Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble by H. P. Mallory

Jolie Wilkins is odd.  She is terminably single and owns a shop where she does tarot readings and has visions that are as erratic as weathermen.  But that isn’t what makes her odd. You see, Jolie has to remind herself that the bright streetlamps outside her shop aren’t alien spacecraft coming to whisk her away. When she’s afraid dread climbs up her throat.  Fear tar grips her feet and ankles and cements her in place. Her heart regulates like a clock and also jack hammers.  Memories of her last date fall into her head like a bomb (painful thoughts are just not exciting enough, I guess). She expects smoke not to be indifferent to her.  She believes that incense assaults her eyes on purpose.  Her ears mistake baritone voices for music. Odd.

Things take a strange turn for Jolie when a ghost wearing a double-breasted suit shows up.  There she is, minding her own business and listening to Cindy Lauper belt out “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” after closing for the day, when she hears the shop door open.  But when she goes out to look, the door is closed (and why didn’t she hear it close if she heard it open?) Using a broom for protection she sweeps under her desk (the only place to hide in the shop) looking for an intruder and finds the ghost instead.  Actually, he finds her because he was sent to her by someone.  When he leaves, Jolie pulls a Scrooge and wonders if he was the result of indigestion.

The next day she gets a visit from a man named Rand.  Yes, Rand is his name.  I know.  Never mind. She gasps upon seeing him and immediately starts drooling, which is an unattractive trait in anyone.  But then, Rand is eminently drool-worthy.  After all, he is an Adonis.  A Greek God. He has Sean-Connery-would-be-envious good looks, a cleft chin, pearly whites, a Roman nose, a certain Paul Newman-esque quality, considerable height, hands that nearly span his thighs from thumb to pinky, and grade A dimples. Plus he has a vibrant blue aura that emanates out of him like electricity.  All that in one package!  And if that was not enough, he has sweater-straining broad shoulders that taper to a trim waist and long legs as a finale.  His shoulders bounce when he is surprised. Lightning ricochets up Jolie’s arm when they touch.  Every time they touch.  So Jolie has an inane thought: she is dismayed that he has a tan while her own skin is fair.  What has that got to do with anything?

Rand asks her to try to get one of her visions for him.  When she fails, he arranges to come back the next three Tuesdays. Jolie is skeptical, but when he does show up the following week she decides enough is enough.  Not being one to beat around the bush, she asks him straight out if he is there to get a date with her employee, Christa.

Now you might ask where that came from. Well, Jolie has weird ideas about beauty and what comprises it.  And has almost constant snide thoughts about her best friend Christa, who also works for her.  After a while you begin to question Jolie’s “friendship.” Although Christa calls her pretty, Jolie examines herself in the mirror and decides she isn’t pretty at all—after all she only as a pert nose, cornflower blue eyes, plump lips, pale skin, and ample breasts.  But Christa is classically pretty.  Cameo pretty.  Which is strange since, according to Jolie, Christa is rail skinny and has no boobs.  No, Christa doesn’t look like Jolie at all—which isn’t strange in the least since they are not related.

Back to Rand’s second visit. Jolie has to refocus her attention because he has a heady scent of mint and cinnamon or maybe cardamom.  I tried to use that as well to refocus mine. This time Jolie does get a piecemeal, unclear vision.  Despite having told us  earlier that her visions were erratic and as reliable as TV weather anchors, she is now upset because most of the time her visions are much clearer. But sometimes they don’t make much sense. The next week they are back to being unreliable.  I’m getting dizzy.

On the third Tuesday Jolie has another weird symptom—her heart flops around like a fish on a pole when she thinks a passerby is Rand, while at the same time his impending visit weighs upon her like a ton of bricks.  Perhaps she should see a doctor about that. Her thoughts scatter when she sees him—she shouldn’t be looking at the bottom of his untucked shirt, of all places!  Very strange.  Now if she was looking at his crotch it would be one thing, but what’s wrong about looking at his shirttails?  But then again, his thighs strain against his pants and she just knows that his backside is just as tight and muscular as his front.  Naughty girl.

But now Jolie learns the shocking truth.  Rand sent the ghost (whose name is Jack) to her to find out if she could see it.  When he discovered she could see auras too he was convinced that her powers are stronger than she thinks.  Oh, and he’s a warlock.

Jolie doesn’t believe the warlock schtick, but perhaps she shouldn’t disagree with or mock a man who’s lost his mental facilities.  What if he murders her while Christa is still at Starbucks and unable to help her?!?  She thinks a bad story is getting worse.  No need to tell us that.  But wait!  This must be a gag Christa thought up.  Buoyed up by that thought Jolie opens the door and tells Rand to leave.  She changes her mind about everything when the door jerks away and slams shut. Then her chair slides out from the table all by itself.  Crap.  Rand really is a warlock.   She can taste her fear—but fortunately her fear tar doesn’t grab her feet this time.

Rand says he will tell Jolie what he wants from her over dinner.  As a rule Jolie doesn’t date and definitely doesn’t go out with warlocks. But then again she hasn’t had a date in years, so she better grasp this chance with both hands, don’t you think?  She does—but only because Rand uses his powers to make her.  She feels like a puppet.

Rand wants her to travel back in time with him to 1920’s Chicago to find out who killed Jack. Jolie uses her shrewd black-and-white business sense to drive a hard deal with Rand over the length of her stay in the past and the payment of the money he uses to bribe her. And she demands that Christa be allowed to come too.  Because taking someone back in time & possibly not being able to come back is what friendship is all about.

But Rand isn’t finished with his revelations.  That piecemeal vision she’d had?  He sent it.  To make sure they could communicate telepathically. And the guy she saw in that vision is a dangerous vampire.  It just keeps piling up.  The Augean stables weren’t as full as this story.

The weather in Chicago is the pits.  Drops of rain pelt the windows of Jolie and Christa’s hotel room, demanding entrance. Lightning warns of coming thunder.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Christa puts on lipstick that is somewhere between magenta and a week-old bruise. Eeeeuw—after five days bruises turn greenish or yellow so that lipstick is absolutely dreadful.  Here Jolie has a snide thought about Christa, that she looks ridiculous.  Some friend.  The author tells us that Christa has an epiphany—she wonders if Rand would pose for her (she’s a photographer).  The author needs a dictionary.  Perhaps she meant Christa had a brain wave. Or a notion. Or an inspiration.  But she certainly didn’t have an epiphany.

In another snide thought about Christa we are greeted with yet another weird switch by the author. Earlier she was described as being rail skinny.  Now Jolie looks at Christa, who is dressed to the nines, and thinks her tight black body suit emphasizes her small waist and broad hips.  And that her cheetah stiletto heels emphasize nothing—even though high heels tend to flatter a woman’s legs.  This is cattiness to the max on Jolie’s part—she insists on wearing “sensible” clothes and heels and would never be comfortable in a getup like Christa is “parading” around in.   And later Jolie frowns as Christa gets into a taxi, “making sure to stick her ass out as she bent over.” Meow. Rand is embarrassed—but is it because of Christa’s obvious ass or Jolie’s obvious jealousy?

In yet another reverse, when the cabbie is wowed by Christa, Jolie thinks that Christa is pretty, but it was in how she carried herself.  She is just as pretty, maybe.  Gee, at the beginning of this sample she said she wasn’t pretty—pleasant enough, but just the girl next door type.

Rand tells them that they will go to the house that Jack had lived in the morning.  He’ll cast a spell and they’ll go back to the 1920’s as spectators to see who shoots Jack in the head.  As the killer won’t be telling Jack who he is (can’t you just see it?  “Jack, this is Bob and I’m going to shoot you in the back of the head so you won’t see me and know who shot you.”) Jolie will have to use her visions and intuition.

Reality comes crashing down on Jolie like a breaking window, a shard of glass ramming itself into her stomach.  Oookay.  And now it’s back to her visions being unreliable and this was going to be more difficult than she had thought. But maybe this would be different.  Because this time she would essentially become one of her visions.

Wait a minute.  Wouldn’t that mean that she’d have to have had a vision of herself being a spectator in the past?  Or that she would need to have a vision sometime in the future of herself being in the past as a spectator? And why would she have a vision about it in the future, when she would be able to remember she’d been there?  Oh well, why should we even hope for logic at this point?

This is the first book in a series featuring Jolie Wilkins.  The sample is three chapters long.  In it, we learn that Jolie is catty and snide and more than a little bit “off.” We also learn that the author keeps changing her mind about things and loves hyperbole.  A lot.  This bodes ill for the rest of the book, not to mention the series.  But perhaps Jolie improves over time.  Perhaps she’ll get over her snide cattiness?  Maybe the author will get her stories straight and lessen her hyperbole?

Don’t get your hopes up.  At least the covers are nifty and the books are under $3.oo.  This one is only 99¢ and the second title is $2.99.

17 Responses to Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble by H. P. Mallory

  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  2. Susan says:

    Thank you Spencer. I have a couple more sample reviews in the pipeline right now, which should be up soon.

    Out of curiosity, where on technorati did you find my site?

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  5. Susan says:

    Thanks Betsey!

  6. Lexine says:

    BION I’m imperssed! Cool post!

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