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!

 

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.

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