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. 


My CanLit Journey: Canada Reads

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that I’ve struggled with liking CanLit. This might not sound like a big deal for those of you that aren’t Canadian, but if you tell Canadians that you don’t really like Canadian Literature, it’s a thing.

Canada has a long, proud history of literature. We’re a bookish country. But I never really connected with CanLit. Not on purpose anyway.

But, one of the great things about having started this blog and connecting with other bookish people (I’m thinking especially of Naomi at Consumed by Ink and Tania and Kurt at WriteReads), is that I’ve been challenged to re-evaluate my position on CanLit. And I’m making progress. So much so that this year for the first time ever I tuned in to Canada Reads.

Oh yeah, I wasn’t kidding when I said Canada was a bookish country. We have a national reality show to choose a book that the whole country should read. Past winners include The Book of Negroes, The Orenda, and A Complicated Kindness. Finalists have included Life of Pi, A Fine Balance, The Prisoner of Tehran and The Birth House. Notable Canadians pick the books and then argue for why their book should win.

And actually if I’m being honest, of the ones I just listed, I’ve read and enjoyed four. Not too shabby for a CanLit snob.

Anyway, I tuned in this year and was blown away by the debate. It was passionate, it was intelligent, it was what I wish book club was actually like – at times it was emotional. The panelists argued about what it meant to be Canadian, which book broke the most barriers, writing quality etc.

Let me be honest – the reason I actually tuned in this year was because Elaine Lui (aka Lainey Gossip) was one of the panelists, defending When Everything Feels Like the Movies, the first YA book included in the competition. She was brilliant and really made me want to read the book.

I ended up reading the book that won over the weekend (I don’t want to ruin it for you, but really, you’re not going to get very far not knowing if you look at anything related to books and Canada). It was beautifully written, lyrical and poetic but honestly? I’m not sure it’s the kind of book that people are going to be clamouring to read. I think it’s one of those books that book critics love, but regular people are going to have a hard time with. The kind of book that most people are going to go “oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to read that…”

Still, actually tuning in to the competition feels like a watershed moment in my CanLit journey. If you’re looking for something to listen to, I really recommend it. It’s available as a podcast, or here.  Four sessions, four hours of fabulous bookish debate – what’s not to love?


The Virgin Cure

I loved The Birth House and if you read it, then I know you did too. It was one of Heather’s Picks of the decade, shortlisted for the CBC’s Canada Reads competition and was Number One on Canada’s bestseller lists. It was compulsively readable, perfectly Canadian and totally timeless.

I was so anticipating Ami McKay’s next effort, The Virgin Cure.

I have to say, I was disappointed. I was never completely invested in Moth or the time or the story. The idea of the Virgin Cure (that having sex with a virgin would cure a man of syphilis) was touched on but never became what I assumed would be the crux of the story. It was just kind of a description of a brutal time and place for a young girl.

The beginning felt very A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to me (for the record, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my favourite books), just in terms of the New York slums and the reality of poverty at the time and how Moth’s mom does whatever she needs to do in order to get the money together for rent. But while Francie’s mom would never actually sell her children, Moth’s mother has no qualms about selling her daughter, into what was basically white slavery, to a woman with a heavy purse.

After Moth gets abused at the hands of her mistress, she escapes and is living on the street when she is saved by a girl in a fancy dress and brought to a house that turns out to be a kind of brothel, specializing in training young girls how to behave around men and then selling their virginity to the highest bidder.

Sometimes you just don’t feel it. I didn’t connect. There was a bit of a circus feel to it and I do not care for the circus. I didn’t like Water for Elephants either and I’m sure that that was down to the circus.

A lot of the book was very sad – the women dying of syphilis, the reminder that aside from marrying well there weren’t a whole lot of options open to women, how Moth’s mother sells her and then just disappears. But I didn’t feel like any of this was particularly new or surprising. I’ve read these things before.

Moth’s mother is supposed to be a Gypsy, a fortune teller and I guess one of the things that is supposed to make her story stand out is that he has all kinds of rituals that she’s picked up from her mom that she uses to get what she thinks she wants. In this new life of hers, Moth has to reconcile the things that her mother always told her (like not to sit in a bathtub) with the way things are in her new life, the necessity of passing herself off as the same as the other girls.

There’s a bit of a plot twist near the end I suppose, but by then I’d long forgotten the origins of it and it didn’t shock or surprise me, it just happened.

I wanted to love this book, I waited a long time for this book. But I’m sad to say that I just didn’t connect.

Sometimes that happens (kind of a lot this year it seems eh?).