Disclaimer : Some folks may not care, but some will, and I do as well. I consider the author a friend. So take or leave the review as you will :)
While I’m not the biggest reader of Paranormal Romance, when I heard that Jenn was doing a PNR set in the 1920’s, I jumped at the chance to read Bitter Spirits. It features ghosts, which would probably come in last, when it comes to my order of preference of paranormal elements. The lush setting of San Francisco comes alive within the text and is nearly a character in its own right.
Aida Palmer is a medium that has traveled throughout the US performing at local speakeasies and has landed a job at San Francisco’s Gris-Gris. Winter Magnusson is the notorious bootlegger who is being haunted by ghosts. When he comes across Aida and she assists him in dispatching one of the ghosts hanging around Winter, he hires her to cast out the remaining spirits. This becomes slightly more complicated when they find out that Winter is the recipient of an evil curse.
One thing about Bitter Spirits that I absolutely adored was how the background of San Francisco and Chinatown is set up. I’ve always considered Bennett to be an extremely visual writer, and she sets up scenes that you can easily envision in your head. One of my complaints with historicals has been that a lot of them seem like contemporaries hastily dressed in a classical time period. However, with this book, the language combined with the history and morals of the 1920s, made for a very realistic read.
Aida Palmer is no one’s patsy. She’s an independent, hard-working medium who has known loss for many years. She’s forthright with Winter and doesn’t shy away from telling him the truth even if it means the possibility of rejection. While I don’t consider Winter to be an anti-hero, he readily admits to frequently breaking the law and doesn’t consider changing his ways. He’s made a lot of money for his family and will continue to do so for quite some time. The romance between Winter and Aida manages to be both romantic and poignant. Aida never asks Winter to reform for her, she accepts him wholeheartedly as he is.
The pacing is quick and there’s an interesting cast of secondary characters including Winter’s right hand man, Bo, and his sister, Astrid. They’re both vivid characters that don’t come off as sequel bait (as Winter’s brother, Lowe, will be featured in Grim Shadows, the next book in the series) , but I’m particularly intrigued by Bo’s backstory. The scene where they essentially end the relationship was particularly heart wrenching. It was a perfect example of how someone you love can hurt you more deeply than anyone else.
If I had a quibble, it would be the resolution of the curse brought on Winter. I wasn’t very surprised by who the perpetrator was, and considering how gracefully the book was written, the ending was jam packed, if not a bit rushed. That being said, I’m practically foaming at the mouth for Grim Shadows. More Roaring Twenties please!