New author J. E. McDonald’s debut novel Ghost of a Gamble is the first in a new adult paranormal romance series: the Wickwood Chronicles. While there are some clichés to the genre and some predictability (unfortunately, in some cases, this is inevitable), McDonald has written a debut that gives the paranormal romance a fun new story for many readers to enjoy.
Bree Tisdale is a young woman with experience in a plethora of work fields, yet quirky habits keep her from maintaining these jobs for long. Fired from her latest job and with a 24 hour notice to vacate her home, she knows she needs a job as soon as possible. Her prayers are answered when she meets Zack Liller who is looking for a worker for his sister’s business. Bree takes the job without knowing much about it only to discover later that the business she now works for dabbles in haunted houses and not necessarily exorcising ghosts, but rather to ensure the house is, indeed, haunted. Good thing she doesn’t believe in ghosts… that is, until events in a very active house make the impossible possible. Weary of one another, Bree and Zack must come to trust one another for both house insecurities and secrets. And discovering a yearning to be together, Bree and Zack must learn to keep their feelings in check in order to get the job done. That, however, may be easier said than done.
Lighthearted, romantic, humorous, and even, at times, suspenseful, Ghost of a Gamble is a fun read for anyone looking for something new. No reader need worry this book to be another young adult paranormal fantasy for McDonald has a more mature audience in mind to entertain and makes her story much more believable for a modern audience. McDonald’s strength most certainly falls in her writing style as it is fluid and carries the reader through her story with ease. Another strength lies in her use of descriptive detail, namely her use of scents. A small detail that may go unnoticed, scents play a rather large part in placing a reader into the book and McDonald succeeds in doing just so. From how a character smells (candy apple and rosemary and mint) to how an item smells (baked bread and spiced tea) to how even the air in a room smells (aged books and paper), the reader is always aware of his or her surroundings.
Another of McDonald’s strengths lies in her characters for they are all fun, quirky, and realistic. Bree is a strong female protagonist, yet has many flaws. She can be dependable, yet also unreliable. She can be stubborn, yet also resilient. She can be smart, yet also scatterbrained. Zack is a strong male protagonist, yet is incredibly insecure. He can be depended upon to get a job done, yet he will doubt if he did the job right. He will protect those he cares about, yet he is uncertain of how to express how he feels. While these are only two of the handful of characters introduced in the story, both are rather realistic. The relationship between these two is cute and believable. When they are uncertain about one another, Zack becomes incoherent and Bree won’t stop talking. They are also rather paranoid when they around each other for Zack keeps thinking Bree will laugh at him for what he says or does and Bree can’t read Zack’s actions, making her unsure how to act around him. McDonald also switches points of view between them, switching between characters with each chapter, giving the readers an inside look into each of their thoughts.
Of course, every genre has hidden traps that can easily ensnare writers and, unfortunately, romance is a genre riddled with them. While McDonald avoided a vast majority of them, there were still a few that surfaced throughout the story. One of the traps was having Bree and Zack take a liking to one another too quickly. Most romances, whether they are paranormal or otherwise, develop either too quickly or take too long to develop: Ghost of a Gamble saw Bree and Zack being more of the former. For two characters who show many signs of uncertainty, they are sure certain of how they feel about one another. With this being a series, this development of feelings could have been stretched out for maybe another book or two with just hints being introduced in book one. The good thing about having a quick relationship is the fact that it will please readers who do not like to wait, but this quick turnaround can also be rather predictable.
A character trap could be found in Zack. A majority of the time, the male protagonist is the one with unique abilities or who is a different inhuman creature entirely. Zack is introduced as a more angsty character and has golden eyes. Already, that raises some flags. Is he a vampire? A ghost? What is he? The good thing is that McDonald introduces Zack as a character the reader would not anticipate; however, who or what he is was only vaguely introduced in Ghost of a Gamble. With this being a series, though, there are plenty of opportunities to delve deeper into his character. Another trap was the romance part of the story. When McDonald wrote about the haunted house, she did an excellent job of describing the eeriness of a haunted house and there were times it felt like the reader was inside the house with the characters, taking part in a ghost hunting one finds on TV or YouTube. However, that eeriness was broken by the romance of Bree and Zack. Finding the ideal balance between paranormal details and romantic feelings is key to making a paranormal romance series memorable.
The first in McDonald’s Wickwood Chronicles proves to be an enjoyable start to a brand new paranormal romance series. With realism, humor, and even a bit of suspense, readers will enjoy Ghost of a Gamble. McDonald’s fluid writing style and her realistic characters are to be commended and welcomed into the writing community. Even when she focuses on the more haunted aspects of the characters’ job, she grabs and holds the reader’s attention with her descriptive detail. This series has even more potential if the main focus is given to the hauntings rather than how the main characters feel about one another. The ending also happened rather quickly and rather suddenly. For future books in the series, the endings should definitely be slowed down and explained to the readers for while there was an explanation to the haunting in the debut, the ending leaves the reader feeling a bit unfulfilled. Finding that balance that will leave readers feeling happy the characters are together yet also intrigued and disturbed by the horror aspects of the genre will keep the Wickwood Chronicles on readers’ radars for years to come.