Thursday, May 26, 2011

South of Salem (An Allegra Fairweather Mystery) by Janni Nell

The Back of the Book:
My mother thinks my job is crazy. I’m a paranormal investigator; she’s Nancy Reagan crossed with Martha Stewart. She’ s always preferred my sister, Lily, who is following in her perfect footsteps.

But this time Mom needs my special skills. She believes my stepfather is possessed. I admit he’s not his usual dapper, charming self, but sleepwalking doesn’t sound that weird. Until the sleepwalking spreads through the family and cousin Donna walks right out of her apartment window to her death. Then my sister goes missing and I have to find her and solve the mystery before Lily and her unborn child are harmed.
Normally I would have assistance, but my right hand, a hunky angel I’ve nicknamed Casper, has business of his own to take care of—business that might take him out of my life forever. The stakes are too high for me to lose, but I’ m not sure I can do it alone…
Readers looking for a kick-ass heroine who is also sarcastic, smart, tough, brave and flawed, will love Allegra.  She is a highly successful paranormal investigator and problem-solver, and has returned home at her mother's request to help her stepfather, a politician from a wealthy and prominent family with several
centuries of pompous reputation to uphold.  He has been seeing ghosts, which is pretty horrifying because he and Allegra's mother have never believed in them.  Allegra is an embarassment to her uptight and proper family, who can't even bring themselves to say the word 'paranormal', but nevertheless Allegra is there to help them when asked.  She has always felt like the black sheep of the family, and in spite of their snide remarks and lack of respect for her profession, her love and loyalty to her mother and big sister Lily keeps her ghost-hunting.
Soon after her arrival home, her step-father's blood relatives start mysteriously dropping like flies. Allegra herself is nearly killed by a bitchy ghost and a scary old crone.  Who may or may not be related somehow.  And soon Lily's unborn child is targeted, kicking Allegra's investigation into high gear.  Unable to solve the mystery on her own, Allegra soon calls in her best friend and roommate Wanda, an optimistic, wannabe witch of questionable competence but excellent research skills.  Allegra's guardian angel, Casper, a hunky 2,000 year old Germanic warrior, is not technically supposed to help her (just protect her), but he drops clues quite a bit.  And hardheaded Allegra frequently doesn't pick up on these clues, which makes her all the more likable and realistic.
Told in a chatty, first-person narrative, this is a quick read that makes the reader feel like she's hanging out with a girlfriend.  Who doesn't like a girl who has to swear a blue streak in order to clear her mind?  No meditation/kumbaya crap for our heroine!  Allegra is tough on the outside, but the woman inside is still a little girl who feels hurt, unloved and unappreciated by her mother and sister.  She and Lily fall into their childhood roles of prissy big sister and rebellious younger sister, in spite of everything going on around them.  Which is one of the reasons the characters felt so real - these are complicated relationships between Allegra, Lily and their mother.  They may love each other deep down, but they seemingly have nothing in common - just like a real family.
Allegra's relationship with Casper is also very interesting.  They are very attracted to each other, but Casper is constrained by strict guardian angel rules.  Rules that he and Allegra frequently stretch as far as they can, creating a nice sexual and romantic tension for the background.
South of Salem is the second book in the Allegra Fairweather series.  I have not read the first, but never felt lost.  This is a great stand-alone story as well.
Highly enjoyed and highly recommended!

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