The Wicked Deep: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Wicked Deep by Shea EarnshawTwo hundred years ago in the town of Sparrow three sisters were drowned as witches. Every year since then the Swan sisters have returned to Sparrow, claiming the bodies of unwitting local girls and using them to wreak their vengeance on the town by drowning boys foolish enough to fall under their sway.

Every Swan Season is the same, ending only when each sister has claimed a new victim.

Penny can see what others can’t including long buried secrets about the sisters and the Swan Season. But she knows that secret can only go so far against a curse. She is used to watching the Swan Season unfold with wary detachment, certain that this one will be  like all the others ending with death, suspicion, and grief.

Except this year there is a new outsider in town—a boy named Bo who refuses to believe the Swan sisters can pose any real danger to anyone, especially him. A boy that Penny is determined to protect. As the Swan Season unfolds Penny and Bo will work together to unravel the truth of the curse and the sisters. But as the Swan Season nears its end Penny realizes that the only way to save Bo might be by sacrificing herself in The Wicked Deep (2018) by Shea Earnshaw.

The Wicked Deep is Earnshaw’s debut novel.

The Wicked Deep is a tense bit of fantasy woven through with suspense as the novel builds toward the disastrous conclusion of the Swan Season. Penny’s first person narration is frank and often cynical with lyrical prose as she slowly searches for a way to break the curse and save Bo.

This story is filled with twists and surprises about both Penny and Bo. Unfortunately the story also flags in the second act as Penny and Bo repeatedly discuss what ending the curse might entail and how far they are willing to go if it means freeing the island from the sisters’ menace forever.

The Wicked Deep is an atmospheric story filled with witches, secrets, and a scorching romance with far-reaching consequences. Recommended for readers looking for a spooky book to read curled up by a fire and fans of Practical Magic especially.

Possible Pairings: The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

Witch Born: A Review

cover art for Witch Born by Nicolas BowlingEngland, 1577: Alyce can’t trust anyone after her mother is burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft. With only the barest instructions and a mommet doll to guide her, Alyce heads to London. She hopes it will be easy to follow her mother’s instructions to find the hangman.

Along the way Alyce has to dodge dangerous witch hunters and learn how to trust new friends and allies. But Alyce isn’t the only one in London with a mission. Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots are both searching intently for Alyce. Both queens want to use her, but only one of them for good in Witch Born (2018) by Nicholas Bowling.

Witch Born is a thoroughly researched historical fantasy. Bowling brings the squalor and wonder of the sixteenth century to life along with the near-constant terror of witchcraft. Genuinely frightening witch hunters and evocative settings make this slim novel a page turner.

Because of Alyce’s young age, this novel is also ideal for readers of all ages. Alyce is a winsome heroine sure to endear herself to readers in this gripping debut. Recommended for readers of both fantasy and historical fiction.

Possible Pairings: Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley, Savvy by Ingrid Law, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Bruja Born: A Review

*Bruja Born is the second book in Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Labyrinth Lost.*

cover art for Bruja Born by Zoraida CórdovaLula Mortiz has always been the healer, the beautiful one. That was before her younger sister Alex accidentally trapped Lula and all of her family in the underworld of Los Lagos, before maloscuros attacked Lula leaving her with scars across her cheek.

Sisterly bonds and everything Lula thought she knew about magic are tested as she struggles to move on the way the rest of her family has. When Lula is involved in a fatal bus crash she’s determined bring back her boyfriend, Maks, who has been the one stable thing in her life. But every bruja knows it’s impossible to beat Death–even with powerful magic on your side in Bruja Born (2018) by Zoraida Córdova.

Bruja Born is the second book in Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Labyrinth Lost.

This fantasy sequel picks up shortly after the events of Labyrinth Lost where readers meet the Mortiz family as Alex first tries to magic away her powers and then has to rescue her family from Los Lagos with her best friend (and now girlfriend) Rishi. This time around the story is narrated by Lula as she tries to cope with the aftermath of Los Lagos including the attack that has left her face scarred and the sudden return of her long-missing father.

Córdova blows the world of the Brooklyn Brujas series wide open as readers learn more about the Mortiz family and the Deos. Brooklyn Bruja also introduces the Knights of Lavant and the leaders of the Thorne Hill Alliance who manage all magical beings within the city. (The Thorne Hill Alliance made their first appearance in the author’s debut series The Vicious Deep.)

Excessive zombies and hunts for answers bring Lula and her sisters across Brooklyn in this plot-driven novel. Lula’s introspective narration shifts neatly to high action as the zombie outbreak heats up and Lula works to restore the balance between life and death.

A cliffhanger of an epilogue and questions surrounding youngest sister Rose and the family’s sometimes ally Nova will leave fans eager for the next volume. Bruja Born is a fast-paced story sure to appeal to fans of the first novel in particular and urban fantasy in general.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

*A more condensed version of this review was published in the May 2018 issue of School Library Journal as a Starred Review*

The Price Guide to the Occult: A Review

“Any decent human being, witch or otherwise, has the capacity to do good in this world. It’s merely a case of whether one chooses to do so.”

cover art for The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye WaltonMore than a hundred years ago Rona Blackburn arrived on Anathema Island with little more than her dogs and her magic. She built a home for herself and made a place on the island but even then the original eight settlers viewed Rona with fear and, eventually, with enough hate to try and burn her out of her home.

Rona survived. Determined to see the original eight and their descendants suffer she bound herself and her line to the island. But in casting her curse Rona inextricably tied daughters down the Blackburn line not just to the island but to the original eight families as well.

In the present all Nor wants to do is keep her head down, her unexceptional powers under control, and her love life nonexistent and untethered to any of the original eight families.

But when a strange price guide to the occult appears at her part time job Nor knows that the time for hiding is almost over in The Price Guide to the Occult (2018) by Leslye Walton.

The Price Guide to the Occult is Walton’s sophomore novel.

Written in close third person this novel, much like its heroine, keeps readers at a remove even as they are drawn deeper into the mysteries and intrigue that surround Anathema Island and its founding families. Each chapter is named for a spell and features an epigraphy from Rona Blackburn’s writings on witchcraft and magic.

Circuitous writing and lush descriptions bring Anathema Island and its magic to life especially as things begin to change when the Price Guide surfaces. Walton deftly builds a world where magic feels both plausible and inevitable with subtle twists on everyday moments that bring Nor’s world startling close to our own.

Nor is a cautious girl, if not by nature then through painfully learned lessons. Self-harm is a thread throughout The Price Guide to the Occult as Nor struggles with knowing that she can’t return to self-harm while wishing for a solution that could seem as simple as cutting herself once did.* She watches with growing horror as her home, the rest of the island, and beyond fall threat to dangerous magic being performed at a great cost.

This story is equal parts sexy and gritty as Nor experiences the elation of young love with an unlikely boy while searching for the source of the Price Guide and its magic that is slowly ruining the island and everything Nor loves. The novel, and the island itself, features a deliberately inclusive cast notably including Nor’s grandmother and her longterm partner Apothia Wu.

The Price Guide to the Occult is an unexpected and fascinating story that only begins to reveal the secrets surrounding Anathema Island and its founding families. Ideal for readers looking for a twisting fantasy whose memory will linger long after the book is closed. Recommended.

*Resources for readers who have struggled with self-harm themselves can be found in a note at the end of the novel.

Possible Pairings: The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Leslye about The Price Guide to the Occult too!

The Witch of Blackbird Pond: A (Classic) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Kit Tyler leaves her home in Barbados to travel alone across the ocean to colonial Connecticut in 1687. She has no reason to stay in Barbados with her grandfather dead and buried. With nowhere else to go she undertakes the long boat trip on her own assured that she will be welcome with open arms by her aunt’s family.

Her arrival doesn’t go as expected. Kit’s uninhibited childhood in Barbados has left the sixteen-year-old wildly unprepared for life among her Puritan relatives. Her cousins covet her beautiful clothes even while her uncle looks at the bright colors and luxurious fabrics of her dresses with scorn. Kit barely recognizes her aunt, struggling to see any hint of her own mother in her aunt’s weather worn face.

When she discovers a beautiful meadow near a pond, Kit finds some much needed solitude and a break in the monotonous drudgery of life with her relatives. Kit also finds an unexpected friend in Hannah Tupper, an old woman who is shunned reviled by the community for her Quaker beliefs and rumors that claim Hannah is a witch.

As she learns more about Hannah and her life by the pond Kit will have to decide what, if anything, she is willing to give up for a chance to belong in The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958) by Elizabeth George Speare.

Have you ever had a visceral reaction to a book. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is that kind of title for me.

This Newbery award winner came to my attention after my aunt gifted me a copy from her days working at Houghton Mifflin when I was in grade school. Like a lot of books back then I motored through it, eventually donated my copy to my school library, and didn’t think about it again for years. But because I became a librarian and worked briefly at a bookseller, I encountered this classic title again as an adult.

Every time I saw it on a shelf I would feel that jolt of recognition. Yes, this book was one that meant so much to me as a child. It also, if you pay attention to book editions, has had some hideous covers over the years. My most recent rediscovery of The Witch of Blackbird Pond happened when The Book Smugglers featured the book in their Decoding the Newbery series. I enjoyed reading Catherine King’s thoughts (and share many of them) but what really jolted me was the cover. Because finally it was the cover I had first read so many years ago!

Finding and purchasing that edition prompted me to re-read The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I discovered a lot of the things I remembered loving when I read the story the first time: Kit’s determination and perseverance not to mention her friendship with Hannah Tupper. I also love the push and pull Kit has both with her cousins and her suitors. This story is more purely historical than I remembered and Speare’s writing is starkly evocative of Puritan New England.

For readers of a certain age, The Witch of Blackbird Pond needs no introduction or recommendation. Younger readers will also find a smart, character driven story. Perfect for fans of historical fictions and readers hoping to discover (or rediscover) a charming classic.

Possible Pairings: All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Chime by Franny Billingsley, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Conversion by Katherine Howe, Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper, Witch Child by Celia Rees, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

The Graces: A Review

The Graces by Laure EveEveryone says that the Graces are witches.

Thalia might dress the part with her spangly skirts and scarves, and Fenrin might bewitch all the girls in town with his good looks and charm. But Summer, the youngest Grace, is the only one willing to admit that she is exactly what everyone in town whispers.

Everyone wants to get close to the Graces. Everyone knows how much it must hurt to lose their interest. Because everyone, inevitably, loses the Graces’ interest.

River is new in town and desperate to attach herself to the Graces. She’s in love with Fenrin, like everyone, even though it’s a cliche. She hopes that seeing into their strange world might understand some of what’s been happening to her. But first River has to become one of the Graces. And she’s will to do whatever it takes to get their attention in The Graces (2016) by Laure Eve.

The Graces is Eve’s first novel and the start of a series.

Eve builds tension early with a narrator who remains nameless for the first part of the novel. Readers know that River arrived in town under a cloud, forced to move for reasons she will not divulge. River sees herself as different and other–just like the Graces themselves–and her narration is suitably calculating and cold.

While The Graces is atmospheric, the beginning remains slow with River carefully circling the Grace siblings as she tries to break into their orbit. The push and pull between what is true and what is not works well with the interplay between magic and reality throughout the novel.

Recommended for readers looking for a trippy book with twists reminiscent of Liar and readers who enjoy an unsympathetic main character–whether to root for them or to watch them fail.

Possible Pairings: The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Wink, Poppy, Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2016*

Labyrinth Lost: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CordovaAlex is the most powerful bruja her family has seen in generations. Her mother and sisters are thrilled when Alex’s powers manifest so powerfully. But Alex knows that magic always has a cost and she’s unwilling to risk her family after already losing her father to wayward magic years ago.

Determined to rid herself of her magic before anyone else gets hurt, Alex turns to the family Book of Cantos for a spell to use on her Death Day–before she accepts the blessings of her family’s dead spirits and truly comes into her powers.

When Alex’s spell to get rid of her magic backfires and her family disappears from their Brooklyn home, she’ll have to travel to the world of Los Lagos to get them back with help from her best friend Rishi and a strange brujo boy with his own agenda in Labyrinth Lost (2016) by Zoraida Córdova.

Labyrinth Lost is the start to Córdova’s new Brooklyn Brujas series.

Córdova borrows from elements of santeria and latinx culture to create her own well-realized magic system in this highly enjoyable urban fantasy. Alex is a kickass heroine whose love for her family leads to near-catastrophe as her magic backfires and sends her relatives (living and dead) to Los Lagos.

Alex remains proactive and wastes no time wallowing as she bargains with a more knowledgeable (though less powerful) brujo named Nova to bring her across to the magical world of Los Lagos where she has to navigate treacherous lands and travel to the Labyrinth to rescue her family from the Devourer. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, comes along offering moral support, strength, and strategy even though she is uninitiated in bruja ways thanks to Alex’s reluctance to talk about her family to outsiders.

In a world where many things are uncertain, the love and support of Alex’s friends and family remain unconditional and rock solid throughout this novel where family plays a huge role. Alex is a fantastic protagonist who is empowered both as a bruja and a girl as she learns to embrace all aspects of her identity.

Córdova’s evocative writing brings Los Lagos and its otherworldly inhabitants vividly to life. Moments or peril contrast well with Alex’s witty first person narration and a sometimes tense romance as Alex tries to make sense of her growing feelings for Rishi while fighting for her life.

Labyrinth Lost is a fast-paced and atmospheric story filled with action and adventure. A must-read for urban fantasy fans and readers looking for a new coven of witches to join. (Just be ready with your best Resting Witch Face.)

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*