Self-help for when things go terribly, horribly wrong

Published November 20, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Hey, how’s it going? The reason I ask is that I know a lot of my fellow Americans are feeling pretty downtrodden now that their worst fears have been realized. The news keeps stoking the fire, reminding us of the catastrophic events that are sure to come now that a villain and a slew of goons are running our country.

These days, self-care is of utmost importance–and I’m not talking about a day at the spa (though that does sound quite nice). I’m talking about consciously taking care of your state of mind, your balance, your chi. I know that Facebook feed is calling your name. All those memes and horrrifying headlines are beckoning your time and attention. Don’t give in. Unplug, step away from your news app, detach yourself from the grim reality that is the Trumpacolypse…at least for a little while.

13793210I’m not saying you should stick your head in the sand and be blissfully uninformed for the next four years. Just be kind to yourself and lay down some boundaries. Consider time-blocking. This simple yet ingenious strategy got me through college. Here’s a fun piece of advice from It Takes an Egg Timer: Only visit the time vampire that is social media for 20 minutes, four times a day. It sounds impossible, but trust me, that’s more than enough time…maybe a little too much.

j-pdlxmld7wcAnother useful book for those of us who are already imagining World War III is Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong. I picked this up during a cancer scare (false alarm, thank God) and it really put my mind at ease. Lots of great techniques for tampering that insatiable beast called anxiety. If you’re unable to step away from the train wreck that’s unfolding on TV screens and news feeds, please do yourself a favor and download this book. If you’re not a reader, maybe practice some guided meditation and deep-breathing exercises. Or–and here’s the best advice–start becoming a reader! Books are my sanctuary from the storm. Even on my worst days, my soul gets restored when I step into Barnes & Noble and peruse all the many adventures atop the shelves. If I can’t talk you into reading, there’s always yoga, if you’re into that kind of thing. Hell, I might even give it a try–but I draw the line a kale smoothies and power cleanses! Let’s not get crazy now.

41g91rygxfl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The topic of yoga is the perfect segway for my next recommendation: Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness. I don’t know about y’all, but isn’t it a little disconcerting that everywhere we look, people are completely glued to a five-inch screen. Whatever happened to daydreaming? Flipping through trashy gossip rags at the checkout aisle? Waiting 20 seconds at the elevator without a digital distraction? I’m not big on cell phones, but I could use some help in the mindfulness department, mainly to put a stop to that dang hamster wheel of gloom and doom in my head.  When I started pouring creamer into my tumbler instead of coffee–and wearing my clothes inside out–I realized that it’s time to find my balance again.

331879My best piece of advice: Get silly. That’s right – I’m talking about channeling your inner 10-year-old and doing things that make people laugh (mostly at you, not with you). Meditation is all well and good for experienced zen-masters, but my go-to strategy is silliness. I found some great pointers from this random book that I picked up at a work retreat. The author gave a fabulous tutorial on “making magic out of the mundane.” For instance, when a co-worker pisses her off, she Xeroxes that person’s photo until it shrinks into an oblivion. Then she takes delight in shredding the paper and watching it turn into pulp. Oh how I love her! And when she’s having a bad day, she goes out in public in her best formal dress and happily accepts every compliment that comes her way. While watching her speak, I noticed a lot of my surly co-workers were smirking and muttering sarcastic comments. If she heard their mutterings, I doubt she’d care. Neither do I for that matter because I fully embrace pure zaniness, like singing badly in the shower–or drunken Karaoke!–and dancing like a fool while walking the dogs (something I do on a nightly basis). Trust me, it really works!

170548And, of course, I must recommend my No. 1 go-to self-help book: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all Small Stuff. Broken into little vignettes, this book is great for those of us who only have time to read small chunks at a time. I keep a copy by desk for those things when it seems like I just can’ t get anything right! I have a tendency to lump all my problems into one big, ugly blob that hangs over my head all day long. I have to remind myself that in the broad scheme of things, IT’S NO BIG DEAL! I think it’s funny when critics say this book is too simple. They don’t realize that the genius of the book is its simplicity.

Whether you’re in a post-election fog, or just need some help finding your balance, I highly recommend visiting the self-help aisle. Yes, most of these books have a lot of useless filler, and some of the pointers are just common sense–but I’ve found some truly great nuggets of wisdom that come in handy when times get tough. Got a self-help book recommendation?  Post a comment and tell me all about it!

The Countdown to CeeCee-o-Ween: Beewitched by Hannah Read

Published October 28, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

untitledMy little busy bee is buzzing with excitement about all the spookalicious books we’re reading this Halloween! We’re covering the gamut in fall-themed mysteries and thrillers. Some are mildly spooky and others are downright terrifying! Heck, we’re even throwing in a few nostalgic family-friendly classics for the kiddos. Stay tuned for more as we count down the days to All Hallows Eve!

18210687In this next installment of our CeeCee-o-Ween countdown, we selected a fun little cozy mystery filled with bees, witchcraft and zany small town antics. Our amateur sleuth is a beekeeper and owner of a kitschy honey-goods store in a cute little Wisconsin village.

Like most cozy mysteries, the town is cut right out of a Norman Rockwell painting—but don’t be fooled! Evil lurks within this idyllic little hamlet. Witches are running amok and nobody is safe at the annual fall festival. Sure enough, a dead body is found in the corn maze and all signs point to the daughters of evil!

It’s up to our intrepid sleuth, Story, to team up with her wacky sidekick and nab the killer before evil strikes again. And as with most cozy mysteries, the podunk cops are asleep at the wheel. The hot crime-fighting boyfriend is constantly lecturing Story about putting herself in danger (an annoying and antiquated trope that needs to go away!). And, of course, there are a bazillion characters thrown into the mix, keeping me in a constant state of confusion. This is my biggest gripe with cozies. Maybe that’s why I never liked those aggravating jigsaw puzzles with ten thousand microscopic pieces. Tedious much?

Gripes aside, this is a quality mystery with well-developed characters and hilarious dialogue. Story is great, but I have a feeling readers keep coming back for more of her sidekick’s zany hijinks.  Though I would’ve like more scenes of the fall festival (seriously, Story, stop and take a break for a moment!), this is a quality read for anyone who enjoys a good, puzzling mystery!

The Countdown to CeeCee-o-Ween! Another Sleepy Hollow Fail

Published October 26, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

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CeeCee is having a devil of a time with this fun Halloweenie book series! She regrets to inform you that we wasted our time on another craptastic rendition of Washington Irving’s seminal masterpiece, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Seriously, why didn’t we just re-read the original?

18400224Oh man…this book is quite bad. I see there are many glowing reviews by people who got what they needed out of this mess. If you’re in it for the paint-by-the-numbers harlequin romance, than you won’t be disappointed. It’s all about Katrina and Ichabod falling into insta-love and making out in secret hidey holes. The horseman was just a nuisance that got in the way of their forbidden trysts. BORING!

Needless to say, I learned my lesson about these YA Sleepy Hollow books. I need action, adventure, bloody headless bodies! Star-crossed love sagas, not so much.

As for anachronisms–and trust me, there are many–I’m pretty sure the term “time management” was not a thing back in Washington Irving’s day.

Now if you, like me, are a Sleepy Hollow purist, I highly recommend listening to a couple books on tape.

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Rabbit Ears: A Classic Tale
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Read by Glenn Close, a most talented voice artist, this is a terrific little audiobook full of sound effects and spooky atmosphere. A good G-rated version of the tale for the kiddos. I really must get my hands on this hardback because the illustrations are off the charts amazing!

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: A Radio Dramatization

61xtb2gmell-_sl300_There’s a lot of traditional Sleepy Hollow audiobooks out there, but this one is probably the best. It’s got sound effects, voice actors and lots of creeptastic scenes. It’s like watching a movie in your head! I listen to this one every year when I’m out walking dogs around the spooky lake at night!

 

Countdown to CeeCee-o-Ween! Locke and Key by Joe Hill

Published October 23, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

14729399_971074896354644_489282906771431935_nCeeCee and I aren’t big into comic books or superheroes, so finding a book to go with her Wonder Woofer costume was kind of a stretch. I did some digging into my dark and twisted reading list and discovered the most horrifically perfect comic book to feature in the second installment of my CeeCee-O-Ween series!

joehilllockekeyAudiobook lovers, eat your heart out! The highly produced, dramatized audio version of Joe Hill’s Locke and Key is far and away the best book on tape in the history of all time. For reals, yo! This audiobook is legit. There’s musical interludes, sound effects and quality performances by multiple B-list actors. It was like watching a movie–only better because I could use my own imagination!

As for the story, it is–in true Joe Hill fashion–waaaaaay out there. If you’ve read Horns, you know what I’m talking about. It revolves around this grieving, dysfunctional family that moved out to a haunted mansion after the father was slashed to death by a crazed teenager. Located in an East Coast hamlet called Lovecraft (a nice little nod to the most disturbed horror writer of all time), the house of horrors is saturated with a host of malevolent spirits. One spirit in particular is hell-bent on destroying the family–and everything in its wake–to get a hold of some magical keys that will unlock the ultimate Pandora’s Box.

The book starts out like a traditional gothic horror novel, but once the kids embark on their scavenger hunt throughout the dark corridors of Locke house, it morphs into a fantasy thrillride. There’s astral-projecting, evil-infested caves, and even some creeptastic elements of The Monkey’s Paw thrown into the mix.

If you’re a fan of fantasy/horror, you’re in for a treat. This is one audiobook I’ll be “reading” again and again and again!

The 10 Nights of CeeCee-O-Ween: The Secret of Sleepy Hollow

Published October 21, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

14192733_930556600406474_3950721415268577724_nAs we count down the final days to CeeCee-O-Ween, I bring you a spooky book review paired with the world’s most adorable dog in her costume du jour! Tonight we bring you a review of a not-so-scary book based on Washington Irving’s seminal masterpiece, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

27187153Wow – so many five-star reviews! My fellow GoodReads reviewers did a great job suckering me into downloading this book. Sadly I was sorely disappointed. I typically give a book 100 pages until chucking it into the DNF pile, but it just got too painful. Hmm…how should I say this without sounding insensitive to the LGBTQ community? Okay, so I should start by saying that I found the lesbian love story to be a nice switch from the norm, and I’m a registered ALLIE to this wonderful community.  See, I’m not so bad, right? However, I’m a Legend of Sleepy Hollow purist, so there’s only so much I can take when authors butcher the legend into an oblivion. I’m sorry, but I wasn’t digging the whole “girl power” slant. I had to call it quits when the protagonist came up with the theory that the headless horseman was a cross-dresser caught in a lovers tryst. #ICANT!

Why can’t all these Sleepy Hollow reprisals give a nod to the original tale’s societal admonition? Why does it have to be all about romance? Why can’t Ichabod be an awkward, lanky dweeb vying for the Van Tassel fortune? Why can’t these stories have more to do with greed and social climbing rather than the typical bodice ripper crap? CHEESE AND CRACKERS! Do I need to write the dang book myself? Maybe I will – dangit!

So I’d be a total jerk if I didn’t say one nice thing about the book, right? To be fair, the author has a knack for atmosphere. But (yep, there’s a but) just when things started to get a little spooky, the protagonist would start obsessing over her crush and I was back in junior high all over again. The constant butterflies, goosebumps and cheap thrills got tiresome every time she came into eye-shot with her lover. Geeze—it reminded me of the torture I endured when my childhood BFFs would crush over their favorite New Kid on the Block. Personally, I’m a Joey girl, but that’s besides the point.

Anyhoo, if you’re looking for a heck of a Headless Horesman thrill ride, read the original–and then re-read it! And when you’re done with that, check out Richard Gleave’s Jason Crane series – it’s awesome!!! My rave reviews can be found here.

Gizzy’s and CeeCee’s Tales for a Dark and Stormy Night

Published September 18, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

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Halloween is almost here!!! In just a couple of weeks, I’m busting out all my glowing jack-o-lanterns, dangling demonic clowns and pet costumes for a Halloween Extravaganza 2016! In the meantime, the critters and I are getting into the spirit with these spooky reads. From campy horror movie fun to kid-friendly ghost hunts to encounters with the second kind, CeeCee and Gizzy picked out a diverse array of books that appeal to just about anyone. Readers beware, you’re in for a scare!

For Campy Horror Movie Buffs

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons (audiobook)

9897624Pros: 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 thieir 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.

Cons: This 500+ book is waaaaaay longer than it needs to be. There were so many scenes that didn’t apply to the mystery of the haunted school. I get that the author really wanted to transport his readers back into his boyhood days in the 1960s, however the meticulous details really bogged down the story. Listening to this book on audio is on par with watching a movie in slow motion. My mind kept wandering off, and I had to rewind the darn thing over and over again. Not willing to give up without a fight, I trudged onward and finished this thing in a couple of weeks.

For Gothic Ghost Story Lovers

The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb

6715880Pros: This is the most perfect story to sink yourself into on a rainy day. Wendy Webb is a master at setting up the scene for a good ol’ fashioned ghost story. Essentially she is the American version of Susan Hill. I just love how she writes–and that she chose to set this story in a town modeled after Mackinac Island! It was so easy to sink myself into the deliciously spooky small island setting filled with mystery and lore. How cool would it be to inherit a haunted mansion on a hill overlooking a foggy coastline?!? If you’re a fan of not-so-scary ghost stories filled with romance and mystery, this one’s for you.

Cons: This book will not appeal to those who are looking for visceral thrills. It’s a very watered down ghost story that’s heavy on atmosphere and romance. Essentially it’s something you’d see on the Lifetime Channel, only SO much better because you can use your imagination with the setting and the characters aren’t washed-up actors from Full House. Going into this book, I was already aware that it would be more of a romance with a twinge of mystery. But if you’re expecting something more, you’re going to be disappointed.

For Nancy Drew Fans

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

18079557Pros: This is YA storytelling at its finest! Where do I begin with all the pros? The small Southern town setting, the loveable characters, the tightly-plotted mystery–everything about this book makes me happy. I loved immersing myself into the sleepy little town of Tupelo Landing, where people are enjoying life at a much slower pace than us city folk. I also enjoyed the mystery of the ghost a the old inn, and the ongoing mystery of Mo’s “upstream mother.” This is a fun, non-scary ghost story mixed with a good ol’ fashioned Nancy Drew mystery.

Cons: My only gripe–and it’s a very small annoyance–is that Mo is just a little too precocious. It takes decades for us mere mortals to interpret the world the way she does. Also, she’s teetering on the brink of becoming too obnoxious. I appreciate that she has a lot of moxy, yet she’s a little too in-your-face for her own good. She needs to tone it down in the next book.

For Twilight Zone Fans

The Grand Hotel by Scott Kenemore (audiobook)

20344711Pros: I enjoyed the spooky haunted hotel setting, and the author did a fine job painting a foreboding atmosphere as the tourists roamed from room to room. They’re led by a diabolical tour guide with a hidden agenda. It’s up to the reader to figure out his end game–and how it all unfolds at the end of the tour. The big plot twist and the fantastic, Tim Curry-esque narrator almost made up for the long hours of tedious storytelling.

Cons: I was expecting some gothic ghost stories, but these tales were more on par with the bizarre sci-fi stuff you’d see in an old-school Twilight Zone episode. And to be honest, I’m not a big fan of the authors writing style. The stories got muddled in the superfluous details, causing my mind to wander off into my never-ending to-do lists. Needless to say, this was not my cup of tea, but it could possibly appeal to Twilight Zone fans.

‘The Walls Around Us’ Takes YA Horror to the Next Level

Published August 21, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

18044277Wowza! This is—hands down—one of the creepiest young adult books I’ve ever read. That says a lot because I’ve been a YA horror aficionado ever since Fear Street broke out back in the 90s. I just gave away my age, didn’t I? Oh to heck with it! I’ll say it loud—I’m a 90s child and I’m proud!

If you’re more of a movie-goer instead of a bookworm, I’ll break it down for you like this: Girl Interrupted meets Black Swan meets The Others. Heck, I’ll even throw in The Blair Witch because of the impending feeling of doom, and the anticipation of a horrifying cataclysmic paranormal showdown.

Told through shifting narratives, weaving from the past to present day, the story begins with Violet, a teenage ballerina on the verge of making it big. She is your quintessential “bunhead,” meaning she eats, sleeps and breaths ballet—and will stop at nothing to reach the top. On stage, she is the picture of perfection. Yet underneath that polished veneer lies an ugly green monster. This girl is BAD news! And as the story goes on, she gets even worse.

The story then shifts to another girl named Amber who is living in a completely different world. Trapped within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, she’s doing some hard time for knocking off her mother’s abusive husband. Shunned by her mother, she has no friends or family—just a bunch of animalistic teenage girls who torment her nonstop. Her only comfort is her book cart, which she dutifully organizes and pushes around the gloomy hallways.

“Our private tastes in books showed a hint of our secret selves.”

One girl is living a lie, concealing the ugliness deep down inside. The Aurora Hills girls, however, are doing quite the opposite. In order to survive, they must tamp down their humanity and only reveal their inner monsters. Either way they’re not who they seem. And let’s just face it. In real life, that could be said for just about anyone.

“I knew that just because people on the outside were free and clean, it didn’t mean they were the good ones.”

Enter Ori. The naturally gifted ballerina who rocks both of these divergent worlds. Unlike any of these girls, she hides nothing. Her inner beauty shines through—on and off stage. Only she wields the key to unlocking the girls’ innermost angels and demons. Trust me, once they begin to unravel, you won’t be able to put this book down!

I’ll stop right there before I give anything away. But I will tell you to dedicate an entire day to reading because this book is addictive! Clear that schedule and sink right into this dark, twisted, tragically beautiful tale of lies, deceit, murder and rage! There’s no doubting that teenage girls are a little frightening with their high drama and raging hormones. Teenage ballerinas, however, are downright terrifying. Throw in some homicidal lunatics and a pack of bunhead mean girls, and you’re in for a wild ride!

Might I add that this would be an excellent pick for book clubbers. I would love to listen to some discussions about the symbolism between Ori and the story of the Firebird (a coveted role she performed in ballet). Also it would be interesting to explore the meaning behind the red cup, and how it rekindled a sense of hope in a place of despair.

“Ori made it wanted. She acted like it was lucky. And forever after, it was.”

I you’ve read this book. Feel free to post a comment and share some theories.