Witch - Barbara Michaels

(No Series)

It was more than a dream house. For Ellen March, buying the secluded old house nestled in the pine woods marked the start of a new life. Now she could put her failed marriage behind her, enjoy the quiet solitude of small town life, and get to know her worldly new neighbor, handsome Norman McKay...But strange visions began to cloud her mind - the shadowy figure of a woman, a ghostly white cat - and Ellen's safe haven slowly became her prison. Had she buried the past? Or had a dark legend come back to haunt her...?

It's hard to put my finger on a word that accurately describes the cozy feel of Barbara Michael's stories. There's not usually a cutesy feel that would explain it - perhaps it's the old houses, hot tea and feline companions? Irregardless of the right description, it can be found in almost all her books. A certain something impossible to describe (the French term for this escapes me). Witch especially radiates this sensation, making me crave a soft, fluffy quilt and cup of homemade hot tea with honey while devouring it.

The atmosphere isn't as Gothic as her others, and for a change the heroine of the novel faces the bulk of issues alone. Generally there are several people in the house solving the mystery together, batting ideas off each other with witty comments, hidden insults, but bigger affections. Here however, Ellen is hassled by the deranged town at every turn, not getting actual support until she's reunited with her family toward the end when their trip is over.

As a character Ellen is incredible; strong and older, amusing and compassionate, butting her nose into others business but admitting it with a smile at the same time. The object of her affections doesn't sound like a dreamboat in looks, but his sense of humor had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion. As is typical, the teens and kids of the story are fondly considered pains in the rear, being just as opinionated and sarcastic as the adults.

Another stand-out was that the fought-against forces of Witch aren't the house or any potential hauntings, but the town itself. The stifling, backwood ignorance is more chilling than the supernatural, especially with the end resulting in a terrifying climax that's all too familiar. To know these things have really happened to innocent people in the past made me all the more sympathetic to Ellen's plight.

Pace-wise, it moves along but not in the supernatural or malicious manner. It's just interesting somehow in the beginning. Not much action save personal issues is happening, and for some reason I'm always enraptured with the details Michaels writes about when redecorating these old houses. Mystery is tight and leads the reader away from the real issues, without even appearing like much of a mystery until it's happening. The end villain was a culprit I never would have suspected.

Overall this is a more than memorable book; it has elements of a cozy mystery that's simple in its telling and psychologically twisted in its revelation. No heavy researching or mystery hunting here, just a satisfying wrap up of a story set in a disturbingly warped world.

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