To Hell and Gone in Texas by Russ Hall

Published December 7, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

22538055Russ Hall does it again! He pulled off another rootin’ tootin’ rollercoaster ride of a thriller—complete with helicopter explosions, forest fires, shoot-em-up car chases and even a little bit of fishing. True, this is far outside the realm of chick lit, but I just have to spread the word about this fantastic Texified mystery!

An avid fisherman and animal lover, Al Quinn is a man after my own heart. After an ugly divorce and a monumental falling out with his deadbeat brother, he’s quite content to live out his retirement years in total solitude at his lake-front house. Well that is if you don’t count his pet, Bob, the three-legged deer.  This hardened retired detective may look tough, but he has a real soft spot for wayward animals and family members.

Despite all the nastiness that went down with his brother, Maury, Al couldn’t bring himself to leave him in the lurch during a time of crisis. Maury is not only a lousy brother, he’s also in cahoots with some dangerous criminals. Oh and did I mention that he’s a raving nymphomaniac? Gee, what a catch.

Russ (far left) at the Texas Book Festival.

Russ (far left) at the Texas Book Festival.

Karma rears its ugly head when someone tries to snuff him out with a heaping dosage of Viagra, rendering him bedridden and completely vulnerable to another attack. Unable to let his own brother die, Al has to hang up his fishing rod and dust off his gumshoes.

As he questions Maury’s many lady friends, he finds more questions than answers about his brother’s shenanigans with the Mexican mafia.  Why on earth was Maury living in a retirement home? And how could he even afford it? What’s the deal with Maury’s strange obsession with sea shells? You’ll have to read the book to find out?

There’s even a dash of romance between Al and his fellow investigator, Fergie. Things heat up pretty fast, leaving Al even more confused about his future…if he even has one.  Is it worth the risk to welcome another woman back into his life? Is a life of solitude really what he wants? If he and his team of sidekicks can live through this harrowing ordeal with the Los Zitos drug gang, perhaps he’ll sort it all out. But first things first, he must take down the Los Zetos before they throw down the gauntlet.

Warning—when you get to the last few chapters, be sure to free up your schedule. It’ll be nearly impossible to set the book down when all hell breaks loose! And just when you think the white-knuckle ride is over, another shocking twist will knock you off your seat. Seriously, y’all, I did not see that one coming.

If you’re ever in the mood for a character-driven action thriller, check this book out. Fans of Texas-based mysteries by authors like Jeff Abbott and Rick Riordon are sure to enjoy this one.   Read my reviews of his other books here and here.

Pie Girls by Lauren Clark

Published December 1, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

piegirlsThanksgiving may be over, but I’m still craving pies, pies, pies—and more pies! I blame this insatiable sugar lust on none other than Lauren Clark, author of Pie Girls. Her fourth chick lit novel revolves around a pie shop located in the small town of Fairfield, Alabama.

Wouldn’t it be fun running a bakery in an idyllic Southern hamlet? How cool would it be serving pies and coffee to your friends and neighbors?  Sure beats hovering over a computer all day and battling gridlock traffic. Who wouldn’t want that kind of life? Searcy Roberts, that’s who.

You see, Pie Girls is a family restaurant meant to be passed down to Searcy. But, alas, Searcy had bigger, more extravagant plans. Desperate to leave Fairfield, she climbs her way up to the top of the social ladder and marries Alton Roberts, the local rich boy—and  her meal ticket to the big city. They head off to Atlanta, where she spends her days shopping at Barneys and gossiping with her fellow socialites over caviar and champagne. Ah the sweet life of the rich and glamorous.

Little does she know, her days of decadence are numbered. Her husband has been harboring a deep, dark secret—and it all comes to a head on their wedding anniversary. Given Searcy’s self-absorbed lifestyle, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy watching her suffer.

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Lemon meringue is my ultimate favorite. What’s yours?

This is where it gets tricky. When I start to loathe the main character, there’s a 50/50 chance the book is going in the goodwill bin. Searcy needed to amend her ways—and fast. Surprisingly she pulled it off!  Once she moved back to her hometown and started helping out around the pie shop, I quickly warmed up to her—and so did the townies. Most importantly, she charmed the super cute bike shop owner next door. It’s a good thing she did because that guy is always ready to swoop in and save Pie Girls from burning down or flooding out.

Just when the harsh reality of Searcy’s failed marriage sets in, she gets hit with another whopping bombshell. Her mother is no longer capable of running the pie shop—and it’s up to Searcy to keep it from going under.  Will she stick around long enough to see it through? Will she relish the simplicities of small town life and continue running Pie Girls indefinitely? Since her mother refuses to bequeath the prize-winning family recipes to anyone other than the prodigal daughter, we better hope the answer is yes!

Nothing beats apple crumble pie on a cold winters day.

Nothing beats apple crumble pie on a cold winters day.

From chapter to chapter, it was a lot of fun watching the transformation of both the pie store and Searcy’s personality. The descriptive prose transported me straight to Fairfield, where I could hear the locusts buzzing in the fields, smell the heady scent of brown sugar in the shop, and see the vibrant flowers hanging above the rows of shops on Main Street. Throughout the book, my taste buds were throbbing for all sorts of gooey goodies. Very dangerous for a girl who lives within walking distance of a bakery!

I also adore key lime pie!

I also adore key lime pie!

Despite our rough patch at the beginning, Searcy won her way back into my heart when she dropped the Carrie Bradshaw act and got down to brass tacks on the pie shop. I hope you’ll check this book out and give Searcy a chance too. If you’re in the mood for a light and fluffy story with a little bit of bite (not unlike lemon meringue pie), grab your fork and dig into Pie Girls. Hmm…I wonder if there’s any leftover pumpkin pie in the fridge. I better go take a looksy!

Meow If It’s Murder Review & Giveaway!

Published November 23, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

21911690How lucky am I to get a first peek into this brand new kitty-themed mystery series! I came home from another long day at work only to find an advance manuscript sitting on my doorstep. Ah the perks of book blogging! The book doesn’t drop until Dec. 2, but you can score an ARC (that’s book blogger talk for advance reader copy) by entering my giveaway contest.  Just name your favorite sub shop sandwich in the comment section below and the winner will be picked at random!

So what do sandwiches have to do with the book? Well as with many cozies, this Nick & Nora series revolves around a quaint shop in a charming little hamlet filled with colorful characters and small town charm. In this case, it’s a family-run sandwich shop in a sleepy little corner of Northern California. Our leading lady, Nora Charles, returns to her hometown to take over her mother’s sandwich shop after a long, exhausting stint on the Chicago Tribune crime beat. Her quiet life of sandwich artistry lasted about 10 minutes until she found herself smack dab in the middle of a cold case mystery involving the curious death of socialite Lola Granger.  Just goes to show, you can take the girl out of the crime beat, but you can’t take the crime beat out of the girl!

Don't let that grumpy face fool you. Gizzy is a fan of Nick & Nora!

Don’t let that grumpy face fool you. Gizzy is a fan of Nick & Nora!

As she probes into the Lola’s mysterious cruise ship drowning, she finds more questions than answers. Why would someone with an irrational fear of the ocean jump off a cruise ship in the middle of the night? And how is Lola’s missing sister connected to all this? Is the smoking-hot Paul Walker lookalike detective really trying to help? Or does he have ulterior motives for keeping tabs on Nora’s sleuthing?

The specialty sandwich shop recipes are an added bonus. My chef husband was kind enough to make the Michael Buble burger, which I highly recommend!

The specialty sandwich shop recipes are an added bonus. My chef husband was kind enough to make the Michael Buble burger, which I highly recommend!

Adding to the mystery is the appearance of a portly little tuxedo cat on Nora’s doorstep.  She tries to shoo him away, but he’s intent on being her cat. Of course she succumbs to his cuteness and allows him to rule the sandwich shop.  How could she not? Turns out, he isn’t your ordinary alley cat. In fact, he once belonged to a private investigator who was looking into Lola’s murder mystery. With his uncanny talent for sleuthing, Nick uses Scrabble tiles to literally spell out clues for Nora.  He even warns her when she’s about to put her life at risk. How’s that for a kitty sidekick?!

Everything comes together in the end, but yet I’m still plagued with questions about the cat. How did he know to find Nora when she was hot on the case? And what is with his resemblance to his former owner? Is this a case of reincarnation or soul transference? I guess I’ll have to read the next book to find out!

I highly recommend this one to all my fellow kitty cozy mystery lovers.  Heck, even if you don’t like cats (which is crazy by the way), you’ll enjoy this book. There are plenty of suspects to consider and even a hot little romance simmering between Nora and the hot detective. I especially enjoyed Nora’s psychic best friend, Chantel, who was constantly torturing Nick with her fussy blinged-out kitty collars. I sure would love for her to make one for my Gizzy!

What’s your favorite sandwich? Post a comment and tell me all about it. Giveaway closes on Friday, Nov. 28.

 

Gizzy & CeeCee’s Halloween Treat: Asylum by Madeline Reoux

Published November 3, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

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What’s creepier than an abandoned insane asylum? If you, like me, are into those ghost-hunting shows, you already know those cavernous old buildings are full of bad juju. If walls could talk, would you really want to hear the stories?

In this book, our fearless protagonist Dan Crawford didn’t have much of a choice. Unless he unravels the mystery of his college dorm—formerly an asylum for the criminally insane—some very bad things would happen to all of his friends. A dark force looms above the campus, and it’s up to Dan and his two trusty sidekicks to put the genie back into the bottle before the body count rises—and they too become trapped forever within the hallowed halls of the asylum.13597728

On the scare-o-meter, I give this thing a 7.5, not bad for young adult. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up a couple of times, and the unsettling photos of abandoned asylums and tortured patients really set the mood. Ransom Riggs jumpstarted this mixed-media trend with his book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and I must say it’s pretty effective for this particular genre. All of the photos are of real people and places from a bygone era, adding another layer of intrigue. With each chapter, I kept asking myself, “What’s the story behind the pale, haunted faces within these photos? What atrocities were performed on those rusty hospital beds?”  On second thought, I’d rather not know.

My only gripe is that the story was bogged down by all the typical YA junk (awkward flirtations, clichéd bullies, whiny self-loathing, etc.). The awkward romance between Dan and his fellow sidekick, Abby, really stunted the pace. This guy had no qualms about hunting for clues alone in a haunted basement, but he couldn’t muster the courage to ask a girl out? Please. I know these authors have to appeal to swoony girls, but sometimes the romance falls flat when it’s shoehorned into the story. I also could’ve done without the insatiably clingy Jordan. Dude clearly never heard of the term “cock blocker.”

Aside from those minor hangups, I have to say this is a quality read for ghost enthusiasts. But if you’re expecting any answers, you’ll have to wait until then next book in the series. Why were the trio of friends all brought to the haunted dorm by some unseen force? What’s the story behind the evil entity lurking within the dark recesses of the halls? Your guess is as good as mine.

Texas Book Festival Reading Roundup!

Published October 26, 2014 by Chick-Lit Cafe

WP_20141025_008When fall rolls around most people get excited about football, pumpkin-spice goodies and turkey feasts. For me, it’s all about books, books, books! Every October I get giddy just thinking about all author meet-and-greets, book tent shopping, live music and junk food galore at the annual Texas Book Festival.

Normally I make a beeline for the big-time author signing events and panel discussions, but this year I decided to spend more time roaming the rows upon rows of book tents with my ginormous book bag in tow. There’s free candy,  magazines, cheap books and oodles of swag. It’s like trick-or-treating for grownups! You never know who you’re going to bump into in these tents. In the past, I’ve stumbled upon talented new indie writers like Sylvia Dickey Smith and Russ Hall (two of my top Texas mystery authors), and bestselling young adult paranormal romance authors like Richelle Meade and Meg Cabot.

What I love about this festival is that I don’t even have to bother reading the dustcover for a synopsis. The authors are more than happy to walk me through the book in person! How cool is that!? Of course not all of them sing to me, which can be rather awkward when the author is doing a hard sell, but there were dozens this year that really caught my eye. Here are just a few of the titles that I added to my mountainous to-be-read stack:

WP_20141025_002Éire’s Captive Moon (Éire’s Viking #1)  by Sandi Layne

Éire’s Captive Moon, the first book of Sandi Layne’s Éire’s Viking Trilogy, brings you to the unsettled era of the early Viking raids along the coast of Éire – today’s Ireland. A wounded refugee from the violent Viking raids on Éire’s coast is healed so well by Charis of Ragor that Agnarr captures the moon-pale woman for his own and takes her home to Nordweg to be his slave. Read more here…

WP_20141025_001 Hunted (The Gates Legacy #1) by Lorenz Font

Deep in the heart of New York City’s netherworld, a horrible disease is ravaging the vampire community. The Vampire Council is on a crusade to obliterate those infected, and Harrow Gates is target Number One. The unwitting source of the plague, he suffers from the same nightmarish symptoms as his victims. The world he’d been thrust into was cold, cruel, and intent on eradicating him, and the legions of afflicted vampires he created with his bite. Read more here…

WP_20141025_006To Hell and Gone in Texas by Russ Hall

Retired sheriff’s detective Al Quinn hasn’t spoken to his brother, Maury, in twenty years. When Maury lands in the hospital under suspicious circumstances, though, Al reluctantly abandons his quiet country seclusion to look into the matter. A second attempt to take Maury out drives the brothers back to Al’s lakeside home, where Al knows the territory, but they’re not alone for long.

ICE agents demand that Maury rat on his silent partner, city cop Fergie Jergens comes investigating the murders of Maury’s lady friends, and someone takes a match to Al’s house. Read more here…

When You Make it Home by Claire Ashby

Meg Michaels, a bookstore owner, has already walked away from two cheating exes. She’s learned her lesson and has her mind set on success—until she gets knocked up. Embarrassed and unwilling to discuss her situation with friends and family, she wears layers to hide the pregnancy. Read more here…

(Notable Mention) Lay Death at Her Door by Elizabeth Buhmann
Twenty years ago, Kate Cranbrook’s eyewitness testimony sent the wrong man to prison for rape and murder. When new evidence exonerates him, Kate says that in the darkness and confusion, she must have mistaken her attacker’s identity. She is lying. Kate would like nothing better than to turn her back on the past, but she is trapped in a stand-off with the real killer. Read my review here…

WP_20141025_003RIP (Rest In Peace) by Bob Kat

Once again Kelly, Scott, Austin and Zoey are listening to the Spirit Radio when they hear a cry for help from a mother whose four-year-old daughter, Emma went missing in the middle of a busy lobby at the infamous Stanley Hotel. But time traveling back to 1911 is a lot more complicated than the three trips they had taken earlier in the summer. They have to find appropriate clothes and figure out a way to pay for their stay. When they hear about a tragic fire that hurt several hotel employees, the teens take advantage of the hotel’s desperation and get jobs working as lady’s maids and houseboys so they can keep an eye on Emma and her family. Read more here…

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!

 

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