Book Review: Toil & Trouble

toil & troubleToil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft
Edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe
YA Anthology/Fantasy
405 pages
Published August 2018

Toil & Trouble was a much-hyped anthology of YA stories, and I think it lived up to that hype. I really enjoyed almost every story in this book – only one or two of them were less than awesome. And they still weren’t bad! Anthologies like this keep introducing me to yet more authors that I want to read, and just keep growing my TBR list! Some of the authors in this book I was familiar with; while I hadn’t read her work yet, I met Zoraida Córdova at the Baltimore Book Festival, and she was amazing. I’m familiar with Brandy Colbert’s work, and have not yet read Anna-Marie McLemore but desperately want to, and her story in this work (Love Spell) only increases that need.

I read this book just before Halloween, and it was a perfect choice. I’m not a fan of actual horror novels, which seem to be what everyone else is reading this time of year. Give me my strong witchy women! The stories in this book are all young women – teens to early adulthood – learning to rely on themselves. They embrace what family traditions mean to them, or break free of them entirely if they’re the wrong path. They break social taboos and fall in love where they will. They FIGHT for what they want.

I think my favorite story in this book involved a woman whose powers had been bound by her coven until she was old enough to use them wisely, but had to watch her father die in an accident when she could have healed him if she’d had access to her magic. She went to an ancient place of power in the mountains and broke the binding, horrifying her coven. The story is actually about her defying them further in refusing her destined soul mate for the girl she’s been in love with since she was a child, and Fate’s punishment for that. The two girls fighting for each other and for their own magic was amazing. (The Heart in Her Hands, Tess Sharpe.) Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s part of a larger story, I was hoping for more in that world!

As far as I can tell, only one of the stories is part of something larger – I’m pretty sure Zoraida Córdova’s story is part of her Brooklyn Brujas world. Other than that, they all appear to be standalones, which is a little sad as I’d like to see more of many of these worlds!

Toil & Trouble is an outstanding anthology of magical women, and I loved it.

From the cover of Toil & Trouble:

SCORN THE WITCH.
FEAR THE WITCH.
BURN THE WITCH.

History is filled with stories of women accused of witchcraft, of fearsome girls with arcane knowledge. Toil & Trouble features fifteen stories of girls embracing their power, reclaiming their destinies and using their magic to create, to curse, to cure – and to kill.

A young witch uses social media to connect with her astrology clients – and with a NASA-loving girl as cute as she is skeptical. A priestess of death investigates a ritualized murder. A bruja who cures lovesickness might need the remedy herself when she falls in love with an altar boy. A theater production is turned upside down by a visiting churel. In Reconstruction-era Texas, a water witch uses her magic to survive the soldiers who have invaded her desert oasis. And in the near future, a group of girls accused of witchcraft must find their collective power in order to destroy their captors.

This collection reveals a universal truth: there’s nothing more powerful than a teenage girl who believes in herself.

TTT – Top Ten Books about Witchy Ladies!

the bone witchTop Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and this week, because Halloween is tomorrow, the theme is Halloween freebie! So I’m doing my top ten on awesome witchy ladies. These are strong-willed women who have magic and use it with intent. They know what they want and they use the tools at their disposal to get it.

My first recommendation here is one that I’ve been recommending left and right since I read it – Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch. The second book, The Heart Forger, is also out, and the third book (The Shadow Glass) comes out in March! The main character in these books is Tea, and she’s a necromancer, and she is AMAZING.

poppy warSecond is The Poppy War, which is being followed by The Dragon Republic in May. Rin is a shaman, chosen by an extremely powerful god, and she’s about to just burn it ALL down to make things right. Excellent military fantasy.

toil & troubleOne I just finished reading (Review up soon, I promise!) is Toil & Trouble – 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft. It’s a YA anthology about witches and it is fantastic. It includes stories by authors I’ve previously read, authors I’ve heard of, and one author I’ve actually met! These women are badass.

girl who drank the moonThe Girl Who Drank the Moon isn’t exactly badass, but it is an amazing book about witches, and how perceptions and traditions don’t always get things right. It could probably pass for a middle-grade read, but it’s still involved enough to be enjoyable for adults.

trail of lightningNow Trail of Lightning is badass! Maggie Hoskie is a Native American monster hunter, and Coyote himself has taken an interest in her. This book is part dystopia, as it takes place after an apocalypse, in which magical walls rose around the reservation to protect it. It’s chock-full of Native American legends and language and traditions and it’s absolutely amazing.

CirceIn a list of powerful, knowing witches, I certainly can’t leave out Circe. This was a Book of the Month several months ago, and a follow up to Song of Achilles. I still haven’t read Song of Achilles, though it’s on my Kindle. Circe, however, blew me away and sent me into a reading slump because what could possibly follow that?!

forest1kForest of a Thousand Lanterns is a re-imagining of Snow White, but in an Asian-inspired world, and it’s the story of the evil queen instead of Snow White. The sequel, Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, is out November 6th and follows the evil queen’s stepdaughter. I can’t wait!

crown's fateIt’s got more of a Christmas/winter feel to it than a Halloween feel, but Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate is a duology on Russian magicians duking it out to become the Tsar’s Magician. Along the way, they discover they shouldn’t be fighting each other but are in too deep to stop. It’s a heartbreaker but it’s gorgeous.

fallenBack in the realm of necromancer ladies, we have Reign of the Fallen, built on the odd premise of a country where necromancers constantly resurrect people – so no one truly dies, but if resurrected people are exposed at all (they were voluminous shrouds all the time) they devolve into mindless monsters. Of course, this starts happening a lot, and the main character has to track down the cause. Looks like Reign of the Fallen is getting a sequel in January called Song of the Dead.

thepowerI’m going to end this list with a book that isn’t necessarily about witches, but is about women wielding a magical power – The Power, by Naomi Alderman, is a dystopia wherein women have evolved an electrical shock that they can shove into people by touch. This results in an overturning of the world order, where women are the physically more capable gender. I wish the book wasn’t quite so intent on the gender binary, but other than that, it was a really amazing book.

 

 

Book Review: The Rules of Magic

rulesofmagicThe Rules of Magic
Alice Hoffman
Contemporary Fantasy
385 pages
Published 2017

So I actually didn’t know that Practical Magic the movie was based on a book. But when I saw The Rules of Magic billed as the prequel to a movie I had loved, I knew I had to read it. And I’m so glad I did. The Rules of Magic is, well, magical. Magical and nostalgic and spell-binding. Most book worlds feel different than their respective movie-worlds, but this felt like a logical prequel. (It may be because I haven’t seen the movie in some time – I intend to remedy that soon, and I might just have to read the book as well.)

Practical Magic, the well known movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, centers around the two girls and their elderly aunts. The Rules of Magic is the aunts’ story. And what a story. It begins in New York, as the older of the two aunts is turning 17. On an Owens’ girl’s seventeenth birthday, they receive an invitation to spend the summer at the Owens home in Massachusetts. Frances, the older of the two girls, receives the invitation, and her two siblings won’t let her go alone, so all three of them (yes, three, the movie doesn’t mention their brother that I recall, though I suppose Bullock and Kidman’s characters had to come from somewhere!) pack up and head to Massachusetts, where they meet their Aunt Isabelle. Over the course of the summer, they learn their family history, and get verification that they are indeed witches. (They’d had certain powers throughout childhood, though their mother tried to deny it.)

It was Vincent’s storyline that intrigued me, since I knew where Frances and Jet ended up. There was an unexpected curveball that I won’t spoil here, but I enjoyed it. It was Jet and Frances’ storylines that had me crying at the end of the book, though. Not the very last chapter – it ended on a hopeful note – but the few chapters preceding it had me in tears. (It was midnight, and everyone else was asleep, so I had myself a good cry over my book, and then had to try to sleep on a wet pillow.)

If you enjoyed Practical Magic the movie, you should read this book. It’s a perfect prequel.

From the cover of The Rules of Magic:

Find your magic.

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

thebearThe Bear and the Nightingale
Katherine Arden
Fairy-tale Retelling
330 pages
Published 2017

So I finally got around to reading this one – people have been raving about it all year long. And honestly – I don’t see what the fuss is about. It’s good, sure. But it’s not Girls Made of Snow and Glass, or The Crown’s Game, or Uprooted. It’s not The Golem and the Jinni. I enjoyed it, but I think the hype is a little undeserved. I am, however, always a sucker for Russian-themed fairytales. (Probably why I liked The Crown’s Game and The Crown’s Fate so much.) And I am looking forward to the sequel, The Girl in the Tower, which just came out. (I have a hold requested on it from my library.) The third book in the Winternight Trilogy appears to be The Winter of the Witch, and is scheduled to be published in August.

The Bear and the Nightingale is set in Rus – a Russia-like country, but with magic, of course. Vasilisa/Vasya is a granddaughter of a witch, and has some abilities herself. Mostly just the ability to see things that other can’t, and to talk to them. Through the course of the book, she avoids an arranged marriage, saves a priest, fights a priest, and tries like hell to save her village from the demons of winter. I loved her tenacity, and her love for the old spirits. The description of The Winter King and his home was absolutely enchanting. Overall a good book, but a bit overhyped.

From the cover of The Bear and the Nightingale:

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.
 
Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village. 
 
But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Series Review: The Changeling Chronicles

Faerie1Faerie Blood
Faerie Magic
Faerie Realm
Faerie Wrath
Faerie Curse
Faerie Hunt
Faerie War
Emma L. Adams
Urban Fantasy
Around 400 pages each
Published 2016-17

Oh my. This is a seven-book series, only available on Kindle, as far as I can tell, and they’re very good. (The whole series is free via Kindle Unlimited.) There were a few grammatical hiccups in the first book, and one or two spelling errors in the series, but overall, very well done writing. (Although calling them piskies instead of pixies was annoying after a while.)

So this series centers on Ivy Lane, a girl who was taken to faerie at age 13 when the faeries invaded our world and wrecked it. Seriously wrecked it. Supernaturals were faerie2revealed, whole swaths of cities destroyed, large numbers of people killed. I do mean wrecked. She spends 3 years in faerie, as the slave of an evil Sidhe, before escaping and making it back to Earth, where she finds that ten years have passed.

Like most urban fantasy series, each book sees Ivy fighting a world-ending threat. One slight difference here is that the world-ending threat in each one isn’t exactly different. As the series goes on, we discover the plot behind the initial invasion, how it was fought off, and how it ties into the current threat.

I wish Ivy’s best friend, Isabel, had been fleshed out more – even some of Ivy’s enemies and other side characters got more personality and character development that Ivy’s supposed best friend did, and that bugged me a bit. But the world-building and magic is pretty fascinating, and the romance is sweet. I was also pleased to see a couple of nods to non-traditional relationships, though I wish they’d not been in the same book, been a bit more explicit, and been more spread out in the series. (A faerie talking about her girlfriend, and a two lady mages who were….a bit more concerned about each other’s safety that most people expected.)

For all the tropes I’ve mentioned, though, I REALLY REALLY liked this series. She’s written a few other books in the same world – Earth wrecked by faerie invasion – a trilogy about a dragon shifter, and one book (so far) about a half-Sidhe girl. I’ll probably faerie 3read those next, after I get through some of the library books on my stack. (…I may have been hiding from the nonfiction by burying my face in urban fantasy – oops.) If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted romp through Faerie to distract you from the real world, this is a great way to do it.

From the cover of Faerie Blood:

I’m Ivy Lane, and if I never see another faerie again, it’ll be too soon.

Twenty years after the faeries came and destroyed the world as we knew it, I use my specialist skills to keep rogue faeries in line and ensure humans and their magically gifted neighbours can coexist (relatively) peacefully.

Nobody knows those skills came from the darkest corner of Faerie itself.

When a human child disappears, replaced with a faerie changeling, I have to choose between taking the safe road or exposing my own history with the faeries to the seductively dangerous head of the Mage Lords. He’s the exact kind of distraction I don’t need, but it’s work with him or lose my chance to save the victims. It’ll take all my skills to catch the kidnappers and stop Faerie’s dark denizens overrunning the city — but if the faerie lords find out about the magic I stole last time I went into their realm, running won’t save me this time…

Book Review: Black Heart Loa

BlackheartloaBlack Heart Loa
by Adrian Phoenix
Published 2011
416 pages
Urban Fantasy

This was on my library’s “used books for sale” shelf, on the Christmas sale of 2 books for $1. The premise looked interesting – haven’t seen hoodoo-centered urban fantasy before! So I searched around to find a second book (The Elfish Gene) and bought them both. And I’m glad I did, even if I haven’t read The Elfish Gene yet! Black Heart Loa is actually the second in Phoenix’s Hoodoo series, the first being Black Dust Mambo. Even without reading the first one, Black Heart Loa is easy to follow, and the events of Black Dust Mambo are easily understood, without really having them rehashed to the reader. Part of that, I expect, is because Black Heart Loa is dealing with the fallout of the events of Black Dust Mambo, so things get explained in a natural progression in the book.

BHL was a rolicking fun ride through the swamps of Louisiana. I can’t speak for the accuracy of how the hoodoo belief system is represented, but most religious beliefs in urban fantasy get a vigorous twisting from the author, as miracles and magic become real in the fictional world. So I’m not terribly worried about the accuracy, as long as they’re not portrayed solely in a good or bad light. And in BHL there are both good and bad practitioners of hoodoo, illustrating the point that it’s not the religion that is inherently good or bad, but the person practicing it. So that moral quandary aside, I really, REALLY enjoyed this book. Kallie is a fun, ass-kicking, smart-talking protagonist, though I found myself wanting to know more about her best friend, a mambo-in-training.

I especially want to know more about a character who was introduced late in the book, but the ending of the book implies more books to come, and more focus on the character I’m intrigued by, so I’ll have to see if I can dig up more of this series. Amazon says this book is 2 of 2 in the series, so hopefully the author is still going to write more!

From the back of Black Heart Loa:

“An eye for an eye is never enough.”

Kallie Riviere, a Cajun hoodoo apprentice with a bent for trouble, learned the meaning of those ominous words when hoodoo bogeyman Doctor Heron targeted her family for revenge. Now, while searching for her still-missing bayou pirate cousin, Kallie finds out the hard way that someone is undoing powerful gris gris, which means that working magic has become as unpredictable as rolling a handful of dice. The wards woven to protect the Gulf coast are unraveling, leaving New Orleans and the surrounding bayous vulnerable just as an unnatural storm – the deadliest in a century – is born. As the hurricane powers toward the heart of all she loves, Kallie desperately searches for the cause of the disturbing randomness, only to learn a deeply unsettling truth: the culprit may be herself. To protect her family and friends, including the sexy nomad Layne Vallin, Kallie steps into the jaws of danger . . . and finds a loup garou designed to steal her heart – literally.