Book Review: Witches of East End

I don’t mean to be doing another book review so soon, buuuuut…. I do sorta read a lot and I tend to have an opinion on most things I read. Shouldn’t we all? What’s the purpose of reading if it doesn’t get us to think/feel something, right?  So, this weekend I finished reading a bit of fluff by Melissa De La Cruz  called Witches of East End.  If De La Cruz sounds familiar to you at all, it would be for her best-selling young adult series, Blue Bloods. I’ve never read Blue Bloods, so I came to Witches of East End with only a few preconceived notions.

First: a summary (copied from Amazon. Not sure if it’s Publisher’s Weekly or not).

From the author of the highly addictive and bestselling Blue Bloodsseries, with almost 3 million copies sold, comes a new novel, Melissa de la Cruz’s first for adults, featuring a family of formidable and beguiling witches.

The three Beauchamp women–Joanna and her daughters Freya and Ingrid–live in North Hampton, out on the tip of Long Island. Their beautiful, mist-shrouded town seems almost stuck in time, and all three women lead seemingly quiet, uneventful existences. But they are harboring a mighty secret–they are powerful witches banned from using their magic. Joanna can resurrect people from the dead and heal the most serious of injuries. Ingrid, her bookish daughter, has the ability to predict the future and weave knots that can solve anything from infertility to infidelity. And finally, there’s Freya, the wild child, who has a charm or a potion that can cure most any heartache.

For centuries, all three women have been forced to suppress their abilities. But then Freya, who is about to get married to the wealthy and mysterious Bran Gardiner, finds that her increasingly complicated romantic life makes it more difficult than ever to hide her secret. Soon Ingrid and Joanna confront similar dilemmas, and the Beauchamp women realize they can no longer conceal their true selves. They unearth their wands from the attic, dust off their broomsticks, and begin casting spells on the townspeople. It all seems like a bit of good-natured, innocent magic, but then mysterious, violent attacks begin to plague the town. When a young girl disappears over the Fourth of July weekend, they realize it’s time to uncover who and what dark forces are working against them.

This is not a young adult novel. I understand that. De La Cruz, however, is an established young adult author. Sometimes, young adult novels and authors transcend the genre and wind up with a story that appeals to a broader audience– Phillip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, are pros at this. I think De La Cruz fell short; her “adult” novel still has a strong young adult feel about it. Here’s why: there are a few major elements to a stereotypical Y.A. novel; 1) Teenage angst 2) All consuming love obsessions 3) Cheesey dialogue 4)Writing that tells but doesn’t show. In Witches of Estwick– I mean EastEND, De La Cruz does a decent job laying off the angst. There’s lots of love, but it doesn’t come across as unhealthily obsessive as, say, Bella and Edward. She falls in the cheesey  dialogue pit a few times and the general writing style is guilty (sound of gavel banging) guilty, guilty, of Tell Don’t Show. I felt like the publisher got the outline of the story De La Cruz was going to write and published that instead of the actual story.

When a book SHOWS its reader the plot or the nature of a character it does that by having the character DO things that reveal the plot and DO things that reveals her personality. De La Cruz, however, mostly opted for the tell style in which the narrator (this was written in third person omniscient) TELLS the reader what the plot is and what the Characters’ personalities are rather than letting the characters reveal these things through their actions and dialogue.

For example, in just one chapter we get this many character descriptions, but very little of those characters actually doing much:  Sal McLaughlin, who’d inherited the North Inn and its bar from his brother, who’d retired. Sal was a cheerful man of seventy, with wiggly eyebrow an a belly laugh. He had hired Freya on the spot and acted as her honorary grandfather.”  Just a few paragraphs later, we get another character description: “Natasha Mayles, a former model who was one of the town’s too-too-toos: too rich, too pretty, too picky. Too good for any man to come near when it came down to it.”  And the next page over: “Todd Hutchinson was young, slick, and ambitions…The young mayor was popular around town…Freya had nothing against Todd, who was polite and tipped well. He was married to a local news anchor rumored to be in line for a national spot on the network.” Don’t worry, we’ll get a good solid description of his wife a little later in the story. Some description is necessary, don’t get me wrong, but De La Cruz is liberal with it. At some point I want the characters to stop “being” and start “doing.”

De La Cruz’s outline style of storytelling is best exemplified in the last chapter of the book where she uses the last few pages to tell the reader how almost the mysteries and conflicts that were presented earlier in the story were solved. She didn’t reveal the solutions through dialogue or actions of the characters; the detective did no detecting, at least not that we got to see/read. The characters solved the problems because De La Cruz told us they did. I could tell it was going to happen this way when when I was over 3/4 into the book and saw that there were LOTS of questions still unanswered and only a few pages left in which to answer them. In fact, if you want, just read the w last chapter and you’ll know the outcome of the whole book.

Here’s another excerpt from the last chapter to support my point (*HUGE SPOILER ALERT*): “A few weeks ago the murders had been solved. First, Maura Thatcher had fully recovered and retracted her statement [How convenient!]. She had no idea why she had said Joanna Beauchamp had attacked them. Killian had turned in the bloody cap worn by Bill Thatcher, as well as a bloody pile of clothing that he had found in the basement near the incinerator in Fair Haven. The Jacket and pants were unmistakably Bran’s, and they were splattered by blood that matched Bill’s and Maura’s. Molly Lancaster had been sexually assaulted and beaten, just as Derek had confessed. However, intrepid detectives discovered that cell phone records showed that the last number Molly dialed was to an account owned by Todd Hutchinson. And when the DNA tests came back, it was his DNA that was found on her body, not Derek’s. The poor boy had broken down and provided a false confession as part of his attorney’s plan to pin the blame on Freya.”

It’s like De La Cruz created a thin film of a mystery, a scrim we could call it, on which to pin the main purpose of her story which  a hot and steamy love triangle.  A triangle is apt because it’s two-dimensional, just like the two male leads that form said triangle.

I mentioned earlier that De La Cruz had some problematic dialogue. I can’t finish this review until I give you an example of that as well.  Ingrid a centuries old goddess and Matt, a detective, have been walking circles around each other for the whole book. You know they’re going to end up together eventually. This is how it happens:

   “I should have just been honest from the beginning. About who I really wanted to go out with. It’s just…you never seemed to like me.  For a while there I thought I really annoyed you.”

     Ingrid was embarrassed at her actions. She had been mean to Matt, and for no reason other than she liked him. [Is she an ancient immortal or a 5-year-old on the playground?]

    “[Hudson] said you were really happy to hear that Caitlan and I broke up, so I thought I might have reason to, you know, hope again.”

     “I mean…I’ve like you a long time, Ingrid. I’ve read all those awful books you keep making me read. Don’t you think that maybe…”

    “I don’t know what you are, Ingrid Beauchamp, if you’re a witch or not, but I’m hoping that you’ll got out with me some time.”

So, if you are a De La Cruz fan, read it. If you’re looking for something more sophisticated, skip it. Sweet and frothy, but no real substance. If you just want to eat desert and skip the main course, this book is for you.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. squee1313
    Jan 16, 2012 @ 15:59:14

    I accidentally hit the Publish button before I was done writing. I hope subscribers will come to the page and read the whole thing. Sorry!!!

    Reply

  2. kimtastic7878
    Jan 22, 2012 @ 22:51:07

    De La Cruz seems to suffer from the “what HAD happened was…” style of writing that we discussed in the Alice in Deadland excerpt. Maura Thatcher HAD fully recovered, Killian HAD turned in the bloody cap…etc.

    Reply

  3. squee1313
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 12:16:47

    I tell you, the “had” syndrome is a side effect of the Tell-a-Story disease. Alice in Deadland had the same problem. He liked to tell (oh-so-very badly) rather than give his reader some show. Sooo, boring

    Reply

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