Review: Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill

Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Title: Reluctantly Charmed
Author: Ellie O'Neill
Genre: magical realism
Series: N/A
Pages: 416 pages
Published: March 17, 2015
Source: publishers for review
Rating: 3.5/5

Kate McDaid is listing her new-year’s resolutions hoping to kick-start her rather stagnant love life and career when she gets some very strange news. To her surprise, she is the sole benefactor of a great great-great-great aunt and self-proclaimed witch also called Kate McDaid, who died over 130 years ago. As if that isn’t strange enough, the will instructs that, in order to receive the inheritance, Kate must publish seven letters, one by one, week by week.

Burning with curiosity, Kate agrees and opens the first letter – and finds that it’s a passionate plea to reconnect with the long-forgotten fairies of Irish folklore. Almost instantaneously, Kate’s life is turned upside down. Her romantic life takes a surprising turn and she is catapulted into the public eye.

As events become stranger and stranger – and she discovers things about herself she’s never known before – Kate must decide whether she can fulfil her great-aunt’s final, devastating request ... and whether she can face the consequences if she doesn’t.

Witty, enchanting and utterly addictive, Reluctantly Charmed is about what happens when life in the fast lane collides with the legacy of family, love and its possibilities … and a little bit of magic. 

Ellie O'Neill's debut is...well,  it's just so charming. Sorry to go for the obvious introduction, but it really is. Set in a modern Ireland, it's full of the whimsy and magic you would expect from a magical realism novel with fairies, but all is not as it seems with this author's version of the Fair Folk. With a good central romance, excellent female friends, aaand eccentric but loving family members surrounding the main characters -- it can feel bit Marian Keyes-ish, if a tad more fantastical and slightly less on the humorous side. Reluctantly Charmed has heart and boasts some engaging characters to make the read fun throughout.

Though it's over 400 pages, O'Neill's debut moves along at a good clip. The first section of the novel sets up the characters and plot rather well and transitions into the more supernatural aspects quite naturally. It can be a pretty atmospheric read at times, especially when main character Kate talks about Dublin or leaves the city for the small Western town of Knocknamee. The magical realism angle is a great fit for this story, these characters and especially this location. The fae have always had strong roots in Ireland and O'Neill makes a lot of good use from that association.

Kate McDaid, the main character, is well-rounded and characterized. She leads a perfectly normal life- friends, work, unrequited crush, bad decisions -- until one day she is invited to the reading of the will for... Kate McDaid. From there, her world slowly changes from the norm (working as a copywriter) to the fantastical (possible witch/unwilling cult leader?). Kate is a good character; she's likeable, funny, self-deprecating, and engaging. She doesn't have the flash you might expect, but her relate-ableness is key and well-done. Even when her life spirals out of control, Kate keeps it real.

The characters that surround Kate are also well-drawn and realistic. From Matthew to to Jim to Fiona to Lily, there's a revolving cast to keep the reader engaged. The romantic storyline might be slightly predictable (as well as who Kate will end up with), but it was a pleasure watching Kate realize what -- and who -- she wants from life. I also really enjoyed that Kate was surrounded by such strong friendships (both male and femasle) and that her family was a good force in her life -- if a bit silly and eccentric. It was a nice touch.

Reluctantly Charmed is due to be published on St. Patrick's Day. It's a great for reading on just that holiday. There's just enough whimsy and magic mixed with the familiar to create a magical realism story well within the bounds of suspension of disbelief. 

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