Gizzy’s Victorian Christmas Reading Roundup

gizzyxmasJiminy Christmas! It’s already the eve of Christmas Eve and I have yet to post about one of the many Christmassy books I’ve been reading this month. Why does it feel like this month is always in fast-forward? Lucky for you, Gizzy and I put a hold on our holiday chores to bring you a bounty of festive reads. And just for fun, we paired each of these books with holiday drink recommendations!

Murder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson

   24586778 WARNING: This is NOT a Christmas book. Don’t be fooled by the cover and the premise that offers a holiday-infused mystery. It appears as though the publisher took advantage of the season to sell more books. Boy was I duped! False marketing aside, I must admit that parts of the book were rather entertaining. Just when I was about to hit the return button on Audible, the plot took an unexpected turn and I was anxious to uncover the secrets that were hiding in a mansion full of gossipy scullery maids. This is my first foray into the Gaslight Mystery series, so I’m not familiar with the dozens upon dozens of characters. In addition to the nonexistent Christmas setting, my other big gripe is that there were WAY too many characters. So as you could imagine, listening to this on audio was not a good idea. When my mind drifted—which happens sometimes when I’m grumbling to myself in a traffic jam—I got completely lost in the vast sea of characters. Whether or not I’ll read another Gaslight Mystery remains to be seen. I’m not totally sold. This book is best paired with a very weak glass of steaming apple cider. Looks enticing, but lacks the powerful punch of holiday spice.

Away in the Manger Rhys Bowen

23848062If you only have time to read one holiday mystery this year, let it be this one! This I my first Molly Murphy mystery and it won’t be my last. Set in turn-of-the-century New York, Molly—a feisty red-headed Irish lassie—and her detective husband are preparing for a cozy Christmas at home with their two little kiddos. But, alas, their holiday plans go awry when the big-hearted Molly finds two stranded kids in dire need of their missing mother. Though homeless kids are often ignored on the harsh streets of New York, she can’t bring herself to leave them in the lurch and go about her business. Needless to say, she is a woman after my own heart. This is a fabulous little Christmas mystery with all the sentiments of the season. I’m excited to pick up the first book of the series so I can watch the love story unfold between Molly and her crime-fighting husband.

This book is best paired with my favorite holiday drink of all time: A gingerbread latte with extra whip cream. So worth the splurge!

Star of the East by Tasha Alexander

22718596This is a cute novella for those who don’t have a lot of time to read. An odd concept, but apparently this is an affliction that affects many of us during the dizzying holiday season. Funny…I can’t get my Christmas chores done in time (cards were sent out this morning), but I always manage to read oodles of books in four weeks. Guess it’s all about priorities. Anyhoo, this is a very G-rated whodunit that is devoid of murderous fiends and dead bodies. The Nancy Drew-esque mystery begins when a cursed ring disappears at a holiday gathering. The case is rather curious since the small pool of suspects have no motive for pilfering the priceless piece of jewelry. It’s up to Lady Emily to interrogate her fellow houseguests and ferret out the thief before Christmas morning. This is a nice little taste of the Lady Gray series, which is quite delightful. This book is best paired with a most pleasant glass of hot cocoa—whipped cream and all!

A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry

17568759Impatience got the best of me when I ditched this audiobook last year. Why they chose a pompous Masterpiece Theater-esque narrator is a mystery all onto itself. I decided to give it another chance, and eventually the stuffy old man grew on me. I can see why Anne Perry is so popular….most likely with the older ladies. The protagonists are all endearing and the Victorian setting is devoid of those pesky anachronisms. I enjoyed accompanying Claudine Burroughs as she doggedly hunted down clues and interrogated suspects to clear an innocent man’s name. I immediately felt for her when she described her dismal marriage to a heartless man who cares only about social status. Her only joy in life is her volunteer work at a clinic for downtrodden women. This book paints a grim yet realistic portrait of a time when women were treated like pretty little dolls and social climbing was a means for survival. I’m glad I forged through with the story, but my next Anne Perry book will be in paperback. This book is best paired with a steaming cup of earl gray tea. Rich in flavor, but could use a dose of cream to lighten things up.

Chick Lit Café’s Bountiful Bookish Christmas!

xmaslootAnother Christmas has come and gone, and once again a new stack of shiny paperbacks have been added to my mountainous to-read pile. They all look so great – I can’t decide which one to delve into first! Take a looksy at my show-and-tell video (aka “vlog”) and help me out. Have you read any of these titles? Which one strikes your fancy? Do tell!  

I should warn you in advance that this video is riddled with non sequiturs and awkward rambling. I’m much less of a space cadet when I put pen to paper!


 

Gizzy and Cee Cee’s Christmas Reading Roundup

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

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

HITS

Christmas Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley

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

Christmas is Murder by CS Challinor

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

MISSES

All Is Calm: A Lonestar Christmas Novella by Colleen Coble

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

Murder of a Stacked Librarian by Denise Swanson

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

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.

Gizzy’s Christmas Reading Roundup!

gizchristmas3_zpsf679dc40Christmas is s almost here and I’m scrambling to get all of my holiday reading done before the fat man in red drops down my chimney with a bag full of more books! I love the holidays, I really do, but December is becoming a dizzying month of nonstop rush, rush, rushing.  Can you believe I haven’t even had time to get a stinking tree? But don’t fret, my dear readers. I do have  priorities, and I vow to never let the holiday chaos interfere with precious reading time. If you’re looking for something Christmassy to read by the fire after battling it out at the mall, here are some hits and misses.

The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen

13542533I scored this on Audible for a mere five bucks, and it’s worth every penny and more! The narrator is top notch, and the characters are highly amusing.  This is my first venture into the the Royal Spyness mystery series, and I assure you it won’t be my last! Set in the Great Gatsby era, the irrepressible Lady Georgiana is stuck in Scotland with her bumbling brother and his odious family. Seriously, these creatons could give the Dursleys a run for their money.  As luck would have it, she gets hired as a holiday party hostess at stately old manor in a picturesque English village. It all seems too perfect, until the dead bodies start stacking up. From the moment she arrives, people drop off like flies in a series of “accidental deaths.” Do these freak accidents have something to do with a long-standing witchy curse? Or are escaped prisoners to blame? You’ll have to read the book to find out!  If you like jigsaw puzzle mysteries with a dash of humor and romance, this book’s for you.

13586680Elvis and the Blue Christmas Corpse by Peggy Webb

I must confess, the cover is the reason why I bought this book. How can you go wrong with a dog detective who might just be the reincarnation of Elvis Pressley? The slapstick humor is front and center of the mystery, so this should appeal to those who like their whodunits loaded down with zany hijinks and slapstick banter.  Amidst the silly shenanigans, there’s a mystery involving a murderous Ebenezer Scrooge with a vendetta against mall Santas. The mystery begins when Callie’s beloved uncle Charlie almost dies in an “electrical accident” while sitting in Santa’s throne.  The hijinks ensue when she teams up with her binge-eating cousin/BFF to ferret out the killer. Complete with a cast of eccentric Southern women, this series is somewhat of a mashup of Steal Magnolias and Janet Evonovich’s Stephanie Plum series. The off-the-wall antics got a little tiresome, but I’d be lying if I said that some of the girls’ ill-fated escapades weren’t amusing. Plus there’s some romantic intrigue going on between Callie and her soon-to-be ex hubby.

Call Me Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber

7957814I don’t typically read Debbie Macomber books because they tend to be a little too sugary sweet. I also shy away from any story that revolves around a struggling mother with needy little children. Sorry to be a total grump, but I don’t like whiney kiddos muddling up a romantic moment. But when Christmas rolls around, I turn into a softy and end up reading one of her cozy little romance novels. To be honest, the Lifetime movie version of this book was more entertaining, mostly because the kid was a lot less annoying. Yes, the movie was contrived and somewhat silly, but Lauren Holly really stole the show as the over-the-top dragon lady boss. She was HILARIOUS!  Oh and Doris Roberts is just the perfect master manipulator/guardian angel. I loved how she seamlessly moved things in the right direction while completely befuddling people in the process. In the book, however, the stoic Mrs. Miracle takes more of a backseat to the paint-by-the-numbers love story. My advice: skip the book and watch the movie. I know that seems very backwards, but I’m just being honest!

Step Away from the Mall and Hit Up Your Local Bookstore!

Sheeba approves this message. This sweet girl is up for adoption! Visit her website at Austin Pets Alive.

Sheeba approves this message. This sweet girl is up for adoption! Visit her website at Austin Pets Alive.

Spoiler Alert! If you’re a member of my family, stop reading this! Lucky for me, none of my family members habitually frequent my blog, so I should be in the clear.

Here you will see how Christmas shopping can be painless, quick and – gasp! – even enjoyable! I didn’t even do it online. Nope, this year I decided to stop fueling the Amazon machine and made a beeline for the crown jewel of Austin, Texas: BookPeople.

Have I ever told you how much I love BookPeople? It is the largest – and coolest – independent bookstore in all of Texas. It’s a haven for writers, coffee fiends and author groupies. Needless to say, this is my happy place. So instead of pushing my way through gaggles of screaming kids and their scowling mothers at the dreaded mall, I decided to tackle my entire shopping list in one stop. Come to think of it, I actually did have to push my way through gobs of people. But this time, I was happy to see such a huge crowd of people buying books and keeping my favorite store in the black.

While I was weaving my way through the labyrinth of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, I found the perfect gift for my dad, a voracious reader who loves all things dark and spooky. Doesn’t’ this book look like the perfect Gothic thriller for a cold winter’s night?

He’s also a big time eater, so I couldn’t resist getting him this signed copy of Austin’s most historic restaurants. Yum…I’m craving a Huts Hamburger right about now.dad

For my crazy marathon man, I scored a signed copy of Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. I sure hope this doesn’t inspire him to run 100+ miles in Death Valley, but hopefully it will give him a kick in the pants to start training for the Austin Marathon. This author is pretty incredible!  I still can’t wrap my mind around eating a plant-only diet, let alone running a zillion miles through a desert inferno. unnamed

As for the little kiddos, I got my 7-year-old niece a little Texas doodle book because she’s obsessed with all things Texas. When she becomes a famous artist, I expect her to tell everyone that her crazy Texas aunt is her muse. Since she’s a fan of those obscenely expensive American Girl dolls, I couldn’t resist getting her an Agatha Christie inspired kiddie mystery.

My little bitty 3-year-old niece loves furry little critters, so I got her this picture book about a stealthy tuxedo kitty. I have to confess, I read the book the second I got home. Hey, someone has to make sure it’s kid-approved!

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My fellow crazy cat lady friend is getting some sweet kitty swag. How can you go wrong with a Bad Cat calendar?

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Of course, not everyone has time for reading, especially if you’re chasing around four kids! So my sister-in-law is getting an address book. She’s refreshingly old school about keeping records on paper instead of apps.

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These are just a few gifts from my shopping binge, but I’ll stop right here before this blog post turns into a book all in itself. Books really are perfect gifts. They’re cheap, easy to wrap and ship! But most importantly, they’re thoughtful and personal gifts. Sometimes it’s a risk buying someone a book because reading takes time, and it seems like a lot of people have to schedule their bathroom breaks. But it’s a chance worth taking. Worst case scenario, it will get donated to Goodwill and eventually land in the right hands. Best case scenario, it will give your loved one hours upon hours of entertainment – and possibly inspire them to read more and more and more!

Happy reading, everyone! I hope you have many literary adventures waiting for you under the tree! 🙂

 

Chick Lit Café’s Best Books of 2012

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Happy New Year! To be honest, this is my least favorite holiday. Aside from the day off from work, what do we have to look forward to other than the grim task of taking down the tree and strategizing weight loss plans? So rather than taking inventory of all my short-comings and weaknesses – especially for all things chocolaty and ice creamy – I decided to cherry-pick my 2012 reading list.

Without further ado, here are the winners!

6617928All-Round Best Book of the Year: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Not since The Secret Life of Bees has a book touched that sweet spot in my heart that yearns for a good ol’ tear-jerking Southern drama.  I instantly fell in love with little CeeCee, a 12-year-old girl who lost her mentally ill mother and found solace in a new tribe of strong Southern women. Like Opal in Because of Win Dixie, CeeCee listens to other people’s lives and provides her own bits of wisdom through hopeful wonder and dead-on honesty. This is an inspiring coming-of-age journey filled with hope, redemption and the divine power of women. Oh how I wish I could spend an afternoon sipping iced tea with this sweet girl and her sisterhood of surrogate mothers in Aunt Tootie’s antebellum mansion…sigh. Go here for my review.

15758840Best Indie Book: I Kill Me by Tracy H. Tucker

This book is the reason why we should never overlook indie authors. Considering the grim subject matter (a middle aged woman facing life after divorce), I was expecting to go through boxes of tissues and buffer my bouts of sadness with Scooby Doo cartoons. But little did I know, most of the tears were from fits of laughter. Somehow, the author found a way to infuse hearty doses of comic relief without undermining the serious issues at hand. The quality writing, the fast-moving plot, the hopelessly neurotic leading lady – everything about this book had me tearing through the pages until I was sure that Christine would get her happily ever after. Read my review here.

11263180Best Young Adult Book: From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas

This book has got to be one of the most addictive reads I’ve encountered since The Hunger Games. The authors took advantage of their Hollywood screen-writing skills by weaving together a roller-coaster ride of a coming-of-age adventure/romance. The genius of the fast-moving plot is the multiple narratives. Foreshadowed with movie quotes, each chapter is told through the eyes of the major characters – from  the super-flamboyant cross-dressing BFF, to the resident mean girl, to the high school heart throb. All of their stories are compelling, and each of the seemingly clichéd characters slowly chip away at the reader’s heart by exposing their vulnerabilities. This book is like a new-wave John Hughes story mixed with some of my favorite elements from The Breakfast Club, Before Sunrise, and Tom Wolf’s I am Charlotte Simmons. Stay tuned for the review!

223462Best Audiobook: Gods of Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Authors like Joshilyn Jackson are the reason why I love, love, love Southern fiction. Her books (typically involving crazy-ass mothers and emotionally scarred women) are gritty, powerful and downright gut-wrenching. After reading Backseat Saints, I needed to know more about Rose Mae Lolley’s backstory – and boy did this book deliver! Although Rose Mae is only a side character in this novel, I get to learn more about her psychotic high school sweetheart, and how he met his end. The story revolves around Arlene, a highly complex woman who promised God that she would never  lie, have sex or return to her hometown in Alabama. But when her aunt pressures her to attend her uncle’s retirement party, she gives in and reluctantly brings her boyfriend, Burr, along for the ride. As Arlene reneges on her promises, her big, bad secret starts to creep out from under the kudzu. Woo doggie – this is one whirlwind of a ride! I’m so glad I listened to this on audio because the production is fan-freaking-tastic! The narrator fully embraced Arlene’s emotional turmoil – and the subtle music during the suspense scenes really added a nice touch. I’m not from the South, but I’m willing to bet my biscuits that the narrator’s Southern drawl is authentic. Shameless self-prmotion – I know all about twangs and drawls because I wrote this magazne story about the slowly eroding Texas twang.

13493573Best Beach Read: Barefoot Girls by Tara McTiernan

I know it sounds like a million years from now, but when summer rolls around, be sure to stash this book in your beach bag. Set in a quaint little New England touristy beach town, Barefoot Girls is all about friendship, motherhood and deep, dark family secrets. At 400+ pages it’s a little on the long side, but once you get into it you won’t want to leave the idyllic little summer getaway. Through the author’s prose, you can practically smell the salty air and feel the sand beneath your toes. Go here for my review.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to finish off that box of chocolate truffles before I embark on my strict fitness regimen…yeah, I’ll get right on that.

Gizzy’s Christmas Classics Roundup

A-74l7GCUAAJTNPYou know what I love most about Christmas? Aside from the gift-giving hullabaloo and decadent goodies, I mostly look forward to revisiting my favorite Christmassy books, movies and albums year after year. There’s something very comforting about returning to those holiday standbys that filled my 5-year-old brain with magical wonderment. Oh how I long for the days when flying reindeer and toy-building elves were unquestionably real. Calories were never an issue and my biggest worries involved bathing and brustle sprouts. Sigh..those were the days.

Aside from the nostalgic bliss, Christmas is a time to reflect on who we are, what we value most, and how we can make the world a better place.  In Scrooge’s case, it’s a time for redemption. For the Grinch, it’s a time to grow a heart. And for little Virginia, it’s a time to continue believing and hoping in a higher power in defiance of naysayers.

Pretty deep stuff, huh? Before I start waxing nostalgic about my childhood Christmases (which consisted mostly of sugar-induced tantrums) or musing about the existential subtext of Home Alone, I’ll leave you with these heart-warming passages from my favorite holiday reads.

26“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

113946“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

143534“And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”
― O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi

Book1“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”
― Francis Pharcellus Church, The New York Sun

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!

Top Five Best TV Christmas Movies

3383250-pink-christmas-balls-in-snowMade-for-TV holiday fluff isn’t exactly chick lit, but how could I not offer up a listing of the best Lifetime/Hallmark Christmas movies ever made? Admit it – you know you can’t resist those cloyingly sappy holiday specials filled with romance, paint-by-the-numbers storylines and subpar acting.

Considering the dozens of new movies that crop up each year, I have a feeling the networks are more interested in quantity over quality.  I don’t mean to sound like a film snob, but come on – how many tired versions of a Christmas Carol are they going to make? And how many times have they recycled the “I’ll pay you to be my boyfriend for the holidays with my family” plot?

Like shopping at TJ Maxx, you have to weed out a lot of baddies in order to find some quality stuff. That’s why I decided to make it easy for you and splotlight a list of my most favorite holiday TV movies. If you’re a fan of romance, fluffy animals, or just a good tear-jerker, do yourself a favor and save these on your DVR.

seasonmiracles_xlg_615x346A Season for Miracles

I watch this tear-jerker at least twice a year and it never fails to fill my heart with the warm fuzzies. The picture perfect ending is somewhat preposterous – but you know what – sometimes we have to suspend our beliefs in order to imagine that miracles really do happen. The movie revolves around a devoted aunt who goes on the run with her deadbeat sister’s two kids in order to keep them from the snares of the foster care system. Lo and behold her sad little car breaks down and she conveniently gets stuck in a quaint little Norman Rockwellesque town called Bethlehem. How stinking cute is that?!? With some help from a guardian angel, she ends up squatting in a gorgeous Victorian mansion and captures the hearts of the townsfolk, especially the super cute sheriff.  The romance, the random acts of kindness, the rags to riches ending – everything about it makes my heart sing!

stealing-christmas-02Stealing Christmas

I have a small-time crush on Tony Danza, and boy does this Italian stallion look mighty fine in a Santa suit! Raging hormones aside, this is a quality flick chock-full of witty dialogue and really good acting. Let’s face it, when it comes to Lifetime movies, those important cinematic attributes are hit or miss. Tony does a fine job playing a fugitive bank robber with his New Jersey accent and street-tough attitude.  After an ill-fated mall heist, he disguises himself as a mall Santa and ends up working at a small town Christmas tree farm run by Lea Thompson. They both had such great chemistry – and the romantic tension was quite palpable. Oh and did I mention that Betty White also makes an appearance? This movie is crazy good – and I highly recommend that you just buy the DVD because Lifetime hardly ever runs it on the holiday playlist anymore.  

old_fashioned_christmas_hallmark_1An Old Fashioned Christmas

Every year I scour the Hallmark Channel guide for this fine holiday film set on-location in a picturesque Irish castle. From the intricate Edwardian costumes to the gorgeous Irish countryside, this movie transports me back to a time when people celebrated the holidays by singing carols by the piano and knitting Christmas stockings. The beauty of these period films is that I get to escape the dizzying digital age and imagine myself at a writing desk crafting longwinded love sonnets under the soft light of a candle. The story, which is a sequel to An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, begins when Tilly and her high-society grandmother pay a visit to Castle Shannon to celebrate Christmas with the Earl of Shannon. Tensions rise when they discover the scheming Lady of Shannon has an agenda of her own. They’re fortune is gone and she needs to marry her son Cameron off to a highfalutin society lady STAT! But little does she know, Tilly is already engaged. Romantic tension ensues when Tilly is unable to resist Cameron’s flirtations – and who can blame her – he’s smoking hot!

536586_320A Heartland Christmas   

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love this Canadian TV series. Based on a young adult book series by Lauren Brooke, the show centers on a young girl who is gifted with her late mother’s ability to rehabilitate emotionally wounded horses.  Like a steaming bowl of chicken soup, this show soothes my soul with the gorgeous splendor of Canada’s mountain landscape. The horses, the acting, the sweet romance between Amy and Ty – everything about it is perfect. While watching the Christmas special, I wistfully imagined myself helping Amy and her family save wild horses from a treacherous avalanche, trimming the Heartland Ranch Christmas tree, and sitting around the hearth with Grandpa Jack. Oh how I wish that was my life!

hhof_resources_movie5A Dog Named Christmas

Since I spend most of my free time at an animal shelter, I’m a tad biased about this movie. In addition to addressing the critical need for shelter fosters and volunteers, this movie shows how dogs rescue their owners right back. When a mentally challenged farm boy hears a radio advertisement pleading people to take a home a shelter pet for the holidays, he jumps at the chance to bring home a dog. When his reluctant father finally relents, he visits the local shelter and decides to do more than just give one dog a home for the holidays. He launches a big campaign and eventually convinces the entire community to get involved. This wonderful movie not only touches on the need for more pet rescue efforts, it also shows the therapeutic benefits of a dog’s unconditional love.

What’s your favorite TV Christmas movie? Post a comment and tell me about it.  I promise not to judge!