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

Lil Bootz’s Halloween Treat: Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

Next up in our Halloween countdown extravaganza is this fun little cozy mystery that we received for free (in exchange for a brutally honest review)  from NetGalley! Since this is light on scares, Lil Bootz recommends this to all the fraidy cats who love a good, cozy whodunnit.


 

image of book Murder in the Bayou Boneyard One look at this cover and I couldn’t hit the “request” button fast enough! How could I resist this adorable vampire basset hound lurking in a spooky graveyard? I always enjoy returning to Maggie’s historic plantation homestead-turned B&B located in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country. While reading this, I kept picturing Disney’s Haunted Mansion overlooking an overgrown cemetery shrouded by Spanish moss.

Of course, this cozy mystery is light on scares, so it appeals to even the most squeamish of readers, but the author does a fine job weaving a lot of Halloween hijinks into the storyline. There’s a rougarou lurking in the woods, inexplicable happenings in the attic and–even more frightening–nefarious relatives outstaying their welcome at the Crozat Mansion B&B! Bloodthirsty Cajun monsters ain’t got nothing over Maggie’s Canadian relatives, let me tell ya!

I must warn you, there’s a LOT of characters to sort through in this mystery, so it’s quite a challenge keeping them all straight, let alone sorting out the suspects. Since I’ve read all the other books in this series, it wasn’t so hard, but I did find myself flipping back to the list of characters. I love it when they include these little glossaries in cozy mysteries because the struggle is real, yo!

As for the characters, Maggie and her Crozat family are as charming as ever. It’s cute that she and her granny are planning their weddings together. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was why the granny’s fiancé never entered the picture. Where was he? Hell, I can’t even remember who she’s marrying, to be honest. Guess I’ll need to look in the previous book to catch myself up to speed. I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of the “spunky grandma” trope in these books. I find them annoying rather than cute, and Maggie’s grandma is walking a fine line…but she does have her moments.

While I’m being nitpicky, I had to roll my eyes at Maggie when she shouted at a suspected killer –who, at the time was brandishing a potential weapon– “Stop in the name of the law!” I know this was supposed to be chuckle-worthy, but it just made me groan.

Gripes aside, this is a quality mystery series filled with Cajun lore, Southern cooking and heartwarming moments. I must warn you: Do not read this on an empty stomach! You’ll get some mad cravings for shrimp gumbo, crawfish etouffee and sugary cakes!

CeeCee’s Short and Shivery Halloween Treats: Clown in a Cornfield

image of clown in a cornfield

Trick-or-treating may be canceled this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t scare ourselves silly with ghosts, ghoulies and blood-thirsty clowns! Here’s a short and shivery review of Clown in a Cornfield–a new book that’s been getting a lot of buzz from B-movie horror lovers such as myself! If you’re a fan of Pennywise, you’re sure to love this new title. Time to float!


image of Clown in a Cornfield BookWell, well, well, I must say this book took me by surprise! What I thought was going to be a run-of-the-mill YA thriller (low on scares and high on teen melodrama) turned out to be a solid slasher movie-themed thrillride with oodles of blood and guts. It was like reading one of those forbidden B-horror flicks that I’d watch at slumber parties with my giggling friends. Ah such sweet memories of rebellious tweenage bliss.

Amidst the cat-and-mouse chase with killer clowns lurking in the corn fields and dilapidated barns, the author managed to weave some timely themes into the story–themes of small town, small-minded hate and bigotry. The author even spelled it out for us in the townies’ “Make Kettle Springs Great Again” ballcaps. You see where I’m going with this, yes?

So hats off (pun intended!) to the author for weaving some social commentary into this modern-day slasher. You won’t find any big-boobied “bimbos” getting chased through the woods by chainsaw-wielding fiends in this book. Nope, in fact, the female leads are the town’s only hope for survival. There’s even a surprising twist to the love triangle that I didn’t see coming.

The only reason why I knocked off one star is because a big chunk of the book is an action-packed cat-and-mouse chase that demanded a lot of my attention span. I’m probably in the minority here because most reviewers loved the second half of the book, but I’m just not a big fan of chapters and chapters and chapters of action-packed scenes with car chases and exploding buildings. It’s just not my cup of tea.

But, like I said, most people love that stuff, so don’t let my minor misgivings throw you. This book is definitely worth checking out, especially during the spooky month of October!

Lil Bootz’s Meowder Mondays: A Murder She Wrote Reading Roundup!

Hello and happy Monday! Lil Bootz is here to take the sting out of this detestable day of the week by bringing you stories of murder, mayhem and spooky castles! So take a break from the monotonous emails and enjoy purrusing these cozy mysteries starring none other than our favorite busybody, JB Fletcher!


Death of a Blue Blood

Move over, Downton Abbey! Castorbrooke Castle has more nefarious blue bloods and manipulative housemaids than you can shake a stick at! JB Fletcher and her sort-of boyfriend George Sutherland got more than they bargained for when they arrived at the castle for a posh New Year’s Eve ball. Before the champagne is even popped, she’s already stumbling upon her second dead body. I mean, at some point, she should quit acting surprised when this happens. Without fail, someone croaks when she makes an appearance at a party. I love you, JB, but if I see you entering the room, I’m out. Either way, her festive vacation soon turns into a game of Clue and it’s up to JB and George to solve this thing because the local law enforcement is as worthless as a dead slug.

If you love a good old fashioned whodunit, you’ll enjoy this mystery. There’s even a dead body in the conservatory! There’s a good chance you’ll guess the killer early on, but who cares? It’s all about traveling to far and distant lands (with high murder rates) alongside the ever delightful and fashionable JB Fletcher.

Blood on the Vine

In this wine-infused mystery, I get to travel to Napa Valley! I’ve always wanted to go there but never got around to it…maybe because my husband’s more of a beer guy. Either way, I was able to experience the sites through JB’s eyes as she explored the tranquil vineyards, tasted delicious wine at lovely candlelit restaurants and traversed the touristy village with her Scotland Yard detective buddy George Southerland. If you’re expecting their romance to heat up amidst all the wining and dining, don’t hold your breath. Let’s face it, poor George is and will forever be friend-zoned. JB needs to stop stringing the poor ol’ chap along. There are plenty of single grannies out there who would snatch him up in a heartbeat.  Aside from that minor grievance, I absolutely loved every bit of this book. Similar to her adventures in Castorbrooke Castle, JB is surrounded by a bunch of greedy vultures who all have ample motives for killing off the infamous Bill Laddington. He made a lot of money-—and enemies—during his stint in Hollywood as a big-time movie mogul. And, wouldn’t you know, just hours after JB Fletcher joins him for dinner at his winery/castle, he’s floating dead in his moat! Local law enforcement, again, ain’t worth a hill of beans, so she and George must solve the case…while enjoying a taste of the grape here and there. This was a fun puzzle to piece together, and I must admit that the big unveiling was a surprise this time! This book ranks right up there at the top 10 Murder She Wrote installments, definitely worth a read!

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: The Whispers by Greg Howad

It’s been a long time since I’ve said this, but this book is close to perfect. This right here is why young adult–even middle grade–books can be more illuminating than your typical mainstream adult novels. This is some powerful stuff—especially for those of us who went through adolescence feeling alone and unwanted. Even if you don’t have any childhood battle scars, this book will bring back some nostalgia from those long summer days chasing fireflies and camping out in the backyard. As for young readers, I hope this story will draw some empathy for the “weird kids” who often sit alone on the school bus.

Little 12-year-old Riley is one of those kids who always gets picked on for being just a little different. I really felt for the poor guy as he desperately tracked down the magical illuminated “Whispers” floating around in the woods—hoping they would lead him to his missing mother, the only person on earth who loved and accepted him and all of his “conditions.” But of course, he wasn’t totally alone because his faithful best friend Tucker stayed right by his side throughout his journey, as dogs do.

While reading this book, I got to thinking about my own four-legged BFF CeeCee Honeycutt, and how she has always, without fail, been my rock. I could totally relate to Riley when he would reach for his dog during tense moments. I mean, this kid is going through a lot—the mystery of his missing mom, bullying, an emotionally-detached dad, homophobic bible-beating townsfolk and even unrequited love! Oh to be a preteen again…no thanks.

Admittedly, I saw what was coming, so I had to put the book aside for a few days. The last few chapters tore me up, but I needed a good cry because as Riley says, sometimes you just need to cry out your entire soul. Again, this is some heavy stuff, but there are some comforting themes that can really stick with you, like the power of unconditional love, self-acceptance and healing.

At that, I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from this book. It’s clear this author truly loves and understands these magnificent creatures we call dogs. And that’s why CeeCee chose this as her book of the month!

P.S. Kudos to the author for helping to bring LGBTQ into the mainstream! This is a brave, yet risky move in a society that still seems to be living in the dark ages, so I applaud him for it.

Christmas in July Reading Roundup

Ho ho ho! Merry July, everyone! It’s that special time of year to crank up that A/C and snuggle under the blankies with a good read and a spiked hot toddy. So in the spirit of the season, Lil Bootz and CeeCee picked out a few heartwarming cozy mysteries filled with good tidings, playful kittens and dead bodies galore! A big thanks to all the publishers that granted us free advance reader copies via Netgalley.


Mistletoe Moussaka and Murder by Tina Kashian

image of Mistletoe Moussaka and Murder One look at this cover and I couldn’t ask the author for an ARC fast enough! What can I say? I’m a sucker for adorable kitties and sandy beaches! This is my first foray into the Kebob Kitchen mystery series, and it won’t be my last. Admittedly, I’m not a big hummus girl, but I did love the family-run restaurant setting nestled in the quaint little Ocean Crest village. There’s a hodgepodge of gossipy townsfolk, a mischievous little cat, touristy storefronts and lots of Christmassy activities. It’s anyone’s guess who drowned the mean-spirited caterer during the Polar Bear Plunge (BRRRRR!), and it’s up to Lucy and BFF to put the right person behind bars! Solving the murder was fun, butt I most enjoyed the festivities –from the holiday homes trolley tour to the town Christmas tree lighting. Living in Texas, I’m unfamiliar with the sights and sounds of the Jersey Shore, but it sure sounds like a fun place to visit during the holiday season

A Merry Murder by Kate Kingsbury

image of the pennyfoot hotelOh how I love spending Christmas at the Pennyfoot Hotel! Every book is the same, but yet it’s still such a delight to spend the holidays at the stately, snow-covered mansion with a murderer afoot! That’s right, this grand hotel is a popular destination for holiday revelers, Christmas carolers and fiendish killers! As per usual, the upstairs/downstairs cast of characters are preparing for the all the annual things, including the dreaded Christmas concert that inevitably results in disaster and tears. As expected the “Christmas Curse” rears its ugly head when the head housemaid finds a random dead guy in the basement with a scarf wrapped around his neck. It’s up to Cecily the woman-of-the house to do all the detective work to put the right person behind bars….again. Seriously, the investigators in theses books are just as worthless as Cecily’s husband. If you’re new to this series, you’re in for a treat, especially if you’re a fan of Downton Abbey. For me, this was more of the same, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Overall, a quality Chrsitmassy read for cozy mystery fans!

Six Cats a Slayin’ by Miranda James

I really wanted to like this book, especially since the main character is a big-time cat lover/rescuer, but sadly I could not connect with Charlie or any other character in this story. Even Diesel the cat seemed strange and serious to me. Charlie is nice enough and he’s clearly a very devoted family man, but he needs to lighten up and crack a few jokes. On the bright side, the mystery proved to be a real puzzler, and i did not see that big reveal coming! Also, Charlie nurses a whole box of kittens back to good health, so that’s a plus. He had quite the busy holiday season with a litter of hungry kittens, a family mental health crisis, and never-ending holiday chores. On top of all that, he has to single-handedly solve the murder of his overly flirtatious next-door neighbor. Boy, the holidays sure can be rough. Overall, this might be worth a read for the older folks who enjoy slow-moving mysteries with senior citizen sleuths. This series just isn’t for me.

Apple Cider Slaying by Julie Ann Lindsey

image of apple cider slaying Nothing says Christmas-in-July like a steaming cuppa spiced (in my case, spiked) apple cider! On second thought, let’s just make that a cold hard cider longneck since the heat index is pushing triple digits in this blast furnace we call Texas. That’s why I chose this time of year to transport myself to Blossom Valley, a snowy little hamlet of West Virginia filled with rolling hills of apple orchards, moo cows and rustic ol’ barns. Amidst this tranquil Christmassy backdrop, a murderer lurks—and he (or she?) seems to be targeting Winnie’s struggling apple orchard business. It all begins with a dead body in her apple press, which proved to be most embarrassing while she was giving the local banker a tour of the place in hopes of getting a loan to save the family farm! The plot thickens when her brain-dead granny (sorry, but it’s true), becomes the number one suspect. OK, I have to pause for a moment and admit that her granny needed that jailtime to reflect on her own stupidity for railroading herself with her own naivety. Just because she’s a geriatric, that doesn’t mean she has to have the IQ of an insubordinate toddler. Just sayin! Aside from that minor snafu, the mystery proved to be an entertaining, Christmassy read. If you love formulaic cozies with hunky, mysterious sheriff’s and hapless sleuths, this is for you. Plus there’s two adorable, mischievous kitties involved!

CeeCee’s Pick of the Month: Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard

image of Finding Gobi book coverDog lovers, I know what you’re thinking, so I’m going to assure you that little Gobi is still alive and well with his family in Scotland. Now that we’ve got that settled, let me just say this book gave me everything I needed out of a dog/running memoir and more! This is such an incredible journey that show us all that instalove is a true phenomenon among dogs…humans, eh the verdict’s still out.

The moment the homeless little desert dog laid eyes on HIS HUMAN, he just knew he found his soul mate, his destiny. I truly believe this because my CeeCeee was attached to my side the moment I scooped her up off the street. It’s like they can see far into the future and just know they are home. Out of all the super-human ultra runners camping out in the desert, Gobi only fixated one Dion, well technically he was more obsessed with the yellow gators wrapped around Dion’s shoes. Like a cat with a mouse, he chased after those gators for miles upon miles upon miles. Astonishingly, those tiny legs kept up the pace with a trained elite athlete as they traversed the scorching desert’s rugged peaks and valleys. Just incredible, I tell you! I do a bit of running (half marathons), but there’s no way I could even fathom a full marathon, let alone hundreds of miles in extreme temps. These two unlikely teammates were a powerful force!

At first, I couldn’t make up my mind about our narrator, Dion Leonard, especially when he was growing annoyed of Gobi diving after his feet. But when he found the little guy in distress at a water crossing, he sacrificed his time to run back over to scoop him up and stick by him to the finish line. From then on, Dion surrendered himself to the fact that the scruffy little bearded dog was all his. Also, from a human standpoint, Dion won over my heart when he stopped to rescue a fellow runner—also his biggest rival—who collapsed and nearly died of extreme dehydration. Pretty scary stuff, especially when he described the guy’s grayish pallor and black-tinted urine. Yeesh. Dion is, in my opinion, a good human, and I’m willing to bet Gobi sensed that the moment they crossed paths. Dogs have that way about them.

When the grueling multi-stage race came to an end, Dion’s biggest challenge had yet to begin. He had to find a way to transport the little guy all the way from a dog-unfriendly communist country to Scotland. Y’all! I know there’s a lot of red tape involved in moving a pet across a continent, but the struggles Dion faced were beyond comprehension! There’s months of quarantine at the kennel, airline protocol bullshit, and insurmountable fees upon fees upon fees. To make matters worse, while Dion was sorting his affairs in Scotland, the woman he entrusted to keep Gobi safe managed to lose him! I won’t say anything more on that matter, but I will say that I’m still highly suspicious of that nasty bit of business.

This truly is a fascinating book about the mutual unconditional love between a dog and its human. Together—and with the help from legions of crowd-funding donors and a team of local heroes—they made the impossible possible. Gobi is certainly a miraculous dog with such a big heart. I couldn’t even imagine the pain Dion endured when he learned his best friend was missing in probably the worst possible city for stray dogs. I can imagine the pain would be on par with what runners call “The Wall,” that point in race when you just can’t want to crawl into a hole and die.  I’m just so glad he pushed through and reunited with his miraculous little dog.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child. I think it takes almost half a planet to rescue a dog.”- Dion Leonard

If you’re looking for a heart-warming dog book that doesn’t end in tragedy, you have arrived. I may have to pick up the children’s version of this book to read to CeeCee. Also it looks like Gobi’s kitty sibling has a book out as well—what an accomplished literary fur-family!

CeeCee & Lil Bootz’s Roundup Of Hits and Misses

Hello and happy Sunday! I don’t know about y’all, but summer in Texas is getting real! Time to take full advantage of the A/C (man’s greatest invention) and get my book blogging on. Here are a few hits and misses from my latest literary escapades.


READ THIS!

Murder at the Palace by Margaret Dumas

OMG YES! This book series is exactly what I need right now! What I miss more than anything during this God awful pandemic is going to the Alamo Drafthouse every weekend with my husband. It’s our Sunday thing, and now we have to make do with Netflix. I know, I know, first-world problems….but still!

So I just want to thank this talented mystery author for giving me this literary escape to the movies. I just loved the grand old movie theater setting with it’s sparkling chandeliers, red velvet auditorium seating and things that go bump in the night! It starts out like any other cozy mystery with a 30-something woman fleeing from a cheating partner and big city life. She starts life anew as a manager of The Palace, a historic San Francisco movie house, where she meets a quirky crew of staffers including the ghost of a very perky blonde usher. I really enjoyed all of Nora’s interactions with her eclectic employees. In some ways their dynamics reminded me of the motley crew of characters in that old 90s movie “Empire Records”–talk about a mixed bag of nuts! I also really enjoyed the many classic movie references, making me yearn for a monster movie marathon at the Paramount! I should note this is a vary tightly-plotted game of whodunit, complete with treasure hunts and red herrings. Please keep ’em coming, Ms. Dumas!


Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

I’m going to agree with R.L. Stine and say that this is my favorite thriller of the year! Riley Sager really set the bar with Final Girls, but this might just as good if not better! Typically I enjoy reading books set in sleepy little rural hamlets to get a break from busy city life, but the Manhattan setting really added to the mystique of The Bartholomew. Home to the city’s most elite residents, the towering high-rise building with its leering gargoyles is a character in its own rite. Similar to the luxury yacht in Ruth Ware’s Woman in Cabin 10, the glittery surroundings give off a dizzying funhouse effect, making the reader question whether the narrator is lost in a lucid dream. The wallpapers seems to be swirling with tortured faces, and the opulent furnishings emit a sense of foreboding.  Everything–including the filthy rich residents–seem just a bit off. It’s very clear right from the get-go that our hapless main character Jules is walking right into a trap when she’s offered a high-paying apartment-sitting job that’s too good to be true. Admittedly, I had no idea what the heck was going on, despite the clues the author so generously dropped along the way! If you’re looking for a good page-turning suspense story, this is it! Do yourself a favor and spend an evening curled up with this book…and be sure to lock every door! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.


Unconditional Hearts by Roxanne Hensley

I don’t know about y’all, but lately I’ve been steering away from anything too dark and heavy these days, so bring on the beach reads! I so enjoyed escaping to Mystic Beach, a lovely village on the California coast with sprawling vineyards, quaint touristy storefronts and tranquil views of the sparkling Pacific ocean….ahhhhh! Since it’ll be a while before jumping a plane to San Diego, this is the closest I’ll get to a seaside vacation–and you can’t beat the price for this travel package! If you’re in the mood for a sweet romance by the sea, this is the book for you. There’s something otherworldly about this Mystic Beach, and it’s very clear that unseen forces are bringing Nathan and Erin together–with some help from her baker friend Brooke, who conjures up some very special cookies. There’s magic, there’s heartbreak, there’s scenic drives through the California wine country–what more could you ask for? I would give this five stars, but there are some areas that need work. As much as I love Nathan and Erin’s love story, I would’ve liked a break from it. A subplot would’ve really stepped up the pacing, and I could’ve learned more about some of the other supporting characters. Another problem area is Nathan’s health issue. I won’t reveal what it is, but I will say that it seems unrealistic that there weren’t any post-op complications of note. A friend of mine went through the same ordeal and he has a LOT of lifestyle restrictions. Either way, these are just minor gripes. I’m impressed with this new author’s work and I can’t wait to see what shakes out in Book Two! Note: I received a free advance copy in exchange for an honest review.


Not That!

In the Blink of an Eye by Wendy Corsi Staub

This is one of those rare books that I had to chuck in the DNF pile. Usually I soldier through these things, but just couldn’t find it deep within myself to finish off the last third of this thing. You see, there’s kind of a major issue that I can’t overlook: THERE’S NO PLOT! I’m sure others can argue there is indeed a plot buried somewhere within the long, meandering story following a multitude of psychics, charlatans and skeptics, but I couldn’t find it. The discombobulating chapters jump from one group of characters to the next.  I’m sure at some point their lives all converge, but I just wasn’t patient enough to wait for everything to start gelling. And to be honest, I just couldn’t care about any of them. They all have dull, humorless personalities and OH MY GOD that little blind girl just needed to stop with the knock-knock jokes! I just can’t, y’all. Judging by the many rave reviews, this book is oddly a big hit with many, many people. It’s just a no for me, dog.


Wish Me Home by Kay Bratt

I’ve read some really great dog-themed journeys of self-discovery. This is not one of them. I was really hoping for a sweet love story between a downtrodden character and her dog, a story that emphasizes the power of unconditional love that only a dog can provide. This, however, was more about a homeless girl or woman (her age is kind of mystery) who is traversing her way to Key West. Why? Because she thinks Hemingway is cool. The dog, who she named Hemmy (sigh), is just a peripheral sidekick without much of a role other than running along by her side on their long, arduous journey. This has all the makings of a very moving story about a wayward girl and her dog, but sadly it really missed the mark. Hemmy really needed a better role and Cara needed to lighten up a bit. It’s kind of a drag being inside the head of a sullen, downtrodden woman with trust issues. From now on, I’ll just stick to my favorite dog-themed fiction writers Spencer Quinn and Susan Wilson from now on.

Murder Mondays: Never Look Back in Texas by Russ Hall

Hello and happy Memorial Day Weekend to you all! While the hordes of freedom-loving ‘Mericans are out flooding the beaches and communal pools (ick!) without their face masks, I’ll just stay here behind my laptop to catch up on my blog. Maybe I’ll even get started on this dang book project while I’m hiding away from the world! Someone told me that Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls fans, you know who I’m talking about!) wrote her book by just plugging away one hour per day. That sounds doable, yeah? We shall see…

But I digress. I’m here to talk about Russ Hall’s latest Al Quinn mystery, Never Look Back in Texas. As expected, it was a super fast read filled with Texas shootouts, wise-cracking humor and a small dash of romance.

Disclaimer: I received a free advance copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. The book will be out on the Amazon shelves soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

The gist: Our crime-solving heroes Al and Fergie head out to the Texas ranchlands to rescue a dysfunctional family caught in the crosshairs of a Mexican drug war. They’re up against an armada of sadistic gangsters as they pursue their mission (suicide mission, really) to rescue a hostage. We’re talking machetes, machine guns, snipers and missiles!

What I liked: I’m not the biggest action-thriller fan, but these books are always a good break from the norm. Where this author shines is his knack for character development and punchy dialogue. Also, I love his descriptions of the various Texas settings—from the rolling hill country peppered with bluebonnets to the congested Austin cityscape to the long and lonely desert roads. I can’t wait to see where they will land in their next adventure—perhaps a fishing trip turned bad on the Texas Coast!

The setting: In this newest shoot-em-up adventure, we’re heading to the outskirts of Houston, where there’s nothing but scrubby bushes, sprawling cattle ranches and coyotes howling at the moon—yehaw! I’ve traveled these roads, so it was easy picturing Al and Fergie’s escapades in my mind.

What irked me: I’ll be honest, I was slightly annoyed by Fergie’s willingness to take on a case without discussing money matters ahead of time. In the real world, there ain’t no way anyone would throw themselves into the line of fire pro bono. I get that the victim was the son of her old high school frenemy, so there’s sort of a personal connection there. But really, she never really liked this person to begin with, so why should she risk everything to help her—and without any guaranteed pay? We’re talking blood-thirsty drug cartels here! And, of course, Al is ready to tag along on Fergie’s first case, but come on! I would’ve been out of there the second that motorcycle-riding lunatic assaulted me on the road. I get that there was an innocent little girl caught up in the middle of this, but couldn’t they have called in the authorities instead? How can two people take on an entire Mexican cartel? I’m just SO glad they didn’t drag Tanner into this one!

Overall: Aside from the suspension of belief, this is a quality read for anyone who enjoys a good Texas thriller. Fans of old school Rick Riordan are sure to be pleased!

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: Notorious by Gordon Korman

Confession: I’m a sucker for middle grade mysteries! They take me back to the days of yore when I had nothing to do with my time other than climbing trees and riding my beloved mountain bike around the neighborhood. Boy do I wish I held on to that old bike. We had us some good adventures around the mean streets of Santee, California (the armpit of San Diego).

But I digress, this is a quality read, even for the not-so-young adults who love a good dog-themed mystery. CeeCee especially loved the two preteen detectives who stopped at nothing in the name of canine justice. Woof!

The gist: Two kiddos, ZeeBee and Keenan, form a friendship while tracking down the murderer of ZeeBee’s beloved neerdowell dog Barney. They have their work cut out for them because practically all the Centerville Island townies have ample motives for snuffing out the massive beast.

What I liked: What didn’t I like about this book? It’s got everything I love about YA fiction: mystery, treasure hunts, bike—riding adventures and puppy sidekicks. What really makes this book unique is the little island of Centerville. Located on the Canadian-Michigan border, it’s a hop, skip and a jump from one country to another. I just loved the descriptions of the quaint little touristy village, which took me back to my vacations in Traverse City and Mackinac Island. I also really loved that it is packed with gangster legends and lore—such fun!

Favorite character: I saw SO much of myself in ZeeBee, so she won my heart. Although I wanted to smack her upside the head every time she ignored her poor little dog, Barney Two. Wracked with grief over her murdered dog, she couldn’t bring herself to love another pooch, but despite her indifference, that poor little fluffy spaniel loved her fiercely. Alas, the heart wants what the heart wants. Dogs are kind of funny that way, aren’t they?

Aside from ZeeBee’s misguided ways, I truly felt for her when she was the outsider looking in at all the cool kids having fun at the park. Branded as “that weird girl who is obsessed with gangster history,” she gave up on making friends (of the human variety) until Keenan came along. She was further isolated by the wonky school districting that forced her to attend a school across the island, away from all the kiddos in her hood. So yeah, it’s hard not to empathize with a lonely social outcast like ZeeBee. But don’t worry, dear readers, things have a way of working out. This is a YA book after all.

Thoughts on the mystery: I have to hand it to the author, this is a solid whodunit that really kept me guessing! Could the murder have been committed by the elderly sisters who hated Barney for trampling their prize-winning plants? Could it have been the local grocer who was terrorized by the massive beast in search of snacks? Or perhaps it was the uptight soccer dad around the block who was bitter about Barney demolishing his fence! There are so many suspects, so many clues—and it all leads back to the fascinating prohibition-era gangster lore. Such fun!

Overall: This is my first introduction to Gordon Korman’s mastery of children’s fiction, and now I know why he’s so wildly popular. If you enjoy a good story with lovable, quirky characters, snappy dialogue, fun settings, mystery and lore, this book is for you!  I would love to see more adventures of Barney Two, ZeeBee and Keenan, but sadly I think this is a standalone.