Thirty-One Days of CeeCee-O-Ween: A Dark and Stormy Murder


Synapsis:
A 30-something woman is at a crossroads in life until she gets a call that all of us whimsical, aspiring novelists can only dream about! A super famous (we’re talking Nora Roberts level!) author, Camilla Graham, needs a live-in assistant who can walk dogs and help research/write bits and pieces for her forthcoming book. Needless to say, our leading lady, Lena London, signed very quickly on the dotted line, packed up her goodies and moved to a cozy little touristy town in the wilds of Indiana. Soon enough, her dream turns into a nightmare when a dead body washes up on the author’s lakefront property. Unable to turn away from a good mystery, Lena pieces together clues and finds herself embroiled in a mystery within a mystery. Turns out, the hot boy next-door is the No. 1 person of interest in a missing person’s case. The plot thickens when she finds that the missing person in question is his soon-to-be ex-wife!

What worked: This book is like pumpkin spice for the soul! I loved the atmospheric descriptions of the stately lakeside mansion and the touristy storefronts festooned with fall décor. It’s just so easy to sink into the story as Lena gets acquainted with her new town—and the two hot men vying for her attention! Yes, ladies, there is a love triangle at work. Since the detectives usually get the girl in the end, I’m on Team Sam. But maybe that’s just because I kept picturing him as the smokin’ hot kilt-wearing Scot from Outlander.

But I digress…I also really liked how the author weaved two little mysteries within the mystery: The case of Sam’s missing wife, and Camilla’s book in progress, “The Salzburg Train.” With each chapter, we get a little teaser from her book which I hope will actually become a real thing I can pluck off the shelf at Barnes & Noble!

What didn’t work: Hmmm…if I had to get picky, I’d say that Lena’s unwavering devotion to Sam—a man she barely knew—was a little over the top. At some point, she should’ve entertained the thought that she was flirting with a madman, but she had complete and total blind faith in the man. Other than that minor snafu, I can’t think of anything to nitpick. This is a fabulous start to a fun and adventurous series!

Overall: I’m ready for the next book. Sign me up!

CeeCee’s Christmas Cozy Roundup!

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When it comes to Christmas, there’s nothing like waiting til the last minute. Cards, presents, cooking supplies – all those things are purchased in a mad flurry a couple of days before Santa wiggles his butt down my imaginary chimney. As for Christmas cozies – I get started on those before Turkey day! What can I say? Priorities.

So without further ado, here are CeeCee’s top picks from this year’s Christmas cozy roundup!

Mrs. Jeffries and the Merry Gentlemen by Emily Brightwell

17166223One look at this cover and I knew this book had to be mine. How could I turn away from a British version of Murder She Wrote set in Victorian London? It was fun tagging along with the many amateur sleuths as they all questioned suspects. Many of whom had ample motives for killing a high-society “stock promoter” who pushed a number of people to invest their riches into a faltering foreign mine.  Who was angry enough to whack him with a shovel? Was it a bitter mistress? An unhappy investor? Or could it have been one of his servants? It’s up to inspector Witherspoon and his intrepid team of housekeepers to ferret out the killer before another goose is cooked!

Though I had a hard time keeping track of the zillions of characters, I enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of Victorian London. I really felt like I was joining Wiggins for a merry drink of grog at the working-class pub. I could practically smell the good ol’ fashioned English cooking in Mrs. Goodge’s kitchen. And I could clearly envision the bustling city streets as Witherspoon’s underground spies set forth on their mission.

As for Mrs. Jefferies, I’m wondering why she only popped up sporadically throughout the book. Come to think of it, there really isn’t a main character to follow. Maybe that’s why I had a hard time connecting with anyone in the story. I wonder if that’s the case for other stories in this series. Guess I’ll have to keep reading to find out. Whether I’ll become a loyal reader of this series, the verdict is still out.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt

28220750Here’s a fun book for legal thriller fans. The cover threw me off because I was expecting a cozy mystery filled with cute little puppies romping under the Christmas tree. This is really more of a hard-boiled mystery in the guise of a holiday-infused whodunit for animal lovers. I have to hand it to the marketing team, they had a target audience in mind and I was lured in—hook, line and sinker!

Though the story was lacking in puppy action (seriously, where are the twelve dogs of Christmas?), I really enjoyed the puzzling mystery. It’s told by a dog-loving lawyer, Andy Carpenter, who sacrificed his holiday downtime to clear the name of a longtime friend who inexplicably got framed for multiple murders.

The woman in question, Martha “Pups” Boyer, is a big-time misanthrope who dedicates her life to rescuing puppies (cool points!). Someone framed her for murder and it’s up to Andy to find the real killer before the dying woman keels over alone in her cell.

Since I just had to say a final goodbye to my 19-year-old furbaby, I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy-hearted  story about a dying animal rescuer. But alas, I was glued to the mystery when more and more mounting evidence pointed to none other than Pups as the killer.

I have to hand it to the author, he’s very crafty and has a knack for red herrings and snappy dialogue. The mystery was great, but I most enjoyed the hilarious quips between Andy and Pups. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this series again in the near future.

Rest Ye Murdered Gentleman by Vicki Delany

24611862This fun series has Hallmark Mysteries and Movies written all over it! It’s set in an idyllic Main Street USA town with snow, quaint shops and colorful characters galore. The author has the formula down to a science, and I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Set in an upstate New York town called Rudolph, the story is brimming with Christmas cheer. Adding to the yuletide merriment is the dead body of a travel writer! He came to Rudolph to write a fluff piece about holiday hotspots. Who in their right mind would want to snuff him—and his free marketing—out? Who poisoned him with a toxic cookie from Vicky’s adorable bakery? Was it a rival baker vying to put her out of business? Or maybe it was the town’s resident mean girl who failed to charm the dead man into writing a fluff piece about her knickknack store. It’s up to the town’s head Mrs. Claus to solve the mystery before her best friend loses her bakery—and more!

Needless to say, this book hit the spot. I’ve been through a lot in 2016 (who hasn’t, right?), so this was the perfect light read. I highly recommend it to all my fellow cozy fans.

Bootseez, the newest member of the Sinn family, approves this message.

Bootseez, the newest member of the Sinn family, approves this message.

On this balmy Christmas eve, CeeCee, Bootseez and I wish you all a joyous holiday—and a very happy 2017! May Santa bestow you with lots and lots of wonderful books!

 

Plum Pudding Murder: Hannah Swenson Book/Movie Comparison

25387684I’m not going to mince words here. This book was BAD! Let me put it in perspective for you. The Hallmark move was better. A HALLMARK MOVIE, YO! That’s says it all right there. I don’t mean to disparage Hallmark Mysteries and Movies because it’s my go-go channel for all things brainless and fluffy. But when has a made-for-TV movie ever done a book justice?

So hats off to Hallmark for taking the world’s most boring cozy mystery series and turning it into something fun and whimsical. I’m impressed that anyone bothered to pick up movie rights for this stink-tastic books series. Where do I even begin with the book-movie comparison? I’ll break it down for you like this.

Five reasons why the Hallmark movie rules and the book drools:

    1. 1. Hannah Swenson (played by Alison Sweeny) is waaaay more interesting. In the book, I kept picturing a gray-haired, mousey woman knitting socks on her time off. Aside from baking, what else is there? At least in the movie, Hannah is played by a gorgeous ex-soap star with fabulous hair and a twinkling smile. Away from the bakery, she’s out jogging and going on hot dates with two super cute dudes. I would totes hang out with the movie-Hannah (mainly to swindle her out of free cookies). As for the book Hannah, I think I’d rather join my grandma on an agonizingly long trip to the commissary.

2. The love triangle is so much more fun. OK, so in the book there is a hint of a love triangle, but clearly it is going to move along at the speed of molasses. I’d have to suffer through at least five more books until it actually goes somewhere. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.  Yes, Norman is safe and practical. It’s a no-brainier he’ll get dumped, which is VERY evident in the movie. However, in the book he and Hannah are the world’s most boring non-married couple. As for the movie, I love Hannah, but the woman needs to quit stringing these poor dudes along. Clearly she’s all about the cop bad-boy Mike, so let poor Norman go already! Personally, I would choose Norman in a heartbeat. He’s hot, he’s a dentist (ching ching $$$) and he’s clearly smitten with Hannah. If it were up to me, I’d pick the safe, good guy every time. I married an accountant. Need I say more?

3. The sister sucks in both versions, but she’s downright intolerable in the book. I’m not a fan of the fashionable, fast-talking, Type A sister. But at least the movie-version isn’t a helicopter mom…yet. I cannot deal with these control-freak soccer moms – in books and real life.

4. The plot moves soooooo much faster in the movie. I can’t believe that the murder didn’t happen until I slogged halfway into the book. HALFWAY, people! Here’s a fun analogy for you. You know that deflated feeling when you order something delicious at a restaurant and all you get is a few morsels atop a mountain of cheap French fries? Well that’s how I felt when the murder mystery was only sprinkled into this crapfest in small doses. At least in the movie, the dead body pops up right at the get-go and our intrepid sleuth sets forth on her crime-solving expedition.

5. In the movie, you get a sense of atmosphere and local color. The bickering elderly sisters are mainstays at Hannah’s adorable bakery and the local yokals drop in on a routine basis to gossip over a plate of delicious brownies. Plus there’s a lot of flirting going around between Hannah and her two boy-toys. Surprisingly, the movie does a better job painting the cozy small town scene and giving the viewers a sense of place. As for the book, it’s heavy on a lot of inane dialogue – and recipes galore. What good is a book without atmosphere? Especially a cozy mystery? I ask you.

So tell me, Hallmark movie fans, what do you think of the Hannah Swenson mystery movies? I’d love to know your book-movie comparisons!

CeeCee & Gizzy’s Dog Days of Summer Reading Roundup

UntitledThe days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler—dipping down to below 90 here in Austin! Time for me to say so long to my beach reads and hello to all the ghost stories that are ripe for the picking on my bookshelf. Before I jumpstart my fall reading list, Giz and CeeCee would like to share some highlights from this summer’s crop of beach reads.

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Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

18189606I have to give myself a little pat on the back for choosing this book for one of my precious monthly Audible credits. Is it just me, or is YA lit getting better and better? John Green really threw down the gauntlet with his masterful tales of love, loss and teen angst. The bar has been set and Morgan Matson is delivering the books that readers—both young and old—crave. I was sucked in my the mystery of Sloan’s vanishing act, wondering what on earth could cause a girl to ditch her BFF for an entire summer with no explanation. Is she dying a slow death? Did she get kidnapped my martians? What’s the deal, Sloan?! The story moved along quickly as Emily embarked on her scavenger hunt-like mission that would hopefully lead her back to Sloan. To help Emily come out of her shell, Sloan left her an ingenious list of tasks—from horseback riding (Emily’s biggest fear), to skinny dipping, to kissing a stranger in the dark! It was a lot of fun tagging along as she tackled her to-do list and fell in love with the boy next-door along the way. This is one summer read that is sure to win over fans of John Green, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Dessen.

 

Murder She Wrote: Aloha Betrayed by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

18114236This is a tried-and-true mystery series that never ever disappoints. I absolutely adore Murder She Wrote, and I’m almost ashamed to say these books are even better than the TV show. Maybe it’s because the novels are less rushed and confusing than the hour-long whodunits. Either way, I love it all! This book is especially fun because Jessica is jet setting yet again to a Hawaiian island where she’s guest lecturing a criminology course at a local college. Where do I sign up?! Lo and behold, a professor is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, and all signs point to murder. I had a lot of fun joining J.B. Fletcher as she questioned suspects at luaus, on dinner cruises, and even on a treacherous bike tour to a sacred volcano. Half the fun is exploring the wonders of Hawaii vicariously through the eyes of a most perceptive sleuth. There’s oodles of suspicious characters with possible motives for knocking off an ambitious professor who wanted to put the kibosh on a lucrative telescope project. Such fun! I’m so glad I stashed this book in my carry-on bag on my trip to San Diego. Jessica Fletcher is by far the best traveling companion for this wannabe amateur sleuth!

NOT THAT!

Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer

18525774Why am I still listening to this audiobook? That’s the question I kept asking as I commuted to and from work every morning. Even when a book is bad, I get really stubborn about sticking it through. In retrospect, I wasn’t doing myself any favors wasting my time on this heap of sappy garbage, I was allured by the premise of two best friends growing up on a charming little East Coast island and bonding through decades of hardships and heartbreaks. What can I say? I’m a girl who loves sisterly bonding. I blame the fans on Goodreads who claim that it’s the perfect book for fans of “Beaches.” What a crock! This book had nothing to do with sisterly bonding, soul searching and female empowerment. It was all about vapid, idiotic women chasing men. The feminist in me screamed at these utterly naïve women who couldn’t find fulfillment in their lives without locking a noncommittal man into marriage. The poor little rich girl character even cried in delight when her man admitted that he was willing to marry her even though he could never love her. WTF? I’ll stop right there before I roast this book into an oblivion. I hate being so nasty, but I do want to save my fellow readers from being insulted by this total time waster.

Gizzy’s Roundup of Ghosts, Murder and Magical Cats

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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.

 

Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Fourth of July Fizzles

I’m seriously striking out on beach reads this year.  Not one—but two—of the Fourth of July-themed books I selected on Audible turned out to be major turkeys.  You know that feeling when you light up a cheap sparkler expecting to see a glorious nimbus of glittery light, only to find that you got a big fat, fizzled-out dud? Well that pretty much sums up my disappointment with these cozy mysteries. Here’s hoping that my bad luck streak is over and that my next post will be filled with some fabulous summertime reads!

Dead White and Blue by Carolyn Hart

15808349In a word, this book is tedious. The constant questioning, the massive list of suspects, the never-ending red herrings—everything about this book exhausted me. I don’t understand what happened here. I have always loved the Death on Demand mystery series. I love that the amateur sleuth runs a mystery book store in a quaint little tourist town, and that she’s married to a handsome private eye. Her old biddy sidekicks are always a little annoying, but in this book they’re downright intolerable. Thankfully they were on a cruise and only popped up here and there via Skype. The Agatha Christie-esque plots always keep me guessing, but there were WAY too many pieces in this jigsaw puzzle.  There were SO many characters and they were all equally despicable. Lock them all up in jail for all I care!  Seriously, the author should’ve drawn up a character map so I could keep up with the tangled web of twisted townies.  Aside from the jumbled mess of suspects, the story is all work and no play. I found myself constantly pleading with Annie and Max to take a breather from their quest here and there. Go build a sandcastle, host a book signing party, drink some wine and watch the sunset—just take a break for Pete’s sake and let the reader come up for air! Keeping up with the herky jerky lines of inquiry just felt like work, work, work. At the end of the day, I just want to kick up my feet and enjoy a light mystery with cute kitties and hot detectives. But hey, if you enjoy formulaic math problems with factors and square roots coming out of the yin yang, this might be your cup of tea.

All Fudged Up by Nancy Coco

17381897This review might be just a little unfair on account of the fact that I returned this sucker after suffering through the first few chapters. It was just way too slapstick silly for my taste, which is really a shame considering that Mackinac Island the perfect setting for a cozy fudge-filled mystery. So why did I hit the return button so early in the game? Well you might think I’m a sourpuss, but I just can’t deal with over-the-top silly hijinks. My funny bone was not tickled when the mentally-challenged police dispatcher could not comprehend the words: “I found a dead body in my house.” When the hilarity of the dispatcher’s stupidity caused the caller to shake uncontrollably in laughter, I realized that there was no way I could ever connect with the story or the ridiculous characters. If I want a corkscrew comedy, I’ll watch Blazing Saddles. But when it comes to mysteries, there needs to be some sort of grounding in reality. Scooby Doo is a rare exception. What happened after the inept dispatcher eventually connected the dots and sent out a unit to inspect the crime scene? I’ll never know. Nor will I care. Thankfully, Audible immediately restores my precious monthly credits when I accidentally buy a book without doing some homework. A word to the wise: Always read the first chapter before taking the plunge.

Gizzy and Cee Cee’s Christmas Reading Roundup

ceeceegizzyxmasWe’re reaching the bitter end of the holly jolly Christmas season, but there’s still some time to curl up with a good holiday read. What’s that? Oh you don’t have time to read, huh? Come on, do you really need to spend your precious free time assembling that complicated gingerbread house with the kiddos or battling angry shoppers at the mall? Give yourself a break. Order those last-minute gifts online, tell the kids to amuse themselves for a while and spend the day curled up with a good, Christmassy book. You deserve it!

My editorial assistants, Gizzy and CeeCee, picked out a few hits and misses from our holiday reading list. Put down those car keys, grab some naughty nog and start filling up your e-reader with some Christmas cheer. CeeCee and Gizzy give you full permission to treat yourself!

HITS

Christmas Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley

16136087I am so glad I impulsively purchased this $1.99 nugget of ghoulish holiday fun! The book of short stories is meant for the younger set, but it’s far creepier than anything you’ll see in the children’s section. It’s like the British version of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. These morbid tales of killer snowmen, demonic dolls, and caroling ghosts, are perfect for a night around the campfire surrounded by the winter woods. Come to think of it, that would be the most perfect Christmas Eve ever. Hmm…mental note for next year. Anyhoo, this book is definitely worth the peanuts that it’s going for online. If you’re a fan of gothic, atmospheric ghost stories by British authors like Susan Hill (Woman in Black) or Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book), give this one a read. Just remember to keep an eye on that fireplace. That persistent scuffling noise might just be pesky rats…but I wouldn’t be so sure!

Christmas is Murder by CS Challinor

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Of all the many renditions of Agatha Christie’s seminal masterpiece And Then there Were None, this is one of my faves!  Set in a secluded Victorian Inn in the English countryside, the mystery revolves around a motley crew of characters – all with secrets to hide. Lo and behold, a man is poisoned to death and many others end up joining him in his eternal dirt nap. Trapped by a blizzard, the doomed guests are unable to escape the wrath of a cold-blooded killer stalking the halls. It’s up to Rex Graves to ferret out the murderous fiend before his own goose is cooked. Gee, does this all sound familiar? If you love a good game of Clue, or if you read cozy mysteries, you must be well acquainted with this tried-and-true mystery formula. But like a favorite Christmas song, it never gets old when the mood is just right. What I love about this recycled Agatha Christie story that it has all the great elements that make up the perfect Christmas cozy: A stately old English manor, a rescued puppy, and cozy nights by the fire amidst the backdrop of a raging snowstorm. It’s a great book to cuddle up with on a cold winter’s night with a hot cup of tea and a purring fat cat on your lap.

MISSES

All Is Calm: A Lonestar Christmas Novella by Colleen Coble

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Don’t do it. That’s my advice if you’re a sucker for Christmas-themed books filled with horses, romance and mystery.  I made the grave mistake of listening to this turkey on audio, and it was AWFUL. The narrator was just fine up until she switched into her little kid voice. She sounded like that creepy psychic woman from Poltergeist.  I’m telling you, it was ridiculously bad. And then there’s the plot…or lack there of. It’s set in Texas, but it might as well have been anywhere USA. When you set a book in Texas, you need to have a good grasp on the culture, the twang, the rugged landscape. Perhaps it would have done her some good to pick up a title by Larry McMurty. Aside from ignoring all things Texan, she didn’t put much effort into puzzling together a murder mystery. She threw out a couple of clues here and there, but it’s pretty easy to identify the killer early on. The romance (or as my fellow bloggers call it “insta-love”) was way too sugary sweet. As for the leading lady, she fell flat as a pancake right from the get-go. All in all, this story is a total waste of time. I’ve seen more substance in a Lifetime movie starring Tori Spelling.

Murder of a Stacked Librarian by Denise Swanson

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This is my first Scumble River mystery and I’m pretty sure it’ll be my last. It wasn’t horrible per say, just very lackluster. If you ask me to recall anything about this book a month from now, forget about it. The story is so forgettable, probably because the characters were either unlikeable or just plain boring.  It seemed as though the murder mystery took a backseat to all the mind-numbing wedding planning. If the author focused more on the festive Christmas atmosphere and less on the inane wedding details, it would’ve been more tolerable. As for improving the murder mystery plot, that would require an entire overhaul.  I figured it out the second the murderer was introduced. From that point on it was just a painful slog through wedding-planning follies and disjointed red herrings. On a side note, I was a bridesmaid at a Christmas wedding. It’s pretty much the worst time of year to get married – especially in a city like Austin where it takes at least an hour to get across town. Everyone is stressed, broke and overwrought with burgeoning to-do lists. Bad idea, y’all!