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
Hardcover

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.

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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.

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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.