As I was looking for a cover image for this slab of cheese, I learned that it was a TV show for a couple of years. There’s no accounting for taste. Anyway, the setting is our contemporaneous world but with magic. The “witches” in the title are not metaphorical. The first couple of chapters power-wash the reader’s brain with estrogen forced through a hose at 10 gallons per second. There are three witches, a mother and her two daughters. The sisters are both friends and rivals (female authors love that story element for some reason). There’s a hapless nice guy and a rough-cut Harley-riding Bad Boy(TM).
Of course, Our Heroine has sex with the nice guy and tells the Bad Boy, “I just think of you as a friend.” Ha, no, just seeing if you’re paying attention.
As usual, I’ll edit for length. Also, “Spoiler Warning,” LOL.
The opening to Chapter 1:
Freya Beauchamp swirled the champagne in her glass… This was supposed to be the happiest day of her life—or at the very least, one of the happiest—but all she felt was agitated.
Immediately I guessed that this was her wedding day and that she has just gotten married to a boring nice guy who is going to have something bad happen to him. Well, not far off: Turns out it’s an engagement party, not a wedding, but everything else falls out how you expect… only more so.
She loved Bran. “Bran”? LOL. Poor bastard. She truly did…. There was something about him that felt exactly like home, like sinking into a down comforter into sleep: safe and secure.
There’s then a little interlude about how all the other females in town are forced to come up to her and congratulate her, through gritted teeth, on the engagement. They’re jealous because “Bran” (LOL) is incredibly wealthy. He attends charity regattas on the weekends, wow!
…she accepted the insincere congratulations from another cadre of female well-wishers… All the eligible ladies of North Hampton, who not so long ago had harbored not-so-subtle dreams of becoming Mrs. Gardiner themselves… had all come to the grand, refurbished mansion to pay grudging homage to the woman who had won the prize…
For a sex that’s not supposed to be obsessed with dominance hierarchies, women sure do spend a lot of time fantasizing about having their intrasexual rivals forced to kiss their asses. Read fiction by men, the supposedly competitive sex. You won’t find a tenth as much of this sort of thing. Also, men like to fuck hot pussy; we really don’t care whether other men are envying us. The point is the pussy, not other men’s opinions about the pussy.
We then get that the main character, Freya, was possessed of an effervescent beauty… Small and petite… She’s small AND petite, mind you. This is also funny because we’ve just been treated to a little homily (which I spared you, dear reader) about how modern beauty standards are too focused on “emaciated” women. In the same paragraph, we get that Our Heroine is “small and petite.” Also, she has cheekbones that models would kill for, a tiny little nose, and as for her tits: No one would ever forget her breasts—in fact, they were all the male population looked at when they looked at Freya.
In general the writing qua writing is not great, as you’ve just seen. The author will manage a couple of paragraphs without perpetrating anything stupid or grammatically incorrect, then she’ll say something like “The tennis courts gleamed in the distance…” What? I grew up in a house that was less than 100 yards from a set of tennis courts. They don’t gleam in the distance. Or we get (in the inevitable Prologue) “Perpetually damp, even during its brilliant summers, its denizens were…” LOL, its denizens were perpetually damp? Come to think of it, maybe the female ones are, if the main character’s hormone-revved behavior is typical. But obviously that’s not what the author meant. (Don’t dangle your participle here; there are children about!)
Freya originally meets Bran – shit, I laugh every time I have to write that. BRAN?! Seriously, fucking BRAN?! She’s named after a sex goddess and he’s named after… a cereal product that’s good for your colon! Anyway, she meets Bran (snerk) by tripping into his arms, literally, because she’s so surprised when a load-bearing element of her dress snaps and her unforgettable tits spill out. It’s stated that she never wears bras or underwear (which Bran should have taken as a warning sign, as we will see).
Read this and guess whether she’s ever going to have sex with Bran:
It was Bran’s acute embarrassment that had endeared him to her… But what most people did not know was that he was kind. When Freya met him, she thought he was the kindest man she had ever met. She felt it—kindness seemed to emanate from him. The way he had been so concerned, his embarrassment, his stammer—and when he had recovered enough, he had bought her a drink and never quite left her side all evening, hovering protectively.
An absolute clinic in What Not To Do.
He radiates niceness, he buys her a drink, and he hovers around her the rest of the evening. He’s combining Too Nice and Possessive Creepy Guy. I haven’t read past the first chapter yet, but I foresee him conveniently having a lethal heart attack or something before their wedding day, before the main character has to have sex with him.
Don’t worry, it gets worse!
Bran Gardiner was not at all charming or erudite or witty or worldly. He was awkward and self-conscious. The first night they met, he hadn’t even asked her out because he was simply too modest to think she would be interested in him. Instead he showed up the next night during her shift at the Inn, and the next night, and every night after that, just staring at her with those big brown eyes of his, with a kind of wistful yearning (GOD!) until she had to ask him out.
Gah! The author is stacking the deck here; she’s not even making it plausible that any female in the multiverse could be attracted to this guy. I’m hoping she has a twist queued up, because otherwise this is about as telegraphed as a punch can get. Especially by contrast with Mr. Sexyman:
The problem was Killian Gardiner. Bran’s younger brother, twenty-four years old, and looking at her as if she were on sale to the highest bidder and he was more than willing to pay the price. When they were introduced, he had looked at her with those startling blue-green eyes of his, and she had felt her entire body tingle. The Tingle! Directly from a woman’s word processor! He was, for lack of a better word, beautiful, with long dark lashes (WTF?) framing those piercing eyes, sharp-featured with an aquiline nose and a square jaw. A clean-limbed fighting man of Barsoom, narrow of waist and broad of shoulder, he wielded his sword with—sorry, I just had an Edgar Rice Burroughs flashback from when I was thirteen. He looked like he was always ready to be photographed: Brooding, sucking on a cigarette, like a matinee idol in a French New Wave film. LOL, fucking what? French New Wave… Melissa de la Cruz, you weirdo! Anyway…
Stop looking at him, she told herself. This is insane, just another of your bad ideas. Um, what is? Not that we can’t guess…
Goddamnit, did he have to be so good-looking? She thought she was immune to that kind of thing. Such a cliché: tall, dark, and handsome. Well, at least she includes the Oxford comma, of which I’m a partisan. So this book is not ALL bad. She hated cocky, arrogant boys who thought women lived to service their voracious sexual appetites. She bangs him within a page. As per the Chateau and Rolo Tomassi (Rational Male), women both love and hate male sexual entitlement. Because they both love and hate it, be prepared for a hella shit test, more like several, if you project this attitude in real life. Note I didn’t say “Don’t do this.” I said, “Be prepared for a hella shit test.” He was the worst offender of the type—screeching up in his Harley, and that ridiculous hair of his—that messy, shaggy, bangs-in-your-eyes kind of thing, with that sexy, come-hither smolder.
Let’s get it over with:
She looked up and found him still staring directly at her. He nodded his head, motioning to a nearby door. Truly? Right here? Right now? In the powder room? Was that not just another cliché that went with the motorcycle and the bad-boy attitude? Was she really going to go into the bathroom with another man—her fiancé’s brother, for god’s sake—at her engagement party?
Now I’m thinking this is too reprehensible for the heroine of a novel. Maybe they don’t have sex; maybe she turns into a magic vampire and sucks the life force out of him or something. They don’t actually show them boinking.
LATER: OK, I’ve read, er, skimmed to the end, and here’s the deal: de la Cruz indeed has some mis-direction queued up here. It is, in fact, an estrogen-drenched mechanism for the author-insert character to have her cake and eat it too. That is, to get fucked by the bad boy in the bathroom at her engagement party and still be a demure, virtuous good girl. How? you ask. Does he cast a spell on her to force her to have sex with him against her will? Is the whole scene just an elaborate fantasy, dream, or magical illusion? Nope. Here is the key surprise of the book, revealed in the last couple of chapters:
Our Heroine, Freya, is actually Freya, the Norse goddess of sex, fertility, and all that stuff. “Bran” is actually Loki, the Norse god of mischief, who had put a spell on her to make her think she was in love with him. And Mr. SexyBadBoy is actually another god named Balder who is her One True Love and Destined Husband. So you see, all along she should have been having sex with Mr. Bad Boy – who is in a truer, deeper sense the Good Guy – and she should have been monumentally dissing “Bran,” who is actually a villain who uses the magical equivalent of a date rape drug on her.
Well, it’s interestingly inventive, the mental acrobatics a chick will go through to justify having no-strings-attached sex with a Harley-riding Bad Boy in the bathroom.
By the way, Freya does have sex with “Bran” one time, but since he actually turns out to be Loki, the god of mischief, the point that chicks don’t want nice guys stands.
Page 18: The main character’s sister is melodramatically described as the “ranking archivist” of the library where she works. LOL. I associate this phrase with rather more dramatic situations, like, “We should destroy the alien spacecraft before it comes any closer to Earth!” “No, I’m the ranking officer here and I say hold your fire!” Not so much “Let’s re-shelve these books now.” “No, I’m the ranking archivist here and I say we’ll re-shelve them after lunch break!” The drama of the language should match the drama of the situation, unless the author is deliberately going for humor.
Page 39: “Natasha Mayles was all wrong for Ross. She swanned into the North Inn with her haughty accent and her bored, quasi-European attitude.” “Quasi-European attitude”? Every now and then de la Cruz will write something that makes you go, “What was she even trying to say there?”
Pages 85-6: The librarian chick – the “ranking archivist” – is about to be asked out by this one dude. She thinks about how to let him down gently, until it turns out that he’s actually soliciting her advice about asking some other chick out. At this point she suddenly becomes jealous and interested in the dude. The power of the neg, right from the horse’s mouth.
Chunks of cheese rating: Hmm. This has a few standard female cheese elements, to wit, the “must choose between two men” cliche, the “must have sex with Bad Boy!” thing, and hypergamy, in that the viewpoint character has sex with actual gods.
Yet somehow, after the first couple of chapters, the overall effect wasn’t a mammoth blast of cheese, perhaps because after the main character cheats on her fiancé at their engagement party, everything else seems tame by comparison. Or maybe because I’ve read so much of this stuff now that I’m becoming jaded: It takes a lot to compete with a cyborg woman having sex with the man who burned off all four of her limbs and poked her eyes out, or a female author’s fantasy of being raped by an immortal alpha and having a worshipful beta help raise the resultant child. (I hope y’all appreciate the suffering I bear to bring these little reviews to you.) Or maybe the estrogen hose-down didn’t bug me as much because the mediocre-at-best writing distracted me with its irritating just-below-competence obnoxiousness.
Chunks of cheese rating:
If the main character fucking her fiancé’s brother at their engagement party actually turned out to be what it seemed at first, that would be eight or nine out of ten chunks of cheese right there. But since, thank goodness, it’s not what it seems, I award six out of ten chunks of cheese to this book.
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