Friday, April 24, 2015

Opal Fire (A Stacy Justice Mystery #1) by Barbra Annino

Stacy Justice gives up her promising career as a journalist to return home and help her witch family.  In a small town, things are supposed to be slow but Stacy quickly discovers that small towns also harbor secrets, when her cousins bar burns down and the remains of a woman are found hidden in the walls.  With her cousin accused of arson, Stacy decides to investigate, forcing her to finally acknowledge her latent witch powers and to stop dismissing her witch aunts as simply weird.

It became apparent to me early on in Opal Fire that Annino was trying to capture the essence of the movie Practical Magic and infuse her novel with it.  Unfortunately, Annino was far from successful at this attempt.  Opal Fire was meant to be a quirky paranormal chick lit mystery/romance and therefore; essentially a light read. Opal Fire was so over written that at  some points it became difficult to keep my eyes on the page.  Did we really need every single detail of what Stacy ate and why?  Was I really supposed to be amused that her grandparents, who have difficulty getting alone, went on a marriage retreat and then sent her text messages about it?  Why was that even in the story?  Even more importantly, why should I care?

Stacy spent most of the time in Opal Fire chasing her own tail.  It became apparent very early on who the murderer was and how Stacy failed to connect the dots amazed me?  The big Perry Mason like confession was supposed to be startling but I couldn't get through it fast enough.  It was all just so bloody obvious.  Furthermore, when are writers going to realise that having the antagonist confess and then connect the dots for the protagonist is a cheap device?

The bulk of the characters in this novel were women.  It was nice to see the close relationships between them, particularly the aunts, who were always ready with a magical cure. I liked the idea that to be with a Justice woman a potential mate had to be strong and willing to accept them for who they are. What I didn't enjoy was the depiction of Monique, who Annino described as the "town tramp".  When Monique appeared, slut shaming was sure to follow.  The conflict between Monique and Stacy predictably revolved around a man.  Stacy spent far too much time telling Monique to stay away from her current boyfriend Leo.  It had me rolling my eyes.  Was it really necessary to create tension this way? This, coupled with the victim, who happened to be a pregnant wild teen, made the treatment of gender problematic at times.

In terms of inclusion, we were introduced to two gay characters.  Matt was introduced as the former best friend of the victim in the case.  Matt and his partner Blake, had relatively small roles in the story overall.  Matt did however let us know that he hadn't spoken to his father in years due to homophobia.  It's my hope that these two characters will play a larger role in the series, given that Matt is fascinated by the occult.  I do however hope they don't get shifted into the gay BFF category.

In terms of racial inclusion, there was no to speak of.  I wonder if Annino realises that POC actually do live in the midwest?

I didn't go into Opal Fire expecting much because it is after all paranormal chick lit.  What I was expecting was a few good laughs and a story that at least would catch my attention.  I have to say that I was largely disappointed by Opal Fire - a Great Dane named Thor, and an exploding chicken notwithstanding. When a book cannot live up to already low expectations that's really saying something.  I do however plan to continue with the series simply because the ending promised to enlarge the story and created a new mystery that just might be worth learning about.