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.

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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!

NOT THAT!

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.

Plantation Shudders by Ellen Byron

Published August 9, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

24402497When the publisher offered me an advance copy of Plantation Shudders, I took one look at the cover and said, “Gimmie gimmie gimmie!” Just look at the cover—it’s got everything I could ever ask for in a cozy mystery: A sprawling plantation home that looks like a carbon copy of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, an adorable basset hound sniffing out clues, and a spooky Louisiana setting dripping with Spanish moss.

Of course, some books don’t measure up to their promising covers, but that certainly isn’t the case for this first installment of the Cajun Country Mystery series. The lush Louisiana setting swept me away—making me long for a moonlit stroll with a hot detective amidst the backdrop of looming cypress trees and buzzing cicadas.

As for the food, I could practically taste all the delectable Cajun goodies—from Lia’s homemade pastries to Ninette’s prize-winning Crawfish Crozet. Thankfully the author threw in some recipes as an added bonus, so I’ll be putting my husband to work in the kitchen asap!

I knew I was in good hands when I read that the author wrote screenplays for Wings—one of my most favorite sitcoms ever! Her penchant for witty dialogue clearly comes through in Maggie’s interactions with the colorful cast of townies. Like the perfect pot of gumbo, the recipe for humor has to be just right. The author did a fine job weaving in some funny bits without going over the top and teetering into slapstickville. I would like to take this moment to thank her for not forcing me to endure another wild, trash-talking grandma. Of all the annoying topes that run rampant in this genre, that’s the worst.

As for the mystery, I had a great time playing the guessing game as Maggie pieced together the clues at her family’s Southern plantation house-turned B&B. She embarks on the case when a couple of elderly honeymooners drop dead within minutes of each other on a dark and stormy night. She soon finds out from the useless town sheriff that one of them died from very unnatural causes. With a house full of suspects, Maggie must ferret out the murderer before her jambalaya is cooked!

With some help from a tall, dark and dreamy detective named Bo, she probes into the victim’s background and discovers a broad range of possible motives. Turns out the seemingly docile old lady committed quite a few misdeeds back in her day. Pretty soon, the town is brimming with suspects—even a member of Maggie’s family is on the list!

I’ll stop right there before I give anything away, but I will say that this is a fun, fast read that will sweep you away to the heart of Cajun country. Although Maggie certainly has her share of problems, I would love to spend a day in her shoes. When she’s not checking in guests at her family’s B&B, she’s taking tourists out on plantation tours, or out in the woods painting landscapes. How fun is that? Oh and did I already mention the sinfully delicious cuisine her mom is constantly cooking up in the kitchen? Be still my heart!

Gizzy’s Roundup of Ghosts, Murder and Magical Cats

Published July 17, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

gizzy

Giz and I would like to dedicate this post to our good friend, Melissa over at Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries and Meows. She’s been in our thoughts since she lost her beloved kitty and co-blogger Truffles. We hope that these books will lift her spirits as she’s grieving over both of her precious tortie kitties who recently crossed over the rainbow bridge.

Read on if you’re a fan of cozy mysteries filled with magical crime-solving felines, hot detectives and fearless sleuths!

If You’ve Got it, Haunt it by Rose Pressey 

20949514I’m a huge fan of the Crimes of Fashion mystery series starring Lacy Smithsonian, and amateur sleuth and vintage fashion maven. Throughout this book I kept thinking, wow Lacey and Cookie would be an amazing crime-solving duo! They both solve mysteries with fashion clues and adore all things vintage. I had a great time following Cookie as she hunted down the murderer of the town socialite Charlotte Meadows. In this first installment of Pressey’s Haunted Vintage Mystery Series, Cookie discovers her ghost-whispering gift (or curse, however you want to look at it). With the ghost of Charlotte Meadows constantly pestering her to find the killer,  she has no other choice but to solve the case. As she chases down leads, she must skirt around a sexy detective who’s constantly asking how she knows certain facts about the crime scene that only the murderer would know. Not only is she getting inside knowledge from the murder victim, she’s also getting some valuable clues from her magical cat who knows how to communicate with humans with a Ouija board. How cool is that?!?

Caught Dead Handed by Carol J Perry 

19083257I was going to save this one for Halloween, but couldn’t resist diving into it! The setting couldn’t be more perfect for fans of Hocus Pocus. Oh how I would love to visit Salem during the fall. Lucky for me, I can travel vicariously through Perry’s books. There’s murder, witchcraft, a tubby crime-solving cat, and even a smidge of romance. The mystery begins when Lee Barret returns to her hometown to take on a job as a reporter for the local news station. She doesn’t really need the money, but she’s desperate to occupy her time as she grieves over her dead husband. Turns out, the news station already gave the job to somebody else, but they had a sudden opening when somebody knocked off their late night call-in psychic host. With no other prospects in sight, Lee reluctantly accepts the job as a TV charlatan and soon finds out that she might not be so phony after all. With her newly discovered crystal ball-reading talents, she soon finds herself embroiled in a murky world of witchcraft, cat burglars, and arson! Trust me, this is one whirlwind of a mystery that will keep you reading until the witching hour!

Ghostly Paws by Leighann Dobbs 

21456951I stumbled across this one in my freebies and cheapies email from Barnes & Noble. For less than a buck, I got to travel to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and join a bookstore owner-turned amateur sleuth as she and her magical kitty tracked down the murderer of the town librarian. Now that’s what I call cheap entertainment! This is a solid little cozy that is sure to win over fans of Lorna Barrett’s Booktown Mystery Series. My only gripe is that the writing could’ve been tightened up, but that won’t stop me from picking up the second book in this charming series.

 

Center of Gravity by Laura McNeill

Published July 12, 2015 by Chick-Lit Cafe

11228115_702423596553110_601395082403558625_nWhenever I’m in the mood for something light and fun, I’ll pick up one of Laura McNeill’s books. Sometimes I wonder if she and my other favorite light romance author Lisa Wingate are secret cousins. I can always feel my blood pressure dip down a few notches when I read their tender tales filled with love, hope and small Southern town charm.  This book, however, had the opposite effect.

I figured this would be another easy breezy beach read, so I took it along on my trip to the Texas coast. Two hours after cracking it open at the pool, I found myself shouting “Just two more chapters!” when my husband came to retrieve me for dinner.  Needless to say, it’s a pretty fast read.

The genius of the story is that it’s narrated by several characters who are in the throes of the world’s worst custody battle: Ava, the wronged, tormented wife; Mitchell, the Machiavellian child-stealing husband; and Jack, the little boy caught in the middle.  There’s also a few other narratives thrown in the chaos including Ava’s lawyer, Mitchell’s concerned housekeeper and a very perceptive child psychiatrist.

The ebb and flow of the multiple narratives really moved the story along at lightning speed. I was constantly chasing that dangling carrot as the story flitted from one character’s perspective to the next. I grew to hate Mitchell more and more with every chapter as he continued to torment and sabotage his wife. The angrier I got, the faster I zipped through the pages until poor Ava could finally get some justice.

Laura clearly did her research on all that bureaucratic nonsense that goes down in custody battles. It’s amazing how people can be so easily stripped of their fundamental rights when they’re dealing with evil manipulators who know just how to play the game.

Lucky for Ava, she found herself a hot motorcycle-riding lawyer. Together, they hunted down the missing pieces of Mitchell’s mysterious life—and boy did they come across some doozies! It was fun watching them unravel the mystery and build up some serious ammunition for taking that repugnant man down piece by piece.

At first, I was a little angry with Ava for marrying such a bastard and letting him stomp all over her. But when I learned about her backstory, it all kind of made sense. Anyone who had to grow up with such an overbearing witch of a mother gets my sympathies.

As you can see this is a very character-driven book—and the author does a remarkable job bringing their personalities to life. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a good suspense novel that moves along at a supersonic clip. Now as books like Girl on a Train and Gone Girl are making big waves with the masses, Lauren timed this book just right.

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.

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