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!

CeeCee’s Cozy Christmas Corner


I’ve been a busy bee this holiday season reading more books than I can possibly review in this lifetime! And though Christmas is over, you can still enjoy the festive season all year round with these mysteries and romances filled with murder, mayhem and stolen kisses under the mistletoe! That’s the magic of reading. No matter where—or when—we are in life, we can always transport ourselves through books! All it takes is a quick stop at the library or bookshop to map out a destination. This year, CeeCee and I traveled across the globe—sometimes back in time—through these glorious reads. Here, she is spotlighting some highlights and lowlights from our travels. So sit back, grab some spiked cider and enjoy our annual holiday reading roundup!

Murder, She Wrote: Manhattans & Murder

I’ve read a lot of fabulous Murder She Wrote books but this one might just be the best! Once again, the perennially classy JB Fetcher is the first to witness a multitude of murder scenes during her glamorous book tour in Manhattan. What a glamourous life she leads! We’re talking interviews with the New York Times and one-on-ones with Oprah and Donahue. In between press conferences and book signing events, she was pulling off some cloak-and-dagger stunts in the bellows of New York’s seediest neighborhoods as she pursued her mission to solve the mystery of the gunned-down sidewalk Santa. And this wasn’t just some random stranger peddling for loose change on the busy New York streets. Oh no–he was, in fact, one of Cabot Cove’s most infamous residents who fled the town in disgrace after an ill-fated drug-smuggling operation. And just by some stroke of luck, JB happened to be taking random tourist photos right when the murder went down. I mean, what are the odds? If I didn’t love her so much, I’d tell people to avoid her like the 2017 flu because she’s essentially the harbinger of death. Either way, I got a kick out of this book–especially the part when the media dubbed her as the “Madame of Mayhem.” Even in the age of fake news, it’s impossible to deny the truth to that story. Summed up, this is one of the best Christmas cozies I’ve read in a while, mainly because JB is such a delight and that there’s so much action packed into this fun adventure—from death-defying plane rides to corner store holdups!

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

I had to buy—not download—this book because the cover is gorgeous and there’s even illustrated maps of the Cambridge campus! Needless to say, it was well worth the price of a hardback. Essentially it’s the British version of a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys super thriller with a twinge of swoony teenage romance. I absolutely loved the scenes of our two sleuths, Daisy and Hazel, strategizing their crime-solving plans over tea and crumpets at the cozy little coffee shop. I felt like I was right there in jolly ol’ England celebrating the season in the midst of murder and mayhem! Since this is technically a children’s book, I was surprised that Daisy and Hazel encountered not one—but two—dead bodies! In true Nancy Drew fashion, they keep copious notes and character sketches of all the boys—and one very suspicious girl—who all have motives for knocking off a rather uncouth prankster. They reluctantly team up with two of their male rivals (and crushes!) who have the freedom to roam about the university without a babysitter. Why? Because they’re boys and girls needed to be chaperoned at all times in 1930s England. As for the murder mystery, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was kept guessing until the very end, which is a hard feat for authors to pull off! All in all, this is a Jolly good read for young adult (at heart) readers who love holiday-themed whodunnits.

In Peppermint Peril by Joy Avon

Thanks to NetGalley, I scored this e-book for free (in exchange for an honest review) before it hit the book shelves! This is the first book in a new series that follows the tried-and-true cozy mystery formula. You know the drill: single young professional returns to her hometown to work at a cute little shop and stumbles upon the dead body of someone from her past. Lo and behold, the victim in this mystery is a longtime caretaker of Haywood Hall, the town’s most illustrious estate. It appears as though he was involved in some shady dealings with a blackmailer who wants a cut of the Haywood family fortune. It’s up to our amateur sleuth, Callie, to ferret out the killer before an innocent man gets locked up for life! The story takes an interesting turn when Callie develops feelings for a displaced Boston Terrier and the town sheriff. Like I said, it’s true to the formula. I have lukewarm feelings for Callie, mainly because she sticks her nose in other people’s family business, which really isn’t cool. Also she’s on the fence about adopting the most adorable homeless dog that bonded with her since the moment they met. Other than that, the mystery is well plotted and there’s plenty of suspects (maybe too many) to sort out. My biggest gripe is that the book is mostly comprised of dialogue, which left a lot to be desired in terms of scenery and character development. Maybe it’s just time for me to take a break from the cozies and sink myself into an atmospheric thriller by Wendy Webb or Amanda Stevens

A Gift of Bones by Carolyn Haines

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book in this long-running series, so this was like reconnecting with old friends! After reading a few formulaic cozies, I realized that the Bones books offer so much more in terms of character development and a sense of place. Ms. Haines knows Southern culture and her expertise shows in the distinct Mississippi dialect. And then there’s the small town setting! I felt like I was right there with Sarah Booth on midnight horseback rides through the dark and spooky woods, or on the dancefloor at the local honkytonk with Tinkie by our side! In this 19th installment (wow!), she and her bestie Tinkie are on the case again—this time to find a kidnapped pregnant lady before she gives birth on Christmas Eve. The clock is ticking—in more ways than one as Sarah Booth navigates this tricky mystery as well as her fledgling relationship with the town sheriff. Let’s just pause for a moment and acknowledge the miracle of those two finally getting together after so many years of push and pull. Please, Sarah Booth, I bet you to not mess this up! I must admit that I wasn’t on board with her lying by omission to Sherriff Coleman when her other BFF CeeCee asked her to solve the case on the sly. But then again, I can’t fault her too much for being loyal to her friend. I could go into detail and give away spoilers, but what fun would that be? All I can say is that this is one of my most favorite books in the series and that I highly recommend it to fans of Southern mysteries. Once again, Sarah Booth and Tinkie are forces to be reckoned with and I loved every moment we spent together on this wild ride! Side note: this book is best “read” on audio because the narrator Kate Forbes is the best in the business! Another side note: mad props to Ms. Haines for taking a risk by addressing some heated political issues that may or may not please her target audience.

A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Mathews

I wish I didn’t listen to this on audio because the narrator pretty much ruined the whole experience. Let’s see…how can I describe this? Oh, I know—imagine what it would be like to have a funeral director read an entire book to you in a hushed, somber tone. And then there’s the whiny female voices…egads. Aside from that snafu, the novella is a sweet love story that paints the grim reality of advantageous, loveless marriages in Victorian England. In this tale, Sophie, a woman with a strong pedigree (because women were in the same class as dogs back then) and Edward, a nouveau riche businessman, are coupled up in a courtship of convenience. He needs to enter London’s polite society and she needs his money. You see, she and her family are house poor because her father can’t stop spending all their money on lavish home improvements. He even spent his daughters’ dowries (a woman’s only means for survival!) on Gaslamp expenses. Let’s just pause for a moment and reflect on the oppressive lives of women back then—and how they needed to be sold to husbands like cattle at an auction. That said, this relationship is as good as dead right from the get-go because they’re both using each other. However, things take an interesting turn when Sophie puts the cards on the table and they’re forced to be honest with each other while celebrating the holidays at her family’s homestead. Soon enough, the dashing Mr. Sharpe is whispering sweet nothings to her on moonlit strolls and the tension between them really starts to simmer! I’ll stop right here before I give away the ending but since this is a holiday romance, I’m sure you can guess how it’ll be tied up in a neat little bow!

A Nancy Drew Christmas by Carolyn Keene

I must confess that, yet again, I bought this book because of glossy cover depicting the lovely Nancy Drew on a horse-and-buggy ride in a winter wonderland. I really shouldn’t let myself be romanced by a gorgeous cover, but how could I refuse a Nancy Drew mystery set at a posh ski resort in the midst of the Christmas season? There’s a lot packed into this book…maybe too much. In fact, I must admit that I got a tad confused—OK a LOT confused—with the storyline. There’s corporate espionage, insider trading, workplace sabotage and dozens upon dozens of suspects. I was hoping for a light and fluffy YA mystery for my morning commute; instead I got a tangled web of clues and red herrings that would likely befuddle Miss Marple! Needless to say, it’s rather demoralizing to get completely lost in a book that I found in the intermediate readers section. Best to stick to the classic Carolyn Keene mysteries from here on out.

Lil Bootz’s Book of the Month: A Midwinter’s Tail

Once again December snuck up on me like a green and red tinseled puma, and that means I only have a month to get through my pile of Christmas mysteries!  Lil Bootz and I decided to commence the season of holiday cozies with this dog- and cat-themed mystery series by the lovely and talented Bethany Blake. As usual, she delivered a fast-paced whodunnit that puzzled us until the final chapters. Here’s our assessment of A Midwinter’s Tail! Note: we scored a free ARC on Netgalley in return for an honest review.

In a nutshell: In this fourth installment of the Lucky Paws Petsitting Mystery series our leading lady Daphne Templeton is settling into her new life as a petsitter for the townsfolk of Sylvian Creek. Since moving into her cute little cottage on her sister’s farm, she’s stumbled upon quite a few dead bodies, which makes me wonder if perhaps she, like J.B. Fletcher and all the other lovely amateur sleuths in these picturesque small towns, is indeed a harbinger of death! Either way, Daphne is a delightful animal-rescuing lady who I adore, so let’s just ignore the possibility that she’s a jinx and move on. In this mystery, she takes an unwanted trip down memory lane when CeeCee French–a former high school mean girl–is found dead under the town Christmas tree. Things get stickier than a melted candy cane when Daphne’s BFF becomes the prime suspect! Will she find the killer before another unwanted present ends up under the tree? Will Daphne’s crush finally get over his issues and smooch her under the mistletoe? Will Socrates find love amidst all the murder and mayhem? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

What we liked: What don’t I like about this series!? I read a lot of cozies, but this is one of my faves because Daphne is such an endearing, relatable character who revolves her life around animals. I love that her pups play big roles in the mysteries and that they tag along with her everywhere she goes.

What needs work: MORE TINKLESTON, PLEASE! Daphne needs to figure out a way to take her little black kitty along on her many adventures. Why not put him in a harness or tote him around in a kitty satchel? He would’ve looked so cute in a little bowtie at the Bark the Halls Ball…just saying.

Favorite character: In this particular book, I most enjoyed the clumsy little trouble-making pug donning a little red sweater emblazoned with the words “Bah Humpug.”  He cracked me up every time he’d enter a scene like a miniature bull in a china shop. I hope this isn’t the last we see of him in the series, especially since he has a magical ability for finding clues while wrecking havoc along the way.

Least favorite character: Of course, the worst, most repugnant character of all is CeeCee French! What’s to like about a woman who never outgrew her high school “mean girl” persona? Even worse, she runs a company that makes toxic dog food!!! I was happy as a pug with a chew toy when her goose got cooked. Sorry not sorry!

This book is best pared with: Frosted sugar cookies and a steamy mug of spiked cider! A purring lap-cat is an added bonus.

Overall: This is the perfect Christmas cozy for those of us who enjoy dog-themed mysteries with a dash of romance.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson, you crafty, crafty woman! Only one dark genius can create such an insidious haunted house story with scares that go far beyond the horror genre tropes. On the surface, this is a story about a paranormal research experiment gone awry in a legendary haunted house. I know you’re thinking, “I’ve read this same story 100 times!” Not so fast, chief! Sure, the characters and the house may seem cliched, but trust me, there’s more to the story. It’s a slow burn, but the tension rises as our unreliable narrator slowly loses touch with reality. Remember the boiler scene from The Shining? Well, it’s kind of like that only the climax is more…implosive, I should say.

If you love a good scare, you’ve come to the right place.  And trust me, this house is so much more than a cavernous monstrosity filled with drafty hallways, spooky statues and bumps in the night. The slow descent into madness begins with some foreboding words from the superstitious housemaid Mrs. Dudley.

“We couldn’t even hear you, in the night….
No one could. No one lives any nearer than town. No one else will come any nearer than that.”
“I know,” Eleanor said tiredly.
“In the night,” Mrs. Dudley said, and smiled outright. “In the dark,” she said..”

But perhaps the source of fear isn’t the house. Something isn’t right with our leading lady Eleanor. Sure, she’s a sweet little milquetoast of a woman. But you know what they say, be careful of the quiet ones. We learn early on that she’s a little off her rocker, but I do appreciate her misanthropic sentiments about society and family. I particularly liked this scene in the diner when an insolent little girl, who is used to drinking her milk out of a special cup with stars, refuses to go along to get along.

“Don’t do it, Eleanor told the little girl; insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it; and the little girl glanced at her, and smiled a little subtle, dimpling, wholly comprehending smile, and shook her head stubbornly at the glass. Brave girl, Eleanor thought; wise, brave girl.”

Early in the story, we learn that the house is imperceptibly crooked. It appears to be well built, but, as the professor says, something’s just a wee bit off. Hmmm..sounds like the house and Eleanor have quite a bit in common. Her blossoming love affair with the house prompts me to think about the toxicity of co-dependent relationships, and the darkness that can manifest from people feeding off of each other. Deep thoughts, I know. Like I said, this book–if you let it–will take you to the dark places.

“Journeys end in lovers meeting; I have spent an all but sleepless night, I have told lies and made a fool of myself, and the very air tastes like wine. I have been frightened half out of my foolish wits, but I have somehow earned this joy; I have been waiting for it for so long.”

As she becomes one with the haunted house, my equilibrium is thrown off. Being inside the mind of a mentally-deteriorating person is far and away more frightening than maniacal clowns or a ghostly girl crawling out of a deep, dark well. Perhaps because I felt like I was slowly but surely being swallowed whole by that spiraling dark hole in the ground. Somebody throw me a flashlight already!!!

I could go on and on about the themes Jackson masterfully folded into this book, but what would be the fun of reading it if I ruined all the surprises? To be fair, I’m not even sure I have it figured out. And therein lies the genius of Jackson’s works. The best horror stories are the ones that leave you dumbfounded. Sure, you can have theories but the answers will forever remain unknown.

Happy hauntings, everyone! Oh and I should note that I will NOT be writing a book/TV series comparison because there’s no way any Hollywood production could capture the horrors that only Shirley Jackson can produce in writing.

Lil Bootz’s Book of the Month: The Persian Always Meows Twice

Meowza! Lil Bootz and I are super excited about this new mystery series that is just purrfect for people like me who are crazy for crime-solving kitties! Much to my delight, I found this book in a “get well” gift basket filled with pink balloons, chocolate bars and dog toys. Needless to say, my friends know me well! And lucky for me, I had a whole week off from work to polish off the book and all my chocolate goodies. What can be better than books, chocolate and days upon days of free time? I ask you!

What I love most about this new series is that the cats have a starring role! Normally in my magical cat-themed mysteries, the critters rarely share the limelight with the main characters. But in this mystery, the story revolves around Cassie, a professional cat groomer, and her feline clients. In fact, a fluffy Persian becomes the main attraction when her owner gets bludgeoned in his stately mansion. Soon after discovering his lifeless body in the foyer, she swoops up his gorgeous Persian, Harpo, before she ends up at a shelter–or worse–in the hands of a shady family member who has something to gain from the mysterious man’s demise.

Why did someone snuff out a seemingly harmless millionaire? Did it have something to do with a potential client who is on the verge of patenting new technology that could change the face of data encryption? What do all of these so-called bereaved people have to gain from adopting poor little Harpo?

It’s up to our intrepid cat groomer, Cassie, to answer these questions before the fluffball ends up in the wrong hands. Lucky for Harpo, nobody can claim her until the will is out of probate. That gives Cassie plenty of time to question the many shady suspects–from the bitter wife to the schmarmy executive assistant to the greedy, entrepreneurial  sister. And if that’s no enough fancy feast on her plate, Cassie also has do deal with a stalking ex-boyfriend who is seriously cramping her style with her new crush, the hot veterinarian.

Like a cracked-open can of seafood medley, there’s a lot going on here! And there’s definitely something fishy about Harpo’s many potential adopters. But have no fear! No cat will be harmed under Cassie’s watch–and you better believe she’ll fight tooth and nail to save her furbabies and four-legged clients from abusers. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of this leading lady and I can’t wait to see what’s for store for her in the next installment. This is definitely a win for all my fellow cat ladies out there who enjoy a good whodunnit. Four paws up!

Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay



You know, I really don’t care for home invasion horror movies/books because that shit is way too scary–and not in a good way. Next to being eaten alive by a Great White (or my newest nightmare, a Megalodon), home-invasion is at the top of my greatest fears list. That said, I didn’t even think twice about reading this book because it’s penned by Paul Tremblay, the one contemporary horror author who knows exactly how to hit that sweet spot of terror! Read my review of Head Full of Ghosts and you’ll see what I mean.

Also, Stephen King talked me into it.

“A tremendous book―thought-provoking and terrifying, with tension that winds up like a chain. The Cabin at the End of the World is Tremblay’s personal best. It’s that good.” — Stephen King

So let’s talk about this winding chain of tension. I had to tear through this thing in a matter of hours because it just got weirder and weirder and I just needed to know where it was all going!  It’s like driving down a mountain with no breaks. I’m hit with so many blind corners, but if I keep a death grip on the steering wheel maybe I’ll reach the bottom where it’s safe and everything will be OK!

Like his previous books, horrible forces envelop a hapless all-American dysfunctional family. In this story, the family–comprised of a gay scholarly couple and their adopted daughter–is more functional than others.  Everything’s going great on their family vacation out in the woods…away from anyone who could hear them scream. The terror begins when a hulking stranger approaches the daughter while she’s out in the field experimenting with grasshoppers. Right from the get-go, his overly friendly demeaner seems just a tad off-putting. And just when the girl senses the red flags, more of his friends come out of the shadows–and they’re all brandishing homemade medieval weapons. He assures her that they aren’t going to hurt her, but that her family will have to make some very difficult decisions. Let the games begin!

What I thought would pan out like one of those cat-and mouse Purge movies, ended up being much more terrifying.  It’s what I consider to be a “chose your own adventure” story that leaves it up to the readers to decide if supernatural forces are at work or if these home-invaders are just a bunch of doomsday nutjobs.  I tell you what, after learning about the characters’ backstories and how they all found each other, I’m leaning toward the supernatural. But one never knows.

I’d love to go more into detail about the horrific happenings in that cabin, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. And if you want to jump on this rollercoaster ride, I suggest you go into it blind. Another piece of advice: Do not listen to this on audio because this is a story you’ll want to zip through at warp speed. There are some frustrating spots when the author interjects a suspenseful scene with a flashback to a character’s backstory. I’m a big fan of character development, but less is more when I’m glued to the pages, dying to see what happens with this alleged apocalyptic scenario!

Aside from that minor gripe, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspense stories that end with a “What the hell just happened?” twist. The genius in Tremblay’s writing is that he doesn’t spell everything out to his readers. It’s up to us to ferret out the symbols and clues and tie them all together. To be honest, I still don’t have a solid theory about what went down. Maybe that’s the point. Not everything on this planet–or beyond–can be figured out and tied together in a neat little bow.

Birthday Book Haul!

Speaking from personal experience, I don’t recommend scheduling a super scary surgical procedure on your birthday–especially if it’s your very first time going under the knife! But hey, I needed peace of mind, so I put on my big girl panties (or inflatable surgery gown, I should say) and got exactly what I needed: a clean bill of health! What better birthday present could a girl ask for? You know what else turned my frown upside down? A bounty of gifts, flowers, cookies and cakes from my adoring fan club!

Not only am I elated that I get to live 100 more years, I am also super stoked to have such an amazing circle of friends and family. I’m especially impressed with my husband who isn’t afraid to purchase pink, glittery cozy mysteries at Barnes & Noble.


Just look at this basket-o-books!!! I don’t even know where to begin. Should I start with the cozy Halloween-themed mystery set in a bookstore/lighthouse? Or perhaps I should dive into the second installment of the Georgia Peach mystery series. Considering how much I loved, Peaches and Scream, I’m sure it’s a winner. And then there’s the magical bakeshop mystery! I love this series–especially the hot fireman boyfriend. Read all about him here! 



Thanks to Lil Bootz, I didn’t have to make the tough decision. Since she’s the boss of me, I have no choice but to read The Persian Always Meows Twice. Psst…don’t tell her, but this was already my first choice.

Now I’m off to the picturesque town of Chadwick to play a game of cat and mouse with Cassie McGlone and her feline sidekicks!

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 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!