Review: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna

Review: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu MandannaThe Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal romance, relationship fiction
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on August 23, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A warm and uplifting novel about an isolated witch whose opportunity to embrace a quirky new family--and a new love--changes the course of her life.
As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon knows she has to hide her magic, keep her head down, and stay away from other witches so their powers don't mingle and draw attention. And as an orphan who lost her parents at a young age and was raised by strangers, she's used to being alone and she follows the rules...with one exception: an online account, where she posts videos pretending to be a witch. She thinks no one will take it seriously.
But someone does. An unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches how to control their magic. It breaks all of the rules, but Mika goes anyway, and is immediately tangled up in the lives and secrets of not only her three charges, but also an absent archaeologist, a retired actor, two long-suffering caretakers, and...Jamie. The handsome and prickly librarian of Nowhere House would do anything to protect the children, and as far as he's concerned, a stranger like Mika is a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.
As Mika begins to find her place at Nowhere House, the thought of belonging somewhere begins to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn't the only danger in the world, and when a threat comes knocking at their door, Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect a found family she didn't know she was looking for....

My Review:

What would happen if people discovered that there really were witches in the world, and that magic really did work – if only for a privileged few? Most of the urban fantasy/paranormal stories that use this premise in the world we know tend to look at how witches were treated historically – whether the women (and it was almost always women) – who got burned, stoned or drowned could actually practice magic or not and take the Harry Potter option of a Statute of Secrecy or equivalent prohibitions.

It’s not an unreasonable fear. Even without the possibility of witchcraft, humans already find plenty of reasons to persecute each other over perceived differences that mostly total up to some people hate and fear others and will latch on to any excuse to practice that hate in the hopes of putting that fear to sleep. People who are different because they have actual, real, mysterious powers? The line to pick up torches and pitchforks forms on the right. Please maintain an orderly queue.

In The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, the witches in question, irregular or otherwise, have taken that very reasonable fear and run a bit too far with it. Pretty much running away from each other into the mixed results at best bargain.

Mika Moon is a witch. And she’s lonely. She is forced to live a secret, and fears staying anywhere long enough to put down roots or develop friendships for fear that if people get to know her they’ll figure out what she’s hiding. Or they’ll simply decide that she’s just not worth their time, their care or their friendship.

Her entire life is a sad song of just not being enough to make anyone want to stay. Unless, of course, they have a USE for her powers.

So she’s sure that the advertisement she’s seen on the interwebs, that someone is searching very specifically for a witch, is probably a scam of some kind – at best. Howsomever, between losing her most recent job, not having enough money to pay rent and feeling like it’s time to move on from her current location, Mika is at loose ends.

The job, if it really exists, comes with room and board – along with the mystery of why someone is looking so specifically for something and someone that isn’t supposed to exist. That the location of this puzzling offer is called “Nowhere House” adds to the sensation that Mika is probably being pranked.

At least until she gets there, and meets the job head on. Three little witches, all gathered together in a way that Mika’s been taught is never supposed to happen, need an adult witch to teach them how to do magic. And more importantly, how and when NOT to do it.

Mika’s never been a teacher before. She’s been taught that witches are NEVER supposed to gather together – and certainly never to practice magic together. But the girls need her, and Mika needs a refuge where, for once in her life she can be exactly who and what she is without having to keep so many secrets.

That the adults in the house all know about magic, and seem to have a Mika-shaped hole in their lives and their hearts is the icing on a cake that Mika never thought she’d even get to taste.

Everything about Nowhere House seems like it’s made of magic. The answer that Mika has to discover for herself is whether or not it’s real – or just another illusion.

Escape Rating A-: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches was absolutely charming – and I was utterly charmed by it. It’s a heartwarming read with just the right touch of magic to keep you turning pages, both to be part of this wonderful if extremely irregular household and to see what happens next.

It’s also a story that sits very comfortably on the border between cozy fantasy, paranormal romance and relationship fiction, snuggled right next to The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune – with both Witch, Please by Ann Aguirre and Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck looking on with stern disapproval.

By that I mean that the magical household is centered around the care of the children, in this case the three young witches. Their caretakers are not magical themselves, but they obviously love the children very much, and have gone more than a bit overboard in protecting them. They are, for the most part, an utterly delightful gang, including the young, grumpy librarian, Jamie, while the madcap Ian felt more than a bit like an homage to Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, particularly in his later incarnation as “The Curator”.

And just as in The House in the Cerulean Sea, there is more than the possibility of a romantic relationship in the air – which Ian is delightfully encouraging with mad abandon – to the consternation of Jamie, Mika and his own husband Ken.

But amongst the joy of Mika finding her place in the world, the girls learning magic and the adults making an eclectic but warm and loving home for the children and each other, there are clouds on the horizon. Just as in Witch, Please and Small Town, Big Magic, the forces of official witchdom, in the persons of the elderly ladies who have overshadowed Mika’s life as a witch from childhood, are ever present as the voice in Mika’s head telling her that everything she is doing is wrong and will be punished. Severely. Because she is breaking ALL THE RULES.

At the same time, it’s obvious fairly early on that a secret is looming over the entire household, and that secret, with all of its accompanying chickens, must come to roost before the story can reach anything like a happy ending.

So the Sword of Damocles casts a long shadow over everything – at least until it crashes down and cuts through all the hidden issues and agendas, including all the secrets standing in the way of pretty much everything. And, while it may seem like everything wraps up just a bit too neatly, by this point in our investment in the story that’s kind of what we want.

And in the end, that happy ever after, for the girls, for Mika and Jamie, and quite possibly, eventually, for witches everywhere, is utterly magical.

Review: Sweep of the Heart by Ilona Andrews

Review: Sweep of the Heart by Ilona AndrewsSweep of the Heart (Innkeeper Chronicles, #6) by Ilona Andrews
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance, paranormal romance, science fiction, science fiction romance, urban fantasy
Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #6
Pages: 454
Published by NYLA on December 13, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

From the New York Times #1 bestselling author, Ilona Andrews, comes a fun and action-packed new adventure in the Innkeeper Chronicles! We invite you to relax, enjoy yourself, and above all, remember the one rule all visitors must obey: the humans must never know.

Life is busier than ever for Innkeeper, Dina DeMille and Sean Evans. But it’s about to get even more chaotic when Sean's werewolf mentor is kidnapped. To find him, they must host an intergalactic spouse-search for one of the most powerful rulers in the Galaxy. Dina is never one to back down from a challenge. That is, if she can manage her temperamental Red Cleaver chef; the consequences of her favorite Galactic ex-tyrant's dark history; the tangled politics of an interstellar nation, and oh, yes, keep the wedding candidates from a dozen alien species from killing each other. Not to mention the Costco lady.

They say love is a battlefield; but Dina and Sean are determined to limit the casualties!

My Review: 

Dina Demille is not exactly a typical innkeeper, and Gertrude Hunt is far from an ordinary inn of any stripe whatsoever. And that’s not just because Dina’s lover, partner and fellow innkeeper, Sean Evans, is an alpha strain werewolf.

The inn that Dina and Sean keep is both a portal and a crossroads, a place where worlds literally collide – and sometimes come for tea. Or sanctuary. No matter what species they are or what world they might have come from.

Inns like Gertrude Hunt are special in that their existence and their services keep Earth safe from all the many, many powers in the big, bad galaxy that would otherwise roll right over us – possibly even with the equivalent of hyperspace bypass à la The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The network of inns, and the Innkeeper Assembly exist to provide neutral ground for contentious groups that need a place to negotiate. And by their existence they cement Earth’s position in that wider galaxy as a protected planet not to be messed with, or conquered, or eradicated for interstellar highway construction.

But there is a great big galaxy out there which people on Earth are kept from being aware of. A galaxy that Dina, Sean and Gertrude Hunt are very much a part of. A galaxy that hosts at least one entity that is gobbling up inns and innkeepers, and seems to have a special hate on for Dina, her family, and her inn.

A vendetta that seems to have extended to anyone who has helped them, meaning that one of Sean’s friends and mentors out in that wider galaxy has been kidnapped and dragged to an utterly inhospitable planet as bait to lure them into a trap.

A trap that they know they’ll need to walk into with eyes wide open, once they manage to jump through all the hoops that will give them what they need to get there.

Not that those hoops don’t constitute an entirely different kind of trap. In order to go after their friend, first Dina, Sean and Gertrude Hunt will need to host an intergalactic edition of The Bachelor, so that Kosandrion, the Sovereign of the Seven Star Dominion, can find a spouse to become the other parent of the Heir (yes, you can hear the caps) to the Dominion. The game is rigged, the contestants all hate each other and everyone knows that Kosandrion is the quarry of multiple assassins.

All Dina and Sean have to do is keep the Sovereign and all of the various factions, contestants, security contingents and observers alive until the end of the ‘show’ even though each and every group has deadly plans to eliminate one or more of their rivals, the Sovereign and/or every single being on hand to watch the proceedings.

This is a job that absolutely nobody wanted, but Dina and her crew are the ones who have to complete it. Flawlessly. ALL their lives hang in the balance – or on the point of more than one very sharp knife.

Escape Rating A: The Innkeeper Chronicles, the series that began with Clean Sweep and is now six books and hopefully counting, sits on that border between science fiction and fantasy. On the one hand, the inns are magical and give their keepers a whole array of magical powers. And on the other, part of their magic is to host beings from other worlds who may very well arrive at the inn via spaceship – whether they are supposed to or not.

Spaceships, after all, can be hard to hide, and the first rule of the inns is that the humans must not know about the wider galaxy.

In addition to sitting on that science vs. magic divide, this particular entry in the series is caught between two plotlines that only relate to each other at the messy points. As in, Dina and Sean have to get through this mess to get what they really need out of the whole thing. But this isn’t part of their own whole thing – which is even messier in it’s own way.

So the framing story is their need to save their friend, which is part of the overarching plot of the series that Dina’s parents, also innkeepers, disappeared without a trace and that in the process of searching for them someone has started hunting her, Sean, anyone who helps them in general and other inns and innkeepers in particular. And all of that is fascinating but none of it is exactly lighthearted. It’s the complete opposite of fun and lighthearted.

Howsomever, the other – and the larger part of this entry in the series IS frequently lighthearted, even though it is not all fun and games. At all.

Instead, this intergalactic episode of The Bachelor embodies the whole “SF is the romance of political agency” concept in a way that is even more entertaining than the TV series could ever possibly be – as well as potentially more deadly.

Because the contest to become the spouse of the Sovereign isn’t only what it appears to be and that’s what gives the whole thing it’s sometimes gallows humor as well as the kind of wheels within wheels political machinations that I always love.

That it also manages to include an actual romance as part of its many plots and counterplots is just icing on a bittersweet cake that gives fans of the series the answers to questions they’ve been asking since the series began.

I had an absolute blast with Sweep of the Heart. For those who have been following the series, it’s a delight. The Bachelor plot has pretty much all the plots, counterplots and wry humor that any reader could ask for, while still pushing the overall story forward AND giving out a few more hints on what all that awfulness is truly about.

I think that a lot of readers will enjoy the intergalactic Bachelor game even if they are new to the series, but that overarching plot forms the beginning AND the end and may keep those readers from getting to what they would consider the juicy middle. On the other hand, series readers are going to eat the whole thing up with a spoon. Or at least this reader did.

Also be advised that, as much as I loved this book, it is not the novella that some of the blurbs make it out to be. It’s more like FOUR times that length. Not that its nearly 500 pages don’t go absorbingly fast, but it’s not a quick lunchtime read – more like an all afternoon binge. Although an absolutely glorious one.

It’s clear from the way that Sweep of the Heart ends that Dina and Sean’s adventures, trials and tribulations are far from over. It’s probably going to be a year or more likely two before we get to find out what happens next. And that’s going to be a damn long wait.

Review: Extra Witchy by Ann Aguirre

Review: Extra Witchy by Ann AguirreExtra Witchy (Fix-It Witches, #3) by Ann Aguirre
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal romance, romantic comedy
Series: Fix-It Witches #3
Pages: 368
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on October 4, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

After two failed marriages, Leanne Vanderpol is here for a good time, not for a long time. She only loves the witches in her coven, and she cares more about her career than happily ever after. A difficult past makes her skittish, and she doesn't trust relationships to stick. But when she decides to run for city council instead of wasting her talents cleaning up messes for the mayor's office, she fears her past could be used against her.
Unless she can find the right husband to shore up her political career...
Trevor Montgomery might have peaked in high school. He was popular then, and in college as well, but he partied away his future, met the wrong person, and everything fell apart. Now he's jobless, dateless, and hopeless, at least according to his toxic family. Then a chance meeting with the redhead of his dreams offers an unexpected ray of light just when he needs it most.
Can a woman who doesn't believe in forever find true love with a man who's stopped believing in anything at all?
The third in an adorable witchy rom-com series by New York Times bestselling author Ann Aguirre, perfect for fans of:The bonds of sisterhoodA career-driven heroine who thinks she isn't marriage materialA pan hero who struggles with depressionAnd a shocking family secret

My Review:

I picked this up because this is the third book in the Fix-It Witches series and in spite of my very mixed reaction to the first two books, Witch Please and Boss Witch, I was determined to finish the series. Even if I had to rage read my way through this final book.

Which I pretty much did. At least right up until the halfway point – when it got better. And kept on getting better from there until the end.

But that first 50% was one hell of a slog.

First, there’s the pattern of the series as a whole, in that the second book in the Fix-It Witches series, Boss Witch, picked up the action in the middle of Witch Please and re-told the second half of THAT story from a new perspective. Which means that the action of this third book in the series begins in the middle of the second book and proceeds to tell some of that same story from yet another point of view – and in considerably more detail.

To make that part of the long story short, this is not a series where you really need to worry about not having read the previous books, because you will read at least half the previous book before you learn if anything truly new happens in the one you have in hand.

What made the first half of this one particularly hard to get through were the parts of Boss Witch that got repeated. We already know that Leanne Vanderpol seemed to have married Trevor Montgomery totally out of the blue because we see that event from an outside perspective in the earlier book.

But the deets…well the deets are a bit of a hot mess and so are both Leanne and Trevor. Trevor is Titus the Cinnaman’s best friend, so we met him back in Witch Please. From the outside, it seems like 30-something Trevor hasn’t figured out what he wants to do when he grows up. That would be the kind explanation.

The unkind description would be that he hasn’t grown up, and that his life resembles that of Shaggy (Scooby-Doo’s human) a bit too much. That’s certainly what his parents would say, when the truth is that Trevor has been sunk in a clinical depression for a long time and doesn’t see much of a way out even though he really would like to find one.

Which is where Leanne enters his life.

Leanne is a doormat with ambitions. She doesn’t mean to be a doormat, but she is the person everyone relies on to take care of things she shouldn’t have to take care of because that’s pretty much how her flighty, witchy mother raised her. Or truthfully didn’t raise her but left her to raise herself. Her boss, the city manager, is dumping on her and her irresponsible mother has just arrived in town and Leanne is having a bit of a meltdown because she can’t let herself let out all the crap she’s holding in.

Neither Leanne nor Trevor remotely have their shit together – no matter how much it seems like Leanne does on the surface. The first half of the story sinks under the weight of their collective inability to figure out what to do with their lives to a degree that might have worked well in their 20s but not when both are in their mid-30s.

When they get together anyway, the story doesn’t merely pick itself up. It actually starts to shine way more than I was expecting by that point. Separately, they are each a mess. Together, they make each other strong in their broken places.

Enough for both of them to finally start getting their own acts together. They just have to get out of their own ways to realize that not only have they caught feelings for each other – but that they deserve the happiness and fulfillment that comes with them.

Escape Rating B-: The rating is considerably higher than I thought it was going to be in the first half of the book. Their romantic comedy-esque marriage of convenience starts out as plenty convenient but not remotely comedy. They are both way too messed up for that.

But giving each other a truly secure foundation, something neither of them has ever had, is the making of both of them in a way that was rather delightful and completely unexpected – even if they did connect so quickly that I wondered if their insta-love was at least partly fueled by some kind of witchcraft.

Still, the second half of this one had a lightness and a verve and a witchy spark that was missing in the first half, and Leanne and Trevor turned out to be a couple whose whole was literally greater than the sum of their original parts. So I’m glad I made myself finish, but I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this witchy Midwestern town even if the series continues.

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle

Review: Sweetwater and the Witch by Jayne CastleSweetwater and the Witch by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #15
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on September 20, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

Welcome to the world of Harmony, where--despite its name, things are anything but--danger lurks just beneath the surface in this new novel by New York Times bestselling author, Jayne Castle.
If there's something Ravenna Chastain knows, it's when to end things. And after she almost winds up the victim of a cult that believes she's a witch, it's easy to walk away from her dead-end career, ready for a new start. But where to find a job that would allow her to use her very specialized skill set? The answer is clear: she becomes a matchmaker.
But even a successful matchmaker can't find someone for everyone, and Ravenna considers Ethan Sweetwater her first professional failure. After nine failed dates, Ravenna knows it's time to cut Ethan loose. But Ethan refuses to be fired as a client--he needs one final date to a business function. Since Ravenna needs a date herself to a family event, they agree to a deal: she will be his (business) date if he will be her (fake) date to her grandparents' anniversary celebration.
What Ethan fails to mention is that attending the business function is a cover for some industrial espionage that he's doing as a favor to the new Illusion Town Guild boss. Ravenna is happy to help, but their relationship gets even more complicated when things heat up--the chemistry between them is explosive, as explosive as the danger that's stalking Ravenna. Lucky for her, Ethan isn't just an engineer--he's also a Sweetwater, and Sweetwaters are known for hunting down monsters...

My Review:

When I originally saw the title of this latest entry in the Harmony series, at first I thought it was going to be a Western – or at least a Weird West – kind of story. (The rhythm of the words in the title keeps taking me back to the movie McCabe & Mrs .Miller which was a sort of Western. I digress. Again. I know.) Harmony is absolutely wild enough and definitely weird enough to resemble the Weird West, but it’s a far-future lost colony world that presented some unique challenges to the first settlers and still does to their descendants even two centuries later.

The planet of Harmony – which doesn’t generally exhibit all that much harmony or we wouldn’t have this marvelous series – was settled by a group of human colonists that included members of the Arcane Society and their allies back on Earth. Who were people with psi powers as portrayed in the Victorian and contemporary set Arcane Society series and its offshoots, which were published under the author’s Amanda Quick and Jayne Ann Krentz pen names.

(If the setup sounds a bit familiar, it’s also the setup for the Celta series by Robin D. Owens, so if you like one you’ll like the other.)

By the time in Harmony’s history when this story takes place, Harmony has lost all contact with Earth, and the upheavals of that loss have settled back into a history that is still well-remembered but no longer as influential as it once was. Not that there aren’t some people looking to recreate the past glories of their ancestors. Even if those so-called glories are only in the minds of past – and present – psychopaths.

Which is what this entry in the series turns out to be about. Two people who think they can do their criminal predecessors one better, and two people who stand in their way. And eventually stand together to do it.

Escape Rating A-: What makes this entry in the series so much fun is the witty banter and slowly building romance between Ethan Sweetwater and Ravenna Chastain. She’s a police profiler turned matchmaker, and he’s the client she’s supposed to find a match for but it’s not working. At all. Which he refuses to acknowledge or let the project go for reasons that Ravenna doesn’t see but the reader probably does.

It’s only when Ethan helps her take out the trash – by which I mean the comatose body of her first stalker – that Ravenna gets the idea that there’s more to Ethan than initially appeared. Which is, of course, more than true.

He presented himself as a mild-mannered, kind of dorky engineer. And he is. But underneath that unassuming persona lurks a man who knows just who to call and how to dispose of a not-quite dead body. Ravenna is worried that he might be connected to the mob.

Ethan, on the other hand, knows that she’s his match. Lucky for him – in a twisted sort of way – the deadly adventures that keep finding them give them plenty of chances to bond into a relationship where they both know they’ll have each other’s backs through thick, thin, nightmares and flame-throwers.

All they have to do is convince each other it’s for keeps. And keep fighting to make sure that they will be a “keeps” to have.

That this turns out to be a delightful romance to go with the deadly danger has to do with the personalities of the three protagonists; Ethan, Ravenna, and Ravenna’s dust bunny Harriet. They make one hell of a team where each has a crucial part to play in taking down the villains and having a bit of fun along the way.

Dust bunnies excel at finding the fun in EVERYTHING!

One final note; there is obviously a long and storied history to Harmony but each book stands pretty much on its own. The necessary parts of the background history are always explained, while the occasional mention of a particular person or incident is more in the form of an “Easter Egg” that brings a smile if you know but lack of that knowledge does not detract from enjoyment of the book in hand. The romances are always self-contained to the individual book. That being said, the books in the series are a bit like potato chips in that you won’t want to read just one.

And I guarantee you’ll wish you had your own dust bunny to chortle at your side as you read!

Review: Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck

Review: Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel BeckSmall Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Witchlore #1
Pages: 416
Published by Graydon House on August 23, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

For fans of THE EX HEX and PAYBACK'S A WITCH, a fun, witchy rom-com in which a bookstore owner who is fighting to revitalize a small midwestern town clashes with her rival, the mayor, and uncovers not only a clandestine group that wields a dark magic to control the idyllic river hamlet, but hidden powers she never knew she possessed.

Witches aren't real. Right?

No one has civic pride quite like Emerson Wilde. As a local indie bookstore owner and youngest-ever Chamber of Commerce president, she’d do anything for her hometown of St. Cyprian, Missouri. After all, Midwest is best! She may be descended from a witch who was hanged in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials, but there’s no sorcery in doing your best for the town you love.Or is there?
As she preps Main Street for an annual festival, Emerson notices strange things happening around St. Cyprian. Strange things that culminate in a showdown with her lifelong arch-rival, Mayor Skip Simon. He seems to have sent impossible, paranormal creatures after her. Creatures that Emerson dispatches with ease, though she has no idea how she’s done it. Is Skip Simon…a witch? Is Emerson?
It turns out witches are real, and Emerson is one of them. She failed a coming-of-age test at age eighteen—the only test she’s ever failed!—and now, as an adult, her powers have come roaring back.
But she has little time to explore those powers, or her blossoming relationship with her childhood friend, cranky-yet-gorgeous local farmer Jacob North: an ancient evil has awakened in St. Cyprian, and it’s up to Emerson and her friends—maybe even Emerson herself—to save everything she loves.

My Review:

Once upon a time (mostly in the 1980s and 1990s) there were a whole lot of books telling stories about people (usually young women) who discovered that the mundane world all around them hid secret places and even more secretive people filled with magic – and danger. And that the protagonist of those stories either belonged in those magical places or discovered them or had to save them.

Or all of the above.

Emerson Wilde used to read all of those books, tucked inside the safe and comforting shelves of her beloved grandmother’s bookstore, Confluence Books. But her grandmother has passed, and left the store, her quirky Victorian house, and her legacy to Emerson.

Even if Emerson doesn’t remember the full extent of that legacy or her family’s place in St. Cyprian Missouri, a beautiful little town that sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

Emerson thinks of St. Cyprian as a magical little town, one she’s proud to be a part of as a small business owner and president of its Chamber of Commerce. She doesn’t know the half of it.

But she’s about to find out.

Escape Rating B: Just like Emerson, I read all those books too, which meant that I sorta/kinda knew how this one was going to go. If you took a selection of those books and threw them in a blender with A Marvelous Light by Freya Marske, Witch Please by Ann Aguirre, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson and just a bit of Manipulative Dumbledore-style Harry Potter fanfiction you’d get something a lot like Small Town, Big Magic.

Not that that’s a bad thing, as each of those antecedents has plenty to recommend it. And if you like any of them you’ll probably like at least some parts of this first book in the Witchlore series.

But as much as I loved the premise – or most of the premises – that make up this story, there were a few things that drove me utterly bananas.

Many of those original urban fantasy-type stories focus on a relatively young protagonist who has their world view overturned when they learn that magic is real, all around them, and that they have at least some of it.

Emerson’s “unbusheling” as it’s called in A Marvelous Light isn’t like that at all. Because she did know about magic until she was 18 – and that’s where the Harry Potter fanfiction reference comes in. Emerson’s memory of magic was wiped because she failed a test of power – and that whole scenario is suspicious in a way that does not get resolved at the end of this first book in the series.

Second, she is an adult when her memories come back after an attack by a magical creature. The tragedy of this story is that her closest friends have all stayed with her, stayed her besties, for the decade or so that her memory has been gone. And they’ve all retained their magic, their complete memories, and have kept the secret. The thought of that compromise is kind of hellish, that they all loved her enough to stick by her – and that they all feared the witchy powers-that-be enough to keep her utterly in the dark about the truth of their world.

So when Emerson’s powers start coming back, her friends are equal parts scared and thrilled. Thrilled they can finally be their full selves around her. Scared that the powerful witch council will learn that she’s broken the memory block and that they’ve all told her all the things they promised not to tell under threat of their own memory wipes – or worse.

And they are collectively even more frightened because Emerson’s powers must have returned for a reason. A reason that is likely to be even bigger and more threatening than whatever that council will do to them.

What kept making me crazy was that in the midst of all this her friends were just as over-protective and condescending as any of the adults assisting a young first-time magic user are in any of those stories from the 80s and 90s. The situation frustrated the hell out of Emerson, and I was right there with her.

I also think it made her learning curve drag out a bit more than the story needed.

But there’s something else, and it looms even larger now that I’ve finished the book. There are two antagonists in this story. The first, and the largest by nature, is, quite literally, nature. An evil menace is filtering into the confluence of the rivers that sustain the magic of not just St. Cyprian, but the entire magical world. Emerson’s powers have emerged because it is her task to lead the coven that can stop it – even if she has to sacrifice herself in the stopping.

Howsomever, the focus through the entire story is on the other big bad – that leader of the local council who memory-wiped Emerson, exiled her sister Rebekah, drove her parents out of St. Cyprian and has generally been manipulating the entire town through her coven/council for some reason that has not yet been revealed.

And isn’t revealed by the end of the story. So everything ends on a ginormous freaking cliffhanger. The evil menace in the waters seems to have been dealt with – at least for now. But the council has just arrived to deliver what their leader believes is a well-deserved smackdown for saving everyone’s asses.

Literally just arrived as the book doesn’t so much end as come to a temporary and frustrating halt in mid-looming threat.

And we still don’t know what the root cause of that conflict even is. The ending isn’t satisfying. I need to know why the leader seems to have had it in for Emerson and her entire family long before the events of this book. The evil in the water, as much as it needed to be eliminated, wasn’t personal – at least as far as we know. It needed to be resolved but it’s difficult to get invested in. I’m invested in seeing that manipulative witch get exactly what’s coming to her. And I didn’t even get a hint.

Hopefully the answers – or at least some of them – will be revealed in the second book in the series, Big Little Spells. Because I’m salivating for some just desserts to be served.

Review: Boss Witch by Ann Aguirre

Review: Boss Witch by Ann AguirreBoss Witch (Fix-It Witches #2) by Ann Aguirre
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal romance
Series: Fix-It Witches #2
Pages: 368
Published by Sourcecbooks Casablanca on April 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The second in an adorable witchy rom-com series by New York Times bestselling author Ann Aguirre, perfect for fans of:
Ride-or-die female friendshipsA bisexual heroine who stubbornly refuses to accept helpA hero with an incredibly pesky moral conscienceA mouse named Benson who may or may not have all the answers to life, magic, and love (Spoiler: he does!)
Clementine Waterhouse is a perfectly logical witch. She doesn't tumble headlong into love. Rather she weighs the pros and cons and decides if a relationship is worth pursuing. At least that's always been her modus operandi before. Clem prefers being the one in charge, always the first to walk away when the time is right. Attraction has never struck her like lightning.
Until the witch hunter comes to town.
Gavin Rhys hates being a witch hunter, but his family honor is on the line, and he needs to prove he's nothing like his grandfather, a traitor who let everyone down. But things in St. Claire aren't what they seem, and Gavin is distracted from the job immediately by a bewitching brunette with a sexy smile and haunting secrets in her eyes.
Can the bossiest witch in town find a happy ending with the last person she should ever love?

My Review:

I often begin the review of a second book in a series by speaking about how it picked up where the story left off, but that’s not even accurate here.

Boss Witch picks up in the middle of Witch, Please, showing the reader the events of the second half of that first book from a different perspective in the first half of this one.

So, on the one hand, new readers won’t feel like they’ve missed much by starting here. Howsomever, readers of the previous book may start out wondering WTF is going on and whether we’re going to learn anything new about this charming (in multiple senses of the word) little Midwestern town and the witches who live there, hiding in plain sight among the mundanes.

The switch in perspective from Danica to Clementine Waterhouse, cousins and sisters-of-the-heart, as they deal with the crisis that cropped up in Witch, Please in their very separate ways.

Danica’s magic spiked out of control in that first book, spiking high enough to draw the attention of one of the dreaded – and dreadful – witch hunters. But Clementine has a plan to deal with Witch Hunter Gavin Rhys. (Clementine ALWAYS has a plan, that’s part of her function in the excruciatingly dysfunctional Waterhouse family.)

While Danica is off ‘billing and cooing’ with the love of her life, her magically mundane ‘Cinnaman’, Clementine will do what she’s done all of their lives and clean up her cousin’s mess.

But Clem is tired of being the person who gets ALL the jobs done ALL the time in their family. It’s not about work, the ‘Fix-It Witches’ shop that the cousins share. Well, it isn’t ALL about the work. It’s about Clem being the fixer-upper in their family who has taken charge and gotten the shit that needs doing done since her mother started dumping too many of her adult emotions and woes on her then-teenaged daughter.

As I said, this family is not functional, and they have never put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional in any way, shape or form. Clem is tired, and stressed, and tired of batting clean-up all the time and then getting blamed for ‘hurting’ someone by mentioning that she’s tired of cleaning up after them. She’s a bit blunt and abrasive but she’s earned it. But she sucks it up to keep the peace – and to keep her family from having a meltdown which she will, again, have to soothe and fix.

I feel her pain. (I like Clem. Her family, on the other hand, drives me up a wall.)

So, when Clem volunteers to distract Gavin Rhys from hunting for all the witches in town, starting with her cousin Danica, it starts out as just another thing she has to take care of for everyone else.

When Clem distracting Gavin turns into Clem and Gavin distracting each other, in bed and out, Clem realizes that however it started, her relationship that shouldn’t be has become something that she’s doing just for herself – and just for him. At least until all the secrets start coming out of the woodwork to take down Clem, her coven sisters – and Gavin.

Escape Rating C+: I really need to start picking books this week where I like the characters a whole lot more than I did yesterday and today.

The Waterhouse family of witches absolutely does not put the fun in dysfunctional. The real problem at the core of the family is that Gram is more toxic than the Wicked Witch of the West, and unfortunately a big chunk of the story that repeats between Witch, Please and Boss Witch is the revelation of just how toxic and manipulative Gram really is, and just how much and how often she reaches out to damage and demean every other woman in the family – meaning her daughters and her granddaughters. She’s honestly a greater force for evil than the witch hunters – and is that EVER saying something!

One of the problems I had with Witch, Please is that even after Gram’s lies and manipulations are uncovered, she doesn’t get the comeuppance she deserves. So the story has to deal with it all again in this book, and she still doesn’t take delivery of the message. That left this reader unsatisfied with that part of the story. Again.

OTOH, the witch hunter saga does manage to get surprisingly neatly tied up with a big bow in a way that gives Gavin’s crisis of both conscience and the heart a lot of emotional weight. The way that Gavin’s situation is resolved, both as a witch hunter AND with his own uber-toxic father, was wonderfully cathartic. (If only Gavin’s dad and Clem’s Gram could share a prison cell for a while…)

But on my third hand – the one belonging to my familiar, perhaps – resolving the witch hunter danger at the end of this book, does make the thought of the third book in the series, Extra Witchy, feel more than a bit anticlimactic (no matter how many climaxes the characters manage to experience) – particularly as it looks like the first half of that story runs parallel to the second half of this one.

So, color me curious about how this all works out into HEAs all around. We’ll see when Extra Witchy drops in October.

Review: Guild Boss by Jayne Castle

Review: Guild Boss by Jayne CastleGuild Boss (Harmony, #14) by Jayne Castle
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure romance, futuristic, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, science fiction romance
Series: Harmony #14, Ghost Hunters #14
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on November 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Illusion Town on the colony world of Harmony—like Las Vegas on Earth, but way more weird.
Living in this new, alien world doesn’t stop the settlers from trying to re-create what they’ve left behind. Case in point—weddings are still the highlight of any social calendar. But it’s the after-party that turns disastrous for Lucy Bell. Kidnapped and drugged as she leaves the party, she manages to escape—only to find herself lost in the mysterious, alien underground maze of glowing green tunnels beneath Illusion Town. She’s been surviving on determination and cold pizza, scavenged for her by a special dust bunny, when help finally shows up.
Gabriel Jones is the Guild Hunter sent to rescue her, but escaping the underground ruins isn’t the end of her troubles—it’s only the beginning. With no rational reason for her abduction, and her sole witness gone on another assignment for the Guild, whispers start circulating that Lucy made it all up. Soon her life unravels until she has nothing left but her pride. The last thing she expects is for Gabriel Jones to come back to town for her.
The Lucy that Gabriel finds is not the same woman he rescued, the one who looked at him as if he were her hero. This Lucy is sharp, angry, and more than a little cynical—instead of awe, she treats him with extreme caution. But a killer is still hunting her, and there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to heroes. Despite her wariness, Gabriel is also the one person who believes Lucy—after all, he was there. He’s determined to help clear her reputation, no matter what it takes. And as the new Guild Boss, his word is law, even in the lawlessness of Illusion Town.

My Review:

This entry in the Harmony series has one of the best opening lines in pretty much ever, “The Lord of the Underworld showed up with the dust bunny and a pizza.” Not that Gabriel Jones is actually Hades – even if he does go along with the somewhat macabre joke.

The pizza is a small cheese and olive from Ollie’s House of Pizza. The dust bunny’s name is Otis, and a small is all he can manage to carry. He gets a slice and Persephone, otherwise known as Lucy Bell, gets dinner in the underground chamber she’s been trapped in for the past several, hazily counted days.

Gabriel Jones is there to rescue her – with the help of the dust bunny. After all, Otis has been helping Lucy all along, and Gabriel is just carrying out yet another mission for the sometimes famous, sometimes infamous Ghost Hunters’ Guild.

Welcome to Harmony, a planet in the human diaspora that lost contact with the homeworld a couple of centuries back, and has been not just surviving but thriving ever since. With the help of the dust bunnies and the boost in psychic power that comes from living on this planet with a murky alien past and a wealth of finely tuned resonating amber.

No one knows why the aliens left, only that they left their ruins behind both above and below ground. And that the colonists from Earth discovered that their psychic powers were enhanced by the amber – and that they needed to hone those enhancements to survive on this planet where so much of the weather and everything else could be deadly to those without protection from the psychic phenomena that permeate the place.

But the colonists were part of Earth’s Arcane Society, so they had what it took to make a go of Harmony when their Earth tech began failing after they were cut off.

Two centuries later, everyone on Harmony has at least a bit of talent. Guild members have a lot as they handle security in the most ghost-ridden and psychic phenomena rich areas – and are both celebrated and envied as a result. And occasionally good guild members, like good cops, go bad or get seduced to the dark side by the power and adulation.

But Lucy Bell isn’t a guild member – she’s a weather channeler. She’s able to direct and redirect the deadly power-storms that Harmony regularly throws up. When this story begins, she’s trapped underground among the storms and the phenomena without her amber while recovering from Harmony’s equivalent of a “Mickey Finn”. Even when he locates her, Gabriel doesn’t believe she was drugged by ‘person or persons unknown’. He’s sure, just as everyone else seems to be, that she got herself drunk, took the drugs voluntarily and got herself lost in a blackout. That she’s unstable and damaged.

Even her parents believe it.

That her rescue results in another forced round of hallucinogenic injections only makes her situation worse – but by that time Gabriel Jones is off on his next mission leaving Lucy to suffer the fallout.

He expects her to fall straight into his arms when he returns to Illusion Town as the new Guild Boss. She just wants to give him a piece of her mind over the downturn her life has taken since he carried her out of the Underground and left her in the hands of the men she saw as demons.

It’s only when they combine forces, he looking for a lost Old Earth artifact with still deadly powers and she attempting to revive her reputation and her business by assisting him, that they discover that her kidnapping and his hunt are all part of the same deadly game.

Just because you’re paranoid does not preclude someone being out to get you – and there’s definitely someone, or perhaps more than one – out to get them both.

Escape Rating B: All of the Arcane Society’s chickens have come to roost on Harmony to lay some VERY bad eggs. Some, but not all, are Easter Eggs in this book for anyone who has ever read any of the author’s interconnected series, her historical Arcane Society (written as Amanda Quick), her contemporary Arcane Society (written as Jayne Ann Krentz) and her futuristic Harmony (sometimes referred to as Ghost Hunters) books, of which Guild Boss is the 14th, written as Jayne Castle. (The author referred to it as the “Jayneverse” although I personally prefer “Arcaneverse” as a collective title).

I actually read this back in May when I first picked up the eARC. I have to admit that it didn’t grab me at the time the way that this author’s books usually do, no matter what pen name they are written under. And because I didn’t get into it the way I usually do, I didn’t write it up.

Having reread it over the holiday weekend, I’m not sure what happened the first time that it didn’t work for me, because it certainly did this time. Whether it was the right book at the right time now when it wasn’t then, or I’m just in the mood for an action/adventure type romance, I don’t know. But I did like Guild Boss the second time around quite a lot so I’m glad I went back to it.

One of my favorite things about the Harmony series are the dust bunnies. Every single one of them has a personality that is just so huge compared to their size. And they are, every last one of them, inveterate scene stealers. Otis is no exception. In fact, he loves to be in front of the camera. Any camera. All the cameras. For a dust bunny he’s kind of a ham.

The mystery in this one is big and convoluted and it’s a bit easy to get lost in it. There are a lot of moving pieces and it doesn’t quite all tie up neatly. Likewise, the romance is hot and electric, but a bit on the instalove side of that equation.

I think I felt like a couple of issues were a bit unresolved or got swept under the carpet. When Gabriel comes back to Illusion Town, Lucy, well, I want to say she didn’t make him grovel enough but her situation wasn’t his fault. At the same time, it’s understandable that she blamed him for it. That internal conflict, and it is mostly internal, got wrapped up a bit too easily, especially considering how often she chided him throughout the book about her being just another mission to him and how focused he was on climbing the Guild ladder.

It also seemed like her conflict with her parents was left hanging. Not that life’s conflicts generally get wrapped up with a tidy bow, but their disappointment and disapproval was a bit Chekhov’s Gun, even if the only possible resolution would be inside her head.

All of that being said, my re-read of Ghost Boss was much more fun than my original read, so I’m very glad I took the trip back to Harmony. While it looks like it’s going to be awhile before the author returns to Harmony, I still have two books with her signature blend of romance, adventure and psychic phenomena to look forward to this year, Lightning In a Mirror next month and When She Dreams in May. I expect them both to be marvelous reading treats, just as Guild Boss turned out to be!

Review: Witch, Please by Ann Aguirre

Review: Witch, Please by Ann AguirreWitch Please (Fix-It Witches, #1) by Ann Aguirre
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, paranormal romance
Series: Fix-It Witches #1
Pages: 363
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on September 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Practical Magic meets Gilmore Girls in this adorable witchy rom-com with:
• A bisexual virgin baker with a curse• A witch looking to avoid romantic entanglements• And a chemistry between them that causes literal sparks

Danica Waterhouse is a fully modern witch—daughter, granddaughter, cousin, and co-owner of the Fix-It Witches, a magical tech repair shop. After a messy breakup that included way too much family “feedback,” Danica made a pact with her cousin: they’ll keep their hearts protected and have fun, without involving any of the overly opinionated Waterhouse matriarchs. Danica is more than a little exhausted navigating a long-standing family feud where Gram thinks the only good mundane is a dead one and Danica’s mother weaves floral crowns for anyone who crosses her path.
Three blocks down from the Fix-It Witches, Titus Winnaker, owner of Sugar Daddy’s bakery, has family trouble of his own. After a tragic loss, all he’s got left is his sister, the bakery, and a lifetime of terrible luck in love. Sure, business is sweet, but he can’t seem to shake the romantic curse that’s left him past thirty and still a virgin. He’s decided he’s doomed to be forever alone.
Until he meets Danica Waterhouse. The sparks are instant, their attraction irresistible. For him, she’s the one. To her, he’s a firebomb thrown in the middle of a family war. Can a modern witch find love with an old-fashioned mundane who refuses to settle for anything less than forever?

My Review:

Happy families may be all alike, and every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but there should be an exception for intrusive families, which are more alike in their unhappiness than the paraphrase from Tolstoy would lead one to expect.

Certainly Danica Waterhouse’s family of witches has plenty of intrusiveness to go around, between her cousin Clementine who is determined that both Danica and Clementine will remain single and unattached forever, her mother Minerva who married a mundane and lost her powers, and her beloved Gram who is determined that Danica will marry someone with an impeccable witch lineage and pass on the Waterhouse legacy.

Minerva wants her daughter to follow her heart. Gram doesn’t care about Danica’s heart as long as her ovaries are dedicated to making pure witch babies, while Danica just wants a chance to live her own life on her own terms. Something that seems impossible as long as she’s the chew toy in the family squabble between her laid back mother and her bulldozer grandmother.

A grandmother who is an expert at wielding guilt like a knife and isn’t either ashamed or afraid to use that knife and any other weapon that comes to hand in order to keep her granddaughter on what she perceives as the straight and narrow.

Danica lets herself be stuck in permanent peacemaker mode, caught between those opposing viewpoints, until she’s broken out of her paralysis by the smell of sinful cinnamon rolls wafting through her life.

Danica and her cousin Clem are the owners of Fix-It Witches repair shop, because that’s literally what they are and what they do. Their witch talent lies in coaxing machinery that is broken into a state of repair. And one of the ovens at Sugar Daddy’s bakery is in desperate need of repair.

Which leads the Sugar Daddy himself, Titus Wannaker, the baker-in-chief, to stop at Fix-It Witches to ask if they can come over and repair his recalcitrant oven before he starts losing business.

But when Titus opens the door at Fix-It Witches, Danica loses control of her magic, her blender sprays a pineapple smoothie everywhere, and Titus loses his heart to the sweet, snarky, sexy witch who looks like she bathed in pineapple chunks.

And the feeling is very, very mutual.

There’s only one hitch in Titus’ instantaneous plan to get as close to Danica as possible for as long as possible – at least once she gets the pineapple chunks out of the way.

Danica is a witch, Titus is a mundane, there’s a Statute of Secrecy that makes the one in the Potterverse look like a mildly worded suggestion – and there’s Danica’s Gram lurking around town, determined to keep Danica on the only path that Gram will EVER approve of.

A future that does not include delectable interludes with a mundane – not even the Cinnaman of Danica’s dreams.

Escape Rating B-: I am of two minds on this book in so many ways!

First, foremost, and most important, the romance between Danica and Titus is lovely, sweet, sexy, delicious and every kind of wonderful. I loved them together so much and wanted Danica to find a solution to her family and witchy dilemmas so badly so that they could have a chance. The author did a great job of conveying that this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love and that they belonged together in spite of everything.

I stuck with the book because I wanted to see them get their HEA so much.

At the same time, at the literal halfway point I switched from the audio to the ebook in spite of how much I was enjoying the narrator because Danica’s intrusive family, her almost pathological need to keep everyone happy – except herself – combined with the need to keep witches and witchcraft secret on pain of death or at least an extreme memory wipe were downright painful and I wanted to get through them as quickly as possible. By judicious skimming if necessary.

Not that Titus’ family doesn’t have problems of its own, but the crap he was dealing with all made sense.

Danica, on the one hand, was being a doormat in the face of her family’s conflicting expectations and demands. On the other hand, her relationship with Titus, their ever-increasing chemistry and every time they managed to find a tiny slice of time together were utterly adorable. And on the third hand – hey, witchcraft, why not three hands (or more) in a pinch? – there was too much about this world’s version of witchcraft that wasn’t explained as well as it could have been.

Because there’s a terrific story of sisterhood and found family hidden within the dynamics of Danica’s coven. While a bit too much of the coven’s business in this opening entry in the series was focused on the way that Danica’s powers were spiking out of control because of her relationship with Titus that she didn’t feel free to actually have, there was still a lot there to unpack and revel in about the way that this group of multiple generations of women got together, supported each other both personally and professionally, gave each other space to vent and room to grow, and occasionally discussed books in between major magical workings.

I was also fairly convinced early on that Gram was pretty much the Wicked Witch of the (Mid)West, so I wasn’t exactly surprised to discover that my conviction was close to the actual mark and not just my own feelings about just how toxic her manipulations really were. And I’ll admit that I really needed to see an epic takedown of Gram over this and did not get the catharsis I was looking for.

So there’s a thread in this story about Danica being forced to learn that her hero has feet of clay up to the knees and it felt like that reveal and its effects were minimized. It’s entirely possible that we’ll get to see the fallout of that situation in the next book in the series, Boss Witch, in April 2022. I need to make sure that Danica and her Cinnaman are still living their sweetly happy ever after.

Review: Pirate’s Promise by Lisa Kessler

Review: Pirate’s Promise by Lisa KesslerPirate's Promise (Sentinels of Savannah #5) by Lisa Kessler
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: action adventure romance, paranormal romance
Series: Sentinels of Savannah #5
Pages: 270
Published by Entangled Publishing: Amara on July 26th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Greyson Till never found a weapon he didn’t like. As the immortal Master Gunner of a pirate ship, he’s grown his collection for over two hundred years. So when a legendary cursed blade that can cut through any material goes missing from the government’s paranormal artifact vault, he’s eager to retrieve it. Working with the secret division Department 13 has always come with its set of challenges, but this one is the worst yet.

Along with the mission comes fiery, no-nonsense paranormal weapons expert Aura Henderson, who couldn't be less thrilled about this pairing. The last time they saw each other, Greyson accidentally blew her cover, almost killing them both. Worst of all, to get the sword, she has to pose as Greyson's wife. The last thing she needs is to get involved with a sexy grumbly pirate, whether in reality or just pretend.

When they locate the relic, the gilded blade thirsts for blood and things aren’t what they seem. Greyson isn’t sure who to trust anymore, and he’s not about to let death come between them...

My Review:

Once upon a time, in the 1700s, the pirate crew of the Sea Dog found an unexpected treasure. They found the Grail. That Grail. King Arthur’s Grail. And drank from it. They expected, honestly, nothing at all. What they got was a form of immortality. They heal. From everything. Even old age.

Actually, they just never age. Something that has become a big more difficult to cover up in the 21st century with its CCTV, social media everywhere all the time, and just the sheer amount of documentation that’s required to make a living.

Even immortal pirates have to make a living. Keeping their replica Sea Dog not just afloat but seaworthy requires licenses, paperwork and yet more paperwork, and, of course, money.

After all, the pirates may heal, but their ship most definitely does not. And operating the Sea Dog as a tourist attraction is more a labor of love than profit. And it requires a cargo hold of licenses and permits of its very own.

That’s where Department 13 of the U.S. Government comes in. It’s not a surprise that there’s a department tasked with monitoring the weird, the wacky, and the things that go bump in the night. It’s even less of a surprise that the department in question would know ALL about the immortal pirates.

So when a dangerous relic is stolen from Department 13’s super-secret and super-secure warehouse, only to turn up in Scotland, the Department is a)embarrassed as hell and b)worried about causing an international incident with their British counterparts, who are, of course, MI13.

But there’s not a lot of trust between the pirates and the government. Not surprising considering their respective histories. But the Department needs to get that relic back, and the Sea Dog is the right crew for the job. With one addition, Department 13 Agent Aura Henderson.

It’s a simple job. Sail to Scotland aboard the Sea Dog. Pose as a couple of well-heeled collectors, buy the relic and sail back with the prize so it can be locked up again. Hopefully more permanently this time.

NOTHING about this job is as easy as it should be back in the planning stages in Savannah.

Aura doesn’t believe the pirates will have her back. The Department fears that the pirates will, well, act like pirates and sell the relic to the highest bidder. The current owner of the relic is Aura’s former NYPD partner and the entire operation is a trap. For her.

Oh, and Aura’s former partner – he’s a demon. And that relic of his – it’s out for blood. Specifically, Aura’s blood. It wants to cut her open in order to take it.

Escape Rating B+: I got started in this series in Magnolia Mystic because I was looking for something a bit lighter and fluffier than the dense tome I was reading at the time. Between the immortal pirates, the evil property owner, and the seeress promising gloom and doom, I was surprised to get what I came for. There is a bit of lightness in this series, even though there’s generally something dark and evil coming their way in every story.

Considering their long lives, the pirates of the Sea Dog have more than a few demons of the psychological type in their mental baggage. They all have serious trust issues with outsiders for obvious reasons, and when the story began they’d all loved and lost a few too many times and all seemed to be more or less resolved not to get emotionally involved again.

But this time there’s an actual demon, although not so much a demon from hell as a demon from a hellish dimension. The demon has stolen a mythical sword that can cut through any material. It’s already cut through Agent Aura Henderson’s trust in herself. This “thing” was her police partner for several years and she never noticed that it was anything other than a cop she shared pizza and a love of B movies with. Until he revealed his demonic nature, she thought he was one of the good guys and was she ever wrong.

What’s making this whole thing work for me is that the setup reads as if Stargate and Anna Hackett’s Treasure Hunter Security series had a book baby and this series is it. From Stargate we get the idea of other planets and dimensions who have left stuff lying around and from THS comes the idea that government agencies and private contractors are tasked with hunting this stuff down and putting it away where it can’t do any harm. That Treasure Hunter Security is an action/adventure/suspense type romance makes it a very strong read alike for the Sentinels of Savannah. (Start with Undiscovered and be prepared for a book binge to tide you over until the next immortal pirate falls.)

So Pirate’s Promise and the entire Sentinels of Savannah series is just a big ball of elements that I love. There’s a touch of the paranormal, supernatural or otherworldly, there’s the idea that history is bigger and much different from what we imagine, there’s action, there’s adventure, and there’s a hot romance between two people who are perfect for each other and fighting it every step of the way.

That the pirates have baggage as well as booty and that the heroines have all walked through dark places and kept both their dukes and their guards up just adds to the fun. This entry in the series, featuring the romance between the ship’s master gunner and an agent who really, really loves to make things explode definitely made for a fun and explosive reading time for this reader.

Review: The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert

Review: The Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. ReichertThe Kindred Spirits Supper Club by Amy E. Reichert
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal romance, romantic comedy
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on April 20, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

"A charming rom-com with a supernatural twist...Filled with a strong sense of place, mouthwatering descriptions of food, and a sweet love story (or two), Reichert's latest will surely delight readers." Booklist Starred Review
Named a Must Read for spring by Buzzfeed * Bustle * Booktrib * PopSugar * BookRiot * Midwest Living

Jobless and forced home to Wisconsin, journalist Sabrina Monroe can tolerate reunions with frenemies and kisses from old boyfriends, but not the literal ghosts that greet her in this heartwarming tale of the power of love and connection from acclaimed author Amy E. Reichert.
For Sabrina Monroe, moving back home to the Wisconsin Dells–the self-described Waterpark Capital of the World–means returning to the Monroe family curse: the women in her family can see spirits who come to them for help with unfinished business. But Sabrina’s always redirected the needy spirits to her mom, who’s much better suited for the job. The one exception has always been Molly, a bubbly rom-com loving ghost, who stuck by Sabrina’s side all through her lonely childhood.
Her personal life starts looking up when Ray, the new local restaurateur, invites Sabrina to his supper club, where he flirts with her over his famous Brandy Old-Fashioneds. He’s charming and handsome, but Sabrina tells herself she doesn’t have time for romance–she needs to focus on finding a job. Except the longer she’s in the Dells, the harder it is to resist her feelings for Ray. Who can turn down a cute guy with a fondness for rescue dogs and an obsession with perfecting his fried cheese curds recipe?
When the Dells starts to feel like home for the first time and with Ray in her corner, Sabrina begins to realize that she can make a difference and help others wherever she is.

My Review:

The saying goes that “home is the place that when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Sabrina Monroe, unemployed and in student loan debt hell way over her head, has to go there – no matter how much she really, really doesn’t want to.

Her parents are more than willing to take her in. The rest of the town, not so much. Or, at least not so much in the person of her lifelong arch-nemesis, who is happy to have Sabrina back in the Dells just so that she can continue her literally lifelong torture of the one girl in school who never begged to be part of her inner circle of bitches.

I have to say that part of the story was not my favorite.

What was lovely, however, was the relationship that Sabrina reluctantly develops, one-step-forward and two-steps-back, with Ray Harper, the new owner of The Otter Club, a restaurant and supper club that has been in his family – and in the Dells – so long that both are institutions.

A relationship that is pushed and pulled and connived at and encouraged, not just by Sabrina’s mother who wants her oldest daughter to come home, but by the Monroe family’s resident ghost, Molly.

The Monroe women see dead people. It’s their duty to help the recently deceased with unfinished business finish that business so they can actually rest in peace. Or in the light. Or wherever they go when they shuffle off this mortal coil and all the worries and responsibilities that go along with it.

Molly, dead since Prohibition, is an exception. Whatever unfinished business she has can’t seem to be resolved, so she sticks around and helps the Monroes do the work that only they can do.

So far, at least, it hasn’t been a terrible afterlife. Molly loves movies – especially romantic comedies. She wants her friend Sabrina to get her own happy ending – no matter how much baggage Sabrina has piled in the way. Little do either Sabrina or Molly know that helping Sabrina get out of her own way with Ray Harper will lead Molly to her own, long delayed but seemingly literal, happy ever after.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those books that drove me absolutely crazy, both in a good way AND in a bad way at the same time.

The good way took me on a bit of a search, because as I read I kept having that “I’ve read this before” kind of deja vu. The trip down reading memory lane was a whole lot of fun, as I managed to latch onto what this reminded me of so strongly.

For most of this story, Molly reads very much like Colleen, the genius loci of Stella Maris Island in Susan M. Boyer’s cozy mystery series that begins with Lowcountry Boil. Both Molly and Colleen are ghosts that protect their respective families, have limited ability to act in the real world, and do one heck of a lot of spying for their favorite people. Both also died young with unfinished business.

But the heart of the ghostly interactions in The Kindred Spirits Supper Club echoes the way that the paranormal talent that Clare Cermak the protagonist of Robin D. Owens’ Ghost Seer series finds herself inheriting a family gift for interacting with the spirit world and helping the recently and not-so-recently dead finish their unfinished business and “go towards the light”. Clare and Sabrina would have a lot to talk about, especially about the negative impact that “seeing dead people’ has on their social life, professional reputation, and opportunities for romance.

In the not so good way of driving me bonkers, while I know that Erika is supposed to serve as the villain of the piece, her behavior, especially the way it continued to the present day, read as much too far over the top. The amount of humiliation that she has put Sabrina through since grade school – and continues into adulthood – made for an uncomfortable read. As did the way that Ray’s parents treated him over his desire to stay in the Dells and continue to operate his late uncle’s supper club. The way that relationship resolved worked out for the best, but it middled in a way that was pretty damn nasty.

And it still made more sense than Erika’s crazy. I detested Erika’s crazy and it colored my feelings about the entire book, which is a real shame because I wanted to love this book and expected to love this book but the Erika plotline made that impossible.

Your reading mileage may vary.

Even though I guessed the resolution of Molly’s story fairly early on, I still liked that part of the story and Molly as a character. I also enjoyed the strong sense of place that imbues this book – another similarity to the Lowcountry Boil series, BTW. In spite of living in Chicago for 20 years, I never visited the Dells as so many Chicagoans do. This story both made me wish I had and made me feel like I almost but not quite did.

I also felt for Sabrina, her love of her family combined with her conflicting desires both to be with them and to be as far away from the Dells as possible. Her retreats into herself, her panic attacks and her anxieties made her feel real and I liked her a lot. I wanted to see her happy as much as Molly did.

In the end, while there was one character/situation to hate, there was a LOT to love about The Kindred Spirits Supper Club.