CeeCee’s Roundup of Texified Thrillers

I just love a good mystery set right here in gool ol’ rootin’ tootin’ Texas—land of gunslingers, country crooners, cheap Lone Star beer and old timey honkey tonks. That’s why I always enjoy the Al Quinn thrillers by local author Russ Hall. I also tried out a new author, Celso Hurtado, whose title “Ghost Tracks” caught my eye at BookPeople. How could I not read a paranormal thriller involving a legendary stretch of road in San Antonio? Read on to see if these books might be your cup of Texas tea.

Kiss and Kill in Texas by Russ Hall

The synopsis on the back cover does not lie. This could very well be the most dangerous, dare I say suicidal, mission Al Quinn and his mystery squad, including an infant and a dog, (I’m judging just a tad) have taken on. And let me tell you, they’ve endured countless entanglements with drug lords, mercenaries and psychos. This book involves a nasty crime ring in Port Dexter, and it’s up to Al and his crew to clean up the streets before more unsuspecting tourists end up in Davy Jones’ locker! Eeek!

What I liked: I keep coming back to these books because the author really gives his readers a strong sense of place. I love, love, love that this book takes place in a seedy coastal town right next to Port Aransas. I could practically feel the salty, humid air on my skin and see the rustic shrimp boats out in the distance. Although, believe me, you won’t want to have anything to do with the shrimp boat in this story! I also loved the side characters, especially Luke Boy, who despite his sketchy beginnings became a real asset to the crime-solving team as they kept running out of the fire pan into the fire with gun-toting, missile-launching thugs on their trail.

What irked me: OK, so I know that Al’s squad works as a unit, and every single member of his family are assets…however, I was really judging the new mom, Bonnie, for bringing her baby along on this mission, especially since every past crime-solving voyage has involved countless near-death experiences. Also, Tanner the dog really should’ve sat this one out. I know their Lake Travis homestead was ransacked by killers early on, but couldn’t the new mom and children be dropped off somewhere safe?

Overall: Normally I don’t read action thrillers, but the Al Quinn mysteries are always a good time! Yes, I was judging Bonnie for bringing her baby along, but other than that little grievance, I rather enjoyed this thrill ride. The pacing just keeps ratcheting up, and you will not want to put this thing down until the evil criminal mastermind is taken down for good! Also, might I add that the writing is top notch, and I did not see even one typo! That’s more than I could say for many books I’ve read from the big publishing houses.

The Ghost Tracks by Celso Hurtado

I did a double take when I saw this paperback on the horror shelf at BookPeople. A ghost story revolving around the haunted railroad tracks in San Antonio? Yes, please! I lived in San Antonio for three years and am ashamed to say I never visited that legendary road where people stop their cars and wait for ghost children (the spirits of kiddos who perished in a bus-train collision) to push them across the railroad tracks to safety. My guess is that this road is on an imperceptible incline, but hey who knows? Anyhoo, this book was interesting, and mostly very sad, but it didn’t give me what I wanted.

What I liked: The main characters, two best friends named Erasmo and Rat, are starting up their own ghost-busting business to make ends meet. Such fun! These two are what the kids call “ride or die” BFFs, which I really appreciate. They have each other’s backs…at least until Rat goes rogue, but I’ll save you from spoilers. Either way, these two characters—and all their emotional baggage—are the main reasons why I continued reading this book. I was invested in Erasmo’s quest to pay for his grandmother’s cancer treatments. I felt so much for him and really wanted to see everything work out in the end!

What irked me: I wanted a ghost story, and didn’t get one! This is more of a crime thriller involving two hapless teenage ghost hunters getting tangled up with some shady, shady clients. The author certainly doesn’t shy away from gruesome scenes, but the scares had very little to do with the paranormal. Also, this book is set in San Antonio, but the setting is woefully lacking. The only nods to Texas are some scenes outside the HEB, and maybe a few rides on 410. And the ghost tracks? Not really a big part of the story whatsoever. Big disappointment!

Overall: This book has its share of problems, but the “How’s this going to end?” question kept me from trashing it in the DNF pile. I loved the themes of friendship and family, but the plot was all over the place and the big reveal was super bizarre.

Thirsty Thursday Pick: ‘Death Distilled’ by Melinda Mullet

First, let’s start on a positive note! This is a quality books series with well-drawn characters and a fantastic Scottish setting. I’m loving the slow-burn romance (sans the annoying love triangle trope) between Abi and her whiskey distillery partner, Grant. There’s also an adorable Wheaton terroir named Liam thrown in the mix!

Now I have to keep it real. This is not my favorite installment, mainly because I wasn’t really interested in the plot involving members of a has-been rock band getting killed off by a vengeful murderer.  I didn’t care for the lead rock star, Rory, who enlisted Abi’s help in solving the crimes. I also REALLY didn’t like that he was making the moves on her, especially given his age. If she crushed on him back as a child, wouldn’t’ that make him kind of old? And then there’s his flirty little vixen daughter making the moves on Grant. If she’s in her early 20s, wouldn’t that be a little age inappropriate?

I’m not entirely sure how old our two main characters are exactly, but these brewing romances were giving me the ick. Aside from that, I suppose the mystery aspect of this book was OK. There were a LOT of suspects thrown in the mix, so it was really anyone’s guess whodunnit. The big reveal was kind of a “meh” for me. But what the heck, I’ll give the next book a go because I love the Scottish whiskey distillery backdrop and really want to know when Abi or Grant will make a move!

Four Paws Up for ‘Tell-Tale Bones’ by Carolyn Haines

A big thanks to publisher for offering me an ARC! As with all of Sarah Booth Delaney’s adventures the deep South, this one did not disappoint! Returning to this delightful mystery series after a long hiatus really felt like a long-overdue reunion with some old friends. This is the 26th in the series (wow!), and it’s clear that these characters have really come into their own over the decades.

Really, for me, the whodunnit is secondary to the beautiful Zinnia, Mississippi setting, where Sarah and her soulmate Sheriff Coleman Peters ride horses together amidst the rolling green hills to watch the sunrise…ah, such sweet bliss. Might I just add that it is about dang time these two finally got together! Ugh…all that silliness between Sarah and Graf is over and Coleman’s certifiably insane ex-wife is no longer imprisoning him by sheer guilt alone!

As for the cold-case mystery, I really must give it five stars! We’re dealing with a distraught woman looking for her missing daughter, an evil woman abuser with powerful connections, a mysterious raven, and an Edgar Allen Poe theme. The plot thickens when we learn the missing daughter is one of many troubled teens who vanished over the years. The intrigue really had me tearing through the pages until I finally reached the satisfying ending with zero plot holes.

This book really has it all—ghosts, seances, grave diggings and cute animal sidekicks to boot! I just loved this entire adventure and look forward to accompanying my girls, Tinkie and Sarah, as they embark on their next escapade through the Mississippi Delta alongside their fur-babies.

Four Paws Up for ‘Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six’

Wow! It’s been a while since I’ve given a book all the stars, but this one deserves the praise. I’ve never read anything by Lisa Unger before, so I feel like I’ve discovered a new treasure! Here’s my assessment:

What I liked: I really enjoyed the whole “snake in the grass” storyline amidst the backdrop of a secluded, luxurious AirBnB. We’re dealing with three couples—and every single person has something to hide, thus making the reader wonder who’s the most likely to go psycho killer in the end!

The characters: I’m glad I went old school and read the hardback instead of going the usual audiobook route. When we’re dealing with this many characters, it’s easy to get confused, especially when the chapters flit from one character’s perspective to the next. Normally I get tripped up when this happens, but not this time. Each of the characters has a unique voice and backstory, so it was very easy to keep track of who’s who. I found myself very invested in their hardships—and the intrigue (especially with the evildoers) had me glued to the pages!!!

The foreshadowing: The author did an excellent job depicting a foreboding sense of doom right from the get-go with the creepy property owner and his waitstaff. And then there’s the home decor!!! Egads! Would you stay in a place with artwork made out of human bones? I’d be packing my bags and finding a Motel 6! And then, of course, there’s an impending storm that will inevitably trap everyone inside a mansion with a killer—such fun!

The creep-factor: There is a really, REALLY evil person in this book. Their actions really make you ponder the whole “nature vs. nurture” debate. I, for one, believe true evil exists in people despite their upbringings, which seems to be very apparent in this book. I’ll stop here to save you from spoilers!

Overall: This is a high-quality read that took me on a rollercoaster ride that I’d like to jump on again and again. After reading this, I’ll have to rethink ever doing a DNA test. Some Pandora’s Boxes need to stay closed—am I right?

Happy Caturday! One Paw Up for ‘Fat Cat at Large’

Oh wow, this was bad. I mean…how did I not DNF this thing? Sometimes I fall into this weird trap where the book is super bad, but I can’t abort the impending trainwreck. At first, I thought, “OK, the main character is a ditz, and she doesn’t know how to safeguard her cat from roaming free, but it’s a silly cozy mystery, so why not just lighten up?” I tried, y’all, I really did. But it just kept getting worse! If I could be in the room with the MC, Chase, here are a few things I would scream at her face:


Our adorable, pudgy feline sidekick is constantly being transported from the upstairs apartment to the downstairs bakery, which is full of hazards! He keeps getting loose and running across the busy street! And Chase’s dumb s**t business partner keeps feeding him actual dessert bars!!! Just imagine all of the trouble she could’ve avoided if she just kept her kitty safe and secure. She wouldn’t have helped herself into a stranger’s unlocked home (bad idea!) to find a dead body. No, she’d still be baking her hula bars and not worrying about becoming suspect No. 1 in a murder investigation. Pulling a knife out of a dead body at a crime scene is a bad look. Just saying.


Very, very, very little sleuthing is involved here. Chase mainly gets her clues by happenstance wen overhearing conversations. She has all the motive int the world to investigate this thing, but she’s too busy fretting about the town vet’s potential love interest and various other annoying things that grated on my nerves.


Chase is SO obsessed with this red-headed woman who hugged her vet (and potential boyfriend) while he was at work. Apparently, he saved the woman’s dog from certain death after accidentally ingesting a whole chicken. Chase has the AUDACITY to judge this woman for not taking good care of her dog. Meanwhile, she’s constantly searching for her lost cat because she doesn’t have enough sense to keep him in her secured apartment! Ugh…I can’t with her.


Chae, you are the boss lady. That means you can fire employees who are hurting your business! The two girls running the frontlines of the bakery are constantly at each other’s throats and creating a hostile environment for EVERYONE! There’s no way any of my bosses at my post-high school minimum wage jobs would’ve put up with this behavior. There’s also a MAJOR infraction that Chase and her lame business partner chose to overlook, which baffled me to no end.


According to the hot vet, Chase’s cat is on the brink of diabetes. What does her business partner do? She sneaks him dessert bars constantly! Dude…this would make me livid. But yet, Chase doesn’t do anything to stop the insanity. She just keeps toting him down to the bakery office every day knowing he’ll get fed sugary sweets and end up roaming the streets yet again.

I could go on and on about Chase’s ridiculous antics, but that could take all day. Just do yourself a favor and skip this entire series and read a good kitty-themed mystery, with actual sleuthing, by Amanda Flower, Cat Conte or Laurie Cass!

‘Body Positive Power’ is Chicken Soup for My Soul!

I felt so many emotions while listening to this book in the pool during my evening swimmy swim time! Here are just a few: 

Rage against the insidious diet industry that is so deeply embedded in our culture, which means it will probably never die! If I never have to see another depressing “before” and victorious “after” diet promo ever again it’ll be too soon! Why must the “before” pictures looks so dismal? They can’t even crack a smile or wear a cute outfit just because they’re not a size 4? Just do as Megan says: don’t wait to be happy until you have six-pack abs. Life is too short for that nonsense.

Resentment against all the “concerned” family members in my life for shaming my appearance and conditioning me to believe that all fat people are losers to be mocked. 

Resistance against anything—and I mean ANYTHING—that is profiting from the big money-making diet culture business. Just because a “health and wellness” calorie-constricting plan says it’s not a diet, you better believe it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, y’all! 

Sadness for all the “Fitspo” Instagram followers for buying into sham diets and fat-phobic beliefs. 

And most importantly—pride for all the advocates who come out and fight against these messed up systems! Hooray to the Megan Cabbes, the Mernivators and the Aubrey Gordons of the world for starting a new awakening in defiance of the trolls creeping up in their posts!

This book really had me feeling the feels. I hate to use the word “brave” because it can be condescending, but it’s the only adjective I can think of that best describes this author. She really put it all out there, including her really frightening, near-death experience with anorexia. It chills me to think that I almost went down that path while I was religiously following my Weight Watchers points system. I learned later in therapy that, even though I was following the plan, I was most likely anorexic. 

Out of curiosity, I looked at some of the very few negative reviews from others who wanted more guidance for self-acceptance, not “rants” about diet culture. I get that, but it’s so important to understand the systems before you can get to that point of healing. You need to know why these deeply-engrained shameful feelings are perpetuated by our fat-phobic, diet industry obsessed culture. There’s just SO MUCH to unpack, and for me, it has taken years of therapy. And to be honest, I’m still not 100% there yet. I’m still counting calories on Lose It (the free version cause I ain’t giving money to the diet industry any more!) and over-exercising out of guilt from eating a cupcake. Hell, I still can’t even look at myself in the dang mirror! So yeah, I’m a work in progress. Thanks, diet culture. Thanks, crummy family members.

Overall, this book gave me a lot of comfort. We are surrounded with so much fat-shaming noise from our family, our friends, commercials and lousy people shouting insults in the streets. It’s tough out there for us non-skinny folks. When I hear someone say, “Go ahead and wear a crop top,” or “eat what you want without shame,” I feel like I’m being wrapped in a big hug. This really is chicken soup for the soul–and I’m not talking low-cal soup, either! This is the good stuff made by a loving grandmama with all the butter and noodles with some yummy breadsticks on the side!

CeeCee’s Celtic Celebration!

Happy Saint Patties Day to you, lads and lassies! CeeCee and I hope you’re all having a most bonnie day! To make it even bonnie-er (is that a word?), we bring you some picks from our Celtic-themed reading list!

The gist:
In keeping with tradition of her international travels, JB Fletcher happens across a dead body—a murder victim, no less—while enjoying a lovely little bike ride along the rolling hills of the Bushmills. Let’s pause for a moment and reflect. JB is a classy, delightful lady, but she really is the harbinger of death, no? When are people going to wise up and stop inviting her to book festivals and family gatherings? Either way, she’s got a mystery to solve and a web of family drama to untangle involving a big-time business merger and some bad blood with the town doctor. Lots going on here, folks! 

What I liked: Well, I’ll be honest. I didn’t like much about this installment, and I think it has something to do with the new writers. What happened to Donald Bain? I will Google that later. This one was just kind of a snooze fest, but I will say that the writers did an OK job maintaining Jessica’s voice and overall classiness. 

What irked me: Mysteries involving business deals just don’t hold my interest. I found my mind drifting whenever the dialogue shifted to the family’s cosmetic line and….blah, blah, blah. A lot of intricacies were involved in the merger, and my mind just got lost in space. Just not my cup of tea…or Irish coffee, I should say. 

Overall: According to the many rave reviews on Goodreads, this is a fan favorite. I just found it boring and slow moving. It’s lacking the magic and mystique of international travel, and I really wanted more touristy scenes so I could travel vicariously to Ireland—my main bucket list destination! Past MSW books took me to exotic places with colorful taxi drivers, tourist trap shops and delectable restaurants. I guess I’ll just revisit the older books to fill that wanderlust void! 

Dressed to Kilt by Hannah Reed

The gist: The third installment in Hannah Reed’s stellar Scottish Highlands Mystery Series, this book revolves around a murder at a whiskey distillery at a grand family estate. Say no more—you had me at whiskey! Our intrepid American sleuth, Eden Elliot, is at it again. This time she must find out who drowned a woman in a vat of whiskey—and why they had to ruin all that good hooch!!! That’s a whole crime all onto itself if you ask me. Either way, our leading lady must solve this mystery before her tourist visa expires. While the clock is ticking, her quest gets even harder when she discovers the head matriarch of the distillery had alternative motives for beckoning her to the fancy whiskey tasting event—and it all ties back to Eden’s estranged father. 

What I liked: As always, Hannah Reed delivers a most charming mystery in the gorgeous village of Glenkillen and surrounding countryside estates. Oh how I love Scottish mysteries filled with rolling snow-covered hills and quaint villages. I highly recommend listening to this on audio because the narrator has the best Scottish accent, and the lyrical lilt of the male voices make me think of swoony Jamie from Outlander.Such fun! 

Thoughts on the pacing: There is a LOT of intrigue going on here. I couldn’t stop listening until all the clues were uncovered. Why would someone want to off the head matriarch’s sickly, mousey assistant? Who’s leaving her threats? What does this all have to do with Eden’s mysteriously missing father—the man who abandoned her and her dying mother so long ago? And will she ever solve this case and maybe get her smooch on with her love interest before she getting shipped back to America? Will this series continue when she leaves? But she can’t leave because she just adopted an orphaned cat!!! So many questions! 

What irked me: I think authors need to get a little more imaginative with their murder victims when they revolve their stories around beer and whiskey joints. Without fail,  the body gets found in a vat or barrel. It’s getting a little old, folks. Let’s think outside the box…or barrel, I should say. 

Overall: This is a quality series for lovers of Scottish mysteries! It’s always nice to have go-to authors like Hannah Reed, Melinda Mullet and Paige Shelton when you’re in the mood for a Celtic-themed whodunnit!

Three Paws Up for ‘The Other Side of Midnight’

Simone St. James and Wendy Webb are my go-tos when I’m in the mood for a ghostly, atmospheric mystery. This was an instant impulse buy when I saw this cover illustration of a woman in 1920s garb amidst the backdrop of a spooky train station. How could I resist a story about a psychic crime-solver tracking down a killer in WWI London? There’s a killer on the loose targeting psychics, and it’s up to Ellie (a psychic finder of lost things), to solve the mystery before she joins her friends (or frienemies, I should say) behind the veil of the Great Beyond. The storyline is intriguing, but yet I found the suspense to be lacking. I can’t put my finger on why, perhaps I needed more ghosts and less dialogue, or maybe I just wasn’t really feeling the characters. Either way, it was kind of a chore plodding through this thing. Here’s my assessment:

What I liked: As always, the author did a fabulous job delivering a spooky, gothic atmospheric story that immersed me into WWI London. Her descriptions of the foggy streets, sprawling countrysides and dark alleys really transported me to another time and place. I wish Hollywood would cool it with all the Marvel movies and start turning these books into blockbuster films!

What was missing: Oh, I don’t know…maybe some scary ghosts!!! Even though this book is centered around a psychic, she refuses to speak to the dead, which doesn’t make any sense because they can can give her all the answers she needs. Ugh! We do get some ghost action toward the end, but it’s too little too late.

What irked me: The big reveal was a letdown. I feel like I wasn’t give enough clues, and it all kind of morphed into a confusing mess.

Favorite character: I listened to this on Audible, so I’m not sure if I’m spelling his name correctly, but Pickwick, the rescued dog, stole the show! I was kind of “meh” about the main character until she took him in. The characters are all so very haunted and serious, so I appreciated the fun and fluff Pickwick provided.

Overall: This is certainly not Simone St. James’s best book, but I’ll go ahead and give it 3 stars just for the spooky atmosphere alone.

Three Paws Up for ‘From a Paris Balcony’

Greetings from Par-ee! I found this paperback at the grocery store and decided to treat myself to a fun little romance/mystery set in Paris! Ever since watching “Emily in Paris” (shameful, I know!), I’ve been on a Paris kick. Do I love that show? No. However, the scenic backdrops of lavish garden parties, Eifel Tower views and outdoor cafes just transport me to a magical world! And then there’s the sultry men with gorgeous accents…ooh la la.

But I digress! Back to the book. Although this is kind of a slow read, I did enjoy the atmosphere and intrigue. Here’s my assessment:

What I liked: I came for the Parisian escape and the author delivered with her beautiful, lyrical prose. I felt like I was right there with both of the main characters (Louisa circa 1898 and Sarah circa 2015) as they went searching for answers in Paris. It was fun delving into the two different worlds: the modern-day bustling metropolis and the Victorian-era cityscape of bordellos and socialite balls. Wouldn’t this make for an excellent movie? Why must we make do with this “Emily in Paris” vapid drivel to get our fix?

What irked me: To be perfectly honest, I was rather annoyed by the repetitive descriptions of Sarah’s perfect, glossy black bob. I get it, she’s a knockout. All the men want her. Yay for her. Here’s my question: why must the leading lady be stunningly beautiful in order for us to care about her? Why must she exceed society’s unrealistic standards of the feminine ideal? Perfection, in my opinion, is overrated.

What confused me: OK, so I have to point out that Sarah’s living arrangements make no sense! Let me back this up here…so she discovers a letter written by none other than Marthe de Florian (a real historical figure who was a famous Parisian courtesan), she discovers the mystery of her ancestor Louisa’s apparent suicide. She is adamant about staying at Martha’s apartment, and it just so happens she has a friend who can hook her up. The only thing is…a very sexy, famous painter is also staying there. No bother, she’ll just be roomies with him with no push-back whatsoever. Huh? I’m sorry, but this is strange, no?

Overall: Despite some of the …oddities…this story is worth a read for people who enjoy a good historical mystery set amidst the backdrops of Paris and England. The mystery behind Louisa’s “suicide,” kept me intrigued, and I enjoyed Sarah’s investigations at the stately manor where her ancestor once lived. The blue-blood family members are being very tight-lipped about the whole ordeal, and things really get interesting when the skeletons start dancing out of their closet!

Three Stars for ‘I’m Glad My Mom Died’ by Jennette McCurdy

I was so into this book until the end. Ugh…I wanted her to talk about how, after therapy, she reconciled her feelings about her mother and all the harm she caused, but she never went there. With a title like that, you need to do more unpacking! I watched her do a TV interview about this book, and when the reporter asked why she chose that title, she said she wanted to grab people’s attention and sell more copies. That just sounded really cheap to me. It was such a letdown when she didn’t go to the places I wanted her to go.

It would’ve been interesting to read more about Jennette’s post-therapy conclusion after enduring the nightmare of being held hostage for so many years by a horrible, abusive mother. I also found her story lacking in other ways. What was it like for her brothers to grow up in a household where all the attention is directed on Jennette’s rise to stardom? A big chunk of the book follows the mother’s manic passion project–basically a full-time job–of turning her kid into the next Shirley Temple. How was it for her other children? Why was the father so absentee and so willing to stay married to that tyrannical mess of a woman? So many questions!!!

I get that maybe she wanted to protect her brothers’ privacy, but she could’ve added a quick line in there somewhere about why she’s omitting pieces from their story. I’m sure they had their share of suffering in that hoarder house hellscape. Either way, my heart breaks for all of them. She went through so much pain and had to prance around like a perky, blonde girl-next-door on her little TV show. That must’ve been so hard, especially since she didn’t even want to act.

There is a special place in You-Know-Where for that woman who bullied her kid into childhood stardom–and all the trauma that comes from being pushed around a beaten down by Hollywood execs, fans, paparazzi and trolls. Who the hell would want that for their kids? I’m giving this three stars because her extremely candid story can really help girls with eating disorders and/or mean mothers feel seen. I just wish it could’ve delivered more in the end. Also, I don’t recommend getting the audiobook. I was a little put off by Jennette’s monotoned, fast-paced narration. She just gave the impression that she needed to zip through the whole thing and be done with it, which I totally get. It must’ve been so hard for her to read that story out loud.