Witchy Reads for this Autumn (part one)

Witchy books I recommend and a couple I want to get to, along with a few popular ones I disliked. I’ve tried to keep the most fantasy-heavy books out of this list on purpose, and keep it more in the magical realism realm. Also, if you’ve got any recommendations – especially with queer witches – send them my way!

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw (full review) for a magical realism story about a small-town by the sea cursed by witches, the protagonist moving to the lighthouse on the island and uncovering the mysteries behind the magic.

Circe by Madeline Miller (full review) for the greek mythology fantasy set around a girl alienated because of her witchcraft and the great journey of self-discovery unlike much I’ve seen in other books. She’s truly going through the process of owning her powers and deciding what she wants in life while she’s in exile. Also greek gods & protecting yourself from pirates, of course.

The Strange & Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (full review) for the peculiar magical realism travelling into the fairytale world while following stories of magic and destinies through generations of witches starting with a girl born with wings.

Witch Child & Sorceress by Celia Rees for the child-friendly witchy book with a historical setting. Actually it was some of the first witchy books I really liked. It’s been a long time since I read them, so I’m not going to vouch for still considering them original enough now, but goodread friends seem to all agree with the child version of me that they’re good. I do think the first book is the best one, told through ‘lost’ journals.

The Last Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney also for the kids, but more scary. It’s about this boy becoming an apprentice, which entails hunting after all kinds of supernatural creatures, including dark witches.As the series continues, we go from a boy getting into a cool, but dangerous job to starting to think about moral questions like ‘are all witches evil?’ as new characters are introduced. Still, this series really manages to incorporate just how terrifying some of the creatures are, becoming lost in the magic. Definitely anti-church in some ways that gives it more negative reviews than it should have. And while it has a lot of supernatural evil, it measures it up against the ‘human’ evil the apprentice & the mentor meet as well in their job. It gives you chills, but also makes you think – at least it did for me as a child.

Other witchy books on my TBR:

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey for its bisexual love interest, magical witchy school and and promise of lots of blood, violence and other questionable things. The protagonist has zero magical skills, but tries to outweigh it by having good detective skills, a drinking problem and when all else fails – a witch sister to help (probably). It’s an urban fantasy/murder mystery standalone, and also contains several f/f relationships.

Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter for the protagonist being a secret witch tired of her patriarchal town’s bullshit, and helping a lesbian shapeshifter during a witchhunt. It’s a novella. I found it trough a list of anti-heroine book recommendations, so excited about finding out the reason for that.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor for the fantasy set in Nigeria where the albino protagonist who recently moved from New York gets bullied, but through finding her magical gifts finds a friend-group and her people. Forming a coven, they start tracking child kidnappers.

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning for the small fishing town, mermaids, princes & a witch mourning a dead friend. It might be somewhat of a Ursula origin story.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn for the King Arthur legends retold with a black girl as the main character. The death of her mother leads her to an early college program where she meets a witch. Well, it’s more of a fantasy so technically there’s this whole race of people called Legendborns that use magic, but they’re descendants of King Arthur & his knights – so in my head they’ll be witches. Also contains lots of queer kids, secret society politics and demons.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson for its rebellious feminist biracial main character who is marked as cursed from birth in a dystopian, puritanical society with major abuse of power. It’s a horror story of a fantasy, with promises of being gothic, dark and bloody, set in a secluded village with witches in the forbidden forest & lots of village politics. It’s also a debut novel from an author that seems truly cool.

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw (same author as The Wicked Deep) for the haunted fairytale-like woods, a boy once lost in a snowstorm with no memories of how and a witch falling in love with him as she tries to uncover his secrets.

Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco for its sicilian twin witches – streghe – living among humans in the 1800s trying to avoid persecution, until one of them is murdered. A new release with a story of vengeance, sarcastic bad boy demon princes and dark magic.

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft for a short story collection about witches that I’ve only seen praise about, with a diverse cast of characters. I want to read about all the queer witches.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu for the graphic novel about a Chinese-American teen witch who works at her queer grandmother’s bookshop selling spellbooks and investigating supernatural occurrences. Has a non-binary werewolf main character as well. I can’t wait to get my hands on this, I’m expecting a Kiki’s delivery service type of wholesome vibe, only more demons involved.

Books I disliked, but you might like

Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins for the teen drama at a witch & supernatural creatures reform school, complete with ancient secret societies and classmates being attacked. You get what you think you get, if in a very predictable package plot-wise and stereotypical characters (not in a bad way, but in a predictable one). It’s fun, the protagonist self-aware & fast-paced. Good for young teenagers looking for a light read.

Half bad by Sally Green is included on this list only as an excuse to link to my old (like five year old) review ranting about how creepy the writing is. It’s a good example of a book being read and liked by people who doesn’t usually read about witches, just because it’s got enough cliches to be avoided by everyone else. There’s little magic, little back-story or any context clues, a lot of running around, a lot of whining about being half-black half-white* kind of witch making life difficult and a lot of angst and torture for some reason. It has an exciting ending. *Not to be confused with skin-color, the protagonist is white, and also describes the love interest what I considered creepily (and in rhymes), including noting her ‘honey’ skin. 16 year old me thought the racial undertones throughout the whole book was problematic, but I can’t remember enough to conclude anything and don’t want to put myself through reading it again.

The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton (full review), same author as Ava Lavender, for its witches living on an island where their magical abilities seem to fade with each generation. My problems came with not being able to know enough to buy into the setting of the island or connect with the cast of characters, I felt they lacked depth.

The Cybernetic Tea Shop | Book Review

Genre: sci-fi short story, romance, asexual main character

Pages: 65

Synopsis

Clara Gutierrez is a highly-skilled technician specializing in the popular ‘Raise’ AI companions. Her childhood in a migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering in any one place, so she sticks around just long enough to replenish her funds before she moves on, her only constant companion Joanie, a fierce, energetic Raise hummingbird.

Sal is a fully autonomous robot, the creation of which was declared illegal ages earlier due to ethical concerns. She is older than the law, however, at best out of place in society and at worst hated. Her old master is long dead, but she continues to run the tea shop her master had owned, lost in memories of the past, slowly breaking down, and aiming to fulfill her master’s dream for the shop.

When Clara stops by Sal’s shop for lunch, she doesn’t expect to find a real robot there, let alone one who might need her help. But as they begin to spend time together and learn more about each other, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on… 

My thoughts

Rating: five out of five stars

A short & cute sci-fi love story, set in an old tea shop, between a highly-skilled technician working on AI and a fully autonomous asexual robot! Which I really didn’t think would work, but when the sci-fi world was first explained it made complete sense. There’s what we would define as robots, which have been programmed by a human to do tasks or act a certain way, and then there’s these high-tech beings that should be considered as intelligent, aware and (probably) given the same rights as humans – to the point where they stopped creating them because they were too full of free will. And that’s the type of “robot” in this love story, called Sal.

I really liked the writing and the focus on routines and daily life of Sal the robot, as well as the technician Clara having her quirks, with wanting to travel and keep her distance from people. It was all so perfectly put together; the emotion, the plot, the romance building up and showing how these two people fit together so perfectly. It succeeded in telling the story of someone at the edge of society, being considered different and harassed for it.

What really made this story work is seeing scenes from the robot’s perspective as well. The writing and thoughts were clearly different, but at the same time human enough. It became a journey of trying to figure out what was memories and “human” emotional connection to the tea shop for Sal and what was their ancient programming tying them to the place they were tasked to upkeep.

I would whole-heartedly recommend this story, even if you’re like me and is usually so much more interested in the sci-fi aspects than the romantic story. I love tea and rituals and robots and skilled introverted technicians. I’m looking forward to reading more short stories by the author!

Fav quotes *minor spoilers*

Her wanderlust was hard to explain to anyone who didn’t feel likewise. Too many people were rooted to a concept of home, wanted to have the same place to return to every day, to walk the same paths between home and work and back, to see the same faces every day. Nobody would just nod to the idea that she could decide to leave before she’d picked somewhere to go. 

They lay together in a tangle of skirt and blankets and discarded cords and chips.

She couldn’t cry, and despite that, she heard herself make the sound, a shaky breath, a sob, and she flung her arms around Clara and just held on as she tried to find her own center, tried to find a way to understand herself that wasn’t defined in contrast to anyone else.

Alt som ikke har blitt tjoret fast, Eirin Gundersen | Review

Sider: 80

Sjanger: Diktsamling

asih

For et nydelig cover. Føler det passer innholdet og følelsen det gir veldig godt. 

Boken handler om en kvinne som drar tilbake til øya familien og forfedrene hennes kommer fra. Hun samler sammen og gjenforteller historier om stedet, i tillegg til hennes egne opplevelser fra besøk i barndommen.

Diktsamlingen er fordelt på tre deler, fra hva jeg kan forstå er formen på grensen til hva man kan kalle en diktsamling. Tekstene er ganske lange, ikke at dette er noe negativt. Jeg likte skrivemåten, beskrivelsene var korte, men vakre og livaktige.

Boken var forskjellig fra noe jeg har lest før, men samtidig var temaet veldig gjenkjennelig og følelsen av hjem og tilhørighet er godt formidlet. I alt ble det kanskje litt for likt hverdagen min, familien min kommer også fra en gård veldig utilgjengelig uten båt. Rett uti fjorden kan jeg skimte den der jeg kjører forbi daglig. Historiene som er inkludert i boken, med båtforlis i 1883 og ulykker, er gitt en veldig dramatisk tone. Disse delene var ikke like interessante for meg som forfatterens egne tiknytning til stedet. Dette kan ha noe med at jeg selv har familiehistorier om ulykker, helt fram til noen jeg kjente omkom på fjorden rett utenfor vår gård. Forfatteren kan snakke med en viss distanse, for meg er det noe som treffer meg hver gang jeg legger i kai.

Derfor er det kanskje ikke så rart at disse to delen var spesielt uhyggelige, men definitivt treffende:

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Og en av delene jeg likte godt:

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The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Pages: 280

Genre: fantasy, fairytales

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“The beast might shout and snarl, and he might well devour her, but he’d at least been interested enough to listen to her speak.”

A new collection of short fairytale-inspired fantasy stories, some set in the grisha universe. I’ve never seen illustrations that fits the stories so well, and it’s a treat as the picture becomes more complete each time you turn the page.

I have a long and bumpy history with fairytale retellings, mostly irritated by them not modernizing or putting a twist on traditional fairytales, or doing so and forgetting to be a complete and good book as well. The stories in this book definitely mantained the magic and mysterious feeling of fairytales, while having more depth and interesting characters, not to mention the great endings. In some stories it’s clear right away where the inspiration is from, personally I seem to like the stories that were most unlike the original. While I like Bardugo’s writing, I feel it can sometimes become too focused on being clever and unexpected than actually keeping a reader attentive to the story itself. I’ve felt it in books like “crooked kingdom” before, and it seem to be more of a problem when the fairytale behind the story was obvious. It’s tricky, because the cleverness is arguably what makes her stand out as an author as well.

I have two favourite stories that I would recommend this book for alone. “When water sang fire” is the last story and I got pulled in to the relationship between Ulla and Signy and how it would play out. Also I love mermaids. “Ayama and the thorn wood a strong second “ is a close second for me, just the spirit of that girl and how she overcomes her circumstances is lovely to read.

*spoiler below*

An example of the lovely drawings, that spoils some of the plot of one story, but included as a reason you need to get this book in physical form.

Continue reading

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

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A collection of short stories by a brilliant, bestselling chinese author. It’s a great mix of fantasy, magical realism, fiction and science fiction here, along with chinese elements and culture being central in many stories.

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“Time’s arrow if the loss of fidelity in compression. A sketch, not a photograph. A memory is a re-creation, precious because it is both more and less than the original.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Each story is like its own universe and it takes some time to get into it, but it’s very worth it when you’re rereading each story three times in a row and marvel at the nuances, writing and genuine brilliance.

I wondered whether to make small reviews of each story, but I feel like it would give too much away. The best way to get into this book is by knowing it’s incredible and go pick it up right away with little extra info. Still, if you’re not convinced, here’s what you can expect from this collection; stories about “The bookmaking habit of select species”, an AI utopia that you might actually want to live in, hujing; beings who are both fox and human, chinese calligraphy and deadly fear of communism / plain racism, being chinese in america, simulacrums; illusions of people stuck in time, aliens, Guan Yu the chinese god of war visiting America (American Gods vibes from that one, it was awesome), immense sacrifices and a few that will make you teary eyed including about unit 731 and the biological warfare and experimentation in China during WW2.

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Some of the stories are incredibly important and heartfelt, like the one about unit 371, based on horrible historical events I’d never heard before. Others are a good mix of that social commentary and entertainment, while some are simply, but not simple, fun fantasies. Everything has layers, so much creativity and originality, I love this book and it’s one of my favourite reads, at least this year. I have to go read more Ken Liu books now.