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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Celia Jerome: WILLOW TATE

Author:  Celia Jerome (pseudonym for Barbara Metzger)
Plot Type:  Light UF
Ratings:  V-3; S-3½; H-3
Publisher and Titles:  DAW
    Trolls in the Hamptons (11/2010)
    Fire Works in the Hamptons (11/2011)
    Sand Witches in the Hamptons (10/2012) FINAL     

     This post was revised and updated on 11/10/12 to include a review of the fifth and FINAL book in the series: Sand Witches in the Hamptons That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of the first three books:

          BOOK 5: Sand Witches in the Hamptons          
    As the final book opens, Willow is back in her Manhattan apartment and Matt, her boyfriend, is in Paumanok Harbor. Willow is pretty sure that she loves Matt, but she's not yet ready to relinquish her dream of living independently in the Big Apple. Her feelings change, however, when three separate crises loom up in her life. First, a crazed fan begins stalking Willow, sending threatening messages when Willow rejects his or her advances. Second, as a result of the huge explosion that climaxed the previous book, most of the sand has disappeared from the beach at Paumanok Harbor, which is a major threat to local tourism and to the big Halloween festival to be held on that beach in just a matter of weeks. In what turns out to be a sand-related problem, Willow and most of the Paumanok Harbor's magical citizens are developing itchy skin rashes. The third big problem is that Willow's father introduces a previously unknown female relative into the family, causing a major uproar.

     Willow's friend, NYPD Officer Donovan (Van) Gregory, and the usual crew of agents from the Department of Unexplained Events (DUE) begin trying to trace Willow's stalker, but they insist that she return to Paumanok Harbor where they can keep her safe. When she gets there, the townsfolk make it very clear that it's Willow's job to figure out what to do about the sand problem and the epidermal epidemic. The lisping, magical bird-fish, Oey, is backstill just as annoying as ever, and Willow's father is still making his loopy predictions, which nobody ever understands until well after the fact.

     The main story line follows Willow as she tries to figure out just what is going on at the beach. As it turns out, the the beach is actually filled with tiny sand creatures called Andanstans, who are insulted by the fact that after they did the town a big favor by helping to defeat the villain of the previous book, the town has done nothing in returnnot even a simple thank you. They want reparations, but Willow isn't able to communicate with them to find out exactly what they will accept as repayment. If Willow can't solve the problem before Halloween, the Andanstans plan to take the remaining beach sand with them when they head back to the magical realm of Unity.

     This has been an above average series with inventive plots and interesting, quirky characters, but in this book the stalker plot line fails miserably. In some of the previous books, the author also uses a real-world, crime-based story line to balance the fantasy plot, and that usually works, at least to some degree. This time around, though, it comes across as blatant authorial manipulationa way to stretch things out and add some darkness to the story. To make things worse, the resolution of the stalker story line is an ambiguous and anti-climactic fizzle.

     All in all, this has been a solid series, particularly if you like to read relatively light-weight, humorous paranormal fiction and are trying to avoid vampires and werewolves. As you can see from the cover art of this book and the previous one, Matt is still in Willow's lifethe only man who has made it through two booksso you can be sure that this series ends in an HEA

    This world has no vampires or werewolves. What is does have is psychic magic—many, many kinds and lots of it. The "magicals" (aka espers) keep their talents hidden from ordinary people, but in the little town of Paumanok Harbor, they feel free to show their true natures to one another. Quirky characters abound, among them being the plumber who can scry in a toilet bowl; the jeweler whose gems talk to him; the librarian who knows which books you want before you do; the weaver who can make you a bracelet to find lost objects; the eidetic banker; the mechanic who gets an itch on his big toe if he hears a lie; the mayor who can wipe away pesky memories, and the doctor who can calm you down with just a touch.

     The stories are told in the first person in a sort of stream of consciousness manner by Willow (Willy) Tate, a 30-something smart and attractive young woman who writes and illustrates graphic novels for teens. She comes from an eccentric family that makes their home in the Hamptonsnot the upscale, pretentious East Hamptons, but the down-home, small-townish community of Paumanok Harbor, near the tip of Long Island. Willy has always thought of her mother and grandmother (and other relatives and townspeople) as being slightly loony—or really, really crazy. Many of them have close ties to England and to the Royce Institute, a school  for the magically talented where most of them met their mates. Willy was pressured to attend Royce, but she refused and moved to Manhattan instead so that she could be far away from her nutty family.

     The premise of the series is that Willyand only Willyis able to communicate with magical creatures who live in Unity, a parallel universe where magic reigns. Each creature leaves Unity and shows up in Paumanok Harbor (or in Manhattan, if Willy is there) because it has a problem that Willy needs to solve. For Willy, the biggest dilemma is the manner in which the various creatures first show up. Each time Willy draws a magical being in her graphic novels, that same being comes to life and causes trouble. It's the whole chicken-egg question: Does Willy draw the creatures because they want her to see and help them, or do the creatures come because Willy draws them. This question goes unanswered until the end of book 4.

     This is a cute, well-written series that is on the very lightest side of the urban fantasy genrealmost chick-lit, really (but without the shoe shopping). Much of the humor comes from Willy's quirky relatives and zany neighbors. Most of the townsfolk have their individual magical talents, and they all try to help Willy solve the various mysteries that crop up. They also blame her for everything magical that goes wrong. Unfortunately, the clues they provide are so vague that they are not much help, although the people are entertaining to read about. The author definitely captures the sense of place in both Manhattan and the Hamptons. This is an amusing series that would make a perfect beach read.     

          BOOK 1: Trolls in the Hamptons          
     After reading the back-cover synopsis of Trolls in the Hamptons, I wasn't looking forward to reading the book.  It just sounded silly: 30-something Manhattan woman draws a picture of a troll; troll comes to life; no one can see him but the artist.  I changed my mind when I began reading. Because Willy is always on the scene when her troll (she calls him Fafhrd) begins raising havoc by knocking over fire hydrants, cranes, and cars, the police ask her questions—particularly the handsome Officer Donovan (Van) Gregory. Then another law enforcement guy turns up, this time a sexy agent with a great British accent. Agent Thaddeus Grant explains that he is from a secret branch of Homeland Security called the Department of Unexplained Events (DUE) and that Willy (and her family) have ancestral magical connections that are related to the appearance of her troll. Eventually, Willy heads for Paumanok Harbor, hoping that the troll will not follow her, but Fafhrd keeps on her trail.  By the time Willy gets to her home town, the plot has gotten more complex, and Willy and Grant must search for a missing, magical boy and his evil kidnapper. Willy has two possible love interests: Van (who is probably not her soul mate) and Grant (who seems a more likely partner, but Willy has some doubts).   

          BOOK 2: Night Mares in the Hamptons          
      As book two opens, Willy is in Paumanok Harbor for the summer to take care of her mother's rescued dogs while Mom is in Florida taking care of Dad, who is recovering from a heart attack suffered in the previous book. Willy and Grant have been separated for a month. He's back in England, and she's having second thoughts about agreeing to marry him. All of a sudden, the magical townsfolk begin seeing a herd of white mares flickering in and out of existence around town. At the same time, the crime rate goes sky high and people begin having horrible nightmares that cause them to act out against one another in uncharacteristic ways. When Willy calls Grant for help, he puts her off because he must go off to the Himalayas to investigate a Yeti outbreak. For awhile, Willy is on her own, and she begins dreaming of a white colt that is being held captive by an unknown villain. Eventually, Grant sends Ty Farraday, a handsome, sexy horse-whispering cowboy, to assist Willy in her investigation. Of course, instant sexual fireworks ensue as the couple works together to solve the case. By the end of the book, the mare situation is solved, the villains are punished, and Willy's love life is back to square one. By now, it is obvious that there will be one man per book for Willy until she finds her one and only soul mate.

          BOOK 3: Fire Works in the Hamptons          
     Summer is drawing to a close, and the citizens of Paumanok are planning their annual Labor Day fireworks display. Willy is enjoying a rare period of peace as she spends her days trying to come up with a new hero for her next graphic novel and looks forward to moving back to the quiet security of her Manhattan apartment. All of that serenity comes to an end, though, when the fireworks display ends with a horde of giant, flaming fireflies bombarding the beach. As is always the case, Willy is the only one who sees the magical insects in their true Technicolor form. Once again, the townsfolk blame Willy for the magical catastrophe, demanding that she get rid of the fiery bugs ASAP. When Willy attempts to communicate with the fireflies, they let her know that they are in trouble, but it takes her awhile to discover the type of trouble and its cause. Then, a series of fires begins in Paumanok, and everyone is sure that the fireflies are to blame. Willy contacts Grant at DUE for assistance, and he sends Piet Doorn, a fire-damper, to help her get the situation under control. When Piet is around, no fire can remain lit—not matches, gas stoves, candles, or anything else with a flame.

     By this time, Willy has figured out that each man that DUE sends to help her is a prospective husband because the bigwigs at DUE are becoming more and more anxious to see what kind of magic her children will have. Willy has fallen for each one of the guys—but only temporarily, and Piet is no exception. The plot follows Willy and Piet as they communicate with the fireflies and try to figure out how to solve their problem and send them back to their home in Unity, a magical place that exists on another plane of existence. Three villains complicate matters for the intrepid couple: a sleazy reporter for a scandal magazine who wants to publicize the strange happenings in Paumanok, an aggressive science teacher who wants to dissect the fireflies for research purposes, and a drug-addled wife abuser who blames everyone in town for ruining his life. Through much of the story, Willy’s life is also complicated by the fact that she must babysit a toddler who accidentally swallowed one of the fireflies and now spouts flames whenever she gets upset. The only way to keep her flame-free is to keep her calm or make sure that she is in close proximity to Piet. The baby and Willy’s out-of-control dog, Red, provide most of the humor, which sometimes feels a bit forced. There are only so many times that you can wring a laugh out of a dog peeing on someone's shoe or a baby drooling or spitting up on an unlucky person or object. By the end of the book, Willy has found a promising love interest all on her own, with no input from DUE. We’ll see how that works out in the next book.

          BOOK 4: Life Guards in the Hamptons          
    This story reaches back to the previous book for its roots. The primary villain is an ancient enemy of the magical creature that Willy assisted in Fire Works in the Hamptons. As this story opens, Willy is back in her Manhattan apartment, glad to be away from the weirdness of Paumanok Harbor, but missing her newest almost-boyfriend, Matt Spencer, the village veterinarian who learned a lot about the supernatural aspects of Willy's life when he helped her in her last big adventure. Now, Paumanok Harbor is having some new and even more serious problems. Dolphins are interfering with anyone who tries to use the bay, and a mysterious band of thieves is on a crime spree across the Hamptons. Just to make things even stranger, a colorful tropical bird has been making sporadic appearances around Paumanok Harbor, causing hordes of bird watchers to descend on the tiny village. When Willie's dog, Little Red, becomes ill, she heads back to her hometown so that Matt can have a look at him, and she immediately becomes immersed in the strange happenings that never stop coming.

     As in previous books, Willie has drawn a set of new characters for her next graphic novelthis time, a fanciful bird/fish creature and a sea monsterand they come to troublesome life in her hometown. That's why the townsfolk view her with some trepidation. Willie frequently gets depressed because she feels that most of the town hates her for things that are really not her fault. The plot follows Willie as she builds a relationship with Matt, learns to communicate with the bird (which, of course, is not a real bird, but a magical one named Oey), and confronts two related villainsa mesmerizer and a sea monster. Once again, Willy's father phones in ambiguous clues that he gets in his kooky, disjointed visions. You'll definitely be able to figure out the skunk and lollipop clues way before Willy does. The author oversteps from cute to "cutesy" (even silly) when she gives the bird a lisp, so, for example, when the bird says, "Twee," it really means "Tree," which translates to "Willow." Willow (and the reader) must go through this translation process for many, many words all the way through the book, and it becomes rather annoying by the end. As Willy investigates the case, she meetsactually, rescuesa retired professor from the Royce Institute who has some of the same skills that she has. She also discovers that Matt is not only a strong, sensitive, handsome, intelligent man, but he also shares some of her magical talents. Sounds like a keeper to me!

     This isn't my favorite book in the series, but it's still a good story, so if you've enjoyed the previous books, you'll probably like this one, too. It could be read as a stand-alone, but you'd miss the meaning of a number of references to past books.

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