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.