Book Review: Bait and Witch by Angela M. Sanders
By Doreen SheridanJanuary 12, 2021
Librarian Josie Way moved to small-town Oregon to lay low. Instead, thanks to newfound magic abilities—and a killer on the loose—she’s leapt out of the frying pan and into a cauldron of trouble…
Josie Way thought she had found her dream job working for the Library of Congress until an overheard conversation at work plunges her right in the middle of a federal corruption case. When the colleague who was with her at the time suddenly disappears, Josie panics and hightails it out of Washington DC. She accepts the most out-of-the-way librarian job she can find in order to support herself while hiding from the Capitol Hill movers and shakers who might want her dead. Now she’s in rural Wilfred, Oregon, a town slowly dying since the destruction of the local mill, the area’s largest employer, twenty-five years ago.
Apparently, she’s not the only new arrival in town, though the other newcomer could be more accurately termed a returnee. Sam Wilfred, whose family wealth built most of the town in the first place, has also come home to the Big House right next to Wilfred’s library. Josie is definitely more charmed by her new place of employment, a converted Victorian mansion with a live-in apartment that’s a perk of her new position, than by her intrusive new neighbor. Sam’s habit of constantly showing up wherever she goes makes her feel both anxious and weirdly flattered, but she’ll soon have bigger things to worry about when she discovers a) that the library is set for a contentious demolition, and b) a dead body.
Josie’s somewhat justifiable paranoia has her convinced that the death must have something to do with why she herself fled the East Coast. But who could have found out her location so soon? Is it possible that the killer mistook the dead woman for Josie? Or is this all just a wild coincidence? The sheriff soon arrests a local ne’er-do-well named Craig Burdock for the crime. But Josie isn’t convinced that Craig’s the killer. If the general opinion of the townsfolk Josie is rapidly befriending isn’t enough to persuade her of his innocence, the weird connection she’s developed with books since arriving at the Wilfred library is certainly doing its part. The library volumes seem to tell her that Craig is louche and irresponsible, but certainly not a murderer. As she explores her connection with the books and with the strange power that’s allowing their communication, she begins to think about other useful ways to use her new abilities:
[W]hat good was this power if it couldn’t help find a murderer? Enough doubt had been cast on Craig Burdock that I wasn’t entirely sure of his guilt. Real power would lead me to the truth. The ability to match a reader with the book she needed was nothing compared to saving lives–right now, my own.
And the library. Laying facts before a judge was a start to saving the library, but magic to open minds would be so much more useful.
The more Josie learns about her powers though, the more frightened she becomes that she might accidentally harm herself or others. Will she be able to learn how to harness her book magic for good, or will a murderer put an end to it all before she can get properly started?
This was a fun paranormal cozy with an intriguing magic system and a delightful setting, in no small part due to how charming the Wilfred inhabitants can be (especially as they rally to save their library). Josie is a wonderfully imperfect heroine, whose growth as the book progresses is a joy to read. I admit that I kept rolling my eyes at her weird stereotyping of city types versus country types and laughed out loud at this conversation she had with the sheriff and Roz, her assistant librarian, about the murdered woman:
A pinprick of worry stirred in my gut, as I remembered the break-in at my apartment in D.C. “Was she—was she local?”
“I can’t tell you that. Next of kin hasn’t been notified.”
“It’s just that she didn’t look local,” I said. “Compared with what I see here–”
“Not everyone here is a farmer,” Roz said. “Or a blue-collar worker. There’s a college in Forest Grove, you know.”
That isn’t the only time in the book Josie has her prejudices and fears pushed back on as she adjusts to her new, perhaps temporary, life in rural Oregon and finds out more about her magical abilities. It makes for really engrossing reading once you realize that Angela M. Sanders isn’t about to let her heroine get away with being small-minded and scared when all it takes is a little courage and a listening heart to claim her power and save the day. That’s a lovely lesson for anyone, and by the end of the book, I was thoroughly on Josie’s side and very eager to read more of her charming adventures.