Review: Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett

17565346Where did you get the book: E-arc from publisher

Publisher: Berkley

Release Date: January 7th


First in a new romance series: It’s the roaring twenties, and San Francisco is a hotbed of illegal boozing, raw lust, and black magic. The fog-covered Bay Area can be an intoxicating scene, particularly when you specialize in spirits…

Aida Palmer performs a spirit medium show onstage at Chinatown’s illustrious Gris-Gris speakeasy. However, her ability to summon (and expel) the dead is more than just an act.

Winter Magnusson is a notorious bootlegger who’s more comfortable with guns than ghosts—unfortunately for him, he’s the recent target of a malevolent hex that renders him a magnet for hauntings. After Aida’s supernatural assistance is enlisted to banish the ghosts, her spirit-chilled aura heats up as the charming bootlegger casts a different sort of spell on her…

On the hunt for the curseworker responsible for the hex, Aida and Winter become drunk on passion. And the closer they become, the more they realize they have ghosts of their own to exorcise…

*Blurb taken from Goodreads*

Has: When I first heard that Jenn Bennett was going to write a 20s set PNR, I had this book firmly set on my radar because I love this time period and I really enjoy her voice and UF which I highly recommend. I have just finished the book and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it! Although I suspected it would be good because of my previous enjoyment Jenn Bennett’s previous series, but BITTER SPIRITS was a real gem of a book. The characters, setting and plot had all the hallmarks on why I really like this author’s work but it was also surprising because the paranormal elements wasn’t as heavy and it really complimented the time period and setting as well as the characters who were lively and colourful. It also made me wish more historicals had the rich overtones of a refreshing and vibrant setting which made me begin to love historical romances again. It was so refreshing and different and I loved the San Franciscan location which was vivid with the back-drop of speakeasies and gangster bootleggers and curses.


Marlene: I jumped at the chance to review BITTER SPIRITS because of the 1920s period setting. I’d been watching the MISS FISHER MYSTERIES based on the Kerry Greenwood PHRYNE FISHER mystery series, and they are also set in the 1920s, albeit in Australia. I couldn’t resist reading a story with a heroine who looked to be as independent as Phryne, in a story set in one of my favorite cities San Francisco. (Jenn Bennett’s books had been recommended to me, time and again, and the chance to get into this series on the ground floor was a “golden” opportunity).

BITTER SPIRITS took such advantage of its 1920s time period and the ferment that was San Francisco such a relatively short time after the 1906 Great Earthquake and Fire. Also, this was the period of Prohibition in the US, so gangsters are heroes and everyone knew where the best speakeasies were. And then there’s the spiritualism! Spiritualism was in its heyday. Part of what made this historical paranormal romance so much fun is how close it comes to being a historical.

And then there’s the romance. Sigh. One of the other great things about the 1920s as a setting is that women really were independent. I love a romance of equals.


Has: Exactly! I think this is why BITTER SPIRITS was such a gem of a book. Everything that stood out was refreshing and memorable and it really revitalizes the genre. I loved how the details and atmosphere was laid out and I do suspect this setting will be a popular one in the coming years.

The romance was also a wonderful highlight and I loved the two leads who were fantastic and well drawn out.  The romance between Winter and Aida was sexy and filled with great tension but I adored the dialogue which really fits into the tone of the time period and setting, was sparkling. It really helped to rachet up the notch with chemistry between the two of them. But I also loved that both characters were fleshed out and I loved Winter and Aida’s first meeting – that scene was filled with humour and was a very memorable for them and to the reader which just highlighted the charm of book. And I am a sucker of for grumpy heroes who melt when they meet their heroines and Winter was a wonderful addition to that list.


Marlene: Oh yes! Grumpy hero meets independent heroine. Winter literally melts when he meets Aida. I also love the trope where two scarred people discover that they can heal each other, which is done wonderfully in BITTER SPIRITS. Both Winter and Aida have physical and emotional scars that need to be healed before their romance can get beyond the chemistry stage. But do they ever have some hot, sparky chemistry! (fans self)

I also hope the 1920s see a major revival as a setting for historical and paranormal historical romance. There is so much that can be explored. The Lord Peter Wimsey series is still among the all-time favorite mystery series because this period has so much going on–and it has a romance in it!


Has: I hope so but I am seeing more romances with this setting coming out lately! I definitely agree about the elements and mystery about this setting having so much to offer. I  found the mystery intriguing, and I loved the idea of the bootlegging factions and Chinese Tongs in San Francisco being caught up with hexes and curses as well ghosts added a chilling air to the story.  The pace was tightly plotted and flowed really well, but even though I don’t always think ghostly action can be scary with some books. I did find how Jenn Bennett incorporated curses and ghosts that stood out to me, especially when a victim was being marked for death.

I also hope we get to see more of the side characters who added like Bo and Winter’s sister who I suspect will get their own book in the future, because there was fun hints about them being a potential romance. But overall, there was a great cast of characters, both allies and villains which cement this as a promising start of a series.


Marlene: I agree 100% about Bo and Winter’s sister. There were definitely hints about a possible romance, and when it happens it is going to be one of those “forbidden romance” things that is going to make Romeo and Juliet look tame. Or at least I hope so.

The U.S. had a ton of nasty and restrictive laws directed at the Asian immigrants, particularly Chinese immigrants, who had come to the U.S. to build the transcontinental railroad and their descendants. Those laws were renewed and reinforced into the early 20th century, and the prejudice surrounding those laws is part of the plot and the territory war that the mystery centers around in BITTER SPIRITS. This story has to be in San Francisco. It needs her unmelted melting pot to make the mystery work. Which is awesome.

All the side characters are fantastic, but Bo is particularly interesting because he has a foot in both worlds. He is Chinese, but Winter trained him as his business assistant. Bo has insider’s knowledge of both the Chinese and the White communities, but is not part of either.

The cast of terrific characters, the awesome period setting, and using the rebuilding of San Francisco as a home base make BITTER SPIRITS a great start to a new series.


Has: I think this is why I really loved and enjoyed the book so much, because it was so refreshing and vibrant with the setting and premise. BITTER SPIRITS, was one of the first books I read this year, and I definitely agree this was a brilliant start of a brand new series. I loved the romance between Winter and Aida who both shined as leads, but they shared a sexy and quirky chemistry which was just fun! I want to thank Jenn Bennett because I think she reignited my love for historical romance, because even though this had paranormal elements, I think fans of historicals who aren’t keen will be very happy with series because it doesn’t become a huge part of the plot.

BITTER SPIRITS is a highly enjoyable paranormal historical romance which is memorable and full of charm and dynamic in pace. I am firmly entrenched waiting for the sequel and I loved that I started 2014 with a great start because this was a great start to the year.


Marlene: For a series with titles like BITTER SPIRITS and GRIM SHADOWS (book 2 and it can’t come soon enough!) there is an amazing amount of sparkly energy among all the characters and in the story. It’s not just that it is fun to watch Aida and Winter court and spark, but also that Aida shakes out the cobwebs in Winter’s entire household. She’s a breath of fresh air, and yes, she reminds me a lot of Phryne Fisher. It’s marvelous.

The city of San Francisco is every bit as much a character in BITTER SPIRITS as any of the humans, and the ghosts, hexes and curses add a paranormal chill to the mystery without taking anything away from the very human agencies who are behind the plot. BITTER SPIRITS is an excellent paranormal historical romance that uses its historical setting to help the paranormal elements blend into the story naturally. Instead of overwhelming the plot, they add to the period charm.



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2 thoughts on “Review: Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett”

  1. Yes I am so glad you both loved this book as much as I did! and Marlene, I started watching Miss Phryne Fisher after I read the book (ARC months ago), and I so love that tv series!

  2. I love Phryne too. I can’t wait for series 2 to become available in the US. I think I check Amazon every week. FUN!

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