I started with one of these books because I just needed a cozy witchy book with some small town and some herbs and some love story that ends in HEA or maybe not, maybe the romance is the B Plot, maybe they just bat eyelashes and it ends with hope. Then I ditched that book 50% of the way in because, Dear Reader, it was upsetting and whatever the opposite of charming is. I had the other on deck and, based solely on the cover and a quick skim of the synopsis – which is my very scientific method for requesting ARCs by the way. Welcome to behind the curtain. Anyway. Imagine my surprise to find out that they were essentially almost the identical book. No seriously. The problem with the second book – which I liked way more, by the way – is that they’re not just “in effect the same book” they are almost entirely play-by-play the same bare bones plot, characters, setting, conflicts, etc. This is absolutely one of those cases where reading order – which I read first – affects my feelings about the books. Had I read them in reverse order, I would have adored the one I liked rather than just liked it. Now I’ve got this sour taste in my mouth that it’s just not that great because it’s almost identical to a book I really really disliked. It, not by any fault of its own, is now – in at least this one publication – forever linked with a book someone really disliked.
Here are the books and here are my ratings. Again, ratings are arbitrary and I’m half a moron and have totally bad taste and, honestly, I’m kind of a hard ass about things so maybe it’s me.
The first book, Unfortunate Side Effects, is billed as “for fans of Practical Magic and Gilmore Girls.” I posted on this very website that it was my vibe. I mean, put that shit in an IV bag and pump it right into my veins. Welp, Dear Reader, that’s not what it is. Now here’s the problem with reviewing two books (honestly, this is also the problem with reviewing a single book, too): I don’t want to just tell you what it’s about. I don’t want to inventory characters, themes, plots, settings, the good stuff, the bad stuff. All of this is stuff you can gather from the back cover or the synopsis online. Plus – and here’s the real kicker – unless something is really offensive I will never dissuade anyone from reading a book. I tell people we’re all going to die and we don’t have the days left in this life to spend it reading books we don’t like so, honestly, put it down. But, I fully know that what we like and don’t like isn’t so obvious and it isn’t so shared. And just because I know Neil Diamond is a better songwriter than Eddie Vedder doesn’t mean you’re going to agree with me. Even though you’re wrong… but that’s a discussion for another time.
So here are the bare bones of these two books:
- MC POV character is a twenty-nine year-old cishet woman who has “magic” (Unfortunate Side Effects) and/or “a gift” (Witch of Wild Things)
- MC considers their magic/ gift a problem (specifically, “a curse” in Witch of Wild Things)
- MC’s sibling relationship – a twin in Unfortunate Side Effects, one of three sisters in Witch
- MC and sibling(s) were abandoned by parents
- MC and siblings(s) were raised by magical matriarch-ish: aunt in one, grandmother in another
- MC and sibling(s) have living mothers probably but those moms “left”… so I guess there’s material for another title about where the mom is, right?
- MC and sibling(s) are part of big magical family whose members are introduced in a family gathering
- There’s a dead and/or dying immediate family member that the MC needs to deal with
- There’s the return of a former lover or love interest from ten years ago (in both!)
- Both the MCs are a version of a hedgewitch – That is, in one she has an affinity for food/ baking and potion-making of that sort (though she’s never referred to what she makes as potions though, straight up, she makes a pastry or muffin that acts as a truth serum) and, in the other, she has an affinity for plants of all kinds (can listen to them, talk to them, and control them).
- Both MCs are so hung up on their long-ago-love-interest that they essentially haven’t had a relationship since then. I mean, in Unfortunate Side Effect she has… but it’s like she hasn’t. She almost married a guy and, somehow, it’s like she’s remained abstinent since The One/ Childhood Sweetheart. In Witch, she’s was a virgin till her late twenties because she was so hung up on a guy from high school she IMed. Guys… I like Witch but… she IMed some dude in high school. Guys. So did I. And he broke my heart too in that way that super intense teenagers get their hearts broken. I also continued to live my life. I hate that romance MCs never seem to, you know, just live. You don’t have to get over it. You need to, however, just continue living. Yeah yeah books fiction tropes The One I have a heart! I swear!
- The MC’s BFF is some Latine. Except, hear me out, in Unfortunate Side Effects drops Spanish words in her English in ways we don’t. I say Spanglish is my first language probably like sixteen times a week. I don’t call my BFF “carina” or “cariña” (both of which are used multiple times). In Witch, well, a Chicana is writing it. So she knows. Her BFF is Cuban. I appreciate that. She makes Cuban food. How they get Cuban bread outside of South Florida or Tampa or New Jersey I’ll never know but I’ll give her a pass on that.
Long story longer, but in somewhat brief: Unfortunate Side Effects was not a good book. Things I didn’t like: the system of magic is unclear and inconsistent. It’s also super convenient and obvious. With the same bare bones, however, Witch of Wild Things works. I think it doesn’t try so hard.
In Unfortunate Side Effects, the “Gilmore Girls element” is likely that the maternal figure has a very casual manner and demeanor with the kids, particularly the MC. The problem is that calling characters “pissant” and “shit ass” the whole time is not how you convey that casual, deep friendship relationship. It doesn’t make the grandma interesting or cool. It doesn’t make it seem like they make inside jokes or talk in ways that transcend whatever labels others would place on their relationship. It’s just annoying, callous, and simple. It’s so simple. Small. Basic. It’s unimaginative. In Witch of Wild Things, there’s a casualness and a deepness that does, indeed, feel like it transcends the labels of maternal character (Nadia) and sisters. They, Dear Reader, like and love one another and also, FYI, hate one another. I love it. I think – and this is fully personal bias that comes from my own real life and identities – comes from the fact that Witch is “Latine Practical Magic.”
I’m writing a lot and mostly about a book I didn’t enjoy. Doesn’t mean you won’t like it. You might love it. I’m sure other people do. I’m sure other people will. I’m writing less about the book I prefer. There’s stuff I didn’t love in Witch, thus a 3.5 rating. But I won’t get into it. Doesn’t matter. This post is me venting, and I’m not going to convince anyone of anything. I still have some more witchy cozy books on deck which I’ll read between other books – some which I’m about to review on here too. Books that are different, and not just because they have different titles.
In conclusion (ha!)… in conclusion, I read two books that are probably written by fans of the movie adaptation of Practical Magic for fans of the movie adaptation of Practical Magic. One was a DNF at 50% because I hated the characters, was bored by the story, and found unconvincing in character development, relationships, and worldbuilding. The other was a pretty good book that I’d probably have liked better had I read it first and/or not read the other one at all. The fact that they’re so similar, though, makes me sad. It makes me feel like when people say “there’s nothing new under the sun” they mean it and it’s true in a bad way, not in a comforting “I’m not alone. None of us are ever alone” kind of way. It’s a bummer.
I promise I’m reading a better book and I’ll post about it next. Plus, I’ve got all those other cozy witch books on coming up – some ARCs and some already out.
Oh, I didn’t mention, both of these are ARCs and dropping in September.