Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “Good grief, you’re a big one.“
Welcome to the roaring twenties. Illegal booze, speakeasies, and sexual/economic freedom made for golden times as the world prospered after Word War One. Gangsters and G-Men battled in the streets as the public turns a blind eye to the law of prohibition.
Aida Palmer, a beautifully freckled hot tempered spirit medium, works at the popular nightclub, the Gris-Gris, where she entertains crowds with her gifts. Aida is not a fraud or charlatan. Her gifts are true and because of this, she finds herself helping one of the top bootleggers in the city, Winter Magnusson. Winter, a handsome giant of a man, has come to see Aida’s boss, Velma Toussaint, a known witch, when he finds himself overrun with ghosts. Velma sends for Aida and between the two of them, they discover he’s been cursed. Aida gets rid of the ghosts while Velma un hexs Winter but it leaves him still with a huge problem. Who wants Winter out of the way?
Winter hires Aida into helping him rid his home of more ghosts and soon they find themselves entangled in more than just a mystery. Attraction sparks between them and the flames only get hotter as this pair of unlikely lovers chase clues from the seedy underbelly of Chinatown to the glittering homes of the Pacific Heights upper crust. As they get closer to discovering the root of Winter’s problems, they discover that they each have their own personal demons to exorcise if they want a relationship in this world.
Bitter Spirits is the first installment in a historical PNR series by Jenn Bennett. Set in the 20’s, Bennett pays homage to the roaring twenties while adding a unique twist by introducing ghosts, zombies, and magic to the era. Luscious world building paints an intriguing portrait of San Francisco’s landscape during the 20’s while strong well defined characters and an intriguing action packed storyline engages the reader to the end. Humorous banter and a sweet sexy romance blends well with the hint of danger that permeates the story. Our protagonists, Aida Palmer and Winter Magnusson, control the story from the start and our journey begins with a bang.
I thoroughly enjoyed Bitter Spirits. A fun book whose pacing and tempo is spot on. The beginning starts out a little slow but the set up of the storyline and arc holds your attention. Though touted as a PNR, I felt the storyline was decidedly stronger on the romance side than the paranormal. The paranormal aspects are used more as plot devices and elevate the story rather than hold equal footing. What makes the story for me are the characters.
Aida, a profitable medium, doesn’t define herself by her gifts. She is independent, modern, and generally content with life. Her life is filled with friends though she keeps herself emotionally distant at times. She has some personal baggage she carries but it doesn’t weigh her down. Orphaned at an early age, she learned along time ago that the only one she can really depend on his herself. Winter is the same as Aida in some ways. His scarred face hints at a dark past which he hides with his gregarious personality and business. Born into a rich family with strong ties to bootlegging, he continues the family legacy, even allowing them to make some decisions for him which weren’t in his best interest. This causes him to harbor guilt and a distrust of people in general; especially women. But Aida intrigues him from the get go and he finds himself having to do something he hasn’t had to do in a while. Chase a woman. Both are opinionated, jealous, stubborn, fanatically loyal, and will give their lives for the right person. Their scarred imperfections only endear them to the reader.
Their romance builds slowly, allowing for a believable journey and resolution. I enjoyed that Winter and Aida get to know one another and enjoy their time together before becoming intimate. Their playful bickering was fun to watch and made for some laugh out loud moments. As they become more intimate, Bennett writes some wonderfully sensuous and subtly erotic scenes that had me wanting a bootlegger for myself.
A cast of viable well defined secondary characters only serve to further endear you to the story. Velma, Aida’s boss and owner of the Gris-Gris is a bit of a mystery with her magical powers. I do hope Bennett has a book planned for her. Winter’s man servant Bo is a wonderful side kick and I look forward to seeing exactly what parts he will play in the future. Meeting the various other crime bosses and bootleggers makes the era seem even more alive, especially the integration of the Chinese tong. The mystery of Winter’s curser resolves fast and furious with some interesting subplots. My only wish was that the villain had been integrated more into the story. As I stated earlier, the romance is heavy in here and maintains a strong presence, regulating everything else to a distinct second place.
Bitter Spirits is a wonderfully entertaining story in bribed with magic, history, and a charming romance. I look forward to the second installment, Grim Shadows, set to release June 3, 2014, which is the story of Winter’s brother, Lowe.