through a magical intervention that rocks the conclusion to this anthology.

G.S. Denning takes these well-beloved characters and molds them to fit perfectly into the new scenarios he has devised, while retaining enough of the original source material that they remain recognizable to fans of Conan Doyle. The author manages to seamlessly insert his own dramatic and paranormally influenced-material into the 1890’s vernacular, while his creations are at home discussing subjects of magic, sorcery, necromancy, and fairy tales.

While G. S. Denning is hardly the first author to imitate, or reimagine, the writings of the classic author, this book and the series are both a humorous and entertaining tribute, one I would recommend to any fans of either Sherlock Holmes or paranormal mysteries.   I award The Sign of Nine five stars.  I’m sad I have to wait almost another year for the next volume in the series.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Summer Knight

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4) by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)

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Amy Caudill‘s review

  

Summer Knight opens as Harry Dresden’s life is falling apart.  Reeling from the consequences of the last volume, (Grave Peril, which takes place some nine months before,) Harry is ignoring everything and everyone else in his life in his ill-fated attempt to find a cure for his love.  Susan Rodriquez was infected by a vampire’s venom, and one moment of weakness is all it would take for her to give into the blood lust and turns into a creature of the night.

Unfortunately, the world waits for no wizard, and the events taking place in the Nevernever and spilling out into the mortal world will soon distract Harry from his quest.  The debt Harry owes to his faerie godmother Leanansidhe has been sold to the Winter Queen, Mab, who wants Harry to investigate the murder of the Knight of the Summer Queen.

Meanwhile, the Red Vampire Court is after Harry’s blood and the White Council of Wizards may just be willing to sacrifice him to keep the peace.  Harry has both allies and enemies on the council, and is quickly running out of time to appease them.  The only chance the wizards have of avoiding all-out war with the vampires is for Harry to solve Mab’s case, earning safe passage through the Nevernever into the vampire’s territory, and doing so before Winter and Summer start a war of their own that could literally end the world.

This novel, fourth in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, plunges the reader into a much wider world of paranormal politics and intrigue than is seen in previous volumes.  The epic battle in the clouds above Chicago reminds me of scenes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while the camaraderie between Harry and the Alphas, the pack of werewolf-shifters he befriended in Fool Moon, is reminiscent of other epic tales like Lord of the Rings.

I award Summer Knight five stars, and recommend it and the series to any fans of paranormal detective stories, and fans of adventure epics.

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)
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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 : Weakest Lynx

Weakest Lynx by Fiona Quinn
Weakest Lynx (Lynx #1) by

Fiona Quinn (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

Lexi Sobado has lived an interesting life.  Only twenty, she is a Kung Fu master and has trained with police officers, spy masters, and master chefs.  She can shoot a bullseye, beat trained operatives on an obstacle course, and still appear as sweet and innocent as the girl next door.  She also has gifts that insure her life will never be the “normal” she craves.

Lexi is great at solving puzzles.  Her mentor, Spyder McGraw, a legend at the shadowy government agency Iniquus, trained her in secret to find connections no one else can.  But when Lexi is being hunted by a cruel, obsessive man she calls Stalker, Spyder is off on a secret mission and Lexi must turn to others for help.  She has attracted the attention of a very dangerous psychopathic drug addict who has already murdered six girls, and Lexi is his latest chosen victim.

While this story is definitely a thriller with a heroine who has paranormal abilities, I found myself caught up more by the lead character’s backstory than the plot itself.  For all Lexi’s gifts, she is honestly trying to create an ordinary life.  She spends her time, when she’s not being stalked or helping the Iniquus team sent to protect her, getting to know her neighbors and turning a fixer upper into a home to share with her husband Angel when he returns from Afghanistan.

Lexi’s desire to have a normal life helps make her character more appealing, more vulnerable, than the mysterious and gifted psychic undercover operative who is her alter ego, Alex.  Fiona Quinn managed to instill her heroine with a multi-faceted personality, while still writing a story that will appeal to both spy enthusiasts and paranormal romance fans.

I award this novel five stars and would recommend it to a large body of readers.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Grave Peril

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
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Amy Caudill‘s review

Misdirection, a ghost with the power to cause and control nightmares, and attacks from multiple factions in the supernatural world makes this third installment of The Dresden Files the most exciting adventure yet.

Something has stirred up the ghostly denizens of Chicago, leading to frenzied attacks on unsuspecting living residents.  Harry Dresden, modern day wizard, with the help of Michael, one of God’s Knights of the Sword, is working overtime to put out supernatural fires and save innocent lives from assaults the average citizen can’t even see.

When a mysterious entity, dubbed “The Nightmare,” is able to enter homes uninvited and undetected, against all rules of the paranormal, Harry has more suspects than answers.  Something is attacking Harry’s friends, and Harry himself, and the clues lead to a sorcerer named Kravos whom Harry and Co.  defeated months ago.  Only Kravos is locked up by the Chicago PD, or is he?

While all this is happening, Harry is also on the radar of a major player in the vampire court, Bianca, and in trouble with his faerie godmother, Lea, over a bargain he made in a life-or-death situation.  Plus, when the Nightmare attacked him, it stole a large chunk of his magical power and gained the ability to impersonate him.   Harry may be in more trouble than he can handle this time.

I’ve read several of Jim Butcher’s novels and collections in the past, but this is the first time I have read through the series in order.  I was pleasantly surprised to see how the relationships between different characters, especially that of Harry and Susan, have developed, and already am aware of a major upheaval coming for them in future books.  I’m also looking forward to seeing how Harry’s relationships with other characters, friends and enemies, continues to change, as many of the major baddies/allies/rival powers survived to come after Harry again.

Overall, this book is the best of the series to-date, and a good choice for any reader who wants their paranormal detective story with a side of mayhem and romance.  I give Grave Peril five stars and recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.