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!

“Dance on His Grave” Review & Audiobook Giveaway!

14538706Well butter my buns and call me a biscuit! Oh how I love Southern mysteries set deep in the heart of the hauntingly beautiful East Texas-Louisiana borderlands.  Sylvia Dickey Smith has mastered the art of evoking a sense of dread in her lyrical atmospheric descriptions of the mysterious bayou country.  Moody atmosphere, colorful characters, good food and one heck of a strong-willed protagonist are all key ingredients for a quality Southern fiction novel. This author delivers all of these things in spades in her Sidra Smart mysteries. That’s why I put Sidra Smart on the top of my list of favorite Southern detectives—right next to David Robichauex, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. If you haven’t heard of those other guys, I advise you to Google James Lee Burke and Joe Lansdale immediately!

In this first installment of the Sidra Smart Mystery Series, Sid has emancipated herself from a loveless, sheltered marriage. No longer an obedient preacher’s wife, she’s thrust into a whole new world of independence and opportunity.

She reaches a crossroads when she inherits her dead brother’s PI business. With zero knowledge of how to run a business—let alone solve mysteries—she’s ready to sell it off to the lowest bidder. Yet when her controlling ex-husband tries to push her into doing just that, she decides to slap on her gumshoes out of sheer defiance! And really, that’s what I love about Sidra Smart. She’s bold, brave and ready to take on new adventures, despite the legions of naysayers who will stop at nothing to watch her fail.

Before she’s ready to pick up a  copy of “How to Run a PI Business for Dummies,”  her first client walks in with a cold case that would stump even Sherlock Holmes. Despite her best interest, Sidra agrees to look into the 30-year-old mystery revolving around two innocent girls caught up in an unimaginable world of horrors.  The horror show intensifies as she looks deeper into the case and discovers a tangled web of town secrets, torture and arson. Trust me, once you get to know the villain, you’ll understand the meaning of the book’s title, “Dance on His Grave.”

The plot thickens when Sid finds a connection between the bizarre cold case and her brother’s mysterious car accident. And just with any good thriller, the danger heats up as our heroine gets closer to the truth. Who is sneaking into her home and leaving ominous threats? Is it her ex-husband’s God-fearing disciples, or could it be a demented child-abusing killer? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

With some help from her newfound friend and fellow PI, George Leger, she carries on with the case—even when all hope seems to be lost.  She also gets a little help from her meddlesome Aunt Annie, who is always there to help Sid pick up the pieces when the chips are down. I’m especially fond of the Cajun-speaking George, who’s interesting enough to have his own spinoff story.

This is not your typical amateur sleuth mystery, mainly because there are some really weighty issues at the core of the story. Some of the descriptions of are rather dark and disturbing, so this book is not for the squeamish. Filled with punchy dialogue, cliffhanger chapter endings and unspeakable crimes, this book is somewhat of a mash-up of Karin Slaughter meets Gillian Flynn with a Cajun twist. Hard-boiled mystery fans are sure to enjoy this puzzling whodunit.

Enter to Win a Free Audiobook!

imagesU9JY9PEDI should also mention that the author gave me this book via Audible.  The narrator did a fantastic job unfolding the story in a somber tone. Unlike other narrators who drive me bonkers with their rapid-speed chipmunk-on-crack storytelling, she did a stellar job keeping the pace and capturing Sid’s voice.  I highly recommend listening to this on audio. In fact, the author has offered to give away a free audiobook. All you have to do is post a comment answering the following question and the winner will be picked at random. Don’t fret if you’re not an Audible member.  You can still receive the audiobook without an account.

Who is your favorite thriller author?

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!

Top Five Books of 2011

The Times Square ball has dropped, the confetti has cleared and millions of partygoers are nursing their hangovers. 2012 has arrived – and like clockwork we are bombarded with guilt-inducing gym equipment ads and a plethora of “best of” lists. So here’s my contribution to the annual tradition of cherry picking. These fabulous books –packed with family dysfunction, strong, revolutionary women, and personal transformation – are my top five faves of 2011.

1.) The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Some nay-sayers claim that this book is nothing more than “white liberal self-congratulation,” but for me, it’s an eye-opening account of prejudice and ignorance in the Jim Crow South. Sure, I’ve read about the civil rights movement in politically-correct history classes, but this book gave me a more insightful perspective of what it was like to be a black maid in a racially-divided Mississippi.  Read my review here.

2.) A War of Her Own by Sylvia Dickey Smith
Like a hearty plate of beef brisket, this book will stick with you long after you devour it in one sitting! In true Sylvia Dickey Smith style, the story centers around a strong, gutsy woman who strives to make a life for herself in defiance of adversity. Set in a small East Texas town during World War II, Bea Meade (the Texified version of Rosie the Riveter) must fight her own battle against a philandering husband and sexist men in the shipyard. As she struggles to find love and happiness as a single working mother, she must solve the mysteries of her past. Sylvia’s skillful unraveling of family secrets and betrayal left me breathless. Bea is an enduring character with a fierce and unstoppable spirit. This is a beautifully written story about an important time in American history. You must read this book!  Read my review here.

3.) Backseat Saints by Joshylin Jackson
This is one heavy-duty read that will make you think differently about women who suffer from domestic abuse. Trapped in a marriage with a dangerous psychopath, Rose Mae Lolley lives in a torturous world of misery and fear. After enduring a near-fatal blow to the head, she finally snaps and hits the road running. On a quest to find a murderous ex-boyfriend who can do her husband in, she heads back to her hometown in Fruiton, Alabama. When she reluctantly meets with her estranged father, she realizes she must come to terms with her past in order to break out of the vicious cycle of abuse and neglect. This is one heart-wrenching story of family psychodrama that will linger on with you long after you read it.

4.) Fever Moon by Carolyn Haines
Carolyn Haines is well known for her light-hearted Bones Mysteries, but she also has a few darker stand-alones that rival James Lee Burke’s and Joe Lansdale’s Deep South detective novels.  Set in New Iberia, Louisiana during World War II, the mystery begins when a stark-raving wild woman is found hovering over a ravaged murder victim in the woods. The town is convinced she’s the loup-garou, a legendary shape-shifting monster, yet Deputy Raymond Thibodeaux knows she’s been set up.  Haunted by the ravages of war and the loss of his kid brother, Raymond feels a strong connection to the feral woman who lost her mind after the death of her sister and two twin sons. On a quest to clear her name, he puts his life on the line and faces his own demons in the process. Whether I’m reading a cozy whodunit  or a dark and atmospheric thriller, I’m always swept away by Carolyn’s world of sprawling horse pastures, sugar cane fields and spooky bayous!  Read my review here.

5.) Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
They say you can never come home again, but for Catherine Grace Cline, that’s perfectly okay. Restless and bored of small-town life, she spends her days plotting her great escape out of Ringgold, Georgia. Every Saturday afternoon, she sits with her best friend outside the DQ licking a Dilly Bar and daydreaming about her new life in the big city of Atlanta. When her dream finally becomes a reality, tragedy brings her back home. Shortly after her arrival, she discovers an earth-shattering betrayal and must find it within herself to forgive the ones she holds most dear. Brimming with sentiments of love, redemption and perseverence, this book had me reaching for the Kleenex and made me want to hug my daddy. I know, I’m a total sap. If you’re into books by authors like Billie Letts or Fannie Flagg, you’re bound to enjoy this sweet Southern yarn.

What’s your favorite book of 2011?

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.”