Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: The Witch of Bourbon Street by Suzanne Palmieri

Title: The Witch of Bourbon Street
Author: Suzanne Palmieri
Publisher:  St. Martin's Griffin (June 30, 2015)
ISBN: 9781250056191
Pages: 336 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: fiction, magical realism
My Rating: 2 cups

Situated deep in the Louisiana bayou is the formerly opulent Sorrow Estate. Once home to a magical family-the Sorrows-it now sits in ruins, ever since a series of murders in 1902 shocked the entire community. Now the ghosts of girls in white dresses shift in and out of view, stuck in time as they live out the past on repeat.

When Frances Green Sorrow is born carrying the "signs" of the so-called chosen one, it is believed she will bring her family back from the brink of obscurity, finally resurrecting the glory of what it once was and setting the Sorrows ghosts free.

But Frances is no savior.

Fleeing from heartbreak, she seeks solace in the seductive chaos of New Orleans, only to end up married too young in an attempt to live an ordinary life. When her marriage falls apart shortly after having a son, she returns home again-alone-just out of reach from the prying eyes of her family. But when her son disappears, she is forced to rejoin the world she left behind, exposing her darkest secret in order to find him and discovering the truth of what really happened that fateful year in the process.

Set amidst the colorful charm of The French Quarter and remote bayous of Tivoli Parish, Louisiana, Suzanne Palmieri's The Witch of Bourbon Street is a story of family, redemption, and forgiveness. Because sometimes, the most important person you have to forgive.... is yourself.

My Thoughts:

"Serafina’s Bayou is my safe haven, a warm, private place layered with magic and held together by tangled vines of crazy. It’s soft like the quilts we sew and sour like the pickled things we put away for the off-seasons. It echoes sweetly with shouts and screams of strange that make it the most wonderful place on earth."

I have to be honest, this book was not what I expected and left me very disappointed. Having previously read and enjoyed The Witch of Little Italy, I looked forward to opening up Suzanne Palmieri's newest release, The Witch of Bourbon Street, for some magical escapism. It started off well with the intriguing 'confession' of Sister-Nurse Vesta Grace regarding the deaths of nearly an entire family of Sorrows from Serafina's Bayou in 1901. This first chapter was wonderfully enigmatic and immediately sparked my interest; I was eager to learn more.

However, immediately following that tantalizing first chapter, we are thrust into the less appealing contemporary storyline where we spend most of the remainder of the book. Much of this portion of the book is written in a very different style, and while the author admirably seeks to capture the atmosphere and dialects of the setting, some readers may find it a little distracting and unwieldy to read. It certainly took me a few chapters or more to settle into. There are also numerous POV changes which make the narrative feel somewhat disjointed and can be confusing at times.

The modern day Sorrows are a rather dysfunctional lot with plenty of family drama, secrets, and underlying tensions - and lots and lots of bickering (too much, in my opinion). The threads of this tale are interesting but take such a long time to develop and finally intertwine that I found the first part of the book a struggle to get through. I actually considered abandoning this book more than once and did set it aside a few times because it just didn't hold my interest and felt as though the plot was lost somewhere out in the swamp.

Thankfully, things begin to pick up roughly 2/3 of the way through when we start to learn more about the mystery hinted at in the opening pages. I enjoyed discovering the history of that earlier generation of Sorrows and found this aspect of the tale much more engaging. Ultimately, however, I was disappointed with the resolution of this family's tragic end. Having been built up as such a longstanding unsolved puzzle, the eventual answers regarding the suspected murders seemed quite flat to me. And after taking almost the entire book to get back to the mystery, it was dealt with so quickly and summarily that I felt little satisfaction in the solution.

The various characters are unique and quirky, but I felt that many could have been fleshed out more to add greater depth. Palmieri's descriptions of the bayou are lush and evocative, though, and give the reader a great sense of place. Most of the 'magic' here is not particularly overt, although there are several ghosts and many references to the mystical Book of Sorrows, which serves as a sort of combination family Bible/grimoire to the Sorrows. There are plenty of family dynamics which are delved into, however, and some poignant words of wisdom about life, love, choices, and redemption.
"You think mistakes are lessons or just mistakes, Frances?"
"I think it depends...Because a lesson stays a mistake unless you learn something from it."

"It's important you understand the difference between the words fix and heal. You hear me, child? You can't fix anything, but you can heal it. Broken things are better when they're healed. But once a thing is broken, it never goes back to bein' all nice and new. The trick is to fix it up and make it useful again."

"Sometimes we lost things for a reason. We lost them because we wouldn't ever know their true value otherwise."

Sadly, these sage insights and rich descriptions were not enough, and I found this novel lacking overall. It may resonate more with other readers, but it was not the book for me. I do still look forward to reading more from Palmieri in the future, however, and hope her next book will be more my cup of tea.

"But everything has an end. You get the choice on makin' it happy or sad. Endings are just doorways, Sippie."

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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