Santa’s Little Heist

Santa's Little Heist_PDLake_EvePaludan_23791003



Cute Christmas holiday romance. Reasonably complicated murder case. Unbelievable premise on which to base both.

First, the romance. Chief Inspector Darcy Carrington and Inspector Ethan Hunter are pulling a 72-hour shift that begins on Christmas Day. They do not normally partner together, but they are the only homicide detectives in their precinct without a spouse or children with which to spend the holidays. So Carrington has volunteered for the duty and has assigned Hunter to assist.

Carrington is a beautiful woman and Hunter is well aware of that fact. But he is just as, if not more, appreciative of the fact that she is an intelligent, insightful and capable detective. Unknown to Hunter, Carrington is just as impressed with his skills. When the 72-hour shift becomes a 7-day marathon due to an outbreak of food poisoning amongst the other detectives, their constant togetherness eventually brings their personal lives into the mix.

But this romance is not a case of lust fueled by opportunity. It is a tale of two people who see each other as beautiful inside as well as out – professionally and personally.

Next, the murder. On Christmas morning, the body of a middle-aged man is found lying in a non-public hallway of the local mall, battered beyond recognition. Although his wallet is beside him, all his identification has been removed, even his wedding ring and his watch. His fingerprints are not in the system and the detectives have only two clues – an anonymous 999 call telling where to find the victim and scads of surveillance video from the mall’s many cameras.

For Hunter and Carrington, their first break in the case is a missing person’s report filed that afternoon that matches the victim. And what seems to be a brutal crime of passion takes on a new twist when the dead man is identified as the manager of Dylan’s Diamonds, a high-end jewelry store in the mall. And that store has been robbed overnight.

Now, the poor premise on which both the romance and the murder investigation depend. At the very beginning of the story, we are told that Hunter and Carrington are the only homicide detectives scheduled to work that 72-hour period beginning Christmas Day. This is predicated on the “fact” that for an untold number of years, that precinct has had virtually no murders between Christmas Day and New Year’s.

No murders? None? No unattended deaths at all? Oh. Come. On.

This is London, not some village of a hundred people out in the boonies. And it is Christmas, a time that seems to produce the most suicides and the most violent domestic disturbances of all regardless of geographical region. Any reader who takes the books of Deborah Crombie, Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes for a ride on a regular basis knows that this premise requires a suspension of disbelief that is beyond the pale.

But the killer for this book (no pun intended) is the poor editing. First, we have co-authors and perhaps the left hand did not read what the right hand had already written. For instance, we are first told that Hunter started out as a beat patrolman. Then, later on, we are told he started out as a crime scene photographer. Only one of these scenarios can be the truth; they are not compatible assignments. So the question is whether one author wrote the first scenario and the other didn’t read that part before continuing with the next section.

But the editing errors go way beyond incompatible facts related to backstory. We also have typographical errors – and there are a lot of them. Some of these errors involve changes of tense and of possession within a single sentence. There are also sentences with missing words and sentences with words that shouldn’t be there. Some sentences contain phrases and clauses that just make no sense when referenced back to the subject of the sentence. And these confusing sentences cannot be chalked up to the differences between British and American speech. These situations would be just plain poor sentence construction in any language or culture.

And this leads me to my major disappointment. P.D. Lake, as previously mentioned, has a co-writer for this book, a person who is a well-published author in her own right, an author whom I have read many times. And this co-author is also a professional editor and proofreader! Perhaps this book just slipped through the cracks in an attempt to get it published in time for readers intent on Christmas-themed entries. No matter – left-hand or right-hand, a professional editor should not have let that happen.

Cover Art From Goodreads


The Vicarage Bench Anthology

The Vicarage Bench Anthology_MimiBarbour_16162143



In the small village of Bury, England, a rose bush grows behind a bench outside the church vicarage. That rose bush is special, and not just because it blooms in three different colors – red, white and pink. That rose bush has the ability, with the prick of one of its thorns, to transport the spirit of one person into another person’s body. That prick also leaves the body of the soul traveler comatose.

In the first story of the anthology, “She’s Me,” the bush works its magic on Jenna McBride, a bratty supermodel, and Lucy McGillicuddy, a dowdy librarian. Dr. John Norman, the town’s new physician, and Jake Dadson, Jenna’s manager, work hard to solve the problem of the co-joined spirits, but the red rose has other plans for the time being. And those plans include a total psychological makeover for both women and a dual romance, Dr. Norman with Lucy and Jake with Jenna. Those plans also include Dr. Tobias Andrews, an area psychiatrist, who is destined to solve the mystery of how to separate the spirits.

The second story, “He’s Her,” involves a powerful but bitter Las Vegas casino owner, Rhett Parks, and Carrie Temple, a schoolteacher who is treated like a doormat because she continually tries to be nice. When Carrie pricks her finger on a rose thorn, she drops the rose as she slips dizzily onto the bench. When Rhett, who is sitting on that same bench, picks up the rose Carrie dropped, the thorn also pricks him. And, voila! Rhett’s spirit is now lodged firmly in Carrie’s brain. When bitter and angry must live in the same body with sweetness and light, something has to change. And the rose, with Dr. Andrews’ help, has plans for just that.

In the third story, “We’re One,” Ashley Parks, the brother of Rhett Parks, finds himself needing to save the woman he loves from the maniacal enforcer of a rival Las Vegas casino owner. Knowing what happened to his brother – and the HEA that Rhett and Carrie achieved – by way of the rose bush, Ashley flees with Crystal Davis to Bury, England, Dr. Andrews, the vicarage bench and the thorns of the pink rose bloom. Unfortunately, Ashley doesn’t tell Crystal what he’s going to do before he does it and she is not pleased, not a bit happy at all, when she finds her spirit looking out through Ashley’s eyes. And when the sociopathic enforcer and his partner fall into the rose bush while chasing Ashley/Carrie, both getting pricked by the same bloom, the story takes on a whole new twist. Dr. Andrews and the rose bush have their work cut out for them this time!

It is important for the reader to know that this anthology is a collection of sequential short stories. The first entry is very short, about 50 pages, while the second and third are about 85 pages each. And neither the second nor third entries are standalones. The events presented in them presume that you have read the first story and no synopsis of previous events or any backstory of previous characters is provided in subsequent entries.

The whole anthology can be read in a day. However, I honestly feel that you will enjoy the series more if you read the entries over three different days.

Cover Art From Goodreads

He’s Her

Grunge color texture, blue and brown color




Rhett Parks, a Las Vegas casino owner, has just buried his absentee, alcoholic father in a church cemetery located in the English countryside. Still wearing on his face the anger and bitterness generated by memories of his childhood, Rhett sinks down onto a bench across from the church’s vicarage. As both a handsome and rich man, he is used to the attention of beautiful women, but he inwardly groans when he sees a gorgeous young woman steadfastly approaching him.

However, Carrie Temple isn’t heading for Rhett. Instead, she steps to the side and snips a rose from the bush growing behind the bench. Rhett hears her gasp as a thorn pricks her finger and then he sees her sway, drop the rose and sit down hard on the bench. Reaching down to pick up the rose, Rhett pricks his own finger on the thorn. And, in the space of a second gasp, Rhett’s body slips, comatose, to the ground, and his spirit watches it all from above – and through the eyes of Carrie Temple.

This is the second entry in the Vicarage Bench series, after “She’s Me.” And I feel, to understand the dynamics of the time travel and space displacement, that entry definitely needs to be read first.

Mimi Barbour does a much better job with this second story than she did with the first. She has made this entry longer by about 30 pages, which allows for a bit more detail and fleshing out. And she limits the time span of the plot line to several weeks instead of the several months she tried to cram into the first one.

The character growth of both Rhett and Carrie is solid and believable. Their interactions with others are consistent to the characterizations drawn. And the romance is both palpable and erotic. But it is the epilogue that will make this entry stick with you long after you have moved on to your next read.

Cover Art From Goodreads

Moon Dragon

Moon Dragon_JRRain_23285553



The focus of this short novel, the 10th in its series, is Samantha Moon’s humanity. The dark master, who came to possess part of her mind, body and soul when she was transformed into a vampire nine years ago, is now fighting for total possession. And Samantha is losing the battle.

This is definitely not a standalone work. Rain references both events and persons from previous novels with little recap of circumstances or timing. Relationships between Samantha and the other characters are only tangentially explained. Therefore, being up-to-date in the series is a must for maximum enjoyment and to avoid that “do what?” feeling.

The incident that jumpstarts the action is a meeting between Sam and her deceased husband’s former mistress, a meeting that has been requested by the mistress. As is often the case between a wife scorned and “the other woman,” this encounter starts off just a bit tense and defensive on both sides. But Nancy has some previous experience with monsters and the two are able to find a common ground and even a small measure of respect for each other within short order.

As Nancy explains to Sam, the man she became intimate with, after Danny became a ghost, talks in his sleep. It appears that Gunther Kessler is a werewolf who spends his full moon change devouring his evening meal while it is still on the hoof and very much alive. And he likes that meal to be human and female. With barely a week to the next full moon, Nancy believes Sam is the best chance of stopping the man before another woman just simply disappears off the face of the earth.

Sam agrees to take the case and begins tracking Gunther’s movements in an attempt to locate the hidey-hole where he stashes his entrée-to-be. But as the days pass, she begins to have ambivalent feelings about the need to find and stop Gunther. The thought of Gunther’s hunt and then the kill is becoming more exciting to her by the hour. She finds that she doesn’t really care about the fate of the victim anymore. And then she begins to think that people who put themselves in a position to be taken by the werewolf deserve to die anyway.

J.R. Rain’s portrayal of Sam’s descent toward depravity and murderous madness is tension-filled and fearful. The once-in-a-while, un-characteristic action and the occasional, stray, uncharitable thought become a spate of these actions and thoughts. The spilled blood of an innocent seems, and is, inevitable. And you find yourself holding your breath wondering just how this descent into such viciousness and hate could possibly resolve itself in an acceptable and believable manner.

So many characters from the previous novels have roles here in Sam’s fight for her humanity. Allison and the Librarian are cast as solid support along with Sam’s children while Kingsley and Fang are central to the denouement. Kingsley’s love is critical to Sam mentally while his knowledge of immortals aids her against Gunther. And Fang’s friendship, as well as his own recent descent into darkness, reaches past Sam’s anger and ennui, cutting to the real issue regarding her humanity.

But the introduction of a new dark master into Sam’s life is crucial to Sam’s physical survival. And, it seems this same evil entity, perhaps the most evil and quite probably the very first of Sam’s species, could be essential to her existence, to her potential and to her power as a vampire. As such, Rain has laid out on the table some very enticing hooks for the next, or next several, entries in the series.

And, by the way, the title to the book? Pay close attention, particularly toward the end, think “Talos,” and all will be revealed.

Cover Art From Goodreads

Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie_SamanthaKane_22612639



John Ford is lost. Oh, he knows where he is physically. He is in Mercury, NC, a small town he moved to from LA several months ago. About a year ago, Ford’s long-term partner, Steve, had been killed while on military assignment to Afghanistan. And when multiple lovers – both past and current – showed up for Steve’s funeral, Ford lost his self. The exclusive relationship that Steve had declared he had with Ford was anything but, and Ford had unknowingly lived a lie for years.

Now, in Mercury, a town where Steve once said he would like to retire, Ford has purchased a ramshackle house. There, he is trying to rehabilitate both the house and his soul with good, old-fashioned, hands on, hard work. And neither project is faring very well.

Conner Meecham is also lost. Yes, like Ford, he knows where he is physically. He’s in Mercury, NC, standing in front of his mother’s old house, the house where he was raised, the house that is now owned by John Ford. Conner lost his college education when a knee injury ended his football scholarship. Conner lost his dignity when he became addicted to the painkillers for his knee and turned to prostitution to pay for his habit. Conner lost his self to a year in jail for possession. He lost his mother to disease while he was in prison, not even able to say goodbye. And Conner lost his mother’s house to auction when he couldn’t pay for it from jail.

Now, out of jail, finished with probation and clean for over a year after voluntarily seeking rehab, Conner has come back to Mercury. He believes he lost himself here, so here is where he has come to get his soul back.

John Ford is at the end of his road, living day to day. Conner Meecham is back to the beginning of his road, living the same way. And the two men, bound to the same house, find themselves on a collision course with each other, with their pasts and with their needs for a future.

Samantha Kane has written a character-driven romance that stresses the importance of communication skills, self-respect, and acknowledgement of need, another’s as well as one’s own. The sexual encounters are appropriately placed, and are graphically but sensitively written. These scenes actually serve, not as gratuitous erotica, but as catalysts for character growth and as precursors to the various conflicts that the two men must resolve.

Even though “Cherry Pie” is a relatively short novel, coming in at less than 150 pages, it is not short on clarity or continuity. There is no murderer for our protagonists to ferret out or extra pages needed to thwart an ex-lover come to make trouble. Kane gives us just the right amount of time and space to see that losing your way as you try to get what you want may be exactly the path that helps you find what you need.

Cover Art From Goodreads

Desires’ Guardian

Desires' Guardian_TempesteO'Riley_22446047



This second full book in O’Riley’s Desire Entwined series does not stand up well against her first. In the beginning of the novel, the storyline is strong, with just the right allusions to the events of the previous entry. We are introduced to our main protagonists who were significant but secondary characters in the first novel. In fact, Chase Manning’s role in that entry was highly important.

And then, in Chapter 4, one sentence shook the story’s foundation to its core. My first thought was that what I had just read couldn’t be right. And then my second was that O’Riley had chosen drama over context and believability. And for this reader, that is not a good thing, but more on that later.

Chase Manning and Rhys Sayer met during the course of events in “Designs of Desire.” It was not a pleasant meeting either, with Rhys slashing and cutting at Chase based on his appearance and his popularity at the club where they met rather than on Chase’s personality or philosophies.

Chase does his best to avoid Rhys from that point on as Rhys’ PI firm often does work for Seth Burns, the domestic partner of James Bryant. James and Chase are best friends, but James has become friends with Rhys also. Rather than cause the physically fragile James any undue stress or make James feel that he has to choose between them, Chase simply makes himself scarce when Rhys is around. This is actually hard for Chase because he is very much attracted to the man he has come to see as a “gentle giant” even if he is a Harley-riding ex-Marine, a private investigator and a security specialist.

Unbeknownst to him, Chase is the object of Rhys’ daydreams, too. Also unbeknownst to Chase, Rhys’ repugnant behavior toward Chase was predicated by the fact that he had just thrown out his boyfriend after catching him in his own bed with another man. And Chase just happens to look remarkably similar to his ex-lover, not only in face but also in physical size and dress.

When Rhys’ forensic IT specialist moves away, James brokers a deal with Chase to take the position. With space to pursue his own freelance consulting firm provided as partial compensation, Chase reluctantly accepts the deal.

As could be expected in this romance tale, Chase thaws toward Rhys and they begin a tentative relationship. And, as could be expected in this type of tale, an ex-lover of Rhys makes an unexpected appearance, lies are revealed, a fight ensues and so does a make-up scene. Unfortunately, in that make-up scene, Rhys calls out the wrong name at exactly the wrong time and the relationship comes to a grinding halt. And at this point, the execution of the storyline begins to fall apart, scene by scene.


The initial degradation of the plotline occurs in Chapter 4 when Chase learns of the lies that Rhys told months earlier (in the previous novel). Chase is so angry he begins throwing objects from his desk at Rhys. And that action is the beginning of the end as far as credibility is concerned, as this action is absolutely 180 degrees out of characterization for Chase.

In the first novel, Seth, in anger, throws a phone against a wall and breaks it, with James close by. Because some of James’ physical problems stem from repeated abuse, Chase lights into Seth with a vengeance and tries to get James to end the relationship. For pages, Chase goes on and on about throwing objects being absolutely unacceptable. And now, in this entry, Chase begins screaming and throwing objects at Rhys, actually hitting him in the face and drawing blood. Very dramatic but very out of character.

After this scene, a number of small-to-medium events occur – or do not occur – within the story, which cause the reader repeated pause. For instance, after Rhys calls out the wrong name, Chase flees in the night and refuses to take Rhys’ calls or respond to his texts. And, at that point, that subplot just stops. Even though they are in the same office for hours every day, Rhys never once goes to Chase and asks what went wrong, even though he wants to reconcile. And Chase does not confront Rhys about the name even though he gladly bloodied Rhys’ face over that name only hours earlier. Then, after several weeks, they are back together, having never discussed the issue at all. Chase alludes once, in a backhanded way as to why he fled, but that’s all. Sizzle, fizzle, stop.

O’Riley’s writing style deteriorates in other ways also. Transitions between scenes and chapters cease to flow smoothly. Many scenes feel disjointed as if edited for word count and the parts we need for comprehension are now on the cutting room floor.

Another point of confusion is that no one’s professional choice is ever given any substance, not Chase as an IT expert nor Rhys as a PI. Even Dal Sayer’s position and experience on the police force is washed over. We don’t actually know why any of them are qualified to do what they do, especially when they get involved in the investigation of the murders of gay men that have been disguised as suicides. This is far different from the way in which professional creds supported the events in the first novel. And since the murder investigation leads right to Chase’s doorstep, not as perpetrator but as ultimate victim, it seems that O’Riley just expects the reader to believe these guys are capable of rescuing him before it’s too late.

O’Riley’s glossing over of easily researchable issues leads to other inconsistencies and inaccuracies. For one thing, Chase is beaten unmercifully and repeatedly while bound, both hands and feet, and tightly gagged. Even though he vomits with that gag in his mouth, he doesn’t aspirate the vomit (don’t try to imitate that in real life if you intend to see tomorrow!). Even though he is kicked viciously, over and over, in the torso, he doesn’t sustain even a single cracked rib, let alone kidney or spleen bruising. Dramatic, yes; intense reading, yes; realistic, absolutely not!

Then, when the group attempts Chase’s rescue, Dal Sayer, Rhys’ cop brother, does not call for backup. Of course, had he done so, then he would probably not have been shot or ultimately wind up on the wrong side of an IA investigation. Again, O’Riley goes for drama and angst rather than believability.

Finally, there was the issue of the wristband that Chase wears. This leather band plays a significant part in the story, a subplot in and of itself as far as Chase’s backstory is concerned and as far as his ability to continue in a relationship with Rhys is concerned. Then, with the blink of an eye and a swipe of the pen, the leather band is gone. We are told, oh-by-the-way, in retrospect, in the epilogue, in the space of one whole sentence, that Rhys replaced it with a platinum band – six months prior to the events of the epilogue! So, a scene that would have actually been legitimately dramatic and emotionally fulfilling isn’t even written. Again, sizzle, fizzle, stop!

Earlier in this review, I stated that it appeared O’Riley had chosen drama over plausibility, essentially fluff over substance. I watched and read as her main storyline and subplots degenerated into events based on unrealistic or false premises, utilized inaccurate medical and police procedures and reached the point where even suspension of disbelief could not save the proverbial day. She consistently placed the need for emotionally dramatic interludes above the need to convince the reader that the drama had a legitimate basis to build on.

Based on this entry, I do not believe that I will purchase the third book in the series when it comes out. And, I hate to feel that way, because the first book in the series is absolutely outstanding!

Cover Art From Goodreads

Visions In Death

Visions in Death_JDRobb_238142



Even without the book’s promotional blurb, within ten pages, the reader recognizes the basic and oft used plotline. A serial killer is beating, raping, and killing women. They all fit a certain physical type, all are posed identically in strategic public venues, all are identically adorned and all are identically mutilated.

Any reader who devours non-cozy mysteries and thrillers on a regular basis knows this killer’s profile. He is ritualistically and repeatedly killing the likeness of a dominant female figure from his past, probably his mother. What the reader doesn’t know is the method J.D. Robb will take with such a common theme in order to ratchet it up into something that will keep the reader interested for another 344 pages.

Robb writes in not one but three devices that add originality to the basic formula. First, the beatings are not meant to subdue, setting an easy stage for the rape. They are meant to destroy the face, the ribcage and the internal organs. The rape is another issue entirely. Secondly, the mutilations – removing the victims’ eyes – are not forms of torture; they are conducted post-mortem only. And thirdly, a female psychic/sensitive comes forward, claiming to have witnessed the killings through visions occurring in real time. And this psychic knows details that have not been provided, nor have leaked, to either the media or the next of kin.

Robb also changes up the storyline by making Peabody the main instrument in the investigation rather than the usual Eve/Roarke dynamic. Peabody’s upbringing in a family of Free-Agers and sensitives gives her unique insight (no pun intended) into the visions and makes her a natural lead. She is able to guide Eve through her misgivings about psychics and educate her in how to use the visions as an investigative tool.

And speaking of Peabody as a lead character, the promotional blurb states that Peabody is badly injured during this investigation, leaving Eve, Roarke and Feeney to finish the job. However, in at least two ways, this blurb is just a tad misleading, so be aware that SPOILERS FOLLOW. First, usual promotional text speaks of events that occur near the beginning of a tale – teasers, if you will, to spike a reader’s interest. But, in this tale, you will push through 80% of the book before Peabody is even scratched.

And, secondly, that phrase about being badly injured is the understatement of the decade. Unless, of course, you want to describe the comatose, bloody, broken lump of ruptured flesh and shattered bone that Peabody becomes as “badly injured.”

This is ultimately a tale about love – true love, misguided love and tortured-out-of-existence love. This is also a tale about friendship, with all its privileges and its responsibilities. And Eve makes great strides in understanding the concept of friendship, with Mavis, with Nadine and particularly with Peabody.

And, as is normal in an In Death novel, Robb uses the case to take Eve back to her roots and brings her forward beyond what she has been capable of acknowledging before. The social concepts of nature vs. nurture, excuses vs. choice and blame vs. responsibility are cleverly woven into both the dialogue and the aspects of the investigation.

As usual, this entry in the series is first rate. And, as the 19th Eve Dallas tale, it is in no way a stand-alone entry either. There are simply too many actions and consequences in this novel that are dependent upon previous scenarios and character interactions for this to be anyone’s starting place in the series.

Cover Art From Goodreads