It’s the run up to Halloween so I am pleased to share a witchy book to add to your Halloween reading list, All Things Hidden by Caroline O’Donaghue.
Book Review: All Things Hidden by Caroline O’Donoghue
Title: All Things Hidden
Author: Caroline O’Donoghue
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: YA fantasy, witch lit
Release date: 21st July 2021
I’ll give up the tarot readings. I’ll apologize to Lily.
But Lily doesn’t come to school on Monday. Or Tuesday. It’s not until Wednesday that the police show up.
Maeve Chambers doesn’t have much going for her. Not only does she feel like the sole idiot in a family of geniuses, she managed to drive away her best friend Lily a year ago. But when she finds a pack of dusty old tarot cards at school, and begins to give scarily accurate readings to the girls in her class, she realizes she’s found her gift at last. Things are looking up – until she discovers a strange card in the deck that definitely shouldn’t be there. And two days after she convinces her ex-best friend to have a reading, Lily disappears.
Can Maeve, her new friend Fiona and Lily’s brother Roe find her? And will their special talents be enough to bring Lily back, before she’s gone for good?
I heard about this book via a friend who knows I have an interest in tarot. The blurb caught my attention. Overall, I enjoyed it. The beginning is slower paced and sets the scene, but by the middle I was as captivated as I hoped to be and couldn’t put it down. I needed to know where Lilly was and how Maeve would make things right, or if she could.
I loved how tarot and the card meanings were blended into the tale, but it was the author’s use of magic and witchcraft to delve into the world of homophobia, racism and privilege that made me love this story. It revealed parts of Irish culture I never knew about, as well as exploring the undercurrents and tension we see all over the world.
Maeve is a hard character to like, never mind love with her sense of privilege, outspoken and bratty nature. The cards force her to study her behaviour and see the hurtful consequences of her actions. It is a coming of age story and I would love to read more about what happens next. There is so much more to discover and I felt it was setting up to be a sequel with some threads left dangling.
Lilly is an unseen constant in the book, and you only hear Maeve’s voice and view of what happened. I would love to see Lilly’s viewpoint too because she sounds like she has so much to say.
Would you recommend?
If you love of folklore, tarot or witchcraft, this is a YA novel to try. The gentle pacing at the beginning explodes with excitement at the midpoint. It explores gender, bullying and extremism bundled into a magical tale. The eeriness of this novel reminded me of The Changover by Margaret Mahy, which was the book that introduced me to supernatural and fantasy genre as a teenager. Like that one, I will not forget this novel and I now have a new author to follow.
I’m thrilled to have been asked to help celebrate this year’s #SFFRomFest and chat about my favourite fantasy and sci-fi romances. As many of you know I love books involving magic, witchcraft or the paranormal and a romantic thread always makes them extra special.
What has been your favourite SFF Romance from 2021 so far?
I hate questions like this because this year has produced some amazing and unique novels in the fantasy genre making it difficult to choose just one so I may have to cheat. Sorry!
A true fantasy romance that stands out is Caedis Knight’s Witches of Barcelona, the second novel in the Blood Web Chronicles. It follows Saskia, a low level witch on her investigations into the murky world of the paranormals. It’s hot and sizzles in all the right places with a varied cast of characters and thrilling plot. The world building is fully developed, imaginative and with many twists and turns it kept me on the toes. My review can be found here.
Another novel I adore and cannot get out of my mind is Midnight in Everwood by M.A Kuzniar. It’s not out until the end of this month and I feel privileged to have read an advanced copy – thank you so much, Harper Voyager. Based on The Nutcracker ballet, Marietta is a heroine to admire and again, the depth and layers of the world the author has created drew me in and I did not want to leave despite the dangers faced there. It’s a tale of obsession, desire for independence and self-discovery bundled up with magic and illusions. Everyone who loves ballet or fantasies such as Caraval are in for a treat. The physical copies are also stunning and I can’t wait to own one.
Which subgenre of SFF Romance do you tend to read most and what do you love about it?
I love magical realism and witchlit – stories that are based in reality but overlayed by magic and imagination such as portals to other worlds or characters with secret abilities. I find them more accessible than high fantasy, easy to visualise and I love the added excitement of knowing I could visit places mentioned if I wish. For example, I fell in love with Oxford through the Discovery of Witches and a tour is on my wishlist. I long to explore The British Library thanks to the wonderful worldbuilding in Threadneedle by Cari Thomas.
I also have a love of time slip novels such as those by Barbara Erskine, who is the queen of this genre. They tap into my love of history and the supernatural. I find I learn more about the obscure times and personalities this way rather than a textbook.
What was the first SFF Romance you can remember reading?
It has to be The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. Forget Twilight the chemistry between the two main characters, Laura and Sorenson Carlisle is perfect and the scene of her changing to be a witch is sensual and alludes to so much.
The first adult SFF romance I remember is TheLady of Hay by Barbara Erskine which I borrowed from my mum after she raved about it, but another memorable novel from my teenage years is Past Forgetting by Alexandra Thorne. It’s a time slip novel involving a dress I longed to own and the aurora borealis. Duncan Carlisle is a hero to swoon after.
What SFF Romance do you always recommend?
Currently, it is Midnight in Everwood but there is also Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy which blends my love of witchcraft, libraries and different species together. Caedis Knight’s Blood Web Chronicles are great for those who like romances that sizzle, and Kelley Armstrong is also one of my favourite authors to recommend. I’m not very good at choosing one thing, am I? There are just too many wonderful books and authors out there to love.
What SFF Romance is next on your TBR pile?
The next on my list is the last instalment of The Indigo Chronicles, Children of Shadows by N. Simmonds.
I’ll be joining in with the festival more on my Instagram account but if you want to discover more bloggers favourites or add to your TBR pile use the hashtag #SFFRomFest in your favourite social media outlet.
What are your favourite fantasy or sci-fi romance novels?
Today I’m excited to share my review for Weep, Woman, Weep by Maria DeBlassie. I was thrilled to be invited to read this novella in exchange for an honest and unbiased review, after falling in love with her non-fiction book Everyday Enchantments. The blurb promised a dark, unusual with a strong character and premise, scroll down to see if it was achieved.
A compelling gothic fairytale by bruja and award-winning writer Maria DeBlassie.
The women of Sueño, New Mexico don’t know how to live a life without sorrow. That’s La Llorona’s doing. She roams the waterways looking for the next generation of girls to baptize, filling them with more tears than any woman should have to hold. And there’s not much they can do about the Weeping Woman except to avoid walking along the riverbank at night and to try to keep their sadness in check. That’s what attracts her to them: the pain and heartache that gets passed down from one generation of women to the next.
Mercy knows this, probably better than anyone. She lost her best friend to La Llorona and almost found a watery grave herself. But she survived. Only she didn’t come back quite right and she knows La Llorona won’t be satisfied until she drags the one soul that got away back to the bottom of the river.
In a battle for her life, Mercy fights to break the chains of generational trauma and reclaim her soul free from ancestral hauntings by turning to the only things that she knows can save her: plant medicine, pulp books, and the promise of a love so strong not even La Llorona can stop it from happening. What unfolds is a stunning tale of one woman’s journey into magic, healing, and rebirth.
CW: assault, domestic violence, racism, colorism
Weep, Woman, Weep is a dark, creepy and atmospheric gothic novella following the life of Mercy, who lives in a town blighted for generations by the actions of the water witch, La Llorona. Set in New Mexico, the descriptions and tone immersed in the culture and scenery. My knowledge of the area and culture is limited; it was refreshing to be somewhere different, hear Mercy’s voice and come away with a longing to know more.
Told in first person, Mercy’s voice and voice leapt off the page and it often felt like she was sitting in the room with me recounting the story. With strong characterisation and sense of place, reading it was a highly visual and haunting experience that often sent shivers down my spine and I felt grateful I am far from any waterways. Mercy’s observations of her fellow neighbours and town folk highlighted the racial and gender prejudices and raised many questions about interactions between communities and family. Witchcraft and magic are threaded in throughout, but differently to any book I’ve read. Like many fairy tales, there are many layers that could be unpicked and discussed, making it a book you long others to read so you can have long and deep conversations. The constant threat of La Llorona and Mercy’s fight for survival against her magic made me keep turning the pages long after bedtime.
Would I recommend?
Yes, if like me you’re a fan of the unusual or gothic and haunting reads this is one to try. With a strong voice, atmospheric creepiness and powerful storytelling, it’s one to enjoy as the nights draw in and we head towards my one of my favourite times of year, Halloween.
The team at the The Enchanted Emporium would also recommend and know it will be a firm favourite with customers on the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf. In fact, if Dr Marie DeBlassie visited England, Willow would invite her for a cup of tea and a chat about all things witchy and folklore.
Dr. Maria DeBlassie is a native New Mexican mestiza and award-winning writer and educator living in the Land of Enchantment. She writes about everyday magic, ordinary gothic, and all things witchy. When she is not practicing brujeria, she’s teaching classes about bodice rippers, modern mystics, and things that go bump in the night. She is forever looking for magic in her life and somehow always finding more than she thought was there. Find out more about Maria and conjuring everyday magic at www.mariadeblassie.com.
I am thrilled to share my review for this wonderful book that is one of Amber’s favourites on the Enchanted Emporium’s bookshelf, The Coven by Lizzie Fry. Scroll down to found out why.
Book Review: The Coven by Lizzie Fry
Title: The Coven
Author: Lizzie Fry
Publisher: Little Brown Books
Genre: Fantasy, witchlit and thrillers
Release date: 25th Feb 2021
‘A compelling, prescient tale of an alternate world with far too many scary similarities to our own.’ Angela Clarke
Let me repeat myself, so we can be very clear. Women are not the enemy. We must protect them from themselves, just as much as we must protect ourselves.
Imagine a world in which witchcraft is real. In which mothers hand down power to their daughters, power that is used harmlessly and peacefully.
Then imagine that the US President is a populist demagogue who decides that all witches must be imprisoned for their own safety, as well as the safety of those around them – creating a world in which to be female is one step away from being criminal…
As witches across the world are rounded up, one young woman discovers a power she did not know she had. It’s a dangerous force and it puts her top of the list in a global witch hunt.
But she – and the women around her – won’t give in easily. Not while all of women’s power is under threat.
The Coven is a dazzling global thriller that pays homage to the power and potential of women everywhere.
I consumed this book in a day, but if I hadn’t got other things going on, I would have read it within hours. Full of magical action, fear and twists, I did not want to put it down. This dystopian novel set in our time has the feel of the Handmaid’s Tale but with the added element of witchcraft. Misogyny goes a step further and sees all women as evil, and potentially part of terrorist group if they have dealings with magic, tarot and crystals, etc. There are three types of witches – kitchen witches who can denounce their magic, crystal witches who can only perform magic when boosted by crystals so are contained in specialist camps in caves and the most feared, the Elementals. As someone who is fascinated by magic, owns several packs of tarot cards and is known to casting a good luck spell now and then, this book was disturbing. It made me feel vulnerable reading it.
It follows Chloe, an Elemental who comes into her magic with devastating results and Adalita, a crystal witch who escapes jail with the help of a rogue Sentinel, as they try to evade capture. It is an international thriller but the primary setting is one of my favourite places, Boscastle in Cornwall. It made me long to visit and when I do, knowing the connection to this story will make it more special. It is a story of friendship, and it highlights the power of women when fighting towards a common cause. The chemistry between the characters was a joy to read.
Would I recommend?
Yes! With magical explosions, conspiracy theories, twists and high tension, this highly visual novel is a thrill to read. The recent political events only adds to the tension, and it shows how political spin and control can divide families, communities and countries with horrifying results. It is a must if you love witchy books or a dystopian novel with a twist. I can’t wait to have a physical copy on my own forever shelf. Thank you Little Brown Books for my advanced copy to review and give my honest and unbiased opinion.
Recently, I found a book that immersed me into the story from the start with an outspoken, waspish centenarian witch who reluctantly takes a woman under her wing. This is one thing I’m grateful to Facebook for as it kept popping up on my newsfeed making it impossible to resist. Today I am very excited to have The Woman and the Witch’s author Amanda Larkman popping in to to talk about her book, magic, reading and writing tips. My review for her book can be found here.
The Woman and the Witch Blurb
‘I see the wood first. A knitted shawl of green and black tossed across the shoulders of the ancient hills. I take a great gulp of breath, my lungs no longer compressed by cages of contorted bone. I want to drink the cool air like water, scented as it is with earth and starlight.But as I drift close to the house, I falter. Something is wrong. I will myself on, ignoring the whispers of pain beginning to curl up from my bed-ridden body. A ball of dread is growing in my stomach; it is so terribly black and heavy it slows me down. My hands shake. The light is gone.’Nothing ever changes in the village of Witchford until the day a hundred year old, bad-tempered witch falls and breaks her hip, and a fifty year old cleaner decides her life is over. Both are haunted by ghosts, but can Frieda help Angie to find out what her long dead father is trying to tell her? And can Angie help Frieda fight off the wolf who circles ever closer?
Hi Amanda. I am thrilled you could join us today. Your book The Woman and the Witch bring together Frieda a 100 year old witch and Angie, who is in her 50s.They are two very different characters, do you share any of their traits?
I very much identify with Angie. The loss of her child was the way in which I processed the loss of my first son, James, who was stillborn at 42 weeks. But more generally, I wanted to explore a character who had ended up limping along in a marriage that died many years ago. At 50 she has resigned herself to a dull, unloved life that won’t change, her adventures are behind her. Meeting Frieda (as well as her husband’s affair) opens Angie’s eyes to everything she was capable of, getting rid of her self-limiting beliefs.
Frieda is a character I really enjoyed creating, very much based on my grandmother who I looked after for a short time when she was in her mid-90s. Absolutely uncompromising and not interested in pleasing anyone. She was very different to me – I hate upsetting people! – so I had a whale of a time having her go round being rude to people. She’s brave, strong and (despite her outward appearance and behaviour) kind. I hate the way our society overlooks and dismisses elderly people – especially women – and I wanted to explore a character who doesn’t give a stuff about ‘proper’ behaviour, and has the power to back it up, righting the wrongs she sees around her.
Angie is a character I connected to from the start, but she isn’t the young apprentice associated with books where a witch takes someone under her wing. Was this a conscious decision?
Both Frieda and Angie didn’t go down the path they were supposed to. Frieda absolutely rejected the idea of taking on a young apprentice and suffers because of that decision. Because of her father, Angie never discovered what she was capable of until she met Frieda. I supposed I subverted the young apprentice trope as I wanted to celebrate women no matter their age, while passing on and reinforcing the idea that it is never too late. Despite what society tells us, life doesn’t end at 29.
Her story gave me a boost to stop procrastinating and continue to follow my dreams. Frieda is a complex character and not the nicest person making her a joy to read when she gets her revenge however small on people by magical means. What came first the characters or the plot?
Definitely characters. The idea for the book sprang fully formed into my head when I pictured a plumber in a kitchen with a bent over, wizened old woman sitting smiling sweetly in the corner zapping him with invisible darts and making his tools fall to the floor whenever he reached for them. The idea made me laugh and got me wondering what else she could do.
The story deals with magic and ghosts. Have you ever had any supernatural experiences and if so, did this influence your storytelling?
Not really. I think of the magic in the book as being very real. I have read many studies that prove the power of nature, walking in the woods can lower your blood pressure, hugging a tree can help with anxiety… as well, of course, the recognised benefits of herbs and flowers. So. what I did with The Woman and the Witch was to take this to the next level and find a woman who could somehow harness the power and energy of the natural world.
Where did you get the idea for this book?
I think a combination of remembering my grandmother, reading articles on the restorative power of nature, and hitting 50!
What is your favourite book?
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Who is your favourite author?
Oooh impossible to choose! The ones on my list whose books I automatically order without even knowing what they are about (in no particular order) are… Marian Keyes, Sophie Hannah, Nicci French, Jilly Cooper, Kate Atkinson, Jenny Colgan, Liane Moriarty, Maggie O’Farrell, and Lisa Jewell.
It is a cruel question because it is hard to choose a favourite but some of my go to authors are on your list too. What are you currently reading?
I’m teaching Chaucer at the moment, and the whole pandemic nightmare has meant I am finding reading anything challenging really hard. So, I am currently working through Marian Keyes’ back catalogue (again) and am looking forward to re-reading ‘Rachel’s Holiday’.
Is your writing influenced by the books you have read?
Yes, definitely. I read all the time and have to work hard to not let someone else’s style leak into mine. I think I’ve only just found my voice or style and it took my thirty-five years!
Where is your favourite place to read or write?
Bed! And if my family won’t let me stay there, the kitchen table.
When did you begin writing and how did being published come about?
I’ve got drawers stuffed with terrible novels I’ve written every few years since I was about 15. I’ve spent thirty years sending them out to agents and never had any luck. I felt ‘The Woman and the Witch’ had an important message, so I spent three years making it the best it could be. Most of that time was chucking great chunks of it out and re-writing the damn thing! With a full-time job and two demanding children it was very hard to find the time and I had to be terribly selfish.
When I was finally happy with it (and I was really sick to death with it by the end!) I sent it off to agents again. Most didn’t even reply, but a couple said they liked it but as it was difficult to categorise they didn’t think it would sell well to publishers.
This time instead of giving up I thought ‘sod it, what would Frieda do?’ and decided to publish it independently. I was expecting to sell a handful of copies and for it to sink into obscurity, but people seemed to have liked it and I’ve had some lovely reviews that have sent me over the moon! I am so happy people have enjoyed it as well as being kind enough to come and tell me they liked it.
I loved it as you can see from my review here.Do you reread books or do you only read them once?
Re-read old favourites all the time.
Quite a lot of people have decided to write during lockdown. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I can only say what worked for me; everyone is different, so it’s all about finding what works for you. Marian Keyes has put together a series on becoming a writer on YouTube and its brilliant and FREE!
Write every day – I aim for 1,000 but sometimes life gets in the way. But it does get you into the groove. Even if putting a word down feels like climbing a mountain, just keep putting one foot (or word) in front of another. Eventually the brakes will come off and you’ll write a great whoosh of thousands that will tumble out of you. The next day you might be back to one word every ten minutes, but the whoosh will come back.
Get a first draft down. Even if it’s utter rubbish, get the draft down. It’s much easier to work on a rubbish draft than it is a blank page.
Don’t let anyone see it until you finish it. You need to get what is in your head down first and then tweak it. People will interfere and make you lose confidence, which is death to anything creative. Wait until your draft is pretty solid before exposing it to the cold eyes of a beta reader!
I agree with Marian Keyes series, it is wonderful and she is so open and natural in her approach. It can be found here for those wanting to give writing a try or need some advice.
Thank you Amanda for joining me today, it has been great chatting to you and I hope to read some more of your work in the future.
Amanda Larkman was born in a hospital as it was being bombed during a revolution. The rest of her upbringing, in the countryside of Kent, has been relatively peaceful.
She graduated with an English degree and has taught English for over twenty years. ‘The Woman and the Witch’ is her first novel.
Hobbies include trying to find the perfect way to make popcorn, watching her mad labradoodle run like a galloping horse, and reading brilliant novels that make her feel bitter and jealous.
She has a husband and two teenage children, all of whom are far nicer than the characters in her book.