CeeCee’s Christmas Cozy Roundup!

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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

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

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!

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

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

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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

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!

CeeCee’s Roundup of Murder, Mayhem and Four-Legged Sleuths

UntitledLast night we had the mother of all thunderstorms—the perfect setting for a riveting whodunit! While the shingles were blowing off the roof and my poor doggie was shivering in the closet, I was busy wrapping up the last final chapters of my Chet and Bernie mystery. If you’re in the mood for a good mystery that’s light on the mind-numbing procedural stuff and heavy on cute animals and sassy amateur sleuths, this reading roundup is for you!

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

teagarden_book_a_pAfter watching the Hallmark channel movie—starring none other than Candace Cameron as Aurora (aka Ro) Teagarden—I had to check out this series to see how it compares to the made-for-TV train wreck. I mean, how can the mastermind behind the True Blood series have anything to do with such a snore fest filled with cardboard cutout characters and inane dialogue? Sadly, the literary version is just as disappointing. It has all the annoying tropes that run rampant in the cozy genre: the overbearing, meddling mother, the bossy best friend, the fashionably-challenged leading lady. Seriously, why do so many cozy mystery characters have to dress like lunch ladies? Is this a way to make them more likeable and relatable to the readers? What does that say about cozy mystery fans? What really bothered me about Candace Cameron’s role is that she looked like she stepped right out of the pages of an Anthropologie catalogue, yet people kept nagging her to dress better. And what’s up with those crazy long hair extensions? In the book, the drab librarian has a head of frizzy brown hair. It made no sense that the TV version looks like a freakin Pantene commercial. Although I do have to hand it to Candace, that girl sure has come a long way since Full House. I would love to get her beauty secrets!

The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

16130393Oh my gawsh! How can I even articulate my complete and total adoration for this detective series? It’s told through the eyes of a big, goofy dog named Chet (aka “Chet the Jet”) who chases down perps and solves crimes with his human partner. I know what you’re thinking. A dog narrating the whole book? That’s got to get old real quick. Well think again! The story moves along at a rapid pace through Chet’s narrative. You see, dogs pick up on a lot of things that human can’t see, smell or hear. With his acute senses, Chet can give the readers some clues that Bernie won’t pick up on until the bad guys start closing in on them. This time, they’re solving a mystery in the Louisiana swamplands—my favorite kind of setting! What starts out as a simple missing persons case soon leads to a tangled web of drug dealers, biker gangs, Big Oil, and one mean-ass alligator named Iko. I love this series for two reasons: the top-notch mystery, and Chet’s unwavering love for Bernie. He is 100 percent devoted to his disheveled Hawaiian shirt-wearing human. In Chet’s eyes, Bernie is pure perfection…well except for when a woman crosses his path. I’d like to think this is how dogs really perceive their humans. The way they look up at us with those adoring eyes, how could they not?

A Nip of Murder by Carol Miller

20575402As with the first book in this new series, the story begins with a most peculiar catastrophe. A gang of masked bandits raid a bakery and make off with 90 pounds of cream cheese. What in the world?! The plot thickens when Daisy’s emotionally fragile employee stabs one of the robbers to death in self-defense. Turns out, he’s just some random dude with no connection to the town whatsoever. In a rural Virginia hamlet devoid of useful law enforcement, Daisy has no other choice but to solve the mystery of the stolen cream cheese on her own. When she’s not piecing together clues, she’s busy at the bakery attending to a big crowd of strangers who’re in town for a geocacher hunt. With so many strangers thrown into the mix, how will she ever narrow down the suspects list? What would a bunch of nerdy geocacher’s want with a mountain of cream cheese? With some help from a rather handsome geocacher, who’s also a hot history professor, she hunts down some leads that all seem to point to an underground moonshine ring. And as the romance heats up between her and the professor, she also starts to feel a gravitational pull toward Rick Balsam, the local moonshine-brewing bad boy. Uh oh, I smell trouble!

As I expected, this mystery series just keep getting better and better. If you’re a sucker for an atmospheric whodunit with feisty female sleuths and steamy romantic tension, this one’s for you! Oh and did I mention that there’s also a crime-solving kitty named Blot? Now that’s the cream cheese icing on the cake!

Short and Sweet Sundays

sundaysI’ve been reading like a fiend this past month—and not one review to show for it! In a perfect world, I would spend my days reading on the chaise lounge with my chubby cat and my nights toiling away on my book, which has been left stagnating in Scrivner for months. Needless to say, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with my poor little book blog!

So in the interest of saving time, I bring you some short and sweet reviews for a few standout books that were definitely worth my precious little free time:

Murder, She Wrote: A Question of Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

334352When I saw this title pop up in Audible’s “daily deal,” I immediately hit the purchase button.  The TV show may be history, but Jessica Fletcher continues to be the harbinger of death in this extensive book series. Without fail, the charming and delightful J.B. Fletcher stumbles upon a dead body everywhere she goes—cocktail parties, beach resorts, book tours, weddings—you name it! I just want to cry out, “No, no, no! Don’t invite her to your party, you fool! Don’t you know that’s the kiss of death?!”

That’s exactly what happens in this mystery when our intrepid amateur sleuth attends a murder mystery weekend at a haunted East Coast mansion. She meets an eclectic cast of characters, all with hidden agendas. As expected, a member of the acting troop keels over dead in the middle of a scene. Now it’s up to Jessica to question the many suspects and piece together the clues. Was it a jilted lover? A jealous husband? Or perhaps a fellow mystery writer who loves writing about murder a little too much?

With so many questionable characters and possible motives, it wasn’t easy guessing whodunit. And just when I thought I had it all figured out, a plot twist in the very last chapter threw my theory right out the window. If you love an atmospheric whodunit set in a historic mansion filled with hidden trapdoors and ghosts, this one’s for you.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

9640626Believe it or not, this is my very first zombie book. I love all things creepy and crawly, but yet I haven’t really ventured into the chick lit zombie genre, maybe because there’s nothing more grotesque than a zombie getting it on. Wouldn’t body parts fall off? And then there’s the stench—gross! True, this book ranks high on the ick-factor, but yet it cuts deeper than some of the titles you’d see in Oprah’s book club.

What makes this book special is the walking dead girl’s journey of self-discovery. She may look fierce on the cover, but she’s really a big-hearted, insecure girl who got dealt a shitty hand of parents. Nobody believes she’ll amount to anything more than trailer-park trash, including herself. It took being turned into a zombie for her life to change for the better. After a car crash, she heals not only from her wounds, but also from her drug addiction. A mysterious benefactor hooks her up with a job at the local morgue, where she falls into a new circle of friends who are surprisingly non-toxic. For the first time ever, people actually give a shit, and they believe she can amount to so much more than a lowly driver for the county morgue.

Her world has turned upside down for the better, except for one nagging problem: her insatiable craving for brains. Everything falls apart—literally—if she can’t sink her teeth into that delectable gray matter. Good thing she has a most advantageous new job where brains are plentiful…that is until a serial killer starts decapitating the townies. Why is the killer taunting her with headless bodies? Who turned her into a walking dead girl the night of the car crash? Was it her mysterious benefactor? You’ll have to read the book to find out! I enjoyed the murder mystery aspect of this story, but mostly I was more transfixed by Angel’s journey of self-discovery. Throughout the book I cheered her on as she discovered her strengths and stood up to her bullies. I’m excited to see how she evolves in the next two books in the series!

Geared for the Grave by Duffy Brown

23505722If you haven’t been to Mackinac Island up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, put it on your bucket list! I married a Michigander, so we sometimes take a little daytrip up to the island while visiting his folks. Just imagine Disneyland’s Main Street on a remote island where there’s nothing but cutesy shops, restaurants and oodles of fudge! Aside from the chocolaty goodness, the best part about the island is that no cars are allowed. If you want to get around, you’ll have to hoof it, ride a bike or jump on a horse buggy. Coming from Austin—one of the worst traffic cities in the universe—that sounds like bliss!

So it’s only fitting that this mystery begins when the meanest lady in town dies in a horrific bike accident. Considering that everyone despised her, the suspect list is bigger than Lake Superior. Yet thanks to a supposed eye witness, it becomes an open-and-shut case. The temporary town Sherriff is more than happy to pin the murder on Rudy Randolph, owner of a rundown bike rental shop. This doesn’t bode well for our protagonist, Evie Bloomfield, who’s determined to fix up the bike shop to boost her chances of promotion. You see, Rudy’s daughter is Evie’s boss, and if he goes to prison, she can kiss her big-city job goodbye.  The townies also have reasons to sweep the murder under the rug. Tourists (aka “fudgies”) are their bread and butter, so it’s important to not botch up the island’s idyllic Norman Rockwellesque façade. Who knew that a happy place like Mackinac Island could be a seedy hotbed of murder, blackmail and organized crime?! If you, like me, love an atmospheric whodunit filled with quirky characters and snarky dialogue, give this one a try. I’m excited to see what’s in store for Evie and her eclectic sidekicks in the next installment of this new series. Boy, I sure could go for some gooey fudge right about now!

To Hell and Gone in Texas by Russ Hall

22538055Russ Hall does it again! He pulled off another rootin’ tootin’ rollercoaster ride of a thriller—complete with helicopter explosions, forest fires, shoot-em-up car chases and even a little bit of fishing. True, this is far outside the realm of chick lit, but I just have to spread the word about this fantastic Texified mystery!

An avid fisherman and animal lover, Al Quinn is a man after my own heart. After an ugly divorce and a monumental falling out with his deadbeat brother, he’s quite content to live out his retirement years in total solitude at his lake-front house. Well that is if you don’t count his pet, Bob, the three-legged deer.  This hardened retired detective may look tough, but he has a real soft spot for wayward animals and family members.

Despite all the nastiness that went down with his brother, Maury, Al couldn’t bring himself to leave him in the lurch during a time of crisis. Maury is not only a lousy brother, he’s also in cahoots with some dangerous criminals. Oh and did I mention that he’s a raving nymphomaniac? Gee, what a catch.

Russ (far left) at the Texas Book Festival.

Russ (far left) at the Texas Book Festival.

Karma rears its ugly head when someone tries to snuff him out with a heaping dosage of Viagra, rendering him bedridden and completely vulnerable to another attack. Unable to let his own brother die, Al has to hang up his fishing rod and dust off his gumshoes.

As he questions Maury’s many lady friends, he finds more questions than answers about his brother’s shenanigans with the Mexican mafia.  Why on earth was Maury living in a retirement home? And how could he even afford it? What’s the deal with Maury’s strange obsession with sea shells? You’ll have to read the book to find out?

There’s even a dash of romance between Al and his fellow investigator, Fergie. Things heat up pretty fast, leaving Al even more confused about his future…if he even has one.  Is it worth the risk to welcome another woman back into his life? Is a life of solitude really what he wants? If he and his team of sidekicks can live through this harrowing ordeal with the Los Zitos drug gang, perhaps he’ll sort it all out. But first things first, he must take down the Los Zetos before they throw down the gauntlet.

Warning—when you get to the last few chapters, be sure to free up your schedule. It’ll be nearly impossible to set the book down when all hell breaks loose! And just when you think the white-knuckle ride is over, another shocking twist will knock you off your seat. Seriously, y’all, I did not see that one coming.

If you’re ever in the mood for a character-driven action thriller, check this book out. Fans of Texas-based mysteries by authors like Jeff Abbott and Rick Riordon are sure to enjoy this one.   Read my reviews of his other books here and here.