THE CATALAIN BOOK OF SECRETS by Jessica Lourey

THE CATALAIN BOOK OF SECRETS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Turning to YA/adult fantasy, prolific mystery writer Lourey (January Thaw, 2014, etc.) tells of a matriarchal clan of witches joining forces against age-old evil.

Faith Falls, Minnesota, is your average small town apart from one sinister surprise: Every 25 years, the Native American burial ground hosts a plague of snakes. In the prologue, set in 1965, Ursula Catalain’s mother, Velda, asks her to craft a deadly poison. Little does 12-year-old Ursula know that her sixth sense for magic botanicals will end with her father, Henry, becoming a merciless ghost. About half a century later, Ursula’s daughter Katrine returns from London, leaving behind a job with Vogue and a failed marriage. Back in Minnesota, she starts work as a local reporter and sets about cheering her depressed sister, Jasmine. The seven female witches of the Catalain coven (including Ursula’s twin sisters, Helena and Xenia) each have different gifts: Katrine helps people become their better selves, Jasmine cooks comfort food that masks traumatic memories, and her teenage daughter Tara can see people’s emotional wounds. When the snake outbreak and a visit from Henry’s avenging spirit coincide, the Catalains hunker in their haunted Queen Anne mansion, preparing every spell in the titular handbook to defeat malevolent powers. The novel is tightly plotted, and Lourey shines when depicting relationships—romantic ones as well as tangled links between Catalains. Inspired by Bryan Sykes’s The Seven Daughters of Eve (2002), about common human ancestry through mitochondrial DNA, Lourey emphasizes the ties that bind in spite of secrets and resentment. Her metaphorical language is often inventive: “cushiony claws of sleep,” “hair curling like tender artichoke leaves,” and the sun “a whiskey-liquid ball of fiery hope.” Excerpts from the spell book are an added highlight. The villain—a “demon in [a] cowboy hat,” cursing, “Damn straight you witches are a lot of work….But I’ll just come back”—isn’t the most intriguing of the bunch, but characterizations elsewhere make up for it. Ursula and Katrine are especially distinctive.

Pulpy in places but sweet and sassy enough (à la Gilmore Girls) to attract magic-light teen or women’s fiction fans.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-9908342-1-2
Page count: 364pp
Publisher: Toadhouse Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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