Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Mina Lobo. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:

All Aubrey Ellis wants is a normal life, one that doesn’t include desperate pleas from the dead. Her remarkable gift may help others rest in peace, but it also made for an unsettling childhood and destroyed her marriage. Finally content as the real estate writer for a local newspaper, Aubrey keeps her extraordinary ability hidden—until she is unexpectedly assigned the story of a decades-old murder.

Rocked by the discovery of a young woman’s skeletal remains, the New England town of Surrey wants answers. Hard-nosed investigative reporter Levi St John is determined to get them. Aubrey has no choice but to get involved, even at the terrifying risk of stirring spirits connected to a dead woman’s demise and piquing her new reporting partner’s suspicions.

As Aubrey and Levi delve further into the mystery, secrets are revealed and passion ignites. It seems that Aubrey’s ghost gifts are poised to deliver everything but a normal life.

Here is Mina Lobo’s review:

My review takes a quasi-newspaper article type format, with each section being worth a point.

WHO & WHY

Aubrey Ellis, The Heroine: Girlfriend sees dead people, y’all. And they ask her to do stuff for ‘em, then leave her with a little token of appreciation (a couple of marbles, a bag of Skittles, flower petals). Well, they’re less tokens and more the “evidence” she will need when she approaches their loved ones with admittedly hard-to-believe tales from the dead-side. Aubrey suffered from her “gift” as a teenager and it took her years to learn how to manage it. She also lived a nomadic life (her parents died and she went to live with her gran, who owns a traveling carnival) and all she really wants is to settle down somewhere and live as normal a life as she can. With her (presently estranged) husband Owen she took positive steps in that direction; they bought a house in the fictional town of Surrey, Massachusetts, and her day job is writing up “house portraits” for the local paper. Apart from the whole marriage-falling-apart thing, life’s not too bad…

Levi St. John, The Hero: If you’re guessing he’s the logic-driven, I-don’t-believe-in-no-ghosts, type of foil for the heroine, you’d be right. He’s also the hard-ass reporter from the parent company of the paper for which Aubrey works, and he’s been sent to take the lead on a story that’s shocked the town of Surrey. His main motivation is to scoop the hell out of the national papers and return to his main gig, the conquering hero. What I like about Levi is that he’s not your garden-variety, chest-beating, veiny-muscled ape of an alpha male; he’s a brainy, no-nonsense, “Let’s get to work!” alpha—he’s an IntelligAlpha™!

I felt the author gave me good insights into the characters of these characters (tee hee). However, I couldn’t get a strong mental image of either. This is, admittedly, a peculiar complaint, and the reverse of how some other writers spend loads of time providing physical descriptors of their MCs and fail to develop them. But I can usually see the heroes and heroines in my mind’s eye; this time, not so much, which for me detracted from the experience somewhat. Also, I found their dialogues dry. I mean, as most of their discussions were about the story they’re working on, it makes sense they’d be business-like. Still, even personal conversations were carried out in aloof tones, which I found unnecessarily devoid of feeling—though perhaps believable when you consider the heroine’s spent most of her life erecting and defending barriers against psychic energy and a “Just the facts, ma’am” hero. I’ll shave off just a quarter of a point for this section.

WHAT’S HAPPENING AND WHERE

Twenty years before this story begins, the New England town’s “sweetheart,” Missy Flannigan, went missing and was presumed murdered by the ex-military drifter she’d been seen with shortly before her disappearance. The drifter’s found guilty of her murder and is still serving his sentence when, lo!, Missy’s bones come tumbling out of the wall of one of the town’s Parks & Rec guys! Surrey’s all, “WTF just happened here?” and Aubrey’s paper is hot on the trail. Aubrey’s grateful not to have to work that story ‘cause her regular duties in serving the local departed souls tax her enough—dealing with this ghostie? Aw, hell no! Her boss, however, thinks her writing chops, as well as her excellent people skills, will balance out Levi’s hard-assery and makes her buddy up with the interloping journalist to rock the hell out of the story. Thrust (heh heh) together, Aubrey’s instincts and ghostly connections, as well as Levi’s mad investigative skills, unearth a story darker than anyone in Surrey could have imagined. I enjoyed the ghost-whisperer angle and give this section a full point.

HOW THINGS HAPPEN

For my taste, the pacing was pretty good. The author takes us back and forth from present day Surrey to the events which occurred twenty years ago that led to Missy Flannigan’s demise. I know it’s a turn-off for some readers when a book has more than one narrative voice to follow, but I really liked getting to know Missy in her own time, from her own thoughts, feelings, and actions. How nice to have a fleshed-out victim! (Uh…you know what I mean.) I zoomed through the book on my daily commute and reached for it at home, too, finishing it quickly. Another full point here. (TRIGGER WARNING for sexual abuse in Missy’s childhood.)

WHAT-THE-FUCKERY

Not too severe, but here’s a thing that irked me: You may recall that Aubrey’s estranged from her husband, Owen. Naturally, he turns up just as Aubrey’s gotten somewhat comfortable with Levi (though she isn’t yet feeling the luuuuuurve, as far as I could tell) and he wants to reconcile. “Welp,” is what the hero was likely thinking when he sniffed out this little tidbit, as it’s clear to the reader that he’s got some kinda feels for Aubrey. As Aubrey first wants, then thinks she should continue to want, to save her marriage, it’s hard to see how the MCs are going to get together. But sure enough, the author throws up an obstacle for Aubrey which proves just the out she needs when she admits to herself she’s got the feels for Levi, after all. I found this bit a little formulaic and will nick off another quarter of a point here.

OVERALL FEELING & FINAL SCORE/GRADE

I enjoyed Ghost Gifts as a supernatural suspense tale but found it somewhat light on romance. (To be fair, I did find it romantic how Levi took care of Aubrey when she sustained some minor physical injuries and aimed to keep her safe when she faced some of the hairier spirits. OK, he did get a little cavemannish with that last bit, which ugh. But he eventually worked his way to a middle ground so she could do what she felt she must and he could do his best to protect her.)

I thought the world-building of the traveling carnival and Missy’s era well done. Toward the end there was what I perceived as a kind of fake-out and then an abrupt wrapping up which, yes, provided an HEA. But it was so abrupt! Minus .25 here, which leads to an overall score of 4.25 out of 5 (85) or a grade of B.

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Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella

March 1, 2016

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