Review: River Road by Suzanne Johnson

 

Title: River Road

Author: Suzanne Johnson

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but the preternatural storm rages on in New Orleans. New species from the Beyond moved into Louisiana after the hurricane destroyed the borders between worlds, and it falls to wizard sentinel Drusilla Jaco and her partner, Alex Warin, to keep the preternaturals peaceful and the humans unaware. But a war is brewing between two clans of Cajun merpeople in Plaquemines Parish, and down in the swamp, DJ learns, there’s more stirring than angry mermen and the threat of a were-gator.

Wizards are dying, and something—or someone—from the Beyond is poisoning the waters of the mighty Mississippi, threatening the humans who live and work along the river. DJ and Alex must figure out what unearthly source is contaminating the water and who—or what—is killing the wizards. Is it a malcontented merman, the naughty nymph, or some other critter altogether? After all, DJ’s undead suitor, the pirate Jean Lafitte, knows his way around a body or two.

It’s anything but smooth sailing on the bayou as the Sentinels of New Orleans series continues


Review:

I enjoyed Royal Street, the first book in Suzanne Johnson’s Sententials of New Orleans, with a few reservations.  I was disappointed with the lack of romance, and wondered why DJ constantly made such bad decisions.  The lack of common sense drove me bonkers.  I’m happy to report that River Road is a stronger book overall, and even when DJ made some not so wise choices, she really didn’t have any choice in the matter.  Keeping two warring clans of merfolk from killing each other, and getting normal humans caught in the crossfire, kept her busy and kept her putting herself on the line.  It’s hard to argue about doing the smart thing when the smart thing is going to cost people their lives.

DJ and Alex are both working as sententials now, and the story picks up three years after the events of Royal Street.  DJ is more comfortable in her own skin, with her powers and her elvin wand.  She complains about the same things we all do; being overworked, working for a bunch of guys who expect results no matter what, not getting that raise she thinks she deserves.  Her relationship with Alex has settled down and they have decided that they make great friends.  When the merpeople start feuding,  Dj and Alex have to put an end to their territorial disputes, which are complicated by Jean Laffitte.  He’s buddies with two of the mer, Rene and Robert, and he has a vested interest in seeing a treaty between the clans.  Rene and Jean have many shady business dealings, the less DJ knows about, the happier she is.

I enjoyed all of the characters this time around.  They all make DJ’s life a trial.  The merpeople hate wizards because of how they were treated after a large group of paranormals attempted to set up shop in the mundane world years ago.  They are suspicious of her motives and treat her like crap, to be frank.  I really felt bad for DJ; she is trying so hard to come to a fair solution to their dispute, and they just keep on giving her grief!  Even her own employers don’t give her any respect, and she is constantly at odds with the Elders because of her methods, which are basically act now and ask for permission later.  They are putting a huge amount of pressure on her to get the situation fixed, and when wizards start turning up dead, they are even more unrelenting that she fix it.  Fix it now!  I felt that the only person to give her any credit was Jean.  He turned out to be a fun, well-rounded character, and I enjoyed the courtship between them.  I can’t see them setting up house together, but there’s a lot of fun chemistry between DJ and her immortal pirate.

River Road kept my interest from beginning to end.  The mystery was compelling, and DJ’s methods were entertaining as she raced against the clock to put a stop to the war brewing between the merpeople.  I am looking forward to DJ’s next adventure, Elysian Fields, in August.

Grade:  B+

Review copy provided by Bewitching Book Tours

Review: Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson


 

Title: Royal Street

Author: Suzanne Johnson

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ’s boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.

Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.

While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover.

To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and for the serial killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter gumbo.


Review:

Royal Street has been on my TBR mountain for a long time, so I jumped at the opportunity to host a spot on Suzanne Johnson’s blog tour.  New Orleans is a great setting for books, especially urban fantasy reads, and I admit that I’m fascinated by the city and it’s history.  I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet, but it’s on my list of places to visit.  Setting the story after Hurricane Katrina just made it that much more appealing to me.  That big, scary storm caused so much damage, why couldn’t it have ruptured the borders to another dimension?  I’m totally buying into that!

Drusilla Jaco, AKA DJ, is a junior sentinel for New Orleans.  She controls green magic, which is kind of weak and lame compared to her mentor’s.  Gerry is a powerful wizard, and he can do things that DJ can only dream about.  Light a candle with the flick of a finger?  It’s a snap for Gerry.  Banish nasty paranormal critters back to the Beyond?  No problem with that, either.  What DJ wants is to test her wings and prove that she is capable of more than the menial tasks Gerry sends her on.  The story starts with her confronting Jean Lafitte, in the bayou.  If she can send him back where he belongs, maybe Gerry will give her more important tasks. 

Her first assignment starts to go sour, but DJ proves that she’s a quick thinker and that she’s also clever and resourceful.  She also pisses off Lafitte, and he menaces her for the rest of the book.  I loved him.  He had more personality than any of the other males characters, and I found myself hoping that DJ and Lafitte would hook up.  Their tense, charged encounter so early in the novel spoiled me for her relationships with Alex and Jake.  Unfortunately.

When Katrina rumbles into town, DJ is ordered by Gerry to evacuate.  DJ  needs to be safe, just in case something happens to Gerry.  Gerry is the major force keeping the dangerous  beings that live in the Beyond right where they belong.  Though DJ believes the storm will blow over, just like all the rest have, she obeys and crashes with her grandmother.  When the storm obliterates the city she loves, DJ just wants to get back home and make sure that Gerry and her friends are all right.  When Gerry disappears without a trace, she is frantic to find him.  When the wizard Elders believe that Gerry’s a traitor, DJ is determined to prove them wrong, even if it means risking her life to prove his innocence. 

Overall, I enjoyed Royal Street, but there were times when I was so frustrated with DJ.  I just don’t understand why these bright, intelligent women constantly turn off their common sense and go skipping into danger with hardly a second thought.  Again and again and again.   This is one of my biggest pet peeves with PNR and UF.  The heroines are in such a hurry to solve whatever mystery they are confronted with that they cease to think things through.  When everyone you know tells you to hunker down or you will die, I think that you need to listen every now and again, but maybe that is attributed to my cautious nature.

I didn’t find the relationship with Alex or Jake very compelling, but Jean Lafitte spoiled me for other men.  He’s a pirate, for goodness sakes!  It’s hard to compete with that!  Mix in his apparent immortality, and, wowzies!  I want DJ to bring out the noble man that I know must be hiding under that rakish pirate attire.  I’m not saying that Alex and Jake are 100% chopped liver, because they’re not.  Jake, the wounded Marine who now runs a bar, did have some appeal, and Alex, an uber alpha, gun-toting enforcer, would have been more interesting to me if not for the presence of Lafitte.  I dig pirates! So sue me.

I found the pacing occasionally ponderous, but when the action clicked into gear, things really rocked.  The ending, in particular, was a blast, and kept me turning the pages in rapid succession.  DJ was just starting to come into her own, and I’m curious to see where the story goes next. 

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Downfall of a Good Girl by Kimberly Lang

 

Title: The Downfall of a Good Girl

Author: Kimberly Lang

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Southern debutante Vivienne LaBlanc can’t believe bad-boy rock star Connor Mansfield is back in town for the New Orleans annual Saints and Sinners pageant. He has a reputation as wicked as his devilish smile, and Vivi has no intention of becoming one of his latest groupies! He once crushed her high school heart, so playing the saint to Connor’s sinner should be easy. But how can Vivi get those less-than-angelic thoughts out of her head-especially when Connor’s so good at tempting her to be bad?


Review:

I struggled with The Downfall of a Good Girl.  I never felt a connection with Vivi, the story’s protagonist.  She is everything that I am not.  She comes from one of New Orleans’ oldest and wealthiest families, she is a former beauty queen, and now she spends her days running an art gallery and volunteering for various charitable causes.  I am fortunate to run a brush through my hair and pull it back into a ponytail on a daily basis, so a former pageant competitor was difficult from me to relate to.  The plot revolves around the annual Saints and Sinners fund-raising competition, where Vivi is pitted against her childhood nemesis, Connor Mansfield.  Connor and Vivi have been at loggerheads forever, and Vivi is dismayed to discover that Connor, now a successful rock star, will be her competition.  She had never considered that he would be chosen to be the Sinner, and she’s not happy about it at all.  She is extremely competitive, she hates to lose, and for a majority of the book, she is a poor loser just at the thought of losing.  If I met her, I don’t think we would ever be buds.

Connor is reeling from a scandal, and though he proves that the gossip about him is false, he’s still reluctant to put himself in that kind of position again.  When he meets Vivi again, he thinks he’s safe.  He doesn’t even like this woman, and she hates him.  Ever since that flash of temper when they were teens and she publically slapped him, they have been like oil and water.  What Connor doesn’t know is that Vivi once carried a torch for him, but after realizing that he was only using her to get to know her friend better, she can’t find it in herself to forgive him.  Worse, her family and Connor’s are very close, and they have been thrown together since childhood.  Forget that gentle, Southern belle non-sense – she doesn’t want to be nice to him, so she usually isn’t.

While I did enjoy the sparks between them, Vivi’s personality grated on me.  She determines from the beginning that she is going to win the contest by raising the most money, but when Connor is unveiled as the opposition, she gives up before things even begin.  Instead, she charges herself to be a better person than Connor, though even that’s a struggle for her.  Why is he back in town, stealing her thunder?  This was supposed to be her moment to shine, not Connor’s!  This thought process annoyed me, because it is the charity’s moment to shine, and the fact that Vivi was allowed to participate should have been honor enough.  She’s been denied few material things in life, but in terms of personal accomplishments, she is lacking.  She was runner up in the Miss American pageant, and she is steamed to be second best again.

Once Vivi loosens up a little and finally lets go, jumping into an affair with Connor, the pacing of the book picks up significantly.  Their competition becomes fun, and they both focus on doing their best to raise as much money for the charity as they can.  Vivi is having the time of her life, until Connor starts thinking about making New Orleans his home base.  Suddenly, their temporary affair isn’t such a good idea anymore.  She doesn’t want to risk her heart to him, and as long as their arrangement was temporary, there was no threat to her emotions.  Her attitude about trying to stick with Connor permanently pissed me off.  Instead of gambling on that ever elusive HEA, she decides that it’s not worth the effort.  If I had been Connor, I would have been furious.  It’s okay to have a fling, but not okay to try to make things work out permanently?  If Connor had walked away at that point, I wouldn’t have blamed him.

I loved the setting for The Downfall of a Good Girl, and the book would have made my TBR pile just because of that. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t click with the heroine, and that some pacing issues at the beginning of the story prevented my from feeling engaged in Connor and Vivi’s romance.

Grade:  C+

Review copy provided by publisher

Interview with Suzanne Johnson, Author of Royal Street

Suzanne Johnson is the author of Royal Street, the first installment of her new Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series.  She stopped by the virtual offices to talk about her book and let us get to know her better.

[Manga Maniac Café] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Suzanne Johnson] Obsessive-compulsive workaholic with a dark sense of humor and a soft spot for animals, wacky creative people, and eclectic music.

[Manga Maniac Café] Can you tell us a little about Royal Street?

[Suzanne Johnson] Set in New Orleans, Royal Street plays off the idea of “what if”—what if Hurricane Katrina had shattered not just the levees surrounding the city but the barriers between our world and that which lies Beyond? All the preternatural creatures start flooding into the ravaged city after the storm, and a young apprentice wizard gatekeeper has to try and keep herself afloat while looking for her missing mentor, fending off the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, and coping with her unwanted new Enforcer partner. Oh, and solving the mystery of a serial killer who’s tied to all of them in some way.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Suzanne Johnson] I was a longtime resident of New Orleans and was living in the city at the time of Hurricane Katrina, so Royal Street began as a way for me to get rid of some post-storm stress. I ended up with my main character being a female wizard after reading an essay by fantasy author Terry Pratchett called “Why Gandalf Never Married” and realized what a glass ceiling there was in fantasy fiction with wizards. Women could be witches, but wizards were almost always male—and wizards are always more powerful. I could think of only one or two exceptions to this, so that’s how my lead character DJ Jaco—a young female wizard—was conceived. That makes me sound like a flaming feminist, but it was really just a little jab at a traditional fantasy trope!

[Manga Maniac Café] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the story?

[Suzanne Johnson] Making the story—and especially DJ—have some fun humor, but also being very, very respectful of what happened during Hurricane Katrina. I felt as if I had a chance to get it right because I was there and know the city so well, so I wanted the book to be both an interesting, fun urban fantasy read but also be my own love letter to New Orleans. All of us who went through that storm had our hearts broken, yet New Orleanians have this fatalistic, stoic sense of humor that I wanted to reflect in my book. I hope I was able to do that!

[Manga Maniac Café] What are three things Drusilla would never have in her pockets?

[Suzanne Johnson] Ha—DJ is a very down-to-earth girl and is known to stuff her pockets with vials of potions and charms. She’d never have a mirror or makeup, or anything to write with.

[Manga Maniac Café] Why did you decide to use New Orleans for the setting of your book?

[Suzanne Johnson] I lived there for fifteen years, up until a couple of years ago, and consider it my hometown and my favorite place in the world. With its rich history and culture, I can’t think of a better place to set a book!

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you enjoy most about urban fantasy?  

[Suzanne Johnson] Urban fantasy represents the crossroads of reality and fantasy—and when reality and fantasy collide, interesting things happen. It’s the ultimate “what-if”—what if the guy eyeing you across the café is a vampire, or an elf?

[Manga Maniac Café] What prompted you to try writing your own?

[Suzanne Johnson] Urban fantasy is what I read most, and is my favorite genre. I wanted to write about the Katrina experience, and there had already been a bazillion books about the storm, both fiction and nonfiction. So I wanted to approach it from a different direction, and urban fantasy was a natural fit for me.

[Manga Maniac Café] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Suzanne Johnson] If I had to name an author, it would be Stephen King. I grew up reading King obsessively, as well as these big gothic family sagas by British author Susan Howatch, so there was probably no way I’d end up writing anything but paranormal fiction with a touch of romance.

[Manga Maniac Café] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Suzanne Johnson] 1) Music. I don’t always listen to it while I’m drafting but I do when I revise and just to keep me in the mood. I listen to a lot of Zachary Richard and BeauSoleil and Neville Brothers while writing books in this series.

2) Diet Coke. Always. Gotta have it. The kind with caffeine.

3) An outline. I’m not a “pantser”—a by-the-seat-of-the-pants writer. Before I start a novel, I spend at least a couple of weeks doing nothing but figuring out where I want it to go and how I want it to get there. It always changes as I write, but the outline keeps me from straying too far off-course. (Goes back to that obsessive-compulsive thing, I think. My critique partner calls me “Rain Man.”)

[Manga Maniac Café] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Suzanne Johnson] The first book I remember going nuts over, and reading again and again and again, was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I probably first read it when I was seven or eight. I also grew up in a very small town (population of about 2,000), so there wasn’t that much to do. I lived in the library.

[Manga Maniac Café] What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Suzanne Johnson] I have a full-time job as associate editor of the quarterly magazine published by the alumni association at Auburn University, so when I’m not at the day job, I am working on my fiction writing or my blogging—I do nine-ten blogs per month for tor.com as well as my own daily book blog. I used to make art quilts, but don’t have time for it anymore. I’m trying to learn how to make jewelry, but so far I don’t seem to be very good at it!

[Manga Maniac Café] How can readers connect with you?

[Suzanne Johnson] I’m on the following websites:

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Suzanne_Johnson

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Suzanne.Johnson.author

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5046525.Suzanne_Johnson

[Manga Maniac Café] Thanks!


Royal Street will be in stores April 10.  You can pre-order a copy from your favorite bookseller, or by clicking the widget below.

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