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The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

“Men like the Prophet, who lurked and lusted after the innocent, who found joy in their pain, who brutalized and broke them down until they were nothing, exploiting those they were meant to protect. The Church, which not only excused and forgave the sins of its leaders but enabled them: with the Protocol and the market stocks, with muzzles and lashings and twisted Scriptures. It was the whole of them, the heart of Bethel itself, that made certain every woman who lived behind its gate had only two choices: resignation, or ruin.”

I’ve read many reviews comparing The Year of the Witching to The Handmaid’s Tale, but I don’t think that is quite right. They both share the theme of the subjugation of woman and girls justified by religion, to be sure, but The Year of the Witching goes further. It is more of a treatise on sexism, classism, polygamy, and racism.

The female protagonist, Immanuelle Moore, is the product of the union between her mother and and an outsider of another race. While her mother dies in childbirth, the rest Moore family is cast into disgrace. They are stripped of there lands and income.

Immanuelle tries her best to live by scriptures, teachings of the Prophet, and the protocol of the town of Bethel, but due to her mother’s actions, she is cast as an outsider with dark powers.

Bethel is surrounded by the Darkwood, where the first Prophet killed the witches living there, but it turns out the witches may be more powerful. Once Immanuelle goes into the Darkwood she is given her mother’s diary. After that, things go sideways for Immanuelle and Bethel.

The Year of the Witching is a haunting, atmospheric, brutal, and dare I say, bewitching tale. The horror creeps in with a slow burn that steadily increases into a roaring flame.

Maybe it has flavors of The Handmaid’s Tale, the FLDS cult, Salem, and VVitch, but ultimately The Year of the Witching is it’s own original tale.

And you know the old saying ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover?’ Well, you can in this case. The Year of the Witching is as beautiful and haunting as the cover art promises it to be.

5/5 stars

Happy reading y’all,

Wendy

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book review YA fiction

Raybearer

The world-building in this young adult fantasy novel is just intense and all-encompassing that I genuinely felt like I could see it in my mind’s eye. Tarisai is the only daughter of someone called The Lady. Her sole purpose is unclear at the beginning and it turns out to boil down to complete obedience.

This is a fast read, and the whole time I was flipping pages, I wondered what would happen next. It’s one of those books where you want to know how it all wraps up without it being over.
If you are missing a magical universe, this may be your new favorite series. I’m suffering from a bit of a book hangover. The writing is just excellent, and the world is so vast. Don’t even get me started on the back story. chef’s kiss

I’ve never read anything inspired by West African folklore, and apparently, I need to read more about these types of fantasies becauseā€”I AM OBSESSED; from everything to the tutsu sprites, the Ray magic, the animals, the vibrant settings. Just. . . ALL OF THE THINGS. They were so beautifully written, and I felt like I was there; as if I could feel the warm breeze, and the aroma of the villages, and the spirit of the people.
This is one you won’t want to miss. I read this as an ARC, and my only small complaint is that there was no map to help me decipher the geography of this vast world.

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So Many Books, So Little Time

I am usually monogamous reader. Sometimes I’ll read two at time, one audio book and one hard copy. I’m reading so many books right now that I’m surprised that I can keep all the plots straight. Instead of a book review I’m just gonna give a run down of what I’m reading.

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi – This is actually a reread. The first time through I listened to the audio book. I really loved that it was read by the author. I could feel his passion coming through his narration. The problem is that I binged it. It was so good and had so much good information in it that I listened to it straight through. It was very eye opening for this white girl. I,of course, knew that systemic, institutional was rampant, only I didn’t realize how bad things really were. This time through I am reading a chapter a day with journal, pen, and highlighter in hand. There is a lot in information for me to take in without taking notes. As a side note, I think this book should be required high school reading.

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis – As soon as I found out video essayist Lindsay Ellis was writing a book I’ve been chomping at the bit to read it. I decided to listen to this one, mainly because one of the narrators is Oliver Thorne of the YouTube channel Philosophy Tube. I am a little bummed that he uses an American accent rather than his actual British accent. That’s not too much of a quibble; he’s still very dreamy. I used to inhale science fiction, but I haven’t been able to get into it for the past couple of years; this book has broken the spell. I started it yesterday, and I’m about three quarters of the way through it. Axiom’s End is a fresh take on the first contact trope.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Mass – I’m about half way through the second book in the series. ACOTAR is so far outside of my usual genres, but I wanted to see what the hype was all about. I went in with very low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised. I mean, it’s not great, deep literature, but sometimes I need to read something that I don’t have to think too hard about. ACOTAR fits that bill.

The Sandman audio book – by Neil Gaiman. I used an Audible credit to preorder it as soon as it was available. It is a full-cast reading with ambient background noise. Now I understand why everyone crowded around the radio back in ye olden days, It’s so good that I’m limiting myself to one episode a day. I want to savor it. I’ve read the graphic novels at least four times, and I would put the audio performance on par, if not better, than the graphic novels.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert – I’m only three chapters into this one, but I think I’m really going to love it. It’s chock full of witty British banter, which is always a plus. I also like that the protagonist is a little overweight and has an invisible disability. Both of those plot points are highly relatable to me.

Real Men Knit -by Kwana Jackson – Real Men Knit has gotten many bad reviews. I’m not far enough into yet to say whether or not I agree with the reviews. The only thing I do as much or more than reading is knit socks, so I’m attracted to any book with the word ‘knitting’ in the title.

All this is in addition to the 20 books on my TBR cart, my lifetime project of reading every Pulitzer Prize winning fiction/novel category book, and the seven books I picked up at the library today.

It’s a tad overwhelming but overall a good problem to have.

What kind of readers are y’all? One or two books at the time or everything you can get your grubby little paws on all at once?

Happy Reading,

Wendy

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Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun By Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke

“Her mother said fairy tales didn’t have anything to do with the world, but Ofelia knew better. They had taught her everything about it.”

I love fairy tales, not the sanitized Disney versions, but real fairy tales. Gritty and raw. I’m rapidly galloping toward 49, and they still haven’t lost their charm for me. I also believe fairy tales are one of the most important things you can share with your children. Fairy tales stoke the imagination and provide a bit of a scare within safe confines.

I’m just going to put this out there: I stan (as my kids would say) Guillermo del Tor (henceforth known as GDT for the sake of brevity and because it’s 1:30 AM.) Hellboy, the first Pacific Rim, The Shape of Water, and, of course, Pan’s Labyrinth. In fact, Pan’s Labyrinth is my all-time favorite movie, so you can imagine my delight when I found the book version at Barnes and Noble. The book is so gorgeous that I checked it out of the library to read. That way my beloved copy would stay pristine. Some of you get that, I’m sure. I keep it in my curio cabinet with the GDT Funko Pop my boyfriend bought me as a just because present.

GDT’s incredible movie + Cornelia Funke’s achingly beautiful reimagining = Perfection

Pan’s Labyrinth is set in fascist Spain in 1944. The protagonist, Ofelia, is a thirteen year old girl, the beloved daughter of a tailor and a seamstress. Her world is changed for the worse when her doting father dies, and her mother marries a cruel officer in Franco’s military force. Ofelia’s mother is going through a high-risk pregnancy, and has to spend most of her time in bed.

The book has brave rebels, fairies, quests, a morally ambiguous faun, and a possible long lost princess. It has tragedy and beauty, and it gives me all the feels.

I think this the first book adapted from a movie that I have loved as much as the movie. I highly recommend the book and movie. The movie is in Spanish with English subtitles. If that’s not your thing, read the book. It follows the movie to the T.

One caveat: it is sold as a children’s book, but I would suggest reading it first yourself before reading it to a child younger than about fifth grade. There are some violent scenes that could be deeply troubling to a young, sensitive soul.

Happy Reading Y’all,

Wendy

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book review YA fiction

The Extraordinaries

I read another of TJ Klune’s books: Middle Grade The House in the Cerulean Sea a couple of months ago, and I found myself just smitten with his writing style.

This is his YA debut, and it not only features superheroes in an urban setting. It contains some pretty “extra” teens. This friend group is precisely the one you’d want to go through high school today. This queer coming-of-age story about a fanboy with ADHD and the heroes that he loves captured my heart. Nick is a dork, his Dad is great, this book is both #ownvoices and #neurodiverse. Most of all you will laugh so much.

Parental Note: I’d say it is a story for older teens. Like, if you let them read Tumblr it’s fine for them. And this story is unabashedly pro- police. The police get in the way of the superheroes and are excused for bad behavior again and again. You can get some pretty good discussion fodder out of this, and I wouldn’t let it go without a discussion of Police in the real world.

And more good news, it’s the start of a series!!

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Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Fair Warning is the third, and most recent, installment in Michael Connelly’s Jack McAvoy series. Our plucky, serial killer hunting reporter is now working at a consumer watchdog blog called Fair Warning.

When a woman Jack had a one night stand with over a year ago is brutally murdered, Jack is inexplicably named a suspect. While researching the murder to clear his name, against the advice of his editor, the police, FBI, and his cohort Rachel, Jack stumbles onto the world of DNA sharing.

A second party lab is screening DNA samples to find commonalities for people with addictions or who engage in risky behavior. The DNA of women with these markers is then being sold on the the internet to Incels (involuntary celibates.) This subset of men hate women and think women owe them sex. The DNA samples are therefore used to nefarious ends.

This book will make one regret ever using a service such as ancestry dot com or 23 and me.

I hope Michael Connelly writes more Jack McAvoy novels in the future. Until then I shall bide my time with Harry Bosch and The Lincoln Lawyer.

Happy reading,

Wendy

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book review homeschool nonfiction

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion

Can I give all of the stars to this Little House books companion guide? Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder made me the reader/writer that I am today. I’ve homeschooled my kids using these books and various guides that didn’t work for us in any cohesive way because they were either religious or too babyish. This companion book is just right. The history and background of the events opened up for discussion in a natural, non forced way are rare in homeschool materials. The activities are fun and work. I wish I had this available back in the day. At least its here now, and I’m giddy with mixing it into our American History studies this year! Now that just about everyone is homeschooling, this book should be a big hit. You can even get it in time for the new school year- August 4, 2020

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book review YA fiction

The Princess Will Save You

A YA retelling twist up inspired by the Princess Bride is exactly what you need to be reading during these crazy pandemic days. Let yourself be whisked into the Kingdom of Sand and Sky. When King Sendoa mysteriously dies his daughter Princess Armarande of Ardenia (love that alliteration) is compelled by law to get married or lose the crown. She is only sixteen so this proves to be difficult to both accept as her father trained her to fight, not a figurehead.

The plot soon picks up speed and becomes exactly what fans of The Princess Bride enjoy: a journey to save her true love Luca filled with adventure and sword play!

This was a fun one for the YA reader in your world. It seems like the kind of book you either love or hate. I loved it. There isn’t much more to say after that.

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The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

The Scarecrow is the second book in the Jack McAvoy series by Michael Connelly, famous for his Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer books.

Even though I am a huge Michael Connelly fan, I had never heard of his character, Jack McAvoy, until the newest book in the series came out this year. I’m sad that I missed these books, but I’m very happy to have discovered them. I reviewed the first book, The Poet, earlier this week. It was a good book, with a great story line, but it bogged down a bit in the middle. Well, with The Scarecrow, Jack McAvoy hits his stride. The characters are well fleshed out, and the story is top notch.

The Scarecrow picks up about ten years after the events in The Poet. Our man Jack has just been given two weeks notice at his job at the LA Times. The only reason they give him two weeks is so he can train his replacement, a recent college graduate who is willing to do Jack’s job for about half of Jack’s salary.

The same day Jack is told of his pending loss of job he receives a call from a very irate mother. Her son, Alonzo Winslow, has confessed to a murder he didn’t commit. As Jack looks into this he uncovers something much, much larger.

The Jack McAvoy books follow technology. The Poet was set in the early days of digital photography. Written in 2009, The Scarecrow, deals with internet farms and identity theft. I can wait to see what Fair Warning Brings.

CW/ These are crime novels about serial killers. They deal in violence against women and children. I, personally, love crime novels. Maybe it’s the intrigue; maybe it’s about the bad guy being caught and punished at the end. I don’t really know why they appeal to me so much. Maybe I just have a warped mind. lol

Happy reading.

Wendy

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book review fiction

Magic Lessons

Most of the books I read these days are Advanced Reading Copies. I try not to post reviews too far ahead of time, but lately, everything great that I’ve got in my stack is a Fall release. This prequel falls into that category with an October 6 release date.

Although this is part of a series, you do not need to have read either Practical Magic or The Rules of Magic to have a satisfying reading experience with this story. If you have read and loved either of these books, you’ll also want to read it. Practical Magic published first in the 1990’s has endured in its popularity in part due to the 1998 movie version. The Rules of Magic is the prequel to that story with the Aunts’ childhood explored through the 1960s-1970s. Adding this prequel and going back to the 1600s leaves plenty of books/time to cover many years and Owens women to catch up until now. I’m hoping for more Owens stories!

Maria Owens is a name known as the witch who cursed all men who would love an Owens woman to an early death. It isn’t too much else said about her in Practical Magic, and we know that she lived during the Salem Witch Trials and that she was so broken-hearted that she wished to save future Owens women from similar heartache. In this novel, we read Maria’s story when she is an infant left behind by her biological mother for kind Hannah Owens to find and raise.

In many ways, this book reads more like historical fiction than the first two installments.

Maria becomes involved with John Hathorne, who was a judge during the Salem Witch trials, a rather evil one who never apologized for his actions, and who was also the great-great-grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author, who may have added the w to his name to distance himself from his family.

Alice Hoffman in an interview with Library Journal

Once you add real people into a fictional story, it becomes undeniably more plausible that the story may be more accurate than not. I adored those details in this story. Maria travels from the old world to the new and then within the colonies, and the story turns and twists through real events, all while staying true to these fictional character arcs. ( And yes, I know the definition of magical realism)

The origin of Maria Owens wasn’t a happy story, yet it is compelling in its realism. I felt like this is the perfect book to read in 2020, when so many of us are awash in terrible circumstances.

The traditional rules of magic ring true:

“Do as you will, but harm no one. What you give will be returned threefold.”