A Witch’s Handbook of Kisses and Curses
Just once I would like to pick up a great romance book about witches that doesn’t involve vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and every other manner of oogie-boogie that that the author can think up. From the description of A Witch’s Handbook of Kisses and Curses , I thought that more of the story would involve Nola working in her family’s clinic in Ireland. In fact, none of the book took place there, but rather, started with her departure for America. That right there ruined half of what I was looking forward to when starting the book.
The second thing I was interested in was the romance, which fell abysmally flat. With both of those element missing, what was left was a boring, long winded book about a kind of witch, who seems to have almost no powers, working shifts and a clinic and collecting trinkets with a team of vampires, spirits, and were-creatures.
Nola Leary is living in Ireland, working at her family’s clinic, and dating the incredibly average Stephen when the ghost of her grandmother, Nana Fee, insists that she go to Kentucky to collect four family heirlooms. The items were enchanted by the family ages ago to bind another witch family’s evil magic. Nola’s grandmother entrusted the items to Nola’s long-lost grandfather in order to keep them safe from the evil witch family, known as the Kerrigans. Nana Fee never told the man that she was pregnant, for whatever reason, but she did trust him to keep her family’s most precious objects that, if found by the Kerrigans, could take away the Leary family powers to heal. The items, a candle, book, bell, and plaque, which were enchanted with the powers of the elements, were supposed to be kept at the long-lost grandfather’s bookstore. However, the shop has now been taken over by a mind-reading vampire who didn’t know to protect the four elementals. Now they have ended up scattered about and Nola has to go on an increasingly boring journey to find them.
Nola’s task of finding the elementals involves getting a part time job at the bookstore, working at the local health clinic, and making pot after pot of tea. Nola herself doesn’t seem to be particularly magical. She has the power to sense people’s ailments, but not to heal them. Her few attempts at magic go awry and cause things like light fixtures to explode, although at one point she’s able to incinerate flowers with no problem. Other than that, she doesn’t seem like much of a witch.
The love interest of the story was Nola’s neighbor, Jed. He’s typically shirtless and nice, but no real chemistry flares between the two. For most of the story, Nola is still in a relationship with Stephen, though she almost totally forgets about him. As soon as that relationship ends, she jumps into bed with Jed. There’s no real build up in the relationship or any kind of anticipation. The two go from interacting a few times to magical, glowing, golden sex. I think the biggest issue was that there was a lot of telling, but not showing. We’re told that, for example, Jed brought her flowers but there’s very little time of genuine interaction between the pair. As a result, we never really experience Nola’s feelings, and thus don’t feel anything toward Jed. There was also the problem, for me, that another character named Zeb. At one point I kind of forget which three letter name went with which character. This could’ve been due in part to the large cast of characters employed in the story, all of which contributed very little. There was even a vampire landlord named Dick Cheney. I’m still not sure what the purpose of having him named after the former vice president was.
I also had an issue with Jed’s dialogue. The author gave him a southern accent, but I didn’t feel as though he spoke in a very masculine way. He used very feminine phrasing and was incredibly quick to confess his love for Nola, even though she had barely shown interest in him. It didn’t read as a very realistic male character to me. Also, Jed’s big secret wasn’t all that exciting. I was actually quite frustrated with Nola, as a witch, for not piecing together the strange, humanoid creature lurking in her yard with the skittish, occasionally elusive Jed.
The book as a whole has an issue of telling and not showing. Most of the book was paragraph after paragraph of information dumps that didn’t seem entirely relevant to the story. Lots of memories and history of Nola’s family filled each page. I personally got bored with it and found myself skimming to actually move the plot along. It would have served the book to cut down on some of the tedious details and include some actual romance. Nola’s search for the artifacts felt much the same way. There were pages and pages of detail describing the item and pondering where it might be and then the actual finding of the elemental would be very anti-climactic.
When the storyline reached the final action sequence at last, I again felt very let down. There were a few harried moments of action, followed by a fairly dull conclusion. I won’t ruin the ending, but the finding of the last elemental was probably the least interesting of the four. It felt like such an easy ending, considering how much worrying Nola had done about the enemy witch family getting its hands on the artifacts.
With all of that said, I will add that there is probably someone out there that will love this book. I could tell that Harper meant for the writing to be funny. To the right person, it might even be funny. To me, it felt like she was almost trying too hard to be amusing. There were too many quirky references and silly wordplay for me to enjoy reading it. However, I know that some people really love their narratives to be filled with oddball statements and wouldn’t care that it was light on romance. For those readers, A Witch’s Handbook of Kisses and Curses will be the perfect book. Fans of the Southern Vampire Mysteries, who liked it for Sookie’s quirky narrative, will like this book, as long as they don’t mind giving up the romance and mystery.