The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 3. Title starting with the letter “E”

Other Possible Prompts: 14. A character with superhuman ability, 34. An author’s photo on the back cover, 37. Set in a rural area, 41. Involves a second chance, 42. An indie read, 43. Author who’s published in more than one genre, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover

I’m on a streak of some really *meh* books, which SUCKS because I was quite excited for this one! I was hoping for The Hating Game meets Payback’s a Witch, but no such luck.

Nine years ago, Vivienne and her cousin cursed her ex-boyfriend with a Bath & Body Works candle. After a wonderful three months, she broke it off with witch Rhys Penhallow and promptly labeled him a dickbag – but now he’s back, home to charge the ley lines that power the witchery of Vivi’s town, and the curse she didn’t really think worked apparently very, very much did.

Now, the pair have to work together to shut down living toys and ghosts, and other witchy antics haunting the little town as a result of Rhys’ curse, which he passed on through the ley lines. The proximity and the unresolved feelings make Rhys and Vivi’s relationship sizzle with some lightning intensity.

Without a doubt, this relationship was *sizzling*. The romance in this book is steamy and entertaining, if nothing else. Truthfully, I didn’t initially like Rhys and Vivi for each other…and I still didn’t really, by the end of the novel, but it mattered less because they never turned out to be super round or relatable characters so I wasn’t even mad. I felt like their backstories were generic and their reactions to things very neutral/unimaginative. I don’t know how else to describe it, other than I legitimately did not care about either of these characters, but Sterling writes some good romance *scenes*. That’s where all the magic happens.

I really want more from my witch books than The Ex Hex had to offer. I enjoyed Payback’s a Witch so much because it did a great job blending the romance and the witchy world; there was a lot of substance to that story and a lot of magic interspersed. That’s a series that will carry itself on the magic alone. The Ex Hex falls flat in comparison. I didn’t even really get the cozy vibe of a fall novel from this one, though I am reading it in 80 degrees…so that could be my fault. I just expect more from books about witches than Sterling was able to deliver.

I feel like I’m just entirely trashing this book here, but I evidently enjoyed it at least a little bit. And it really wasn’t that bad, it just wasn’t that good. The romance part was really solid, as I mentioned, but the rest of it was not stellar.

I think I will still pick up The Kiss Curse, especially because I really liked Gwyn’s character more than I liked Vivi. I had the potential to like Vivi more; I liked that she didn’t grow up as a witch, that she was coming into her own power in this book…but it was poorly executed. Gwyn had more warmth, character, and personality, so I’m excited to see her story play out on the page. Though I have to say, somewhat disappointed that we went from the f/f lead up created in The Ex Hex to whatever f/m magic is happening in The Kiss Curse.

And in conclusion, I would like to say that Sir Purrcival the cat was my very favorite character. He reminded me of my own kitties. I would be a witch in another life, and Eloise would be my Sir Purrcival.

Have a lovely week, friends!

Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Cackle by Rachel Harrison

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 35. From the villain’s perspective

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 6. Household object on the cover, 14. A character with superhuman ability, 37. Set in a rural area

I have some thoughts on Rachel Harrison. And some thoughts on Cackle. Some thoughts. And I’m going to say before anything, this is probably going to be my most spoiler-filled review ever, because there’s just no way to talk about the meat and potatoes of this story without ruining some of it for you – so if you plan on reading this at some point, bookmark my review and come back to it once you’ve finished this book.

After a breakup from a relationship that lasted ten years, Annie is forced to up and move from NYC to a remote town upstate called Rowan, where the townspeople are nice and the shops quaint, and take a new teaching job there. Luckily, as she’s settling in, she manages to befriend a sweet and welcoming woman of indeterminate age by the name of Sophie.

As Annie’s life becomes more droll and depressing, more chaotic and hard to deal with, her friendship with Sophie remains a constant. The women care for each other, Sophie dotes on Annie, and the mansion Sophie resides in becomes a harbor against the storm for Annie and her inner turmoil over her breakup. But weird things are adding up, and the townspeople’s original niceties begin to twist into something more like suspicion, until Annie’s not sure who the “good guy” is anymore.

So I guess my biggest thing with this is that in The Return, which obviously, I absolutely adored, there is some weird, ew, uncomfy feelings about the the main character’s relationship to others in the story. And I don’t mean that to come off as questionable romantic relationships. I’m actually referring to their friendships…Elise of The Return and Annie of Cackle both come from these dark pits of despair when they walk into the story. Whether it’s feelings of guilt or loss or both, they walk into our set stage just absolutely miserable. And I think, after reading both books, this is what makes them susceptible to the weird. To the horrific. What desensitizes them and draws them into it. The series of events that transpire before Rachel sits down to write these books perfectly positions them to accept the horrors of these toxic relationships.

Because that’s what Annie and Sophie are…a toxic relationship. Sophie is domineering and bossy, and a bit frightening. She uses gifts and showing constant, overbearing attention as a way to keep neglected, broken Annie coming back for more. Even when the signs could not be clearer that something is wrong, Annie convinces herself of Sophie’s goodwill in favor of being alone, or not being liked by someone as much as Sophie seems to like her. And it is Annie’s behavior and attitude, above all, that ruined this story for me. With the two of them like this, and Elise and Julie from the last novel like that…I can’t help but ask myself whether this is conscious or unconscious on Harrison’s part. Does she know she’s writing toxic relationships, or is she living them? That’s concerning in the way it comes out in her writing, in the way it’s romanticized, and in the way it plays out so horrifyingly.

Not to mention, this book is not nearly as scary as The Return. The Return scared the bejeezus out of me, kept me up at night! Cackle got me a few times with good jump scares, but nothing like it needed to be. Those jump scares are also never tied – there’s something missing from the end of this book that prevents it from being finished with a neat little bow. It didn’t do it for me in the horror capacity, and the story was lacking in that sense as well.

Clearly, there’s a point to this story. The not-so-subtle messaging about women, relationships, and power are center stage in this book, especially in the latter half. Obviously, being pop culture of a witchy nature, those themes are bound to come up, but I think they were meant to carry the novel in a way they just, *didn’t*. To some more inclined to think women can’t be truly wicked, I’m sure this novel is full of frights. To most who know the truth, this is nothing more than a revenge story turned empowered.

I wanted to like this. I wanted to LOVE this. But I just don’t, I can’t. Annie ruined it for me, and while I think Sophie was meant to be endearing to start, to persuade you like to her and follow Annie’s line of thinking, I disliked her from the first. It really surprised me just how much I didn’t care for Cackle when I absolutely loved Harrison’s debut and this one was supposed to be even better. Well. Can’t win them all.

My advice would be to skip this one, but I’m not against Rachel Harrison just yet. I will give her next release the good ol’ college try.

Have an awesome week, pals.

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 41. Involves a Second Chance

Other Possible Prompts: 2. Featuring a library or bookstore, 5. Chapters have titles, 14. A character with superhuman ability, 37. Set in a rural area

This book!!! Too much fun. I legitimately have not read a fantasy book I enjoyed this much in many, many years. It wasn’t entirely what I was expecting – it was better.

After years away, Emmy Harlow returns to her hometown of Thistle Grove in anticipation of a house competition for the town’s founding family witches – over which she is to preside. But there’s good reason for her being gone so long: one of the other witches, Gareth Blackmoore, left her ten years before and made her feel inconsequential – as the Harlows are considered to be the weaker witches, and do not participate in the tournament that brings strength and prosperity to its crowned family. Emmy left magic behind in exchange for leaving behind a family legacy that followed her around like a storm cloud.

Back in Thistle Grove, Emmy and the other houses – Avramov and Thorn – are teaming up. Having been similarly scorned, her best friend Linden and the mysterious Talia Avermov are working together to put the Blackmoores, and Gareth especially, back in their place. But all that time together seems to be creating some sparks between Emmy and Talia…

There’s a lot going on this book so it is a bit hard to describe for you – but I think part of the action and imagination is what makes it so good. As I said, this is one of the first fantasy books I’ve read in a long, long time – I expected magical realism, but it’s pretty far into a fantasy realm. And I actually loved it! Payback’s a Witch was easily accessible and yet tons of fun. The whimsy and magic of it all was a great ride.

The romance was also adorable! That’s what I actually was reading it for – I honestly didn’t realize it was such an in-depth fantasy, though I live for witches and witchy vibes. And even jumping into a romance, I didn’t know this was queer romance, lol. Somehow I missed that – I don’t tend to read descriptions as much anymore, so I just jumped right into the book. After a few minutes, I actually laughed out loud at my own confusion…”That’s odd, I feel like they’re implying that Talia is the love interest? That’s an odd way to describe her if she isn’t.” Silly me! Really not sure how I missed that but oh my lord, are they cute!

I also loved Emmy and Linden’s friendship. It was sweet and genuine, and riddled with shared history that you could feel through the story. Sometimes I read a romance, and I honestly like the best friends more than I like the couple. Sometimes romance stories can feel disingenuine, but a writer can almost always capture best friends. But Linden and Emmy really compliment the romance and highlight the levels of intimacy differences between Talia and Emmy. Linden and Emmy’s sweet moments of friendship build even better expectations of connection between Talia and Emmy.

The storyline, and the ending, absolutely killed it. I can’t even express to you how much this reignited the vibes I gathered from my middle school, fantasy-reading days (but like, obviously…this one is not meant for middle schoolers!). I also want to note that I listened to this as an audiobook, and the performance and reader was very good. I love, love, loved it!

There’s a sequel coming! I’m told there’s another Witches of Thistle Grove book on the horizon…and I literally cannot wait. This book was just tons of fun. That’s the best way to describe it. Please check it out!!

Book List: Spooky Season Reads

Book List: Spooky Season Reads

All who know me, and perhaps all that read this blog, know that spooky season is my absolute favorite. Trips to Salem, horror movies, apple picking, pumpkin spice everything, trick or treating…Halloween is simply my favorite. I couldn’t let the month of October go by without listing some of my favorite reads to get me in the mood.

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads was an absolute treat to read last year. It’s a super sweet fall romance and has the most beautiful fall art to get you in the spirit. Deja and Josie have worked at an epic pumpkin patch (that more captures the entire spirit of fall, honestly) every September and October for three years. Their friendship has blossomed over that time, but they always say goodbye every Halloween and part ways. This year, their senior year and the last year they’ll be able to spend working at the patch, Deja is on a mission to get Josie to talk to the girl he’s been quietly crushing on the whole time – and they go on one epic fall adventure on their very last day to get there. Rowell and Hicks are literal masters, and even better together. No spooks here, though, just sweet fall vibes almost as good as a pumpkin spice latte. Check out my full review here, and get yourself a copy here.

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

The Wicked Deep is a fun and creepy novel with Hocus Pocus vibes written all over it. It’s like if Hocus Pocus was rated PG-13 (which, who are we kidding ourselves…it probably should be right?!). While it didn’t get tons of attention upon release, I think it probably should have. It was a great spin with incredible Halloween vibes to get you in the ~spirit~ (puns 100% intended). I’ve recommended it to tons of friends over the years because it just delivers the right amount of spook. Get a copy for yourself here.

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Another graphic novel, and another absolute delight! Werewolf Tam has returned to their hometown to deal with a mysterious demon in the woods. Teen witch Nova is still around, doing her magic apprenticeship with her grandmas at their magic bookshop. When the pair of childhood friends reunite in their effort to stop an evil force much bigger than they imagined, sparks fly in an adorable romance full of magic and whimsy. This one is perfectly timely when it comes to Halloween reads, and it’s spooky while also being sweeter than pumpkin pie. Check out my full review here, and get a copy of your own here.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Hill House is classically creepy. You may have seen the show of the same name: as much as I LOVE the Netflix original, for all its ghosts and ghouls, it’s nothing at all like the book. The book is unsettling in a whole new way. Four strangers arrive at Hill House looking for evidence of a haunting: the doctor, his assistant, a young woman, and the heir to the home. Creepy things ensue, but something is just not quite right here. It’s hard to truly convey the wild plot of this incredible novel, but one thing is for certain: it’s the way that Shirley Jackson writes her novels that make them truly horrifying. Get your own copy here.

Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer

Nothing says Halloween like the Salem Witch Trials…to me, anyway. My close friends and I make our annual pilgrimage to Salem, Massachusetts in the autumn months and spend time in witchy shops, walking the grounds of the cemetery, and admiring the Salem Witch House. Witches: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem examines the details of the witch trials, the possible causes backed by science, and the social motivations that fueled the fire in Salem. If you’ve never taken the time to really learn about it, it’s a wonderful introduction, small in size but quality in information. Moreover, it pairs even better with a trip to Salem. Get a copy from an indie bookstore here.

Some honorable mentions that didn’t make my list: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton; The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters; The Shining by Stephen King; and My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. If you get to them…enjoy them! Hope you all have the most wonderful spooky season.

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As I’m sure the name “The Charmed Librarian” suggests, I love anything witchy! So when I saw the cover for Mooncakes I just couldn’t resist.

Werewolf Tam has returned to their hometown to deal with a mysterious demon in the woods. Teen witch Nova is still around, doing her magic apprenticeship with her grandmas at their magic bookshop. When the pair of childhood friends reunite in their effort to stop an evil force much bigger than they imagined, sparks fly in an adorable romance full of magic and whimsy. 🙂

This graphic novel is the perfect Halloween read! I was so excited to see that its release date will give readers the time to enjoy it and get in the Halloween spirit. I love a little magic in my books all year long, so I enjoyed it in mid-August all the same!

I have to share this little tidbit from the letter to the readers: Mooncakes was written by best friends. As Xu and Walker moved far apart, they used a creative partnership in creating Mooncakes to keep their friendship alive, and I could see it on every page. The connection between characters, the way they felt about one another and interacted, was really sweet and earnest and I was glad I began the read knowing this about them and their story!

I particularly loved the cast of characters in this book: Tam and Nova were lovely, but they were supported by friends and family with a lot of heart. I loved Nova’s grandmas sweet and supportive demeanors, and her friend Tat played the perfect friend role, without jealousy or confrontation for Nova’s new romantic relationship and rekindled childhood friendship. It was a feel-good book, if only for the sweet way these characters took care of each other.

There is also something wonderful to be said about the diversity of these characters! All but Tat are part of Chinese-American culture, giving shape to the name of the story. Tam is non-binary, both characters are queer, and Nova is hearing-impaired. I loved it – it was really authentic, and gave the story some awesome representation.

My biggest complaint, and the reason I didn’t give this book five stars, is because I felt like those characters lacked a certain depth. You don’t see it often with graphic novels, but I think there’s a level of character development required to really get absorbed into any book. I need to feel connected and attached to them. I didn’t get enough background to Nova and Tam’s story, didn’t get thrown straight into the witch and werewolf world like I wanted to, and my feelings about the book reflect that. The story is clearly coming-of-age set on a magical stage, and I think it sets the scene for more. There’s a lot of room for growth in a sequel story, or a whole series of adventures, and I would certainly read them!

Mooncakes will be available on October 15, 2019! An advance copy of the book was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley for review.