Review: Pirate’s Alley by Suzanne Johnson

pirates alley by suzanne johnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans #4
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: April 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Wizard sentinel DJ Jaco thought she had gotten used to the chaos of her life in post-Katrina New Orleans, but a new threat is looming, one that will test every relationship she holds dear.

Caught in the middle of a rising struggle between the major powers in the supernatural world—the Wizards, Elves, Vampires and the Fae—DJ finds her loyalties torn and her mettle tested in matters both professional and personal.

Her relationship with enforcer Alex Warin is shaky, her non-husband, Quince Randolph, is growing more powerful, and her best friend, Eugenie, has a bombshell that could blow everything to Elfheim and back. And that’s before the French pirate, Jean Lafitte, newly revived from his latest “death,” returns to New Orleans with vengeance on his mind. DJ’s assignment? Keep the sexy leader of the historical undead out of trouble. Good luck with that.

Duty clashes with love, loyalty with deception, and friendship with responsibility as DJ navigates passion and politics in the murky waters of a New Orleans caught in the grips of a brutal winter that might have nothing to do with Mother Nature.

War could be brewing, and DJ will be forced to take a stand. But choosing sides won’t be that easy.

My Review:

Pirate’s Alley, like all of the titles in Suzanne Johnson’s Sentinels of New Orleans series, is a street in New Orleans. In this particular case, Pirate’s Alley is a two-block-long pedestrian walkway between Royal Street and Jackson Square, at least according to Google maps and Google street view.

As a title, it also represents some of the events in the story. From Sentinel Drusilla Jaco’s perspective, it looks a lot like her own particular pirate, the historically undead Jean Lafitte, is building either a coalition or perhaps an army of preternaturals in the same way he build his pirate army in his real life. He takes on the dispossessed and the disaffected, and gives them a home and something to believe in.

It worked in the early 19th century, and it looks like it works just as well in the early 21st century.

In New Orleans, the boundary between what we call the “real” world and the Beyond was always thin. But Katrina reduced that thin (and always a bit permeable) line to absolutely nothing. And the powers-that-be, in this case the Wizard’s Council, have decided to make a virtue out of necessity and remove both the physical barrier and the rules and regulations that have kept the preternaturals out of the city, or hidden, for centuries.

New Orleans has become again what it has always been, an living experiment in extreme multiculturalism. Only in this case, it’s the wizards and the shapeshifters and the two-natured and the vampires and the elves and the fae and New Orleans own special part of this mixture – the historical undead.

Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonAfter the events in the first three books, Royal Street (reviewed here), River Road (here) and Elysian Fields (here), the preternatural community is gearing up, or winding down, to one big and probably deadly showdown.

The events in Pirate’s Alley all center around that upcoming conflict, with Sentinel DJ Jaco, as usual, caught squarely in the middle.

Pirate’s Alley is much more about political maneuvering than any deeds of derring-do, not that there aren’t some of those. Most of the action takes place at the several attempts to hold an Interspecies Council Meeting, and all the various and sundry ways that meeting keeps getting interrupted, hijacked and or just plain destroyed. Unfortunately along with the building it’s being held in.

It seems as though every single faction has an internal conflict, one that is being fought both at the Council table and in bloody assassinations back at home. And DJ is firmly stuck in the middle of every single one of those conflicts, whether she wants to be or not.

DJ is a member of the Wizards Council, and as Sentinel, she is supposed to be working for them. Which is ok until they ask her to do something that she finds not just questionable, but downright morally repugnant. So she not only refuses to obey, but finds a way to outmaneuver her boss.

Her boyfriend Alex Warin can’t make up his mind or heart whether to help DJ or obey the Council. They are his boss too, and he’s a good little soldier who generally obeys orders.

DJ’s elven bondmate is trying to get DJ to live up to the bond he forced her into, and to take control of his own faction, attempting to use DJ as leverage, bait or muscle as it suits him. It does not suit her.

The only person who seems to understand DJ and want to help her do what she thinks is right is Jean Lafitte, the leader of the historical undead and DJ’s enemy turned friend. It’s not that Jean is altruistic, because he never is, but that he sees and likes DJ exactly as she is, and pretty much vice versa. DJ isn’t totally sure how she feels about Lafitte, but she knows he has her back.

Which is a good thing, because when the dust settles Lafitte’s Barataria estate in undead Old Orleans may be the only safe place for DJ to retreat to. With the fires of all her burnt bridges blazing behind her.

Escape Rating A-: As much as I loved this one, I will say that the politics are starting to get extremely convoluted. I hope that book 5 comes with a guide or cheat sheet or dramatis personae, complete with affiliations. Or a summary in the prologue.

DJ is the center of the story. It’s not just that she is telling it in the first person, but also that all the action revolves around her. She has ties to every group, some friendly, some not at all, but she connects in some way to every faction. Except that fae, and it looks like that connection is forming at the end of the story. Also the fae are Jean Lafitte’s business partners (nearly everyone is) and DJ is certainly connected to Lafitte. The question that lies between them concerns the nature of that connection.

In the story, every faction is gearing for war. They are also, for the most part, individually self-destructing as the status quo falls to pieces. A significant chunk of the conflict causes collateral damage among the human population that is supposed to remain ignorant of their collective existence.

With the Winter Prince of the Fae bringing an unnatural Arctic winter to New Orleans, that can’t possibly last.

A significant chunk of the stated conflict, as opposed to the underground one, revolves around DJ’s best friend Eugenie, who also represents that human collateral damage. Because all the factions have an agenda for the baby that Eugenie is carrying as a result of the Elven leader Quince Randolph’s pursuit of DJ by way of her best friend. Eugenie is now caught in the middle, and DJ is right there with her, both trying to get the preternaturals to stop arguing about Eugenie and the baby as though they were mere bargaining chips and not people, and to protect Eugenie from all the preternaturals who plan to imprison Eugenie supposedly for her own safety. Or theirs. DJ wants to do right by her friend, which means doing what a whole lot of other people consider wrong.

Which is where DJ’s love life, or sometimes lack of it, comes in. DJ and Alex Warin are attempting to have some kind of relationship. But for the ultra order conscious Alex, DJ the chaos magnet is often more than he can handle. He always finds himself caught between helping DJ and keeping to the straight and narrow that he prefers. And DJ finds herself making excuses and pretending to be someone other than she is in order to keep the relationship going.

She does not know what she feels for Lafitte. But she trusts him. Not to always do what DJ believes is the right thing, but to always be honest about whatever scheming he is doing. And he always has her back – he’s already died once to prove that to her. But most important of all, Lafitte likes and respects and enjoys her company for who she really is, and not someone she pretends to be.

So in the midst of all the chaos, DJ is stuck in her own personal quandary, with no end in sight for either conflict. It’s a perfect set up for book 5. Which can’t come soon enough for me.

Pirate's Alley Banner 851 x 315

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (131)

Stacking the Shelves

This probably tells anyone anything they might want to know about what I think about the current chaotic state of this year’s Hugo Awards. Marko Kloos withdrew his nomination because his eligible book, Lines of Departure, was on the Puppy ballots. His full statement is on his blog, The Munchkin Wrangler, but the very short paraphrase is that he felt that his book only made it because it was on a Puppy slate, and he couldn’t accept an award nomination that wasn’t earned by the quality of the work. He also disassociated himself from the Puppies.

I’m probably not the only person who had this response, but when I read his withdrawal, I bought his first two books, Terms of Enlistment and Lines of Departure, and grabbed a review copy of the third, Angles of Attack, from NetGalley. I enjoy military SF and the reviews of the first two books are pretty stellar. so I’m looking forward to these.

For Review:
Angles of Attack (Frontlines #3) by Marko Kloos
The Brass Giant (Chroniker City #1) by Brooke Johnson
Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin
Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) by Sebastien de Castell
Murder and Mayhem (Murder and Mayhem #1) by Rhys Ford
A Pattern of Lies (Bess Crawford #7) by Charles Todd
Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran
The Story by Judith Miller
The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Waterloo: the True Story of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell
Zer0es (Zer0es #1) by Chuck Wendig

Purchased from Amazon:
Lines of Departure (Frontlines #2) by Marko Kloos
Lowcountry Boil (Liz Talbot #1) by Susan M. Boyer
Lowcountry Bombshell (Liz Talbot #2) by Susan M. Boyer
Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines #1) by Marko Kloos


Review: Core Punch by Pauline Baird Jones

core punch by pauline baird jonesFormat read: ebook provided by the author via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Uneasy Future #1
Length: 140 pages
Publisher: Pauline Baird Jones
Date Released: June 9, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

A kiss may be all they have life expectancy for.

When an intergalactic cop exchange program serves up an alien partner for NONPD Detective Violet Baker, she can’t help wishing the handsome alien would be a little less Joe Friday about keeping the pleasure out of their business. Yeah, he’s kind of purple and she can’t pronounce his name to save her life, but he’s almost the only guy in the New Orleans New police department that she’s not related to.

Dzholh “Joe” Ban!drn has come a long way hunting the evil that has infiltrated Vi’s floating city. When he meets his charming partner, he discovers another reason to stamp out evil. If only he wasn’t keeping so many secrets from her…

When an epic hurricane heads their way, they are sent dirt side to New Orleans Old (NOO) on a rescue mission. But murder and sabotage strands them in the heart of the raging storm.

As they fight for their lives, Joe realizes that the evil he’s hunting is actually hunting them….

My Review:

key by pauline baird jonesCore Punch certainly occurs sometime after The Key (reviewed here) in Pauline Baird Jones Project Enterprise series, but the science fictional elements in Core Punch are not the center of the story. Core Punch is a survival against the elements story; where the hope-to-be survivors are both cops, and it’s possible that a mysterious enemy has taken advantage of the storm to make sure that everything that can go wrong does go wrong for our heroes.

There is often a question in the story whether they are meant to survive, meant to die, or are just in the middle of a gigantic and deadly test. Their mission is always clear–get out alive. But someone (several someones) may have different agendas of their own.

The story takes place in a future New Orleans, where technology was used 20 years in the past to move the citizens of “The Big Easy” or “The Big Uneasy” in Jones’ future, from New Orleans Old (NOO), the city we know now, to New Orleans New (NON). NON is a quasi replica of NOO, except that it is a sky city, elevated above the wreck of NOO. And they have skimmers and space cars. The future envisioned in The Jetsons is finally here!

NOO has survived not only Hurricane Katrina, but also a Hurricane Chen sometime between 2005 and the book’s now. In the book’s now, Hurricane Wu Tamika Felipe is bearing down on both NOO and NON, fully capable of earning its inevitable nickname, WTF.

Violet Baker and her partner are police officers in the NONPD, unfortunately taking a police skimmer (just as flimsy as it sounds) down to the surface of NOO to pick up land dwellers who ignored the original warnings that WTF was an SOB.

Vi Baker is related to most of the NONPD. The Baker family collectively cleaned up the corruption in the New Orleans PD by replacing all the corrupt cops with family. But it’s kind of strange for Vi, not only is the NONPD effectively the family business, but her Captain is also her Uncle.

Her partner Joe is where the science fictional element really finds its way into our story. The exploration of the galaxy that results from the Project Enterprise mission in The Key has become an intergalactic tourism and exchange program. Joe, whose real name is unpronounceably Dzholh Ban!drn, is a cop from another galaxy on a job exchange program. He also happens to be slightly purple. And equipped with a nanite he calls Lurch. (Yes, that Lurch).

Joe is also the only cop in the NONPD that Vi finds attractive. While it helps that he’s one of the few who is not a blood relation, it’s also that he really is handsome, if slightly shy and by-the-book (and purple).

Vi refers to LOTS of things as crapeau. The police skimmer that she and Joe were assigned to retrieve reluctant surfacers is the epitome of crapeau. It is so crapeau that it crapeaus out in the middle of the worst hurricane NOO has ever seen, while they are transporting an unexpectedly found murder victim and his dog.

Joe isn’t sure whether the skimmer was just that bad, or whether someone is setting him up. And whether Vi is really his enemy, or just the woman he desperately wants to kiss before the storm finishes them off.

Escape Rating B+: It may be because I haven’t read The Big Uneasy (and I want to), but this relatively short novella left me wondering about how the universe got from “first intergalactic trip” in The Key to “frequent enough for exchange programs” in Core Punch.

They are definitely the same universe, because of the Garradians and Joe’s nanite, although Lurch is a bit more advanced an AI than the individual nanites in The Key.

Whatever is going on with Lurch and his enemy needs fleshing out. There was a part of me that kept wondering what Lurch’s agenda was. Not just that he wants to eliminate his enemy, but he seemed to have some other secrets up his virtual sleeve. It may be that he just can’t share the perspective of a flesh-and-blood (and hormones) creature. But it felt like Lurch was hiding something besides himself.

Also I wasn’t sure if Vi had actual powers, or if she was just really good at manipulating people. The story could be read either way. But I really liked both her and Joe. A lot of things in her world may be crapeau, but she herself was pretty terrific.

Fighting the storm in that absolutely crapeau skimmer made for edge-of-the-seat tension. There were times when I felt like I was torquing my own body to help them wrest a few more feet of motion out of that POS vehicle.

Core Punch read like it was the introduction to something bigger, and I really want to see whatever that is.

sci fi romance quarterlyThis review originally appeared in Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Suzanne Johnson on Keeping Fantasy Real + Giveaway

It’s not often that I do spotlights or guest posts without reviewing the book in question, but for Suzanne Johnson, I’m happy to make an exception. Except that I’m waiting on pins and needles for book 4 in the Sentinels of New Orleans series to come out, and it’s not here yet!

I’ve adored the series so far. New Orleans has always fascinated me, and her series brings the city to life in an absolutely magical way, and not just because of the paranormal element involved! If you love urban fantasy with a touch of romance, start with Royal Street (reviewed here) and barrel on through River Road (see review) and Elysian Fields (of course review).

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

Sentinels of New Orleans Button 2 - 300 x 225

Keeping Fantasy Real
by Suzanne Johnson

One of my favorite things about paranormal fantasy set in the real world is the “what-ifs” it brings up. The more real the setting, the more the paranormal world in that setting seems possible. I mean, can you PROVE the hot guy down the block isn’t a werewolf? A day-walking demon? I didn’t think so.

So one of the things I like to do in building the worlds for my urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels is to find a real-world setting and make it a character in itself. I want readers to be able to look on a map or in a guidebook and say, “Hey, that place really exists!”

In the Sentinels of New Orleans series, which is celebrating the release of Elysian Fields in paperback on May 13, that setting is, of course, New Orleans. It’s not only my favorite city, but is the place I consider my hometown even though I no longer live there. I was there for Hurricane Katrina. I’ve attended more Mardi Gras parades than I can count. And, yes, I’ve eaten gator (which does NOT taste like chicken).

Here are some of my favorite New Orleans settings for the Sentinels series. Most you can visit but one could land you in jail!

1) Uptown. This is a big swath of New Orleans located about two miles west of the French Quarter. My heroine, DJ, lives on the corner of Nashville Avenue and Magazine Street; her significant something-or-other Alex lives next door; her friend Eugenie is across the street; and her stalker-ish nemesis Rand across the street. In reality, this corner houses a pizza restaurant, a couple of coffee shops, and a meat market. Also in this area: DJ’s office, in Riverside Market on Tchoupitoulas Street (where a pack-and-ship store is located); Audubon Park, where DJ and Alex run (well, he runs and she dawdles); and some of their favorite restaurants, particularly Frankie and Johnny’s on Arabella and Tchoupitoulas.

This is a nice little tour of Uptown, where I was fortunate to live for almost 15 years.

2) The Hotel Monteleone. I don’t set a lot of the book in the French Quarter, because, quite frankly, locals go to the Quarter maybe once a year, when the tourists are gone. But still, one can’t set a book in New Orleans without including the Quarter. On upper Royal Street is the Hotel Monteleone, where the undead early 18th-century pirate Jean Lafitte makes his home in the Eudora Welty Suite. For $1,800 a night (plus taxes), you can rent that suite for yourself. And you might see Jean downstairs in the Carousel Bar, which he’s been known to frequent. Yes, you read that price correctly; the sexy French pirate is loaded, and he pays in ill-gotten gold.

3) Six Flags New Orleans. A theme park, you ask? A ghostly theme park. In the flooding following Hurricane Katrina, back in 2005, Six Flags went under eight or ten feet of water. The water eventually drained, but it was a total loss and never reopened. Caught in terminal litigation, it also never got torn down. So you can still head out to New Orleans East and see the creepy ruins and rusted rides. It’s illegal to enter, however, so don’t say I sent you! You can watch this video (which erroneously says it was torn down) and creep out vicariously. Quite a few scenes in Elysian Fields are set here.

4) The Napoleon House. One of my favorite real-life spots in the French Quarter, on the corner of Chartres and St. Louis, and worth the parking hassle. In Royal Street, before he moves into modern New Orleans permanently, the pirate Lafitte makes the banquet room on the second floor of this restaurant and bar that was built back when the human Lafitte walked the streets of the city. These days, they make the best muffaletta in town, a great drink called a Pimm’s Cup, and is a fab place to people watch.

5) Plaquemines Parish. This is the parish (what the rest of the country calls a county) located due east of New Orleans, on the narrow spit of land that sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico, bisected by the Mississippi River. I love Plaquemines, which is why I made it home base for a clan of merpeople—aquatic shapeshifters, many of whom work in the fishing industry. (Don’t think about it too hard.) Anyway, much of River Road is set in Plaquemines, from Belle Chasse down to the mouth of the Mississippi. It’s worth a drive out of the city, and if you go, stop for lunch at the Black Velvet Oyster Bar in the community of Buras; you might see Rene Delachaise or one of the other mermen plowing through a plate of crawfish.

If you have a half hour to spend, take this trip through Plaquemines and you might see some of the spots from River Road, from Pass a Loutre (which DJ tried to burn up) to Venice (Rene’s home base):

So there you have it—a quick tour of New Orleans via the Sentinels series. Hope to see you round there sometime! Have you been to New Orleans, and did you have a favorite spot (or do you want to go to a particular spot)? Leave a comment in addition to entering for the tour prizes for a signed copy of your choice of the Sentinels books.

Suzanne JohnsonAbout Suzanne Johnson
On Aug. 28, 2005, Suzanne Johnson loaded two dogs, a cat, a friend, and her mom into a car and fled New Orleans in the hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.Four years later, she began weaving her experiences and love for her city into the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series, beginning with Royal Street (2012), continuing with River Road (2012), and now with Elysian Fields (August 2013).She grew up in rural Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace, and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years—which means she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.As Susannah Sandlin, she writes the best-selling Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series and the recent standalone, Storm Force.To learn more about Suzanne, visit her Website and Blog   Twitter    Facebook    Facebook Fan Page   Goodreads


Suzanne is giving away the following prizes to lucky commenters on this tour:

(1) $25 GC to Amazon or equivalent to Book Depository
(2) $10 GC
(2) Signed books and swag packs
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Guest Post by Author Suzanne Johnson on Supernatural New Orleans + Giveaway

Today I’d like to welcome Suzanne Johnson, the author of the absolutely fabulous urban fantasy Sentinels of New Orleans series. Her latest book is Elysian Fields (review here) and if you love urban fantasy (or New Orleans stories, or terrific heroines) check out this series! (If you love vamps, get Redemption)

Supernatural New Orleans: A Few Theories
by Suzanne Johnson

Elysian Fields Blog Tour

Long before Anne Rice established New Orleans as a haven for world-weary vampires, my adopted hometown had been a hotbed of supernatural activity and legend.

When I began writing my Sentinels of New Orleans series, which began with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, it was a given that NOLA would be my setting. Even without the hurricane, however, it’s hard to go wrong setting a paranormal story here. I don’t know if there has ever been a study of the most popular setting for paranormal fiction, but I’d be shocked if New Orleans wasn’t No. 1 in the U.S., perhaps the world.

Why? I came up with four reasons the Crescent City (called this due to the crescent shape of the Mississippi River as it winds through the metro area) is such a paranormal hub. In no particular order….

Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson1. Age. It’s no Rome or Paris or London, but by U.S. standards, New Orleans is a very old city, founded by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, in 1718. What’s more unusual, it has retained much of its original architecture thanks to a total miscalculation by military leaders during the Civil War. The city was the largest in the South, a major port that controlled the Mississippi River, and the economic hub of the Confederacy. But the military leaders put most of the defense around the northern perimeter and left the river itself defended only by three small forts. The Union ships sailed right on in and took control of the city early. So unlike Atlanta and other Southern cities, New Orleans was not burned to the ground. In fact, the city itself saw no fighting at all.

As a result, the French Quarter is still intact and its crumbling buildings might have been repaired a bazillion times over the centuries, but they retain the flavor of the original French colony and, later, Spanish outpost. It’s the most European of American cities, and it’s hard not to walk a deserted side street late at night and not feel the ghosts of the past around you.

2. Population. As a port city, New Orleans has always been peopled by a large array of nationalities. French and Spanish colonists were there early, as well as Italians who worked the docks and Irishmen the wharves. There was also a very large population of free people of color in New Orleans, many of whom arrived from the French colonies of the West Indies. Most prominent among them were those from what today is Haiti and the Dominican Republic. They came to New Orleans to start a new life, in one of the only Southern ports where they were legally allowed to own land and businesses, and brought with them voudou, their version of the African belief system. New Orleans and “voodoo” became linked, and its mysticism gave rise to many legends and traditions.

Today, the voodoo shops and museums are mostly tourist traps, but in the parishes outside the city, and some of the back rooms within it, it’s still practiced.

River Road by Suzanne Johnson3. Violence. In the last decade, New Orleans has pretty much reigned as the per-capita murder capital of the U.S. It’s nothing new, however. In the early 1800s, when the privateer/pirate Jean Lafitte ruled his kingdom of a thousand ruffians and sailors just south of the city, New Orleans had already established a reputation for violence. My own theory is that the city’s violence has stemmed from the unholy trinity of population, weather, and poverty.

Lots of nationalities means a lot of clashing ideals and beliefs. Port cities tend to violence, as ships’ crews and dockworkers let off steam, usually fueled by plenty of alcohol. Where people die violently, spirits linger. New Orleans’ violent history has contributed to its generally being considered the most haunted city in the U.S. (And for you Sentinels fans, the ghost of Jean Lafitte himself, no stranger to violence, is believed by many to haunt the Lafitte Blacksmith Shop Bar on lower Bourbon Street.)

4. Geography. There’s a joie de vivre in South Louisiana unlike any I’ve encountered in my moves to different parts of the country, and I attribute it to the fact that there’s a fragility to living there. I mean, if you live in a bowl-shaped city below sea level, in the direct path of Gulf hurricanes, and protected by a shaky levee system, there’s a “party hard because it all might be gone tomorrow” attitude that keeps the city feeling more like a Caribbean outpost than a captain of American industry. Even before things like levee systems were invented—and before the advent of air conditioning—half the city’s population could die of mosquito-borne yellow fever on any given summer. Folk superstitions and urban legends stemming from this “here today-gone tomorrow” attitude are widespread. Add the surrounding swampland, fog on the river thick enough to drown in, the abundance of massive live oaks and Spanish moss, and the world’s largest population of alligators, and you add an extra creep factor where the paranormal thrives.

Have you been to New Orleans? What do you think most evokes the paranormal there? (I haven’t even mentioned the above-ground cemeteries!)

Suzanne JohnsonAbout Suzanne JohnsonOn Aug. 28, 2005, Suzanne Johnson loaded two dogs, a cat, a friend, and her mom into a car and fled New Orleans in the hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Four years later, she began weaving her experiences and love for her city into the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series, beginning with Royal Street (2012), continuing with River Road (2012), and now with Elysian Fields (August 2013).

She grew up in rural Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace, and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years—which means she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.

She can be found online at her website or her daily blog, Preternatura. As Susannah Sandlin, she writes the best-selling Penton Vampire Legacy paranormal romance series and the recent standalone, Storm Force.

To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website or blog or follow her on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads.


Suzanne is giving away a grand prize of an iPad 2 and five $20 gift cards to winners’ online retailer of choice. All prizes are open internationally!

To enter, use the Rafflecopter below.

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Interview with Author Suzanne Johnson

River Road and Royal Street Tour

Today I’d very much like to welcome Suzanne Johnson, author of the totally awesome Sentinels of New Orleans series (check out my reviews of Royal Street and River Road).

Marlene: Suzanne can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne: I’m a seventh-generation Alabamian but consider New Orleans and Houston more my “hometowns” because I lived and worked in both of those cities for a long time, especially New Orleans. At the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I’d been living in New Orleans for twelve years, working as a magazine editor at Tulane University. I stayed and helped with rebuilding for a few years after the hurricane but then moved back to Alabama for family reasons. My Katrina experiences are what drove me to start writing fiction after a career in journalism and longform feature writing. Royal Street, the first in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, came directly from my own Katrina experiences. By the time I finished that book, I was hooked on fiction! Now I can’t imagine not writing it.

Marlene: Do you also write as Susannah Sandlin? What do you see as the difference between your two “identities”?

Suzanne: Yes, that’s me! The books written under the Susannah Sandlin name are darker paranormal romance. They’re written in multiple points of view, each book in my dystopian vampire series features a different hero and heroine, and they have a strong thriller element—a lot of action. The urban fantasy books are more playful, they follow a single heroine and her cast of followers, and while there are romantic elements, the characters’ romantic journeys are not the main reason for the book. I love writing both genres. They have a lot in common from a reader perspective, but they’re very different to write.

Marlene: Describe a typical day of writing. Are you a planner or pantser?

Suzanne: I have a full-time job in addition to writing from three to four novels a year, so I have to stay organized…which means I’m definitely a planner. I spend a good bit of time working on the story before I ever begin writing. I don’t plot it down to the nanosecond, because I want to be able to let my characters take over the story and surprise me, but I need that structure to keep the story moving ahead. A typical day? Man, this sounds boring. On weekdays, I work my day job, then come home and write three or four hours after dinner. On Saturdays and Sundays, I usually put in from eight to twelve hours of writing per day. That’s when I get the most done.

Marlene: You’ve made New Orleans as much of a character in the Sentinels series as any of the humans or preternaturals. How much of real life in New Orleans is in the story?

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne: The New Orleans in the Sentinels books is VERY real. I’ve been gratified by the number of New Orleanians who’ve emailed to tell me how right I got not only the post-Katrina city but life in the city in general. It’s a beautiful, frustrating, fascinating place to live, and I wanted this series to pay homage to that because I love the city so much. Living in New Orleans is SO different than what visitors experience when they come and only see the French Quarter. Bourbon Street really is not New Orleans; it’s like a New Orleans-on-steroid theme park for visitors. So in the books is life as a resident. Most of the places the characters go are real places, and the settings and situations are real…well, except for the preternatural part!

Marlene: Do you see the Sentinels of New Orleans series as Drusilla’s journey?

Suzanne: Definitely. When I had the idea for Royal Street, I had been thinking a lot about the lessons Katrina taught me and a lot of my friends. That your whole life can be ripped apart in a matter of seconds. That a lot of the things you value in life are just so much stuff and when it’s taken away, you survive. That you have to let people help you, hard as that is. And that people respond to stress in different ways, and you have to respect that. Some people cry. Some make jokes. Some lead. Some fall apart.

So I created DJ as a young woman who’s just beginning to find her place in the world when the hurricane hits. Her journey is that of a woman (okay, a wizard) who has to learn who she is and what she can do without being able to rely on the things—parents, mentors, social networks—that most of us rely on to help us define ourselves. Wow, that’s too deep. It really is a fun series, with a lot of humor!

Marlene: Will there be more books in this series? What is next on your schedule?

Suzanne: The third book in the series, Elysian Fields, will be out on August 13 and readers will really start to see the brewing conflict as the different preternatural groups—especially the elves and wizards—begin to figure out who are allies and who are enemies.

Marlene: Now can you tell us 3 reasons why people should read your books?

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne: Well, despite my nerdy answer above, first and foremost, they really are a fun read, especially as they begin to move away from the Katrina tragedy. Two, they differ from a lot of urban fantasy in that they really make use of the South Louisiana setting (my merfolk in River Road, for example, are aquatic Cajun shapeshifters). Three, they have wizards and undead French pirates and sneaky elves—seriously, how can you resist that?

Marlene: What made you choose to start writing urban fantasy? Or what genre do you think that the Sentinels series falls into?

Suzanne: Urban fantasy has been one of my favorite genres for a long time—back to when Anita Blake was about the only urban fantasy game in town. I’d definitely classify the Sentinels series as urban fantasy. There are romantic elements in the books, but they aren’t the dominant storyline. That story is what happens in New Orleans and in the preternatural world when Hurricane Katrina tears down the borders between our world and the world beyond. And DJ’s journey of growing up and growing into her skills, and part of her journey is learning to love and accept love in return.

Marlene: What is your favorite thing about the writing experience and why?

Suzanne: I love the creative rush—that point where the characters kind of take over and spin the story in a way you hadn’t expected. It’s mysterious and cool, and I have no idea how it happens…but it does.

Marlene: Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know to ask.

Suzanne: Where I get a lot of my character names—LOL. Drusilla was a great-grandmother. Another great-grandmother had the surname Jaco. Eugenie’s mysterious boyfriend, Rand, is named after my great-grandfather Rand Sandlin….and yes, Susannah Sandlin was my great-great grandmother. So I steal family names shamelessly.

Marlene: What’s a book you’ve faked reading?

Suzanne: Probably the most shamelessly, Moby Dick. And I made an A on the exam because it was essay questions and I’m good at b-s. I still haven’t read it.

Marlene: What’s a book you’ve bought for the cover?

Suzanne: I really can’t think of one. I tend to buy online and that kind of cover-browsing that’s possible in a physical bookstore doesn’t work online. I’ll buy for the blurb, or because I read the first few pages and liked the voice. Or because I know the author’s other work.

Marlene: What book would you most want to read again for the first time?

Suzanne: The Harry Potter series. What fun! It’s good on the re-read, but the discovery was amazing.

Marlene: Morning person or night owl?

Suzanne: Despite having to do most of my writing at night, I am definitely a morning person. I zone out about 3 p.m. and don’t re-energize until about 8.

Thanks for having me here!

Suzanne JohnsonAbout Suzanne JohnsonSuzanne Johnson writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance from Auburn, Alabama, after a career in educational publishing that has spanned five states and six universities.  She grew up halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis’ birthplace and lived in New Orleans for fifteen years, so she has a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick.To learn more about Suzanne, visit her website and blog or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

River Road and Royal Street Tour

Review: River Road by Suzanne Johnson

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, hardcover
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans, #2
Length: 334 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: November 13, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.

Wizards are dying, and something—or someone—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.

It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans series continues.

My Review:

Three years post-Katrina, Drusilla Jaco’s life as the Sentinel of New Orleans has just continued to get more and more complicated.

The Elder Council has finally decided to let down the borders to the Beyond, and the denizens of Old Orleans are finally free to cross into New Orleans at will. Jean Lafitte has taken up residence in the Hotel Monteleone. The modern-day Hotel Monteleone. He wants DJ to make good on the promises she unwisely made in the wake of Katrina, back when she was exceedingly desperate and Lafitte looked like her only hope.

Lafitte wants her help with some business dealings he has with some mermen out in Plaquemines Parish. And to take her out on a date. She’s not sure which prospect worries her more, having any part of Lafitte’s business, dealing with mermen, or going out on a date with the handsome but historically undead pirate.

The business turns out to be delivery of a stolen car, the date takes her to Old Orleans where a member of the Elven Conclave tries to put some major mojo on her and nearly succeeds, and the mermen, that turns out to be the most dangerous part of all.

The mermen, who hate wizards individually and as a species in general, have discovered that someone is poisoning the swamp. Rival clans of mermen think they’re trying to drive each other out of prime fishing territory. Of course nothing DJ touches could ever possibly be that simple.

Someone nefarious is trying to poison the mermen and the humans with poison from the River Styx. That’s the kind of serious magic that could kill even more people than Katrina, if DJ doesn’t find the wizardly or preternatural culprit and stop them, fast!

Escape Rating A: Now that we know a bit about how this magical New Orleans and its environs work, it’s absolutely fantastic to see where Ms. Johnson takes her world.

River Road is a mystery wrapped inside an urban fantasy. DJ, along with Alex Warin and Lafitte, start out trying to solve a murder and the mystery of who is crazy enough to poison the swamps, as well as how they’re doing it.

Then things get more complicated. DJ is trying to find ways to keep the poison from spreading, figure out what it is, and find the poisoner, all at the same time. Meanwhile, she’s juggling the rest of her life.

Alex, Jake and Jean Lafitte are all interested, and practically fighting over who gets to mark her as territory. Their posturing is funny, since they don’t get to decide. DJ may have to zap one of them.

Elysian Fields by Suzanne JohnsonSpeaking of zapping, the history of her staff is starting to be revealed, setting up elements for book three, Elysian Fields. Also, her neighbor Eugenia is dating a mystery man who clearly has more story about him, hopefully also to be revealed in book three.

The Sentinels of New Orleans is still DJ’s story. She learns and develops new talents. She grows as a character. She kicks butt. The action happens because she makes it happen, not because she waits for someone to rescue her.

And sometimes she dates “the undead Pirate of the Carribean.” You go, girl!

River Road and Royal Street Tour

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

Format read: ebook provided by the author
Royal Street by Suzanne JohnsonFormats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: Urban fantasy
Series: Sentinels of New Orleans, #1
Length: 337 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Released: April 10, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ’s boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.

Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.

While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover.

To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and for the serial killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter gumbo.

My Review:

The conflict between duty, love and the search for identity make for just the kind of delicious (and generally spicy) recipe that New Orleans is particularly known for.

Suzanne Johnson’s first book in her Sentinels of New Orleans series combines the darkness of voodoo with the sweet spell of jazz, as all the ghosts of this magical city come out to play. However, the word “play” can have a rather sinister meaning for what Johnson has labeled “the historical undead”.

Drusilla Jaco starts the story as the assistant sentinel for New Orleans. She’s a green wizard. Not necessarily green in the sense of untried, although there’s a bit of that, but green in the sense that her powers are from the earth. DJ is a potions mistress. Her mentor, Gerry, is the red court physical power.

Then Hurricane Katrina sweeps in, and changes the game. Katrina wipes away New Orleans as DJ knew it, as everyone knew it. The “rules” force DJ to leave the city, while Gerry stays to maintain the wards against the Beyond. Ten days later, the wards are down, the Beyond is breaking through, and Gerry is nowhere to be found. The Elders (there are always Elders) think he’s dead.

DJ doesn’t believe it. She can’t believe Gerry’s gone. So she comes home to the devastation, the utter wreck of post-Katrina New Orleans, only to find that there is a serial killer stalking the National Guard and leaving voodoo sigils behind…and that there is a Council Enforcer at her doorstep, sent by the Elders to be her new partner.

The Elders believe that Gerry has betrayed his oaths.

Oh, and Jean Lafitte is after her. The pirate wants payback for a previous incident, and now that the barriers are down, he has plans for her. Being dead is not a problem for him. Not at all. The crazy thing is that if he weren’t dead, DJ might be interested.

Her new partner, Alex Warin, is also plenty interesting. Except that he believes that Gerry betrayed everything that the man taught her. But Alex is overbearing and over-protective into the bargain. DJ doesn’t want or need that much protection. What she needs is someone to believe in her.

And help finding the serial killer, especially since he’s marked her house.

The Map of Moments by Christoper Golden and Tim LebbonEscape Rating A: Royal Street does an amazing job of evoking the mystery of New Orleans and the despair of the Katrina devastation.  I would have enjoyed Royal Street just for that part alone. (Another urban fantasy that mines this same period incredibly well is The Map of Moments by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon)

Then there are the two parts of the Royal Street story that made it shine as a fantasy, particularly urban fantasy.

One was the mining of the history and mystery of New Orleans and its melange of cultures and myths. In Johnson’s worldbuilding, behind our own world there is the Beyond. New Orleans is special, because belief in the past is SO strong, that behind New Orleans is Old Orleans, where the historical undead reside as long as people believe in them. A lot of people in New Orleans believe in a LOT of the dead. DJ has encounters with Marie Laveau, Jean Lafitte (frequently), one incredibly evil character and on the flip side, one quite sweet and surprising person.

The city of New Orleans is a character in her own right. As she should be.

Royal Street is the start of an urban fantasy series, and as such, it is really about the birth of a wizard, Drusilla Jaco. She discovers that she is not who she thought she was. She begins the search for her true power. Since the series is going to be her journey, I suspect that search is going to take a while.

DJ is someone who is worth following. She takes an emotional battering and gets up and keeps on fighting. She learns from her mistakes.

What is going to be very interesting will be to see whether any of the possible romantic entanglements develop. There are potentially three men in her life; Alex Warin, the enforcer who shapeshifts into a handsome extra-large golden retriever-type dog (DJ usually likes the dog better), Jake Warin, Alex’s ex-Marine cousin who just found out that the world is more dangerous than he imaged the hard way, and even Jean Lafitte, for whom death does not seem to be a barrier to romance.

River Road by Suzanne JohnsonI can’t tell you how happy I am that the second book in the series, River Road, is already out!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

What’s on my (mostly virtual) nightstand? April Fools Day

Before I say anything at all about what might be on my nightstand, virtually or otherwise, I have to give over a few minutes to April Fool’s Day. Really.

Did you have a Nintendo NES? Or any 8-bit gaming system? The folks at Google obviously not only had several, but they remember them very, very fondly. Go to and start your quest for a touch of nostalgia. Watch the video tutorial for a real belly laugh. There’s an article on USA Today with details and “Easter Eggs”.

For the more literary-minded, Shelf Awareness has published a special, April 1 edition of their normally weekday e-newsletter for booksellers, reviewers, librarians and anyone interested in books and the book trade (it’s generally awesome and well worth subscribing to). But the April 1 issue is an absolute delight of wit, sarcasm and irony. With just the splash of “oh, maybe, could it be…someday?” thrown in now and again for good measure.

On my nightstand, really and not April Fool’s, it’s a light week. I’ll try to do a little catchup, or a little reading ahead. I know, I know, famous last words…

Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves is a YA-ish paranormal mystery. But I picked it on NetGalley because is it set in London during the Gaslight era, and involves Jack the Ripper. It sounded creepy-scary but not too scary. And I love Victorian London of that era, it’s the Sherlock Holmes era.


Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson had four things to recommend it: urban fantasy, a New Orleans setting, and Hurricane Katrina blowing everything to hell in a handbasket to start the story, and dead pirates. As a starting line-up, it sounds terrific. I’m willing to bite on this debut novel.
I reviewed Isles of the Forsaken by Carolyn Ives Gilman last year. Although it got off to a slow start, about half-way through I got totally absorbed and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. The sequel, Ison of the Isles is finally here. Yes!


So, what do you think? Should I catch up on some of the TBR nightstands of old? Or should I read ahead and queue up reviews for nightstands to come? Or here’s a novel thought, I could read some books just for fun!

No fooling around, there will be an Ebook Review Central tomorrow, and it’s the four-in-one issue.

Before I forget, April 4 and 5 Reading Reality will celebrate a unique event. It’s a Blogo-Birthday!

What’s that? Reading Reality’s Blogoversary is April 4. The blogger of Reading Reality is having a birthday April 5. Hence, Blogo-Birthday.

This will be like a hobbit birthday. Meaning that I will give presents instead of receiving them. A giftcard will be given away on each day!

Come back April 4-5 and celebrate with me!

Riding on the City of New Orleans

There are a lot of songs and stories that ride to the city of New Orleans, including the famous one about the train. In Steve Goodman‘s classic, covered by Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson and a host of others, the train doesn’t actually arrive by the time the song ends. It’s going to get there “by morning.”

Whenever a story is set in New Orleans, the city is more than just the setting, it’s also a character. Anyone who has been mesmerized by Louis’ story in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire will attest to that. There is no place in America with the cultural gumbo of history that would otherwise be able to make Louis’ and Lestat’s story fascinate the reader.

But Anne Rice‘s love affair with New Orleans is reflected in some of her other work. One of her earliest stand alone novels is The Feast of All Saints. The story is about the gens de couleur libre, the free people of color who lived in New Orleans before the Civil War. It is a society that seems uniquely part of New Orleans history, and that most people know nothing about. The writing is as compelling as Interview, but what fascinates is how fragile the world of the gens de couleur was. Everything existed on sufferance, and when that sufferance was strained or torn, disaster struck.

Part of what makes New Orleans such a unique part of America is the different cultures that have held sway over that port city. The French, then the Spanish, back to the French and finally the relatively new American Republic bought the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in 1801. When the U.S. took over New Orleans, there was a clash of cultures between the planters and the new Americans who came to the city and the Territory. Culture clashes make for great stories.

Barbara Hambly’s historical mystery series is set at the time of that cultural clash. Benjamin January returned to New Orleans from Paris in 1833, after the death of his wife. Ben January trained as a surgeon in Paris, but he makes his living as a piano player in New Orleans. Why? Because he is A Free Man of Color, as the title of the first book in the series names him. He can only practice medicine during the annual cholera epidemic, when most of the white doctors flee the city. But January’s insider/outsider perspective allows him to see into the heart of what is unsaid in every facet of New Orleans society. The new Americans, particularly one policeman, discover that his ability to see into all parts of Creole society, areas that the Americans have no entry into, may be useful in solving crime. But it’s the view into Benjamin’s world that is compelling. The latest book in this series, The Shirt on his Back, just came out in June.

For a different perspective on historic New Orleans, David Fulmer‘s Chasing the Devil’s Tail takes place during a different clash. His Valentine St. Cyr is a private detective in the fabled Storyville district in the early 1900s. He investigates the death of a musician just at the point when the blues was giving birth to jazz.

Katrina also gets its due. In The Map of Moments by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, a history professor receives a map of New Orleans. But it isn’t just a map of streets and tourist destinations. It’s a map of historical moments. And if the professor can manage to visit all of the “moments” and do all of the right things, he can undo the biggest mistake of his life–leaving his lover to die amid the devastation that Katrina made out of New Orleans.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, about a man who was born old and lived backwards, was originally set in Baltimore. Made into a movie post-Katrina, it was set in New Orleans, using the oncoming storm as an integral part of the frame. The story as written is quite short, and available free at Project Gutenberg. The movie was much greater than the sum of its original parts.

The lyrics in my head are from an old rock classic by Poco, Heart of the Night. Something about the words and the music still evoke New Orleans for me. The song compares an ex-lover to the city on Lake Pontchartrain. And as the song rightly says, “she’s so full of surprises”. She’s always been full of stories, too.