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Thursday, April 3, 2014


Author:  Lucy March (pseudonym for Lani Diane Rich)
Plot Type:  Soul-Mate Romance (SMR) 
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality3; Humor—4 
Publisher and Titles:  St. Martin's
          A Little Night Magic (12/2013)
          That Touch of Magic (1/2014)
          For Love or Magic (12/2015)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 12/21/2015 to include a review of For Love or Magic, the third novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first two novels.

                     NOVEL 3:  For Love or Magic                     
     Eliot Parker's good-for-nothing deceased husband, Judd, has left her a new lease on life: a house in sleepy Nodaway Falls, New York. But his offer comes with a cost: his ghost. As if being married to him wasn't hard enough!

     Nodaway Falls turns out to be a town with more than a little magic in the air. Eliot swore off using her own powers sixteen years ago, thanks to one catastrophic day when she lost the only people who ever mattered to her, and ran away from her spellbinding father and his reckless enchantments. Now, when a chance encounter with quiet, handsome Desmond Lamb results in a magical explosion that rocks Eliot to the core, she can't help but wonder: Has her heart fallen under some sort of spell? Or is this what true love really feels like? The real question, of course, is whether her husband will stop haunting her...and let Desmond give her a chance at happily ever after?

     As usual, this third book consists of a rocky romance set in the middle of a very dark mystery. What is different is that there is much less of the sardonic verbal give and take among the characters that we saw in the previous two novels. That’s mostly because Eliot Parker is new in town and because she almost immediately befriends the infamous Desmond Lamb, villain of the previous novel and mortal enemy of Stacy and her friends. In order to prevent spoilers, I’m not going to discuss the events of the previous books, so you’ll have to read those to bring yourself fully up to date on the horrific events of the past year or so during which Desmond did some terrible things to several people in Nodaway Falls. The author does provide some background information about Desmond that fills in some of the blanks, so I suppose that you could read this as a stand-alone—but I don’t recommend it.

     You will not be surprised to learn that Eliot is a magical, although she has not had access to her magic for sixteen years. Eliot became a widow several months ago when Judd, her no-good, cheating con-man of a husband, managed to drown himself and his mistress when he drove Eliot’s car off an icy bridge during a winter storm. After selling her house and most of her possessions to pay off Judd’s massive debts, Eliot has very little left. In fact, all of her remaining possessions fit into the back of Judd’s rusty old truck. Eliot has driven that truck to Nodaway Falls because Judd secretly bought a small fixer-upper house there, and Eliot wants to know why he bought it and where he got the money to pay for it in full. In addition to the truck, Eliot has inherited two troublesome creatures from Judd: Seamus—Judd’s dead girlfriend’s dog (a huge, hungry, slobbery bull mastiff), and Judd’s ghost, who appears and disappears at will, always happy to provide an inappropriate wisecrack or two about Eliot’s current situation.

     During Eliot’s first few days in Nodaway Falls, she meets most of the characters who appeared in the previous two novels. At first, Eliot is most interested in discovering exactly why Judd bought this house in Nodaway Falls. Knowing her late husband’s sleazy social habits, Eliot takes a photograph of Judd to the “grungiest dive bar in town” and shows it around to see if anyone recognizes him. That’s where she meets Desmond Lamb, who soon befriends her. When Eliot’s new friends in Nodaway Falls react with extreme hostility to this new friendship, Eliot isn’t sure what to believe about any of them. What she does know is that there is magic in this little town and that it can’t be a coincidence that Judd bought a house here. She needs to discover who led Judd to Nodaway Falls and helped him buy the house. She also needs to know if this mysterious person knows her true identity.

     At the heart of Eliot’s story—past and present—is her father, Emerson Streat, from whom she has been hiding for the past sixteen years. Streat “was obsessed with giving power to nonmagicals” because of a tragic incident in his childhood. During her own childhood, Eliot had powerful Earth elemental powers. When she was seventeen, her father used her magic in a fatal experiment that resulted in the deaths of Eliot’s mother and a lot of other people. Before her mother died, she used the last of her magic to bind Eliot’s magic. Then she gave Eliot new identity papers and warned her to run away and never go near her father again. Eliot has been on the run ever since.

     As the story plays out, we learn exactly what happened sixteen years ago and why Eliot is terrified to find that her father lives in Nodaway Falls. What is Emerson Streat up to? Can Eliot trust him? Can she trust Desmond? Why has Eliot’s magic returned? Was Judd’s death really accidental? Will Judd’s ghost ever go away? This is a suspenseful, spooky story that will keep you holding your breath as you turn each page. I admire the author’s ability to transform the dreaded Desmond into this book’s hero. I never imagined that would be possible, but she does it in a believable manner.

     For the most part, this is a well-told story, with much better characterization than in the previous books. Both Eliot and Desmond are fully developed characters with tragedy in their pasts that they must deal with before they can find love in the future. Unfortunately, some aspects of the mythology remain muddy. I never quite figured out exactly what Eliot’s father actually did in the big fireworks scene in the park (near the end), and I definitely didn’t understand how Stacy’s advice to Desmond (also near the end) cured his severe emotional-magic problems. And finally, I just couldn’t buy into Eliot’s daddy-love feelings for her father at the very end of the book after all of the awful things he has done to her and to so many others. (Obviously, you won’t know what I’m talking about here until after you read the book, but—trust me—these issues are problematic.) Still and all, I read this book through from beginning to end in just one sitting because I couldn’t put it down, so that says a lot about the author’s ability to construct a fast-paced, suspense-filled story. Click HERE to read an excerpt on this novel's page by clicking on the cover art.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of For Love or Magic 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. 

     In this world, magic practitioners are called Magicals, and they represent only about 1% of the world's population. Magicals generally receive their arcane talents through heredity, and most of them live undercover within the mundane population. Magicals generally have either night magic or day magic, and each person's magic is quite specific: 

     > Source magic: giving life to inanimate objects
     > Elemental magic: manipulating earth, air, fire, or water
     > Kinetic magic: affecting speed and motion
     > Perception magic: creating visual illusions or impressions
     > Creative magic: making things appear out of thin air 

     Naturally enough, the magical world has its dark side. There are human conjurers (aka witches) who are not magical in nature, but who can create magic by using herbs, potions, and chants. Some of them want magical power so much that they attempt to steal it from the ones who have it legitimately. Two different organizations provide magical law enforcement: the Allied Strategical Forces (ASF) and the Regional Initiative Action Services (RIAS).

     The series is set in the village of Nodaway Falls in upstate New York. "Nodaway Falls, despite the name, had no real falls to boast of; there was little to no tourist traffic, and even less local industry. It was an hour and a half from Buffalo and a whisper away from the Pennsylvania border." (from For Love Or Magic). The village has more than its share of quirky townspeople, some of whom have magic, but most of whom don't. As the series opens, the core set of female lead characters includes four women in their late twenties who have been best friends since their school days. In each of the first two books, one of those women falls in love, and the couple stumbles along the rocky road of romance to their HEA.

                     NOVEL 1:  A Little Night Magic                     
     As the story opens, Olivia (Liv) Kiskey is planning to turn her back on Nodaway Falls and head for Europe—Scotland, to be exact. She recently threw herself at Tobias Shoop, the man she loves, only to be rejected, so she's through with her old life. She's had enough. She doesn't want to spend her life like her mother did—pining away for her lost love—so she decides to be proactive and go off on an adventure. Liv has had a tragic past. Her father left her mother when Liv was an infant, and her mother recently died from a brain tumor. Liv doesn't even know her father's name. Currently, Liv works as a waitress at the local waffle shop, where Tobias is the cook.

     One night when Liv and Tobias are about to close the shop, a stranger named Davinia Granville shows up asking for a late meal. Before the night is over, Davinia has awakened magic in Liv that had been bound down since she was a child. Liv never knew anything about magic before, but Davinia opens her eyes to all kinds of possibilities and promises to guide her through her learning process. Davinia is a conjurer who knows information about Liv's past—things that Liv knows nothing about—and Liv is overjoyed to learn more details about her family. Meanwhile, a strange man shows up in Nodaway Falls and traps Liv in an alley. When she escapes and tells Davinia what happened, Davinia warns her that the man is a conjurer who is trying to steal her magic.

     Just as Liv's latent magic rises to the surface, she discovers that someone with dark powers is taking over good people in her town and changing them into vessels of malevolence, including her best friend, Millie. Eventually, Liv must make some tough choices. She has to decide which people she can trust and how far she will go to protect her town.

     The strongest element in this novel is the dialogue, which has a natural, girly flow as Liv and her friends toss sarcasms and pop-culture references back and forth at their weekly "confessional" sessions. Liv is a likable character, but she is as shallow as a puddle of soda pop. She is also profoundly idiotic when it comes to self-preservation, so her part of the story line consists of one TSTL moment after another. The author has made Liv so immature that she keeps secrets of obvious importance from her friends—the ones who could help her if she'd just be up-front with them. Another stale trope that comes into play is the uncharged cell phone, which keeps Liv from calling for help at times when she is in great danger. Unfortunately, Liv's friends (Peach, Stacy, and Millie) are just as fluffy as Liv, although Stacy seems to have more backbone and innate intelligence than all of the rest of them combined. That bodes well for book 2, which features Stacy as the heroine. Liv's love interest, Tobias, is an interesting character, but the author doesn't develop him into anything more than a strong, dark, silent protector who will do anything to keep Liv safe—but he won't kiss her or make love to her or make any kind of romantic commitment (at least, not at first). That doesn't stop Liv from constantly throwing herself at him. (I felt sort of embarrassed for her at times.) Obviously, since this is a paranormal romance, the two do eventually get together, but not until late in the story.

     With its under-developed characters, air-headed heroine, blatantly obvious villain, rambling plot, and murky mythology, this novel shouldn't have held my interest, but it did, no matter how many flaws I kept finding with it. Again, I have to go back to the dialogue, which is the only thing that saves this novel. If you aren't picky about plot holes and if you like light and fluffy romances with lots of snark, you may enjoy this one. Click HERE to read chapter 1.

                     NOVEL 2:  That Touch of Magic                     
     Liv's beautiful, sexy friend, Stacy Easter, calls herself the town slut and believes that no one can ever love her because she is so ugly and angry inside. Ever since her bad break-up with Leo North, her high school sweetheart, ten years ago, she has slept with one man after another, using sex as an escape from her heartbreak. It doesn't help that Stacy has a crazy mother who constantly berates her for her lifestyle and her sarcastic view of life. As the story opens, Stacy's brother, Nick, is going to be married to Peach, another one of Stacy's friends. When Leo comes back to town for the wedding, Stacy's emotions go into roller-coaster mode—careening from deep despair to long-held rage to heart-rending love and back again.

     Leo and Stacy broke up because he got drunk and slept with a girl one time when he was away at college and then came home and confessed his transgression to Stacy. She pitched an angry fit and Leo left town, telling everyone that he was going off to become a priest. He's been gone for a decade, with no communication with anyone in his hometown, so Stacy assumes that he went through with his plans and joined the religious life. When they bump into each other just before the wedding, she learns that he never became a priest and that he has been living in South Dakota doing construction work. 

     Since book one ended, Stacy has been laid off from her job at the local library. Forced to to find a way to earn a living, she became a rogue conjurer. She got a taste of the magical world back in book one, and so she gathers up some herbs, reads a few books, googles Internet sites, and begins making various potions, which she sells to the citizens of Nodaway Falls. Of course, she calls her potions "homeopathic solutions," not magical potions, because she doesn't want to get caught by the ASF or the RIAS. Recently, Stacy has been buying her supplies from Desmond Lamb, a nice British guy who lives in Toronto. Knowing that she will never be able to get through the wedding with Leo so close, Stacy asks Desmond for a potion that will dull her emotions. He obliges and even agrees to be her escort to the wedding.

     Then, Stacy's life begins to fall apart when some of her potion customers begin to have extreme side effects. One woman has cartoon-like bluebirds flying around her head. Another begins to glow all over. Is this a result of Stacy's unsanctioned conjuring? Has she cooked up some defective potions? Or is someone else to blame? It's up to Stacy—with Leo's help—to solve the problem because she was the one who made the potions. She believes that it is her responsibility to find out what's going on and stop it. By the end, both Stacy and Leo are forced to risk their lives and their future happiness for one another.

     Once again, the mythology gets a bit muddy in places, but at least Stacy has slightly more common sense than Liv did in book 1—although she does have one or two TSTL moments and, like Liv, she fails to ask for help from the local Magicals until it's almost too late. Again, the strength of the story is in the dialogue rather than in the plot. Characterization is better in this book, particularly with some of the quirky supporting characters, especially the high school English teacher and the lesbian B&B owners. You can spot the villain almost immediately, just as was the case in book 1.

     For the most part, this is a light and fluffy mystery, but the villain's sad story is quite dark and tragic, which means that the author has provided the character with some depth—always a good thing when it comes to villains. Just as in book 1, the female characters are stronger (and definitely more snarky) than the males. If you enjoyed the first book, you'll probably like this one, too. It can be definitely be read as a stand-alone. Click HERE to read the first chapter.

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