Genre: Fantasy/Paranormal M/M
Length: Novella (24K words, 84 pages)
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Review Summary: A scary story that fell a little short of the mark for me.
When Ben’s best friend Grant died, all Ben’s unspoken hopes for love died with him. Grant’s return as a ghost eased Ben’s heart, and even saved his life, but that could never be enough. So Ben left town. Now in a Florida hotel room he discovers that he failed to leave Grant’s specter behind. When the meddlesome ghost urges Ben to go out and have a drink at a bar, he isn’t expecting to run into supernatural trouble, or a sexy man like Talon. But that combination may turn out to be just what Ben needs to learn to live again. If he survives the experience.
This is the first book I’ve reviewed by this author and I really wanted to like it because I have read other books that she has written and loved them. Also, I love books about ghosts and I was ready for a story that scared me silly. Unfortunately, Ghosts and Flames fell short of the mark for me for many reasons, including the number of sub plots which seemed a lot for such a short story.
The main plot involved Ben’s best friend Grant who had died in action almost a year ago but refused to stay dead. Ben had always been in love with Grant who was straight so he was grieving his lost opportunities, even though he had never had sex with a man. Ben left his home in Nevada for Florida just before Christmas to get away from Grant’s ghost which was everywhere; he could smell Grant and feel his touch and he wondered if he was going crazy. However, Grant had a purpose for remaining on earth including saving Ben’s life when he woke him during a fire so that he could escape in time.
On arrival in Florida it seemed that Ben hadn’t managed to leave Grant behind and he was very much in evidence so Ben continued communicating with him through a form of letter tiles. Grant tried to persuade Ben to go out to meet men at a bar rather than hanging around his hotel room moping, so he decided to take his advice. The bar that Grant guided him to seemed deserted and seedy and there was a man outside who did his best to dissuade Ben from entering and he was prepared to do anything to achieve his objective, including threats and violence. Fortunately a cat distracted the man and Ben was able to enter the bar, but the only other person there was the owner, Talon.
Apparently Talon’s half brother Saul was the person Ben had met outside the bar and he had been driving away potential customers because he wanted the bar to fail so that the bank would take possession and he and his father Kurt could buy it cheaply at auction. There was an important reason why they wanted the bar but I can’t elaborate because that would be a spoiler. The plot became even murkier as, in addition to Ben’s personal ghost (Grant), there was another ghost in residence in the bar – Talon’s great great great great grandfather Mr. Viktor who had been a witch. He had been spelled to protect the bar over 200 years ago and had to remain as long as members of his family occupied it. So now, instead of talking to one ghost, Ben was communicating with two spirits. In addition, Talon told him that Saul and his father Kurt were vampires who apparently killed people and drained their blood.
I thought that Ghosts and Flames really stretched credibility. Obviously a book about a ghost requires the suspension of disbelief, but there was so much in the story that was strange at times I wondered if I were in the twilight zone, so I categorized this book as a “fantasy.”
There is a romance but even that took second place to everything else going on in the book. The plot flashed back to murders going back centuries involving Talon’s great great great great grandfather. Oh, there was also a djinn in the story to round things out. The piece de resistance were the four vampires, two of whom were Talon’s brother and uncle. I love paranormal stories, but when vamps murder people and drain them, that took this book into the horror genre. There was also a flashback to Ben’s troubles with his ex girlfriend’s ex boyfriend who apparently was determined to harm her, even if he had to commit arson. As you can see there’s a lot going on in this story.
Kaje Harper is a good writer but I thought that the plot of Ghosts and Flames was confusing. Also, I didn’t feel that there was a lot of chemistry in the romance between Ben and Talon. On the other hand, Ben and Grant seemed to light up a room whenever they were together, even though Grant was straight and dead. Ben’s job as an investigative reporter should have made him disbelieve in ghosts, but every time Grant showed up he had to revise his thinking and his longing for Grant was evident.
This may be a small thing but it annoyed the heck out of me. Every time the two ghosts communicated with Talon and Ben the font in the book was in caps. While this was one way of differentiating when the ghosts were talking, it would have worked much better for me if italics were used instead because the caps made it seem as if they were shouting and that took me out of the story.
To summarize: I was befuddled by the different sub plots which kept jumping around, I didn’t think the MCs had much chemistry compared to Ben and Grant, the vampires might be scary because of their murderous tendencies but I found them one dimensional – I didn’t think they were frightful at all, if that was the author’s intention.
The writing overall was good but I couldn’t give the story more than 3 stars because the plot didn’t work for me. Initially I thought it was me so I asked another reviewer on the site to read the book and give me her opinion; her assessment was almost identical to mine. However, other readers may have a different opinion and if you like Kaje Harper’s writing you’re sure to find a lot to like in Ghosts & Flames.