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Friday, March 1, 2013

'What's a Witch to Do?' Midnight Magic Mystery #1 byJennifer Harlow

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

High Priestess might sound like an ’80s hair band, but its Mona McGregor’s life. She runs the Midnight Magic shop in Goodnight, Virginia, and leads a large coven. She’s also raising two nieces and hasn’t been with a man for fifteen years…until a handsome doctor takes an interest in her. But Mona’s life really heats up when Adam Blue, a sexy werewolf, arrives at her door. Adam informs her that someone wants her dead and he is there to protect her. Hell’s bells! When a demon begins stalking her, Mona has to suspect her coven members, and even her family.

With two handsome men and a determined demon after her, Mona teams up with Adam to find out who really wants her dead . . . and who really wants her.

Mona McGregor has always put family first. When her mother died, and her father shortly after, she took charge of her younger sisters Debbie and Ivy, practically raising the girls with the help of their Grandmother. And when Granny died, Mona took over the mantle as High Priestess of her coven. And just a few months ago when Ivy appeared on Mona’s doorstep pleading for help for herself and her two daughters, Sophie and Cora, Mona was there.

Mona always puts family first and herself second. So when Ivy disappeared in the middle of the night all those months ago, leaving Sophie and Cora in Mona’s care, she took a deep breath and prepared to dedicate the rest of her life to those two precious girls.

There’s a hectic few weeks ahead for Mona and her family. She’s busy running her Midnight Magic shop in Goodnight, Virginia, which caters to the thirty odd witches in town who Mona also oversees in her role as High Priestess of the local coven. Then there’s Debbie’s upcoming wedding, mere days away, which Mona has been helping to plan for her little sister. There’s little time left over for Mona’s love-life, which she is painfully reminded the lack thereof every time Sophie or Cora need a trip to the ER, and Mona is left to lust from afar over a certain handsome Dr. Guy.

So the very last thing Mona needs is a knock on her door late one night . . . a knock that heralds impending disaster not just for Mona, but her entire coven.

Adam Blue is bleeding on Mona’s doorstep. Adam is Beta to local Alpha werewolf, Jason Dahl, and Mona has known him for some eighteen years . . . but in all those years Adam has gone out of his way to avoid Mona, to the point that she thought he held a grudge against her. So she’s a little perplexed when Adam comes knocking for help, and bearing bad news that he got injured while trying to investigate a hired hit orchestrated against Mona. You see, someone within Mona’s coven hired Adam to assassinate her and pass the High Priestess title on. Only problem is, Adam doesn’t know who hired him. He only knows that Mona’s life is still in danger unless they find the guilty witch.

What’s a Witch to Do?’ is a new novel from Jennifer Harlow, it is a spin-off from her ‘F.R.E.A.K.S Squad Investigation’ series and the first book in the 'Midnight Magic Mystery' series.

I was over-the-moon thrilled to learn that Harlow’s ‘What’s a Witch to Do?’ is the first book in a new cozy paranormal mystery series – because I am officially onboard and invested. I am a big fan of the cozy mystery subgenre, in which crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. But I’m also very picky about those I read. I was first introduced to ‘cozies’ via Charlaine Harris, when I trawled through her backlist and read ‘Lily Bard’, ‘Aurora Teagarden’ and ‘Harper Connelly’ (even ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ is, technically, a cozy series). Since Harris, the only other cozy I've really loved is Josh Lanyon’s ‘Adrien English’ series – and the main reason Lanyon and Harris are my favourite cozy writers is because they don’t downplay the sex/violence/romance as so many other (more tepid) cozies do. So I was thrilled when I got about three chapters into Harlow’s book, and started to think that ‘What’s a Witch to Do?’ reminded me, deliciously, of the classic cozies of Charlaine Harris.

I was invested in Mona McGregor from the moment I realized how much she has sacrificed in her life for family. She practically raised her two younger sisters when she was little more than a child herself. And then when her unreliable sister, Ivy, dumped her nieces Sophie and Cora on her doorstep in the middle of the night, she selflessly agreed to dedicate the second-half of her life to children who are not her own. Mona openly admits to having a deplorable romantic history because of all that she has given to others, leaving little room for pleasing herself. I always like reading an underdog, and Mona is certainly that, but equipped with a backbone of steel and a determinedly positive outlook on life.

The first few chapters of the book are dedicated to catching readers up on Mona’s helter-skelter life. We get to know her mostly out-of-whack routine with young nieces, Sophie and Cora, who are prone to minor injuries that take them to the emergency room (resulting in town gossip about Mona’s irresponsibility, but also provides Mona with an opportunity to drool over new to town Dr. Guy). Sophie and Cora have only just started to settle into life with Mona, after their mother left a few months ago. Now Mona is able to stand back and really take stock of the psychological scars Ivy has left on the two girls – ranging from an initial fear of bathing, to them not quite believing that Mona won’t disappear like their mother did.

Mona is also High Priestess of her local coven owns her own magic shop and is playing wedding planner for young sister, Debbie. So when a bleeding werewolf by the name of Adam Blue comes knocking on Mona’s door for help – and to bear the bad news that someone has hired an assassin to take Mona out – her life spirals even more out of control.

Something I loved about Harlow’s world-building in this novel is that it remains firmly focused in the small town of Goodnight, Virginia. Harlow briefly contextualizes the wider paranormal universe to say that supernatural beings are ‘out’ – there’s mention of a Goodnight Massacre and Vampire/Werewolf War in the early eighties. Mona is also part of the P.C.O – Preternatural CoOp, and when trouble starts brewing she does call the F.R.E.A.K.S – Preternatural Police the Federal Response to Extra-Sensory and Kindred Supernaturals. But readers don’t need much more than this to sink happily into Harlow’s world and this being a cozy I appreciated that she kept the wider world politics at bay and only focused on the small town of Goodnight. I also appreciated that while there is mention (and brief introduction) of some vampire characters, Harlow doesn’t feel the need to reel them all out in this first book – instead we’re focused mostly on the witch coven, and minimally on the werewolf pack. I liked that Harlow left breadcrumbs concerning other supernaturals that I'd be interested to meet in future books. . .

The big ‘plus’ in this book for me, was the romance. It’s delicious and slow to unfold – but once things heat up, Harlow definitely delivers on the blushes. And, actually, the build-up of the romance is the best part – because there’s a little bit of mystery surrounding the ‘will-they-or-won’t-they?’

Now, I know that ‘What’s a Witch To Do’ is the first in a new series and it could go one of two ways and I'd still be back for the sequel – either the series focuses entirely on Mona, or those other supernaturals of Goodnight each get a turn in the spotlight. Personally, I’m rooting for a Mona-centric series, particularly because there are some interesting background hints concerning Sophie and Cora that I'd be interested to follow up with. But mostly I'd like to stick with Cora because the romance finishes in a very interesting place by book’s end – and I'd love to know what happens next.

He takes a deep breath to regain his composure. “Look, I know you’re used to doing everything on your own, but you cannot do this alone. You can’t. So, I am here to protect you and those girls so you don’t have to. But to do that, we all need to be here. Together. A cohesive unit working together. A pack, okay? And since you aren’t thinking clearly right now, I’ll do it for you. If you die, who will take care of them? They need to be near you, a strong you. If they go away, and you die, they will never ever recover. They have lost too damn much already.”

If there was any part of the novel that faltered for me, it was when the mystery heated up towards the end and takes a violent, deadly turn . . . something happens during Mona’s investigations that reveals a huge betrayal and puts her in immediate danger. But the fallout from this situation did not ring true to me. Actually, after this awful thing happens, Debbie’s wedding goes on as planned the very next day – and that was the only moment that Harlow made me pause and think “huh?” Because she’d set Mona up as this person who feels deeply and for so many people, I just wasn’t buying that she would carry on as planned after this awful thing happens. But that was, honestly, a relatively small blip in a book of awesome.

‘What’s a Witch to Do?’ has rekindled my love of the cozy paranormal mystery. I can't wait to read more books in the 'Midnight Magic Mystery' series, because I am completely, 100% in Mona McGregor’s corner and I desperately want to return to Goodnight, Virginia and further explore this fantastical, magical world that Jennifer Harlow has created. She’s as cozy-good as Charlaine Harris, but with a witchy flair that’s all her own. Superb, and I want more!

4.5/5

2 comments:

  1. I have heard nothing but great things about it. I am definitely getting this one when it comes out next week! I am so glad you loved this. :)

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    Replies
    1. Trust me, it deserves all the hype :)
      Happy Reading!

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