ARC provided by Harper Collins/Harlequin Teen in exchange for an honest review
Book: Toil & Trouble: 16 Tales of Women & Witchcraft
Authors: Tess Sharpe, Jessica Spotswood, Brandy Colbert, Zoraida Córdova, Andrea Cremer, Kate Hart, Emery Lord, Elizabeth May, Anna-Marie McLemore, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Lindsay Smith, Nova Ren Suma, Robin Talley, Shveta Thakrar, Brenna Yovanoff, Tristina Wright.
Genre: YA fantasy, paranormal, anthology
Publication Date: August 28, 2018
My rating: ★★★★
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.
First of all, let me just say how much I appreciated this collection of short stories. The authors are so diverse and I absolutely loved the amalgamation of cultures represented here. There is so much rep for LGBTQIAP+, POC, religions, social classes — just, everything! And while I tended to enjoy the spookier stories, I came to realize that this anthology isn’t just about scary-witchy-things, rather it’s about highlighting powerful women throughout mythos and history. I may have not loved all the stories but I believe they each carried significant themes and should be shared with everyone.
My overall rating actually came out to be 3.5 stars (70% once I did the math) but I’m rounding it up to 4 stars because I believe this book is important and relevant, and I know several of them will stick with me forever. My favorites were Beware of the Girls With Crooked Mouths, The Gherin Girls, and Why They Watch Us Burn. I could seriously read full length novels of those stories!
Since each story is only 20-30 pages long, I’m hesitant to talk too much about them without giving away anything! So here are my quick thoughts and opinions. I think some just had a slower pacing than others, which affected my overall rating for that particular story.
1) STARSONG by Tehlor Kay Mejia: ★★
I really thought the budding romance was cute, but I had a hard time connecting with the story. I think I was expecting a more witchy tale to kick off this book, but it was mainly centered around a bruja DM-ing with someone on Instagram. However I genuinely loved the debate between science and magic, how it’s an own voices Latinx story, and the f/f romance!
2) AFTERBIRTH by Andrea Cremer: ★★★★
I really loved the interview format in this story, and the demon-centered plot had me on the edge of my seat. If you’re looking for a witch trial set in 1600’s New England then this is the story for you!
3) THE HEART IN HER HANDS by Tess Sharpe: ★★★
This story really touched my heart and I loved the theme about fate and soulmates (and tea!) The witchcraft is strong in this story and there’s such a wonderful f/f romance.
4) DEATH IN THE SAWTOOTHS by Lindsay Smith: ★★★★
This story is what finally really got my interest in this anthology. It felt like I was reading an actual story about witches (and warlocks!) and the overall tone was dark and spooky.
5) THE TRUTH ABOUT QUEENIE by Brandy Colbert: ★★★★
This is one of my favorites. It reads like a contemporary, but I do wish it had more witchy elements. However, it flowed so beautifully and I loved the friendships. This needs to be a full length novel!
6) THE MOONAPPLE MENAGERIE by Shveta Thakrar: ★
Sadly this was my least favorite story. This is a story about a group of shapeshifter friends who make a deal with a demon, and the demon wants to be in their play. To be honest I wanted more story about the shapeshifters and less about the play they were writing. I just didn’t love it, I’m sorry!
7) THE LEGEND OF STONE MARY by Robin Talley: ★★★★
This is a fantastically creepy one! I love the legends and the twists all wrapped up in this wonderful little story. I am just a sucker for anything that has to do with small towns and their local spooky lore.
8) THE ONE WHO STAYED by Nova Ren Suma: ★★★
This story is so beautifully written yet very haunting. Overall it’s so powerful and feminist. There is rape and sexual assault, so please take caution before starting this one. While I may not have connected with the story I truly loved the writing and I am looking forward to reading more books by Nova!
9) DIVINE ARE THE STARS by Zoraida Córdova: ★★★★
I’m not usually a huge fan of magical realism but Zoraida Córdova’s writing always pulls me in. I loved the family dynamic and tension presented here, and that it’s an own voices Latinx story.
10) DAUGHTERS OF BABA YAGA by Brenna Yovanoff: ★★★
This was another wonderful feminist story about witches and friendships. It was dark but I usually like my stories that way! I also love any sort of Baba Yaga retelling.
11) THE WELL WITCH by Kate Hart: ★★
I was totally immersed in most of this story but I so did not love the ending. It had such great potential. I was loving our POC main character who was so generous, kind, yet stern and self-sufficient. Then the story took a really bad turn and I just got angry.
12) BEWARE OF THE GIRLS WITH CROOKED MOUTHS by Jessica Spotswood: ★★★★★
I LOVED this story so, so much. It had everything I wanted: a family of witches who each have their own powers, a curse they want to break, and visions/destiny. I truly need this to be a full length book because I felt so invested in each of the sisters.
13) LOVE SPELL by Anna-Marie McLemore: ★★★★
This was another beautiful own voices story about star-crossed lovers: a girl who falls in love with a trans boy (who also happens to be an acolyte at her church.)
14) THE GHERIN GIRLS by Emery Lord: ★★★★★
This story is another favorite but it broke my heart. I felt so connected with these sisters and my heart broke over the abuse one of them had to go through. The writing is stunning and the bonds between these sisters just about made me cry.
15) THE ONLY WAY BACK by Tristina Wright: N/A
The Only Way Back will not be included in the final publication, thus the title will say 15 Tales instead of 16 Tales (my photo is of the ARC). The publisher has decided to redact the story after sexual assault allegations were brought on the author.
16) WHY THEY WATCH US BURN by Elizabeth May: ★★★★★
I think they saved the best for last because WOW. This one is so freakin’ powerful. Like, no words. No words. This is a story about women who are exiled and punished (aka accused of witchcraft) for tempting men into sin. It is so important, relevant, eye-opening, heartbreaking, and haunting. I need to give it all the stars.
Overall this was such an amazing collection and I believe Toil & Trouble will be the perfect read come Halloween. It releases on August 28th! If you pick up this anthology I’d love to hear your thoughts!