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!

Short & Not-So-Sweet Sundays

sundaysI don’t know about y’all, but this year seems to be going by in a whirlwind! In between road trips, bluebonnet peeping and animal rescuing, I haven’t had much time to review all the books I’m reading! To keep you up to speed on my latest reads, here’s a small smattering of reviews. What’s on your weekend reading list? Post a comment and tell me all about it!

The Good

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

imagesI’ll tell you right now that Unspoken has earned a spot next to all my other “to read again” books on the shelf. When authors take on a gothic ghost story, they absolutely must use the dark and gloomy setting to their full advantage. Pick up a Barbra Michaels book and you’ll see just what I mean. This talented author has clearly mastered the art of mood and atmosphere. Through her lyrical prose, she creates a sense of poetic dread as the protagonist hunts down clues in her sleepy little English village. I felt like I was right by Kami’s side as she investigated the dark English manor filled with secrets and shady suspects. Trust me, this book is definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of gothic mysteries filled with romantic tension, quirky gal pals and magical creatures.

The Bad

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

17987665I love books about road trips, so I didn’t even think twice about spending one of my precious Audible credits on this one. It has all the right ingredients for the perfect cross-country journey of self-discovery: A troubled family, an anxiety-ridden teenage girl, and a good ol’ American road trip. But alas, the book didn’t even come close to delivering on its promising premise. To be honest, I’m rather surprised by all the five-starred reviews. I was expecting the two teenage sisters and the oblivious parents to evolve at some point, but nope. I was looking forward to exploring the weird roadside attractions as the holy rolling family traversed across the American Southwest. Not so much. The characters are pretty much restricted to generic greasy spoon restaurants, dingy motel rooms and vending machine snacks. I was bored after the first chapter but hoped that the plot would develop at some point. Didn’t happen. I’m used to feeling let down like this when I read short stories with abrupt, unresolved endings. It sucks when you invest a lot of time into a book and end up getting duped in the end. No more titles by this author for me, thanks. If you want to read a great road trip book, give this one a pass and pick up Amy Roger’s Epic Detour.

The Ugly

The Collection by Bentley Little

untitledEgads! There aren’t enough adjectives to describe this repugnant piece of garbage. I wanted to listen to something spooky on our road trip to East Texas and didn’t want to commit to a full novel. So what better than an audiobook of short horror stories by an established novelist? I’m familiar with Bentley Little’s books and really thought his short stories would be just as solid as his traditional ghost stories. Boy was I wrong! Little did I know, these are horrible – not horror – stories. Trust me, there’s a difference. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I will say that if torture porn makes you uncomfortable, don’t pick up this book. Very awkward when you’re traveling with your father sitting in the backseat! Seriously, how does this shit get published?

Short and Sweet Sundays

sundaysTime isn’t on my side this month. With all the networking mixers, marathon training and dog babysitting, my calendar leaves very little time for blogging. It would be a travesty to let these standout books go unnoticed, so here are some short five-star reviews!

Orphan Train by Kristina Baker Kline

15818107I can tell you right now, this is going in my Best Books Read in 2014 list! This is one of those stories that sucks you in and keeps you glued to the pages until the very end. The tragic characters were so real, it felt like I was right there on that train as it trudged its way to the Midwest, hungry, belittled and afraid of the unknown.  Even when I wasn’t reading, I found my mind drifting to little orphan Niahm, wondering how she was going to survive her current horrifying foster-home situation. I would also think of Molly’s unlikely friendship with a 91-year-old widow, wondering how they would eventually help each other overcome their hardships and find closure in the end. The author did a fantastic job unfolding both Molly’s and Niahm’s narratives as the chapters jumped from present day to the Great Depression. It was almost impossible setting down the book because I was dying to see their stories converge.

Favorite quote: “So is it just human nature to believe that things happen for a reason – to find some shred of meaning even in the worst experiences?”

Ghoul Interrupted by Victoria Laurie

12486238After reading Orphan Train, I was ready to switch gears and dive into something fun and fluffy. This book was just the ticket! There’s romance, adventure, monsters and zany shenanigans.  I really dig this mystery series because it’s somewhat of a Scooby Doo/Ghost Hunters mashup. In each book, MJ and her gang travel to far and distant lands to investigate supernatural happenings for their ghost-hunting TV show. I really love this concept, mainly because I love travel adventures and—of course—ghost hunting shows!  This time, they’re hunting down a murderous demon that is stalking and killing Heath’s (MJ’s boyfriend and fellow ghost hunter) family in New Mexico. They uncover all sorts of family secrets and find that there might be some truth to a spooky bedtime story steeped in Native American folklore.

Favorite scene: When MJ and her uber-flamboyant best bud, Gilley, get thrown into a holding cell for trespassing on a Native American reservation. Things go from bad to worse when a fiendish monster with ginormous claws finds them trapped behind bars!

A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn

13259975I so adore these Chet and Bernie mysteries! The stories are told through the eyes of a Chet, a big lug of a dog with distinctive black-and-white markings. He’s Bernie’s co-private investigator and all around best friend. There’s something very beautiful—even eye opening—about the way Chet views the world and his owner. He observes everything that’s going on around him, yet he doesn’t overanalyze or internalize the things he doesn’t understand.  When his mind starts wandering into dangerous territory—like why humans can be so cruel to each other—his attention gets diverted by something fun and flighty. He knows who he is and that he absolutely, positively adores Bernie. Oh how I wish that I could have a Chet of my very own! This might sound a little strange, but I mainly read these books because of the dog perspective. The mysteries are just the icing on the cake. This one involves a mixed-up Hollywood actor with lots of skeletons in his closet. When he returns to his hometown in the Nevada desert to shoot a Western movie, Bernie is appointed by the Mayor to watch over him. Trouble inevitably follows, and the dynamic duo is thrust into a tangled web of murder yet again!

Favorite quote: “Anything’s possible with perps, believe me. We’ve taken down lots, me and my partner, Bernie. That’s what we do at the Little Detective Agency. He’s Bernie Little. I’m Chet, plain and simple.”

Short & Sweet Sundays

These past few months have gone by in a blur – and I’ve been reading more books than I have time to review! But don’t fret, my wonderful bookish friends, I have plenty of reviews coming your way. And today, I bring you a veritable cornucopia of short and sweet book reviews! Here’s a few hits and misses from my fall reading list.


Dark Kiss by Michelle Rowen (Audiobook)

This was a quality audiobook. Great narrator, fast-moving plot, interesting characters, swoony teen paranormal romance – pretty much the perfect escape from reality! I’m hoping there’s going to be a romantic triangle brewing in the next book because Craven and Samantha would be dynamite together! The author did a fine job tying up the story at the end, while leaving her readers with lots of questions. All in all, this is an entertaining read for paranormal romance enthusiasts.

Dead of Night by Charlaine Harris and Amanda Stevens

Confession: I bought this book at an airport because of the spooktacular cover! As expected, Charlaine Harris delivers a quality novella titled Dancers in the Dark.  It’s a deliciously romantic mashup of  Dirty Dancing and True Blood. The author did a bang-up job slowly unraveling the characters’ mysterious backstories while bringing their simmering romance into a rolling boil.  I read this thing from start to finish in one sitting. Five stars all around! As for the next story, The Devil’s Footprints, I’m only halfway through it. So far, it’s pretty darn creepy. Stay tuned for the review!

Haunting Violet by Alxyandra Harvey

This may very well be my most favorite YA paranormal novel.  Set amidst England’s lush and foggy countryside, this is the perfect atmospheric gothic romance for a blustery winter’s night. The mystery behind the drowned ghost girl kept me glued to the pages as Violet searched for clues in a stately English manor. Complete with masquerade balls, danger and romance, this book is everything I could ever ask for in a paranormal mystery. If you love Barbara Michaels (how could you not?), I highly recommend this one!


Mid Summer Night’s Scream by R.L. Stine

Oh R.L. Stine! I love you. I really do! This book just didn’t do it for me. I love the concept of young actors getting terrorized on a cursed movie set. And I certainly wasn’t expecting a whole lot, except for maybe some campy 80s horror movie fun. Yet it’s never a good sign when you’re rooting for the masked killer to knock off the utterly despicable characters. I absolutely loathed all of the kids in this book, mainly because they’re a bunch of rich, fame-obsessed brats in the Hollywood Hills. I get that R.L. needs to keep up with the times and market his books to the “Me Generation,” but at what cost? I can see how this book might be of interest to fans of the Kardashians and those Jersey Shore lushes, but do those people actually read? I don’t know, guys, after this sad attempt of a paranormal thriller, I might have to write R.L. off.  Life is too short for lame-ass books.

Phantom Evil by Heather Graham (Audiobook)

I’ve always been very “meh” about Heather Graham’s formulaic thrillers, but sometimes she delivers some quality stuff. Plus, this audiobook was on clearance for five bucks, so I decided to go for it. Unfortunately, I got what I paid for. Lured by the haunted New Orleans setting, I really wanted to like this book, but sadly it was stilted by flat characters and a very tedious plot. It all seemed very rushed, and the author failed to make the most out of an incredibly spooky location. When you’re setting a horror story in New Orleans, you owe it to your readers to take a page from Anne Rice’s playbook and delve into the evocative, mystical Louisiana setting. I hardly ever quit a book, but I had to stick a fork in this one long before the Scooby Doo cast of characters solved the mystery.

Short & Sweet Sundays: Death of a Neighborhood Witch by Laura Levine

Sundays are a day of rest. So in honor of this one day of the week when I can legitimately loaf around in my Garfield jammies in front of the DVR, I bring you this new feature that I like to call “Short and Sweet Sundays.” This is a fun way for me to write up a quick and dirty book blog without getting too overambitious.

13498001The gist (from the publisher): When Jaine Austen’s beloved cat Prozac unwittingly scares to death a parakeet belonging to the neighborhood’s resident curmudgeon, Jaine finds herself knee-deep in toil and trouble. The cantankerous Hollywood has-been once played Cryptessa Muldoon, television’s fourth most famous monster mom. Now she spends her days making enemies with everyone on the block. So when the ornery D-lister is murdered with her own Do Not Trespass sign on Halloween night, the neighborhood fills with relief–and possible culprits.

With a killer on the loose, Jaine hardly has time to fall under the spell of her yummy new neighbor, Peter. As the prime suspect, she summons her sleuthing skills to clear her name and soon discovers that everyone has a few skeletons in their closets. . .

The pros: If you’re having a bad day, week – or in my case – month, this book will turn that frown upside down! It’s a fun, fluffy, fast read filled with zany hijinks, quirky characters and slapstick humor. There’s a smidge of a mystery somewhere in between Jaine’s clumsy shenanigans, but really it’s all about the comedy. Toward the end, I was preparing myself for disappointment, but the author managed to surprise me with an unexpected plot twist. All in all, not too shabby!

The cons: I was hoping this would be an atmospheric Halloween mystery, but not so much. Don’t let the cute witchy kitty and jack-o-lantern on the cover fool you. Aside from an ill-fated costume party and couple trips to the store for fun-sized Halloween candy, this book is not Halloweenie at all.

I should also add that I was really annoyed by the wonky subplot involving sporadic email messages from Jaine’s kooky parents. Their kooky antics were a little too over the top, and I just flat-out didn’t care about their silly neighborhood drama. I’m sure loyal fans of this book series find this kind of thing to be cute and endearing, but I thought it was lame and distracting.

Thoughts on character development:  Jaine Austen really is the star of the show. She’s cute, spunky and riddled with all sorts of bad habits. Unlike a lot of main characters in chick lit books, she’s fashionably challenged and a little on the pudgy side. She wears her elastic-waist jeans with pride and has a weakness for all things sugary and deep fried. How can you not love a girl like that? We could totally hang out! Although, she can leave her freinemie at home. Her next-door neighbor, Lance, is a real tool. I was really hoping he was the killer just so he’d get pushed off a cliff or locked up in prison for life.

Why I chose this book: The cover was too hard to resist! I’m a sucker for jack-o-lanterns and cute kitties.

This book is best paired with: A furry, four-legged lap-monger and a handful of “homemade” brownies.

Would I read another book by this author? Oh sure. Next time I need a little pick-me-up, I’ll grab another book in this series.

Short & Sweet Sundays: Cocktail Hour by Tara McTiernan

Sundays are a day of rest. So in honor of this one day of the week when I can legitimately loaf around in my Garfield jammies in front of the DVR, I bring you this new feature that I like to call “Short and Sweet Sundays.” This is a fun way for me to write up a quick and dirty book blog without getting too overambitious.

17655664Synapsis (from the publisher) What if your friend – someone admired, envied, and fervently sought after by everyone who knew her – was really a dangerous sociopath?

Spring in glamorous uber-rich Fairfield County, Connecticut is a time of beginnings: a new diet for the approaching summer spent out on the yacht, fresh-faced interns being offered up at the office as the seasonal sacrifice to the gods of money, and corporate takeovers galore. Five women in their thirties have a brand-new friendship, too, one that fed and watered regularly at local hotspots over cocktails. With all of their personal struggles – Lucie’s new catering business is foundering due to vicious gossip, Kate’s marriage is troubled due to an inability to conceive, Chelsea’s series of misses in the romance department have led to frantic desperation, and Sharon’s career problems are spinning out of control – the women look forward to a break and a drink and a chance to let their guards down with their friends. And letting their guards down is the last thing they should do in the kind of company they unknowingly keep with the fifth member of their cocktail-clique: Bianca Rossi, a woman who will stop at nothing to have it all.

What I liked: After reading the author’s previous novel Barefoot Girls –which also includes one helluva villain – I knew I was in for a treat. She has a real knack for getting inside the mind of a certifiable sociopath, and Bianca really takes the cake! That is one crazy-ass bitch, and I hate to think that there could be real-life Biancas preying upon unsuspecting men and exploiting their “friends” weaknesses. She grew more despicable with each chapter – and I couldn’t wait to get to the very end to watch it all come crashing down. I can safely say this is one of the most evil female antagonists I’ve encountered in a very long time. She’s so bad, she makes those Lifetime movie psychos look like playful kittens!

Favorite character: The posse of gal pals all had interesting backstories, but out of all of the women, Kate is my fave. Yes, she’s totally naïve and sometimes just plain dumb, but she’s also loyal and incredibly sweet.  Fresh off the farm and new the big city, she’s refreshingly un-jaded and ready to befriend anyone with a seemingly friendly face. Although I constantly wanted to shake her and tell her to smarten up, she really hit a soft spot in my hardened, misanthropic heart.

If you think about it, haven’t we all been there? At some point, don’t we all find out the hard way that we can’t accept everyone at face-value? To quote Dan Rather, “A tough lesson in life that one has to learn is that not everybody wishes you well.”

The cover: The long-legged women sitting on barstools are pretty and all, but to be honest, I really don’t think the cover does the book justice.  If I saw this in a bookstore, I probably would’ve just assumed it was another light-hearted story about women looking for love in the big city. Since the story revolves around a demented seductress, I think it would be more fitting to invoke a sense of danger on the cover.

This book is best paired with: A tall mojito and some Miles Davis.

Overall assessment:  Cocktail Hour isn’t all margaritas and tapas – McTiernan tackles some troubling issues – from adultery to mental illness to family dysfunction. Emotional, fascinating – and sometimes unsettling – this is one quality read for anyone who enjoys stories about love, loss, friendship and deceit.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer & Valerie Thomas

sundaysIn honor of Sunday – a day I reserve for reading and lollygagging – I bring you a short and sweet book review! 

11263180From the publisher
In the span of forty-eight hours, socially awkward valedictorian, Kylie Flores and conceited jock, Max Langston, who’ve never spoken in four years of high school, will find themselves kidnapped, taken over the Mexican border, married and falling in love. Kylie’s best friend, Will, Max’s girlfriend, Lily and Max’s wingman, Charlie are the unlikely cavalry charged with rescuing them. Against all odds, this crew must find their way back over the border in time for graduation and for Kylie to give her long awaited valedictorian speech, without killing each other en route.

What I liked loved: It’s hard to pinpoint the book’s biggest strength. The multiple strings of narratives, the swept-away romance, the rollicking misadventures – everything just meshes together like peanut butter, chocolate and bananas! If I had to choose, I’d say the book’s biggest selling point is the fast-moving plot. I love how the authors structured the story with each chapter jumping from one major character to the next. I credit their Hollywood screenwriting skills for weaving the multiple narratives without jerking the reader around or muddling up the plot. You get to know the characters bit by bit and want to keep tearing through the pages to find out how they overcome their problems. Oh and did I mention there are a couple of high-speed car chases involved? Vroom, vroom!  

The romance: Max and Kylie’s unlikely romance rekindled my silly high school fantasies of being marooned on a desert island with the Luke Perry lookalike from my fifth period English lit class. They had the whole Jude Law/Ally Sheedy love chemistry thing going on (Breakfast Club fans, you know what I’m talking about) and it worked! Come to think of it, this book flows much like a John Hughes 80s romance. Think Some Kind of Wonderful meets Pretty in Pink meets The Breakfast Club. And just when I didn’t think it could get any better – the love drama sweeps into a motion all-too-reminiscent of my most favorite romance movie of all time, Before Sunrise. If you haven’t seen it, put it on you Netflix queue stat! Oh Ethan Hawke…how I wish we could have a spontaneous romantic interlude on a train to Paris…sigh.

Thoughts on the cover art: If the first couple pages don’t grab you, the cover certainly will! The image, depicting a foursome of stranded rich teenagers amidst the backdrop of a Mexican sunset, looks like a “coming soon” poster in a movie theater. The little bitty Chihuahua is a nice touch, and I wonder why he couldn’t have played a larger role in the story. If I had to get nitpicky, that would be my only gripe about the book.

Overall: There’s a reason why this book made my shortlist of Best Books of 2012. It’s a fast, furious rollercoaster ride of misadventures, romance and drunken teenage debauchery! But it’s not all teenage hijinks; the characters are dealing with some heavy duty stuff, such as mental illness, cancer and financial meltdowns. Each character may seem to be neatly compartmentalized as a “jock,” “class clown” “brain” and “princess,” but they each have their own unique backstory, which the authors slowly reveal in every chapter. I love a good coming-of-age story of self-discovery – and this book totally delivers. Don’t be overwhelmed by the 400+ pages. It’s a super-fast read that can easily be devoured in one weekend. Get it. Read it. Share it!