Lil Bootz’s Halloween Treat: Black Cat Crossing


Summed up:
Following the tried-and-true cozy mystery formula, the book follows a mid-30s single lady who’s returning to her quaint hometown to start life anew. She finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery when someone knocks off her aunt’s adversary, a conman who claims to be her half-brother. Our hapless small town sleuth must nab the killer before her aunt gets thrown in the slammer. There’s also a fun little subplot involving an enigmatic black cat named Hitchcock who is feared by many as the harbinger of bad luck. Mayhem ensues as she tries to save the cat from a crazed madman while sorting out the many, many suspects.

What I liked: I LOVE the Texas Hill Country and escape to Fredericksburg every chance I get. So it was fun immersing myself in the atmospheric Texas-German hamlet amidst the hills and valleys dotted with lazy cows and scrubby trees. How amazing would it be to live rent free in a cabin retreat where you can just write mystery books all day long with a cute little black kitty sidekick curled up by your side? Oh, but to dream.

Character critiques: I didn’t love nor hate Sabrina. She’s just a nice bowl of vanilla ice cream, pleasant enough but in need of some colorful sprinkles. Although I must admit that she scored some cool points when she rescued Hitchcock from the overly superstitious village idiots. For a murder mystery author, you’d think she’d have some sleuthing skills, but really she just stumbled upon the clues the same way she practically tripped over the dead body slumped under a tree. Time to step it up, girlfriend, if you want me to continue with this series.

Problem areas: OMG Aunt Rowe! Need I say more? This woman was SO clueless and flippant about being the No. 1 suspect in a murder case. I got the sense that she was supposed to be a quirky, silly old lady, but really she was annoying AF! She dug herself deeper into the hole by making glib statements to the police like, “Of course I hated him and wished he was dead.” Oh lordy. Of course, she didn’t want to cooperate with her niece who was trying so hard to keep the po-po at bay.  I think the ending would’ve been much more satisfying if they just threw the old bat in the slammer and let Sabrina take over her quaint little cabin resort. Seriously, I should write this shit.

This book is best pared with: A stiff bottle of Scottish whiskey (you’re going to need it when dealing with the infuriatingly naïve Aunt Rowe)  and a purring cat on your lap. Don’t ask Lil Bootz though because that crazy flying squirrel never sleeps!

Will I read another book in this series? Yes, most likely because I love the setting and would like to know what else is in store for Hitchcock. Also it’ll be interesting to see if Sabrina will ever finish her dang book!

Bass Master’s Book of the Month: A Dark and Twisting Path by Julia Buckley

Bass Master is available for adoption at Austin Pets Alive! Check out his profile.

When Bass Master and I saw this ARC up for grabs on Netgalley, we couldn’t hit the request button fast enough! I love solving mysteries with Lena London and all her friends at Blue Lake, a sleepy little Indiana village filled with quirky townies and touristy shops. And Bass Master is rather partial to the two German Shephard sidekicks!

In the first book, Lena hit the jackpot when her favorite novelist, Camilla Graham, offered her a dream job as a writer’s apprentice! Not only does she get paid to live rent free at Camilla’s lakeside mansion, she also gets to solve real life Nancy Drew mysteries with her hot new boyfriend, Sam West. What a life!

In this new installment, the mystery begins when Lena stumbles upon the dead body of the local mailman–stabbed with Sam’s sword-shaped letter opener! It appears that–yet again–someone is inexplicably framing the poor guy for murder. It’s up to Lena to ferret out the killer before Sam gets thrown back into the same nightmare he experienced in the first book.

While tracking down clues, Lena finds more questions than answers. Who is this bearded man lurking within the shadows? Could a trusted friend or townie be moonlighting as a sleazy tabloid reporter? And why is the new sheriff’s deputy constantly patrolling Sam’s house? All signs point to a notorious kidnapper who has a serious vendetta against Sam and his ex-wife Victoria.

In addition to clearing Sam’s name, Lena must save Victoria’s kidnaped baby from the clutches of a madman. Will she save the baby in time? Will Victoria weasel her way back into Sam’s heart? Will Lena ever get to return to her cozy life of co-writing bestselling mysteries with her illustrious benefactor?! Guess you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Trust me, this is a dark and twisted ride you don’t want to miss! I enjoyed the jigsaw puzzle mystery and surprising plot twists. But what I loved most was the atmosphere and character development. Lena and Camilla have a great mother-daughter chemistry. I especially enjoyed taking a break from the mystery while Lena’s father and step-mom stopped by Blue Lake for a visit. The whole family vibe gave me the warm fuzzies–in a Hallmark Movies and Mysteries kind of way.

 

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


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


Read This! Lending a Paw

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

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

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

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

Not That!  Murder at the 42nd Street Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not That! By Book or By Crook by Eva Gates

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

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

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

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.

READ THIS

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.