Gnarly’s Letter to Santa

Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime. The first installment in the Joshua Thornton mysteries, A Small Case of Murder was a finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Award.

Lauren is also the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which take place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. It’s Murder, My Son, Old Loves Die Hard, and Shades of Murder have all been getting rave reviews from readers and reviewers.

Dead on Ice introduces a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, in which Joshua Thornton will join forces with homicide detective Cameron Gates.

The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This spring, two books written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and two dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:



Blog: Literary Wealth:


Gnarly’s Facebook Page:

Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:

Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie


Mac Faraday, the detective in Lauren Carr’s Mac Faraday Mysteries, is a retired homicide detective from Washington D.C. His twenty year marriage ended with the pound of a gavel. His wife got the house and everything of value, while Mac was left with the credit cards that she had maxed out before kicking him out for another man.

When he saw who appeared to be another lawyer approaching him on the way out of the courtroom, Mac ran—for three blocks until he felt sorry for the man chasing him.

That was when Mac found out that he had inherited $270 million from his birth mother, Robin Spencer, who just so happened to be America’s Queen of Mystery. Mac also inherited her estate on Deep Creek Lake, a five-star resort on the top of Spencer Mountain, and Gnarly, his mother’s German shepherd, who has the distinction of being the only dog dishonorably discharged from the United States Army. (They refuse to talk about him.)

Here is Gnarly’s letter to Santa Clause:

Dear Santa,

First of all, I can explain:

Mac and I kind of got off on the wrong foot. (It’s Murder, My Son) When he first showed up and I knocked him down and stood on his chest and told him I was boss … I was just playing! How was I to know my new master didn’t have a sense of humor? He really proved it when he broke into my stash under his bed and called the police on me. Geez!

You see, Santa, I have been misunderstood from the very beginning.

I’m assuming you want me to explain about my arrest. I fully intended to pay for that bone (Old Loves Die Hard). The thing is, I happened into the store while out on patrol in my territory (Yes, the store was five miles from Spencer Manor, but I was chasing this squirrel named Otis—Whatever Otis tells you is a bold-faced lie!).

Where was I? Oh, yes, I was chasing Otis and I picked up this wonderful scent so I decided to follow that. The next thing I knew, I was in front of this store and when I stepped up to the door, it opened. So, I assumed I was being invited inside. The next thing I knew, I was in front of this gorgeous display of dog toys and bones and treats and they were all there for the picking. So, I picked out this wonderful bone. Well, I did notice a price tag on it, but I didn’t have my credit card on me because, being a dog, I have no pockets to carry a wallet. Since I had already drooled all over it, it would have been unsanitary to leave it there where some kid could touch it and pick up my dog germs. So, I took it home with me and figured I could send Mac back to pay for it later.

But then, Mac’s ex-wife showed up before I could tell Mac to go pay for my bone—right after Police Chief David O’Callaghan got there to squeal on me. Then, Mac’s ex-wife ended up dead in Mac’s private penthouse suite in the Spencer Inn and everyone forgot about my bone—except me.

It was to die for!

I guess you want an explanation for the fire—which was not my fault at all! I was defending my home when this art thief broke in (Shades of Murder). What was I supposed to do? I never went near that yacht, except to make it mine in the way we dogs do. But that certainly didn’t set the fire. It was the thief who set it on fire. Just because I happened to be chasing him while he was running for his life after waking me up from a really good nap—obviously, he never heard the saying, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

Besides, who needs a yacht anyway?

Working Title, May Not Be Final

Oh, as long as I’m coming clean, I assume you want me to tell you about the rubber duck. (Blast from the Past, coming January 2013) Well, I found it! But Mac, being the suspicious sort he is, would of course assume I stole it. You see, it is Mac’s suspicious nature that causes some of these things. I knew that if he found it he would assume I stole it and then I would get into trouble. So I hid it. How was I to know that such a small yellow rubber duck would cause a flood?

I am a good dog, Santa. Really I am. When you look at all the red in the bad column, take a look at all the stuff in the good column. I did help Mac to find out who killed my previous mistress (It’s Murder, My Son). I saved his life, too (Old Loves Die Hard). And then, I saved the manor when it got broken into, even if I was a little messy in doing so (Shades of Murder).

And then, best of all, I managed to help a frightened little girl, who in turn helped the police catch a couple of killers. (Blast from the Past).

What do you say, Santa? Do you think that maybe you can see fit to put me in the good category when it comes to passing out gifts this season?

Well, if not, here’s something else for you to consider:

Last Christmas, I saw you kissing Archie Monday under the mistletoe and I just so happened to take your picture. I hate to break it to you, but she’s Mac’s lady.

So, if you don’t leave me any presents under the tree, I’m going to take this picture of you kissing Archie and I’m going to put it up on Facebook.

Try explaining that to Mrs. Claus.

Merry Christmas,


PS. My list is really simple. I want peace on Earth and safety and security for all my brothers and sisters in uniform all over the world (both human and canine).

Oh, if you can get me another yellow rubber duck, I would like that, too.

PPS. Don’t forget the can of Macadamia nuts!

Your devoted friend,
Gnarly’s squirrel friend (I’m the fat one!)


Want to read a story all about Gnarly? Try this brand new short

story— it’s 99 cents and includes “Lucky Dog”, and an excerpt

from Blast from the Past, which will come out in January.

Book Review: The Traz by Eileen Schuh

The Traz
Eileen Schuh
Kastle Harbour Publishing, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9869388-0-1
Also available in trade paperback and other ebook editions

Katrina is a brilliant child. She’s almost a teenager but her world is about to be turned upside down. Her family has never been the most functional unit but it was all she had, until now. Since everything has changed she has to rely on her wits and cunning to survive in a completely new world, a world of bikers.  Just who is Shrug? Will Chad keep his promise? And will she ever make her father proud?

The Traz is book 1 of the BackTracker series and the story revolves around a young girl called Katrina who ends up being dragged into a murky world of drugs and a dangerous biker gang called The Traz. This book is certainly full of threat and danger but I feel it could have been improved by making the lead character of Katrina a little bit older. It was difficult to conceive that a 12 year old girl would be living with a dangerous biker gang without any intervention whatsoever from her legal guardians. I also thought it was miraculous that she lives the entire year without ever being assaulted in any way. She’s the only female in the compound, surrounded by men who don’t have the highest regard for women. Yet no one ever touches her, all because Shrug has told them not to yet he frequently leaves her alone, sometimes for days at a time.

I also didn’t understand why each chapter began with a location and time of day. It was distracting and not important to the storyline and actually made the book seem stuttered. The thing is, the book is well written with a good pace to it so it flowed well by itself. These snippets of additional information only detract from it overall. Sometimes it was obvious what was really going on and the book ends extremely abruptly, which I found annoying, but I still enjoyed reading it. These faults are ones picked out by my old fuddy-duddy self who has seen a bit of the world. My teenage self however, would have loved this title and the well developed characters that you somehow cared about. I’m sure teenagers will enjoy reading it and it could be a new series with a lot of potential.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, November 2012.

Some Truths About Bullies

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed a young adult book, Speechless by Hannah Harrington, published by Harlequin TEEN. It’s entertaining contemporary fiction with high school bullying at its core but what made it really interesting to me is that it focuses on the guilt one of the “mean girls” feels when her careless and thoughtless words lead to a despicable act.

Bullies and the terrible harm they cause, as well as the misery felt by many victims, are a centerpiece of middle school and high school these days and the only real way to combat such behavior is through education. Harlequin TEEN and the Love is Louder movement from the Jed Foundation (which combats mental stresses among college students) teamed up to conduct a survey that has produced some alarming results. Through this partnership, Speechless has been promoted as a tool to heighten awareness and, hopefully, lead to change among younger students.

Survey Finds Bullying to Be the Most Important Issue Facing Teens Today

Harlequin TEEN and The Jed Foundation’s Love is Louder survey finds bullying issues more acute than drinking and teen pregnancy

78% of teens say bullying remains worse than parents realize
70% of teens and young women say they have been bullied
69% say they do not bully others, yet more than 30% engage in behaviors deemed as bullying, such as gossiping, name-calling and teasing
87% are bullied in person while only 14% say bullying occurs online
35% of teens turn to books and reading to cope with bullying, while 30% turn to physical activity

Key survey findings from the Harlequin Teen and Love is Louder survey include:

Bullying based on physical appearance is dominant; 75 percent of respondents say they are bullied about their overall looks, weight, clothing or hair

In general, 58 percent of respondents say emotional bullying – such as spreading rumors or being ignored – is the most hurtful form of bullying. Only 15 percent of respondents say physical bullying – hitting, pushing – is the worst form of bullying

Bullying appears to be a vicious cycle, as 38 percent of respondents who have been bullied have also bullied someone else; 86 percent of respondents who consider themselves to be bullies have also been victims of bullying

More than half (51 percent) of self-proclaimed bullies have witnessed at least one of their parents involved in bullying, compared to only 30 percent of those who say they have not bullied anyone—52 percent of self-proclaimed bullies believe bullies are imitating their parents

There appears to be a disconnect in teen bullying, as 69 percent of teens say they do not bully others, yet more than 30 percent engage in behaviors deemed as bullying, such as gossiping, name-calling and teasing

While 90 percent of respondents say physically harming someone is considered bullying, only 17 percent of those hurt by bullies say it is physical. Rather, the most common form of bullying is name-calling (47 percent) or being gossiped about (also 47 percent)

Nearly three quarters (69 percent) of respondents say the impact of bullying lasts a lifetime, while 27 percent believe the effects of bullying eventually wear off—Only 3 percent of respondents believe there is no impact from bullying

While 62 percent of respondents talk to their parents regularly about important issues, only 50 percent have talked to their parents about bullying—61 percent of those teens said they felt better after talking to their parents

After hearing about others’ experiences overcoming bullying, 73 percent of teens believe bullying has the potential to be stopped

October was designated National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month but attention to this topic needs to be always kept in the forefront. To learn more about the survey, go toHarlequin TEEN Love is Louder Bullying Survey Press Release

The Dark Beneath the City of Light—and a Giveaway

Robin Burcell worked as a police officer, detective, hostage negotiator, and forensic artist. The Dark Hour is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. The Black List will debut in January 2013. Visit her at www.RobinBurcell.com, and

Leave a comment below and you might win an Advance Reading Copy of The Dark Hour.

Decisions, decisions…  I was in the midst of writing The Dark Hour (book three in my FBI forensic artist series), and was sending my characters, FBI special agent Sydney Fitzpatrick, and her partner, Zachary Griffin, from Amsterdam to Paris on their hunt for who might have killed Griffin’s wife. I wanted something more than the usual tourist fare, and was leaning toward a setting with bones, such as might be found at the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. Where better to find bones richly steeped in history, musty from centuries of lying beneath the earth, and plentiful enough to frighten yet fascinate in equal parts when my protagonists “stumbled” across such a place while fleeing for their lives? Unfortunately, I had used a setting with bones in my last book, and worried that maybe it was too similar.

My fascination with ossuaries came during a European trip I took while researching The Bone Chamber, which was set primarily in Italy. The Capuchin monks decorated a chapel using the bones of 4,000 deceased brethren, creating a beautifully macabre bone mosaic for the walls. It is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting works of art in Europe, and I knew I had to use it in the book. In fact, part of the bone mosaic is a major clue in that mystery.

There’s something decidedly creepy—and alluring, at least to us mystery readers—about seeing so many skeletons artfully arranged as they are in the Capuchin Crypt. And the ossuary at Montparnasse Cemetery boasts a bit of artistic design as well. The problem with setting The Dark Hour Paris scene there is that the catacombs where the bones reside are tightly controlled for tourism, and I really wanted something off the beaten path. So, while Sydney and Griffin see the cemetery from the top of a building (and they do end up in the catacombs, though unwillingly, of course), for purposes of my plot, I preferred an area not traveled by the public, which meant I needed to expand my search.

There are some six million former Parisians “buried” in the catacombs beneath Paris, having been removed from the cemeteries above ground to make room for more dead.  The Montparnasse Cemetery proper houses but a small portion, and if you were to take the tour, you’d see the bones artfully stacked as you traipsed through the tunnel to the designated exit.  If you could get past the locked wrought iron gates, or find a long forgotten entrance, you would discover a chaos of bones in a maze of tunnels that would take days to traverse if you knew the way (and one might say a life sentence if you did not). There are hundreds of kilometers of tunnels weaving and intersecting beneath the streets of Paris and beyond, especially in the southern neighborhoods. The quarries, some dating back to the Romans in the 1st century, were mined for building stone, and the resulting tunnels found other uses over the years like crypts beneath churches, a place to grow mushrooms, or, when the war came, hideouts for the French Resistance fighters, and German bunkers during the occupation.  Today, those same tunnels (at least those not closed off by the authorities and property owners) are roamed by cataphiles—illegally of course, since the law no longer allows anyone to explore the catacombs on their own.

Far beyond the cemetery seen by tourists lies a world that few have seen. Who is to say which bones belong there and which do not? In other words, it would be a very good place to hide a murder victim. Or two murder victims in the case of Sydney and Griffin, who both end up in those quarries-turned-mass-burial sites.  What would it be like for them to end up on a pile of bones in the dark? And if they did manage to survive the initial death threat, how would they escape?

Paris reigns supreme above ground, a sight to behold with its rich history, as anyone who has visited can tell you. But I was looking for a place with bones, somewhere beyond the usual tourist fare. I found it in the wonderful underground tunnels and catacombs that lie beneath the city of light.

I hope you’ll join me there… fictionally, of course.

Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered in the drawing for an Advance Reading Copy of The Dark Hour by Robin Burcell. The winning name will be drawn Wednesday evening, November 28th.

Book Reviews: Thorns on Roses by Randy Rawls, Nightwatcher by Wendy Corsi Staub, Fatal Induction by Bernadette Pajer, and A Dead Red Heart by R.P. Dahlke

Thorns On Roses
Randy Rawls
L&L Dreamspell, 2011
ISBN No. 978-1-60318-375-8
Trade Paperback

Currently Tom Jeffries is a private investigator.   Jeffries is an ex-Special Forces operative and an ex-Dallas police officer.   Jeffries is also on retainer with an elite Florida law firm. Jeffries has a habit of leaving his business card in various places.  He has a note on the back “If I can help, call me.” and he signs the card.  The police found a body of a girl and Jeffries is contacted to identify the body.  Jeffries is called because one of his business cards is clutched in the hand of the victim.  While at the morgue Jeffries states that he can’t identify the body and does not reveal that he knows the identity of the victim.

Jeffries’ best friend Charlie Rogers has been in contact with him regarding the disappearance of his stepdaughter, 17-year old Mary Lou Smithson.  Now Jeffries must make a call to Charlie to tell him the girl’s body is at the morgue.    Several weeks ago, Jeffries had given Lonnie, Mary Lou’s Mother, some of his cards.  Lonnie was concerned about her daughter, Mary Lou, who had taken a part time job at a supermarket chain.  Since Mary Lou had been working, she had been breaking rules and Lonnie could not seem to halt the rebellion and then she disappeared.

One clue on the body is a tattoo of a rose.  The tattoo is a connection to a gang operating in the area.  Jeffries vows to seek revenge for Mary Lou and so begins an exciting chase but the police do not appreciate his involvement in the case.  The law firm that Jeffries works for is afraid his vendetta will create bad publicity for the firm.  Abby Archer, an attorney, is assigned the job of watching over Jeffries and reporting back to the firm.  The relationship between the two is interesting to say the least.

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The characters are good, the story is excellent and there is never a dull moment.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, June 2012.


Wendy Corsi Staub
Harper, August 2012
ISBN No. 978-0062070289
Mass Market Paperback

Terrifying in more than one way, this novel holds the interest of the reader from the very beginning and just does not let go.  The book begins the night before the terrorist strike on New York on September 11, 2001.

Allison Taylor lives in Manhattan and loves it.   Allison is a style editor at 7th Avenue Magazine. Kristina Haines lives in the apartment above Allison’s and the two are neighbors.  Kristina is an aspiring Broadway actress.  The two visit in the laundry room from time to time and have exchanged keys to their apartments with each other in case of emergency.

Jerry Thompson is the maintenance man in the apartment building.  Kristina tells Allison that Jerry is creeping her out.  She says he is always watching her.  Allison assures Kristina that Jerry is harmless.  Jerry is a little slow but Allison feels that he would not hurt anyone.

Suddenly terrorists strike New York. The city is in a shambles.  All members of the police departments and the fire departments are called to the scene.  Many are trying to find friends and family of their own as well as looking for survivors.  Allison is forced to walk most of the way home from a late party.

Allison hasn’t seen Kristina since the tragedy and thinks perhaps she went to stay with a friend but when she goes to Kristina’s apartment to check she finds that Kristina has been brutally murdered.  Detective Rocko  Manzillo is in charge of the investigation.  He explains to Allison that although the department is short-handed the police will be at the apartment for quite some time investigating the murder.  Allison tells Detective Manzillo about Kristina’s fear of Jerry but Allison doesn’t even know his last name or where to find him.

This novel gives people who did not live in New York a better view of the city after the tragedy.  The murder investigation goes on in spite of Detective Manzillo being short-handed and working almost around the clock.  I am ready to read the next Wendy Corsi Staub novel called Sleepwalker.  There is an excerpt from the next book at the end of Nightwatcher.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2012.


Fatal Induction
Bernadette Pajer
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2012
ISBN No. 978-1-59058-614-3
Trade Paperback
Also available in hardcover

Mystery, science, gypsies, and the assassination of President McKinley all play major roles in this novel.  Benjamin Bradshaw is a Professor of Electrical Engineering and is currently involved in an electrical competition.  The contest winner’s telephonic system will deliver music from the Seattle Grand theatre to homes throughout the city.  The reader can only imagine what this would mean to people sitting at home and able to hear music from the theater.

Bradshaw is sidetracked a bit when he finds a gypsy peddler cart abandoned behind his home.  The cart advertises “Ralph’s Redeeming Restorative, the Romany Remedy that Really Works”.  The inside of the cart revealed a little girl’s doll.  Bradshaw brings the doll in the house where he lives with his housekeeper, Mrs. Prouty, and his son Jason who is in the third grade.  Mrs. Prouty is indignant because the horse attached to the wagon has been busy in her garden.  Bradshaw is upset because he feels that the missing little girl may have witnessed a murder.

The city is in shock over the death of President McKinley.  The police department, many of whom are corrupt, could care less about a missing gypsy and the little girl who owns the doll.  Bradshaw decides that he is going to locate the child and goes to great lengths to search for her putting himself in danger.  At last he devises a scheme that will set a trap that he hopes will catch the killer.

This is the second book in the Professor Bradshaw series.  It is not necessary to read A Spark of Death, the first book in order to enjoy Fatal Induction.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, July 2012.


A Dead Red Heart
R. P. Dahlke
Dead Bear Publishing, 2011
ISBN No. 9781463582814
Trade Paperback

Lalla Bains is an ex-model and Aero Ag pilot and a wonderful character that I am looking forward to getting to know better. After giving up her modeling career as well as giving up a couple of husbands, Lalla is back in Modesto, California.

Lalla’s father is in bad health and so is his crop dusting business.  Crop dusting does not sound like a very complicated business but I soon found out that it is a very complicated business particularly when someone is sabotaging your company.

Sheriff Caleb Stone is the main man in Lalla’s life but when Billy Wayne Dobson, a man who is self-medicating his post-traumatic stress disorder, begins to stalk Lalla, she decides to take matters into her own hands rather than allow Caleb to handle the problem.  Caleb is talking restraining order and Lalla just can’t bring herself to allow the restraining order to be issued.  Billy Wayne is shy and easily startled and Lalla feels that she is better equipped to deal with Billy Wayne.

Mr. Kim’s Chinese restaurant is where Lalla locates Billy Wayne who appears to be in a drunken stupor.  When Lalla tries to wake Billy up he rolls over and she sees the blood stains spreading across his shirt.  Billy Wayne manages to give Lalla a cryptic message just before he dies.

The author introduces the reader to a number of characters that make this book a great read.   Rather than trust Sheriff Stone and his staff to find the murderer Lalla begins her own investigation into Billy Wayne’s death as well the problems behind her father’s crop dusting business and generally gets herself in a ton of trouble.

If Lalla pulls into your town in her vintage cherry red Cadillac, get ready for a lot of excitement.  This is the second book in the series but it is not necessary to read the books in order.  I look forward to reading more books by R. P. Dahlke.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, October 2012.

It All Changes In an Instant—and a Giveaway

Diane Vallere is a textbook Capricorn who writes the Style & Error and Mad for Mod Mystery Series. She started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since. Find her at

Leave a comment below to enter the drawing for a copy of Pillow Stalk.

A couple of days ago, I was in the lobby of my apartment building, flipping through my mail, and I dropped my keys. It wasn’t the first time I dropped my keys, and it won’t be the last time I drop my keys, but this particular time, I was in front of the elevator. The doors were open and the keys fell down the elevator shaft.

And there went my afternoon.

After the initial shock of something so random, something so inconvenient, something so how-could-that-have-happened? happening, I went into calm down mode. What did I really lose? Car keys. Apartment keys. A little plastic library card. Fortunately, all could be replaced with a few phone calls, a trip to the key store, and time.

The dropping of those keys was the interruption in an otherwise normal day. And isn’t that the jumping off point for most amateur sleuth mysteries? A normal person goes about their normal routine, until something far from normal interrupts that routine. You drop your keys. A stranger finds them. That stranger is a murderer. Your keys are found at the scene of the crime and now you’re a suspect. Suddenly it’s a Traveler’s Check commercial from the late seventies, with Karl Malden asking the million dollar question: What will you do. What will you do?

Let’s flip the coin on the key scenario. Imagine if I wasn’t a relatively normal person, standing in front of my elevator, waiting to go home? What if I was a criminal, fleeing the scene of a crime? Those keys would prove Locard’s exchange principle, that pretty much says a person entering a crime scene will bring something with them and leave something behind. I imagine if I were that ne’er do well person, I’d freak out once I knew the keys were literally out of my hands, and then I’d take off, knowing I couldn’t retrieve them, hoping no one else would think to look there for evidence of my presence. I might spend sleepless nights, trying to figure out how to return to the scene of the crime, posing as an elevator repairman, conning my way into the sub-basement to retrieve the keys. But once I’m there, who knows what could go wrong. A neighbor might recognize me. I might be tempted to repeat my crime. I might run into the very homicide detectives who are working the case.

But now, we’re well past the jumping off point of a mystery. We’re at least as far as chapter two.

What’s the last unexpected How-Did-I-Do-That moment you’ve had? How did it affect your day?

Comment on this blog and enter to win a copy of PILLOW STALK,

book one in the Mad for Mod Mystery Series. The winning

name will be drawn Tuesday evening, November 27th.

Book Reviews: A Christmas Home by Greg Kincaid, The Morphine Murders by LJ King, and Drop Dead on Recall by Sheila Webster Boneham

A Christmas Home
Greg Kincaid
Crown Publishers, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-307-95197-7

From the publisher—

Todd McCray, hero of A Dog Named Christmas , is now twenty-four years old and working at a local animal shelter, where he meets and quickly becomes best friends with Laura, a young volunteer. Laura, like Todd, has disabilities of her own, but her struggles are more physical than developmental. Their friendship is sealed when Todd—with the help of his trusted companion, the tenacious Labrador retriever named Christmas—trains a beautiful dog named Gracie to help Laura with the day-to-day life tasks that are difficult for her.

Life seems good for Todd, but all is not well in his hometown. Struggling families unable to make ends meet are abandoning more and more dogs, and the shelter is swelling to capacity.  The local government is struggling to meet its obligations too, and in early December, on the cusp of another holiday season, Todd’s boss delivers the bad news.  Due to funding problems, the shelter will close its doors before the end of the year.  But what will happen to all the animals?

As the Christmas holiday approaches, Todd has limited time to find homes for all the dogs. Not to mention that he needs to secure a new job and figure out what to do when his friendship with Laura takes an unexpected romantic turn. All this seems overwhelming unless you’ve got a loving family, dedicated friends, and a couple of very special dogs behind you. In which case, nothing is impossible.

I confess, I like sappy Christmas movies and that’s how I was first introduced to Todd and his family and friends, especially  the Labrador retriever that came to mean so much to him. The Hallmark movie was ” A Dog Named Christmas” and I have enjoyed it several times since it first came out in 2009. What I didn’t know until I received this ARC is that the movie was based on a novel of the same name. A Christmas Home is the third of a trilogy, following Christmas with Tucker.

The storyline of A Christmas Home follows that of the first book, concentrating on Crossing Trails’ animal shelter and, in this volume, its loss of public funding at a time when communities across the nation are struggling economically. At its heart, though, is the tale of two people with disabilities and how they learn to “fly”, to move on and to dare to do the impossible because they believe they can do so. It is also the tale of the families and friends who care so deeply for them and must find the courage let go, to have faith that they have instilled the strength and confidence needed for these two young people to live full lives despite their disabilities.

Such a storyline can hardly hope to be anything other than ultra-sweet but author Greg Kincaid handles it well and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a fine example of what “comfort fiction” really is. I took a good deal of pleasure in spending a little time with folks—and animals—I would be happy to call friends and to experience, if only for a little while, the humanity and caring of Todd’s community.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2012.


The Morphine Murders
LJ King
First Edition Design, May 2012
ISBN 9781937520885
Trade paperback
Also available in Hardcover

From the publisher—

Raina Prentiss never imagined that she would investigate a homicide beyond the comfort of her couch, armed with a remote, but that’s exactly what happens when she inadvertently finds circumstantial evidence connecting her boss to not one, but two local murders. With the reluctant approval of her police lieutenant boyfriend, Danny, she launches Mission Bottle to obtain her boss’ DNA.

She recruits her co-worker, Tyler, to divert their boss’ attention while Raina sneaks around and swipes his water bottle. But a simple waft of Tyler’s scent, or the heat from his body, transports her back to the feeling of the feather-light pressure of his mouth on hers, teasing her, taunting her, during the passionate kiss she found herself entwined in a few weeks prior.

With no DNA found at the crime scenes to match to their sample, Raina together with Tyler, and Danny and his detectives, continue to investigate. Because of her easy access to her boss, Raina is convinced that she is the key to obtaining proof and solving the case. Determination blinds the risks incurred by hunting a killer, as Raina uses inside information from Danny to plan her next mission. Having jeopardized her relationship, her job, a friendship, and maybe her life, Raina goes full force into the investigation without a badge, superpowers, or a vampire boyfriend.

Sometimes, I come across a book that baffles me a bit and this is one of them. Every single review I can find is a 5-star, some complete with exclamation points, and I just don’t get it. There’s much to be liked about this book but there are also some noticeable flaws, at least to my way of thinking. Let’s get those flaws out of the way first.

Plot and narration inconsistencies are a problem and, in this book, they are much too frequent. As an example, “Through the blaring siren and the barking dog, they saw the call indicator…”. That first phrase should lead to them hearing rather than seeing something. In another scene, the lead detective carries on a conversation with his captain after storming out of his office. In a third, a member of the police knows a particular individual had possession of an item missing from a victim’s home but doesn’t think that individual would hurt anyone so she doesn’t stop Raina from going to talk to him. In another instance, the main character informs her detective boyfriend that there have been serial killers in New York, as though the police would be surprised by this. The list goes on.

Far more importantly, though, is the fact that I found the main character, Raina, to be remarkably unlikeable and she takes narcissism to a new high. Raina is absolutely sure she knows everything there is to know about criminal investigations because she watches all the shows on TV and she doesn’t care that her behavior is making things a lot more difficult for the police, including her boyfriend, when she withholds evidence from them. After all, she must use that evidence first! Even worse than her bullheaded meddling in the investigation is her complete disregard for loyalty and fidelity and her very obvious belief that her own happiness and satisfaction take precedence over that of her boyfriend and a co-worker for whom she has the hots, never mind the fact that the co-worker’s wife has been in a  coma for all of a week. Her behavior in a certain scene is inexplicable and totally reprehensible and, for me, was the last straw. Unfortunately, other characters fare a little better only because Raina leaves such a negative impression. Some of the police are nearly incompetent and a pair of university students are just silly.

On the positive side, and this is what makes the negative aspects so disappointing, is that the author has crafted a very good mystery. I did identify the killer too early but that didn’t matter because the suspense of what would happen next and how the killer would be stopped carried the story. There were a number of red herrings that were not at all obvious and I found myself frequently wondering if one lead or another would take the police in the right direction.

When all is said and done, this author clearly has the ability to create a nice puzzle and really just needs an effective content editor.  I hope that all the rave reviews will not prevent her from taking advantage of what could turn her future work into something quite admirable.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2012.


Drop Dead on Recall
Sheila Webster Boneham
Midnight Ink, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-7387-3306-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When a top-ranked competitor keels over at a dog obedience trial, photographer Janet MacPhail is swept up in a maelstrom of suspicion, jealousy, cut-throat competition, death threats, pet-napping, and murder. She becomes a “person of interest” to the police, and apparently to major hunk Tom Saunders as well. As if murder and the threat of impending romance aren’t enough to drive her bonkers, Janet has to move her mother into a nursing home, and the old lady isn’t going quietly. Janet finds solace in her Australian Shepherd, Jay, her tabby cat, Leo, and her eccentric neighbor, Goldie Sunshine. Then two other “persons of interest” die, Jay’s life is threatened, Leo disappears, and Janet’s search for the truth threatens to leave her own life underdeveloped – for good.

I’ve never been to a dog show, although I’ve often thought I’d like to do so (or perhaps a cat show). In the meantime, I enjoy the various shows on TV and can easily imagine the drama and shenanigans that must go on behind the scenes. I don’t usually imagine murder but I also don’t think such a thing is impossible, especially when the desire to win runs high.

Drop Dead on Recall is a delight, a good mystery with characters I came to like very much. I can relate to Janet having to balance work with concern for her mother’s failing health and, in this particular case, her sleuthing actually makes some sense. While most mystery novels offer some information on topics tangentially involved with the crime, Ms.  Boneham provides all kinds of interesting tidbits on pet care, poisons, photography, dog training, etc.,  and she does so very well, giving just enough to let the reader understand what’s going on but not so much that it seems like lecturing.

I also completely fell in love with the pets in the story, especially Jay and Leo (Australian Shepherd and tabby cat, respectively). These two are actively part of the tale (but not in human-like ways) and they add immeasurably to Janet’s appeal. So, a good mystery with plenty of diversions, likeable human and animal characters, a little knowledge I didn’t have before—what more could I want?

Well, how about good writing? Sheila Webster Boneham has experience writing nonfiction but that background doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to write a novel. Happily, in her case, it did and the result is smooth prose that flows easily with a distinct lack of construction errors such as grammar and  plot cohesion.

All in all, this author is a welcome addition to those who write pet mysteries and I’m looking forward eagerly to her next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2012.