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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

'Werewolf Sings the Blues' A Midnight Magic Mystery #2 by Jennifer Harlow

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

The last thing Vivian needs is to be thrust into a werewolf war.

If Vivian Dahl's life had a soundtrack, every song would be the Blues. She's pushing thirty, her singing career is going nowhere, and the partying lifestyle is taking its toll. Plus, a mysterious man is stalking her. But when she's abducted from a singing gig, Vivian is surprised to see her stalker become her saviour. Jason is her werewolf rescuer sent by the biological father who abandoned her as a baby. Finding herself on the run, Vivian drives across America with the enigmatic Jason and learns about the werewolf war her father's pack is caught in. Now that an opposing pack has targeted her, Jason will stop at nothing to make sure Vivian's song isn't cut short.

Vivian Dahl is one tough cookie. She doesn’t let life get her down, even when her singing career has stalled with wedding receptions, her family could care less about her and two divorces say she’s an asshole-magnet. Oh, and she’s not even thirty yet. 

So when two US Marshals come knocking, Vivian isn’t all that surprised that one of the men from her life has landed her in hot water – she just never expected it’d be the first man who ran out on her, her father.

But what Vivian can’t wrap her head around is when bullets start flying and a big, gorgeous, blonde-haired hunk comes to the rescue . . . Turns out, these US Marshals aren’t exactly friendly. They’re looking to take Vivian back to their leader, who happens to be a werewolf. A werewolf who is currently in the middle of a bitter feud with Vivian’s dear old dad, Frank Dahl, who is Alpha of a werewolf pack. 

Big, tall and blonde is Jason – Frank’s adopted son and Vivian’s sent-for saviour here to take her home to the wolf compound and safety. 

This is going to be a road-trip from hell, but it’s just the beginning of a whole lot more bad luck for Vivian Dahl.

‘Werewolf Sings the Blues’ is the second book in Jennifer Harlow’s urban fantasy series ‘A Midnight Magic Mystery’, and is set seven years before the first books ‘What’s a Witch to Do?

The first book in this new series was ‘What’s a Witch to Do?’ released March 2013, and I loved it – easily one of my favourite books to come out of 2013. So I was over-the-moon excited when the second book came my way . . . but this second outing didn’t have the same charm as the first, and actually very few ties to mark this as the second in an ongoing series.

Something I loved in ‘What’s a Witch to Do?’ was the protagonist Mona McGregor – terminally celibate High Priestess of her local witch coven who raised her sister and when we met her in that first book, was raising her two nieces. She was such a down-on-her-luck trooper who really took on everyone’s problems and left very little room for her own. I loved her – she was selfless, a little bit overweight and terribly lonely. She was a great first protagonist who instantly got me on side and laughing. By contrast, new protagonist in ‘Werewolf Sings the Blues’ is about as different from Mona as oil and water. Vivian is a Southern Californian singer whose career has reached a plateau with wedding gigs. She does drugs constantly and recreationally, has had two fantastically failed marriages and expects to attract the wrong sort of men. She’s 29 and a very prickly protagonist indeed.

Now, on the one hand I commend Jennifer Harlow for breaking out of the urban fantasy female character mould. More often than not they’re attractive Mary-Sue’s who are really extra-special at their supernatural-given talents and happily attract enough men to form a neat love triangle. Snore. Mona broke that mould too by being a little chubby, a little plain and in her mid-to-late thirties (from memory?). Vivian breaks it by being a lot inappropriate and even a bit damaged – from the casual sex to the casual drug-taking; she’s definitely not your typical urban fantasy heroine.

But she’s pretty darn kick-ass too. Everything that makes her an unconventional heroine also makes her a ballsy one – she knows how to steal a car, avoid police detection and go off-grid. She’s the best sort of partner-in-crime to have by your side, as Jason very quickly realises. 
But she’s also very angry. Believing her father abandoned her and her mother when she was a baby, being ignored by her mother’s second family and a slew of bad-mistake boyfriends have taken a wrecking ball to Vivian’s trust and ego which has turned her into a very angry, defensive woman. It’s really hard to sustain that anger throughout the book, and became a bit exhausting for me to the point that I was desperate for a bit of let-up in Vivian’s tough-as-nails, angry-spitfire personality. 

This is also a 360-page book, and the majority of it is spent with Jason and Vivian on the road as they make their way to Virginia. These scenes started to feel very one-note as Jason and Vivian rent cheap motel rooms, duck and run from the werewolf rivals who are on their tails and Vivian tries to seduce the shy and staid Jason;  

Damn, he’s like a robot. I can’t find an emotion anywhere on his face. It’s unnatural.  
“The sooner you accept this new situation you find yourself in, the easier this will be for us both. I am on your side, Vivian.”  
He starts towards the trunk of the car. “All I want to do is escort you safely back to Maryland where we can all protect you until the danger’s passed.” 
“You want to escort me to my father. Who is king of werewolves. I’m sorry, did you forget to take your pills or something? Are the aliens telling you to do this, Blondie?”  
He opens the trunk. “My name is Jason.” 
“I like Blondie better,” I say with a sneer.

The whole time they’re on the road, Vivian’s father is in the back of her mind – she’s going to meet the man who she’s spent the better half of 30 years assuming abandoned her. But when she actually arrives in the compound, the scenes between Vivian and her father Frank are miniscule in relation to what sort of closure Vivian needs.

My other issue with the book was that it didn’t feel like a sequel to ‘What’s a Witch to Do?’. ‘Werewolf Sings the Blues’ is actually set eight years before ‘What’s a Witch to Do?’ – Which is the first thing that threw me and had me wondering ‘why?’. I mean, sure, Mona and her werewolf (soon to be) beau Adam Blue make an appearance and it’s very cute that we know the truth about them while Adam acts very distant with Mona in this book. But I thought Harlow was setting up a series with the common denominator being the setting of Goodnight, Virginia. But the werewolf compound is a little outside of Goodnight. So that makes me wonder if the common thread in this ‘A Midnight Magic Mystery’ series is the werewolf pack? The fact that I’m not 100% sure of the common thread running throughout this series is not good and the leapfrogging timeline makes it even more disorientating to get into the rhythm of this series. 

Some things really worked for me. I liked the mystery in this book and I did warm to Vivian in the end. She and Jason were great, and I loved how opposite-attracting they were. But this was also a very violent book, and a lot of stuff happens to women in this instalment that had me feeling queasy. I feel like violence in urban fantasy needs to be introduced gradually – I’m thinking of Sookie’s stomach-turning torture in the ninth ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ book by Charlaine Harris, or Mercy Thompson being raped in third book ‘Iron Kissed’ by Patricia Briggs. It’s just a lot to swallow in only the second book of a new urban fantasy series, but I do hope the repercussions of what happened are explored in subsequent books (but, again, the timeline of this being seven years prior to book one would make that near impossible?) I'd just hate for that to be thrown out there for the sake of this storyline, but not have it be addressed later on, is all I’m saying.

All in all, this wasn’t as fun a book as the first one. Vivian was a prickly protagonist to spend 360-pages with, and I feel like very little was resolved or even addressed in her complicated life. The timeline threw me way off course, being set seven years before book one and I’m still a little hazy on what the ‘Midnight Magic Mystery’ is actually all about. The violence in this book also unsettled me, but I'd be less devastated by it if it’s not just swept under the rug for convenience in this book and it remains a talking-point for other books in the series. I’m still invested in Jennifer Harlow’s new urban fantasy series (indeed, I hope there are more books planned for this series!) I’ll just be very interested to see where the third book leads . . . 


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