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.

Fava Bean’s Christmas Reading Roundup Extravaganza!

Ho ho ho! Meowy Christmas to all our dear readers! Today, I would like to introduce you all to my newest assistant editor Fava Bean! She and her sister, Cinnamon, are the newest members of the Bubble Bubble Books and Trouble team, and I’m over the moon to have them on board…even though they are constantly hiding and sleeping on the job. Here are a few hits and misses from our holiday reading list.

The Noel Diaries by Richard Paul Evans

After watching the Netflix movie, I was thrilled to see in the credits that it was based on a book! I love the whole story of self-discovery happening with both the male and female leads—and the mystery of Noel’s whereabouts! There’s romance, mystery and an adorable doggy sidekick! And then there’s the book…oh boy. Judging by another book I read by this author (The Mistletoe Inn), he seems to have a knack for crafting whiny, weak-willed women characters who need a preachy male love interest to help them see the light. In this book, the leading lady, Rachael, is a meek, sweet-natured lady who is clearly not living her best life due to low self-confidence. I much more enjoy the movie version of Rachel, who is ready to take the bull by the horns to find her biological mother—even if it means driving across country solo. The book also lacks the dog sidekick, which was a total bummer. Long story short, the movie was better!

Once Upon a Christmas Carol by Karen Schaler

This was a super cute, albeit predictable, Hallmark Channel-worthy novella (another Audible subscriber freebie) about a pop star who’s aging out of the cruel world of showbiz. While the tabloids are ripping her apart, she’s rekindling her love for Christmas in her quaint small town. There’s a mystery to solve as she keeps finding anonymous Christmas cards with cryptic scavenger hunt clues (such fun!). With some help from her old beau (the one who got away!), she searches for clues and discovers what she wants in life. Have you heard this story before? Probably, but who cares? Tis the season for recycled holiday-themed romance plots!

Slay Bells Ring by Karen Rose Smith

This was my first foray into the Caprice De Luca Home Staging Mysteries and probably my last. Sorry, but I must keep it real with y’all! I loved the cover, but everything else—the story, the characters, the romance—was mediocre at best. I love me some cozy mysteries, but this one was way too paint-by-the-numbers, and the main character was a big time goodie two-shoes. For me, it’s fine for these books to follow the formula as long as they make the characters interesting and likable. Otherwise, I’m bored. Also, (possible spoiler alert) the big reveal was so unfair to the readers. I hate it when some rando gets pegged as the killer. I had to go back to the beginning of the book to figure out who that person was! So not cool.

Rose and Helena Save Christmas by Jana DeLeon and Denise Grover Swank

Ugh…I didn’t like this one. Maybe I’m just not a fan of slapstick comedy, but the zany characters were way too over the top for me. The story follows a foursome of women (including a flamboyantly dressed granny ghost) who haphazardly find themselves in the center of a jewel heist while visiting a psychic shop. This isn’t really a whodunnit, but a series of mad-capped hijinks as the women track down the killer and deal with a horrible redneck sheriff. This played out like a Scooby Doo cartoon in my mind, making me reach for my bottle of Tylenol.

Christmas Cat Café by Codi Gary

My fantasy is to own a cat café here in Austin, but I have no business sense—and have you seen the price of living and renting in this city?! It’s just not pawsible, so the next best thing is to read A Cat Café Christmas! This was surprisingly an enjoyable, Christmassy read, and it really helped me get through my grief so soon after Lil Bootz’s passing. I loved that each chapter started off with a cute little kitty sketch and a bio for an adoptable kitty at the café. There’s a silly little kitten aptly named Chaos who steals the show right at the beginning, filling my crazy cat lady heart with such joy! There’s a enemies-turned-lovers romance brewing between the female and male leads—and also an evil villain waiting to pounce (see what I did here?) on their happiness and destroy the cat café’s reputation. If you’re looking for a sweet holiday romance, this is the cat’s meow! Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Oh, and fun fact: Codi Gary is actually a penname for Codi Hall, so I was surprised by how much I liked this book after reading There’s Something About Merry. I chalk it up to the power of cats!

There’s Something About Merry by Codi Hall

I must confess, I only got through about 80% of this book before I JUST COULDN’T EVEN anymore. The male lead was just too insufferable with all of his self-imposed barriers holding him back from embracing his true love. The book copycats the “You’ve Got Male” plotline of two strangers falling in love over the internet without knowing they already have some sort of relationship in real life. When this idiot realizes his online soul mate is really the woman he loves and wants, he freaks the F**K out and stands her up on their first date. His reasons were asinine, and I had to abort the entire book because redemption just isn’t possible for characters like this. I’m sure they all lived happily ever after, but I honestly don’t care.

Aggie Morton Mystery Queen: Peril at Owl Park by Marthe Jocelyn

Holiday romances can get…shall I say repetitive, so to break up the monotony, I downloaded this fun little middle-grade whodunnit set in jolly ol’ England starring fictional child versions of Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot. The mystery begins when Aggie and her BFF Hector discover a dead body in the library of her sister’s stately manor house. Then, a cursed jewel goes missing and so does its owner! Since the lead detective is a bumbling fool, it’s up to a couple of pre-teens to solve the whole thing. As with the other books in this series, Peril at Owl Park is a charming and puzzling whodunnit, but maybe too puzzling for young readers. With so many characters and intricate clues to tease out, I wonder if this might be a little too much to ask for middle-graders. In fact, I found it to be more puzzling than some of the cozy mysteries I’ve read. Also, I know everyone is cooped up inside due to a raging blizzard, but things were feeling a bit claustrophobic. It would’ve preferred no blizzard (was it really necessary for the plot?), and more scenes of the kiddos running through the snow or visiting the shops in town. Either way, this was a delightful mystery, and I will continue to read more in the series.

Mutts and Mistletoe by Natalie Cox

This was a no for me after the first few chapters of the book! I spent actual money on this e-book and feel a little bad about DNFing so early into it, but I just COULDN’T WITH THESE CHARACTERS ANYMORE!!! Let me preface this by saying that I have spent over a decade volunteering at a dog rescue, and it infuriates me when ignorant, negligent dog owners don’t fix their animals and let them breed! When the character’s cousin says “Oopsies, my beagle got out and had a midnight shag behind the barn. Now I have to give the puppies away for free,” I had to just put a hard stop on this. Nothing about this is funny or even forgivable. I’m not interested in reading about an elitist five-diamond dog hotel for the ultra wealthy, and I really did not like the main character’s terrible attitude. The book’s first chapter featuring a litany of stupid reasons why she hates Christmas already left a bad taste in my mouth. Obviously this woman is a brat, and I don’t care about whatever journey lies ahead at the exclusive doggie hotel. Hard pass!!!

Snowball’s Christmas by Kristen McKanagh

I couldn’t resist this ridiculously adorable cover that was screaming my name from the Barnes & Noble Christmas books endcap. Sure enough, this little story about a matchmaking kitten was simply charming. I loved the blossoming love story between Lukas, a handsome globe-trotting photographer, and Emily, the fledgling bakery owner and longtime cook at the local B&B. I’m not really a big fan of romance, mainly the stories are so hyper-focused on the two lovebirds. This was not the case for Snowball’s Christmas. Sure there’s a romance brewing, but there’s also much more to the story besides the standard push-and-pull relationship. Not only is Aunt Tilly’s beloved B&B falling into disrepair, both Lukas and Emily have some serious life struggles of their own. Despite his glamorous photographer lifestyle, Lukas roams through life on empty without any living parents or a place to call home. Emily dreams of owning her own bakery yet finances and unsupportive parents stand in her way. Thankfully, they have a manipulative little kitten named Snowball on their side. It’s up to her to bring these two lovebirds together, rescue the B&B from greedy developers, and ultimately save Christmas! It’s a lot to ask of a little kitten, but you’d be surprised what a little mischief and a lot of cuteness can pull off!

It’s a Wonderful Woof by Spencer Quinn

It has been WAY too long since I’ve read a Chet and Bernie mystery—which is just inexcusable! I forgot how these mysteries—all narrated by Chet the dog—amuse me to no end! As per usual, Chet and Bernie are cruising around The Valley in their vintage Porsche convertible, following perps and interrogating shady suspects in local dive bars and seedy motels. This time around, it’s Christmas—and a fellow PI Victor Klovsky has gone missing before he could help his mother light the menorah! The case leads our intrepid investigators to an ancient Spanish mission and buried treasure. Oh, how I love treasure hunts! This turned out to be quite the adventure complete with a high-speed shoot-em-up car chase amidst a blizzard in the desert canyons. There’s also some romance drama between Bernie and his new flame Officer Wheatherly. I’m rather sad that it didn’t work out between him and Susie, especially since she saved Chet from a kill shelter in the very first book. I’m holding out hope that they’ll reunite once again! As for the mystery, it was well threaded and full of unsavory suspects including a weirdo in a Santa suit. Best of all, though, is Chet’s narration. Only Spencer Quinn can capture a dog’s voice so perfectly, making me wonder if he might be part of the Nation Within the Nation himself! I love Chet’s little side-tangents when he’s trying to make sense out of human conversations—and when he’s analyzing body language in a way that only dogs can decipher. I honestly believe that dogs are on a higher level of consciousness with their hyper-tuned senses and instincts. I love seeing the world through Chet’s eyes—a dog that always lives in the moment, looks up to Bernie with pure love and adoration, and cherishes every moment on earth that we humans take for granted.  For Chet, it truly is a wonderful woof.

Lil Bootz: Mine for Just a Little While

Last month, I endured a cat mom’s worst nightmare. I took my 6-year-old Lil Bootz in for her check-up— and to see if maybe she had a little virus going on—only to get sucker punched with the worst news ever: she was dying of kidney failure and anemia. The numbers were off the charts, and the vet told me there was nothing I could do but palliative care. Next to putting my 19-year-old Gizzy down (due to, once again, kidney failure), this was the worst moment of my life, and the word “shocked” doesn’t even come close to the feelings rushing over me. Hell, I’m still in a state of shock in this weird, empty cat-free life that I’m living.

The following weeks after putting my sweet Bootz down have been agony, but I’m finally at a place where I can document some highlights from her six short years on this planet. Though she wasn’t a cuddle-bug or overly affectionate, her quirky personality made me laugh constantly. I had to earn her love and her trust, and eventually I got there! It’s hard to describe how much I love this cat, and what it meant to me when she would show her affection. We had such a special bond that I will forever and always cherish. I know every pet parent says this—and they’re all 100% correct—but this cat was one of a kind, and I will never find one remotely like her. I’m a little angry right now about the cards we’ve been dealt, but I’m also so incredibly grateful that she was mine.

Lil Bootz’s Gotcha Day! 

This wide-eyed, scared-stiff (literally!) little 6-week-old kitten came into my life one fateful day while we were fishing with our guide at Lake Livingston on December 11, 2016. Gizzy recently passed away, and we were ready to fill the void with a new kitten. Our guide told us this tiny baby was found in the engine compartment of his wife’s car. Throughout the three-hour ride back to Austin, she was frozen still with fear. I remember looking at her and thinking, don’t worry little girl. I’m going to make sure you have the best life ever in our little home. Back then, I thought I had at least two decades with her, but…well…life has other plans. 

Baby’s First Vet Visit!

I’m pretty sure the vet was a little surprised to see I adopted a new baby so soon after Gizmo’s passing, but the heart wants what the heart wants. And this heart wants a cat in the house at all times!!! Needless to say, her perfect little boots and adorable fluffy face charmed all the staff. Every time she meets a new person, the first thing I hear is “cute face!”

Costume Party Pooper

I was able to barely get away with it during her kitten days, but it didn’t take long for Lil Bootz to put a hard stop on costume parties. Fortunately, I have just a few photos of her looking absolutely precious in her little outfits. I tried to tell her that with a face like that she could write her ticket to the elite kitty fashion shows, but she said she’d rather stay at home and eat lizards.

Bouncing off the Walls!

After hiding in the upstairs office for three whole days, the little weirdo put her brave-girl boots on and ventured out into the big, scary townhouse! It didn’t take long until she started flinging her tiny body off the walls and ambushing her sister and daddy with a fierce battle cry. 

Early Morning Fight Club

Most cats show their affection by cuddling, but this thing was more of a fighter! If I had to wake up super early in the morning for some God awful reason, she’d be ready to rumble!

A Hunter Waits for its Prey

Although she wasn’t much of a climber, Lil Bootz loved hanging out up high in Gizmo’s old cat tree, where she would hang her head over like a tiger looking for its prey. 

Cuddles with Big Sissy 

Lil Bootz would never stoop to cuddling with her human parents, but she loved being close to her big sis, CeeCee Honeycutt. I’m pretty sure the feeling wasn’t mutual, but CeeCee was kind enough to coexist with the little critter. Every once in a while, I’d even see CeeCee eliciting nose bumps, which made my heart sing! 

How Cute is the Kitty in the Window?! 

To this day, I gaze at this window when I walk up to the front door in hopes of seeing my Lil Bootz. It’s an auto-pilot thing, I suppose. Although she pretended to hate this window perch at first (because I spent money on it at the pet store!), she soon made it her morning and afternoon hangout every day of her life.

Nose Bumps, Guys! 

A walk with CeeCee wouldn’t be complete without Lil Bootz greeting us at the door and asking for nose bumps. CeeCee wasn’t totally into it, but she humored us. 

Nap Queen!

When she wasn’t ambushing her father and sister or tearing up the couch, Lil Bootz spent most of her time cat-napping in her favorite spots. Obviously, she needed her beauty sleep to maintain those good looks. It’s hard to articulate her weirdo sleep position, but she tended to catch her zzzs with her head plunged downward. Such a little freak.

Scared of Literally Everything!

I’m not kitty psychologist, but it’s safe to say Lil Bootz survival experience in the wilds of East Texas caused some serious PTSD and agoraphobia. Unlike Gizmo, who tried to bolt out the door every chance he got, Lil Bootz wanted NOTHING to do with the outside world, which made going to the vet a real picnic. Poor little thing was so scared, she’d freeze into a statue. That’s why we chose to do at-home euthanasia with the most amazing vet ever (Dr. Kelly) with Lap of Love Hospice Vet. I highly, highly recommend them.

Kitchen Cuddles!

Nothing brightened up my day more than those moments when Lil Bootz would wrap her little bunny body around my legs, asking for her kitchen cuddles. As a rule, she did not allow humans to cuddle her, but she made exceptions when mamma was making coffee in the morning. I never ever passed up on her offer for hugs and kisses because I just loved holding her so much and laughing as she fanged my glasses, which is kitty language for you’re my property, human!

Video Snippets

Lil Bootz often turned into Lil Miss Bossy Pants when she had a hankering for Party Mix (aka kitty crack).

Lil Bootz was never too shy to let mamma know that she was annoyed by her presence. This just motived me more and more to keep doting on her during her “me time.”

During her kitten years, Lil Bootz loved playing cat-and-mouse games on the ol’ tablet. It didn’t take her too long to decide that human-created cat toys are beneath her.

This is one of those rare moments when Lil Bootz would almost get in my lap! She showed her love by attacking either my hand or her tail!

Another rare moment of Lil Bootz actually playing like a normal cat! She did enjoy her gutter ball toy for a good long while until she became too cool for it.

Moments like these had mamma running for her camera! As you can see, there were hundreds of these moments. I look back a this video with so much yearning for my little bug to be right here at home, where she’s supposed to be. God, I miss her. Please let the rainbow bridge be true so I can see my salty little striped creature and my Gizmo again. Rest easy, my Lil Bootz. You were a gift that I will always treasure.

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.