One Paw Up for Nick and Noel’s Christmas Playlist by Codi Hall 

Let me begin by saying this book is atrocious. However, it was everything I needed to stay sane while my cat was dying and after we had to put her to rest. Lil Bootz, my editorial assistant, was quickly taken away from us by this horrible monster called congenital kidney failure, and I’m not processing any of this well. That is why I can’t listen to anything but brainless fluff until my world uprights itself again. Thankfully, Codi Hall helped stop the downward spiral by giving me 10-plus hours (soooooo many hours) of excessive push-and-pull romantic shenanigans with mean-girl antics and frat-daddy bro-banter. Like I said, it’s atrocious, yet oddly cathartic. 

Here’s what I liked: The brainless storyline that took zero brain cells to follow. While my mind kept torturing itself with the things I should’ve done differently to save my Lil Bootz—or the things I wish I did on her very last day—I missed out on some of the story unfolding between the hapless young lovers. Yet that’s totally OK because most of it was filler and repetitive dialogue that totally should’ve been edited out. Winning! Also, I have to admit that some of the dialogue—even the bro humor—made me chuckle just a bit. The best part of this book, or I should say audiobook, are the multiple narrators—absolutely stellar work! Brooke Bloomingdale sounds so much like Brittany Pressley (my all-time favorite narrator), and her narration really saved the whole audiobook. 

Here are my questions: 

Why is Gabbie supposed to be likeable? 

How is Gabbie, the best friend who plays “Switzerland” between Noel and Amber considered to be a good person in this book? I get that she’s getting married, and the bride should get her way, but isn’t it just plain cruel to ask your very bestest friend in the world to “play nice” and coordinate excessive bridesmaid activities with her high school bully??? Amber is nothing more than the cliched sadistic mean girl who will stop at nothing to sabotage and humiliate Noel. Everyone is aware of this, but yet Gabbie does the whole “can’t you just play nice for little old me and my wedding” thing, putting Noel in a position of failure. Ugh. I can’t. 

Where is the music? 

Given the title and cover depicting a playlist theme, you would think this book would be steeped in symbolic musical references and musings about artists and lyrics. Nope! The whole playlist theme is just a gimmick to catch readers’ eyeballs, and it worked for me because I’m a sucker. I mean, yeah, there were a few scenes where Nick or Noel would interrupt something by dropping each other a Spotify song, but that’s kind of it. The author summed up the plot-points at the very end (not a spoiler, I promise!) by reading off the songs on their Christmas playlist as a way of saying “Oh yeah, don’t forget that this is a ‘playlist’ music-themed book.’” Big eye-roller, I know. 

What’s with the anti “girly girl” vibe? 

Apparently, we are all supposed to like Noel because she’s sooooo not into girly things. She’s a tomboy who just likes to hang with the guys, which makes her so very special and unique from the rest. All the other girls with their painted nails and accessorized outfits are just a dime-a-dozen, but not our rough-and-tumble, Noel! Y’all, this trope needs to end. There’s nothing wrong or unlikable about enjoying makeup, spa days, shopping and all the fun, frilly things we like to do to spoil ourselves. Noel is just so very special because she doesn’t care about diamonds or eyeshadow, but she’s also a big drag who sets impossible standards for herself and others. It’s tragic that she lost both of her parents at a young age, but is it really logical to avoid getting hurt again by swearing off marriage or any romantic relationship ever? If you’re nodding, I’m just going put it out there that talk therapy is a good thing. If you’re actively setting up barriers that keep you from living your best life, get some professional help! 

What’s with the false advertising? 

First off, if you’re looking for a festive, Christmassy setting, find another book. There really isn’t a hint of Christmas in this thing until the very end. Also, PLEASE NOTE that this is not a G-rated Hallmark romance with fade-to-black love scenes. I’m totally fine with all the swear words, but the pornographic scenes were not my cup of tea. I’m in grieving right now, so this is NOT what I want…now or ever. I’m just not into X-rated books unless if it involves the Black Dagger Botherhood, so no thanks. 

Will I read a book by this author again? 

I’m going to say no for now. I do love the mindless entertainment that keeps my brain and heart from shattering. However, I’m not really a fan of gimmicks and descriptive sex scenes that don’t involve vampires or werewolves. That said, my Audible Plus account gives me these things for free, so maybe I’ll give this author one more shot down the road. I mean, you can’t argue with free, right? 

Summer’s Edge by Dana Mele

The gist: In the wake of a fatal tragedy, a group of frenemies get together at their favorite summer-time lake house/mansion. Eerie happenings ensue when the a vengeful spirit leaves cryptic messages in the dead of night. Someone or something caused that fire and the culprit might be among them…dum dum duuuuuuuum! 

What I liked: Well..to be honest, I didn’t like much about this book except for the cover. When I saw this beautiful hardback on the “Spooky Reads” endcap at BookPeople, I just had to have it! Let’s see…what else? I guess the isolated lake house setting was cool and creepy, but that’s about it. 

What irked me: All the bickering!!! Aside from innocent animals getting killed in horror stories (thankfully, that didn’t happen in this one), my biggest pet peeve is incessant bickering and petty arguments amongst insufferable teenagers. While reading this, I kept wondering WTF did these people agree to get together when they clearly despise one another? And why return to the scene of a horrific tragedy? Why not just reunite at, say, a Dave N Busters or something? To be fair, the author answered this question in the very end, and I’m really surprised I even made it that far. 

The multiple narrators: This book is primarily told by Chelsea, who is beset by psychological trauma in the aftermath of the fire that killed her childhood friend Emily. Then it flits from one narrator to the next–and good luck trying to tell them all apart because their voices all sound the same. We’ve got the creepy loner guy, Ryan; the rich girl and hostess with the mostest, Kennedy; and Mila, the interloper who nobody wants around except for her problematic boyfriend, Chase. And yes, there is a love triangle. Sorry, just had to warn you in advance…groan.

The whodunnit: In the vein of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” we’re dealing with a whodunnit involving a dead girl who may or may not have been the victim of premeditated murder. This is probably the best aspect of the entire book, but I pretty much saw the “Gotcha!” plot-twist ending well before the final chapters, so no shockers for me. 

Overall: If you’re looking for a campy, spooky lake house mystery, I suggest giving this a pass and picking up “The Lake” by Natasha Preston. Or, if you really want to scare yourself silly with a lake house-themed horror story, I HIGHLY recommend “Where They Wait” by Scott Carson.

Clown in a Cornfield 2: Fendo Lives! by Adam Cesare

Let me start on a positive note. I love a good horror story set amidst the backdrop of a creepy cornfield. I picked up the first installment of Clown in a Cornfield in an effort to chase that same chilling high I got from tale of Harold the killer scarecrow. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark fans, you know who I’m talking about! Although Frendo the Clown can’t hold a black-flaming candle to Harold, he still delivered an entertaining romp around the cornfields in the first installment. This second book, however, was a mess–and by “mess,” I mean the polar opposite of scary.

Gripe No. 1: The multiple POVs made the story choppy and the characters both unlikeable and uninteresting. I mean, they weren’t that great in book one either, but I gave them a pass because this is a slash-and-stalk, a genre that doesn’t spend much time on character development. You have to accept it for what it is, right?

Gripe No. 2: This book is a slooooooow burn, but not in a good way. The action doesn’t really start until you get halfway through the many chapters of whiny teenage angst. At this point, I was rooting for the multiple copycat clowns to end it all. Confession: I got about 80% through this thing until I had to pluck it in the DNF pile.

Gripe No 3: The pitiful attempt at character development involved too many scenes of bickering teenagers who forged their unlikely romance in the first book, a side-plot that I just didn’t care to remember. Frendo really needed to step it up fast to save me from the boredom of insecure puppy love drama.

Gripe No. 4: Here’s my biggest gripe of all: This book is social commentary in the guise of a horror story. I get it, we live in a F***ED up society full of fake news, proud boys and Trumplicans. Turn on the news and you’ll see we’re living in a dystopian story with all the weirdos drinking the Fox News Kool-Aid. I like to read books to escape our sad reality, not to be beaten over the head with the author’s political agenda. In all honesty, I lean the same way as this author; I just didn’t like the way he shoehorned his politics into what’s supposed to be a campy horror story about a killer clown. I just want a mindless slash-and-stalk in a creepy cornfield. Is that too much to ask???

Thanks for reading my soapbox rant. I would love to know your thoughts as well, so post a comment!

The Children on the Hill by Jennifer McMahon

The gist: Inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this time-skipping monster-hunting story revolves around the Vi, Eric and Violet—the grandchildren of a prominent scientist who runs a treatment facility for the mentally ill. Their story slowly unfolds as the chapters jump from their childhood years in the late 1970s to their middle-age lives in 2019. In between chapters, we get snippets from a true crime-type novel documenting the horrific happenings up on that hill those many years ago. Obviously, things didn’t end well for the adventurous grandchildren, but you’re going to have to wait until the very end to find out what went down. Trust me, it’s worth the wait!

What I liked: OK, so I know a lot of reviewers knocked this book for being disjointed with the time-hopping chapters, but I rather liked this rhythm and flow. In one chapter, I’m hunting for monsters with a bunch of pre-teens, and then I’m whisked into year 2019 with the grown-up Liz, who is now a renowned monster hunter podcaster. I’m a big fan of paranormal podcasts, so this added an intriguing element to the story. And, as always, the author did an incredible job painting the scene with the spooky backdrop of the backwoods of Vermont….where the evil “Rattling Jane” roams.

What irked me: I promise, this isn’t a spoiler, but there was a kissing scene between the two “sisters” that didn’t make any sense whatsoever. I have nothing against girl-girl kissing scenes, but I just don’t know how this added to the story. It just seemed like something the editor could’ve cut out since it just came out of nowhere for no reason. Am I missing something here?

Overall: As with all of Jennifer McMahon’s books, this is an atmospheric, creepy read for spooky season. She even throws in an eerie urban legend involving a witchy woman made of fish bones and moss who crawls out of the lake to drag children into a watery grave—ooooooooh! That’s what I love about her books—she always weaves in a creeptastic urban legend that will forever haunt my dreams. There’s also a plot twist that most readers probably won’t see coming. I am rather proud to say that I had it figured out…well, mostly…but there were still a few more surprises I didn’t see coming in the final chapters.

Joyland by Stephen King

Oh my word, what a story! I finished this thing in two days, which is rare for a Stephen King book because the man writes loooooong! This is just a beautiful, nostalgic coming-of-age mystery/drama that had me hooked from chapter one. I’ll break it down for you like this:

The nostalgia: The book is narrated by a hapless, heartbroken college kid who’s in that sweet pocket of time that I like to call “real world limbo.” It’s that point in time we all take for granted when we’re fresh out of high school, working minimum-wage jobs we don’t care about, and still enjoying those carefree days before the nine-to-five desk job dominates your life. Maybe that’s why this book really hit home for me. The main character, a temp summer carnival worker, and his fellow college friends are having their one last hurrah or as Stephen King says, “that last good time” before heading off into adulthood.

The main character: I loved Devin as well as his little circle of friends who took him under their wing. If anyone other than Stephen King created this character, he would probably come off as really annoying goody-two-shoes. He’s just that all-around good guy who works hard, loves his girlfriend with all his heart, and takes joy in doing the hokey pokey dance for little kiddos in a sweltering dog suit. Of course, he’s not all sunshine and roses because, with all Stephen King characters, he has some serious demons to conquer, mainly his inability to get over a traumatic breakup. Poor guy just needs all the hugs!

The supernatural element: Stephen King gave his horror fans a little something-something by adding a dark twist to the carnival’s horror house. Legend has it, the dark ride is truly haunted by the ghost of a murdered girl—and her killer is still on the loose! If I worked at this carnival, you better believe I’d be investigating this spooky business!

The murder mystery: Even though the murder mystery didn’t really get cooking until the last third of the book, I’m good with it. Have patience, my friends, and you’ll see the climactic surprise ending is certainly worth the wait. It’s a fun whodunnit that may or may not surprise you, depending on your sleuthing skills.

The love story: I promise, no spoilers, but I will say Devin did find love toward the end. He even befriends a little dying boy with supernatural gifts—a Stephen King trademark that I know and love!

This is one of those books that I was truly sad to put down. Here’s hoping Stephen King will write a spinoff one of these days!

The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay

The gist: The story follows the life and times of Art Barbara, starting from his high school days through middle age. Written as a memoir, the book chronicles Art’s many struggles, including his decades-long sort-of toxic friendship with a goth/hipster girl named Mercy. Since the first day she joined his Pallbearers Club (a most intriguing extracurricular activity, I might add!), it’s anyone’s guess if she’s a friend or foe. But then again, that could be said about most people, eh? They just don’t wave as many red flags out in the open. But I digress. This girl is truly odd, and as the story progresses, you may start wondering if she may in fact be an evil incarnation of a 19th century vampire—dum dum duuuuuum!

What I liked: As you flip through the pages, you’ll see Mercy’s red-inked notes scattered throughout the margins. Somehow, she got ahold of this manuscript before it went to press, and she has a few things to say! This was a brilliant move on the author’s part because her side-jabs added some humor to many pages of dark, troubled ruminations. And just when you think you might have Mercy or Art Barbara figured out, the annotations will add another twist, leaving you with even more questions.

The scare factor: I’ll admit that I’m still chasing that high I got from “Head Full of Ghosts.” Even though this one wasn’t as spooky, there were some disquieting elements that gave me the willies. Do any of these bizarre events have anything to do with the supernatural? Maybe. Rationalists (like my husband) will chalk it up to paranoia. But, since I still hold true to the belief that the headless horseman spirited Ichabod Crane away on that fateful Halloween night, I’m banking on supernatural forces here. But that’s the kind of reader I am. It’s really up to the readers to choose their own adventure!

What irked me: So, I must confess. I’m not a music aficionado, so a lot of the punk rock references were lost on me. Reviewers have surmised that Art Barbara and Paul Tremblay are one and the same, and perhaps that’s true. Obviously, Mr. Trembley is a punk rock maven and grew up listening to this music. So yeah, there were many pages devoted to rock and punk and garage band stuff that didn’t really interest me. However, I did appreciate his reference to Rocket from the Crypt—and oldie but goodie from my San Diego days! Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy punk music. My eyes just glaze over when people start going on and on about the nuances of the genre and blah, blah, blah…snore.

Overall: A reviewer once said that looking for answers in a Paul Tremblay story is like trying to hold water in your hands. I couldn’t think of a better analogy to describe his style. Was this book meandering and a tad overindulgent? Perhaps. Yet, I somehow read it in one day! Seriously, y’all, I could not put this thing down because I kept searching for answers behind all of the bizarre happenings—from the levitating dresser to the animated jackets to the polaroid photos with ghostly green blobs. Did I get my answers? No, but I do have some theories.

Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade by Nancy Springer

Disclaimer: Snaps to the publisher and to NetGalley for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Synapsis: Our sassy, headstrong teenage sleuth, Enola Holmes, is practically all grown up! Where does the time go? She’s living independently in a boarding house of sorts with a bunch of likeminded women who refuse to bow down to the patriarchy—YA YA, sistas! This time around, she’s on a mission to rescue her good friend Lady Cecily, who’s on the run from her nefarious father/prison guard. It’s up to Enola to rescue her poor friend from a life of sadness and confinement.  

What I liked: If you’re a fan of audiobooks, the narrator is top notch! Also, it’s just a little over four hours long—perfect for those long commutes.  Also, the cover art is gorgeous!

Thoughts on the mystery: Actually…correct me if I’m wrong, but this isn’t really a mystery, is it? From what I gather, this is just a wild goose chase for a mentally ill girl who is trying to escape the clutches of her sinister father. I mean…I guess there was sort of mystery happening on the down low regarding the father’s side-hustle, but really this story is just one big chase scene across the streets of London. I couldn’t’ really get into it, mainly because Cecily wouldn’t let anyone help her. Also, I’m just pain exhausted.

Thoughts on the main character: Enola is everything a young girl should strive to be—and more. She’s bright, ambitious, headstrong and always up for a challenge. But here’s the thing: Enola—and so many other Victorian era characters crafted by modern day writers—is highly anachronistic. It’s nice to think that women back then so brazenly fought against the patriarchy, took their careers by the horns and championed social justice with the moxie of a 21st century feminist. But let’s be honest; aside from a few exceptions, this was not the norm. It also gives young readers a very skewed version of women’s history. I’ve seen this trope in so many other Victorian era mysteries and it’s rather annoying. I think these books would be more believable if these characters were plopped into Victorian London via a time machine. Otherwise, it’s kind of hard for me to buy any of this.

Pro tip: I read this out of sequence and quickly learned these books need to be read in chronological order. Do not attempt to read this as a standalone because you will get lost!  

Fun trivia fact: Did you know that left-handed women were considered unhinged and untrustworthy back in the day? That’s just one fun fact I learned while reading about the ambidextrous Lady Cecily.

Overall: If you’re a fan of this series, this book is for you. Enola is just as quirky as ever and always two steps ahead of her famous brother. However, if you’re looking for a good whodunnit, you’ll be sorely disappointed in this installment.

Read It or Stream It? Love & Gelato

I’m not even going to sugar coat this for you guys; the Netflix movie was a DISASTER! They turned a beautiful book about a girl’s journey of healing and self-discovery into a romcom about a goofy teenager (more like a terrible two-year-old) caught up in a love triangle! No, just no. Everything about the main character was terrible, particularly her constant temper tantrums. That’s not how it went down in the book, people! Please do not watch this movie and vow to never read the book. I promise you, the book is nothing like this Netflix botch-job. Hell, they didn’t even set it in the same city for reasons unknown. Aside from a few problem spots, this is a quality read that is sure to satisfy escapists like me who yearn for world travel but prefer to do it vicariously through books. Hey—airfare is expensive! And then there’s the actual awful experience of airports and security checks. Na-Ma-Stay at home with my books, thanks.

Why I liked it: I’m a sucker for “girl abroad” books and have been chasing that high I got from 13 Little Blue Envelopes for quite some time. Finally, I found another fantastic summertime escapade to Europe, this time in Florence, Italy! I loved traveling with Lina and Ren (her soccer-playing love interest) on their motorcycle adventures as they trapsed across the city on clue-solving missions. If this was a book about a girl falling in love in Italy, I would’ve given it a hard pass, but this one is all about the mystery of Lina’s recently deceased mother. Why did she send Lina to live with a father in a foreign country–a father she never knew existed? And why couldn’t she have at least warned her that he lived in a cemetery??? I mean, she had some time on her deathbed to share some of this pertinent information, so why all the secrecy??? To be honest, I’m still a little mad about that, which brings me to my next section…

What irked me: All the miscommunication and secrecy!!! My God, it makes zero sense why Lina’s mother would leave her in the dark about her baby daddy. Did she just assume it would be better for Lina to read about it all in her journal? If so, that’s really lame. And let’s talk about the journal for a moment. When Lina arrives at the cemetery house, she is given her mother’s journal, which contains everything she needs to know about what went down in Italy those many years ago. What does Lena do? She obsesses about her mother’s past, but yet she can only read the journal in tiny little increments. While the answers are all just right under her fingertips, she spends her days in turmoil agonizing about what happened. To get answers, she makes Ren drive her around the city and go on desperate scavenger hunts for clues—clues that are all there for the taking in THE DANG JOURNAL!!! So yeah, this part really bugged me.

Thoughts on the main character: I have lukewarm feelings for Lena, mainly because she was just a little too aloof around Howard, the mysterious new dad. He tried so hard to make her feel comfortable in her new home, but she just kept blowing him off. Until the concluding chapters, she only asked him a couple very tentative questions about her mother, which kind of drove me bonkers. You’re desperate for answers and this man is the key! Also…have I mentioned the journal???

Thoughts on the setting: I loved, loved, loved that Lena’s new home was situated smack dab in the middle of a WWII memorial cemetery. It was interesting to see how, during the healing process, she started to see this place as less creepy and more peaceful and homelike. I really thought this symbolism of bereavement and healing was really beautiful. Of course, the movie had to be as generic as possible, so they stripped this part out and plunked loudmouth, goofball Lina in Francesca’s opulent apartment. Mind you, Francesca, her mother’s old college friend, didn’t even have a big role in the book. . This is a story about father-daughter bonding, and they couldn’t even get that right. But moviemakers do what moviemakers do, I suppose

The romance: I do love a splash of romance in YA stories, so I enjoyed Lina and Ren’s blossoming love affair. However, I could’ve done without the third potential suiter. Love triangles are annoying for so many reasons—one being the leading lady gets super annoying with her indecision. I hated how Lina strung the other guy along when she knew full well that she only had lukewarm feelings toward him at best. Really, this book would’ve been better without that unnecessary tension. The mystery of her mother was enough to keep me reading.  

Overall: If you love Italian escapades, fun summer reads and gelato, you really must read this book. It’s not perfect, but well worth a read. I must warn you though, you will be yearning for gelato, cannoli and all the sugary sweets while reading this thing!

CeeCee’s Summertime Spookies

In CeeCee’s world, the Fourth of July is all about ghosts, goblins and hot summer storms…not so much those loud, obnoxious fire hazards called fireworks. Seriously, y’all, most of us are living in hot, dried out tinderboxes these days, so let’s cool it with the pyrotechnics. Also, that shit is obnoxious AF.

Either way, I digress. Here, CeeCee has rounded up her favorite horrific summertime tales. Read on…if you dare!!!

For Campy Horror Movie Buffs

How great is this cover?!

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

This is a fun summer read for fans of Goonies, Stand by Me, and It. The author took his time with the setting and really lured me into the sleepy Midwestern town where kids filled their long summer days playing pickup baseball, riding around town on bikes and poking around in forbidden places. I also really enjoy a good campy horror movie setting, which this book delivers in spades. There’s a lot of creepy stuff happening to these kids. There’s reanimated corpses, a demonic truck driver, gun-toting bullies and the Mount Everest of haunted schools! A word to the wise: Read this with the lights on.

It by Stephen King

 I’ll start off by saying that the new movies are the perfect blend of camp and cheese, yet they don’t hold a candle to this massive tome. I mean, how could they? Stephen King took his sweet time with every character, allowing me to almost become one with all the kiddos. In horror stories, this is crucial because the fear isn’t real unless you can truly get inside the characters’ minds. And trust me, there are some truly frightening scenes involving oodles of monsters and ghoulies. Just to name a few, we’ve got Frankenstein’s monster, a man-eating bird, a pervy homeless leper — even an animated Paul Bunyan statue. Mister King really pulled out all the stops on this one! My only gripe is that he needed to rethink that concluding chapter, which was beyond cringe…and not in a fun spine-tingling way.

For the Disney Fans

The Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall

There’s no denying that The Watcher in the Woods is one of the darkest, spookiest Disney movies ever made. The old, paled-faced Bette Davis shrouded in black, the isolated estate surrounded by dark woods, the clairvoyant little girl – everything about it gave me the willies back when I was a kid. Oh heck – who am I kidding? This movie still gives me nightmares! The little hairs on the back of my neck still stand on end when I think about the funhouse scene where a blind-folded Karen appears in the mirror maze mouthing the word “help.” Or when the little bratty sister falls into a trance and writes the name “Karen” backwards on a dusty window. And who can forget the motorcross scene where a message from beyond saves Jan from getting reamed by a flying motorcycle? Go here to read my book v. movie comparison.

For the Forever Young Adults

Camp So-and-So by Mary McCoy

Magic and mayhem ensue as five cabins of campers fight for their lives in a series of paranormal events. Controlled by nefarious puppet masters, they must outsmart the evil overlords in order to survive. Very “out of the frying pan into the fire.” This book is nothing if not imaginative! It reads like a play, complete with a mysterious all-omniscient narrator, opening scene descriptions and theatrical actors. I’ve never read anything like this, so hats off to the author for pulling off a new and daring concept!

Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn

This right here might be Mary Downing Hahn’s best piece of work! I love everything about this book—the murder mystery, the secretive small townsfolk, the spooky dilapidated theme park—it’s all good fun! I also just love a summer story involving kids tooling around town on their bikes looking for adventures and mysteries to solve. I really enjoyed watching the friendship flourish between the adorkable boy next door (think Kimmy Kibbler meets Erkle) and the new kid on the block Logan. They make a great crime-solving team, and I really enjoyed tagging along on their adventures!

Deep, Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn

The illustrious Mary Downing Hahn is the Barbara Michaels of children’s books. I’ll download one of her titles whenever I have a hankering for a gothic ghost story devoid of predictable romance. As expected, this book is heavy on atmosphere and light on the mystery. But hey, this is for middle-grade readers, so I’m not going to hate too much on the plot twist. I will say that any astute ghost story aficionado will immediately figure out the situation with Sissy, the world’s worst girl-next-door who will never go away. Seriously, she makes Kimmy Kibbler of Full House look like a respectable houseguest, and that’s not OK! Aside from my gripes, this is a great G-rated book for young readers who, like me back in my misspent youth, like to walk on the dark side. Parents, have no fear! I’ve seen scarier Scooby Doo cartoons, but the gloomy scenes in the overgrown graveyard and on the misty bank of the haunted lake were enough to give me the shivers on a hot summer’s day.

The Lake by Natasha Preston

This book is on the short list for my top scary summer reads due to the nostalgic summer camp setting and the whole Fear Street vibe. The whodunnit guessing game was fun, and I really liked playing along with the conspiracy theory game. Could the killer be in cahoots with the uptight camp director in high-waisted shorts? Or could it be the hunky CIT’s with questionable backstories? Maybe it’s the quiet, Nervous Nelly CIT with secrets to hide? The ending had me…what are the kids saying these days…all shook! I really thought I had the conspiracy theory all worked out, but then the author ripped the rug out from under me with the grand finale! 

San Francisco Book-cation Extravaganza!

Last month, this lucky girl left her heart in San Francisco—land of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Painted Ladies, China Town and ALCATRAZ!!! Weeks leading up to this extremely exciting getaway, I had to methodically plan out my trip with a San Fran-themed reading list complete with ghosts, legends, mystery and mayhem. Since it has always been my dream to visit The Rock (aka Alcatraz), I had to bone up (see what I did there?) on its haunted history, and let me tell you, that foreboding behemoth structure breathes new meaning to the phrase “if these walls could talk.”

Here are a few books from my San Francisco reading extravaganza:

Alcatraz Believe it or Not by TC Baker

This was a score at the local bookstore that I fortuitously stumbled upon at the Ferry Building! This book is made for kids, so you’re not going to find anything too frightening, but some of the chapters hit on very creepy aspects of the island, such as the shrunken Peruvian princess head and random bits of bones that landed on the island back in the 1800s when some sea merchants slipped up and purchased a bag of bones instead of salts. Yikes! There’s also some really great stories and illustrations describing a myriad of ill-fated jail breaks. My favorite escape attempt involved some very creative arts-and-crafts projects, which included fake dummy heads with real hair collected from the barbershop (gross!), and makeshift wooden fins for swimming the torrential waters. If you find yourself on Alcatraz, do yourself a favor and purchase this book from their little gift store. It’s a great entertainment for the plane ride back—and you’re also helping out the National Parks Service—win-win!

Check out some footage from my own little jaunt around the island!

Ghosts and Legends of Alcatraz by Bob Davis and Brian Clune

This is one of the very few books you’ll find about ghosts and legends in San Francisco. I’m not sure why, but there really isn’t much out there for paranormal enthusiasts looking for creepy historical accounts bout the Golden City. So, naturally, I had to book myself a ghost tour so I could hear some stories that would leave me up at night in my hotel room, which by the way was located across the street from the very haunted China Town! But I digress, this book doesn’t cover any of that, but it does hit on some spooky legends and lore tied to Alcatraz Island, some involving a benevolent bigfoot-type monster, others pertaining to ghosts of prisoners who died suddenly or perished after years of isolation and torture.

Sadly, the National Park Service doesn’t indulge in ghost stories, so my self-guided tour was lackluster to say the least. But I did feel the heebie jeebies walking around that place that seemed weighted down with despair. Should I chock this feeling up to the power of suggestion? Maybe, but I do believe in bad energy, the intangible weight in the atmosphere that gets under your skin and raises those little hairs on your arm. Someone once told me, “When you get that hair-raising feeling, so matter how subtle, trust it and get out as soon as you can.”

Either way, this short book is worth your while if you’d like to get a little bit more than that watered-down tour at The Rock. Some of the stories seem a little far-fetched, but a few of the chapters did give me the creeps, especially the one about the dungeon—jeepers!  

More fun movie-making from my adventures on the bay!

Murder in the Balcony by Margaret Dumas

A murder mystery series set at a haunted grand ol’ movie palace in San Francisco? Yes please! This is the second installment in the series, and I am LOVING IT! I’m not even a classic movie buff, but this book had me yearning for a big tub of popcorn and a classic movie marathon night–starting with Roman Holiday. I would love to watch movies all day at Nora Page’s beloved theater and possibly catch a glimpse of Trixie the resident ghost floating by in her old timey usherette uniform!

This is a cozy mystery that follows the standard formula: 30-something woman flees to a new town after a horrible breakup¸ abandons her fast-paced city slicker career, makes new friends, stumbles upon a dead body, etcetera, etcetera. Yet this series stands out from the rest because the amateur sleuth Nora Page is actually likable, and not in a sweet, girl-next-door, Mary Sue kind of way. I just love her passion for old movies and her determination to keep the old theater running in defiance of rapid corporate development. She also has a hilarious, wisecracking sense of humor that she also fuses into her old movie blog, “Movies My Friends Should Watch,” which I discovered is a real thing!

Even if you’re not a fan of the Turner Classics, I highly recommend this series for some fun and fluffy crime-solving in a city filled with history and mystique!

Synchronized Sorcery by Juliet Blackwell

When scouring the cozy mystery bookshelves at Barnes & Noble for the perfect San Francisco-themed whodunnit, I immediately homed in on this awesome cover of a vintage-clad fashionista and her pink pig/hobgoblin amidst the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. And what’s this? A mermaid tail swishing above the sparking waters? I’m so in!

True, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case, I judged correctly! This was, yet again, a solid mystery in the long-running Witchcraft Mystery Series that revolved around the murder of a random guy who rescues pigeons on Treasure Island. Somehow, he’s linked to San Francisco’s underground magical society, but nobody knows why. As our main character, the vintage clothing shop owner/witch Lily Ivory, searches for clues, she finds that they all lead to a group of Hitler fans who seem to be plotting something big.

There’s a lot going on in this book, making it the perfect read for a long plane ride (thankfully direct!) from Texas to San Francisco. I kept pouring through the chapters to get to the bottom of multiple mysteries tied into one—from the case of the mysterious mermaid costume, to the quest for the hobgoblin’s missing mom, to the questionable appearance of Lily’s long-lost brother. Is he a friend or foe? And will he have a hand in the big cataclysmic plot to annihilate the entire city of San Francisco—and maybe even the whole planet? Guess I’ll have to keep reading the series to find out. Darn cliffhangers!