Gizzy and Cee Cee’s Christmas Reading Roundup

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

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


Christmas Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley

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

Christmas is Murder by CS Challinor


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


All Is Calm: A Lonestar Christmas Novella by Colleen Coble


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

Murder of a Stacked Librarian by Denise Swanson


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

The Clue is in the Pudding by Kate Kingsbury

13542759It isn’t Christmas without a Kate Kingsbury mystery! And at the Pennyfoot Hotel, the holiday shenanigans don’t begin until someone gets bludgeoned with a nutcracker or incinerated by a flaming Christmas tree. Nestled in a quaint little coastal English hamlet, the Pennyfoot may look like something straight out of Dickens’ Village, but if you plan to spend the holidays there, you’re goose might just get cooked!

When the guests start streaming into the hotel for the Christmas holidays, Cecily Sinclair Baxter worries about the inevitable Christmas curse. Like clockwork, her loyal crew of housemaids will stumble upon a dead body, and she will have to take it upon herself to hunt down the murderer.

You see, in this tranquil seaside village, the police force leaves much to be desired. Oh and you can forget about her milquetoast of a husband helping her out. While she’s out in snowstorms chasing down murderous fiends, he’d much prefer to settle down by the fireplace with his newspaper. For once, I would love to see him take the initiative and tag-team these murder mysteries with his wife instead of constantly lecturing her to stay out of harm’s way. Hello! The cops are useless, so do you prefer to be a sitting duck?

Wow, that was quite the tirade. Sorry, Kate. I love your mysteries, I really do. But can you please make Baxter man up in the next book? Aside from my minor gripes, these mysteries are perfect holiday reads. There’s nothing I’d rather do on a cold winter’s night than nestle down into my comfy couch with some fireball whiskey, a tubby gray housecat and a Pennyfoot Hotel mystery. The author does a fine job unraveling just bits and pieces about the eclectic cast of hotel staff and dangling that carrot as their love stories develop. In this book, I finally got to see some sparks fly between Gertie and the enigmatic groundskeeper, Clyde. I promise to not give anything away, but I will say that there was a moment between them that was so incredibly sweet, I had to re-read it several times!

This is how I picture The Pennyfoot.

This is how I picture The Pennyfoot.

So this year, the Christmas curse comes in the form of a dead actor named Archibald Armitage. Seriously, what mother would name her kid Archibald? Well, I guess you could nickname him Archie like that cute freckled redhead dude in the comics…but I digress. So when the maid stumbles upon Archie’s dead body, it appears he was poisoned by a lethal dose of arsenic-laced plum pudding. All eyes point to the temporary head housemaid Beatrice Tucker (aka Tucker the Terrible), who personally served him the plum pudding up in his suite. She may be a tyrant, but is she capable of murder?

As Cecily hunts down the clues, she finds that several houseguests – and even some of her staff – have a beef with Archie. While her staff prepare for the holiday festivities, and her husband continues to sit on his ass with the newspaper, she will stop at nothing to ferret out the killer before he (or she?) strikes again.

I raise my mug of spiked cider to the author for delivering a deliciously atmospheric Christmas mystery filled with loveable characters, red herrings and romance! I look forward to meeting up with my old friends at the Pennyfoot next December.

Merry Christmas to all – and be sure to not accept unsolicited puddings from frienemies.

Short & Sweet Sundays: Death of a Neighborhood Witch by Laura Levine

Sundays are a day of rest. So in honor of this one day of the week when I can legitimately loaf around in my Garfield jammies in front of the DVR, I bring you this new feature that I like to call “Short and Sweet Sundays.” This is a fun way for me to write up a quick and dirty book blog without getting too overambitious.

13498001The gist (from the publisher): When Jaine Austen’s beloved cat Prozac unwittingly scares to death a parakeet belonging to the neighborhood’s resident curmudgeon, Jaine finds herself knee-deep in toil and trouble. The cantankerous Hollywood has-been once played Cryptessa Muldoon, television’s fourth most famous monster mom. Now she spends her days making enemies with everyone on the block. So when the ornery D-lister is murdered with her own Do Not Trespass sign on Halloween night, the neighborhood fills with relief–and possible culprits.

With a killer on the loose, Jaine hardly has time to fall under the spell of her yummy new neighbor, Peter. As the prime suspect, she summons her sleuthing skills to clear her name and soon discovers that everyone has a few skeletons in their closets. . .

The pros: If you’re having a bad day, week – or in my case – month, this book will turn that frown upside down! It’s a fun, fluffy, fast read filled with zany hijinks, quirky characters and slapstick humor. There’s a smidge of a mystery somewhere in between Jaine’s clumsy shenanigans, but really it’s all about the comedy. Toward the end, I was preparing myself for disappointment, but the author managed to surprise me with an unexpected plot twist. All in all, not too shabby!

The cons: I was hoping this would be an atmospheric Halloween mystery, but not so much. Don’t let the cute witchy kitty and jack-o-lantern on the cover fool you. Aside from an ill-fated costume party and couple trips to the store for fun-sized Halloween candy, this book is not Halloweenie at all.

I should also add that I was really annoyed by the wonky subplot involving sporadic email messages from Jaine’s kooky parents. Their kooky antics were a little too over the top, and I just flat-out didn’t care about their silly neighborhood drama. I’m sure loyal fans of this book series find this kind of thing to be cute and endearing, but I thought it was lame and distracting.

Thoughts on character development:  Jaine Austen really is the star of the show. She’s cute, spunky and riddled with all sorts of bad habits. Unlike a lot of main characters in chick lit books, she’s fashionably challenged and a little on the pudgy side. She wears her elastic-waist jeans with pride and has a weakness for all things sugary and deep fried. How can you not love a girl like that? We could totally hang out! Although, she can leave her freinemie at home. Her next-door neighbor, Lance, is a real tool. I was really hoping he was the killer just so he’d get pushed off a cliff or locked up in prison for life.

Why I chose this book: The cover was too hard to resist! I’m a sucker for jack-o-lanterns and cute kitties.

This book is best paired with: A furry, four-legged lap-monger and a handful of “homemade” brownies.

Would I read another book by this author? Oh sure. Next time I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll grab another book in this series.

Murder on the Half Shelf by Lorna Barrett

12608175Lorna Barrett’s Booktown Mystery series is everything I love about cozies. Set in a charming little touristy East Coast hamlet, the stories revolve around a loveable bookstore owner, a bevy of eclectic characters, and a couple of furry, four-legged sidekicks. It’s like this series was tailor-made just for me!

In this sixth installment, our fearless protagonist, Tricia Miles, stumbles upon a dead body while staying at a newly opened Bed and Breakfast. Known as the “Village Jinx,” she has a knack for finding murder victims in her so-called peaceful town of Stoneham, New Hampshire.

This time, the victim is a former Playboy bunny turned B&B owner named Pippa. The plot thickens when Tricia discovers Pippa’s husband is actually Harry Tyler, an old boyfriend who was believed to be dead for more than 20 years. This makes Tricia a suspect, adding some serious tension between Tricia and her police chief boyfriend. Plus being a murder suspect really puts a damper on business, so she better find the killer before she loses her sweetie and her loyal book club customers.

As Tricia delves into the mystery, she comes up with more questions than answers. Why would Harry knock off his wife right after opening a B&B? Who’s sending all of those old pictures and cryptic messages in the mail? And who is always lurking in the shadows?

As you can see, there are a lot of pieces in this puzzle – and boy is it fun putting it all together! Half the fun is getting to k

This book is Gizmo approved.

This book is Gizmo approved.

now all of the quirky characters, especially Tricia’s feisty sister who runs an eclectic bookstore for foodies. She’s a tad on the selfish side, but she tends to redeem herself when Tricia is in a bind. Plus she’s got some scrumdiliumptious recipes that you can find in the back of the book.  Mmmm…I can’t wait to try out the Simply Crackers Candy!

But of all the secondary characters, I’m most intrigued by an ex-con named Pixie Poe. She’s rude, violent and anti-social – but trust me – she’ll grow on you! I’m really excited to see what lies in store for her and Tricia in the next book!

If you love a good character-driven mystery in a deliciously inviting setting, you’re in for a treat. I’m putting this one on the top shelf with my other two favorite bookstore mysteries: Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand, and Alice Kimberly’s Haunted Bookshop series.

Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle

Holiday-GrindIt’s Christmas in the city and Clare Cosi is busy experimenting with new holiday-themed frothy drinks. From fa-la-la-la lattes to candy cane cappuccinos, the Christmas-infused coffees must be better than ever in order to boost sales.  But all the caffeine-induced yultide cheer comes to a roaring stop when the local Santa is found dead in the snow.

As usual the lazy city cops claim it’s nothing more than a random mugging, leaving Clare with no other choice but to strap on her gumshoes and ferret out the killer herself. With some help from her hilariously sardonic barista, Esther, she traces Alf’s (aka Santa) last steps and discovers quite a few shady characters on top of his naughty list.

Things get complicated when Alf’s daughter, who happens to be a former Village Blend barista, asks Clare to investigate a blackmail scheme. Was Alf peeking inside an apartment building before the sniper took him out? And was he willing to commit extortion just to keep his failed restaurant afloat?  Seems like this Santa wasn’t all cookies and milk after all.

On top of solving her friend’s murder and keeping her own restaurant in the black, Clare is dealing with some serious man drama between her sexually frustrated ex-hubby and commitment-phobe boyfriend.  The ex is clearly hung up on her, but can she really get back together with the man who left her broke and heartbroken? He’s clearly unhappy with his socialite girlfriend and it’s only a matter of time until they both have a moment of weakness. As for the sexy NYPD boyfriend, he needs to stop putting his job in front of his lady – especially during the holidays. And what’s the deal with him hanging out with that mean red-haired supermodel?

Mmm...doesn't a peppermint mocha sound good right about now?

Mmm…doesn’t a peppermint mocha sound good right about now?

Clearly Clare has some investigating to do. And she better solve the mystery soon – before her own good is cooked! As she moves in on the killer, crazy things happen. Let me tell ya, there was one jaw-dropping moment that had me glued to the pages until the very end! I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that if I ever take a ride on a ferry in the icy Atlantic Ocean, I’m steering clear of the rails.

 Overall, this book is the perfect cozy holiday read. The author does a fine job gradually introducing readers to the eclectic mix of characters and Clare’s backstory. Her love for New York City really shines in her lyrical descriptions of the snow-covered cityscape and iconic landmarks. Although I’ve never been to New York, I can imagine the hustle and bustle of holiday shoppers and the ice skating at Rockefeller Park. Since I loathe crowds and city transportation, I doubt I’ll ever experience Christmas in New York, but it’s fun imagining myself catching snowflakes in Central Park and sipping frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity.

Needless to say, I’m a fan of Cleo Coyle’s fun little coffeehouse mystery series. She can weave a tightly-plotted whodunit without skimping on the romance and cozy coffeeshop ambiance. If you’re in the mood for a holiday thriller, give this one a shot. I’m now on to her Haunted Bookshop mysteries, which should be a lot of good, cozy fun!

Bonefire of the Vanities by Carolyn Haines

 In this 12th installment of Carolyn Haines’ Bones series,  Sarah Booth Delaney slips on her high-heeled gumshoes yet again to investigate a possible scam involving a porn-star-turned ghost whisperer and a “psychic healing” resort. Promising reunions with dead loved ones and opportunities to “invest” in good causes, the shady psychic preys upon emotionally fragile rich people. And their new billionaire client, Marjorie Littlefield, certainly fits the profile.

Shattered after her daughter’s “accidental” drowning, she’s desperate to get some answers. Considering her fragile state, the psychics have ample opportunity to throw her off the deep end. And to make matters worse, she plans on leaving all her riches to her scrappy cat, Pluto.  Sounds pretty cold, right? Well considering her only son is the No. 1 suspect in his sister’s death, he’s pretty much on his own.

 Now on to the tricky part. How can a girl detective probe into the case if she can’t get inside the high-security estate?  Nestled in the backwoods of the Mississippi Delta, the sprawling resort is surrounded by an army of security guards and burglar-proof fences. With no other option but to pose as a member of the staff, she and her fellow PI, Tinkie, grab some brooms and masquerade as maids. In between laundry duty and window washing, the two sassy sleuths snoop around the spooky halls of Heart’s Desire and unearth some rather some rather unsettling clues. Are the disembodied voices a part of the scam? Or are supernatural forces at work? As the body count rises, Sarah Booth and Tinkie must stop at nothing to ferret out the killer and put an end to the charade.  

What I liked most: The creepy atmosphere. Confession – there are some parts in this book that really raised the little hairs on the back of my neck. I didn’t expect Carolyn Haines to creep me out with one of her cozy little Bones mysteries, but she never ceases to surprise me! Some of the happenings in the psychic reading room, located in the bellows of the resort, were really spooky. This particular scene gave me some serious goosebumps:

A soft moaning emanated from the end of the hallway. My mind leaped instantly to the classics of horror written by Edgar Allan Poe. This was a moment the melancholy master would employ to great effect. Corpse in the wall, living person in a coffin, pendulum. Black cat!

Favorite secondary character:  This mystery series is packed with a slew of colorful characters – from a sassy transgender reporter to a local resident psychic to a Southern belle best friend. But of all the eclectic characters, Jitty is my fave. The resident ghost of Sarah Booth’s beloved Dahlia house, Jitty has a way of making surprise appearances in unexpected places.  I especially love her outlandish disguises – and in this book she dresses up as two of my favorite detectives: Jessica Fletcher and Nancy Drew!

The romance: Yes, the romantic tension between Sarah Booth and her actor fiancé Graf Milieu, is pretty hot, but I still hope in my heart of hearts that she gets back together with Cole. They’re destined to be together, but whenever they find a happy place a stupid wrench gets thrown in the works. In Cole’s case, the wrench is his psychotic, control freak ex-wife. But being the Southern gentleman that he is, Cole must always save the perpetual damsel in distress whenever she has a meltdown. Ugh!  That kind of thing can really wear on a girl, so I don’t blame Sarah Booth for calling it quits. But hopefully someday, they’ll find their way back into each other’s arms!

This book is best paired with: A super-sweet glass of iced tea and a Rosanne Cash playlist.

Overall: As I expected, Carolyn Haines delivers a tightly-plotted mystery filled with rollicking adventures, loveable characters, four-legged sidekicks and surprise twists! I’m really good at pinpointing the killer, but this author always gets me at the end! Of all the cozy mystery series out there, this is my absolute favorite. That says a lot because I read a TON of mysteries! The author’s love of the Mississippi Delta clearly comes through in her writing. Through her lyrical prose, I can smell the earthy scent of red dirt, see the sun sparkling through the moss-covered trees, and hear the humming of cicadas on a hot summer’s day. Oh how I love Southern fiction! Want to know more about this fabulous author? Check out her Q&A!

Historical Mystery Series Giveaway!

Love cozy mysteries set in Victorian England? Well look no further than Paula Paul’s new Dr. Alexandra Gladstone Series! Being the cozy mystery fanatic that I am, I happily jumped on the blog tour, hosted Amanda over at Chick Lit = The New Black. Check out these snippits about the first three books in the series!

Symptoms of Death (Book 1)

You can’t cure murder…

When the old country doctor of Newton-Upon-Sea passed away, he left his only daughter, Alexandra, with the secrets of his trade. Now, the village depends on its lady-doctor Gladstone for its births, deaths, and all the inconveniences in between.

Dr. Alexandra Gladstone is visiting the Lord of Dunsford, when he’s found murdered in his bed. Joined by Nancy, her maid, the London barrister, Nicholas Forsythe, and her faithful dog, Zack, she soon discovers that other nobles in Lord Dunsford’s circle of acquaintances have very good reasons to see him dead. The symptoms of death begin to multiply as they uncover a dangerous plot of revenge, hatred, and blackmail. And unfortunately for Alexandra, this rage could get her killed…

An Improper Death (Book 2)

Always Dress Well for Murder…

The small town of Newton-Upon-Sea is stunned by the death of a retired admiral of her Majesty’s Navy, and even more shocked at the state in which he is found. Everyone is ready to assume that he took a drunken fall from a cliff, except for Dr. Alexandra Gladstone. Along with Nancy, her maid, the London barrister, Nicholas Forsythe, and her faithful dog, Zack, she will battle local authorities, morticians, and the gossip of the town in order to learn the truth. And when she does, she just might find that the truth is worse than she could ever have imagined…


Half a Mind to Murder (Book 3)

Always Dress Well For Murder…

Murder is in the air in the small town of Newton-Upon-Sea. A mysterious illness is claiming the lives of men of a certain age, and where the illness fails, a sharp knife does not. Dr. Alexandra Gladstone is at a loss to determine what is causing the sickness, and the only survivor of the illness is soon found with his heart surgically removed. The panic-stricken townsfolk do not know who to trust, and Constable Snow is at a loss to find the killer, or protect innocents from the frightened, unruly mob.

Dr. Gladstone is sent to London by Snow to discover some answers that might help them catch the madman who is committing the murders. When she realizes the truth, she knows that she may already be too late to save those that she loves the most…

About the Author: Paula Paul has published 25 novels for both children and adults. Her popular historical mystery series featuring Dr. Alexandra Gladstone is being re-released in both print and electronic format by Cool Well Press. New books in the series will be forthcoming, beginning with The Queen’s Crime, scheduled for release in January 2013.

Paula has written contemporary mysteries as well as historical and contemporary romance novels and literary novels. Her favorites are her historical and literary novels. She has won awards from Women Writing the West, New Mexico Book Association, the Zia Award, National Press Women Award for Fiction, Texas Institute of Letters Award, and a Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Growing up in Texas on a cotton farm and ranch that was 30 miles from the nearest town, she had plenty of time to develop a very severe reading addiction that eventually translated into crafting her own stories and books.

A former journalist, she is the recipient of several state and national awards for reporting and feature writing. She lives in Albuquerque, NM, with her husband. She has two grown children and six grandchildren who keep her life full and interesting. She also has an adorable if annoying Schnoodle (Poodle and Schnauzer mix) who makes certain she takes a break from writing and gets her three-mile walk everyday.

Enter the Giveaway!

Paula is giving away the first three books in the series! U.S. residents can pick from eBook or paperback copies but international winners will only receive eBooks.

To enter, post your answer to this question in a comment below: Who is your favorite amateur sleuth?  The winner’s name will be drawn at random.  Good Luck!

Short & Sweet Sunday: Raining Cat Sitters and Dogs

In honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! For more of my “Short & Sweet” reviews, go here. 

The gist: This fun little mystery series revolves around an animal-loving ex-cop named Dixie Hemingway (no relation to you-know-who).  Haunted by the tragic death of her husband and daughter, Dixie abandons her life as a sheriff’s deputy and starts her own pet-sitting business.  Everyone thinks she’s crazy anyway –  so why not? What could go wrong taking care of fuzzy four-legged puppies and kitties? Oh you’d be surprised!

When Dixie takes Big Bubba, a smart-mouthed parrot with a big vocabulary, to the vet, she meets a distressed teen in the waiting room. Her father just ran over a poor little bunny rabbit and could care less about his daughter’s tears.  Dixie soon discovers the mysterious teen is in a heap load of trouble when a band of knife-wielding teenage gangsters come looking for her. Why is this girl so afraid of her father? And why is she hiding out at Siesta Key’s most posh seaside hotel? Dixie is determined to find out!

The plot thickens when Dixie’s old high school friend, Maureen, comes out of the woodwork. Her millionaire husband has been kidnapped and she needs Dixie to help her deliver the $1 million ransom. Even though Maureen dropped her like a hot potato after she struck gold with a moneygrubbing sugar daddy,  Dixie can’t help but to rescue a friend in need. Soon she finds herself caught up in a tangled web of druglords, extortion, murder and mayhem!

What surprised me: At first glance, these books look like your typical fun and fluffy chick lit mysteries filled with zany stiletto-wearing sleuths, cute fuzzy animals and steamy romance. But these pet-sitter mysteries are much heavier than you’d think.  Dixie deals with some serious issues – parental abandonment, grief and loss to name a few – and finds solace in the quiet comfort of animals. Despite all the shit she’s been through, she carries on and slowly mends her wounds in each book.

Why I love Dixie Hemingway:  Where do I begin? I love everything about her! Being the crazy cat lady that I am, I immediately fell in love with this character when she professed her passion for all things feline. I’m not sure if the author did this intentionally, but it seems like Dixie is very catlike herself. She loves looking at water, but hates getting in it. She practically purrs when she eats her brother’s luscious cooking. She’s a creature of habit, something I can totally understand.  And when someone sets her off – she roars like a lioness!  Dixie is a force to be reckoned with, and I commend her for her tenacity and strength!  

The setting: Blaize Clement does an amazing job describing Siesta Key’s lush landscape. The ethereal sunsets, the sandy beaches, the wildlife –all captured beautifully in her eloquent prose. Boy I sure am craving a key lime pie right about now!

This book is best paired with: A sparkling mimosa, flip flops and an ocean view. Don’t have an ocean view? No problem, I’m sure there’s an app for that.

Will I read another book by this author again? You betcha! I’m hooked on this series. But  sadly Blaize Clement is no longer with us, so I’m going to slowly savor each of her books. Total bummer, I know. But here’s some good news, her son is writing the next two installments, so we can look forward to a couple more Dixie Hemingway adventures. For more about this amazing author, read this write-up in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.

Trashy Chic by Cathy Lubenski

There’s no doubt investigative reporters make the best detectives. They’re nosey, they’re ballsy, and they’ll stop at nothing to chase down a lead. But sadly, in this digital age, the Woodwards and Bernsteins are falling to the wayside as more and more readers are turning to short online blurbs for their daily news.

Cathy Lubenski, a veteran reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, is all too familiar with the sad state of journalism. Her main character, Bertie Mallowan also happens to be a journalist for a Southern California daily, and is struggling to stay afloat in a rapidly shrinking industry.

Much like Lacey Smithsonian (the crackerjack fashion reporter in the Crimes of Fashions mysteries), Bertie has a passion for hard news, but she’s stuck writing fluff. But just when she couldn’t bear to write one more piece about overpriced home décor, she stumbles upon a mystery that could put her back on the front page.

It all begins when Bertie interviews Robert Bellingham, the CEO of a multimillion-dollar luxury items empire,  just days before his murder.  With inside information about Bellingham’s twisted family, she’s thrust into the middle of a big story.

Things get complicated when Bertie encounters a slew suspects with ample motives to knock off the king of unnecessary high-end crap. Who stood the most to gain from Bellingham’s death? Let’s take a look at some of our suspects:

Robert “R2” Bellingham II: A pudgy little man with serious anxiety and resentment issues. Did he knock off his own father to take control of the empire? Why was he hauling a big bag filled with hair into his father’s corporate office?

Gardener: Living up to his name, this suspicious character tends the Bellingham mansion’s gardens. With his smoldering good looks, he can have any woman he wants, even Bellingham Jr.’s trophy wife. What’s the story behind his anger management problem? And why were his shoes splattered with blood at the scene of the crime?

Lester Lomax: Gardener’s lawyer. After a scary encounter at a bar, Bertie finds out the hard way that this sleazeball is more than capable of cold-blooded murder. Did he help his client orchestrate the perfect crime? And is he the dark shadow lurking outside Bertie’s window at night?

Delia Bellingham: R2’s philandering trophy wife. This little tart has a twisted agenda for sleeping around with the mansion’s gardener. Did she railroad her boy-toy to get her hands on the family fortune?

Bella Bellingham: The black sheep of the Bellingham family. Shunned from the family mansion, she spends her days locked up in her shabby apartment cooking weird luxury-item concoctions. She seems obsessed with her inventions…perhaps a little too obsessed.  

Gigi Bellingham: Bellingham’s wife. Obsessed with money, Botox and social status, she’s used to living the good life. It’s no secret her husband would rather hop into bed with a bimbo du jour than have sex with his own wife.  But did his womanizing ways finally set her off on a murderous rampage?

The tightly-plotted mystery is great, but what I really love most about this book is the humor. There were some scenes that had me laughing out loud, like when Bertie hid a cricket in her editor’s office just to mess with her. I also enjoyed the part when her boss reprimanded her for making rude faces. To make him go away, she told him that the grimacing was a result of a chronic flatulence disorder – LOL! 

Overall, this is one fine mystery laced with humor, romance and fabulous characters. I instantly liked Bertie, probably because she’s obsessed with chocolate moon pies, hates her alarm clock, and makes terrible mistakes in the love department. I’m also a big fan of Bertie’s best friend, a former zookeeper who runs a high-class dog obedience school and kennel. Much like my own best friend, she won’t hesitate to come to Bertie’s rescue – even if it means putting herself in mortal danger.

This talented new author can really tell a story that gets you to know and love the characters. I will be watching and waiting for the next installment in this fabulous new series! Keep ‘em coming Cathy!

Short & Sweet Sundays: How to Party with a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner

Hooray for Sundays! In honor of this blissful day, I bring you a short and sweet review of Penny Warner’s How to Party With a Killer Vampire.

The gist: Presley Parker is an up-and-coming party planner for San Francisco’s A-list community. She’s what I would call the J.B. Fletcher of party planning. Whenever she makes an appearance at a black-tie affair, somebody inevitably drops dead.  This can be bad for business, so she must resolve the mystery before more partygoers are permanently knocked off the guest list! The mystery begins when a parkour athlete is found dead in the local cemetery, which just happens to be the venue for Pressley’s next big shindig. In case you’re not privy to this new-wave sport, it involves bouncing and flipping off of buildings and stairwells with no shoes. Weird, I know. 

Things go from bad to worse when Pressley stumbles upon the body of a party-crashing celebrity reporter at a lavish movie wrap-up party in a spooky graveyard. In true Murder She Wrote fashion, the murder takes place right after a heated argument between a big-time producer and the wannabe Perez Hilton.  Of course the producer is the most obvious suspect, but there’s plenty of shady characters with ample motives to knock off the reporter. Could it be the scandalous Hollywood starlet who’s desperately trying to keep her skeletons in the closet? Did her protective celebrity boyfriend resort to murder to keep their affair a secret? Or is it the crazy gun-toting cemetery groundskeeper? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

The love interest: Now this is interesting, the leading man in this series is an ex-cop turned crime-scene cleaner. Okay, so maybe a man who comes home smelling like entrails isn’t exactly a turn-on, but this guy is H-O-T and he can be downright resourceful when Presley needs to hunt down clues.

Most unique aspects: Although this is a fun and frothy mystery series, the author touches on two heavy-duty issues: ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease.  This is the first time I’ve ever encountered a main character in a chick lit novel with ADHD. Considering that millions of Americans (the Facebook generation especially) struggle to focus on a single topic for longer than a millisecond, ADHD is indeed an interesting element to weave into a story.  

The mother/daughter dynamic in this story is also very touching. Presley’s mother, a former party-planner and Hollywood socialite, has an acute case of Alzheimer’s disease. A big chunk of Presley’s party planning commission goes toward her mother’s ultra-expensive rest home.  Pretty depressing right? Wrong! The mom actually has a nice little life at the old folks’ home, which she considers to be a posh resort. Plus her dear daughter takes her out on “adventures” whenever she’s hosting glitzy red-carpet affairs. The mom makes a great sidekick, even though she tends to wander off when Presley is interrogating suspects.  

Added bonuses: Each chapter opens with a fun little party-planning tip for vampire-infused fiestas. Plus, Pricilla’s mom provides readers with some cool nuggets of information about the history of San Francisco. Here’s my favorite tip:

“Make your next Ladies’ Night a Vampire Party with a romantic twist to celebrate a birthday girl, bachelorette, or bride-to-be. Fill the room with black and red balloons, scented candles, and posters of Edward and Jacob from the Twilight series. Then have a vampire stripper make a surprise appearance.”

This book is best paired with: A champaign cocktail and leopard-printed fuzzy slippers.

Overall: If you like cozy mysteries with a lot of sass, great dialogue and a plot that flies – you’ll love this charming series. Presley is an endearing heroine and her rollicking adventures around San Francisco are entertaining. This is my first Party-Planning Mystery – and it certainly won’t be the last! I’m looking forward to the next book set in California’s wine country!