Lil Bootz’s Cozy Corner: Mardi Gras Murder & Killer Green Tomatoes

Lil Bootz and I are super excited to get advance review copies of these two books via the wide, wonderous world of NetGalley. Hooray for free books! The only problem, however, is that both of these mysteries are devoid of cats. With promises of catnip and extra helpings of party mix, she reluctantly decided to humor me. Here we bring you two cozies for those of us who enjoy downhome cooking, small town mystique and jigsaw puzzle mysteries.

Mardi Gras Murder by Ellen Byron

It’s been a while since I’ve journeyed to the Crozet Plantation B&B, located on the outskirts of the Big Easy. When I saw this cover, I immediately requested an ARC so I could party at Mardi Gras with Maggie and her fam in the land of gators and gumbo. As expected, this was a fun, atmospheric mystery filled with eccentric Southerners, downhome Cajun cooking and deep, dark family secrets. The story begins with an unidentified dead body washing up on the B&B’s property after a major storm. Who was this stranger and what was he doing in Pelican of all places? Things get even weirder when someone knocks off one of the judges for the local teen queen pageant. It’s up to our fearless sleuth—and her two doggie sidekicks—to solve both mysteries before Pelican’s annual Mardi Gras parade. And if that’s not stressful enough, she’s also got another vexing mystery involving an absentee boyfriend. There’s quite a few guessing games to sort out, but I had a lot of fun playing along! Like a pot full of Tug’s jambalaya, there’s a lot going on here! We’ve got a shady cast of suspects involving stage moms (aka momtestants), competitive teenage girls, Southern bluebloods and a very bitter wife. So many people had something to gain from the town historian’s murder—and it’s up to Maggie to piece together the clues before the king cake gets cut! If you enjoy atmospheric mysteries set in the South, I highly recommend this series. Fans of Jana Deleon will enjoy the humorous banter and ridiculous subplots. Poor Tug…I hope he eventually bonds with that new gumbo pot.

Killer Green Tomatoes by Lynn Cahoon 

Surprisingly I have only just now discovered this talented author who has written dozens of cozy mysteries. How’d that happen? Perhaps not enough kitties on the covers? If it wasn’t for the big, goofy St. Bernard gracing the cover, I don’t think I would’ve even noticed this new farm-to-table series. Also, I’m a big fan of comfort food, so the restaurant setting was most enjoyable. A word to the wise: You must not read this on an empty stomach. Otherwise all the sumptuous entrees in Angie’s kitchen will drive you bonkers! Come to think of it, I could go for some fried green tomatoes right about now…but I digress. This is a fun little whodunnit with an interesting cast of characters—from the womanizing tomato vendor (and No. 1 murder suspect!) to the serial-dater best friend to the gossipy townies. For the most part, Angie’s a likeable gal with a good heart. It just irks me that she’s a workaholic and clearly has no time for her incredibly sweet boyfriend. There’s zero fireworks between the two—especially on Angie’s end. And it just seems like it’s only fair for her to let the poor man go so another lucky single lady can cash in on that action. Don’t get me wrong, Angie’s a great gal. She looks after her neighbors and makes her team of restaurant workers feel like family. I just wish she could let loose a little and maybe partake in a hobby that doesn’t involve work. Perhaps a mystery cruise is in order for the next installment! Aside from those minor gripes, this is a solid mystery series that left me guessing until the final chapters.  And—spoiler alert!—there’s a yummy fried zucchini recipe included in the back pages! Now if you’ll please excuse me, I have some experimenting to do in the kitchen.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

As many of you know, self-help books are hit or miss. Don’t even get me started on the positive psychology BS that involves “the universe” and victim-blaming psychobabble. Louse Hay, I’m talking to you! So I was a little skeptical when a friend recommended this book to help me sort out my misanthropic views on life.

Just one chapter into it and I was completely enraptured! This book sang to my soul in so many ways and I encourage everyone to read it—even those who aren’t on the cusp of leaving civilization to live in an igloo.

I don’t even know where to begin with this review because Brene Brown was dropping wisdom like bullets from a fighter jet! Perhaps I shall break it down into quotes.

Essentially, the wilderness is one’s true self. For many of us, this wild, untamed forest remains unexplored and, perhaps in some cases, roped off. This is the place where truth and integrity lie. But to fit in, or to climb ahead while kicking down, people become disconnected from their inner core and lose touch with their purpose in life. It takes a lot of practice and courage to tap into this realm of consciousness when we feel like something’s off. And when we do, we run the risk of being ostracized. It’s a rather esoteric concept, but I think I get it.

“Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness — an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

THIS RIGHT HERE IS EVERYTHING! Sorry, I don’t mean to scream, but this passage is so on point with what I’m observing in the animal rescue “industry.” I’ll just leave it at that to spare you from a long soapbox tirade.

“When the culture of any organization mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of the individuals who serve that system or who are served by that system, you can be certain that the shame is systemic, the money is driving ethics, and the accountability is all but dead.”

I especially appreciated her thoughts on those who find solace in self-segregating echo chambers, where anger gets amplified and opposing voices are silenced. I found myself nodding profusely throughout this entire chapter because it perfectly illustrates what’s driving our highly polarized society.

“We confuse belonging with fitting in, but the truth is that belonging is just in our heart, and when we belong to ourselves and believe in ourselves above all else, we belong everywhere and nowhere.”

As for the haters, I have a new outlook on why they spew their venom in such terrible ways. Of course, we all have to deal with these miserable people, but it’s good to be aware of what’s lying underneath their slimy reptilian scales. Oops, that was a rather dehumanizing turn of phrase, but hey I’m a work in progress. This passage really helped me understand my bullies, thus reminding me to never sink to their level.

“Dehumanizing and holding people accountable are mutually exclusive. Humiliation and dehumanizing are not accountability or social justice tools, they’re emotional off-loading at best, emotional self-indulgence at worst. And if our faith asks us to find the face of God in everyone we meet, that should include the politicians, media, and strangers on Twitter with whom we most violently disagree. When we desecrate their divinity, we desecrate our own, and we betray our faith.”

Toward the end of the book, the author brought me to tears when she shared some anecdotes about people coming together in times of grief and happiness. I really choked up—in a good way—when she recounted a movie theater experience when all the Harry Potter fans raised their wands to the sky. Why? Because they believe in the light.

“Not enough of us know how to sit in pain with others. Worse, our discomfort shows up in ways that can hurt people and reinforce their own isolation. I have started to believe that crying with strangers in person could save the world.”

CeeCee’s Audiobook of the Month: Lair of Dreams

I’ll start off by stating that Libba Bray is one of my most favorite YA authors. She knows how to spin an adventurous tale filled with young, angsty love and complex characters. Most impressive is her ability to weave dozens of characters into multiple storylines that seamlessly merge together when everything comes to a head. So much is packed into this 600-page tome, but yet I managed to keep it all straight throughout the wild ride of dream-walking diviners, evil eugenicists, dancing Folly girls and underground ghosts.

It took me a while to recall all the players from the first installment, but the author expertly injected brief recaps without bogging down the story. One thing I do remember is that Evie, is positutely obnoxious! She’s a self-serving, unapologetic party girl who loves being the center of attention. Essentially she’s a 1920s Kardashian. There’s a sad backstory involving absentee parents and a dead brother, but I’m not pulling out the world’s smallest violin just yet.

But who cares about Evie (aka Evil) when we can journey with so many other fabulous characters with fascinating abilities? There’s a pretty lengthy cast of diviners to follow–and they are all gravitating toward one place: A creepy underground subway station rife with malevolent ghosts. There’s a number of villains lurking within the waking and dream worlds including a shadow man in a top hat, a veiled woman and cult leaders. Plus there’s Evie, who violates the girl code. But I suppose she’s one of the good guys.

Of all the characters, my favorite is Ling, a half-Chinese girl who walks through dreams. A newcomer to the series, she’s not acquainted with Evie and her Scooby Doo gang of friends. But with her diviner powers, she finds her way into the fold when she meets Henry (one of the gang) in a dream. Together, they explore a strange dreamworld as they pursue their individual quests. It gets complicated, so I’ll leave it at that. But I will say that their unlikely friendship is the best part of this book. Neither of them fit into mainstream society, a relatable struggle for readers young and old.

Then there’s Theta, a very secondary character who deserves her own standalone novel. This multi-talented, wise-cracking Follies dancer is a force to be reckoned with. A survivor of a psychopathic husband, Theta’s a self-made woman who’s willing to sing and dance her way to the top. I admire her loyalty to Evie and Henry, even when though they leave her in the dark throughout most of the book. Rude much!

Despite Evie’s obnoxious gin-riddled antics, I must admit that I was sucked into her budding relationship with Sam, a pick-pocketing con artist with a soft spot for fame-hungry women. When she fakes an engagement with Sam to build her star power, their ruse turns into radio show candy. The brainless masses are hooked and soon the two con artists become the toast of the town at lavish red carpet events. But as they say, what goes up must come down. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching the train wreck unfold.

I could tell you what happens next, but you’ll have to read the book instead. Better yet, get the audiobook because the narrator is positutely jake! I should warn you that it does get rather creepy when the gang wanders into the ghosts’ subterranean lair! This book is much darker than the first, which makes me wonder about the third installment. This will be a tough act to follow up, but I have faith in Miss Bray because she always delivers.

Read This, Not That! CeeCee’s Roundup of Library-Themed Mysteries


I think every cozy mystery lover’s dream is to run a super cute bookshop in an idyllic little hamlet rife with tourists, magical cats and murderous fiends. That must be why there’s a plethora of bookshop-themed mysteries with adorable kitties on the cover. As you can see by my book selections, this clever little marketing ploy works for a select target audience.  Slap a kitty or a haunted mansion—preferably both—on a cover and I’m in! So here’s a few hits and misses from my latest impulse buys, thus proving that the old adage rings true: Don’t judge a book by its cover.


Read This! Lending a Paw

I love this series for several reasons. One: the picturesque Upper Peninsula setting invoked my happiest summertime memories at Mackinac Island. Oh how I was craving homemade fudge while reading this thing!

Two: the leading lady, Minnie Hamilton, is a cat-rescuing, bookmobile-driving, crime-solving librarian. Enough said.

Three: Minnie’s rescue kitty plays a big role in nabbing the killer. I’ll stop right there before giving anything away, but I will say that this little hero has some seriously impressive sleuthing skills. It’s also very amusing when he responds to his humans with a resounding “merr.”

Four: There’s a twinge of spookiness when Minnie discovers her houseboat neighbors might be potential killers. How very Cape Fear! Okay, so maybe there isn’t a blood-soaked Robert De Niro clinging to the undercarriage of her car, but there’s still something very creepy about sleeping alone in a houseboat with a killer on the loose! And need I say that the story revolves around a library on wheels? What more could any cozy fan ask for?

Not That!  Murder at the 42nd Street Library

This book took me on a weird, herky-jerky ride that I was relieved to jump off. I feel really mixed up because the story was quite interesting, but the style was super painful to follow.

Told in third person, the story constantly hopscotches from one narrator to the other.  Just when I was getting into a scene—boom!—it would shift into a different narrative. I felt like I was trapped in a car with a driver learning how to use the stick shift. Somebody hit the cruise control already!

Other than the discombobulating ebb and flow, I found myself disliking all of the characters more and more. I knew it was all over for the main character, Ambler, when he reflected on how he used to have sympathy for abandoned animals and wingless butterflies before the evils of the world gave him a reality check. That did not sit well with me AT ALL. And then I learned about his hands-off parenting technique that led to disaster for his poor kid. I like my characters a little rough around the edges, but enough is enough.

I can’t deal with jaded, haunted protagonists with somber dispositions–and this book is riddled with them. I suddenly remember why I’m such a fan of the cozy mysteries. At least the amateur sleuths can lighten up and have a little fun. Plus there’s cute kitties and sweet little love scenes on the side. There seemed to be a little romance brewing between Ambler and Adele, but the spark just wasn’t there. They seemed more like sad and lonely middle-aged people in need of companionship.

And then there’s the rest of the crew who are all navigating their issues with adultery, negligent parenting, greed and other indiscretions that make me squirm.  Geez, if I wanted to feel depressed about mankind, I’d pick up another book by Gillian Flynn.

But hey, the murder mystery was actually pretty good. So if you like a well-plotted mystery with a cool Manhattan setting and enjoy this particular style of storytelling, I say go for it. This definitely isn’t my cup of tea.

Not That! By Book or By Crook by Eva Gates

Now don’t get me wrong, I love cute cozy mysteries filled with hunky detectives, crime-solving kitties and quaint little bookstores. However a little goes a long way and I got the sense that this author had to throw all of the ingredients into this undercooked stew of clichés. Let’s see, everybody loves lighthouses, so let’s turn one into a bookstore! Umm…how does this work exactly? Has the author even seen the tight quarters inside a lighthouse? And then there’s the love triangle among the sleuth, the beefcake cop and the boy-next-door. Throw in a crime-solving cat, a control-freak mom, a Machiavellian mean girl and some Jane Austen books and you’ve got yourself the perfect cozy mystery! Eh, not so much.

This book was just a little too cutesy for even me—and that says a lot. A murder mystery is tucked in there somewhere, but much of the focus was on the missing Jane Austen books and the mundane day-to-day motions of a small-town librarian. Lucy never really stepped up her game in the sleuthing department. She came across most of her finding by happenstance, not from gum-shoe detecting. Perhaps it would behoove her to set aside the Jane Austen drivel and pick up an Agatha Christie mystery. Just a suggestion.

To be honest, it’s hard for me to write this review because the book has practically vanished from my memory. So if you want a good library-themed mystery, I suggest picking up a title by Laurie Cass or Charlene Harris. You can’t go wrong with bookmobiles or Aurora Teagarden!

CeeCee’s Celtic Celebration!

UntitledTop of the morning to ya, lads and lassies! My wee four-legged bonnie lass is doing an Irish jig in anticipation of St. Pattie’s Day weekend!  By the luck of the Irish, we found some literary treasures under the rainbow. So grab yourself a cuppa—or perhaps an Irish whiskey—and curl up with these cozy little whodunits!

Off Kilter By Hannah Reed

The gist: As with all our hapless sleuths in the cozy mystery genre, Eden Elliott is at a crossroads in her life. With nothing anchoring her to the city life (lucky!), she decides to take a prolonged sabbatical in a quaint Scottish hamlet, where she can blissfully write her little heart out and complete her first novel. Lo and behold a worker is found dead—stabbed by his own sheers—on her new friend’s sheep farm. Someone is out to sabotage the farm and all evidence points to the new owner.  It’s up to our intrepid aspiring novelist to untangle the twisted web of nefarious family members to save her friend from a life in prison—or worse!

What worked: I picked up this book so I could whisk myself away to a quiet Scottish village with quirky characters, cozy bars with crackling fireplaces, and miles of rolling green pastures dotted with fluffy white sheep. This solid little mystery delivered all that in spades—and I can’t wait to read the next installment in this series to see if Eden will eventually fall for the town’s most eligible bachelor and set down roots in the lovely little hamlet of GlenKillen.

What irked me: Considering that Eden went to a tiny little town to stay put and write a book, why did she feel the need to rent a car—especially since she had to learn to drive stick shift on dangerous hairpin roads? This was a golden opportunity for her to go without a car and travel around on a bike like J.B. Fletcher. How cool would that be?

Overall: This is a great first installment to a fun little mystery series for those of us who enjoy traveling the world variously through books! Eden is a likeable, yet flawed, character who clearly has an interesting journey ahead filled with romance and dead bodies!


Murder in an Irish Village by Carlene O’Conner

The gist: Siobhán O’Sullivan is struggling to keep her family bistro—and her five siblings—afloat in the aftermath of her parents’ fatal car accident. Things go from bad to worse when a dead body is found inside the bistro and all evidence points to her alcoholic brother. Someone is clearly out to harm the “O’Sullivan Six,” and it’s up to our brown bread-baking sleuth to ferret out the killer before she loses her brother and the family business.

What worked: Siobhán is a girl after my own heart. When she’s not baking brown bread (whatever that is) or keeping her five siblings in line, she’s visiting the auto shop and pining over a pink scooter. I can totally relate! She’s also a lioness when it comes to protecting her brood. It’ll be interesting to see what pans out in the future. Will she fulfill her dreams of going off to college and living the big city life? Or will she fall in love with the hot detective and stay put in Kilbane? There’s also the hint of a love triangle forming with an entrepreneurial Yank. I’m a sucker for these dangling carrots so I’m off to the bookstore to get my next fix!

What irked me: SO MANY CHARACTERS! This is a constant struggle with cozy mysteries. Some books are easier to follow than others, but this one revolves around a family of six—plus a large cast of townies. Also, what in tarnations is brown bread? It can’t be just boring ol’ wheat bread, right? I need lots of savory details!

Overall: Another solid whodunit with a plot-twist ending I didn’t see coming! It’s hard to pull the Irish wool over my eyes, but this author managed to divert my suspicions with some clever red herrings. This is a fun little Irish getaway filled with lovable characters, small town charm, dangerous encounters and a dash of romance!

OUCH! Two Thumbs Down for ‘The House on Tradd Street’

Sadly the book did not deliver on its promise of a “chilling paranormal thriller” filled with family secrets and Southern Gothic mystique. What I got was a slew of cardboard characters, boring dialogue and a watered down ghost story that makes even the lamest episodes of Goosebumps seem scary. I could go on and on about the silly ghostly antics, the convoluted cold case mystery and the many pages of nothingness, but I’ll save you the gory details.

The absolute worst part about the book is the main character, Melanie. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that there is nothing endearing about this woman. Throughout the book, she’s constantly bemoaning the uselessness of old Victorian houses, but yet she’s supposed to be a real estate shark who specializes in stately old Charleston homes? Speaking of her profession, how can a person with so much free time be such a real estate shark? Also she’s constantly trying to re-home a sweet little dog she inherited, along with an old Victorian home that she hates. I was waiting for her to have a bonding moment with the little guy (tragically named Robert E. Lee), but nope. So how did that add anything to the story, much less her likability? You got me!

Then there’s her love-hate relationship with some womanizing dude who’s trying to dig up dirt for a true crime book. I got the impression that the author was trying to build romantic tension with their constant bickering, but really this tired plot device made me hate the two reluctant lovebirds even more. If I took a shot of whiskey every time she admonished him for calling her “Mellie,” I’d be snockered within minutes. Actually, that might have been a good idea. The insufferable woman was constantly mad at someone and walking away in a huff for inexplicable reasons.

And then there’s the questionable comments like, “I know more about stripping paint than any woman in her late 30s have any business knowing.” Why shouldn’t a woman of any age know how to do home improvement stuff? Right from the get-go, her approval ratings dropped when she made a bewildering comment about “porch sitters” and how she doesn’t want to become one because she has so many derogatory terms for “those people.” WTF?

And if that’ not enough to want Smelly Mellie to become the next murder victim, she’s also one of those women who brags incessantly about eating donuts all day and never gaining weight. UGH! Come on, Miss White! Are you going out of your way to make the leading lady the object of hatred and scorn?

Either way, I’m done with this impossible character and will not continue on with the next book in this series, or any other series penned by this author. Judging by the many glowing reviews, Karen White clearly knows how to hit the sweet spot with a select target audience. I’m definitely not in that mix.

 

Two Radical Thumbs UP for ‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’

If you, like me, are obsessed with the 80s nostalgic goodness/monster movie madness that is Stranger Things, this book is for you! It’s the perfect blend of humor, old school jams and gloriously cliched horror movie tropes. I mean come on, how could I say no to an exorcism story that uses The Go Go’s “We Got the Beat” as a pivotal plot point? This book was so totally bitchen’, I don’t even know where to begin. How about I break it down for you like this?

The gist: It’s true that this is a horror story involving demonic possession. However, Satan takes a second seat because this is really a story about a life-long friendship that was cemented at an ET-themed SkateLand birthday party (a mandatory rite of passage for all 80s kids). Nothing will stop our fearless protagonist, Abby, from saving her BFF, Gretchen, from sinking deep down into the demonic underworld! On her quest, she faces down the legions of evil, including back-stabbing frienemies, oppressive parents and the worst school principal ever! With the power of Phil Collins, VC Andrews and Belinda Carlisle, she and Gretchen are going to beat this demonic bitch! Why? Because together, they’ve got the beat! Sorry not sorry, couldn’t help myself.

“I love you, Gretchen Lang. You are my reflection and my shadow and I will not let you go. We are bound together forever and ever! Until Halley’s Comet comes around again. I love you dearly and I love you queerly and no demon is bigger than this!”

What worked: I loved everything about this book, especially all the totally tubular pop culture references. I had so much fun joining Abby and Gretchen as they sprayed their bangs sky high with AquaNet and tooted along in their super cool VW Rabbit convertible while making up their own lyrics to Phil Collin’s swoony love songs. This was such a fun satanic-themed trip down memory lane and I was so sad when it rolled to a surprisingly tear-jerking stop.

Eighties artifacts aside, Abby is the absolute best part of this book. It’s hard to believe she was created by a dude because I felt like we were soul sisters. I could totally relate to her many trials and tribulations—from criminally-negligent parents to horribly disfiguring acne to her VC Andrews obsession! I was pulling for her every step of the way, and she just kept tugging at my heart as she battled her enemies and sacrificed everything to save the one person she loved. I was expecting a tongue-in-cheek horror spoof, but instead I got a wallop of emotions that have been dormant for more than 20 years! Oops…I just gave away my age, didn’t I?

I also really appreciated the girl-power theme, which is thankfully becoming a current trend in books and movies. Men are no longer needed to save damsels in distress—and to that I say YA, YA, sistas!

What didn’t work: There’s an upsetting chapter involving a dog. Skip that chapter.

Added bonus: I listened to this book on audio and the narrator is totally righteous, dude!