Book Review

Audrey’s Guide to Witchcraft by Jody Gehrman

DNF

Title: Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft
Author: Jody Gehrman
Publication Info: Magic Genie Books 2012
ISBN: 978-0615658445
Genre: Young Adult

Audrey's Guide to Witchcraft: this white chick in a red dress is flying in a huge circle with her hair hanging over her face. It's kinda... creepy.

I kept reading this book even though I wanted to stop reading because I wanted to know what happened in the plot. I didn't care much about the characters. I found some of them completely ridiculous, and I didn't much relate to the heroine, but I remained mildly curious as to what crazy thing would happen next. So I kept going.

I think there needs to be a term for this, when you read to find out what happened, not because you connected and care about the characters. You know, when a book is all plot, no real characters? Sort of the book variation of “all hat, no cattle:” all plot, no heart.

I found a point to stop reading when the plot bored me as much as the characters did. Once the same sequence of events happened three times – heroine notices something ODD! Heroine is alarmed by ODDNESS. Heroine decides NOT TO TELL ANYONE about oddness, because that would be WEIRD. – I stopped. I found that reading to find out what happened is only sustainable when I care about what was happening. When the events and the characters became equally predictable, I was done.

Audrey narrates this story, and the book begins with Audrey feeling REALLY odd because she's SURE something is wrong with her mother. She tries to talk herself out of it – her mom's at work, everything's fine – but of course she arrives home to find that things are not fine, her mom is missing, and she's not sure what to do. So she's eating ice cream on the porch with her sister when a van rolls up and out pops a person who has been sent by Missing Mom to look after Audrey and her sister Meg. Super Babysitter is really young, and comes with a pet lizard, snake, and assorted other ODD THINGS. But really, if Mom said she sent Super Babysitter, then things are ok.

Then Audrey figures out that things are not ok with her mom, that her mom is in some danger, and that she and her sister may be in danger as well. PLUS she discovers she's a witch. Audrey's mom's a witch, and everyone from her mom's side of the family presumed that the kids were not witchtacular, so they were left alone. But Audrey is not only witchy, she's big powerful witchy, with a blend of talents that baffle Super Babysitter (Who is also a Witch).

A long time ago, I was neighbors in Jersey City with a writer named Jen Larson who read fantasy and paranormal romances like I did. She once described Anita Blake as assembling powers like charms on a charm bracelet, and I agreed – it was one of the more irritating things about early-before-the-real-crazy-started Anita. She was adding on the magic with no problems.

In this book, Audrey also has a charm bracelet power collection, only it's a blend of, 'Oh, by the way, I can always tell when someone is lying, don't know why,' and 'Whoa, you're the most powerful untapped witch in the history of witchydom. How did you not KNOW this?' Once she reveals that she can tell when people are lying, and then discovers she's a witch, suddenly everything is super fabulous powerful to her: smells are more intense, auras are big as billboards to her, and she can do and see more with each chapter.

Plus, Audrey reveals or discovers a power or an accessory to a power that's useful at just the right moment. Every. Single Time. I never had to worry about Audrey, really, because she was protected by her own plot.

Ultimately that became my biggest problem with this book: it was all plot and no character growth. The people in the book were wandering from scene to scene as things happened, but I never gave a crap about any of them. They all conveniently figured things out about themselves at the right moment, or missed something so arterial-bleeding obvious that I figured they'd walk into a wall next.

Audrey's sister is supposed to be non-magic, or “mundane” as Super Babysitter Witch says, except that said sister has some unique powers, such as instant poise on stage, magnetism when she's in front of a crowd, and significant musical talent. No one notices that this is out of the ordinary, all that talent and charisma that's unexpected and, you know, powerful,

Audrey loves to bake and cook, and her mother is a pastry chef. Audrey also loves chemistry and science. At one point she says,

Even though chemistry and baking might seem like totally different interests, in my mind their pleasures were almost identical. They both revolved around mixing, for starters, taking separate ingredients and transforming them into something greater than the sum of their parts.

 

Well, no, they are kind of identical. Baking is a lot of chemistry, in fact. Ingredients mix and transform in part because of chemical reactions.

Another irritation was the repetition of details and words that made me question the editing of the book. In three pages, the heroine mentions “jotting” something down in her notebook three times. I get it. She jots a lot.

The biggest frustration I had was the fact that truly obvious things were not noticed by anyone except the heroine, or by no one at all. There's the magical musical sister, and the instant bonding with the romantic lead, but there's hardly any questioning of either character or their specialness, or why, RIGHT NOW while all this other odd stuff is happening, these two are also marginally odd.  

Also, several ancillary characters have near death experiences – like being shot a bunch of times, eaten by a shark or being hit by a bus. You know, no big deal. Happens all the time.

And in all these cases, the people who are nearly-dead or totally dead and then revived come back to life hale, hearty, completely healed, and hella attractive. Super powerful glamourous hair, incredibly charismatic – and, as the heroine is quick to notice – greasy black-grey auras, and also reeking of dead things.

But she and Super Babysitter are really the only ones who notice or question the difference. The humans, or “mundanes,” as they are called by Super Babysitter, try hard to convince themselves that everything's ok and their loved one is just as she ever was. Despite, you know, huge personality and neurological differences which would otherwise be alarming.

Once there was a huge discrepancy between things that ought to have been noticed but weren't, and things that were noticed and kept secret (because a lllllll those conversation about “Tell me if anything weird happens” were about as important as the time and temperature reports midway through the evening news), I lost interest in the plot as much as I had the characters. It sort of reminded me of a bad kid's movie – like Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer only with witchcraft: things are moving around and there's light and spectacle, but there's not a lot going on that invests my attention and my emotions seriously. So I stopped reading and moved on to something else.

I still want to come up with a good term for “all plot and no character” though.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    LG says:

    My favorite description of baking comes from the webcomic Questionable Content: “Baking is science for hungry people.”

  2. 2
    Rebecca says:

    Or alternately Primo Levi’s comment, “they saw the lab as just another type of kitchen, one with less appetizing smells.”

  3. 3
    Hmr28 says:

    The author’s name is Jody Gehrman

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    My fault – thanks for pointing that out. All fixed in the header.

  5. 5
    cleo says:

    “I think there needs to be a term for this, when you read to find out what happened, not because you connected and care about the characters.”

    Yes.  That’s exactly how I felt about The Firm by John Grisham.  I read that entire annoying book, even after I realized that not only did I hate all of the main characters but I didn’t even care what happened to them, because I wanted to know how he was going to wrap up the plot.

  6. 6
    Deadline Hell says:

    “I think there needs to be a term for this, when you read to find out what happened, not because you connected and care about the characters.”

    Not sure what the term would be, but imho it should have “DaVinci Code” in it.

  7. 7
    Oaxacamama says:

    I believe all plot with no character is the equivalent of pizza with no cheese.

  8. 8

    I want to help you name that feeling…I think it should be the verbal equivalent of that waving motion, combined with raised eyebrows, my teenager does when I’m taking too long to tell her something…
    Something like “yada, yada, yada,” only in reverse…

  9. 9
    Rebecca says:

    We should have a contest for this!  My (not completely) satisfactory
    entry for “all plot no character”: “skim (milk) book.”  It could be a
    “skimmt” for short. ;)  (I actually like pizza with no cheese.)

  10. 10
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    “Once there was a huge discrepancy between things that ought to have been noticed but weren’t,”

    I read that as “a huge discrepancy between thighs,” and I thought, “Well, that’s the weirdest euphemism I’ve ever read.” Then I realized that I was reading it wrong. Again. It’s like the way I always read “public” as “pubic” and do a massive WTF-take. Something is wired wrong in my brain.

    Also, my name for all-plot-no-characters books is DNF. ;-)

  11. 11
    Emily says:

    I totally felt the same about Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth.  The book was painful to read, but I couldn’t stop myself because I wanted to know what happened!

  12. 12

    Deadline Hell was thinking like me…when you said all plot, no character, the first writer I thought of was Dan Brown. I haven’t read DaVinci, but I read Angels and Demons and I couldn’t put it down solely because of the descriptions of Rome (especially the ancient underground stuff) and the sheer WTF’ery of the plot. The Red October author and the guy who wrote The Genesis Code are the same thing. Characters are literally paper dolls but the plots are page turners and I keep turning the pages.

    All plot, no people? All story, no characters?

    I’m assuming this one was not self-pubbed and so I’m wondering about the editor. That “heroine discovers she possesses the perfect power for every situation just at the right moment” is a weakness the editor should’ve pointed out and required rewriting.

  13. 13
    Leah says:

    I believe they call the “all plot, no people” trope by the codifier: Twilight syndrome.

  14. 14

    Chemistry is delicious, especially when I use my cupcake corer to facilitate filling a baked good with FREAKING CARAMEL.

    As for what to call the all plot, no heart situation, I’m with Leah: Twilight Syndrome pretty much sums it up. Then again, in a decade, will we remember why we call it that? (God, I hope not.)

  15. 15
    Lovecow2000 says:

    How about: “Skimmers?” 

  16. 16

    Twilight had a plot? It struck me as more a series of unconnected events.

  17. 17
    Nwtconner says:

    Didn’t notice this list on The Best Romance Novels of 2012 Pour Qois?

  18. 18

    It’s like reading a game of chess.  The pieces are interchangeable and not all that detailed but you still want to know what the next move is going to be and how the game is going to play out.

  19. 19
    Kara Keenan says:

    This is how I feel about the ever evolving powers of Aisling Grey in Katie MacAlisters’s Guardian Series! Or Betsy Queen of the Vampires in the Undead series by MaryJanice Davidison.

  20. 20
    Jodyw5050 says:

    Thank you.  I hated that book, and Sepulchre wasn’t much better.

  21. 21
    Jodyw5050 says:

    Referring to Labyrinth.  Haven’t mastered the posting tech.

  22. 22
    Unimaginative says:

    That list of BEST romance novels of 2012 begins with 50 Shades.

     

    we thought it was important for our audience to know that we have voted the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy as the number 1 best romance novels of 2012, and rightfully so. The series has sold over 40 million copies and has become a bestseller worldwide and has become the most quickly sold paperback books of all time

     

    I guess that’s one metric for “best”.  Not the best metric, imho.

  23. 23
    Trixienv says:

    Reading a Fern Michaels book right now that I feel the same way about.  I want to find out what happens, but could care less about the (and I use the term loosely) characters in the story.  And I also hate when a book is going along in entirely a no-nonsense, every day sort of manner, and then suddenly supernatural element just pops in to the storyline.  I mean, I can read some supernatural stuff like nobody’s business, but I kind of like to know that is what I am going to get up front.  Not just pop into a murder mystery with no warning. :(

  24. 24
    Millsboons says:

    nice chemistry nice nice i also read this two time at my working place as I cant stop my self…….. 

  25. 25
    cleo says:

    I think thriller type authors are especially guilty of this.  It took me several days, but I finally remembered the name of the thriller your post reminded me of – The Russia House by John LeCarre (also made into a Sean Connery movie).  I don’t think I’ve been so annoyed with an author while reading a book.  I didn’t care about the characters and I really hated the writing style, but the plot sucked me in.

  26. 26
    Tarabee014@aol.com says:

    Lol all plot and no character is t as bad as NO plot no character, like 50 Shades of Crap (as I like to call it).  Zero plot, and the characters are terrible imitations of terrible characters from other terrible books…ugh.

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