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

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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.

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.