BOOK REPORT for Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft by various authors, edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood

 

Cover Story: School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
The Charmed: “Starsong” by Tehlor Kay Mejia,“The Heart in Her Hands” by Tess Sharpe,“The Truth About Queenie” by Brandy Colbert, “Daughters of Baba Yaga” by Brenna Yovanoff, “Beware of Girls With Crooked Mouths” by Jessica Spotswood,“The Gherin Girls” by Emery Lord
The Spellbinding: “The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma, “Love Spell” by Anna-Marie McLemore, “Why They Watch Us Burn” by Elizabeth May
The Spooky: “Afterbirth” by Andrea Cremer, “Death in the Sawtooths” by Lindsay Smith, “The Legend of Stone Mary” by Robin Talley
The Cursed: “The Moonapple Menagerie” by Shveta Thakrar,“The Well Witch” by Kate Hart 
Bonus Factors: Diversity x15,Witches
Factor: Trigger Warnings
Break Glass In Case Of: Misandry and Mischief

 

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Cover Story: School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

This cover is cute, and fun, and contains pretty much everything we’ve been taught to associate with witches. I personally felt the stories inside were a bit darker and more nuanced than the cover suggests, but it’s pleasing to the eye none the less.

The Deal:

“Eve was the original witch, a woman whose curiosity changed her entire world. And you would have burned her for it.” – Elizabeth May, “Why They Watch Us Burn”

As long as women have existed, so have stories of witches and witchcraft. The 15 stories in Toil & Trouble explore witchcraft through the ages. From the dark, violent histories we’re taught in school to modern day incarnations of spells and magic—there’s a story for everyone.

The Charmed: “Starsong” by Tehlor Kay Mejia,“The Heart in Her Hands” by Tess Sharpe,“The Truth About Queenie” by Brandy Colbert, “Daughters of Baba Yaga” by Brenna Yovanoff, “Beware of Girls With Crooked Mouths” by Jessica Spotswood,“The Gherin Girls” by Emery Lord

Tehlor Kay Mejia’s “Starsong” is a delightful, #ownvoices tale about Luna, a bruja I found so relatable as she obsessed over makeup and skincare while staying up late at night reading people’s star charts. The way Luna finds connections with people via her social media following while she recovers from substance abuse added just the right amount of weight to this story.

“The Heart in Her Hands” by Tess Sharpe had everything my witchy heart desired: magical kitchen and garden witches, soulmates, family connections, tea!, plus a sweet f/f romance.

Colbert’s “The Truth About Queenie” felt more like a love story than a story about magic, but it was charming none the less.

The Craft fans will love Brenna Yovanoff’s “Daughters of Baba Yaga,” a story about three sisters who are ready to make some changes, written in Yovanoff’s signature wry style—the same one I fell in love with in Places No One Knows. (Just beware of some graphic animal corpse descriptions.)

Jessica Spotswood’s Cahill Witch Chronicles is one of my all-time favorite witchy sister series. Her story “Beware of Girls With Crooked Mouths” features a new trio of witchy sisters attempting to outsmart a deathly prophecy. No doubt about it: I was HERE FOR IT.

Real talk: I stan Emery Lord’s writing, and “The Gherin Girls” is no exception. The voice is haunting and beautiful, and follows a trio of sisters whose powers are less magic and more like…special talents. But even the lack of overt witchiness didn’t stop me from loving everything about this story. (Bonus points for an MC who shares my unusual name!)

The Spellbinding: “The One Who Stayed” by Nova Ren Suma, “Love Spell” by Anna-Marie McLemore, “Why They Watch Us Burn” by Elizabeth May

Some stories are too intense to be considered “charming” and three of the tales in this collection fall under that category. Haunting and powerful, Suma’s “The One Who Stayed” cranks the tension and dread up to 100 with a group of women who lean on one another for survival. It’s empowering, to be sure, but you’ll need to walk it off when you finish.

A Latinx story about a bruja learning magic from her tia, Anna-Marie McLemore’s “Love Spell” explores the bypassing of witchcraft and religion, and features a love story with a trans character that will make you feel all the love and heartbreak at once.

I’m dubbing Elizabeth May’s “Why They Watch Us Burn” as the official story of the #MeToo movement—a tale of women who are blamed and punished for the actions of men. It was the perfect ending to this anthology.

The Spooky: “Afterbirth” by Andrea Cremer, “Death in the Sawtooths” by Lindsay Smith, “The Legend of Stone Mary” by Robin Talley

Toil and Trouble wouldn’t be a witch anthology if it didn’t contain at least a handful of spooky stories. Cremer, Smith and Talley excel at weaving tales that are a bit chilling and spine-tingling and perfect for Halloween bonfires.

The Cursed: “The Moonapple Menagerie” by Shveta Thakrar,“The Well Witch” by Kate Hart

I use “cursed” in the loosest sense of the word here—both of these stories had merit, but of the 15 tales in this anthology these two left me wanting.

Bonus Factor: Diversity x15

Truly, this book is about as diverse as it gets in every sense of the word. The sexual, racial, socioeconomic, geographic, and religious representation within these pages is second to none.

Bonus Factor: Witches

I know this bonus factor should come with a big, fat “NO DUH” attached to it, but seriously, I really love stories about witches, and now I have 15 of them bound together in a single book. I’m especially fond of witchy sisters and generational magic stories, and Toil & Trouble delivers on all accounts.

Factor: Trigger Warnings

Many, heck, most of the stories require a trigger warning of some sort. As you dig into this book, know that you’ll be reading about physical and mental abuse, sexual assault, molestation, drug use, death, bullying. These stories do not gloss over the hard topics. It’s hard out there for a witch, y’all.

Break Glass In Case Of: Misandry and Mischief

Whether you’re feeling one with nature, hating men, or just need a little magic in your life, there’s a story for you in this anthology. It’s at times empowering and feminist, scary and sad—some of its stories are sweet and others are gut-wrenching. But they all have one thing in common: bad ass girls and women, which I’m always in the mood for.

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft will be available August 28, 2018.