Release Date: May 5, 2015
Reviewers: Marlene and Has
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.
Blurb from the author’s website
Marlene: I had very high hopes for this book. Possibly too high. I absolutely adored the first two books in this series, Bitter Spirits and Grim Shadows, and I think our joint reviews reflect that. The series is a terrific blend of Roaring 20s atmosphere, San Francisco history and slightly creepy but nicely inserted spirtualism that goes seriously awry. But something didn’t gel for me as much in Grave Phantoms as in the earlier books. And it looks like we’ll both be exploring why.
Has: I agree! I adored the first two books, and I loved the tone and feel of the setting and the romances as well as the ghostly misadventures which added a fun layer into the series. But I think I have to agree, that Grave Phantoms didn’t exactly hit the mark for me, and I think that was mostly due to the plot which didn’t really grab me although I really enjoyed the romance.
I did like how Astrid and Bo’s encounter with the yacht and the strange passengers who was in the midst of a creepy ritual, that sets up the atmosphere of the story. But further on into the plot, the promise of eerie plot, didn’t really capture the potential.
Marlene: There were two plots to this story, and while they both had potential, in the end they both came up short. The romance between Bo and Astrid has been hinted at from the very beginning. Bo is Chinese, Astrid is not just white but also rich, and there were laws against interracial marriage. There were very few places that Bo and Astrid could be openly together. No one is going to approve on either side. Astrid is used to being privileged but Bo knows that his livelihood is dependent on Astrid’s brother Winter. Bo believes that it would be better for Astrid if they did not pursue each other, but neither of them can stop. Their romance is hot and tender and very sweet, but I wish that it had been the main focus of the story. There was plenty of suspense and tension available in just dealing with all the problems they would have and all the difficulties they would face.
The paranormal subplot just took time and focus away from the romance, but it didn’t feel as well grounded as the spiritualistic aspects of the previous stories.
Has: I so agree with you about detracting attention from the main conflict in their romance. And I really loved this conflict because in a lot of ways the themes that Jenn Bennett tackles is still relevant today and I was more drawn into the interracial romance and time period with the prejudices that Bo and Astrid faced as well as the legal issues surrounding their relationship which was much more intriguing and fleshed out.
Their romance was also sexy and fun! I loved their scenes together especially when they both admit their feelings for each other and Jenn Bennett has a great way with flirty sexy banter that leaps up on the page. I also loved the authentic tone of the time period, with the dialogue, the tone and just the atmosphere. I really felt like I was living and experiencing this setting via the characters.
Marlene: The romance was fantastic. It has so many elements of the bittersweet, and yet, in spite of the odds, the reader is rooting for them to figure out a way to be together. Astrid is so sure it can be done, but she is used to her brother’s money buying everything. Bo is more realistic about their chances and about what their life will be like, but to the point of pessimism. Astrid has to push him, but he eventually comes around.
The way that they court each other (and they definitely do) is absolutely sparkling with wit and electricity.
On that other hand, the paranormal side of the plot didn’t work for me. In the previous books, it hasn’t felt necessary to see the woo woo as real, only to acknowledge that the practitioners do. In this case, the concept of the priestess and the boat disappearing for an entire year, along with the body switching, seemed to have to many real-world effects to be ignorable, while not having enough background to convince, or even to suspend disbelief.
It was weird without being fun.
Has: Overall, like Marlene stated, I wished the paranormal aspects was better drawn out because I felt that affected the main plot which wasn’t as engaging as the previous installments. However, the romance was just fantastic. I wished there was more time focusing on the problems and prejudice that Bo and Astrid faced because I was totally sucked into this subplot. Nonetheless, as the final book in the trilogy, this was a satisfying end to an engaging, humorous and quirky series with memorable characters. I love this time period and I hope there is more books to come with this setting, and while Grave Phantom’s wasn’t my favourite book in the trilogy, I highly enjoyed the sizzling romance which totally shone for me!
I give Grave Phantoms a B-
Marlene: I totally agree with Has. I loved Astrid and Bo, and didn’t feel much of anything for the Priestess, Max or the subplot they rode in on. It may have been because this has been the only book in the series where the heroine did not have any magical talent of her own, but the supernatural bits felt tacked on and not integral to the main story. The main story was Astrid and Bo’s romance, and I wish it had stayed there. There was so much to explore, and they would have faced so much opposition, that in a way their resolution was almost too easy. But I still loved that part and rooted for their happy ending the whole way through.
But because of the meh paranormal subplot, I also have to give Grave Phantoms a B-.