Disclaimer: A review copy was provided by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other remuneration was received.
Book Title: MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S MISCHIEF
Author: Jennifer D. Hesse
Series: A Wiccan Wheel Mystery #1
Publisher: Kensington Books
Release Date: June 26, 2016
Find It: Amazon
Source: ARC provided by NetGalley, ebook format
3 Batty Moons!
As the Summer Solstice approaches in idyllic Edindale, Illinois, attorney Keli Milanni isn’t feeling the magic. She’s about to land in a cauldron of hot water at work. Good thing she has her private practice to fall back on–as a Wiccan. She’ll just have to summon her inner Goddess and set the world to rights. . .
Midsummer Eve is meant for gratitude and celebration, but Keli is not in her typically upbeat mood. The family of a recently deceased client is blaming her for the loss of a Shakespearean heirloom worth millions, and Keli’s career may be on the line. With both a Renaissance Faire and a literary convention in town, Edindale is rife with suspicious characters, and the intrepid attorney decides to tap into her unique skills to crack the case. . .
But Keli weaves a tangled web when her investigation brings her up-close and personal with her suspects–including sexy Wes Callahan, her client’s grandson. The tattooed bartender could be the man she’s been looking for in more ways than one. As the sun sets on the mystical holiday, Keli will need just a touch of the divine to ferret out the real villain and return Edindale, and her heart, to a state of perfect harmony. . .
READ ON FOR MY REVIEW!
When I see a book that sounds quirky and funny, yet seems to know what it’s talking about when it comes to actual, real-life Wicca and/or witchcraft, it makes me very excited. Not that I don’t love a complete fantasy about witches, because I do. But SO much fiction takes a shot at realistically portraying modern neo-Pagan witchcraft and Wicca, and not only misses, but gets really offensive about it, it gets really frustrating. It’s like every Christian in every book being characterized as a crazed, bible-thumping, xenophobic maniac. The stereotype is just that–a stereotype–and for me, since I studied Goddess religion and the Craft, it just yanks me right out of the story. DNF.
Anyway, it looked like this cozy mystery (another genre I know NOTHING ABOUT) might at least take a shot at a realistic depiction of Wicca without taking itself TOO seriously (a fine line, it’s true.) so I requested it.
One of the reasons I enjoy e-books is because I can highlight or make notes right in the text without making it unreadable (you should see my original paperback of OUTLANDER. It’s so highlighted and so many pages are dog-eared, it’s pretty much a doorstop at this point.). I can mark things I liked or want to note later in my review. Conversely, I can highlight and note things that I don’t like or drive me crazy.
It was not a good sign that most of the entire first three chapters of MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S MISCHIEF were highlighted and noted. In the not-so-good way. I honestly thought, with my super-stuffed reading and writing schedule, that I was just going to have to DNF.
LUCKILY… I guess, at least for Ms. Hesse? The book?…it got better. I wasn’t crazy about the depiction of Wicca, but there wasn’t anything so egregious that it didn’t still stand above and beyond most fictional representations. At first, I was annoyed that the heroine cut her teeth on The Craft and Charmed, because UGH. If I could name two things anyone serious about learning about witchcraft and Wicca SHOULD NOT turn to as a source of information, it would be The Craft and Charmed. Hell, Willow and Tara on Buffy were closer to the truth. BUT it was the character’s teenage years, and she grew out of that and became a more serious student. I use “serious” lightly, as there isn’t a lot about this book that’s entirely serious.
Thus begins my introduction to the cozy mystery. I read a few in college, but mystery as a rule isn’t my cup of tea, and cozy struck me sort of like a line romance: nice, comfy, a predictable set of tropes and a formula that you could count on. Now and then, they’re really nice, especially when written well, and/or with interesting and unique characters.
Kelli Milanni is pretty interesting. While at first I thought her brand of Wicca was a bit twee, as I read on I realized… a lot of modern Wicca can be actually be pretty twee. In a cozy mystery, complicated Pagan religion might not quite fit. So she’s the kind of Wiccan I imagine works best into this tone of universe. She is also a lawyer, which struck me as not quite genuine. She seemed too unsure of herself, too timid to have any kind of success in the law. She doesn’t have her stuff together when it comes to serving her clients, and frankly, her man-craziness is annoying.
That’s one of the things about a lot of women’s fiction that that annoys me. (Can women really just not survive without a man? Do writers really want us to believe that’s the woman’s condition today? I have a few suggestions that might help, but they don’t really belong in a book review.) Pretty much the first thing Kelli does in the book is cast a love spell. Love spells are problematic in witchcraft because they walk a thin line between wish-fulfillment and violating another person’s free will–a serious no-no in Wiccan ethics. However, she makes it clear as she goes that she had cast a vague spell just looking to attract her soulmate, and the spell did rebound in a funny way. The Wiccans have a saying: what you send out into the world comes back to you times three (or nine, or some variant thereof, depending on the tradition). Their version of the the more widely-known golden rule. Kelli’s rebound comes the day after she casts the spell, and all the males she meets around town–including ones she doesn’t like so much–can’t stop staring at her, or stopping to talk, or just generally being weird and annoying.
The book picks up a lot once the details of the crime are revealed and the mystery begins to unfold. As a non-reader of the genre, it was fun for me to play along, peering into the characters on the page, reading more into the words than was there on the surface, and trying to figure out WHODUNNIT! DUN DUN DUNNNNN! (Like my soundtrack?) The red herrings are all just so believable as suspects in this tenor of universe, they’re easy to like (or dislike), and their motivations are/seem clear. They made it interesting (did I say fun already?) to stay with the story.
While Kelli’s desperate-for-a-man bit was a little annoying, it was probably understandable considering her age, and it doesn’t hurt that some of the guys/red herrings/suspects were pretty hot. I enjoyed the way Kelli and her friend worked the mystery and ultimately solved it, and I have to say, it was a nice change of pace for me. I’d read more of the series. I like the idea of mysteries starring a vegan Wiccan, and centered around holidays on the Pagan wheel of the year (explained sloppily, but well enough for the non-practitioner, on Wikipedia.). There aren’t enough of those kind of stories around!
I give MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S MISCHIEF:
3 BATTY MOONS!