Bewitching Reads

 My thought was to celebrate Halloween and October by curating a category of witch themed reads, but mostly it was because I really wanted to read what I thought was the last book in Kim Harrison's The Hollow Series that feature the witch Rachel Morgan. I treated myself to an old favorite, The Witch of Blackbird Pond--I got to read more from some of my favorite authors, Tana French and Chris Bohjalian--and I found some great new-to-me authors in Louisa Morgan and Stacey Halls. I had a very well read October/November. 

 

  

  The Witch Elm: A Novel by Tana French completed 10/16/2019

What Amazon Says:

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life—he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden—and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

A spellbinding standalone from one of the best suspense writers working today, The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.

What I Say:

This is the second book that I have read by Tana French. It is dark, depressing, and filled with very human very relatable characters who are not often likable. It takes a slow meandering pace full of nuances, red herrings, and back story and Ms. French keeps one guessing. I like that Ms. French got her idea of hiding a body in a witch elm from a real life mystery of Bella who's body was found in a trunk of an English Witch Elm in 1943. 

I also like the sly way Ms. French took a swipe at the treatment of women by the patriarchal medical establishment and by OB/GYN's in particular. If 3 stars is "I liked it" and 4 stars is "I liked this a lot" then I would rate this with 3.6 stars, but I'm bumping her up for this very timely bit of awareness raising. Reading time well spent.

 

 

  The Familiars: A Novel by Stacey Halls completed 10/2019

I saw this book mentioned often by other book reviewers on Twitter and it got a lot of praise. It is set against the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 making it a perfect fit for this witchy themed category. The author clearly did her research and I give her high marks for sticking to what little is known about the actual history of her main characters. I love a book that builds fiction out of history's dark past and the mystery of Alice Gray leaves a lovely loophole for the imagination to wander. 

I am a birth doula and childbirth educator by trade and a woman who reads A LOT about the history of childbirth. Early 17th century England was a place very different than today, and while the physiological nature of childbirth has remained unchanged, it is also true that there is much more understanding of the science and the workings of the human body in today's world. One shudders at what was once commonly believed and what was common practice in the 1600's. That said-- I often took the author to task when she put Fleetwood astride a horse, out in the cold and the rain, and in the direct path of infection for the sake of this thrilling plot. I'm a doula I can't think otherwise--especially given all those previous miscarriages.

There was a lot going on during this age, doctors were becoming more common, midwives and healers stood in their way as they quested towards more lucrative careers and discrediting these women as witches was one such horrible tool that the patriarchy used to clear their path. You learn a lot of unfortunate truths when you read about childbirth's past.

I applaud this author for putting power in the hands of her women characters giving them control of their decisions and their bodies. They had excellent role models in Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and with a touch of evil--Catherine de Medici, powerful women who reigned in the 16th century..  

What Amazon says:

 This rich and compelling novel draws its characters from historical figures as it explores the lives and rights of seventeenth-century women, ultimately raising the question: Is witch-hunting really just women-hunting? Fleetwood Shuttleworth is 17 years old, married, and pregnant for the fourth time. But as the mistress at Gawthorpe Hall, she still has no living child, and her husband Richard is anxious for an heir. When Fleetwood finds a letter she isn't supposed to read from the doctor who delivered her third stillbirth, she is dealt the crushing blow that she will not survive another pregnancy.

Then she crosses paths by chance with Alice Gray, a young midwife. Alice promises to help her give birth to a healthy baby, and to prove the physician wrong. As Alice is drawn into the witchcraft accusations that are sweeping the North-West, Fleetwood risks everything by trying to help her. But is there more to Alice than meets the eye? Soon the two women's lives will become inextricably bound together as the legendary trial at Lancaster approaches, and Fleetwood's stomach continues to grow. Time is running out, and both their lives are at stake.

 

   Water Witches by Chris Bohjalian completed 11/2019

What Amazon says:

Set in the Vermont countryside, Water Witches is a tale of the clash between progress and tradition, science and magic. In the midst of a nightmarish New England drought, cynical ski industry lobbyist Scottie Winston is trying to get a large ski resort the permits it needs to tap already beleaguered rivers for snow. His wife, his little girl, and his sister-in-law -- dowsers or "water witches" all -- hope to stop him, however, in this gentle, comic, life-affirming novel.

What I say:

I really enjoyed this book. This is the second book that I have read by this author, I was so pleased to find a title of his that fit with this theme, and I will continue to read more of his work. He has an easy readable style of writing and creates characters that you are glad to meet, even the ones you might not like so much. His books continue to be reading time well spent. 

 

  A Secret History of Witches: A Novel by Louisa Morgan completed 11/11/2019

What Amazon Says: 

A sweeping historical saga that traces five generations of fiercely powerful mothers and daughters -- witches whose magical inheritance is both a dangerous threat and an extraordinary gift. Brittany, 1821. After Grand-mère Ursule gives her life to save her family, their magic seems to die with her. Even so, the Orchieres fight to keep the old ways alive, practicing half-remembered spells and arcane rites in hopes of a revival. And when their youngest daughter comes of age, magic flows anew. The lineage continues, though new generations struggle not only to master their power, but also to keep it hidden. But when World War II looms on the horizon, magic is needed more urgently than ever - not for simple potions or visions, but to change the entire course of history.

What I say:

This is a book that got a lot of so so reviews. What can I say? I loved it. The book followed the Orchiere witches through five generations, with each story hitting as that particular witch came into her power. I liked that all the witches had different levels and strengths and that not all used their power for good. I loved the WWII angle and did a little Googling. 

The Queen Mother Elizabeth II is distantly connected to the Glamis witches of Scotland through Janet Douglas and there are plenty of stories out there on the interweb concerning the use of witchcraft during WWII especially at the time of D-Day when Allied Forces invaded France. I briefly tweeted with Ms. Morgan and she tells me that this is not the first time that she has used actual facts to support her fiction. At some point I will do more reading, currently I'm back with Mary Queen of Scots (lots of witches back then). 

 

 

 The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare completed 11/2019

This is one of my all time favorite books, it lives on my forever shelf, loved it as a young girl, loved it as a young mother, and still love it as a crazy old cat lady.

It is an innocent tale about the perils of being "different" and an intelligent woman in Puritan New England. There is romance, family, and friendship. If you have never read it I highly suggest that you do. 

  

 The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison

This was supposed to be the last book (#13) in this series about the adventures of Cincinnati witch Rachel Morgan but I recently learned that there is to be a 14th coming out this Spring. A couple of chapters into this one I began to realize that while I thought I had read the 12th installment (The Dead Pool) I clearly had not. I didn't feel as out of the loop as I thought AND as the action started on page 1, I was already hooked, so I carried on. Obviously I love Rachel and the regular cast of characters. I've known her long enough that she's family and as family she does have some quirks that get on my nerves--that being said she would not be Rachel if she didn't.

Ms. Harrison narrates these books through the stream of consciousness delivery of Rachel Morgan and what ever is going on in Rachel's head we "hear" about it. She is a witch with heightened senses so we get intimate details on what she smells, feels, hears, sees, tastes, and every single one of her thoughts. We always know what color pixie dust, what Trent's hair is doing, and that Al has goat slitted demon eyes. She constantly keeps track of those she is responsible for including the whereabouts of Mr. Fish. 

Almost every single page Rachel thinks that while she loves Trent she is bad for him and is ruining his life. Almost every single page Rachel thinks that while she is bad for her also, she loves Ivy and that she will do anything to save her soul. (Trent is an Elf and Ivy is a Vampire)  IRL that is how brains work setting up endless feedback loops that run over and over in our heads, BUT and just like with our own loops it gets tiresome after awhile. We get it. In between those two thoughts she often saves the world--again.

But what makes me sad is that:

No matter how powerful, how much good she has done, she still bad mouths herself and that is our Rachel. She's family I love her in spite of all this negative self talk. I'd really like to see her take on that demon, those real life demons that infest our brains with endless self defeating non stop chatter. But I imagine Ku Sox is walk in the park compared to conquering her brain's DMN (Default Mode Network).

I really enjoyed reading how Kim Harrison neatly tied up the final action scenes as a culmination of themes she had carefully cultivated and built over time in her series. I plan on dipping back to read The Dead Pool and eagerly anticipate The American Demon coming this Spring.

 

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Hi! I'm Debbie. Here at Categorically Well-Read I give an extra layer to the reading life. Learn more about me, check out my current category of books, submit your own suggestion, or check out my latest post.