Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag

Title: The Witches of Cambridge
Author: Menna van Praag
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Rating: 4/5 

The Gist:
Amandine Bisset has always had the power to feel the emotions of those around her. It's a secret she can share only with her friends all professors, all witches when they gather for the Cambridge University Society of Literature and Witchcraft. Amandine treasures these meetings but lately senses the ties among her colleagues beginning to unravel. If only she had her student Noa's power to hear the innermost thoughts of others, she might know how to patch things up. Unfortunately, Noa regards her gift as a curse. So when a seductive artist claims he can cure her, Noa jumps at the chance, no matter the cost.

Noa's not the only witch in over her head. Mathematics professor Kat has a serious case of unrequited love but refuses to cast spells to win anyone's heart. Her sister, Cosima, is not above using magic to get what she wants, sprinkling pastries in her bakery with equal parts sugar and enchantment. But when Cosima sets her sights on Kat's crush, she conjures up a dangerous love triangle.

As romance and longing swirl through every picturesque side street, The Witches of Cambridge find their lives unexpectedly upended and changed in ways sometimes extraordinary, sometimes heartbreaking, but always enchanting.

The Witches of Cambridge is a lovely book with just a touch of magic within its pages.  It tells the story of five women, of finding love, of losing love, and of learning to love your own gifts.  Amendine fears that she is losing her husband while also trying to help her mother, Heloise deal with the death of the only man she has ever loved.  Noa's inability to prevent her self from blurting the truth as she sees it have prevented her from having a true friend, let alone a true love, and she soon finds herself at the mercy of a mysterious man with a power all his own.  Cosima wishes for the unrequited love of a child and her sister Kat refuses to admit to love, even to herself.  Together these wonderful women weave a web of magic as they see out their heart's desire and learn to heal themselves.

Menna van Praag writes fantastic worlds where magic is in the everyday and her characters are bound to witch their way into your heart.  She tells a powerful story of friendship, love, loss, and finding yourself.  The women are all very different characters and the plot revolves through their points-of-view.  This keeps the plot moving at a steady pace, though while four of them move in and out of each other's stories, Noa ended up feeling a little disjointed as her story (admittedly the most interesting one) occurs outside of the sphere of the others.  She doesn't have much contact with the other witches, and they are so wrapped up in their own issues that it takes a little too long for them to realize that she is in trouble.  I also have to admit that I wasn't nearly as invested in the sisters' story lines.  I think this is because they are introduced later than the other characters and I was less invested in their tales.

The magic in The Witches of Cambridge simmers just at the surface, with a wonderful sprinkling throughout the plot.  Except for Cosima, the witches are much more passive with their powers, having things happen to them rather than because of any actions that they have taken.  Cosima uses her magic in her bakery, creating fantastic treats for all sorts of reasons, including the attempt to bring her the only thing she has ever wanted - a daughter.  I particularly loved Heloise's storyline as she dealt with the death of her husband and the long grieving process.  We get to watch her 'come back to life' and even find love again, all the while, her magic blooms around her. 

Unfortunately, the ending comes together a little too quickly and easily and I felt some moments that could have been truly poignant were glossed over.  Mostly though, it is great story with some beautifully written characters.    


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