Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Changes

Changes by Jim Butcher

Changes (The Dresden Files, #12) by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

This explosive twelfth book in The Dresden Files series begins as Harry’s lost love, Susan, returns from self-exile to deliver the news that first, Harry’s a father, and second, that the daughter they had together has been kidnapped.

While I have read this particular volume in the past, I have been faithfully going through the series in order this year, and so I picked up a number of points and details that would have been lost on me before.

As readers of the series would know, the former reporter for the tabloid Midwestern Arcane was caught and turned into a half vampire years earlier when following Harry into a dangerous situation.  After, she left Chicago, and Harry, to join a South American group of individuals, like herself, who managed to resist the bloodlust that would complete their transformations into full vampires.

Before Susan and Harry can attempt to sort through their issues, they have to locate their daughter, Maggie, who has been taken by the Red Court vampires, to be used as a human sacrifice in a blood ritual that could have devastating consequences.  A timely visit from Harry’s godmother, a faery of the Winter Court, grants Harry a piece of his mother’s legacy just in time to help locate Maggie and provide a means of travelling across continents in a very short time.

When the White Council appears not ready to intervene, desperation leads Harry to seek assistance from the least likely of allies; Johnnie Marcone, and Queen Mab of Winter included.

In a series replete with epic climatic battles, this book stands out because the stakes, the assembled cast, and the overwhelming odds still fail to prepare the reader for the surprising revelations in this ultimate battle of good vs. evil in Butcher’s universe.  Following the conclusion with a stunning last-page murder is almost over the top and makes this reader wonder why? How? Who? And when can I get a copy of the next book in the series?

I would recommend this book to any reader of paranormal, urban and fantasy stories, as well as those who enjoy action and epic stories.  While reading prior books in the series is not necessary for enjoyment, there are a number of details the casual reader may overlook, such as the long-standing relationships Harry has with a number of recurring characters and the lore Butcher has specifically developed for this vast universe. I award this latest effort five stars and plan to read the rest of the series, including books #16 and 17 that were just released, as soon as I have time.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Speaking in Bones

Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs

Speaking in Bones (Temperance Brennan, #18) by Kathy Reichs (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

When Dr. Temperance Brennan is accosted in her office by a web sleuth who claims to have proof a missing teen was tortured and possibly murdered in a horrifying manner, the forensic anthropologist is drawn in to a case with more twists and turns than seems possible.

This 18th book in Kathy Reich’s series involves genetic defects, exorcism, the power of belief, religious fanaticism, and disturbing psychological disorders for a wild ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains and rural North Carolina.

The first lead, given and guarded stringently by the hostile amateur web sleuth Hazel Strike leads to dismembered body parts found at different times and different locations, all at overlooks to Brown Mountain, a site known in local lore as a place of mysterious happenings. 

Hazel apparently feels betrayed when Tempe brings in local law enforcement on the search, and takes off, taking her hoarded evidence with her.  The next time Tempe sees her is on a slab in the coroner’s office, leading Tempe to feel guilty over her missed calls and suspicious of Hazel’s rivals on various web sleuthing sites.

The plot grows ever thicker as Tempe, along with local cops and deputies from jurisdictions where Hazel’s body and the various dismembered pieces are found investigate the motives of various people in the missing teens’ lives, as now a possible boyfriend has joined the ranks of the lost.  How these two are connected, and exactly who the body parts belong to, make up a very exciting chase.

The only issue I had with this story is the local lore of Brown Mountain was brought up in such a way that it looked like the author was going to have it figure prominently in the story.  However, at the end, though that topic was addressed once more, it was as an aside, and didn’t play a significant part in the plot or even have any real meaning for the story.  While it is an interesting tidbit, it was one “red herring” that I was disappointed led to nothing.

Overall, this story was thrilling and contained even more convoluted turns than usual with a Kathy Reichs book.  I admit I did not expect the climax in the least, and was kept guessing up until the very last chapter.  I award this book 4.5 stars, and recommend it to fans of forensic thrillers, mysteries, and anyone who loved the television show based on Reich’s work, Bones.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Warlock Holmes – The Finality Problem

Warlock Holmes - The Finality Problem by G.S. Denning

Warlock Holmes – The Finality Problem by G.S. Denning
Amy Caudill‘s review

This paranormal, comic tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original characters includes a simple-minded yet incredibly powerful mage in Warlock Holmes, a John Watson that is the real deductive genius behind the duo’s adventures, and a cast of assorted supernatural sidekicks and baddies. 

Picking up where the last book left off, the fifth volume of the spoof series, Warlock Holmes: The Finality Problem, finds Watson ensconced with the wife Holmes selected to be soul-bonded to him and banned from helping Holmes for his own safety.   Off course, a little thing like not being able to find 221B Baker Street is not going to keep Watson out of trouble for long. 

After all, Watson has become so accustomed to the supernatural world that it seeks him out in his own home; it is invited to his wife’s parties, and seeks his council.  Naturally Groggson and Lestrade need Watson as well, and only Warlock’s insistence and vanishing spells can keep them away for so long. 

In tribute to the original books, Watson and Holmes are reunited just in time for Holmes to make a fateful visit to Reichenbach Falls, but the book ends on a, pardon the pun, cliffhanger, as the greatest of evil spirits are released with no Warlock to stop them.  (Thus Watson’s fatalistic retelling of events as if the world is about to end.  He believes it to be true.)

I’ve read every book in this series so far, and I have greatly enjoyed every minute of them.  As a fan of Sherlock Holmes and paranormal stories, I love the mash-up Denning has created, and am impressed with how he’s largely stayed true to the style and time of the original work, while inserting his own tweaks and complicated plots that link each story with the next and prior volumes.  While there are countless imitators of Conan Doyle out there, this author has managed to put and keep an original spin on the series that adds elements of horror, humor, and potential world-altering events.

I award this book five stars and wait to see if Warlock Holmes, like his namesake, will rise again in another book. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.