CeeCee & Lil Bootz’s 13 Books of Halloween

Happy Halloween, folks! In honor of our most favorite holiday, my two little goblins CeeCee and Lil Bootz rounded up a dozen more dark and devilish reads for our 13 Books of Halloween extravaganza! Nothing like waiting until the last minute to deliver on our book blogging challenge. You know how it goes, so little time, so many horror books piled up on the TBR stack! Without further ado, here is our bubbling couldren of books filled with ghosts, ghoulies, serial killers and spooky woodland sprites!

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

Hold onto your hats and glasses, folks, because this is a wild ride! This is my first foray into Lucy Foley’s books, and I can assure you it won’t be my last! So we all know from the dustcover teaser that this group of friends partying at an isolated snowy lodge on the Scottish moor is doomed. By New Year’s Day, one will be killed, another will be the killer–but who?! They all have deep, dark secrets that slowly unfold as the tensions roll to a simmering boil. These people may look like well-dressed Oxford-educated yuppies, but they are really just MESSED UP! Sit back, get some popcorn and watch the trainwreck unfold.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier 

In a word, the best way to describe my thoughts on this book is CRINGE! Yes, yes, I know that this was written way back in the days when women vacuumed around their husbands’ feet while wearing stilettos and hoopskirts, and this is all just a product of the times. Yet, I still couldn’t help hating Maxim de Winter so, so, SO much—and then there’s his whirlwind lover Rebecca, who expertly played the part of the child bride, emphasis on the word “child.” He speaks to her like an abuser chastising a beaten-down dog, and she just ingratiates herself over and over again. Their dynamic is terrible and awful and repugnant, and I hate it so very, very much. That said, I should give credit where credit is due to the author’s talent for prose, tone and foreshadowing. If the characters weren’t so utterly repulsive, I would have truly adored this Gothic “romance” (I’m using that term lightly since it’s more of a codependent, abusive relationship) with a stunning setting amidst the backdrop of a potentially haunted mansion ran by a creep-tastic battle-axe of a housemaid. Props to Mrs. Danvers for keeping me intrigued! That ol’ bitch got what she deserved in the end–HA!

Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie

Sorry, y’all, but his is another flop. The premise is great—a tweenage girl who is trailed by a ghost after joining her father on his haunted bus tour of Chicago. I did like the mystery behind the ghost, which provided some historical insights to an overlooked turn-of-the-century nautical tragedy, yet it did not offset the obnoxiousness that is the main character. This girl is a scientist—and she’ll keep telling you about it ad nauseam. However, I have yet to see her in a lab or doing anything to prove she is indeed a scientist. This is just another problem when authors forget to show, not tell. This girl is also a brat with some serious non-problems. I don’t get why she’s so upset about her father’s super cool ghost touring gig, and why she finds it so humiliating. What’s more, she refuses to go to him for help—a person who would truly believe her haunting—because of nonsensical reasons. Also, the dialogue seemed way too mature for a preteen, so I’m wondering why this was created for middle-grade readers. Either way, I’m over it and moving on to my tried-and-true middle-grade thriller authors.

Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn

This right here might be Mary Downing Hahn’s best piece of work! I love everything about this book—the murder mystery, the secretive small townsfolk, the spooky dilapidated theme park—it’s all good fun! I also just love a summer story involving kids tooling around town on their bikes looking for adventures and mysteries to solve. I really enjoyed watching the friendship flourish between the adorkable boy next door (think Kimmy Kibbler meets Erkle) and the new kid on the block Logan. They make a great crime-solving team, and I really enjoyed tagging along on their adventures!


The Haunting of Ashburn House by Darcy Coates

I’ve attempted to read a couple of books by Darcy Coates but had to DNF due to questionable, undeveloped characters. I wish I could say her shortcomings improved with this book, but alas, it was another dud. To her credit, she paints a great premise with a derelict old mansion, spooky nocturnal noises and unsolved mysteries. However, I have zero interest in any of this when the main character makes ZERO SENSE! How is it that a seemingly intelligent freelance writer cannot scrape together two pennies to even feed herself? I get that her deceased mother had medical expenses, but even in the toughest times, can’t some government programs assist? Like foods stamps, maybe? Also, since her clients aren’t even paying her, why not just get a job in town rather than sitting alone in a house night after night starving to death? I mean, even a low-paying, demeaning custodial job would be better than starvation, no? I just couldn’t make sense out of her situation. I also didn’t understand her lack of curiosity about her new house. It’s HER HOUSE, so why is she tiptoeing around the place like a tentative houseguest? Why isn’t she curious about the many cavernous rooms—hell if she looked around enough, maybe she could find some spare coins to go buy herself a Whopper. I could get into the haunted house part, but I’ll just save you the trouble by advising you to skip this mess. The climax was WAY too insane, and not in a good way. In fact, it was rather laughable, which is not what I want in a scary story.


Survive the Night by Riley Sager

If you’re going to read any of the books on this list, make it this one! Riley Sager is at the top of my list of favorite contemporary authors! Not once have I been let down—and this book might just be the most suspenseful out of them all! Imagine taking a red-eye road trip with a mysterious stranger behind the wheel after your BFF gets murdered by a serial killer on the loose. Through every twist and turn along the dark, desolate icy roads, I was on the edge of my seat wondering who exactly would survive this ill-fated night. This author is a master at character development, almost making me feel like I was the one in the passenger seat doubting my own sanity. Our main character Charlie has some…issues…leading readers to wonder what’s reality and what’s just a “movie in her mind.” I loved the throwback to the mid-90s back when Nirvana dominated the radio waves and cell phone distractions weren’t a thing. I’ll tell you one thing—I’ll never listen to “Come as You Are” the same way again. Such a perfect song for the theme of the book.


The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
 

Ugh…this was bad, y’all. I found this in the horror section, yet I think it needs to be moved to comedy. I’m not saying that to be mean; I just think humor (the dry, sardonic variety) is more in this author’s wheelhouse. I was lured in by the premise of a woman cleaning her dead grandmother’s house surrounded by spooky woods and malevolent entities scratching at the windows. Yet what I got was a hot mess of a story with an increasingly annoying main character who can’t help but crack jokes even while being led into the bellows of the forest by a murderous seven-foot-tall woodland sprite. At that point, I had to stop reading because it was just plain silly. Also, animal lovers, I should warn you that there are gratuitous scenes of animal mutilations in the woods, the worst of the worst of horror genre tropes. Thankfully the dog Bongo (the only character I was rooting for) was able to bypass the serial deer killer, so that’s something, I guess. Either way, this had the potential of being a very spooky story, but the humorous quips just kept throwing off the vibe. If the protagonist isn’t spooked enough to stop cracking jokes, how are the readers supposed to buy into it? DNF city, y’all!


The Haunting by Lindsey Duga

Confession—I love middle-grade horror as much as I love devouring candy-corn pumpkins on All Hallows Eve! Like a shiny lure, this cover hooked me in and reeled me right up to the checkout counter, where I told the clerk, “It’s for my niece.” Life is too short to begrudge ourselves of these guilty pleasures, no? These pocket-sized books are perfect for while I’m walking my dog, who moves at the speed of a geriatric turtle. Hmm…that would be a great costume for next Halloween. But I digress, this book is a fun, creepy read set in the horse-and-buggy times of the Victorian era, which I love! It follows a little orphan and her dog who hit the jackpot with wealthy adopters and a big, stately haunted mansion! Think Daddy Warbucks meets the Munsters. Spooky happenings ensue when a ghostly little girl keeps leading little orphan Emily into mischief, thus rocking the boat—or should I say yacht—and putting her in danger of being returned to the depressing orphanage and its slew of mean girls. I thoroughly enjoyed solving this little mystery with Emily and her pup amidst the spooky backdrop of a haunted mansion with hidden rooms and deep, dark secrets. I’m already planning on using my next audible credit on this author’s next book!


The Thirteenth Cat by Mary Downing Hahn

I love all of Mary Downing Hahn’s middle-grade thrillers…except this one. Aside from the fact that this gets the Cover of the Year Award, this book was a big, fat dud. It is such a big departure from her other ghost stories, and that’s not a good thing. If you’re into far-fetched fantasies involving humans being turned into cats and living together in some weird, witchy colony, this one’s for you. I honestly don’t know why I even finished this thing.


Apart in the Dark by Ania Ahlborn

This new-to-me author is one to watch! Both of the novellas inside this book are quality reads that are sure to win over fans of “Head Full of Ghosts.” The second novella, “I Call Upon Thee,” is so devilishly creepy—the kind of horror that gets under your skin and makes you turn on that extra bright night light before going to bed.  It follows Maggie, a marine biology student who begrudgingly rushes home to attend to her sister’s funeral arrangements. There seems to be a curse on her entire family—a curse that was set in motion when she made the grave mistake of befriending a creepy doll and playing the Ouija board with her friend. Very spooky stuff! The first novella, “The Pretty Ones,” is also quite unsettling, but in a different way. This one is more of a true crime thriller set amidst the 1970s backdrop of the “Summer of Sam” killer that follows a very questionable and fashionably challenged main character. This book is perfect for fans of Paul Trembley and Catriona Ward.

Cemetery Girl Trilogy by Charlaine Harris

I’m giving this two stars for the amazing production work on this “movie in your mind.” The actors and sound effects really took it to the next level! Now for the main character, Calexa. I get that she’s an amnesia victim, but she had the decision-making skills of a kindergartener. If your kidnappers believe you to be dead and dump your body in a graveyard, wouldn’t you want to flee the crime scene in anticipation of them coming back to bury their tracks??? Furthermore, why didn’t the kidnappers return to hide the body? Now on to my next befuddlement. She witnesses a horrific cold-blooded murder in the graveyard and manages to get ahold of the dead girl’s phone. Yet she just stashes the phone in her crypt/home and lies in wait while the search parties comb the neighborhood, all the while letting the killers roam free to murder again. She doesn’t want the police to track her down via GPS, but that could’ve been easily avoided if she just made an anonymous call from the girl’s phone outside of the graveyard and then dumped the darn thing. How hard is that to figure out? I’m sorry, y’all. I tried to enjoy this book for the amazing production value alone, but Calixa was 50 shades of stupid, so I will not be moving on to the next installments of this series. Hard pass.

CeeCee’s and Lil Bootz’s Thirteen Books of Halloween: What Lives in the Woods by Lindsay Currie

The gist: Little tweenage girl Ginny Anderson is forced against her will to live in a historic mansion in a quaint little Michigan tourist town—the horror! Wait…let me go find the world’s smallest violin. OK, I’m back. The struggle is real when she must give up her summer writing course to spend a whole month with her perfect family in a spooky manor surrounded by even spookier woods. Paranormal happenings commence, and it’s up to Ginny and her brother to prove the ghosts are real so they can convince their parents to return the whole fam back to their boring city lives in Chicago.

What I like: As I’m sure you can tell by my snarky tone, I’m not a big fan of this story. However, I must give credit where credit is due. I was drawn in by the overall storyline involving a haunted manor and enchanted woods. There was also an element of mystery behind the hauntings, which I always enjoy in a haunted house story. So hats off to the author for coming up with a winning premise that pulls readers like me in like catnip!

What irked me: I admit, I’m much, much, MUCH older than the intended target audience, here, so I should note that I’m rather detached from modern-day tweenage life. I do, however, remember what it was like to be a kiddo, so that should give me some merit, no? Either way, I could not relate to Ginny and her incessant whining about having to live in a haunted mansion for the summer. How cool would that be for a murder mystery buff who devours every novel by the Queen of Mystery? This girl claims to be obsessed with Agatha Christie books, but yet she couldn’t find it within herself to be the slightest bit intrigued by a century-old mansion shrouded in mystery? For me, an actual lifelong murder mystery fan, that would be THE DREAM! I mean, really? She’d rather be spending her summer months in a classroom learning about writing mysteries rather than actually solving one? This isn’t congruent with her self-proclaimed love for Agatha Christie, and I had a really hard time buying it.

Thoughts on the setting: I really enjoyed the spooky Woodmoor Manor with all its hidden mysteries—and the haunted bedroom with the creepy mannequin. The ghostly manifestations were about as scary as a Scooby Doo special, so it’s perfect for little readers who scare easily. I also love, love, love vacationing in Mackinac Island, so this touristy Michigan setting really took me back to those carefree days of eating fudge on Main Street and riding bikes around the entire village.

Overall: As far as middle-grade thrillers go, this one is mediocre to say the least. If you’re looking for a good spooky mystery in this genre, I recommend anything by Mary Downing Hahn. Start with Closed for the Season—that’s my favorite!

Four Paws Up for Lalani of the Distant Sea

This gorgeous book cover caught my eye while I was browsing the YA shelves at BookPeople with a friend—a fun little side-trip we take during our downtown Austin cycling excursions. After skimming the dustcover, I set it back on the shelf because fantasy adventures are so not my jam. My friend, however, decided to give it a whirl after the book clerk sang it’s praises, telling us she felt the need to hug the book after finishing the last chapter. How can anyone resist that hype? Long story short, I ended up borrowing it and realizing how much I’m missing when I pass up on books outside my favorite genres. Although, you really can’t go wrong with a classic Stephen King novel or a magical cat cozy mystery. Just sayin!

Either way, this is an AMAZING YA fantasy story with so much heart–and YES, I did want to hug it after finishing! This is a book I would recommend to young readers, especially young girls who, like myself, can relate to Lalani’s struggles with bullying. She faces a lot of cruelty—not just from the schoolyard bullies but also the sadistic uncle and cousin living under her thatched roof. Oooooh, how I could relate. Adolescence ain’t for the faint of heart, folks.

So yes, this is a wonderful book for young girls who feel powerless in the face of adversity. Lalani is here to show you that if you set your mind to it, anything is possible. That may sound like the world’s worst platitude, but this book had me feeling it!  You know what else made me happy? I took much enjoyment in the author’s subtle antifascist messaging. I’m pretty sure many of you reading this can find this passage particularly relatable:

“Never trust someone who wields power through fear. We have many opportunities in life to overcome fear and embrace courage. Once we seize the first opportunity, it becomes easier to seize the second.”

― Erin Entrada Kelly, Lalani of the Distant Se

As for the world-building, the author did a masterful job transporting me to the fantastical island village of Sanlagita. I felt like I was right there with Lalani watching the fishing boats drifting in the ocean amidst the backdrop of the forbidden mountain. I could envision the boats of sailors vanishing into the mystical fog in search of great fortunes, never to be seen again. And oh how I loved the little woodland and aquatic critters that were based upon Filipino folklore. My only gripe is that they needed to play a larger role in the story. Perhaps that could happen in the sequel? I sure hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of Lalani and the islanders of Sanglagita.

If you love adventure stories, please give this book a chance. It truly is a brilliant story worthy of all the prestigious book awards. It’s more than just a story about a girl on a quest to save her village; it’s a story about hope, love and persistence. Imagine how much change we could make in this world if we didn’t just throw up our hands and say, “Oh well.” Imagine what could happen if we all braved the wilderness (Brené Brown, I’m channeling you!) and went against the flow to do what’s right? Just imagine the possibilities if more Lalani’s existed in this world!

“We have many opportunities in life to overcome fear and embrace courage. Once we seize the first opportunity, it becomes easier to seize the second.”

― Erin Entrada Kelly, Lalani of the Distant Sea

CeeCee’s Supernatural Saturdays

Hooray for Saturday!!! After another looooooong workweek, I never thought the weekend would come. I don’t know about y’all but the summer workweek doldrums are a real thing. I need a vacation STAT! Thankfully, I have plenty of books to transport me to far and distant lands—dark and spooky places filled with ghosts, werewolves and the occasional sparkly vampire! What more could a girl ask for? I ask you!

Here, CeeCee has rounded up some of our most recent spooktacular reads—some good, some not so much. Listed below are our hits and misses from our June/July reading list!

Read This!

The Ghost and the Haunted Portrait by Cleo Coyle

Cozy fans—you can’t go wrong with any of Cleo Coyle’s books, especially her Haunted Bookshop series! I just love the humorous quips among the leading lady Penelope Thornton-McClure and her two neurotic sidekicks Seymour and Professor J. Brainert. There’s also a hint of a romance brewing between the bookish sleuth and her resident ghost Jack Shepherd, a sultry PI from the ‘40s whose death is a mystery all unto itself! This is a rather welcome departure from the amateur sleuth/detective love-hate plot device that has been done to death in the cozy mystery genre. As for the story itself, I rather enjoyed the mystery of the cursed portrait—and how it was all tied to a cold case involving the untimely demise of a pulp fiction cover illustrator. Albeit, cold case mysteries can be rather dull, yet there were some rather suspenseful moments when our intrepid sleuth closed in on the case of the murdered book/art collector who fell prey to the cursed portrait! Oh how I love mysteries shrouded in deadly curses—such fun!

The Drowning Kind by Jennifer McMahon


Let me start off by saying Jennifer McMahon is becoming one of my most favorite horror writers! She consistently churns out extremely creepy, slow-burning ghost stories that are often steeped in urban legends. This latest title did not disappoint! The story surrounds two sisters who spent their summers at their reclusive grandmother’s house, where they spent much of their time swimming in a pool filled with mystical—dare I say cursed—water. Adding to the creep-factor, their aunt drowned in that very pool due to mysterious causes. The author masterfully ratchets up the suspense by time-skipping from the girls’ early childhood to their present-day reality, to a time long ago when a happy couple moved to that property and fell victim to mysterious forces surrounding the “healing” spring waters. It all comes together in the end in the most horrific way possible! You know you’ve read something good when fellow readers post a “Please discuss your feelings about the ending” thread in a Facebook reading group. Hats off to Ms. McMahon for pulling the rug out from under me yet again!  


Hypnosis is for Hacks by Tamara Berry

Disclaimer: I received a free ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

As expected, this fourth installment of the Eleanor Wilde mystery series did not disappoint! This is absolutely a cozy mystery–but yet it is a welcome departure from the tried-and-true formula that makes this sub-genre tiresome. Eleanor, our leading lady, is unlike the typical sweet and lovable “Mary Sues” of the cozy mystery scene. She’s a wise-cracking charlatan who cons people into believing she speaks to dead people. Hey, sometimes you have to go to extremes to make a buck these days! In her defense, she resorted to this unsavory line of work to pay for her dying sister’s medical bills, so she can’t be all that bad. To be honest, I rather prefer a protagonist with some real flaws instead of the cliched “flaws” attached to female characters to make them “relatable,” such being a perennial klutz or a carb-fanatic. Is this really the only way women can relate with other women? Strange. Either way, I digress. Eleanor is a fantastic protagonist with some really fun sidekicks including magical cats (aka familiars) and some ghostly spirit guides. In this mystery, she’s vacationing at a posh hotel in a quaint coastal English village. Ahh…such bliss. The mystery begins when she and her brother witness a man being pushed off a boat by two shadowy perpetrators. Adding to the mystery, there’s a jewel thief afoot! Could the two crimes be connected? Will the salty head detective ever take her seriously? Could all of these wrongdoings be tied to Eleanor’s ex partner-in-crime and current blackmailer? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Not That!

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten


I’m sorry, but no. This book was such a dud, and I am kicking myself yet again for getting suckered into the “Blair Witch meets Midsomer” sales pitch. The only thing commonality between this book and the Blair Witch Project is the incessant bickering among the feeble-minded characters.  As for Midsomer (not such a great horror flick, in my opinion), the only link I can think of is that both stories are set in Sweden. What else is thee? I ask you! Either way, the false advertising and provocative book cover lured me in like a catfish to a plastic worm. The characters were all horrible, especially the flat-as-a-pancake leading lady. She kept so many secrets from the group for no apparent reason, and she kept moving forward with the documentary—or I should say pre-documentary photo shoot—when she should have been taking an injured member of the crew straight to the emergency room. There’s very little action other than the crew creeping around dark and gloomy buildings. The only hint of a ghostly presence in a sporadic shadow person just kind of hanging around…blarg. Everything about this book was sorely disappointing. I honestly don’t know how it received so many raves on GoodReads, but to each their own.


Goblin by Josh Walerman 

Again, I fell prey to a gorgeous cover. I mean look at this thing! The Alice in Wonderland motif set against the backdrop of a looming haunted mansion is like catnip! And then there’s the glowing review from none other than Stephen King, so this had to be a surefire hit, right? Wrong! Well, I guess for some people who like weird Twilight Zone-esque short stories, this is a winner. I, however, want a classic ghost story that will make me want to recheck my door locks and turn on all the lights. Aside from the first really spooky short story (or prelude? I’m not sure since I didn’t make it to the end), I could not get into the novellas that were just disorienting and strange. Even though the stories were relatively short, they felt long and rambling. Also, I should warn all my fellow dog lovers, and animal lovers in general, that there are some triggers in the “Man in Slices” and “Happy Birthday, Hunter!”. Some stories I wish I could just unread…sigh. Either way, this was a no for me, dog. DNF pile, all the way.

The Maple Murders by Micol Ostow 

Admittedly, I have not watched the show, so it took a while to get a grasp on the many, many characters. There are so many problems, I don’t even know where to begin. Ok, for starters, the book lacks a main character—making it impossible to connect with anyone or anything. Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the super duper diverse and inclusive Riverdale clique, and I am not digging any of them. Also, the characters and storylines are sooooo far removed from the Archie and Jughead comics, so why bother with this whole gimmick in the first place? I’m guessing that without this throwback, another random teen melodrama TV show couldn’t stand on its own two legs…am I right? I went into this book hoping for a good YA murder mystery about ghosts coming back to haunt a cursed town, but it seemed that all took a backseat to chapters upon chapters of mundane teenage crap. Some chapters teeter off into sub-plots that had zero ties to the story—like a lesbian love affair road trip to LA or a fruitless excursion to a gay bar. None of these little side trips had anything to do with the actual plot, but they did let all the readers know that this story is WOKE AF! I embrace diversity in mainstream fiction, but when it seems to be shoehorned in there with the sole agenda of check-marking all the boxes, I get a little annoyed. That said, this was a dud with a major let-down of an ending. By the time I got to the final chapters, it seemed very apparent that the author realized “Oh, whoopsies, I need to tie up this mystery, too.” At least she got her main message across.

Into the Pit by Scott Cawthon, Elley Cooper

I’ve been eyeing this Fazbear Frights series for quite some time now—again with the alluring book covers! Sometimes even middle-grade horror stories can be rather spooky, so I figured why not give it a go? All I can say is this is no R.L. Stine—not even close. All the little stories in here are life lessons for the kiddos in the guise of horror stories—cautionary tales like don’t take your parents for granted, don’t be a crummy, social-climbing friend, don’t fat-shame yourself and others, blah, blah, blah. What’s wrong with just writing a horror story with the sole intention of scaring the pants off of little children? Why can’t a story be just a story without an agenda? Either way, this is the first and last book I’ll read in this series.

Meowder Mondays: Big Little Spies by Krista Davis

In short: A pet detective gets murdered in the adorable little animal-friendly small town of Wagtail and everybody—all 5,698 characters—is a suspect! So I might’ve exaggerated about the number of suspects, but dang, there’s a LOT of people and pets to sort out in this confusing mess of a mystery. It’s up to the local innkeeper Holly to sort through the massive list of suspects because you know the local law enforcement ain’t worth  hill of beans in these cozy mysteries!

What I liked: I quite enjoyed the cute little touristy small town setting with all the pooch-themed shops and eateries. If this place existed in real life, I’d certainly put it on the ol’ bucket list. I also love, love, love everything about this cover. The adorable Jack Russell throwing off the side-eye at a hoity-toity society event just cracks me up!

What didn’t work: Judging by the hundreds of rave reviews on Goodreads, I’m the odd girl out here, but this book just didn’t do it for me. There’s just way, way, way too many names to keep up with, and I found myself re-reading pages and sifting back to previous chapters to figure out who’s who. First you have a group of women in the WAG high society club, then you have the assorted townies—and then if that’s not enough, there’s a bunch of animal names thrown in the mix! The multitude of red herrings confused matters even more! I know that’s the whole point of a red herring, but the tangled web of family feuds and romantic trysts were a little much for my tired, overworked brain. I thought cozy mysteries were supposed to be easy, relaxing reads!

Favorite characters: Of course, Twinkletoes and Trixie are my most favorite characters—Fritz the loyal German Shepherd comes in as a close second! As for the humans, I most enjoyed Aunt Birdie because, quite frankly, she’s not boring. Sure Grandma Oma and Holly are sweet and all… like a bland vanilla ice cream cone. Aunt Biride’s kind of a tool, but she seems to have a soft underbelly and an interesting backstory.

Overall: If you love formulaic cozy mysteries with sweet Mary Sue sleuths and furry, heroic sidekicks, this book’s for you. Just keep a notepad handy so you can keep the characters and complicated storylines straight!

The Lake by Natasha Preston

In short: Two best friends with one big scary secret return to summer camp as CIT’s (counselors-in-training) and get terrorized by a camera-toting, deer-killing weirdo in the woods. 

What I liked: I’m giving this one a generous 3-star review because I enjoyed the summer camp setting and the whole Fear Street vibe. The whodunnit guessing game was fun, and I really liked playing along with the conspiracy theory game. Could the killer be in cahoots with the uptight camp director in high-waisted shorts? Or could it be the hunky CIT’s with questionable backstories? Maybe it’s the quiet, Nervous Nelly CIT with secrets to hide? The ending had me…what are the kids saying these days…all shook! I really thought I had the conspiracy theory all worked out, but then the author ripped the rug out from under me with the grand finale! 

What didn’t work: I had to knock off a couple of stars because there were quite a few problems with this book. First, I’m not convinced the author ever attended sleep-away camp and/or did much research in that area. As a veteran camper/CIT/camp counselor (my parents couldn’t wait to get rid of me every summer), I can tell you that CIT’s do not have that much alone time. When I wasn’t flirting shamelessly with the kitchen staff, I was chasing after kiddos, making sure they didn’t drown!

That said, our two main characters Esme and Kayla seemed to be on a vacation that just happened to be at camp. I think they may have had two or three interactions with their little campers throughout the whole book. Also, I really wanted more summer campy scenes–like skit night or dance night or food fights! Sure there were a few hikes and swims in the lake, but that’s about it. Hell–there weren’t even any scary stories around the campfire! All I’m saying is more camp nostalgia would’ve been nice. 

Last but not least, I’m a little mad at Esme for taking some seriously stupid risks without thinking them through. It takes a special kind of stupid to go out in the woods alone at night knowing full-well that a killer out there and stalking you around the clock. Just sayin! 

Trigger warning: There are some scenes involving mutilated deer involved. Just putting that out there for all my animal-loving friends! 

Overall: If you’re looking for a semi-suspenseful campy YA thriller on par with R.L. Stine’s works, this book’s for you. This review is a little rough, so I should note that I did enjoy the story, for the most part, and will give the author another chance. I’m just happy to see these classic YA spooky thriller books are still gracing the shelves at Barnes & Noble. It’s nice to have a few other choices besides the ever-present fantasy/Dystopian books that dominate the YA shelves these days.

Four Paws up for Ghosts of New York by Jim Lewis

I have to be honest with you. Pretty much all the New York-themed books I’ve read involve man-chasing, Manolo Blahnik-obsessed shopaholics. When I think of Manhattan, I envision Broadway shows, enchanting parks lit up with fairy lights and fashionable women strolling arm-in-arm down bustling sidewalks. I have since grown out of this chick lit genre, but the glossy veneer of New York life still lives long in my mind.

As you have probably surmised, I have never been to the Big Apple. Yet after reading Ghosts of New York, I feel like I’ve been given a tour by a local. To be clear, this isn’t a whimsical romanticized depiction of the city, but an unfiltered slice-of-life look into the people who live in the nondescript outlying neighborhoods, the studio apartments, the walk-up Brownstones. Told by an all-omniscient—in some cases prophetic—narrator, the chapters contain vignettes about troubled New Yorkers who are facing some serious blows—from losing everything to bankruptcy, to falling in and out of love, to realizing you can never come home again. The latter hits home with me, big time.

And therein lies the beauty of this book. So many of these stories are relatable to readers because the characters (Caruso excluded) are much like you and me. They’re not on a quest to vanquish evil sorcerers or to solve a whodunnit—they’re just making their way through this game of life the best they can. Needless to say, this isn’t a light read, but it was definitely worth my while because sometimes it’s good to lean into life’s dirty, gritty underbelly. Sometimes it’s good to feel these raw emotions and to know others have felt them too.

Deep stuff, I know. But hey, it’s good to go outside your comfort zones and read what I like to call “Intellectual Fiction,” not just for the stories themselves but for the beautiful prose. Hats off to Mr. Lewis for taking the art of writing to stratospheric heights! Most books I read are heavy on the dialogue, but this is mostly narration—a rather bold move for an author, but it works because it casts a voyeuristic effect. Some reviewers knocked a few stars off for this rather unorthodox story structure, but I rather liked it. The mystery of time was also an interesting, albeit disorienting, effect. Some chapters were told in the future tense, others in the past, but it’s anyone’s guess which decade we’re in. If I were to go out on a limb here, I’d say this was a nod to the “ghosts” theme of the book…because time and space is always a big question in the Great Beyond, isn’t it?

This review is turning into a novella, and I give you snaps for making it this far! There’s so much more to say about the poetic metaphors, the complex characters, my many questions about the mysterious virus and so on, but I’ll stop right here before giving away any spoilers. Even if this genre isn’t your cup of tea, I encourage you to venture off into uncharted territory and read something that stretches your thoughts about life, existence and the hereafter a little further.

Well done, Mr. Lewis! Keep ‘em coming!

Meowder Mondays: Without a Brew

Let me start off with OMG YASS! This is a new cozy mystery book theme that I never knew I needed in my life! I’ve never met a microbrewery I didn’t like, and now I am yearning to fly to the Bavarian tourist town of Leavenworth, WA and sample all of the delicious IPAs!

Naturally, I decided to read this during dry January because I love to torture myself. I do not advise this! I actually extended my torture into the first week of February since I cheated here and there. But hey, January was a tough month, so I give myself a little slack!

But I digress. Let’s get back to mystery, shall we? It all begins when Sloane (the nano-brewery/B&B manager) finds herself in the middle of a simmering bar brawl between a mysterious woman named Liv and an overgrown frat boy from Hell named, what else, Brad. Liv’s dead body turns up on a river bank the very next day and more suspects come out of the woodwork.

I quite enjoyed puzzling out this beer-infused mystery and was pleased that it had nothing to do with nefarious real estate developers. That plot device is getting old in these cozies. Just sayin! Most of all, I loved, loved, loved the setting and all of the little bits of beer-brewing knowledge. Adding to the intrigue is a mystery on top of the mystery involving Sloane’s mysterious past. Growing up in foster care, she knew nothing about her mother–and why she was abandoned. Somehow, her former in-laws seem to know a lot more about her biological mother than they’re letting on. I won’t give anything away, but I will say there’s more to this mystery that will unfold in the next book. Way to dangle that carrot, Miss Alexander!

I only have a couple gripes. Firstly, this book is devoid of animals. That’s a problem. Also, Sloane is…well how should I put this? Personality-free, might be the best description. She always has that customer service hat on and is as pleasant as can be, but she could use a few quirks. Maybe throw in a few jokes here and there and get a little sloppy? She’s the kind of person who intentionally blends into the crowd and clutches those cards close to her chest. Not the most relatable or likable, in my opinion.

Other than that little gripe, I’m down with this series and am already starting on the first book so I can learn more about Sloane’s early beginnings at Nitro Brewery, and how all the drama went down when she walked in on her husband–ex-husband, I should say– doing the deed with the beer wench.

Overall, this is a quality cozy for beer enthusiasts such as myself who miss frequenting microbreweries amidst this unending social-distancing way of life. When this pandemic is over, I’m going on a long-overdue Hill Country beer crawl!

 

Furbidden Fatality by Deborah Blake

Furbidden Fatality book In true cozy mystery fashion, this story follows a single, unlucky-in-love gal who is at a crossroads in her young, 30-something life. Now for the twist! She just won the lotto and has millions of dolla dolla bills to spare! When an adorable homeless kitten crosses her path, she discovers a rundown animal rescue in the midst of closing down furever—oh no! So of course she has to buy it and save all the homeless doggies and kitties that have nowhere else to go—not even the city pound, which is underfunded and over capacity. This is sadly the case in the real world, and I speak from 12 years of experience as a seasoned dog rescue volunteer who got chewed up and spit out by the F****D-up system. I’ll stop right here before I get up on my soapbox. Trust me, you don’t want that!

The mystery: This is a fun little whodunnit involving nefarious vandals, shady townsfolk and one sadistic animal control officer who seems to have it in for one particular dog (a pit bull, of course). Kari’s efforts to spruce up the rescue gets thwarted when she stumbles across his dead body on her property—making her suspect No. 1! Why was he shoveling a hole in her dog yard? Who’s smashing her windows and leaving misspelled threats on her doorstep? Why is the police department so pitifully useless? Well you’ll have to read the book to find out!

What I liked: The protagonist Kari Stuart is living my dream of running my very own animal rescue/sanctuary, providing a safe place for all the sweet doggies that get turned away from the so-called “No Kill” (aka Slow Kill) rescues. Might I just add that the term “No Kill” is a misnomer because these shelters are indeed killing dogs. It’s a numbers game and no dog is safe—especially at the most beloved shelters (*cough* Austin Pets Alive *cough*) where dirty, dirty politics are at work. A dog’s chances hinge upon their level of popularity with politically-savvy volunteers and the “dog behaviorists,” whom by the way have zero dog-training certification credentials and just use a one-size-fits-all method of punishment-based methods—including shock collars that they like to call “remote collars.”

Oops…did I just get on my soapbox a bit? Sorry y’all! Ok, back to the book. So Kari is a girl after my own heart, and I appreciate her willingness to eschew a luxurious life in Tuscany with her riches to answer the call of duty—hoorah! I especially love her cute little black kitty sidekick who magically knows how to warn her when danger is near.

What didn’t work: Kari is clearly a passionate cat lover, but I didn’t really sense much of a connection with dogs. I’m not sure how much research was put into the making of this book, but I think it would have behooved the author to watch an entire season of Pit Bulls and Parolees. If anyone can embody the passion—the spirituality even—that goes into a dog rescue operation, it’s Tia Torres and her two daughters. I think this may have been more believable if Kari was running a cat rescue, but dogs…not so much. I really hope this develops further in the next book, and I have faith that it will because I’m rooting for Kari!

This review is in honor of Brindle, Goldman and Dennis (aka Denny Bear). All three died at the shelter this year. 

Overall: This is a fun little mystery that is sure to please animal lovers—especially us crazy cat ladies! I applaud the author for bringing more attention to our nation’s overburdened and underfunded animal centers. It seems like you’d have to be a lotto winner in order to start a new rescue facility in a society that places very little priority on animal welfare. Sorry—had to throw in one last soapbox zinger.

Shoutout to NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Lil Bootz’s Halloween Treat: The Spook in the Stacks


In short: Somebody knocked off a wealthy businessman in the rare books section of Lucy Richardson’s beloved lighthouse library during a Halloween-themed book event! All clues point to his mysterious–dare I say shifty–granddaughter Julia, who stands to gain a lot from his demise. 

What I liked: The author did a fantastic job creating a fun, spooky atmosphere around the historic Bodie Island lighthouse. The apparition of a horse appears in the mist and things go bump in the night when the lights go out at the historic, possibly haunted lighthouse. I especially enjoyed the scene where the townsfolk gathered outside the library at night for a special reading of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”–my favorite Halloween tale for a dark and spooky night! 

What irked me: Lucy the librarian is great, but she really needs to stop being so wishy washy about her love life. Connor is a catch, but if the chemistry isn’t there, throw the man back out into the dating pool, woman! 

Also, I have to say that Theodore is downright creepy. I get that he’s Ichabod and Julia is his lady Katrina, but dang boy, back off! Seriously, he was the creepiest part of the story. 

The mystery: As usual, this was another solid installment of the Lighthouse Library Mystery series. The murder victim made a lot of enemies among the town’s business community, so there’s a lot of suspects to sort through. I enjoyed tagging along with Lucy and her kitty sidekick Charles (not so much Theodore), as they followed the clues and ferreted out the killer whilst enjoying the haunted happenings around town during All Hallows Eve. Such fun! 

Summed up: I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys literary-themed cozies. Fans of Jen McKinlay and Lorna Barrett are sure to enjoy this cozy Halloweenie read