Countdown to CeeCee-o-Ween! Locke and Key by Joe Hill

14729399_971074896354644_489282906771431935_nCeeCee and I aren’t big into comic books or superheroes, so finding a book to go with her Wonder Woofer costume was kind of a stretch. I did some digging into my dark and twisted reading list and discovered the most horrifically perfect comic book to feature in the second installment of my CeeCee-O-Ween series!

joehilllockekeyAudiobook lovers, eat your heart out! The highly produced, dramatized audio version of Joe Hill’s Locke and Key is far and away the best book on tape in the history of all time. For reals, yo! This audiobook is legit. There’s musical interludes, sound effects and quality performances by multiple B-list actors. It was like watching a movie–only better because I could use my own imagination!

As for the story, it is–in true Joe Hill fashion–waaaaaay out there. If you’ve read Horns, you know what I’m talking about. It revolves around this grieving, dysfunctional family that moved out to a haunted mansion after the father was slashed to death by a crazed teenager. Located in an East Coast hamlet called Lovecraft (a nice little nod to the most disturbed horror writer of all time), the house of horrors is saturated with a host of malevolent spirits. One spirit in particular is hell-bent on destroying the family–and everything in its wake–to get a hold of some magical keys that will unlock the ultimate Pandora’s Box.

The book starts out like a traditional gothic horror novel, but once the kids embark on their scavenger hunt throughout the dark corridors of Locke house, it morphs into a fantasy thrillride. There’s astral-projecting, evil-infested caves, and even some creeptastic elements of The Monkey’s Paw thrown into the mix.

If you’re a fan of fantasy/horror, you’re in for a treat. This is one audiobook I’ll be “reading” again and again and again!

These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

24187925This book has pretty much everything I crave in a good YA mystery: A fearless (albeight sometimes reckless) amatuer sleuth, a simmering star-crossed romance, and mysterious suspects galore! Set in 19th-century New York, this fish-out-of-water story follows the journey of Jo Montifort as she goes undercover to hunt down her father’s murderer. Though he appeared to die by his own hand, her investigative reporter insticts tell her that something is amiss.

When Jo discovers a cryptic note at the crime scene, she has no other choice than to go against the rules of high society and set forth on her investigation—gasp—without a male escort. As she roams the filthy city streets, she soon discovers more atrocities than her father’s untimely demise. Through her naïve eyes, readers get a feel for what life must have been like for the “have nots” of the world back in the dark ages of patriarchial oppression. Could you imagine wearing a suffocating corset on a daily basis? Biting your toungue in fear of sounding too sharp-witted? Or marrying a strange man just to maintian high social status? I may gripe about modern American culture, but I’m feeling rather fortunate to be living in a society that allows me to walk the city streets unescorted in my pajama jeans and Crocs!

At 500+ pages (or 13 hours on audio), the book is a little overwhelming, especially for those youngins, but the story moves fast. I “read” this on audio and it was hard pressing the off button when Jo stumbled across a new clue, or when the romantic tension simmered to a boil between her and the handsome newspaper boy from the wrong side of the tracks. With his help, she travels to the most forbidden places—from brothels to dive bars to shipyards—and has quite a few close encounters with some nefarious street urchins. Along the way, she makes a few friends in low places: A teenage pickpocket, and a budding forensic scientist. Both prove to be quite handy as she pursues her father’s killer.

I’ll stop right here to save you from spoilers, but I will say that this book is worth your while! I’m just bummed that it’s a standalone because I would love to know what adventures lie ahead for Jo as she navigates her life as a cub reporter.

Gizzy’s Roundup of Witches, Warlocks and Weirdos!

gizzyGizzy and I have been going through a paranormal/fantasy phase lately. Why? I have no idea. Maybe because February and March are the crappiest months of the year and we need a total escape from reality. Or perhaps Gizzy thinks he’s a wizard now that he has his own Dumbledore hat. I’m not going to bother trying to make sense out of it all. Either way, here are a few books that we recently polished off. If you’re in the mood for magic, mayhem and swoonalicious love triangles, here ya go:

The Line by J.D. Horn

18010355I scored this audiobook for a song on Audible, and well you know that saying, “you get what you pay for”? Well that doesn’t apply here. This book is incredible!  The narrator, the rollercoaster pacing, the atmospheric Savannah setting—everything about it kept me glued to the story for hours on end. The main character, Mercy, is somewhat of an embarrassment to her family of powerful witches.  Unlike her magically-blessed twin sister, she has very little power of her own. Some major power players in her clan of witches seem to be harboring deep, dark secrets. And when the head matriarch (aka “the anchor”) is brutally murdered, Mercy starts piecing together some clues that eventually lead her to a series of bombshells about her family’s tangled web of lies. In the last third of the book, my jaw dropped at least 50 times when the skeletons came dancing the conga-line out of the closet. Aside from the shock factor, I really enjoyed the Deep South setting, and Mercy’s “Liars Tour.” As an unapologetic dorky tourist, I would love to tour around Savannah, drinking a hurricane while listening to outrageous fabrications and urban legends about the city’s landmarks. Too bad she had to hang up her tour guide hat in the second book.

The Source by J.D. Horn

18803931I’ll just come right out and tell you that this book was a big disappointment. Right from the get-go the story just seemed to be all over the place. In the first book, it was so much easier to immerse myself into the story as it gradually unfolded before taking off like a freight train. This book, however, went from zero to sixty. All of a sudden, I’m thrust into a series of crazy events full of a bunch of characters. Keeping track of it all was a struggle to say the least. Bombshells continue to drop at warp speed and the story just gets more and more convoluted with every chapter. The love triangle with Emmitt, the robotic golem, is a little too creepy for my taste. There was a point when I almost aborted the mission of completing this book, but morbid curiosity kept me going.  Why is Mercy’s supposedly-dead mother coming out of the woodwork? Can she be trusted? Is her entire family out to get her? Who can she trust?!?  Is it weird that I didn’t enjoy this book, but yet I’ll probably end up reading the third installment because I need answers to a zillion more questions? Clearly J.D. Horn must be doing something right since I’m inevitably going to read the whole trilogy.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

23164983Again, here is a second installment that didn’t measure up to the first. It’s not that it wasn’t entertaining. Hmm…how should I put my finger on this? It’s just that the first book was SO amazing! The world building, the character development, the mysterious school of weirdo children with super-human powers—all of it was so mesmerizing. This next adventure moves along in the same fashion as The Hobbit. Lots of “out of the frying pan, into the fire,” action sequences.  Throughout the book, the kids are jumping into different time loops in their quest to restore Mrs. Peregrine back into her human form. Trapped in a bird’s body, she has only a short amount of time until her humanity withers away. Without Mrs. P., the kids’ sanctuary from the storm of hollows (evil peculiar children-eating monsters) and wights (double-evil peculiar children-murdering fiends) will be lost forever.  Gripes aside, I did enjoy learning more about the villains and finding out their reasons for targeting peculiar children. After that cliffhanger of an ending, I absolutely HAVE to read the next book. What can I say? I’m a total sucker for trilogies. Oh and I would be remiss not to give a nod to the author’s ingenious inventions with the found old-timey photographs. My favorite character, who I hope to see in the next book, is the pretentious pipe-smoking dog.  Anyone who has read his books would probably agree that Ransom Riggs’ imagination is a force to be reckoned with!

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahan

18007535Remember that old campfire story The Monkey’s Paw? That one never fails to give me the shivers, even though I’ve heard it about a bajillion times. There’s something very creepy about the concept of bringing a loved one back from the dead and not knowing who—or what—will be showing up at your doorstep. That’s why this book gave me the heebie jeebies, especially when dead creatures started coming back to life, scratching from inside the closet door. JEEPERS! This is not a book to read alone if you’re a chicken like me. So in terms of creepiness, I give this book four stars. As for the characters, well that’s a whole other story. Aside from the teenage girl and her baby sister, the characters who carelessly messed around with witchcraft all seemed to be a bunch of imbeciles, in my humble opinion. Yes, they were crazy with grief, but that didn’t give them the right to mess with black magic. To be honest, I was pleased when they all got what was coming to them. Aside from those fools, I have another issue with the book. Since the story revolved around death and bereavement, the gloominess of it all really bummed me out.  After reading this, I had to immediately cheer myself up with a light and fluffy romance.

Audiobook Pick of the Month: Booty Bones: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery

18404222From the Publisher:  Sarah Booth Delaney’s fiancé, Graf Milieu, has become depressed while recovering from a severe leg injury, but Sarah Booth knows just how to help him heal. She’s arranged a romantic getaway for the two of them at a lovely beach cottage on Dauphin Island off the Gulf Coast. On the first day of their island adventure, they take a historical tour led by Angela Trotter, a young woman well-versed in local lore, including rumors of pirate treasure hidden somewhere on the island. In fact, Angela confides to Sarah Booth and Graf that her father, a sailor and treasure hunter, was murdered just when he thought he was closing in on the treasure. Angela’s convinced that the wrong man was imprisoned for her father’s murder, and she manages to persuade Sarah Booth to take the case. And Sarah Booth soon realizes that there’s much more going on than meets the eye. With untold amounts of treasure offering plenty of motive for murder and a fiancé falling deeper into depression, Sarah Booth’s peaceful island vacation is quickly spinning out of control.

Why I liked it:   As always, Carolyn Haines delivers a puzzling mystery filled with complex characters, four-legged sidekicks, ghostly shenanigans and intriguing subplots.  The mystery in this installment is twofold: Who killed the treasure hunter? And what in tarnations  is wrong with Graf?  With a big storm a’brewin and a slew of dark secrets about to bubble up from under the surface, our sassy Southern sleuth is in for a wild ride!

What really shines in this book is the foreshadowing, which is a key ingredient in a quality whodunit. As Sarah Booth navigates the rocky waters of her relationship with Graf, I couldn’t think of a more perfect setting than a beach town under the threat of a monster hurricane.  At the risk of revealing any spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. But I will say that you’ll have a very strong opinion about him after she weathers the storm.

What irked me: Normally I love Jitty’s antics, but in this book she seemed to be tormenting Sarah Booth with her cryptic warnings. She’s known for popping up at random moments in outlandish outfits only to offer a few pieces of advice and puzzling riddles . This time, she’s appearing as iconic celebrities in mourning, hinting that death and despair is just around the corner.  So while Graf is inexplicably withdrawing from Sarah Booth, Jitty is constantly torturing her with bad omens. Of course, they finally stopped dangling their carrots at the end of the book. But it just didn’t seem right for them to keep her in the dark for so long. There were many points in the story when I wanted to shake Graf and Jitty and scream, “Out with it already, you fools!”

The narrator: Kate Forbes is the perfect narrator for the Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries. She does a fantastic job performing each of the characters’ voices in a believable way, which can be rather tricky when you’re dealing with a broad range of personalities. Her pensive, somber tone was the perfect match for Sarah Booth and Jittie, who were both in the midst of exposing some serious life—and afterlife—revelations.

Summed up in three words: Suspenseful, foreboding, intriguing.

 

“Dance on His Grave” Review & Audiobook Giveaway!

14538706Well butter my buns and call me a biscuit! Oh how I love Southern mysteries set deep in the heart of the hauntingly beautiful East Texas-Louisiana borderlands.  Sylvia Dickey Smith has mastered the art of evoking a sense of dread in her lyrical atmospheric descriptions of the mysterious bayou country.  Moody atmosphere, colorful characters, good food and one heck of a strong-willed protagonist are all key ingredients for a quality Southern fiction novel. This author delivers all of these things in spades in her Sidra Smart mysteries. That’s why I put Sidra Smart on the top of my list of favorite Southern detectives—right next to David Robichauex, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. If you haven’t heard of those other guys, I advise you to Google James Lee Burke and Joe Lansdale immediately!

In this first installment of the Sidra Smart Mystery Series, Sid has emancipated herself from a loveless, sheltered marriage. No longer an obedient preacher’s wife, she’s thrust into a whole new world of independence and opportunity.

She reaches a crossroads when she inherits her dead brother’s PI business. With zero knowledge of how to run a business—let alone solve mysteries—she’s ready to sell it off to the lowest bidder. Yet when her controlling ex-husband tries to push her into doing just that, she decides to slap on her gumshoes out of sheer defiance! And really, that’s what I love about Sidra Smart. She’s bold, brave and ready to take on new adventures, despite the legions of naysayers who will stop at nothing to watch her fail.

Before she’s ready to pick up a  copy of “How to Run a PI Business for Dummies,”  her first client walks in with a cold case that would stump even Sherlock Holmes. Despite her best interest, Sidra agrees to look into the 30-year-old mystery revolving around two innocent girls caught up in an unimaginable world of horrors.  The horror show intensifies as she looks deeper into the case and discovers a tangled web of town secrets, torture and arson. Trust me, once you get to know the villain, you’ll understand the meaning of the book’s title, “Dance on His Grave.”

The plot thickens when Sid finds a connection between the bizarre cold case and her brother’s mysterious car accident. And just with any good thriller, the danger heats up as our heroine gets closer to the truth. Who is sneaking into her home and leaving ominous threats? Is it her ex-husband’s God-fearing disciples, or could it be a demented child-abusing killer? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

With some help from her newfound friend and fellow PI, George Leger, she carries on with the case—even when all hope seems to be lost.  She also gets a little help from her meddlesome Aunt Annie, who is always there to help Sid pick up the pieces when the chips are down. I’m especially fond of the Cajun-speaking George, who’s interesting enough to have his own spinoff story.

This is not your typical amateur sleuth mystery, mainly because there are some really weighty issues at the core of the story. Some of the descriptions of are rather dark and disturbing, so this book is not for the squeamish. Filled with punchy dialogue, cliffhanger chapter endings and unspeakable crimes, this book is somewhat of a mash-up of Karin Slaughter meets Gillian Flynn with a Cajun twist. Hard-boiled mystery fans are sure to enjoy this puzzling whodunit.

Enter to Win a Free Audiobook!

imagesU9JY9PEDI should also mention that the author gave me this book via Audible.  The narrator did a fantastic job unfolding the story in a somber tone. Unlike other narrators who drive me bonkers with their rapid-speed chipmunk-on-crack storytelling, she did a stellar job keeping the pace and capturing Sid’s voice.  I highly recommend listening to this on audio. In fact, the author has offered to give away a free audiobook. All you have to do is post a comment answering the following question and the winner will be picked at random. Don’t fret if you’re not an Audible member.  You can still receive the audiobook without an account.

Who is your favorite thriller author?