Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#tbrchallenge Series Catch-Up: Roaring Twenties

It's time for February's TBR Challenge Post! (More info about the TBR Challenge here.)

So, the theme this month is Series Catch-Up, which is explained as reading a book from a series you've fallen behind on, which I didn't do. Instead, I read an entire series that had been sitting on my shelf for awhile. I picked it up because I had heard good things about the third book (possibly on an episode of the DBSA podcast?) and, when I can do anything about it, I like to start series from the beginning. (Example: I got confused as to which book was the first in this series, so I accidentally started with the second one. Maybe 40 pages in, we meet another couple and you get those few sentences of backstory in case you didn't read their book? Yeah. I PUT THE BOOK DOWN AND STARTED WITH THE FIRST ONE. That's how I roll.) ANYWAY.

I devoured all three in about a week and a half. It would have been quicker, but I had some other assigned reading to get done. And I moved. (But new house has a giant bathtub that's *perfect* for reading in.) So, this review is of the entire Roaring Twenties series by Jenn Bennett! Yay! All three take place in the 20s in San Fransisco, and follow the love lives of the Magnusson siblings. They're historical and paranormal and deal a lot with class--the Magnussons parents are Swedish immigrants (I don't have the book on me, so I can't check, but I think Winter was also born in Sweden) and started as fishermen and were very successful. When prohibition happened, their father turned most of the fleet to bootlegging and were even more successful. The Magnussons are rich, but they're new money and outlaws, so they're never fully accepted by society, even if society has a great need for their product. It's a fine line and odd balance they strike. They also have a bit of mystery/suspense to them that really make them move and unable to put down.

BUT! BUT! BUT! Yes, this is historical, but! Everyone still practices safe sex and no one's a virgin! AND! Bennett realizes that POC are not a modern invention and while most of the heroes and heroines are white, the world they live in is not! It's San Fransisco in the 1920s and it looks like it! That's not tokenism, it's REALITY. AND HISTORICAL ACCURACY.

Bitter Spirits

Aida is a spirit medium who has a gig at the Gris-Gris club, a black-and-tan (so, non-segregated) speak easy. One day she's called into work because Winter Magnusson (friend of the owner and the speakeasy's supplier) has been cursed and can not only suddenly see ghosts, but he's being stalked by them. Aida can get rid of the some of the ghosts that followed and Velma (the owner) can remove the cursed poison that's killing him, but who's after Winter, and why?

So... the person who cursed Winter is using Chinese magic. And Velma practices voodoo and immediately my head is all 'DANGER WILL ROBINSON! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!' Because Winter and Aida are white (as is the author), Velma is possibly black but maybe not (in the third book, she's described as having light brown skin of a shade that makes her race hard to determine and the characters don't really care what race she is, so it's not really dwelled on) and the Chinese magic?

BUT! It's handled really well and respectfully. (Bennett has spent a lot of time in, and studying China) I think some of the reasons it works are (1) In this world, magic exists, and just like different ethnic groups have their own languages, food, and customs, of course they also have their own types of magic. And just like language and food and customs can be shared/warped across ethnic lines, so can magic. (2) The Chinese aren't all painted as a superstitious, magic-practicing people. Throughout this world, in all ethnic groups, people know about traditional magical customs but they don't actually believe in it. Unless they can actually see ghosts and the like (such as Aida and Winter.) And when I say "people know about traditional magical customs" I mean in the same way a lot of us do today. Like I know the magical customs of my European heritage such as witches can't cross running water, iron and salt will hurt an evil faerie, vampires can be killed with a wooden stake through the heart or sunlight, werewolves wolf out at the full moon and can't handle silver bullets, etc. etc. etc. But I don't believe in those things and for the most part don't take any supernatural precautions (except painting my porch ceilings haint blue, but that's just pretty, and I can do that because I live in the South now).

Aida helps Winter as he tries to figure out who's cursed him, and why, and how to end it, and the two can't fight their mutual attraction. Standing in the way of true love is the fact they've both vowed to never be serious about someone (for various reasons) and the fact that Aida's job at the Gris-Gris is temporary and she's been booked at a club in New Orleans soon. There is some "we won't talk about our feelings and what's going on" but that's really understandable, because while they're fighting ghosts and groping each other, they're not actually close, and what's keeping them both back is deeply personal. Yes, things would be easier if they'd talk, but they'd also be weird, because they don't have that kind of relationship (yet).

Grim Shadows

Lowe wants to make his own way, independent of his brother's bootlegging empire, so he's a treasure hunter. On his most recent trip to Egypt, he lost a finger, but he found the fabled djed amulet, which he can hopefully counterfeit, and sell twice to pay off the bad guys after him (who are after him because they found out the last thing he sold them was also a fake.) Only thing is, a lot of people want the amulet and they're not afraid to kill to get it.

Hadley is a curator and scholar of Egyptian antiquities and her father wants the amulet for the museum they both work for. She's also been cursed with dark malevolent spirits that appear and wreak havoc when she gets upset. Sometimes, this can help save her life, but usually it just makes things really, really hard.

But, it turns out that Hadley's father wants the amulet for more personal reasons and Lowe and Hadley have to battle Egyptian magic, and their attraction, to secure the amulet for their individual purposes. Until, of course, Hadley finds out about Lowe's plans and everything goes wrong.

I think this one had the weakest romance, but the best (and creepiest!) mystery. (Also, some minor Jewish characters, including a deaf child!) I also like how this world is so entwined. Not just the same settings but the mystery involves Hadley's dead mom. LUCKILY WE HAVE AIDA! She can talk to dead people! That's helpful!

Grave Phantoms

FIRST OFF LOOK AT THAT COVER. That's a hot Asian guy! And an inter-racial romance!

YES! It's time for the Magnusson sister, Astrid, and Winter's right-hand man, Bo to take center stage. First off, I love how this romance has been hinted at the entire time. (Lowe notices something is up between them as soon as he gets back from Egypt in the beginning of the second book, and there are hints in the first book, too.)

So, these are characters readers already know fairly well from the previous books, especially Bo, who is Winter's right-hand man. Astrid's been away at college and has returned for Christmas break. Both Bo and Astrid thought the time apart would help them move on, but nope. So, are they going to do this thing, or not?

The big complications of course are: They both have romantic pasts (some more recent than others) and there are some major jealousies on both sides. Winter took Bo under his wing when Bo was really young. Bo was supposed to be protecting Astrid, not falling in love with her and not doing the other things he dreams about at night. He doesn't want to betray Winter. He'd lose his job and security and nothing would pay as well as bootlegging. But, even bigger, Astrid is white and Bo is Chinese. Not only is that not societally acceptable, it's illegal. They could never get married. Their children wouldn't be accepted in either community.

But, of course, there's also a supernatural mystery going on! This one involving Aztec magic and some French pirates. And Astrid accidentally gets someone else's magic and has two auras now and is getting freaky visions of what happened on a ghost ship that crashed onto the Magnusson's pier. Luckily, the object that zapped Astrid looks like an artifact and Astrid just happens to know some experts in the area. Lowe and Hadley specialize in Egypt, and the idol is Aztec, but they know people who can help (and are a white/Latina lesbian couple!).

I loved this one, because with most romances, you know how the couple can work out their issues, if they just get around to doing it. While I was sure Bo and Astrid would work it out (I mean, it's a romance! HEA is a requirement!) I had no idea how they could make it work. I also loved the friendship that Aida, Hadley, and Astrid had formed, and how they help each other out behind the backs of Winter, Lowe, and Bo. I also really liked Bo's ex-girlfriend, Sylvia. (YAY! For a great ex-girlfriend who isn't automatically the bad guy! She and Bo didn't work, but I love that they're still friends and while it causes some conflict because Astrid misunderstands their relationship, when Bo won't tell her, Astrid just asks Sylvia point blank, gets the story, and it's no longer an issue. I hope they later become BFFs)

Plus there are some fun jabs at the fact this story takes place between the bulk of Grim Shadows and its epilogue.

Overall, a FANTASTIC series. I'm sad there's not more!

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azteclady said...

I confess, I read the overview and introduction, and then I skipped the reviews--because I'm gonna read these, first chance I get.

Why? Because of this:
BUT! BUT! BUT! Yes, this is historical, but! Everyone still practices safe sex and no one's a virgin! AND! Bennett realizes that POC are not a modern invention and while most of the heroes and heroines are white, the world they live in is not! It's San Fransisco in the 1920s and it looks like it! That's not tokenism, it's REALITY. AND HISTORICAL ACCURACY.

Also, I'm totally on board with going back and beginning series in order--it's the only way to avoid spoilers :grin:

Dorine said...

You are amazing Jennie! You read three books, reviewed them AND moved? Wow.

These have been on my radar for a while just because I love the covers. I'll have to get them on my wishlist because they sound so interesting. Great review!