Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu

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ARC acquired at Book Expo in exchange for an honest review.

“The next full moon snuck up on me…”

Oh friends, this was truly the graphic novel I’ve been waiting forever for. From witchy magic, to unconditional family and found family love, to being the person you want to be on your own time, to the cutest F/NB relationship ever, I am so in love with Mooncakes!

One night, in a sleepy and paranormal New England town, a witch follows a white wolf into the woods. She doesn’t know what to expect, but it most certainly isn’t a horse demon fighting with her childhood crush! With the help of one another (and some cute grandmas) they unfold a story about a cult and people wanting to harness werewolf magic for their own.

And the two main characters of this graphic novel are everything! One, being Nova, who is Chinese-American, and still coping with the loss of her parents, while living with her two grandmothers (be still, my heart). All of these women are witches and collect rare spell books! And Tam, who is also Chinese-American, and a nonbinary werewolf who grew up with Nova, but recently left their family who wasn’t very kind to them.

And if I haven’t already sold you with the plot and the five star rating, this is also just a story about two young adults learning who they want to be, both separately and together. Nova and Tam are both dealing with hurt from their parents, and even though it is a different kind of hurt, they are there for one another, and unconditionally support one another. It’s beautiful, and powerful, and I had the biggest smile on my face while reading from the first to last page.

Overall, this really was the queer, magical story that I’ve always wanted. I loved the rep, I loved the story, I loved the illustrations, I love the banter, and I truly love both of these main characters so very much. I can’t wait to see what Wendy and Suzanne do next! Also, I’m totally buying mooncakes on the way home tomorrow, because your girl has such a craving.

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Content and Trigger Warnings: talk of abusive parental figures, captivity, and loss of loved ones in the past.

I read this for SummerAThon! ❤

[BONUS:] I got to meet both creators at Book Expo and they were so kind! Even though I was probably a little awkward and called Wendy birb royalty.

Recommendations | My Five Favorite Witch Books

Hey, friends! I’ve been having a hard time getting into the Halloween spirit this year for some reason! So, I thought a good way that could help make me feel a little bit more spooky would be to share my love for the paranormal with you all! For five nights I’m going to spread a little love for my favorite eerie entities: Witches, Ghosts, Demons, Shifters, and Vampires! I hope you all enjoy and maybe pick up a new book that will make your Halloween feel a little more haunted! 🔮


➽ Circe by Madeline Miller

What better way to start out the spooky season, but with reading about the original witch?  This book is about healing and doing what it takes to come into your own. This book is about love; the love between lovers, the love of a mother, and the love you must find in yourself. This book proves why family of choice will always be greater than family of origin. This book is about magic, and how we can find it in ourselves if we look hard enough. This is a book about becoming the witch you’ve always buried deep inside you.


➽ Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton 

My favorite book of 2018. What a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Literally perfection. A true gift to the literary world. Friends, if you’re looking for a spooky book, with a dark fairy-tale vibe, that heavily talks about society’s gender expectations, while being a love letter to gender fluidity, with the most heartwarming polyamorous relationship, look no further than this masterpiece.


➽ Phoenix Unbound (Fallen Empire #1) by Grace Draven

Gilene is a Fire witch who has been the sacrificial girl for her village for the last four years, using her magic to disguises herself as a new girl. Even though she has to endure the torture of the night, she is able to walk free from the fire every year, without anyone noticing. Well, she didn’t think anyone could notice. This is one of my favorite romances of the entire year! Beautiful start to a series that I completely recommend!


➽ Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

This is the most realistic witch story that was nothing short of a beautiful delight to read. This was moving, and powerful, and magical, and sweet, yet also heartbreaking. This reads like a mix between Girl Made of Stars and The Wicked Deep, and if you love either (bonus points for both) then you will completely love this story, too!


➽ The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1) by Rin Chupeco
This book is my heart! This is an ownvoices, Asian inspired, fantasy story that stars a young necromancer, looking for her place in a world that has constantly told her she is going to become evil. This story is told in two parts, but not equally. The lesser part, before every new chapter, are the events taking place through a bard’s eyes, who is chronicling the events currently, where Tea is proving to become the evil villain the world wanted her to be. But the main story is told in the past, and we get to slowly find out what happened to put Tea on this path that the bard is seeing.



Okay, friends! I hope you enjoyed! And I hope the end of your October is filled with all the amazing books! Tell me your favorite witch story in the comments, please! And happy Halloween! Stay spooky! 🎃✨

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Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno

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(My amazing friend Madalyn, at Novel Ink, gave this to me as a birthday gift!) 💖

“Of all the stories about my family, the Fernweh women and the island of By-the-Sea, there are two that no one will ever forget. One is the story of how my sister, Mary, and I were born. And the other is the story of the summer we turned eighteen. This summer.”

This was nothing short of a beautiful delight to read. This was moving, and powerful, and magical, and sweet, yet also heartbreaking. This reads like a mix between Girl Made of Stars and The Wicked Deep, and if you love either (bonus points for both) then you will completely love this story, too!

This book is set on a very small island, where Georgina and Mary’s graduating class only consisted of 30ish kids. This summer is not only Georgina and Mary’s eighteenth birthday, but it is also the last summer before they leave the island for the first time to go away to college. Their mother runs the inn that has been in their family for many generations. Yet, no one really stays until the summer solstice, when a magical bird comes to the island and attracts so many tourists.

Georgina – Our main character, a lesbian, and a witch who has not discovered her power(s).
Mary – Georgina’s twin sister, who has already discovered that her power allows her to float in midair.
Vira – Georgina’s best friend, who works at the local ice cream parlor, who is aroace, and my freakin’ favorite.
Prue – Visiting the island, bisexual, and has feelings for Georgina.
Harrison – Prue’s brother, who has come to the island to see a bird that appears every summer.
Annabella – The magical, one of a kind, bird, who also might be somehow related to Georgina and Mary.

“I think a person can be a home, sometimes, just as much as a place or a house can.”

The entire island, and all of these character’s lives change when Annabella doesn’t make her annual arrival to the island. Georgina makes it her mission to not only find out what happened to Annabella, but also what happened to her sister, Mary, because she is acting really depressed and secretive. Georgina also is trying to figure out if she will never manifest any magical abilities like most of the women in her family, and she is also realizing that maybe she has real feelings for someone visiting the island this summer.

Yet, this book also has a darker message about rape and rape culture and the topic is laced throughout the entire story, so please use caution. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship with the person. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had sex before. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It doesn’t matter what you’ve said before. It doesn’t matter any circumstances; if it’s not consensual then it is rape. Rape culture is so real, so apparent, and so very much thriving in 2018. And for anyone who needs it, especially right now: I believe you.

“Because there was nothing in a girl’s history that might negate her right to choose what happens to her body.”

This is also a story about sisterhood, and unconditional love, and it discusses the sacrifices that we are willing to make to help the ones we love. This is a book about sexuality and those moments when you feel so validated and you feel like you are finally the person you’ve always wanted to be. This is a book about community, and found family, and respecting your family heritage, culture, and customs.

“How I would miss you—every part of you—but especially the smell, always the smell: of salt, of brine, of water, of spells, or potions, or feathers, and of what it would mean to leave it all in just two months.”

Overall, I just loved this. I think it’s the perfect blend of light and dark. It feels so whimsical since witchcraft is delicately folded in to this story, but it feels so hard-hitting and realistic, too. The messages, discussions, and themes are important and life changing. The characters feel completely fleshed out and I couldn’t help but fall in love with all of them. Plus, the f/f romance in this was magnificent and gave me all the feels. And this story is written so very lyrically, that I never wanted it to end, because I wanted to stay on this island with these characters forever. I truly loved this, and I think it’s one of the best 2018 publications. I recommend it with my entire heart and soul.

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Content and trigger warnings for off page rape and sexual assault, mention of drugging people without them knowing (not in a date rape way, but it still felt bad to read), underage drinking, drug use, anxiety depictions, and an animal death.

Buddy read with Taryn at Taryn and Her Books! ❤

 

Bruja Born (Brooklyn Brujas #2) by Zoraida Córdova

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ARC provided by Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review.

1.) Labyrinth Lost ★★★★

🔮 My favorite review for Bruja Born: Lilly’s!

“This is a love story. At least, it was, before my sister sent me to hell.”

Friends, Bruja Born was such a treat. It’s the ownvoices, Latinx, magical story you’ve been looking for. And I liked it even more than Labyrinth Lost, which I loved! When I first requested an ARC of this, I was completely surprised when I found out it wouldn’t be following Alex, the main character of Labyrinth Lost, but her sister, Lula, who I quickly and easily fell in love with, too.

“Magic transforms you. Magic changes you. Magic saves you. I want to still believe in all those things.”

But Lula’s story also quickly and easily breaks my heart. I want to write so much here to give you guys a synopsis, but I’m going to be very vague. The book’s actual synopsis feels really spoilery, in my opinion. I went into the book without reading the synopsis, and I truly think I had a better reading experience because of it. But Lula finds herself in a very heartbreaking situation, and when this tragedy strikes, the goddess of death herself is there to pick up the pieces. Lula finds herself unable to give someone up and uses her magic to desperately try to keep them close to her, but she quickly discovers that not all things are meant to stay.

Trigger and content warnings (please do not read if you want to go into this book completely unaware of the events) for car crash, blood, gore, loss of a loved one, grief, trauma, a lot of talk of death, talk of dead bodies, and scenes with physically harming oneself.

One of the best elements of Bruja Born is the strong emphasis on familial bonds, and how unconditional love will always be the most powerful kind of magic any of us will ever possess. Lula, Alex, and Rose are such sister goals, but their entire family and their willingness to sacrifice is something so beautiful that I don’t even have words for it.

“You really think I’m going to betray my sister for you? Boy, bye.”

And Lula’s personal journey, to loving herself, outside and inside, is so powerful that I wish I could put this book in the hands of every teenage girl in the world. Being able to sacrifice for the ones you love, but to ultimately put yourself and your life first is a combination I hardly ever read in books, but it is so very needed. This truly is the most beautiful love story of all time: the love story of loving yourself, unapologetically.

“My mother told me beauty was a gift. If they’re right, then what am I now? All I know is I left fragments of myself in Los Lagos and I don’t know how to get them back.”

And this book also heavily deals with the effects of grief. Everyone in this family is grieving from what they’ve lost or what they’ve found. PTSD, trauma, and grief are all touched upon in this book, and everyone is coping and dealing with it differently. Lula is the star of this book, and everything she is dealing with breaks my heart, but seeing her deal with it is so important and so inspiring.

Overall, I loved this and I think the world will love it, too. And I feel like I could never get enough stories about these Brooklyn Brujas! I’m guessing the next installment will be about Rose, and I’ll be honest with you all: she’s my favorite sister. So, I’m extra hyped. Also, Nova totally won me over in this book as well. So, hopefully we get both of them and more paranormal beings, because this book had vampires, shifters, zombies, and more! Please, Zoraida, give me all the fae! I loved Bruja Born and I hope you all fall in love with it too, this June 5th!


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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Lilly at Lair of Books, Alexis at The Sloth Reader, Amy at A Court of Crowns and Quills, & Lori at Reading with Lori! ❤

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

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“It starts as a low croon that rolls in with the tide, a sound so faint it might just be the wind blowing through the clapboard shutters, through the portholes of docked fishing boats, and into narrow cracks along sagging doorways. But after the first night, the harmony of voices become undeniable. An enchanting hymn sailing over the water’s surface, cool and soft and alluring. The Swan sisters have awakened.”

Friends, if you’re looking for something atmospheric, spooky, and completely captivating, that is so very beautifully written, please pick The Wicked Deep up.

I’ll be honest with you all, I felt like this book was calling to me. I’d always see it on Edelweiss, but I had too many ARCS, so I knew I couldn’t allow myself to request it, but it always caught my eye. Then, upon release, everyone was buying it and I thought it was the most beautiful, holographic cover I’ve ever seen, but I still resisted. Then, I couldn’t stop seeing on all my social media feeds that Netflix bought the rights to it and is going to adapt it. Finally, my friend Julie posted she was going to be hosting a buddy read for it, and I knew that I could no longer continue to be haunted by this book. And I’m forever thankful I picked it up.

The Wicked Deep is a story about a small town off the coast of Oregon, called Sparrow, that is the pinnacle of a small, sleepy town, except for in June when tourists come from all around in hopes of catching a glimpse of the Swan sisters who were drowned to death for witchcraft over two hundred years ago. From June 1st until Just 21st (summer solace) no one is safe. And each and every summer, accusations get thrown at more and more girls, from boys who claim them to be the sisters who are responsible for the drownings.

“Magic is not always formed from words, from cauldrons brewing spices or black cats strolling down dark alleys. Some curses are manifested from desire or injustice.”

Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death two centuries ago for witchcraft, but their only crimes are from seducing the men in the town of Sparrow. But every summer the sisters rise from their watery graves, each inhabiting a body of a local girl, while making sure they take at least three boy’s lives while they walk among the town unbeknownst to anyone which local girls are being possessed.

Our main character, Penny, lives on a small island off of the mainland. She keeps to herself despite the small population to begin with, and only truly has one friend named Rose. Rose begs Penny to attend a party on the beach with the rest of the kids from their school, so they can annually welcome the Swan sisters. Penny lives with her mother, who hasn’t been the same since her husband disappeared three years ago. Penny reluctantly goes, meets a mysterious boy who is looking for work, and the sisters start to sing their song.

I really loved reading this. I was instantly thrown into the mystery and guessing game of who the sisters had possessed. I was instantly in love with the town and the mom and pop businesses. I was instantly impressed with the lyrical prose and the intelligently crafted story. I went into this expecting some Hocus Pocus vibes, but I came out enjoying this more than I ever expected.

“Loving someone is dangerous. It gives you something to lose.”

I saw a couple reviews calling this story instalove, but I was honestly swooning so hard for the romance in this book. That first kiss? One of the best first kisses I’ve ever read. I loved the romance(s) in this so much, and I will read any and everything by this author based on how well she wrote those scenes alone.

“Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan slip back into human form, disguised as local girls who emerged from the harbor, but not as themselves.”

My only real complaint comes from the nature of the story. This is ultimately a story about girls being possessed against their will, therefore, the sisters do questionable things with their host’s body without their consent. I can’t say too much, because I want this to be a spoiler free review, but just use caution going into this knowing that. And it’s nothing violent or physically hurtful, but I would argue that there is some grey area consent in this book.

Content and Trigger Warnings: loss of a loved one, abandonment, underage drinking, drunk driving (boats), murder, death, downing, and abduction.

Overall, I really enjoyed this. Shea Ernshaw was able to evoke so many emotions from me. I cried so many tears during this book. I felt so blindsided and I honestly couldn’t control my weeping at a few parts. This story is so beautiful, and it truly is crafted so very well. To say I’m impressed is an understatement, and I can’t wait to see what this author does next, because their debut was nothing short of phenomenal.


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Buddy read with Julie from Pages and Pens, Lilly at Lair of Books, Jules at JA Ironside, Amy at A Court of Crowns and Quills, & Paloma! ❤

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft edited by Tess Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood

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ARC provided by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.

Friends, when I first heard about this anthology staring witches, I almost sold my soul for it. Instead I sent a begging request to Harlequin, but I would have tried any amount of magic to get my hands on this. And with good reason, because this was nothing short of amazing.

I know this doesn’t come out until late August, a day after my birthday to be exact, but something about this ARC just compelled me to read it this early. And I mean it, I couldn’t put this down. And when I did, each night I found myself being like, “just one story before bed!” and then I’d back to back read three or four, staying up way too late. I loved this, and I truly believe that it is nothing short of magical.

I think three stories really stood out for me, but there is honestly so much to love here. But my favorite was easily Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May. It meant so much to me that I instantly reread it, with just as many tears in my eyes. It was powerful, and important, and is going to change so many lives. I feel so blessed to have read it, and I’ll carry it with me forever. Love Spell by Anna-Marie McLemore was also a masterpiece, and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read in my entire life. And The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma also left me speechless from all the emotions it was able to evoke from me. I promise you, there are so many good stories in this anthology, but these three were my personal favorites.

I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

1. Starsong by Tehlor Kay Mejia – ★★★★

“People find me when they need to see the beauty they feel.”

This was so adorable. This is an ownvoices Latinx story about a sixteen-year-old girl, who loves painting, and make up, and reading charts and horoscopes for people. She has a very large social media presence, and people pay her to show them the things that they are unable to see. But this beautiful bruja is still living with the consequences of one bad decision she made a year ago. TW: drug use. Luna feels lonely, since her journey of changing her life, but that changes one night when a cute girl messages her. Also, I loved seeing Luna question if the girl she was talking to was queer or not. Like, so relatable, I swear. The story turns into two cute girls texting about science vs. magic, and I need so much more. I loved this. Also, this talks briefly about a polya relationship too that hires Luna, and give me all the polya rep and support and normalization!

2. Afterbirth by Andrea Cremer – ★★★

“In the eyes of the village, my truths cannot be suffered to live.”

I really enjoyed this little tale, set in 1600s New England during the witch trials. We are shown a very difficult childbirth scene (TW: complications during childbirth) that brings suspicion to the woman that delivered the child. Throw in mysterious spell books, a trial that a woman has no possibility of winning, and maybe even the Devil himself, and we have a very fun and spooky witch story that was perfect for this anthology.

3. The Heart in Her Hands by Tess Sharpe – ★★★

“He can’t fill the empty space in her because there are none. There is no emptiness in a devoted heart.”

Okay, first off, this is a tea lovers dream of a short story. I was filled with so much happiness just by all the tea descriptions in this book. Next, this was a wonderful story about soulmates and who you choose to love is the one you should be with. This is also queer and beautiful. And it really talks about the expectations your family can put, and sometimes force, on you. But how becoming who you want to be, and who you want to be it with, is more important than anything. This was adorable. TW: loss of a parent.

4. Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith – ★★★★

“A person can tell you anything, but bones—those tell the truth.”

Witches, warlocks, and wizards; this one had the whole magical hierarchy set in this town. Our main character is heavily judged because her patron is the Lady of Slumber, and she deals with the thing everyone fears most: death. So, this town carries some very heavy prejudices. But it ends up having a beautiful message about how everyone has a choice, and a person should only be judged on the actions they choose to perform. But sadly, people continue to stereotype off their prejudices. Even when the person they ostracize the most is the only one that can help them. I was hoping this was going to turn F/F, but it was still a nice relationship from bully to friend. TW: bullying, death, and prepping dead bodies.

5. The Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert – ★★★★★

“I do it for me, because if I don’t accept all the parts of myself, how can I be who I really am?”

This story was so damn good, and immersed me so damn hard, that I forget I was reading a short story in a witch anthology and was shocked when the witch aspect came into play. Yeah, this one was honestly perfection. This short story had everything, and it was nothing short of a delight to read. And the rep? This is an ownvoices story, and I believe all the characters we are introduced to are African American. And issues are brought up seamlessly, like how being black in a white neighborhood is hard enough, on top of also being a witch. The main character has panic attacks, is dealing with a loss of a friend, and is constantly worried about another loved one’s health. Also, the family members in this story and the strong emphasis on family was beautiful. And how much it means to have representation in something you’re passionate about. And it even talks about what it is like to be friends with someone famous, and how weird it is, because you knew them when they weren’t famous. And I’ve only told a few close friends about this, but this is actually something super near and dear to my heart, and I am not sure I’ve ever read that perspective in a book before. But mostly, this book is about owning who you are, letting people feel the weight of who you are, but making your own choices, and believing in yourself, and only letting yourself and your actions define you. Friends, get your hands on this short story. I promise, it’s worth the price of this anthology alone.

6. The Moonapple Menagerie by Shveta Thakrar – ★★

“Would you trade your friends for your deepest heart’s desire?”

This one was still fun to read, I just didn’t love it. It is about a coven of teenagers that are putting on a play and they all have different roles in the production. Oh, and they can all shift into different animals! The cast is all super diverse too, which I loved, and our main character, Shalini, is in charge of creating the perfect ending for the play. Yet, she feels like she needs a little help, so she asks a churel (demon) to help her, but obviously they are not willing to do it for free! But this is truly a story about friendship, and how being honest with the ones you love is always important. Also, don’t make deals with demons.

7. The Legend of Stone Mary by Robin Talley – ★★★★

“Everybody for miles around used to remember the story of Mary Keegan’s curse, but you wouldn’t know it now.”

You all, this one was spooky as heck to read! This would make the perfect Halloween read. Seriously, it has such a creepy atmosphere, setting, and even writing style. Robin Talley is talented. Also, this features a bit of F/F romance which you all know I’m always looking for. But this is a short story about a girl who has a very important lineage. And this is also a story about how important it is to not forget and repeat history, especially when a very powerful witch is still after revenge. TW: death and bullying.

8. The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma – ★★★★★

“We used to be little, and soft. We used to say yes before we even heard the entire question. We used to think we had no recourse for making someone’s heart ache like ours have ached, for resetting the balance in the universe, for striving for the thing we’re not supposed to want but we still do want: revenge.”

First off, major TW for sexual assault, molestation, and rape. The dread you feel while reading this book, knowing what is going to happen, is something I don’t even have words for. But this story was perfection. It was powerful, and feminist, and evoked every emotion from me. Also, it has major vibes of The Craft, and you all know I’m always here for that. Also, I could have highlighted this entire story. This story will be so much better if you go into it blind, but I will say that it is about a group of girls in the woods, waiting to meet their newest member. And Nova Ren Suma just made my auto-buy list.

9. Divine Are the Stars by Zoraida Córdova – ★★★★

“…But memories make things grander and more beautiful when you want to think fondly on them.”

This was such a beautiful, ownvoices, Latnix, magical realism story that I want so much more of. Zoraida always completely blows me away with her lyrical writing, and this was no exception. This is a story about a girl named Marimar, who goes back to Colorado because her grandmother is dying. And even though it at first feels like this is a story about how death follows her, it’s such a beautifully gripping tale about family, and all the messy parts of family that people don’t like to put on display. And how family can truly do some horrible things, but it’s always important to know yourself, where you came from, and know what you need to be.

10. Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff – ★★★

“The moon is full, and even the stars are scared of me.”

This is obviously a twist on the tale of Baba Yaga, which surrounds three girls. And this one is filled with so much good. It’s basically about three witches, who want different things to change. TW: bullying and a bit graphic animal dissecting scene. This book stars a butcher’s daughter, so it is a little descriptive on animal organs and cuts and things of that nature, so use caution. But this has major The Craft vibes, too! Another other character was from Jewish descent, and it was amazing to see and read. And really damn important. There is such a good discussion around trying to “fit in” and be more “American” because you are embarrassed by what you are. This story even briefly talks about CCCP and the image of the hammer/sickle. There is a lot going on in this story, a lot, and maybe that’s why I didn’t love it as much? Or maybe I was just looking for more witchcraft? I don’t know, but I still think it’s powerful, and beautiful, and a wonderful addition to this collection. And I’ll always be here for girls unapologetically loving themselves and their culture.

11. The Well Witch by Kate Hart – ★★

“But men were the most unpredictable animals, and those that found Elsa’s oasis were usually lost both in geography and life…”

Okay, so I was completely enthralled and totally captivated by this story. It is set in 1875 Texas, and stars a girl who lives all by herself in a very harsh desert environment. Her mother is dead, and her father has been away for three years, so she has lived by herself for quite some time. That is, until three men show up looking for shelter. Again, I really enjoyed the first half of this, and was so excited to see where it would go. Sadly, I hated where it went. I completely hated this ending, and the events that took place leading up to it. TW: racism and animal cruelty and death.

12. Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths by Jessica Spotswood – ★★★★★

“But she would trade it all to be able to remember her little sister’s smile.”

This was such a good story! Completely different than anything else in this collection, and I loved it. This is a story about three sisters who are forced to live their life devoted to a prophecy that happens every generation. Jo has an affinity with prophecies, Elle has a specialty for poison, and Georgie has a way with fire. Yet, the first thing we see in this tale is a prophecy for the future that Jo sees, and soon becomes obsessed with making it a reality. This totally does have Three Dark Crowns vibes, because only one of these girls are meant to live. Yet, this is truly a story about sisterhood, and how the choices we make will always be something we are held accountable for. And this ending gutted me. Seriously, please give me this full-length novel. I’m not above begging.

13. Love Spell by Anna-Marie McLemore – ★★★★★

“I said my prayers to God, who I believed still wanted me, even if the men who took up his name on Earth never would.”

Everyone, I’m crying while writing my mini-review for this one. Perfection. A masterpiece. Something worth more than all the stars. This is one of the most beautiful and powerful short stories I’ve ever read. Ever. In all my life. I’m going to preorder this collection just for this story alone. Nothing I’m going to say is going to do this story justice, but this is a tale about a bruja who comes to live with her tía, because they both share the magic of curing other people’s heartbreak. This is ownvoices Latinx fiction, that stars a boy who has devoted his life to God and the Catholic church, and a girl who the town thinks is a witch that doesn’t even deserve communion. And I promise you, it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. Also, the boy is trans and it just made the story even more perfect. This is about community, and prejudices, and family, and knowing your worth, and knowing when love is worth it.

14. The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord – ★★★★★

“She’ll tell her daughters someday: If you don’t feel safe enough to yell back, you’re not safe enough. My babies, that is not love.”

This was so powerful and so empowering. This is a such an amazing portrayal of sisterhood and unconditional love, and it stars three girls with very unique and different powers, but this is a story about abuse. TW: talk of abuse, but nothing too detailed or graphic. But this wonderfully lays out the cycle of abuse, and how easy it is to not realize you are in an abusive relationship. It talks about how your abuser will always want to isolate you, will make up excuses, will blame you, will gaslight you, and how they will slowly and seamlessly weave this into something that feels normal. This is an important short story, and I now want to buy everything Emery Lord has ever created. Also, there is a super cute F/F romance in here. And extra also, one of the three sisters are stated to be a lesbian, but I think it’s pretty implied that another sister is pan, but she should be bi, and that’s awesome too! This was amazing, and important, and easily worth more than five stars.

The Only Way Back by Tristina Wright – N/A

Okay, so this story will not be in the finished copy of this book in light of the sexual assault allegations against the author. You will only see this story in the printed ARC version. (Thank you so much to the editors, Harlequin, and anyone else that had a hand in this and by proving that they are listening and want to take steps to change the industry and make it a safer place.)

15. Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May – ★★★★★

“Here’s how to fulfill a prophecy: you are a woman, you speak the truth, and the world makes you into a liar.”

I finished this one weeping and sobbing. I immediately reread it, aloud, to a loved one. Immediately. It was that important to me. And the second time around, I was still crying. Ugly crying. Truthful crying. I cried for every woman out there, whose voice has been silenced. Whose voice will continue to be silenced until things change. This is about a girl who is sent to work in a forest, lumber, labor camp, because of her sinful ways. There, she is one of thirteen girls, all from different walks of life, but all of them have sinned for just being a woman, therefore a witch. This is about found family, and sisterhood, and reclaiming your identity, and gaining a voice. This was so beautifully structured, and so beautifully written. And it has such great representation, from different races, to a beautiful F/F story, to a trans character, this was just exceptionally crafted. This story should be required reading. I don’t see how anyone who reads this anthology’s life isn’t going to be changed just from reading this short story. And the editors were genius for making it the closing story. This short story is probably the best thing I’ve read all year. I am in awe, I am speechless, but I’m begging you to read this short story. This was feministic perfection. TW: implied rape, but nothing too graphic or visual. This story meant so much to me, and impacted me so profoundly, I’m going to find a way to incorporate it in my best reads of 2018 come December.

I gave Toil & Trouble four stars overall, because out of a possible 75 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 15 stories) this collection accumulated 59 stars (~78%). But honestly? This feels like it deserves a higher percentage. This was amazing, and I completely recommend it. And I don’t say this lightly: Elizabeth May’s story honestly changed my life. It’s maybe the best short story I’ve ever read. Please pick this up come August!

[Edit: May 5th, 2018] I can’t stop thinking about this anthology! So, screw that percent rating I did above! This deserves five stars! All the stars!

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.