The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke

The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy in exchange for a review.

I didn’t like this one. Too many ideas thrown in the story blender, not enough of any one of them to create something great. Too much changeling panic. Too much purple prose and telling, not showing. Not enough atmosphere. Definitely not enough witches. Too many clueless women running around reacting to bad things happening to them instead of having agency and making real decisions, and this largely seemed to be so that they could each slowly find out a piece of the puzzle so the reader didn’t get information too quickly. Most of the critical information came from a man’s diary instead of the women actually being smart and figuring things out. The jacket copy sounded so promising. What a disappointment.

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Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The more I think about this book, the more I love it. Came for the ghosts, gods, and family drama, was very excited for the surprise GANGSTERS. All the elements (characters, plot, surprises) are very well balanced. The story moves at a good clip that feels urgent without tossing all the character and family development aside to be a straight thriller.

I enjoyed this so much, I struggled to write a review because I couldn’t identify any single thing that made this book stand out. All of it was so good, and all of it worked so well together.

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St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid, by C.L. Polk

St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid by C.L. Polk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Listened to the Levar Burton Reads podcast of this story, and his reading is fantastic. I really appreciate that he highlighted Teresa’s inner landscape of acknowledging, receiving, and giving love. There are a lot of things going on this story, and that wouldn’t necessarily have been the element that stood out to me the most, but it is at the heart of the character, and drives the story above all other aspects.

This story has so many things I love – witching, witching with bees, birdcage elevators, women being strong in different ways, academic competitive friendships, and horrible people getting what they deserve.

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Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise

Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and Titan Books for the free e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A.C. Wise does not flinch in this brutal and feminist take on Neverland and what happened after for Wendy Darling. She explores the consequences of capturing Peter Pan’s attention and the disenfranchisement of women who stepped out of line or failed to meet male expectations in the early 20th century.

I’ve been reading A.C. Wise’s short fiction here and there for a few years, and was really excited to sink my teeth into a whole novel, especially a female-centric take on the Peter Pan mythos. I recently re-watched Hook, and as much as I love the twists that film takes, as much as I appreciate a fathers-and-sons story, there are ladies in this sandbox, too, and they are often marginalized and underutilized when writers decide to play with Pan.

This was not an easy book to read. It was an adventure, and it was satisfying, but it was not fun. It was a pleasure to arrive at Wendy’s self-actualization and triumph, but difficult to follow her through her valley of despair along the way. While Wise doesn’t flinch, she still handles with care. She makes interesting rather than easy choices, and goes for nuance over cliché. Native and queer characters and experiences are given places of prominence, and the darkness at the heart of Peter Pan is at the center rather than the edges, interrogated rather than left to the subtext.

I don’t want to give spoilers, so I’ll give a warning instead: read this book only if you’re prepared for some darkness and to be challenged. The rewards are worth the risk.

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A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a cookie look smug.

What a fun and sarcastic delight from start to finish. The love child of Diana Wynn Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle and Tamora Pierce’s Wild Magic, wholly its own while also finding a place amongst these inspirational greats. Surprised to read in the acknowledgements that Kingfisher (Vernon) wrote this ten years ago, as the themes and circumstances felt very current. Just shows that being anti-fascist is always necessary and never goes out of style.

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