Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Fourth of July Fizzles

Published July 5, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

I’m seriously striking out on beach reads this year.  Not one—but two—of the Fourth of July-themed books I selected on Audible turned out to be major turkeys.  You know that feeling when you light up a cheap sparkler expecting to see a glorious nimbus of glittery light, only to find that you got a big fat, fizzled-out dud? Well that pretty much sums up my disappointment with these cozy mysteries. Here’s hoping that my bad luck streak is over and that my next post will be filled with some fabulous summertime reads!

Dead White and Blue by Carolyn Hart

15808349In a word, this book is tedious. The constant questioning, the massive list of suspects, the never-ending red herrings—everything about this book exhausted me. I don’t understand what happened here. I have always loved the Death on Demand mystery series. I love that the amateur sleuth runs a mystery book store in a quaint little tourist town, and that she’s married to a handsome private eye. Her old biddy sidekicks are always a little annoying, but in this book they’re downright intolerable. Thankfully they were on a cruise and only popped up here and there via Skype. The Agatha Christie-esque plots always keep me guessing, but there were WAY too many pieces in this jigsaw puzzle.  There were SO many characters and they were all equally despicable. Lock them all up in jail for all I care!  Seriously, the author should’ve drawn up a character map so I could keep up with the tangled web of twisted townies.  Aside from the jumbled mess of suspects, the story is all work and no play. I found myself constantly pleading with Annie and Max to take a breather from their quest here and there. Go build a sandcastle, host a book signing party, drink some wine and watch the sunset—just take a break for Pete’s sake and let the reader come up for air! Keeping up with the herky jerky lines of inquiry just felt like work, work, work. At the end of the day, I just want to kick up my feet and enjoy a light mystery with cute kitties and hot detectives. But hey, if you enjoy formulaic math problems with factors and square roots coming out of the yin yang, this might be your cup of tea.

All Fudged Up by Nancy Coco

17381897This review might be just a little unfair on account of the fact that I returned this sucker after suffering through the first few chapters. It was just way too slapstick silly for my taste, which is really a shame considering that Mackinac Island the perfect setting for a cozy fudge-filled mystery. So why did I hit the return button so early in the game? Well you might think I’m a sourpuss, but I just can’t deal with over-the-top silly hijinks. My funny bone was not tickled when the mentally-challenged police dispatcher could not comprehend the words: “I found a dead body in my house.” When the hilarity of the dispatcher’s stupidity caused the caller to shake uncontrollably in laughter, I realized that there was no way I could ever connect with the story or the ridiculous characters. If I want a corkscrew comedy, I’ll watch Blazing Saddles. But when it comes to mysteries, there needs to be some sort of grounding in reality. Scooby Doo is a rare exception. What happened after the inept dispatcher eventually connected the dots and sent out a unit to inspect the crime scene? I’ll never know. Nor will I care. Thankfully, Audible immediately restores my precious monthly credits when I accidentally buy a book without doing some homework. A word to the wise: Always read the first chapter before taking the plunge.

A Q&A with Dr. Eve Shvidler, Author of ‘Burning the Short White Coat’

Published June 21, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

Adobe Photoshop PDFDo you love those medical dramas filled with McSteamy and McDreamy men walking around in tight jeans and white coats? Or are you a Mr. Big kind of girl? Well then, you’re in for a treat. In Burning the Short White Coat, Dr. Eve Shvidler gives readers an inside look into the world of a young budding doctor looking for love in the dizzying, sleep-deprived world of med school.

Read on to learn more about Dr. Shvidler’s debut novel—and how some of her own personal and professional experiences shaped the plot. 

What made you decide to write this book?

I wrote my book during medical school. I was amazed by everything that we were learning and experiencing and I wanted to capture that in real time.

At the same time, as single women, my friends and I really struggled to figure out how to navigate the singles scene. Sometimes we were crushed, other times emboldened and often placed in comical situations. I wanted to capture that dichotomy – the serious professional student and the single twenty-something looking for love.

How can readers relate to Elle Gallagher?

She’s just a regular single woman looking for love and somehow dating all the wrong people. Anyone who’s spent more than a minute in the singles scene can probably relate.

If you could take any of your characters out to lunch, who would it be and why?

First choice: Samy. He always gave the best advice. He was eight years ahead of Elle in his career. I’d be curious how he feels about his career now.

Second choice: James Ruhl. I’d be curious as to how he turned out after he got older and balder.

Did any of Elle’s experiences stem from your own journey through medical school?

Absolutely. In the interest in protecting patient confidentiality, patient stories were changed around and tweaked, but they are inspired by real experiences. The dating/singles scene stories resonate from experiences my friends and I had.

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

First and foremost, I want readers to have fun and enjoy the book. It is mostly meant to provide some easy reading and entertainment. Believe it or not, medical school was a blast. Despite some of the difficult times and the hard lessons, it was one of the best times of my life.

But, if there was one point I hope readers come away with, it’s a better understanding of how much we go through in the process of becoming doctors. We have to make difficult choices. We are very unsophisticated in our understanding of the human body. It takes time and repetition to make a good doctor. Elle isn’t there yet. Not even close.

What’s next?

I’m about a quarter of the way into the sequel. Elle’s adventures certainly did not end in St. Louis. She still has four years of residency in Los Angeles. In the mean time, I also have a day job that I love and will continue doing.

More about the Author: Dr. Eve Shvidler wrote Burning the Short White Coat while still single and in her medical school and residency training. She is now a practicing physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. She is married, and they have three children.

 

Gizzy’s pick: Neighing with Fire by Kathryn O’Sullivan

Published May 31, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

10982781_681149715347165_297454266350883030_nIt isn’t summertime without a new installment from the Colleen McCabe mystery series! Set in a tranquil coastal town where wild horses run free and dead bodies pop up from underneath the sand, how could I ask for a better beach read?

23014755In this much-anticipated third installment, the mystery begins when a hurricane swoops into town, unearthing a carefully buried dead man from underneath a boardwalk. Turns out, it’s just some random dude with no personal connections to anyone in town. When an arsonist starts running amok, Colleen—the local fire chief—must piece together the clues before the whole town goes up in smoke.

Can we just pause for a moment and reflect on how awesome it is that our leading lady is the head honcho of a firehouse? She’s not the queen of a quilting bee, or an owner of a scrapbook shop. Nope, this red-headed sleuth is out there saving lives and delegating orders to an all-male team of firefighters. You go girl!

With some help from her trusty sidekicks, she pieces together the clues that all seem to lead to the town’s wealthy developer, Pinky Salvatore.  In true Murder She Wrote fashion, Pinky becomes the prime suspect after he has a heated confrontation with a soon-to-be dead man. But why would Pinky—the town’s beloved benefactor—burn a man to death in one of his own properties? What motive would he have for killing a virtual stranger?

Nope, I don’t buy it. Neither does Colleen, who may or may not be crushing on Pinky. You see, despite her budding romance with the town sheriff, Bill Dorman, there seems to be a spark –pun intended—between those two. As her romance fires up with Bill, she’s also feeling a pull toward the flirtatious Italian stallion. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bill is sweet and all, but I’m really rooting for the dark horse waiting in the wings. I’m hoping that in the near future, wild horses won’t keep those two from giving into their desires. Oh how I love a good pun!

I did some goggling and decided that this will be my beach house in Corolla.

I did some goggling and decided that this will be my beach house in Corolla.

As I write this with my little gray cat in my lap, I should note that this book is a surefire (oops, another pun!) hit for animal rescue enthusiasts. There’s a slew of loveable characters who are putting their lives at risk to save endangered birds and horses.  And, of course, Colleen has a couple four-legged partners in crime: a border collie named Sparky, and a feisty kitty named Smoky. Notice a theme here with the names?

Pea_Island-Corolla_10-2-08_0240 If you love a good light-hearted mystery with romantic tension, beautiful scenery and eccentric, animal-loving characters, this mystery series is for you! With so many suspects to choose from, I enjoyed playing the guessing game until the very last chapter. I always get fooled by those darn red herrings!

CeeCee’s Roundup of Murder, Mayhem and Four-Legged Sleuths

Published May 24, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

UntitledLast night we had the mother of all thunderstorms—the perfect setting for a riveting whodunit! While the shingles were blowing off the roof and my poor doggie was shivering in the closet, I was busy wrapping up the last final chapters of my Chet and Bernie mystery. If you’re in the mood for a good mystery that’s light on the mind-numbing procedural stuff and heavy on cute animals and sassy amateur sleuths, this reading roundup is for you!

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

teagarden_book_a_pAfter watching the Hallmark channel movie—starring none other than Candace Cameron as Aurora (aka Ro) Teagarden—I had to check out this series to see how it compares to the made-for-TV train wreck. I mean, how can the mastermind behind the True Blood series have anything to do with such a snore fest filled with cardboard cutout characters and inane dialogue? Sadly, the literary version is just as disappointing. It has all the annoying tropes that run rampant in the cozy genre: the overbearing, meddling mother, the bossy best friend, the fashionably-challenged leading lady. Seriously, why do so many cozy mystery characters have to dress like lunch ladies? Is this a way to make them more likeable and relatable to the readers? What does that say about cozy mystery fans? What really bothered me about Candace Cameron’s role is that she looked like she stepped right out of the pages of an Anthropologie catalogue, yet people kept nagging her to dress better. And what’s up with those crazy long hair extensions? In the book, the drab librarian has a head of frizzy brown hair. It made no sense that the TV version looks like a freakin Pantene commercial. Although I do have to hand it to Candace, that girl sure has come a long way since Full House. I would love to get her beauty secrets!

The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

16130393Oh my gawsh! How can I even articulate my complete and total adoration for this detective series? It’s told through the eyes of a big, goofy dog named Chet (aka “Chet the Jet”) who chases down perps and solves crimes with his human partner. I know what you’re thinking. A dog narrating the whole book? That’s got to get old real quick. Well think again! The story moves along at a rapid pace through Chet’s narrative. You see, dogs pick up on a lot of things that human can’t see, smell or hear. With his acute senses, Chet can give the readers some clues that Bernie won’t pick up on until the bad guys start closing in on them. This time, they’re solving a mystery in the Louisiana swamplands—my favorite kind of setting! What starts out as a simple missing persons case soon leads to a tangled web of drug dealers, biker gangs, Big Oil, and one mean-ass alligator named Iko. I love this series for two reasons: the top-notch mystery, and Chet’s unwavering love for Bernie. He is 100 percent devoted to his disheveled Hawaiian shirt-wearing human. In Chet’s eyes, Bernie is pure perfection…well except for when a woman crosses his path. I’d like to think this is how dogs really perceive their humans. The way they look up at us with those adoring eyes, how could they not?

A Nip of Murder by Carol Miller

20575402As with the first book in this new series, the story begins with a most peculiar catastrophe. A gang of masked bandits raid a bakery and make off with 90 pounds of cream cheese. What in the world?! The plot thickens when Daisy’s emotionally fragile employee stabs one of the robbers to death in self-defense. Turns out, he’s just some random dude with no connection to the town whatsoever. In a rural Virginia hamlet devoid of useful law enforcement, Daisy has no other choice but to solve the mystery of the stolen cream cheese on her own. When she’s not piecing together clues, she’s busy at the bakery attending to a big crowd of strangers who’re in town for a geocacher hunt. With so many strangers thrown into the mix, how will she ever narrow down the suspects list? What would a bunch of nerdy geocacher’s want with a mountain of cream cheese? With some help from a rather handsome geocacher, who’s also a hot history professor, she hunts down some leads that all seem to point to an underground moonshine ring. And as the romance heats up between her and the professor, she also starts to feel a gravitational pull toward Rick Balsam, the local moonshine-brewing bad boy. Uh oh, I smell trouble!

As I expected, this mystery series just keep getting better and better. If you’re a sucker for an atmospheric whodunit with feisty female sleuths and steamy romantic tension, this one’s for you! Oh and did I mention that there’s also a crime-solving kitty named Blot? Now that’s the cream cheese icing on the cake!

Happy Motherless Day

Published May 10, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

17bees_xlarge1There seems to be no other Hallmark holiday like Valentine’s Day that stirs up such widespread contention among the zillions of people who have zero cause to celebrate.  All the heart-shaped chocolate boxes and jewelry commercials are cruel reminders that they got gypped in the love department. Well that’s exactly how I feel when Mother’s Day rears its ugly head.  The good news, however, is that I get to spend the day lounging around with a good book instead of being smooshed inside a crowded restaurant eating overpriced brunch.  Ha! Take that, Mother’s Day revelers!

So for those of you who enjoy a good book about resourceful women who found their way in the world just fine without a mother, this reading roundup is for you. And hey, on the bright side, all that money you’d be spending on wilting tulips and sappy cards can go toward books. That ought to take the sting out of it, right?

Disclaimer: There are many wonderful, loving mothers out there who deserve to be spoiled on this day. Kudos to them and their lucky children.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

37435Break out that box of tissues! This one’s a tear-jerker. If you feel that you don’t need to read the book because you already saw the movie, think again. The prose, the poetic symbolism, the summertime Southern setting—everything about this book makes my soul sing! Lily’s inner turmoil took me to a familiar place that I’ve locked away, causing stubborn tears rising to the surface for the first time in years. It’s hard to articulate how I felt reading this book. Let’s see…how should I put this? Back when I experienced Disneyland for the first time as a kid, I was blown away by the lights, the sounds, the magic–the bigness of it all. It was like venturing into a whole new vibrant world that I never wanted to leave. Well that’s how I felt on an emotional level while reading Lily’s inner dialogue. Sounds corny, I know, but it’s the truth!   I rooted for her as she found love with her newfound mother figures and came to terms with her abandonment issues. It’s not just one story about Lily’s journey of self-discovery, it’s also a story about standing up for what’s right, demanding justice and equality, and carving a path for yourself in defiance of oppression.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

savingceeceehoneycuttNot since The Secret Life of Bees has a book touched that sweet spot in my heart that yearns for a good ol’ tear-jerking Southern drama.  I instantly fell in love with little CeeCee, a 12-year-old girl who lost her mentally ill mother and found solace in a new tribe of strong Southern women. Like Opal in Because of Win Dixie, CeeCee listens to other people’s lives and provides her own bits of wisdom through hopeful wonder and dead-on honesty. This is an inspiring coming-of-age journey filled with hope, redemption and the divine power of women. Oh how I wish I could spend an afternoon sipping iced tea with this sweet girl and her sisterhood of surrogate mothers in Aunt Tootie’s antebellum mansion…sigh. Go here for my review.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

32234Like listening to the perfect sad song on a bad day, this book has somewhat of a cathartic effect. Anyone who has grown up in a loveless household will identify with Astrid’s struggle. But ultimately this is a story about survival. Let’s face it; a lot of us get the short hand of the stick when it comes to parents. But once we get out from under their thumb, we have the freedom to chart our own destiny.  Astrid’s journey – from a naïve young girl, to a hardened foster kid, to a hopeful young artist –  is a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit. Go here for my review.

 

 

Made in the USA by Billie Letts

2240527This heart-wrenching story of survival revolves around two orphans, Lutie and Fate, who  hit the road in their dead guardian’s rusted-out Pontiac in search of their estranged father. On their journey, they encounter the darkest side of humanity in a soulless city filled with rapists, murderers, robbers and pimps. When the kids hit rock bottom, their mysterious protector, Juan Vargas, swoops in and brings them into the fold at his family-owned circus in rural Oklahoma.  Away from the harsh city streets, they develop relationships with an eclectic cast of circus performers and slowly but surely come into their own.   Much like her bestselling hit Where the Heart Is, this heartwarming tale explores the depths of family ties, the agony of unexpected loss and the resilience of the human spirit. I recommend this book to anyone who likes feisty female protagonists and rags-to-riches endings. Go here for my review.

This Voice in My Heart by Gilbert Tuhabonye with Gary Brozek

Published May 2, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

539051While yapping with my very tolerant running buddy this morning, I got to talking about Gilbert’s book and how much I wanted to hug him after reading it. You see, Gilbert’s my running coach. Three days a week, I get to run under his watch with some of the coolest, most positive people I’ve ever met. To me, it’s more than just a running group; it’s a fellowship. We all gather together for the love of running and the joy it brings into our lives. Even after the crummiest day of work, I snap out of my funk the moment Gilbert greets me with an enormous smile and a high five.

I’ve always known the Reader’s Digest synapsis of his incredible story —that he was the lone survivor of a gruesome genocide attack—but reading about it in detail left me awestruck. Despite the unimaginable atrocities Gilbert endured, he managed to find a sense of peace and forgiveness. His palpable joyful spirit seeps into us all as we’re running our drills to the sound of him shouting “woo hoo hoo” or singing a hilariously warped rendition of Pharrell’s “Happy” song…at least I think that’s what he’s trying to sing.

While reading the book, I had the unique advantage of badgering the author about his life in Africa. When I could muster enough oxygen after sprinting up a hill the size of a small mountain, I’d pepper him with all sorts of inane questions like what does sorghum beer taste like? How on earth could you not like hamburgers? Were you nervous when you met Bill Clinton?

My Tues/Thurs running group (aka "the party people")

My Tues/Thurs running group (aka “the party people”)

It was really cool getting a peek in to Gilbert’s life growing up amidst cow pastures and miles upon miles of rugged African terrain. With only a radio for entertainment, he spent his days outside loping like a thoroughbred on dirt roads and helping out with farm chores like cutting wood and tending to cows. I know this is going to sound nuts, but where he comes from, running is considered fun—not a punishment for eating too many donuts. To say he’s a gifted runner would be an understatement.  The sport took him to places most of his schoolmates could only dream of—from Olympic training to Disneyworld.

Me, Gilbert, and my running BFF Karen

Me, Gilbert, and my running BFF Karen

It wasn’t until I read the book when I realized that running literally saved his life. He outran the machete-wielding Hutus after they tried to burn him alive in a gas station near his school.   The healing powers of running also helped him find peace and happiness again–a feat that is still a wonder to me after everything he witnessed on that tragic day.

To Gilbert, running is a vacation. We should look forward to meeting up for training because it’s time to cut loose and have some fun after work, he tells us. And you know what, it’s true! All that junk that runs through my mind after work just magically goes away the moment we begin warm ups. Of course, It’s kind of hard to ruminate when my lungs are burning and my calves feel like they’re about to split down the middle. There’s also something to be said about the runner’s high. Trust me, it’s a thing.

I really like how the book is formatted so that the story unfolds in a chronological manner with a few segments of the 1993 genocide interspersed in italics throughout the chapters. The tension gradually intensifies, keeping me glued to the pages until I can get to the resolution.  Gilbert’s experiences and insights really put some things into perspective—humility, the power of forgiveness, human resilience and hope, to name a few.  Whenever I start to feel cynical about the world (typically when I switch on the news or battle Austin traffic), I’ll keep this passage in mind:

“If I were to place on a scale all the bad things that had happened to me and my family on one side and all the kindness and generosity on the other, the goodness in people would far outweigh the bad. I saw Burundi for what it was—not a paradise and not a hell, simply a land made imperfect by the people who inhabited it.”

Dog Crazy: A Novel of Love Lost and Found by Meg Donahue

Published April 29, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

22573873Just look at the cover and tell me how I could possibly refuse to read this book! For 17 years, my little gray-striped pudgeball of a cat, Gizzy, has rocked my world. So when he goes, I know I’m going to need someone like Maggie Brennan to keep me from spiraling down the rabbit hole of despair. But let’s not think about that right now, okay? I’ll cross that rainbow bridge when I get to it.

You see, Maggie is a pet bereavement counselor. Most people who just don’t get it would laugh her off as some kind of quack. But anyone who has ever poured their heart and soul into one four-legged creature would understand that this is a most noble and important profession indeed.

“Love is love,” I told her, as I tell all of my patients who are ashamed to find themselves shattered by the death of a dog. “Loss is loss.”

She’s a total pro, but yet there’s one little catch. She can’t leave her house. After her beloved dog died, all of her pent-up stress came to a head, resulting in full-fledged agoraphobia. Luckily she’s able to work out of her home office and order all of her worldly needs on Amazon. It also helps that her BFF lives right next door. Everything is under control…that is until a distressed teenage client walks through her door.

Unlike her other clients who fill up their allotted time telling stories about their beloved pets, all this girl wants to do is hit the streets and search for her missing dog. Although the dog, Billy, been gone for over a month, she continues to comb the streets in a disheveled mess screaming out his name like a deranged banshee. When she refuses therapy, Maggie takes it upon herself to help her search for Billy–pro bono.

At first I thought it was a little far-fetched for a therapist to take on a case for free, but then it all made sense when I realized that she was also saving herself hundreds—hell, probably thousands of dollars—in exposure therapy bills for her agoraphobia. By helping Anya look for her dog, she had face her demons and step out into the great outdoors.

Keeping her anxiety disorder under wraps, she uses her BFF’s poodle as a “therapy dog,” while out hunting for Billy. The stakes get even higher when she realizes that she might be falling for Anya’s handsome older brother. Yes, ladies, there’s a touch of romance–and even some mystery–in this heart-warming animal story.

Thanks to Maggie’s dogged (pun intended!) persistence, Anya slowly comes around. She even rekindles her love of photography by taking some marketing photos of a dog in desperate need of a forever home. Oh how I love Seymour, the adorably neurotic basset hound/golden retriever mix. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but I will say that everything worked out exactly how I wanted in the end. I’ll just leave it at that!

I loved the shelter dog marketing aspect of this book because that’s my side job at Austin Pets Alive. So on many levels, this book really hit close to home. Emily Donahue has a remarkable talent for articulating the complexities of emotions that overtake us when we are hopelessly in love with our animals. Throughout the book, her lyrical, heart-wrenching prose sang to me. At various points, I wanted to shout “hallelujah” from the rooftop! If you, like me, get mushy about animals, get ready to cry your bleeding hearts out!

Yes, this is a book about dogs, but it really made me wax poetic about my Gizzy, who has been by my side through so many chapters in my life. I picked him up off the streets when I was a 19-year-old mess. I kid you not, after I brought that scrawny bat-eared creature into my home, my life changed so much for the better. At that, I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from the book.

“I have a theory that you get the right dog, the dog you need, for a particular stage in your life.”

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