A blog about books. Oh, and some other stuff too.

The February #TBR Challenge: Grave Phantoms by Jenn Bennett

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Wendy the Super Librarian hosts this reading challenge that asks you to dip into your TBR pile from waaaay back in order to find some potential gems. Once a month participants pulls a long-neglected book out of their TBR (To-Be-Read) piles, read it, and provide “commentary” on that book on the 3rd Wednesday of the month. Commentary on your chosen read can happen anywhere online: your blog, Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads etc.

In order sign up, click here – it’s not onerous, and it ends up being a lot of fun! There are themes for each month, but you don’t have to follow them if you don’t have a book in that category. This months’ theme is: Series Catch-Up. I’m posting a few days late due to other blog commitments.

I’m ashamed to say that I have had this book on my bedside table for a very long time, and I’m not sure why I haven’t read it before now. I love, love the series and it’s one of my go-to recommendations at the library.

grave phantomsFrom the author of Grim Shadows and Bitter Spirits comes the new Roaring Twenties novel in the series hailed as “Boardwalk Empire meets Ghost Hunters, but so much better” (Molly Harper, national best-selling author of the Jane Jameson series).

Feisty flapper Astrid Magnusson is home from college and yearning for the one thing that’s always been off limits: Bo Yeung, her notorious bootlegging brother’s second-in-command. Unfortunately her dream of an easy reunion proves difficult after a violent storm sends a mysterious yacht crashing into the Magnussons’ docks. What’s worse, the boat disappeared a year ago, and the survivors are acting strangely…

Bo has worked with the Magnusson family for years, doing whatever is needed, including keeping his boss’s younger sister out of trouble—and his hands to himself. Of course, that isn’t so easy after Astrid has a haunting vision about the yacht’s disappearance, plunging them into an underground world of old money and dark magic. Danger will drive them closer together, but surviving their own forbidden feelings could be the bigger risk.

Oh, Roaring Twenties series, let me count the ways I love you. There’s a lot to love about this book, and not just because of the great pairing of Astrid and Bo and their forbidden romance, not only due to class but to race. There’s the honest portrayal of the racist atmosphere of the time, especially towards Bo and his friends and family. There’s the return of Winter and Aida from book one, and Lowe and Hadley from book – both fan favourites. There’s a deliciously spooky yacht that reappears, complete with curses and ancient idols and mysterious strangers. In short, there are many reasons to really enjoy this book.

Let’s start with what Bennett does so well: the relationship between Astrid and Bo. We’ve been watching this one develop for a number of years, and knew going in that it wasn’t going to be easy. Not only do Astrid and Bo come from different worlds financially, but there’s the issue of race and of Winter’s trust in Bo as his second-in-command to complicate matters. Let’s be honest: in the time period of this book, there was no way an Asian man would be allowed to marry a Caucasian woman, so it was intriguing to see how Bennett would handle this roadblock.

I was really impressed to see how much Astrid has grown over the course of the series, and how thoughtfully she approached her feelings for Bo. She fully recognized the issues that lay before them, and didn’t try to pretend that they didn’t matter. Bo was an awesome surprise; we’ve always known him to be capable, but his affection and loyalty to the Magnussons, and his love for Astrid really came out in a well-rounded ‘hero’ character that you couldn’t help but enjoy. His experiences and how he handled himself when encountering the constant racism created a complex character of integrity, and you wanted him to end up with Astrid. In the end, it is the families they build around them that become most important to the pair, and that assist them in their journey to be together.

The paranormal elements were perhaps the least fleshed out aspect of the storyline, but only in comparison to the Astrid/Bo connection. I found that the mysterious elements helped to bring them together, but that they weren’t my biggest concern. I did love that it was Astrid’s inherent curiosity that triggered her connection to the yacht, and that Bo ended up wanting to save the day (yet again) by rescuing her. Astrid’s strength came through loud and clear, and it was such a pleasure to see her insist on discarding the ‘damsal in distress’ role in order to help to save herself from the idol’s curse.

While I might suggest that readers pick up books one and two in this series before reading three, that’s only because they are deliciously wonderful reads. You could read this one as a stand-alone, but really, why would you when the other two set up the storyline for this one so perfectly. I’m sad that there won’t be further stories about this group, because I really enjoyed being a part of their world, but perhaps Bennett will give us some novellas in the future.

Grave Phantoms and the rest of the Roaring Twenties series is available now from your favourite big boxonline or indie bookseller. It is published by Berkley – ISBN: 9780425280768, 320 pages. 

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Categorised in: Reading Challenge, Reviews

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