Saturday, January 12, 2019

Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs by Aimee Hix: Reading Room Review



Sometimes when reviewing a book, a single word speaks to me that encompasses what stands out about said book. With Aimee Hix's Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs, my mind goes to the word "solid." Everything about Aimee's writing, with her debut Willa Pennington book What Doesn't Kill You and now with the second book in that series, is a solid accomplishment. The story, the characters, the flow, the resolution are all deftly developed without holes or soft spots. Solid. Of course, I can easily add the descriptions of thrilling, suspenseful, engaging, and well-paced. Willa is a character who is evolving both in her personal issues and in her romantic relationship, and she takes both on in the same way she does bad guys, full force. Her strong character drives the action of the story, kicking ass and taking names as she goes. However, Hix has infused Willa with intense feelings for love and for those she loves, which keeps her from becoming a cold kickass. If Willa drives the story, her feelings for her loved ones and her desire for justice drive her. Being an apprentice Private Investigator to her father, she stays especially close to her family. I advise readers to begin with the first book in this series because some of the discussions and actions in this book stem from the story in book one. And, you don't want to miss meeting Willa Pennington in her first appearance, as it's way too good to miss.

Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs begins some months after Willa's physical ordeal in the first book, and her training with her friend Adam at his dojo, in conjunction with some emotional therapy has helped put her back on track, mostly, except for the nightmares. She and boyfriend ATF agent Seth Anderson are having a bit of a rough spot due to an unsettling secret from Seth's parents that sends him into a spin. Of course, Willa and Seth both being on the stubborn side doesn't help. When Seth leaves town for training, Willa's former boss, Detective Jan Boyd, on the police force contacts her with some work that will occupy her time and mind. Jan wants Willa to be a consultant for the police in looking at a cold case, which was Jan's first homicide case and remains unsolved. The case, seventeen years old, involved the death of a young woman home from break during her freshman year of college. With few suspects possible and evidence minimal, Willa agreed to give her fresh set of eyes and thoughts to it, hoping there could be some justice at last for a life snuffed out too soon.

Before Willa gets too deeply into reviewing scene-of-the-crime photos and information and re-interviewing those connected to the victim, another call for help comes in. Aja is a teenager who Willa met at the dojo's and had tried to befriend, giving her a card with her number if Aja ever needed it. Aja needs it, and she calls Willa for assistance in a series of stalkings by an ex-boyfriend. Aja is the quintessential poor little rich girl, whose parents have left her alone in a large house while they are off traveling the world. The stalking by the ex has gotten scary, and Willa swoops in to not only aid Aja with that, but she ends up taking her to the Pennington home to receive expert nurturing from mother Nancy. With Willa's brother Ben going to the same high school as Aja, it turns out to be a good fit, and Aja is rejuvenated by a "normal" family atmosphere. But, her problems with her ex and her ex's associates grows more and more dangerous. Willa must investigate Aja's ex, Damien, and his growing dependency on steroids in the violence he has shown. As often happens, the visible problem with Damien is just the tip of the ice berg. Willa will once again be heading into a nest of vipers.

Author Aimee Hix gives the reader two story lines to follow, and while they may appear to be unrelated, it is the way a private investigator works, handling multiple cases at a time. It gives a great opportunity to see Willa's thinking and decision making processes at full tilt, and it shows her dedication to justice being served, no matter how late. The character of Jan Boyd, with whom Willa collaborates on the cold case, is one I'm happy to see included, and I hope she continues to appear in the series. The current fallout from a stalker's actions against his ex-girlfriend keeps readers in the bosom of Willa's family and revealing more about Willa's relationships there. You would be hard pressed to find a reader who doesn't love Willa's family. Her younger brother Ben is not just a great guy either, as he is a technology genius and finds his way into Willa's investigations as aiding in that area. Even the ATF is impressed with Ben. So, readers get an intense story, with lots of physical action, but they also get a character, Willa, whose sharp edges are kept softened with compassion and the love of her family.  She may go her own way during an investigation, but she's never alone.

I received an advanced reader's copy of this book, and I'm happy to give my honest opinion that Aimee Hix has sailed through her second novel with flying colors.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Wrong Boy by Cathy Ace: Reading Room Review


Since author Cathy Ace is responsible for my fascination with Wales, with her Wise Enquiries Agency series and her Cait Morgan series and her many FB posts about her home country of Wales, I was excited to receive an ARC for The Wrong Boy.  This standalone novel (or maybe not standalone) is arriving with lots of great buzz, and I can confirm that it is everything the mystery/crime world is anticipating and more.  The setting of the small coastal village Rhosddraig in southern Wales with its ancient stone formations and the Dragon's Back island twisting into the sea comes alive for readers under the masterful writing of Ace.  The author makes it easy to become immersed in the Welsh culture of this village, which is both charming and sinister.  I'm certain that sense of place will be high on readers' list of what makes this book so special. 

Cathy Ace categorizes The Wrong Boy as a "psychological suspense thriller," and there is no doubt that it is that.  Her finesse at building from the roots of village character life to a the chilling and thrilling story of a family's secrets tearing the village apart is the stuff of great storytelling.   Metaphorically, it is the ocean tide, coming in and going out, and with each new appearance on the shore, there are new clues as to what lies hidden in its depths.  That there are twists and turns to keep the reader guessing the outcome is a reading experience of pure joy, and not coming close to what the final truth is only adds to the enjoyment. 

What brings us to the picturesque village of Rhosddraig and eventually to The Dragon Head's Pub, where three generations of women reside in the misery of their secrets, is the discovery of bones, recent bones, on the hilltop where the derelict RAF listening station stand.  DI Evan Glover, two days away from retirement, is called on from Swansea to visit the site and determine if those bones are talking.  Glover and his able assistant, DS Liz Stanley, find an unusual pile of determined destruction in the smashed skull with no teeth and charred bones, which are covered by stones in a cairn-like structure.  With reports of a fire being seen emanating its glow from that site on a recent November night, DI Glover knows that this investigation will be a lengthy one and will last well beyond his retirement.  However, his involvement won't end, as the boy who is eventually accused seems to be "wrong," and Glover's sense of justice won't allow him to put it aside. 

The Dragon Head's Pub is the village gathering spot for gossip and a pint, and its proprietor is Nan Jones, an elderly woman made of steel and spite.  Her daughter, Helen, and Helen's daughter, Sadie, also reside and work at the pub, Helen being full-time and Sadie working after school.  Sadie is in love with the accused boy, Aled Beynon, and has kept her relationship with him secret from everyone, including her mother and grandmother.  Nan, Helen, and Sadie have tumultuous relations among themselves, and each one holds secrets from the others that are revealed in their narratives that Ace has divided the book into.  Nan is a particularly nasty piece of work, always critical of her daughter, unimpressed by her granddaughter, and possessing a vicious tongue towards those with whom she has quarrels in the village.  In spite of Nan's disgruntled nature, their pub is a popular spot, and it becomes even more so with a murder to solve.

The pace of the story is one of the great realistic aspects of it, as the investigation and build-up of the drama evolves over a period of months.  From identifying the bearer of the bones to uncovering village connections to him is a time-consuming process, and while this story isn't a police procedural, it does give credence to the importance of it and allows the reader to see some of what is involved.   And while the process is taking place, we are gaining insight into the main characters of this tale.  Through the settling into retirement for Evan and Betty to the running of a busy pub, characters are revealed in their basic nature and desires.  But, all the while suspense is building as more knowledge about the victim and suspect are uncovered.  It is quite possible that you will stay up half the night reading to the end, because, well, it's that grand of a journey and finale. 

The format for telling the story is through the author giving each main character a voice, where they present their perspectives and knowledge.  Retired DI Evan Glover and his wife Betty, who we learn has a connection to the main players, too, are my favorites.  They are genuinely a loving couple who support each other's interests and together prove to be an astute detecting team.  The three females of The Dragon's Head are each given their narrative voices, too, with Nan, Helen, and Sadie showing the depth of deceit and horror of the lies upon which their lives are built.  Through the eyes of these five characters we get to know others in their lives and crucial to the story line.  And, as it is a psychological thriller, we should be aware that their views are not always reliable, either by choice or ignorance.  Like the fog the villagers call the Dragon's Breath, the path is not always clear.  As the end nears and the fog clears, my jaw dropped in surprise, and I consider Cathy Ace's final twist and disclosure one of the best I've ever had the pleasure to be gobsmacked by.

As I mentioned in the beginning of my review, I received an Advanced Reader Copy of The Wrong Boy, and I can only add to my honest review that this is a book sure to be up for awards and one you don't want to miss.


Monday, December 31, 2018

The New Year Rings in a Bevy of New Mystery and Crime Reading


January is starting off in a whirlwind of new publications in mystery and crime, and the whole month follows suit.  With so many new titles, instead of listing them all at the beginning of the month, I'm going to do it weekly.  Listed below are just the titles that are coming out on January 8th and 9th.  Keep your eye drops handy, because your eyes are going to get a real workout this month. 


Dark Streets, Cold Suburbs (Willa Pennington #2) by Aimee Hix

Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

The Hangman's Secret by Laura Joh Rowland

The Au Pair by Emma Rous

The Alchemist's Illusion by Gigi Pandian

The Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Lost Traveller: A County Cork Mystery (#7) by Sheila Connolly

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

The Wrong Boy by Cathy Ace

Bones Behind the Wheel (A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery) by E.J. Copperman




People move to the suburbs for a better life--nice houses, good schools, safe communities. But there's no place you can go that's completely safe from danger. Willa Pennington knows this all too well after her first PI case almost got her killed. Helping her old mentor review a decades-old cold case seems much safer. Then she reaches out to a teenager in trouble, and suddenly a new case rips into Willa's life in a way she could never have predicted. It seems menace is always lying in wait behind someone's door. Especially on the dark streets of the cold suburbs.











The year is 1921, and “Nobody” Alice James is on a cross-country train, carrying a bullet wound and fleeing for her life following an illicit drug and liquor deal gone horribly wrong. Desperate to get as far away as possible from New York City and those who want her dead, she has her sights set on Oregon: a distant frontier that seems the end of the line.

She befriends Max, a black Pullman porter who reminds her achingly of Harlem, who leads Alice to the Paragon Hotel upon arrival in Portland. Her unlikely sanctuary turns out to be the only all-black hotel in the city, and its lodgers seem unduly terrified of a white woman on the premises. But as she meets the churlish Dr. Pendleton, the stately Mavereen, and the unforgettable club chanteuse Blossom Fontaine, she begins to understand the reason for their dread. The Ku Klux Klan has arrived in Portland in fearful numbers–burning crosses, inciting violence, electing officials, and brutalizing blacks. And only Alice, along with her new “family” of Paragon residents, are willing to search for a missing mulatto child who has mysteriously vanished into the Oregon woods.

Why was “Nobody” Alice James forced to escape Harlem? Why do the Paragon’s denizens live in fear–and what other sins are they hiding? Where did the orphaned child who went missing from the hotel, Davy Lee, come from in the first place? And, perhaps most important, why does Blossom DuBois seem to be at the very center of this tangled web?

  


Photographer Sarah Bain and her friends Lord Hugh Staunton and sometime street urchin Mick O’Reilly are private detectives with a new gig—photographing crime scenes for London’s Daily World newspaper. The Daily World is the latest business venture of their sole client, Sir Gerald Mariner, a fabulously wealthy and powerful banker.

One cold, snowy January morning, Sarah, Hugh, and Mick are summoned to the goriest crime scene they’ve ever encountered. A pub owner named Harry Warbrick has been found hanged and decapitated amid evidence of foul play. His murder becomes a sensation because he was England’s top hangman and he’s met the same fate that he inflicted on hundreds of criminals.

Sir Gerald announces that the Daily World—meaning Sarah and her friends—will investigate and solve Harry Warbrick’s murder before the police do. The contest pits Sarah against the man she loves, Police Constable Barrett. She and her friends discover a connection between Harry Warbrick’s murder and the most notorious criminal he ever executed—Amelia Carlisle, the “Baby-Butcher,” who murdered hundreds of infants placed in her care.

Something happened at Amelia’s execution. The Official Secrets Act forbids the seven witnesses present to divulge any information about it. But Harry had a bad habit of leaking tips to the press. Sarah and her friends suspect that one of the other witnesses killed Harry to prevent him from revealing a secret related to the execution. What is the secret, and who hanged the hangman?  




Seraphine Mayes and her twin brother Danny were born in the middle of summer at their family’s estate on the Norfolk coast. Within hours of their birth, their mother threw herself from the cliffs, the au pair fled, and the village thrilled with whispers of dark cloaks, changelings, and the aloof couple who drew a young nanny into their inner circle.

Now an adult, Seraphine mourns the recent death of her father. While going through his belongings, she uncovers a family photograph that raises dangerous questions. It was taken on the day the twins were born, and in the photo, their mother, surrounded by her husband and her young son, is beautifully dressed, smiling serenely, and holding just one baby.

Who is the child and what really happened that day?

One person knows the truth, if only Seraphine can find her.






Centuries-old alchemist Zoe Faust is tired of running from her past. She's finally got her life on track in Portland, Oregon, gardening and cooking in her fixer-upper house with her mischievous best friend, Dorian the gargoyle chef. It seems like the perfect life for Zoe—until she discovers that her old mentor Nicolas Flamel, who she thought had abandoned her, has been imprisoned.

A local artist holds the secret that could lead Zoe to her mentor, but the artist is murdered and the painting containing the hidden clue is stolen. To rescue Nicolas, Zoe and Dorian must explore art forgery, a transformative process that has much in common with alchemy and cooking—but one that proves far more dangerous.





  
Perched on a Welsh clifftop, the ancient, picturesque hamlet of Rhosddraig has its peaceful façade ripped apart when human remains are discovered under a pile of stones. The village pub, The Dragon's Head, run by three generations of women, becomes the focal point for those interested in the grisly find, and it’s where layers of deceit are peeled away to expose old secrets, and deep wounds. The police need to establish who died, how, and why, but DI Evan Glover knows he can’t be involved in the investigation, because he's just two days away from retirement. However, as the case develops in unexpected ways, it becomes irrevocably woven into his life, and the lives of local families, leading to disturbing revelations – and deadly consequences . . .                                         






 
Echo Ridge is small-town America. Ellery's never been there, but she's heard all about it. Her aunt went missing there at age seventeen. And only five years ago, a homecoming queen put the town on the map when she was killed. Now Ellery has to move there to live with a grandmother she barely knows.

The town is picture-perfect, but it's hiding secrets. And before school even begins for Ellery, someone's declared open season on homecoming, promising to make it as dangerous as it was five years ago. Then, almost as if to prove it, another girl goes missing.

Ellery knows all about secrets. Her mother has them; her grandmother does too. And the longer she's in Echo Ridge, the clearer it becomes that everyone there is hiding something. The thing is, secrets are dangerous--and most people aren't good at keeping them. Which is why in Echo Ridge, it's safest to keep your secrets to yourself.
   



        

Innkeeper Alison Kerby is determined to keep her mind, body, and soul focused on bringing high-spirited hospitality to her lodgers at the Haunted Guesthouse. She simply has no time for any more murder investigations, no matter what Paul Harrison, her resident ghost detective, says.

But this time, the mystery comes looking for Alison. Workers unearth a 1977 Lincoln Continental buried in the sand behind Alison’s guesthouse—and they discover a skeleton still belted in behind the steering wheel.

Paul, of course, is on the cold case—to the extent that a ghostly gumshoe can be—but Alison is still determined not to do the incorporeal investigator’s legwork. Not this time. But her new husband Josh is intrigued, and he offers to help Paul poke into the case of the cold Continental. Uh-oh…has Josh caught the investigation bug? It’s a harsh wake-up call for a harried businesswoman who’d thought she’d told the detective life to hit the road.

What can go wrong? How about everything? As Alison dodges stray bullets, discovers a gun in the guesthouse, and reluctantly probes a decades-old murder that turns out to be shockingly relevant even today, her specter inspector tries to keep her spirits up. But as she searches for the key to unlock the case, is Alison headed for her final check-out? Make a reservation to find out in Bones Behind the Wheel, the tenth fun-filled Haunted Guesthouse mystery from national bestselling author E. J. Copperman.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

My Favorite Reads of 2018


I'm not going to apologize for my long list of favorites.  It could well have been longer, but at some point I grabbed control of myself.  It seems like every book I read touches me in some way, and it's a rare read indeed that I don't enjoy.  So, I could list all the books I've read this year and, with maybe one or two exceptions, talk about how each one had something in it that called to me.  With much restraint, I have instead listed the following books published in 2018 that thrilled my reading heart.  An additional few words of explanation.  If you click on the Reading Room Review link under the cover picture for each book, you can read my entire review for that book.  I have included two short reviews for the two last books.  The order of the books is mostly chronological, from January through December, but I may have missed a beat on that.  There are cover pictures for three books for which I'm currently writing reviews, but they aren't ready yet, and I want to publish my favorites today in case anyone is still looking for some great reads to buy for Christmas.  And, there is one book that was published in the UK in November, but it won't be out until next March in the states.  However, as The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths was one of the most amazing books I read this year, I have to include it, too.  I hope you enjoy revisiting my reviews for these books that have made 2018 a spectacular reading year for me.
















 




















  



















































































































  
Last Spring I broke my hand, and it was difficult to type for a short bit.  This condition resulted in a different type of review for a couple of books, a shorter, but just as heartfelt review.  Two of my favorite books fell under these shorter reviews, The Broken Girls by Simone St. James and Scot Free by Catriona McPherson.  So, I've decided to include the entire short reviews for all these books in their entirety with their cover pictures.



Scot Free is the first in Catriona McPherson's new Last Ditch Mysteries (because writing two to three books a year isn't enough for this Scottish madcap author)--marriage and moving from Scotland to America isn't what Lexy Campbell had hoped it would be, major understatement--finding herself stuck in California, divorced and using her ex-husband's credit card without his knowledge to stay afloat in a run-down hotel and her marriage consulting practice with a dead client doesn't defeat Lexy--this is, as the cover of the book says, "the lighter side of the dark underbelly of the California dream--Mrs. Bombarro, the other half of Lexy's couple who has the dead person, is suspected by the police of killing her husband and is the reason Lexy missed her flight and is still in California--Lexy is determined to prove Mrs. Bombarro innocent--needing a cheap place to stay, Lexy moves into the Last Ditch Motel and finds you really can find friends in low places--the cast of characters is one of the most entertaining a reader could wish for--laugh out loud is not an overused phrase for this book, it is what you will do from the first page to the last--I am entirely smitten by this new series.


 


 

Simone St. James has given us some great novels with a touch of the ghost, and The Broken Girls may be the most deliciously creepy yet--story is set in two different time periods, 1950 and 2014 in a small town in Vermont--Idlewild Hall, a girls' boarding school in the 50s sits empty and decaying in 2014, but it figures prominently in both time periods--resident ghost Mary Hand has been a feared presence on the school grounds since its beginning--four girls become close friends and allies in the school for wayward/unwanted girls in 1950, but one of them will go missing on a cold December evening--Fiona Sheridan, a freelance journalist in 2014 can't let go of her sister Deborah's murder twenty years ago and the field at Idlewild where her sister's body was found haunts Fiona--after thirty years of lying in disuse, Idlewild Hall is bought by a new investor who has plans to reopen the school, and Fiona feels drawn to cover the story of its restoration--Fiona still has questions about her sister's death and covering the story gives her access to the grounds--complicating the plot further is Fiona's boyfriend is a local policeman and his father, police chief at the time, investigated Deborah's death--a discovery on Idlewild's property during renovations will be the impetus to change everything--great melding of different timelines and connecting the dots--a mystery and and a thriller and a book to keep you up and keep you reading to the haunted end.




The Stranger Diaries out in the UK in 2018, but not in the States until 2019:
 
 



The Three Books for Which Christmas Craziness Has Interfered with My Finishing Their Reviews:











Sunday, December 2, 2018

December New Releases: Because You Still Read Even When You're Busy

December.  Wow!  That got here fast, again.  While trying to catch up on all the 2018 titles from the year before 2019 begins, here are a few more that you might want to add to your year-end reading.










December 2018 Titles:

The One That Got Away by Joe Clifford (Dec. 3rd)

Murder at the Mill: A Mystery (The Iris Grey Mysteries) by M.B. Shaw (Dec. 4th)

For the Sake of the Game: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon, Edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie Klinger (Dec. 4th)

The Mansion: A Novel by Ezekiel Boone (Dec. 4th)

Once Upon a River: A Novel by Diane Setterfield (Dec. 4th)

Bryant and May: Hall of Mirrors: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery #15 by Christopher Fowler (Dec. 4th)

Broken Ground (Karen Pirie #5) by Val McDermid (Dec. 5th)

A Baker Street Wedding: A Baker Street Mystery by Michael Robertson (Dec. 11th)

Murder on Cape Cod by Maddie Day (Dec. 18th)

Fear No Truth (Faith McClellan #1) by LynDee Walker (Dec. 18th)  

The Frangipani Tree by Ovidia Yu  (paperback, e-book already out)  (Dec. 18th)

Liar's Paradox (Jack and Jill #1) by Taylor Stevens (Dec. 18th)

Watching You by Lisa Jewell (Dec. 26th)