Aussie Book Review: Reluctantly Charmed by Ellie O'Neill
"It’s Kate McDaid’s birthday and she’s hoping to kickstart 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. Instantly, 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 the final, devastating step of the request . . . or whether she can face the consequences if she doesn’t.
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."
Reluctantly Charmed is a light-hearted, feel good novel with Kate McDaid offering us a lesson in life – what if we just said “bugger it” and went with the flow instead of living our everyday stressed out lives! Well, Kate goes out of her way to show us exactly how she did it, even though it took her some much needing convincing in the beginning!
An only child from a very long line of only children, Kate is a junior copywriter and has worked for the same advertising agency for five and a half years. When the story opens we see her plans to make her new year’s resolutions – which is always on her birthday – but is then startled, after a birthday celebration in the office, when she receives a formal letter requesting her presence at the reading of her great-great-great-great-aunt Kate McDaid’s will.
Lured by the promise of her aunt’s estate, Kate “conjures up images of tweed jackets, springer spaniels at the heel and hunts on horses that finished quaffing champagne” but soon discovers that there are conditions to her inheritance - she has to publish one letter plus seven Steps every week over the following seven weeks.
What follows is a frolicking good read full of laugh out loud moments, breathtaking scenery as well as celtic folklore and spirituality which all lend authenticity to the Irish setting and kinfolk.
I was absolutely delighted when I received a copy of this novel with an invitation by Simon & Schuster to participate in a “competition” against various well-known book bloggers around Australia, for the cover reveal.
All in all, their publicity department have done a great job of promoting Ellie O’Neill’s debut in what I can only describe as one of the most rigorous social media marketing campaigns I have ever seen – you just have to look at #reluctantlycharmed on Twitter to realise the impact it made.
When the cover was finally revealed on the 8th August by Monique at Write Note Reviews (her reveal here), I was, as Kate would say, “astonished”, at how it so aptly represented the story within but even more so that the image of her was so perfectly rendered.
Ellie has given us an endearing character in Kate. A normal, down-to-earth person with a messy flat and a jar of marmalade in her fridge which only gets opened when her Mam visits, she is also vibrant, funny and kind-hearted and she sucks us into her life as it slowly changes over the following seven weeks. From a static dead-end job (to which she rides a pushbike every day, until it gets stolen and advertised on eBay), to this person who suddenly “awakens”, Kate casts her spell on us and takes us on an adventure of self-discovery as she realises she is worth more than she ever gave herself credit for.
Whilst she remains skeptical about the fairies, she does find herself talking to the plants and is further astounded when her knowledge of things unknown to her before, such as medicinal cures for cold sores, restless babies and jock itch, come to the fore and it becomes quite obvious that she’s onto something when her advice actually works. She even has a name, a weird, possibly fairy name!
But she’s also just human, and eventually the celebrity status which has been thrust upon her makes her feel alone and annoyed that she was the one chosen to have her life fall apart. While she begins to feel removed from her friends she also understands that they can’t comprehend what she is going through when even she doesn’t.
The secondary characters are equally well done, from the egotistical musician Jim, her lovable best friend Matthew, Mam and Dad who jump on the bandwagon to wallow in her unwanted celebrity status, the indomitable Maura with her mysterious aura and fancy gloves, the Annoraks who become her faithful followers to the handsome but enigmatic Hugh and, while they lend some fabulous Irish humour and a supernatural element to the mix, they also enhance Kate’s journey.
Along with these fine characters and her deftly structured narrative, Ellie’s cracking turn of phrase and scenic descriptions are something to be savoured, and I’d like to share a few of my favourites with you:
“What? Have I died and nobody told me?”
“You had to chew the air on arrival to get it into your lungs”
"The fire was crackling easily in the corner, the pints were slipping down smoothly”
"The melody was heartbreaking. Her voice channeled death and misery, and mothers’ tears and broken hearts”
"the main street meandered like a peeled orange skin curling back on itself”
“peppered on its curves were cosy thatched cottages some hosting creaking iron signs swaying lazily”
“majestic sweeping mountains draped in green velvet, which guarded the place like a mother’s protective hands”.
Set against the lush backdrop of Ireland, this is a delightfully bubbly, warm and easy read, packed with good ol’ Irish charm, lots of tea and perhaps a little bit of love and I have no hesitation in recommending it to a wide readership who, once the last page is turned, will “stop, pause and appreciate” the great yarn that Ellie O’Neill has given us.
My thanks goes to Simon & Schuster for providing me with an ARC hard copy of this novel.
A Little About the Author
Ellie O’Neill took the long way round. She sold spider catchers in Sydney, flipped burgers in Dublin and worked in advertising in London. All the while, she had that niggling feeling she had stories to tell.
So, at thirty-something, she made the brave leap and moved back in with her parents to get the job done. Swapping the dizzy disco lights of London for their suburban Dublin house, she scribbled away knowing that there was something about Irish fairies she needed to share with the world.
Then, most unexpectedly, Ellie fell madly in love. The only catch was he lived in Australia. True to form, she couldn’t ignore the magic and followed her heart to Oz for what was supposed to be a long holiday.
Five years later Australia is home to Ellie, her Joe and their fabulous baby (with an Irish name no one can pronounce).