Every month, we review the hottest new romance releases in our Romance column. But why let the print books have all the fun? In Digital Dalliances, we highlight digital-only releases guaranteed to heat up your eReader.
In a magical version of modern-day Toronto, Wes Cooper is a supernatural anomaly. After being brought back to life by a witch after his untimely death in the 1930s, Wes has the abilities of a ghost—he can walk through walls, shift into the spiritual “otherplane” and even sometimes teleport from one place to another—while still being able to live a physical life on earth. He’s transferred these abilities into a very lucrative career as a thief, and due to his immortality and somewhat misanthropic nature, his only friend is one of the descendants of the witch who resurrected him.
It’s a limited life, but Wes enjoys his work and especially enjoys being able to live a safe, out life as a gay man given that his experience growing up in the 1930s was far more precarious. But Wes is thrown into the orbit of his biggest regret, Detective Hudson Rojas, when he witnesses a bizarre murder while on a job. Hudson and Wes broke up in the ‘80s over Hudson’s dangerous undercover work and his refusal to live openly as a couple. But with a potentially supernatural murderer on the loose in Toronto, Hudson needs Wes’ particular set of the skills to solve the case.
You will either buy the premise of a not-ghost, as Wes is called, or you will not. I very much hope you do, because Not Dead Yet is an emotionally grounded supernatural love story with a fantastic sense of humor. Burke fully commits to her premise and finds all sorts of fun world building details and applications of Wes’ powers to play with, in addition to exploring his and Hudson’s very different experiences as gay men. Both have experienced oppression and lived a majority of their lives in the closet, as well as experiencing the AIDS epidemic. But Wes’ relative anonymity made his coming out a somewhat easier process, whereas Hudson had to grapple with the public-facing nature of his job as well as its extremely masculine culture. There’s a fabulous reveal almost halfway through that adds a whole new element to the central relationship, but be warned, this reveal is spoiled in the synopsis for the upcoming second book.
Not Dead Yet has a superb sense of timing, balancing Wes and Hudson’s emotional, awkward reunion with a pleasingly twisty, increasingly complicated supernatural mystery. She has a seemingly unerring instinct for when to slow down the action and when to ratchet it up, in terms of both suspense and romance. Burke also makes the very canny decisions of infusing the proceedings with as much humor as possible. There’s a prison break sequence of sorts later on in the book that’s an absolute scream and gloriously succeeds in easing the tension just when things are looking very grim. Also, I’m 99% sure the title is a Monty Python reference, which is just utterly wonderful if true and perhaps the best selling point I can think of for this delightful romance.
His eyes were the first thing I noticed after taking in the uniform. They were a deep, rich brown. Later, I’d try to find the perfect description for them. Russet, maybe, or chestnut, with the barest hint of smile crinkles at the corners. They were so damned warm and welcoming, as though he’d seen me—really seen me, and not only the external trappings of slightly out-of-date bell bottoms, dark blond hair I’d let grow wild into a big halo of waves, and a tight orange polyester shirt with a few buttons opened to display my one chunky gold necklace.
He’d followed me around the store—not in a creepy stalker way, but in a laughing sort of “our baskets have matching ingredients” kind of way. It was utterly charming and clear he wasn’t disappointed to keep bumping into me. Behind his bushy eyebrows and mustache, he was so happy and friendly and nice, and I felt bubbly and excited in a way I’d nearly forgotten. Eventually I asked what he was making—spaghetti—and he asked me—chili—and somehow we decided that my chili sounded better than his spaghetti, and he joined me for dinner. Afterward, we kissed, and I remembered exactly what those bubbles in my gut meant—anticipation, attraction, desire. For the first time in nearly fifty years, I found myself wanting to have sex, and that need to connect with this man who’d enticed me so thoroughly with his warmth and joy of life only intensified the next few times we saw each other. After a month of spending Hudson’s days off together, we finally gave into the mad attraction and made love on my couch, listening to Meat Loaf, of all things. Me getting physical even that quickly was rare—as in, it had only happened once before. So the connection I’d felt with Hudson was special. Incredible. Startling. I thought I’d found forever.
Not so much.