Toil & Trouble ★★★★☆

36426163An incredibly beautiful and diverse anthology about witches, women, love and mischief. With stories that ranged from modern-day to historical to magical realism, there’s a little something for everyone in Toil & Trouble.

A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.

From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.

Toil & Trouble had me at queer witches. Honestly. I was in a super witchy mood when I requested this one and I was not disappointed. I was so intrigued by the varying stories and I love so many authors that contributed to this anthology that I knew I had to have it.

Each story was different in its own right, each unique and stellar and magical. I, obviously, loved some more than others. But that’s to be expected. You can’t love everything, after all. And trust me, I’ve tried. I’m a Hufflepuff.

I don’t want to go into details about each story–we’ll just be here for days–but as a collection, Toil & Trouble accomplishes something so rarely seen that it’s magical in its own right.

Each story, individually, has its own merits. Some are lyrical and imaginative, others are deep and personal, dark and wonderful at the same time. It’s hard to review an anthology, to be honest, but it’s an experience worth the admission price.

I’ll be extra honest here–I’ve never been a fan of anthologies in the past. Oh, sure, I’ve tried. But it was so hard for me to get invested in a series of short stories, especially if I didn’t know the authors going into it. But I took a chance on Toil & Trouble and I’m glad I did.

Grab this book, add it to your TBR list, especially now as we slowly enter Halloween season. It’s the perfect book to sip a pumpkin spice latte or apple cider to while sitting all cozied up inside.

The Wicked Deep ★★★★☆

35297394The Wicked Deep was a creepy story with rich world building, beautiful language and amazing imagery. That, and the cover is amazing and so sparkly. I just need it on my shelves at all time, illuminated by a little spot light. But–there were plenty of issues too.

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

I want to say, right off the bat, that The Wicked Deep took me a long time to get through. It was touch-and-go for a little while, and I wasn’t sure if I was really going to be invested enough in it to finish.

I absolutely loved the way that book set up the world and the setting. There were small snippets between chapters that just set the mood and the scene in just perfect, bite-sized ways that made me love the story. Shea Ernshaw is amazing at writing settings. All those little bits were the perfect mix of tense, creepy and beautiful.

But then there was the dialogue.

The dialogue all the characters had felt so… off. It felt stilted and a little bit dated. The voices didn’t feel genuine and every time I had to suffer through a patch of dialogue it was tipping the scales towards the DNF side.

I was intrigued by the story, but I couldn’t make it through big patches of the book at once thanks to the characters. Maybe it was just me. Maybe this book is exactly your cup of tea. For me? Not so much.

The Wicked Deep
Amazon Barnes&Noble . BooksAMillion

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Witchtown ★★★☆☆

30971734A mother-daughter witch duo that pulls heists as they travel across the continent seems like it would have been exciting, magical and engrossing. Instead, Witchtown was slow, vague and a bit of a let down.

When sixteen-year-old Macie O’Sullivan and her masterfully manipulative mother Aubra arrive at the gates of Witchtown—the most famous and mysterious witch-only haven in the world—they have one goal in mind: to rob it for all it’s worth.

But that plan derails when Macie and Aubra start to dig deeper into Witchtown’s history and uncover that there is more to the quirky haven than meets the eye.

Exploring the haven by herself, Macie finds that secrets are worth more than money in Witchtown.

Secrets have their own power.

That blurb alone made Witchtown, the haven Macie and her mother arrive in, sound like it was going to be creepy or deadly or something more than the dusty, plain small town it ended up being. Witchtown promised a lot but my expectations sort of fell immediately when the opening to the book started with a history lesson that toed a lot of lines, particularly when it referenced a massive systematic oppression that hearkened to a lot of what we’re seeing both today, regarding queer people and people of color, and what we’ve seen in the past, like in the times of Nazi Germany or the colonization of America and the subsequent, and still going, oppression of Indigenous peoples.

There’s a lot to unpack that wasn’t even mentioned in the first few pages of the book, and we haven’t even met our main character yet.

It took me a long, long time to get into the book. Call it what you will: a slow and boring start, a main character I wasn’t interested in, lackluster worldbuilding; but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Macie or the story until I was halfway through the book.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t like WitchtownIt was a decent book, but it felt all over the place, tied through several unfinished and unexplored subplots, rather than one main thread.

I had expected a heist story, but that fell through almost immediately. Then I expected a mystery, where Macie tried to find out what was causing all the accidents and attacks. Then I expected Macie to start coming into her own power, but that never happened until the literal last few pages.

So little is actually explained and we’re only given poor vague reflections to try and orient ourselves. Not to mention that the town is so lackluster, I only imagine the town square and then a void surrounding it all. This is a town that’s supposed to be full of nothing but witches, it’s supposed to be quirky and different and full of people who come together as refugees from the outside world of non-witches, but it’s so boring.

Throw in a creepy, lying Prince Charming looking love interest and you have Witchtown.

If the story was really about Macie breaking from her mother’s heists to be with her new found friends, I might have liked it more. But it felt like a mishmash of different ideas hastily tied up that just sort of falls apart if you look at it too long.

I wanted to love Witchtown. I love magic and witches and twists and fun quirky towns. But it had so little of that, that I’m not quite sure what to call it. My favorite, though, definitely not.

Witchtown publishes July 18th, 2017. Pre-order it here!