Books,  Reviews

The Magic All Around

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Sometimes a family treasure hunt unfurls new paths in life.

The Russell family members all seem to have . . . gifts. Eldest sister Penelope naturally infuses strength or joy or love—whatever the wearer requires—into the fabric of the dresses she designs as a seamstress. Her younger sister, Lilith, is never without whatever she needs—despite the free-spirited and nomadic life she lives with her daughter. There’s always a person nearby who just happens to have an apartment available to rent, or a part-time job open, or a car to borrow just when they need it. And Lilith’s adult daughter, Mattie, always seems to trigger the perfect song to mysteriously start playing—whether from a radio in another room that was turned off or from a friend’s phone in their pocket. And at the heart of the family is their old Victorian home that sometimes seems to have a personality in and of itself.

When independent, artistic Mattie Russell finds herself back in the family home after her mother’s unexpected death, she has no intention of sticking around the small town, even though she has no future destination in mind. She’s used to living in a new city every couple of years with Lilith as her sole companion, and she’s especially hesitant to entangle herself in the Russell family secrets about their special giftings. But during the reading of the will, the family is shocked to learn Lilith included a testamentary trust that requires Mattie to stay in Ivy Ridge long enough to complete a series of seemingly absurd tasks in order to claim her inheritance. While completing the tasks, Mattie discovers that her mother had a well-thought-out plan for her daughter that would lead Mattie to finding her birth father, teach her how to choose her own path, learn to keep her heart open for love, and discover that staying still long enough to sow seeds can produce a stunning garden and vibrant life.

This enchanting and whimsical tale of mothers and daughters, home, and love will open readers’ eyes to the magic all around them.

Synopsis source: Goodreads


Genre(s): Contemporary Fiction, Magical Realism, Romance
HB&W Rating: 3
View on Goodreads
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Available January 16, 2024

I liked this story. It was a beautifully written story in an immersive small town setting, and I loved the magical realism element, but it left me a little disappointed. The story follows Mattie, whose mom dies unexpectedly, leaving her bereft and adrift. Her mom was her world, her best friend, and the sun around which her world revolved. But after finishing the book, I felt like the story really wanted to be a family drama.

The book delves into family relationships, finding one’s self, and grief and the ways we express it. It’s a bit of a slow-burn, but given the Southern setting, that felt fitting. The author uses that time to dive into the inner thoughts of the characters, allowing the reader to feel their grief, anger, fear, and insecurities and see how they color their decisions.

The Magic All Around is told in three perspectives: Mattie, Penelope, and Jonathan. The majority of the book is told from Mattie’s perspective, but I felt like the story would have been better served to focus equally on each of the Russell women and take Jonathan’s perspective out entirely. I found him shallow at the beginning and even as he grew up a bit, he still only came across two-dimensional. I’m not sure his perspective added anything to the story at all.

Most of the time, I found myself annoyed with Mattie’s almost child-like responses and reactions to things and we just sat there for a while, stuck, not moving forward. Maybe that was part of the point. She had a lot of growing up to do to learn how to stand on her own two feet without her mom. Still, at 25, she is definitely a late bloomer. Penelope’s story was partially explored, but I would have liked more, as she had a whole other type of grief that wasn’t explored as it could have been. And lastly, I would have liked to have had something from Sophia’s perspective. Having raised Penelope and Lilith, I think she’d have had another unique perspective to add to the story.

Still, the writing has a transportive quality and the magical elements were wonderful: the way plants responded to Penelope, the music around Mattie, and of course the house! The house is treated as a member of the Russell family and another character in the story. Now, wouldn’t THAT have made an interesting perspective to have included? I think so!

I really liked how the subject of grief was explored in the story as a multi-layered thing. While on the surface, the obvious grief is that if a child for her mother, but also a sister for a sister and an adoptive mother for her daughter, a mother for her miscarried child, a woman for her parents, a child for a lost friendship, and a woman for a lost love. Some of those hurts are healed and others are lived with, shaping the characters. The author does a fantastic job showing grief as non-linear and validating all the conflicting feelings that often come with it.

I also really liked all the mother-daughter relationships (or like-a-mother) in the book. Motherhood is also non-linear and I think this book did a nice job of showing that as well in a very empathetic way.

Ultimately, I liked the book, I just felt it could have been more impactful if we’d been privy to the equal perspectives of all three Russell women. Still, if you like small-town, Southern charm, and character studies with a touch of magic and a dash of romance, you might like this one!

Thank you to the author for gifting me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Until next time,

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