Cooking with Ergot

Luisa Prieto

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Dominic is a witch, Carter is a descendent of infamous witch hunters.  When Carter’s cousin attacks him in a parking lot, Dominic comes to his aid.  Just what can the two men expect from one another, especially when Cousin Simon is determined to eliminate another witch from the world?

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I think I’ve figured out why I love Prieto’s stories so much. It’s because she convinces me so easily that she understands what evil is. Real evil, not just monsters, although sometimes her characters wear that guise. She presents to her readers the kind of evil that ruins everything it touches and most often tries to cloak itself in justifications and lies, and yet, somehow, her protagonists prove over and over again that it doesn’t take superhuman powers to triumph over evil. She makes me believe in love.

Cooking With Ergot is a more humorous story than the After books, but it still holds all the things I love most about Prieto’s writing.

Dominic is a kitchen witch. I really liked the fact that Prieto gave him a style of witchcraft that one might expect to see in a Disney film and then gave him a career on the “Cooking Network” instead. I also liked the fact that he has a great sense of humor, he’s as practical as he is romantic, he’s brave but not stupid, and he doesn’t wait for the Prince to rescue him when he sees the opportunity to rescue himself. And he’s cute. I want to sigh dreamily and stare at him with heart-shaped eyes.

I also liked Carter. Despite the fact that he grew up in what’s obviously a family of utter whackjobs, he still managed to come out of it with only a dark edge to his sense of humor and no burning desire to murder his fellow men. He’s rational and sceptical and grounded in reality, but his mind is open enough to accept it when he’s proven wrong about witchcraft. Oh, and this really showcases Prieto’s deft touch – I never once frowned and thought to myself, “Well, that doesn’t sound right, he shouldn’t react like that.” Despite the fact that Carter is getting his ideas about reality knocked down left, right, and center, his characterization never breaks. His reactions are always perfectly true – not true for almost anyone else, maybe, but true to Carter, which is all that counts.
No wonder Dominic loves him. I would, too. Prieto’s pairings always make so much sense to me.

The villain is Simon, Carter’s cousin. The man’s a lunatic, pure evil. He believes that what he’s doing is right, good, for the benefit of humanity, and all that other crap that true evil likes to tell itself. It doesn’t matter that he’s murdering people, because the people he murders don’t deserve to live. He wants to save the innocent, so he leaves a swathe of destruction in his wake. There’s a certain irony in Simon. He’s almost desperate to force Carter to understand him instead of condemning him, and yet that’s exactly what Simon’s doing to the people he murders – condemning them, not bothering to understand what he’s trying to destroy.

It doesn’t really matter that Dominic is a witch, or that Carter has a deeply-buried ability for witchcraft himself, or that together they have True Love. It doesn’t matter that Simon wouldn’t be able to do what he does if he wasn’t a fictional character. Those things are just spices in the cake. Prieto has a knack for presenting evil as a fact of existence, and love as a goal instead of an unattainable ideal, and she does it all with grace, humor, and a stuffed tiger that has impeccable manners and a British accent. Good God, what’s not to love about this author?

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Top said it all, really. We are die-hard fans of Prieto because she has yet to disappoint.
More importantly, Dominic, the witch, has a stuffed tiger with a Peter Cushing accent for a familiar. Did we mention that already? If that didn’t make you want to read the book, there is no hope for you. I’m sorry.

Prieto has such a wonderful writing style: easy but complex, witty yet can get darkly serious incredibly quickly. The darkness is always just around the corner. She always has me on my toes because I’m never sure what comes next. Formulaic writing is not really in her repertoire, even in this short story.

In Cooking with Ergot, Prieto shows off more of her funny side. The recipes included in the book were cute and used really well. The two men in the story are easy-to-like guys who make me smile and want to squish them. Much like the tiger. This isn’t just for the fluffers, though. It’s not a sickening sweetness, but a nice bowl of fruit after dinner.

The only minuses this book has are a few flubs in the editing department; a few missed words or a couple doubled words. Not enough to detract at all from the story, but for once I caught them instead of CW, so I’m going to say it and be smug to her.

In short, fun story to read! I would recommend this book to anyone in need of a light story with a bit of a bite for an undertone. Heck, it was good enough to get us to come out of our cave, wasn’t it? ‘Nuff said.

Touching Evil
Rob Knight
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Greg has a special talent he’d give anything to be rid of. After an accident many years ago that left him in a coma, Greg woke up to find that he could touch things and know what had happened to them. Too bad he can’t control the talent enough to keep it from overwhelming him.

The only good thing his gift has brought him is Artie, an overprotective cop with a psychotic cat and a great bedside manner. When a sociopath targets Greg as his new victim will Artie’s protection be enough? And can they stop the killer before he ruins their lives forever?

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Reading Touching Evil was kind of like watching a very thrilling movie on a tv with bad reception. There were so many things I liked about this book. I cared very much about the main characters. There were moments when I flapped my hands and squealed “Eeeeek!” There was humor, horror, and hotness. There’s a cat. There’s food – lots of it, in fact. The villain was truly, madly, deeply villainous. I am extremely appreciative of authors who are willing to go that far to make the monsters that scary, that… well, monstrous.

In particular, I was quite impressed with Greg. I’ve read books where the main character might as well be a girl in a het romance, and I’ve read books where there’s nothing girlish about him, but I’ve never seen anyone as unique as Greg. For instance, he’s the first main character I’ve seen with his body-type: very tall and very thin. I’ve seen this body type a few times on the street, but never in a romance… not in a man, at least. Also, Greg is far from perfect in his personality. He does extremely stupid things, he has difficulty coping, he flips out into hysteria – nothing that’s really too ridiculously over-the-top, just more extreme than usual. A lot of this is the result of being a psychic, but a lot of this is just Greg’s personality; I got the distinct impression that he was high-maintenance even before he became psychic.

To only a very slightly-lesser extent, I was also impressed with Artie, another atypical character. The most extraordinary thing about both of these men is how ordinary they seem to be. There’s nothing particularly eye-catching about them, they’re not “OMG hot!” You could probably find an Artie in any precinct in the country, you could probably have found a pre-psychic Greg at almost any elite cocktail party. You wouldn’t likely find a post-psychic Greg anywhere, that’s how well Rob Knight managed to convey how excluding and scary and horrible it must be, to be that sensitive.

I loved Duke. Absolutely and totally. Partly because he is as unique as the humans. Partly because I was impressed with how well Rob Knight caught the perplexed/amused/infatuated spirit of a cat-lover in Artie. Every cat-owned person in the world would easily identify with the relationship between Artie and Duke, and it adds yet another facet to the realism of the characters.

The villain? He’s revealed in increments to the reader, although we see more of him than Greg and Artie do. He’s truly creepy, crazy, frightening, and bloody. Like everyone else, he’s utterly, recognizably human. He’s evil in the way that only real people can be evil.
The food thing was mildly distracting, but I didn’t really notice it as much as LdDurham did. Same with the sex. Probably because I’m totally willing to skip entire pages if necessary.

And yet, despite how impressed I was with the story and the characters, I had a great deal of trouble reading this book. I almost concluded that I didn’t like it. I almost don’t like it. The narrative style that Rob Knight used in writing this book is a turn-off. It’s confusing, distracting, and clumsy. This is why I compare it to the TV with bad reception: who really wants to work that hard to get through the fuzz and static just to watch a movie? And who wants to wade through confusing prose in order to find a good story? I didn’t appreciate it at all.

I do recommend this book, simply because I thought the story was worth it. But I add a very strong warning: if you’re not the kind of reader who is willing to invest yourself in order to find the story, then you’re not going to like it.

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This book should have been named “Touching Dinner” because the star of this story was definitely the food. I think in nearly every scene without the psycho killer, there was eating of, discussion of, or the making of food. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been all over the salad and turkey. But no, these guys were all about the deliciously bad for you stuff. If you are on a diet, I strongly suggest you don’t read this book. I know it pissed me off more than once when I was left with a craving for big ol’ biscuits with honey and butter, or fried chicken, or home-baked bread.

Let me tell you, this book is very hard to review. This is my first brush with Knight so I can’t say whether this was an experimental piece for the author or not.

The characters were definitely engaging enough. Greg’s “gift” is played pretty realistically, except for one major flaw. One of those “the story couldn’t have been told if we took care of it” type flaws: Greg could have just worn gloves to avoid a lot of fallout. But then, you know, there wouldn’t be a story, so we’ll just leave that under the rug.

Both Artie and Greg are extremely likable characters. And they fit really well together right from the get-go. The growth of their relationship was really well done, very realistically portrayed, and emotionally satisfying for this reader.

Now here is where I try to explain what went… off. I can’t say it was wrong, because it wasn’t quite that. The book opens with Greg having touched something and seeing something really bad. Like, “It puts the lotion on its skin” feeling bad. It immediately caught my attention, had me immediately in the moment. It was written in a stream of consciousness style that was really engrossing because it kept you off-balance and guessing.

The problem was that this style of writing never stopped. There was no break from it. The entire book is written from either Greg’s, Artie’s, or briefly, the killer’s point of view. Not just their point of view, so much as we are in their heads. It’s at its worse when we are in Greg’s head because Greg is also in Artie’s head. I was never quite sure who was thinking what or feeling what. Add to this a distressing lack of the word “said”. There were nearly zero dialogue indicators. In short bursts of dialogue this is fine. But an entire book? A four-page conversation with actions in between? I spent most of my time counting back lines of dialogue to figure out whose turn it was to be speaking.

Reading this book was a chore. I have never seen a greater collection of fragmented sentences in my life. I am sure it was done for effect, but it got old and tiresome very, very quickly.

The murder mystery aspect to it was exciting in that it was pretty freaking creepy. Unfortunately, the author didn’t showcase this to its best because the reader only got flashes of the exciting creepiness in between dinners, breakfasts, snacks, and sex. They had sex nearly as much as they ate. It would have been great if I could have figured out who was feeling what, who was doing what, or who was saying what.

The climax was very exciting from Artie’s point of view. When it came to the final confrontation with Mr. Psycho, I felt like the author chickened out and we only get the very fragmented view from Greg, which was damn near nothing. It was exciting, but I really wish Knight would have pulled back a bit, let me out of Greg’s head, and allowed me to see what the hell was going on.

The conclusion, though, was very well put together, very realistic, and very believable. And yes, it ended with them eating.

So, do I recommend this book? I think I do. The story was good. It just got lost in the fragmented writing style. But it was there. I think someone who is perhaps more accustomed to, or who enjoys, more experimental writing would enjoy this book. Heck, maybe a lot more people would enjoy this book. Maybe I’m just bitter because I still haven’t had the sushi it left me hungry for. Oh, or the fried chicken and biscuits. Or omelets. Mmmm… jambalaya…

Crossing the Line
Stephanie Vaughan
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Jamie MacPherson knows that looks aren’t everything — money counts for a lot, too. And that’s a good thing, since he’s got none of one and plenty of the other. Money may not buy happiness, but it’ll sure buy you the kind of misery you like best.

Ryan Van Alstyn knows that looks don’t mean a thing when your life falls apart and money can’t bring a loved one back.

When Jamie walks into Ryan’s restaurant one night, Ryan looks better than anything on the menu. Attraction leads to sex. It could be more, but Ryan can’t be bought and Jamie thinks he has nothing to offer but his money.

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I can’t quite decide if I liked this one or not.

For one thing, there were a few months in between my first reading and this review, and at some point in the interim, I forgot the story. How does one simply forget a story? Nevertheless, I had to go back to Crossing the Line, since I discovered that I remembered almost nothing about it. As I did so, a lot of the details that I had either liked or not liked in the first reading immediately jumped back into focus.

Jamie and Ryan are not a sterotypical yaoi couple – they’re easily identifiable as just men, in all their flaws and virtues. I don’t think I particularly liked Jamie, but that might have been because I was floundering a bit. The face he presents to the world doesn’t look the same as the man he percieves himself to be, and neither image is how he is seen by others outside himself. He’s a bundle of nerves and insecurities and contradictions. The further into the story I went, and the more the POV shifted from Jamie to Ryan and back again, the more confused I became as to how I, the reader, was supposed to see him. This made Jamie seem less like a fully-realized character to me, and more like an unstable one. I never did manage to sort him out in my head as a whole person instead of a collection of bits and pieces.

Ryan, however, I adored. Ryan was the one thing about the story I did manage to remember, and the best thing about the second read. I don’t want to use the word “angsty” to describe him, because it seems like such a shallow word to use regarding the real, heart-breaking emotional problems this poor man has gone through. I think I’d rather use the word “sorrowful.” Vaughn gave Ryan the kind of backstory that I can easily imagine a real person having, that common sort of tragedy that no one ever really wants to talk about, and no one ever really wants to listen to, anyway… unless you fall in love with him, that is. Ryan is that guy you see on the bus, or in the elevator, and he greets you with a smile and a cheery word about the weather, and you never realize that he’s trying his best just to get on with life.

Loved the cat. Hated the step-son. Was bemused by Ryan’s mother.

On the surface, Stephanie Vaughn is a competent, capable writer. Under the surface, though, Vaughn slipped some choice moments of sheer beauty into this story, not so much in the words she used, but in the concepts underneath the words. Things like Ryan’s refrigerator full of take-away boxes, or Jamie’s celebrity-watching at the Lakers’ game. The cars rushing down Pacific Coast Highway. The mini-characters that drift in and out of the restaurant where Ryan works. It’s like the very small daubs of paint an artist uses to bring light and shading to a large-scale landscape; Vaughn used ordinary things to make an extraordinary impact.

Recommending this book reminds me of recommending Here Be Dragons, but in complete reverse. I was fully aware that there were almost no redeeming qualities to Dragons, but I had fun reading it anyway. There are a lot of redeeming qualities in Crossing the Line… but while I certainly appreciate all the fine things about it, I don’t think I can say that I had much fun reading it. I think this might be another case when no one should take my word for it.

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I cannot express in words my complete and utter satisfaction with this book. I really can’t. But as I am charged with reviewing it, I will have to make an attempt.

Crossing the Line was so perfectly natural in the way it unfolded, I felt as if I were reading a biography rather than a fictional romance. Jamie and Ryan were so very real. At first I was a bit put off by the O.C. mechanic thing, feeling as if it was just going to be a fan fiction of one of those reality shows. Oh, boy, was I wrong. Jamie is such a wonderful character: gruff, honest, reliable, competent, and a bit stunted in the emotional department. He goes after other men who are pretty young things and discovers how to “buy” them. Not in a sugar daddy way, but in an attempt to keep them with him. It was heartbreakingly clueless and sweet at the same time.

Ryan, on the other hand, is much more savvy in the relationship area but is still hurting over his previous lover. But Jamie’s straightforward and earnest attention begins to thaw Ryan out, much to his consternation. I thoroughly enjoyed Ryan’s blossoming, through each hiccough and panicky halt.

What was really wonderful about Vaughan’s writing was that she slowly revealed the facts, letting me get closer and closer to the characters a bit at a time. Not only did it make me want to know more, but it made me really care about and sympathize with them. I could feel Jamie’s frustration at not knowing how to handle the situation and not wanting to “play games”. I could understand Ryan’s reticence, more and more as his history was revealed.

The sex scenes were truly hot and involving as only ones rendered with emotion can be. It’s a slowly building fire, but magnificent once it flares. I enjoyed every scene and could feel them using sex as another means to truly discover each other. Their personalities were so clear and yet so different even in sex: Ryan’s openness and willingness, Jamie’s need to get it on and wanting more, but unsure how to get it or if he deserves it.

And that was another thing that I appreciated. For once, it was the more “manly” man who had self-doubt and self-esteem issues. The rich man who believes he can only get what he can buy because he’s not good enough to catch someone on looks and personality alone. I liked that part of Jamie, again, making him real and solid as a character.

Not only was it a great story with amazing characters without all the tired over-emotionalism, but as a bonus, I found no technical errors in the writing.

I whole-heartedly recommend this to anyone who wants to read a good story about a couple of guys with plenty of baggage but without the need to open up and examine every suitcase and weep and angst over it. Two guys who fall into love and struggle to really understand it and keep it. Excellent book!


**Note: Crossing the Line is being moved from Loose Id to Torquere Press. Unfortunately, we must have scored our copy just before Loose Id lost it. When it becomes available again (with a possible name change) we will update the info here ASAP! We sincerely apologize for being book teases. is being re-released on May 28, 2008 by Torquere Press. For more info, please see the author’s website Stephanie Vaughan