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Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Author:  Darynda Jones
Plot Type:  Paranormal Chick Lit Sit Com with Overtones of Suspense and Horror
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
  1     First Grave on the Right (2/2011).
  1.5  "For I Have Sinned" (novella, 7/2011)
  2     Second Grave on the Left (8/2011)
  3     Third Grave Dead Ahead (2/2012)
  4     Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet (10/2012)
  5     Fifth Grave Past the Light (7/2013)
  6     Sixth Grave on the Edge (5/2014)
  7     Seventh Grave and No Body (10/2014)
  8     Eighth Grave After Dark (5/2015)
  8.5  "Brighter Than the Sun: A Reyes Farrow Story" (novella 8.5, 10/2015)
  9     The Dirt on Ninth Grave (1/2016)
10     The Curse of Tenth Grave (6/2016)
11     Eleventh Grave in Moonlight (1/2017)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 1/21/17 to include a review of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight, the eleventh novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building, reviews of the first ten novels and the 1.5 novella, and the publisher's blurb for the 8.5 novella.

     FAIR WARNING: This review of Eleventh Grave in Moonlight      
      contains spoilers for The Curse of Tenth Grave.      
                         NOVEL 11:  Eleventh Grave in Moonlight                         
My entire life can be summed up in one sentence: 
“Well, that didn’t go as planned.”

     A typical day in the life of Charley Davidson involves cheating husbands, errant wives, missing people, philandering business owners, and, oh yeah...demons, hell hounds, evil gods, and dead people. Lots and lots of dead people. As a part time Private Investigator and full-time Grim Reaper, Charley has to balance the good, the bad, the undead, and those who want her dead.

     Now, Charley is learning to make peace with the fact that she is a goddess with all kinds of power and that her own daughter has been born to save the world from total destruction. But the forces of hell are determined to see Charley banished forever to the darkest corners of another dimension. With the son of Satan himself as her husband and world-rocking lover, will Charley be able to defeat the ultimate evil and find a way to have her happily ever after after all.

     Charley is still reeling from the news that her otherworldly self was melded from the powers of at least seven (now extinct) gods and that Jehovah wiped out most of her memories of her time on the heavenly plane (before she became human). With the assistance of her handsome, godly husband, Reyes Farrow (aka Rey'aziel)Charley is learning to use her powers. Reyes provides much of the humor in this novel as he takes an extremely nontraditional approach in implementing Charley's power lessons.

     Once again, Jones spins out a number of story threads, several that coalesce into the main plot and others that are resolved separately. Here are summaries of those story lines:

> Charley gets a new client named Shawn Foster, who is yet another kidnapped "foster" child of the infamous Eve and Abraham Foster (the evil couple who kidnapped Reyes and sold him to a child abuser). Shawn wants Charley to investigate the Fosters, but Reyes demands that she drop the case.
Cookie fears that her new husband (Charley's Uncle Bob) is having an affair because he has recently become distracted and secretive. Cookie's daughter, Amber, is also behaving strangely. As Bob and Amber's separate story lines play out, we learn that both have good reasons for their odd behavior. Also, Amber has one of her weird prophecies—an apocalyptic one that involves Charley.
Charley and Reyes' daughter, Elwyn (aka Beep), is still living at a secret location with the LoehrsReyes' human parentsbecause Satan is trying to kill the child in order to stop a prophecy from coming true: a prophecy that says that Beep will be instrumental in Satan's destruction.
Everywhere Charley goes, an army of angels follows her. She fears that Jehovah is keeping an eye on her because he took her seriously when she threatened to unseat him.
Reyes keeps hinting that Charley did some things in her ancient past that are better left unremembered. He also keeps emphasizing to Charley that he himself is evil. Meanwhile, someone who can see Charley's otherworldly glow calls Charley a god eater—which gives Charley one more thing to wonder and worry about.
At the very beginning and end of the book, Charley meditates about the innocents who are caught in her god glass (along with two not-so-innocent demons) and tries to figure out how to free just the innocents while keeping the evil-doers imprisoned in the glass. When she finally decides to act, she leaves us with a major cliff-hanger of an ending.
     One good thing: All of the romance problems between Charley and Reyes that were central to the previous novel are gone. So...plenty of inventive, athletic love scenes. I can't call them bedroom scenes because they rarely get to the bedroom. The best love scenes are the ones that result from Reyes' efforts to teach Charley how to use her new powers in super-sexy new ways.

     I still am somewhat confused about Charley and Reyes' genetics and ancient-past relationship, but perhaps that will become clearer in a future novel. This is a typical novel for the series, and it moves the series story arc forward ever so slightly, so you won't want to miss it if you are one of Charley's fans. If you are coming to the series for the first time, please don't start with this book because there are many, many references to past characters and events that you will not understand (although the author does a good job of reviewing a sprinkling of previous key events).

     Click HERE to go to this novel's page where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

     Looking at the British paperback cover (at left), one might assume that the publisher is going for the urban fantasy market, but with its many girlfriend moments, snarky interior monologues, and hyperactive coffee schtick, this series is definitely chick lit, not urban fantasy. The girly, sparkly-shoes U.S. cover art for book 1 (at right) is right on the mark.

     This world contains no vampires, werewolves, or demons. The series is set in modern-day Albuquerque, where Charlotte (Charley) Davidson has a human job as a private investigator and a supernatural job as the Grim Reaper. Yes, Charley is the one and only Reaper—a bright and shining presence that attracts stray ghostly spirits so that they can go into her light and then advance toward whatever befalls them in the afterworld. 

     When Charley was born (and she remembers every minute of that day—and all the subsequent days thereafter), a dark figure was there telling her what was expected from her in her Reaper job. Charley's been helping the dead ever since, and as you can imagine, this hasn't been easy. Few people in her life know who—or what—she really is. Most just think that she's a little nutty. 

     Charley's Dad, an ex-cop, and her Uncle Bob, still a cop, have always relied on Charley to help them solve cases. They got the credit for catching the murderers, but it was Charley who actually tracked down the bad guys. Supporting characters include Charley's fashion-challenged secretary/assistant, Cookie Kowalski, and another private investigator (and nemesis), Garrett Swopes. In the early books, Garrett would like to be more than Charley's associate, but he and Charley spend most of their time bickering and trying to one-up each other and later in the series they become allies.

     Click HERE to read deleted scenes from books in this series. Click HERE to read a list of the humorous sayings at the beginning of every CHARLEY DAVIDSON chapter. Click HERE to read unpublished stories set in Charley's world.

                         NOVEL 1:  First Grave on the Right                         
     Charley has been having sensual dreams about a tall, dark, handsome, and very seductive man who murmurs, "Dutch," as he turns her dreams into erotic hallucinations. Right in the middle of one of those wet dreams, Charley gets a call from Uncle Bob that he has two new murders to solve. When that turns into three murders, with all of the victims being partners in a local law firm, Charley interviews the ghostly lawyers and begins her investigation. All through this book, Charley is being beaten up, thrown about, threatened, and abused by various villains. Her face is a continuously color-changing kaleidoscope of blackened eyes and purple-to-green-to-yellow bruises. As Charley continues to get to the bottom of the murder case, she is also trying to discover the identity of her dream lover. She needs to know how he is connected to the dark entity that she remembers from her birth, who has helped her escape death several times during her life. Who is this guy and why is Charley unable to resist him? Why does he call her "Dutch"? Most of these questions are answered by the end of the book, but even more questions are raised—to be answered in books 2 and 3.

     Charley is a likable enough character, and the supporting characters are relatively well developed. What bothered me about First Grave on the Right was the profusion of incessant, wisecracking, trying-to-be-cute patter, both in Charley's extensive interior monologues and in her conversations with other characters. The level of over-the-top, manic, smart-mouthed chitchat is way too high. If Jones had dialed back a few notches on the one-liners and dropped a few of the too-many plot threads, the story would have been much stronger. For the most part, the plot in book 1 is well laid out, although there are a few instances in which Charley makes huge leaps of logic based on clues that seem to pop out of the woodwork. 

     There is one major problem with the character of Garrett. He is supposed to be a private investigator, but he goes along on police raids and even drives an unmarked police car, neither of which seems logical. I hope that Jones cleans this up in future books because this stumble in characterization definitely interferes with the interesting relationship between Charley and Garrett. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to find links for reading or listening to an excerpt. 

                         NOVELLA 1.5:  "For I Have Sinned"                         

     This story is told from the point of view of a dead woman who shows up in Charley's bedroom in the middle of the night with no memory of her identity or of how she died. After Charley asks a few questions and checks with a few contacts, she quickly figures out what probably happened. Then Charley gently leads the woman into a gradual realization of the circumstances of her life—and her death. This is a sweetly emotional story that plays down Charley's usual wisecracking comments and shows us her softer side. Reyes pops up a few times, and he is also nicer than usual. The primary value of this story is to point out that Charley has more depth than is evident in the novels.

                         NOVEL 2:  Second Grave on the Left                         
     Charley's newest PI case involves the disappearance of Cookie's friend, Mimi. As Charley tries to track down Mimi, she discovers that a number of people related to Mimi's past have turned up dead in recent weeks. Then, she is visited by two different groups of men who are also searching for Mimi, and they want Charley to walk away from the case. 

     Charley now knows the identity, of her supernatural lover. He is Reyes Alexander Farrow (aka Rey'aziel, Son of Satan). Reyes' physical body is supposed to be in prison serving a ten-year sentence for killing his no-good, abusive father, but suddenly he disappears from his cell. Charley has trouble concentrating on her search for Mimi when the ethereal version of Reyes shows up to tell her that his physical body is trapped by a horde of demons who hope to lure Charley to his side so that they can use her as a portal to heavena really bad idea. By the time the whole demon situation is cleared up, Reyes has made up his mind to let his mortal body die because he thinks that it makes him too vulnerable, thus putting Charley in danger. Charley, of course, begs to differ because she really likes that body! As the plot climaxes, we learn the secret behind Mimi's disappearance and the true reason why Reyes is so afraid of the demon entrapment.

     The overload of sardonic wisecracks is still in evidence, particularly in the first chapter, but by the time the story gets going, the jests and smart-alecky comebacks slack off a bitthank heavens. Jones writes some sparkling lines, but they are often lost in the deluge of wannabe hilarity. Charley's scenes with Reyes frequently follow some of these "humorous" dialogues, and when this occurs, the humor immediately switches off and the sappiness kicks in. For example, in Chapter 3, as Charley unwillingly shares her shower with the spirit of a dead homeless man, she says things like, "This is one Froot Loop beyond certifiable." Paragraphs later, when Reyes shows up at the end of that same shower scene, Charley completely loses her sense of humor as she looks at him and thinks, "He was like the desert, stark and beautiful, harsh and unforgiving, with the promise of treasure behind every dune, the allure of water hidden just beneath the surface." That schmaltzy line is so over-the-top that I'm still not sure if it was another attempt at humor or if she was really serious. 

     I did like this book better than book 1, so I'll keep reading. Second Grave ends with a cliffhanger regarding the Charley-Reyes relationship, and I'm curious to see where that is headed, particularly since Garrett Swopes appears to be ready to step up (in a romantic way) at any time. Click HERE to read some deleted scenes from the first two books. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to find links for reading or listening to an excerpt.

                         NOVEL 3:  Third Grave Dead Ahead                         

     At the end of the previous book, Charley bound Reyes to his physical body because he had threatened to kill that body to protect Charley. Charley now realizes that she shouldn't have bound Reyes, but she has been unable to break the binding. When Charley visits Reyes and continues to trust him enough to unbind him, Reyes breaks out of prison. He kidnaps Charley and tells her that his father, whom he supposedly murdered, is not dead and that Charley must track him down. He also hints that Charley has powers that she must learn to unleash and that more trouble is ahead with the demons from the previous book. Reyes' brutal treatment of Charley (both emotionally and physically) underscores his demonic side.

     Meanwhile, Charley has her own case to solve. A prominent doctor's wife is missing, and he wants Charley to find her. Since Charley can read people's feelings, she is certain that the doctor's weird emotions signal that he is somehow involved with his wife's disappearance. She decides to take the case but turn the tables on him by proving his guilt. As Charley begins her investigation, her father demands that she quit the PI business. When she refuses, she unhappily realizes that she suddenly has a permanent escort—Garrett Swopes and his staff—who are shadowing her everywhere she goes. The plot follows Charley as she tries to find both of her missing persons: Reyes' father and the doctor's wife. As it turns out, Reyes' father doesn't want to be found, and he has no compunctions about using murder as a means of stopping Charley's investigation.

     One last plot thread involves the biker gang who now owns the abandoned insane asylum inhabited by Rocket, the ghost who can tell Charley the names of dead people. Someone has poisoned their dogs, and they want Charley to find the villain. By the end, Charley has a deeper relationship with one of the dogs (Artemis) than she could ever imagine. She also shares a few kisses with Donovan, the biker gang leader. (Charley has never been shy about the fact that she is physically attracted to good-looking men, and that seems to include gang-bangers.)

     Once again, Charley gets slashed, beaten up, and generally punched around, once by Reyes. Her semi-romantic relationships with the men in her life, now numbering three (Reyes, Garrett, and Donovan) are getting more and more complicated. Her relationship with her father has turned poisonous, due to his latest unforgivable actions against her. The ending of this book has a few giant holes (e.g., Why does Charley accept indirect responsibility for a dog's death when she had absolutely nothing to do with it? How can a friend of hers be declared dead and then wake up two days later?)

     I've given up on criticizing the over-the-top one-liners and silly situations that are crammed into each book. Luckily, they thin out as the action increases. The inventive story lines are compelling, and you won't want to stop reading once Charley gets into the thick of things. At the end of this book, Charley finally does unleash some of her power, which should serve her well if and when the looming demon war does occuras Reyes predicts it will. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to find links for reading or listening to an excerpt.

                         NOVEL 4:  Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet                         

     The story opens two months after Charley's horrific torture at the hands of Earl Walker, Reyes' abusive, psychotic, human "father," and she is suffering from PTSD, which has manifested as agoraphobia. For Charley, this means staying inside her apartment in front of her TV, remote in one hand, telephone in the other, and eyes focused on the Home Shopping Network. Her small apartment is stacked full of mostly unopened "stuff," and her friends and family are concerned about her mental health. Cookie is also concerned about Charley's financial health because Charley hasn't done any investigation work all during this recovery time. 

     Meanwhile, Charley is angry with Reyes because she believes that he used her as bait to flush out Earl. She's also furious with her father for having her arrested while she was in the hospital recovering from her extremely severe injuries. (To review: Charley's father and step-mother have treated Charley horribly all her lifeher stepmother abusing her and her father overlooking that abuse but using Charley's supernatural talents to his own advantage. They are truly reprehensible human beings.) 

     The primary reason that Charley's life is tied into knots is her overwhelming fear. She can't sleep; she keeps imagining that someone is breaking in; she's afraid to go outside her apartment; and she keeps the biggest pile of unopened boxes stacked over the chair and the bloodstained carpet in the exact spot that Earl tied her up and took a knife to her body. In this book, Charley is definitely not the fearless bad-ass that she has been previous books. This time around, she is drowning in sweat-soaked terror, and, unfortunately for Charley, demons are attracted to fear like kittens to catnip. One demon takes a whiff of Charley and tells her that he enjoys being "close enough to you to taste the sweetness of fear wafting off your flesh." (p. 163) 

     One day when Charley is gazing out of her window, she catches a glimpse of Reyes lurking around her apartment building, and this gives her the incentive to confront him. To her dismay, she learns that he has been fighting off a growing group of demons, all of whom are after her. Charley makes peace (of a sort) with Reyes when he claims that he had no idea that Earl would go after herand, after all, he did rescue her then, just as he has for all the years of her life.

     In the midst of all this, Charley gets a new client: Harper Lowell, who claims that someone has been harassing her for a very long timeleaving dead rabbits in her bed, cutting the brake lines of her car, and taking other dangerous, stalkerish actions against her. I have to admit that I never saw the outcome of this story line comingit was a complete surprise to me, so I'd better not say anything more or I'll spoil it for you. (When I first realized what was going on, I said, "Oh nono way!" but after I reread some of the scenes, I calmed down and accepted that the author had really pulled off this bit of suspense in a very neat and unpredictable manner.)

     Aside from the tidal wave of feather-brained one-liners that pour forth from Charley like a waterfall, this book moves along quite well, right up to the point that it collides full speed with a bizarre subplot that involves bank robbers and Charley's biker friends (the ones who own Charley's favorite deserted insane asylum and whose leader is one of Charley's lust interests). This story line is forced awkwardly into the middle of the real plot because the author needed to make a few things happen in the real plot and apparently couldn't think of a better way to do it.

     Most of the obvious conflict is resolved, but the demons are still out there, and they are still focused on Charley. To add to Charley's mixed feelings about Reyes, Charley's frenemy, Garrett Swopes, who had a near-death experience in the previous book, has some wild news for Charley about just where he wandered while he was "dead." Garrett's new information fuels his openly hostile feelings for Reyes, and that situation will certainly play out in a future book. In one scene midway through the book, Charley finally pries some information from Reyes about her real family history and her potential powers, and Reyes even explains why he keeps calling her "Dutch."

     Once again, Charley's "humorous" narration is so annoying as to be distracting. I mean, really, who names their body parts? Well, Charley does: her breasts (Danger and Will Robinson); her brain (Barbara); her skull (Fred)not to mention Virginia (and I'll let you guess which part that is). Here's a bit of dialogue that provides an example of how confusing this can be: 

     "Now, where do you suppose her heart is?" her counterpart asked.
      Betty White? She was going for Betty?
      Instinctively, my hands shot up to cover her. She was so fragile. So vulnerable. And [someone] wanted to jab her with an ice pick? Not on my watch. (p. 274)

     Did you figure out who "Betty White" is? Yes, she is Charley's heart. And how romantic is this lust scene between Charley and Reyes as Charley continues to name her womanly parts, even in the throes of passion: " bra hung unfastened and he cupped Danger in his palm....he kneeled beside me and took Will's peak into his blistering mouth..." (pp. 253-254) Unbelievably silly!

     The paperback version of Fourth Grave will be published in March 2013. Click HERE to read a lengthy excerpt (the first three chapters).

                         NOVEL 5:  Fifth Grave Past the Light                         

     As the book opens, Charley has been avoiding Reyes Farrow (aka Rey'aziel, aka Son of Satan), even though he has moved into an apartment next door to her (their bedrooms share a common wall). Although she is still crazy about him, he is her chief suspect in a serial arson case in which every dilapidated building that he lived in during his childhood years is being burnt to the ground. Reyes, though, is determined to get Charley back, so he's leaving tempting post-it notes on her door every day. Charley is desperate to make Reyes realize that she loves and cares for him no matter what evil deeds he has done in his long life and no matter who his father is. By chapter 4, the two are back together in the most intimate of ways.

     Meanwhile, Charley's frenemy, Garrett Swopes, is still dealing with the quick trip to Hell he took in the previous book. (NOTE: I would swear that Garrett's last name in the previous books was Swope—without the final "s," but in this book, it is "Swopes," so I went ahead and changed all the spellings in this post to match.) Garrett wants to know who sent him to Hell and why, and he has holed up in his house with lots of ancient tomes and modern Internet sources to figure it out.

     In the early part of the story, dead women begin showing up in Charley's apartment, eventually growing to a crowd of 27. None of them will speak to Charley, and she can't find any police records of mass murders, so she's not sure what to do about them. The women are all covered with oily mud and appear to be traumatized and terror-stricken.

     Other seemingly unrelated side events occur in Charley's life, but you can be sure that the author will weave each one of them into the primary story line by the time the book ends. That's my warning to you to pay attention and to keep track of who might want to hurt Charley.

     By the end of the book, Charley has been put in dire danger several times, has made passionate love with Reyes many times, and has solved the murder of the women. Even more important, she has begun to demonstrate magical powers that she never knew she had. Near the end of the book, Charley and Reyes learn the truth about Lucifer/Satan's reasons for sending Reyes to Earth to guard Charley. Not surprisingly, it concerns a prophecy that relates to Charley's powers. This revelation means that the book ends with cliff-hanger story lines, of both the romantic and the action kind.

     I enjoy this series, with its strong female lead, intriguing male lead, and interesting story lines, but I'd enjoy it more if Charley would just dial down her crazy, cutesy behavior a bit. If she names one more object in her apartment or one more part on her body, I'm just going to have to give it up. This time, we learn that she has names for her shower (Hector) and Reyes' shower (George) and for her living room chairs (Sophie and Garrett). A new annoyance is her collection of pirated GPS apps, which she changes up each time she jumps into Misery, her red Jeep. She has apps for Darth VaderKITT (from Knight Rider), YodaBela Lugosi, and Ozzie Osbourne. This gets annoying almost immediately. Still, I'll keep reading because the author has a nicely suspenseful series story arc going, and I'm dying to see what happens next. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to find links for reading or listening to an excerpt

                         NOVEL 6:  Sixth Grave on the Edge                         

     This novel overflows with resolved and unresolved plots and subplots—way too many of them. Here is a list:

   > Mob thugs break into Charley’s apartment and threaten the lives of her friends if she doesn’t locate a woman in the federal Witness Protection program. (major plot line for this book—resolved)
   > Charley meets the Dealer, a demon who steals souls and wants to ally with Charley and Reyes in their fight against Satan (related to series story arc—unresolved)
   > The Dealer and Swopes find information about "the Twelve," demonic beasts who are coming to tear Charley apart (related to series story arc—unresolved)
   > A client hires Charley to get back the soul he lost in a card game. (slim connection to the Dealer plot—resolved)
   > Agent Carson asks Charley to investigate the 30-year-old case of a kidnapped child—Reyes Farrow (related to series story arc—mostly resolved)
   > Reyes wants an answer to his proposal. (related to series story arc—resolved)
   > Charley stops in to see whether Rocket is still angry with her and gets some really bad news (related to series story arc—unresolved)
   > Charley learns that her resident ghost, Mr. Wong, is not what he appears to be (may be related to series story arc—unresolved)
   > Mrs. Garza confronts Angel (through Charley) and we finally learn why Angel has been so insistent on keeping his ghostly existence a secret (related to past events—resolved)
   > Quentin is upset because he can see the dead (may be related to series story arc—unresolved)
   > Amber and Quentin are cutting school and kissing (superfluous to the main plots—unresolved)
   > Charley's dad says he is taking off on a long trip on his sailboat, but no one believes him because he is acting strangely. (superfluous to the main plots—unresolved)
   > Charley sets Cookie up with bogus dates to make Uncle Bob jealous. (Note: This is the only story line in which Charley has a planone that—no surprise—doesn't pan out the way she predicts.) (resolved)
   > Captain Eckert blackmails Charley into summoning a ghost (superfluous to the main plots—resolved)
   > Charley investigates the murder of a girl named Miranda (superfluous to the main plots—resolved)
   > A naked, elderly man rides in the passenger seat of Charley’s car throughout most of the book (superfluous to the main plots—resolved)
   > Garrett coerces Charley into determining if the child of his ex-girlfriend was fathered by him or her husband (superfluous to the main plots—unresolved)
   > Charley's arch-enemy, Jessica, makes her presence known—and not in a good way (superfluous to the main plots—unresolved)
     About 20% of the way into the book, Charley stops to take a breather and summarize her situation: “I had a lot on my plate: A naked dead man riding shotgun everywhere I went. A mysterious Asian man hovering in my corner who was made of something powerful, whatever that meant. Another man who sold his soul to a demon who was indifferent to the fact that it was for a good cause. A demon who was going around tricking people out of their souls so he could eat them…A rascally neighbor who’d proposed to me and was expecting an answer sometime this century. And an ongoing child-abduction case that had led me to believe that my man might have a brother he either does or doesn’t know about…And to top it all off, I was one step closer to getting my BFF slash receptionist laid by my uncle.” (p. 73) And that’s just 7 of the 17 plot lines! This is a 326-page book that is basically a hodgepodge of brief scenes that jump quickly back and forth from one set of characters and circumstances to another. I don't understand why some of the subplots were included, unless Jones intends for them to play out in some way in book seven. Even at that, though, this is way too much plot to stuff into a single book. Here's another way of looking at it: If this novel were a culinary creation, it would be a rôti sans pareil: 17 birds stuffed into one another. Perhaps turducken (just three birds) would have been a better choice than rôti sans pareil. Just sayin'. 

     What Charley does in this book is the same thing she has done in all the previous books: crack wise, drink gallons of coffee (mocha lattes, to be exact), and drool over Reyes. Charley's character has not developed at all since book 1—not even a tiny bit. She is still the same self-centered, scatter-brained, foolhardy ditz that she has always been. There has been no growth in maturity, no learning from past mistakes, and no attempt to work on recognizing and developing her reaper powers. Although Reyes is also an imperfect characteran overbearing alpha who keeps too many secretshow can we possibly believe that this intelligent, sophisticated man is head over heels in love with an airhead like Charley? Her only positive trait is her soft-heartedness, but that is vastly outweighed by her soft-headedness.

     As I read this book, I felt like a juggler with too many balls in the air. Although the book is fast paced, it lacks continuity and coherence. Jones has a series story arc going, but she has buried it under too many superfluous story lines and then topped it off with an avalanche of ridiculous, juvenile "humor" from her main character. I’m begging you, Ms. Jones, please allow Charley’s character to develop some maturity and responsibility. I’m not asking for a grim, weaponized, leathered-up urban fantasy heroine, but really, Charley should at least learn something from her many bad experiences, think about the consequences of her actions, and definitely stop naming her body parts and furniture. Click HERE to read an excerpt.       

                         NOVEL 7:  Seventh Grave and No Body                         

     Once again, this novel has an extensive list of resolved and unresolved subplots and story threadsfar too many for a book of this length. To simplify my summarization and keep spoilers to a minimum, here is a list of the 18 story lines and how they relate to the overall series story arc:

   > Charley's dad is still missing. (related to series story arc—partially resolved)

   > Twelve hellhounds that can make themselves invisible are trying to kill Charley. (related to series story arc; several battles but no resolution) Here is Charley's description of the hellhounds"A cross between a panther and a Doberman, but the size of a small elephant on some serious steroids, they were hulking beasts. Their growls were a mixture of a lion and a gorilla's, deep and guttural. volatile and angry. I could...see the sleekness of their muscles as they moved…" (p. 116)

   > Charley investigates multiple murders at a camp for special-needs kids. (brief story line that begins and ends in this book and is resolved) 

   > Charley's pregnancy continues to develop; she nicknames the baby Beep. (related to series story arc—unresolved as of yet)

   > Uncle Bob asks Charley to help out on a case involving a series of people who left similar suicide notes and then disappeared. (related to past events—resolved)

   > Charley develops her friendship with the Dealer and learns his real name and his purpose for showing up in her town. (related to series story arc—unresolved)

   > Charley buys a goldfish as an exercise in child-rearing. If she can keep the fish alive, she can keep her child alive. (ridiculous story line that only emphasizes the depths of Charley's immaturity)

   > An attractive local television reporter begins stalking Reyes, making him angry and making Charley jealous. (related to past events—resolved) 

   > A priest asks Charley to investigate a house that is possessed by a demon that is asking for Charley. (related to series story arc—partially resolved) 

   > Charley learns that the Vatican has been keeping a detailed file on her for many years. (related to series story arc—unresolved)

   > Charley continues to expand her powers and learns more about her importance to the heaven/hell situation. (related to series story arc—unresolved)

   > Charley is attacked by a human man while visiting Rocket at the abandoned Sanitarium. (related to series story arc and to past events—partially resolved)

   > A departed soul asks Charley for help when her body is stolen from her grave. (brief story line that begins and ends in this book and is resolved) (Note: This is the "grave and no body" from the book's title.)

   > Cookie's daughter shows signs of being a seer. (related to series story arc—unresolved)

   > Charley's now departed arch-enemy, Jessica, continues to follow her around. When Jessica's brother nearly dies, she asks Charley to intervene and save his life. (brief story line that begins and ends in this book and is resolved)

   > Garrett gets more information about his ancient text from Dr. von Holstein. The riddle of the text's meaning gets even more complicated. (related to series story arc—unresolved)

   > Because Charley has intervened to save some lives, Rocket leaves the Sanitarium and comes to her apartment to tell her that she has angered the Heavens with her actions. (related to series story arc—unresolved)

   > Charley suffers from caffeine withdrawal, along with Cookie, who joins her in sympathy—lots of grumpiness and headaches. (superfluous to any story line—supposed to be humorous, but isn't)

     Charley and Reyes's yet-to-be-born baby girl is a big part of the series story arc. The baby is supposedly destined to kill Satan and save the world, so I'm sure that Satan will be redoubling his efforts to prevent the birth. The pregnancy is moving along smoothly, if you don't count Charley's caffeine withdrawal and the fact that the twelve hellhounds keep trying to kill Charley and the child. 

     The development of Charley's powers gets a lot of emphasis all through this book, particularly her increasing use of the Latin words of power. In the final showdown scene, she instinctively does something dangerous that spikes her powers up even more. Obviously, we're getting nearer to the big series finale as a new group of villains emerges and a loved one is lost.

     The author steps up the level of sensuality in this book by including some graphically depicted bedroom scenes between Reyes and Charley that escalate into some light bondage and pain/pleasure experiences. Reyes and Charley's relationship gets a bit rocky when he sends invisible spies to accompany her at all times because she keeps trying to sneak off without him. She accuses him of thinking that she is incompetent (which she is), but he swears that it's the whole hellhound issue that has him hyper-concerned about her safety. Eventually, they come to terms. Charley spends an inordinate amount of time admiring Reyes's "steely buttocks" and other body parts, and constantly calls him "my affianced," more evidence of her immaturity and of the shallowness with which she approaches their relationship. Beyond her appreciation of his good looks and bedroom skills, there isn't much to their relationship. Reyes is moody and secretive much of the time, professing his love for Charley but always coming off as stand-offish and controlling, not to mention the fact that he knows more than he admits about Charley, her powers, and her destiny. He won't even tell her her real name.

     One small issue that comes up in this novel is the fact that Charley was in the Peace Corps in Uganda some years ago. Is this the first time that has been mentioned, because I have no memory of ever reading that before. It comes up several times in this book as Charley looks through the photographs in her Vatican file. I can't imagine Charley as a Peace Corps worker in an undeveloped country. How could she possibly live without her coffee and spicy Tex-Mex food?

     This is another typical Charley story that demonstrates her continuing adolescent behavior. Even though she is pregnant, she keeps putting herself into dangerous situations that could have been avoided if she had just thought to bring along some back-up protection. So far, impending motherhood hasn't caused Charley to show any signs of maturity. Even the goldfish situation doesn't work out. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to find links for reading or listening to an excerpt.

    FAIR WARNING: This review of Eighth Grave After Dark      
      contains spoilers for Seventh Grave and No Body.      
                         NOVEL 8:  Eighth Grave After Dark                         
     Jones keeps up her method of including a plethora of resolved and unresolved story lines in this novel. Most of them are related to the general series story arc, but a few are new and unrelated to previous events. As I have done in my reviews of the two previous novels, I offer you this list of the 18 story lines (in no particular orderjust like in the book), how they relate to the overall series story arc, and whether or not they are resolved by the end of this book:

  > Cookie and Uncle Bob finally get married on the grounds of the abandoned convent in which Reyes, Charley, and their team are currently living. (related to past events—resolved, but not without a great deal of dithering, mostly by Charley, followed by Cookie's bout of honeymoon phobia.)

   > Charley's pregnancy is in its final month. (related to series story arc—resolved with an overabundance of gory details, lots of high drama, and a dose of extreme danger)

   > Charley continues to suffer from caffeine withdrawal (due to her pregnancy) so she constantly substitutes hot chocolate—lots of it—and explains why every time. (left over from the previous book—supposed to be humorous, but isn't)

   > The 12 hellhounds are still trying to kill Charley and Reyes. (related to series story arc—shockingly resolved) 

   > The convent is surrounded by a crowd of dead people who just stand around and refuse to talk to Charley. Also, there's a dead tax lawyer in Charley's closet who sobs and wails, but refuses to speak. (related to series story arc—partially resolved with a major twist

   > Garrett is searching in his ancient texts for more information about the Twelve (the hellhounds) and the Charley-related prophecies. (related to series story arc—mostly resolved) (Note: I had trouble following the conclusions that Garrett and Reyes draw about Charley's placepast, present, and future—both in the weird mythological realm and in the mortal world.)

   > Charley continues to expand her powers and learns more about her importance to the heaven/hell situation. She also realizes that all of the people in her life have been brought together for a reason, as if they are all part of a bigger picture. (related to series story arc—many new facts emerge, but the situation remains unresolved)

   > Cookie's daughter, Amber, is showing even more signs of having some type of supernatural talents. (related to series story arc—more details emerge, but still unresolved)

   > Charley has several people working hard to discover who murdered her father, and then she meets up with his departed spirit and learns some dismaying secrets about his life. (related to series story arc—partially resolved)

   > A major problem crops up regarding Charley's secret investigation into locating Reyes' original adoptive parents, and Charley fears that when Reyes finds out what she has done, he will be so angry that he will never forgive her. (related to series story arc—resolved)

   > Charley's sister, Gemma, finally gets Charley and Denise (her evil step-mother) to air their grievances against one another, and Denise tries to make amends. (related to past events—resolved in a manner that is shocking, but not surprising)

   > Charley learns more about the long-term investigation that the Vatican has been pursuing since she was a mere child, including the identity of the man who has been stalking her. (related to series story arc—partially resolved)

   > Reyes and Osh (a soul-eating escaped slave from hell who has joined Charley's team) keep refusing to tell Charley her true name because they don't know what will happen to her once she knows it. (related to series story arc—finally resolved)

   > FBI Special Agent Kit Carson asks Charley for help in finding a kidnapped teenager, and Charley promises to solve the case even if it takes her to Hell and back. (story line that begins and ends in this book and is resolved)

   > Amber continues her teen romance with Quentin Rutherford (the formerly demon-possessed kid who is now part of Charley's family). Amber provides key information in solving the kidnapping mystery. (story line that begins and ends in this book and is resolved)

   > Charley investigates the long-ago disappearance of a novitiate from the convent, which involves traipsing about in the woods at night (it's TSTL time!). (brief story line with important side effects that begins and ends in this book and is resolved) 

   > Sister Mary Elizabeth, Charley's friend with a heavenly connection, reports that recent events in Charley's life have put Heaven in an uproar. (related to series story arc—unresolved)

   > Charley is stunned to learn that Mr. Wong is MUCH more than just a mute dead guy hanging out in the corner of her living room (related to series story arc—resolved)

     Charley and Reyes's yet-to-be-born baby girl (nicknamed Beep) is a big part of the series story arc and a major element in the plot of this novel. According to prophecies, Beep is destined to kill Satan and save the world, and Charley and Reyes believe that is why Lucifer has sent the hellhounds to kill them and the child. Although the pregnancy is still going smoothly, Charley takes some major risks that put herself and Beep in even more danger than the attacks by the vicious hellhounds that prowl the borders of the sanctified ground on which the convent sits. 

     Charley finally gets some answers as to exactly who (or what) she really is and what happened in the past that put her in the situation in which she now finds herself. Obviously, Reyes and Osh know much more about her than they are willing to share, so during the requisite showdown at the end of the book, Charley pushes the issue and gets some shocking answers.

     Once again, Jones amps up the level of sensuality with several scenes of graphic sex between Reyes and Charley. Reyes and Charley's relationship, as always, is uneasy because he keeps so many secrets from her and she constantly sneaks around and puts herself (and now the baby) in danger. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that Reyes has not slept for eight months—the entire time that they have been living in the convent—because he fears that if he lets down his guard, Lucifer will attack. Charley watches Reyes sneak out of the house for secret meetings with Angel (the teenage ghost she befriended), but neither will tell her what they are discussing. Reyes and Charlie have always kept too many secrets from each other, and that part of their relationship doesn't get any better in this book.

     In my opinion, the relationship between Charley and Reyes is a weak element in this series. Sure, Reyes is a sexy stud, but beyond Charley's constant descriptions of all of Reyes' handsome bits, what more is there to their relationship? The only discussions they have are arguments about each other's sneaky ways. 

     Pending motherhood and actual motherhood have little effect on Charley's impulsive behavior that has always gotten her into dangerous situations. She rushes headlong into events without considering the effects her behavior will have on her family, and in this book that kind of behavior almost results in the death of a loved one.

     The book ends with a major cliff-hanger that will dramatically impact the lives of Charley and all of her team members. If you are a vigilant reader of this series, you won't want to miss this book because it answers many, many questions that have been unresolved since book 1. Unfortunately, Jones takes the end-of-the-book info-dump approach to providing these answers, some of which are just dropped into the middle of scenes like rocks into a pond. Many of the murky mythological explanations regarding Charley come across as rushed and unfinished—like disjointed contrivances thrown in just to get the mythology resolution out of the way so that the characters can go on to the story-changing action of book nine. Also, if you love this series for its lighthearted humor, you're going to hate the ending. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Eighth Grave After Dark

     If you want to get a head start on the next novel, click HERE to go to the Heroes and Heartbreakers web site where you can read the publisher's blurb as well as an interview with the author. SPOILER ALERT! Don't read that page until AFTER you have finished reading Eighth Grave.

                         NOVELLA 8.5:  "Brighter Than the Sun"                         

     All his life, Reyes Alexander Farrow has suffered the torments of the damned. Only one thing has given him hope: the woman who radiates a light that no mortals can see; a light that only the departed can see. 

     Told from his point of view, "Brighter Than the Sun" chronicles the first time Reyes ever encountered Charley, and how their relationship has been the one thing that can either save him or doom him.

     FAIR WARNING: This review of The Dirt on Ninth Grave      
      contains spoilers for Eighth Grave After Dark.      
                        NOVEL 9:  The Dirt on Ninth Grave                         
     In a small village in New York, Charley Davidson is living as Jane Doerr, a girl with no memory of who she is or where she came from. So when she is working at a diner and slowly begins to realize she can see dead people, she's more than a little taken aback. Stranger still are the people entering her life. They seem to know things about her. Things they hide with lies and half-truths. Soon, she senses something far darker. A force that wants to cause her harm, she is sure of it. Her saving grace comes in the form of a new friend she feels she can confide in and the fry cook, a devastatingly handsome man whose smile is breathtaking and touch is scalding. He stays close, and she almost feels safe with him around. 

     But no one can outrun their past, and the more lies that swirl around hereven from her new and trusted friends—the more disoriented she becomes, until she is confronted by a man who claims to have been sent to kill her. Sent by the darkest force in the universe. A force that absolutely will not stop until she is dead. Thankfully, she has a Rottweiler. But that doesn't help in her quest to find her identity and recover what she's lost. That will take all her courage and a touch of the power she feels flowing like electricity through her veins. She almost feels sorry for him. The devil in blue jeans. The disarming fry cook who lies with every breath he takes. She will get to the bottom of what he knows if it kills her. Or him. Either way. 

     Here is a quote from Darynda Jones (in an on-line interview) about the surreal plot of Dirt on Ninth Grave“It will be like a new beginning in a way. Think about it: Charley falling in love with Reyes all over again? Only this time, she ‘sees’ more. She is much more aware of the fact that he might not be a good guy. It makes for some nice tension and VERY sexy scenes.” If you recall, at the end of book 8, Charley had a major meltdown and was suddenly teleported from New Mexico to Sleepy Hollow, New York, a small town on the Hudson River about 30 miles north of New York City. As the story begins, Charley is working as a waitress at the Firelight Grill, the restaurant that backs onto the alley to which she was teleported four weeks ago with just the clothes on her back. For awhile, she was a local news sensation because she was the amnesia girl who didn’t remember her name or her past, but by now, people have gotten used to her and she’s just trying to make it through each day on her meager hourly wage. Currently, she is going by the name Jane Doerr because “Jane Doe was so last week.” Jane knows that she is married because she is wearing “a honking big diamond on my ring finger,” but why hasn’t anyone come looking for her? 

     Oddly (for the reader, but not for Jane), her best friend is a new waitress named Cookie, and several regular customers (familiar to us, but not to Jane) come to the restaurant every day: Osh, Garrett, Uncle Bob, and—naturally enough—Reyes Farrow. As usual, all the women in town manage to find a seat in the restaurant whenever Reyes makes an appearance, and when he becomes the cook, the place is jammed all during his working hours. Based on their suspicious behavior, Jane has a feeling that all of these people know something about her past, but they deny all knowledge when she tries to interrogate them.

     The basic plot, then, involves Jane’s efforts to remember who she is, where she came from, and what (or who) dumped her in Sleepy Hollow. In addition, the author maintains her habit of weaving several minor story threads through this main plot line. These are stand-alone threads that are unrelated to the series story arc, and all are resolved in this book:

1.  The local policeman who rescued Jane from the alley turns out to be a controlling, dangerous jerk who insists that Charley is his girlfriend and that she must have nothing to do with any other men—especially tall, dark, and handsome Reyes. He won’t take “No!” for an answer.

2.  Some mysterious Farsi-speaking men are holding a local businessman and his family under duress, so Jane goes to their rescue with the assistance of a familiar female FBI agent.

3.  Since this is Sleepy Hollow, you have to expect that the headless horseman will turn up, and so he does, with a mystery that only Jane can solve.

4.  One of the other waitresses is under a curse that will soon kill her infant daughter, and—again—it’s up to Jane to save the child and break the curse.

5.  Jane also sets up one of her typical silly “Charley” schemes when she decides to be the matchmaker who brings together Lewis, a shy cook who has a crush on a waitress named Francie, and Shayla, a shy waitress who has a crush on Lewis. (I question the author’s motives on ending this relationship in the way she does. I just don’t understand her reasoning.)

     Meanwhile, Jane keeps having panic attacks—strange episodes of dizziness that occur when her emotions get the best of her. Also, Jane notices that she has several talents that nobody else seems to have: She can see and communicate with dead people. She can understand every foreign language that she hears. She can tell when people are lying to her. Jane can also see “another world all around us. An intangible one where the winds did not go around us but passed through us like searing smoke through air made visible only by a ray of light.” This world is filled with billowing clouds and stunning colors. 

     Jane can also see auras, and she is both attracted to and repelled by Reyes’ dark, fiery aura—mostly attracted…big time. When they eventually give in to their mutual attraction, Jones gives us the sexy scenes she promised. 

     Charley remains Jane all the way to the final showdown scene in which a loved one makes a huge sacrifice to give her back her memory. The ending, which is linked solidly to the series story arc, leads into Charley’s next adventure, in which things look pretty bad for Reyes in the long run. 

     Although this book has lots of Charley’s patented sarcastic-chick humor, it isn’t as prolific as usual—thank goodness! Actually, there are a number of poignant scenes as Charley’s friends try to take care of her while they keep hoping that she will begin to remember her past. Several scenes between Jane and Cookie and Jane and Reyes are particularly compelling. If you are a regular reader of this series, you won’t want to miss this book because it sets up the next one(s). Click HERE to read an excerpt from The Dirt on Ninth Grave

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of The Dirt on Ninth Grave is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

     FAIR WARNING: This review of The Curse of Tenth Grave      
      contains spoilers for The Dirt on Ninth Grave.      

                         NOVEL 10:  The Curse of Tenth Grave                         
     As a Part-time PI and full-time grim reaper, Charley Davidson has asked a lot of questions throughout her life: Why can I see dead people? Who is the hot supernatural entity following me? How do I get gum out of my sister’s hair before she wakes up? But, “How do I trap not one malevolent god, but three?” was never among them. Until now. And since those gods are on earth to kill her daughter, she has little choice but to track them down, trap them, and cast them from this dimension. 

     There’s just one problem. One of the three stole her heart a very long time ago. Can the Razer, a god of absolute death and destruction, change his omniscient spots, or will his allegiances lie with his brothers? 

     Those are just a few of the questions Charley must answer, and quick. Add to that a homeless girl running for her life, an innocent man who’s been charged with murdering the daughter of a degenerate gambler, and a pendant made from god glass that has the entire supernatural world in an uproar, and Charley has her hands full. If she can manage to take care of the whole world-destroying-gods thing, we’re saved. If not, well…


     It's been a month since Charley and her friends returned to Albuquerque after their harrowing experiences in New York, and Charley still has no idea how to use her new god powers. In fact, she is still disoriented from having all of her memories returned to her, which included memories of her long-ago existence in another dimension.

     Charley now knows that she "was a god from another dimension who'd volunteered to be the angel of death in this one, to be its grim reaper…Now that I had all my memories back—both good and bad—I saw my mission as a celestial version of the Peace Corps. Volunteer work for the good of another people and, in turn, for the good of all." As Charley examines her situation, she realizes that she is facing three huge problems: 

Problem 1: Charley's daughter, Elwyn Alexandra Loehr (aka Beep), must be kept safe at all costs. Satan has marked Beep for death because she is destined to defeat him and save the world. For Charley, giving her daughter into the keeping of Reyes' human parents was—and still is—heartbreakingly difficult, but that's the only way to keep Beep safe. Reyes assures Charley that he has plenty of people and entities guarding the infant, but Charley can never stop worrying, especially since Satan's demons keep tracking down Beep's location, forcing her guardians to move the Loehrs from one safe house to another.

Problem 2: When Charley's late father crossed through her into another realm, she was flooded with all of his memories, including information he learned when he went undercover among the demons after he died. Along with some emotional memories of her childhood and memories that prove how much her father loves her, Charley also learns that her husband, Reyes (aka Rey'aziel), is a god who was once one of the three gods of Uzan: "Three brothers who knew only death and destruction. Who devoured millions. Who ate worlds like others ate corn chips." Eons ago, Satan tricked him and trapped him and used his energy to create his son, Reyes Alexander Farrow. Charley needs to find out whether Reyes knows that he is a god and whether he has the capacity for good, given his dark and evil genetic make-up.

Problem 3: Since they have returned home, Reyes has withdrawn physically and emotionally from Charley and seems to be keeping secrets from her. For the past month, their bedroom action has been nonexistent. In fact, he barely touches her. Even worse, she accidentally discovers that Reyes is paying child support to a woman living in Texas. Naturally, Charley is devastated to learn that Reyes must have another child—one he has never mentioned to her. Charley now realizes that she and Reyes are polar opposites. She is a god of light and creation while he is a god of death and destruction. Can they remain together, or will she eventually have to trap him in her magical god glass and send him to hell?

     As usual, the author weaves a series of minor story threads through the book, most of them unrelated to the primary plot, which focuses on Charley's efforts to keep her daughter safe, mend her relationship with Reyes (if that is possible), and learn to use her powers so that she can kill Satan's emissaries (all demons) and trap the two gods of Uzan who are searching for Beep. I won't go into detail on the minor story lines because they have little or nothing to do with the main story.

     As Charley tests her powers, learns new information about Beep and Reyes, and deals with some personal issues that date back to her Peace Corps days, she begins to wonder if her father's memories about her pre-human life were all true and whether there isn't more to her story than what she now knows. And if her own story is incomplete, couldn't that also be the case for Reyes? Charley is in a situation in which she is pretty sure she doesn't have all the facts, so she doesn't know what actions she should take. Should she confront Reyes about his being a god? Should she try to contact Osh to see what he knows about Reyes' past and present and degree of evilness? Should she trap Reyes in the god jar just to be safe? Can she face a future without Reyes and his hot, hot body?

     Basically, this is a story in which Charley is unbalanced in her thoughts and actions throughout most of the book. She just doesn't have enough information to move forward, and she is very uncomfortable keeping so many secrets from Reyes. Plus, she's extremely horny because…no sex with Reyes until 2/3 of the way through the book. Eventually, they do have a meeting of minds, which lessens some of Charley's fears (and which includes a long night of inventive love-making), but she is still afraid to confront him about his godly state.

     Although Charley is not quite as ditzy in this book as in earlier ones, there are plenty of silly situations in this novel for those who love her obsessive, adolescent humor. And that extensive night of make-up sex should satisfy those who love the physical side of Charley and Reyes' relationship. (You are sure to enjoy Reyes' inventive use champagne in the latter part of that scene.) 

     For me, the weakness is in the explanations of Reyes' Satanic genetics and his relationship to Jehovah. I re-read several of the final chapters, but even now, I'm not exactly certain what the cause-effect process was that put Reyes and Charley into their current positions as earthly humans. Still, this novel is fairly typical for the series, and it does carry the series story arc further down the line, so you won't want to miss it if you are one of Charley's fans. If you are just becoming aware of this series, please don't start with this book because there are many, many references to past characters and events that you will not understand (although the author does a good job of reviewing previous events so that you understand the importance of what happened to Charley before and after she wound up in Sleepy Hollow, New York, with a case of amnesia).

     Click HERE to read or listen to an an excerpt from The Curse of Tenth Grave. on the novel's page by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of The Curse of Tenth Grave is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this honest review are strictly my own.

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