Love Potions
by Leslie Esdaile, contemporary (2002)
Arabesque, $6.99, ISBN 1-58314-289-4


I noticed a trend in Leslie Esdaile's books - her heroines are no strangers to masturbation. Ms Esdaile doesn't use these scenes to tantalize or tease, however, they are often a means to convey the heroine's sense of loneliness and frustrations.

Love Potions is Leslie Esdaile's further pushing at boundaries of the rules of the romance genre. This story is more of a story of friendship between women rather than a straightforward romance, with a little bit of mystical elements thrown in, and I like it. It is just too bad that the heroine Nicole Gordon is one whiny, miserable, and killjoy woman.

On Valentine's Day, a group of friends gather around at Victoria Jones' beauty parlor for some girlfriend-bonding and male-bashing fun. They have read way too much Terry MacMillan if you ask me. There are Nicole, of course, who is a single-mother and the new girl on the block. Delores Thompson is a waitress in her midforties who keep moving from dead end relationships with married men to more dead end relationships with more married men. Gail Jackson, a divorcee in her early forties, is working in a hospital trying to make ends meet. And there's Jo Jo, the gay hairdresser (we always need one of those) who's the honorary girlfriend.

While doing some male-bashing that will make the ladies of Waiting To Exhale damn proud (be warned, apart from Jo Jo and the hero Adam Bastille, all other men are deadbeat dads, chronic adulterers, wife beaters, and parasites - men may have to gird their testicles a bit before reading this book), they come up with some plan to make some money on the side. No, it's not what you think. They will hold some psychic act and charge people for readings. They will also sell an assortment of love/aphrodisiac/confidence/courage potions.

It is a huge success, and Nicole seems to have found a knack to be a psychic who gives corny advices about seeing into your heart and other crock. Dionne Warwick should hire her for her psychic hotline. Unfortunately, just as the constantly whining, guilty, and complaining Nicole predicted, consequences come soon with devastating results.

Gail, that silly woman, steals the test tubes from her workplace instead of buying them from stores. Can we say "sacked with no references"? Delores gets dumped by her lover, when said lover and his wife experience a mighty epiphany at Madame Nicole Psychic's mumbo-jumbo yammerings. The IRS starts sniffing at Victoria's hind. Nicole whines and complains that all their lives are going to hell. Wait until I get my hands on her and put that gag to good use.

When one of their clients find some chicken guts on her doorstep, Adam Bastille, PI and whom the ladies above call "Blade" (ooh, Wesley Snipes, ooh), is called on to investigate. He suspects the ladies, because who else will put chicken guts on one's doorsteps but dabblers of the occult, right?

But since the ladies are now forced to do the fake occult thing full time, and since Adam is really sniffing at Nicole's rump like a horny dog in heat, oh, what to do, what to do? Delores, Vic, and Gail all say "Let's roll, sisters!" while Nicole whines. And complains. Whines some more. Complains some more. Good grief, lady, yes, I get it, life is sad.

Adam is a nice hero - he's not perfect, but he's nice, honorable, responsible, and yes, he's looking for a good woman to marry and love. Nicole may have the most sour disposition this side of the hemisphere, and she has to pushed into taking any proactive decisions, but she's a responsible mother and daughter at the end of the day. I guess maybe she has the right to moan and whine since she's always financially strapped, but there has to be a limit somewhere, you know.

But what's more interesting is the friendship between Nicole, Jo Jo, Gail, Delores, and Victoria. They have different personalities, but they are supportive of each other and are always there when it counts. And no, there is no catfight between Delores and Nicole, in case you're expecting that. The message here is that while guys are fine and dandy, in the end sometimes it's the sisterhood that counts. Men come and go, but friends stick together through thick and thin.

And while the male-bashing can get a bit thick at times, there's also a paradoxical and whimsical subtext here: love is predestined by the Creator, and there is always the right person waiting out there. The message here is to be strong through adversities while remaining optimistic when it comes to love.

Sounds like an Oprah Winfrey episode, doesn't it? But Ms Esdaile has a light and whimsical touch in her prose that makes even some of her more heavy-handed preachings always readable. If the heroine isn't such a whiny killjoy, Love Potions will be one magical concoction that bedazzles and bewitches me utterly.

Rating: 87


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