CeeCee’s Cozy Christmas Corner


I’ve been a busy bee this holiday season reading more books than I can possibly review in this lifetime! And though Christmas is over, you can still enjoy the festive season all year round with these mysteries and romances filled with murder, mayhem and stolen kisses under the mistletoe! That’s the magic of reading. No matter where—or when—we are in life, we can always transport ourselves through books! All it takes is a quick stop at the library or bookshop to map out a destination. This year, CeeCee and I traveled across the globe—sometimes back in time—through these glorious reads. Here, she is spotlighting some highlights and lowlights from our travels. So sit back, grab some spiked cider and enjoy our annual holiday reading roundup!

Murder, She Wrote: Manhattans & Murder

I’ve read a lot of fabulous Murder She Wrote books but this one might just be the best! Once again, the perennially classy JB Fetcher is the first to witness a multitude of murder scenes during her glamorous book tour in Manhattan. What a glamourous life she leads! We’re talking interviews with the New York Times and one-on-ones with Oprah and Donahue. In between press conferences and book signing events, she was pulling off some cloak-and-dagger stunts in the bellows of New York’s seediest neighborhoods as she pursued her mission to solve the mystery of the gunned-down sidewalk Santa. And this wasn’t just some random stranger peddling for loose change on the busy New York streets. Oh no–he was, in fact, one of Cabot Cove’s most infamous residents who fled the town in disgrace after an ill-fated drug-smuggling operation. And just by some stroke of luck, JB happened to be taking random tourist photos right when the murder went down. I mean, what are the odds? If I didn’t love her so much, I’d tell people to avoid her like the 2017 flu because she’s essentially the harbinger of death. Either way, I got a kick out of this book–especially the part when the media dubbed her as the “Madame of Mayhem.” Even in the age of fake news, it’s impossible to deny the truth to that story. Summed up, this is one of the best Christmas cozies I’ve read in a while, mainly because JB is such a delight and that there’s so much action packed into this fun adventure—from death-defying plane rides to corner store holdups!

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

I had to buy—not download—this book because the cover is gorgeous and there’s even illustrated maps of the Cambridge campus! Needless to say, it was well worth the price of a hardback. Essentially it’s the British version of a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys super thriller with a twinge of swoony teenage romance. I absolutely loved the scenes of our two sleuths, Daisy and Hazel, strategizing their crime-solving plans over tea and crumpets at the cozy little coffee shop. I felt like I was right there in jolly ol’ England celebrating the season in the midst of murder and mayhem! Since this is technically a children’s book, I was surprised that Daisy and Hazel encountered not one—but two—dead bodies! In true Nancy Drew fashion, they keep copious notes and character sketches of all the boys—and one very suspicious girl—who all have motives for knocking off a rather uncouth prankster. They reluctantly team up with two of their male rivals (and crushes!) who have the freedom to roam about the university without a babysitter. Why? Because they’re boys and girls needed to be chaperoned at all times in 1930s England. As for the murder mystery, I’m not ashamed to admit that I was kept guessing until the very end, which is a hard feat for authors to pull off! All in all, this is a Jolly good read for young adult (at heart) readers who love holiday-themed whodunnits.

In Peppermint Peril by Joy Avon

Thanks to NetGalley, I scored this e-book for free (in exchange for an honest review) before it hit the book shelves! This is the first book in a new series that follows the tried-and-true cozy mystery formula. You know the drill: single young professional returns to her hometown to work at a cute little shop and stumbles upon the dead body of someone from her past. Lo and behold, the victim in this mystery is a longtime caretaker of Haywood Hall, the town’s most illustrious estate. It appears as though he was involved in some shady dealings with a blackmailer who wants a cut of the Haywood family fortune. It’s up to our amateur sleuth, Callie, to ferret out the killer before an innocent man gets locked up for life! The story takes an interesting turn when Callie develops feelings for a displaced Boston Terrier and the town sheriff. Like I said, it’s true to the formula. I have lukewarm feelings for Callie, mainly because she sticks her nose in other people’s family business, which really isn’t cool. Also she’s on the fence about adopting the most adorable homeless dog that bonded with her since the moment they met. Other than that, the mystery is well plotted and there’s plenty of suspects (maybe too many) to sort out. My biggest gripe is that the book is mostly comprised of dialogue, which left a lot to be desired in terms of scenery and character development. Maybe it’s just time for me to take a break from the cozies and sink myself into an atmospheric thriller by Wendy Webb or Amanda Stevens

A Gift of Bones by Carolyn Haines

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book in this long-running series, so this was like reconnecting with old friends! After reading a few formulaic cozies, I realized that the Bones books offer so much more in terms of character development and a sense of place. Ms. Haines knows Southern culture and her expertise shows in the distinct Mississippi dialect. And then there’s the small town setting! I felt like I was right there with Sarah Booth on midnight horseback rides through the dark and spooky woods, or on the dancefloor at the local honkytonk with Tinkie by our side! In this 19th installment (wow!), she and her bestie Tinkie are on the case again—this time to find a kidnapped pregnant lady before she gives birth on Christmas Eve. The clock is ticking—in more ways than one as Sarah Booth navigates this tricky mystery as well as her fledgling relationship with the town sheriff. Let’s just pause for a moment and acknowledge the miracle of those two finally getting together after so many years of push and pull. Please, Sarah Booth, I bet you to not mess this up! I must admit that I wasn’t on board with her lying by omission to Sherriff Coleman when her other BFF CeeCee asked her to solve the case on the sly. But then again, I can’t fault her too much for being loyal to her friend. I could go into detail and give away spoilers, but what fun would that be? All I can say is that this is one of my most favorite books in the series and that I highly recommend it to fans of Southern mysteries. Once again, Sarah Booth and Tinkie are forces to be reckoned with and I loved every moment we spent together on this wild ride! Side note: this book is best “read” on audio because the narrator Kate Forbes is the best in the business! Another side note: mad props to Ms. Haines for taking a risk by addressing some heated political issues that may or may not please her target audience.

A Holiday by Gaslight by Mimi Mathews

I wish I didn’t listen to this on audio because the narrator pretty much ruined the whole experience. Let’s see…how can I describe this? Oh, I know—imagine what it would be like to have a funeral director read an entire book to you in a hushed, somber tone. And then there’s the whiny female voices…egads. Aside from that snafu, the novella is a sweet love story that paints the grim reality of advantageous, loveless marriages in Victorian England. In this tale, Sophie, a woman with a strong pedigree (because women were in the same class as dogs back then) and Edward, a nouveau riche businessman, are coupled up in a courtship of convenience. He needs to enter London’s polite society and she needs his money. You see, she and her family are house poor because her father can’t stop spending all their money on lavish home improvements. He even spent his daughters’ dowries (a woman’s only means for survival!) on Gaslamp expenses. Let’s just pause for a moment and reflect on the oppressive lives of women back then—and how they needed to be sold to husbands like cattle at an auction. That said, this relationship is as good as dead right from the get-go because they’re both using each other. However, things take an interesting turn when Sophie puts the cards on the table and they’re forced to be honest with each other while celebrating the holidays at her family’s homestead. Soon enough, the dashing Mr. Sharpe is whispering sweet nothings to her on moonlit strolls and the tension between them really starts to simmer! I’ll stop right here before I give away the ending but since this is a holiday romance, I’m sure you can guess how it’ll be tied up in a neat little bow!

A Nancy Drew Christmas by Carolyn Keene

I must confess that, yet again, I bought this book because of glossy cover depicting the lovely Nancy Drew on a horse-and-buggy ride in a winter wonderland. I really shouldn’t let myself be romanced by a gorgeous cover, but how could I refuse a Nancy Drew mystery set at a posh ski resort in the midst of the Christmas season? There’s a lot packed into this book…maybe too much. In fact, I must admit that I got a tad confused—OK a LOT confused—with the storyline. There’s corporate espionage, insider trading, workplace sabotage and dozens upon dozens of suspects. I was hoping for a light and fluffy YA mystery for my morning commute; instead I got a tangled web of clues and red herrings that would likely befuddle Miss Marple! Needless to say, it’s rather demoralizing to get completely lost in a book that I found in the intermediate readers section. Best to stick to the classic Carolyn Keene mysteries from here on out.

Minka’s Thanksgiving Special: Murder She Wrote: Fatal Feast!

Isn’t Minka cute?! She’s up for adoption at Austin Pets Alive! http://bit.ly/2hRuiEH

I’m a day late and a dollar short, but since we’re all still digesting our double and triple helpings of pie, Thanksgiving is the gift that keeps on giving…at least until the Pepto kicks in. So put down those Black Friday ads (seriously, Cyber Monday is the way to go) and indulge yourself in a good book. Since Minka’s a big snorting fan of turkey, she says you should read this one!

The gist: It’s another tranquil Thanksgiving weekend in Cabot Cove. Love is in the air as Jessica Fletcher prepares for the big feast with her international houseguest George Southerfield. Of course, he’s staying at Seth Hazlet’s house because Jessica is a lady and we don’t want her reputation to be sullied!  Turns out, there’s a bit of a jealous rivalry going on, thus proving that this ol’ gal’s still got it. You go, Miss Thang! While taking a romantic post-turkey stroll, what do they find? Come on, take a stab at it. Yep, that’s right—a dead body! Even worse—the killer used Seth’s prized antique carving knife. Now that’s just plain rude. It’s up to Jessica and her boy toys to figure out who killed the socially awkward homeless man—and why he (or she?) wanted his goose to be cooked. Aren’t food puns such fun?

What worked: You can’t beat the comfy, cozy town of Cabot Cove, Jessica’s lovely little Northeastern nook in the world! If this book doesn’t get you into the turkey-eating spirit, nothing will. It felt like I was right there with Jessica and all the movers and shakers of Cabot Cove at the Thanksgiving feast. As luck would have it, one of her dinner guests gets skewered at the end of the night. You’d think they’d catch on to her track record and stay home, but how could they refuse the hostess with the mostest?

What didn’t work: I love all these Murder She Wrote books but some are slower than others. This one is, by far, the slowest! Halfway into the book, I kept asking myself when the dead body would pop up. I re-read the dust cover just to make sure I did, in fact, pick up a murder mystery. I mean, it’s called “Fatal Feast,” so let’s get to it already!!! If I wasn’t so charmed by my favorite bike-riding sleuth, I’d be much more annoyed. But how can I stay mad at JB Fletcher? It’s impossible, I tell you!

Overall: Not the best book in the series, but still mildly amusing for us hard core MSW fans!

Short and Sweet Sundays

sundaysI’ve been reading like a fiend this past month—and not one review to show for it! In a perfect world, I would spend my days reading on the chaise lounge with my chubby cat and my nights toiling away on my book, which has been left stagnating in Scrivner for months. Needless to say, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up with my poor little book blog!

So in the interest of saving time, I bring you some short and sweet reviews for a few standout books that were definitely worth my precious little free time:

Murder, She Wrote: A Question of Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

334352When I saw this title pop up in Audible’s “daily deal,” I immediately hit the purchase button.  The TV show may be history, but Jessica Fletcher continues to be the harbinger of death in this extensive book series. Without fail, the charming and delightful J.B. Fletcher stumbles upon a dead body everywhere she goes—cocktail parties, beach resorts, book tours, weddings—you name it! I just want to cry out, “No, no, no! Don’t invite her to your party, you fool! Don’t you know that’s the kiss of death?!”

That’s exactly what happens in this mystery when our intrepid amateur sleuth attends a murder mystery weekend at a haunted East Coast mansion. She meets an eclectic cast of characters, all with hidden agendas. As expected, a member of the acting troop keels over dead in the middle of a scene. Now it’s up to Jessica to question the many suspects and piece together the clues. Was it a jilted lover? A jealous husband? Or perhaps a fellow mystery writer who loves writing about murder a little too much?

With so many questionable characters and possible motives, it wasn’t easy guessing whodunit. And just when I thought I had it all figured out, a plot twist in the very last chapter threw my theory right out the window. If you love an atmospheric whodunit set in a historic mansion filled with hidden trapdoors and ghosts, this one’s for you.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

9640626Believe it or not, this is my very first zombie book. I love all things creepy and crawly, but yet I haven’t really ventured into the chick lit zombie genre, maybe because there’s nothing more grotesque than a zombie getting it on. Wouldn’t body parts fall off? And then there’s the stench—gross! True, this book ranks high on the ick-factor, but yet it cuts deeper than some of the titles you’d see in Oprah’s book club.

What makes this book special is the walking dead girl’s journey of self-discovery. She may look fierce on the cover, but she’s really a big-hearted, insecure girl who got dealt a shitty hand of parents. Nobody believes she’ll amount to anything more than trailer-park trash, including herself. It took being turned into a zombie for her life to change for the better. After a car crash, she heals not only from her wounds, but also from her drug addiction. A mysterious benefactor hooks her up with a job at the local morgue, where she falls into a new circle of friends who are surprisingly non-toxic. For the first time ever, people actually give a shit, and they believe she can amount to so much more than a lowly driver for the county morgue.

Her world has turned upside down for the better, except for one nagging problem: her insatiable craving for brains. Everything falls apart—literally—if she can’t sink her teeth into that delectable gray matter. Good thing she has a most advantageous new job where brains are plentiful…that is until a serial killer starts decapitating the townies. Why is the killer taunting her with headless bodies? Who turned her into a walking dead girl the night of the car crash? Was it her mysterious benefactor? You’ll have to read the book to find out! I enjoyed the murder mystery aspect of this story, but mostly I was more transfixed by Angel’s journey of self-discovery. Throughout the book I cheered her on as she discovered her strengths and stood up to her bullies. I’m excited to see how she evolves in the next two books in the series!

Geared for the Grave by Duffy Brown

23505722If you haven’t been to Mackinac Island up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, put it on your bucket list! I married a Michigander, so we sometimes take a little daytrip up to the island while visiting his folks. Just imagine Disneyland’s Main Street on a remote island where there’s nothing but cutesy shops, restaurants and oodles of fudge! Aside from the chocolaty goodness, the best part about the island is that no cars are allowed. If you want to get around, you’ll have to hoof it, ride a bike or jump on a horse buggy. Coming from Austin—one of the worst traffic cities in the universe—that sounds like bliss!

So it’s only fitting that this mystery begins when the meanest lady in town dies in a horrific bike accident. Considering that everyone despised her, the suspect list is bigger than Lake Superior. Yet thanks to a supposed eye witness, it becomes an open-and-shut case. The temporary town Sherriff is more than happy to pin the murder on Rudy Randolph, owner of a rundown bike rental shop. This doesn’t bode well for our protagonist, Evie Bloomfield, who’s determined to fix up the bike shop to boost her chances of promotion. You see, Rudy’s daughter is Evie’s boss, and if he goes to prison, she can kiss her big-city job goodbye.  The townies also have reasons to sweep the murder under the rug. Tourists (aka “fudgies”) are their bread and butter, so it’s important to not botch up the island’s idyllic Norman Rockwellesque façade. Who knew that a happy place like Mackinac Island could be a seedy hotbed of murder, blackmail and organized crime?! If you, like me, love an atmospheric whodunit filled with quirky characters and snarky dialogue, give this one a try. I’m excited to see what’s in store for Evie and her eclectic sidekicks in the next installment of this new series. Boy, I sure could go for some gooey fudge right about now!

A Cornucopia of Cozies!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner – and there’s no better way to get in the turkey-eating spirit than by curling up with a good fall-themed cozy! Lucky for me, my husband is the Turkey master, so I get to spend my blissful day off from work devouring a good mystery. While searching for the perfect Thanksgiving-themed book, I narrowed it down to these fun little cozies. Which one should I choose?

A Catered Thanksgiving by Isis Crawford

Synopsis:Sisters Bernie and Libby Simmons have handled plenty of catering challenges with grace and aplomb. But this Thanksgiving, they’re cooking a feast for felons. Whipping up Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings can be stressful for anyone, but that goes double for the Field family. They know that every family get-together has to be picture perfect, or they risk getting cut out of dominating patriarch Monty’s extremely lucrative will.

That’s where A Little Taste of Heaven, Bernie and Libby’s catering company, comes in. Surely with their lumpless mashed potatoes and to-die-for gravy on the table, even the super-dysfunctional Fields can pretend to get along for one meal. But no one can dress up the disaster when the cover-worthy turkey goes boom right in Monty Field’s scowling face, sending him to that great dining room in the sky.

A Killer Crop by Sheila Connolly

Synopsis: After an English professor-and old friend of her mother-is found dead in a cider house, orchard owner Meg Corey starts to wonder: Could her own mother have committed murder?

 

 

Fatal Feast by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

Synopsis: The newest novel in the USA Today bestselling series finds Jessica Fletcher cooking up a heartwarming holiday dinner-and a fresh serving of trouble…Jessica Fletcher would like nothing more than to sit back and relax as Thanksgiving comes to Cabot Cove. But this year, she’s already got more on her plate than she can handle. Jessica is suffering from a rare case of writer’s block, and the deadline for her new novel is fast approaching.

 

Death of a Turkey by Kate Grilley Borden

Synopsis: It’s Thanksgiving–and it’s not just the turkey who’s in danger. As tourists arrive at Cobb’s Landing to enjoy an authentic Colonial-style Thanksgiving, mayor Peggy Turner would be thankful for nothing more than a clue as to who killed her neighbor–a clue that didn’t point to her. 

 
 

Thanksgiving by Janet Evonovich

Synopsis: When Megan Murphy discovers a floppy-eared rabbit gnawing on the hem of her skirt, she means to give its careless owner a piece of her mind, but Dr. Patrick Hunter is too attractive to stay mad at for long. As for Patrick, he wants nothing more than to play house with Maggie—and make Thanksgiving dinner for their families. But Megan has wept over one failed love, and she’s afraid to risk her heart again. Can the good doctor help heal her heart?

“Goodbye, She Lied” by Russ Hall

My friends always laugh at me for being the only Murder She Wrote fanatic without blue hair and a walker. What they don’t realize is that J.B. Fletcher is a hip, hip lady, who exemplifies the meaning of Girl Power! Not only is she a snazzy dresser (love the khaki trench coat!), but she is also a brazen, balls-to-the-wall crime fighter who puts local law enforcement to shame. That’s what I love about amateur women detectives! And that’s why I had such a great time accompanying Esbeth Walters – a Texified Mrs. Marple – on her quest to help her pal “Boose” find the con artists who cheated his elderly mother out of $64,000. 

A retired school teacher and full-time sleuth, Esbeth is the kind of woman that good ol’ Texas boys would call a ‘pistol.’ Much like my girl J.B. Fletcher, the sleuthing senior gets nothing but eye rolls and condescending remarks from local law enforcement. But that doesn’t stop her from taking on a new case when a friend in need comes knocking on her door. When Boose – an endearingly cantankerous rough-n-tough Texan – asked her to find the tricksters who stole his mother’s rest-home fund, she reluctantly answers the call of duty. After snooping around the local nursing home – run by a shifty director and an imposing nurse with about as much warmth as a prison guard – Esbeth discovers Boose’s mom wasn’t the only resident who was bamboozled by money-grubbing grifters. She soon stumbles upon another mystery when a damsel in distress enlists her help in proving her husband’s bizarre car accident was not a suicide. With the help of her elderly sidekick, Gardner Burke (who, if this ever became a movie, could be played by Clint Eastwood), Esbeth unearths (literally) connections between the two mysteries and discovers her cozy Hill Country hamlet is a hotbed for swindlers and cold-blooded murderers.

 I’m not sure what disturbed me the most about this mystery, the two ruthless hit men who like their weapons a little too much, or Esbeth’s foreboding dread of living her last remaining years in a grim rest home that reeks of Lysol and death. This book definitely left me feeling a little uneasy in many ways. But that’s not to say I didn’t have a heck of a good time reading it!

 This read is perfect to snuggle up to with a steaming mug of chai tea – my fave!  With  the nights getting darker and colder, what better than a good murder mystery with a good dollop of Texas grit thrown in too! Thanks Russ, for creating another fun and feisty female detective series. Keep em’ coming!

Do you have a favorite amatuer sleuth? If so, who?