Bone to be Wild by Carolyn Haines

23014631After finishing Plantation Shudders, I was in the mood for another Southern cozy mystery. As luck would have it, Carolyn Haines has a new hardback out – and I’ve been dying to know what’s next for Sarah Booth Delany now that her ex fiancé is finally out of the picture!

The book begins with a big mope-fest as Sarah Booth pines over her lost love. Her resident ghost/life coach Jitty doesn’t help matters as she constantly nags her to get married and make babies. Thankfully another dead body gives us all a welcome distraction from the gloom and doom.

The mystery unfolds at a Black-and-Orange Halloween ball in New Orleans, where party revelers are tearing up the dancefloor to the beat of Scott Hampton’s sexy blues band. Turns out, Scott is Sarah Booth’s ex beau and they’re both dangerously close to rekindling that old spark. Of course, it isn’t all moonlight and magnolias for this fledgling romance. A murderous fiend is determined to knock off Scott and his entire band. The motive is unclear, but it appears as though someone really hates live music and will stop at nothing to keep Scott from fulfilling his dream of opening a blues club.

When a drive-by-shooter kills off a friendly bartender, it becomes very clear that that Scott and his fellow musicians are all sitting ducks. It’s up to Sarah Booth to ferret out the killer before it’s too late!

This is how I picture Sarah Booth's ancestral home, Daliah House

This is how I picture Sarah Booth’s ancestral home, Dahlia House

As she searches for clues with her trusty sidekicks, she discovers a whole slew of suspects with possible motives. And if that’s not stressful enough, another psycho from a previous novel is out on bail. Her sole purpose in life is to destroy Sarah Booth, so how could she not be involved in this puzzling string of murders? Then there’s the pathological religious cult leader who gets his jollies by oppressing women. He loathes everything in life that brings joy—especially music and dancing. Since he believes Scott and his music are the root of all evil, how could he not be a suspect?

There’s a ton of characters, so readers need to stay sharp and take a lot of mental notes. But that’s not to say that it’s a chore keeping tabs on it all. There’s plenty of breathers from the case—including a hint of a love triangle among Sarah Booth and her two ex flames. I’m sure most longtime fans of this series are on Team Coleman–myself included–but it’s a lot of fun watching the sparks fly between her and Scott as they go horseback riding by moonlight and dance together in steamy clubs.

If you love a good mystery filled with colorful characters, romance and adorable heroic critters, I highly recommend this series. Even the most experienced Agatha Christie fans will have a hard time piecing this one together. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but I will say that there’s one heck of a cliffhanger at the end. Carolyn, you better hurry up with that next book!

Bonefire of the Vanities by Carolyn Haines

 In this 12th installment of Carolyn Haines’ Bones series,  Sarah Booth Delaney slips on her high-heeled gumshoes yet again to investigate a possible scam involving a porn-star-turned ghost whisperer and a “psychic healing” resort. Promising reunions with dead loved ones and opportunities to “invest” in good causes, the shady psychic preys upon emotionally fragile rich people. And their new billionaire client, Marjorie Littlefield, certainly fits the profile.

Shattered after her daughter’s “accidental” drowning, she’s desperate to get some answers. Considering her fragile state, the psychics have ample opportunity to throw her off the deep end. And to make matters worse, she plans on leaving all her riches to her scrappy cat, Pluto.  Sounds pretty cold, right? Well considering her only son is the No. 1 suspect in his sister’s death, he’s pretty much on his own.

 Now on to the tricky part. How can a girl detective probe into the case if she can’t get inside the high-security estate?  Nestled in the backwoods of the Mississippi Delta, the sprawling resort is surrounded by an army of security guards and burglar-proof fences. With no other option but to pose as a member of the staff, she and her fellow PI, Tinkie, grab some brooms and masquerade as maids. In between laundry duty and window washing, the two sassy sleuths snoop around the spooky halls of Heart’s Desire and unearth some rather some rather unsettling clues. Are the disembodied voices a part of the scam? Or are supernatural forces at work? As the body count rises, Sarah Booth and Tinkie must stop at nothing to ferret out the killer and put an end to the charade.  

What I liked most: The creepy atmosphere. Confession – there are some parts in this book that really raised the little hairs on the back of my neck. I didn’t expect Carolyn Haines to creep me out with one of her cozy little Bones mysteries, but she never ceases to surprise me! Some of the happenings in the psychic reading room, located in the bellows of the resort, were really spooky. This particular scene gave me some serious goosebumps:

A soft moaning emanated from the end of the hallway. My mind leaped instantly to the classics of horror written by Edgar Allan Poe. This was a moment the melancholy master would employ to great effect. Corpse in the wall, living person in a coffin, pendulum. Black cat!

Favorite secondary character:  This mystery series is packed with a slew of colorful characters – from a sassy transgender reporter to a local resident psychic to a Southern belle best friend. But of all the eclectic characters, Jitty is my fave. The resident ghost of Sarah Booth’s beloved Dahlia house, Jitty has a way of making surprise appearances in unexpected places.  I especially love her outlandish disguises – and in this book she dresses up as two of my favorite detectives: Jessica Fletcher and Nancy Drew!

The romance: Yes, the romantic tension between Sarah Booth and her actor fiancé Graf Milieu, is pretty hot, but I still hope in my heart of hearts that she gets back together with Cole. They’re destined to be together, but whenever they find a happy place a stupid wrench gets thrown in the works. In Cole’s case, the wrench is his psychotic, control freak ex-wife. But being the Southern gentleman that he is, Cole must always save the perpetual damsel in distress whenever she has a meltdown. Ugh!  That kind of thing can really wear on a girl, so I don’t blame Sarah Booth for calling it quits. But hopefully someday, they’ll find their way back into each other’s arms!

This book is best paired with: A super-sweet glass of iced tea and a Rosanne Cash playlist.

Overall: As I expected, Carolyn Haines delivers a tightly-plotted mystery filled with rollicking adventures, loveable characters, four-legged sidekicks and surprise twists! I’m really good at pinpointing the killer, but this author always gets me at the end! Of all the cozy mystery series out there, this is my absolute favorite. That says a lot because I read a TON of mysteries! The author’s love of the Mississippi Delta clearly comes through in her writing. Through her lyrical prose, I can smell the earthy scent of red dirt, see the sun sparkling through the moss-covered trees, and hear the humming of cicadas on a hot summer’s day. Oh how I love Southern fiction! Want to know more about this fabulous author? Check out her Q&A!

Cindy Lou’s Last Minute Gift Guide

The stockings are hung, the tree is trimmed, and I’m totally freaking out!  Christmas is almost here and I still have a ton of shopping to do! If you, like me, need some help finding the perfect gift for that “hard to buy for” person on your list, check out Cindy Lou’s handy-dandy gift guide. Books make fabulous gifts. They’re cheap, easy to wrap, and offer hours of entertainment!  E-books are great, but you can’t wrap them up in a pretty little bow. Be sure to search for these titles and more at your local independent bookstore. BookPeople here I come!

Isn’t Cindy Lou the cutest? You should pay her a visit at the former Town Lake Animal Shelter. She’s sweet, adorable and looking for a good home! For more info, go to the Austin Pets Alive website. [UPDATE: This sweet pup just got adopted! But if you’re in the market for a new four-legged friend, check out the available doggies and kitties on the APA! website.]

FOR YOUR BEST GAL PAL
Hot Guys and Baby Animals by Audrey Khuner and Carolyn Newman

Hot guys and baby animals!!!! Need I say more? Whoever thought of this concept is a freaking genius. My only complaint is that not all of the men are shirtless. But other than that, this book is a win-win for hot guy appreciators and nonprofit animal rescues. That’s right – proceeds from this book go to nonprofits like SPCA. I think it is my civic duty to go out and buy this book for each of my gal pals!


FOR THE FASHIONISTA

Killer Hair by Ellen Byerrum

This fun little mystery series is chick lit at its finest! I picked up Killer Hair after watching the movie adaptation on Lifetime. As a journalist and wannabe sleuth, I can’t resist mysteries involving snoopy reporters who solve crimes with their hot detective boyfriends. In this series, our fearless protagonist, Lacey Smithsonian (no relation to the museum) reluctantly writes a fashion column for a small daily in Washington D.C. Apparently our nation’s Capital is the home of the helmet hairdo, shoulder pads and boxy power-suits – yikes! In this book (the first installment in the series) she teams up with her two quirky gal pals to find the killer of an up-and-coming celebrity hair stylist. Filled with fashion tips, snappy dialogue, twists and turns, this is a really fun little whodunit!

FOR THE BOOK CLUB GOER
Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

If you’re looking for a book that will give you A LOT to talk about – this one’s for you! Wow – this is one powerful book about abandonment, domestic violence and personal transformation. Rose Mae Lolley is one character I will never forget. Abandoned by her mother and forced to live with an abusive father, she lost her innocence and love for life at a very young age. Caught in a vicious cycle of abuse, Rose marries a psychotic man who beats her to a pulp on a regular basis. When she finally snaps, she grabs a pistol and her dog and makes a run for it. When her survival instinct kicks into gear, she ditches her identity as the subservient wife and develops an ass-kicking, gun-toting alternate personality. I never really understood why women stay with their violent husbands until I read this book, which really delves into the psyche of abused women.

FOR THE BOOK LOVER
The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life by Kathy L. Patrick

This book makes a great gift for anyone who loves to read. While shopping at a super-cute old-timey drug store/soda fountain in Jefferson, I found this book sandwiched between racks of feather boas and floppy hats. The book cover depicting a gaggle of fun-loving women decked out in tiaras and leopard-print ensembles seemed to be calling my name. Filled with inspiring quotes, recommended reading lists and stories of family and friendship, this book has a little something for everyone. A lot of the essays  really struck a chord with me, especially the chapter about how Kathy (who actually avoided reading as a kid) found her passion for all things literary after her teacher recommended that she read “Honestly, Katie John.” Just that little bit of encouragement spurred her love of reading and gave her the confidence to write. On a personal note, this really reminded me of when a 9th grade teacher wrote a footnote in one of my essays that said, “You’re a talented writer. You should pursue this.” Mr. Demaro, wherever you are, THANK YOU!

FOR JUST ABOUT ANYONE ON YOUR LIST!
Another Bad Dog Book by Joni B. Cole

This book makes a great gift for anyone on your list who likes to laugh! You don’t even have to be a dog lover (though I don’t understand why you wouldn’t be!) to get hours of entertainment out of this collection of funny and inspiring essays.  From dealing with a terrible tween and aging parents to finding inspiration at an American Idol concert, this talented author expertly combines humor with some pretty weighty issues. Reading this book is like visiting with your best gal pal. I actually had to force myself to slow down and savor it because I didn’t want to say goodbye to my new dog-loving friend. The fact that she’s a Murder She Wrote Fan is just the icing on the cake!

FOR THE SOUTHERN BELLE
The Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery Series by Carolyn Haines

This mystery series is sure to please any gal – Southern or not – who enjoys a good atmospheric mystery set in the Deep South. The leading lady, Sarah Booth Delaney is one of my favorite protagonists, which says a lot because I’m hooked on several mystery series. She’s smart, sassy and not afraid to risk life and limb to save her friends from fiendish murderers. How I wish I could hang out with Sarah Booth and her bestie, Tinkie, on a lazy Sunday afternoon drinking mint juleps on the porch of her beloved plantation home. Oh and did I mention that in between writing and teaching, this wonderful author rescues animals? She’s truly fabulous and anyone who reads her books will agree!

FOR THE GHOST HUNTER
Paranormal State by Ryan Buell

Okay, okay I know this is not chick lit, but I have to include it! I’m a total sucker for ghost-hunting shows – even the ones that I know are fake! Although I have to admit that I mainly watch Ghost Adventures because Zach Bagans is a hottie. But out of all of them, Paranormal State is the spookiest. Ryan Buell genuinely wants to help people rid their houses of malevolent spirits – and he’s not afraid to confront even the most demonic entities. I’ve always wondered what happens behind the scenes, and this book really fills in the blanks. You learn more about the clients (the good and the bad) and the eerie encounters that were edited out of the 30-minute episodes. I made the mistake of reading this book while my hubby was out of town and had to sleep with all the lights on! If you’re looking for a good scare, check this one out.

Carolyn Haines on Writing Strong Women Blog Talk Radio!

Sylvia Dickey Smith

Attention all southern mystery fans! Check out Carolyn Haines’ interview on author Sylvia Dickey Smith’s “Writing Strong Women” blog talk radio! These are two charming women who really know their stuff about writing, southern culture and girl power! Listen to the podcast.

Carolyn Haines

From Sylvia’s Blog Talk Radio: Catch up with Carolyn Haines and learn why she chooses to write strong women, and where her inspiration comes from.

“A lot of people ask me how I started writing about the Mississippi Delta. My hometown, Lucedale, is way down in the Southeast corner of the state. That section is called the pine barrens, and it lives up to its name. Pine trees are a cash crop, and thousands of acres were once owned by the big paper companies. It’s a world very different from the Mississippi Delta.”

A Q&A with Carolyn Haines, Author of the Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery Series

I’m  thrilled to announce this gem of an interview with Carolyn Haines, acclaimed author of the beloved Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series!  From light-hearted mysteries to paranormal-infused crime thrillers,  Haines’ books have wide-reaching appeal to mystery lovers, ghost enthusiasts and fans of southern fiction. This prolific author has published 19 books and several stories in anthologies, including Many Bloody Returns, a collection of vampire stories co-edited by none other than Charlaine Harris!

In between rescuing animals at the Good Fortune Farm Refuge and writing her next whodunnit – this lovely lady was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to chat with Chick Lit Café about her love of ghost stories, the allure of southern fiction, Sarah Booth’s complicated love life, and what’s up next!

Welcome Carolyn! What made you want to write, and how did you get started?  

I was always a storyteller. And a reader. So it was a natural transition from reading and oral storytelling to writing. My parents were both journalists, and the written word was highly regarded in our house.

Unwed, over 30 and flat broke, Sarah Booth Delaney is not your typical southern belle. What inspired you to write about a down-on-her-luck southern woman with a penchant for solving crimes?   

Typical Southern belles were never of much interest to me—I wanted to be a cowgirl or a detective. Nancy Drew and Dale Evans were my role models, and while they were “good” girls, they could also hold their own in a man’s world. They were not “little ladies” who waited at home for their men to return. They got out and did things. Sarah Booth is of that model, but what she learns is that even women who present themselves as “helpless” are not always so.  

Eleven books into your series, I think it’s safe to say that you have a steady following of loyal fans. What is it about southern culture that readers find so fascinating?  

Not all readers are enamored of the South. I’ve had some pretty crummy remarks made—to my face and behind my back. The South is very misunderstood, but those who are willing to give books set in the Deep South a try often find that there is great charm in families who relish their eccentric relatives, who fly in the face of tradition while also having a deep commitment to tradition. Southerners have real humor about our humidity, our penchant for fried things, our crazy relatives, our dogs, and our land. Southerners are contradictory, on many levels. And like every other region, the people who live here can be wonderful, generous, and brilliant or they can be willfully ignorant, cruel, disgusting. 

I always look forward to appearances from Jitty, Sarah Booth’s wise-cracking resident ghost. It’s always entertaining when she pops up in fashionable ensembles – from Scarlet O’Hara gowns to Daisy Buchanan flapper dresses!  How did you come up with this character?  

I wish I could say I had something to do with Jitty, but she was simply there, brow-beating Sarah Booth over viable sperm and the need for a Delaney heir. I learn more about Jitty with each book. She is Sarah Booth’s subconscious, on many levels. While she never helps with solving the mystery (that would be cheating, now wouldn’t it?) she does keep Sarah Booth in line in all other ways. Sarah Booth needs Jitty to remind her about what’s important in life.

With a slew of hot suitors vying for Sarah Booth’s affections, the Mississippi summer heat isn’t all that’s steaming up your books! For the aspiring writers out there, could you share some advice on how to create and maintain romantic tension?

Many people write me and they want Sarah Booth to settle down. Coleman has legions of supporters. Graf is gaining ground, but I haven’t given up on Harold and Hamilton Garrett V. The truth is, once Sarah Booth is settled and happy, a lot of energy goes out of the books. It is that romantic tension that works as a counter-point to the external tension of the murder plot. Sarah Booth is like a dear friend. I don’t always agree with the decisions she makes, but I always love her. And she is so truly her own character by now that I wouldn’t dare try to force MY decision down her throat. Her life is a journey, as is mine. We will come to the answers in due time. But I will assure my readers that she will never move toHollywood, just as I will never move from the South (though hurricanes and humidity can truly test my resolve).

If you could spend an afternoon with one of your characters, who would it be and why?

Madame Tomeeka, I think. She does have a link to a different plane, and like Sarah Booth, I would give a lot to have a conversation with my family members who have gone to The Great Beyond. I should probably ask to spend time with Oscar for financial advice so I could one day afford to have a huge preserve for animals so they could never be hunted or chased. Or maybe if Sarah Booth acted “purdy” to Hamilton Garrett V, he would simply buy it for me. Hummm. So many possibilities.

Many of your books, including your standalones, infuse paranormal elements. What sparked your interest in ghost stories? 

My grandmother and my parents were both marvelous storytellers, and often they told ghost stories. Horror movies are a family tradition. Some people barbecue—the Haines clan goes to horror films. And we are always poorly behaved and play tricks on each other and our friends. I have seen ghosts on several occasions (When I told this in my class at the university, one of my students offered free psychiatric help from her father! I was flattered!). Although I have no special abilities myself, I sense there is far more to our world than what is on the surface, and I know that all living creatures are linked, which is why we should treat animals with more compassion that some people do.

Finally, can you tell us a little bit about what readers can expect from you next?

I’m working on the 12th bones—BONEFIRE OF THE VANITIES (I know, I just can’t help myself!) And I am going to see what this e-publishing is all about. I have a story set in South Dakota about a serial killer, and I’m going to give it a try as an e-book (in all formats) and also as a regular print book with print on demand capability. Long ago I started a small publishing company, KaliOka Books. I loved the idea, but distribution was a big, big problem. Now all of that has changed. So I just want to have the experience, and I think it will give my readers a chance to see a darker story from me. Many of them love the darker books. The title is SKIN DANCER and you’ll be hearing more about it in just a few weeks.

And in conclusion, I ask you all to spay and neuter your pets. Please don’t allow them to reproduce, no matter how cute they are. Thousands of unwanted cats, dogs, and now horses, are dying each month because no one wants them. If we can stop the supply, then the demand will grow and each creature can find a loving home.

Interested in learning more about Carolyn Haines’ books? Well then check out her website, which includes book event updates, giveaways, and Jitty’s love advice column!