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


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.

Gymnastics Fans, Eat Your Hearts Out! Caela Carter’s ‘Tumbling’ Wins the Gold

Published August 14, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

26795703I don’t know about y’all, but for the past few days I’ve been glued to the screen, watching in total awe as Simone Biles and Ally Raisman obliterate their competitors. Never have I seen elite gymnasts compete at this level of pure awesomeness. I love watching them tumble their way across the mat, effortlessly reaching unfathomable heights and landing delicately on their feet, just mere centimeters from the white tape.

When I watch the “Final Five” girls giggling with each other between events, I wonder what’s really going on behind the scenes. Are they hiding any serious game-changing secrets? Are they cheering on their teammates, yet secretly wishing for them to fall? Are they working under the pressure of a Tiger Dad coach? How cool would it be to spend a day in their shoes—or ballerina beam slippers—while competing in the Olympic trials?

Well lucky for me, I got to do just that while reading Tumbling. Told through alternate narratives, the book follows several elite gymnasts during the Olympic Trials. Some are shooting for the gold while others are vying to compete in the NCAA. You’ve got the typical “bunhead” athlete who eats, sleeps and breathes gymnastics. There’s also the comeback kid ready to make one last go at the Olympics. And, of course, there’s the underdog who might just surprise everyone and win it all.

The goal: Total perfection. However, their lives are anything but. The girls are all dealing with some weighty issues, such as anorexia, chronic self-doubt, closeted homosexuality, and overpowering stage-parents. And if that’s not bad enough, a dreamy boy-band heartthrob is throwing them off their game via Twitter. Good thing flirtatious tweetering wasn’t a thing back in the day when I obsessed with the boys of NKOTB!

My euphoric post-gymnastics meet bliss. I could've been a contender!

Here I am in my snazzy varsity jacket, back in my Shannon Miller wannabe days.

But I digress…this book is a lot of fun, especially for Olympic-hopeful wannabes like me who can only fantasize about the world of elite gymnastics. My only gripe is that there’s’ a little too much behind-the-scenes drama and not enough action. I wanted to be right there with them as they twisted and catapulted their tiny bodies on the beam, floor, vault and bars.

Other than that, this is a quality read for gymnastics fans. If you, like me, need something to fill the void now that Simone and Ally tore up the Olympic Games, go ahead and treat yourself to this book. Now I’m moving on to my next rotation: Shawn Johnson’s new title, The Flip Side.

Dog Rescue—Not for the Faint of Heart

Published July 21, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

12310553_769685853160217_3841760361102584602_nToday I received some heartbreaking news. One of my most favorite shelter dogs is no longer with us. This afternoon he was euthanized, hopefully in the arms of his loving foster parents. I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t strong enough to be there to say my final goodbyes.

I’d like to think of myself as strong, as someone who can tamp down the sadness and keep moving forward with a big smile on my face. But sometimes those emotional blinders aren’t airtight.

You see, I’m the cheerful one. I’m the girl who’s always cracking jokes and dressing the poor dogs up in tutus and boas. Nothing gets me down! Well that’s what people see anyway. Today is a different story.

I'm reading this book in Derek's honor.

I’m reading this book in Derek’s honor.

I guess there’s a reason why they call crazy dog people like me “bleeding hearts.” Right now it feels like my heart has been squeezed, resulting in sporadic crying jags and a daylong headache.

It’s a reminder that this work that I do is not easy.

It’s not easy when I say goodnight to my BFF, Spanky, and he looks back at me in total confusion. Night after night, I put him back in his kennel and he offers me a fluffy toy with a look that says, “Where you going? I’m still ready to play!”

It’s not easy when I’m short on time and Miss Mary (a beautiful chocolate lab who has gone overlooked for months) whimpers when I walk by, begging me to take her out just for a quick dip in the lake. I drive home feeling like the biggest creep on earth for not giving in.

It’s not easy when I start to see the effects of shelter life on the dogs that have been there for months—even years.

It’s not easy taking a day off from the shelter knowing that my little buddies are expecting to see me promptly at 7 p.m.

It’s not easy when I’m hustling to get home for dinner and I see a restless dog bouncing and spinning like Tigger on speed.

It’s not easy when it’s 100-plus degrees outside and there’s still a dozen more dogs that need to be walked.

And selflishly, it’s not easy when they get adopted. It’s both wonderful and heartbreaking to say my final goodbyes. This, of course, is the ultimate goal. I want my babies to get adopted, believe me! But it’s still hard letting them go and not having any control over their lives. What if they get left outside in the pouring rain? What if their adopters don’t follow the rules and put them in a dangerous situation? I can drive myself bonkers ruminating about the worst-case scenario, or I can just move on. So that’s what I do.

People outside of my amazing circle of APA friends often ask me how I can spend so much time in such a depressing place. I’m often perplexed when I see visitors with tears in their eyes and then realize that I’ve been desensitized to it all.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t see it as depressing. I think of it as a sleep-away camp for dogs. They’re just here for a short while to make some new friends, learn some skills and play games.

Compared to most other shelters, these dogs are getting out a lot more—on field trips, sleepovers and runs around the lake. They’re even working on their behavioral skills so they’ll be good to go when their adopters come. Derek was my “Behavioral Buddy,” meaning we worked together on some of his problem areas –all stemming from his silliness and ADD. Luckily he was obsessed with treats, so it didn’t take a lot of convincing to get him to mind his manners. That little twerp figured out pretty fast that eye contact would get him treats. So while walking on the crowded trail, he would stare at me the entire time while I popped treats into his mouth. We were the two stooges of Town Lake, making random strangers smile and laugh at the sight of a doofy dog walking sideways.

I have so many good memories of this gorgeous hunk of a dog—costume contests, cuddling sessions, field trips to Sonic—that I will always keep close to my heart. I’m sad that his behavior took a drastic turn for the worst, and it’s frustrating knowing that it was completely out of my control—or the control of his foster parents. Sometimes they are their own worst enemies. There’s only so much we can do to keep them happy and safe. That feeling of powerlessness can be overwhelming.

While the blinders are temporarily down and I let myself give into the tears, I will acknowledge that I’m dealing with some heavy issues. The sadness is there, but it is almost totally eclipsed by the joy those dogs bring into my life. If anything, my mental health has vastly improved thanks to all those wonderful creatures who greet me with smiles and tail wags every night. That goes for my APA friends as well! They are the only ones who truly understand what I’m going through right now. Plus, they are totally cool with being seen with me in public while I’m wearing my crocs and dirty dog clothes…sometimes even a tutu. I love them. I love my APA dogs. And I love who I have become since I began my volunteer work in 2009.

Rest in peace, my sweet Derek. Run free!

CeeCee and Gizzy’s Dog Days of Summertime Reading

Published July 18, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

11202127_715143938614409_7969814030943674844_nWe are in the dog days of summer—my favorite time of year! I know that sounds crazy since I must weather the brutal Texas heat, but I say bring it on! I love the long days of sunshine, the big sweaty pitchers of sweet tea, and the sounds of summer bugs. Sometimes I just sprawl out in the grass and gaze up at the trees that are practically shimmying to the constant rhythm of the cicadas’ summer melody. Everything just feels so alive! Maybe it’s all the vitamin D talking, but I truly mean it when I say that summertime in Texas is the best!

To soak it all in and stretch out my lazy Saturdays as much as possible, I lounge on my back porch for hours with a good summertime read.  So far I’ve read a few hits and misses. Here’s a couple from both categories.

Read This!

Three Times Lucky by Shiela Turnage

11737313Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t you a little long in the tooth for middle grade books? I’ll have you know that the plot and the characters are far more interesting and complex than anything you’d read in a formulaic Heather Graham or Nora Roberts thriller. Sometimes, in a world that seems to have gone crazy, it’s refreshing to read a book told by characters who are in that sweet spot of youth. Too young to be boy crazy, but old enough to think critically and go off on their own adventures. Ah the good old days!

It was fun getting lost in nostalgia and fully immersing myself in the down-home Tupelo Landing setting—complete with farmhouses, tobacco fields and colorful characters. It’s like Stars Hollow meets the Secret Life of Bees. There’s a whodunit murder mystery intertwined with the mystery of Mo’s “upstream mother” and her surrogate father’s mysterious past. You see, she and her new daddy, “The Colonel” were displaced after a torrential hurricane. Back when she was a baby, she floated away from her “upstream mother” and he washed ashore with a spotless mind. Who are they and where did they come from? Guess I’ll have to keep reading the series to find out!

I loved her connection with the Colonel and Miss Lana, who took them both into her loving home. They all worked together at the family diner, an opportune place for Mo and her best friend to interrogate suspects. Who killed the town curmudgeon? Were hidden treasures involved? Leave it to Mo and her BFF to figure it out!

This book really took me back to my carefree summer days when I had absolutely nothing to do but ride my bike and jump on the backyard trampoline. Even though this book is set in present day, I could tell the author made a conscious effort to leave out cell phones and other gadgets that are slowly sucking the souls out of little children—and their parents—on a daily basis. Thank you, Shiela Turnage, for taking me back to a time when kids can just go outside and make their own, non-computerized adventures!

Not That!

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson


I have a hard time believing these 500-plus pages full of petty high school drama were authored by the same woman who wrote Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour. What happened, Morgan Matson? Your teenage characters used to have depth and interests that superseded dreamy boys. I zeroed in on that amazing cover featuring adorable pups and assumed this was going to be about a girl finding her way through this crazy game of life with some help from her newfound dog friends.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a huge animal lover, but I feel like the author really missed an opportunity to use the dog-walking aspect to her full advantage. This could’ve been a beautiful story if the dogs helped Andy overcome her emotional hang-ups. Unfortunately in this story, the dog-walking job was just a means to an end. Andy dealt with her dog clients with the same enthusiasm as a gum-smacking Subway sandwich artist flopping together a cold cut trio.  Needless to say, I didn’t connect with Andy, or any of her friends for that matter.

As for the plot…well there isn’t one. Readers get to follow Andy and her clique of gal pals as they ruminate about their crushes, go to pool parties and hang out in the drama room. Boooorrrring! And what’s with all the girls having boy names? Is this a gimmick to make them more unique? I got tired of trying to figure out who was who, but in the end I guess it didn’t matter. I could skipped multiple chapters and never missed a beat. Come to think of it, I probably should’ve.

Aside from the nonexistent plot, I was amazed by how fast Andy and her absentee father resolved their differences after one major argument. My guess is that the author got tired and bored (totally understandable) and had to wrap up this non-story in a jiffy so she could get started on her next book, which I will not be reading. Ouch! That was cold. Sorry guys, just telling it like it is.