Looking for a good witchy book? I am infatuated with all things witchy and paranormal and am compiling a list of books that fit this bill. The list is ever-growing, so watch out for new entries! Peruse the books here. And if you have a recommendation, please share with a comment or drop me a message. I’m always on the lookout for new reads.
A reader who understands the particular magic of books. They have the power to move souls, change minds and create worlds. They can transport a person into different lives, times and galaxies, and offers perspectives that create empathy and understanding. Book witches are sensitive to the book hangover (see below), and side effects include falling deeply in love with fictional characters.
When a reader is so emotionally depleted by the book they just finished, they can think of nothing else. The afflicted feels despair that the book is over and longs for the next book in the series to just come out already. One symptom is finding it hard to pick up another book, as the reader does not want to destroy the beautiful world they find themselves trapped in.
Hair of the dog cure: try a cozy mystery or a historical romance as your next read – they are fun and often don’t demand too much emotionally. That should get you back into the swing of things shortly!
The Last Graduate, by Naomi Novik
It’s rare that a book leaves me in tangled pieces as much as The Last Graduate. I adored Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education and couldn’t wait to read the next book in the series. It was exactly as good as I expected and I devoured it. The Scholomance has got to be one of the most amazing literary settings ever created, and the books are so dark, while also being, in their own way, hilarious. All magical children attract horrifying monsters, and so they are placed in a school for four years to learn how to protect themselves. This school, the Scholomance, is so deadly in itself, most won’t survive the experience. Until one of them decides the system needs to be changed.
At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that winning the game means throwing out all the rules
My love for El only grows with each book, ever the reluctant heroine. I had the equivalent of a literary heart attack when I finished this, though. For some reason, I thought the Scholomance books were a duology, as in, The Last Graduate was the end. And the way it ends … it actually felt like I had been kicked in my stomach. I even texted my sister to tell her I physically felt sick, and she had to explain to me that there was another book and all was not lost, thank goodness. I immediately pre-ordered The Golden Enclaves! Yay! I will not rest until I know what happens. Feeling like you’ve been kicked in the stomach, btw, is the sign of an excellent book. I will never stop recommending the Scholomance books.
Spirit Hunters, by Ellen Oh
A haunting middle-grade ghost story that I could not put down! Harper Raine has just moved to Washinton D.C. and the new family home makes her skin crawl. Her little brother Michael is beginning to act strangely, and the worst part about is it all seems too familiar for Harper. But she can’t figure out why because she has blank spots in her memory, and she knows she needs to figure out what happened to her in order to help her brother. The book was spooky and at times downright creepy, as the whole thing revolves around possession and that is one of my oh my gosh no thank you topics!
But it was done in such an interesting way, as the mystery around what happened to Harper is unravelled, and how it relates to what is happening now. Harper must accept who she is and what she can do in order to save her brother.
I loved how the exorcism was shown outside of a Catholic tradition, instead focusing on Korean shamanism, as is author Ellie Oh’s background. I also enjoyed that her friend kept giving her holy water, and that was okay too, because, at the heart of it, spirit hunters are kind of okay with any tradition that’s going to help you fight evil ghosts.
Some kids might find this too spooky, but most will probably love it!
Wake the Bones, by Elizabeth Kilcoyne
Wake the Bones, by Elizabeth Kilcoyne, is a dark Southern gothic, set in the Appalachians of Kentucky. Laurel Early, a taxidermist, has dropped out of college and returned to her homeland to become a tobacco farmer. But the land has it’s own plans for her. Haunted by the same devil that might have killed her mother, the fate of her farm and the boys she loves is in her hands.
This one was dark, y’all, full on horror. The setting was eerie and oppressive, baking hot and stifling. Laurel’s yard is full of animals in different forms of decomposition as she strips the bones and sells them as jewelry. It’s not long before the bones get up and start moving again, and the rollercoaster is off. And the devil coming after her seems incapable of being stopped.
The character work in Wake the Bones is excellent. Laurel’s group of friends is tight and you get a sense of long history between them, from tiny details that are well incorporated into the writing. I know why she loves Ricky, and her protectiveness of Isaac. I felt for every character. My actual favourite was Christine, the resident town psychic, and I feel she deserves her own spin off because she is awesome.
Laurel must harness the power of the land, and her own innate understanding of earth magic, a legacy of her mother, in order to save the ones she loves. I appreciated her final showdown with the devil and the ending ended up being just as haunting as the rest of the book.
I would just say that although my library designated the book as YA, it is definitely not YA. This book is definitely wearing its big-girl panties.
Unrelentingly creepy from start to finish, this book isn’t for the light of heart. But if you want to dive deep into a book that makes your skin crawl, now is a perfect time.
The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon
Five stars. And now I want a dragon.
I had put off reading this tome for some time because: huge. But after finishing it I wonder why on earth I had waited. Especially when an epic fantasy is exactly what I needed in my life right now. Intense world-building and memorable characters you can’t help but care for make this book un-put-downable.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door.
Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.
Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel. Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
There was political strategy, magic and dragons, as well as a really big bad. In some ways similar to Game of Thrones, only with less incest and more LGBTQ relationships (that were genuinely healthy). Queens coming to terms with their mortality, gods being brought to their knees, blades forged from the hearts of stars … Yes. More of this, please. Although saying that, it doesn’t have to have a sequel, and I think it was perfect if left exactly where it is.
There were four POVs, but my heart was stolen early by Ead, who I couldn’t help but consider the “main” character. I found her relationship to be so romantic and swoony and more intense than much that I’ve read in the last few years.
Josephine Against the Sea, by Shakirah Bourne
Josephine Against the Sea is a beautiful middle-grade book set in Barbados and incorporates loads of Caribbean mythology. Josephine has been through a lot – her mother passed away and her beloved father is now starting to think about remarrying. Josephine does everything she can to sabotage any burgeoning relationships, and she also takes her pride into her hands and tries out for the boy’s cricket team. Despite all these problems, she has no idea how her life is about to be turned upside down. She has to get a heck of a lot braver as she faces a potential stepmother from the deep.
I adore the sea witch theme and found myself pulled in by the tales of sirens. My favourite character of all was Mariss. She’s wily but also very sympathetic, as a healer and a woman. Most of all the story made me want to know so much more about Caribbean legend and myth!
A Pinch of Magic, by Michelle Harrison
A Pinch of Magic is sweet, the story of three girls who set out to break the curse that hovers over the women of their family. I think I would love this at 12! At times suspenseful, and the dread that hovers over the girls and the island is well realized. The setting, a grouping of dreary islands with different purposes of punishment or prison, is so creepy, as is the curse that holds these women captive there.
I always love reading about a good jailbreak/heist, and when magic is involved it is so much better. Throw in an attractive bad boy, with a pinch of romance that is perfect for a middle-grade book, and this one is a keeper. I highly recommend if you have a 10-12-year-old looking for some magic!
Payback’s a Witch, by Lana Harper
Witchy rom coms continue to be my jam, as I found Harper’s Payback’s a Witch to be utterly delightful. Emmy Harlow has exiled herself from thoroughly magical Thistle Grove, in order to find her own life and independence from the magic that runs through her town – that her family gets only a tiny cut of. Being a powerless witch isn’t much fun, but neither is separating herself from the rush that comes from being connected with her town.
She is forced to return to fulfill a family obligation, where she is also forced to be face to face with the jerk who broke her heart, and ran her out of town. Only in the meantime, he’s broken the heart of her best friend, and sexy-as-hell Talia Avramov, and the three of them decide to get together to bring him down a peg or two. Payback time.
I loved the enchanted town of Thistle Grove (but then again, I always do), and I loved the different families coming from ancient mythological lines of magic. I also found the romance between Emmy and Talia to be genuine and heartfelt. This is the first of a series, it looks like, and I am happy to continue reading about the shenanigans of Thistle Grove!
Summer of Salt, by Katrina Leno
I had been recommended Summer of Salt as a beautiful coming-of-age tale set in the summer. But what I didn’t know was how beautifully magical, how very witchy (although shhh don’t say that word).
Georgina and Mary Fernweh are getting ready to leave their tiny island home of By-the-sea for school. The Fernwehs have always been a bit strange, but the people of the island are fairly comfortable with that. Besides, it is a rare bird who shows up at their bed and breakfast every summer that provides the island’s fame and fortune. Never mind the bird may be Georgina’s great-great-something grandmother.
All Georgina can think about is the family gift that may have passed her by. And the cute birdwatcher who tagged along with her brother but seems determined to keep Georgina’s attention firmly distracted. But then the unthinkable happens and the Fernweh women fall under suspicion, and she doesn’t know who she can trust anymore – whether she can even trust her own sister.
This beautiful queer book is about sisterhood and family support, and read lovely and languid. A great YA read, no matter if you’re a witch or just a lover of women supporting women.
The Ex Hex, by Erin Sterling
A perfect read for spooky season. I thought it was cute and sexy, and enjoyed the atmosphere of the adorable town, Graves Glen. I know I’m not alone in this, but I’ve always wanted to live in a perfect seasonal town, where every townsperson celebrates every festival and makes the absolute most of everything. I mean, Graves Glen is Stars Hollow, only witchier.
Vivienne Jones is a witch, albeit a not very powerful one, and only cast one curse in her life, while weeping over a bottle of vodka at her stupid ex. The curse didn’t take, or did it? When her ex finally returns to the town nine years later, things begin to go curiously wrong for him, and Vivienne finds she must protect Rhys Penhallow from all she cursed him with. Only because he’s the ancestor of the magical founder of the town, there’s more at stake than their renewed feelings for each other.
Cute cute cute, excellent read when you just want to feel good and a little bit magical. The best description I’ve read of this book: Hocus Pocus but they bang. Read in the fall!
In Defense of Witches: The Legacy of the Witch Hunts and Why Women Are Still On Trial, by Mona Chollet
In Defence of Witches is a french sociological study as to how women were and still are affected by the witch trials from hundreds of years ago. Women who were different, intelligent or questioning authority were put to the torch, meaning that we lost our strongest sisters over a long period of time. The misogyny at its most horrific also meant that women “learned their place,” that they should never try to rise too high or speak up against men.
But in this day and age, the sexist image of the evil witch seems far away from the Etsy-inspired witch influencer days we live in now. But, women’s lives are still shaped by lessons from the past. Chollet takes on three “witchy” archetypes in women, and why they need to be embraced: independent women, women who choose not to have children, and women who don’t view aging as the worst thing in the world.
It’s a deep dive into feminist culture; obviously, I loved it!
The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill
I loved this witchy middly grade book. It reads like a faerie tale, but has enough depth to keep both a young adult and adult audience captivated. The language is gorgeously lyrical and the characters are easy to fall in love with.
Once a year the people of the Protectorate leave a child in the forest as a sacrifice to the witch who resides there. Little do they know that the witch, Xan, is completely baffled by this behaviour. Once a year she makes the trek to rescue the newborn, taking them to the other side of the forest to be adopted by a nice family. That is, until one time she makes a mistake. Instead of feeding the baby starlight, as she usually does, the baby drinks moonlight, giving her unusual powers. Xan decides it’s best to raise the girl as her own.
She names her Luna and locks her magic inside her, until she reaches adolescence. Unfortunately, when her magic appears Xan is not with her, and Luna finds she must protect everything she has ever cared about.
An absolutely beautiful coming-of-age fantasy, I recommend this book for basically all age groups – if you believe in a touch of magic, of course!
From Blood and Ash, by Jennifer L. Armentrout
I’m pretty sure everyone and their grandmother has heard of From Blood and Ash. When I whipped this one out at the hairdresser (or, you know, grunted as I hoisted the entire weight of this tome out), my hairdresser was like: I saw that on Instagram. Yes, you did.
This Instagram-bait was fun. Was it deep? No, not really. Sometimes you just need a dark romance fantasy, and I’m never going to be sorry about that.
I’ve given it a witchy review because Poppy is pretty witchy – she’s definitely got some empath super powers. I liked the concept of the Ascended, it built up some creepy tension. But the highlight is of course the romance between Poppy and Hawke. I mean, that’s why we’re all reading it, right? Just me?
It turns I was really into the first half of the book. But there were definitely times when I was a bit questioning their relationship. I mean, how many lies do you tell before consent isn’t actually valid anymore? There were some iffy moments. For the most part, I enjoyed myself. Have you read this one yet? I want to hear from the lovers of this book!
The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden
Possibly the perfect read for by the mid-winter fire, the first of the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden left me nearly breathless with longing to be a part of this story. Set deep in the Russian forests, where the faerie tale creatures still exist for those willing to look, young Vasilisa loves to listen to the old stories – especially of Frost, the demon who seeks out souls deep in the winter’s night.
But when her father brings home a young bride, devout to the church, she forbids the household from practicing the old ways, and evil begins creeping nearer. Vasilisa must defy those she loves to protect her. The result is absolutely magical.
Shadow and Bone/The Grisha series, by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo’s amazing Shadow and Bones series absolutely belongs in the witchy review sections because Grishas = witches with a cool name! The popularity of the Grishaverse is explosive, and I enjoyed the series that started it all. The creative world building began big and strong. I was entirely sucked in by this country nearly destroyed by the Fold, the light-sucking, monster infested place that cut the world in two. Fascinating start!
Ravka was a treat to explore and I did enjoy its heavy inspiration of old Russian culture, I found the setting very evocative. As for Alina Starkov, she was a Chosen One trope, the poor girl who comes into power that could change the fate of a nation. And her romance with Mal is nice and all, but I feel like everyone fades to the background when the Darkling sets onto stage. What a character! Love him or hate him, he commands the story from start to finish.
I thought the Netflix series was exceptionally well done, and combining the Shadow and Bones storyline with that of Six of Crows added to the story by ten! I find every book of Bardugo’s just gets better and better – I mean, have you read Ninth House? She’s on my “auto-buy author” list!
The Witches, by Roald Dahl
Okay, I don’t love the portrayal of witches in Dahl’s hilarious children’s classic about children-eating witches. But this is Dahl, who is delightful, so he gets a pass. You can just not take anything too seriously when reading his work! Has anyone ever read Revolting Rhymes? My eight-year-old son couldn’t even handle it, it was too gross.
In The Witches, a little orphan boy and his Norwegian grandmother take a vacation to the English seaside, where they discover they are staying at the same resort as the Grand High Witch where she is assembling with the largest contingent of children-hating witches ever.
Witches (according to Dahl) are evil, hideous and all things horrible ever created, and want to rid the world of children. The orphan boy at first just wants to stay out of their way, but when he is turned into a mouse, all bets are off and he’s ready to take them all out – with the help of his granny of course. The Witches is so delightful, creepy, and repulsive – the epitome of Dahl. The illustrations by Quentin Blake take me back to my childhood too!
Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong
I am absolutely in love with Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series, and Bitten was such a perfect beginning. Elena Michaels is the world’s only female werewolf and she’s over it. She doesn’t want to be a violent fighting machine anymore, so she goes back to her home in Toronto and tells her pack to leave her alone.
Only now she’s being called in to fight against a werewolf uprising. And going back is going to make her face all the issues she never wanted to think about again – as well as the man she loved and left.
This first book, about a dramatic werewolf war, springboards the reader into this incredible world of witches, ghosts and demons. The women of the otherworld are strong and powerful, and I will always be here for that.
These Witches Don’t Burn, by Isabel Sterling
Sterling brings the drama with this colourful and sassy teenage witch book, complete with all the love triangles (squares?) you would want to find. Yes, Hannah is a witch, an elemental witch to be precise, and there may or not be a blood witch out to get her, but that’s hardly her first problem. Her gorgeous ex, Veronica, wants her back, and she’s tiptoeing around her best friend, who’s a Reg (non witch) and can’t discover her secret on pain of death. And now she’s met a new girl that makes her stomach do funny things.
Despite the fact that the book dealt with mature themes, like sex and death, I came away with the idea that this works best as a younger YA. What These Witches does best is portray gay and bisexual teens in a realistic way. It’s hardly a lesbian utopia, but these sapphic witches are open and understanding towards others and work through their issues using their words. I wish every teen could be this empathetic when it came to the LGBTQ+ community. I liked how Hannah’s best friend’s parents had been uncomfortable around Hannah since she came out, and then her friend called them out on this.
The representation was nice, and I think a younger crowd would enjoy this one.
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, by Emily Croy Barker
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic has a vintage feel, and I’m not sure I can entirely put my finger on why. If you had told me this was written in the ’80s, I would have believed you. And yet there is such a modern feminist spin, where the damsel is damn well going to save herself, thank you very much, and I really enjoyed that.
Nora is not having the best time in life – her grad career has stalled, her newly ex-boyfriend just invited her to his wedding. Things aren’t going great, so when she stumbles upon a lavish estate where everything is beautiful and glamourous and everyone is so very interested in her, she’s pretty into it. I get it, we’ve all been vulnerable. Her host, Ilissa, gives her a makeover to die for and has the most handsome son Nora just has to meet. Everything is perfect, except that she has been sucked into a magical world and is being prepared to be the sacrificial lamb, as it were, to a group of fairies, by bearing the child of their crown prince.
She is rescued by a not-so-kindly wizard, who reluctantly puts her up in his castle, and she has to relearn who she is all over again.There is an interesting look at an outdated version of the “perfect wife” – beautiful, ignorant of worldly affairs, and a good breeder. Nora is none of these, and I loved watching her fight to figure out where her worth comes from. She is resilient, enterprising, and settles into medieval castle life with an admirable rough determination. She learns how to read the language of the world at night, and wins over the respect of her irascible saviour.
I loved Nora and I loved her adventure. Recommended for lovers of 80s fantasy novels, and strong female characters.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis
While the portrayal of witches is not my favourite in this perennial fantasy favourite, it’s hard to argue with the pull of C. S. Lewis’ tales of Narnia, especially this one. I remember very specifically when I read it for the first time, how much I enjoyed it. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is often a child’s introduction to fantastical worlds. I mean, it’s a little out there and mixes up all of the mythology of the western world, and yet it’s a gleeful tale of good triumphing over evil.
My issues, of course, are that this pseudo-Christian tale puts a powerful woman as the personification of evil. The White Witch is conniving, heartless and cowardly, everything a good Christian should believe a witch to be.
So, I’m going to set that all aside (apart from the rant about the patriarchy my kids always get when we see a negative portrayal of a witch). Because at the heart of it, when I was a child I wanted nothing more than to find my way through the wardrobe to a magical land of talking animals and people and beings who were willing to fight for what was right.
Witch Child, by Celia Rees
I was captivated by the cover of Witch Child when browsing a book sale. I’d never heard of Witch Child before, and picked it up, curious. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. This is a young adult tale about a girl who flees England after her grandmother is hung for witchcraft, followed by whispers that she herself is the same. She is taken in, somewhat reluctantly, by a pious group of Puritans heading to a pioneer colony of Beulah, located in Massachusetts.
I found every part of the story fascinating. I had assumed that, due to the location, it was written by an American author, but not so – Celia Rees is a preeminent British author, and Witch Child was (or still is?) required reading in English schools. I had been surprised how many people knew of this book, and remembered it fondly from childhood when it had made zero blip on my reading radar, but now it all makes sense.
Witch Child is very Salem-esque. In fact, the immigrants pass through Salem on their way to Beulah, which is even more backwoods and is coincidentally built over sacred indigenous ground. The themes are similar as to what happened in Salem – there are good people and bad people, but human instinct seems to go towards judge first and be rational later. When things go bad, those affected look for a scapegoat to lash out at. Mary is an outsider in the group. While she does find friendship among some of the people of Beulah, for the most part she is viewed as other, and that makes her vulnerable.
Mary is young and pretty and a mystery to those around her, and all of those things make her dangerous to those who wish to maintain order. She carries a whiff of scandal with her, as if all the rumours about her grandmother linger on her skin. Mary does not hold a fear of the forest and tarries there, often in the company of the “savages,” as the immigrants call them.
By far the most interesting people in the book are Jaybird and White Eagle, grandson and grandfather left without a tribe after the rest of their people had been consumed by smallpox. Mary’s ease in the natural world, whether or not it comes from her gift, makes them find her kin to them, and they are accepting of her in ways that her “own” people are not.
The book ends on a shocking cliffhanger. I surprised myself with my teenage gushing, as I did not know that I needed the Jaybird-Mary ship in my life, but I did. Badly. I immediately went out and got me Sorceress, the conclusion of the tale. Well played, Rees, well played.
The Witch Haven, by Sasha Peyton Smith
I fist-pumped when I first started reading The Witch Haven, which is set in 1911 New York. This is one of my favourite era/place combinations. I’ve written a lot about why I love this era with Ami McKay’s excellent The Witches of New York.
Frances Hallowell is living a terrible existence as a seamstress, with an absent father, a mother in a sanitorium, and her beloved brother recently murdered. She’s grudging away when her boss attacks her, and he ends up with a pair of shears in his neck – although Frances is shocked because she moved them with her mind.
Before the police can do anything about it, Frances is whisked away by some well-meaning nurses who have come to collect her for the tuberculosis clinic. Only Haxahaven isn’t for young women with TB, but rather emerging witches who need to learn control over their abilities.
Frances finds a place within the school, although quickly struggles to stay in line with Haxahaven’s strict guidelines. She’s still hopeful she can solve her brother’s murder, and wishes to grow her power to greater heights than is allowed young ladies of the era. And then there’s Finn, the mysterious young wizard who comes to her in dreams.
The writing was really lovely and the setting beautifully depicted, but I found my attention wandering as I read. There was a lot of back and forth for no reason and Frances sometimes felt a bit one-dimensional. The plot twist didn’t shock me so much as left me feeling a bit tired and disappointed. As in: this is why we can’t have nice things …
However, one aspect I did love about the book was the theme of sisterhood, and how the girls all had each other’s backs when the knives came out. That got another fist pump out of me. The very last twist at the end was tantalizing. How will the coming world traumas affect these burgeoning witches? I really appreciate that Smith ended on that note.
Wicked Deep, by Shea Ernshaw
The absolute best part of The Wicked Deep is the cool setting and atmospheric writing. This checks all my boxes of what I want in a creepy book. Spooky town, where all the townsfolk seem to be in on a secret – check! Seaside village – check! I don’t know what it is about seaside villages, but anytime I read a book set in one, I feel pretty confident I’m going to love it. The Pacific ocean is basically another character in the book, powerful and changeable and everlasting, drawing everyone in by the end.
The concept itself is awesome: a curse, a haunted town, the girls who return each year to exact their revenge. Yes, yes and yes. I am all in at this point. In some ways it reminded me of Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, where the descendants of the evildoers are cursed by their ancestor’s actions, and seem to have no way or even desire to change their terrible fate. When they start singing their siren song at sunset, I had chills. Chills! At this point, all is very cool.
There are some holes, though, that start to break up the magic of the writing. For example, why on earth are the townspeople staying in the cursed town? Now, if I were the mother of a son living in a town where many many boys are stolen and drowned … I would not be there. I would grab my son and hightail it out of there, immediately if possible.
Then there’s the romance. This has the problem of insta-love, without a charming or attractive male lead to lend this any credence. All I could think was um, no. Bo is a surly drifter. No, you cannot come live with me on my island. I don’t want him to be my boyfriend, and I’m pretty sure that Penny doesn’t either. This kinda leads to the biggest problem out there, which is a massive consent issue. It left me feeling squicky. I won’t put any spoilers in here, because I think it’s worth a read for the stellar world-building, but let’s just say it left me conflicted.
Serpent & Dove, by Shelby Mahurin
I wanted to read Serpent and Dove since it came out. It was the cover that did it for me. It is gorgeous. I didn’t even know what it was about.
And then I started reading and the setting completely drew me in. I get it was probably based on Paris, but I was kind of getting a New Orleans vibe too, chérie, and I loved it. And then there were witches and brothels and I was completely in!
Louise leBlanc is a witch who fled her coven and now hides from her former colleagues who search for her, knowing her life is in danger. Things become far more complicated when she is caught by Reid Diggory, a Chasseur who works for the Church and burns witches like her. In a twist neither of them can believe, they are forced into holy matrimony – it was that or Lou would be killed.
The forced marriage was a little bit squicky for me. I’ve never been a fan of that trope, but I think Mahurin got around it fairly well. However, I was most happy when things shifted over to the world of witches, because that’s where the magic happens. This was a solid YA fantasy and I really enjoyed it.
The Witch’s Market, by Mingmei Yip
Eileen Chen is a professor, studying shamanism, but has never practiced witchcraft. She takes a journey of self-discovery in the Grand Canaries, ostensibly to research her subject, but really to figure out whether the powers that run in her family grow inside her as well.
Set on the lush island of Tenerife, there is an uneasy, magical realism to the novel, as the reader can’t entirely be sure of what is real and what is not. Eileen journeys to haunted castles, witches’ markets and drowning lakes to discover the truth behind a long-ago death, as well as the truth inside herself.
The Witch’s Market was interesting at times, but I had a great deal of trouble connecting with Eileen. I think it has to do with the fact that she doesn’t really suffer within the book. There is no conflict. Everything she wants seems to be right there, around the corner. A string of random weird occurrences happen to her, although at no point is she in any danger, and each benefits her in some way. This is a book about a woman finding her strength, and yet she didn’t struggle for it.
There were some very interesting characters, like Sabrina, the cabaret dancer/former prostitute. My favourite part of the book is when Eileen undertakes to investigate the death of her daughter 20 years ago, and she plays detective with the ghosts in the area.
But like many “spiritual journey” books, I found the lessons to be a bit too on the nose to be believable. I did enjoy the crossover of Western witchcraft and Eastern shamanism, and the setting was written very beautifully.
A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik
Deadly Education was my first Naomi Novik book, but it will not be my last. I white-knuckled my way through this one. It is vicious, fast-paced and also so thoroughly character-driven that I was left spinning. How does she do that?
Galadriel is going to be one of my all-time favourite badass characters. Her power and her surliness! Her reluctant moral compass! Her rudeness was so thorough I laughed out loud at several places. And Orion is hapless enough to be adorable, although I did find his obliviousness infuriating at times.
The Scholomance world Novik created was so intricate, so engaging, even if it was completely terrifying, I could not put this one down. Hard recommend, but it definitely tends toward horror and gore, so if that isn’t your thing, maybe give it a pass.
Ninth House, by Leigh Bardugo
This book introduced me to my new favourite badass character, Alex Stern!
I seriously couldn’t put this down. I almost welcomed the half day I ended up stuck in a hospital waiting room because it meant I could read this uninterrupted (almost). It is so so good.
While reading this, all I could think is “Leigh Bardugo gets it.” She knows the score, she knows what life is like, and I love that so much. I’ve enjoyed her young adult novels before this, but Ninth House has sky-rocketed her up to one of my favourite authors.
And Alex Stern is one of my favourite characters of all time. If I could say the absolute essence of this book in one line, it would be “woman finds her power.” And it is glorious.
Her challenges are messy and nasty and hard, and nobody has to fight harder than Alex. But she’s used to fighting. The forgotten loser from L.A., the girl who sees ghosts. She becomes a champion for forgotten women, the women who have been silenced and forced into obediency. I kept on fist-pumping every time Alex forgot to be awkward about not fitting in and instead was her own foul-mouthed, badass self who is absolutely going to make the baddies pay for what they’ve done, especially the ones who have never had to pay for a single thing in their entire life.
I was already pre-ordering the next book in the series a few chapters in – I am here for whatever Alex Stern brings next!
Hausmagick, by Erica Feldmann
Hausmagick is like a beautiful, minimalist handbook on how to bring witchcraft into your home. Author Erica Feldman founded Hauswitch, which started with small magical kits she would make to bring joy and peace into homes. It grew from there, and now she operates her shop in Salem (how apropos!)
In Hausmagick, she goes into simple ways magic into your home, using different elements of witchcraft. She breaks the book into major elements, like Manifestation, Clearing, Protection, Comfort, Harmony, and Balance, and provides recipes you can follow for herbal teas and clearing sprays.
It’s a mix of witchcraft, new age beliefs and home design. I’m not a practitioner, so I’m not going to, say, drink crystal water. I took most of this with a grain of salt and considered it a fun read with lots of pretty pictures. I wrote an article on bringing magic into your home, you can read it here. (Psst! My tips are way more affordable!)
Half Spent Was the Night, by Ami McKay
This gorgeous novella follows my three favourite witches, Eleanor, Adelaide and Beatrice, as they continue their adventures from The Witches of New York. Once again set in New York City during the Gilded Age, the three are still reeling from a near-fatal experience at the hands of a rabid preacher determined to end their benevolent magic.
Now safe within the home of Adelaide’s lover, interesting callings come for them in the dark hours of the days between Christmas and New Year: an invitation to a masked ball on New Year’s Eve, hosted by the mysterious Baroness Berta Weisshirsch. It is impossible to ignore the call of someone who is not as she appears, and the witches go to descend into the madness of the Wild Hunt, called up at the hands of the Queen of Witches, the Mistress of Yule.
In the darkest hours of the darkest days, secrets will be revealed, as will enemies, and who knows who will survive the Hunt?
I adore McKay’s witches, and this novella is the perfect follow-up to her magical Witches of New York. I would love to get swept away with the wild reverie of this party. A quick read, perfect in front of the fire.
The Old Magic of Christmas, by Linda Raedisch
Yuletide Traditions for the Darkest Days of the Year
Christmas might now be a joyful season full of light, love and charity, but it wasn’t always so. Raedisch dives deep into the legends and mythology that mingle in Christmas’ past, from the very first folklore told over campfires right through the stories as recorded by the Brothers Grimm and Anderson. This is a celebration of pagans, witches and Yule, the feast that has been celebrated since humanity has existed: the darkest night of the year.
Explore the population of frightening trolls, elves and ghosts that used to run off with naughty children in the dark season. The book includes a Christmas Bestiary and a Witches Herbal, as well as recipes and crafts to celebrate the Yuletide. Basically, this is as pagan as anything and explores the real roots of Christmas. Christ’s birth superseded beliefs that go back to the time of our ancestors scratching out their art on cavern walls, as the world descended into the coldest dark and they prayed that light would return once again.
I recommend listening to some ancient carols as you read this in the light of the Yule log. I’ve been loving this Playlist on Spotify: A Very Pagan Christmas – Yuletide Carols for the Winter Solstice.
The Witches of Brooklyn, by Sophie Escabasse
This graphic novel was fun and quirky, with engaging illustrations. While I think kids will love the storyline, which is both trendy and charming, there are underlying themes of dealing with loss and coming into your own power (both figuratively and literally) that make the book resonate.
When Effie’s mom passes away, she is sent to live with two aunts in Brooklyn. Everyone is very unhappy with the situation until Effie discovers the unique life her aunts live – they are witches who help people through their magic! It gives me Practical Magic vibes, with the eccentric aunts living in their super cool house. And when Effie’s favourite pop star comes to the aunts in hopes of a miracle cure, her own powers begin to wake up and life takes on an interesting turn.
It seems like the perfect book for a middle grader, 7-10 years old, and is so sweet grown-ups will like it too! I’m going to read it with my 6yo, I’ll report back to see how it went!
The Secret, Book & Scone Society, by Ellery Adams
The Secret, Book & Scone Society is a book for Readers. I know, you’re thinking everyone who picks up a book is a reader. But there are readers, and there are Readers. Readers love books about books (they also love to talk about books, and recommend books to others, and understand that a work of fiction can reduce you to a puddle when it is exactly the right story to open you up.) The awesome things in the book that need to be highlighted are female friendships, the healing power of books … and scones.
Firstly, friendship. the main characters come together over a mystery, but Adams’ main point is that in order to trust one another, to become a friend, we must be prepared to share our secrets. Four outsiders find their tribe together and it’s beautiful. Also, their secrets deal with some serious shit. Adams is not afraid to go there. Each and every one of these women could have been broken by the challenges life threw at them, but instead, they find a way to share and become stronger for it. The love story here is women accepting themselves and each other as they are. I’m getting teared up just thinking of it.
Secondly, books are healing. You don’t need to tell a Reader that, she already knows. Nora, the owner of the bookstore, will get a person to tell her a very vague account of their problems, and she will be able to build a pile of books that is designed to help them through. This is the true magic of librarians! In books, we find and recognize our own stories. In books, we find the shared experience of humanity and become more human for it. Through communal stories we build something greater.
Finally, scones. I was drooling every time Hester made a new comfort scone for someone. Hester is a kitchen witch. She gets a feel for a person, then is able to make a scone perfectly tailored to unleash memories from the past, or a part of themselves that’s hiding. I want my own comfort scone! In a perfect world, it would be gluten-free but still taste amazing. I wonder what mine would taste like: vanilla? Lavender? Would love to meet a kitchen witch to make me scones.
Circe, by Madeline Miller
In the retelling of this Greek myth, Madeline Miller explores the life of the witch Circe. This book is fiercely feminist, telling a story through the eyes of women left nearly entirely without a voice in traditional tales. This captivating book dives deep into ideas of immortality and what it means to be a woman.
Circe is a nymph born of the sun god Helios. The idea of being a nymph might sound enticing – to be forever young and beautiful. But to be a nymph in fact means an eternity of being nothing more than a servant and a plaything of men, divine though they are. A woman, or a nymph, must seek out her own power in the world.
“But a monster … always has a place. She may have all the glory her teeth can snatch.”
After thousands of years of being a joke, Circe very slowly steps into her power. She is a flawed character – her growth comes from a place of spite, of wanting, of jealousy.
Circe is a late bloomer. I 100% relate to her. In an abhorrent act, she transforms a rival for her love’s affection into the terrible monster Scylla, a deed which haunts her through her very long lifetime. She is exiled in punishment, not for performing an act of evil, but for showing that she does have power. Greek gods did not like women with power.
“They do not care if you are good. They barely care if you are wicked. The only thing that makes them listen is power.”
Circe’s witchcraft comes from a place of willpower. In these terms, Penelope is of course she is the rightful successor of Circe’s legend, as she has the enduring spirit that encapsulates womanhood (and perhaps witchcraft), with her cleverness, her patience and her will to survive above all.
Another amazing character is Circe’s sister Pasiphae, mother of the Minotaur and owner of the best line in the entire book: “I fucked the sacred bull, all right?”
Circe goes beyond cleverness, beyond power, and becomes the wise woman. She understands that which she has been craving: in order to truly live, one must die. In her most powerful act, she destroys a god … by removing her own godhead. In her greatest act of defiance, she leaves the hallowed halls of divinity to join the great mass of humanity, who are able to feel joy and true pleasure because their life is finite, and therefore all the sweeter.
This is a must-read for basically everyone. I loved it, it was a great read, but also delved deep into legends, myths, and what it means to be a woman, and human.
The Nature of Witches, by Rachel Griffin
This YA tale brings an entirely new spin to witches. Every review I read kept on saying it was “timely,” and after reading it, I’m also like, yup, this book is timely. Because it’s about the environment! Or rather, about the witches that help control the environment, which is rapidly devolving out of control, thanks to greedy shaders (that would be us humans).
Griffin has created such a beautiful world, built with astonishing detail. Every witch is born into their season. During that season, they are very powerful, although they have specific skills and magics (Winters are cold and aggressive, can remove moisture, while Springs are healing and growing). But Clara has been born an Ever, a witch who contains all four seasons and is super powerful – so powerful she keeps on killing the people she loves by accident. She must learn to control her magic, even as she falls for a gentle Spring who will help her risk everything.
This was a sweet story, and I loved the environmental bent. Especially because it does seem kind of real – our climate is really effed up and there’s no denying weird things are happening in the atmosphere. But then there are lovely little details, like immersion houses, which are like greenhouse temples for witches. A perfume distilled from every plant in an immersion house can grant wishes, so it says. And how Clara and Sang, when they can’t be together, communicate by growing symbolic flowers. I love that.
Also, Sang might be my new book boyfriend? He’s less aggressive than most guys out there in young adult, and I think I love that!
A Secret History of Witches, by Louisa Morgan
A Secret History of Witches is an intergenerational epic about a family of witches, starting in mid 19th century Brittany. The family grimoire, along with a scrying crystal, is passed down mother to daughter through the years, as the Orchiere family flees persecution to Cornwall, then to Wales.
I really wanted to love this book. I had set it aside for when I knew I had a bit of extra time so I could enjoy it. But I struggled. For one, I never love intergenerational stories, because each of the stories is by necessity much shorter than a complete novel, so I never get as invested in any one character. That’s just a personal bias, of course.
But also. This is a family of supposedly powerful witches, and their consistent antagonist throughout the entire book was the patriarchy. I wanted the witches to be badass, but instead they spend most of the time submissively acquiesing to the men in their lives, hiding their gifts and tamping down power. Realistic? Yes. A total bummer? Also yes.
And in the last story with that thing where she is punished for, that was a major no for me. I had really REALLY hoped Morgan wouldn’t go in that direction, but she did. And it kinda hurt me.
So. I’m sorry to put out a negative review, there were some lovely passages and I liked that the witchcraft seemed to reflect actual practice. I know some people loved this book, so don’t discount it for my personal preference!
Magic Lessons, by Alice Hoffman
Lavender for luck
Do as you will, but harm no one.
What you give will be returned to you threefold.
And always love someone who will love you in return.
Magic Lessons is another swoonily gorgeous book that follows the saga of the Owens witches, a prequel that goes back to the very beginning of the curse haunting Sally and Gillian in Practical Magic. Once again Alice Hoffman has painted a world I want to dive into and get lost in forever.
Maria Owens, born in England in the 17th century, travels a long journey, to the Caribbean then on to Salem Massachusetts, as she gains friends and foes while practicing her spells of love and healing. But when her heart is broken, she curses any man who ever dares love an Owens woman.
And so the story continues … I adore this epic family tale. Every book is so romantic, and magical, and I’m happy Hoffman went back in time to tell the matriarch’s story. Now I can’t wait to read the conclusion!
One thing I wish I could actually do from this book is brew up a cup of Courage Tea, which we all need at one time or another in our lives. And Hoffman’s message seems always to be: choose courage and choose yourself. I love these books.
The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury
It is probably quite clear at this time that I unabashedly adore Halloween. I love the atmosphere, the costumes, the autumnal foods, the spooky. And a book about the origins of this very ancient holiday became a fast favourite of mine.
I’ve never read the book before, although I’ve seen the cartoon based on it when I was a child. It’s rather dark for children, deals for the soul and all, but maybe it’s actually perfect for children with its dark enigmas and also the glorious fun of Halloween. It certainly stayed with me for a long time and I enjoyed greatly reading the book.
For one – the language is magnificent! A group of boys is described as “the large perspiration of boys,” hah! Nothing could be more perfectly descriptive of what a group of 10-year-old boys playing together is like. Bradbury weaves lyrical narrative and poetry together effortlessly. “Fires of fear. Flames of celebration.”
In The Halloween Tree, a group of boys find themselves on a wild ride through time and space – not just for the adventure, but to save the life of a friend who is fading fast. Under the guidance of cadaverous Mr. Moundshroud, the boys explore the origins of Halloween, but when they must face the reality of the situation, they realize that the night’s journey was not all fun and games. At times spooky, creepy, delightfully fun and informative, I loved every page of this spellbinding book.
After watching over Roman hearth-fires and delving into Druid rites, Moundshroud explains to them what witches were and why they were persecuted in middle ages Europe, as they continued to practice the old ways and Christianity was not having any of it. “The sky was swept clean with brooms. The superstitions of the old ways continue, and were targeted by a jealous religion.”
Halloween lingers in the human spirit and forever will as it is nothing more or less than the manifestation of our understanding of our own personal doom. The book is brilliant and poetic and will be reread every October as a holiday favourite.
Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman
May I first just say how stinkin’ beautiful this cover is? It makes me sigh every time I see it, it’s that lovely. This is my first introduction to Alice Hoffman (one of my favourite authors). Before I read this, I had only seen Practical Magic the movie, and while I enjoyed it, it offered only a slice in time of what I see is an entire human history Hoffman created over decades. Her world-building is subtle and detailed and she does such a good job at creating very real, very sympathetic yet flawed individuals doing their best to make things work with what they have.
Practical Magic follows the lives of orphaned sisters Gillian and Sally Owens, and then later Sally’s teenaged girls Antonia and Kylie. In many ways the books are similar, because as each Owens woman grows up, she has to come to terms with who she is, and that which makes her different. Gillian, who always believed she wasn’t worthy of love since her parents died, becomes a whirlwind of desire and frenzied irresponsibility. She does her best to mess up her life in a beautiful hurricane. Sally takes the opposite approach and tries to hide everything about her that is different, which means hiding her entire self.
“She disguised her own nature so well that after a while she grew uncertain of her own abilities.”
The book isn’t itself about magic, the craft of witches, but rather about their humanity and how they deal with the knocks life brings, and love. Hoffman has always been upfront that love is the most destructive force, and the everything that there is about being human.
“Now whenever he kissed her, she cried and wished she had never fallen in love in the first place. It had made her too helpless, because that’s what love did. There was no way around it and no way to fight it.”
Hoffman writes about love – and lust – so well. She captures the fever and the flush of it; the dizzy, unable-to-take-your-hands-off-of-each-other kind of love. But also the slow burn, I’ll-be-there-for-you-for-always love. And the we’re-sisters-we’re-in-this-together-I’ve-always-got-your-back love. I love a good sister drama!
And she also captures the humanity and the love that comes from our flaws. Both Sally and Gillian end up running away from their lives, and both discover that home will always be there and running away isn’t always the mistake we’ve been warned about while growing up. And the gorgeous messages about self acceptance! When Gillian shies away from the aunts, shy both about the 18 year absence between them, but also about the wear that hard living for two decades had taken on her stunning face. They greet her with such love and acceptance I was blinking back tears.
“Although she’d never believe it, those lines in Gillian’s face are the most beautiful part about her. They reveal what she’s gone through and what she’s survived and who exactly she is, deep inside.”
In the end, all the Owens women from all generations must come together in order to rid their lives of the pestilence of a hateful man. They come together in love, acceptance and humanity, and in doing so are liberated to venture forth into their futures, fully embracing every part of themselves. So these books are less about magic and much more about love and sisterhood and I am 100% here for it. I also am entirely sure I have a crush on Alice Hoffman. This book can be read at any time of year and will always bring you joy.
See also my review of the equally beautiful prequel, The Rules of Magic!
Hocus Pocus & the All-New Sequel
I will admit it: I adore Hocus Pocus and rewatch it every year during October. It’s my favourite Halloween movie. What can I say? I’m a millennial. I remember watching this when I was a little girl. It basically set my Halloween aesthetic expectations forever. Every Halloween should be Salem from this movie.
I mean, there are problems here. I have a lot of issues about witches being evil women living without men (gasp!) who eat the souls of children. I just … don’t think that movie would be remade at this time, in this place.
And the good news is … it won’t be, but a sequel to the book was released along with a novelization of the movie in 2018, for the 25th anniversary of the cult classic.
I enjoyed reading the novelization, which surprised me because normally I hate them. But the author added new details, what the characters were thinking, that allowed the relationships between characters to deepen. There were some added scenes that explained why Allison ends up falling for breast-obsessed Max, and the Sanderson sisters become more complicated this way.
I liked the added parts of the novelization that allowed for the sequel. For one, it helps to go against my major issue with the movie: that all witches are evil. Because, of couse, they aren’t.
As for the new sequel, I liked it. I liked the diverse cast, I liked the new use of modern toys, and I liked the new characters. I thought it was charming, and a little long. If you love Hocus Pocus, you may love to return to Salem for another round with the bewitching Sanderson sisters. Or you might just find it doesn’t live up to the hype. Reviews seem to be pretty split on this one.
Did you read the Hocus Pocus sequel? What did you think? Tell me in the comments below!
A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness
Any book that revolves around a library and an ancient missing manuscript is going to be my jam. Diana Bishop, an unwitting spellbound witch, accidentally calls up Ashmole 782 while researching deep in the Bodleigh Library in Oxford. Otherwise known as the Book of Life, it has been missing for centuries. Now all types of supernatural creatures are on the hunt for it – and Diana is at the centre of the otherworldly maelstrom.
Already the concept is amazing! I’m super excited. Enter in one sexy vampire geneticist, Matthew Clairmont, and then things get weird. The romance here didn’t really do it for me, it sort of fell in line with the macho “overprotective but actually basically a stalker” kind of manliness that creeps me out. I’ve talked about this before. Controlling isn’t sexy.
I’ve read that Discovery of Witches is like Twilight for adults, and I’d buy it. There’s lots of secret organizations and benevolent vampires, and I can see the appeal. I thought some of the magical elements were very very cool. I was kinda more into Diana’s family than Matthew’s – the witches seemed to have a lot of gumption and were really interesting. That’s just me, though. I’ll always take a witch over a vampire!
Curious how others felt about this book. There are a lot of lovely, enchanting passages that kind of sweep you up into its spell. My disappointment is I have seen the book with the most gorgeous cover. You know the one: velvet blue, beautiful lettering. And the copy I have here is decidedly less than. I get their trying to sell the Prime show, but I want the beautiful book (reader-based tantrum.) I might have to do some digging in used bookstores to find it!
The Vine Witch, by Luanne G. Smith
The perfect book to read in autumn. The sweeping setting in wine country, France is one of the highlights for me, because as it turns out, I am a bit of a Francophile!
Vine witches have always worked with the land in order to make the most delicious wine in the world. Elena has worked with Chateau Renard since she was a child, or she did until she was cursed and turned into a toad. She finally managed to break the curse (in one of the most grippingly horrifying opening scenes I have ever read!) And she is back for revenge.
So many parts of the book jumped out at me to create a particularly cozy feel, even though the plot itself is quite spooky. I love the sweet French village they live near and the enchanted patisserie. Although, it we’re going to be honest, most French patisseries have a certain level of magic. I loved the diverse community of witches, and I loved the romance. For me it was the perfect combination of sexy and sweet. Recommended for a perfect Halloween read!
A Witch in Time, by Constance Sayers
This era-hopping book took me by surprise, in a good way. When I read it was about a doomed young girl bound to an artist through time, I thought this would be somewhat of a melodramatic romance, but I found it thoughtful and interesting. And romantic.
My favourite part is that Sayers chose the coolest places to be at different eras. There are just some places you would want to be, if you could, at a certain decade, where cool things are happening – like London in the ’60s, or New York in the ’20s. Or in Paris, during La Belle Epoque, which is where Juliet is during her first life.
In each life she’s cursed to die young, then return to a new life with no memories of the prior, until a specific event triggers her remembering. Others have been cursed along with her and are doomed to live out the same tragic events.
I thought the concept would end up being repetitive, but in each life Juliet, or Nora in Hollywood in the ’30s, or Sandra in LA in the 70s, or Helen in Washington now, they all learn something new and bring a valuable knowledge or skill to the table. And it’s cool and twisty and I genuinely never knew where the story was taking me. Add to that a very satisfying conclusion, and I am really recommending this one!
The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow
I am undone. A book rarely gets me this swoony, but Harrow has created in this my new favourite book. I love me a good witch book, but even more than that, I love me a good feminist book about kick-ass witches who have had ENOUGH.
In New Salem, witchcraft has been banned, witches have been burned, and women must learn their place. The Eastwood sisters – James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna – join the suffragist movement to give women their right to a voice. Witchcraft might have been banned but exists still in mother’s lullabies, recipes and whispered fairytales shared by the hearth. The sisters begin to bring the proper elements together to bring back witchery in a big way.
I love Bella, Agnes and Juniper; the Crone, the Mother, the Maiden. I couldn’t put this book down, cried often, and punched my fist into the air several times. Harrow is exceptionally talented and has just rocketed to my favourite author. Apparently she sold this book with the pitch: “Suffragettes … but witches.” I love her so much.
The Once and Future Witches is soul food for women. I could not recommend this more.
The Diviners, by Libba Bray
I cannot convey to you enough how great The Diviners is. Libba Bray created the perfect Halloween read. It is creepy and funny with lovable characters, and at times verging towards wanting to stash the book in the freezer scary, but I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to true horror stories.
I think one of the most important parts of this book is the setting: New York City in the 1920s and the epicentre of the Jazz Era. It was an electric time, but can we talk for a minute about how creepy the 1920s were? The Jazz Age was a society on the cusp of modernity, raising humanity up to dazzling heights. Extravagant luxury built on the back of human suffering, as many forgotten people were struggling to survive. Perhaps it is easier to see that time for what it was from our vantage point: a brief respite; an uneasy truce suspended between two world-shattering wars.
At the time, an obsession with spiritualism brings the creepy. The Diviners starts with an unspeakably terrifying Ouija board session. Does anyone actually enjoy spirit boards or do we just like to frighten ourselves a little bit? I used to have a board, but no more. They freak me out too much. I actually considered trying to find an older one to take a sweet shot for this blog post, but I didn’t actually want one in my house. That’s how far my superstition goes.
Anyway, Bray uses the creepy board to tremendous effect. From there, we meet the sweet and sassy cast of “Diviners,” young people with special gifts. They come together and start ghost hunting, being romantic and sexy with each other as they go. And all the while there is a horrifying evil presence hovering somewhere in Midwest America and makes me think of a scarecrow, and evil scarecrows are one of my biggest phobias. (Is there a name for that phobia?)
As she goes further into the series, Bray delves into what is at the heart of the American dream: so many people hoping for a better life, but in reality America was created on the back unspeakable horrors. It wasn’t just old fashioned values and hard work, but also slavery and genocide.
I’m getting into the politics. Before you think the book is all dull and preachy, let me stop you right there, because it is anything but. The Diviners is creepy and FUN, and funny and flirty, and I defy you to not fall in love with the heartfelt characters.
Come for the horror and the fun, stay for the very important social messages on tolerance and acceptance! This book is one of my top recommendations, ever.
The Witches of New York, by Ami McKay
The Witches of New York is a supernatural historical fiction set in New York, thirty years before the Jazz Age. At this point in time, city was less glamorous. This is when New York City pulled itself up from earth to glittering spires. The whole city is built as a testament to dreams, and this book gets into the labour and the hope that allowed the dream to be created.
The time has arrived, as the Spinner of Tales once said, when witches the wide world over are no longer born, but made.– Miss Beatrice Dunn, Advice for New Witches
I had actually put this book on hold as soon as I finished Ami McKay’s The Virgin Cure, and while there was a gap between when I read one book and the next, it still took me an embarassingly long time to realized it was a continuation of Moth’s story. Moth, from The Virgin Cure, is all grown up and whole and also so shattered by life’s turns, and is now calling herself Adelaide Thom. She is such a formidable character.
She is one of a trio of woman in this beautiful tale of witches, womanhood and everyday magic. Adelaide, along with her partner Eleanor St. Clair, meet young Beatrice Dunn and the planets align. The tea shop they own together is mysterious and enchanting, where fortunes are told, stories are shared, and philosophy is discussed, all over a cup of healing tea. Tea & Sympathy might actually be my most idyllic place, whether or not it is fictional.
At the heart of it, The Witches of New York is about female empowerment. Underneath all the plot twists is a dark and twisted patriarchy that seeks power and control over women and repudiates all that which they do not understand. Not that there aren’t male characters who are kind and sympathetic – and not all of them are alive. McKay does an excellent job of creating characters who are flawed and still understandable, so very real even in the midst of a ghost story.
I read this book and immediately felt like Ami McKay and I might be friends – she has put such heart into these pages. This is certainly a great spooky read but there is depth and soul here that I truly loved.
The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman
It was clear from the very beginning I was going to love The Rules of Magic. It was about witches, after all, and there is no literary subject that is more dear to me. While this book was spellbinding, I also found it surprising, as the pace was gentle and tame, in no great rush to arrive at an end destination because it is of course the journey that matters. This character study into a family of witches allowed me to take a breath and enjoy every minute of this read.
The Rules of Magic are rather a lot like life lessons. Rule number one is never repudiate yourself. This could mean: never deny you’re a witch, but it could also mean: don’t try to make yourself smaller than you are.
The Owen siblings come from a long line of witches, are cursed from loving, and each keeps a secret self hidden away from the world. The curse that all three endure is that dire fates will be suffered by any that they truly love.
Vincent Owens has the most obvious secret to keep, and it is kept secret from him as well until he meets the love of his life, much to his surprise a man, and all of a sudden life has meaning. I loved how the book followed many of the cultural events occurring in the US during the 1960s. Vincent is caught up in the Stonewall Riots, and as he threw himself into this encounter, he truly accepted who he is. He and his partner also travel to San Francisco for the summer of love.
Jet Owens lives a life trying to cut herself off from all men, after the curse cut short the life of her one true love. She hid herself so hard from the world that she lost all of her magical powers. And yet time has a healing patience, and the wounds of her loss repaired themselves with different kinds of love. When she made amends with the family who had hated hers for centuries, her magic returns and she knew she cannot deny that which is inherent to her.
Franny Owens, the Maiden of Thorns, was probably the most surprised by her secret self: that she was in fact brimming over with love, no matter how hard she tried to deny it. Her aunt’s final words to do spell out everything when it comes to the real rule of magic, and of life:
Love More, Not Less
In her love, she finds ways of healing herself, and then others. I love how she began to leave journals in the witch reading room of the library for lost young girls to find. I would 100% have been one of those girls scribbling madly from the heart at the bank of the lake, if I lived in that small hallowed town.
The Rules of Magic is a meandering story through time, and there is no great evil to fight, no villain to overcome. There is only a curse, which as it turns out is in fact just life, and all of us humans are afflicted.
“It is simply the way of the world to lose everything you have ever loved. In this, we are like everyone else.”
Perhaps the greatest evil that does show up in the book is not a person, but rather an event: the Vietnam War and the draft lottery. It shows how a cultural movement towards optimism and love is ended cruelly, and the Owenses must bring their magical powers together in order to save Vincent from a vicious fate far from home. But their interference also leads to heartbreaking consequences, as does every one of our actions on earth. The rather melancholy theme of the book is that all things will happen, and all things must be borne, for that is the way of life.
There are also glorious love letters to the seasons in here, reflected in the luscious gardens and greenhouses that grow for witches in their Massachusetts ancestral home. My favourite was this gorgeous description of October, because it perfectly captures why it is my favourite month.
“It was an ending and a beginning, for the month itself was like a gate. October began as a golden hour and ended with Samhain, the day when the worlds of the living and the dead opened to each other. There was no choice but to walk through the gate of time.”
My recommendation is read this book, in the beginning of October, when the sun is still shining and you have a little bit of extra time to contemplate life. This book is a feast, rich and layered and deserving of a thorough read.