The Unquiet by Jeanine Garsee

Published September 29, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

A11969941lthough Texas didn’t get the memo, fall is upon us. Time to hit up the bookstore for some pumpkin-spiced goodies and an armful of paperbacks filled with creaky old houses and forlorn ghosts. It’s still teetering on 90 degrees here in Austin, but that doesn’t stop me from curling up with a good ghost story with a steaming latte. This year, I decided to jumpstart my Halloween reading with this spooky tale of ghosts, madness and revenge.

Imagine the horror of walking through a dark, haunted tunnel on a daily basis just to get to gym class. That’s what 16-year-old Rinn Jacobs had to deal with when she moved from her upscale high school in sunny California to her mother’s alma mater in rural Ohio. Not only does she attend a ghost-infested high school, she sleeps in the same room where an old woman hanged herself. Creepy much!

Of course, her situation isn’t all gloom and doom. The hot farmer boy next door is at her beck and call whenever danger strikes…or if the snow needs plowing. Either way, this guy is super handy – and sexy to boot! Then there’s the resident bad boy, Dino, who just can’t keep his eyes off her. Too bad the school’s meanest mean girl has territorial issues. But as they say, hold your friends close and your enemies closer. That’s what Rinn does when she becomes ensnared by a particularly nasty clique of mean girls.

What her new frienemies don’t know is that she’s on the extreme end of the bipolar spectrum…and that she’s a murderer. Well that’s what she calls herself anyway. You see, without her heavy cocktail of anti-psychotics, things can get pretty ugly. This adds a rather interesting new twist to the standard teen angst melodramatics, don’t you think? In all seriousness, this is a very delicate issue that should not be treated lightly. But I think the author did a fine job infusing mental illness into the story without stigmatizing bipolar disorder. If anything, she shows readers that people who suffer from mental illness are a lot like you and me. Despite her flaws, Rinn is a very likeable character who deals with a lot of self-anguish issues that resonate with a lot young—and old—readers.

With some help from her helicopter mom, she’s taking her pills religiously. Yet other forces are at work—causing her to question reality versus delusions. And as the death toll starts rising, she and her hunky sidekick must investigate the high school haunt’s untimely death to put the nasty spirit to rest once and for all. Trust me, you’ll need to block out some time in your day as you reach the last few chapters. When the pieces start falling together, you’ll be surprised at what they uncover.

This may be a YA book, but that doesn’t mean it won’t creep you out. There are some very unsettling moments that caused the little hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end. Trust me, the waterlogged ghost in this story is no Moaning Myrtle! If you’re squeamish of things that go bump in the night, I advise you to read this one with all the lights on…and maybe watch a Strawberry Shortcake cartoon before going to bed.

Pleasant nightmares, my fellow readers!

Oh and P.S: This book is only $1.99 on Kindle and Nook right now. Get it while the gettins good!

Honey, Do You Need a Ride?: Confessions of a Fat Runner by Jennifer Graham

Published September 14, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

13592128I’m not going to sugar coat it for you or myself. I’m fat, and I love to run. When I tell people how much—and how far—I run on a weekly basis, they look at me in disbelief. In fact, a not-so-nice douchebag uncle of mine once said: “Help me understand why you’re running so much and not losing weight.” Why a 280+ sedentary alcoholic didn’t see the irony in this statement is beyond me.

It’s true. I am a walking, talking running contradiction. I’m a size-12ish full-time runner, part-time mountain biker. My thighs cling to each other like long-lost friends reunited. My bazoombas require not one—but two—industrial strength sports bras. To steal of phrase from the author, I am a “walrus in a sea of gazelles” at a marathon expo.

So when I saw this book cover while perusing some inspirational fat-to-fit books for runners, I immediately downloaded it on my e-reader. How could I not read a book about a fellow member of my tribe? In fact, this book proved to be more inspiring than those ubiquitous “running for weight loss” titles that preach the virtues of salad greens and protein shakes.1622853_451708981624574_1813184810_n

The mark of a great memoir is feeling that you’re bonding over time with a really good friend. Jennifer Graham managed to pull this from the get-go when she described the indignities of running with “built-in arm weights” and dealing with dubious massage therapists when requesting the “runners revenge” massage. Chapter by chapter, I truly felt like I was right there beside her as she tried and failed to fight the battle of the bulge while training for races. Boy can I relate! I wanted to cheer for her from the sidelines, to hug her when her ex-husband broke her heart, to take her out for celebratory margaritas when she broke her personal record.

Bgyuw6uCEAAKXesAs with any good friend, it’s impossible to agree on everything. Shoot, my real-life BFF refuses to wear pink for Pete’s sake! So I’m not going to get down on the author too much for her strong opinions about religion and divorce. I’m not even going to hate on her for not being the monstrous ogre that she makes herself out to be in the book. We’re all going to have opposing points of view. If we didn’t, wouldn’t life be rather boring? Whether a 150ish-pound woman of average height is fat or not, who cares? She’s definitely not blessed with the prototypical ectomorph body type that we see in Runner’s World magazine, and for that which I scream: Solidarity Sista!725680-1103-0016s

I should also point out that she beautifully captures how the challenges and pitfalls of competitive running are analogous to life’s obstacles. As a runner, I know exactly how it feels to hit the dreaded “wall,” the point at mile 12 when I feel like curling up into a fetal position and admitting defeat.

To this day, I have not given in to that insatiable urge to quit. I keep running, or shall I say slogging, until I reach that blasted finish line. No matter what, I’m going to break through that wall—in running and in life. It might sound corny, or even trite, but that’s the one life lesson that running has taught me. Never give up without a fight. And if a good samaritan ever offers to give me a ride when it looks like I might pass out on the road, I’ll just dismiss them with a smile and wave. Thanks, Jennifer Graham, for reminding me of how awesome this sport is—and that I’m not the only one out there at the starting line in XL running shorts!

 

Gizzy’s Cozy Kitty Corner

Published September 2, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

019 (2)We may be in the dog days of summer, but this long, hot August has gone to the cats! Gizzy says that if you want to beat the heat, grab yourself a fruity umbrella drink and a cozy mystery filled with fiendish killers and feline shenanigans!  Here are a couple of his favorites from my summer reading list.

The Cat Sitter’s Nine Lives (A Dixie Hemingway Mystery #9)

18404321Even though Blaize Clement has passed on into the great beyond, her gifted son is keeping the beloved cozy mystery series alive. Dixie is still stumbling into mysteries in her trademark white Keds and cargo shorts. Her humble abode overlooking the tranquil ocean in Siesta Key is just as cozy as ever. Her boy troubles continue to get more and more complicated. Her regular customers are still counting on her to deliver quality service to their cherished pets of all shapes, sizes and species.

Yep, it seems as though John Clement has found a way to seamlessly continue his mom’s adorable cozy series without a hitch. In fact, this might be my favorite installment because of all the puzzling subplots. The various obstacles seemed totally random and unrelated, yet the pieces all had a way of fitting together toward the very end.  Well played, Mr. Clement!

Right after Dixie fearlessly rescued a man from a burning vehicle, the questions just kept multiplying.  Why is a strange man in a hospital bed insisting that Dixie is his wife? Did the missing bookstore clerk skip town, or is he sleeping with the fishes? The bloody paw prints on the checkout counter sure aren’t a good sign.

And in the midst of murder and mayhem, an unopened letter from Dixie’s ex-boyfriend could potentially ruin the good thing she’s got going on with Mr. Perfect. Should she open Pandora ’s Box or let sleeping dogs lie? You’ll have to read the book to find out! Trust me, this one is definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of strong female characters and four-legged sidekicks.

Lending a Paw (A Bookmobile Cat Mystery #1)  

17707766I love this series for several reasons. One: the picturesque Upper Peninsula setting invoked my happiest summertime memories at Mackinac Island. Oh how I was craving homemade fudge while reading this thing!

Two: the leading lady, Minnie Hamilton, is a cat-rescuing, bookmobile-driving, crime-solving librarian. Enough said.

Three: Minnie’s rescue kitty plays a big role in nabbing the killer. I’ll stop right there before giving anything away, but I will say that this little hero has some seriously impressive sleuthing skills. It’s also very amusing when he responds to his humans with a resounding “merr.”

Four: There’s a twinge of spookiness when Minnie discovers her houseboat neighbors might be potential killers. How very Cape Fear! Okay, so maybe there isn’t a blood-soaked Robert De Niro clinging to the undercarriage of her car, but there’s still something very creepy about sleeping alone in a houseboat with a killer on the loose!

And need I say that the story revolves around a library on wheels? What more could any cozy fan ask for?

So there you have it. Two incredibly paw-some cat-infused mysteries that are bound to make you purr as you’re whizzing through the pages.  Gizzy says, “GOW.” In translation that means, “You’re welcome.”

CeeCee’s Dog Days of Summer Reading Roundup

Published August 11, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

10351599_530856277043177_2547800760911905463_nSometimes I feel as though I’m the only Texan who loves the dog days of summer. When I hear the locusts playing their summer symphony in the pecan trees and gaze up at the big, cloudless Texas sky, I wax nostalgic about my happiest childhood memories at summer camp.  Oh how I miss those long hot days filled with ice cream socials, campfire ghost stories and cheesy sing-along songs. So when the barometer reaches an all-time high, I always go for books that invoke that carefree summertime feeling.

Although my assistant, CeeCee Honeycutt Sinn, isn’t a fan of hot weather, she loves good stories about island adventures and steamy romance. If you’re looking for a fun, light read to stash in your beach bag, she highly recommends checking out these titles.

15812854Killer Honeymoon by G.A. McKevett

This is my first foray into the Savannah Reid mystery series and it won’t be my last. Although I solved the mystery long before the fearless Southern sleuth closed in on the killer, I was thoroughly entertained by the colorful cast of characters and witty dialogue. The tranquil West Coast setting took me back to Catalina Island, where I would eat my weight in ice cream underneath a thatched roof to the ever-present sound of Jimmy Buffet’s greatest hits. Ah memories…but I digress. This book is a fantastic beach read that will get you in the perfect summertime state of mind. The constant bickering between the two honeymooning protagonists was mildly annoying at first, but eventually I started laughing along at their zippy little quips. Fans of Janet Evanovich and Laura Levine are sure to enjoy this series.

16101148 Five Summers by Una Lamarche

Let me begin by stating that this book is going on my Best Books of 2014 list. My happiest childhood memories took place at Camp Marston, a sleepaway camp nestled in the mountains of Julian, California. This book rekindled so many memories of the deep friendships that were forged over burnt marshmallows and capture-the-flag games. In this book, the four girls were lucky enough to stay in touch throughout the years and help each other through the trials and tribulations of young adulthood. Each girl is holding back a deep, dark secret and it all comes to a head when they reunite at their beloved Camp Nedoba. I really liked how the author used the third-person narrative to weave each of the girls’ past and present summer camp experiences in every chapter. I loved getting to know all the characters and reminiscing about my carefree summers at camp, where I only had to worry about hiding contraband candy from the counselors and getting caught on a night raid to boys hill!

17568234The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee by Carolyn Brown

How could I resist a Steel Magnolia-esque story set in an idyllic small Texas town? Like a big ol’ slice of pecan pie, this book is oozing with saccharin sweet Southern charm. But anyone who isn’t privy to the complexities of Texas women should know that phrases like “bless her heart” or “aint that nice” have a double meaning.  It’s a jungle out there below the Mason-Dixon line—especially at the Cadillac Diner, home to the hottest jalapenos in Texas! The three women who run the diner are constantly sparring with the indomitable queen of the elite jalapeno club, Violet Prescott. She will stop at nothing to take home the blue ribbon—even if it means shutting down the town’s beloved diner. This woman is about as evil as a Pixar villain. In fact, her nefarious antics are so over-the-top, it’s hard to really take this book seriously. There’s a lot of characters thrown into the mix, and it’s hard to really get a good grasp on the reasons behind their bizarre behavior, but the multiple subplots kept me reading up until the rather anticlimactic standoff at the jalapeno jubilee. Yes, I do think the characters needed to be fleshed out more. And yes, the story seemed a little disjointed. But all in all, it was a fun, fast read for a day by the pool. Please be advised that if you’re looking for a tear-jerking story about love, loss and friendship, you’re not going to find it here. But if you want to read something on par with Sweet Home Alabama or Hart of Dixie, this book will not disappoint.

A Q&A With “The Dog Park” Author Laura Caldwell

Published July 27, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Laura Caldwell headshot compressed (2)Dog lovers and hopeless romantics alike are sure to enjoy Laura Caldwell’s new novel, The Dog Park.  After taking a look at the synopsis, I can’t wait to read more about the loveable Goldendoodle, who forever changed the lives of his owners after one heroic act caught on tape.

Will Baxter’s overnight celebrity status catapult his owners into two separate directions? Or will his broken family overcome their irreconcilable differences and find their happily ever after?   You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Without further ado, I bring you an interview with the author.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go hug my dog now!

What inspired you to write The Dog Park?

I’d been writing mysteries and thrillers for a while, including six books featuring my series character, Izzy McNeil. I had one book left in my contract and started plotting the seventh. At the time, I had just gotten my puppy, Shafer, and was head over heels. My publisher’s pointed out that my social media posts and photos had gone from books and mysteries to dogs and dogs and dogs.  And they had an idea—why not write novel involving a dog?  A great beach book, something fast-moving and a little sexy. And maybe, just maybe, a happy ending. I was in.

Why did you decide to make a dog the focal point of your novel?

We wanted The Dog Park to be entertaining and fun, but my publisher really wanted a book with strong characters and strong relationships. 18812462Shortly into the book, I realized that Baxter, the dog who I’d seen as more of a sub character (albeit one who drives much of the action), was definitely much more. Just like a lot of our pets, Baxter is a creature with his own personality. His own preferences and tastes and quirks.

Of all the characters (canines included!) in the book, which one would you like to spend an afternoon with and why?

Billy McGowan! He’s a musician whose band became famous shortly after high school, and who managed eventually to turn himself into a man of integrity and intellect.

What message do you hope readers will take away from this book?

Overlaying all of the book is the profound, and yet often profoundly different, relationship that each different person has with their dog. There’s also the fact that social media has changed everything. It’s thrilling, but a little jarring and scary, to think that a person can be unknown at breakfast and trending on the news that night.

I read that you have your own Goldendoodle! What’s unique about this particular breed?

Friendly, fun, loves to chase balls, highly intelligent.

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

If you really love writing, it’s great to be published, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. I truly thought I was never going to be published, but I kept writing because I loved it. It was a hobby I had on my own, where I could chart my own progress, and explore creativity and storytelling. I think passion shines through (or rather, reads through).

More about the author: Laura Caldwell, a former trial lawyer, is currently a professor and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. She is the author of eleven novels and one non-fiction book. She is a nation-wide speaker and the founder of Life After Innocence, which helps innocent people begin their lives again after being wrongfully imprisoned. Laura has been published in thirteen languages and over twenty countries. To learn more, please visit http://www.lauracaldwell.com.

 

Five Friday Favorites

Published July 25, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

988424_566188093488613_1058872697_n Five Friday Favorites is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely Book Badger that spotlights five favorite bookish things. Everyone is invited to join in on the fun!

I fudged the rules just a tad (sorry, Book Badger!), by featuring five favorite literary passages instead of the theme du jouer, which is secondary characters. These five books are full of poignant quotes, and I’m excited to share some of my dog-eared pages with you all! As you can see, I am a big-time fan of Ann Brashares and Beth Hoffman!

savingceeceehoneycutt“Life is full of change, honey. That’s how we learn and grow. When we’re born, the Good Lord gives each of us a Life Book.

Chapter by chapter, we live and learn.'”-“
— Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt)

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman“Never tie your happiness to the tail of someone else’s kite.”
― Beth Hoffman (Looking for Me)

9461872“She existed in her friends; there she was. All the parts of herself she’d forgotten. She knew herself best when she was with them.”
— Ann Brashares (Sisterhood Everlasting—Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants #5)

452306“You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love one another. We’re nice to one another. Do you know how rare that is?”
— Ann Brashares (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, #1)

32234“In a perverse way, I was glad for the stitches, glad it would show, that there would be scars. What was the point in just being hurt on the inside? It should bloody well show.”

—Janet Fitch (White Oleander)

Audiobook Pick of the Month: Booty Bones: A Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery

Published July 12, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

18404222From the Publisher:  Sarah Booth Delaney’s fiancé, Graf Milieu, has become depressed while recovering from a severe leg injury, but Sarah Booth knows just how to help him heal. She’s arranged a romantic getaway for the two of them at a lovely beach cottage on Dauphin Island off the Gulf Coast. On the first day of their island adventure, they take a historical tour led by Angela Trotter, a young woman well-versed in local lore, including rumors of pirate treasure hidden somewhere on the island. In fact, Angela confides to Sarah Booth and Graf that her father, a sailor and treasure hunter, was murdered just when he thought he was closing in on the treasure. Angela’s convinced that the wrong man was imprisoned for her father’s murder, and she manages to persuade Sarah Booth to take the case. And Sarah Booth soon realizes that there’s much more going on than meets the eye. With untold amounts of treasure offering plenty of motive for murder and a fiancé falling deeper into depression, Sarah Booth’s peaceful island vacation is quickly spinning out of control.

Why I liked it:   As always, Carolyn Haines delivers a puzzling mystery filled with complex characters, four-legged sidekicks, ghostly shenanigans and intriguing subplots.  The mystery in this installment is twofold: Who killed the treasure hunter? And what in tarnations  is wrong with Graf?  With a big storm a’brewin and a slew of dark secrets about to bubble up from under the surface, our sassy Southern sleuth is in for a wild ride!

What really shines in this book is the foreshadowing, which is a key ingredient in a quality whodunit. As Sarah Booth navigates the rocky waters of her relationship with Graf, I couldn’t think of a more perfect setting than a beach town under the threat of a monster hurricane.  At the risk of revealing any spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. But I will say that you’ll have a very strong opinion about him after she weathers the storm.

What irked me: Normally I love Jitty’s antics, but in this book she seemed to be tormenting Sarah Booth with her cryptic warnings. She’s known for popping up at random moments in outlandish outfits only to offer a few pieces of advice and puzzling riddles . This time, she’s appearing as iconic celebrities in mourning, hinting that death and despair is just around the corner.  So while Graf is inexplicably withdrawing from Sarah Booth, Jitty is constantly torturing her with bad omens. Of course, they finally stopped dangling their carrots at the end of the book. But it just didn’t seem right for them to keep her in the dark for so long. There were many points in the story when I wanted to shake Graf and Jitty and scream, “Out with it already, you fools!”

The narrator: Kate Forbes is the perfect narrator for the Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries. She does a fantastic job performing each of the characters’ voices in a believable way, which can be rather tricky when you’re dealing with a broad range of personalities. Her pensive, somber tone was the perfect match for Sarah Booth and Jittie, who were both in the midst of exposing some serious life—and afterlife—revelations.

Summed up in three words: Suspenseful, foreboding, intriguing.

 

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