Category Archives: Book Reviews

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

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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.

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.

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

50275498

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.