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.

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.