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!

 

Plum Pudding Murder: Hannah Swenson Book/Movie Comparison

Published December 10, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

25387684I’m not going to mince words here. This book was BAD! Let me put it in perspective for you. The Hallmark move was better. A HALLMARK MOVIE, YO! That’s says it all right there. I don’t mean to disparage Hallmark Mysteries and Movies because it’s my go-go channel for all things brainless and fluffy. But when has a made-for-TV movie ever done a book justice?

So hats off to Hallmark for taking the world’s most boring cozy mystery series and turning it into something fun and whimsical. I’m impressed that anyone bothered to pick up movie rights for this stink-tastic books series. Where do I even begin with the book-movie comparison? I’ll break it down for you like this.

Five reasons why the Hallmark movie rules and the book drools:

    1. 1. Hannah Swenson (played by Alison Sweeny) is waaaay more interesting. In the book, I kept picturing a gray-haired, mousey woman knitting socks on her time off. Aside from baking, what else is there? At least in the movie, Hannah is played by a gorgeous ex-soap star with fabulous hair and a twinkling smile. Away from the bakery, she’s out jogging and going on hot dates with two super cute dudes. I would totes hang out with the movie-Hannah (mainly to swindle her out of free cookies). As for the book Hannah, I think I’d rather join my grandma on an agonizingly long trip to the commissary.

2. The love triangle is so much more fun. OK, so in the book there is a hint of a love triangle, but clearly it is going to move along at the speed of molasses. I’d have to suffer through at least five more books until it actually goes somewhere. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.  Yes, Norman is safe and practical. It’s a no-brainier he’ll get dumped, which is VERY evident in the movie. However, in the book he and Hannah are the world’s most boring non-married couple. As for the movie, I love Hannah, but the woman needs to quit stringing these poor dudes along. Clearly she’s all about the cop bad-boy Mike, so let poor Norman go already! Personally, I would choose Norman in a heartbeat. He’s hot, he’s a dentist (ching ching $$$) and he’s clearly smitten with Hannah. If it were up to me, I’d pick the safe, good guy every time. I married an accountant. Need I say more?

3. The sister sucks in both versions, but she’s downright intolerable in the book. I’m not a fan of the fashionable, fast-talking, Type A sister. But at least the movie-version isn’t a helicopter mom…yet. I cannot deal with these control-freak soccer moms – in books and real life.

4. The plot moves soooooo much faster in the movie. I can’t believe that the murder didn’t happen until I slogged halfway into the book. HALFWAY, people! Here’s a fun analogy for you. You know that deflated feeling when you order something delicious at a restaurant and all you get is a few morsels atop a mountain of cheap French fries? Well that’s how I felt when the murder mystery was only sprinkled into this crapfest in small doses. At least in the movie, the dead body pops up right at the get-go and our intrepid sleuth sets forth on her crime-solving expedition.

5. In the movie, you get a sense of atmosphere and local color. The bickering elderly sisters are mainstays at Hannah’s adorable bakery and the local yokals drop in on a routine basis to gossip over a plate of delicious brownies. Plus there’s a lot of flirting going around between Hannah and her two boy-toys. Surprisingly, the movie does a better job painting the cozy small town scene and giving the viewers a sense of place. As for the book, it’s heavy on a lot of inane dialogue – and recipes galore. What good is a book without atmosphere? Especially a cozy mystery? I ask you.

So tell me, Hallmark movie fans, what do you think of the Hannah Swenson mystery movies? I’d love to know your book-movie comparisons!

Self-help for when things go terribly, horribly wrong

Published November 20, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Hey, how’s it going? The reason I ask is that I know a lot of my fellow Americans are feeling pretty downtrodden now that their worst fears have been realized. The news keeps stoking the fire, reminding us of the catastrophic events that are sure to come now that a villain and a slew of goons are running our country.

These days, self-care is of utmost importance–and I’m not talking about a day at the spa (though that does sound quite nice). I’m talking about consciously taking care of your state of mind, your balance, your chi. I know that Facebook feed is calling your name. All those memes and horrrifying headlines are beckoning your time and attention. Don’t give in. Unplug, step away from your news app, detach yourself from the grim reality that is the Trumpacolypse…at least for a little while.

13793210I’m not saying you should stick your head in the sand and be blissfully uninformed for the next four years. Just be kind to yourself and lay down some boundaries. Consider time-blocking. This simple yet ingenious strategy got me through college. Here’s a fun piece of advice from It Takes an Egg Timer: Only visit the time vampire that is social media for 20 minutes, four times a day. It sounds impossible, but trust me, that’s more than enough time…maybe a little too much.

j-pdlxmld7wcAnother useful book for those of us who are already imagining World War III is Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong. I picked this up during a cancer scare (false alarm, thank God) and it really put my mind at ease. Lots of great techniques for tampering that insatiable beast called anxiety. If you’re unable to step away from the train wreck that’s unfolding on TV screens and news feeds, please do yourself a favor and download this book. If you’re not a reader, maybe practice some guided meditation and deep-breathing exercises. Or–and here’s the best advice–start becoming a reader! Books are my sanctuary from the storm. Even on my worst days, my soul gets restored when I step into Barnes & Noble and peruse all the many adventures atop the shelves. If I can’t talk you into reading, there’s always yoga, if you’re into that kind of thing. Hell, I might even give it a try–but I draw the line a kale smoothies and power cleanses! Let’s not get crazy now.

41g91rygxfl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The topic of yoga is the perfect segway for my next recommendation: Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness. I don’t know about y’all, but isn’t it a little disconcerting that everywhere we look, people are completely glued to a five-inch screen. Whatever happened to daydreaming? Flipping through trashy gossip rags at the checkout aisle? Waiting 20 seconds at the elevator without a digital distraction? I’m not big on cell phones, but I could use some help in the mindfulness department, mainly to put a stop to that dang hamster wheel of gloom and doom in my head.  When I started pouring creamer into my tumbler instead of coffee–and wearing my clothes inside out–I realized that it’s time to find my balance again.

331879My best piece of advice: Get silly. That’s right – I’m talking about channeling your inner 10-year-old and doing things that make people laugh (mostly at you, not with you). Meditation is all well and good for experienced zen-masters, but my go-to strategy is silliness. I found some great pointers from this random book that I picked up at a work retreat. The author gave a fabulous tutorial on “making magic out of the mundane.” For instance, when a co-worker pisses her off, she Xeroxes that person’s photo until it shrinks into an oblivion. Then she takes delight in shredding the paper and watching it turn into pulp. Oh how I love her! And when she’s having a bad day, she goes out in public in her best formal dress and happily accepts every compliment that comes her way. While watching her speak, I noticed a lot of my surly co-workers were smirking and muttering sarcastic comments. If she heard their mutterings, I doubt she’d care. Neither do I for that matter because I fully embrace pure zaniness, like singing badly in the shower–or drunken Karaoke!–and dancing like a fool while walking the dogs (something I do on a nightly basis). Trust me, it really works!

170548And, of course, I must recommend my No. 1 go-to self-help book: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all Small Stuff. Broken into little vignettes, this book is great for those of us who only have time to read small chunks at a time. I keep a copy by desk for those things when it seems like I just can’ t get anything right! I have a tendency to lump all my problems into one big, ugly blob that hangs over my head all day long. I have to remind myself that in the broad scheme of things, IT’S NO BIG DEAL! I think it’s funny when critics say this book is too simple. They don’t realize that the genius of the book is its simplicity.

Whether you’re in a post-election fog, or just need some help finding your balance, I highly recommend visiting the self-help aisle. Yes, most of these books have a lot of useless filler, and some of the pointers are just common sense–but I’ve found some truly great nuggets of wisdom that come in handy when times get tough. Got a self-help book recommendation?  Post a comment and tell me all about it!

The Countdown to CeeCee-o-Ween: Beewitched by Hannah Read

Published October 28, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

untitledMy little busy bee is buzzing with excitement about all the spookalicious books we’re reading this Halloween! We’re covering the gamut in fall-themed mysteries and thrillers. Some are mildly spooky and others are downright terrifying! Heck, we’re even throwing in a few nostalgic family-friendly classics for the kiddos. Stay tuned for more as we count down the days to All Hallows Eve!

18210687In this next installment of our CeeCee-o-Ween countdown, we selected a fun little cozy mystery filled with bees, witchcraft and zany small town antics. Our amateur sleuth is a beekeeper and owner of a kitschy honey-goods store in a cute little Wisconsin village.

Like most cozy mysteries, the town is cut right out of a Norman Rockwell painting—but don’t be fooled! Evil lurks within this idyllic little hamlet. Witches are running amok and nobody is safe at the annual fall festival. Sure enough, a dead body is found in the corn maze and all signs point to the daughters of evil!

It’s up to our intrepid sleuth, Story, to team up with her wacky sidekick and nab the killer before evil strikes again. And as with most cozy mysteries, the podunk cops are asleep at the wheel. The hot crime-fighting boyfriend is constantly lecturing Story about putting herself in danger (an annoying and antiquated trope that needs to go away!). And, of course, there are a bazillion characters thrown into the mix, keeping me in a constant state of confusion. This is my biggest gripe with cozies. Maybe that’s why I never liked those aggravating jigsaw puzzles with ten thousand microscopic pieces. Tedious much?

Gripes aside, this is a quality mystery with well-developed characters and hilarious dialogue. Story is great, but I have a feeling readers keep coming back for more of her sidekick’s zany hijinks.  Though I would’ve like more scenes of the fall festival (seriously, Story, stop and take a break for a moment!), this is a quality read for anyone who enjoys a good, puzzling mystery!

The Countdown to CeeCee-o-Ween! Another Sleepy Hollow Fail

Published October 26, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

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CeeCee is having a devil of a time with this fun Halloweenie book series! She regrets to inform you that we wasted our time on another craptastic rendition of Washington Irving’s seminal masterpiece, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Seriously, why didn’t we just re-read the original?

18400224Oh man…this book is quite bad. I see there are many glowing reviews by people who got what they needed out of this mess. If you’re in it for the paint-by-the-numbers harlequin romance, than you won’t be disappointed. It’s all about Katrina and Ichabod falling into insta-love and making out in secret hidey holes. The horseman was just a nuisance that got in the way of their forbidden trysts. BORING!

Needless to say, I learned my lesson about these YA Sleepy Hollow books. I need action, adventure, bloody headless bodies! Star-crossed love sagas, not so much.

As for anachronisms–and trust me, there are many–I’m pretty sure the term “time management” was not a thing back in Washington Irving’s day.

Now if you, like me, are a Sleepy Hollow purist, I highly recommend listening to a couple books on tape.

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Rabbit Ears: A Classic Tale
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Read by Glenn Close, a most talented voice artist, this is a terrific little audiobook full of sound effects and spooky atmosphere. A good G-rated version of the tale for the kiddos. I really must get my hands on this hardback because the illustrations are off the charts amazing!

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: A Radio Dramatization

61xtb2gmell-_sl300_There’s a lot of traditional Sleepy Hollow audiobooks out there, but this one is probably the best. It’s got sound effects, voice actors and lots of creeptastic scenes. It’s like watching a movie in your head! I listen to this one every year when I’m out walking dogs around the spooky lake at night!

 

Countdown to CeeCee-o-Ween! Locke and Key by Joe Hill

Published October 23, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

14729399_971074896354644_489282906771431935_nCeeCee and I aren’t big into comic books or superheroes, so finding a book to go with her Wonder Woofer costume was kind of a stretch. I did some digging into my dark and twisted reading list and discovered the most horrifically perfect comic book to feature in the second installment of my CeeCee-O-Ween series!

joehilllockekeyAudiobook lovers, eat your heart out! The highly produced, dramatized audio version of Joe Hill’s Locke and Key is far and away the best book on tape in the history of all time. For reals, yo! This audiobook is legit. There’s musical interludes, sound effects and quality performances by multiple B-list actors. It was like watching a movie–only better because I could use my own imagination!

As for the story, it is–in true Joe Hill fashion–waaaaaay out there. If you’ve read Horns, you know what I’m talking about. It revolves around this grieving, dysfunctional family that moved out to a haunted mansion after the father was slashed to death by a crazed teenager. Located in an East Coast hamlet called Lovecraft (a nice little nod to the most disturbed horror writer of all time), the house of horrors is saturated with a host of malevolent spirits. One spirit in particular is hell-bent on destroying the family–and everything in its wake–to get a hold of some magical keys that will unlock the ultimate Pandora’s Box.

The book starts out like a traditional gothic horror novel, but once the kids embark on their scavenger hunt throughout the dark corridors of Locke house, it morphs into a fantasy thrillride. There’s astral-projecting, evil-infested caves, and even some creeptastic elements of The Monkey’s Paw thrown into the mix.

If you’re a fan of fantasy/horror, you’re in for a treat. This is one audiobook I’ll be “reading” again and again and again!

The 10 Nights of CeeCee-O-Ween: The Secret of Sleepy Hollow

Published October 21, 2016 by Chick-Lit Cafe

14192733_930556600406474_3950721415268577724_nAs we count down the final days to CeeCee-O-Ween, I bring you a spooky book review paired with the world’s most adorable dog in her costume du jour! Tonight we bring you a review of a not-so-scary book based on Washington Irving’s seminal masterpiece, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

27187153Wow – so many five-star reviews! My fellow GoodReads reviewers did a great job suckering me into downloading this book. Sadly I was sorely disappointed. I typically give a book 100 pages until chucking it into the DNF pile, but it just got too painful. Hmm…how should I say this without sounding insensitive to the LGBTQ community? Okay, so I should start by saying that I found the lesbian love story to be a nice switch from the norm, and I’m a registered ALLIE to this wonderful community.  See, I’m not so bad, right? However, I’m a Legend of Sleepy Hollow purist, so there’s only so much I can take when authors butcher the legend into an oblivion. I’m sorry, but I wasn’t digging the whole “girl power” slant. I had to call it quits when the protagonist came up with the theory that the headless horseman was a cross-dresser caught in a lovers tryst. #ICANT!

Why can’t all these Sleepy Hollow reprisals give a nod to the original tale’s societal admonition? Why does it have to be all about romance? Why can’t Ichabod be an awkward, lanky dweeb vying for the Van Tassel fortune? Why can’t these stories have more to do with greed and social climbing rather than the typical bodice ripper crap? CHEESE AND CRACKERS! Do I need to write the dang book myself? Maybe I will – dangit!

So I’d be a total jerk if I didn’t say one nice thing about the book, right? To be fair, the author has a knack for atmosphere. But (yep, there’s a but) just when things started to get a little spooky, the protagonist would start obsessing over her crush and I was back in junior high all over again. The constant butterflies, goosebumps and cheap thrills got tiresome every time she came into eye-shot with her lover. Geeze—it reminded me of the torture I endured when my childhood BFFs would crush over their favorite New Kid on the Block. Personally, I’m a Joey girl, but that’s besides the point.

Anyhoo, if you’re looking for a heck of a Headless Horesman thrill ride, read the original–and then re-read it! And when you’re done with that, check out Richard Gleave’s Jason Crane series – it’s awesome!!! My rave reviews can be found here.