Mysteries

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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.

 

Bone to be Wild by Carolyn Haines

Published August 23, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

23014631After finishing Plantation Shudders, I was in the mood for another Southern cozy mystery. As luck would have it, Carolyn Haines has a new hardback out – and I’ve been dying to know what’s next for Sarah Booth Delany now that her ex fiancé is finally out of the picture!

The book begins with a big mope-fest as Sarah Booth pines over her lost love. Her resident ghost/life coach Jitty doesn’t help matters as she constantly nags her to get married and make babies. Thankfully another dead body gives us all a welcome distraction from the gloom and doom.

The mystery unfolds at a Black-and-Orange Halloween ball in New Orleans, where party revelers are tearing up the dancefloor to the beat of Scott Hampton’s sexy blues band. Turns out, Scott is Sarah Booth’s ex beau and they’re both dangerously close to rekindling that old spark. Of course, it isn’t all moonlight and magnolias for this fledgling romance. A murderous fiend is determined to knock off Scott and his entire band. The motive is unclear, but it appears as though someone really hates live music and will stop at nothing to keep Scott from fulfilling his dream of opening a blues club.

When a drive-by-shooter kills off a friendly bartender, it becomes very clear that that Scott and his fellow musicians are all sitting ducks. It’s up to Sarah Booth to ferret out the killer before it’s too late!

This is how I picture Sarah Booth's ancestral home, Daliah House

This is how I picture Sarah Booth’s ancestral home, Dahlia House

As she searches for clues with her trusty sidekicks, she discovers a whole slew of suspects with possible motives. And if that’s not stressful enough, another psycho from a previous novel is out on bail. Her sole purpose in life is to destroy Sarah Booth, so how could she not be involved in this puzzling string of murders? Then there’s the pathological religious cult leader who gets his jollies by oppressing women. He loathes everything in life that brings joy—especially music and dancing. Since he believes Scott and his music are the root of all evil, how could he not be a suspect?

There’s a ton of characters, so readers need to stay sharp and take a lot of mental notes. But that’s not to say that it’s a chore keeping tabs on it all. There’s plenty of breathers from the case—including a hint of a love triangle among Sarah Booth and her two ex flames. I’m sure most longtime fans of this series are on Team Coleman–myself included–but it’s a lot of fun watching the sparks fly between her and Scott as they go horseback riding by moonlight and dance together in steamy clubs.

If you love a good mystery filled with colorful characters, romance and adorable heroic critters, I highly recommend this series. Even the most experienced Agatha Christie fans will have a hard time piecing this one together. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but I will say that there’s one heck of a cliffhanger at the end. Carolyn, you better hurry up with that next book!

Gizzy’s Roundup of Ghosts, Murder and Magical Cats

Published July 17, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

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Giz and I would like to dedicate this post to our good friend, Melissa over at Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries and Meows. She’s been in our thoughts since she lost her beloved kitty and co-blogger Truffles. We hope that these books will lift her spirits as she’s grieving over both of her precious tortie kitties who recently crossed over the rainbow bridge.

Read on if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries filled with magical crime-solving felines, hot detectives and fearless sleuths!

If You’ve Got it, Haunt it by Rose Pressey 

20949514I’m a huge fan of the Crimes of Fashion mystery series starring Lacy Smithsonian, and amateur sleuth and vintage fashion maven. Throughout this book I kept thinking, wow Lacey and Cookie would be an amazing crime-solving duo! They both solve mysteries with fashion clues and adore all things vintage. I had a great time following Cookie as she hunted down the murderer of the town socialite Charlotte Meadows. In this first installment of Pressey’s Haunted Vintage Mystery Series, Cookie discovers her ghost-whispering gift (or curse, however you want to look at it). With the ghost of Charlotte Meadows constantly pestering her to find the killer,  she has no other choice but to solve the case. As she chases down leads, she must skirt around a sexy detective who’s constantly asking how she knows certain facts about the crime scene that only the murderer would know. Not only is she getting inside knowledge from the murder victim, she’s also getting some valuable clues from her magical cat who knows how to communicate with humans with a Ouija board. How cool is that?!?

Caught Dead Handed by Carol J Perry 

19083257I was going to save this one for Halloween, but couldn’t resist diving into it! The setting couldn’t be more perfect for fans of Hocus Pocus. Oh how I would love to visit Salem during the fall. Lucky for me, I can travel vicariously through Perry’s books. There’s murder, witchcraft, a tubby crime-solving cat, and even a smidge of romance. The mystery begins when Lee Barret returns to her hometown to take on a job as a reporter for the local news station. She doesn’t really need the money, but she’s desperate to occupy her time as she grieves over her dead husband. Turns out, the news station already gave the job to somebody else, but they had a sudden opening when somebody knocked off their late night call-in psychic host. With no other prospects in sight, Lee reluctantly accepts the job as a TV charlatan and soon finds out that she might not be so phony after all. With her newly discovered crystal ball-reading talents, she soon finds herself embroiled in a murky world of witchcraft, cat burglars, and arson! Trust me, this is one whirlwind of a mystery that will keep you reading until the witching hour!

Ghostly Paws by Leighann Dobbs 

21456951I stumbled across this one in my freebies and cheapies email from Barnes & Noble. For less than a buck, I got to travel to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and join a bookstore owner-turned amateur sleuth as she and her magical kitty tracked down the murderer of the town librarian. Now that’s what I call cheap entertainment! This is a solid little cozy that is sure to win over fans of Lorna Barrett’s Booktown Mystery Series. My only gripe is that the writing could’ve been tightened up, but that won’t stop me from picking up the second book in this charming series.

 

Gizzy’s pick: Neighing with Fire by Kathryn O’Sullivan

Published May 31, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

10982781_681149715347165_297454266350883030_nIt isn’t summertime without a new installment from the Colleen McCabe mystery series! Set in a tranquil coastal town where wild horses run free and dead bodies pop up from underneath the sand, how could I ask for a better beach read?

23014755In this much-anticipated third installment, the mystery begins when a hurricane swoops into town, unearthing a carefully buried dead man from underneath a boardwalk. Turns out, it’s just some random dude with no personal connections to anyone in town. When an arsonist starts running amok, Colleen—the local fire chief—must piece together the clues before the whole town goes up in smoke.

Can we just pause for a moment and reflect on how awesome it is that our leading lady is the head honcho of a firehouse? She’s not the queen of a quilting bee, or an owner of a scrapbook shop. Nope, this red-headed sleuth is out there saving lives and delegating orders to an all-male team of firefighters. You go girl!

With some help from her trusty sidekicks, she pieces together the clues that all seem to lead to the town’s wealthy developer, Pinky Salvatore.  In true Murder She Wrote fashion, Pinky becomes the prime suspect after he has a heated confrontation with a soon-to-be dead man. But why would Pinky—the town’s beloved benefactor—burn a man to death in one of his own properties? What motive would he have for killing a virtual stranger?

Nope, I don’t buy it. Neither does Colleen, who may or may not be crushing on Pinky. You see, despite her budding romance with the town sheriff, Bill Dorman, there seems to be a spark –pun intended—between those two. As her romance fires up with Bill, she’s also feeling a pull toward the flirtatious Italian stallion. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bill is sweet and all, but I’m really rooting for the dark horse waiting in the wings. I’m hoping that in the near future, wild horses won’t keep those two from giving into their desires. Oh how I love a good pun!

I did some goggling and decided that this will be my beach house in Corolla.

I did some goggling and decided that this will be my beach house in Corolla.

As I write this with my little gray cat in my lap, I should note that this book is a surefire (oops, another pun!) hit for animal rescue enthusiasts. There’s a slew of loveable characters who are putting their lives at risk to save endangered birds and horses.  And, of course, Colleen has a couple four-legged partners in crime: a border collie named Sparky, and a feisty kitty named Smoky. Notice a theme here with the names?

Pea_Island-Corolla_10-2-08_0240 If you love a good light-hearted mystery with romantic tension, beautiful scenery and eccentric, animal-loving characters, this mystery series is for you! With so many suspects to choose from, I enjoyed playing the guessing game until the very last chapter. I always get fooled by those darn red herrings!