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REVIEW: Phantom Pleasures by Julie Leto

Dear Ms. Leto:

Book CoverI’ve been anxiously awaiting this new paranormal series of yours from Signet since you announced it over a year ago. I’m intrigued by the premise and I liked parts of the story but overall, I felt like I was missing something when I closed the story.

Alexa Chandler is an heiress in control of a multi million dollar fortune and a four star hotel chain. She is used to being charge and making decisive decisions. Part of her inheritance is castle on a remote island off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida, that Alex wants to turn into a spectacular retreat for the most fabulously wealthy people ever. The island cannot be penetrated via air but in a flyover, Alexa spots an inland channel and rushes off to hire a charter. (Alex is very resourceful. Me heart Alex).

In her flyover, she also sees a ghostly arm waving from one of the windows of the abandoned castle. This is even more exciting for Alex because she loves ghosts and she thinks this adds some spectacular ambiance for her hotel/retreat. Alex takes a charter to the castle and somehow finds that her ghost has a corporeal form and that his magic or someone’s magic has locked her inside the castle.

Damon Forsyth is a man from th 1700s who was the son of a British baron and governor of a Gypsy colony. He had six brothers and a sister who was seduced or captured or somehow taken by Rogan, a man that Damon had once trusted. Rogan worked great magic and imprisoned Damon in a painting until Alexa comes along.

I felt like some of the story from the names–Damon and Alexa–to the descriptions–“flashing eyes”/”enchanting female”–to the internal monologue was old fashioned and a bit florid. Damon, especially, had a tendency toward melodrama in his internal monologues. I thought that it was done intentionally to show that Damon was from an earlier time but it didn’t read very smoothly for me.

Nothing would delay him.
Nothing and no one.
Not even the beautiful flame-haired woman who’d freed him from his prison.

The magic was unexplained and that is part of the charm and part of the frustration of the story. The magic is part of the whodunit or suspense of the story and thus it makes sense for the full construct of the magic to be doled out in bits and pieces. The frustration is that there are times when the story is unexplainable. I.e., when Alexa is at one point trapped in the castle and in another, suddenly freed. I backtracked a couple of times to see if I had missed something in the story to explain that but I hadn’t. You allow the reader to figure out the clues but I do find that frustrating at times. I liked, though, how this series is setting up to reprise past life roles and the mirroring of characters lends to the atmospheric qualities of the story.

Alexa was great. I loved her and her inhibited outlook on life. She did not sweat the small stuff. I guess my biggest problem was with Damon and his tendency toward the florid prose “The sound of a sensual, beautiful woman eschewing a fulfilled life so she could meet the expectations of society cracked his soul. Is this what the future held for him? A reversal of roles that would tear at his core.” I was also irritated by the comparisons to well known figures. The secondary characters were likened to “Indiana Jones” and “Jennifer Lopez”. Not that either Ford or Lopez aren’t smoking hot (well, Ford, back in the day and pre-Calista Flockhart), it’s just I like to envision the characters based on the descriptions rather than supplant the images with other well known figures. C+

Best regards,

Jane

This book can be purchased in mass market at Amazon or Powells or ebook format.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

27 Comments

  1. katiebabs
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 17:36:39

    I hate it when I go to a haunted castle and a hot ghost comes out of a painting and we have hot sex on he castle floor.
    Couldn’t stand this book.

  2. Janine
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 18:43:50

    I haven’t read the book but can I just say that I think the cover is gorgeous?

  3. Jane
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 19:33:47

    Katiebabs – I thought that scene was confusing to the heroine – like she thought it was more a fantasy than anything else – and thus allows her to act in an unusual way.

  4. katiebabs
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 19:48:51

    You know what Jane, if I was in the same situation I probably would have done the same thing. LOL.
    But overall this was a disappointing read. Totally agree with yout review.

  5. Phyllis Towzey
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 20:23:44

    I love this book — it’s got me hooked on the series already. I thought the fact that the magic is so largely unexplained was intriguing. I also love the tie-ins to the past, and it made me very curious about how and when and in what condition other characters will appear, and I’m even more curious about the relationship between Rogan and Damon’s sister. Would love to say more about this book, but can’t without spoilers. I’m a sucker for ghost stories and haunted castles, tho, and this one has some really interesting twists. If I were a reviewer, I’d give it an A+!

  6. Leslie Kelly
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 20:52:04

    Well, obviously since Julie’s my BFF I really liked this book…lol! (But I would have liked it even if she weren’t.)

    That said–the second one blew me away. It’s wonderful, Jane, and I think you’ll really enjoy it because the problems you had with this one aren’t there. The heroine is even more cool (a Xena-Warrior Princess type actress) the hero is much more down to earth–a tough former soldier who ends up on a Hollywood movie set and has to quickly…adjust. It continues tying together those strings, weaving the overlying story, but the main couple’s romance is just really lovely as well.

    I hope readers stick with Julie on this one because if she gets to write all six books, it’s going to be a phenomenal series. I’m so hoping she gets to write the WWII era romance of one of the brothers. I, for one, would love to see that in historical romances. (Of course, that could just be the geeky Andrews Sisters/A-line skirts/USO/Sexy GI’s lover in me.)

  7. Barbara B.
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 21:13:54

    “Not even the beautiful flame-haired woman who'd freed him from his prison.”

    Not another freaking redhead!

  8. Jane
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 21:16:37

    Barbara B – in the defense of this character, I’ll say that it was kind of cute. Damon is portrayed as this romantic, superstitious guy and remember his father was the governor of a Gypsy land. A gypsy once told him that a flame haired woman would be his destiny and ever since then he’s been attracted to red heads.

  9. katiebabs
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 21:22:32

    I have a weakness for redheaded heroines since I am one myself. :)
    Barbara B you made me have a good chuckle.

  10. Shiloh Walker
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 21:22:55

    I just picked this up in the store today~Janine, the actual cover is beyond gorgeous, images on the PC don’t do it justice. Haven’t read it yet, but I do love ghost stories.

  11. Barbara B.
    Apr 09, 2008 @ 23:18:29

    Jane-I do like a romantic hero, but I’ve reached a stage in my reading where I can tolerate neither redheads nor most paranormal elements, particularly ghosts and magic. I also suspect that there might be some humor in this story. Can’t stand that. I guess I really should be reading police procedurals or almanacs because I’m grim, grim, grim.

    Katiebabs said-
    “I have a weakness for redheaded heroines since I am one myself. :)
    Barbara B you made me have a good chuckle.”

    Katiebabs, I think redheads are lovely, but in IRL you guys are almost as rare as unicorns. That’s so not true in Romanceland. At this point I can honestly say that I would spend a day working on a chain gang before I would read yet another romance with a red-haired heroine. At least chain ganging would be a new experience. That’s how utterly tired I am of redheaded heroines.

  12. Roxanne St. Claire
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 06:23:01

    Count me in as one who loved this book. For me, the hero’s language worked for his time period and, I thought, a cute foil to the very modern heroine. I felt like I was reading both historical and contemporary at the same time which is exactly what I want from a ghost story or time travel. Major props to the art department — the cover is gorgeous.

  13. katiebabs
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 07:36:09

    Now that I think of it Barbara, you are right! Redheaded heroines are all over the place in romance. But, I would like to see more redheaded heroes like Jamie from the Outlander series. Sigh.

  14. Jo Leigh
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 15:04:24

    I loved the book. And I have red hair. Hmmm. Conspiracy? Nope – just a really good novel. :)

  15. Alison Kent
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 15:32:14

    IRL you guys are almost as rare as unicorns. That's so not true in Romanceland.

    I don’t have red hair (Here’s one!), but I birthed THREE kids who do! And have a stepson now with red hair, too. LOL!

  16. Julie Leto
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 15:41:29

    You know, I knew this review was coming out yesterday, so what did I do? I went to Disney World of course! EPCOT to be specific. Drank many Grand Marnier slushies in France and waited for Leslie Kelly to call me and read me the review. It was well worth the $8 those suckers cost, I tell you.

    Jane, first, thanks for the review. You may not have liked all elements, but I feel like you “got” what I was trying to accomplish, even if it didn’t always work for you. You’re right…I didn’t spoonfeed a lot of information about the magic because the characters themselves (and therefore, the readers) had to figure it all out, so I decided to let the reader do that as well. Sometimes, the characters will be wrong. The full explanation of the curse and the magic cannot really come until Rogan comes into the picture. For real. Sort of.

    That said, I probably should have included a spot late in the book that referenced what happened that night with the locked in/locked out thing. The reason she couldn’t leave was because he didn’t want her to. He did not, however, realize just how much control he had over the magic at this point. It was only later that he realized he could do just about anything except kill Alexa (though he does try.)

    Hey, Jo, I’m a red-head, too. By choice. Have been for nearly eight years. LOVE IT.

    But Alexa being a red-head did have a point. I didn’t just make her one. And if it makes anyone feel better, the next heroine is blonde and I never write blondes. She just had to be blonde. Sometimes, I have to just accept these things.

    Barbara, yes, I think you’re right. Stay away from this book. There is humor. I’m by no means a funny person, but sometimes my characters say the darndedest things.

    And thanks to everyone who loved the book so far and for all the compliments on my cover. It is especially striking in person. NAL/Signet really did a fantabulous job in capturing the romance and the ghostliness. I was very pleased.

    Now I’m home with no Grand Marnier slushies. Bummer. I’ll just keep reading the good comments over and over again.

  17. Robin
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 15:51:20

    the next heroine is blonde and I never write blondes.

    It seems to me that there are quite a few blond heroines in Romance, but not so many blond heroes (that’s one of the reasons I love the old Laura London books — MANY blond heroes). I often wonder whether it’s the light/dark dichotomy at work in the genre.

    I’ll never forget when I moved to California with my naturally blond hair, and I got a number of compliments on the color, followed by a request for where I got it colored, lol.

  18. Julie Leto
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 16:03:40

    I think there are not so many blond heroes because blond men do not look good on the covers.

    Seriously.

    I know several authors who don’t write blond men for this very reason. The one blond hero I can remember writing…was on my Blaze that got the very naked male torso…no head. Sold very well.

    I don’t know why my heroines are never blonde…I’ve written over 25 books and I think two were blonde. I guess the heroine is always a bit of me and I’ve been both brunette and red-head, so therefore so are my heroines. I did, however, put in blonde highlights about the time I started writing Lauren, the heroine of the next Phantom book. I did not even realize that until right now. That’s kind of creepy.

  19. Leslie Kelly
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 16:31:29

    I'm by no means a funny person

    HA!

  20. Robin
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 16:43:50

    I don't know why my heroines are never blonde…I've written over 25 books and I think two were blonde. I guess the heroine is always a bit of me and I've been both brunette and red-head, so therefore so are my heroines. I did, however, put in blonde highlights about the time I started writing Lauren, the heroine of the next Phantom book. I did not even realize that until right now. That's kind of creepy.

    LOL; I have a friend who insists that Linda Howard’s entire writing trajectory changed when she dyed her hair blond (and hasn’t read her since).

    I think there are not so many blond heroes because blond men do not look good on the covers.

    Because they don’t look tough enough (i.e. tall dark and handsome)? I kind of like the original clinch cover of The Windflower with Devon’s blond locks, but maybe it makes a difference that the cover is painted not photographed. In any case, I’d still like to see more fair heroes. I don’t really have a looks preference for heroines.

  21. Julie Leto
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 16:59:05

    Robin, I think it came from the days of the paintings, where so many of the blond heroes just looked like women with those flowing yellow locks! And I know in a lot of cases, the artists just couldn’t get the tone to look even minimally real.

    Now with the preponderance of photograph covers, maybe that will change. I know that Sue Kearney had this blond hero on one of her covers who was HOT.

  22. Robin
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 17:15:20

    Julie, You mean they don’t all look like this? And I forgot Merry was a redhead, lol!

    Oh, maybe you’re referring to covers like the second image on that page. Yikes.

    Oh, and speaking of redheaded heroines, how about this? I really do like that cover (not to mention the book), cheesy as it is.

  23. Barbara B.
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 17:36:48

    Robin said-
    “It seems to me that there are quite a few blond heroines in Romance, but not so many blond heroes (that's one of the reasons I love the old Laura London books -‘ MANY blond heroes). I often wonder whether it's the light/dark dichotomy at work in the genre.”

    I think it is, Robin. Witness the many creamy/ivory/pearly/alabaster/magnolia skinned romance heroines. The kind where you can see “the faint tracery of blue veins” under her skin. That faint tracery thing is something I’ve read many, many times in romances. Yet the hero is usually quite tanned, sometimes even described as brown or mahagany. This applies to contemporary and historical heroes. Why would an English aristocrat in the 19th century be tanned?

    Of course by now I know that light=feminine and dark=masculine. I’ve also noticed from the comments at romance forums that many readers believe that a blond hero is not masculine. Not being part of the target audience for dominant culture romance it took me a while to understand this.

  24. Robin
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 17:44:46

    I think it is, Robin. Witness the many creamy/ivory/pearly/alabaster/magnolia skinned romance heroines. The kind where you can see “the faint tracery of blue veins” under her skin. That faint tracery thing is something I've read many, many times in romances. Yet the hero is usually quite tanned, sometimes even described as brown or mahagany.

    Oh, yeah, and all those scenes where the hero’s big, dark hand is contrasted to the heroine’s fragile white skin. I guess if the hero is Caucasian the fantasy is that of the eroticization of the hero who may look “savage” but is still culturally familiar (assuming white as the norm, which Romance so often does). Yet one more way in which race is both absent and present simultaneously.

  25. Julie Leto
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 17:51:25

    Ha! If I made that comparison in this book, it’s because Alexa works to hard to ever have a tan.

  26. Barbara B.
    Apr 10, 2008 @ 18:29:48

    Oops, I misspelled mahogany.

  27. Paula R.
    Apr 18, 2008 @ 18:35:34

    Jane, this was a wonderful write up on Jules’ PP…I absolutely loved the story and the premise behind…I hope she gets to write all six stories too…you know what, when I was done reading my thoughts were…”there are 6 brothers and one sister…how is she going to tell all their stories? Is she going to write about two brothers in one book, or will they each have their own books”…I am hoping for the latter…I can’t wait to see what happened with Sarina…would love to hear her story too…

    Jules wrote: “That said, I probably should have included a spot late in the book that referenced what happened that night with the locked in/locked out thing. The reason she couldn't leave was because he didn't want her to. He did not, however, realize just how much control he had over the magic at this point. It was only later that he realized he could do just about anything except kill Alexa (though he does try.)”

    Jules, I think that the way it was written without the explanations was a great way to suck readers into the story…when I read it, I felt that
    the reason Alexa couldn’t leave was also linked to the necklace her BIL gave her…I felt it was her link to Damon somehow, which made his power over her even more potent…Hey if I was in Alexa’s position for even one night…I would be happy as a clam…even if it was just some weird erotic dream, which is not the case with her…at first, I thought she was dreaming too, but I quickly dashed that thought away, because I remembered who the author was…you, Jules…your style is very thought-provoking, witty, sexy, etc…I can never go wrong with a JL book or any of the other plotmonkey books either…

    I am glad that you were able to read both good and bad comments because it helps you to see what everyone thought…but, I would keep drinking the slushies while reading the good comments over and over again though…it helps to dull the pain…look at it this way…the good far outweigh the bad, right?

    Les, it is good to see you hear…Jules, we got your back…hahahahahaha…see you in the jungle…

    Peace and love,
    Paula R.

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