Brutus’ Book of the Month: Bridge of Bones by Richard Gleaves

Published November 19, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Brutus is a big fan of the Headless Horseman! He’s waiting at Austin Pets Alive for a haunted house to call his own.

Halloween may be just a memory but lucky for you, Brutus and I celebrate this spooktacular holiday all year round! Some may think it’s strange that I prominently display my Department 56 haunted village throughout all four seasons, but I scoff at their provincial ways.  After they swap their jack-o-lanterns for tinsel and twinkle lights, I’ll still be reading Sleepy Hollow-themed books underneath the glow of my faux Haunted Mansion candelabra.

23390914Without further ado, Brutus would like to bring you a review of the second installment of the Jason Crane Sleepy Hollow series – and boy is it a doozy! Wow, where to begin? This book is huge, and there’s SO much ground to cover.  How about I start by introducing you to the fearless and loveable hero, Jason Crane?  I applaud Richard Gleaves for bringing all of his characters to life in a way that only a few masterful storytellers can pull off. Jason is a hapless hero who appeals to anyone who hasn’t won the genetic lottery. A decendent of none other than Ichabod Crane, he’s long, lanky and rather awkward around girls. But what he lacks in good looks and social graces, he makes up for in bravery and wit.  It’s a good think he’s got a lot of true grit because in this next adventure, he’s got more obstacles than the Hobbit and Harry Potter combined! Okay, that may be an overstatement, but the dude’s got some major problems.

The story unfolds in the aftermath of Jason’s near-death encounter with the Headless Horseman. The town is in an uproar after he shattered the door of the old Dutch church. The townsfolk hate him so much, even his teachers are giving him the boot from their classrooms. To say that he is persona non grata would be an understatement. After his beloved grandmother’s untimely death, Jason is left under the care of his evil guardian, Hediwig (sorry about butchering his name, but that’s one of the drawbacks of reading via audio.) His family fortune is being siphoned into a nefarious political campaign and his grandmother’s old house has turned into a scene from Hoarders. Chips are down.

Things go from bad to worse when Jason and his crush Kate discover that they have been saddled with the Witches Curse. Isn’t it bad enough that they are both tortured by unrequited love?  Oh and they’re being hunted down by an axe-wielding horseman from beyond the grave.

This book may be long, but I finished it in a weekend because it’s one heck of a ride. I learned so much about the evil powers that control the Sleepy Hollow boneyard, and the evil entity that ultimately controls the Headless Horseman.  Murderous ghosts and malevolent witches are unsettling, but the most frightening thing about this book is the evil that lurks within Hediwig’s soul.  This is more than just a cat-and-mouse adventure story. It’s also a terrifying character sketch of the mind of a sociopath. There were points when Hediwick tried to fight his dark madness, yet his weakness was no match for pure evil. That, my friends, is far more frightening than a Headless Horseman lurking in the woods on Halloween night.

I’ll stop right here to save you from spoilers.  But I will leave you with one tip. I highly suggest “reading” this one of audio. The narrator is the best in the business, and it’s a lot of fun listening to the book while walking around a spooky trail at dusk. Happy reading—or listening—my friends!

A Lukewarm Review of Zak Bagans’ ‘I am Haunted’

Published November 15, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

22609198I’m so glad I bought the cheapo digital copy instead of the muy expensivo hardback because this book did not fulfill my wildest dreams. I want to like Zak Bagans. I really do. But it’s so hard to give him the benefit of the doubt when he’s constantly berating his “haters” and demonstrating his supperiority over other ghost-hunting crews.  Did he really have to insult Paris Hilton’s “clown feet” just because she “dissed his friend”?  I’m not really fond of celebutantes, but that was a low blow, dude.

After reading his first book, I was craving more behind-the-scenes stories about haunted buildings and the many backwoods weirdos he interviews. Sadly my thirst for inside knowledge was left unquenched as Zak continuted to regale his readers with stories about his impeccible work ethic, his psychic skills, his avante garde ghost-hunting techniques, etcetera, etcetera. Being the loyal fangirl that I am, I forged through the ego-pumping chapters and was rewarded by a few gems. Oh how I loved reading his stories about the ghoulish people who reside in some of the world’s creepiest murder houses.  I especially enjoyed the juicy tidbits about the weirdos who live in Fox Hollow Farms. Yikes!  I should also give him props for donating thousands of dollars to animal shelters. Anyone who supports homeless animals can’t be all that douchey, right?

The ghost stories I can do without, however, are the ones that involve his ex-GFs who claim to be taunted by his paranormal baggage. Come on, Zak, you know they’re just trying to bring you back into their lair. To say that I’m dubious of those alleged demonic attacks would be an understatement. Albeit he is super hot and I may be just a tad envious of his lady friends. Don’t mock me! I find his refusal to let go of the Backstreat Boys fashions to be quite endearing, OK! The spiked hair, the baggy FUBU pants, the Ed Hardy-esque attire—it all works for me.

But I digress…In short, this book seemed more like an angry manifesto than a memoir. While reading his tirades I just wanted to scream, “I bought your book, didn’t I? Doesn’t that mean I’m on your side?” For his sake, I hope at some point he can make peace with his naysayers, keep calm and ghost-hunt on. Until then, I will continue to dutifully watch his show because it is far and away more exciting than the snoozefest that is Ghost Hunters. The Dead Files comes in at a close second. Oh how I would love to see Zak Bagans and Amy Allen team up at a mega-haunted location. But of course, all other ghost-hunters pale in comparison so that will never happen.

King’s Halloween Treat! A Roundup of Truly Terrifying Books

Published October 24, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

12108773_749352888526847_6025872057245088541_nHappy Howl-o-weeeeen! King here from Austin Pets Alive. It’s been a while now and I’m still hanging out at the shelter looking for a haunted castle to call my own. My “big sister” wants more people to notice my regal beauty, so she’s letting me commandeer her silly little lady blog. When we go out on walks, she’s always listening to spooky audiobooks. It’s all very strange—morbid even. But hey, as long as she keeps the treats and kisses coming, I’ll go along with it.

So if you’re a weirdo who actually enjoys being scared, here are a few truly unsettling ghost stories that will keep you up all night. To quote the great R.L. Stine, readers beware; you’re in for a scare!

Naomi’s Room by Jonathan Aycliffe

880062 My dad has a knack for finding the most random books by unknown authors. When he handed me this tiny paperback, I looked at the cover and say, “really?” He assured me that it’s one of the best haunted house stories he’s ever read. That man never steers me wrong when it comes to books and barbecue restaurants, so I decided to give it a shot. After the first chapter I was hooked! This book has everything I love in a ghost story—and more. The author clearly mastered the art of gothic atmosphere and suspense. Each chapter ended with a cliffhanger, forcing me to ignore my chores and keep on reading.  Set in modern-day England, the story is narrated by a well-to-do professor who just moved into the most evil house imaginable. After the tragic loss of his daughter, Naomi, he and his grieving wife are left all alone in the Mt. Everest of haunted houses. Night after night, the sounds of creaks, scratches and disembodied chatter build up into a cresendo of terror. Among the dark symphany, is the sweet voice of their dead daughter. They soon find the spectral form of Naomi wants nothing more than to rip them apart. And trust me, there is plenty of bloodshed! I’ll leave it right there because it’s way too easy to give away spoilers. If you liked that Ethan Hawke movie Sinister, or the old school Stephen King book Pet Cemetery, this book is for you!

The Silence of the Ghosts by Jonathan Aycliffe

20702932I had my doubts that the Great Dark Master Jonathan Aycliffe could top Naomi’s Room, but sure enough he delivered another haunted house story that made my skin crawl. My dad liked this one more because it combines a glimpse into the horrors of the London bombings (circa WWII) with a gothic haunted house story. As an added bonus, there’s even a sweet little romance thrown in the mix. Both books fill my dark heart with ghoulish delight, but I’m still going to side with Naomi’s Room because that book was mondo beyondo scary.

This one follows a young man named Dominic Lancaster and his kid sister, Octavia, who are forced to live all alone in their family’s crumbling estate. While their neglegent blueblood parents are away in London, the kiddos must fend for themselves in a house that wants to eat them alive. Written in diary form, it’s easy to get envoloped into the story as the narrator navigates the plethora of evil forces and valiently protects his deaf sister from joining the ghosts trapped in the house. Trust me, this is a VERY scary book that will haunt your dreams long after you polish off the last chapter. To this day, I still can’t shake that vision of a dark, shadowy mass slowly making its way down the stairs…or the photographs of long-dead children in search of a new playmate. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it!

Woman in Black by Susan Hill

37034After reading two deliciously disturbing ghost stories, I was in the mood for another gothic thriller. The movie version of Woman in Black was so moody and atmospheric, so how could I possibly go wrong with this timeless classic?

Set in a tiny English town during the turn-of-the-century, the story revolves around a sad little man (seriously, this guy is a wet blanket) named Arthur Kipps. His job is to settle the affairs of the deceased mistress of dilapidated house that is rife with sinister forces. All alone in the middle of a foggy marsh, he finds that the house takes on a life of its own when the sun goes down. The otherworldly sounds of shrieking and moaning intesnify every night—and soon Aurther starts questioning his sanity. Why do the townsfolk of Crythin Gifford fear the house? And why is a woman in black stalking him in the shadows? You’ll have to read the book to find out! I should note that although I enjoyed the gothic atmosphere, the bulk of the story follows an unlikeable man creeping around a dark house. Not a lot happens, but there are a few unsetttling moments that set me on edge. Also, Aurther is a shameless intellectual snob. I wouldn’t have been bothered in the least if the ghosts did him in.

I warn you, do not read these books alone at night! Pleasant nightmares, my dear readers. Oh and don’t forget to check out King’s APA profile! Adopt him and I promise that he’ll protect you from ghosts and banshees!

Washington Irving Fans, Eat Your Heart Out!

Published September 21, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

18586140Another hot and muggy September has reared its ugly head in this inferno called Austin. That means I’ll be reading nothing but spooky ghost stories all the way through December! This year, I’m jump-starting the witching season with this fun YA thriller filled with ghosts, leering jack-o-lanterns and a sword-wielding fiend on horseback.

Sounds promising, but yet I went into this book with cautious optimism. After attempting to watch that blasphemous Sleepy Hollow series and suffering through the first installment of the Hollow Trilogy, I know that there’s so many ways a headless horseman story could go wrong. Oh and please don’t get me started on the Tim Burton movie. Who in their right mind would cast Johnny Depp as Ichabod? I’m sure poor old Irving is still rolling around in his grave over that one.

Here’s the thing. If you’re going to retell old Washington Irving’s masterpiece, you better use the spooky setting to your full advantage. Irving and Ray Bradbury mastered the art of intoxicating readers with lyrical descriptions of fall landscapes. Contemporary authors all seem to pale in comparison. That is until I took a chance on Richard Gleaves.

He is clearly a huge fan of Irving’s work, and it shows in his atmospheric descriptions of Ichabod Crane’s stomping grounds. His prose swept me away to the little hamlet along the Hudson River, where I could hear the soft autumn breeze wafting through the trees, smell the smoke drifting from burnt leaves, and see the moonlight shining upon spooky boneyard. Such fun!

With a hip hip and a clippity clop, he's out looking for a head to chop!

With a hip hip and a clippity clop, he’s out looking for a head to chop!

The genius of the story, is the parallels between the modern day characters and their direct descendants—Brom bones and Ichabod Crane. Our hero Jason Crane may be long and lanky, but he’s much cooler than his social-climbing ancestor. As expected, he falls in love with Kate (the new Katrina), who is unfortunately hooked up with the modern day Brom Bones, a school jock with lots of skeletons in the closet.

Of all the multi-dimensional characters in this book, I most enjoyed Jason’s newfound bestie—a wannabe Robin Williams who spends most of his waking hours manning the grounds of the local cemetery. This actually comes in handy when Jason finds that his grandmother is being conned into digging up a veritable Pandora’s box that has been entombed in the family crypt for two centuries.

I’ll save you from the gory details—and I mean that in every sense of the word! But I will say that this is one thrill ride that will get you in the Halloween spirit. Ever since I watched the Disney version of Sleepy Hollow—a masterpiece onto itself—I’ve been obsessed with this story. It was such a treat when Gleaves invoked bits and pieces from Ichabod’s last ride into the climax. I won’t tell you any more, but I will say that fans of the Disney classic will be most amused.


CeeCee & Gizzy’s Dog Days of Summer Reading Roundup

Published August 29, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

UntitledThe days are getting shorter and the weather is getting cooler—dipping down to below 90 here in Austin! Time for me to say so long to my beach reads and hello to all the ghost stories that are ripe for the picking on my bookshelf. Before I jumpstart my fall reading list, Giz and CeeCee would like to share some highlights from this summer’s crop of beach reads.


Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

18189606I have to give myself a little pat on the back for choosing this book for one of my precious monthly Audible credits. Is it just me, or is YA lit getting better and better? John Green really threw down the gauntlet with his masterful tales of love, loss and teen angst. The bar has been set and Morgan Matson is delivering the books that readers—both young and old—crave. I was sucked in my the mystery of Sloan’s vanishing act, wondering what on earth could cause a girl to ditch her BFF for an entire summer with no explanation. Is she dying a slow death? Did she get kidnapped my martians? What’s the deal, Sloan?! The story moved along quickly as Emily embarked on her scavenger hunt-like mission that would hopefully lead her back to Sloan. To help Emily come out of her shell, Sloan left her an ingenious list of tasks—from horseback riding (Emily’s biggest fear), to skinny dipping, to kissing a stranger in the dark! It was a lot of fun tagging along as she tackled her to-do list and fell in love with the boy next-door along the way. This is one summer read that is sure to win over fans of John Green, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Dessen.


Murder She Wrote: Aloha Betrayed by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

18114236This is a tried-and-true mystery series that never ever disappoints. I absolutely adore Murder She Wrote, and I’m almost ashamed to say these books are even better than the TV show. Maybe it’s because the novels are less rushed and confusing than the hour-long whodunits. Either way, I love it all! This book is especially fun because Jessica is jet setting yet again to a Hawaiian island where she’s guest lecturing a criminology course at a local college. Where do I sign up?! Lo and behold, a professor is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, and all signs point to murder. I had a lot of fun joining J.B. Fletcher as she questioned suspects at luaus, on dinner cruises, and even on a treacherous bike tour to a sacred volcano. Half the fun is exploring the wonders of Hawaii vicariously through the eyes of a most perceptive sleuth. There’s oodles of suspicious characters with possible motives for knocking off an ambitious professor who wanted to put the kibosh on a lucrative telescope project. Such fun! I’m so glad I stashed this book in my carry-on bag on my trip to San Diego. Jessica Fletcher is by far the best traveling companion for this wannabe amateur sleuth!


Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer

18525774Why am I still listening to this audiobook? That’s the question I kept asking as I commuted to and from work every morning. Even when a book is bad, I get really stubborn about sticking it through. In retrospect, I wasn’t doing myself any favors wasting my time on this heap of sappy garbage, I was allured by the premise of two best friends growing up on a charming little East Coast island and bonding through decades of hardships and heartbreaks. What can I say? I’m a girl who loves sisterly bonding. I blame the fans on Goodreads who claim that it’s the perfect book for fans of “Beaches.” What a crock! This book had nothing to do with sisterly bonding, soul searching and female empowerment. It was all about vapid, idiotic women chasing men. The feminist in me screamed at these utterly naïve women who couldn’t find fulfillment in their lives without locking a noncommittal man into marriage. The poor little rich girl character even cried in delight when her man admitted that he was willing to marry her even though he could never love her. WTF? I’ll stop right there before I roast this book into an oblivion. I hate being so nasty, but I do want to save my fellow readers from being insulted by this total time waster.

Bone to be Wild by Carolyn Haines

Published August 23, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

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!

A Q&A with Ashley Hope Pérez, Author of ‘Out of Darkness’

Published August 14, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

This post originally appeared on my other book blog, ShelfLife@Texas. Go check it out if you’re in the mood for some brain food!

ashleypicIn March 1937 a gas leak caused a massive explosion that killed almost 300 children and teachers at a school in New London, Texas. Amidst the backdrop of this catastrophic event, a Mexican-American girl falls in love with a Black boy in a segregated oil town.

In a town where store signs mandate “No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs,” Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know not to cross the deeply entrenched color lines. Yet the heart wants what it wants and societal barriers are no match for young love.

Like a ticking time bomb, the tension builds as their love blossoms. And when tragedy strikes, the young lovers struggle to find a shred of light amidst the shroud of darkness. Will they overcome the forces of hate and intolerance that loom over their town, their school—even their own homes? You’ll have to read the book to find out! Out of Darkness hits shelves Sept. 1, 2015.

The author Ashley Hope Pérez—who just so happens to be a proud Longhorn—was kind enough to share some insight into this multifaceted tale of love, loss, family and the ugly forces that drive people apart. Read on to learn more about the book—and how many of the themes touch on issues we face today in American society.

What made you decide to write a story about the 1937 New London school explosion? 

I grew up about 20 minutes from New London. The explosion—which happened at 3:17 on March 18, 1937—was always a kind of shadowy event that I’d hear whispered about from time to time but rarely discussed openly. At one point, I remember driving by the site of the disaster with my father and him telling me the story of a little girl who could only be identified because she had colored her toenails with a crayon. I didn’t know many specifics of the explosion, only that it had killed hundreds of children. When I returned to the event as a novelist, I was interested in more than the explosion itself: I wanted to examine how this kind of tragedy might ripple through a community, bringing out the best in some and the worst in others and catalyzing more loss. 

How can readers relate to the characters in your book?

Okay, first some quick introductions. Four characters are at the heart of the story in Out of Darkness. There’s Wash Fuller.The teenage son of the New London Colored School’s principal, Wash has always lived in East Texas and prides himself on knowing his way around both the woods and the prettiest girls from Egypt Town, where most of the Black community lives. Wash’s days as a womanizer come to an end when he meets Naomi Vargas, a beautiful and painfully shy girl from San Antonio who has just moved to New London with her younger twin half-siblings, Beto and Cari (short for Roberto and Caridad). The three of them have been brought to East Texas by Naomi’s white stepfather after he has a conversion experience and decides he ought to bring his family back together.

Wash is easy for readers to relate to; he’s funny, loyal and passionate. Naomi is a quieter character, but readers quickly identify with her determination to protect the twins and her ability to persevere in spite of considerable hardship in the present and secrets from her past. Once Wash and Naomi fall in love, it would be impossible not to want them to have a future together. Romantic love intertwines with the love both Naomi and Wash feel for the twins, who also play an important part in the story. Some of the most beautiful parts of the book are when the four of them are together in the woods of East Texas.

What do you hope readers will take away from Out of Darkness?

I hope that readers will admire Naomi and Wash for their efforts to seize some joy for themselves at a time when the happiness and well-being of brown people was of little importance to most of American society. I hope that the barriers and flat-out cruelty that Naomi and Wash encounter in the world of 1937 may galvanize readers’ commitment to supporting people’s right to love whomever they love and build families around that love. That’s what Naomi and Wash try to do for the twins—make a family together in the secret still places along the Sabine River. 

Are there any themes in Out of Darkness that are relevant to current issues in our society? 

One of the most problematic views of racism is that it is “a thing of the past.” Out of Darkness shows racism and prejudice in the past, but it also creates opportunities to recognize the distressing continuities between our history and the present. We continue to see racialized violence in the news, both hate crimes like the church shooting in Charleston and acts of brutality by police and others that underscore disparities in how different members of our community are treated. This injustice and the distrust it breeds have deep roots. Out of Darkness asks readers to reckon with some of those roots as they existed here in Texas.

Beyond the blatant discrimination and violent expressions of white supremacy that unfold in the characters’ experiences, the novel offers glimpses of systematic discrimination, as in the tripartite segregation of schools into white, “colored,” and “Mexican” in cities like San Antonio. I taught for three years in an inner-city school in Houston, and I can tell you that the consequences of that segregation and the disenfranchisement it produced are still being felt in African American and Latino communities. 

What are you working on now?

A new novel, this time exploring Latino experiences in the Midwest. (Although born a Texan, I’ve been in the Midwest for nearly a decade, and apparently that’s about how long it takes for a new place to show up in my fiction.) The new book also involves family and tragedy, but that’s about all I can say about it at this point because I’m wildly superstitious about discussing details of work in progress. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that I hope Texans will not be scared off by some of the difficult issues in the novel and that they will instead embrace the chance to dive into our history in the company of characters worthy of their love and attention. Some people have suggested that Out of Darkness is a “brave” book, but I think it’s equally important to acknowledge that reading about painful features of our past takes courage.

And, of course, a big thank you for the chance to share a bit about Out of Darkness with Longhorn readers. Many of my formative reading and writing experiences took place right on the UT campus between the wonderfully deteriorated walls of Parlin Hall. So… Hook ‘em!

Want a sneak peek into the book? Visit the Texas Observer to read an excerpt!

About the author: In addition to Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of the YA novels The Knife and the Butterfly, and What Can’t Wait. She grew up in Texas and taught high school in Houston before pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. She is now a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University and spends most of her time reading, writing and teaching on topics from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their son, Liam Miguel.


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