Once a Witch, by Carolyn MacCullough, for Timeslip Tuesday

I have heard that there are people out there who don't like time travel stories. A quick google search confirmed this impression--time travel books are "unreliable" "inconsistent" and "unrealistic." "I don't like time travel stories," writes one reader google found for me here, who then goes on to say, "Aside from that, no complaints."

So I feel a little awkward labeling Once a Witch, by Carolyn MacCullough (Clarion, 2009, YA, 292 pages) as such, and turning all those readers against it. To them I say, there's very little time traveling, you'll hardly notice it, the time travelling is every bit as realistic as all the other fantastical stuff that happens....but it's Tuesday, and I needed a book for Timeslip Tuesday, so here we are. And for those who really love time travel books qua time travel books, you might enjoy it too. Even though there are only 47 pages (give or take) set in the past...

Tamsin belongs to a clan of witches, and has grown up in an enclave of magic, surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins who can all work enchantments of one kind or another. One of the most powerful of her generation is her own sister, Rowena, who can mesmerize others...but Tamsin has no talent, and feels like a fish out of water. When an absent-minded professor comes to the bookstore where she's working, and asks her to find a lost clock, in that special way members of her family can do, her frustration comes to a head and she finds herself taking the job.

Now, back at school in New York, Tamsin is stuck with a job she can't do--but fortunately, her cousin Gabriel is back in her life, and he is a Finder par excellence. Together the two travel back to the 19th century, to find the clock before it was lost...but in taking it back to the present, Tamsin has unwittingly tampered with the very magic that keeps her family safe. For the absent minded professor is not at all what he seems to be. And neither, for that matter, is Tamsin herself.

It's a very entertaining story--not too tremendously deep, and at times perhaps too self-consciously YAish with its little touches of clothing angst and the like--but a good, fast read. Tamsin's magical family provides a fun backdrop for her adventures, and her own journey of magical self discovery, and her re-discovery of Gabriel, held my interest. Danger, Romance, Magic, Family Secrets, a Big Sister who's too much to take, and a smidge of Blood. And there's the time travel bit, to add even more interest...so all in all, a fun book.

The time travel is all plot device, and not a thing of interest in itself, in the way some time travels are--the cultural disconnects and self-discovery through alien time immersion sort of thing (that make those of us who love T.T. love it) aren't here. But it is used very crisply to move the story along in an interesting way, and that's just fine.

Just because it's nice not to feel alone, I add that Leila at Bookshelves of Doom had much the same reaction (and I think it was her review, now that I read it again, that made me put this one on my list).


  1. We read this one for the Cybs; I was surprised by how well I liked it. A few self-conscious moments, but otherwise, very nice and quick and satisfying and I look forward to more from the author.

  2. I quite enjoyed this book and you're right, it's not exactly a time travel story so people should NOT ignore it because they don't like time travel. I though the book was fun to read and it captured my interest with the plot and mystery. I think what little time travel there was was handled pretty well. (Insomuch as I didn't get all confused like I normally do with time travel!)

  3. It's not that I necessarily dislike time travel novels, it's more because I haven't ever come across ones I really like. Excepting maybe OUTLANDER. This ones sounds interesting tho! Thanks!

  4. It is true that when not done well, time travel stories can be confusing...when I reach 100 time slip Tuesdays, I will do a massive round up post with the ones I love best hightlighted--and maybe, Cat and Michelle, you will find t.t. books to like!

    I have never read Outlander, Michelle--I shall try it!

  5. I don't understand disliking time travel - I've always loved it (though not all books that employ it) unreservedly. This one looks wonderful; adding it to my list!

  6. I enjoyed this book too. Thanks for reviewing it.

  7. I think I must read this book now. Sounds great for when I need something light.

    I love Timeslip Tuesday, and I'll be looking forward to your big roundup post mostly because I'm curious as to what in your mind is the paradigm of time travel stories. You often say that in this story or other, time travel was only used as a plot device and I always wonder what that means.

    Is your goal to find books in which almost the whole story takes place in another time? Or in which the mechanics of time travel are thoroughly explored? I must learn your requirements for the ultimate time travel story.

    Parker P

  8. Gosh. It's so clear in my mind, I didn't realize I was being unclear to others! In next Tuesday's post, I'll talk about a book that's the opposite, and explain all! :)


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