Friday Finds: Holiday Edition

i found you!It’s probably a tad bit selfish to treat myself to goodies during the season of giving, but I just couldn’t fight the gravitational pull toward the mall bookstore. All the new titles with glossy red and green covers were too hard to resist!

Although I didn’t make much progress on the holiday shopping list, I did procure a nice little bundle of Christmassy reads!  Thanks to MizB at Should Be Reading, I get to brag about my latest literary shopping spree in this Friday Finds post.

Which one shall I read first?

 Holiday Grind: A Coffeehouse Mystery, Book 8

6296907Clare’s grown very fond of Alfred Glockner, the part-time comic and genuinely jolly charity Santa who’s been using her coffeehouse as a place to warm his mittens. When she finds him gunned down in a nearby alley, a few subtle clues convince her that Alfred’s death was something more than the tragic result of a random mugging, despite the conclusions of the police. More…

Silent Night: A Lady Julia Christmas Novella

16152023After a year of marriage – and numerous adventures – Lady Julia and Brisbane hope for a quiet, intimate Christmas together – until they find themselves at her father’s ancestral estate, Bellmont Abbey, with her eccentric family and a menagerie of animals. Nevertheless, Julia looks forward to a lively family gathering – but amongst the celebrations, a mystery stirs.  More…

 A Countess by Christmas

9427063The Earl of Bridgemere is happy to encourage his reputation as a curmudgeonly recluse if it repels the grasping females who usually attend his lavish Christmas parties. Helen Forrest is like a breath of fresh air, uninterested in his wealth and not cowed by his temper.  Bridgemere’s seasonal duty suddenly becomes a pleasure as he sets about making Helen his countess—by Christmas! More…

 A Wreath of Snow: A Victorian Christmas Novella

118219558940165422_sykPUxdi_cAll Margaret Campbell wants for Christmas is a safe journey home. When her plans for a festive holiday with her family in Stirling crumble beneath the weight of her brother’s bitterness, the young schoolteacher wants nothing more than to return to the students she loves and the town house she calls home.  Then an unexpected detour places her in the path of Gordon Shaw, a handsome newspaperman from Glasgow, who struggles under a burden of remorse and shame. More…

Friday Finds is a weekly meme spotlighting books you’ve bought or hope to buy in the future. Hop over to Should Be Reading for more details.

Pie, Pie, Pie!

On this blessed day of thanks, I’m grateful for family, friends, good books – and most importantly – PIE!  Oh how I love me some warm, gooey, scrumpdiliumptious pie. Nothing beats the down-home goodness of a freshly baked pie. From the sugar-ensconced fluffy meringue toppings to the rich, decadent chocolate cream fillings – these delicious dishes evoke some of my fondest childhood memories.

When it comes to the nostalgic bliss of pie, nobody says it better than Beth Howard, author of Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie:  “Pie is accessible, affordable, all-encompassing. Pie is meant for sharing. Pie connects people. Pie knows no cultural or political boundaries. Pie makes people happy. And happy people make the world a better place. That’s why the world needs more pie.”

In honor of America’s most iconic dessert, here is a little taste of two pie-themed books.

In Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie, Beth Howard shares how her lifelong love of pie helped her get through the pain of bereavement. After her husband’s untimely death, she seeks refuge in the art and craft of pie baking. With some help from good friends and her own inner strength, she sets forth on a cross-country pie-baking documentary project in her husband’s Winnebago. Filled with a multitude of pie analogies, this book is both heart-warming and gut-wrenching. Like a big hunk of chocolate cream pie, this journey of self-discovery will stick to your ribs long after you devour it.  Go to her website to read all about her book, pie-baking tips, and her American Gothic house.

I should also mention an upcoming book by one of my most favorite chick lit authors, Lauren Clark. In Pie Girls, a spoiled Southern Belle must return to her hometown and rebuild her life after it all falls apart in the big city. Somehow she finds herself involved in a Pie Lab, which is based off of a real restaurant that offers job training for high school dropouts and people in need of vocational skills. Sounds like a tasty read to me! Go to her blog for a sneak preview.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sneak a bite out of my delicious pumpkin pie while my husband isn’t looking! I’m sure our guests won’t notice that tiny little dent…right?

Cindy Lou’s Last Minute Gift Guide

The stockings are hung, the tree is trimmed, and I’m totally freaking out!  Christmas is almost here and I still have a ton of shopping to do! If you, like me, need some help finding the perfect gift for that “hard to buy for” person on your list, check out Cindy Lou’s handy-dandy gift guide. Books make fabulous gifts. They’re cheap, easy to wrap, and offer hours of entertainment!  E-books are great, but you can’t wrap them up in a pretty little bow. Be sure to search for these titles and more at your local independent bookstore. BookPeople here I come!

Isn’t Cindy Lou the cutest? You should pay her a visit at the former Town Lake Animal Shelter. She’s sweet, adorable and looking for a good home! For more info, go to the Austin Pets Alive website. [UPDATE: This sweet pup just got adopted! But if you’re in the market for a new four-legged friend, check out the available doggies and kitties on the APA! website.]

FOR YOUR BEST GAL PAL
Hot Guys and Baby Animals by Audrey Khuner and Carolyn Newman

Hot guys and baby animals!!!! Need I say more? Whoever thought of this concept is a freaking genius. My only complaint is that not all of the men are shirtless. But other than that, this book is a win-win for hot guy appreciators and nonprofit animal rescues. That’s right – proceeds from this book go to nonprofits like SPCA. I think it is my civic duty to go out and buy this book for each of my gal pals!


FOR THE FASHIONISTA

Killer Hair by Ellen Byerrum

This fun little mystery series is chick lit at its finest! I picked up Killer Hair after watching the movie adaptation on Lifetime. As a journalist and wannabe sleuth, I can’t resist mysteries involving snoopy reporters who solve crimes with their hot detective boyfriends. In this series, our fearless protagonist, Lacey Smithsonian (no relation to the museum) reluctantly writes a fashion column for a small daily in Washington D.C. Apparently our nation’s Capital is the home of the helmet hairdo, shoulder pads and boxy power-suits – yikes! In this book (the first installment in the series) she teams up with her two quirky gal pals to find the killer of an up-and-coming celebrity hair stylist. Filled with fashion tips, snappy dialogue, twists and turns, this is a really fun little whodunit!

FOR THE BOOK CLUB GOER
Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

If you’re looking for a book that will give you A LOT to talk about – this one’s for you! Wow – this is one powerful book about abandonment, domestic violence and personal transformation. Rose Mae Lolley is one character I will never forget. Abandoned by her mother and forced to live with an abusive father, she lost her innocence and love for life at a very young age. Caught in a vicious cycle of abuse, Rose marries a psychotic man who beats her to a pulp on a regular basis. When she finally snaps, she grabs a pistol and her dog and makes a run for it. When her survival instinct kicks into gear, she ditches her identity as the subservient wife and develops an ass-kicking, gun-toting alternate personality. I never really understood why women stay with their violent husbands until I read this book, which really delves into the psyche of abused women.

FOR THE BOOK LOVER
The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life by Kathy L. Patrick

This book makes a great gift for anyone who loves to read. While shopping at a super-cute old-timey drug store/soda fountain in Jefferson, I found this book sandwiched between racks of feather boas and floppy hats. The book cover depicting a gaggle of fun-loving women decked out in tiaras and leopard-print ensembles seemed to be calling my name. Filled with inspiring quotes, recommended reading lists and stories of family and friendship, this book has a little something for everyone. A lot of the essays  really struck a chord with me, especially the chapter about how Kathy (who actually avoided reading as a kid) found her passion for all things literary after her teacher recommended that she read “Honestly, Katie John.” Just that little bit of encouragement spurred her love of reading and gave her the confidence to write. On a personal note, this really reminded me of when a 9th grade teacher wrote a footnote in one of my essays that said, “You’re a talented writer. You should pursue this.” Mr. Demaro, wherever you are, THANK YOU!

FOR JUST ABOUT ANYONE ON YOUR LIST!
Another Bad Dog Book by Joni B. Cole

This book makes a great gift for anyone on your list who likes to laugh! You don’t even have to be a dog lover (though I don’t understand why you wouldn’t be!) to get hours of entertainment out of this collection of funny and inspiring essays.  From dealing with a terrible tween and aging parents to finding inspiration at an American Idol concert, this talented author expertly combines humor with some pretty weighty issues. Reading this book is like visiting with your best gal pal. I actually had to force myself to slow down and savor it because I didn’t want to say goodbye to my new dog-loving friend. The fact that she’s a Murder She Wrote Fan is just the icing on the cake!

FOR THE SOUTHERN BELLE
The Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery Series by Carolyn Haines

This mystery series is sure to please any gal – Southern or not – who enjoys a good atmospheric mystery set in the Deep South. The leading lady, Sarah Booth Delaney is one of my favorite protagonists, which says a lot because I’m hooked on several mystery series. She’s smart, sassy and not afraid to risk life and limb to save her friends from fiendish murderers. How I wish I could hang out with Sarah Booth and her bestie, Tinkie, on a lazy Sunday afternoon drinking mint juleps on the porch of her beloved plantation home. Oh and did I mention that in between writing and teaching, this wonderful author rescues animals? She’s truly fabulous and anyone who reads her books will agree!

FOR THE GHOST HUNTER
Paranormal State by Ryan Buell

Okay, okay I know this is not chick lit, but I have to include it! I’m a total sucker for ghost-hunting shows – even the ones that I know are fake! Although I have to admit that I mainly watch Ghost Adventures because Zach Bagans is a hottie. But out of all of them, Paranormal State is the spookiest. Ryan Buell genuinely wants to help people rid their houses of malevolent spirits – and he’s not afraid to confront even the most demonic entities. I’ve always wondered what happens behind the scenes, and this book really fills in the blanks. You learn more about the clients (the good and the bad) and the eerie encounters that were edited out of the 30-minute episodes. I made the mistake of reading this book while my hubby was out of town and had to sleep with all the lights on! If you’re looking for a good scare, check this one out.

Gizzy’s Pick: Decked with Folly by Kate Kingsbury

Sometimes I just want to run away screaming from our technology-obsessed world, and the madness of reality TV.  I long for the days when I could go out to lunch with a friend without being interrupted by a chirping smart phone.  Remember the good ol’ days when friends would actually pick up the phone to wish you a happy birthday rather than posting a quick and dirty greeting on your Facebook wall? Shoot – you don’t even have to remember your friends’ birthdays anymore because Facebook will do that for you!  Thanks to social media, we don’t have to stop thinking about ourselves for even a moment. 

So when I need a break from reality (which happens a lot!) I pick up one of Kate Kingsbury’s cozy Pennyfoot Hotel Mysteries. Set in Edwardian England – an era devoid of all things electronic – her fun little whodunits surround a posh seaside country club filled with an eclectic mix of quirky characters. 

When Christmastime rolls around, there’s no better place to be than the Pennyfoot Hotel, where the comforting aromas of pine and cedar infuse the air and the halls are festooned with holiday cheer. But if you want to live to see the New Year, it might be a good idea to admire the resplendent hotel from afar! The dreaded “Christmas Curse” (aka somebody drops dead every December) strikes again. And this time the body of Ian Rossiter, a former employee of the Pennyfoot, is found floating in the hotel duck pond. Cecily Baxter – the hotel’s proprietress and part-time amateur sleuth – suspects foul play after she connects a missing candlestick to the bludgeoned dent in Ian’s head. 

All fingers point to the hotel’s head housemaid, Gertie, who threatened Ian with a kitchen knife after he tried to kidnap her twins in the middle of the night. But when Cecily discovers plenty of others wanted Ian dead, she makes it her mission to clear Gertie’s name and nab the killer before another dead body shows up under the tree. 

In true Agatha Christie style, our cunning sleuth investigates a slew of suspects and stumbles upon clues when their stories don’t add up. What really happened the night of Ian’s death when two gallant suitors came to Gerty’s rescue? Let’s take a look at our suspects, shall we!

Gertie: If anyone has motive to kill that wormy Ian, it’s Gertie! Not only did he dupe her into a false marriage, he skipped town right after the birth of their twins. What scum! 

Clyde: The hotel’s head groundskeeper. Tall, dark and mysterious, there seems to be a lot more to this guy than a toolbox and a strong pair of arms. Did anger get the best of him that fateful night when he protected Gertie from Ian’s attack?  

Dan: Gertie’s flakey boyfriend. Handsome, successful and emotionally stable, Dan is a real catch. Too bad he doesn’t seem interested in popping the question.  When Gertie finds out he had a row with Ian that ill-fated night,  she begins to wonder if he could be capable of murder. 

Mabel: A very unpopular housemaid who just can’t seem to do her job right. For some inexplicable reason, this melancholy lonewolf seems to be hiding something. Why is she so depressed? And why is she always caught wandering into guests’ rooms for no reason? 

Gloria: Ian’s other wife. With nowhere to go after her husband’s untimely death, she  has no other option but to live on the streets and beg for money. Overwhelmed by the widow’s desperation, Cecily offers to let her stay at the Pennyfoot until she can get back on her feet. She soon regrets her generous offer when she realizes that Gloria could make trouble for Gertie. Is this all an elaborate plan to get back at her no-good husband and his true love? And why did she lie about her whereabouts the night Ian was murdered? 

Sid: The Pennyfoot’s newest stable-boy.  This shady fellow has a way with the ladies, and boy does he have designs on Gertie. Although he may seem charming to the hotel’s chambermaids, Gertie’s onto his games. When his flirtations escalate to harassment, Gertie begins to wonder if he’s the one who’s trying to frame her for murder.

Archibald:  A very shady hotel guest who seems to show up at the most inopportune times.  This troublemaker, who claims to be an herbal-remedy specialist, seems to be dead-set on spreading hysteria by gossiping about the murder.  Who is he really – and why does he seem to be lurking around every dark corner? 

If you’re in the mood for a good old fashioned mystery that’ll get you in the mood for Christmas – take a little trip to the Pennyfoot Hotel! This book is best paired with a steaming mug of spiked eggnog and your silliest pair of fluffy slippers.  And don’t forget to turn off those incessant chirping gadgets!

An Old Fashioned Christmas

December has reared its red-and-green tinseled head again. Time to string the lights, deck the halls, brave the malls and make an appearance at those obligatory holiday parties. After that dreaded episode involving a flaming eggnog at my husband’s office party, I think I’m going to lay low this year. There will be no mall madness, gridlock traffic or awkward small talk with strangers for this girl! I vow to relish the holidays in the comfort of my own home with a 14-lb cat on my lap. And what better way to enjoy the holidays than to watch those Christmassy Hallmark and Fa-La-La-La Lifetime  flicks? Come on ladies, you have to admit, they’re so bad they’re good!

My absolute favorite Hallmark movie is – hands down – is An  Old Fashioned Christmas, which is based on a short story by Louisa May Alcott.  Everything about this movie – from the picturesque Irish castle to high-quality acting to the hot male lead – had me completely enthralled!  If you’re a fan of atmospheric gothic romances, set this one up on your DVR.

The story, which is a sequel to An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, begins when Tilly and her high-society grandmother Isabella

Cameron Shannon (played by Leon Ockenden) and his coniving mother, Lady Shannon

pay a visit to Castle Shannon to celebrate Christmas with the Earl of Shannon. In hopes of becoming a great writer, Tilly is excited to meet with the Earl, who happens to be a renowned poet. And unbeknownst to her grandmother, who scorned her own daughter for marrying a poor farmer, Tilly has plans to meet with her long-lost paternal grandfather.

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 ennsues when Tilly is unable to resist Cameron’s flirtations – and who can blame her – he’s smoking hot!

After Tilly’s control-freak grandmother catches on to the undeniable chemistry between her starry-eyed grandaughter and the ill-mannered party boy, she does everything in her power to keep them apart. I won’t give away anymore because you HAVE to watch the movie! For more details, go here.

Happy holidays fellow chick lit lovers!

P.S. Just say NO to flaming eggnogs!