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REVIEW:  Secrets and Ink by Lou Harper

REVIEW: Secrets and Ink by Lou Harper

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When Karma writes you a ticket, pay up or else…

If life was like the movies, Jem Mitchell’s wouldn’t be such a mess. In LA’s glittering world of dreams, he works an unglamorous job at a gourmet grocery store. His past is so deep and dark, the details are lost even to him. All he knows is he was once cursed by a meter maid, and ever since, his love life has sucked.

When Detective Nick Davies becomes a regular at the store, Jem dares to hope he’s un-hexed at last. He should have known that sex with a remarkably normal guy, devoid of weird fetishes and fatal personality flaws, was too good to be true.

During a post-encounter cuddle, Nick recognizes the tattoo on Jem’s back—and remembers him as a young hustler he arrested nine years past.

As Jem’s memories come crashing back, he flees from Nick, but fate contrives to keep pushing them back together. And when Jem’s old partner in crime is found murdered, the stakes are raised for life, for love, and a dangerous drama with no guarantee of a Hollywood ending.

Warning: Stars a mild-mannered store clerk with a shady past, a hunky cop whose passion in the bedroom is as big as his passion for justice, and celebrity sightings you won’t see on TMZ.

Dear Lou Harper,
On the surface, I could not think of anything obviously wrong with this story. The narrator Jem is likeable and funny. He has his own quirks and neurosis and the reasons are all based on what happened to him in the past. He thinks he is cursed – truly when I was reading the blurb I was sure that the magic would be involved in the story. However, it is very clear (to any person on Earth but Jem) that he has just been having lots and lots of bad luck in the last several years of his life.

“You should have patience with Jem,” she said, leaning close to Nick. “He thinks he’s been cursed.” “Yeah, I’ve heard,” Nick replied. I shook my head at her disapprovingly. “I don’t think that. I know it. Ms. Jones said, word for word: Sir, may all your hubris fall around your ears like a ton of bricks. Three days later, a literal ton of bricks fell on me. Well, okay, technically, it was poured concrete, but that’s a tiny detail. I’ve had nothing but bad luck since.” Like my sister, Nick was a doubter. “Don’t be ridiculous. Life’s not a fairy tale.” “Don’t I know it? But the curse is real. I saw a psychic, and she categorically declared I was under a curse. Don’t give me that look,” I added, because Nick was rolling his eyes now. “Madame Layla is for real. She is also a witch, so she knows her stuff.”

When Jem and Nick met, I felt the connection between them and I wanted to see and feel more of that. I was not sure whether I liked that they had already met in the past, when Nick arrested Jem during his hustling activities, but I was ready to go along with it – especially since the reasons for Jem being a teenage prostitute were on one hand different from what many m/m stories usually go with and on the other hand so simple and believable to me.
I also really enjoyed the mystery part of the story – the first part of the mystery that is, although it started very strong, it then fizzled out really quickly, because the identity of the villain was telegraphed pretty obviously. I mean, I do not mind if mystery is just a vehicle for romance OR if the romance takes a very secondary fiddle to the mystery, but to me neither the romance nor mystery in this book received an in depth treatment. The mystery was simplistic, because there was no candidate to divert my suspicions from the one character who felt like a REALLY bad and sleazy guy from the very beginning. I get that there was an attempt to do so with somebody else, but I just did not buy that at all.
The romance was cute. But I wanted to know more about both guys as people. As I said before, I thought Jem’s neurosis was established well by what happened to him in the past, but at the same time I thought the medical part of his situation was given a superficial treatment. I get that it is hard to strike a balance in romance, but I did not feel like the balance was achieved. Nick was nice and dependable and a stickler for the rules, but I did not feel like I got to know him well if at all. I felt that characterization-wise the story was just scratching the surface, especially with Nick, and it was frustrating for me to feel dissatisfied with the characters when I finished reading.
I liked it but did not love it.
Grade C.

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REVIEW:  Delia’s Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer

REVIEW: Delia’s Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer

Delias-Shadow

“It is the dawn of a new century in San Francisco and Delia Martin is a wealthy young woman whose life appears ideal. But a dark secret colors her life, for Delia’s most loyal companions are ghosts, as she has been gifted (or some would say cursed) with an ability to peer across to the other side.

Since the great quake rocked her city in 1906, Delia has been haunted by an avalanche of the dead clamoring for her help. Delia flees to the other side of the continent, hoping to gain some peace. After several years in New York, Delia believes she is free…until one determined specter appears and she realizes that she must return to the City by the Bay in order to put this tortured soul to rest.

It will not be easy, as the ghost is only one of the many victims of a serial killer who was never caught. A killer who after thirty years is killing again.

And who is now aware of Delia’s existence.”

Dear Ms. Moyer,

A beautiful cover can catch my attention and the one for “Delia’s Shadow” got me in a headlock. I saw it and had to click on the link for more information. Who is this woman in the Edwardian clothing and why is she so somber? Well, I guess if you’ve seen ghosts all your life and are now returning to a city that’s teeming with them after the earthquake, you’d be straight faced too.

Though Delia has returned to San Francisco for her best friend’s wedding, she’s also aware that a ghost she calls “Shadow” has ties to the city and wants something from Delia. Since she can only see them and experience their emotions – horrifying in the case of the people who burned to death after the earthquake – Delia doesn’t know why Shadow has appeared and haunts her both by day and in her dreams. It doesn’t take her long to find out.

The book is told from Delia’s first person POV and the 3rd person of Gabe – a police officer whose father was also cop and who is now trying to find and stop a horrific serial killer. Delia’s sections were more immediate, more emotional to me. I guess the reason behind the two differing PsoV is that Delia is our window into the paranormal while Gave stands for the cold realism of the every day? I’m sure there’s an reason for the choice to have Gabe’s section told in third person I’m still not sure that it made a difference to me beyond what I said earlier.

“Delia’s Shadow” is a sort of romance x mystery/thriller. While neither part totally fell apart for me, I did have issues with both. For suspense fans, I think it’s important to note that there is little chance of them being able to solve the identify of the killer until late in the book at about the same time as the police. The emphasis is more on how Gabe and Delia go about solving the crimes using their own particular knowledge and skills.

I found it fascinating to see how by this point in time so many modern forensics techniques – including using folding Kodak cameras to take crime scene photos and taking plaster casts of footprints – went along with the time honored questioning of witnesses and examining crime scenes. Flamboyant psychic character Isadora also introduces important information she learned while helping on murder cases elsewhere. Dora is a fascinating character and I’d love to see her story told. The new age just dawning seems like it would suit her to perfection: Flapper dresses, ciggies in long holders, fast cars, loose sex and lots of booze.

As Delia explained how she sees ghosts, I got more twitchy. It’s one thing to encounter them at specific places – at least that way you can leave – but to have them follow you around and not be able to shake them off – that gave me the creeps. The number of ghosts just exploded as the story progressed to the point that it felt like a “pile on.” Delia sees and senses tons of them out on the streets but the Larkin house gets packed to the gills with all the ones Shadow hauls back from the spirit world.

Delia’s dreams of Shadow get more intense, more involved the longer she’s back in SF with Delia now “in her skin” and seeing/feeling what Shadow felt. These were skin crawling scenes to me showing the horror of what the victims their fate would be. We see none of the crimes actually happening which is good for my stomach given what is done to the victims but … I wanted to know how the killer so easily overpowers two victims at a time x multiple times. And what was behind his obsession – the reason behind the madness? It’s made clear what he’s enacting but why? That was never explained.

I didn’t feel that there isn’t any romance but the main emphasis of the story, and a lot of Gabe and Delia’s relationship, is catching the killer so their progressing courtship tended to get caught up in that. This does serve to establish how much Gabe is willing to believe in what Dee tells him about how she “sees” and experiences the world and how much he trusts her about this. Enough to face the skepticism and amusement of the police force who know about what she can do. Mention is made of long walks they take as they discuss the case and many evenings spent chastely together but I would have liked to actually see more of this instead of just being told.

Lots of historical detail is included which made the book feel very much of its time and place. There were some sections, however, that got bogged down in stuff that I felt went on too long and added little to story. For instance, when the two couples initially went to dinner at the Pan Pacific Fair, the pace slowed to a crawl as the sights were described. I kept wondering if this information would be important later but ultimately it just felt like unneeded padding.

I did guess some of the things that happened in the story, some of the relationships, some of the outcomes but other incidents took me by off guard. Despite the fact that Gabe and Delia put 2 and 2 together early on and start working together, I was happily surprised by how well the tension is maintained even through the catching of the killer. I almost knew who would be the final victim but was still caught up in what was going to happen and would the police arrive in time. So, well done with that. If a few things had been explained more or shown more, I would have been a happier camper though. B-

~Jayne

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