Mysteries

All posts in the Mysteries category

Four Paws Up to ‘Throw the Texas Dog a Bone’

Published July 30, 2017 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Al Quinn is a man after my own heart. He’s a dog rescuer, a deer lover and an ace detective to boot! He captured my heart in the opening chapter when he swooped up a condemned shelter dog while investigating a crime scene. Needless to say, Al earned some major cool points right from the get-go.

Though this is a hardboiled Texas mystery, Al is anything but a puffed out gun-toting good ol’ boy. At home, he knows the women rule the roost, especially his main squeeze, Fergie. I say main squeeze, due to his….shall we say… alternative lifestyle. He has a couple of squeezes, per say, in his love-triangle household. The swinging lifestyle isn’t my cup of tea but it made for an interesting subplot.

But I digress. Let’s get down to the mystery, shall we? Our leading man is a retired detective who refuses to start living the sweet life in an RV, so he spends the majority of his free time consulting at crime scenes. This time around, he’s responding to a puzzling scene at the local animal shelter, where human remains are found in the incinerator.With his team of sidekicks—including Tanner, his loyal rescue pup, and a cantankerous rookie detective—Al is hot on a trail that leads to Austin’s seedy underbelly of human trafficking, a burglary ring and rural bordellos. I’ll stop right here before I reveal too much!

I will say that this Al Quinn mystery series is a hidden gem. These books fill the void that Rick Riordan left behind when he stopped writing Austin-based mysteries to become a world-famous children’s fantasy author. Being a native Austinite, I love how the author gave his readers a sense of place in a city that is a character in its own right. Through his atmospheric descriptions, I could picture myself at Al’s lake-front homestead on the rural outskirts of the city. I felt like I was riding in the backseat of Cam’s cruiser as she and Al drove along the perennially congested highway to interrogate suspects. We went on some wild rides together (in my head) and I can’t wait for the next one!

As for Cam, Al’s reluctant partner, talk about a complicated character! Trust me, you’re going to loathe her at first, but then you’ll see there’s many layers to that onion. This is a highly character-driven mystery that just keeps getting better with every book. Hats off to Russ Hall for delivering another quality Texified mystery. May I suggest a spinoff narrated by none other than little Tanner? How fun would that be!?

Go here to read my review of Al Quinn’s previous adventure in To Hell and Gone in Texas.

Let’s Take a Cruise Part II: All by Myself, Alone by Mary Higgins Clark

Published May 22, 2017 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Ahoy mates! Captain CeeCee grants you permission to step on board and check out our latest maritime conquest. This is the second book in our three-part series of mystery cruise thrillers.

Synapsis: A filthy rich old lady with a boatload of priceless jewels gets the axe on a luxurious cruise ship and everyone’s a suspect.

What worked: This book is what I call, “Cheetos for the brain.” So if your brain tunes out while listening to this on audio (like mine did several times), you won’t miss a thing. Seriously, that’s the only generous thing I can say about this mess.

What didn’t work: Oh pretty much everything. What happened, Mary Higgins Clark? You used to write the most alluring Lifetime Movie-esque tales of obsession, deceit and murder. I used to love your trademark cliffhanger chapter endings and you’re multifaceted characters with twisted backstories. It’s hard to even believe you are the mastermind behind this embarrassing piece of drivel.

Probably the worst aspect of the book is the revolving cast of characters.  The third-person narrative bounces around from one undeveloped character to the next, all of whom are annoying and uninteresting. Without a main character, who am I supposed to root for? I suppose the anchor characters are the lottery-winning middle-aged couple, Alvirah and Willy, but really they’re just background noise. Sure, Alvirah saves the day in the end, but at that point I wouldn’t have cared if they all walked the plank.

And then there’s the dialogue. Oh dear. I’m having a hard time believing that a seasoned mystery writer could string together such clunky, intermediate-reader level nonsense. Seriously, I’ve read better dialogue in The Babysitter’s Club.

Yeesh…this is turning out to be quite the roast. I hate to be such a buzzkill, but if I can prevent my fellow mystery lovers from wasting their time and money on this hunk of garbage, I’m doing a good public service! If you want to read a good mystery cruise thriller, check out Woman in Cabin 10.

Let’s Take a Cruise Part I: Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Published May 20, 2017 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Ahoy matey! Lately my fur-babies and I have been cruising through a bunch of mysteries set on the high seas. Here is the first in a series of reviews about our latest swashbuckling adventures!

Synapsis: Ambitious travel magazine writer with anxiety issues gets trapped on a luxury cruise ship with a motley crew of unsavory journalists and elitist snobs. One of whom may have thrown a mysterious woman overboard and just might strike again!

What worked: The suspense! Right from the getgo, readers get a little teaser of Lo Blacklock’s ill-fated maiden voyage as the author opens the chapters with emails and news articles about her inexplicable disappearance. This plot device worked like a charm, forcing me to forgo my daily activities to find out what really happened to our hot mess of a protagonist. With every chapter, the sense of impending doom amplified as Lo searched the ship’s intricate maze of rooms for clues. The way the author juxtaposed the ship’s opulence with a vertigo-inducing sense of dread is nothing short of ingenious. The house-of-mirrors effect had me reaching for some Dramamine  throughout Lo’s waking nightmare on the high seas.

What didn’t work: It was incredibly hard connecting—heck even liking—the main character. This seems like a growing trend in books like “Girl on a Train” and “Gone Girl,” in which the unreliable narrators are riddled with character flaws and sour dispositions. In short, Lo is a total Debbie Downer. Yes, the ship oozed capitalist greed, but couldn’t she indulge in just a little fun at her employer’s expense? Nope, not so much. If she had it her way, she’d hole herself up in her room with a bottle of booze. If it wasn’t for the loud splash of a body going overboard, she would have done just that. Good thing the cliffhanger chapters and ingenious foreshadowing kept me going. Otherwise this book would’ve been dead in the water.

CeeCee’s Christmas Cozy Roundup!

Published December 24, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

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When it comes to Christmas, there’s nothing like waiting til the last minute. Cards, presents, cooking supplies – all those things are purchased in a mad flurry a couple of days before Santa wiggles his butt down my imaginary chimney. As for Christmas cozies – I get started on those before Turkey day! What can I say? Priorities.

So without further ado, here are CeeCee’s top picks from this year’s Christmas cozy roundup!

Mrs. Jeffries and the Merry Gentlemen by Emily Brightwell

17166223One look at this cover and I knew this book had to be mine. How could I turn away from a British version of Murder She Wrote set in Victorian London? It was fun tagging along with the many amateur sleuths as they all questioned suspects. Many of whom had ample motives for killing a high-society “stock promoter” who pushed a number of people to invest their riches into a faltering foreign mine.  Who was angry enough to whack him with a shovel? Was it a bitter mistress? An unhappy investor? Or could it have been one of his servants? It’s up to inspector Witherspoon and his intrepid team of housekeepers to ferret out the killer before another goose is cooked!

Though I had a hard time keeping track of the zillions of characters, I enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of Victorian London. I really felt like I was joining Wiggins for a merry drink of grog at the working-class pub. I could practically smell the good ol’ fashioned English cooking in Mrs. Goodge’s kitchen. And I could clearly envision the bustling city streets as Witherspoon’s underground spies set forth on their mission.

As for Mrs. Jefferies, I’m wondering why she only popped up sporadically throughout the book. Come to think of it, there really isn’t a main character to follow. Maybe that’s why I had a hard time connecting with anyone in the story. I wonder if that’s the case for other stories in this series. Guess I’ll have to keep reading to find out. Whether I’ll become a loyal reader of this series, the verdict is still out.

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas by David Rosenfelt

28220750Here’s a fun book for legal thriller fans. The cover threw me off because I was expecting a cozy mystery filled with cute little puppies romping under the Christmas tree. This is really more of a hard-boiled mystery in the guise of a holiday-infused whodunit for animal lovers. I have to hand it to the marketing team, they had a target audience in mind and I was lured in—hook, line and sinker!

Though the story was lacking in puppy action (seriously, where are the twelve dogs of Christmas?), I really enjoyed the puzzling mystery. It’s told by a dog-loving lawyer, Andy Carpenter, who sacrificed his holiday downtime to clear the name of a longtime friend who inexplicably got framed for multiple murders.

The woman in question, Martha “Pups” Boyer, is a big-time misanthrope who dedicates her life to rescuing puppies (cool points!). Someone framed her for murder and it’s up to Andy to find the real killer before the dying woman keels over alone in her cell.

Since I just had to say a final goodbye to my 19-year-old furbaby, I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy-hearted  story about a dying animal rescuer. But alas, I was glued to the mystery when more and more mounting evidence pointed to none other than Pups as the killer.

I have to hand it to the author, he’s very crafty and has a knack for red herrings and snappy dialogue. The mystery was great, but I most enjoyed the hilarious quips between Andy and Pups. I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this series again in the near future.

Rest Ye Murdered Gentleman by Vicki Delany

24611862This fun series has Hallmark Mysteries and Movies written all over it! It’s set in an idyllic Main Street USA town with snow, quaint shops and colorful characters galore. The author has the formula down to a science, and I couldn’t ask for anything more!

Set in an upstate New York town called Rudolph, the story is brimming with Christmas cheer. Adding to the yuletide merriment is the dead body of a travel writer! He came to Rudolph to write a fluff piece about holiday hotspots. Who in their right mind would want to snuff him—and his free marketing—out? Who poisoned him with a toxic cookie from Vicky’s adorable bakery? Was it a rival baker vying to put her out of business? Or maybe it was the town’s resident mean girl who failed to charm the dead man into writing a fluff piece about her knickknack store. It’s up to the town’s head Mrs. Claus to solve the mystery before her best friend loses her bakery—and more!

Needless to say, this book hit the spot. I’ve been through a lot in 2016 (who hasn’t, right?), so this was the perfect light read. I highly recommend it to all my fellow cozy fans.

Bootseez, the newest member of the Sinn family, approves this message.

Bootseez, the newest member of the Sinn family, approves this message.

On this balmy Christmas eve, CeeCee, Bootseez and I wish you all a joyous holiday—and a very happy 2017! May Santa bestow you with lots and lots of wonderful books!

 

Chick Lit Cafe’s Pick of the Month: Sister Dear

Published May 15, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

27191173Since my big sissy’s turning the BIG FOUR-0 in just a few days, it’s only fitting for me to dedicate this one to her…not that she’s evil or nothing. Well…there was that time when I noshed on all the pizza at her slumber party and she tried to throw me out,  but that’s besides the point! In all honesty, my sister is pretty great and now I’m appreciating her even more. But I should note that I was the life of the party and she was just jelly that her friends were digging my vibe.

Moving on! Imagine, if you will, being on top of the world. You’re young, beautiful, privileged and ready to jump into medical school at a top university. Then, in one ill-fated night, that charmed life morphs into a nightmare. Someone frames you for murder and you’re suddenly in a hideous orange jumpsuit scrapping with real killers in a high-security prison. Enter Allie’s world. It’s not a good place to be.

The story begins when she gets out on bail and is immediately ostracized by her entire hometown, including her daughter. Everybody—maybe even her own parents—believe she killed the town’s beloved football coach. It’s up to Allie to clear her name. Not an easy task for someone who’s out on parole and under the scrutiny of the shady town sheriff.  There’s a lot of skeletons in that guy’s closet, and she’s determined to dig them out.

As she pieces together the clues—with a tiny bit of help from her former flame—she finds herself in a whirlwind of lies, deceit, conspiracy and drugs. To make matters worse, her sister—the one person who should be helping her fight for justice—is mysteriously out of the picture. But is she really? Us readers get in on her nasty little secrets because the  chapters are told through multiple perspectives. We learn early on that sister Emma was perfectly happy letting Allie rot in jail. It gave her the perfect opportunity to be a helicopter mom to her troubled niece. Boy this sounds like a Lifetime movie waiting to happen! Although we’re not sure who exactly orchestrated the perfect crime, it’s clear that Emma is one manipulative bitch, and I wanted more than anything to see her taken down and shipped away to the land of orange jumpsuits.

I’ve been reading Laura McNeil’s books ever since she published her debut novel Stay Tuned. I’ve always liked her lighter stories of romance and self-discovery, but I especially enjoyed her past two suspense novels. She’s taking a walk down the dark side and I like it! She does a fine job crafting some truly despicable monsters, making me wonder if she’s ever encountered people like this in real life…jeez, I hope not! Another art she has mastered is the cliffhanger chapters. The alternating POVs keep the story moving at a supersonic clip.   This is a pretty tricky maneuver for authors. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s about as annoying as trying to watch TV with some jerk-0 constantly flipping the channels.

If I had to get nitpicky, my only piece of criticism is to take the characters to an even darker place. There’s no doubt that Emma is a twisted sister. Clearly that darkness has been there all her life, and I’d like the author to linger a little longer on the deep-seated evil that drives her to do such wicked things. As for the other antagonists, it’s clear that they are just weak-willed people who are only looking after themselves. But Emma is kind of a fascinating specimen—a bad seed I’d like to get to know a little more. That’s the kind of stuff that gets under my skin, keeping me up all night.

Either way, this book is definitely worth your time if you enjoy thrillers. There’s even a touch of romance for chick lit fans. The author really set the bar with Center of Gravity (read my review here), but boy did she deliver with her sophomore suspense novel. It’s safe to say that Laura McNeill is one to watch!

Gizzy’s Book of the Month: Claws for Alarm

Published January 10, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

UntitledThis cute little paperback has been sitting on our shelf for way too long. You see, during the holidays Gizzy and I are all about Christmas-infused murder and mayhem, and sometimes those touchy-feely yarns about hope and forgiveness. So now that January has reared its butt-ugly head (we’re not fans of this dreary month), it’s time dust off that TBR pile and get down to business! 

Of course, Mister Giz insisted on starting the new year off right with a magical cat mystery. Far be it from me to say no—I mean how could anyone dare to disappoint this guy?! Would you look at that fuzzy face! 

Anyhoo, this book was a heck of a lot of fun. Totally took my mind off of the sadness that comes after the holidays. No more tree, no more time off, no more nuttin! Okay, so maybe I’m being a little overdramatic. There’s got to be something good about January. Let’s see…less time shopping means more time reading, so that’s a pretty big win. Then there’s the after-Christmas sales…but I digress.  

Let’s get back to the book, shall we? Gizzy and I were most impressed with this puzzling whodunit. It was a lot of fun tagging along with Nick and Nora (an old-school TV show reference that is before our time) as she relentlessly hunted down clues to clear her hapless sister’s name. There are lessons to be learned here, people! If you find a dead body, please resist the impulse to pull the knife out of its back and then flee the scene when a witness arrives. It just looks bad.  

Anyhoo, as you can imagine, that’s what happened to Nora’s sister when she found her stuffy art professor’s lifeless body crumpled on the floor of his office. The coppers believe it to be an open-and-close case. I mean, who wouldn’t? So it’s up to our intrepid sandwich artist sleuth to hunt down clues, interrogate suspects and ferret out the murderer. Otherwise it’s orange jumpsuit city for poor little Lacey.  

With some help from her mystical four-legged feline, Nora soon finds that the professor had a lot of enemies with ample motives for murder. Could it have been the bitter ex-wife, the new gold-digging wife, the troubled son, the shady male model, or was it just an angry student out for revenge? Whoever it was, they sure were lucky to pin it all on a dimwitted art student. But of course, the killer’s dumb luck takes a turn for the worst when big sissy picks up the case!

Gizzy gives this whodunnit two paws up—mainly because he and I were stumped all the way until the very end when Nora and her Scooby Doo posse of crime-fighters caught the killer. We didn’t see that one coming! Cozy fans will love the puzzling mystery, and the swoony romance lovers will enjoy the early beginnings of a love triangle forming around Nora and two hotties. One is an old college flame, the other an FBI agent. Having to choose between the two will be tough…but not such a bad problem to have, if you ask me.  

I should also mention that this book is sure to please my fellow crazy cat ladies because Nick (a tubby tuxedo cat) plays a big role in the mystery. There’s something mystical about this enigmatic kitty. When it comes to finding clues, he’s always two steps ahead of everyone else. Perhaps it’s because he has more experience in the PI business. You see, after Nora found him as a stray, she discovered that his former owner was a womanizing private eye who mysteriously disappeared. Some believe he’s sleeping with the fishies, and others insist that he ran off and assumed a new identity. At some point, Nick and Nora will find some answers. That’s one of the many reasons why Gizzy and I are excited to read the next installment!

Washington Irving Fans, Eat Your Heart Out!

Published September 21, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

18586140Another hot and muggy September has reared its ugly head in this inferno called Austin. That means I’ll be reading nothing but spooky ghost stories all the way through December! This year, I’m jump-starting the witching season with this fun YA thriller filled with ghosts, leering jack-o-lanterns and a sword-wielding fiend on horseback.

Sounds promising, but yet I went into this book with cautious optimism. After attempting to watch that blasphemous Sleepy Hollow series and suffering through the first installment of the Hollow Trilogy, I know that there’s so many ways a headless horseman story could go wrong. Oh and please don’t get me started on the Tim Burton movie. Who in their right mind would cast Johnny Depp as Ichabod? I’m sure poor old Irving is still rolling around in his grave over that one.

Here’s the thing. If you’re going to retell old Washington Irving’s masterpiece, you better use the spooky setting to your full advantage. Irving and Ray Bradbury mastered the art of intoxicating readers with lyrical descriptions of fall landscapes. Contemporary authors all seem to pale in comparison. That is until I took a chance on Richard Gleaves.

He is clearly a huge fan of Irving’s work, and it shows in his atmospheric descriptions of Ichabod Crane’s stomping grounds. His prose swept me away to the little hamlet along the Hudson River, where I could hear the soft autumn breeze wafting through the trees, smell the smoke drifting from burnt leaves, and see the moonlight shining upon spooky boneyard. Such fun!

With a hip hip and a clippity clop, he's out looking for a head to chop!

With a hip hip and a clippity clop, he’s out looking for a head to chop!

The genius of the story, is the parallels between the modern day characters and their direct descendants—Brom bones and Ichabod Crane. Our hero Jason Crane may be long and lanky, but he’s much cooler than his social-climbing ancestor. As expected, he falls in love with Kate (the new Katrina), who is unfortunately hooked up with the modern day Brom Bones, a school jock with lots of skeletons in the closet.

Of all the multi-dimensional characters in this book, I most enjoyed Jason’s newfound bestie—a wannabe Robin Williams who spends most of his waking hours manning the grounds of the local cemetery. This actually comes in handy when Jason finds that his grandmother is being conned into digging up a veritable Pandora’s box that has been entombed in the family crypt for two centuries.

I’ll save you from the gory details—and I mean that in every sense of the word! But I will say that this is one thrill ride that will get you in the Halloween spirit. Ever since I watched the Disney version of Sleepy Hollow—a masterpiece onto itself—I’ve been obsessed with this story. It was such a treat when Gleaves invoked bits and pieces from Ichabod’s last ride into the climax. I won’t tell you any more, but I will say that fans of the Disney classic will be most amused.