Tag Archives: Book Reviews

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),
50275498

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.

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Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Death Masks

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

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)
50275498

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)
50275498

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)
50275498

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 : Summer Knight

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4) by

Jim Butcher (Goodreads Author)

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

  

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Weakest Lynx

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

Fiona Quinn (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

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

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

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

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

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

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, #1) by

Theodora Goss (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review :

Mary Jekyll, soon after the death of her mother, receives from the latter’s lawyer a number of papers belonging to her father, who died under mysterious circumstances when she was a child, as well as details of a bank account making payments on behalf of someone named Hyde.  Mary recognizes the name as one of her father’s former employees, who was accused of murder and disappeared around the time of her father’s death.

Suddenly left destitute, she takes the information to Sherlock Holmes hoping to claim a reward for the capture of the elusive Hyde. What she finds instead is a previously unknown half-sister, along with more questions about her late father’s involvement with a group called the Société des Alchimistes, or the Alchemist’s Society, that conducted sinister experiments in the name of science.

As she investigates, both on her own and with Holmes, she begins to gather a most unlikely group of acquaintances; young women who, like herself, are the daughters, and sometimes test subjects, of this group of mad scientists.  In addition to Diana Hyde, the fourteen year old wild child; there is Beatrice Rappaccinni, whose breath is literally poisonous; Catherine Moreau, a young woman who began life as a puma; and Justine Frankenstein, the incredibly strong but gentle giant of a woman.   Together these young women will face dangers that would have most men quaking in fear, and ultimately form an alliance of their own, The Athena Club.

The author of this book used a most interesting device, of having the “characters” chime in from time to time, helping with the narration and arguing how best to tell the story.  I found it rather humorous, having various characters argue with Catherine, the supposed writer, but these interruptions assisted in further developing the relationships between the various cast, and bringing to light the story that was being told as if it happened in their not-too-distant past.

This book did contain quite a bit of world-building, as this is the first book in a series, but what a world!  Each character, a “self-proclaimed” monster, tells her own story of her father’s experiments which led to her own creation.  The setup of all these backstories, however, prove to be integral to the plot of both the book and the series, as much information is uncovered that leads to the circumstances of the “current” murders, taking place in White Chapel, a.k.a. Jack the Ripper.  The resolution of the Ripper cases are somewhat secondary to the plot, though, as the ladies and Sherlock agree, the “stranger than fiction” crimes cannot be shared with the public, for the danger it would present to the group.

Though there are elements of the paranormal in this novel, and despite the players, this is not a horror story, but rather chronicles the beginning of a most unusual “club,” the victims and survivors, even if they themselves and others might call them monsters.  I award this book four stars, and would recommend it to any readers who love strong female characters, especially those from the Victorian era, as well as fans of Sherlock Holmes-style mysteries, paranormal stories, and urban fantasy.

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : City of Endless Night

City of Endless Night by Douglas Preston
City of Endless Night (Pendergast, #17) by

Douglas Preston (Goodreads Author), and Lincoln Child
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Jan 29, 2019

This latest installment of the long-running series starring Aloysius X. L. Pendergast, oft-rogue FBI agent, is unlike so many of the authors’ previous works.  Fans of the series have come to expect Pendergast to delve into cases that flirt with the mystical, occasionally delve into the paranormal, and frequently feature macabre murders and even creepier villains.

I am happy to report that while City of Endless Night breaks this mold, the story does not suffer for it in terms of action, suspense, and chilling details.

Pendergast, ably aided by sometimes-partner Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta of the NYPD, investigate a series of murder/decapitations that present more questions with each subsequent victim.  Is there one killer at work? Two?  A copycat?  Or even more?  The bodies pile up, the suspects dry up, and D’Agosta feels the pressure from the mayor and the police brass, but he’s left flailing by Pendergast who is inexplicably off his usual game.

The novel lacks Pendergast’s usual trip into his mind palace to find hidden clues; instead the preternaturally cognizant detective seems distracted, even disinterested at the beginning of the story.  This turn of events actually helps the plot though; no hint of the actual killer is given until three-quarters of the way through the book.

What follows is sheer classic Pendergast-a manhunt with an intelligent, cunning, and utterly ruthless murderer who seeks the ultimate “big game” hunt, pitting himself against a quarry he considers worthy of his attention, Pendergast himself.

I award this latest Pendergast thriller five stars, and am happy that although this is the seventeenth addition to the series, the authors have found a way to keep the characters fresh, and the plot both entertaining and unpredictable.

 

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : My Grave Ritual

My Grave Ritual by G.S. Denning
My Grave Ritual by

50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review

Jan 15, 2019  ·  edit

This third installment of the author’s paranormal parody of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective features Warlock Holmes, a hapless, frequently helpless practitioner of dark arts who is riddled with demons that occasionally prove useful, but more often threaten the sanity of Dr. John Watson, who is not the sidekick, thank you very much, but the real brains behind the crime-solving duo.

This anthology of short stories is based off Conan Doyle’s originals, but in this version the separate cases tie closely together to reveal a larger plot that is hinted at throughout the book.  Nightmarish prophecies where living porcelain dolls reveal a ritual that portends someone’s death and the escape of the disembodied Moriarty, cast out of Holmes at the end of the last volume, spells impending doom if Holmes and Watson cannot solve the mysteries, capture the mastermind, and save the world in time.

All of Conan Doyle’s most notable characters are present, though some in altered form.  Scotland Yard Inspectors Lestrade and Greggson come to call, though their non-human natures, a vampire and troll respectively, offer complications that Conan Doyle never envisioned.  Mrs. Hudson is her mirror opposite in every way, and street urchin Wiggles, in this version a lycanthropic shape-shifter, also pop in to add to the mayhem.

“The Woman,” a.k.a Irene Adler, makes multiple appearances, but this time it is hopeless romantic Watson who is obsessed with her, to the point of his foretold and inevitable “death” at the end of this volume.  Time will tell if mortal Watson’s death “takes” or is somehow retracted by Holmes, especially as the next volume of the series, The Sign of the Nine, is due out in April of this year.

G. S. Denning does an admirable job of copying Conan Doyle’s style along with the language and mannerisms of 1890s London, while adding his own unique twists and turns to the genre. As a long-time fan of all things Holmesian as well as paranormal stories, I greatly enjoyed the two previous volumes in the author’s series, A Study in Brimstone and The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles, and look forward to the next two planned volumes. I give My Grave Ritual five stars, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a spoof of Sherlock Holmes, paranormal stories, or just a light-hearted take on detective fiction.

Amy Caudill’s Reviews : Wicked Deeds

Wicked Deeds by Heather Graham
Wicked Deeds (Krewe of Hunters, #23) by

Heather Graham (Goodreads Author)
50275498

Amy Caudill‘s review
A romantic getaway for a just-married couple, an historic Baltimore restaurant, and a murder makes for a typical beginning for this 23rd installment of the author’s Krewe of Hunters series. The series focuses on a team of FBI agents, all whom possess to some degree abilities to see, hear, and interact with the dead, and use these special “gifts” to unravel murders that local police and other agencies cannot solve.

What sets this novel apart from the rest of the series is the strange dreams, followed by waking encounters, with the ghost of a most famous historic personage, Edgar Alan Poe himself. Poe is a regular visitor to the Black Bird restaurant, which is dedicated to his life and work, and is the home of The Blackbird Society, a Poe fan group. When the restaurant becomes the scene of the murder of another, modern famous author, Poe volunteers to assist agent Griffin and historian and future-agent Vickie with the case.

As the members of The Blackbird Society insist on “helping”, Griffin and Vickie cope with multiple séances, more murders and disappearances, and a trip to a house that could have come straight out of a Poe short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” As they unravel the clues to the modern murders, Vickie finds strange links between the modern cases and the mysterious circumstances surrounding Poe’s own death, which the ghostly author cannot consciously recall.

I thought this novel was by far one of the most engaging books by author Heather Graham I have read in some time. The premise of the story, while in lines with the successful series, contained more originality and twists and turns than some of the prior books in the series. Her protagonists are always likeable, but it is rare that the multiple secondary characters and antagonists, such as socialite and would-be seer Liz Harcourt, are portrayed with such depth of development. The characterization of Poe himself was equal parts comic-relief and intrigue that makes the reader ponder the various theories concerning his mysterious demise.

The only issue I had with Wicked Deeds is in the final chapter, which seemed overly drawn out and forced in length. While it was nice to see the characters have some closure, this particular scene seemed a little superfluous, especially after the level of excitement that preceded it. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book, and give it five stars, with recommendations for any reader who enjoys paranormal/urban fantasy/murder mystery/romantic stories.