Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, yours to mine and mine to yours: Reviewing The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Hi everyone! I hope you are all still doing well, or hopefully, doing better than you once were, if that is the case. I’ve been a little stressed lately, but it’s a healthy kind of stress; the kind that makes you want to be better. Life is just like that sometimes. There’s nothing a good book (or a good show) can’t help. Let’s get a little magical and talk about The Once and Future Witches.

It’s 1893 and witches are nothing more than a folk tale. Magic doesn’t exist and women are left to fend for themselves. There is a suffragist movement in New Salem. This is the movement that reunites the estranged Eastwood sisters after their father’s mysterious death. Beatrice Belladonna, Agnes Amaranth, and James Juniper decide to put aside their differences and start a revolution of their own: a witches’ movement. The sisters quickly come face to face with deadly and mysterious forces that try to tear them apart. Their bond, though, must withstand these challenges in order to heal their family bonds and secure a safe future for all witches from the past, present, and future.

Alix E. Harrow crafts a wonderfully spun tale of witches that is as empowering and entertaining. She cleverly spins common rhymes and fairy tales to create a powerful and clever narrative where magic is found where you least expect it. The Eastwood sisters are vibrant and complex as they struggle to heal from past tragedies. I would argue that this book is actually quite relatable to anyone who has ever felt powerless at one point in their lives. If you are looking for an enchanting and rebellious, look no further then The Once and Future Witches.

Where Love can Outdo Nature: Reviewing Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Hi everyone! There is nothing quite as satisfying as finally getting around to reading that one book that’s been on your TBR list for the longest time. It’s even more satisfying when you really enjoy said book. It was just the book I needed at this time with everything being considered. I don’t write this blog to be political, but it is unavoidable. So, with that vague statement, let’s talk about Her Body and Other Parties.

Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of eight short stories combines horror, a twisted sense of humor, dark fantasy, and psychological analyses to highlight the harsh reality faced by women.

I am going to give a disclaimer at the top of this review that these stories do discuss mature topics about trauma, abuse, and sexuality. Approach with some caution if you are not ready to read about such topics.

With that all being said, I was certainly impacted by these stories. I love the use of defamiliarization that Machado so cleverly uses to highlight the reality that women have to deal with. Machado does let the reader’s imagination run, while still having a clear message throughout. I personally always look forward to that one short story that is going to haunt me and Machado delivered eight of them. Two stories particularly stood out to me were “Inventory” and “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law and Order: SVU.” I do highly recommend this collection if you are looking for a book about feminism and queerness told in such a unique and dark voice.

Sing, Muse, he said, and I have sung: Reviewing A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Hello everybody! I am out here trying not to be too whiney about the cold but I really hate winter, especially a late winter. What better to get my mind off the weather than a good book and this is a good one. In case you didn’t know, I am a big fan of mythology particularly Greek myths. I have studied Latin for quite a few years and have done my fair share of translating the classics like The Illiad and The Odyssey. It is always nice to have a fresh take on these tried and true classics, so let’s talk about A Thousand Ships.

After ten long years of fighting, Troy is destroyed in a single night and the women of the city are left at the mercy of the Greeks. Their stories are often pushed off to the side in favor of their male counterparts. This epic, however, focuses on the women, both Trojan and Greek, and their side of the story. From the three goddesses who had a hand in starting the war, to Hecuba watching her kingdom fall, and Penelope waiting patiently for her husband, these women among many had their lives shaped forever by the ten year war.

I am all here for a feminist retelling of the Illiad and Odyssey, which Natalie Haynes certainly delivers. Haynes dives deep into layered emotions, complicated situations, and trauma throughout the various stories. The writing varies with some stories being brief and poignant and others being longer and contemplative. Many of these characters that Haynes brings to light are often just footnotes in the epics. This novel makes a powerful statement about the often neglected female characters and is delivered with intelligent and provocative writing. It should come to no surprise then when I say that I highly recommend A Thousand Ships to any fans of Homer’s original epics.

I was quiet, but I was not blind: Reviewing Mary B. by Katherine J. Chen

Hello everyone! I hope you are all doing well and staying warm. I have always hated snow, personally. This is my second “retelling” novel I am reviewing and I have a third in my TBR list. Funny enough, this particular book was actually a gift from my aunt. Most people assume that, when you are a woman in a literary field, you must love Jane Austen. As much as I love Pride and Prejudice, I am not a die hard Jane Austen fan but I would like to be one day, admittedly. So, let’s talk about the often forgotten Bennet sister, Mary. (Note: I will leave a content warning at the very bottom of this post. It is also somewhat of a spoiler but I wanted to include it regardless.)

As the middle child of the Bennet family, Mary is often forgotten. Unlike her sisters, she is not renowned for her beauty or charm. Mary, though, is painfully aware that it is convention that she find a husband in order to have a secure life. In her despair, however, she finds solace through writing her own fictional novels. As tragedy and scandal strike the Bennet family, Mary must learn to come into her own as a woman in a time of strict social boundaries.

I am a bit biased towards this book as I deeply related to Mary as a bookish woman in her twenties. Chen’s overall take on the Bennett family shows in a more realistic light, creating and taking away sympathy. Mary is well fleshed out as a protagonist as she tries to figure out where she wants to be in life. The novel is honest in its depiction of women trying to navigate their ways in a time where options were limited. It is even rather heart- breaking in its truthfulness. Chen does not diminish any of the hope that Austen initially created. She simply shows a different side of the romantic notions which endeared us to Pride and Prejudice. Mary B is a fully fleshed out portrait of the lesser known Bennett sister’s journey of self – discovery and I highly recommend this to any Austen fan.

Content Warning: The novel does contain a graphic scene involving the loss of an infant and further discussion of the topic.

To be a woman is to be a sacrifice: Reviewing The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Hello and Happy New Year everyone! Here’s hoping we have a year full of pleasant surprises and better fortune. But now, I am coming to you with my first review of the year. I wanted to review this book back in October because it seemed more appropriate for the spooky season but I decided that spooky season can be all year long if you don’t care about anyone else’s opinions. Let’s kick off 2022 with The Year of the Witching.

Immanuelle Moore has struggled all her life to fit into Bethel, a strict religious society where the Prophet rules with an iron fist. Immanuelle was born of a relationship between her Bethelan mother and a father of a different race, which makes her very existence a sin. Because of this, Immanuelle does her best to remain faithful to the Father and follow the Holy Scriptures so that she might be accepted. That is until she stumbles into the Darkwood and finds her mother’s journal, which she learns that she is connected to the witches that live in the Darkwood. With this knowledge, Immanuelle sets out to uncover the corruption of the Church and the Prophet before Bethel is destroyed by its own secrets.

The Year of the Witching sets out to make a statement and a statement it makes. Henderson creates a chilling atmosphere with horrifying revelations about the society of Bethel. You certainly feel for Immanuelle’s struggle and root for her as she uncovers the horrific truth of the male – dominated religion that she is surrounded by. I could write an entire essay about the themes of this book. It gives a lot to think about, particularly if you know anything about cults or cult – like organizations. If you are interested in the Salem Witch Trials, then this book is right up your alley as it delves in to the relationship between women and religions. I don’t want to go on for too long or spoil anything so I will end this with saying that I ended up loving this book and I definitely recommend this for all of you witchy types out there.

Blank, lovely eyes. Mad eyes. A mad girl: Reviewing Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Hello everybody! I’m back with another novel that I am reading in class but this one will be a full review since it fits into my area of studies. I am currently doing a critical history of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for my grad school portfolio. As much as I love the British Romantics, it is important to acknowledge where it is problematic. Trust me, it is rather problematic. That is why I am glad to hear and read new angles about these classics that everybody has loved in one dimension for so long. So let’s talk about Jean Rhys’ take on Bronte’s “madwoman in the attic.”

Before she was Bertha Mason, Antionette Cosway was a young girl struggling to survive in Jamaica. After the Emancipation Act, her mother is driven to madness and her father to drink. When she reaches adulthood, Antoinette is then sold into marriage to an Mr. Rochester. As more of the past comes to light, Antionette finds herself in a downward spiral that threatens her dreams of moving to England.

This novel, though short, is incredibly compelling in its feminist and anti-colonial narrative. I have always liked the “other side of the story” genre. I am not sure what else to call it but I am talking about novels that re-tell a story from the perspective of another character. Anyways, Rhys delivers a powerful look at a character who has been written off for so many years. The novel is has beautiful visuals that pair with a unique story that is not explored often. Post colonial novels have only come to light in recent years and Rhys offers one that anyone who has read Jane Eyre should read. Now, this isn’t meant to bash Charlotte Bronte. It is meant to give a more in depth-look at the feminist critiques that lie within Jane Eyre and other novels of the time. This is a short read, but there is so much to talk about. I would recommend this to any fan of Charlotte Bronte or those who are a fan of period pieces but are tired of the marriage and/or manner novels.

an explainer of my own unique journey: Reviewing Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Hi everyone! I apologize for my prolonged absence from this blog. I’ve been teaching classes and as well as taking classes. I am cheating slightly because I did read this book for a class but I really wanted to bring awareness about this novel. It is important to me to breakthrough my usual genres and explore more. I want to widen the discussion and become more aware of social issues that exist outside of my realm. That is why I will be talking to you about Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo.

In Evaristo’s most recent novel, she explores identity, intersectionality, feminism, and other social issues through the interconnected lives of her characters. From a radical lesbian playwright, to a gender non-binary influencer, to a ninety three – year – old woman, these stories all involve complex internal and external issues they must face in order to full realize themselves in this heartfelt, charming, and unforgettable novel.

This novel is hard to describe but it is truly incredible. Evaristo plays with form and narration in order to make the novel so much more impactful. I was truly entranced by this novel and the areas it explored. Evaristo includes a very British sense of humor and self-awareness in order to bring you as a reader closer to the story. Since the characters come from all walks of life, it is easy to find someone to gravitate to. The way Evaristo blends together wider social issues with very personal stories is brilliant. It shows that we are all learning and no one is perfect, no matter who they are. I learned a lot from Girl, Woman, Other and it really redefined women’s literature for me. You don’t need to be British or a woman to fully appreciate this novel, which would certainly be a good pick for a book club. I cannot recommend this novel enough as it is perfect for casual or critical reading.

PS: If you had this novel, I would love to talk about it more with you so let me know in the comments.

It’s Hope That Keeps Us Afloat: Reviewing The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Hello again everyone! I have returned after a bit of a hiatus (aka I was busy and too tired to commit to a longer novel). Anyways, I’ve been sitting on this particular novel for a while. I had never read one of Atwood’s before this. I may try The Handmaid’s Tale eventually, but I thought this was a good start since I am a big fan of Greek mythology. This novel is also fairly short, so it was an easy enough read. Anyways, here are my thoughts on The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

Penelope has always been known as the faithful wife of Odysseus, the great hero and traveler. Now that she’s in the Underworld, she no longer has to keep up appearances. With time to reflect, Penelope recounts the events of the Odyssey in her own words. Joined by the twelve maids that Odysseus and Telemachus killed, Penelope reveals what really happened during the ten years Odysseus was lost at sea.

Atwood certainly does not hold back in her novels. The Penelopiad is a mix of the avant garde, the theatrical, and the realistic. It is easy to get lost in the speculation of myth. Atwood provides a blend of feminist theory and fantastical details in this reimagining of The Odyssey. Through her writing, Atwood gives a new life to Penelope and her maids as they deal with the injustices inflicted upon them. Though these stories may be myth, there is still some reality in there. If you are a fan of Greek mythology, then I would recommend this novel. The Penelopiad is a short, profound novel about how the truth gets twisted and how women, even fictional, can fall victim too rumors.

It’s Growing Something New: Reviewing Annihilation (Book One of the Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff Vandermeer

Hi everyone! It has been a hot minute since I have actually done a book review. I finally sat down and just powered through this particular novel since it is shorter. I will now tell you all about Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.

Area X sprouted from the ruins of a civilization and has been steadily reclaiming the land over the years. Many expeditions have tried to explore this mysterious new biosphere but have ended in death and disaster. The twelfth expedition, made up of four women, have set out to find the answers that the others couldn’t find. As they venture deeper and deeper into Area X, they come to realize that there is something thriving and it has deadly intentions.

This short and fast-paced novel offered an interesting mix of science fiction and mystery. Vandermeer’s writing style and narrative choices are certainly intriguing. Told through the eyes of a character only known as the biologist, her telling of the events is scientific and precise but also vague and ominous. Every step of her journey only offers more questions than answers. As a reader, I found myself exploring along with her. I wanted to put together the puzzle pieces of why Area X was so strange. The novel definitely reminded me of The Martian. I loved the eerie and beautiful descriptions. The plot was full of suspense that made you want more. If you’re a fan of science fiction and/or adventure, then I would definitely reckoned Vandermeer’s Annihilation. I am certainly interested in reading the rest of the Southern Reach trilogy.

Be Strong, Saith My Heart: Reviewing Circe by Madeline Miller

Hello everyone! I am beyond excited to talk to you about Madeline Miller’s sophomore novel. I have reviewed her debut novel, The Song of Achilles. You can check that out on my blog. Anyways, I do absolutely love mythology, in particular Greek mythology. I also enjoy these particular stories that are classic tales retold with a new angle. Novels likes Wicked have shown how popular this trope is and how it is really great when done well. I shall continue on and tell you all about Circe by Madeline Miller. (Quick note: Circe is pronounced as Sir-See.)

During the fall of the Titans, Circe was born to Helios, a god of the sun and a powerful force. From her birth, Circe realized she was different that the other immortals and turns to mortals for comfort. Circe then discovers her true talent: witchcraft. She is banished by Zeus and Helios to a remote island for eternity. There she hones her powers and crosses paths with many icons of mythology, with the most notable being the cunning Odysseus. Circe, however, soon finds herself in danger after angering the gods and Titans alike. Circe must prove her true powers or else lose everything that she loves in this thrilling and vivid story.

I was absolutely hooked on this book from the first page. Circe herself is a relatively lesser known figure in Greek mythology who is only really known for having an affair with Odysseus. Miller, however, saw this character and turned her into a force to be reckoned with. The first thing I wanted to talk about was the mythology backdrop and the godly characters. They felt equally as human as they did divine. The competition between the Olympians and the Titans felt very much like Game of Thrones, which I enjoyed. With that being said, the novel did present a certain harsh reality within the mythical world. Circe herself embodied what it meant to be a survivor, in my opinion. Despite her familial history, she still goes through many struggles with little to no help. The novel certainly carries a feminist message throughout, which I found very empowering. Her voice, thoughts, and feelings are all very strong and honest. Miller certainly proves that even gods struggle but that there is hope through survival and perseverance. You probably know I’m going to highly recommend this novel to you. Circe was an exciting and emotional reading experience that is impossible to put down.

Note: I got the title of this review from The Odyssey. I do actually really enjoy that epic.