CeeCee and Gizzy’s Dog Days of Summertime Reading

11202127_715143938614409_7969814030943674844_nWe are in the dog days of summer—my favorite time of year! I know that sounds crazy since I must weather the brutal Texas heat, but I say bring it on! I love the long days of sunshine, the big sweaty pitchers of sweet tea, and the sounds of summer bugs. Sometimes I just sprawl out in the grass and gaze up at the trees that are practically shimmying to the constant rhythm of the cicadas’ summer melody. Everything just feels so alive! Maybe it’s all the vitamin D talking, but I truly mean it when I say that summertime in Texas is the best!

To soak it all in and stretch out my lazy Saturdays as much as possible, I lounge on my back porch for hours with a good summertime read.  So far I’ve read a few hits and misses. Here’s a couple from both categories.

Read This!

Three Times Lucky by Shiela Turnage

11737313Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t you a little long in the tooth for middle grade books? I’ll have you know that the plot and the characters are far more interesting and complex than anything you’d read in a formulaic Heather Graham or Nora Roberts thriller. Sometimes, in a world that seems to have gone crazy, it’s refreshing to read a book told by characters who are in that sweet spot of youth. Too young to be boy crazy, but old enough to think critically and go off on their own adventures. Ah the good old days!

It was fun getting lost in nostalgia and fully immersing myself in the down-home Tupelo Landing setting—complete with farmhouses, tobacco fields and colorful characters. It’s like Stars Hollow meets the Secret Life of Bees. There’s a whodunit murder mystery intertwined with the mystery of Mo’s “upstream mother” and her surrogate father’s mysterious past. You see, she and her new daddy, “The Colonel” were displaced after a torrential hurricane. Back when she was a baby, she floated away from her “upstream mother” and he washed ashore with a spotless mind. Who are they and where did they come from? Guess I’ll have to keep reading the series to find out!

I loved her connection with the Colonel and Miss Lana, who took them both into her loving home. They all worked together at the family diner, an opportune place for Mo and her best friend to interrogate suspects. Who killed the town curmudgeon? Were hidden treasures involved? Leave it to Mo and her BFF to figure it out!

This book really took me back to my carefree summer days when I had absolutely nothing to do but ride my bike and jump on the backyard trampoline. Even though this book is set in present day, I could tell the author made a conscious effort to leave out cell phones and other gadgets that are slowly sucking the souls out of little children—and their parents—on a daily basis. Thank you, Shiela Turnage, for taking me back to a time when kids can just go outside and make their own, non-computerized adventures!

Not That!

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

17838528

I have a hard time believing these 500-plus pages full of petty high school drama were authored by the same woman who wrote Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour. What happened, Morgan Matson? Your teenage characters used to have depth and interests that superseded dreamy boys. I zeroed in on that amazing cover featuring adorable pups and assumed this was going to be about a girl finding her way through this crazy game of life with some help from her newfound dog friends.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a huge animal lover, but I feel like the author really missed an opportunity to use the dog-walking aspect to her full advantage. This could’ve been a beautiful story if the dogs helped Andy overcome her emotional hang-ups. Unfortunately in this story, the dog-walking job was just a means to an end. Andy dealt with her dog clients with the same enthusiasm as a gum-smacking Subway sandwich artist flopping together a cold cut trio.  Needless to say, I didn’t connect with Andy, or any of her friends for that matter.

As for the plot…well there isn’t one. Readers get to follow Andy and her clique of gal pals as they ruminate about their crushes, go to pool parties and hang out in the drama room. Boooorrrring! And what’s with all the girls having boy names? Is this a gimmick to make them more unique? I got tired of trying to figure out who was who, but in the end I guess it didn’t matter. I could skipped multiple chapters and never missed a beat. Come to think of it, I probably should’ve.

Aside from the nonexistent plot, I was amazed by how fast Andy and her absentee father resolved their differences after one major argument. My guess is that the author got tired and bored (totally understandable) and had to wrap up this non-story in a jiffy so she could get started on her next book, which I will not be reading. Ouch! That was cold. Sorry guys, just telling it like it is.

CeeCee & Gizzy’s Dog Days of Summer Reading Roundup

UntitledThe days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler—dipping down to below 90 here in Austin! Time for me to say so long to my beach reads and hello to all the ghost stories that are ripe for the picking on my bookshelf. Before I jumpstart my fall reading list, Giz and CeeCee would like to share some highlights from this summer’s crop of beach reads.

READ THIS

Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

18189606I have to give myself a little pat on the back for choosing this book for one of my precious monthly Audible credits. Is it just me, or is YA lit getting better and better? John Green really threw down the gauntlet with his masterful tales of love, loss and teen angst. The bar has been set and Morgan Matson is delivering the books that readers—both young and old—crave. I was sucked in my the mystery of Sloan’s vanishing act, wondering what on earth could cause a girl to ditch her BFF for an entire summer with no explanation. Is she dying a slow death? Did she get kidnapped my martians? What’s the deal, Sloan?! The story moved along quickly as Emily embarked on her scavenger hunt-like mission that would hopefully lead her back to Sloan. To help Emily come out of her shell, Sloan left her an ingenious list of tasks—from horseback riding (Emily’s biggest fear), to skinny dipping, to kissing a stranger in the dark! It was a lot of fun tagging along as she tackled her to-do list and fell in love with the boy next-door along the way. This is one summer read that is sure to win over fans of John Green, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Dessen.

 

Murder She Wrote: Aloha Betrayed by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

18114236This is a tried-and-true mystery series that never ever disappoints. I absolutely adore Murder She Wrote, and I’m almost ashamed to say these books are even better than the TV show. Maybe it’s because the novels are less rushed and confusing than the hour-long whodunits. Either way, I love it all! This book is especially fun because Jessica is jet setting yet again to a Hawaiian island where she’s guest lecturing a criminology course at a local college. Where do I sign up?! Lo and behold, a professor is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, and all signs point to murder. I had a lot of fun joining J.B. Fletcher as she questioned suspects at luaus, on dinner cruises, and even on a treacherous bike tour to a sacred volcano. Half the fun is exploring the wonders of Hawaii vicariously through the eyes of a most perceptive sleuth. There’s oodles of suspicious characters with possible motives for knocking off an ambitious professor who wanted to put the kibosh on a lucrative telescope project. Such fun! I’m so glad I stashed this book in my carry-on bag on my trip to San Diego. Jessica Fletcher is by far the best traveling companion for this wannabe amateur sleuth!

NOT THAT!

Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer

18525774Why am I still listening to this audiobook? That’s the question I kept asking as I commuted to and from work every morning. Even when a book is bad, I get really stubborn about sticking it through. In retrospect, I wasn’t doing myself any favors wasting my time on this heap of sappy garbage, I was allured by the premise of two best friends growing up on a charming little East Coast island and bonding through decades of hardships and heartbreaks. What can I say? I’m a girl who loves sisterly bonding. I blame the fans on Goodreads who claim that it’s the perfect book for fans of “Beaches.” What a crock! This book had nothing to do with sisterly bonding, soul searching and female empowerment. It was all about vapid, idiotic women chasing men. The feminist in me screamed at these utterly naïve women who couldn’t find fulfillment in their lives without locking a noncommittal man into marriage. The poor little rich girl character even cried in delight when her man admitted that he was willing to marry her even though he could never love her. WTF? I’ll stop right there before I roast this book into an oblivion. I hate being so nasty, but I do want to save my fellow readers from being insulted by this total time waster.

Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Fourth of July Fizzles

I’m seriously striking out on beach reads this year.  Not one—but two—of the Fourth of July-themed books I selected on Audible turned out to be major turkeys.  You know that feeling when you light up a cheap sparkler expecting to see a glorious nimbus of glittery light, only to find that you got a big fat, fizzled-out dud? Well that pretty much sums up my disappointment with these cozy mysteries. Here’s hoping that my bad luck streak is over and that my next post will be filled with some fabulous summertime reads!

Dead White and Blue by Carolyn Hart

15808349In a word, this book is tedious. The constant questioning, the massive list of suspects, the never-ending red herrings—everything about this book exhausted me. I don’t understand what happened here. I have always loved the Death on Demand mystery series. I love that the amateur sleuth runs a mystery book store in a quaint little tourist town, and that she’s married to a handsome private eye. Her old biddy sidekicks are always a little annoying, but in this book they’re downright intolerable. Thankfully they were on a cruise and only popped up here and there via Skype. The Agatha Christie-esque plots always keep me guessing, but there were WAY too many pieces in this jigsaw puzzle.  There were SO many characters and they were all equally despicable. Lock them all up in jail for all I care!  Seriously, the author should’ve drawn up a character map so I could keep up with the tangled web of twisted townies.  Aside from the jumbled mess of suspects, the story is all work and no play. I found myself constantly pleading with Annie and Max to take a breather from their quest here and there. Go build a sandcastle, host a book signing party, drink some wine and watch the sunset—just take a break for Pete’s sake and let the reader come up for air! Keeping up with the herky jerky lines of inquiry just felt like work, work, work. At the end of the day, I just want to kick up my feet and enjoy a light mystery with cute kitties and hot detectives. But hey, if you enjoy formulaic math problems with factors and square roots coming out of the yin yang, this might be your cup of tea.

All Fudged Up by Nancy Coco

17381897This review might be just a little unfair on account of the fact that I returned this sucker after suffering through the first few chapters. It was just way too slapstick silly for my taste, which is really a shame considering that Mackinac Island the perfect setting for a cozy fudge-filled mystery. So why did I hit the return button so early in the game? Well you might think I’m a sourpuss, but I just can’t deal with over-the-top silly hijinks. My funny bone was not tickled when the mentally-challenged police dispatcher could not comprehend the words: “I found a dead body in my house.” When the hilarity of the dispatcher’s stupidity caused the caller to shake uncontrollably in laughter, I realized that there was no way I could ever connect with the story or the ridiculous characters. If I want a corkscrew comedy, I’ll watch Blazing Saddles. But when it comes to mysteries, there needs to be some sort of grounding in reality. Scooby Doo is a rare exception. What happened after the inept dispatcher eventually connected the dots and sent out a unit to inspect the crime scene? I’ll never know. Nor will I care. Thankfully, Audible immediately restores my precious monthly credits when I accidentally buy a book without doing some homework. A word to the wise: Always read the first chapter before taking the plunge.

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!

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn Dingman

18698835This is another one of those stories about an overworked woman stuck in the rut of big city corporate life who unexpectedly finds clarity in small town Americana.  Her anal-retentive fiancé is so clichéd, you can cut him right out of any “city girl gone country” Hallmark Channel movie. All the usual tropes are there: the loveless relationship that should’ve ended years ago—check. The bossy, controlling big sister—check. The city girl who’s permanently glued to her incessantly chirping cell phone—check, check!

Needless to say, it was pretty slow going at first, but once Olivia started unraveling the mystery of her dead mother’s secret life, the pages started flying. Who knew that I could enjoy a mystery that didn’t involve a body with a knife lodged in its back?

It was a lot of fun joining Olivia and her new crush, Elliot (the town’s newspaper man), as they combed through library archives and courthouse documents on their quest to uncover the town’s many hidden secrets. All of which were buried underneath a lake that washed over the town many moons ago. The closer they get to unearthing Mama Jane’s hidden secrets, more questions pop up. Why did Jane want to be buried in two rather peculiar places? Why did she never speak of her one true love? Who’s cutting out critical pages in public documents that could lead Olivia to all the answers?  You’ll have to read the book to find out!

I really enjoyed watching Olivia’s relationships with Elliot and her teenage niece blossom. They all made  a great Scooby Doo detective team. As always in these types of books, Elliot was the perfect gentleman. Always saying and doing the right thing. He was nothing but honest with Olivia, so why couldn’t she pay him the same courtesy? It pissed me off that she just couldn’t come clean to Elliot—even when he gave her plenty of opportunities—about her fiancé. And even though I despised the douchebag fiancé, she was wrong to string him along for so long. I kept shaking my head wondering why the hell she stayed with him. I mean come on, if you’re not even married and already seeing a relationship counselor, it’s time to cut and run. Just sayin!

She was lying by omission to both of them, and that didn’t sit well with me.  Considering that her mother never came clean to her daughters about who she really was, it seems as though lying must be encoded in their DNA.

As you can see, I’m rather conflicted about this book. I loved the tranquil small town setting, the peaceful quiet nights out on the deck overlooking the lake, the mystery of the drowned town, the sweet summer romance. But all the cowardly dishonesty left a sour taste in my mouth.

Barefoot Girls by Tara McTiernan

Usually during this time of year I get a little melancholy about the end of summer. I already miss those lazy afternoons tubing down the river, and those weekend escapes to the Texas coast. So when I want to evoke those sweet sun-kissed memories, I envelop myself in a good beach read filled with sun, fun and a dash of mystery. I couldn’t have picked a better end-of-summer beach read than Tara McTiernan’s Barefoot Girls!

The story centers on Captains Island, a charming little East Coast hamlet where a quartet of best friends reunite each summer at their sacred clubhouse known as the “Barefooters Shack.” Throughout the decades, the girls remained thick as thieves. When the ringleader of the group has an unexpected pregnancy, the women swoop in and raise their “barefoot baby” together as if it was their own.

Surrounded by a circle of fun-loving mothers, little Hannah spent many fun-filled summers on the island. On the surface, she had the perfect childhood. But her debut “novel” says otherwise.

Written with such passion and depth, Hannah’s book touches on some heavy duty childhood abandonment issues. It certainly doesn’t seem like something a 21-year-old could write… unless if she’s drawing from her own personal experiences. When a snarky book reviewer insinuates that the novel is a disguised memoir, Hannah’s melodramatic mother, Keeley, completely shuts down. How could she fabricate such hurtful lies?

Even Hannah questions the motivation behind the poison-penned novel. Her mother gave her everything she needed, so where is all the anger and resentment coming from?

To get some answers, she quits her waitressing job and heads out to the place where it all began, the sacred Barefooters clubhouse. Filled with so many happy

Here’s my Indian summer getaway: Rockport, TX.

memories and dusty photo albums, the shack is her only sanctuary from the storm. But when she arrives to Captains Island during the gloomy off season, the atmosphere feels more like a baron ghost town than a seaside getaway. And for the first time, Hannah doesn’t feel comfort in solitude.

The only way to understand the root of her complex emotions is to dig into her mother’s past. Why did her mother always seem so emotionally detached? And why did she always feel so alone – even in the presence of her doting Barefooters?

She better find answers quick – before she sabotages all chances for happiness, including her engagement with Daniel, the one man who managed to find his way into her heart.

Told through multiple narratives, the author expertly intertwines several plot threads: Past memories of the Barefooters’ childhood adventures, Keeley’s current struggle with alcoholism and life on the Upper East Side, and Daniel’s frustrations with Hannah’s walled-up emotions. And if that’s not enough drama, she also throws in the Barefooters’ childhood bully,  a deranged beauty queen with fading looks and a serious vendetta.

As Hannah delves deeper into her mother’s unbreakable bond with the Barefooters, she begins to realize why she has always gone through life feeling like an outsider. When shocking family secrets are revealed and pent-up emotions come to a head, Hannah must learn how to move forward by letting go of her past.

Overall Barefoot Girls is a captivating story about forgiveness, new beginnings and the everlasting bond between women. At 400+ pages it’s a little on the long side, but once you get into it you won’t want to leave the idyllic little summer getaway. Through the author’s prose, you can practically smell the salty air and feel the sand beneath your toes. If you’re looking for a sweet escape, this book will do the trick!