CeeCee’s Book of the Month: Making it Rain in Texas


Well howdy there, folks! Are you ready for a rootin’ tootin’ good time deep in the heart of the Lone Star State? Well saddle on up to the couch, grab yourself a Shiner brewski and crack open (or tap your screen) this wild ride of a Texas mystery!


The gist: Book five of the Al Quinn mystery series is one heck of a roller coaster ride—chock full of gun-toting con artists and car chases across the scorching Hill Country landscape. In this latest installment, our hapless hero Al must track down a rather talented con artist, trap a goat-killing Chupacabra and sort out his feelings for Fergie (the love of his life who has been waiting too dang long for that ring).

What I liked: This book begins and ends with a bang—and I couldn’t rip through the chapters fast enough. I felt like I was right there with Al and Fergie while they were running from the bad guys—with a few touristy pit stops along the way. I especially liked the scene at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company—my most favorite touristy restaurant in Texas German country! As they say, write what you know, and Russ Hall knows the Texas Hill Country like the back of his hand. Interested in learning more about Texas Germans? Check out my magazine story here.

Thoughts on character development: I’ve been following this colorful cast of characters since To Hell and Gone in Texas (book one in the series), and they just keep getting more interesting. I like my protagonists a little on the messy side. They need to have some character flaws and terrible habits–because how else am I supposed to relate?! Needless to say, Al has issues, especially with his brother, Maury, who did a very bad deed back in the day– a real deal breaker, if you ask me. Yet despite his misgivings, I can’t help but to like him, dammit!  As the books progress, it’s interesting to see how their relationship evolves. Even more interesting is Al and Fergie’s blossoming romance. Will they get past their commitment issues and finally tie the knot? Guess we’ll have to keep reading to find out!

What needs work: More dog action, please! Tanner got very little airtime in this book and it would’ve been great if he could ride shotgun–or maybe just drive the car– in the next novel.  Also, I love that Fergie is a fearless, gun-toting Texas woman, but she does a whole lot of, “Where we going next, Al? What’s happening now?” Next time, let’s get her in the driver’s seat. I bet she’d take Al on one heck of a thrill ride!

A word of warning: Be sure to clear your schedule when you get down to the last few chapters. When it hits the fan, it REALLY hits the fan and you won’t be able to stop reading until the very end! Thanks, Mister Hall, for almost sending me and my palpitating heart to the ER! I’m exaggerating…but only slightly. 😉

Summed up: Another solid action thriller that is sure to please fans of old school Rick Riordan (Tres Navarre, I miss you!).

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: Fatal Cajun Festival by Ellen Byron

CeeCee and I love zydeco music, gumbo and scrumptious pralines! So naturally, we just had to read this fun little whodunit set in the one of our most favorite fictional Southern towns, which could quite possibly be the murder capital of Louisiana. As expected, this newest installment of the Cajun Country Mysteries proved to be another fast-paced adventure filled with live boot-scootin’ music, scrumptious Southern cooking and a dash of romance as steamy as a pot of Tugg’s famous jambalaya! Will we see wedding bells in the next book? I hope so!

Summed Up: Maggie Crozat is on the case once again—and this time it’s happening at a music festival starring the illustrious Tammy Barker, a small town mean girl-turned country sensation superstar (think Taylor Swift meet Miley Cyrus…yuck).  The mystery begins when Tammy’s sleazy manager gets zapped to death on stage, and all eyes are on Maggie’s best bud, Gaynell!  It’s up to Maggie to piece together the clues (with her hunky cop boyfriend, of course) to find the real killer before her songbird bestie becomes a jailbird. Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.

What worked: The mystery proved to be quite a puzzle with loads of suspects who all have ample motives for electrocuting the womanizing manager. As with all cozy mysteries, there’s a tangled web of characters thrown into this big ol’ spicy pot of jambalaya, but thankfully we have a character map at the front of the book to sort them all out. I’m sure that all my fellow cozy mystery lovers would agree that this is a highly necessary tool. Either way, this was another clever whodunit with a surprise ending—even for this seasoned mystery fan.

What didn’t work: I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of the sub-plot involving Maggie’s granny doing her “death cleaning,” meaning downsizing her belongings to prepare for the great beyond. I know it’s practical and worth doing, but yeah…it made me squeamish.

Favorite Character:  CeeCee and I love a strong, dog-loving heroine with a penchant for mischief! What we love most about Maggie is her loyalty to her friends and family. Gaynell is a lucky girl to have such a talented super sleuth for a bestie. Let’s face it, in a town with such a high body count, you just never know what’s going to happen!

Least favorite character: Tammy Barker is—hands down—the most deplorable character in this book. She’s everything that’s wrong with country-crossover-pop music these days, and I couldn’t wait for her to become the next victim. Did she end up on the killer’s hit list? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

This book is best pared with: A giant homemade praline and a cold glass of sweet tea.

Mandatory disclaimer: I got an advance copy for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Stephen King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ Reviewed by a Crazy Cat Lady

Message from Lil Bootz: SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR PETS! Seriously, it’s not that hard.

First off, Lil Bootz wants to note that ALL of this madness could’ve been avoided if these two bonehead pet owners fixed their tomcat ahead of time and didn’t let him roam free range!!! For Christ’s sake, they moved to a rural farmhouse that sits atop a major  thoroughfare for speeding truckers! How did this guy get through medical school?

While I’m on my soapbox, PLEASE do not adopt an animal for your child. If you’re not an animal lover, just buy the kid a stuffed animal and call it a day. It doesn’t end well, folks. Children have short attention spans and when the novelty wears off, the poor animal ends up living an ignored, lonely life.

If you’re still reading this, I just want to thank you for letting me indulge. I volunteer for a local No Kill shelter and have a lot of angst. As for the story, this is on my Top Ten List of Creepiest Books on Earth. If you saw the Hollywood adaptations and assume the book is redundant, think again!!!

The movies are fun and campy, but they completely skip over the scariest parts of the story. For instance, Hollywood did a real botch job on the Mikmac burial ground. It’s not just a hop-skip-and-jump away from the Pet Sematary.  Nope, you have to do some serious hiking and mountain climbing to get to that soured land where dead things are resurrected by the “Great and Terrible Oz.”There are also things with hooves and horns lurking within the shadows, watching and waiting for the unspeakable necromancy to unfold.  It was one thing when Judd took Louis there at dusk, when the night creatures started to stir. But the creep-factor ratcheted up about 10 knots when the idiot doctor made the trek alone in the dead of night with his dead son.

“Now the thing out there seemed so close that Louis expected to see its shape at any moment, rising up on two legs, perhaps, blotting out the stars with some unthought-of, Immense and shaggy body.” Then, “a shrill, maniacal laugh came out of the darkness, rising and falling in hysterical cycles, loud, piercing, chilling.”

The best, most creepiest part happened on Louis’ solo mission, when he started seeing and hearing the dark entity that ruled the land where no man should roam. Leave it to the King to deliver scares that can shake even the most jaded horror movie fans! Needless to say, I’m in awe.

You know what else is missing from the movies? The foreshadowing! Good ol’ Judd spins some foreboding yarns about the fabled Wendigo that is rumored to roam the woods at night. He knows quite a bit about this place because he, too, has been ensnared by its dark forces.

 “Don’t go beyond, no matter how much you feel you need to, Doctor. The barrier was not made to be broken. Remember this: there is more power here than you know. It is old and always restless. Remember.”

You know, while watching the movie (the old one with Herman Munster playing Judd), I always wondered what compelled the kindly old man to take Louis up to the Pet Sematary. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I will say that my questions have been answered.

As for Louis and Rachael, I’m not too torn up about their demise.  A LOT of bad decisions led them to that point. Also, they were so mean to poor little Church–in life and in death. The poor little guy kept getting kicked and flung out of rooms just for existing. My heart went out to the undead critter because he didn’t ask for that afterlife. Zombie cats need love too, people!

 “The soil of a man’s heart is stonier, Louis. A man grows what he can, and he tends it. ‘Cause what you buy, is what you own. And what you own… always comes home to you.”

Like Dr. Frankenstein, Luis thoughtlessly brought a life (well, sort of) into the world without any plan to nurture it. Clearly Judd’s admonition fell onto deaf ears. Let me put it this way, Luis isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer…ooh perhaps that’s a bad choice of words.

Reader beware: This book is incredibly dark, so I highly recommend cleansing your palate with a light and fluffy beach read. I honestly don’t know how Stephen King could put himself in such a dark place for so long while writing this book. There are a LOT of really uncomfortable conversations about death and evil entities lurking in the hereafter. At one point, I had to take an intermission just to stop my imagination from wandering down the dark and twisted rabbit hole that Stephen King so willingly plunges into while writing these page-turners. As I said, I’m in awe.

Now I’m off to go read a magical cat mystery with baked goodies and hot detectives. Meow!

 

CeeCee’s Book of the Month: The House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin Craig


A big thanks to Delacorte Press for granting me a free advanced copy of this fantastical book that has all the makings of the next big Guillermo del Toro movie! I was getting some Crimson Peak vibes with a dash of Disney princess magic! After reading the premise on NetGalley, I was all in. How could I resist a Gothic mystery packed with mournful ghosts, dashing suitors and fantastical masquerade balls?

Set in a land far, far away, the story follows a beautiful young maiden, Annaleigh, who lives with her litter of sisters in a stately manor overlooking the sea. The story begins with a seaside funeral for one of several sisters who have fallen victim to the dreaded curse. Year after year, the girls are forced to dress in black as they mourn the fallen ones who left the ethereal world to be with Pontus, the God of the high seas.

Trapped beneath the dark cloud of impending doom, the girls live solitary, sheltered lives within the walls of Highmoor manor. No suitor will dare to go near them in fear of becoming ensnared by evil forces. Thing get spooky when ghostly apparitions start beckoning to the girls at night, reminding them that death is near.

With an absentee father and a very pregnant stepmother running the show, Annaleigh must take it upon herself to root out the origin of the curse before tragedy strikes again. When she and her sisters discover a magical passageway to a mysterious land of never-ending masquerade parties, more nefarious characters enter the scene. Like Dorothy entering the land of color, the girls shed their mourning clothes and immerse themselves in the enchanting party scene–replete with with twinkling fairy lights, dashing mystery men and bottomless champagne flutes.

It’s all fun and games until Annaleigh’s sisters start dancing their lives away, shredding all of their fancy shoes night after night after night. After a creepy encounter with a sinister masked man, Annaleigh, she hangs up her tattered dancing shoes and sets forth on a mission to vanquish the family curse.

I won’t spoil the fun by going any further, but I will say that this is a solid mystery with a couple unexpected plot twists! The mystery and the characters–even the evildoers–were great, but what sets this book apart from the rest is the setting..  I just loved envisioning the Gothic manor set atop a craggy, salty landscape overlooking the choppy ocean. The feeling of isolation adds to the spook-factor when the ghosts make themselves known within the dark, cavernous rooms. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys those twisted tales by the Brother’s Grimm. Here’s hoping for a sequel!

Four Paws Up for Tia Torres’ ‘My Life Among the Underdogs’

I’m amazed this book came out because Tia Torres—in the living, breathing, flesh—told me that she’s a private person and that a memoir would never happen. I’d love to post a photo of Tia and myself at her speaking event, but sadly my tech neophyte husband had some difficulties with my phone. Needless to say, I’m still a little bit of a salty dog about that. But don’t worry, Tia. One way or another, I will find you! Hmm…that sounded a little creepy, didn’t it?

Either way, I’m SO happy she finally shared her story in this slim volume chronicling all of the special dogs she loved and lost. That said, grab some tissues because every chapter ends with the inevitable conclusion we all fear in dog books. If this wasn’t penned by Miss Torres—my idol, my moral compass, my muse—I would give it a hard pass due to the pain that comes with saying goodbye. But I’m glad I stuck it through because I learned so much about Tia’s journey from wolf rescuer to Hollywood animal trainer to her own Pit Bulls and Parolees rescue/TV show. Wow—what a ride!

The best way to read this book is via audio because Tia narrates the story herself! I’ve always been curious about her family life and had a theory that her parents failed her. This seems to be the case for a lot of us dog rescue diehards—myself included—and sure enough, my theory was correct. She had her ups and downs while growing up in East LA (again, relatable) but yet, somewhere along the way she discovered her higher purpose. That, right there, is one of life’s little miracles.

Let me tell you, this woman is incredible. I’m just amazed at how someone from a hard-scrabble background could have the time, energy and resources to build the nation’s largest pit bull rescue ranch. This is an accomplishment I could only fantasize about—but she just went and did it! Not only is she rescuing thousands of dogs’ lives, she’s also rescuing the humans that society has thrown away. She is virtually lifting up, rescuing and rehabilitating traumatized—not to mention stigmatized—dogs and humans. Give this woman a Nobel Peace Prize, please.

My only disappointment is that this book didn’t delve into the parolees aspect of her story, probably because that journey needs to be told in a separate book.  I would’ve loved to have learned more about some of the longtime parolees-turned dog rescue heroes. Several of whom have gone on to live happy, successful lives after they left the ranch. I’m much more interested in dogs than humans, but let me tell you, it’s Niagra Falls when I watch the former parolees thanking Tia at their weddings. And then there’s her two twin sons whom she rescued from a terrible family situation that, of course, she didn’t delve into out of respect for their privacy. That chapter really tore me up because her love for them, and vice versa,  is truly beautiful. I’m not ashamed to say that when I talked to my therapist about this book, I cried like a little baby when I mentioned this part.

If you guys haven’t watched the show, get on your DVR and record the series right now! This book and the TV series is everything the world needs right now. It’s disheartening when I speak to seemingly educated people about pit bulls and they shock me with ridiculous statements like, “I could never trust one with my kids,” or “they are bred to fight.”

Hmph! I will not get on my soapbox and rant about the horrors of breed discrimination, but I will say that it needs to stop right now. Tia and her kids (aka “skin-babies”) are doing an amazing job debunking all of the false beliefs people hold against these “muscle dogs.” Just read the chapter about her youngest daughter taking a bubbly bath with her new best friend—a pit bull that was just pulled off the streets—and maybe your perception will change. I hope it will.

There’s a lot of great dog stories in this book—from the ill-fated J-Lo music video (LOL!) to Blue’s last final farewell at Tania’s wedding. She had me in tatters at, “Til death do us part.” As with everything in life, there’s a lot of joy and pain that comes along with dog rescue—but boy is it all worth it. As they say, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

On that note, I’ll just say this book gets four paws up! Watch the show, read the book, send them money and hug your dog every chance you get.

Starts with a Kiss by Russ Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Painted Ladies by Sylvia Dickey Smith

I have been a Sidra Smart Mystery fan since book one, so when this lovely author offered to send me a copy of her newest installment, I told her, “GIMMIE!” I love this series because it’s a departure from the tried-and-true cozy formula. You know the drill: wayward 30-something single gal in a small, touristy town finds a dead body and searches for clues with the hunky town sheriff. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy these formulaic thrillers; I just need a break from the monotony every once in a while.

Enter Sidra Smart! Unlike her young, single, unlucky-in-love counterparts, she’s a little older and wiser than the average sleuth. I hazard to say she’s on par with the great J.B. Fletcher!  You won’t find any love triangles or hunky detectives nagging her to stay out of the way.  Sidra’s not wasting her time with all that bologna. She’s a one-woman-show…well that’s if you’re not counting her ghostly brother and her pup Slider. And in this book, she’s got a mystery to solve on two planes: the earthly world and the great beyond.

It all begins when a newly orphaned young woman named Belle  enlists Sidra’s help in discovering the mysteries behind her mother’s three historic houses in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Why would her mother keep those beautiful “Painted Ladies” under wraps for all these years? And why didn’t her father—a mega-church preacher/conman—ever mention this little family secret? Now the sole heir of her parents’ assets, Belle must get to the bottom of this mystery to discover what lies beneath her family’s gleaming facade.

Together, Belle and Sidra grab their pups and embark on a road trip from Dallas to Hot Springs. Side note: I’ve visited this charming little town and absolutely loved revisiting the historic bath houses, kitschy tourist shops and gangster museums through Sidra’s eyes. After reading this, I’m going to bug Jarred into taking me back there so I can prowl around the majestic Arlington Hotel with my ghost radar app!

Back to the story! So along their journey, they meet some colorful characters, including a reclusive old woman who lives alone in a hut-like cottage near the three Painted Ladies. While speaking with the locals, Bella and Sidra learn that these houses have quite the reputation! Don’t be fooled by their cheery, colorful exteriors, they aren’t happy about visitors and they’ll let you know when it’s time to get out! In fact, the Painted Ladies have voices and personalities of their own–and boy can those walls talk!  This time, someone is going to stick around long enough to hear them out. It’s going to take a lot more than a few bumps in the night to scare Sidra Smart away!

I’ll stop right here before I give away any spoilers, but I will say that you’ll learn some fun trivia facts about Hot Springs history. And while unearthing (literally) clues to Bella’s family history, Sidra discovers a doozy about her own lineage as well. Oh such fun!

A big thanks to Miss Dickey Smith for sending me a free copy in return for an honest review. It was a pleasure, as always, accompanying Sidra and her hound Slider on their latest adventure. I look forward to the next installment and hope to see more of the new ghostly sidekick since I’m not sure if this entity is a friend or foe!