Starts with a Kiss by Russ Hall

I just took a trip to my favorite little R&R spot on the Texas coast and decided to take this scandalous read along with me. There aren’t any magical crime-solving cats or amateur sleuths caught in love triangles, so this isn’t really the kind of book I’d choose for myself. But sometimes it’s good to try something new and different.

The word “different” is a good description for this book since the storyline is a departure from the standard beach-read thriller.  It’s really more of a character sketch of a very complicated young guy (unfortunately named Dudie) who’s navigating apartment life with a sociopathic, nymphomaniac roommate named Barrett,  and a slew of horny housewives.

As traveling salesmen, they spend their weekdays lounging around the apartment complex pool, where all the desperate housewives in string bikinis flirt shamelessly with Barrett. Of course, the husbands aren’t too jazzed about all this and, well you can imagine how it all comes to a head.

The story is a little odd, but I couldn’t stop reading due to the “Why” factor. I just kept asking, “Why tiptoe around a small apartment full of naked people when you can just move? Why hole yourself up in a pup-tent to drown out the boom-boom noises?” I cringe just thinking about the germs alone. Yeesh.

Either way, Dudie’s sticking it out at the cesspool of adultry because he’s oddly devoted to his frienemy roommate. But mostly he’s got this weird voyeuristic habit of watching the scandalous events unfold.  Poor Dudie doesn’t have much of a personal life, which we get to learn more about in bits and pieces throughout the book. I found him to be extremely frustrating, a little creepy, and oddly endearing. Despite my misgivings about this young, tragic character, his observations about human nature were spot on.

“…When I started my career in sales, I wasn’t a good listener. None of us are. We like ourselves too much. The big leap is forcing yourself to close the mouth, stare back at the other person and embrace the spirit of the other person talking–that is, get what the person is about; the words behind the words. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Then why do so many people fail?”

Despite my love/hate relationship with Dudie, I had to keep watching the train wreck unfold—and boy does it ever go up in flames! I’ll stop right here before I give it all away, but I will say that the last chapter left me with more questions than answers, which makes me wonder if there’ll be a sequel.

The World Breaks Everyone by Lauren Clark

When this author offered me a free copy of her new mystery set in New Orleans, I couldn’t say, “Yes please!” fast enough!  I’ve always been fascinated with this beautifully haunted city filled with smokey blues joints and creepy above-ground cemeteries shrouded in Spanish moss.  I could do without the half naked, bead-throwing party revelers, but supposedly it’s all a part of the city’s grimy charm. Either way, NOLA is the perfect setting for vampires, shape-shifters and things that go bump in the night. You won’t find anything paranormal in this book, but there are definitely some monsters of the human variety.

It all begins at a swanky restaurant opening in the midst of Mardi Gras week. Everything is champagne and roses until the guests leave and all hell breaks loose. Theo, the sexy restaurateur with a haunted past, disappears and his teenage daughter, Olivia,  is forced to go on the run. Meanwhile, Theo’s girlfriend is caught in the middle of some serious family drama involving Olivia’s highfalutin control freak grandmother. They all have secrets that slowly unravel as the chapters progress.

So many sketchy characters, so much drama, so much deception and manipulation! This seriously needs to made into a Lifetime movie—asap!

I’ve been following Lauren Clark’s writing career since her very first romance novel, which was quite impressive for a rookie author. This book, however, is her best work yet! Not all writers can capture the eccentric charm and mystique of New Orleans, but this author managed to transport me to the land of bustling streetcars, historic mansions and smoky blues joints.

While traveling alongside Olivia on her misadventures across the city, I could practically smell the creole spices wafting from the French Quarter restaurants and taste the powdered sugar fat bombs at the iconic Cafe Du Monde. To that I raise my obnoxiously tall hurricane sippy cup to you, Miss Clark, for transporting me to my favorite tourist trap on earth! Although…it’s kind of your fault that I made some unnecessary trips to the local bakery to get my King Cake fix!

So grab yourself some chicory coffee or a hurricane (I’m not one to judge!), crank up some zydeco classics and sink into this book. If you, like me, enjoy atmospheric mysteries with a touch of Danielle Steele-esque drama, you won’t’ be disappointed.

CeeCee’s Cozy Christmas Corner


I’ve been a busy bee this holiday season reading more books than I can possibly review in this lifetime! And though Christmas is over, you can still enjoy the festive season all year round with these mysteries and romances filled with murder, mayhem and stolen kisses under the mistletoe! That’s the magic of reading. No matter where—or when—we are in life, we can always transport ourselves through books! All it takes is a quick stop at the library or bookshop to map out a destination. This year, CeeCee and I traveled across the globe—sometimes back in time—through these glorious reads. Here, she is spotlighting some highlights and lowlights from our travels. So sit back, grab some spiked cider and enjoy our annual holiday reading roundup!

Murder, She Wrote: Manhattans & Murder

I’ve read a lot of fabulous Murder She Wrote books but this one might just be the best! Once again, the perennially classy JB Fetcher is the first to witness a multitude of murder scenes during her glamorous book tour in Manhattan. What a glamourous life she leads! We’re talking interviews with the New York Times and one-on-ones with Oprah and Donahue. In between press conferences and book signing events, she was pulling off some cloak-and-dagger stunts in the bellows of New York’s seediest neighborhoods as she pursued her mission to solve the mystery of the gunned-down sidewalk Santa. And this wasn’t just some random stranger peddling for loose change on the busy New York streets. Oh no–he was, in fact, one of Cabot Cove’s most infamous residents who fled the town in disgrace after an ill-fated drug-smuggling operation. And just by some stroke of luck, JB happened to be taking random tourist photos right when the murder went down. I mean, what are the odds? If I didn’t love her so much, I’d tell people to avoid her like the 2017 flu because she’s essentially the harbinger of death. Either way, I got a kick out of this book–especially the part when the media dubbed her as the “Madame of Mayhem.” Even in the age of fake news, it’s impossible to deny the truth to that story. Summed up, this is one of the best Christmas cozies I’ve read in a while, mainly because JB is such a delight and that there’s so much action packed into this fun adventure—from death-defying plane rides to corner store holdups!

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

I had to buy—not download—this book because the cover is gorgeous and there’s even illustrated maps of the Cambridge campus! Needless to say, it was well worth the price of a hardback. Essentially it’s the British version of a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys super thriller with a twinge of swoony teenage romance. I absolutely loved the scenes of our two sleuths, Daisy and Hazel, strategizing their crime-solving plans over tea and crumpets at the cozy little coffee shop. I felt like I was right there in jolly ol’ England celebrating the season in the midst of murder and mayhem! Since this is technically a children’s book, I was surprised that Daisy and Hazel encountered not one—but two—dead bodies! In true Nancy Drew fashion, they keep copious notes and character sketches of all the boys—and one very suspicious girl—who all have motives for knocking off a rather uncouth prankster. They reluctantly team up with two of their male rivals (and crushes!) who have the freedom to roam about the university without a babysitter. Why? Because they’re boys and girls needed to be chaperoned at all times in 1930s England. As for the murder mystery, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was kept guessing until the very end, which is a hard feat for authors to pull off! All in all, this is a Jolly good read for young adult (at heart) readers who love holiday-themed whodunnits.

In Peppermint Peril by Joy Avon

Thanks to NetGalley, I scored this e-book for free (in exchange for an honest review) before it hit the book shelves! This is the first book in a new series that follows the tried-and-true cozy mystery formula. You know the drill: single young professional returns to her hometown to work at a cute little shop and stumbles upon the dead body of someone from her past. Lo and behold, the victim in this mystery is a longtime caretaker of Haywood Hall, the town’s most illustrious estate. It appears as though he was involved in some shady dealings with a blackmailer who wants a cut of the Haywood family fortune. It’s up to our amateur sleuth, Callie, to ferret out the killer before an innocent man gets locked up for life! The story takes an interesting turn when Callie develops feelings for a displaced Boston Terrier and the town sheriff. Like I said, it’s true to the formula. I have lukewarm feelings for Callie, mainly because she sticks her nose in other people’s family business, which really isn’t cool. Also she’s on the fence about adopting the most adorable homeless dog that bonded with her since the moment they met. Other than that, the mystery is well plotted and there’s plenty of suspects (maybe too many) to sort out. My biggest gripe is that the book is mostly comprised of dialogue, which left a lot to be desired in terms of scenery and character development. Maybe it’s just time for me to take a break from the cozies and sink myself into an atmospheric thriller by Wendy Webb or Amanda Stevens

A Gift of Bones by Carolyn Haines

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book in this long-running series, so this was like reconnecting with old friends! After reading a few formulaic cozies, I realized that the Bones books offer so much more in terms of character development and a sense of place. Ms. Haines knows Southern culture and her expertise shows in the distinct Mississippi dialect. And then there’s the small town setting! I felt like I was right there with Sarah Booth on midnight horseback rides through the dark and spooky woods, or on the dancefloor at the local honkytonk with Tinkie by our side! In this 19th installment (wow!), she and her bestie Tinkie are on the case again—this time to find a kidnapped pregnant lady before she gives birth on Christmas Eve. The clock is ticking—in more ways than one as Sarah Booth navigates this tricky mystery as well as her fledgling relationship with the town sheriff. Let’s just pause for a moment and acknowledge the miracle of those two finally getting together after so many years of push and pull. Please, Sarah Booth, I bet you to not mess this up! I must admit that I wasn’t on board with her lying by omission to Sherriff Coleman when her other BFF CeeCee asked her to solve the case on the sly. But then again, I can’t fault her too much for being loyal to her friend. I could go into detail and give away spoilers, but what fun would that be? All I can say is that this is one of my most favorite books in the series and that I highly recommend it to fans of Southern mysteries. Once again, Sarah Booth and Tinkie are forces to be reckoned with and I loved every moment we spent together on this wild ride! Side note: this book is best “read” on audio because the narrator Kate Forbes is the best in the business! Another side note: mad props to Ms. Haines for taking a risk by addressing some heated political issues that may or may not please her target audience.

A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Mathews

I wish I didn’t listen to this on audio because the narrator pretty much ruined the whole experience. Let’s see…how can I describe this? Oh, I know—imagine what it would be like to have a funeral director read an entire book to you in a hushed, somber tone. And then there’s the whiny female voices…egads. Aside from that snafu, the novella is a sweet love story that paints the grim reality of advantageous, loveless marriages in Victorian England. In this tale, Sophie, a woman with a strong pedigree (because women were in the same class as dogs back then) and Edward, a nouveau riche businessman, are coupled up in a courtship of convenience. He needs to enter London’s polite society and she needs his money. You see, she and her family are house poor because her father can’t stop spending all their money on lavish home improvements. He even spent his daughters’ dowries (a woman’s only means for survival!) on Gaslamp expenses. Let’s just pause for a moment and reflect on the oppressive lives of women back then—and how they needed to be sold to husbands like cattle at an auction. That said, this relationship is as good as dead right from the get-go because they’re both using each other. However, things take an interesting turn when Sophie puts the cards on the table and they’re forced to be honest with each other while celebrating the holidays at her family’s homestead. Soon enough, the dashing Mr. Sharpe is whispering sweet nothings to her on moonlit strolls and the tension between them really starts to simmer! I’ll stop right here before I give away the ending but since this is a holiday romance, I’m sure you can guess how it’ll be tied up in a neat little bow!

A Nancy Drew Christmas by Carolyn Keene

I must confess that, yet again, I bought this book because of glossy cover depicting the lovely Nancy Drew on a horse-and-buggy ride in a winter wonderland. I really shouldn’t let myself be romanced by a gorgeous cover, but how could I refuse a Nancy Drew mystery set at a posh ski resort in the midst of the Christmas season? There’s a lot packed into this book…maybe too much. In fact, I must admit that I got a tad confused—OK a LOT confused—with the storyline. There’s corporate espionage, insider trading, workplace sabotage and dozens upon dozens of suspects. I was hoping for a light and fluffy YA mystery for my morning commute; instead I got a tangled web of clues and red herrings that would likely befuddle Miss Marple! Needless to say, it’s rather demoralizing to get completely lost in a book that I found in the intermediate readers section. Best to stick to the classic Carolyn Keene mysteries from here on out.

CeeCee’s Dog Days of Summer Reading Roundup

The dreaded back-to-school season has reared its ugly head, but the dog days of summer are here to stay in the great state of Texas! Most people bemoan the long, triple-digit days of interminable sunshine, but my pooch and I don’t mind it one single bit. I mean, what better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon than by lounging on the back patio with a sweaty glass of sweet tea and a good book? And when dusk comes, CeeCee and I stroll along the open fields listening to the cicadas buzzing up in the trees. This is the time of year when I wax nostalgic about my summer vacays in Gladewater, where I’d chase lightning bugs and chase after those big, silly cows. Aww the good ol’ days before the deep, dark rabbit hole known as social media.  But I digress. In ode to the dog days of summer–the wonderful season that keeps giving and giving– CeeCee and I rounded up a few books that will take you back to the good ol’ carefree days of flip-flops, night swims and mounds of ice cream.


Summerlost by Ally Conde

First I have to say that I am a total idiot for missing this author’s book signing when she came to BookPeople. I wish I could’ve told her in person how much this little story about love, loss and mystery sang to my soul. Yes, this is classified as “middle grade,” but the story of heartbreak and healing appeals to readers of all ages. Through the atmospheric descriptions of the small college town of Iron Creek, I felt like I was bike-riding alongside Cedar and her theatrical friend Leo on our way to the Summerlost theatre festival. In the wake of a family tragedy, she finds a welcome distraction in the whimsical world of Shakespeare. She soon discovers that Leo also needs the distraction–and their newfound friendship–to deal with his own problems at home.  Together, they start moonlighting as unofficial tour guides for fans of a tragic starlet who took her final bow way too early.  Adventures ensue as they unravel the mystery, getting themselves in a heap of trouble along the way! I wont’ give it all away, but I will say that the ending is a real tear-jerker, so keep some tissues close by.

 


Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian 

I’m drawn to gorgeous book covers and this one really caught my eye. What can I say? I’m a sucker for heaping ice cream cones! Also, I needed to cleanse my mental palate after reading a super heavy-duty apocalyptic thriller. And just as I predicted, this fun and fluffy book was the perfect antidote for my zombie-infused nightmares. The main character, Amelia, is a girl after my own heart. She’s got strong work ethic and cares deeply about keeping the old-fashioned Meade Creamery stand alive for future generations of Head Girls. You see, being a Head Girl is an honor on par with the captain of the cheerleader squad. Only the cool girls get picked for the job, so Amelia is thrilled to spend her last carefree summer slinging homemade ice cream at the top of the creamery’s social stratosphere. But just as she prepares for her first shift, her dreams of ice cream nobility melt into a nightmare when she finds the geriatric owner faceplanted on the floor. Now it’s up to her to keep the business alive–even if it means going head-to-head with the new hotshot owner who wants to cut costs by turning the stand into a soulless Baskin Robbins. Things get extra sticky–and I’m not talking about chocolate syrup–when she starts feeling the feels for the cute new owner. Like a towering cone of Chubby Hubby drenched in sprinkles and goopy caramel, there’s a lot packed into this story. While struggling to keep the stand afloat (pun intended) Amelia is also walking a fine line between “friend” and “boss” with her group of scoopers, many of whom she needed to fire on the spot, but that’s just me. Either way, I had a lot of fun following Amelia’s adventures and look forward to the sequel! I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of the Meade Ice Cream Stand–at least I hope not!


Deep and Dark and Dangerous by Mary Downing Hahn

The illustrious Mary Downing Hahn is the Barbara Michaels of children’s books. I’ll download one of her titles whenever I have a hankering for a gothic ghost story devoid of predictable romance. As expected, this book is heavy on atmosphere and light on the mystery. But hey, this is for middle-grade readers, so I’m not going to hate too much on the plot twist. I will say that any astute ghost story aficionado will immediately figure out the situation with Sissy, the world’s worst girl-next-door who will never go away. Seriously, she makes Kimmy Kibbler of Full House look like a respectable houseguest, and that’s not OK! Aside from my gripes, this is a great G-rated book for young readers who, like me back in my misspent youth, like to walk on the dark side. Parents, have no fear! I’ve seen scarier Scooby Doo cartoons, but the gloomy scenes in the overgrown graveyard and on the misty bank of the haunted lake were enough to give me the shivers on a hot summer’s day.

 

Thirty-One Days of CeeCee-O-Ween: A Dark and Stormy Murder


Synapsis:
A 30-something woman is at a crossroads in life until she gets a call that all of us whimsical, aspiring novelists can only dream about! A super famous (we’re talking Nora Roberts level!) author, Camilla Graham, needs a live-in assistant who can walk dogs and help research/write bits and pieces for her forthcoming book. Needless to say, our leading lady, Lena London, signed very quickly on the dotted line, packed up her goodies and moved to a cozy little touristy town in the wilds of Indiana. Soon enough, her dream turns into a nightmare when a dead body washes up on the author’s lakefront property. Unable to turn away from a good mystery, Lena pieces together clues and finds herself embroiled in a mystery within a mystery. Turns out, the hot boy next-door is the No. 1 person of interest in a missing person’s case. The plot thickens when she finds that the missing person in question is his soon-to-be ex-wife!

What worked: This book is like pumpkin spice for the soul! I loved the atmospheric descriptions of the stately lakeside mansion and the touristy storefronts festooned with fall décor. It’s just so easy to sink into the story as Lena gets acquainted with her new town—and the two hot men vying for her attention! Yes, ladies, there is a love triangle at work. Since the detectives usually get the girl in the end, I’m on Team Sam. But maybe that’s just because I kept picturing him as the smokin’ hot kilt-wearing Scot from Outlander.

But I digress…I also really liked how the author weaved two little mysteries within the mystery: The case of Sam’s missing wife, and Camilla’s book in progress, “The Salzburg Train.” With each chapter, we get a little teaser from her book which I hope will actually become a real thing I can pluck off the shelf at Barnes & Noble!

What didn’t work: Hmmm…if I had to get picky, I’d say that Lena’s unwavering devotion to Sam—a man she barely knew—was a little over the top. At some point, she should’ve entertained the thought that she was flirting with a madman, but she had complete and total blind faith in the man. Other than that minor snafu, I can’t think of anything to nitpick. This is a fabulous start to a fun and adventurous series!

Overall: I’m ready for the next book. Sign me up!

Thirty-One Days of CeeCee-O-Ween: Crime and Poetry by Amanda Flower

Greetings, mortals! Are you in the mood for a Halloweenie read filled with witches, magical books and otherworldly cats? Well you’ve come to the right place!

Synapsis: Big city girl, Violet Waverly, returns to her small town to take care of her supposedly “dying” grandmother. When her perfectly healthy—and manipulative—grandmother reveals her big lie, Violet decides to pack up her goodies and jump a flight back to Chicago—and rightfully so! But alas, she must stay put to solve the mystery of the murdered carriage driver. Slowly but surely it becomes clear that the prodigal child must return to her stomping grounds to take over the reins of her grandmother’s magical bookstore and find the killer before the killer strikes again!

What worked: I really enjoyed the cozy upstate New York setting. I felt like I was right there with Violet as she biked around the touristy village with her adorable kitty stowaway in her basket. I was also enchanted by the bookshop—complete with a magical tree and books that just flutter  open on their own. It’s like Beauty and the Beast and Murder She Wrote had a love child!

What didn’t work: When I discovered the reason why Violet refused to set foot in her hometown again, I agreed that she really should hightail it back to the city. I can’t reveal any spoilers of the mystery within the mystery, but I will say that someone committed a VERY unforgiveable act. Yet I have a sneaking suspicion this yellow-bellied loser is going to become a major love interest later in the series. Also, I was annoyed with Violet for keeping so many secrets from the police. Why on earth would someone not report a violent assault? That happened more than once in the book and it drove me nuts. And then there’s the burgeoning love triangle…sigh.

Verdict: Despite its many kinks, this is a fun mystery that will keep you guessing. Perfect for readers who enjoy witches and magical cats in their cozy whodunnits!

This book is best paired with: The musical score of Hocus Pocus and a purring cat.

Thirty-one days of CeeCee-O-Ween: Dial Meow for Murder

The holiday-infused lattes are in full effect, the pumpkin towers are piled high outside H-E-B and the temperature has dipped down into the lower 90s. It’s Halloween in Austin! In honor of the best holiday ever, CeeCee and I are hosting a Texas-sized costume party—and you’re all invited! Throughout the entire month of October, CeeCee will be dressing up in her most spooktacular costumes and sharing bite-sized book reviews for fans of vampires, werewolves, ghoulies and crazed killers!

Today, we’re kicking off the 31 Days of CeeCee-O-Ween with a little soft-boiled murder and mayhem.

Synapsis: The second installment in what I hope will be a long line of mysteries, this story is set in the thick of Halloween season. While preparing for a big fund-raising gala, our leading lady, Daphne Templeton once again stumbles upon a dead body. Somebody snuffed out the town philanthropist at her stately, yet rather spooky, mansion. When Daphne’s mother becomes suspect No. 1, she—along with her doggie sidekick—must act quick to ferret out the murderer!

What worked: Oh where to begin? Like a pillowcase full of trick-or-treat candy—so much goodness is packed into this book. Despite her shortcomings (which I will mention below) Daphne is a loveable protagonist. Her life revolves around dogs, cats, books and yummy pastries. Funny–mine does too!

I’m also very thankful that there aren’t a bazillion characters to keep track of, which is a rare treat in the cozy mystery genre. I especially loved the atmospheric Halloweenie scenes that immersed me into the season. The hilarious dog costume parade was oodles of fun, but I think my favorite part of the book was when Daphne and her basset hound, Socrates were chased through the woods after a creepy run-in with a chainsaw-brandishing madwoman!

What didn’t work: My one and only problem with Daphne is that she can be grossly inconsiderate of others. I’m not a fan of people who are habitually late, which is one of her many bad habits. I just about had it when she rudely ran off in the middle of a date—not once but twice—with her sort-of boyfriend. Throughout the entire book he’s been trying desperately to give her some big news, but she keeps blowing him off. UGH!

Overall verdict: This is the perfect Halloween read for cozy mystery lovers. Two paws up from CeeCee!

This book is best pared with: Pumpkin cider donuts and a snoring dog.

Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this fabulous book!

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

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

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

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.