The Dime by Kathleen Kent

I discovered this book at a BookPeople event starring none other than the legendary East Texas noir author Joe Lansdale. He was joined by Kathleen Kent, a historical fiction author who is new to the shoot-em-up Texas thriller crime scene. I don’t typically gravitate toward hard-boiled mysteries. I’m more into magical cats and ghost-whispering amateur sleuths. But Joe’s rants and raves about the prose, the plot twists, and the larger-than-life characters had me lured in–hook line and sinker!

Turned out, Mister Lansdale’s gold-plated endorsement was not all hyperbole. The book lived up to his rave reviews–and then some. It was a rip-roaring ride from the first chapter all the way through the cliff-diving finale! The suspense was great–but I was most enthralled by the characters.

I’m telling you, character development can make or break a story. If they fall flat, or the protagonist is a tool, I’m out. Betty Rhyzk is anything but a tool. She is a total bad ass!  I have absolutely nothing in common with her, but we could totally hang out! In a way, she reminded me of Debra Morgan–my favorite character from the Dexter series. Working in a man’s world, she’s got a tough-as-nails exterior and has a knack for shutting down masagonistic “jokes” with witty comebacks. A six-foot-tall lesbian, she’s a walking target for sexist remarks from the good ol’ boys club. But she takes no prisoners and shows them who’s boss! Seriously, she will kick a man through a wall in a wrestling match. This is girl power to the extreme and I absolutely love it!

You know what else I love? The way this author is bringing lesbian characters into mainstream fiction. It’s about time we see more of these characters outside the “LGBTQ Fiction” section of the bookstore. Outside the cop shop, Betty shows her other side when she’s with her partner. When her guard is down, you get to know her vulnerabilities and the scars left behind from her traumatic childhood. As a Texan, I know this is a risky move for a Lone Star noir author. Judging by the very few one-star reviews, it’s clear that some people just can’t be open to something that challenges their narrow-minded religious beliefs. Oops, did I just get a little controversial just now? Sorry not sorry, bible beaters.

Anyhoo, I really loved Betty and Jackie and hope they keep going strong throughout the series. Despite their contrasting day jobs (Betty’s a narcotics detective and Jackie’s a doctor), they share one common bond: saving lives. At a gruesome crime scene, Betty described it beautifully when she noted,  “I have to pick up the pieces and Jackie has to put them together again.”

Another multi-faceted character in this book is The Big D. When non-Texans think of Dallas, they probably envision Longhorns and sprawling ranches owned by oil tycoons. I get so annoyed when books and TV shows portray Texas as this cowboy-infused land of bluebonnets and rodeo queens. And don’t even get me started on the Southern drawl versus the Texas twang. Seems like nobody these days can get the Texas vernacular right.

But I digress…the scenery in this book is on point. Just like the characters, the locale has many dimensions–from the pristine upper-class suburbs to the crime-infested city streets. There’s even a side-trip to the piney woods of East Texas, where the plot takes a serious cliff dive! It was fun joining Betty and her womanizing partner Seth as they tracked down perps in search of a demented drug lord. It was a wild ride, and I’m excited to get back on the crazy train when the next book drops!

Best Books of 2017 Reading Extravaganza!


Good morning, 2018! Time to scour my reading list and shine the spotlight on books that rocked my 2017. This past year has been all about Victorian mysteries, gothic ghost stories, mystical cozies and even a dash of Texas noir!

So here you have it, the best of the best books (in no particular order) that I’ve read in 2017! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get cracking on my new pile of literary adventures that arrived under the Christmas tree. Apparently I’ve been a very good girl. 😉


Best YA Dystopian Thriller

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry

I bought this book on a whim at the Texas Book Festival and had no idea it was a dystopian thriller. Had I have known this was a survival story set in a post-global warming ravaged world, I probably would’ve chucked it back on the shelf. Yet despite my distaste for post-apocalyptic books, I was mesmerized by the lyrical prose, the star-crossed love story, the brutal desert landscape. This new author clearly has a knack for world-building and character development. My heart poured out to Sarah Jac, who lost just about everything—and then some—in a series of traumatic events. In order to survive, she and James (her scheming soul mate) must resort to lies, betrayal and theft. Once you start peeling back the many layers to these onions, it’s not going to be pretty.  Part coming-of-age, part romance, part survival story, this is one heck of a journey I won’t ever forget! Needless to say, this new author is one to watch!


Best YA Gothic Thriller

How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather (a real-life decedent of Cotton Mather!)

If you’re looking for a good ol’ fashioned YA ghost story, this is it.  I was in the mood for a Lois Duncan-esque teen thriller and this book delivered! Similar to Duncan’s “Gallows Hill,” the story follows a hapless teenage girl with an otherworldly connection to the fallen witches of Salem. A descendant of Cotton Mather, the tables are turned and she’s the odd-girl-out at a school filled with superstitious mean girls. A love triangle ensues as she develops a love-hate relationship with a 300-year-old ghost and the boy next door. I know, I know, love triangles are so cliched. But yet, I still enjoy the bad boy vs. good boy dramarama. Is that so wrong? Either way, this is a super fun and campy teen thriller set amidst the spooky backdrop of the bewitched Salem woods. Hocus Pocus fans, eat your hearts out!


Best Indie Author Discovery

With This Curse by Amanda DeWees

Every once in a while I’ll give an unknown indie author a whirl. They have one chapter to win me over, and I’m a tough customer! If the pages are blemished with grammatical flaws or stilted dialogue, I’m done. Thankfully, Miss DeWees didn’t let me down. She’s a masterful wordsmith and –my god—how did she develop such an impressive vocabulary? I’m a little ashamed to say that I had to look up some of those words in my trusty Nook dictionary. I expected to find some anachronisms in this Victorian-era mystery, but alas, it was historically correct. Mechanics aside, I enjoyed the spooky atmosphere of the cursed manor and watching the romance unfold between Clare and her golden goose of a husband, Atticus. There’s multiple mysteries to solve—and when they all come to a head she finally gets to see Atticus for who he truly is. All in all, this author has a flare for drama and atmosphere. The only major flaw is Clara. Sadly, I did not like the main character at all. She was always mad at her subservient husband, who plucked her off of skid row and catered to her every whim. Her imperious demeanor was incongruous with her humble roots, which is something I hope the author will work on in the next book. That said, this series has a lot of potential. Bring on the next installment!


Best New Cozy Series

A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley

This fun little cozy is proof that sometimes you can judge a book by its cover! This was a Barnes & Noble impulse buy that shaped out to be the most perfect book for Halloween. How could I go wrong with a murder mystery set amid the spooky backdrop of an cliff-side haunted mansion with hidden rooms? The main character—a fledgling writer—gets to live out two of my fantasies: co-writing a book with a best-selling author while living out a Nancy Drew mystery in a haunted mansion. Be still, my heart! Throw in two eligible bachelors, four-legged sidekicks and a slew of suspicious townsfolk, and you’ve got all the ingredients for the most perfect cozy mystery evers! Another new series to add to my list! Read the full review here!


Best Gone Girl-esque Thriller

Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I just finished reading Miss Ware’s other title, “In a Dark, Dark Wood,” and it was almost a tossup over which book would make the list. But alas, this cruise ship murder mystery is hands-down the most suspenseful book I’ve read this year. In the vein of Gone Girl, we’ve got a VERY flawed and complex narrator on our hands. There are a multitude of variables that draw question marks about her credibility. This is one of those books that requires hours of binge-reading because the suspense is through the roof! Trust me on this, the final chapters are insane! What I love most about this author is her ability to distort objects of beauty into omens of impending doom. She can turn an opulent room into a sinister funhouse of mirrors, creating a sense of dread and claustrophobia. I really felt like I was on that luxurious—yet off-kilter—cruise ship amid shady rich folk with hidden agendas. Come to think of it, I think I’ll just stick to planes, trains and automobiles from now on. Read the full review here!


Best Texas Noir Thriller

The Dime by Kathleen Kent

I met this author at a BookPeople event starring my favorite hard-boiled Texas crime writer, Joe Lansdale. He raved about this new series, so I decided to give it a whirl. As I expected, Mister Lansdale didn’t steer me wrong. This book is far and away the best Texas thriller I’ve read in a while. Sorry, Hap and Leonard. The lead character—a six-foot-tall red-headed lesbian—is the quintessential Strong Texas Woman with a tough exterior and a soft heart. I enjoyed the drug-cartel thrillride, but what I love most about this book is the cast of characters and the witty dialogue. Just when I made my mind up about someone (like Betty’s womanizing partner, Seth) something cracks within their cliched exterior and you get to see that not everything is black and white. Read my full review here!

 

Books I’ve Read

Books I’ve Read in 2018

March

Down the River Unto the Sea by Walter Mosely
Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Conner
Haunted Nights: A Horror Writers Association Anthology
Off Kilter By Hannah Reed

February

A High-End Finish by Kate Carlisle
Single Malt Murder by Melinda Mullet
Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child
The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

January

Final Girls by Riley Sager
In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
A Gala Event by Sheila Conolly

Books I’ve Read in 2017

December

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry
Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett
The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans
Twelve Slays of Christmas by Jacqueline Frost
The Silent Night by Tasha Alexander
Upon a Ghostly Yule by Amanda DeWees
Death, Taxes and Mistletoe Mayhem by Diane Kelly
Gather Round the Sound by misc. authors|
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
With This Curse by Amanda DeWees

November

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
House of Furies by Madeleine Roux
Midnight on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Fatal Feast by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

October

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James
Site Unseen by Dana Cameron
How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

September

Fangoria’s Dreadtime (multiple authors)
The 5-Second Rule by Mel Robbins
It by Stephen King

August

Murder She Wrote: Rum and Razors by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain
Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower
A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley
Midnight Jewel: The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead
Black Beauty: An Audible Original Drama by Anna Sewell, R.D. Carstairs-adaptation
Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

July

Perennials: A Novel by Mandy Berman
Murder Most Howl by Krista Davis
Somebody I used to Know by David Bell
Peaches and Scream by Susan Furlong
Summer in the South by Cathy Holton
Ghost of a Chance by E.J. Copperman

June

A Familiar Tail: Witch’s Cat Mystery Series by Delia James
A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams
Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane

May

Pouncing on Murder by Laurie Cass
Yes, Please by Amy Pohler
Arrowood by Laura McHugh
Missing on Superstition Mountain by Elise Broach

April

The Diviners by Libba Bray
Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
Title Wave by Lorna Barrett
All by Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark
Before He Finds Her by Michael Kardos

March

Woman in Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware
The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

February

A Gilded Grave by Shelley Freydont
Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandell
The Dime by Kathleen Kent
Arf by Spencer Quinn
Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything by Nancy Martin

January

Death by Chocolate Lab by Bethany Blake
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland by Rebekah Crane
Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Mainscalco & James Patterson
The Restorer by Amanda Stevens
The Long Lankin by Lindsay Barraclough

Books I’ve Read in 2016

December

Mrs. Jeffries and the Merry Gentlemen by Emily Brightwell
The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt
Rest Ye Murdered Gentleman by Vicki Delany
Plum Pudding Murder by Joanne Fluke
Certain Dark Things by M.J. Pack
Mistletoe and Murder by Carola Dunn
Santa 365 by Spencer Quinn

November

And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich
Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella

October

Beewitched by Hannah Reed
Severed by Dax Varley
The Secret of Sleepy Hollow by Andi Marquette
Summer of Night by Dan Simmons
Sleepy Hollow: General of the Dead by Richard Gleaves

September

The Ghost and Mrs. Fletcher by Donald Bain and J.B. Fletcher
Cicada Summer by Andrea Beaty
The Diet Trap Solution by Judith Beck and Debra Beck Busis
Summer of Night by Dan Simmons
Beewitched by Hannah Reed
Murder at the Mansion by Janet Finsilver

August

Catch Rider by Jennifer Lyne
The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb
Silent Harmony by Michele Scott
The Walls around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

July

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
Tumbling by Caela Carter

June

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay
Heaven to Betsy by Pamela Fagan Hutchins
The Grand Hotel by Scott Kenemore
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

May
The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie
The All-Girl’s Filling Station Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg

April
Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan
Sister Dear by Laura McNeil
Murder She Wrote: Death of  Blueblood by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

March

The Hand that Feeds You by A.J. Rich
Thirteen Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt
Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen
Black Eye Susans by Julia Heaberlin
The Bargaining by Carly Ann West

February

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Bad Country by CB McKenzie
Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

January

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Buzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Seth Grahamey-Smith
If Walls Could Talk by Juiliet Blackwell
Claws for Alarm by TC LoTempio
Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn

Books I’ve Read in 2015

December

A Christmas Bride by Jo Ann Ferguson
Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed
Woof by Spencer Quinn
Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson
Away in a Manger by Rhys Bowen
Heartland Super Special: A Holiday Memory by Lauren Brooke
Star of the East by Tasha Alexander
A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry

November

Covenant of the Vampire by Jeanne Kalogridis
The Legend of Sleepy Harlow by Kylie Logan
Star of the East by Tasha Alexander
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Grave Apparel by Ellen Byerrum

October

Stirring the Plot by Daryl Wood Gerber
Sleepy Hollow: Bridge of Bones by Richard Gleaves
The Haunting of Maddie Claire by Simone St. James
I am Haunted by Zach Bagans

September

Better Homes and Hauntings by Molly Harper
Nightmares Can be Murder by Mary Kennedy
Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Silence of the Ghosts by Jonathan Aycliffe
Naomi’s Room by Jonathan Aycliffe
Rise Headless and Rise by Richard Gleaves

August

Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron
Bone to be Wild by Carolyn Haines
Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer
Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale by Lynda Rutledge

July

Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill
If You’ve Got it, Haunt it by Rose Pressey
Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
Ghostly Paws by Leighann Dobbs

June

Caught Dead Handed by Carol J Perry
Walk Me Home by Catharine Ryan Hyde
Neighing with Fire by Kathryn O’Sullivan
Dead White and Blue by Carolyn Hart

May

Real Murders: Aurora Teagarden Mystery No. 1 by Charlaine Harris
I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me by Jerold J. Kreisman
Trucker Ghost Stories by Annie Wilder
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Sound and the Furry: Chet and Bernie Mystery No. 6 by Spencer Quinn

April

Outlander by Diana Galbadon
Dog Crazy by Meg Donahue
This Voice in My Heart by Gilbert Tuhabonye and Gary Brozek
Masked Ball at Broxley Manor by Rhys Bowen

March

The Source by J.D. Horn
A Nip of Murder by Carol Miller
Frostbite by Richelle Meade
Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn Dingman

February

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahan
The Line by J.D. Horn

January

Murder, She Wrote: A Question of Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain
My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland
Geared for the Grave by Duffy Brown
Night Chill by Jeff Gunhus
Cat Deck the Halls by Shirley R. Murphy
Adventures in Dating by Sarah Rishforth

Books I’ve Read in 2014

December

Murder of a Stacked Librarian by Diane Swanson
Christmas Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley
Christmas is Murder by CS Challinor
All is Calm by Colleen Coble
The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn
Herald of Death by Kate Kingsbury

November

Pie Girls by Lauren Clark
To Hell and Gone in Texas by Russ Hall
The Vanishing by Wendy Webb
Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill
Eat and Run by Scott Jurek
Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Cooperman

October

Dr. Sleep by Stephen King
Ten by Gretchen McNeil
Freeing Yourself from Anxiety by Tamar Chansky
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
The Black Heart Crypt: A Haunted Mystery by Chris Garbenstein
Meow if it’s Murder by TC LoTempio
All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

September

Driving with the Top Down by Beth Harbison
The Selkie Spell by Sophie Moss
It’s Hard Not to Hate You by Valerie Frankel
Honey, Do You Need a Ride? By Jennifer Graham
The Unquiet by Jeanine Garsee

August

Perennial by Ryan Potter
Asylum by Madeline Reoux
The Cat Sitter’s Nine Lives by Blaize and John Clement
Dressed to Steal by Carolyn Keene
Hostile Makeover by Ellen Byerrum

July

Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy
Past Midnight by Mara Purnhagan
A Bad Day for Scandal by Sophie Littlefield
Dead until Dark  by Charlaine Harris

June

Killer Honeymoon by G.A. McKevett
Five Summers by Una Lamarche
Booty Bones by Carolyn Haines
It Takes an Egg Timer by Joanne Tombrakos
Lay Death at Her Door by Elizabeth Buhmann

May

Mischief in Mudbug by Jana Deleon
Murder on the Hoof by Kathryn O’sullivan
That Old Black Magic by Mary Jane Clark
I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I’ve Ever Had by Tony Danza

April

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Lending a Paw by Laurie Cass
The Nerd’s Guide to Being Confident by Mark Manson
Paper Towns by John Green

March

Her Royal Spyness (Book 1) by Rhys Bowen
The Collection by Bentley Little
Murder and Moonshine by Carol Miller
Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff

February

Vampire Academy (Book 1) by Richelle Mead
Dog on It by Spencer Quinn
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

January

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
Following Atticus by Tom Ryan
A Fist Full of Collars by Spencer Quinn
Ghoul Interrupted by Victoria Lourie
Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline
Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

Books I’ve Read in 2013

December

The Clue is in the Pudding by Kate Kingsbury
Ghost Huntress: The Tidings by Marley Gibson
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
A Dog Named Christmas by Greg Kincaid
I’m Dreaming of an Undead Christmas by Molly Harper
The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen
Call Me Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber

November

A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry
The Secret of Cypriere Bayou by Jana Deleon
The Devil’s Footprints by Amanda Stevens
Whodunit: Murder in Mystery Manor by Anthony Zuiker

October

Mayhem at the Orient Express by Kylie Logan
Broken by A.E. Rought
Dark Kiss by Michelle Rowen
Mid Summer Night’s Scream by R.L. Stine
Dead of Night by Charlaine Harris and Amanda Stevens
Dance on His Grave by Sylvia Dickey Smith

September

Haunting Violet by Alxyandra Harvey
The Cat Sitter’s Cradle by Blaize & John Clement
Phantom Evil by Heather Graham
On Writing by Stephen King

August

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
Veiled Revenge by Ellen Byerrum
Forever Charmed by Rose Pressey

July

Red Rain by R.L. Stine
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Latte Trouble by Cleo Coyle
Black Hills by Nora Roberts
Texas Cooking by Lisa Wingate

June

Nearly Departed in Deadwood by Ann Charles
A Cast Off Coven by Juliet Blackwell
Haunted on Bourbon Street by Deanna Chase
Killer Maize by Paige Shelton

May

The Crypt Thief by Mark Pryor
Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs
Edge of Dark Water by Joe Lansdale
Murder on the Half Shelf by Lorna Barrett
Foal Play by Kathryn O’Sullivan
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Supernaturals by David Lynn Goleman

April

The Thirteenth Sacrifice by Debbie Viguie
Cocktail Hour by Tara McTiernan
Opal Fire by Barbara Amino

March

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Daniel X by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn
An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James

February

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Naturally Charlie by S.L. Scott
Pretty when She Dies by Rhiannon Frater
Angels Fall by Nora Roberts
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

January

The Ghost and the Dead Man’s Library by Alice Kimberly
Carnival of Souls by Melissa Marr
Awake at Dawn by C.C. Hunter
The Secret Circle by L.J. Smith
Amber House by Kelly Moore

Books I’ve Read in 2012

December
I Kill Me by Tracey H. Tucker
Silent Night by Deanna Raybourn
Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle
A Countess by Christmas by Annie Burrows
So Pretty it Hurts by Kate White
From What I Remember by Valerie Thomas and Stacy Kramer
Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

November 

Wicked Witch Murder (Lucy Stone Mystery #16)  by Leslie Meier
Ghouls, Ghouls, Ghouls by Victoria Laurie
Born at Midnight (Shadow Falls #1) by C.C. Hunter
Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendra Blake
Ghost Story by Peter Straub

October
Taking Chances (Heartland #4) by Lauren Brooke
Walk of the Spirits by Richie Tankersley Cusick
Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick
The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
The Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall
Chasing Ghosts – Texas Style by Barry and Chad Klinge

September
Barefoot Girls by Tara McTiernan
The Swamp Whisperer by Sylvia Dickey Smith
The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan
It Begins (The Unseen #1) by Richie Tankersley Cusick

August
The Five by Robert McCammon
The Espressologist by Kristina Springer
Misfortune Cookie by Michele Gorman
Delerium by Lauren Oliver

July
Hostile Makeover by Ellen Byerrum
Falling Home by Karen White
Death Perception (Psychic Eye Mysteries #6) by Victoria Laurie
Love at First Bark by Julie Klam
Breaking Free (Heartland #3) by Lauren Brooke

June
The Gathering by Kelley Armstrong
Making Piece, by Beth M. Howard
True Love Way by Nancy Scrofano
Monarch Beach by Anita Hughes
Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman
Sisterhood Everlasting by Anne Brashares
After the Storm (Heartland #2) by Lauren Brooke

May
Overseas by Beatriz Williams
Rough Country by John Sanford
Zombies Don’t Cry by Rusty Fischer
A Glimpse of Evil (Psychic Eye Mystery No. 8) by Victoria Laurie
Under Suspicion (Underworld Detection Agency Mystery No. 3) by Hannah Jayne
Dancing Naked in Dixie by Lauren Clark

April
Doom with a View by Victoria Laurie
Dare to Die (Death on Demand Mystery) by Carolyn Hart
Horns by Joe Hill
Heartland: Coming Home  (book 1) by Lauren Brooke
Trouble in Mudbug by Jana DeLeon
The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Dark Lover (Blackdagger Brotherhood Series book 1) by J.R. Ward
Downward Dog, Upward Fog by Meryl Davids Landau

March

Destined to Fail by Samantha March
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Recession Proof by Kimberly S. Lin
Death on Heels by Ellen Byerumm

February
Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter by Blaize Clement
Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs by Blaize Clement
Trashy Chic by Cathy Lubenski
Hereafter by Tara Hudson

January
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
Stay Tuned by Lauren Clark
The Guys’ Guy’s Guide to Love by Robert Manni
How to Party with a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner
Love on the Lifts by Rachel Hawthorne
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Darkside by Beth Fantaskey

Books I’ve Read in 2011

January
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
The Girl who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
Made in the USA by Billie Letts
Bones of the Rain by Russ Hall

February
Wake by Lisa McMann
A House to Die for by Victoria Doudra
Sex, Murder and a Double Latte by Kyra Davis
A Werewolf in Manhattan by Vickie Lewis Thompson

March
A War of Her Own by Sylvia Dickey Smith
Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann
Ham Bones by Carolyn Haines
The Pulpwood Queens Tiara-Wearing Book-Sharing  Guide to Life by Kathy L. Patrick

April
Succubus Blues, by Richelle Mead
The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman
Just Take My Heart, by Mary Higgins Clark
The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver

May
Wishbones by Carolyn Haines
A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield
First Grave on the Right, by Darynda Jones
Play Dead by Harlan Coben

June
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Glass Houses (Morganville Vampires, Book 1) by Rachel Caine
The Dead Girls’ Dance (Morganville Vampires, Book 2) by Rachel Caine
Backyard Saints by Joshylin Jackson

July
Deeper than the dead by Tami Hoag
Dexter in the Dark by Jeff Lindsay
Hexes and Hemlines by Juliet Blackwell
Die for Me by Amy Plum
Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights by Kyra Davis

August
Vows, Vendettas and a Little Black Dress by Kyra Davis
Killer Hair: A crime of Fashion by Ellen Byerrum
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Under Attack by Hannah Jayne

September 
Another Bad Dog Book by Joni B. Cole
Deadly Harvest by Heather Graham
Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye #1
Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
Pretty Woman by Fern Michaels
How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

October
The Hollow by Jessica Verday
I am Legend by Richard Matheson
Fever Moon by Carolyn Haines
The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson

November
Graveminder by Melissa Marr
Chihuahua of the Baskervilles by Esri Allbritten
The Pig and Me by Liindsay Frucci
Paranormal State by Ryan Buell

 December
My Soul to Take by Rachel Vincent
Decked with Folly by Kate Kingsbury
Mistletoe and Mayhem by Kate Kingsbury
Christmas at Timberwoods by Fern Michaels
The Mischeif of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

Read this Not That! Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Vs Haunting Violet

Read This!

This may very well be my most favorite YA paranormal novel.  Set amidst England’s lush and foggy countryside, this is the perfect atmospheric gothic romance for a blustery winter’s night. The mystery behind the drowned ghost girl kept me glued to the pages as Violet searched for clues in a stately English manor. Complete with masquerade balls, danger and romance, this book is everything I could ever ask for in a paranormal mystery. If you love Barbara Michaels (how could you not?), I highly recommend this one!

Not That!

You know that old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?” Those are wise words, my friends! Please do not be fooled by this gorgeous cover depicting a gothic suspense thriller with a twinge of romance. The synapsis is just as misleading. After reading the dustcover, I was hooked. There’s a mansion filled with family secrets, a mysterious boy with paranormal powers and a spooky seaside town plagued by a diabolical force. What more could I ask for?

What I got was nearly 400 pages of Harlequin romance cheese filled with idiotic characters, inane dialogue and nauseating insta-love nonsense.

As for the plot, where was it? The only plot device—and I use that word loosely—is Violet’s unwavering attraction to a boy who likes to manipulate and ultimately kill people with his Jedi mind-tricks. She knows he’s a baaaad boy, but yet she can’t help but cuddle up with him every chance she gets. Here’s how the story goes. “I want to stab River in the heart for setting all those people on fire…..but then I melt when he gives me that crooked smile.”

Ugh! It’s no wonder why Violet lives a life of solitude in a mansion by the sea. Who would want to be her friend? Hey, I’ve been there, done that with a friend who chose to stay with a toxic man. At first you just want to shake them and force them to listen to reason. Then you eventually have to throw up your hands and walk away. That pretty much sums up my issue with Violet.

But to be honest—with or without the “glowing,”mind-bending boyfriend—she’s pretty darn lame. The author attempted to give her some depth by describing the many leather-bound books on her shelf. On paper, she’s quite the intellect, yet where does all that existential wisdom come into play when she’s faced with a moral dilemma? This is what I call lazy character development. Authors slap characters with a gimmick and—boom—you’ve got a multi-dimensional character. Read John Green’s “Paper Towns” and you’ll see what I mean.

Speaking of gimmicky characters, the most perplexing sidekick in this book is Sunshine. Essentially, she’s the provocative version of Kimmie Kibbler (Full House fans, you know who I’m talking about), who serves as Violet’s twin brother’s brainless sex toy. I was waiting for the author to peel back the layers and portray Sunshine as something more than a vacant-eyed nymphomaniac. Nope, not so much. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it seems like this character existed for the purpose of slut-shaming. She just seemed odd and out of place, but then again, so did everything else in this story.

In retrospect, I should’ve stopped at the very beginning when the book took a bizarre turn for the worst. Why would two underage kids be living on their own in a mansion by the sea? Wouldn’t social services be an issue? Then a girl goes missing and a bunch of kids brandishing wooden stakes go hunting for the devil in a graveyard. Huh?

So many questions, but yet I have no desire to seek answers in the following book. What I truly want to know is how this hunk of garbage got picked up by a respectable publisher. I know this is harsh, but I want to save you from wasting your time and money on this turkey. But if you’re into Bella Swann-type characters and insta-love romance, maybe it’s for you. We all have our guilty pleasures, so who am I to judge?

Washington Irving Fans, Eat Your Heart Out!

18586140Another hot and muggy September has reared its ugly head in this inferno called Austin. That means I’ll be reading nothing but spooky ghost stories all the way through December! This year, I’m jump-starting the witching season with this fun YA thriller filled with ghosts, leering jack-o-lanterns and a sword-wielding fiend on horseback.

Sounds promising, but yet I went into this book with cautious optimism. After attempting to watch that blasphemous Sleepy Hollow series and suffering through the first installment of the Hollow Trilogy, I know that there’s so many ways a headless horseman story could go wrong. Oh and please don’t get me started on the Tim Burton movie. Who in their right mind would cast Johnny Depp as Ichabod? I’m sure poor old Irving is still rolling around in his grave over that one.

Here’s the thing. If you’re going to retell old Washington Irving’s masterpiece, you better use the spooky setting to your full advantage. Irving and Ray Bradbury mastered the art of intoxicating readers with lyrical descriptions of fall landscapes. Contemporary authors all seem to pale in comparison. That is until I took a chance on Richard Gleaves.

He is clearly a huge fan of Irving’s work, and it shows in his atmospheric descriptions of Ichabod Crane’s stomping grounds. His prose swept me away to the little hamlet along the Hudson River, where I could hear the soft autumn breeze wafting through the trees, smell the smoke drifting from burnt leaves, and see the moonlight shining upon spooky boneyard. Such fun!

With a hip hip and a clippity clop, he's out looking for a head to chop!

With a hip hip and a clippity clop, he’s out looking for a head to chop!

The genius of the story, is the parallels between the modern day characters and their direct descendants—Brom bones and Ichabod Crane. Our hero Jason Crane may be long and lanky, but he’s much cooler than his social-climbing ancestor. As expected, he falls in love with Kate (the new Katrina), who is unfortunately hooked up with the modern day Brom Bones, a school jock with lots of skeletons in the closet.

Of all the multi-dimensional characters in this book, I most enjoyed Jason’s newfound bestie—a wannabe Robin Williams who spends most of his waking hours manning the grounds of the local cemetery. This actually comes in handy when Jason finds that his grandmother is being conned into digging up a veritable Pandora’s box that has been entombed in the family crypt for two centuries.

I’ll save you from the gory details—and I mean that in every sense of the word! But I will say that this is one thrill ride that will get you in the Halloween spirit. Ever since I watched the Disney version of Sleepy Hollow—a masterpiece onto itself—I’ve been obsessed with this story. It was such a treat when Gleaves invoked bits and pieces from Ichabod’s last ride into the climax. I won’t tell you any more, but I will say that fans of the Disney classic will be most amused.

 

Chick Lit Café’s Best Books of 2014!

Bust out the glitter and champagne—it’s time to ring in the new year and celebrate all the books that made us laugh, cry, swoon and yearn for adventure! Here are some highlights from last year’s mountainous reading list! I should note that not all of these books dropped in 2014, but they were new to me and therefore they made the list. It’s my blog, dammit, so I get to call the shots!

What were your memorable reads of 2014? Did any books in particular sing to your soul, make you want to change your life for the better, or transport you to another dimension through space and time? Post a comment and tell me all about it!

Best All-Around Book of 2014: Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline

15818107This is one of those traumatic coming-of-age stories that sucks you in and keeps you glued to the pages until the very end. The tragic characters were so real, it felt like I was right there on that train as it trudged its way to the Midwest, hungry, belittled and afraid of the unknown.  Even when I wasn’t reading, I found my mind drifting to little orphan Niahm, wondering how she was going to survive her current horrifying foster-home situation. I would also think of Molly’s unlikely friendship with a 91-year-old widow, wondering how they would eventually help each other overcome their hardships and find closure in the end. The author did a fantastic job unfolding both Molly’s and Niahm’s narratives as the chapters jumped from present day to the Great Depression. It was almost impossible setting down the book because I was dying to see their stories converge.

Memorable quote: So is it just human nature to believe that things happen for a reason – to find some shred of meaning even in the worst experiences?

 Best Wanderlust Book: Following Atticus by Tom Ryan

11100477Oh man, I don’t even know how to even begin describing how much I adore this book. I just want to climb to the top of one of Tom’s beloved mountain peaks with a bullhorn and tell the world to read Following Atticus. It’s that good, people!

This is just a beautiful story about the bond between a man and his dog, and how they both found inner peace in the enchanting New Hampshire Mountains. In defiance of what’s expected of an overweight middle-aged man and a 20-pound dog, they achieved the impossible. Not once, but twice, they conquered all 48 of the great White Mountain peaks in one winter.

I can tell you from experience that animals have a way of making us live in the present. Like standing atop a majestic mountain and looking down at nature’s splendor, seeing the world through a dog’s eyes can allow us to take in the bigger picture. All those trivial things—the office pettiness, the family melodrama, the overloaded inbox—seem so insignificant when you can truly understand the broad scheme of things. That’s why this book really hit home.

Memorable quote: In the mountains Atticus became more of what he’d always been, and I became less—less frantic, less stressed, less worried, and less harried. I felt comfortable letting him lead, and he seemed to know what I needed. He always chose the best route, if ever there was a question, and my only job was to follow.

Best Beach Read: Five Summers by Una Lamarche

16101148My happiest childhood memories took place at Camp Marston, a sleepaway camp nestled in the mountains of Julian, California. This book rekindled so many memories of the deep friendships that were forged over burnt marshmallows and capture-the-flag games. In this book, the four girls were lucky enough to stay in touch throughout the years and help each other through the trials and tribulations of young adulthood. Each girl is holding back a deep, dark secret and it all comes to a head when they reunite at their beloved Camp Nedoba. I really liked how the author used the third-person narrative to weave each of the girls’ past and present summer camp experiences in every chapter. I loved getting to know all the characters and reminiscing about my carefree summers at camp, where I only had to worry about hiding contraband candy from the counselors and getting caught on a night raid to boys hill!

Memorable quote: The way you act can sometimes be totally different from the way you actually are.

Best Inspirational Memoir: Eat and Run by Scott Jurek

13202092Confession: I bought this book for my husband without any intention of reading it myself. Just the thought of reading a memoir penned by a vegan ultra-marathoner made my eyes roll. But yet, the curiosity got the best of me when I read his inscription: “Dear Jarred, just do things.” Do things? Huh? Intrigued by this simple, yet provocative sentiment, I peeked into the first chapter and soon found myself totally enthralled by Jurek’s voyage into the unimaginable realm of ultra-marathon running. This book completely changed my perception of human limitations. At the risk of sounding trite, this incredibly gifted man shows that you can train your mind into believing –and proving—that anything’s possible. Example: the book opens with Jurek tossing his cookies on the side of the road in Death Valley with 60 more miles to go. Death freakin’ Valley! At this point any rational person would stick a fork in it and head back to the hotel. Not Scott Jurek. He not only completes the race—he wins it!  This isn’t just a book about running; it’s a story of perseverance. When the going gets tough, I’m going to keep his mantra in mind: Sometimes you just do things.

Memorable quote: I’m convinced that a lot of people run ultramarathons for the same reason they take mood-altering drugs. I don’t mean to minimize the gifts of friendship, achievement, and closeness to nature that I’ve received in my running career. But the longer and farther I ran, the more I realized that what I was often chasing was a state of mind – a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.

Sundays in Bed with…Red Rain by R.L. Stine

SundaysInBedWithBigWelcome to my Sundays in Bed with,  a weekly meme hosted by Midnight Book Girl! This is a fun opportunity to spotlight the book I’m reading on the glorious day of the week.

This morning I’m reading: Red Rain by R.L. Stine

Book-Review-Red-Rain_Mill

I have a soft spot in my heart for the mastermind behind the Fear Street series, which gave me delicious nightmares back in junior high when Nancy Drew Super Chiller mysteries were the only other “scary” titles in the young adult section.  So despite the overwhelming number of one-star reviews, I decided to give this one a try. I mean, come on, how could I refuse a new title by my childhood idol?

As for the negative reviewers, I can totally understand their issues with the bland characters, stunted dialogue and horror movie clichés. Yes, the main characters are one-dimensional. And yes, the freaky twin thing has been done to death in movies like The Shining and Village of the Damned. But you know what, R.L.’s trademark cliffhangers at the end of each chapter keep me glued to the pages until the wee hours of the night.

Reading this book is a lot like watching a campy horror flick. Going into it, my expectations for character development are pretty low, but I still have a lot of fun with the thrill ride. Aside from some awkward sex scenes, this is pretty much a young adult book. So if you’re expecting a horror story on par with the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, you’ll most likely be disappointed. This book isn’t scare per se, but it’s definitely entertaining!

The Friday Five: Naturally Charlie by S.L. Scott

In honor of the coolest day of the week, I bring you The Friday Five. Every Friday I will ask the same five questions to myself, or any other willing participant! All my fellow book lovers are welcome to join in on the fun.

15821735Synapsis: Twenty-five year old Charlotte “Charlie” Barrow is caught between her old life, and the one she is beginning to build, when she crosses paths with a handsome stranger on the subway. Not looking for romance, she closes her heart off to the possibilities of love. With a knack for mishaps, Charlie maintains her sense of humor while befriending the kind stranger who seems to be there at all the right times. New York freelance writer, Charlie Adams, is forging his own path beyond the expectations of the society circles of his childhood. Rejecting family money, and fast-lane friends, he is snubbed by his family as he follows his own compass to a life more extraordinary. Through a coincidence of events, they come to rely on each other for comfort. This is the tale of two Charlies learning to trust again while fighting their fates to create their own destiny.

Why did you choose this book? I came across this book at the Texas Book Festival last fall and couldn’t resist picking up a new title by an up-and-coming Texas author.  Although I have to admit that I dragged my heels for a while because I’m rarely in the mood for a light-hearted romance novel without sleuths, vampires or ghosties.

Where did the author go right? Or if it’s a turkey, what went wrong? Let me start off by explaining why I’m not a big fan of straight-up romance novels. The leading ladies are typically one-dimensional and painfully neurotic. They jump at the chance to be haughty and angry toward their love interest and it just grates on my nerves. There’s always a miscommunication and stupid squabbles ensue. I guess authors feel they need to do this to keep the romantic tension boiling, but it just annoys the crap out of me. But you know what surprised me about this book? I actually liked Charlie! She’s just your typical girl-next-door who loves to bake cupcakes and watch movies on a Friday night. We could totally hang out! Sure she has some serious emotional baggage, but it didn’t turn her into a complete ninny. The dynamic between her and Charlie (the dude) is very reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally….only the male Charlie is WAY hotter than Billy Crystal!

I also have to give the author props for thinking up the most bizarre first date of all time. I loved how the Charlies forged a bond under such stressful and emotionally-straining circumstances. From that moment on it was clear they were meant to be together.

Did anything bug you about the book? There were quite a few moments when I just wanted to shake Charlie and yell, “Get the hell out of the friend-zone, you idiot! He’s freakin’ perfect!”

Would you read another book by this author? Yes! When it comes to writing romance, S.L. Scott really knows how to hit the sweet spot. Her characters are believable, the dialogue is entertaining, and the grand finale is ultimately satisfying. Although I have to say that I’m a little tired of the Manhattan scene. Hopefully her next story will be set in Austin, or perhaps a small Texas town.

How would you sum up the book in three words? Sweet, romantic, cute.

The Watcher in the Woods by Florence Engel Randall

There’s no denying that The Watcher in the Woods is one of the darkest, spookiest Disney movies ever made. The old, paled-faced Bette Davis shrouded in black, the isolated estate surrounded by dark woods, the clairvoyant little girl – everything about it gave me the willies back when I was a kid. Oh heck – who am I kidding? This movie still gives me nightmares! 

So when I stumbled upon the book at an obscure used bookstore, I couldn’t believe my luck. Who knew there was a literary version of this creepy cult classic? Considering the book is always better than the movie, I knew I was in for a treat. Boy was I mistaken. 

Let me break it down for you like this. Here are three reasons why I loved the movie and how the book failed to deliver.   

Spoiler Alert! Karen’s Otherworldly Disappearance:  In the movie, Karen’s disappearance was caused by a group of kids playing around with the occult. Aligned with a solar eclipse, the ritual opened a door to another dimension, causing poor Karen to be spirited away to the great beyond. Spooky stuff, my friends.  

In the book, however, it was all one big alien-conspiracy acid trip. This book was written back in the early 80s – the tail end of the “dazed and confused” era – so I’m wondering if the author was chasing the white rabbit while writing about alien stalkers. The philosophical ramblings also had me scratching my head at times.  

The Foreshadowing: The little hairs on the back of my neck still stand on end when I think about the funhouse scene where a blind-folded Karen appears in the mirror maze mouthing the word “help.” Or when the little bratty sister falls into a trance and writes the name “Karen” backwards on a dusty window. And who can forget the motorcross scene where a message from beyond saves Jan from getting reamed by a flying motorcycle?

These spooky elements are few and far between in the book. Aside from a couple broken mirrors and a psychedelic TV scene, the author didn’t really get too creative with foreshadowing.   

The Ending: WTF? That was the question running through my mind as I polished off the last couple pages. There’s a plot twist hidden in there somewhere, but I just didn’t get it. The movie did a fine job tying up the story with a neat little bow, but the book left me with more questions than answers. I think someone got sucked into a wormhole through space and time, but I’m not quite sure. Shit man, I don’t even know if the alien was good or evil! If you fully grasped the convoluted turn of events, please post a comment and fill me in!

Dancing Naked in Dixie Review & Author Interview

How cool would it be to make a living as a travel writer? Jet-setting to lavish bucket list-worthy destinations on the company’s dime sure sounds like a dream come true. But then again, how could you make a life for yourself if you never really have a place to call home? What if white sandy beaches, poolside cocktails and cute cabana boys all just became another part of the daily grind? Hmm…maybe Samantha Brown’s life isn’t all champagne and roses after all.

For Julia Sullivan, the leading lady in Dancing Naked in Dixie, the frenetic life of a travel writer is the perfect escape from reality. Shattered by her mother’s death, she distracts herself by flitting from one country to the next and putting together generic stories at the last minute. With nothing to come home to, except an empty Manhattan apartment and a workaholic boyfriend, Julia’s fast-pace lifestyle is the perfect distraction from her empty life.

After turning in another flat travel story, the new editor in chief gives her one last chance to write a solid piece. But rather than sending her to an exotic resort as originally planned, he’s reassigning her to Eufaula, Alabama. To make matters worse, the new head honcho just so happens to be Julia’s estranged father. Ouch!

Like your typical city slicker, she scoffs at the idea of writing a glossy magazine story about a podunk country town. In fact, she’d rather dance naked that travel to Alabama!

Home of antebellum mansions, super-sweet tea and Southern belles, Eufaula is a far cry from the bustling streets of Manhattan. But just the thought of slowing down and smelling the roses sends Julia into a tizzy. Without a rigid schedule of spa treatments, scuba diving and five-star dining, she might have to finally stand still and be alone with her thoughts.

Despite her misgivings, she soon finds herself enveloped in a colorful world of fragrant magnolia trees, quirky townsfolk and stately historic mansions. And after meeting the charming locals – including a most handsome town historian – her plans to write a quick and dirty story soon fall to the wayside.

Little did she know, her story takes second seat to the drama unfolding around Phase Three, a development plan put in motion by some shady dealings with the city council.  But it’s not just the local politics that keep her from rushing back to New York. Somehow she managed to get attached to her handsome tour guide and his quirky family. Heck, she’s even growing fond of the flamboyant B&B owner, Roger, who never lets her slip out the door without a gabfest.

Unlike any other travel adventure, this is the first time Julia really connects with her surroundings. And for the first time since her mother’s death, she’s starting to feel whole again.

How is she ever going to return to her jet-setting lifestyle after leaving a big piece of her heart in Eufaula? You’ll have to read the book to find out. Trust me, fellow Southern fiction fans, it’s worth your while!

I was really impressed by Lauren’s debut novel Stay Tuned but this one really stole my heart. Many readers, myself included, will undoubtedly connect with Julia’s endearing personality. Despite her flaws, she’s compassionate toward others and truly cares about the fate of a small town that’s far removed from her own life in Manhattan.

What I love most about this book is the balance of heartache and humor. To quote the great Truvy Jones (Steal Magnolia fans, you know who I’m talking about!) laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. And Lauren Clark does a fine job of tickling my funny bone while tugging at my heartstrings.  If you aren’t already a Lauren Clark fan,  Dancing Naked in Dixie will help draw you into her fold.

Without further ado, I am pleased to present a Q&A with the mastermind behind this fun and frothy story of self-discovery, Lauren Clark.

Welcome Lauren! What do you love most about being a writer?

 I do love connecting with readers just after a book has been released. There’s so much excitement and worry about how the story will be received. With Dixie, I’ve been so amazed with the warm reception and readers embracing the characters right away! I actually held off on committing to come to Eufaula for a book signing until a few people there had read it and LIKED it . They’ve invited me August 2nd to Shorter Mansion , so that’s a good sign!

 I read on your blog that Eufaula is a real small town in Alabama. Why did you choose to set your story in this particular Southern hamlet?

 I used to live about a half-hour from Eufaula, and one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon was to drive up to Eufaula, have lunch and walk around the historic district. I attended several of the Pilgrimages, one at dusk when the streets light up with candles and everyone is in old-fashioned dress. It’s so lovely, like stepping back in time two hundred years.

 You did a fabulous job describing the sights, the sounds and the people of Eufaula. It’s almost as though the town is a character itself! Why is it important to pay close attention to the setting in a story?

 I think that readers like to explore a place they’ve never been or might never visit. I think that it’s the author’s job to provide enough setting details to make it seem real and come alive. Too much detail, and it’s overwhelming; just enough and it doesn’t get in the way of the story. I actually poured over maps of the city and marked the different locations, then tacked it up on my wall so that I had the picture firmly in my mind of where Julia would go and what she would see!

There are so many colorful characters in your book. If you could take one of them out to lunch, who would you choose and why?

 I love Roger. He’s so flamboyant, yet insecure at times. He’s the best friend you’d want to have in Eufaula – he knows everyone and everything that goes on. He’s the catastrophe manager; always the one who knows what to do and say in a crisis.

What do you love about Southern living?

There’s something about the way of life in the South that makes a person breathe a little deeper, sleep a little better, and enjoy the little things in life. The sky is blue almost every day, there are flowers blooming everywhere, and right now, the peaches are so ripe that you can smell summer right in the palm of your hand.

What kind of research went into writing this book? Did you go on any pilgrimages in Eufaula or perhaps another charming small town?

 I did attend Pilgrimages in Eufaula, but have not had an opportunity to do so in other towns. It’s on my bucket list!

While reading your book, I thought of that cute WB show “Hart of Dixie.” In terms of Southern culture, where does Hollywood go right? And where do they miss the mark?

 I adore Zoe Hart and George … I’ve been a big fan of the show since the start. I think that Zoe and Julia would be fast friends. And I can’t decide if I love or hate Wade … and just when Lemon is awful, I melt a little and empathize with her high-strung character. I do wish she would just hook up with the Mayor and get it over with!!!  (Disclaimer: I began writing Dancing Naked in Dixie more than five years ago … and finished it up when a friend begged me to. It was right around the time when “Hart of Dixie” came on the air!!)

I think that Hollywood goes overboard when they cast characters from the Deep South as uneducated and not very bright. I’ve met so many wonderful, talented, and brilliant people since I moved to Alabama, I feel lucky to call them my friends.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give to aspiring novelists?

 I have several:  (1) It takes a lot of hard work to get that first manuscript done. My advice is to finish it, no matter how awful or flawed your story. My first novel will NEVER see the light of day, but I had to get through it to learn and improve. (2) Someone wise once said that you have to write a million words before you find your voice as an author. I have to admit – as  much as I hate to – that it is true. (3) I read as much as I can about the craft of writing (three dozen books, at least) and listen to advice from authors who have been there in the trenches long before I picked up my laptop. (4) I read a lot of books – not just fiction – and not just in my favorite genre. I believe that it’s a great way to stimulate creativity and open your mind to possibilities. You never know where that next story idea might come from!!!

What message do you hope readers will take away from this book?

 I would love for readers to understand Julia’s journey. She has (as we all do) many preconceived notions about a place she’s never been and people who she’s never met. She’s not happy about visiting tiny Eufaula, Alabama. Yet, when she opens herself up to the possibilities, slows down, and takes in the beauty and love that she’s surrounded with, it changes her life.  In a sentence, Dixie is about finding happiness in the most unexpected of places.

 Could you give me a sneak peek into your next book? Will there be more adventures in store for Julia Sullivan?

I’ve had so many readers ask if there will be a sequel!!!  (Yay & Throws Confetti!!) I would love to catch up with Shug and Julia in the near future. I want to see what happens with their relationship, how Julia handles her new feelings, and whether she’s able to settle down in a small town. I grew to adore these characters – and  feel like there’s so much more to explore with PD, David, Aubie, and even Mary Katherine.  As far as my next project – I  am researching for my next novel, The Pie Lab, which is a real restaurant in Greensboro, Alabama. This story will follow a girl who’s gone off to a big city (like Atlanta or New York) and vows NEVER to come home. She’s forced to return to Greensboro, though, when her romantic relationship falls apart. Since she’s burned a lot of bridges, it will be interesting to see how she makes amends.  The Pie Lab, as a business, is a great concept, as it offers on-the-job training and the owners are very active in the community. Added bonus…the pies are delicious! The Pie Lab has been featured in Southern Living and The New York Times.

Thank you so very much for hosting me on your site. I am indebted to my readers and the wonderful bloggers like you who have supported Dixie.

Thank YOU, Lauren! I also want to thank my pal Samantha over at Chick Lit Plus for making me a part of the blog tour. For more about this fabulous author, check out her website. You can also hear her discuss her new book on Sylvia Dickey Smith’s Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio Show!