Getting’ witchy with it

Halloween is not my holiday, really.

I don’t like to be scared. Seriously, I hate it. I don’t watch scary movies or read books in any genres that might give me a fright.

I also don’t particularly like dressing up? I’ve only felt like I’ve nailed my costumes a couple of times: Mary Poppins when I was 11, Alice in Wonderland at 22, and Charlie Chaplin when I was 10 except a few people thought I was Hitler on that last one, which was super unfortunate.

(And begs the question, what 10 year old is dressing up as Hitler?)

All that to say that my contribution to Halloween this year is a review of a witchy book: Ami McKay’s The Witches of New York.

I know – daring, isn’t it?

Back in the day, I read McKay’s The Birth House in one sitting. At the time, I couldn’t remember being quite so captivated by a book. It was also one of the first successful forays into CanLit (can someone figure this out for me? McKay was born in the States but lives in Nova Scotia and has totally been embraced as one of our own – does she “count” as being a Canadian author? How does this work? Emma Donogue is another one that this always confuses me with…)


When The Virgin Cure came out, I didn’t fall in love with it. So I was apprehensive about The Witches of New York. It continues Moth’s story. But this time Moth, now Adelaide Thom has embraced her witchy heritage. She is in business with Eleanor St Clair – they run a tea shop in New York City. Wealthy women come to visit them for a variety of problems that they help solve through spells and potions.

When Adelaide runs an ad looking for a shop girl to help Eleanor, Beatrice Dunn shows up and everything changes. Suddenly the women are in danger from those who are starting to become suspicious about the work that they do. In 1888, the women are quite removed from the Salem Witch Trials but there are still those who would harm them for the work that they do. As Beatrice learns to harness her powers, those who think that their work is evil come ever closer.

I really liked this book. There were some issues that I had in terms of the plot – there are a lot of things happening and I’m not convinced that they all came together. I also think that it doesn’t need to be a 500 page book – there’s a lot of set up that had no pay off and we could have started later and gotten to the same place.


I loved the atmosphere of this book. McKay does an incredible job of evoking this time and place with something extra. Her cast of characters, the history infused into this book give the whole thing an ethereal quality that had me looking around wondering if spirits were near.

Also, McKay is here for women. Beatrice, Adelaide and Eleanor make up a sisterhood who help each other in life and love and have built a business around helping other women out of the problems created, oftentimes, by men. There are very few men in this book and only one of them is really good – he’s the only one that actually listens to what they have to say. The others are intent on the destruction of these women for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that they are evil.

McKay touches on the Salem Witch Trials and the historical persecution of women who didn’t fit the mould. It turns out that one of her own ancestors had been persecuted, accused of being a witch – she was hanged in 1692. So the subject matter feels personal and you can tell as you read.

I think that The Witches of New York has been set up as a series and I am more than OK with it. If you haven’t read The Virgin Cure, I wouldn’t say that it’s necessary in order to enjoy this one. But don’t pass up The Witches of New York if you didn’t love its predecessor.

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 

12 thoughts on “Getting’ witchy with it

  1. Halloween isn’t my holiday either. But I heard Ami McKay read from this novel last week and her presentation was amazing. I loved hearing about her research on women’s lives. After that reading, the members of my book club decided we should read the novel together and I’m looking forward to it. I knew there was a connection with The Virgin Cure but I didn’t realize there was a suggestion she might write another book in the same series. Interesting.

    • I haven’t heard anything official, it’s the way the book ended and the way McKay wrote her Afterword. It’s just a feeling I have. I think The Witches of New York sets up a series nicely!
      Her research on women’s lives really shines through. I think it gives this book some heft that it otherwise wouldn’t have if magic had been the main focus.

  2. I like hearing another positive review of this book – like you, I liked her first book better than her second. However, because she’s a writer from NS, I of course have this book in my giant stack. I guess it would have been a good idea to read it in October, but at the rate I’m going it might end up being a Christmas book.

    (Btw, I think she counts as Canadian – she chose us, after all. And what a nice spot she chose, too!)

    Halloween’s not my thing, either. It’s just something I have to get through with the kids, then hope the candy doesn’t last too long. When the kids were little, I used to be able to take a lot of their candy away without them noticing, but not anymore! Now there is too much candy!!
    My most successful Halloween outfit was… (you’re going to be very surprised)… Anne of GG. I was 12. 🙂
    I would love to have been Mary Poppins!!
    Your Hitler story reminds me that one of my son’s friends dressed up as Trump this year.

    • Anne! What a great costume! I can’t believe I never attempted that. I like the idea of Halloween, I’m just so hopeless at coming up with a clever costume. Plus, I don’t have kids and live in an apartment. The only way Oct 31st deviates from the regular is that the dog is upset about fireworks!
      Do you have any kind of candy buy back in your area? I keep hearing about people buying the candy off their kids and then the kids get to buy something fun with the funds.
      A Trump costume…similar vibe to Hitler, for sure.
      Thanks for clearing up the Canadian thing. I had always assumed she was Canadian but then I read she was born in Indiana and was like “what does this mean?!”
      I don’t think the book has to be read in October but it certainly added to the atmosphere already created!

  3. I loved loved loved The Birth House when it came out too. Then, I kinda lost track. And when I thought about rereading it, I wasn’t quite as thrilled as I thought I’d be when I picked it up. Maybe it was just my mood. Even so, something about this one really appeals to me: I know you said it’s not necessarily to have read the first, but do you feel like it added something to your reading of this one, because you had read it?

  4. Pingback: Review: Daughter of Family G | The Paperback Princess

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