Author: Jenn Bennett
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I have a confession to make: Bitter Spirits is not my first encounter with Jenn Bennett. I picked up Bennett's Arcadia Bell Series a month or two ago and have been a goner for her work ever since. Needless to say, I have been holding out on you, my dear readers, for Jenn Bennett is not an author to lightly walk away from. In fact, hers is the only paranormal romance novel that's worked for me in the past few months. I've tried Jeanine Frost's Night Huntress Series (not bad, but not that good either), Nalini Singh's Guild Hunter Series (just...not for me), Kristen Callihan's Darkest London Series (leaves quite a bit to be desired) and even Molly Harper's Naked Werewolf Series which once used to work for me. From these, only Bitter Spirits finally managed to satisfy, leaving me satiated, but still craving more, as Bennett inevitably always leaves me.
I haven't visited the Roaring Twenties since Libba Bray's The Diviners, but I was able to slim seamlessly back into Bennett's vivid re-imagination of this time period. Fraught with spirits, 1920s California is an exotic, but dangerous, place. Aida Palmer, the vivacious protagonist of our tale, is a spirit medium used to traveling across the country, performing in clubs, and summoning spirits. Aida stumbles across Winter Magnusson, a businessman, in the office of her current employer and banishes the strange spirit following him. While Aida is lining up her next offer in New Orleans and Winter, with a haunting past, wants nothing to do with love, the two cannot deny their attraction to one another. Set against a backdrop of danger, ghosts, and death, however, their sizzling chemistry may not be the most dangerous presence around...
From the first chapter of Bitter Spirits itself I was gripped - hook, line, and sinker - into this tale. Both Aida and Winter are impressive characters in their own right, courageous and determined in the face of obstacles, but together they are an explosive force. Even disregarding their chemistry, the dialogue, banter, and understand these two grow to possess for one another is deep and gradually portrayed. Moreover, while their romance has its fair share of ups and downs, it is fueled by a bone-chilling mystery, taking these two into the heart of San Francisco's China Town and deep into Chinese culture and folklore itself. Bitter Spirits excels as a romance, there is no denying that, but even as a historical novel it shines. Ultimately, it leaves little to be desired...except maybe an ARC of its sequel, naturally.
Title: Just One Night (Sex, Love & Stiletto, #3)
Author: Lauren Layne
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: March 11th, 2014
Out of all the books in this series, this is perhaps the "worst", which isn't saying much at all as it still scraped a solid 4 Stars from me. Just One Night follows Riley, the only remaining girl from her original trio of friends to stay single. Although Riley writes saucy articles for Stiletto magazine, next to none of the sexual appeal and confidence she exudes through her articles are taken from her own experience. In fact, if Riley takes the time to admit it to herself, she's been mostly celibate for the entirety of her life because she's waiting for Sam, her older brother's best friend, to finally notice her. Unknown to Riley, though, is the fact that Sam has noticed her, despite trying desperately not to, but this time, perhaps the sparks between them will finally fly...
For me, Lauren Layne's books stand out because of their seamless integration of family, friendship, career, and independence alongside romance. Just One Night doesn't simply revolve around Riley and Sam, their simmering chemistry, or the multiple hurdles in their path. It easily incorporates Riley's friendships, the love she bears for her job, and the complicated relationships she conducts with her family. I feel as if I keep repeating myself with every Layne novel I pick up, but the successful careers these women carry are such strong, feminist statements, particularly in Just One Night as Sam isn't nearly as successful as Riley is. And yet, this is never treated as an oddity or, for that matter, an issue of any real importance, which I appreciate. Additionally, Riley is a far different protagonist from either Julie or Grace, but the boundaries she draws up are respected. While each of these heroines brings something new to their respective romances, Layne never belittles their decisions, always portraying them as strong women who recognize that they deserve respectful men - and those are exactly the type of men they get.
While Layne's telltale humor was sadly absent from this tale, I enjoyed the flawed personas of both Riley and Sam. Neither of them are able to mystically cure one another, but they take baby-steps into the future. Moreover, Sam, with his large horde of problems, is only gradually working through the chinks in his armor. Although this novel does - naturally - have a happily-ever-after it isn't wholly perfect, which I always love. Needless to say, I can't wait for Alex and Emma's romance in the next book. For fans of Lauren Layne, this is a must-read. As for the rest of you...what are you waiting for?