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


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.

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

7664334There’s nothing I love more than a good road trip. The long stretches of desert wasteland, the greasy spoon diners, the crumpled bags of Doritos – everything about it makes me long for the open road. There’s something magical about traveling through uncharted territory and catching a glimpse of what life must be like in a big, bustling city or a small desert town. It’s like pressing the pause button on the mundane rinse-wash-repeat cycle of daily life and watching the world pass by in a series of varied landscapes.

If you know how to do a road trip right (meaning don’t strictly go from point-A to point-B) there’s really no problem a cross-country journey can’t solve. That’s why I got super excited when I came across Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour!

The story revolves around a teenage girl who’s severely traumatized by her father’s untimely death. Sure, she may look like she’s got it all together, but she’s really just going through the motions on autopilot. Unable to drive – or even bring up her dad’s name – she’s living in a state of emotional shellshock. That is until she meets Roger.

Her road to healing all begins when she joins Roger on an epic cross-country adventure from California to her new home in Connecticut. Although she was less than thrilled that her mom forced her to take a road trip with a stranger, she quickly warms up to the soft-spoken college boy. Too bad he’s totally hung up on his ex-girlfriend, who inexplicably stopped taking his calls.

For the first time ever, Amy decides to rebel against her mother and throws her direct route out the window. She’s in no hurry to face the real world and needs to take some time for herself. Plus it helps that she’s sharing a car with a tall, blond and handsome boy!  As  they travel from Yosemite to Colorado Springs to Graceland, they fall deeper and deeper in love and begin to come to terms with their problems.

This book perfectly captures the beauty of the American road trip. Like the journey of life, if you focus on the destination, you’re missing out big time!  It’s about  talking to strangers at a random pit stop. It’s about listening to mixed tapes and playing silly word games. It’s about going outside your comfort zone and trying something you’ve never done before.

For instance, while bunking with Roger’s college friend, Brownyn, at a college dorm, Amy learned an insightful bit of knowledge about confidence. Maybe I’m biased because I’m a Texan, but Brownyn is the coolest secondary character in the book. Although she may look like another fashion-obsessed sorority girl, she’s a super sweet – and very generous – Southern Belle. I sure wish someone would surprise me with a suitcase full of stylish new clothes!

“And sometimes,” she added, in slightly hushed tones, like she was letting me in on a secret, “if you don’t feel great on the inside, just look great on the outside, and after a while you won’t be able to tell the difference.” – Brownyn

What I really love about this book is the chatter between Amy and Roger as they drive along lonely highways and munch on cheeseburgers on the hood of the car. As their relationship develops, they offer each other some insights into their emotional hangups.

 “Tomorrow will be better.” “But what if it’s not?” I asked. “Then you say it again tomorrow. Because it might be. You never know, right? At some point, tomorrow will be better.” – Roger

I also really enjoyed the random musings about road sign oddities and state trivia facts. Yes, this book is mostly about personal tragedy and healing, but it’s also got some funny moments. Anyone who’s done a long haul across multiple state lines would get a kick out of the random roadside observations.

“In addition to the OPEN RANGE CAUTION, there were animal signs I’d never seen before-an antelope, a cow, and cow with horns…But it worried me that, without warning, a cow with horns might be running across the interstate. And that this had happened frequently enough that they’d had to erect a sign to warn people about it.” – Amy

All in all, I have to say Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour is the reason why the YA genre is so much more than bubblegum and fluff. Filled with poignant insights, lyrical narratives and fascinating characters, this book transcends age demographics. If you enjoy a good story about self-discovery, adventure and sweet romance, check this one out!  With photos of receipts, breakfast platters and various roadside sightings, you’ll feel like you’re right there in the car with Amy and Roger. Music lovers will also enjoy the listings of songs on their playlists. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – get it, read it, share it!!!