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Witchful Thinking by Celestine Martin

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Witchful Thinking

by Celestine Martin
September 27, 2022 · Forever

Witchful Thinking is a dreamy, magical, sensual novel that is enchanting. It also put me to sleep. It has all the whimsy and sweetness of, say, Practical Magic, but none of the page-turning conflict or excitement that might keep one glued to the story. It’s the chamomile tea of books.

Our story involves a family of witches who live in Freya Grove, a seaside town that boasts a carnival every year, a cakewalk that is more competitive than I recall cake walks being, a karaoke contest, and other enjoyable pursuits. The heroine, Lucy, is a witch who teaches high school, and I’m so very pleased that she has an actual recognizable job as lately my books have been full of increasingly odd professions like “erotic baker” and “erotic stationary designer.” Just to keep me on my toes, Lucy also creates tea blends and reads tea leaves as a side gig. Lucy is very settled in her family town, but she longs for excitement, and when a wish turns into a spell, she finds herself baking French desserts, singing karaoke, and flirting with her childhood love, Alex.

Alex, our hero, is a merman (!!!) who is back in town after wandering the world as a photographer and going through a bad breakup with his fiancee. His parents surprise him with the gift of a house, which he intends to sell as soon as possible since he never stays in one place. He’s so sure that he will never settle down that he believes he can’t possibly be Lucy’s soulmate. Lucy is also sure he’ll leave and that therefore this must be a temporary thing. But as Lucy helps Alex get his house ready to sell, the bond between them grows more powerful.

There’s a ton of atmosphere in the book. If whimsical small town kitchen witch tropes aren’t your thing, then this will not work for you. There’s also home renovation, mostly limited to home redecorating. You can’t start a new paragraph without tripping on an old spellbook or a ship in a bottle or some very tasty sounding iced tea blends. That’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact so y’all know what you’re getting into.

Lucy and Alex have great chemistry, but this is one of those books in which there is no real reason for the lovers to be apart and everyone, but everyone, knows they will end up together if they just stop getting in their own way, so I got pretty impatient with their romance. Like all the supporting characters, I felt a deep desire to yell at them to get over themselves already,get married and have some cute little merbabies. I liked that the romance took a long time to develop, because I think that’s realistic, but I didn’t like all the hand wringing about it.

My favorite thing about them as a couple was Alex’s constant and unconditional support of Lucy’s new adventures. At one point Lucy runs a race and is mortified to come in last. His response to her question, “What will people think?” is to help her think back to the response she got as she staggered past the finish line, and the pride and applause she got from the crowd. It’s a truly lovely moment of affirmation.

The closest thing this book has to an antagonist is Lucy’s cousin Ursula, who is trying to plan her (Ursula’s) wedding to a man she CLEARLY should not be marrying. Ursula is demanding and insecure and kinda mean but she is also so transparently miserable that I just felt awful for her. This book leaves Ursula hanging, presumably as sequel bait, and I felt so stressed out by her unresolved unhappiness that I couldn’t fully enjoy Lucy’s HEA.

I liked that this book was, generally, very cozy and low-key, but its very slow-burn cozy vibe also meant that I kept putting it down and walking off and forgetting all about it. I also felt that there were a lot of story elements that didn’t get enough attention. In fact, I ended up having my own set of wishes for the book. I wish it had:

  • A more detailed explanation of the magical system, its history or tradition, and how the rules of it work for those who have magic.
  • A more detailed explanation of what it is like to be a merperson.
  • A full story in which everyone gets a resolution instead of being left as sequel bait.
  • More clarity about what the wish spell does and how it works.
  • More information about Alex’s house and the gnomes who live in it and the complicated history of the house.
  • More recognition of the fact that Lucy has a full time job as a high school teacher and that the fact that she teaches teenagers all day is, in itself, an amazing achievement.

This is a gentle, whimsical, slow-burn romance and I think that some people will like it very much. Personally, I found it to be both too gentle and unsettling, depriving me of a happy ending for supporting characters while also having a glacial pace. It’s a fine comfort read and those who love these kinds of tropes and can deal with very low conflict and slow plot will enjoy it.

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