Animals

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Goodbye, Mister Giz

Published January 7, 2017 by Chick-Lit Cafe
Giz and I in our first apartment in San Antonio. A point in our lives I will never forget.

Giz and I starting life anew in San Antonio

As many of you know, I lost my sweet Gizmo last November. For more than half my life, that tubby little gray cat has been my baby. Now he’s gone and I must make peace with it and move onward. That’s the key message in Jon Katz’s book “Going Home,” which I listened to on audio while curled up in the fetal position next to my dying cat on Thanksgiving morning.

I couldn’t get through the book because the very notion of moving on was unfathomable.  I’ll carry on, but I will never move away from this precious gift that came into my life when I needed it the most. Gizzy wasn’t just a cat I brought home and kept alive for nearly two decades. He was my little soul mate. The moment I brought him home, he curled his little malnourished body in the crook of my neck and purred.

I was mom and he was home. As it happens, I also found my home in Gizmo.

I’m having a hard time writing this because Gizzy’s story of survival is also my own.  When I see those paw-shaped bumper stickers with the words “Who rescued who?” I’m reminded of how Gizzy saved me from myself during what I call the dark days. Like Gizzy, I was abandoned by my mother and left in a state of limbo.  I wasn’t in a good place, and let’s just leave it at that. But everything changed when I swooped baby Gizmo off the scummy streets of El Cajon.

My dad didn’t think the scrawny little kitten would last more than a week, but I had faith that the little guy would pull through. Sure enough, Gizzy was a fighter. As it turned out, so was I.

As the years progressed at warp speed, I watched him grow into a happy little crunchy-obsessed butterball. During his senior years he developed some old man ailments, but he kept fighting and surprising the vet along the way. I remember telling the vet, “He’s very important to me,” and wincing at how generic that sounded. How can I put in words how much this cat means to me? How can I even think of Gizzy being gone for good? Those thoughts swam through my head, giving me a sense of vertigo. Even now, I get that loopy “I’M GOING TO FALL!” feeling when I realize he’s no longer on this earth.

More years went by and I kept sweeping that thought under the rug. Why? Because we have to enjoy our animals while we have them. They show us how to live in the present and to enjoy what we have right now at this very moment. Think about it. How can we enjoy a perfectly good Sunday while dreading the Monday lurking around the corner? How can we enjoy the holidays knowing dreary January would soon rear its ugly head?

Living in the present. That’s a lesson our animals teach us, if you listen to them. Another lesson Gizzy taught me was the power of resilience. Even until the bitter end, Jarred and I didn’t give up hope because he had a way of bouncing back from a serious illness. So we did everything we could to give him his second wind. Hundreds of dollars later, we realized there was no second wind. It was his time.

It was also my time to let go…but not entirely. I think of him every day. Sometimes I’ll laugh at the memory of him kicking himself under the chin with his big ol’ bunny feet, or I’ll make space on my pillow at night expecting Gizzy to hog it with his bulky body. I can almost feel him with me when I sit outside and stare at his favorite spot under the tree. Sometimes I just sit out there and sing my silly Gizzy songs. What can I say? I’m a crazy cat lady.

His favorite little ditty went like this

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy because you’re gray. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

I sang that song, well attempted to anyway, when he peacefully sailed across the rainbow bridge. I truly hope the rainbow bridge exists and that I will get to cross it on my final journey and be with him again. Until then, I will carry on and continue doing the things I love just as my sweet boy–the love of my life–did until the end.

Derek’s Book of the Month: Woof by Spencer Quinn

Published January 18, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

PicMonkey CollageMove over, Lassie—there’s a new four-legged hero in town! Bowser’s his name and fighting crime is his game. Well actually his top priority is loving up on his little gal pal, Birdie. You see, this book is more than just a mystery. It’s a love story between a girl and her dog.  Derek (the handsome boy pictured above) thoroughly enjoyed watching their friendship come into full blossom throughout this puzzling little mystery. He hopes that maybe one day a cute little tomboy will stop by his kennel at Austin Pets Alive and insist on taking him home!

Like a shelter dog, Birdie feels lonely and out of sorts at her grandmother’s house in the Florida everglades. Her father died, leaving her mom with no other option than to work far away at an oil rig to make ends meet. Good thing her cantankerous grandma let her pick out a dog for her birthday—pretty much the best gift a kid could ever ask for! But Bowser isn’t just any dog. He’s a natural crime-fighter with a penchant for sniffing out clues. Whether he’s battling a behemoth alligator or chasing after a gun-wielding kidnapper, Bowser will stop at nothing to track down the perps and keep his little lady out of harm’s way.

The idea of a mystery narrated by a dog may seem a little silly—but fans of the author’s beloved Chet and Bernie series know that this style really works. Character development is everything. If you don’t’ care about the heroes of the story, why bother? That said, I dare you to read this book and not fall for Bowser and Birdie. Same goes for Chet and Bernie—a series I implore you to check out if you haven’t already! The love Bowser feels for Birdie is so powerful, and his soul is so pure and good. Sounds corny, but the author delivers this sugary goodness in a way that doesn’t give me a toothache.  It’s rather silly, but I got a little misty eyed when Birdie turned to Bowser as her only source of comfort. Back in the day, I wanted more than anything to have a dog just for this reason. Maybe that’s why this book really struck gold with me. I could see so much of myself in Birdie. She was at a point in her life when she knew that adults couldn’t be trusted—a rite of passage we all must go through at some point or another. Needless to say, it was her and Bowser against the world.

Their adventures begin when a stuffed fish goes missing from grandma’s bait shop. Unable to turn away from a good mystery, Birdie and Bowser go searching for clues to the missing marlin—breaking a lot of rules in the process…like not sneaking out at night and accidentally swimming in alligator infested waters! The dangers intensify when Bowser and Birdie find a connection between an old family rivalry and hidden treasure.

Although this book is for the youngsters, it’s sure to please readers of all ages who enjoy a good whodunit. And, of course, it’s a total win for dog lovers. In addition to the loveable characters and fast-pace plotting, the writing is—in Bowser’s words—off the charts! Just as I love how Spencer Quinn paints the Arizona desert scenery in his Chet and Bernie series, I really enjoyed his descriptions of the muggy Florida swamplands. Derek and I hope this will be the beginning of a new series so we can revisit grandma’s old bait shop and join these two adorable sleuths on their next adventure!

I should also note that like Bowser, Derek knows how to take a bite out of crime! Take him home and you’ll be safe, protected and loved forever and always! Hop on over to his bio page for more details.

Gizzy’s Book of the Month: Claws for Alarm

Published January 10, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

UntitledThis cute little paperback has been sitting on our shelf for way too long. You see, during the holidays Gizzy and I are all about Christmas-infused murder and mayhem, and sometimes those touchy-feely yarns about hope and forgiveness. So now that January has reared its butt-ugly head (we’re not fans of this dreary month), it’s time dust off that TBR pile and get down to business! 

Of course, Mister Giz insisted on starting the new year off right with a magical cat mystery. Far be it from me to say no—I mean how could anyone dare to disappoint this guy?! Would you look at that fuzzy face! 

Anyhoo, this book was a heck of a lot of fun. Totally took my mind off of the sadness that comes after the holidays. No more tree, no more time off, no more nuttin! Okay, so maybe I’m being a little overdramatic. There’s got to be something good about January. Let’s see…less time shopping means more time reading, so that’s a pretty big win. Then there’s the after-Christmas sales…but I digress.  

Let’s get back to the book, shall we? Gizzy and I were most impressed with this puzzling whodunit. It was a lot of fun tagging along with Nick and Nora (an old-school TV show reference that is before our time) as she relentlessly hunted down clues to clear her hapless sister’s name. There are lessons to be learned here, people! If you find a dead body, please resist the impulse to pull the knife out of its back and then flee the scene when a witness arrives. It just looks bad.  

Anyhoo, as you can imagine, that’s what happened to Nora’s sister when she found her stuffy art professor’s lifeless body crumpled on the floor of his office. The coppers believe it to be an open-and-close case. I mean, who wouldn’t? So it’s up to our intrepid sandwich artist sleuth to hunt down clues, interrogate suspects and ferret out the murderer. Otherwise it’s orange jumpsuit city for poor little Lacey.  

With some help from her mystical four-legged feline, Nora soon finds that the professor had a lot of enemies with ample motives for murder. Could it have been the bitter ex-wife, the new gold-digging wife, the troubled son, the shady male model, or was it just an angry student out for revenge? Whoever it was, they sure were lucky to pin it all on a dimwitted art student. But of course, the killer’s dumb luck takes a turn for the worst when big sissy picks up the case!

Gizzy gives this whodunnit two paws up—mainly because he and I were stumped all the way until the very end when Nora and her Scooby Doo posse of crime-fighters caught the killer. We didn’t see that one coming! Cozy fans will love the puzzling mystery, and the swoony romance lovers will enjoy the early beginnings of a love triangle forming around Nora and two hotties. One is an old college flame, the other an FBI agent. Having to choose between the two will be tough…but not such a bad problem to have, if you ask me.  

I should also mention that this book is sure to please my fellow crazy cat ladies because Nick (a tubby tuxedo cat) plays a big role in the mystery. There’s something mystical about this enigmatic kitty. When it comes to finding clues, he’s always two steps ahead of everyone else. Perhaps it’s because he has more experience in the PI business. You see, after Nora found him as a stray, she discovered that his former owner was a womanizing private eye who mysteriously disappeared. Some believe he’s sleeping with the fishies, and others insist that he ran off and assumed a new identity. At some point, Nick and Nora will find some answers. That’s one of the many reasons why Gizzy and I are excited to read the next installment!

Gizzy’s Roundup of Ghosts, Murder and Magical Cats

Published July 17, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

gizzy

Giz and I would like to dedicate this post to our good friend, Melissa over at Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries and Meows. She’s been in our thoughts since she lost her beloved kitty and co-blogger Truffles. We hope that these books will lift her spirits as she’s grieving over both of her precious tortie kitties who recently crossed over the rainbow bridge.

Read on if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries filled with magical crime-solving felines, hot detectives and fearless sleuths!

If You’ve Got it, Haunt it by Rose Pressey 

20949514I’m a huge fan of the Crimes of Fashion mystery series starring Lacy Smithsonian, and amateur sleuth and vintage fashion maven. Throughout this book I kept thinking, wow Lacey and Cookie would be an amazing crime-solving duo! They both solve mysteries with fashion clues and adore all things vintage. I had a great time following Cookie as she hunted down the murderer of the town socialite Charlotte Meadows. In this first installment of Pressey’s Haunted Vintage Mystery Series, Cookie discovers her ghost-whispering gift (or curse, however you want to look at it). With the ghost of Charlotte Meadows constantly pestering her to find the killer,  she has no other choice but to solve the case. As she chases down leads, she must skirt around a sexy detective who’s constantly asking how she knows certain facts about the crime scene that only the murderer would know. Not only is she getting inside knowledge from the murder victim, she’s also getting some valuable clues from her magical cat who knows how to communicate with humans with a Ouija board. How cool is that?!?

Caught Dead Handed by Carol J Perry 

19083257I was going to save this one for Halloween, but couldn’t resist diving into it! The setting couldn’t be more perfect for fans of Hocus Pocus. Oh how I would love to visit Salem during the fall. Lucky for me, I can travel vicariously through Perry’s books. There’s murder, witchcraft, a tubby crime-solving cat, and even a smidge of romance. The mystery begins when Lee Barret returns to her hometown to take on a job as a reporter for the local news station. She doesn’t really need the money, but she’s desperate to occupy her time as she grieves over her dead husband. Turns out, the news station already gave the job to somebody else, but they had a sudden opening when somebody knocked off their late night call-in psychic host. With no other prospects in sight, Lee reluctantly accepts the job as a TV charlatan and soon finds out that she might not be so phony after all. With her newly discovered crystal ball-reading talents, she soon finds herself embroiled in a murky world of witchcraft, cat burglars, and arson! Trust me, this is one whirlwind of a mystery that will keep you reading until the witching hour!

Ghostly Paws by Leighann Dobbs 

21456951I stumbled across this one in my freebies and cheapies email from Barnes & Noble. For less than a buck, I got to travel to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and join a bookstore owner-turned amateur sleuth as she and her magical kitty tracked down the murderer of the town librarian. Now that’s what I call cheap entertainment! This is a solid little cozy that is sure to win over fans of Lorna Barrett’s Booktown Mystery Series. My only gripe is that the writing could’ve been tightened up, but that won’t stop me from picking up the second book in this charming series.

 

CeeCee’s Roundup of Murder, Mayhem and Four-Legged Sleuths

Published May 24, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

UntitledLast night we had the mother of all thunderstorms—the perfect setting for a riveting whodunit! While the shingles were blowing off the roof and my poor doggie was shivering in the closet, I was busy wrapping up the last final chapters of my Chet and Bernie mystery. If you’re in the mood for a good mystery that’s light on the mind-numbing procedural stuff and heavy on cute animals and sassy amateur sleuths, this reading roundup is for you!

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

teagarden_book_a_pAfter watching the Hallmark channel movie—starring none other than Candace Cameron as Aurora (aka Ro) Teagarden—I had to check out this series to see how it compares to the made-for-TV train wreck. I mean, how can the mastermind behind the True Blood series have anything to do with such a snore fest filled with cardboard cutout characters and inane dialogue? Sadly, the literary version is just as disappointing. It has all the annoying tropes that run rampant in the cozy genre: the overbearing, meddling mother, the bossy best friend, the fashionably-challenged leading lady. Seriously, why do so many cozy mystery characters have to dress like lunch ladies? Is this a way to make them more likeable and relatable to the readers? What does that say about cozy mystery fans? What really bothered me about Candace Cameron’s role is that she looked like she stepped right out of the pages of an Anthropologie catalogue, yet people kept nagging her to dress better. And what’s up with those crazy long hair extensions? In the book, the drab librarian has a head of frizzy brown hair. It made no sense that the TV version looks like a freakin Pantene commercial. Although I do have to hand it to Candace, that girl sure has come a long way since Full House. I would love to get her beauty secrets!

The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

16130393Oh my gawsh! How can I even articulate my complete and total adoration for this detective series? It’s told through the eyes of a big, goofy dog named Chet (aka “Chet the Jet”) who chases down perps and solves crimes with his human partner. I know what you’re thinking. A dog narrating the whole book? That’s got to get old real quick. Well think again! The story moves along at a rapid pace through Chet’s narrative. You see, dogs pick up on a lot of things that human can’t see, smell or hear. With his acute senses, Chet can give the readers some clues that Bernie won’t pick up on until the bad guys start closing in on them. This time, they’re solving a mystery in the Louisiana swamplands—my favorite kind of setting! What starts out as a simple missing persons case soon leads to a tangled web of drug dealers, biker gangs, Big Oil, and one mean-ass alligator named Iko. I love this series for two reasons: the top-notch mystery, and Chet’s unwavering love for Bernie. He is 100 percent devoted to his disheveled Hawaiian shirt-wearing human. In Chet’s eyes, Bernie is pure perfection…well except for when a woman crosses his path. I’d like to think this is how dogs really perceive their humans. The way they look up at us with those adoring eyes, how could they not?

A Nip of Murder by Carol Miller

20575402As with the first book in this new series, the story begins with a most peculiar catastrophe. A gang of masked bandits raid a bakery and make off with 90 pounds of cream cheese. What in the world?! The plot thickens when Daisy’s emotionally fragile employee stabs one of the robbers to death in self-defense. Turns out, he’s just some random dude with no connection to the town whatsoever. In a rural Virginia hamlet devoid of useful law enforcement, Daisy has no other choice but to solve the mystery of the stolen cream cheese on her own. When she’s not piecing together clues, she’s busy at the bakery attending to a big crowd of strangers who’re in town for a geocacher hunt. With so many strangers thrown into the mix, how will she ever narrow down the suspects list? What would a bunch of nerdy geocacher’s want with a mountain of cream cheese? With some help from a rather handsome geocacher, who’s also a hot history professor, she hunts down some leads that all seem to point to an underground moonshine ring. And as the romance heats up between her and the professor, she also starts to feel a gravitational pull toward Rick Balsam, the local moonshine-brewing bad boy. Uh oh, I smell trouble!

As I expected, this mystery series just keep getting better and better. If you’re a sucker for an atmospheric whodunit with feisty female sleuths and steamy romantic tension, this one’s for you! Oh and did I mention that there’s also a crime-solving kitty named Blot? Now that’s the cream cheese icing on the cake!

Dog Crazy: A Novel of Love Lost and Found by Meg Donahue

Published April 29, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

22573873Just look at the cover and tell me how I could possibly refuse to read this book! For 17 years, my little gray-striped pudgeball of a cat, Gizzy, has rocked my world. So when he goes, I know I’m going to need someone like Maggie Brennan to keep me from spiraling down the rabbit hole of despair. But let’s not think about that right now, okay? I’ll cross that rainbow bridge when I get to it.

You see, Maggie is a pet bereavement counselor. Most people who just don’t get it would laugh her off as some kind of quack. But anyone who has ever poured their heart and soul into one four-legged creature would understand that this is a most noble and important profession indeed.

“Love is love,” I told her, as I tell all of my patients who are ashamed to find themselves shattered by the death of a dog. “Loss is loss.”

She’s a total pro, but yet there’s one little catch. She can’t leave her house. After her beloved dog died, all of her pent-up stress came to a head, resulting in full-fledged agoraphobia. Luckily she’s able to work out of her home office and order all of her worldly needs on Amazon. It also helps that her BFF lives right next door. Everything is under control…that is until a distressed teenage client walks through her door.

Unlike her other clients who fill up their allotted time telling stories about their beloved pets, all this girl wants to do is hit the streets and search for her missing dog. Although the dog, Billy, been gone for over a month, she continues to comb the streets in a disheveled mess screaming out his name like a deranged banshee. When she refuses therapy, Maggie takes it upon herself to help her search for Billy–pro bono.

At first I thought it was a little far-fetched for a therapist to take on a case for free, but then it all made sense when I realized that she was also saving herself hundreds—hell, probably thousands of dollars—in exposure therapy bills for her agoraphobia. By helping Anya look for her dog, she had face her demons and step out into the great outdoors.

Keeping her anxiety disorder under wraps, she uses her BFF’s poodle as a “therapy dog,” while out hunting for Billy. The stakes get even higher when she realizes that she might be falling for Anya’s handsome older brother. Yes, ladies, there’s a touch of romance–and even some mystery–in this heart-warming animal story.

Thanks to Maggie’s dogged (pun intended!) persistence, Anya slowly comes around. She even rekindles her love of photography by taking some marketing photos of a dog in desperate need of a forever home. Oh how I love Seymour, the adorably neurotic basset hound/golden retriever mix. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but I will say that everything worked out exactly how I wanted in the end. I’ll just leave it at that!

I loved the shelter dog marketing aspect of this book because that’s my side job at Austin Pets Alive. So on many levels, this book really hit close to home. Emily Donahue has a remarkable talent for articulating the complexities of emotions that overtake us when we are hopelessly in love with our animals. Throughout the book, her lyrical, heart-wrenching prose sang to me. At various points, I wanted to shout “hallelujah” from the rooftop! If you, like me, get mushy about animals, get ready to cry your bleeding hearts out!

Yes, this is a book about dogs, but it really made me wax poetic about my Gizzy, who has been by my side through so many chapters in my life. I picked him up off the streets when I was a 19-year-old mess. I kid you not, after I brought that scrawny bat-eared creature into my home, my life changed so much for the better. At that, I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from the book.

“I have a theory that you get the right dog, the dog you need, for a particular stage in your life.”

Gizzy’s Cozy Kitty Corner

Published September 2, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

019 (2)We may be in the dog days of summer, but this long, hot August has gone to the cats! Gizzy says that if you want to beat the heat, grab yourself a fruity umbrella drink and a cozy mystery filled with fiendish killers and feline shenanigans!  Here are a couple of his favorites from my summer reading list.

The Cat Sitter’s Nine Lives (A Dixie Hemingway Mystery #9)

18404321Even though Blaize Clement has passed on into the great beyond, her gifted son is keeping the beloved cozy mystery series alive. Dixie is still stumbling into mysteries in her trademark white Keds and cargo shorts. Her humble abode overlooking the tranquil ocean in Siesta Key is just as cozy as ever. Her boy troubles continue to get more and more complicated. Her regular customers are still counting on her to deliver quality service to their cherished pets of all shapes, sizes and species.

Yep, it seems as though John Clement has found a way to seamlessly continue his mom’s adorable cozy series without a hitch. In fact, this might be my favorite installment because of all the puzzling subplots. The various obstacles seemed totally random and unrelated, yet the pieces all had a way of fitting together toward the very end.  Well played, Mr. Clement!

Right after Dixie fearlessly rescued a man from a burning vehicle, the questions just kept multiplying.  Why is a strange man in a hospital bed insisting that Dixie is his wife? Did the missing bookstore clerk skip town, or is he sleeping with the fishes? The bloody paw prints on the checkout counter sure aren’t a good sign.

And in the midst of murder and mayhem, an unopened letter from Dixie’s ex-boyfriend could potentially ruin the good thing she’s got going on with Mr. Perfect. Should she open Pandora ’s Box or let sleeping dogs lie? You’ll have to read the book to find out! Trust me, this one is definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of strong female characters and four-legged sidekicks.

Lending a Paw (A Bookmobile Cat Mystery #1)  

17707766I 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?

So there you have it. Two incredibly paw-some cat-infused mysteries that are bound to make you purr as you’re whizzing through the pages.  Gizzy says, “GOW.” In translation that means, “You’re welcome.”