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Yasmine Galenorn: Legend of the Jade Dragon

 

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Ghost of a Chance
Berkley (Paperback), ISBN 0-425-19128-1
Legend of the Jade DragonBerkley (Paperback), ISBN 0-425-19621-6

Book: yasmin galenorn, ghost of a chance
The first book in Yasmine Galenorn's Chintz 'n China mystery series, Ghost of a Chance, starts off with a bang, a demonic possession, a few thuds and a car accident, among other things.

Emerald O'Brien owns the Chintz 'n China Tea Room, where she mostly serves tea and sells china, but occasionally reads a few tarot cards. She also finds herself dubbed the town witch, but finds no animosity tied to this moniker. Everyone treats her and her two children, Miranda and Kip, as just another neighborhood family. Emerald's Nanna helped raise her and taught her folk magic at an early age. So "Em" doesn't freak out when ghosts and spooks present themselves.

When the ghost of a woman named Susan Mitchell shows up in Emerald's bedroom one night, Em asks what she can do to help and promptly finds herself in huge trouble. Susan, though automatic writing, claims that her husband murdered her and not the insulin overdose reported in the next day's newspaper.

Em begins snooping around and asking a few questions, but the stakes increase considerably at Susan's next appearance. This time, instead of a gentle feminine spirit, an evil entity pops up with Susan and promptly invades the body of Em's 8-year-old son, Kip. Em manages to drive it out, but the spirit, Mr. B&U (Big & Ugly) stays around the house and wreaks havoc on everyone in it. Miranda experiences a close encounter (fainting while on the roof on a frigid night). Em's friend Harlow runs her vehicle off the road, and Mr. B&U attacks Em herself more than once.

Through all this chaos at home, Em still manages to work at her shop and investigate Susan's death. Susan's husband, Walt, allegedly abused his wife for years, but his alibi seems to eliminate him as a suspect. When Em and Harlow visit Susan's estranged daughter, Diana, they find the young woman stabbed to death at her apartment, bolstering Em's suspicion that Susan was murdered.

Then Walt's stepbrother Joshua shows up at a memorial for Susan, accusing Walt of a number of horrible offenses, including molesting and murdering Diana. Slowly, following another attack by Mr. B&U, Em begins putting the pieces together about Susan's demise and figuring out just how to get rid of Mr. B&U. But someone wants to put a stop to Susan's snooping.

Book: yasmin galenorn, the legend of the jade dragon
Legend of the Jade Dragon also starts off intensely. After a less-than-rosy tarot card reading, Em's client, Daniel Barrington, steps out into the street and promptly gets hit by a speeding van, killing him. He left a small jade dragon figurine behind in Em's shop. She determines to find the man's family and return it to them, despite the fact that Daniel told her not to get rid of the statue under any circumstances.

The dragon soon brings chaos into Em's world. First, she swears that it moves around, turning slightly to watch her now and then. Its eyes also glow red on occasion. But those little peculiarities pale beside the vandalizing of her store and home, the release of her neighbor's creepy nephew from prison, and a huge fight with her boyfriend Andrew, who then cheats on Em while he travels to Los Angeles on business.

Em, with the help of Harlow, begins researching the history of the dragon and discovers its rarity. Carved during the Ming dynasty, its creator cursed it just before being beheaded for stealing and indiscretions with a member of the royal family. The curse imbued the figurine with a demonic spirit. Ever since then, the dragon visited misery and misfortune to everyone possessing it.

In addition to his own tragic death, Daniel's entire family died under horrible circumstances -- parents, grandparents, siblings, wife and children. Eventually Harlow finds out how to release the curse -- bathing the figurine in the blood of a thief. While Em ponders how to accomplish this, she also discovers the vandal -- just as he catches on that she knows about him. Em now must put her trust in an unlikely ally to save her son's life.

Galenorn's first two novels in this series make for a wonderful debut. Ghost of a Chance turns out to be a gripping, nonstop ride of a read, but Legend of the Jade Dragon stumbles slightly. Its flow seems a bit jerky, but that doesn't drag it down too much.

Galenorn suffuses her characters with warmth, love and personality. But she succumbs to some stereotypes, as well -- the hardworking mother with two wonderful kids and a deadbeat ex-husband with a new trophy wife, two steadfast friends, loyal employees, red herring bad guys and so on.

Galenorn's one weakness appears to be her villains. Despite a decoy villain in each story, the true villain makes himself known fairly early. Both of the books include a recipe for a magical charm at the end, but tying the charm to the plot might make a little more sense. The charms seem thrown in kind of as an afterthought or a way to attract more buyers. But her stories stand on their own merits as adventure-filled reads well worth the money.

Jen Foote

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