Witch Ever Way You Look At It
By Jennie Orbell
Sometimes books appear in your midst as if by magic. Or, maybe not magic, though there do seem to be other forces whispering into your ear even when you’d decided you were just window shopping.
In my case recently the voices within had been beckoning to me, because once I’d seen it initially, I never really could forget about it. Aye, I admit it, the cover was the first draw, but why not? It’s a great visual: it’s fun, and sassy and well done. And, of course, the play on words gives a little more insight into the plot.
Ah, no wonder the magic.
Witch Ever Way You Look At It centers on Annie and Lizzie, best friends who are there for each other through thick and thin. One year earlier Lizzie had lost her husband, the love of her life, and now is left to care for their small boy, Charlie.
Annie, proprietor of Annie’s Herbs and granddaughter of the local witch, has it made. Yes! The perfect friend, perfect granny, perfect life. “Everything was just plain perfect.” Sure, Lizzie likes to tease her about being a witch (“I am NOT a witch”), but she could allow those conversations to peter out with a few well-placed humorous comments for effect. In the end they always move on to other topics, including her grandmother Wilhemina, or Willie, who often tries to bring Annie’s attention to this or that available male, despite our protagonist’s insistence that her life is happy just the way it is.
Nevermind. Everything is perfect.
And then comes Mace Anderson. Rather quickly author Jennie Orbell playfully delivers an example of the timeless misunderstandings between men and women. Piercing pale-blue eyes nonetheless, Mace gets under Annie’s skin when he moves into a nearby cottage and seems to turn up at the most inopportune moments, catching Annie doing something quite reasonable—usually—but with an offbeat appearance or backstory.
Shortly after Annie arrives home from coffee with Lizzie—at a café where Mace Anderson had been eavesdropping on their quirky conversation and making no effort to hide it—she finds herself underneath her new neighbor’s posh vehicle, attempting to cajole her feline pet, Bat, out from under, where he’d been hiding after stealing a pork chop from Mace’s kitchen.
‘Can I help you with something?’
The words came floating down towards her left shoulder, as gentle as apple blossom falling on dew-soaked grass, and she knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that they had come from her new neighbour. She screwed up her face and mouthed the words ‘Oh God’ to no one but herself. Bat turned, swallowed a large chunk of pork and licked his lips. “You bugger” she mouthed at the cat, before taking a deep breath and crawling out from under the car. A hand was extended from above, which she ignored, and she rose slowly to her feet, tugging down her dress which she felt sure had ridden up to her armpits and had exposed her half-naked body to a total stranger.
‘I was looking for my cat,’ she said, with an ever widening smile.
‘You say you are looking for your bat? Don’t they only come out at night?’
‘I said I was looking for my cat, Bat.’
The eyes blinked … twice. ‘You have a cat called Bat?’
Later, as Annie discusses with Willie Bat’s thievery and meeting up with Mace for the first time, Willie is dismayed.
‘We’ll have to keep our eyes on him. He needs to know his boundaries.’
‘Exactly,’ Annie said, with a positive nod of her head. ‘He can’t expect to move in here and rule the roost in a day.’
‘I was talking about Bat,’ Willie said.
With this, the author sets up a series of circumstances and misunderstandings that lead to the absurd, the alarming, even the life altering if they move forward unabated. Some of the results are hilarious, others cause a skipped heartbeat here and there and the author’s telling of them is spot on in her observations of human nature, as is the adroit manner in which she weaves words together. The characters speak to each other in dialogue that is true to life, and I easily heard their conversations as I read, sometimes aloud. Orbell is adept at moving characters through various ups and downs while preserving the integrity of each one’s voice.
She then does one better by creating an underlying thread, one that results in a second storyline, the magic of that being that readers accompany Annie through her trials and tribulations without awareness of this second story. This parallels Annie’s own experience of these events in that she doesn’t seem fully aware of the effect her past has on current circumstances, as well as in how she allows herself to advance toward the future. She believes she is just moving forward.
This dual plotline reveals another strength from Orbell: the ability to pair humorous antics with poignant reality. We also see Annie in ways her public persona does not necessarily showcase: not only as a considerate person, but also an individual with thoughtfully developed interests and concerns, as well as someone quite competent and in a pinch capable of securing the wherewithal and ability to perform. Of course, this type of multi-dimensional character is what readers appreciate, and they will feel the same about the creator, who skillfully pairs wit and wisdom in a balance that can be rather difficult to strike. Orbell does it with dexterity and grace, resulting in a read that is both straight up fun as well as tenderly poignant.
As Annie and readers learn together, her life may not be as perfect as it once appeared to be, though the roads traveled and discoveries made contribute to a shared experience that neither would trade, though for different reasons. On our part, we can also relate to so much of the interaction, perhaps because much of it triggers the sort of coming to awareness (serious as well as light) that enables laughing at oneself, or the softening of a necessary blow, something most of us have also experienced.
After an unsettling encounter, Annie returns to the cottage and confides to her granny:
Annie ran a hand over her forehead; it was damp with sweat. ‘I think I made a fool of myself, Gran, because I told him everything and then I cried.’
Willie made a tutting noise and dismissively waved her hand. ‘Oh, nonsense, don’t you think the man is used to you making a fool of yourself by now.’
Filled with characters we’d love to see again, Witch Ever Way You Look At It is a compelling and rewarding read, one that drew gasps at times, made me laugh and caused my heart to swell. I also loved the passages that include the herbology Willie uses for her spells and Annie’s work with her herb business. It was fun to read about, but also intriguing and made me want to engage in the pursuit as well—all while staying light and on course for the events being discussed.
I will most definitely be reading more from Jennie Orbell, and recommend with much enthusiasm this start to her world. It is singularly spectacular and I won’t complain if the author were to whip up a little more magic and bring these characters to us again.
In fact, that would be perfect.
From her blog, Jennie Orbell writes…
The silly bit:
My likes and loves include positive people, cats with attitude, sponge cakes that rise, snails that stay in other gardens and country music.
I am respectful of all creatures – and human beings who have earned it. An extreme Scorpio who never forgets a kindness (or a hurt)
I dislike self-important/pessimistic/ illogical people, broken promises and all forms of cruelty to animals.
I share my life with my partner, Richard (whom for some strange reason appears to accept all of the above!) two chickens and a tabby cat called Chea.
Jennie Orbell is the author of several novels including The Sleeping Field, Mulligan’s Reach and Starfish, as well as her most recent, Two Chucks and a Tabby Cat and children’s book Prince Regal and the Forgotten Friends.