Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye: Reading Room Review

Lyndsay Faye always manages to find unique stories to tell. Well, I say find, but what she really does is create unique stories built around diligent research she does on the hidden facts of people and places in history. From Jack the Ripper to the early days of the New York City Police Department, this author discloses the unvarnished truth of struggle and survival in the trenches. And, she does so through characters who take our breath away with their perseverance and bravery. There must always be people willing to stand up against the ills of society, the mistreatment of fellow human beings, and Lyndsay Faye gives readers these people’s stories so poignantly that we are forever touched by them. Her characters aren’t perfect people, they have their flaws, but they step up when the stepping is needed. Because I learn important, forgotten or hidden pieces of our history and lessons about what counts doesn’t mean that there is anything dry or didactic about Faye’s writing. Her stories from which I learn so much are gripping masterpieces of narrative in full color. They will tear your heart out but renew your faith in the possibility of good endeavor.

The Paragon Hotel is the tale of Alice James, aka “Nobody,” but she is also the vehicle by which the stories of so many others are told. Beginning in the Harlem district of New York City at the turn of the 20th century and crossing the country to the city of Portland, Oregon in the early 1920s, it is a tale of survival and identity and love and loss. Alice is smack in the middle of the turbulent issues of each place. Being half Italian, she is destined to be involved with Italians and Sicilians and by extension, the Mafia fighting for control of Harlem. Born to a prostitute mother, Alice lives at the hotel where her mother works, and the moniker “Nobody” has been attached to Alice because of her blending in and out of scenes without notice. When a friend’s father is brutally murdered by the mob, fifteen-year-old Alice ends up living at another hotel under the protection of a man vying for control against the Corleone mafia. She is valued for her ability to go unnoticed and thus becomes the ears and eyes of Mr. Salvatici, her benefactor. 

All good things must come to an end, or in this case, the mafia life can send a girl running, especially when she has a bullet hole or two in her side. Alice and $50,000 catch a cross-country train after she narrowly escapes with her life hanging in threads. She luckily makes acquaintance with one of the train porters named Max. Because of Max and his connections to the Paragon Hotel in Portland, Oregon, and its resident doctor, Dr. Pendleton, Alice lives. The Paragon Hotel is an all-black establishment in Portland, and Max and Dr. Pendleton fit its requirements for residence. Alice does not, but she is allowed to stay and recover from her wounds. 

It seems Alice has gone from one city’s terrors to another, as she quickly learns that Portland and Oregon are staunchly pro-white population and decidedly anti-black. The Ku Klux Klan has moved quite visibly into the area under the guise of "a political rallying tool and a charitable club," and most of the white population is happy to accept that lie. As Alice becomes closer and closer to those at the Paragon Hotel, she understands the precarious position people of color hold in the community and just how brutal the Klan is in its dealing with them. When a mulatto child who lives at the hotel goes missing and the black community searches for him, racism quickly escalates into a fight for survival. Alice is clearly on the side of her hotel friends and uses her chameleon skills honed in New York to aid in their struggle and search, but there are secrets among the friends that prove dangerous to their safety. 

So it is that readers have another brilliant book from Lyndsay Faye. There may be equals, but there are none better at weaving words into such a mesmerizing flow. She has a command over the language and its use that makes a reader giddy with satisfaction, each word hitting its mark. For those of us who get tingles when a phrase is turned just so, reading this book is an experience of mind tingling delight. One of the things I most loved about The Paragon Hotel and its main character Alice “Nobody” James is the witty dialogue. The art of quick and clever repartee is something author Lyndsay Faye’s writing has always been well versed in, and readers will enjoy Alice's retorts for their engaging smartness. 

Fans of Lyndsay Faye will be thrilled with The Paragon Hotel, and new readers will be so enthralled that they will quickly be scrambling to read all her previous works, too.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen: Reading Room Review

WWI had a devastating effect on England’s population of young men, and with the flu epidemic right on its heels, fewer and fewer men were available to work the farms, run businesses, and follow in their father’s footsteps. It was an unprecedented time of loss and change for all, during the war and after. Young women who had previously been in well-defined roles according to their class in society found themselves coming together to fill the void on farms, in industry, in family-owned businesses, and as medical personnel both on the battlefields and in the hospitals. And, with the blurring of societal lines came a new independence for women, though not all of it was by choice. It is into this vortex of change that Rhys Bowen drops readers, into a story where one woman goes from coddled to scrambling to survive. The Victory Garden is that rare look inside the crumbling of an ordered world where the rules were set and adhered to, with everyone having a predetermined role, to a world where coming together to defeat an enemy brought people in contact who would never have met or interacted before. The heartbreak of so many fine young men dying and leaving widows and girlfriends and children behind forced a new way of thinking that only the young could fully embrace, but to survive and thrive embrace it they did.

Emily Bryce has just turned twenty-one in 1918, and she is champing at the tight bit her parents have held her in during the Great War’s ravaging of England’s human and other resources. She longs to be a nurse at the front like her best friend Clarissa, but she knows that her parents, after losing their son in France, couldn’t bear it. Emily meets an Australian pilot who is convalescing from injuries in a house next door, and he encourages her to strike out on her own and do her part, if she so desires. She does so desire and, against her parents’ wishes, she signs up where she is most needed, as a “land girl,” helping out farmers plant, harvest, milk cows, slop pigs, and any other task the young men of the country used to do. Staying in a central housing arrangement with other land girls, Emily gets to know and appreciate women from different walks of life. She also has opportunity to visit her Australian, Robbie Kerr, who has been moved to a hospital near her boarding house. Before Robbie gets sent back to the front, he proposes to Emily and she joyfully accepts. Another aspect of the war, love on a fast track.

While Robbie is back in the air fighting the Germans, Emily receives an assignment to attend to the grounds of an old Devonshire family estate. She and two other girls, with whom she’s become friends, are happy to have a place of their own to stay and work for a while in a storybook setting of undiminished beauty. All three young women quickly feel comfortable in the small village, and Emily especially feels a connection when she finds the journal of a former occupant of the stone cottage in which they reside. The journal and herb garden attached to the cottage provide purpose and strength when Emily is faced with devastating news and no longer has a home to which she can return after her land girl duties are over. The war has left her with an uncertain future and a growing responsibility. The locals allude to the ghosts of the stone cottage in which she resides, curses upon its inhabitants, and Emily comes to learn that those whispers must be addressed if she is to have a chance of creating a new home for herself and her child.

The Victory Garden is already a top favorite of my reads this year and in overall reading. Rhys Bowen captures the tragedies and hardships of the English people during WWI on a level of realism that places the reader in the minds and hearts of those struggling on the home front. Readers are connected to the characters through the characters’ thoughts, actions, and dialogue that move the story along a path of intense impact. Although not a history book, The Victory Garden provides those revelations not shared in the truncated events presented in a textbook, the effects of those events on people. Following Emily Bryce’s story makes the sorrow relatable. She is a brilliantly created character, as are those who play supporting roles. Rhys Bowen has always given us exceptionally special characters, ones we become invested in. The Victory Garden is my favorite stand-alone by this author thus far, and I so hope she continues to write tales about the people who lived through the war to end all wars and the one that followed that.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of The Victory Garden, and I’ve given it an honest review.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Stone Circle (Ruth Galloway #11) by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review

The 11th Ruth Galloway book, The Stone Circle, may be the most perfect book in the series. Author Elly Griffiths has stolen my heart all over again with this tale. Set in Ruth’s home turf, or home marsh, this story takes us back full circle to where it all began in Crossing Places. With the Saltmarsh and Erik Anderssen and missing children and dead children and Ruth and Nelson working a case together and Cathbad the Druid involved. The very roots of this series guide this story, with ghosts of the past looming large. Truths are faced with the pain of a decade dancing around them. But, although truths are acknowledged, there is so much more story and honesty yet to deal with and look forward to. While some things are resolved, others have been opened to resolution. Elly Griffiths has given her fans a reward of immense proportions in this book. And, how lucky are those who are just beginning this series, to know that a book bringing things full circle is to be found in book eleven. Again, it’s not an ending, but a new beginning built on all the stories of the past. Only Elly Griffiths could weave a tapestry of Ruth’s story so magnificently. Trust this creator of Ruth to know where the paths must wind. If you’re trying to read between the lines in what I’ve said here, don’t. There is so much to discover in this book, and I won’t say anything to spoil the journey for others. 

As often happens in the Ruth Galloway stories, the ancient, the old, and the new all come together. A new dig is in progress at the Saltmarsh near Ruth’s house, and, being the resident forensic archeology expert, Ruth is called in to examine the ancient bones of a young girl found at the Bronze Age site. It would be a routine job, except for the person heading the dig is Leif Anderssen, Erik Anderssen’s son. With the tragic circumstances surrounding Erik, who had been Ruth’s teacher and mentor, and the salt marsh, it’s an emotional meeting for Ruth when she discovers Leif is in charge. Then, DCI Harry Nelson starts receiving letters like the ones Erik had sent him in Ruth’s and Nelson’s first heartbreaking case, and it seems the ghost of Eric is very much present. When bones of another young girl, ones from a more recent past, are discovered by Ruth at the dig, déjà vu places her and Nelson directly in its crosshairs. They find themselves back where they came into one another’s lives, working on a case involving a child and confronting their eerie history with the Saltmarsh, as well as their personal history. 

The recent burial of bones at the dig site are connected to a thirty-five-year-old cold case, where a young girl went missing during a town-wide celebration of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spenser’s wedding in July of 1981. Now, in 2016, the identification of the bones as the missing girl reveals her fate and launches the police into a murder investigation. Suspects were few concerning Margaret Lacey’s disappearance, and alibis were tight. With Ruth’s help in ascertaining what the girl’s bones have to say, DCI Nelson and his Serious Crimes Unit of Judy, Clough, and Tanya are determined to find justice for Margaret and closure for her family. There will be many theories and many thrilling twists before anyone finds peace from this nightmare. 

To the delight of all readers of this series, Cathbad is quite visible in the book. His past connection to Erik is of interest to Leif, Erik’s son, and Leif has his own hidden agenda with Cathbad and Ruth. The ghost of Erik is indeed strong and far-reaching.  And, no, I haven’t forgotten the new character we've all been on pins and needles to meet, Michelle's baby. Well, I can tell you now that the baby is born. That’s all you get. I wouldn’t dream of being the bearer of news about the baby’s paternity or other details.

I read lots of great stories/books, and each is unique is what touches me. Sometimes it’s the characters or the setting or the gripping story line or a special meaning to something in my life or experience. The Stone Circle is such a complete source of satisfaction for me; it checks all the boxes. I have seldom been invested in a character like I am Ruth Galloway. She is the character in my reading that I’d most like to meet and be friends with. Her strength and resiliency make everyone’s world around her a better place, without them or her ever realizing it. Her daughter Kate, DCI Nelson, Cathbad, Judy, and Cloughie are also favorite characters who can delight, frustrate, and inspire me, too. Elly Griffiths is genius at creating such memorable characters with whom the reader becomes staunchly invested. These characters are family to fans, and we simply care deeply for them. The setting of Norfolk is as down to Earth as it gets, but the Saltmarsh is magical beyond understanding. And, like the Saltmarsh is to Ruth, this series is to me.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of The Stone Circle, and my honest review is but a humble attempt at discussing how much I enjoyed it. This book makes me want to read the whole series again. Pre-order so you don’t have to wait a minute longer than necessary to read it. Out February 5th in the UK and May 7th in the U.S.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Reading Room Ruminations: Watching You by Lisa Jewell

After staying up all night reading Lisa Jewel's Watching You, I had to ask myself why I hadn't read any Lisa Jewel books before. This author knows how to keep a story moving, resulting in the reader trying in vain to find a stopping point to carry out other activities, like sleep. If ever the word "gripping" should be applied to a tale, it's the very apposite of descriptors for Watching You. I've been trying to get to some authors who are new to me, and Lisa Jewel is the second such author who has struck a perfect chord with my reading tastes. Shari Lapena is the other new author I've recently connected with through her latest book An Unwanted Guest. Their stories also contain the similarity of multiple main characters to keep up with, and both are brilliant at the clarity of those characters and avoiding confusion. And, both books have two of my favorite covers from 2018 publications.

Watching You begins with a prologue. I happen to be a reader who loves a well written prologue, and this one is that. You know immediately, through this prologue, that a murder has occurred in one of the "painted" houses in Melville Heights, one of the most sought after addresses in Bristol, England. But, we don't know who the victim is and certainly not why that person has ended up lying in a pool of blood on their kitchen floor. The characters who steer this story are from two camps, those who live in two of the houses in this prestigious area and a teenage girl and her mother who live just outside the coveted address. The mentally unstable mother sees pretty much all that goes on in the neighborhood, as she's suffers from paranoia that they are out to get her, but she's not the only one watching people there. It's a neighborhood rife with secrets and possibilities of a person who would kill to keep a secret. Joey Mullen, a resident of one of the painted houses, lives in her brother's (a doctor) and wife's house with Joey's hastily married husband. Joey seems to be one of the major catalysts for action, but is she? Her actions certainly create a right mess of cat and mouse with her equally married neighbor. People seem to be playing parts that cover their true selves, and it's delightfully difficult to discern who will win the prize for the biggest secret, the one that leads to murder.

Pick a night or a day when you are in one of those waiting jobs, such as having plumbing work done or being without your car because it's in the shop. Or maybe not a waiting day, maybe a day when you are treating yourself to a pajama day of only doing something you want to do. Then, pick up Watching You and have a gobsmacking good read.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

February, the Month of Book Love Plenty

Oh February, you are really bursting with book love.  My list alone is insane with new publications I want to read.  Included in the list is Elly Griffiths' The Stone Circle, her 11th Ruth Galloway book, even though it's only out in the UK this month and not until May here in the states.  The many fans of the Ruth Galloway series are waiting on pins and needles for this one, so buying it through Book Depository or another UK distributor or bookstore might be a necessity.  Also included is a non-mystery book by Alan Brennert, Daughter of Moloka'i.  Brennert's book preceding this one  is entitled Moloka'i (published 2004), and it is in my top five favorite books ever, so I'm especially excited there is finally a follow-up to it.  The beloved and missed Bill Crider is on the list with That Old Scoundrel Death, the last Dan Rhodes mystery he penned. There are so many other amazing reads to celebrate this month.  Here are some you might want to consider:

The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Feb. 5th)
The Black Ascot (Inspector Ian Rutledge #21) by Charles Todd (Feb. 5th)
The Hiding Place: A Novel by C.J. Tudor (Feb. 5th)
The Stranger Inside by Laura Benedict (Feb. 5th)
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken (Feb. 5th)
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (Feb. 5th)
The Stone Circle (A Ruth Galloway Mystery, #11) by Elly Griffiths (Feb. 7th, UK)
The Murder Book by Lissa Marie Redmond (Feb. 8th)
The Skin Game by J.D. Allen (Feb. 8th)
A Gentlewoman’s Guide to Murder by Victoria Hamilton (Feb. 8th)
The Victory Garden: A Novel by Rhys Bowen (Feb. 12th)
Early Riser: A Novel (Stand-alone) by Jasper Fforde (Feb. 12th)
Careless Love: A DCI Banks Novel by Peter Robinson (Feb. 12th)
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas (Feb. 12th)
Trigger (Frank Marr #3) by David Swinson (Feb 12th)
The Reckoning (Children’s House #2) by Yrsa Sigurdardottir (Feb. 12th)
Daughter of Molokai by Alan Brennert (Feb. 19th)
The Next to Die: A Novel by Sophie Hannah (Feb. 19th)
That Old Scoundrel Death: A Dan Rhodes Mystery by Bill Crider (Feb. 19th)
The Birds That Stay (A Russell and Leduc Mystery) by Ann Lambert (Feb. 19th) 
Who Killed the Fonz? By James Boice (Feb. 19th)
The Vanishing Man (Charles Lenox, Prequel #2) by Charles Finch (Feb. 19th)
Coming for You by Kristi Belcamino (Feb. 26th)
A Justified Murder by Jude Deveraux (Feb. 26th)
The Huntress by Kate Quinn (Feb. 26th) (The Alice Network author)



Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Murder Book by Lissa Marie Redmond: Reading Room Review

When a former cold case detective writes a book about a cold case detective, your expectations are high for a riveting story. When that former detective is Lissa Marie Redmond, that's exactly what you get. In the second book in the series featuring Detective Lauren Riley, police procedural fans will be especially pleased with the attention to procedural detail, although Lauren bucks that process when it frustrates her path to a killer. The Murder Book is my first read in this series, having somehow missed Redmond's A Cold Day in Hell. However, I didn't suffer any confusion in joining Lauren Riley and her work partner Shane Reese. Of course, having enjoyed the second book so much, I plan on going back and picking up the first, as I now know some fascinating facts about that story.

There are all different ways to start a story, and if done well, they all work. The Murder Book has no prologue, no events leading up to, and no reflection. The beginning action is Detective Lauren Riley getting stabbed while she is alone at night in the cold case department of the Buffalo Police. I rather liked that, sitting down opening the book, and bam, we're off! As she is attacked from behind, Lauren doesn't see her attacker, but as she lies bleeding out on the floor and she is stomped in the head, she observes the unmistakable footwear of a city-issue policeman's boots. She also glimpses her murder book, where she catalogs all the cold case murders, being snatched away. When she wakes up in the hospital, her parents, her daughters, and her partner Reese are all there to welcome her back from what was a near-death experience. If Reese hadn't come back for his hat he forgot and found Lauren on the floor that night, she would have surely died. Now Lauren and Reese are faced with the terrible knowledge that another cop tried to kill her, and that it's somehow connected to a cold case. But, what cold case? And who can be trusted, as the killer cop is someone who is close enough to the cold case unit to know about Lauren's Murder Book and there have been leaks to the press? Reese moves into Lauren's house as they put their heads together to find answers. Although Lauren is supposed to be concentrating on recovering from her injuries, she can't rest while there is a member of the Buffalo PD who has blood, her blood, on his hands.

When it's discovered that a couple of calls have come in to the number for the cold case department's former hot line about an old homicide, hopes are high that a connection can be made to Lauren's Murder Book and her attempted murder. First though, the voice on the phone has to be identified, and Lauren privately looks up her retired boss Charlie Daley, who might just be able to help on the voice identification. It's a small circle of Reese, Charlie, and herself that Lauren must rely on, with trust issues being so fragile, to uncover a secret that has been hidden deep for years. Meanwhile, the high profile of Lauren's attack will bring other unwanted ghosts from her past into her present again, too. 

There's no question that Lissa Redmond is a reliable source for this police procedural, and her background brings the sort of authenticity to the story that readers love and appreciate. The book flows smoothly in its fast paced action, never feeling hurried or incomplete at any point. I liked the partnership of Lauren and Reese, their easy working relationship and established communication connection of having been on the force and friends for a while. The addition of Charlie Daley to their investigative efforts lends a nice quirky note to the team. And, I have to say a word of praise for including Reese's dog Watson. Watson serves a needed purpose of showing some softness in both of these hard-working detectives, especially Lauren. Reese was already a bit easier going, with his gentle art of humor. I look forward to getting to know more and more about these characters and finding out who Watson ends up with. Redmond has established a great new series, and since The Murder Book left us with a cliffhanger, I really can't wait to see what's next.

I received an advanced reader's copy from the publisher for an honest review. The Murder Book will be available in bookstores on February 6, 2019.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Reading Room Ruminations: Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

I'm known for rather long reviews, but that doesn't allow me time to give my thoughts on some books I'd like to and can't fit in my schedule for a review.  So, from time to time I'll be doing some shorter thoughts, but just as meaningful, some ruminations on books I'd like to recommend.  My first one up is a novel that caught my attention because of its outstanding cover with its typewriter keys.  Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce has one of my favorite covers, but it also is now a favorite read.

The word that most readers and reviewers use to describe Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce is charming, and it is absolutely that. Set during WWII, Dec. 1940 to May 1941, it is an excellent depiction of being a young adult in the worn-torn city of London. Emmeline Lake and her best friend since a child Bunty take readers through the days and nights, with the German air raids pounding London at night, and how they coped with being in their early twenties and working and volunteering on the Auxiliary Fire Service and dating and going out for entertainment. The young found ways to still enjoy life amidst the horror of war, but the seriousness of the times was never far from their minds. Survival was everybody's job. 

When Emmeline/Emmy starts working for a women's magazine for an advice columnist, her disappointment at not being involved in "real journalism" soon turns to an emotional connection to the letter writers whom Mrs. Bird, her boss, deems too unpleasant to answer. Emmy recognizes that those letters are from people who need the most support and attention. Her solution is to secretly write back to them. As Emmy's world is touched more personally by the war, she must use all her resolve to keep going and work towards righting things. Dear Mrs. Bird is an excellent book to both entertain and encourage, and Emmeline Lake is a character that inspires us to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Fractured Truth (A Bone Gap Travellers Novel, #2) by Susan Furlong: Reading Room Review

I've long had an interest in the Travellers, often called Gypsies by those outside of the clans. My interest was first peaked by the book The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney, set in England. Susan Furlong's new series, Bone Gap Travellers, is set in the United States, in the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee. Though there are sure to be differences in the Travellers of England and those of here in this country, the similarities are all too familiar. Travellers are viewed by many people outside their group as untrustworthy and criminally inclined. While some Travellers may well be bent toward a flim-flam lifestyle, it is a scurrilous attack on the people as a whole to assume that every Traveller is bent toward deceit. In Fractured Truth, the second in the Bone Gap Travellers series, former Marine and now a Sheriff's deputy Brynn Callahan must face prejudice every day as she works in the "settled people's" world while being a Traveller or Pavee. Of course, her clan doesn't make it any easier than the "Outsiders" do, as the Travellers' distrust of authority other than there own is well established and often justified.

Brynn's Bone Gap community of Travellers is shocked by the discovery of one of their own, seventeen-year-old Maura Keene, dead in a cave, her body mutilated and surrounded by occult drawings. The discovery stems from the girl reported missing and a cross-country skier reporting a body.  The location and full discovery of the gruesome scene is made by Brynn and her human-remains-detection dog Wilco, her working companion while in service, too. Sides are immediately drawn, with the Travellers convinced an Outsider committed the murder, and the outside community looking to the Travellers for the guilty party. Besides the struggle between the communities, Brynn deals with her personal demons of disfigurement from an IED, addiction to pain pills, and a soft spot for whiskey. But, she will show the same dogged determination as Wilco in pursuing the truth in the death of this young girl and an additional disappearance of another girl, an Outsider. And, then there are some bones that Brynn would rather not be disturbed that are. The answers sought to all these events will require Brynn to revisit some painful memories of her own and deal with betrayal in her own clan.

Although I hadn't read the first Bone Gap Travellers book, I had no problem enjoying this second book. I do plan on going back and reading Splintered Silence because it's a series I plan on continuing to read. Susan Furlong is an excellent storyteller, moving the plot along at an ever interesting pace. The character of Brynn Callahan is that of a deeply scarred and flawed individual, all warts exposed, but Furlong manages to project Brynn's dedication to justice and the truth through all the demons the young woman must fight. In short, the author makes us care about her and want to keep following her on what we hope will be a path to recovery. Characters such a Sheriff Pusser, who believes in Brynn, and Deputy Harris, who despises her and her "kind," serve as symbols of acceptance and prejudice and the fight which must be fought every day. The Appalachian setting is captured and presented by Furlong in both its simplicity and unique beauty as an entwined part of the narrative and never an extraneous material. I'm looking forward to both going back to #1 and greeting #3 this year.

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.