by HP Mallory, fantasy (2010)
Smashwords, $2.99, ISBN 978-0-9825074-0-7
Fire Burn And Cauldron Bubble is the first book in HP Mallory's romantic urban fantasy series that revolves around our heroine Jolie Watkins. She's supposedly the Plain Jane who will discover that she is not only psychic but can also reanimate the dead. She runs a shop dealing in New Age stuff, has a kooky but tall and leggy good friend who also doubles as her only employee, doesn't have much of a social life, and... oh, where I have come across heroines like her before, hmm? Jolie lives in a world where sassy heroines get into love affairs with vampires and demons. Oh, and this is a comedy that I suspect will appeal to fans of MaryJanice Davidson's books because it has the same vibes. In fact, I can imagine that Ms Davidson may have some very early works she has wisely kept locked away in her drawer that are of dubious quality as this one.
It all begins when a man named Rand Balfour shows up in Jolie's store for a reading of his aura. He's dressed all in black and he has an annoying tendency to smirk and stare creepily at Jolie, but I guess that kind of behavior is all the rage among urban fantasy heroines nowadays.
I don't know. In just the few pages where Rand makes his debut appearance, he has "just smiled" to reveal his "pearly whites and a set of grade A dimples", spoken in a "rumbling" and "hypnotic" baritone, had his brows "drew together", let the silence stretch uncomfortably as he stared at Jolie, walked out of the store without any preliminaries, returned unannounced later to "rest" his eyes on her, gave a "throaty chuckle" when she was clearly confused by his behavior, showed off his "raised eyebrows and a slight smirk pulling at his full lips"... in just these few pages, he comes off like a truly creepy creature with manic facial expressions.
Rand is a warlock who hires her to help him solve a murder involving his client. But to get there, I have to sit through pages after pages of Rand leaving sentences unfinished, making those eyes at Jolie as she stammers and tries to get him to explain things to her, and generally leaving after giving her a smirk. His behavior is tedious and irritating, not to mention too much of a contrivance on the author's part to keep me in the dark unnecessarily. I say "unnecessarily" because it's not like there is any reason why Rand can't come clean with Jolie after he has established that she is the person he is looking for.
There is more to the story that meets the eye, of course, but honestly, I tire quickly of Jolie's manic Crazy Sitcom Woman repertoire. When she's not acting flustered, she's trying very hard to insist that she's a Plain Jane type who surely can't attract the attention of someone like Rand. As if that is such a bad thing, given how Rand comes off here like someone who skins babies and tortures old women with a smirk on his face.
The author's writing style is also pretty tough to get into. Ms Mallory goes overboard when it comes to describing Rand, constantly mentioning his eyes, his accent, and his wonderful body every time he is in the scene. It is as if she feared that I'd confuse him for a troll without the constant reiterations of Rand's purported beauty. When Ms Mallory has Jolie gushing about how "the distance from his thumb to his pinkie nearly spanned the width of his thigh", that's when this story has crossed the line into Enough Is Enough territory. In addition, the author seems to have an aversion to the word "said", so every time her characters open their mouths to speak, their heads tilt, their voices betray their disbelief, and so forth. Everything is over-described here. As a result, the pace slows down to a snail's crawl because the author is too caught up in describing her characters to the smallest detail in every scene. I'm not exaggerating: two chapters pass by with the main characters having barely progressed past their initial conversation!
If I can change some things about this story, I'd implement some severe tough love kind of exorcism, removing all unnecessary descriptions, especially the pointless reiterations of the hero's "chiseled face and masculine beauty", and getting the author to understand that using "said" in describing her characters' conversations is not a crime. Let the reader use her imagination now and then - there is no need to describe everything in excruciating detail. Everything else is subjective - some readers may find Rand as charming as I find him too creepy and obnoxious for words - but there is no excuse for this story to come off like a meandering stream of consciousness of the heroine's insecurities; one that is in need of severe judicious editing.
This book at Smashwords
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