CeeCee’s Book Bites: Now Entering Adamsville

image of Now Entering Adamsville
In this new age of social distancing, disinfecting and chronic hand washing, CeeCee and I are turning to our towering bookshelf (this thing is massive!) to escape from this grim reality!

Since we’re knocking out our TBR list at a breakneck pace, there’s little time left for reviewing. Therefore, we bring you the first in our new Book Bites series, in which CeeCee is taking a bite out of crime—crime fiction that is!

The gist: Zora, an angry, demon-slaying teen on the wrong side of the tracks, must save the town of Adamsville from fiendish pyromaniac beings that are claiming the lives of townsfolk and tourists—including a rather unlikable team of celebrity ghost hunters who are quite literally playing with fire!

What I liked: Ever since Jarred finally hooked up our TV to Netflix, I’ve become obsessed with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The Gothic setting in this book is right on par with the creepy visuals in Sabrina’s world. I just loved the descriptions of the many haunted homesteads, the creepy caves and the haunted woods surrounding Zora’s trailer park. I also enjoyed the witty quips and snarky banter among the teenage sidekicks.

I would be remiss to not point out something truly special about this author’s gift. She has a way of articulating some really heavy emotions that had me shouting, “Yes! This!” After the week I’ve had (I work in dog rescue), I can certainly relate to this musing:

Sometimes you have so many thoughts and feelings that your brain decides to ignore every single one of them. It hangs a Closed for Business sign and walks out. No more worrying whether you did right or wrong. No more flashes of the only home you ever had reduced to beach wreckage. No more fear. No more anger. No more tears. You can’t look inward anymore, so you look out and see what’s left, and you’re happy to take it, no matter what it is. And if you’re lucky, you find exactly what you need. 

What irked me: I enjoyed the story, but yet it took me a long time—a whole month—to finish this book. I think a big part of the problem is the main character. I really didn’t connect with Zora, and it was rather unpleasant being inside the head of a bitter, angsty, hot-tempered teenage girl. I get her reasons for being this way, but it would’ve been helpful if the author softened her up just a tad. Maybe this book would’ve been a faster read with multiple narrators.

Favorite character: Zora’s historian/ghost-hunting cousin Artemis stole the show. I would love her to narrate the next book, if this becomes a series. Considering how it left off, I’d be surprised if I didn’t see book two on the shelves sometime soon.

Overall: This is a quality YA paranormal thriller that is sure to please fans of Buffy and Sabrina. There’s even a few LGBTQ+ characters thrown into the mix (about time this becomes mainstream!) and no annoying love triangles—hallelujah!

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: ‘The Dog I Loved’ by Susan Wilson

Heyo! How’s everyone doing out there? Are you limiting your news consumption? Staying far away from crowds? Disinfecting those groceries? Giving your four-legged co-workers bonus treats for fulfilling their duties as essential staff?  I sure hope so!

Now that social distancing has become our new way of life, I feel it is my civic duty to recommend some great literary escapes. Time to turn off the news, wash those hands another time, and pick up a good book! For all my fellow dog lovers, I highly recommend anything by Susan Wilson. Here’s my thoughts on her newest title The Dog I Loved.

The gist: The story follows two women in crisis, Rosie and Megan. Their lives intertwine when Rosie joins a therapy dog-training program while serving time for killing her repugnant boyfriend (good riddance!) at the state penitentiary. Spoiler alert, we don’g get to find out how that all went down until the very end. Way to dangle that carrot, Miss Wilson!

Anyhoo, our hapless protagonist begins to feel human again while training a cute little fellow named Shark. After graduating from the program with flying colors, Shark works his magic on Megan, a paraplegic vet wounded in the line of duty. Both women are wracked by misery, guilt and grief, but with some help from their four-legged guardian angels, things take a turn for the better.

Life definitely starts looking up when Rosie gets released early–thanks to a mysterious benefactor who hooks her up with a project management job at a historic homestead called Dogtown, an enigmatic place where wayward women lived in harmony with dogs. Like the women who came before her, Rosie takes in a big, shaggy wolfhound named Shadow, who arrived at her doorstep at just the right time.

What I liked: The dogs, of course! Here and there, they get to narrate a chapter, bringing simple yet poignant perspectives about their owners’ lives—and how they solemnly vow to stick by them through thick and thin.

What irked me: I’m just going to come right out and say it! Rosie was a complete asshole before she was sent her behind bars. I get that she was enchanted by the rich boyfriend, and the extravagant lifestyle that was so different than her humble, blue-collar upbringing. But damn, girl! Why would you stay with a man who’s insisting on throwing your whole family under the bus? Why continue living with a man who treats you like garbage? And THEN, why would you go to a breeder (again, judging!) and bring an innocent dog into the home of a sadist???

I’m sorry, but I think six years in prison was justice well served. That girl needed to do some serious soul searching.

Most favorite character: Well that would have to be Shadow. I love the mystery of his past, and how his life parallels with the mystical dog that popped up in Rosie’s research on Dog Town’s history. I love how attuned he was to Rosie’s feelings—and how he knew exactly how to comfort her when she needed it most. I just love that the author captured this phenomenon with dogs.

Overall: This a quality feel-good story about redemption, resilience and friendship for dog lovers. Best of all—no dogs die in the end! However, I must admit that I enjoyed Two Good Dogs much more, probably because there was a cat-and-mouse chase  component that kept me on edge. I recommend this one to any dog lover who enjoys good books with tail-wagging endings.

Unfinished Business by Roxanne Hensley

Happy New Year, everybody! Do any of you have any literary-themed resolutions to tackle in 2020? I’m all about setting achievable goals like eating more chocolate and reading more books that make me happy. My big challenge this year is to read at least half a dozen classics  starting with Little Women. I’m about halfway through and boy is it ever so charming.

Speaking of feel-good books, I would like to introduce you to Roxanne Hensley, a brand new author who is ready to become the next Kristin Hannah–or maybe even Nora Roberts! Hmm…perhaps I should suggest she write a steamy vampire romance trilogy.

But I digress. Without further ado, here’s my review of her debut book Unfinished Business.  If you’re looking for an uplifting read to start off the new year, this is it!

The gist: Adrian, a high-powered career gal, abandons her corporate job and city lifestyle to take care of her ailing mother in the wake of a horrific car crash. Throughout her journey of self-discovery, she makes new friends–including a most handsome eligible bachelor–and reconnects with her cantankerous mother.

What I liked:  Grab you popcorn and a cuddly blanket because this book is the literary equivalent of a Hallmark romance movie, only with much better, more likable actors. If I could choose just one thing to highlight it would be the pacing. Almost every chapter ends with a “WTF!” ending, leaving me with no other option but to keep zipping through the pages until I know that things are going to end up rosy for poor Adrian, who just keeps getting hit with one bombshell after another.

What needs work: There were some moments when Adrian and her mother could’ve had some knock-down-drag-out fights, but they resolved their tiffs a little too quickly. The mother was a real pistol, so I know she had it in her to smash a glass against a wall or–at the very least–smash a magic brownie (yes, those are involved!) in her daughter’s face. Or maybe this is just me speaking from my own personal experiences. Let me tell you, the struggle was real back in the day.

Most favorite character: I appreciate Adrian in many, many ways. Life threw her some curve balls–big time–and she just kept forging onward. Given the circumstances, she could’ve justifiably turned away from her mother, but she chose the high road instead. This, of course, is not necessarily the best route to take for everyone (toxic is toxic!), but the mom had some redeemable qualities and by the end of the book, she actually started to grow on me.

Overall opinion: This is a quality read for anyone who enjoys a good story about self-discovery, forgiveness and second chances. There’s also a sweet romance thrown in the mix! Fans of Kristin Hannah and Susan Mallery are sure to enjoy this one.

 

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: Making it Rain in Texas


Well howdy there, folks! Are you ready for a rootin’ tootin’ good time deep in the heart of the Lone Star State? Well saddle on up to the couch, grab yourself a Shiner brewski and crack open (or tap your screen) this wild ride of a Texas mystery!


The gist: Book five of the Al Quinn mystery series is one heck of a roller coaster ride—chock full of gun-toting con artists and car chases across the scorching Hill Country landscape. In this latest installment, our hapless hero Al must track down a rather talented con artist, trap a goat-killing Chupacabra and sort out his feelings for Fergie (the love of his life who has been waiting too dang long for that ring).

What I liked: This book begins and ends with a bang—and I couldn’t rip through the chapters fast enough. I felt like I was right there with Al and Fergie while they were running from the bad guys—with a few touristy pit stops along the way. I especially liked the scene at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company—my most favorite touristy restaurant in Texas German country! As they say, write what you know, and Russ Hall knows the Texas Hill Country like the back of his hand. Interested in learning more about Texas Germans? Check out my magazine story here.

Thoughts on character development: I’ve been following this colorful cast of characters since To Hell and Gone in Texas (book one in the series), and they just keep getting more interesting. I like my protagonists a little on the messy side. They need to have some character flaws and terrible habits–because how else am I supposed to relate?! Needless to say, Al has issues, especially with his brother, Maury, who did a very bad deed back in the day– a real deal breaker, if you ask me. Yet despite his misgivings, I can’t help but to like him, dammit!  As the books progress, it’s interesting to see how their relationship evolves. Even more interesting is Al and Fergie’s blossoming romance. Will they get past their commitment issues and finally tie the knot? Guess we’ll have to keep reading to find out!

What needs work: More dog action, please! Tanner got very little airtime in this book and it would’ve been great if he could ride shotgun–or maybe just drive the car– in the next novel.  Also, I love that Fergie is a fearless, gun-toting Texas woman, but she does a whole lot of, “Where we going next, Al? What’s happening now?” Next time, let’s get her in the driver’s seat. I bet she’d take Al on one heck of a thrill ride!

A word of warning: Be sure to clear your schedule when you get down to the last few chapters. When it hits the fan, it REALLY hits the fan and you won’t be able to stop reading until the very end! Thanks, Mister Hall, for almost sending me and my palpitating heart to the ER! I’m exaggerating…but only slightly. 😉

Summed up: Another solid action thriller that is sure to please fans of old school Rick Riordan (Tres Navarre, I miss you!).

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: Fatal Cajun Festival by Ellen Byron

CeeCee and I love zydeco music, gumbo and scrumptious pralines! So naturally, we just had to read this fun little whodunit set in the one of our most favorite fictional Southern towns, which could quite possibly be the murder capital of Louisiana. As expected, this newest installment of the Cajun Country Mysteries proved to be another fast-paced adventure filled with live boot-scootin’ music, scrumptious Southern cooking and a dash of romance as steamy as a pot of Tugg’s famous jambalaya! Will we see wedding bells in the next book? I hope so!

Summed Up: Maggie Crozat is on the case once again—and this time it’s happening at a music festival starring the illustrious Tammy Barker, a small town mean girl-turned country sensation superstar (think Taylor Swift meet Miley Cyrus…yuck).  The mystery begins when Tammy’s sleazy manager gets zapped to death on stage, and all eyes are on Maggie’s best bud, Gaynell!  It’s up to Maggie to piece together the clues (with her hunky cop boyfriend, of course) to find the real killer before her songbird bestie becomes a jailbird. Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.

What worked: The mystery proved to be quite a puzzle with loads of suspects who all have ample motives for electrocuting the womanizing manager. As with all cozy mysteries, there’s a tangled web of characters thrown into this big ol’ spicy pot of jambalaya, but thankfully we have a character map at the front of the book to sort them all out. I’m sure that all my fellow cozy mystery lovers would agree that this is a highly necessary tool. Either way, this was another clever whodunit with a surprise ending—even for this seasoned mystery fan.

What didn’t work: I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of the sub-plot involving Maggie’s granny doing her “death cleaning,” meaning downsizing her belongings to prepare for the great beyond. I know it’s practical and worth doing, but yeah…it made me squeamish.

Favorite Character:  CeeCee and I love a strong, dog-loving heroine with a penchant for mischief! What we love most about Maggie is her loyalty to her friends and family. Gaynell is a lucky girl to have such a talented super sleuth for a bestie. Let’s face it, in a town with such a high body count, you just never know what’s going to happen!

Least favorite character: Tammy Barker is—hands down—the most deplorable character in this book. She’s everything that’s wrong with country-crossover-pop music these days, and I couldn’t wait for her to become the next victim. Did she end up on the killer’s hit list? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

This book is best pared with: A giant homemade praline and a cold glass of sweet tea.

Mandatory disclaimer: I got an advance copy for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Stephen King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ Reviewed by a Crazy Cat Lady

Message from Lil Bootz: SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR PETS! Seriously, it’s not that hard.

First off, Lil Bootz wants to note that ALL of this madness could’ve been avoided if these two bonehead pet owners fixed their tomcat ahead of time and didn’t let him roam free range!!! For Christ’s sake, they moved to a rural farmhouse that sits atop a major  thoroughfare for speeding truckers! How did this guy get through medical school?

While I’m on my soapbox, PLEASE do not adopt an animal for your child. If you’re not an animal lover, just buy the kid a stuffed animal and call it a day. It doesn’t end well, folks. Children have short attention spans and when the novelty wears off, the poor animal ends up living an ignored, lonely life.

If you’re still reading this, I just want to thank you for letting me indulge. I volunteer for a local No Kill shelter and have a lot of angst. As for the story, this is on my Top Ten List of Creepiest Books on Earth. If you saw the Hollywood adaptations and assume the book is redundant, think again!!!

The movies are fun and campy, but they completely skip over the scariest parts of the story. For instance, Hollywood did a real botch job on the Mikmac burial ground. It’s not just a hop-skip-and-jump away from the Pet Sematary.  Nope, you have to do some serious hiking and mountain climbing to get to that soured land where dead things are resurrected by the “Great and Terrible Oz.”There are also things with hooves and horns lurking within the shadows, watching and waiting for the unspeakable necromancy to unfold.  It was one thing when Judd took Louis there at dusk, when the night creatures started to stir. But the creep-factor ratcheted up about 10 knots when the idiot doctor made the trek alone in the dead of night with his dead son.

“Now the thing out there seemed so close that Louis expected to see its shape at any moment, rising up on two legs, perhaps, blotting out the stars with some unthought-of, Immense and shaggy body.” Then, “a shrill, maniacal laugh came out of the darkness, rising and falling in hysterical cycles, loud, piercing, chilling.”

The best, most creepiest part happened on Louis’ solo mission, when he started seeing and hearing the dark entity that ruled the land where no man should roam. Leave it to the King to deliver scares that can shake even the most jaded horror movie fans! Needless to say, I’m in awe.

You know what else is missing from the movies? The foreshadowing! Good ol’ Judd spins some foreboding yarns about the fabled Wendigo that is rumored to roam the woods at night. He knows quite a bit about this place because he, too, has been ensnared by its dark forces.

 “Don’t go beyond, no matter how much you feel you need to, Doctor. The barrier was not made to be broken. Remember this: there is more power here than you know. It is old and always restless. Remember.”

You know, while watching the movie (the old one with Herman Munster playing Judd), I always wondered what compelled the kindly old man to take Louis up to the Pet Sematary. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that my questions have been answered.

As for Louis and Rachael, I’m not too torn up about their demise.  A LOT of bad decisions led them to that point. Also, they were so mean to poor little Church–in life and in death. The poor little guy kept getting kicked and flung out of rooms just for existing. My heart went out to the undead critter because he didn’t ask for that afterlife. Zombie cats need love too, people!

 “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it. ‘Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own… always comes home to you.”

Like Dr. Frankenstein, Luis thoughtlessly brought a life (well, sort of) into the world without any plan to nurture it. Clearly Judd’s admonition fell onto deaf ears. Let me put it this way, Luis isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer…ooh perhaps that’s a bad choice of words.

Reader beware: This book is incredibly dark, so I highly recommend cleansing your palate with a light and fluffy beach read. I honestly don’t know how Stephen King could put himself in such a dark place for so long while writing this book. There are a LOT of really uncomfortable conversations about death and evil entities lurking in the hereafter. At one point, I had to take an intermission just to stop my imagination from wandering down the dark and twisted rabbit hole that Stephen King so willingly plunges into while writing these page-turners. As I said, I’m in awe.

Now I’m off to go read a magical cat mystery with baked goodies and hot detectives. Meow!

 

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: The House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig


A big thanks to Delacorte Press for granting me a free advanced copy of this fantastical book that has all the makings of the next big Guillermo del Toro movie! I was getting some Crimson Peak vibes with a dash of Disney princess magic! After reading the premise on NetGalley, I was all in. How could I resist a Gothic mystery packed with mournful ghosts, dashing suitors and fantastical masquerade balls?

Set in a land far, far away, the story follows a beautiful young maiden, Annaleigh, who lives with her litter of sisters in a stately manor overlooking the sea. The story begins with a seaside funeral for one of several sisters who have fallen victim to the dreaded curse. Year after year, the girls are forced to dress in black as they mourn the fallen ones who left the ethereal world to be with Pontus, the God of the high seas.

Trapped beneath the dark cloud of impending doom, the girls live solitary, sheltered lives within the walls of Highmoor manor. No suitor will dare to go near them in fear of becoming ensnared by evil forces. Thing get spooky when ghostly apparitions start beckoning to the girls at night, reminding them that death is near.

With an absentee father and a very pregnant stepmother running the show, Annaleigh must take it upon herself to root out the origin of the curse before tragedy strikes again. When she and her sisters discover a magical passageway to a mysterious land of never-ending masquerade parties, more nefarious characters enter the scene. Like Dorothy entering the land of color, the girls shed their mourning clothes and immerse themselves in the enchanting party scene–replete with with twinkling fairy lights, dashing mystery men and bottomless champagne flutes.

It’s all fun and games until Annaleigh’s sisters start dancing their lives away, shredding all of their fancy shoes night after night after night. After a creepy encounter with a sinister masked man, Annaleigh, she hangs up her tattered dancing shoes and sets forth on a mission to vanquish the family curse.

I won’t spoil the fun by going any further, but I will say that this is a solid mystery with a couple unexpected plot twists! The mystery and the characters–even the evildoers–were great, but what sets this book apart from the rest is the setting..  I just loved envisioning the Gothic manor set atop a craggy, salty landscape overlooking the choppy ocean. The feeling of isolation adds to the spook-factor when the ghosts make themselves known within the dark, cavernous rooms. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys those twisted tales by the Brother’s Grimm. Here’s hoping for a sequel!