Advance Book Review: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

“It’s not supposed to come here, is it? This morning, the weather guys said it was headed for Florida.”

I loaded my bag in the back of my dusty red Pathfinder, phone tucked between shoulder and chin, and paused before climbing in. “What’s it called anyway? Kitty? Koko? Kelly?”

“Just as bad,” Gerry said. “Katrina. Not exactly a name that inspires fear, is it?”

(Royal Street, p19)

This book starts and ends strong. When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, it weakens the barriers between this world and the world beyond. And when her boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, disappears in the aftermath, Drusilla Jaco, junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, is left with the task of dealing with the crumbling mystical borders between the city and the Beyond full of deadly baddies.

Flashy cover is flashy.

To make things worse, even as the undead and preternatural creatures pass into the city, someone is murdering soldiers with voodoo rituals. The wizard Elders send an assassin with a briefcase full of guns to aid DJ–and to find and execute the missing Gerald St. Simon for treason.  DJ must balance her duty to stop the ritual killings and stabilize the borders with the Beyond with her need to find and warn her mentor.

Royal Street throws us an engaging (sane) heroine, a journey of self-discovery (not as boring as it sounds), and some fun romance potential that doesn’t overwhelm the story. It’s a strong debut for journalist and editor Suzanne Johnson, and this one-time resident of New Orleans pulls heavy inspiration from her personal experiences with the city:

“Royal Street started as my attempt to come to terms with the Katrina debacle, but soon took on a life of its own. It has wizards, sexy assassins, undead pirates and other New Orleans royalty, some voodoo goods, a pretty Mississippi guy with dimples, and what I hope is a sensitive and truthful feel for the horror and strength of spirit that marked New Orleans in the post-Katrina months.” (Suzanne Johnson on Goodreads)

It is that Katrina element, however, makes me hesitate; there is a level of discomfort in seeing a real tragedy translated into a world of fiction. And these are the elements that stand out most brightly in the novel: the guest appearance of Louis Armstrong with his saxophone, the local undead pirate population, and, of course, the natural and human disasters that were Katrina and New Orleans. A voodoo god stops by and the city is drawn with clear prose and purpose. Continue reading

Advance Review: Lord of the Abyss by Nalini Singh

Lord of the Abyss by Nalini Singh

Expected publication date: November 15, 2011

You may also have noticed a trend in my most recent reads–Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey, the short stories in the Firebirds anthology, and the way retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast story keep popping up in my Top Five listings. So it’s no surprise I picked up Lord of the Abyss.

But unlike the traditional belle of this trope, Liliana is the one who makes her way to the castle to save the beast from himself. She knows about the curse that stole Micah’s memories and twisted who he was. Soon, there will be nothing left of the man he was, and–more importantly for Liliana, when that happens, the future she had seen in a vision will come to pass, and there will be no one left to defeat the evil Blood Sorcerer who’s intent on taking over the kingdoms (also her father).

When I first saw that Nalini Singh was contributing to the series (with Gena Showalter, Jill Monroe and Jessica Andersen), I went and got my hands on the first book, Lord of the Vampires by Gene Showalter. That turned out to be a DNF–I couldn’t connect to either the story (girl travels from modern world into magic world and gets mistaken for the deceased evil princess) or the characters (all of whom were very, very…very.). So instead of reading the books in order, I jumped to this fourth and last installment to the series.

Turns out, Lord of the Abyss does perfectly fine as a stand-alone.

It also stands out in the pile of paranormal romances by presenting a heroine who is not brain-numbingly beautiful. Her character is also informed by her terrible childhood, but Singh plays it up to just the right note, never letting the story drag over to the realm of bewailing and oh woe-ing. In little more than 200 pages, the author also manages to bring the (adorable) relationship-building that is often so lacking in the shorter Harlequin novels.

I’d recommend the book to anyone who enjoys serial romances, alpha males, characters pushed together by circumstances, and heroes with tragic pasts.

It was a fun, light, sexy read.

Gallery .pdf received courtesy
of NetGalley and Harlequin Nocturne