Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Review & Giveaway: What's a Witch to Do?

I love it when worlds combine. No sooner did I sign up for this years Withcraft Reading Challenge than I got chance to review a brand new witchy offering. What a treat!

From our on-going Bewitching Books blog tour, here's a truly bewitching novel to add to your list. Welcome Jennifer.Harlow and the first book in her Midnight Magic Mystery series, What's a Witch To Do?  OH, and stay tuned (to the end of the blog) for a Rafflecopter giveaway!

What's a witch to do? Mona McGregor is the high priestess of her coven. She is also the manager of the Midnight Magic Shop, in Goodnight Virginia. It's a small town and the coven, while the largest in the eastern US, doesn't have a lot of hot political buttons. Mona inherited her position, without the allowed opposition, after her mother and grandmother died
Mona keeps track of her busy life—teaching spells and potions classes, troubleshooting novice potion makers, raising two pre-teen nieces, planning a wedding for her younger sister, and meeting with leaders of the other preternatural groups—with her ubiquitous to-do lists. So, how did “find out who is trying to kill me” get on her lists?

Mona is a likeable, down-to-earth character. Her to-do lists are not much different than ours, except that they are as well-ordered as a potions recipe. She is not by any means the prettiest girl in town and describes herself as “pudgy. No fat.” Her friends and nieces don't see her that way, though, and are thrilled when she decides to take part in the Founder's Day bachelorette auction.
There are two men in Mona's life. The movie-star handsome Dr. Guy Sutcliffe is quite taken with her and is the catalyst for her entering the bachelorette auction. There is also Adam. Adam Blue is the Beta werewolf who arrives on her doorstep, badly wounded, slow to heal, and bringing the news of the hit put on her by another witch.

I don't know if there is a place in the real world called Goodnight, Virgnia, but it seems like the kind of small town that I've been in. Not full of preternaturals as far as I know, but how would I? In this world the witches, weres and vampires have their won police force. iI's a world where wraiths go on rampages and the heads of the groups get together for Christmas. There are no hunters in the world, so far. All the threats are coming from inside, and I like that. It makes their world little different from ours in a good way. Waht keeps the book from being just an ordinary story with preternaturals, though, is the nature of the threat and the actions of others that complicate the problem. I won't tell what the first is, and can't tell the second without spoiling the story.

I can say that one reason I read speculative fiction is that it does a particular service when it is well done. I learn about how to be special. Living in the world with special needs, whichever end of a spectrum they might fall --creates a kind of separation between those with the needs and gifts and those without. In this story, Mona has to negotiate her world of giftedness while raising two young girls. Cora is 6 but her sister, Sophie is ten and keeps her eyes wide open. When Adam stays around to help Mona find out who is trying to kill her, Cora is quite charmed by him. It's Sophie who keeps her arms crossed and challenges him all the time. She has her cap set for the doctor as a new addition to the family and distrusts Adam's charm.

What is a witch to do?

There is a definite romantic element to this novel, but it is so well integrated into the outcome of the story that even when Mona questions the circumstances, her feelings and actions with regard to the two men who hav become suddenly so prominent in her life, I didn't feel put off. In fact, I felt badly for her. Too much drama! I loved how the two girls were portrayed. I looked forward to every incident when they appeared, often smiling. I was torn between rooting for Cora and rooting for Sophie. The question of who is trying to kill Mona and how it is carried out turns and twists. No sooner than I thinki I've got it figured out than I get knocked back to figuring. Lots of questions along the way and satisfaction until the very end. I didn't see it coming. Maybe I was distracted. But isn't that good magic?

For the pleasure and distraction of this story, I am happy to recommend it.Without further ado, here's an excerpt.  Enjoy!   

 What’s a Witch to Do

Judging from the twenty voicemails, and house phone ringing off the hook, I’d say the demon woke up the whole town. Every witch he came within fifty feet of felt him. I know this because it’s in the book right in front of me Auntie Sara brought over. I sit at the kitchen table with Cora curled up in my lap as I scan the pages. She hasn’t let me go since I retrieved them from the office. Sophie was throwing ingredients into the cauldron as Cora watched. I think it was a protection spell. I just grabbed them and brought them downstairs with me into the kitchen where we’ve set up camp.
Adam hands Auntie Sara a cup of coffee, which she takes with shaky hands. Sophie sits across from me staring at her sister, face made of stone. Adam plops down in the empty chair beside me, sliding a coffee cup over. “Thank you,” I say.
He nods. “So…a demon. I thought they were just myths.”
“Says the werewolf,” I say with a crooked smile. It’s all I can muster right now.
“I cannot believe you lied to me,” Auntie Sara says to me.
I had no choice but to tell her everything. “I’m sorry.”
“What do you know about demons?” Adam asks me.
“Not a whole lot. It’s not something I ever thought would come up. They’re rare, at least the kind I think this one is.”
“There’s more than one type?” Adam asks.
“There’s the kind you summon and the kind that just sneaks through the dimensional cracks,” Auntie Sara instructs. “With the latter you get your basic demonic possession. They’re too weak, so they need a host body. The summoned kind is a specific demon. They have specific traits and powers, depending on who was called.”
“What do they look like?” Adam asks.
“Human,” Sophie says. All eyes dart to her in surprise. “He’ll look like whoever gave the blood for the ritual.” Auntie Sara, Adam, and I all share a concerned look, and Cora grasps me harder. “The murder of something innocent, usually an animal, helps open the doorway. It comes out of the portal, looking like a demon. It’s…” She shakes her head and winces. I get a chill. “It’s unnatural. It doesn’t belong here and can’t survive, so the witch gives her blood and it takes human form.” She looks down at the table away from our stares. “Um, it’ll look, sound, act, even bleed like us. I guess it sort of is us. Just…a little more. And powerful.”
“So it can be killed,” Adam says.
“It’s not as simple as that,” I say. “It’s like a psychic on steroids. If she summoned the demon in charge of fire it can make you spontaneously combust from twenty yards away. If it can read in its dimension, it can invade your mind and trap your consciousness inside yourself.”
“And it’s strong,” Sophie adds. “Probably as strong as you. And it heals fast too.”
My stomach clenches again. “What—what else do you know about them, honey?”
“People can’t tell what they are, but we can because we’re from here and they’re from there. They don’t like us because of it. And they don’t like it that they have to listen to the person who brought them here. But they only have to do one thing, and they’re free. We can trap them, though, with sigils and spells. They can’t hurt us then. Not even with their brains. And they don’t like certain smells, and silver hurts them real bad.”
“An—anything else, honey?” I ask, trying to keep my voice steady.
She just shrugs.
I clear my throat. “Okay um, girls why don’t you go in the living room and pop in a movie?”
Cora burrows deeper into my chest. “No, I don’t want to leave you,” she cries.
“I’ll be in here. I’ll be able to see you the whole time, okay?”
“Come on,” Sophie says as she stands. “We’ll watch Toy Story 3.”
I manage to extract the child from my body and get her to her feet. A stoic Sophie takes her hand and leads her into the living room. Oh hell, what on earth am I going to do? “Mona, how did she know all of that?” Auntie Sara asks. “You don’t think—”
“Auntie Sara, that is a not now question, okay?” The telephone starts ringing again, sending splinters into my already throbbing temples. “Can you just field calls for me?”
“And what am I supposed to tell them?”
“The truth?” My brain is swimming. I rub my temples to focus. “Tell them we’re having an emergency meeting in the morning, time and location in an e-mail to follow.”
“Okay,” Auntie Sara says as she stands. She grabs the portable phone and walks out.
I glance at the girls sitting on the couch, then at Adam. He plays with his cup but his weary eyes stay on me. “Are you okay?” he asks.
I don’t know what it is about those words, or maybe it’s his gentle expression, but I almost burst into tears. Tentatively, he places his hand over mine, squeezing it. No, not now. I gasp and cover my mouth but a few tears make it to my eyes. I shut them. Using all my willpower, I push them away. If I break now I won’t be able to pull myself together again, so I do what I do best. I swallow my emotions so deep an archeologist couldn’t find them. I pull my hand away and wipe the stray tears off my face. Problem. Fix the problem first. “Um, what did you find out from Cheyenne? What time did she get to the bar?”
“She was there when I got there at 10:30. We talked until about 12:30, when I walked her to her car. We woke at 4:30, so she had plenty of time to summon it.”
“What did she say?”
“About you? Not a lot. She thinks you’re prissy, unimaginative, and holier than thou. Her words, not mine.”
“I don’t give a shit what she thinks about my character flaws! In between the make-out sessions did she give you any indication she hates me enough to do all this?”
“I don’t know. I couldn’t get much out of her, I’m sorry.”
I stand, practically making the chair fall back. “Well, I can’t do much with sorry, can I?”
I can’t breathe in here. I need to breathe so I can think. I stalk into the backyard, taking in huge gulps of air. Instantly, I feel like a jerk. I can’t keep doing that. He is in no way, shape, or form deserving of mu ire.
Even still, a second later he steps outside to check on me. “Mona?”
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I’m so sorry. I don’t mean to speak to you like that, I really don’t. I’m not normally like this, I swear.”
“I know.”
“I have no idea what I’m doing, Adam. A killer? Now a demon too? What the hell am I going to do?”
“We’ll figure it out.”
“How? I can’t think. I can’t…” Shit, the tears are trying the damndest to get out. I take a ragged breath. “I am so scared.”
“I know.” He steps toward me, and the next thing I know his arms are around me, pulling me into his warm body. Dear goddess does this feel wonderful. He’s so solid and even smells good, like hyssop and soap. “I know,” he whispers. He simply holds me, my head on his shoulder and hand against his racing heart. I just want to melt into him. For a fleeting instant all the world fades except for me and him, and I can actually believe everything will be okay as long as he never lets me go.
But only for an instant. I’m too realistic for false hope. Lust, be gone. I pull away, my back straightening to gain some respectability back. “Thank you. That helped.”
“Happy to oblige,” he says, for some reason unable to look at me.
I step away and turn my back to him. Okay, I can think now. This is good. “So, um, I have a request to make of you.”
I knew he’d say that. “I need you to take the girls away from here. Take them to Jason’s or your house or wherever, and keep them safe for me.”
“That’s not a good idea.”
I spin around. “The hell it isn’t! There is a fucking demon here to kill me!”
“Then you come with us.”
“I can’t! I can’t leave everyone here with a demon on the loose. Just take them and go!”
“I am not leaving you alone here!” he says with enough force to punch through a wall.
“This isn’t your fight.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“The game has changed. It’s far too dangerous around me now. Just take them and go! Please!”
“No. I made a promise and I take promises very seriously.”
I throw my arms up. “I absolve you! Take them and go!”
“No!” Sophie shouts from the door. I turn around as she leads her sister toward us. “If you send us away, we’ll just come right back! We will!” she says, voice shaking. “I can protect you! I can! I know what to do! Please!” She looks at Adam, eyes wild. “Don’t take us away. Please, don’t take us away.”
“Sophie—” I say, my voice breaking along with my heart.
“We are not going anywhere,” Adam says to Sophie. “I promise.”
“You can’t—” I say.
He grabs my arm and yanks me away from the girls, all but dragging me to the other side of the yard. “Now, you listen to me,” he says in a low voice. “You are letting your fear cloud your judgment, and you are scaring the hell out of those girls there. More than even the demon is. Is that what you want?”
“No, but—”
“We are not leaving, do you hear me? Do not mention it again.” He takes a deep breath to regain his composure. “Look, I know you’re used to doing everything on your own, but you cannot do this alone. You can’t. So, I am here to protect you and those girls so you don’t have to. But to do that, we all need to be here. Together. A cohesive unit working together. A pack, okay? And since you aren’t thinking clearly right now, I’ll do it for you. If you die, who will take care of them? They need to be near you, a strong you. If they go away, and you die, they will never ever recover. They have lost too damn much already.”
“It could kill them to get to me,” I whisper.
“Mona, if that thing wants them, and is as powerful as you say it is, it won’t matter where they are. It will find them and use them anyway. At least here they have you, and me, and an entire army of witches in this town to go through first. And I will die before I let anything happen to any of you. Do you believe me?”
I absolutely do. I shake my head.
“Good. Then trust me on this. Then we’re sticking together. We will be cautious, but we will not let fear rule our lives. We stick to the plan. We fortify this place and ourselves as best we can, we find who summoned this thing, and stop her. Together. You…and me. I am not going anywhere. I swear it to you.”
I have the strongest urge to hug him again, among other things I won’t admit to. He’s so sincere I can’t help but feel…relief. At least that’s what I think it is. It’s a new sensation. Take me awhile to get used to it. “Okay,” I whisper. “Okay.”
“Then let’s get started.” He turns away from me and walks over to the girls, picking up Cora as if it was the most natural thing and holding his hand out for Sophie. She looks at it, but after a second of indecision, puts her hand in his. He leads them inside, off to find a way to save my life.
This time I let the tears flow. Because I can.

Jennifer Harlow
Genre: Paranormal Mystery/Romance
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Date of Publication: March 2013
ISBN: 9780738735146
Number of pages: 336

Barnes and  Noble    Amazon    Indiebound    Amazon Canada     Amazon.UK

Book Description:

Mona McGregor’s To Do List:
• Make 20 13 potions/spells/charms
• Put girls to bed
• Help with Debbie’s wedding
• Lose 30 pounds before bachelorette auction
• Deal with the bleeding werewolf on doorstep
• Find out who wants me dead
• Prepare for supernatural summit
• Have a nervous breakdown
• Slay a damn demon
• Fall in love

With her to-do lists growing longer each day, the last thing Mona McGregor—High Priestess and owner of the Midnight Magic shop in Goodnight, Virginia—needs is a bleeding werewolf at her front door. Between raising her two nieces and leading a large coven of witches, Mona barely has time for anything else. Not even Guy, the handsome doctor who’s taken an interest in her.

But now there’s Adam Blue, the sexy beta werewolf of the Eastern Pack who’s been badly hurt, warning Mona that someone wants her dead. Hell’s bells! A demon is stalking her, and Mona starts to suspect her coven members and even her own family could be responsible for it. With two attractive men and a determined demon after her, Mona teams up with Adam to find out who really wants her dead.

.. . and who really wants her.

About the Author:

Jennifer Harlow spent her restless childhood fighting with her three brothers and scaring the heck out of herself with horror movies and books. She grew up to earn a degree at the University of Virginia which she put to use as a radio DJ, crisis hotline volunteer, bookseller, lab assistant, wedding coordinator, and government investigator. Currently she calls Northern Virginia home but that restless itch is ever present. In her free time, she continues to scare the beejepers out of herself watching scary movies and opening her credit card bills.
Tales From the Darkside Blog 


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Rosi said...

Terrific review. It makes me want to run right out and get it, but then maybe I will win. ;-) Thanks for the review and the giveaway.

Lexa Cain said...

I'm thrilled to see a non-YA book with a heroine who's not overly-everything. The premise is great, the characters sound adorable, and the excerpt won me over. Thanks for the review. I don't normally read witchy books, but this one sounds very enjoyable. :-)

Jennifer Harlow said...

Happy reading y'all!

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