Hey everyone! Today I have a special review because I was lucky enough to get to interview the author, Sasha Peyton Smith, for Turn the Page Tours – The Witch Haven tour! This book has everything I love in it: historical fiction set in NYC, with magic, romance, and a murder mystery! It’s literally all of my favorite genres in one book and I loved it!
If this sounds like a book you’d be interested in, be sure to check out the giveaway details at the end of the post to win one of TWO finished copies of the book! And check out the tour schedule to see the other amazing posts for this tour!
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler free, honest review and all thoughts and feelings are my own!
The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith
Published: August 31, 2021
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
The Last Magician meets The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy in this thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy following a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and is thrust into a battle between witches and wizards.
In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.
Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.
Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined?
Set in New York City In 1911, we have our main character, Frances, who’s still grieving after her brother William was murdered a few months before. With her mother in a mental institution, Frances has no one and nothing, except a seamstress job and the room that comes with it. When her boss attacks her, somehow her scissors end up lodged in his neck, and Frances flees after killing him. Before she can be arrested for murder though, two women arrive with Haxahaven’s Sanitarium, taking Frances away as she has been diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Except Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium – it’s a school for witches. Frances will learn how to control her powers and use them for practical things, such as washing dishes, laundry, mending clothes, and taking care of the house. I mean, this is 1911, and magic isn’t something that women should truly use, just have to help them be better wives and mothers right? Well, when Frances begins receiving notes from a mysterious person, indicating they will help her train her powers and find her brother’s murderer, that’s where our story truly begins!
Honestly, the relationships in this book are the first thing I found that I loved about it, besides overall murder mystery plot line. Maxine and Lena, Frances newfound friends, are people I want to be friends with! Maxine is so strong willed and fiesty, she’s not afraid to share her opinion and call out Frances when she’s about to do something crazy, as she’s walking next to her on her way to do the said crazy thing. Meanwhile Lena is stoic and supportive – while quiet and reserved, she shows she loves Frances by helping her and acting as the chaperone on their outings in the woods.
Meanwhile, we also have Oliver, William and Frances’ childhood. While he and William were close, Frances feels abandoned by Oliver after William’s death, especially as she was evicted from her home and left to fend for herself. Oliver is a sweet guy, and clearly cares for Frances and William, but grief does make us isolated and sometimes, poor decisions. I can understand why Frances is upset with Oliver and why she doesn’t want to be around him at first, but once we understand what Oliver is feeling, it’s hard not to want to give him a hug.
Then, we have Finn, William’s friend from work and Frances’ new teacher. I had a love-hate relationship with this character. On the one hand, I loved Finn and his willingness to help Frances find her brother’s killer and develop her magic. On the other hand, I did not like his personality at all and hated him by the end of the book. He just seemed … creepy.
Besides characters, I liked the plot. I can understand Frances’ frustration with the school – learning the same repetitive things, talking about the moments that lead them to Haxahaven, and feeling like it’s all a waste of time. If I found myself in a magical school, learning real magic, I wouldn’t want to use it learning to sew in the air or having the broom sweep across the room while I washed the dishes. Boring! The murder mystery plot was really interesting and I loved how everything tied in together. While a bit predictable, I really enjoyed the reveal at the end and would love a sequel if there is one!
One thing I was waiting for in this book, was Maxine and Frances’ relationship. I don’t know why, but I felt chemistry between them and was secretly hoping they would end up together! Alas, no relationship between them, but Maxine is a lesbian, so maybe there’s a chance? Maybe? Honestly, I felt more chemistry between both of them than Frances and Oliver or Frances and Finn lol
Overall, loved this book and would love if there was another one! This was a great historical fantasy thriller novel with a sprinkle of romance, so if you like any of those genres, I would check this book out!
Set in 1911 New York City, there must have been a lot of research that went into this story. What’s one piece of research that may, or may not, have ended up in the book that you found the most interesting/weird/disturbing?
I remember once, I was on a tight deadline and I was re-writing a scene where Frances had to get into the Manhattan from Forest Park, where Haxahaven, the school for witches, is located. I was so stressed and trying to turn the book in on time and my poor fiancé (who is usually not at all involved with my writing) was frantically googling 1911 subway maps. Together, we pieced together the exact route and timing of a turn of the century subway commute, with the energy of two people frantically tracking a serial killer in a Criminal Minds episode. It ended up being worth about two sentences of content that were almost immediately cut from the book. It seemed SO IMPORTANT in the moment and ended up not mattering at all. We still laugh about it.
I also did a lot of research into turn of the century clothing and hair styles. One thing that stuck with me is that women used to keep the old hair from their brushes, roll it into balls, and use those to make their bouffants look bigger. They called them “rats.”
If you had to switch lives with one of your characters for a day, who would you choose and why?
I don’t think I’d be a good time traveler. I’m very accustomed to the comforts of the 21st century and a little too addicted to my phone to want to travel to the past. But if I had to go back to 1911 New York and the world of the Witch Haven, I think I’d want to be Florence. She’s a witch who works in the kitchens of Haxahaven. She probably has the chilliest life of any of my characters. I could use magic to make soup. That might be nice.
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
The truth is, I started The Witch Haven as a project just for me. I never really thought it would go anywhere. I wrote a little fanfic while in college, but The Witch Haven is the first book I’ve ever written. I really had to teach myself how to construct a novel as I was writing one. I also had to teach myself how to edit in a significant way. Maybe 4 sentences from the original draft of The Witch Haven still remain. I learned so much about how to pull apart a book to make something better, but there were times I wanted to bang my head against the wall!
Favorite writing/editing snack and drink?
Lately, I’ve just been writing with a big cup of ice water next to me which is so boring! I’m also a tea drinker, I’ll often make myself a few cups of earl grey to stay awake while I’m drafting late at night. My favorite writing snacks are flavor blasted goldfish and sour gummy worms…just putting that in writing makes my tongue hurt.
What was a funny/weird writing moment you had?
I knew very little about publishing when I began what would become The Witch Haven. I was in line for a book signing at a bookstore in my hometown, chatting with my little sister about the manuscript I had started working on, when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I’d ever heard of Pitch Wars. I hadn’t! Pitch Wars is a mentorship program that pairs aspiring writers with publishing industry professionals. I applied, got in, and the woman who tapped on the shoulder, McKelle George ended up being my mentor! It still feels a little like fate! Who knows where I’d be now if I hadn’t attended that book signing.
What inspired you to write The Witch Haven?
The Witch Haven takes place at a school for witches disguised as a tuberculosis sanitarium, and was inspired, in part, by my grandmother’s time spent in a tuberculosis sanitarium in the 1930s. I’ve also always loved historical fiction, particularly historical fiction for young people (the Titanic Dear America Diary lives in my brain rent free to this day!) and loved having an excuse to do a bunch of research into turn of the century New York City. I shoved all the things I love into The Witch Haven; mysteries, descriptions of historical dresses, angry girls, boys with pretty eyes and curly hair, and witches.
As a debut novelist, what is one moment you’re looking forward to most after release?
I can’t wait to see the book in stores! I get so excited every time I go into a bookstore and see one of my friends’ names on the shelf, I can’t imagine how it will feel to see mine alongside them! If you see my crying on the floor of a Barnes and Noble…no you don’t.
Any fun plans to celebrate The Witch Haven’s release?
I’m having a launch event with my writing partner and best friend Casey McQuiston on August 31st. My family and best friend from college are all coming out for it! After the event, I’m going to make witchy themed cocktails, and I’m sure we’ll order a bunch of takeout, and I’ll end the night by making everyone watch k-pop music videos while sitting on the floor of my tiny apartment. All this still feels so surreal, I don’t think it will hit me until a few days later that the book is actually out in the world!
Sasha Peyton Smith grew up in the mountains of Utah surrounded by siblings, books, and one very old cat. She attended the University of Utah and the George Washington University where she studied biology and public health. She is not a witch, though she does own a lot of crystals and always knows what phase the moon is in. She currently lives in Washington D.C. with her partner and collection of porcelain hands. She is the author of THE WITCH HAVEN, coming fall 2021 with Simon and Schuster
Check out this giveaway hosted by Turn the Page Tours! Enter for your chance to win one of two (2) finished copies of THE WITCH HAVEN by Sasha Peyton Smith! Open USA only. You can enter here!
Giveaway starts: Monday, August 30, 2021
Giveaway ends: Monday, September 6, 2021