The Witches of New York by Ami McKay #BookReview #Magic

a7Title: The Witches of New York
Author: Ami McKay
Series: N/A
Format: Digital ARC, 320 pages
Publication Details: October  2016 by Orion Books
Genre(s): Historical Fiction; Magic Realism; Supernatural
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review. 

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The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (‘Moth’ from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and “gardien de sorts” (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients.

All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind?

Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. Working with Dr. Quinn Brody, a talented alienist, she submits Beatrice to a series of tests to see if she truly can talk to spirits. Amidst the witches’ tug-of-war over what’s best for her, Beatrice disappears, leaving them to wonder whether it was by choice or by force.

As Adelaide and Eleanor begin the desperate search for Beatrice, they’re confronted by accusations and spectres from their own pasts. In a time when women were corseted, confined and committed for merely speaking their minds, were any of them safe?

Review

Although not a sequel, this book follows a character from McKay’s acclaimed novel The Virgin Cure, which if I had known before (lack of research on my part) would perhaps have put me off requesting it. Fortunately it didn’t seem to matter. Unfortunately, my first foray into the world of Ami McKay didn’t quite beguile me like I thought it would. 

The Witches of New York follows young Beatrice who is seeking employment. When she sees an advert in the paper from a strange-sounding tea shop where ‘those averse to magic need not apply’, she feels like this will be the start of a new life for her, and it is.

Owned by Adelaide, a seer (and Moth from The Virgin Cure) and Eleanor, a witch, the tea shop is a front to a growing magic business. Beatrice soon becomes an invaluable apprentice but her visions begin to haunt her, and she’s weakened and easily exploited.

I liked some parts of this book, but I just don’t think I was in the mood for it. I can imagine enjoying a lazy Sunday reading this, but trying to read it during a busy schedule didn’t work. The pace was painfully slow and although the descriptions were beautiful and elegant, they were subtle and drawn-out. I found myself skim reading a lot.

This novel does have a great magic-realism atmosphere, and McKay is clearly a talented writer, but this book was too light for me. She reminded me a lot of Alice Hoffman, albeit with something missing.

However, I liked the way she presents these real-life witches – as strong, independent women in an era where women had no rights, were discriminated against, and most certainly should not have worked in a shop, never mind owned one. AND I liked that the heart of this book was about women’s relationships in that hard time where it was extremely brave of them to be proud of who they are.

Basically, I enjoyed what McKay was tying to do here, but I needed more to take hold of to keep me interested in the plodding plot.

unicorn rating 2

 

 

Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

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Title: Back to Blackbrick
Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 272 pages
Publication Details: February 7th 2013 by Orion Children’s Books
Genre(s): YA; Sci-Fi
Disclosure? Nope! I borrowed it from Dora. Thanks Dora.

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Cosmo’s brother Brian died when he was ten years old. His mum hides her grief by working all the hours God sends and Cosmo lives with his grandparents. They’ve been carefree days as Granddad buys him a horse called John and teaches him all he knows about horses. But the good times have to come to an end and although he doesn’t want to admit it, Cosmo knows his Granddad is losing his mind. So on one of the rare occasions when Granddad seems to recognise him, Cosmo is bemused that he gives him a key to Blackbrick Abbey and urges him to go there. Cosmo shrugs it off, but gradually Blackbrick draws him in…

Cosmo arrives there, scared and lonely, and is dropped off at the crumbling gates of a huge house. As he goes in, the gates close, and when he turns to look, they’re rusty and padlocked as if they haven’t been opened in years. Cosmo finds himself face to face with his grandfather as a young man, and questions begin to form in his mind: can Cosmo change the course of his family’s future?

 Review

I really enjoyed Sarah’s second YA novel, The Apple Tart of Hope which I got through Netgalley, so I was eager to go back to her first offering, Back to Blackbrick.

Like The Apple Tart of Hope, Back to Blackbrick is a quirky read told in a unique voice. It seems to me that both of Sarah’s stories are full of juxtapositions; they are set in the real world yet have fantasy elements; they are humorous and light-hearted, yet also deal with serious subject matter.

I love that about Sarah’s writing. It feels real but magical at the same time.

Back to Blackbrick is narrated by Cosmo. He hates his name, the fact that his brother died in such a stupid manner (he fell out of a window), his mother for getting on a plane and never coming back, the school kids who call him Loser Boy, and that his granddad’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse by the day.

But Cosmo is a spirited boy. He doesn’t despair too much over these things and he definitely doesn’t dwell on them. Instead, he throws himself into helping his granddad to remember things.

When his granddad gives him a mysterious key, along with the name Blackbrick, and asks him to promise to go there, Cosmo sets off on his own adventure. Beyond his imagination, Cosmo opens the gates to Blackbrick and finds himself face-to-face with his granddad, only he’s 50 years younger….

Can Cosmo use this time lapse to his advantage? He wants to teach his granddad good mind practices, and stop his brother from falling out of the window, but that might not be so simple as it’s easy to get swept away with life at Blackbrick.

I thought this book was beautifully told, funny, and well, just cute. I can’t think of any better way to describe it than that. It was exciting in parts, sad in others, but Cosmo’s frank way of looking at the world really shone through and made the story what it is: Unique.

unicorn rating 4

Back to Blackbrick and The Apple Tart of Hope are available in paperback from Waterstones.