WOULD-BE WITCH in 2009, and for more background on the series, it's best to start there.
As with my previous review of Frost's book, I offer this declaimer: This is a minor friend full-disclosure. While I don't know Kimberly that well, we do travel in the same circles and have a lot of friends in common.
And with this review, that disclaimer is kind of important.
When you're talking about books written by people that you know, or even sort of know, things get a little tricky. Especially when you know them, as I do Frost, precisely because they're uber-talented. When you have a talented writer acquaintance who has finally made the big leagues of publishing, there's sometimes a disparity between what they've actually published and what you wish they had published. You probably sensed that a little from my review of WOULD-BE WITCH. And it remains true for BARELY BEWITCHED.
In both books, Frost's writing sings. Our narrator is funny and sarcastic and smart, and the descriptions and setting feel real and paint authentic Texas in your mind's eye. But the narrator's obvious smarts are undermined by the relationships that she has. Her ex-husband is controlling and piggish-- but somehow still attractive to her? The budding love interest, Bryn, demeans her on one hand and lusts for her on the other. Why would an obviously spunky, bright woman like Tammy Jo forge these kinds of relationships?
The good news is that by the end of BARELY BEWITCHED, Tammy Jo Trask seems to be headed in the right direction as a character and with her relationships. A direction that is much more worthy of her and her author.
In BARELY BEWITCHED, our hapless amateur witch has snagged the attention of the greater witching community. It's clear now that her powers are significant, if untamed, and the World Association of Magic has sent two sketchy characters to come and train her for a test so she can join the community or... well, fail and die. But when Tammy Jo fails an initial challenge, she's punished with a curse that unwittingly causes her to unleash pixie dust upon poor Duval, Texas, sending the entire town into an orgiastic, destructive fit of bacchanalia. Like WBW with the invasion of werewolves, BB puts the entire town on the line. If Tammy Jo and her cohorts can't figure their way out of this, the whole town (more?) is a ticking time bomb.
BB picks up right after WBW ends, so the entire cast of characters from Frost's debut novel are poised to help-- and poised to be the same jerks they were in WBW. Kyle, Tammy's ex husband, is still there at the beginning of the book, so vile with doubt and machismo that he's talking about having Tammy committed for all of her chitchat about ghosts and witches and whatnot-- despite the fact that he spent the end of WBW fighting off werewolves (Yeah, he doesn't think they were real). But by the end of BB, Kyle grows and becomes far more sympathetic, and now I'm actually intrigued to find out how his relationship with Tammy Jo will develop in Book 3. The increasingly appealing Bryn Lyons begins BB as the savior for Tammy's damsel in distress, but as the book progresses, the two become much more evenly matched and start to take turns saving each other's hides. By the end, we're actually not sure who's saving whom.
I devoured BARELY BEWITCHED because Frost's writing is just so darned good. And I'm so happy to say that my sense is that this book is the stepping stone to more Southern Witch Books starring the very appealing Tammy Jo who is now really starting to be a heroine in her own right.
I happen to know that Kimberly Frost is just about as kick-ass, liberated, smart a chick as you can imagine. And that definitely clouds my reviews of her book. I want a Tammy Jo who's more like Kimberly. And I think now, we're starting to get one.