Crowinator's Reviews > Witches of East End

Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz
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it was ok
bookshelves: arcs, booklist-review, genre-urban-fantasy, paranormal, 2011-reads, adult

Actual rating: 2.5 stars

Let me start off by admitting that I’ve never read anything else by Melissa de la Cruz, except her short story in The Eternal Kiss anthology, which I remember being decent enough. I expected to like this adult debut more than I did, especially when I see the good reviews it’s getting elsewhere. I wonder, was I just really cranky when I read this? Why was I hyper-aware of every time de la Cruz used the phrase “for lack of a better word”, or dismissive of the entire paragraph she spends floridly describing Freya’s breasts, or critical of the fact that she chooses to use words like “lugubrious” and “pulchritude” in the early pages of a narrative that’s otherwise written at a median YA level?

Why was I so critical of her writing in general? Is it because I expected more out of an adult novel? Wait, I just answered my own question. As you can tell, this review is mostly going to be cranky.

The premise is a good one, and overall, the twisty way it plays out is the best thing about this novel. The Beauchamp family witches (mother Joanna; sisters Ingrid and Freya) have been hiding in the tiny coastal village of North Hampton for centuries, unable to practice magic by order of the Council. Eventually, they fall off the wagon, giving in to the temptation to improve the lives of their friends and neighbors with their magic. I’ll get to how creepy I often find their meddling in a bit, but suffice to say, pretty soon they are doing it old school and out in the open. This goes poorly for them when North Hampton is beset by a multitude of problems: dead animals turn up, people start getting inexplicably ill, other people go missing or are found murdered, and the Atlantic coast is suddenly coated in a toxic sludge that isn’t from an oil spill. Naturally, some of the townspeople blame the Beauchamps, causing the women to agonize about their Salem Witch Trial days, but they realize that the Evil-with-a-capital-E is actually connected to the Gardiner brothers, Bran and Killian, and their ancestral manor on nearby Gardiner Island. Anything else I can say would be a big spoiler, so I’ll stop there.

This story has an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to paranormal fiction: witches, vampires, zombies, several mysteries, and a romantic triangle, all thrown in haphazardly but then, by the end, fairly neatly tied up with Norse mythology: the tree of life, Yggdrasil; Midgard and Asgard; and several gods/goddesses. The Norse mythology stuff came as a surprise for me (I kept wondering if I was supposed to work that out earlier from the millions of hints dropped about the Beauchamp family’s past that are not revealed until, like, the last twenty pages) but I think it worked well as an overall framework for the story. Basically, this book is a set-up for the rest of the series, and all the important stuff happens at the end.

I had troubles with the timeline of the Beauchamp family, again because all these hints are dropped (mostly having to do with the Council decree to not use magic and the Salem Witch Trials, but also about the difference places they’ve lived and jobs they’ve had over the years) but never explained until past the point where I was ready to quit trying to figure it out. Sometimes, I felt like I was reading a middle book in a series without having read the others, like I was expected to know all the important pieces of backstory already. Mostly, my confusion came from references to Joanna’s, Freya’s and Ingrid’s immortality right next to references about their current lifespan age that make it seem like they’re really that age (Freya, for example, is 19, but she has a totally prosaic fake ID saying she’s 22 years old so that she can work in the bar). This eventually gets explained, (view spoiler).

Most of what I didn’t like in this book have to do with the characters. No amount of good plotting can save a book for me if I don’t care about any of the characters. Their lives revolve around men, and they use magic (not always, but enough) to manipulate people in order to “fix” relationships.

Ingrid, the older daughter, is a buttoned-up librarian who wears a bun and harangues her patrons over late fees. (Her nickname is even “Frigid Ingrid”.) She has a secret crush on the stable, dependable police detective (whose last name is Noble, and that says all about his minimal character) but doesn’t have time for silliness like love. She has a stereotypical gay best friend who is dilettantish and loves reality television, fashion, gossiping, and speaks in a pseudo-elevated Britishy manner. While some of her magic isn’t creepy, like she helps a friend who desperately wants to conceive, she also does things like create “fidelity knots” which are designed to keep married men from roaming. It’s not that I’m saying married men should be allowed to cheat on their wives, just that if you’re that sure your husband is cheating, maybe a magical knot tying him to you is not that empowering.

Freya, the youngest daughter, is the wild one who is marrying Bran but having an affair with his brother Killian. She has sex a lot and she’s very pretty. That’s about it for her. Oh, she also makes magical cocktails – her “love potions” – that can make shy girls take off their bras and dance on the table and make out with random male bar patrons (yeah, also called roofies in the non-magic community), make people fall in love regardless of suitability, and can make a man reawaken to romance with his wife that he might be cheating on (which is kind of ironic considering Freya’s philandering). Her potions are all about saving or creating romantic relationships, and as far as I remember, only women ask for them, because apparently only women care about this kind of stuff.

Joanna, the mother, spends her time stuck at home being “domestic” and is obsessed with Tyler, the young son of their housekeeper, because she misses her son (who is apparently in magical jail for eternity) and husband, who she kicked to the curb at some point in the past. She creeps me out even more than the “secret ingredients” in Freya’s cocktails, because the way she behaves with Tyler reminds me strongly of those child-snatching psycho-mommies from too many Criminal Minds episodes, or The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. (Even more disturbing, Tyler’s parents don’t seem to mind that Joanna spends all day playing with him, feeding him, picking him up at school, and basically being his mommy while they are off cleaning the house and grounds. Does this kid even know who his real mother is?) Most of the book, she does magic to impress Tyler –like making toys come alive – but she does bring a man back to life at the tearful request of his female partner, who is being kicked out of her home by his family because they don’t approve of their relationship. (Spoiler: (view spoiler)) Joanna is the first to realize that all the wrong things in town are connected (and promptly flies off to look for her husband).

As for Bran and Killian, for most of the book they seem to exist only to give Freya a love triangle: one is hot but boringly dependable; one is hot but excitingly mysterious. There is a cool twist to the brothers that is foreshadowed nicely in retrospect, and a cool moment for Freya at the end, which leads me to hope that the next book will have more for them all to do than have sex.

Overall, the story itself – how all the mysteries intertwine – is intriguing, and I think I would have liked this more if I hadn’t disliked or been bored by all the characters, their creepy-helpful magic, and the weird sense I got that, despite being powerful witches, the women are all defined by the men who are present or absent in their lives.
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Reading Progress

April 1, 2011 – Started Reading
April 1, 2011 – Shelved
April 1, 2011 – Shelved as: arcs
April 1, 2011 – Shelved as: booklist-review
April 1, 2011 – Shelved as: genre-urban-fantasy
April 1, 2011 – Shelved as: paranormal
April 19, 2011 –
page 47
17.28% "Oh, where do I start? First, adding some extra-big words that sound labored in an otherwise breezy narrative and some sex doesn't make this read like an adult novel. Second, authors should never use the phrase "for lack of a better word" multiple times, especially when preceded and followed by LOTS and LOTS of redundant descriptive words. Third, I am so confused with the timeline in this story. I hope this improves."
April 20, 2011 –
page 90
April 21, 2011 –
page 166
61.03% "I'm uncomfortable with how Freya's love potions (that make girls "desirable" and do wild things like take off their bras and dance on tables) are distributed to unwary girls in the town bar. It seems not so different from being roofied, even if there's also a protection charm built in to stop them from being harmed. They're being drugged without their knowledge to act out of character with boys. Gross, not magical."
April 21, 2011 – Shelved as: 2011-reads
April 21, 2011 – Finished Reading
November 26, 2012 – Shelved as: adult

Comments Showing 1-11 of 11 (11 new)

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message 1: by Kelly (new)

Kelly Yeah, that's creepy.

message 2: by Angela (new)

Angela Just clicked on over to your profile after reading replying to your comment on Tatiana's thread. Based what I read here about this one, I'm guessing you wouldn't recommend it. I haven't picked books from my Amazon Vine offerings this month and this one had me wondering if I should pick it...

Crowinator @Angela, yeah, I didn't like this one much. The premise had a lot going for it and there was some cool plot stuff, but all of the characters are stereotypes and I had a LOT of problems with the way their magic is presented. I thought all of the Beauchamp family were totally creepy, actually. I haven't read any of de la Cruz's YA books, though, so I can't really compare them; people who like those might like this one. This is another one where I'm in the middle of writing a review and hope to get it posted within the week.

Crowinator @Angela, on the other hand, Kirkus and PW both are giving it positive reviews, so it may be my personal quirks stopping me from loving this one.

message 5: by Angela (new)

Angela @Crowinator: I haven't read any of de la Cruz's books either (only one short story) so I have no idea what her regular shtick is like. Based on what you've said so far (PW and Kirkus reviews withstanding), I'm going to skip it.

P.S. Thanks for the friend add! :)

Crowinator You're welcome. Thanks for the friend request!

message 7: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana Just butting in here. I do not recommend her YA books either. Her shtick is, IMO, making up fairly decent mythology and then over-milking her series.

Crowinator Thanks, Tatiana and Jillian! Oliver is briefly in this one too, as is a vampire named Mimi, but they seemed forced into the story. I think they were just there to give some key information at the right time.

message 9: by Tatiana (last edited May 03, 2011 12:04PM) (new)

Tatiana Yep, Mimi is from Blue Bloods too.

Diana Nice review. I didn't realize this was supposed to be an adult novel, now I'm more disappointed. Definitely read YA.

Michelle I absolutely LOVE this review lol. Everything you said. I couldn't get past page 80. This is the first book I've read of hers and didn't realize that she normally writes YA. Makes sense.

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