CeeCee’s Dog Days of Summer Reading Roundup

The dreaded back-to-school season has reared its ugly head, but the dog days of summer are here to stay in the great state of Texas! Most people bemoan the long, tipple-digit days of interminable sunshine, but my pooch and I don’t mind it one single bit. I mean, what better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon than by lounging on the back patio with a sweaty glass of sweet tea and a good book? And when dusk comes, CeeCee and I stroll along the open fields listening to the cicadas buzzing up in the trees. This is the time of year when I wax nostalgic about my summer vacays in Gladewater, where I’d chase lightning bugs and chase after those big, silly cows. Aww the good ol’ days before social media and the many portals of information I have to attend to on an hourly basis.  Now that I think about it, I think I owe someone a text…or was it a Facebook DM? Eh, forget about it. I think I’ll curl up with the new Stephen King instead.

But I digress. In ode to the dog days of summer–the wonderful season that keeps giving and giving– CeeCee and I rounded up a few books that will take you back to the good ol’ carefree days of flip-flops, night swims and mounds of ice cream.


Summerlost by Ally Conde

First I have to say that I am a total idiot for missing this author’s book signing when she came to BookPeople. I wish I could’ve told her in person how much this little story about love, loss and mystery sang to my soul. Yes, this is classified as “middle grade,” but the story of heartbreak and healing appeals to readers of all ages. Through the atmospheric descriptions of the small college town of Iron Creek, I felt like I bike-riding alongside Cedar and her theatrical friend Leo on our way to the Summerlost theatre festival. In the wake of a family tragedy, she finds a welcome distraction in the whimsical world of Shakespeare. She soon discovers that Leo also needs the distraction–and their newfound friendship–to deal with his own problems at home.  Together, they start moonlighting as unofficial tour guides for fans of a tragic starlet who took her final bow way too early.  Adventures ensue as they unravel the mystery, getting themselves in a heap of trouble along the way! I wont’ give it all away, but I will say that the ending is a real tear-jerker, so keep some tissues close by.

 


Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian 

I’m drawn to gorgeous book covers and this one really caught my eye. What can I say? I’m a sucker for heaping ice cream cones! Also, I needed to cleanse my mental palate after reading a super heavy-duty apocalyptic thriller. And just as I predicted, this fun and fluffy book was the perfect antidote for my zombie-infused nightmares. The main character, Amelia, is a girl after my own heart. She’s got strong work ethic and cares deeply about keeping the old-fashioned Meade Creamery stand alive for future generations of Head Girls. You see, being a Head Girl is an honor on par with the captain of the cheerleader squad. Only the cool girls get picked for the job, so Amelia is thrilled to spend her last carefree summer slinging homemade ice cream at the top of the creamery’s social stratosphere. But just as she prepares for her first shift, her dreams of ice cream nobility melt into a nightmare when she finds the geriatric owner faceplanted on the floor. Now it’s up to her to keep the business alive–even if it means going head-to-head with the new hotshot owner who wants to cut costs by turning the stand into a soulless Baskin Robbins. Things get extra sticky–and I’m not about chocolate syrup–when she starts feeling the feels for the cute new owner. Like a heaping triple-scoop ice cream cone drenched in sprinkles and goopy caramel, there’s a lot packed into this story. While struggling to keep the stand afloat (pun intended) Amelia is also walking a fine line between “friend” and “boss” with her group of scoopers, many of whom she needed to fire on the spot, but that’s just me. Either way, I had a lot of fun following Amelia’s adventures and look forward to the sequel! I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of the Meade Ice Cream Stand–at least I hope not!


Deep and 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.

 

Lil Bootz’s Book of the Month: The Persian Always Meows Twice

Meowza! Lil Bootz and I are super excited about this new mystery series that is just purrfect for people like me who are crazy for crime-solving kitties! Much to my delight, I found this book in a “get well” gift basket filled with pink balloons, chocolate bars and dog toys. Needless to say, my friends know me well! And lucky for me, I had a whole week off from work to polish off the book and all my chocolate goodies. What can be better than books, chocolate and days upon days of free time? I ask you!

What I love most about this new series is that the cats have a starring role! Normally in my magical cat-themed mysteries, the critters rarely share the limelight with the main characters. But in this mystery, the story revolves around Cassie, a professional cat groomer, and her feline clients. In fact, a fluffy Persian becomes the main attraction when her owner gets bludgeoned in his stately mansion. Soon after discovering his lifeless body in the foyer, she swoops up his gorgeous Persian, Harpo, before she ends up at a shelter–or worse–in the hands of a shady family member who has something to gain from the mysterious man’s demise.

Why did someone snuff out a seemingly harmless millionaire? Did it have something to do with a potential client who is on the verge of patenting new technology that could change the face of data encryption? What do all of these so-called bereaved people have to gain from adopting poor little Harpo?

It’s up to our intrepid cat groomer, Cassie, to answer these questions before the fluffball ends up in the wrong hands. Lucky for Harpo, nobody can claim her until the will is out of probate. That gives Cassie plenty of time to question the many shady suspects–from the bitter wife to the schmarmy executive assistant to the greedy, entrepreneurial  sister. And if that’s no enough fancy feast on her plate, Cassie also has do deal with a stalking ex-boyfriend who is seriously cramping her style with her new crush, the hot veterinarian.

Like a cracked-open can of seafood medley, there’s a lot going on here! And there’s definitely something fishy about Harpo’s many potential adopters. But have no fear! No cat will be harmed under Cassie’s watch–and you better believe she’ll fight tooth and nail to save her furbabies and four-legged clients from abusers. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of this leading lady and I can’t wait to see what’s for store for her in the next installment. This is definitely a win for all my fellow cat ladies out there who enjoy a good whodunnit. Four paws up!

Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay



You know, I really don’t care for home invasion horror movies/books because that shit is way too scary–and not in a good way. Next to being eaten alive by a Great White (or my newest nightmare, a Megalodon), home-invasion is at the top of my greatest fears list. That said, I didn’t even think twice about reading this book because it’s penned by Paul Tremblay, the one contemporary horror author who knows exactly how to hit that sweet spot of terror! Read my review of Head Full of Ghosts and you’ll see what I mean.

Also, Stephen King talked me into it.

“A tremendous book―thought-provoking and terrifying, with tension that winds up like a chain. The Cabin at the End of the World is Tremblay’s personal best. It’s that good.” — Stephen King

So let’s talk about this winding chain of tension. I had to tear through this thing in a matter of hours because it just got weirder and weirder and I just needed to know where it was all going!  It’s like driving down a mountain with no breaks. I’m hit with so many blind corners, but if I keep a death grip on the steering wheel maybe I’ll reach the bottom where it’s safe and everything will be OK!

Like his previous books, horrible forces envelop a hapless all-American dysfunctional family. In this story, the family–comprised of a gay scholarly couple and their adopted daughter–is more functional than others.  Everything’s going great on their family vacation out in the woods…away from anyone who could hear them scream. The terror begins when a hulking stranger approaches the daughter while she’s out in the field experimenting with grasshoppers. Right from the get-go, his overly friendly demeaner seems just a tad off-putting. And just when the girl senses the red flags, more of his friends come out of the shadows–and they’re all brandishing homemade medieval weapons. He assures her that they aren’t going to hurt her, but that her family will have to make some very difficult decisions. Let the games begin!

What I thought would pan out like one of those cat-and mouse Purge movies, ended up being much more terrifying.  It’s what I consider to be a “chose your own adventure” story that leaves it up to the readers to decide if supernatural forces are at work or if these home-invaders are just a bunch of doomsday nutjobs.  I tell you what, after learning about the characters’ backstories and how they all found each other, I’m leaning toward the supernatural. But one never knows.

I’d love to go more into detail about the horrific happenings in that cabin, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. And if you want to jump on this rollercoaster ride, I suggest you go into it blind. Another piece of advice: Do not listen to this on audio because this is a story you’ll want to zip through at warp speed. There are some frustrating spots when the author interjects a suspenseful scene with a flashback to a character’s backstory. I’m a big fan of character development, but less is more when I’m glued to the pages, dying to see what happens with this alleged apocalyptic scenario!

Aside from that minor gripe, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspense stories that end with a “What the hell just happened?” twist. The genius in Tremblay’s writing is that he doesn’t spell everything out to his readers. It’s up to us to ferret out the symbols and clues and tie them all together. To be honest, I still don’t have a solid theory about what went down. Maybe that’s the point. Not everything on this planet–or beyond–can be figured out and tied together in a neat little bow.

Birthday Book Haul!

Speaking from personal experience, I don’t recommend scheduling a super scary surgical procedure on your birthday–especially if it’s your very first time going under the knife! But hey, I needed peace of mind, so I put on my big girl panties (or inflatable surgery gown, I should say) and got exactly what I needed: a clean bill of health! What better birthday present could a girl ask for? You know what else turned my frown upside down? A bounty of gifts, flowers, cookies and cakes from my adoring fan club!

Not only am I elated that I get to live 100 more years, I am also super stoked to have such an amazing circle of friends and family. I’m especially impressed with my husband who isn’t afraid to purchase pink, glittery cozy mysteries at Barnes & Noble.


Just look at this basket-o-books!!! I don’t even know where to begin. Should I start with the cozy Halloween-themed mystery set in a bookstore/lighthouse? Or perhaps I should dive into the second installment of the Georgia Peach mystery series. Considering how much I loved, Peaches and Scream, I’m sure it’s a winner. And then there’s the magical bakeshop mystery! I love this series–especially the hot fireman boyfriend. Read all about him here! 



Thanks to Lil Bootz, I didn’t have to make the tough decision. Since she’s the boss of me, I have no choice but to read The Persian Always Meows Twice. Psst…don’t tell her, but this was already my first choice.

Now I’m off to the picturesque town of Chadwick to play a game of cat and mouse with Cassie McGlone and her feline sidekicks!

Bass Master’s Book of the Month: A Dark and Twisting Path by Julia Buckley

Bass Master is available for adoption at Austin Pets Alive! Check out his profile.

When Bass Master and I saw this ARC up for grabs on Netgalley, we couldn’t hit the request button fast enough! I love solving mysteries with Lena London and all her friends at Blue Lake, a sleepy little Indiana village filled with quirky townies and touristy shops. And Bass Master is rather partial to the two German Shephard sidekicks!

In the first book, Lena hit the jackpot when her favorite novelist, Camilla Graham, offered her a dream job as a writer’s apprentice! Not only does she get paid to live rent free at Camilla’s lakeside mansion, she also gets to solve real life Nancy Drew mysteries with her hot new boyfriend, Sam West. What a life!

In this new installment, the mystery begins when Lena stumbles upon the dead body of the local mailman–stabbed with Sam’s sword-shaped letter opener! It appears that–yet again–someone is inexplicably framing the poor guy for murder. It’s up to Lena to ferret out the killer before Sam gets thrown back into the same nightmare he experienced in the first book.

While tracking down clues, Lena finds more questions than answers. Who is this bearded man lurking within the shadows? Could a trusted friend or townie be moonlighting as a sleazy tabloid reporter? And why is the new sheriff’s deputy constantly patrolling Sam’s house? All signs point to a notorious kidnapper who has a serious vendetta against Sam and his ex-wife Victoria.

In addition to clearing Sam’s name, Lena must save Victoria’s kidnaped baby from the clutches of a madman. Will she save the baby in time? Will Victoria weasel her way back into Sam’s heart? Will Lena ever get to return to her cozy life of co-writing bestselling mysteries with her illustrious benefactor?! Guess you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Trust me, this is a dark and twisted ride you don’t want to miss! I enjoyed the jigsaw puzzle mystery and surprising plot twists. But what I loved most was the atmosphere and character development. Lena and Camilla have a great mother-daughter chemistry. I especially enjoyed taking a break from the mystery while Lena’s father and step-mom stopped by Blue Lake for a visit. The whole family vibe gave me the warm fuzzies–in a Hallmark Movies and Mysteries kind of way.

 

Lil Bootz’s Cozy Corner: Mardi Gras Murder & Killer Green Tomatoes

Lil Bootz and I are super excited to get advance review copies of these two books via the wide, wonderous world of NetGalley. Hooray for free books! The only problem, however, is that both of these mysteries are devoid of cats. With promises of catnip and extra helpings of party mix, she reluctantly decided to humor me. Here we bring you two cozies for those of us who enjoy downhome cooking, small town mystique and jigsaw puzzle mysteries.

Mardi Gras Murder by Ellen Byron

It’s been a while since I’ve journeyed to the Crozet Plantation B&B, located on the outskirts of the Big Easy. When I saw this cover, I immediately requested an ARC so I could party at Mardi Gras with Maggie and her fam in the land of gators and gumbo. As expected, this was a fun, atmospheric mystery filled with eccentric Southerners, downhome Cajun cooking and deep, dark family secrets. The story begins with an unidentified dead body washing up on the B&B’s property after a major storm. Who was this stranger and what was he doing in Pelican of all places? Things get even weirder when someone knocks off one of the judges for the local teen queen pageant. It’s up to our fearless sleuth—and her two doggie sidekicks—to solve both mysteries before Pelican’s annual Mardi Gras parade. And if that’s not stressful enough, she’s also got another vexing mystery involving an absentee boyfriend. There’s quite a few guessing games to sort out, but I had a lot of fun playing along! Like a pot full of Tug’s jambalaya, there’s a lot going on here! We’ve got a shady cast of suspects involving stage moms (aka momtestants), competitive teenage girls, Southern bluebloods and a very bitter wife. So many people had something to gain from the town historian’s murder—and it’s up to Maggie to piece together the clues before the king cake gets cut! If you enjoy atmospheric mysteries set in the South, I highly recommend this series. Fans of Jana Deleon will enjoy the humorous banter and ridiculous subplots. Poor Tug…I hope he eventually bonds with that new gumbo pot.

Killer Green Tomatoes by Lynn Cahoon 

Surprisingly I have only just now discovered this talented author who has written dozens of cozy mysteries. How’d that happen? Perhaps not enough kitties on the covers? If it wasn’t for the big, goofy St. Bernard gracing the cover, I don’t think I would’ve even noticed this new farm-to-table series. Also, I’m a big fan of comfort food, so the restaurant setting was most enjoyable. A word to the wise: You must not read this on an empty stomach. Otherwise all the sumptuous entrees in Angie’s kitchen will drive you bonkers! Come to think of it, I could go for some fried green tomatoes right about now…but I digress. This is a fun little whodunnit with an interesting cast of characters—from the womanizing tomato vendor (and No. 1 murder suspect!) to the serial-dater best friend to the gossipy townies. For the most part, Angie’s a likeable gal with a good heart. It just irks me that she’s a workaholic and clearly has no time for her incredibly sweet boyfriend. There’s zero fireworks between the two—especially on Angie’s end. And it just seems like it’s only fair for her to let the poor man go so another lucky single lady can cash in on that action. Don’t get me wrong, Angie’s a great gal. She looks after her neighbors and makes her team of restaurant workers feel like family. I just wish she could let loose a little and maybe partake in a hobby that doesn’t involve work. Perhaps a mystery cruise is in order for the next installment! Aside from those minor gripes, this is a solid mystery series that left me guessing until the final chapters.  And—spoiler alert!—there’s a yummy fried zucchini recipe included in the back pages! Now if you’ll please excuse me, I have some experimenting to do in the kitchen.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

As many of you know, self-help books are hit or miss. Don’t even get me started on the positive psychology BS that involves “the universe” and victim-blaming psychobabble. Louse Hay, I’m talking to you! So I was a little skeptical when a friend recommended this book to help me sort out my misanthropic views on life.

Just one chapter into it and I was completely enraptured! This book sang to my soul in so many ways and I encourage everyone to read it—even those who aren’t on the cusp of leaving civilization to live in an igloo.

I don’t even know where to begin with this review because Brene Brown was dropping wisdom like bullets from a fighter jet! Perhaps I shall break it down into quotes.

Essentially, the wilderness is one’s true self. For many of us, this wild, untamed forest remains unexplored and, perhaps in some cases, roped off. This is the place where truth and integrity lie. But to fit in, or to climb ahead while kicking down, people become disconnected from their inner core and lose touch with their purpose in life. It takes a lot of practice and courage to tap into this realm of consciousness when we feel like something’s off. And when we do, we run the risk of being ostracized. It’s a rather esoteric concept, but I think I get it.

“Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness — an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

THIS RIGHT HERE IS EVERYTHING! Sorry, I don’t mean to scream, but this passage is so on point with what I’m observing in the animal rescue “industry.” I’ll just leave it at that to spare you from a long soapbox tirade.

“When the culture of any organization mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of the individuals who serve that system or who are served by that system, you can be certain that the shame is systemic, the money is driving ethics, and the accountability is all but dead.”

I especially appreciated her thoughts on those who find solace in self-segregating echo chambers, where anger gets amplified and opposing voices are silenced. I found myself nodding profusely throughout this entire chapter because it perfectly illustrates what’s driving our highly polarized society.

“We confuse belonging with fitting in, but the truth is that belonging is just in our heart, and when we belong to ourselves and believe in ourselves above all else, we belong everywhere and nowhere.”

As for the haters, I have a new outlook on why they spew their venom in such terrible ways. Of course, we all have to deal with these miserable people, but it’s good to be aware of what’s lying underneath their slimy reptilian scales. Oops, that was a rather dehumanizing turn of phrase, but hey I’m a work in progress. This passage really helped me understand my bullies, thus reminding me to never sink to their level.

“Dehumanizing and holding people accountable are mutually exclusive. Humiliation and dehumanizing are not accountability or social justice tools, they’re emotional off-loading at best, emotional self-indulgence at worst. And if our faith asks us to find the face of God in everyone we meet, that should include the politicians, media, and strangers on Twitter with whom we most violently disagree. When we desecrate their divinity, we desecrate our own, and we betray our faith.”

Toward the end of the book, the author brought me to tears when she shared some anecdotes about people coming together in times of grief and happiness. I really choked up—in a good way—when she recounted a movie theater experience when all the Harry Potter fans raised their wands to the sky. Why? Because they believe in the light.

“Not enough of us know how to sit in pain with others. Worse, our discomfort shows up in ways that can hurt people and reinforce their own isolation. I have started to believe that crying with strangers in person could save the world.”