Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Cold Days

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Cold Days (The Dresden Files, #14) by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

Having survived his own murder and then a trip through the afterlife (or a reasonable facsimile,) Harry now is somewhat ready to face his sworn duty to the Queen of Winter, Mab. 

At least, he better be.  After all, it appears the whole world is going crazy.  There is a conspiracy among the fae, and Harry will have enough trouble sorting out exactly who is on which side.  He also has to kill Mab’s daughter, the Winter Lady, because either Mab or Maeve, or both are crazy, and may be under the mind control of the Outsiders.  Not to mention, none of his friends or family know he’s actually alive.  It’s just another day in Chicago for Harry Dresden.

In a way, this book feels like it’s tying up loose ends of the series, though I know there are already three more books written to date.  Harry has a chance to revisit places he’s been and fought before, as well as come to terms with and forge new relationships with both old allies and adversaries.  He seems to finally be coming into his maturity, and is just realizing, with the help of some very austere advisors just exactly how much power he has at his disposal thanks to events of previous novels.

Harry is a wizard, the New Winter Knight, and now the Warden of an island that officially doesn’t exist but holds a terrifying secret that forces from outside the universe are scrambling to unleash.  He even edges closer to starting a romance with Karrin.  Not bad for his first day on the job as the servant of a Queen the Sidhe.

As always I greatly enjoyed Butcher’s trademark style: his protagonist is as well known for his wisecracks as his courage, heroism, and enormous power.  While Harry may finally be growing up from the immature lone wolf he was in the beginning of the series, the stories remain fresh as the author provides new plots, new situations, and new villains to torture him with. 

I award Cold Days five stars, and am sad I am actually catching up to the end of the series.  I recommend this book to fans of urban fantasy, paranormal adventure, and epic universes that would satisfy both science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Crooked River

Crooked River by Douglas Preston

Crooked River (Pendergast, #19) by Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), Lincoln Child
Amy Caudill‘s review

Aloysius Pendergast’s vacation just wants a vacation with his ward, Constance Greene, when the new assistant director of the FBI, Walter Pickett, interrupts to send him on the most baffling case of his career.  Over a hundred disembodied feet wash ashore on Sanibel Island, Florida, each wearing identical green shoes.

Pendergast agrees to take the case, with the caveat that Pickett will allow him to use his own substantial latitude in the investigation, unlike the handicap of regulations he was required to conform to in the last book, Verses for the Dead. Part of this “latitude” translates into recalling his partner in the previous case, Agent Coldmoon, who is still recovering from his injuries suffered in line of duty.

The tension is broken somewhat early in the book by a humorous scene where the Coast Guard Commander Baugh, who is the nominal head of the task force investigating, decides to cross into Cuban waters to get surveillance footage of possible beheadings related to the source of the feet.  Unfortunately for the commander but fortunately for averting an international incident, the “beheadings” he allegedly witnesses is actually a volleyball game between prisoners and guards in a Cuban prison.

Forensic evidence soon reveals that all the amputations are self-inflicted, which raises even more questions as to why?  What could possess these people, who are discovered to be immigrants trying to illegally cross into the US from Guatemala, to cause them all to sever one of their own feet in an eerily similar manner?

Each chapter takes a different point of view as a number of subplots and interactions between various characters, major and minor, add to the increasing complexity of the overall story line.  The authors, Preston and Child, have long mastered this style; often writing alternate chapters (according to their shared website.)

Three quarters into the story, the authors reveal that the title takes its name form a location in the Florida Panhandle, a river near the site of a trench where the feet were stored, and carried away during a flood.  What will the investigators, separated by different branches on inquiry, learn about this hidden location, and will they be able to stop this horrible fate from happening to anyone else?  The answers lie in a quasi-military base conducting banned experiments with psychotropic drugs.

I don’t want to give any more spoilers, but I will say that this novel equals any of the best previous in the Pendergast series, and there are hints of another epic book to come as Pickett plays interference again in the final chapter of Crooked River.

I award this book five stars and recommend this series to any readers of police procedurals, thrillers, and even paranormal detective stories, though those particular elements are light in this book.  The story could well be enjoyed by those not familiar with the series, but some nuances will escape those who have not read previous volumes, so consider going back and reading more of the series.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Best Christmas Ever

The Best Christmas Ever by Heather Graham

The Best Christmas Ever (Krewe of Hunters #29.7)
by Heather Graham (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

You know your holiday season is overloaded when it takes over a week to read such a short, sweet story as this e-book by Heather Graham.  I acquired this some time ago, but successfully saved it to the current season, only to barely have time enough to sit and enjoy it.

This little addition to the Krewe of Hunters series, which portrays an elite team of FBI agents who all have the ability to interact with ghosts, follows the saga of two of the founding members of the Krewe, Jackson Crow and Angela Hawkins, as they enjoy a well-deserved Christmas holiday away from work in the country.  They invite their coworkers and friends of course, as they contemplate purchasing an historic house last visited in another story, Christmas, the Krewe, and a Large White Rabbit.

Naturally there a few surprises including a very distinguished ghostly visitor, or else this novella wouldn’t fit into the series, but with no crimes to solve this is really just a sweet backstory for the cast of this series.  With no murderers to apprehend, we are allowed to focus on the romance of the two principles as they embark on a new addition, or two, to their private lives.

This story is definitely better written than the last story I reviewed in the series, A Horribly Haunted Halloween, which actually comes later in the time line.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to any previous readers of the series.  Unfortunately I believe without prior knowledge of the characters and situations new readers might be somewhat lost; there simply isn’t enough of this short story to thoroughly explain all the relevant points to new readers.   Still, for diehard fans of the paranormal series, this definitely deserves at least 4 stars; more if there was a criminal in there somewhere.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Hallowe’en Party

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party (Hercule Poirot #39)
by Agatha Christie
Amy Caudill‘s review

I realize it is a little past the season for stories that revolve around Halloween parties, but I didn’t have time to get to this book before Halloween this year and I didn’t feel obligated to wait another year before I read it.  This Agatha Christie classic, the 39th book in her repertoire, features the famous Hercule Poirot who is called in after a disturbing murder at said party, which takes place in the opening chapters.

Poirot’s old friend, Ariadne Oliver, who appears earlier in Dead Man’s Folly, appeals to Poirot for help when a young girl is murdered at the party she is attending.  Mrs. Oliver is a famous mystery author, and I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps the character was a bit of an author self-insert for Dame Christie as she talked theories of the case with the detective, and even did a bit of interrogation on her own.

Joyce Reynolds, a thirteen year old girl who is universally regarded as a compulsive liar, claims to have witnessed a murder in the past.  She is brushed off by her audience, a group of party-preppers as well as her peer group, as having simply made a bid for attention.  However, things take a nasty turn when she is found dead, drowned in the bucket using for bobbing for apples at the end of the festivities.

Numerous suspects are soon identified, including a couple of local school teachers, a couple of presumed forgers, now supposedly dead or missing, and a landscape gardener who lives in the garden he created for a local rich widow, whose disputed will following her death two years earlier provides the first leads in the case.

 The party that sets the scene is at the home of Rowena Drake, the niece of the late Mrs. Llewllyn-Smythe, who stood to benefit in Llewellyn-Smythe’s will before the last codicil (amendment) was uncovered.  She is also found to have ties to the gardener, and one of the perceived forgers who was also the late lady’s au pair.  However, Mrs. Drake is a respected member of society; a leader of charity groups; and her daughter was the best friend of the late Joyce Reynolds.  What secrets does she really hold?  It takes the shock of another murder before she is ready to reveal what she knows.

Another old friend, the now-retired Superintendent Spence, mentioned in Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, also makes an appearance, and so this book, near the end of the series and presumably Poirot’s career, feels almost like a reunion as our intrepid detective solves the case, uncovers the true murderer, as well as his relationships to the victims, and saves the life of another.

I really enjoyed this story, with all its twists and turns, sorted affairs, and intrigue that abounds in what is reputed to be a quiet, respectable community.  Christie turns everything on its head, and provides a number of false leads, leaving the reader in suspense about the culprit to the very end.  I give this book five stars, and recommend it to any fan of mystery fiction.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Murder in an Irish Village

Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O'Connor

Murder in an Irish Village (An Irish Village Mystery, #1) by Carlene O’Connor (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

When Siobhan O’Sullivan witnesses a suspicious conversation between a family friend and the brother of the man who caused her parents death, she had no way of knowing the next time she saw Niall he would be sitting in her family’s bistro, with a pair of scissors in his chest.

This first book in the An Irish Village Mystery cozy mystery series takes place in Kilbane, Ireland.  The story focuses on Siobhan, the second oldest of six children, dubbed by townsfolk as “The Irish Brady Bunch,” as she tries to solve a murder and save her brother and her family business, all while flirting with the local garda (police officer) Macdara Flannery.

I had a little difficulty getting into the story at first because the author jumped right into the action, and gave explanations/descriptions of characters as she went, which is not really a bad thing, but I felt a little lost for the first third of the book.  I will say kudos to Carlene O’Connor for including a glossary of the most common pronunciations and colloquial terms; this was really invaluable for someone who is not up on Irish terms.

As the story continues, the reader really is able to identify more with the protagonist, a young woman who gave up her dream of going to college in a larger city in order to help her older brother James care for their younger siblings in the wake of their parents’ tragic death a year before the action takes place.

At first the reader is left wondering why the troublesome Niall keeps bringing up the accident that sent his brother to prison and caused the death of the O’Sullivan parents.  Does he really have proof his brother was innocent, or is he just trying to extort money from anyone vulnerable in town?  His murder, near the beginning of the story, leaves many questions that seemingly cannot be answered fast enough to keep James from being accused of the crime, so naturally Siobhan has to help, despite the direct orders of Garda Flannery.

The reader is witness to conflict between the siblings, multiple romantic possibilities for Siobhan, and a number of humorous situations where the siblings play amateur detective and narrowly avoid getting into trouble for their efforts.  All in all, this book had a well-developed plot and entertaining characters.  After the confusing intro, the story really settled into a focus on Siobhan, as she tried to balance caring for the children, running the bistro, and searching for clues without offending her neighbors or angering the handsome detective. 

Overall, I think this book established a great basis for a cozy mystery series, with plenty of secondary characters and a beautiful locale to further plots.  I give it four stars and would recommend it to any fan of cozy mysteries

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Ghost Story

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Ghost Story (The Dresden Files, #13) by Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

At the end of the last book, Changes, in The Dresden Files series, Harry Dresden was shot and then fell into Lake Michigan; so he’s dead now, right?  Except his idea of the afterlife never included being shown into a police station in the world” in-between” and meeting Karrin Murphy’s late father, a former Chicago cop. 

Jack Murphy delivers some surprising news: Harry’s stuck in between life and death because some unnamed semi-divine being interfered with his death, three of his friends are in mortal danger if he doesn’t find a way to help them, and he needs to identify his killer if he wants to be able to move on.  And oh, magic doesn’t work the same way here, so it looks like wizard/private investigator Harry Dresden is going to have to solve this case without his powers, without his body, and without being able to communicate with almost everyone he knows.

Fortunately, Harry knows or rather knew, an ectomancer, a person with latent magical ability who can see and talk with ghosts.  Unfortunately, Mortimer Lindquist has a negative impression of Harry because of the danger the late wizard brought into his life while he was still alive.  Persuading Mort to help is hard.  What is even harder is convincing his friends that Harry is actually his own spirit and not a supernatural shapeshifter wearing his face (it’s happened before in this universe.)

Just when Harry has most of them believing, Mort is kidnapped by the evil spirit of a sorceress Harry defeated years before and who wants to use Mort as a stepping stone to acquire a new body for herself.  Harry will not all of his friends and allies, living and dead, to prevent the sorceress from escaping death to rein havoc on the world.

It is interesting to note how author Jim Butcher writes Harry’s change in perspective.  Now that he’s dead, he has time to reflect on his life; his choices, his achievements, and his failures.  They say hindsight is twenty-twenty, but what can Harry do about his past now that he’s dead?  Or is he really?  The other spirits say that Harry is different, he’s dead but not, but exactly what is going on there is a secret the author keeps until the very last chapter, which ingeniously draws other past characters and situations from the larger universe in to set the course for the rest of the series, or at least the next book.

This thirteenth book in the series by author Jim Butcher is full of surprises.  While there is plenty of action, much of the story revolves around solving the mystery at the end of the last book as well as dealing with the consequences of Harry’s absence from being Chicago’s protector from supernatural incursions.  This is one book where I feel the reader will really miss a lot of key points if this is there first venture into this universe.  Still, the story is solid and keeps the reader in suspense and guessing outcomes until the very end, so I give it 4.5 stars and would recommend it, and the series to readers of paranormal and urban fantasy books.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : A Horribly Haunted Halloween

A Horribly Haunted Halloween by Heather Graham

A Horribly Haunted Halloween
by Heather Graham (Goodreads Author)
Amy Caudill‘s review

I picked up this short e-book from one of my favorite authors because I wanted to something a little lighter between the 500-600 page tomes I have been reading of late, and since I have read many of the previous series, I thought it would be enjoyable.

I was both right and wrong.  This novella takes place in the Krewe of Hunters series about a group of FBI agents who have the ability to see and interact with ghosts which assists them on their cases.  Since I have read several other books in this series, I had no problem with the continuity, even though I have not read several of the intervening stories. 

I was pleased to see the development of the characters of Angela Hawkins and Jackson Crow, series regulars who have been around since the early days of the series, and who have married, and now have two children, one through adoption, and one by birth, as they continue their work.

I also enjoyed the premise of the story, that of a serial killer who disguises the bodies of his victims as Halloween decorations, and even enjoyed the mentions the author made about the current crisis facing the world, as characters are noted to be wearing masks in public.

However, the story was really not well-developed.  There were a couple of inconsistencies in the plot, revolving around the antagonist’s motivation and endgame, as well as errors in spelling that seemed as though the book was rushed to publication.  The ending of the story also presented a problem to me, because though the climax was good, the falling action was “told” and not “shown,” something I would not expect in a well-developed story by a very successful author. 

As I don’t consider this book up to the usual standards, I am only giving it three stars.  It still is a fun read for those looking for a quick, spooky Halloween story for the season, but it is definitely not the best example of this author’s work.

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.