Category Archives: Book Reviews

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Where the Crawdads Sing by

Delia Owens (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

Take a novel that is one part survival story, one part murder trial story, with a subplot of love, heartache, and retribution thrown in, and you have the plot for author Delia Owen’s first fictional book.

The bestselling author of nonfictional books about wildlife brings her expertise on nature into this story, as the main character, Kya, describes her home of the marshlands off the coast of South Carolina.  Kya’s isolation, thanks to being abandoned by multiple family members one-by-one, leads to her total immersion and dependence on her environment, culminating in her becoming an expert on the marshes and their importance to the world.

The author’s descriptions of the world where Kya lived are both beautiful and heartbreaking. The narration flows like the poetry Kya often quotes throughout the story. While the story weaves backward and forward through time, the author slowly moves focus from 1952, when Kya is first abandoned, to 1970, where her fate will be decided in a court of law.

Along the way, Kya faces prejudice, hardships, and loneliness, but ultimately finds peace in her surroundings and love of friends and recovered family.  Looked down upon by the local population because of her seclusion and poverty, she is labelled “The Marsh Girl,” a figure of scorn and ugly rumors.

Her perception by the locals as an outsider, even a savage, is in part what leads the local sheriff and the town in general hold her responsible for the death of a local celebrity, and try her for murder based on the most circumstantial evidence.  Luckily, Kya has a few true friends and honorable people in her corner, who seek the truth and stay beside her till the end.

I truly enjoyed this story.  It covers so much, in terms of plot and time, and includes several unexpected twists.  While there are plenty of stories where children survive alone in the wild, few evolve to a point where the characters are able to cast social commentary on the behavior of a small town, or reach the heights of becoming published authors.  Kya is truly extraordinary, and the life she leads is exemplary, all the more so because of everything she goes through.

Saying that, I was astounded at the direction the author took in the last chapter, the very last page, that through everything I thought about the book and the characters into an entirely new light- I really didn’t want to believe the ending.  This ending is the sole reason I give this book four stars; perhaps that seems unfair, but the last twist seems completely out of sync with everything I’d read up to that point.  Still, this is a very good book that I’d recommend to many readers, of mysteries, survival stories, and stories about strong female characters.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Proven Guilty

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
Proven Guilty (The Dresden Files, #8) by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

Where do you cross a line between evil deeds and good intentions?  The eighth installment in the Dresden Files series has Harry asking just this question as, in carrying out his duties as a Warden of the White Council of Wizards, he must report the daughter of a friend for working forbidden magic.

A practitioner of black magic has summoned a number of beings from the faerie realm that feed on fear, and take the forms of monsters highlighted in a local horror-movie “con.”  Only instead of being fictional like the on-screen characters, these “fetches” of faerie land actually kill, and keep killing, until Harry can locate the summoner who brought them into Chicago and stop them.

Young Molly Carpenter, (the oldest child of Harry’s friend and occasional comrade-in-arms, Michael, one of the Knights of the Cross) is involved in the “con,” and with several of the victims, but until he unwittingly turns the monsters against her, Harry is unaware of her true connection to events.  By then, she’s already been taken captive to the Nevernever, and the strangest group of questers imaginable must follow.

Harry is joined by SI Detective Karin Murphy; his half-brother, the vampire succubus Thomas; a armor-wearing Charity Carpenter, who has issues of her own with Harry and magic in general; and is aided by the Summer Lady and her Knight as the company ventures into the heart of Winter, the stronghold of Queen Mab.  Will they be able to find Molly, and save her from a fate worse than death?  Will they even survive the quest?

And should they return successfully, will Harry have to see Molly put to death by the White Council for breaking one of the laws of magic?

Jim Butcher just seems to keep getting better and better in this series.  The “universe” he has built keeps expanding; with characters, subplots, and major storylines continually building on each other and spiraling outward with each successive novel.  Harry Dresden has come a long way as a protagonist, from a lone wolf wizard to a friend, brother, comrade, and mentor to a whole family of characters.

While each book can be read as a stand-alone, to really understand the background I recommend reading the entirety from beginning to end, as I’m working my way through currently, anticipating the release of the sixteenth book, Peace Talks, in July of this year.  I award Proven Guilty five stars and recommend it to readers interested in paranormal and urban fantasy series, as well as readers of paranormal detective stories.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Sea Scope: A Psychological Mystery

Sea Scope by Debbie De Louise
Sea Scope: A Psychological Mystery by

Debbie De Louise (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

A series of clues written in crayon, reminiscent of the games once played by a now-dead child, and the long unexplained circumstances surrounding the death of one of their number casts a shadow over the planned reunion of family and old friends in this mystery by author Debbie De Louise.

Twenty years ago, the bed and breakfast at Sea Scope, South Carolina was closed following the death of a guest who meant far more to some of the long-term residents there.  In the present, Sarah, who was a child at the time, receives an invitation from her Aunt Julie, to return to the inn for a visit.  Julie plans to reopen the inn and wants select family and friends to help her prepare for its grand reopening.  As Julie gathers family and former staff members of Sea Scope, both Julie and Sarah receive messages pertaining to the events that led to a tragic summer twenty years in the past.

While the events of the present reveal those things long hidden, the past plays its part in the tale, too, as the reader is drawn into a haunting story with clues doled out one at a time.  The author carefully weaves an enticing mystery by alternating chapters between past and present, so that events may unfold in the past through the child Sarah’s diary and recollections, assisted by revelations by other visitors and family members from the time.

In fact, the revelations continue right up until the last few pages, where the true nature of certain characters and the events leading to the death of Michael are finally unveiled.  The switches between time settings are not confusing or detract from the appeal of the story at all, as the author also skillfully changes point of view, from third person in the past to first person in the present, with Sarah’s point of view.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book I was able to obtain through a recent Amazon promotion by the author.  I love good mysteries, and this one has much to offer, from a good plot to appealing characters and a beautiful location.  I would recommend this story to any lover of mysteries, and award it five stars for its originality and the quality of the mystery.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Dead Beat

Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
Dead Beat (The Dresden Files, #7) by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

What can I say about this latest volume of the Dresden Files?  Dead Beat pits our favorite urban wizard-for-hire, Harry Dresden, against a group of necromancers vying against each other for the ultimate power gain.  It also features a host of both friends and foes, new and old, and a chance to actually see the White Council of Wizards as the good guys, instead of just the overly suspicious and judgmental group out to prove Harry is up to no good.

Of course, the story starts with a seemingly low-key private investigation, followed quickly by Dresden being blackmailed by a vampire sorceress, and even includes a hint of a possible romance for the lovesick Harry (still heartbroken over Susan) that might just cost Harry his soul, his will, and everything he has ever stood for.

I had trouble deciding exactly what the title of this one meant-does it refer to Harry’s half-vampire brother who is living on the couch in Harry’s apartment, or to the fact that Harry does so much magic in the course of this adventure that he is wounded and exhausted for most of the story, or even to the fact that (spoilers) Harry is recruited as a Warden, a sort of cop for the Wizard’s Council, and assigned his home turf as his “beat” ?

This story contains a lot of different side plot points, and a lot of references and characters that newbies to the series may not get, but it’s still a fun ride, especially when Dresden calls for reinforcements by means of a reanimated Tyrannosaurus Rex named Sue.  I give this epic five stars for creativity, and am relieved that the series is still going strong.  After all, I have eight more volumes to read through before the release of the next story, Peace Talks, hopefully to be released in 2020.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Christmas, The Krewe and a Large White Rabbit

Christmas, The Krewe and a Large White Rabbit by Heather Graham
Christmas, The Krewe and a Large White Rabbit (Krewe of Hunters) by

Heather Graham (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

Combine a group of people who are capable of interacting with the dead, recruit them to an elite FBI unit, and then send them out in couples to fall in love-the improbable premise for the paranormal romance series by author Heather Graham somehow just works, making The Krewe of Hunters a very entertaining series.

This e-novella is a direct sequel to Haunted be the Holidays, and picks up as the main protagonists of that story, Brodie and Kody, are about to be married, on Christmas Eve.  While they’ve chosen to wed at a historic Virginia tavern that friends have just restored, there wouldn’t be much to the plot without a little conflict.  In this case, the drama is introduced by a rabbit-costume-and-gas-mask wearing, machete wielding escapee from a nearby mental institution.

Kody is soon following the Rabbit through snow-covered woods, and learns he is trying to protect her and some “Golden Dragon” from the “dragon slayers.”  Despite the odd appearance of this character, his ramblings raise a number of questions, especially when a couple of very suspicious guards from the institution are looking for the Rabbit, and carrying high-powered rifles.

Brodie, with assistance from Krewe members coming to the wedding, learn the Rabbit is actually a distinguished military veteran, suffering from PTSD.  Still that doesn’t explain his behavior, until further clues point that while the Rabbit, a.k.a. Captain Avery, retired army veteran, has actually witnessed something illegal and deadly happening at Virginia Hansom Hospital.  Now the Krewe have to keep Avery safe, uncover the conspiracy at the hospital, and arrest the involved staff, and all before the Christmas wedding.

What struck me about this story is that despite numerous Lewis Carroll references, Captain Lynch did not go off on a tangential journey into Neverland, but rather became quite lucid as soon as the drugs were out of his system.  While the analogy being played out could have made an interesting story, it would have been a quite different one, and might have been detrimental to the general plot of this short novella.  As it was, the story was quickly but satisfying resolved of the main conflict, and proceeded to the wedding and the romantic end.  I will say that one scene very near the end brought me to tears, as Kody was allowed to see the spirit of her late father on her wedding day.

I was in the mood for a light-hearted Christmas story when I “picked up” this e-book, and I was happy with my purchase, as this book rates a solid four stars.  I would recommend it to any readers who want a quick read in paranormal, romance, adventure, or urban fantasy genres.

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Mysterious Affair at Styles

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot, #1) by

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

From the mind of the great Agatha Christie sprang one of her most intriguing characters-Belgian detective Inspector Hercule Poirot.  His exploits have been chronicled, not only in the author’s books, but also in numerous movies and television specials.  In more than one episode, the popular show Doctor Who pays homage to the iconic writer, including a “behind the scenes” of Dame Agatha’s process for this particular novel.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles opens as Poirot’s Watson, Hastings, is staying with old friends while he recovers from injuries suffered fighting in World War I.  He has not seen Poirot in a number of years, but he is suddenly on the scene when Hasting’s host at the estate of Styles is murdered under strange circumstances.

A number of doors locked from the inside, a house full of potential suspects, several different possible methods for administering poison to the victim, and questionable identities of multiple personages make for a case that is beyond the local constabulary, so Poirot is soon on the scene.

While Hastings privately worries that age and time have cost Poirot his sharp faculties, the detective begins his investigation, leaving Hastings (and everyone else) wondering what clues he has discovered but is reluctant to share.  The story ends with a typical confrontation that unites all suspects, and those previously not suspected, in a scene where Poirot reveals all.

Agatha Christie’s body of work in general and in this novel in particular are considered classics because her stories are ageless.  While technology and society move forward, the mysteries she pens still appeal to readers because she weaves so many details, false blinds, and seemingly contradictory plot points into her work that are perfectly explained in the end.

I recommend this book to any lover of mysteries, and award it five stars for its originality, and depth of intrigue.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Here Comes The Witch

Here Comes The Witch by Ani Gonzalez
Here Comes The Witch (Main Street Witches, #1)by

Ani Gonzalez (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

What do you get when you cross a New York jewelry designer, whose ancestors were famed for making elixirs and casting curses, with a contractor from a small Southern town, noted for its haunted houses and paranormal events?  Apparently, a cozy mystery with paranormal elements that includes a vengeful ghost and a chance for romance and a new life.

The first book in Ani Gonzalez’s Main Street Witches series features a business deal garnered between Liam Hagen and Kat Santelli Ramos to end the curse placed on the historic Hagen House so Liam can sell it, sharing the profits with Kat whose dream is to open her own jewelry store.  The catch is, the only way to end the curse, according to local santerra guru and neighborhood exorcist Yolanda is for Liam and Kat to marry, and live in the haunted house together.

While navigating the rocky road of “marrying” a complete stranger, Kat and Liam also have to deal with the local paranormal/ghost hunter crew filming their every move, and a ghost/spirit/curse that is reluctant to dissipate.   Kat will also have to accept that her ancestors were witches, and like it or not, she has inherited their gifts, which she will need to learn about if the curse is to be truly ended.

This was the first book I’ve read by the author, and I was fascinated by the fact that she has already created a rich backstory that includes a number of colorful residents of Banshee Creek and a complete history of multiple paranormal entities.  Her background characters seem well-developed, but are only utilized as comic relief or scene fillers.  I hope that future volumes will include more of this potential entertaining ensemble cast.  The plot contains multiple twists on the way to a resolution I was able to predict about ¾ of the way through, but still contained a well-written climax, and a satisfying resolution.

This series seems to take witchcraft, magic, ghosts, poltergeists, and the like as accepted truths, but doesn’t delve too deeply into the scare factor.  The result is a light-hearted romantic comedy with a spook factor that is eerie but not too terribly scary.  This book, and presumably series, is perfect for those readers who want a taste of the paranormal without being scared out of their minds.

I award this novel four stars, and recommend it to readers of the paranormal, and cozy mysteries, who are interested in a heroine/romantic protagonist who also possesses magical powers.

 

 

 

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Dracula

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula by

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Since Halloween is less than two weeks away, I decided there was no better time to read one of the original classics that helped spawn the entire genre of horror literature- Bram Stoker’s vision of Dracula.

 The author’s work, originally published in 1897, relied heavily on local superstition as the author created a series of characters that represented archetypes of good and evil in a battle of supremacy.  So chilling were the characters and scenes designed for this classic, that it has been imitated and referenced in countless plays, movies, and television series and books today.

As told through a collection of journal entries made from different points of view, added to by “newspaper clippings” and eyewitness accounts, the story from the first page reads like a dry and rambling travelogue, but the reader is quickly drawn in as each successive entry gives clues to the dawning realization that circumstances are far from normal.

Johnathan Harker, a name that will be familiar to any who have read or seen any version of the story of Dracula, is a new solicitor whose current assignment is to travel to Transylvania to deliver papers to the Count, whose has just purchased a property in London with the intention of relocating to Britain.  Johnathan through observation and accident discovers clues about the Count’s true nature and is imprisoned in the castle, left to his fate amongst three female vampires when Dracula leaves for London.

Johnathan escapes, and manages to return to England separately, but very ill with “brain fever,” in reality a state of shock and denial, for what he has learned.  Mina Murray, his fiancée, is summoned to his side to tend to him, and leaves her friend Lucy, whom she had been caring for, in the care of Dr. Seward and Professor Van Helsing.

Lucy has exhibited symptoms of an illness, including severe and recurrent loss of blood and sleep-walking, which defies conventional explanation.  It is only when Van Helsing begins to put together clues from Lucy’s dreams, with accounts from the Harkers’ experiences, unusual behavior from one of Dr. Seward’s patients at the asylum, and reports of inexplicable events around London, that he begins to realize the truth.

The quest to stop the vampire will lead the company on a perilous adventure through graveyards, abandoned churches, and finally on a journey back to the Count’s lair in Transylvania to save the soul of his latest victim.

This novel, though written more than one hundred years ago, still contains the power to terrify readers today.  The language, though somewhat affected by the vernacular of the time, is not difficult to follow, and the essence of the story is so chilling that it is no wonder it has become a classic that is much imitated today.  The original version of Dracula deserves five stars for its timeless appeal to readers of the horror and paranormal genres.  Give it a read!

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Blood Rites

Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, #6) by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

  

This latest adventure involving Chicago’s only consulting wizard begins with a typically unexpected situation- Harry is running from a winged monkey throwing flaming excrement at him while carrying a box of puppies- and this is only the opening scene.

Harry Dresden is quickly assisted by Thomas, a White Court energy vampire who wants Harry to do him a favor in return.  Naturally, Harry’s protective nature leads him to agreeing, and soon is on his way to meet Arturo Genosa, an erotic film producer who is under a curse that is killing all the women around him.

The source of this malocchio “evil eye” is elusive; all Harry really knows is that it is driven by vengeful hatred, and there are plenty of suspects surrounding the strangely affable porn maker.

Of course, Harry has more than one scary situation to deal with- a war that he accidentally started with the vampires of the Red Court has attracted the attention of a powerful Black Court vampire who is also a wizard, and who has it in for Harry.  Harry is forced to form an assault squad, consisting of himself, Lieutenant Murphy, a mercenary named Kincaid, and his old mentor Ebenezar McCoy to attempt to take out the Black Court vampires and their thralls before the citizens of Chicago become a feast for the most dangerous of the undead.

All the while, the conspirators who created the curse on Genosa are waiting in the wings, to unleash their final assault on Harry and his newly-discovered half-brother, as revenge against Harry’s mother, who died giving birth to Harry.  If they all survive, Harry will have something he’s only dreamed about his entire life, an actual family.

Author Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series is well-known for its deep plots, outrageous battles, and tantalizing glimpse into the paranormal, but readers can also be delighted in the growth of the characters as the series progresses.  Having been previously introduced to the series by means of an anthology, I am reading through the novels in order and am continuously amazed how much detail and thought are placed into the development and continuation of plot and character development as the series ensues.

Harry Dresden, a wizard with enormous power and potential, is showed as a flawed individual with emotional issues, insecurities, and doubts- in short, a human being that the reader can sympathize with while also cheering him on as he battles the supernatural and struggles with day-to-day living.

In my opinion, The Dresden Files keeps getting better and I award Blood Rites a well-earned five stars.

 

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Academic Curveball

Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney
Academic Curveball (Braxton Campus Mysteries #1)by

James J. Cudney (Goodreads Author)
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Amy Caudill‘s review

Kellan Ayrwick, a television executive, changes careers, and his address, in the first book of this series by author James P. Cudney.

The story begins as Kellan makes a trip home to Braxton, Pennsylvania, for his father’s retirement as President of Braxton College.  Kellan is also doing double duty- the party coincides with the meeting he’s arranged for a source on the true-crime drama Dark Reality, of which he is assistant producer.  Unfortunately, his meeting with his “source” never happens, as the dead body of Professor Abbey Monroe is found by a family friend during the party.

Kellan is ever-more deeply involved in the investigation into Monroe’s death, as well as the politics concerning a change in leadership for the school, the power plays and underhanded dealings of the Board in regards to scholarship and the athletic departments, and even a potential romance between Kellan and one old friend, as well as his sister Eleanor and another old friend.   Somehow Kellan must balance all of these complicated relationships while exercising his investigative journalism aspirations to appease his boss back in Los Angeles.

Even if I didn’t know that this was the first book in a series, the author did leave numerous hints throughout the text that Kellan wanted to make a more permanent move to Braxton, such as 1) his dissatisfaction with his boss, Derek, over lack of proper recognition for all his hard work; 2) the cajoling, encouragement, and guilt-trips laid by various members of his family; 3) and his own stated desires to renew his relationships with family members, such as Eleanor and Nana D, and his former close friends Connor and Maggie.  All of these led me, as the reader, to believe that events would eventually shape to allow Kellan to come home for good.

While the story contains multiple subplots and a large number of characters, I found the overall storyline drew me in and the mystery absorbing.  The eventual homecoming of Kellan may have been predictable, but the climax and resulting conclusion of the story were not.  The plot contained a number of surprises-the identity of the killer, the identity of the new President of Wharton-among them, along with a twist at the end I didn’t even imagine coming!

In short, this book, of the “cozy mystery” style, contains a dash of action, plenty of suspense, and enough twists and turns to hook me and award this book five stars.  I will definitely be checking out more books in this new series, and recommend it to readers.