The Witches of New York: A Novel

by Ami McKay

Paperback, 2017




Harper Perennial (2017), Edition: Illustrated, 560 pages


Fiction. Literature. Romance. Historical Fiction. HTML: Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply. New York in the spring of 1880 is a place alive with wonder and curiosity. Determined to learn the truth about the world, its residents enthusiastically engage in both scientific experimentation and spiritualist pursuits. Séances are the entertainment of choice in exclusive social circles, and many enterprising women??some possessed of true intuitive powers, and some gifted with the art of performance??find work as mediums. Enter Adelaide Thom and Eleanor St. Clair. At their humble teashop, Tea and Sympathy, they provide a place for whispered confessions, secret cures, and spiritual assignations for a select society of ladies, who speak the right words and ask the right questions. But the profile of Tea and Sympathy is about to change with the fortuitous arrival of Beatrice Dunn. When seventeen-year-old Beatrice leaves the safety of her village to answer an ad that reads "Respectable Lady Seeks Dependable Shop Girl. Those averse to magic need not apply," she has little inclination of what the job will demand of her. Beatrice doesn't know it yet, but she is no ordinary small-town girl; she has great spiritual gifts??ones that will serve as her greatest asset and also place her in grave danger. Under the tutelage of Adelaide and Eleanor, Beatrice comes to harness many of her powers, but not even they can prepare her for the evils lurking in the darkest corners of the city or the courage it will take to face… (more)


½ (152 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member mountie9
The Good Stuff
Witches, ghost, women's rights, 1880's New York, what is not to love
The mood of the story is marvelous, I felt like I was right there. A perfect book for reading tucked under a fluffy blanket on a cool fall night
The heroines are marvelous. Likable, flawed and I felt a real connection
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to them (Ok and I sorta wish I could be a witch)
Her writing is absolutely exquisite and haunting. I felt transported right into the time
I am very intrigued by Adelaide and have already ordered The Virgin Cure in order to learn more
I want the tea shop to be real and I want to go there, To hang around with like minded women - I think in this day and age we are missing this kind of community of support
History interwoven with witchcraft inspires you to want to know more about what women went through during this era
Just an exquisitely written tale that you can lose yourself in - and that my friends is such a wonderful thing

The Not So Good Stuff
A bit jumpy at times and confusing at times - but keep in mind that I am still in the midst of moving into a new house, However, I felt like it was missing a cohesion of story
I wanted more, I wanted everything tied up which is making me think McKay is going to write a sequel and if she doesn't I may be disappointed

Favorite Quotes/Passages

"Time and progress had caused these unfortunate souls to be forgotten, but their restless echoes had lived on, rising up through the cobblestones and pavers, acting as ghostly ether, provoking fear and dark thoughts. This is what happens when the dead don't get their due. This is what happens when the past is ignored."

"The middle-aged doctor was far from being without sin, but he liked to (no, he needed) to feel that things he did and said and thought served to subtract from the overall chaos of the world. There was enough nonsense to go around these days without him adding to it."

"She'd never thought of writing as an act of defiance, but those two marks proved it to be so. Her need to leave something of herself was overwhelming. If she was to die here, she wouldn't let him forget she'd live,"

4/5 Dewey's

I received this from Penguin Random House in return for an honest review
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LibraryThing member Twink
Don't you love the cover of Ami McKay's latest book - The Witches of New York?

I had no idea what it was about when I picked it up, but I love McKay's writing, so I knew it would be good. And it was wonderful - literally magical!

I began to read and was thrilled to find a character named Moth from
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McKay's The Virgin Cure. Moth has reinvented herself as Adelaide Thom and opened a tea shop with Eleanor St. Clair. The two women sell more than tea though. Eleanor outright describes herself as a witch and Adelaide has an innate ability to read people. When young Beatrice Dunn arrives looking for employment, Eleanor recognizes the untapped abilities and power the girl possesses. McKay's lead characters are magical, but not perfect which hits the right note. Others also see Beatrice's potential - witch hunters, religious fanatics, those desperate to contact the dead and an alienist. The sense of impending danger from these players had me not wanting to turn the page at some junctures. But of course I had to. There are also some decidedly unusual supporting characters - a raven who may not really be a bird, myriad ghosts and a pair of dream fairies.

The setting is just as much of a player in the novel. McKay's depiction of 1880's New York conjured up vivid scenes crackling with detail and interspersed with historical fact. McKay captures the tone and fascination of the time period with conversing with the spirit world. And she had me wondering as well as I read the spells, wondered about that sudden breeze in a closed room and tried to remember the dream I had last night.

McKay's prose are meant to be read slowly, savouring each sentence and situation and pausing to wonder what if? The Witches of New York is another excellent read from a very talented storyteller. I think there's more to this story - I wonder if McKay thinks so too?
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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
The setup was a slog but the end flew. I could see all the uses of witch, from polite bitch to lesbian, to charlatan to actual magic and it was interesting but sometimes I just wanted it to move on and get on with it. Occasionally becomes more a meditation about the uses of the word Witch to
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describe women who don't fit categories and refuse to be normalised but overall interesting.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
As long as there has been a patriarchal society, independent women have been accused of practicing witchcraft. Even today, the idea of a woman who may be more intelligent and/or more talented than a man generates fury and disbelief in some quarters. Historically, men (and a fair share of women)
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could only rationalize the existence of such women by believing they consort with the devil. It also meant that they could take steps to rid the world of such women. The Witches of New York covers this age-old battle between women and men in the late 1800s New York.

The setting of The Witches of New York is what makes it such a unique witches story. The late 1800s was a fascinating era; one might even consider it a precursor for the 1920s with its battle between old and new. On the one hand, it is the time of spiritualism and a greater acceptance of the supernatural. Anything having to do with ghosts, fortune telling, or speaking with the deceased was fashionable. At the same time, the story also takes place around the time the Comstock Act was passed. Anything deemed obscene or intended for “immoral use” was against the law. This law covered any abortifacient, any method of birth control, and any literature discussing sex. This was also the height of the Victorian Era, during which women had few rights, were considered the weaker sex in all areas, and were expected to be entirely dependent upon a male relative or spouse.

With this unique and dichotomous time period as the setting, Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice must go forth in the world and try to survive. Ms. McKay does an excellent job creating characters that are endearing. Eleanor, Beatrice, and Adelaide are not saints but like all of us just trying to live our lives in a manner that provides satisfaction and happiness. Ms. McKay also excels at balancing the historical background with experiences that modern women will understand all too well. Some fights just never seem to obtain resolution, it seems.

The story is a mix of light-heartedness and darkness. While the death of any person at the hands of another is not something to take lightly, it is difficult not to view the malignant characters as caricatures who will get their just desserts in the end. Similarly, Eleanor and Adelaide have an “Odd Couple” vibe that works for them. Toss in a potential love interest or two, some particularly modern support characters, a bit of magic, and you have a new coven about whom it is so much fun to read.

While The Witches of New York is technically a stand-alone novel, Ms. McKay set up certain elements of the story for a sequel. There are not so many unanswered questions as there is a lack of definitive resolution in a certain area. This in no way diminishes one’s enjoyment of the story however. In fact, it makes me eagerly anticipate a sequel because this cast of characters along with the setting is too good to not want to visit time and again.
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LibraryThing member crazeedi73
Not what I expected. It had a lot of possibility, just somewhat disappointed
LibraryThing member Unreachableshelf
This is a fantastic book that reminds me very much of The Golem and the Jinni in its combination of historical fiction and fantasy, as well as The Night Circus in tone.
LibraryThing member Smits
this book was such fun to read. Interesting play with "folk magic" and how it may have been used in the 1880's as it rode along beside the Suffragette movement and the rise of NY as a city filled with different sorts of people.
LibraryThing member Cariola
Beatrice Dunn, age 17, has started to see ghosts. Convinced that she is a witch, she feels she needs some professional training outside of the small upper Hudson town where she has lived with her Aunt Lydia since her parents died and responds to an ad for a shopgirl in a New York tea shop with a
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strange addendum: "Those averse to magic need not apply."

The shop, Tea & Sympathy, is run by two white witches, Adelaide Thom, a fortune teller and mind reader, and Eleanor St. Claire, a healer. Seeing her partner getting more and more worn out, Adelaide has placed the ad for help, unbeknownst to Eleanor; applicants will be entertained in person for one afternoon only. When a long line of would-be assistants appears outside the shop, Eleanor dismisses them all. But when Beatrice, late due to an accident, appears and swoons on the doorstep, Eleanor invites her in--and so begins a partnership of three.

The novel is set in 1880, at the height of Anthony Comstock's morality campaign, and those who practice magic are one of the targets of his followers. It's chock full of fascinating characters, in addition to the three witches. There's Sister Piddock, devoted follower of a fire and brimstone (and likely mad) preacher who is bent on closing Tea & Sympathy. Quinn Brody, a one-armed veteran who has taken up his father's "scientific" research into the world beyond. The incarcerated madwoman who marred Adelaide's face with acid, determined now to finish her off. Plus a real demon, two invisible spirits called Dearies, and Perdu, a very prescient talking raven. The setting is also colored by ongoing reports of the progress of erecting Cleopatra's Needle in Central Park and by the blossoming woman's suffrage movement.

Overall, I enjoyed the book but was disappointed as several threads of the story were left hanging at the end. As other readers have suggested, this probably indicates that a sequel is in the works; in fact, the character of Adelaide is the grown-up character Moth from another of McKay's novels, The Virgin Cure.
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LibraryThing member bucketofrhymes
Here's my thing about magic in fiction: I am not a fan of explicit magic use. I prefer things to be subtle -- the glimpse movement caught out of the corner of your eye that could be a ghost or could be just a drafty house.

So this book -- had it been about three women reading body language, selling
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tea, using ouija boards... Had the paranormal aspect been more understated and left to the imagination... This would have been my favourite book ever.

But the magic, the spirits, they're undeniably there, so this book turned out to be not exactly up my alley.

However, it's a testament to Ami McKay's amazing writing that I still found this book enthralling. Really, I loved it -- the characters, the word choice, the descriptions, the examination of how women were treated. Ami McKay is always a delight to read.

So, I'll say this. If you love literary fiction AND ghosts, absolutely pick this up. And if you're kind of dubious about the paranormal element... hey, give it a shot anyway. It might surprise you like it did me.
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LibraryThing member GirlWellRead
A special thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Random House/Knopf Canada for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Set two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom ('Moth' from The Virgin Cure) runs a tea shop with Eleanor St. Clair, that specializes in cures, potions, and spells.
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Feeling that they are run off their feet, Adelaide puts an ad in the local paper to secure extra help. Beatrice Dunn is a perfect fit, she has an untapped gift of seeing things and hearing things that nobody else can. The three main characters were rich and well-written, but were let down by the plot which ironically is given away in the blurb (hopefully this will be amended for the inside/back cover of the finished product).

I loved the setting and descriptions throughout the city of New York in the Gilded Age. As much as I loved Ami McKay's other works The Birth House, and The Virgin Cure, this story was just average and I struggled at times to get through it. The beginning had a nice hook, and there were some others dispersed throughout the story which ended up propelling me to finish.
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LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
This was a great combination of historical fiction with a touch of witchcraft. I loved the characters, and I wish I could live in their world just a little bit longer. In some ways, the style reminded me of Harry Potter, with magic existing within our own (historical) world and interacting with
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ordinary and sometimes real figures (like Anthony Comstock). The plot concluded perfectly and I will certainly look for more from this author!
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LibraryThing member ChelleBearss
I love a good witch novel and this one did not disappoint. While it dragged a tad in the middle it was quite fun and kept me reading and interested, even in the slower spots. This is my first by McKay but I plan to read more.
LibraryThing member veeshee
As usual, the story was spell-binding and filled with wonderful intricate details. I really liked how the author had newspaper articles and pamphlets inserted into the story to help build the setting up. This is a very feminist-oriented novel that sheds light on the plight of women in the 1800s,
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during a time when being forthright and asserting one's rights were frowned upon. The blend of history with magic was masterfully done and quite enjoyable to read. I did find that the story moved at a slower pace than what I am used to by this author, but the tension was palpable throughout and it kept me going all the way until the end. There were certain story plots that I felt could have been explored in greater depth, but overall this story was very good, and I was pleased with my experience! Here's to more novels by Ami McKay!
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LibraryThing member veeshee
As usual, the story was spell-binding and filled with wonderful intricate details. I really liked how the author had newspaper articles and pamphlets inserted into the story to help build the setting up. This is a very feminist-oriented novel that sheds light on the plight of women in the 1800s,
Show More
during a time when being forthright and asserting one's rights were frowned upon. The blend of history with magic was masterfully done and quite enjoyable to read. I did find that the story moved at a slower pace than what I am used to by this author, but the tension was palpable throughout and it kept me going all the way until the end. There were certain story plots that I felt could have been explored in greater depth, but overall this story was very good, and I was pleased with my experience! Here's to more novels by Ami McKay!
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LibraryThing member Zumbanista
I loved The Virgin Cure by this author, but The Witches of New York didn’t quite meet my expectations.

The premise was so promising: New York City of the 1880’s, 3 Witches running a tea shop and herbal apothecary, suffragettes. The era and subject matter (magic, witchcraft, herbalism,
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spiritualism) was well researched and the main characters pretty well fleshed out. I loved the raven and fairies.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the novel to be almost Young Adult at some points, especially the young trainee, Beatrice. Also, the plot pacing sagged here and there, and the author fell into some stereotypes (handsome, reluctant suitor and villainous preacher) that I’m sure she could have made more three dimensional - I have a good opinion of her writing skills generally.

So, a better than average read, but not as good as it might have been considering this writer’s ability.
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LibraryThing member ladycato
As enjoyable as I found this book, I was also frustrated by the utter predictably of its plot and a central villain as flat as matte paint.

What I loved: The setting. The characters. The voice. This book SINGS. The feminist note is positive and full of celebration. The author obviously did
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incredible research into late 19th century New York City; the place and its witches contain beating hearts. The floating points of view work. The three lead women are amazing. Eleanor, a well-trained witch who takes pride in her tea shop and its role in aiding women, and hides her own yearning for their intimate company. Adelaide, a fortune teller by trade who lost her eye to a vicious attack but hasn't lost her true beauty. And Beatrice, the young woman who comes to the city to find a job and finds the place teeming with mysteries and ghosts--and horror unlike she has ever known.

What didn't work: This book falls into the frustrating category of literary-marketed books that borrows heavily from fantasy genre conventions and tries to utterly ignore those roots because, well, LITERARY. This makes the entire plot note-for-note predictable. This dismayed me to no end. I loved the book through the beginning, but by the middle, dismay was starting to set in. I so wanted this book to use its shiny premise and do something new and amazing with it. Instead, it offered zero surprises.

This wasn't helped by the villain, an overdone trope of a passionate Christian preacher/sadist/murderer who is being helped along by the devil. I kept hoping there would be some fresh turn with his character, too, but nope.

I started out so very in love with this book, ready to give it five stars., but in the end I'm left disappointed by its lack of originality and must only give it three.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
I don't really like stories about the supernatural, but Ami McKay is such a good writer with an ability to develop her characters well, so I didn't mind reading about witches in this book. To my mind, the story brought up issues about women's rights and the persecution of those who are different --
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the fear of things we don't understand. I've actually ordered her second book with these characters (Eleanor, Moth and Beatrice)!
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LibraryThing member ouroborosangel
For more reviews please visit

If you are interested in any of the following: mysticism, spiritualism, witches, demons, opium, absinthe, crazed clergy, surviving civil war soldiers with missing limbs, Egyptian obelisks, the djinn, fairy tales, spells, ghosts, the fae, talking
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animals, insane asylums, fortunetelling, scrying, herbal remedies, the Salem witch trials, women suffragists, mediums and/or folk magic - then this is the book for you.

The Witches of New York tells the story of three witches. Eleanor comes from a long line of witches, absorbing her folksy magic from her mother. Adelaide learned fortune-telling while working for a side-show and quickly found she had a real knack for it. The too-smart and restless Beatrice moves to the City and learns that she’s a new kind of witch.

There is so much history and magic contained in the pages of this book, that it is difficult to describe it exactly. McKay blends the real 1880’s New York with her fictional characters and circumstances so effortlessly that I found it difficult to discern the difference. Her descriptions are spot-on as well; when her characters walk down the street, you walk with them - you can hear the newsboys, smell the roasted peanuts, feel the cold on a sleigh ride through Central Park in January.

Hopefully, this book is the first of a series or I will be sorely disappointed; many storylines were left unresolved at the end of the novel. Plus I would love to spend more time with these three witches of New York.

(A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.)
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LibraryThing member LibraryCin
3.5 stars

It is the 1880s. 17-year old Beatrice heads to New York to try to get an advertised shop girl job at “Tea and Sympathy”. It turns out the ladies who run Tea and Sympathy (Eleanor and Adelaide) are witches, and Beatrice is showing tendencies towards such, as well as seeing and hearing
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ghosts. We learn about all three women, their histories, and how things go forward at this time in NYC while the three are considered witches.

I liked Beatrice’s story, in particular, but what I wasn’t crazy about was all the different changing perspectives of so many different characters. I don’t like when I’m a good chunk of the way in and a new character is introduced and I have to try to fit them in. This happened quite a bit in this book, as there was a lot of flopping all over the place, following all the different characters. Toward the end, the story picked up speed a bit, so overall, I’m still rating it good.
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LibraryThing member Auntie-Nanuuq
Eleanor St Clair & Adelaide Thom run a (psychic) tea shop in NY. Unbeknownst to Eleanor, Adelaide has put an announcement in the papers looking for a shop-girl/assistant>

Beatrice sees the advertisement, hops on a farm train to apply for the position, but not before typing a witch's ladder. When she
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arrives Cleopatra's Needle is being unloaded from the docks, and as soon as she touches it her life changes.

Beatrice can now see spirits & ghosts.... as Eleanor & Adelaide help Beatrice come into her own; a malevolent man who hides behind the bible will become Beatrice's nemesis & tormentor...

A very fascinating book that is well written, enthralling with a compelling story of three witches living in NY working to help others.

I am happy I purchased this rather than waiting for the Library to reopen in order to get it.
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LibraryThing member LoriFox
Oh how I loved this book! The Witches, The Magic, The Raven, all felt familiar. I was there with them in the story. I am a witch, I have seen ghosts, and I have spoken with ravens. The Q and A at the end of the book with Ami McKay was really good. She is a gifted storyteller and, not so secretly, a
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witch, at least in spirit. I adore her and her books.
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
Honestly, I'm not sure what to say about this book. I tried. I actually really enjoyed about the first 3rd, although the pacing is plodding. I was kind of into that, to be honest -- just reveling in the gradual reveal of New York in times past, with interesting magic sewn throughout, and then I
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just got stuck. I think the impending doom scenario just got to be too much for me -- if there's doom, get on with it already. If there isn't doom, can we just celebrate the everyday lives of women of power? Neither fish nor fowl has left me bored and tired.

Hey, it looks like the actual book has visuals (I am reading the ARC on a very old kindle) -- I suspect that would really improve the pacing. I may look this up in paper at some point. Advanced Reader's copy provided by Edelweiss.
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LibraryThing member whitreidtan
The Gilded Age was a fascinating time in history, on the cusp of so much discovery and invention and a whole new way of life (sometimes positive, sometimes negative). Witches have traditionally been women who have had a power and a knowledge that wasn't supposed to be available to them. Society,
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when not punishing them to death, often shunned them, except for those furtive moments that they needed these wise women's counsel or skills, herbal and otherwise. Combine the Gilded Age in New York with witches and you have the potential for an amazing novel, which is exactly what Ami McKay's The Witches of New York is.

Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom run an apothecary/tea shop in New York called Tea and Sympathy. They are both witches. Seventeen year old Beatrice Dunn is looking for an escape from her boring life when she sees an advertisement looking for a shopgirl for the aforementioned store with the intriguing caveat that "those averse to magic need not apply." Beatrice is a witch too, although she doesn't know it yet. What she does know is that this job is meant for her so she heads to New York City at the same time that Cleopatra's Needle is making its way down the rail line. Tea and Sympathy is a cozy and appealing place but also quietly subversive, a place where women are on the verge of being able to show their power, to claim suffrage, to wear less restrictive clothing, and to manifest their own autonomy among other things. Because it is this, it is also the target of hatred, especially in the character of a local reverend intent on stamping out his perception of "evil" even as he brings evil with him.

The story is a charming mix of history and magic. It believes in communing with the dead, ghosts and spiritualism, potions and palmistry. In other words, it captures beautifully the spirit and atmosphere of the Gilded Age. Eleanor, Adelaide, and Beatrice are intriguing characters and Perdu the raven, who is something more than a raven is a marvelous touch. The plot is mesmerizing and the tension rises apace, taking this from a quaint, witchy tale to a desperate howl against the patriarchy. It's an engrossing story of the power of friendship and of a modernizing world that has to make room for powerful women in a whole new way. My book club was divided on it but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

560 p.; 8 inches


0062359924 / 9780062359926
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