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REVIEW:  Dark Paradise by Angie Sandro

REVIEW: Dark Paradise by Angie Sandro

Sandro-Dark-Paradise

Dear Ms. Sandro,

When I first heard about your debut, my interest was piqued. A non-contemporary romance NA? Featuring non-white characters? Give it to me! Interests in diversity aside, I’m curious to see if NA can expand beyond contemporary romance successfully. Dark Paradise seemed promising.

Set in the Louisiana bayou, Dark Paradise tells the story of Malaise “Mala” LaCroix, the last in a long line of supposed witches. As for Mala herself, she thinks that reputation is just a bunch of nonsense. People look down on their family because her mother is the town prostitute and everyone knows it. Well, that and the fact that the LaCroix line is a result of a relationship between a plantation owner and his slave.

But it turns out that it’s not just gossip. When Mala finds the body of a dead girl floating in the bayou, the girl’s ghost begins haunting her. And of course, the dead girl’s brother soon comes around, accusing Mala of being responsible. (It does look suspicious. The body was found floating in LaCroix land, after all.) To further complicate matters, Mala and the brother, Landry, have an undeniable attraction and connection — one that she’s denied and that he’s fostered for many years.

The thing that struck me about Dark Paradise is the setting. It’s alive. I can’t speak about authenticity as I’ve never been to the Louisiana bayou but I could easily picture this small town in the deep South. Where class lines run deep, and those class lines may run along racial lines. Where the religious thump their bibles and judge. Where everyone knows your business and one misstep can lead to your ostracization.

As an aside, I really liked how the novel acknowledged that it was possible for a visibly black person to have pale-skinned relatives who passed for, and likely identified, as white. I feel like this point is often overlooked in books featuring black characters that live in the U.S. In Dark Paradise, Mala even talks about how you can see the red in her own hair.

Despite these things that I did like, I was left feeling lukewarm towards the book. I thought the characterization left much to be desired. At times I didn’t understand why they chose to do certain things and sometimes those choices contradicted convictions that had been voiced five pages before! That said, a large portion of this can be attributed to the relationship between Mala and Landry. They’re attracted to each other! He thinks she killed his sister in some sort of over the top Satanic ritual! (Why is it always Satanic ritual?) Her friends think he’s a player that just wants in her pants! His parents think she’s a witch who’s ensorcelled him! She thinks he’s a liar! There’s also the part where he stalks her and scares her half to death but it’s okay, he didn’t mean it. He was just torn up about his sister! I don’t know about you but I find that kind of back and forth exhausting. Make up your damn minds, people.

The other complaint I have is less concrete. As a suspense plot, I think the pieces are all there. There are multiple leads and multiple suspects for the murder. But it all seems to unfold in a jumbled mess. Partially because of the shaky characterization. Partially because it’s overshadowed by the burgeoning of Mala’s powers. You see, the LaCroix witches come into their full power when their mother dies. Mala’s mother has foreseen her death and warns Mala to prepare as the ghost haunting signals that the time is fast approaching. There’s also Mala’s great-aunt who is a powerful witch (enter some handwaving about twins to explain how she could have that power if the power is meant to be a mother-to-daughter thing). And partially because of the hot and cold aspects of Mala and Landry’s relationship — along with the other sort-of-but-not-really love interest, Georgie. The book tries to do a lot with all of these aspects and as a result, I think fails to do them justice.

Dark Paradise is a very different kind of read. The setting prevents it from being outright urban fantasy, and the suspense and fantasy aspects separate it from other NA novels. While I liked how family plays an important role, I also wish we’d seen more of Mala pursuing her dreams in a criminal justice career. Sure, it came up in the beginning but as the book continues, those goals fall along the wayside. I get that she has some immediate concerns that need attention but I hope those don’t get tossed away because she’s set to become some powerful hoodoo queen. But for readers who pick up NA novels for the relationship, I’m going to have to say that the romance between Mala and Landry left me cold. C

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  No Angel by Clare London

REVIEW: No Angel by Clare London

NoAngel

BLURB: Felix’s life is full, juggling a supportive homelife for his disabled brother, a job as a care home assistant, a brand new boyfriend—and now he’s had his arse pinched by a lewd gay ghost on the late night bus!

If only that were the end of it. But Bryn the ghost follows him home and wheedles himself into Felix’s life. That includes sharing his shameless opinions on the patronizing way Felix treats his brother, on how Felix should eat more food and put some flesh on his bones, and—worst of all—exactly how Felix should be getting down to it with his seriously sexy new boyfriend Mickey! And in between all that, Bryn finds time to leer at Felix himself and make outrageous suggestions on what they’d be doing if Bryn wasn’t…well…ghostly.

Felix considers he’s a tolerant guy. But the last thing he needs now is to get wrapped up in the mystery of a missing teenage girl, the inhabitants of a local squat, and conversations with a fire-and-brimstone old preacher. Yet with a nudge or six from Bryn, the help of his brother Patrick, and some cozy loving from Mickey, Felix starts to wonder how he ever thought his life was busy before!

Genres: Gay / Paranormal / Ghosts / Hauntings / Voyeurism

Heat Level: 2

Length: Extended Novella (39k words)

Dear Clare London,

I like ghost stories and was very interested in reading one from you. Bryn the ghost was probably my favorite character in this novella. I liked his forceful, flawed personality, and I could see that he had a good heart. One could see the overwhelming loneliness he was hiding behind his sharp tongue and his attraction to Felix.

“::What do you mean, just one of those “out of body” things? That’s a shitty way to talk about a bloke you just travelled home with. Hell’s bells, if anyone’s got a right to talk about out of body things, it’s ME not you::
Felix said bolt upright on the bed, staring into darkness. “What the hell! You again? I left you on the bus!”
The Voice chuckled, though it sounded sharper than before. :: I was never really ON the bus, see? So you couldn’t really leave me there, could you? Besides , I enjoyed my chat with you so much I thought we might continue some more.::
“I’m going to sleep. I need to sleep.” Felix shook his head. “I’m talking to myself in the middle of my bedroom in the dark at two thirty in the morning. I’ve flipped”

I was ready to see where his character arc would go at the end, but unfortunately I felt that it went absolutely nowhere. I was left with the question – “what was the point?” I understand that this is a novella, but at 39000 words I thought that the ending did not have to be so abrupt.

I started wondering if maybe Bryn was supposed to be a supporting character and Felix was the main character, therefore Felix would be the one to have a character arc of some sort and Bryn was not due one. And Felix did have some growth and change, with Bryn helping him to achieve it. The problem was that I did not really care for Felix, so his character change did not make much of the impression on me if any. Actually, I think I should say not that I did not care for Felix, because he really was a good guy, I just did not understand him.

When we meet Felix, he is just about to pursue a relationship with Mikey, his best friend, only Felix is not sure whether he wants to take their relationship to a new, more than friendly level. A couple of times Mikey asks for more and Felix blows him of and I did not exactly understand Felix’ motivations. I know he kept saying that he was not worthy, but it just did not compute with me. As written on the page, Felix did not come off to me as lacking in self-esteem, him saying so couple of times notwithstanding – he did not *act* like that. In fact, he seemed to act the opposite way with Bryn, as well as when he involved himself in trying to find the granddaughter of one of his patients in the care home. In short, he confused me.

I thought Mikey was nice, but he was just not a very well developed character. He was a sweet, confident guy who clearly loved and wanted Felix very much. I guess I just wanted to see more of what these two saw in each other.

I actually thought that the suspense was the best part of the story. I thought that despite the seeming simplicity the couple of scenes in the house where they were trying to locate Sally (missing granddaughter) were really spooky. I thought that the story was paced really well too, but I just did not *get* the characters as well as I would have liked to.

Grade C.

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