Review: Toil & Trouble Anthology

Posted by Jessi (Geo) on 13 August, 2018 | 0 Comments



Review: Toil & Trouble AnthologyToil & Trouble by Andrea Cremer, Anna-Marie McLemore, Brandy Colbert, Brenna Yovanoff, Elizabeth May, Emery Lord, Jessica Spotswood, Kate Hart, Lindsay Smith, Nova Ren Suma, Robin Talley, Shveta Thakrar, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Tess Sharpe, Tristina Wright, Zoraida Cordova
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Harlequin Teen (8.28.2018)
eARC, 304 pages
Source: NetGalley


3.5 Stars

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.

From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely--has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.

My Review

The stories in this one were extremely hit or miss for me. While there were a few I loved, there were also a lot I didn’t love. I did enjoy the culture and diversity in this one, though! These stories feature a myriad of POC and LGBTQ+ characters. I also quite loved the girl power that this book had going for it!

Favorite stories: Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff, Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May, Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith, The Legend of Stone Mary by Robin Talley

Starsong by Tehlor Kay Mejia

3 Stars

This one was cute! I was skeptical at first because the MC of the novella, Luna, is extremely shallow. She’s the exact opposite of me – contours her face (waste of time), gets her nails done (waste of money), and always looks like she’s ready for a photoshoot. Not a character I can connect with, considering I literally never wear makeup, don’t care about the way I dress, and the only money I ever spend on ‘pampering’ myself is to have my hair professionally dyed. But I enjoyed the writing style and found it to be engaging, and I love astrology, so I loved that part of it!

Someone paints a picture of you. It’s not a photo. Your hair is more blue than black, your eyes more gold, but does that mean it can’t tell you anything about yourself?

I loved that explanation of astrology!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 3/5
Writing Style: 4/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 3.5/5
Feels: 0/5

Afterbirth by Andrea Cremer

4 Stars

Okay, in the first couple of pages I was super iffy. It was a hrreligious for me, and it’s also historical, and anyone who knows me at all knows I hate anything historical. But, when I got to the part about the birth I was hooked! I actually found it quite interesting, and I loved the idea of the book and its secrets. Especially the way it had been passed on! The way it was told jumped back and forth between the first person POV as events happened and a third person account of the trial after said events, which seems like it’d be hard to follow but it really worked for me. I kind of wish there had been more to this one!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 4/5
Writing Style: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 4/5
Feels: 3/5

The Heart in Her Hands by Tess Sharpe

3 Stars

This was a good story about creating your own destiny! I loved the concept of the soulmark and everything it entailed, and I thought it was awesome that Bettina basically gave the bird to the idea of her soulmate and made her own choice – her childhood best friend and the love of her life. I liked the magic in this one a lot, and I especially liked how she turned things around in the end. View Spoiler »

While the concept was intriguing, I wasn’t a huge fan of the prose in this one.

Overall Assessment

Premise: 4/5
Writing Style: 3/5 
Characters: 3.5/5
Pace: 3.5/5
Feels: 1/5

Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith

4.5 Stars

This was such a cool story! I loved that it was a little bit dark. The main character served the Lady of Slumber (Death, basically), which was totally awesome. The prose was engaging and kept me interested. I think this would have made a great full length novel. I definitely want to check out more of the author’s work!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 5/5
Writing Style: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4.5/5
Feels: 2/5

The Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert

4 Stars

Okay, so I despise love triangles. And this one made me feel a bit sick, because it would be horrible to be in Queenie’s shoes. But at the same time, it means I connected to her, so that’s good! I actually really liked Queenie as a character. I would have liked to have more of this story! I enjoyed Brandy’s storytelling a lot. My favorite part of this story was the catharsis at the end – but it wasn’t about anyone else, it was about Queenie. She did it for herself and it was awesome!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 4/5
Writing Style: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Feels: 4/5

The Moonapple Menagerie by Shveta Thakrar

2.5 Stars

What in the world did I just read?? This is the second short story I’ve read by this author – the first one was in A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, and I quite liked it, but I do remember thinking it was borderline magical realism. This one wasn’t, but it was still very whimsical and kind of strange, almost in a disjointed manner? I had some trouble following what was going on – mostly, telling the difference between the play in the story and the actual story itself. It was a little bit confusing. I was intrigued by the premise, though! And the storytelling was enchanting. Not sure how I feel about it, haha!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 3.5/5
Writing Style: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3.5/5
Feels: 0/5

The Legend of Stone Mary by Robin Talley

4.5 Stars

Wow, I loved this one!! The prose was highly engaging and I was really digging Talley’s storytelling. And the story was awesome, too! I loved the mystery of Mary’s statue and the legend of her curse. View Spoiler » Would have made for a great full length novel for sure. I would love to check out more of Robin’s work!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 5/5
Writing Style: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Feels: 3/5

The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma

4 Stars

That was…interesting? The way the Circle scenes were written was definitely intriguing. This one is kind of like a tease though, because you never really get anything. A lot of it is left up to your imagination. It was weird but I liked it!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 4/5
Writing Style: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 4/5
Feels: 1/5

Divine are the Stars by Zoraida Cordova

1 Stars

WTF did I just read? I don’t even know how to review this one. For the first half I was bored out of my ever loving mind (pretty bad for a story that’s only like 12 pages long), and for the second half I had no clue what the hell was going on. It read like magical realism, which I hate. Not for me at all.

Overall Assessment

Premise: 2/5
Writing Style: 1/5
Characters: 1/5
Pace: 1/5
Feels: 0/5

Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff

5 Stars

The moon is full, and even the stars are scared of me.

Whoa, that was BAD. ASS!!! Going in I figured this would be hit or miss for me – I hated Fiendish and really enjoyed The Space Between. But I was pleasantly surprised!! First of all, the writing style is amazing and engaging. Even though it was high school stuff happening most of the time, I was never bored. Brenna has a way of making mundane things interesting!

Secondly, this short was SO quotable!! I don’t even know what the narrator’s Russian name was, but the line everyone calls me Stony, and sometimes, I just want to bite a hole in the world. YOU GO, GIRL. I don’t know, I just found that inherently bad ass?! Then later, there was this one: With silver nails and the right kind of smile, you can bite through anything. TELL ME MOAR. Keep going, Ironteeth Witch. (winks)

I also LOVE LOVE LOVED her answer to slut shaming:

[…]Wyatt Carlson broke up with Katya R., and then called her a slut all over school even though that’s a two-person activity and it’s not exactly like he just fell in there accidentally.

BEST. LINE. EVER.

Also this:

(after Maya called her a pizda, I’ll let you look that one up lol) I was just mad. Mad at Maya, and mad that the meanest, most hateful thing that someone could say was just another way of pointing out that you were a girl.

I honestly loved the girl-power-rise-up-against-female-injustice feel it had to it, kind of like The Female of the Species. And the last line was totally bad ass too! *fist pump*

I also loved the Russian culture in this one! Basically it was awesome and I wish it were longer. Kudos, Brenna. Kudos.

Overall Assessment

Premise: 4/5
Writing Style: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
Pace: 5/5
Feels: 4.5/5

The Well Witch by Kate Hart

4 Stars

Well that was depressing O_O

I mean, I enjoyed the story despite it being historical (I hate historical). But my goodness I need some rainbows and unicorns after that.

Also, a cliffhanger on a short story?! I NEED TO KNOW. Sigh.

Overall Assessment

Premise: 4/5
Writing Style: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4/5
Feels: 4/5

Beware of Girls With Crooked Mouths by Jessica Spotswood

4 Stars

Hmm, what an interesting story! I really liked the concept of the sister witches and the family curse for the sisters to destroy each other. I think I would have loved to see this as a full length novel! The ending was rather unsatisfying, though. I want more!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 4.5/5
Writing Style: 4/5
Characters: 3.5/5
Pace: 4/5
Feels: 3/5

Love Spell by Anna-Marie McLemore

4 Stars

This one was a little strange, but I enjoyed it! I quite loved McLemore’s prose, it was very engaging. I loved the magic in this story as well as the culture. I’ll have to check out more of her work in the future!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 4/5
Writing Style: 4/5 
Characters: 3.5/5
Pace: 4/5
Feels: 3/5

The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord

2 Stars

This one was okay. It read more like a contemporary (which may be just because it’s a contemp author?) with a teeny tiny hint of almost magic. View Spoiler » To be honest, I don’t really think it fit in with this anthology. It was basically a lot of focus on relationships and romance, not magic (like this anthology is supposed to be focused on), and honestly that’s not my cup of tea. The writing wasn’t anything spectacular, either. I feel pretty ‘meh’ overall about this one. Which was made harder by the fact that this is probably the longest story in the whole book.

Overall Assessment

Premise: 2.5/5
Writing Style: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 3.5/5
Feels: 1/5

The Only Way Back by Tristina Wright

1 Stars

I really struggled with this one. I liked the alchemy and magic in tandem, but that was about it. The prose was really difficult to follow – it felt kind of disjointed and vague. I had extreme difficulty picturing anything because I had no idea what the setting was. There was mention of mountains, and a village – but I had no idea if this was in the future or the past, or what kind of technology (or lack thereof) existed. The world building was horrible, even for a short story. It was like a bunch of characters just floating around in my head.

I did like that one of the characters was gender fluid – this was a new reading experience for me, as I’ve never read about a gender fluid character for me. The alchemy bit was interesting. But other than that, I’m sad to say that this one wasn’t for me.

Overall Assessment

Premise: 3/5
Writing Style: 1/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Feels: 0/5

Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May

5 Stars

The most terrifying thing in the world is a girl with power. That’s why they watch us burn.

Wow, this one was epic! I adored the writing style in this one, it was so engaging! I really want to check out more of May’s work. I loved the girl power feel it had going for it, too. A very feminine righteousness.

Every woman is never enough; she’s always too much. We angered someone, somewhere, for our too muchness. If to be too much is to be a witch, then I am a witch, and we are all witches.

*pumps fist in air*

I understand now that magic is not for wickedness, not for the devil, not for those with cruel hearts. It’s for hope. For survival. It thrives in the darkness not because it is dark in nature, but because the fire shines brightest then.
This is what witchcraft looks like: It is women holding hands, harnessing power, and changing their fate. If every woman practiced such a thing, we would learn what Eve did after she ate that apple. When she held knowledge in her hands. We would upend the world.

YASSS. For being a short story it just felt so powerful. And holy shit that ending gave me goosebumps! They definitely saved the best for last!

Overall Assessment

Premise: 4/5
Writing Style: 5/5
Characters: 4/5
Pace: 4.5/5
Feels: 4.5/5

Jessi (Geo)

Categories: Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , , ,

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