YO I DID GOOD. I’m in the middle of two books that I was hoping to finish this weekend, but alas, I started reading RWRB, and that completely derailed all my plans. I still got a lot read, though, and I’m super excited to start the second half of the month and totally power through.
Mini Book Reviews
What: Witchbody by Sabrina Scott
Review: Oh wow, this is really white-centric, classist, and ableist, and it’s kind of gross. Like–where do I even begin? This is going to be long, you’ve been warned.
Okay, so basically, the art in this is gorgeous, but it’s very white and female-oriented. There’s no gendering in the text, which is great, but when the only thing you put in the artwork is a white woman in a short dress, that’s kind of a problem. It’s also very contradicting. It talks about how we should focus outside of our bodies, but that we need material bodies to do any kind of magic. It says that anything outside of just being in nature (ie: camping with amenities is not real witchcraft) isn’t good enough, but also that you should enjoy your organic soy lattes as a bit of magic. Um? The classist themes in this are out of control. Basically, if you can’t afford items for a ritual, you’re not a witch. If you can’t perform rituals for whatever reason, even something as simple as lighting a candle, you’re not a witch. In fact, if you can’t successfully go out and be in nature, you’re not a witch. And if you do go out in nature, but you bring something like a tent, well shucks, you’re not a witch. There’s also this ideology that we shouldn’t be amazed by nature, just accept that it’s there, but then it flips halfway through to say that if just accept nature as this concrete thing that we know, then we’re basically caging it, so we need to make sure to have the appropriate amount of wonder. But the language is so fucking over the top that none of it is actually clear.
Also, let’s step into the language for a second with a quote, “I feel that for those who practice it, magic can act as a trans-species pedagogy where ontology is inscribed and reinscribed through the repeated co-performance of magical acts. Anthropocentric hierarchies of being are disrupted through an inherent noticing and recruitment of materiality’s innate ability to act.” What the literal fuck? If someone understands this better-than-thou pretentious language, drop me a line. Because that’s exactly what this reads as. And the whole book is like this! It’s a very “if you can’t understand my high-level language, you’re not worth of it,” and I’m so fucking over classist themes like that. Witchcraft is about inclusion, not exclusion, ya asshole.
Also, it’s subtitled as a rambling and poetic autoethnography of western occult magic as a pathway for environmental learning and advocacy. Two things. Great, you’re writing about Western magic. Do you know who lives in the West? More than white people. Second: there’s no actual environmental advocacy in this. Yes, “recycling isn’t the answer, it’s a bandage, it’s passing the baton to someone else,” but you have to then follow that up with how the hell you’re advocating to protect the environment, not just shit on people who are clearly trying more than you, jfc.
And just in case that wasn’t enough of a turn-off for you: it promotes self-harm and ritualistic animal sacrifice.
What: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Review: Okay, first of all, before we say anything, let it be known that I despise John Thorpe on every level. This book was like two entirely different books smashed together. The first 60 or so pages are full of John Thorpe’s misogyny, mansplaining, and manipulative sister, Isabella. I hate the Thorpe family so much. They’re the literal worst. This took me a week, despite only being 165 pages, because I was only reading about 15-20 pages a time because UGH THE THORPE’S. And then, out of nowhere, it turns into a horror novel. Or, Jane Eyre. I’m not quite certain what Austen was trying to do with Northanger Abbey, but I’m here for the second half.
After Catherine ditches the Thorpe’s (thank god), she goes off to Northanger Abbey, where the Tilney’s live, and the language immediately changes upon arrival at the Abbey. There’s a terrible storm, her candle snuffs out while she’s in the middle of investigating a strange dresser, and she quickly becomes convinced that General Tilney murdered his wife, or worse, is Mr. Rochester’ing her and has her sequestered away somewhere. Seriously, what the hell is this book? Because as soon as all that is dissolved, there’s about 10 pages of the fastest plot ever–General Tilney decides he’s had enough with Catherine, and sends her home very rudely; soon after, Henry joins her and asks for her hand in marriage! And of course, everything is John Thorpe’s fault because he’s The Worst.
This gets four stars for the second half of the book, which was delightful, and which I gobbled up in only a couple days. The first half is not worth it. Overall, still a good Halloween read, though.
What: Tomb of Ancients by Madeleine Roux
Review: My reviews for House of Furies and Court of Shadows are linked. WOW DO YOU WANT TO BE SCARED BUT ALSO HAVE A HAPPY ENDING? BECAUSE THIS BOOK. Like, here I am, waiting for months to finish this trilogy so I can round it off during spooky month, and of course it’s the very first thing I read because Y’ALL LOUISA IS MY GIRL AND I HAVE FEELINGS ABOUT THE DEVIL, and holy shit it delivered. This is so much more than your standard horror book. Am I still going to have nightmares about the creatures Louisa encounters, and the drawings of them? Absolutely. Will I ever get rid of the disturbing image of Henry Morningside’s backward feet? Literally never. Was I very careful not to read this at night? You betcha. This third one was definitely the least scary out of all of them, but that’s because it’s also the most everything out of all of them. The first one is, hands down, the scariest. It’s got creepy things hiding in the shadows, the Devil himself with backward feet and wolf yellow eyes, and Louisa knows next to nothing about what she’s getting herself into. The second one starts to delve into the lore of the world a little more, and what do you know, toward the end, it starts to resolve itself into a faery book. WHICH, MIGHT I REMIND YOU, IS STILL GROUNDS FOR THE HORROR GENRE. The third one? It’s scary, it’s overflowing with faery lore, and it’s masterfully done.
Now, the five stars. I gave the other two four, but this deserves five for two very important reasons. One: it answered every question, tied up every storyline, resolved even the smallest of things, was intriguing and kept me guessing throughout, and oh the character development alone. Two: HAPPY ENDING! Seriously, that epilogue absolutely destroyed me. There was no need for it, other than to prove that Louisa had found a peaceful, happy life, and that Henry Morningside could still be “more than his parts, more than his history and his destiny doomed him to be.” Look, don’t even get me started on the unexpected queer rep in this. I 100% thought I was reading between the lines, and then it was real and it was heartbreaking and holy Satan, Henry. That epilogue was life-giving. I would have been just as satisfied without it, but it lifted Tomb of Ancients up to another level I didn’t even know I wanted.
What: Becoming Dangerous: Witchy Femmes, Queer Conjurers, and Magical Rebels by Various
Review: Oh wow, this is a lot. I wanted to read this so much slower than I actually did, and I’m a little mad at myself for rushing through it just so I could finish it. Like, I could have taken all month with this and still not been satisfied. Perhaps the best way to read this is one essay at a time with a couple days in between each so you can really let them sink in. Becoming Dangerous is about 20 essays from every different type of woman you can imagine, whether they’re a witch or not. It asks the question: what does ritual mean to you? And, subconsciously, how do you define magic? It’s a powerful, complex look at the lore of witches throughout the years and cultures, and how that’s all coalesced into the 21st century. There are a lot of trigger warnings to tag this book with, but the book does it for you. With both a list of tw for each short story and a note on the different language/pronouns used, this story is as inclusive as you’re going to find. It’s truly a piece of art, and I feel so blessed that we’ve been gifted this.
What: Full Throttle by Joe Hill
Review: This was SO GOOD! This is a short story collection, which I’m always curious about because they so often have similar themes, but not a narrative that runs through each story. Which, yeah, makes sense, they’re all separate stories, but it makes me want to read short story collections slowly so I can just sit with each story separately. But this? Not only did this have similar themes, each one felt like it was holding hands with the one before it. They weren’t connected, and you could definitely just pick one out at random (LATE RETURNS, I BEG OF YOU, IT’S A GHOST STORY AND IT WILL MAKE YOU WEEP), but they felt so braided together that I read this even slower than I might have because it felt more like a novel than a collection. Truly, this was masterfully executed.
And the stories themselves? I mean, damn, Joe Hill. There was a little bit of horror, a little bit of oh shit this could happen tomorrow, a little bit of fantasy, and a little bit of hope. There are so many different things wrapped into this collection, and yet I remember each of them so clearly. They’re cleverly written, the characters are engaging and so varied, and they challenge me as a reader. There were some characters that I felt unsure about rooting for, but that I also felt deserved better in their lives, and that was such an interesting feeling to have. And the best part? This is inclusive, politically-charged, and full of believable people.
What: Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Review: My original review is linked as this is a reread. I always forget how creepy this book is! I mean, don’t get me wrong, the movie is hella creepy, but the book! The drawings alone are nightmare-inducing, but then the way Coraline describes the other mother. They did her serious justice in the movie. I’m still sad Wybie isn’t in the book, but the cat is absolutely amazing. The second time around, I’m realizing that I like the movie a lot more than the book, but I think that’s because the movie is just so much fuller. There’s so much more going on, and while yes, this is a middle grade, it just lacks in description where the movie doesn’t. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, I’m sticking with my four star review from last time, I just know that I’m in love with this story as much as I am because of the movie.
What: Asylum by Madeleine Roux
Review: To be fair to this book, I didn’t read the summary before starting it, so I had a pre-formed idea of what I thought this was about, so my being frustrated it wasn’t about the asylum in its prime is totally on me. It’s not about that. It’s about some lame white guy with anxiety and memory gaps attending a summer program, and their dorm is a half-assed renovation of an old asylum. Because that basement? No way would they have let teenagers live above that with such easy access.
This is predictable, yes, and it had me shouting at it like I do with horror movies because Jordan is the only sensible character in the thing (“you can’t go into the creepy basement! haven’t you watched a single horror movie?!” SAME JORDAN), but it also gave me goosebumps and scared me at times, so it was good. It was just a little unbelievable sometimes, and the writing was fairly decent, but nothing special. I’m not going to say Roux’s later books are better because duh, they’re later in her career, but these don’t really hold a candle to the House of Furies trilogy. Still creepy, though! And still definitely going to read the rest of the series! Particularly the prologue novella because that’s gotta be about the asylum when it was actually open, right?! I thought I might read these all during October, but meh, we’ll see.
What: Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Review: I had to physically pry myself away from this book at the 150 page mark because I was honestly going to die. A wonderful, terrible death, but that’s neither here nor there. Is this fanfiction? Did someone publish fanfiction? Because I have not squealed this much since the last time I read a James Bond/Q fic, and I just about had to stop reading it in public, like fuck. I also had to stop 100 pages before the end because there was no way I was going to survive reading the last half of this in one go. I’m a shell of my former self. This is the most romantic, hopeful, moving piece of fiction I’ve read in a while, and I’ll be damned if I don’t reread it again in the very near future.
I’m just? Was that real? Am I still alive? I’m pretty sure I’m a ghost. The writing was phenomenal, the romance was swoon-worthy (and not full of unnecessary drama! there’s some, but it makes sense instead of miscommunication and stupidity!), I would literally die for HRH Prince Henry, and I’m so glad I took my time with this so I could literally dream about it during all of my waking and sleeping hours for three gay days.
This follows Alex Claremont-Diaz, son of the US president, on a bisexual discovery within a haters to best friends to lovers trope with Prince Henry of England. I mean, do I really need to describe it more to convince you? Yes? Okay, a few things that happen:
- making out against a portrait of Alexander Hamilton
- exchanging soulful emails with quotes from romantic letters in history
- a lot of LGBTQIA+ & POC rep
- okay, but there’s seriously some Princess Diaries vibes in here
- this would totally be one of the most-read and loved fics on AO3 if it actually were fanfiction
it is don’t lie to yourself
- HATERS TO BEST FRIENDS TO LOVERS
I’ll see myself out.
Margaret @ Weird Zeal wrote a truly stellar review of Wayward Son, which in every way encapsulates exactly how I’m also feeling about this book. It was a treasure that I was not expecting, but that I ended up loving wholeheartedly, and this review is why. She also crushed it with a review about The Raven Cycle series, and I may have left a several-paragraph comment on it because YES.
Sarah @ Written Word Worlds dropped some book recs based on some seriously spooky Halloween movies, and I seriously just added a ton to my Goodreads.
ICYMI, I wrote two short stories! I’m writing spooky short stories for Halloween, and the first two are up: The King & The Twins. They’re the last two in my Greek mythology retelling sort of thing that I’ve been working on, and the next two short stories are each going to be about something different. I’m particularly proud of Hades’ story because wow what a sad boy.
What I’ve Been Watching
YOU BETTER FOOKING BELIEVE I WATCHED SEASON FIVE OF PEAKY BLINDERS THE MOMENT IT RELEASED. Real talk, though, I had the busiest weekend ever, but I made damn sure to set aside time for this. I don’t have a lot of time, in general, to watch TV, and there are few things that can convince me to watch instead of read/write nowadays when I do have free time, but ohhhhhh man, Tommy Shelby is one of them. This new season was fantastic, and it got me so hyped up that I honestly might watch it again soon. It made me want to write. It made me want to swagger. It made me out of control antsy for the next season. THAT ENDING. I was muttering about how no one pointed a gun at Tommy’s head so he could just roll his eyes in disdain, and then my brother’s friend pointed out that was because Tommy pointed a gun at his own head for most of the season, and you know what? This is the kind of character development that we deserve.
Can we take a moment to pray for our unholy souls?
Hail Satan, full of sin. Not only did we get a truly perfect cast for the Grishaverse adaptation, but the third Simon Snow book was announced the literal next day, and I may have nearly gone into cardiac arrest while October was still barely new. I also saw MAX, met Joe Hill, and officially started planning my UK trip! I didn’t get any good pictures at the MAX concert because we got there very last minute and it was super lowkey, so he wasn’t on a raised stage or anything. We still had an amazing time, though, and I was still covered in glitter for days after.
I was supposed to write a post about meeting Joe Hill, but honestly, I was tired, so that didn’t happen. I took most of this weekend off to recharge and just do nothing beyond snuggle my girls and read books, but I did get my butt out into the world Friday night to drive an hour up to Nashua, NH for a signing of Full Throttle. Joe was an absolute delight. He read a few pages, and then most of the event was a Q&A. He had some really interesting stories to tell, and it was just a lot of fun. He’s easily one of the most inclusive, kind, and all-around amazing adult authors I’ve encountered, and it was just such a pleasure to listen to him talk and get to meet him. I made sure to tell him that Late Returns was my favorite from Full Throttle, and even got The Fireman signed by him, too!
Other than that, it’s been a pretty chill couple of weeks. I’m on target for my Halloween TBR, which I’m really amped about. You’ll notice that I didn’t read Ninth House in this wrap-up, and that’s because Amazon sucks and delivered it three days late, so by the time I got it, I already had three other books going. But it’s up next!