ARC Review | Toil & Trouble

A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.

From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.

I received an ARC from Harlequin TEEN and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Toil & Trouble was one of my more anticipated reads for the year: I love magic and witches and the more feminist those reads are, the better. Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.

My favourites:
– Why They Watch Us Burn
– Lovespell
– Daughters of Baba Yaga

Starsong by Tehlor Kay Mejia ★★★★

“When I sacrifice my custom ringtone to the vibration gods and sit down at my desk, the scent of the stars blowing across the Santa Anas and into my open window, I feel it wake up. The real magic. The kind that’s bound to blood and culture. To history. To violence I say a thousand thanks a day for never knowing.”

Starsong features astrology, a bruja who excels at nail art and Instagram, and some cute girl crushing. I absolutely loved the discussions of science vs. magic, how relatable it was seeing Luna try to figure out if her Instagram crush was queer, and the poly representation. Mejia’s writing is also gorgeous so I can’t wait to pick up more by her!

Afterbirth by Andrea Cremer ★★★

Afterbirth takes place in New England in the late 1600s, alternating between a child’s birth and a midwife’s trial for witchcraft. It was an incredibly atmospheric read but there were so many questions that were left unanswered that I found myself disappointed when it ended.

The Heart in Her Hands by Tess Sharpe ★★★

“It’s a spell, the purest kind of magic. Born from love and truth and unshakable belief.”

The Heart in Her Hands establishes a world where witchcraft is commonplace, soulmates can be identified by their first words, and kitchen witches are incredibly powerful. I loved the discussion of Fate and familial expectations vs. choosing your own path – especially when it comes to who you love. My only complaint is that it felt rushed and could have benefitted from more explanation at times.

Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith ★★★★

“A person can tell you anything, but bones — those tell the truth.”

The reappearance of childhood bullies, magic that is used to lay spirits to rest, and the perversion of that magic make Death in the Sawtooths an enthralling story that emphasizes that it’s our choices and actions upon which we should be judged.

The Truth About Queenie — Brandy Colbert ★★★★★

“Sometimes if you pretend like a part of you simply doesn’t exist, you can will it away.”

I absolutely loved The Truth About Queenie. It has a strong family focus (something I wish more YA would have!) and touches upon a number of issues including grief, loss of a loved one, and the difficulty of being the only black family in an all-white neighbourhood (not to mention being witches on top of that). I also liked that the key to Queenie’s magic wasn’t a spell or a specific item; instead, it was believing in herself and having the right intentions.

The Moonapple Menagerie by Shveta Thakrar ★★

“She often drank up the moon’s intoxicating radiance, stirring it into her thoughts and letting it illuminate her heart.”

I just couldn’t get into The Moonapple Menagerie, likely because the writing and storyline felt more juvenile than its predecessors.

The Legend of Stone Mary ★★★

“Everybody for miles around used to remember the story of Mary Keegan’s curse, but you wouldn’t know it now.”

The Legend of Stone Mary is the perfect Halloween read: it has a cursed town, a creepy statue in the woods, and the descendants of witches. I didn’t love the romance (it felt forced) but I did like that the story served as a cautionary tale about how those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma ★★★★★

“We used to think we had no recourse for making someone’s heart ache like ours have ached, for resetting the balance in the universe, for striving for the thing we’re not supposed to want but we still do want: revenge.”

The One Who Stayed is a haunting story that deals with a lot of heavy themes, including sexual assault, rape, and molestation. I dreaded where the story was going and it broke my heart, though the solidarity between the women is exactly the type of coven that I would expect from today’s witches.

Divine Are the Stars by Zoraida Córdova ★★★

“Memories make things grander and more beautiful when you want to think fondly of them.”

Divine Are the Stars is a beautifully written story about family, complete with magical realism. It emphasizes how we become what we need and the importance of accepting ourselves and our culture.

Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff ★★★★★

“There’s magic in the little things, even if my dad doesn’t see it. It’s there in the secret lives of girls, most of all. The way we smile and straighten our hair. We do magic every single day. We have to.”

I enjoy Brenna Yovanoff’s writing, so I’m not surprised that I adored Daughters of Baba Yaga. I love the idea of righteous magic, especially when it’s conducted in the name of feminism. Also, the idea of wanting invisibility so that men don’t harass you on the street? I feel that on such a deep level.

The Well Witch by Kate Hart ★★

I’m not a fan of westerns so I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t love The Well Witch. For a story featuring a witch that can identify water sources, it was much darker than expected, but I just wasn’t invested in the characters, the romance, or the events leading up to the dramatic ending.

Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths by Jessica Spotswood ★★★★

I would love if this story were a full-length novel; I was completely enthralled by the notion of a family where only one sister ever survives to adulthood and each sister has an affinity for magic. It’s a cautionary tale about how the choices we make can have impacts far beyond what we can see and how even the best intentions can go awry.

Lovespell by Anna-Marie McLemore ★★★★★

It’s no secret that I love McLemore’s lyrical writing so I’m not surprised that I adored Lovespell. I’m a sucker for star-crossed lovers so I quickly fell for the romance: a bruja who is trained to cure lovesickness and an acolyte of the Catholic Church (who happens to be trans). It’s a beautiful tale that discusses the importance of family and community, along with the impact of prejudice.

The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord ★★★★★

The magic in The Gherin Girls is the magic of love, comfort, and family. Instead of spells, it’s choosing the right comfort meal for someone or being able to read their emotions – a kind of everyday magic that everyone could benefit from. Though the story switches perspectives between three sisters, it’s truly a story about being in an abusive relationship and the damage that can linger even years after you’ve found the courage to leave.

Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May ★★★★★

This was such an incredibly powerful read about how society punishes women for standing up for themselves, for speaking up, and for being women. The “witches” are women who named their sexual abusers – and, in this found family of sorts, they are able to reclaim their identities and, by extension, their power.

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