I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft

Let us take a moment to appreciate this cover, shall we?

This is the first time I’ve reviewed a short story collection, and probably the longest review I have ever written, There is a short review for each story. While I tried to avoid spoilers, if you are like me and enjoy going into each story blind, maybe read the book first.

I really enjoyed most of these stories.

Toil & Trouble is a female-centric collection of short stories about women with magical abilities — in all their wondrous varieties. These are also tales about women and their relationships primarily with each other, mothers and daughters, grandmothers, sisters and a number of female-female romances. While some are spooky, I did not find any scary.

As with any short story collection, there were some I liked more than others. Stories such as “The Gherin Girls” (Emery Lord), “Heart in her Hands” (Tessa Sharpe), “Death in the Sawtooths” (Lindsay Smith) and “Well Witch” (Kate Hart) were my favourites. While the last line of “Why They Watch Us Burn” (Elizabeth May) sent chills down my spine.

I discovered a few new authors and a couple more got bumped up my TBR.

Note: The eARC copy includes the story “The Only Way Back” by Tristina Wright. As this was not included in the final book, I chose not to read or review it. 

STARSONG by Tehlor Kay Mejia

This is essentially a story about a mother and daughter — one who accepts her magical heritage and abilities and one who chooses to pretend they don’t exist. I was surprised when this story ended, to me it read like the beginning of something.

AFTERBIRTH by Andrea Cremer

No collection of witchy short stories is complete without at least one witchhunt narrative. I liked this one. The author managed to create characters, in a very short amount of time, that I cared about.

THE HEART IN HER HANDS by Tessa Sharpe

A coming-of-age novel meets love story. I was immediately attached to the main character. In a world where one’s true love’s first words appear as tattoos on your body, the main character in this story chooses to love somebody else. The romance is sweet and heartfelt. I loved the family dynamic between the two sisters and their mother — and how each deals with the restrictions placed on them by their leaders. I would gladly spend more time in this world and with these characters.

DEATH IN THE SAWTOOTHS by Lindsay Smith

The most intriguing world we are introduced to in this collection. This felt like the start of an awesome urban fantasy series There are politics and complex characters with histories, an interesting, detailed magic system and a wealth of novel plotlines. More, please?  This particular story was a conversation on how the “will of [insert deity here]” can be interpreted in radically different ways.

TRUTH ABOUT QUEENIE by Brandy Colbert

This is a story all about relationships, with a little bit of magic in it. It showed how hard it can be sometimes when you’ve made a life outside your hometown to reconcile/combine the two. Also, how hard it is for the people left behind. I like how Colbert shows that even in YA fiction, not every match is made to be — and that it is possible to remain friends after. Little & Lion has been on my TBR for a while, this story moved it up the list.

MOONAPPLE MENAGERIE by Shveta Thakrar

Another story where I felt like we barely touched on a world where I, for one, would love to explore more. This story centres around a group of women friends, who are magical shapeshifters, as they prepare for an annual theatrical performance. Our main character is a playwright in search of the ending to her play, desperate to prove herself. I totally understand those anxieties. I loved how her friends weren’t mad that she hadn’t finished the play, but that she was too scared to talk to them about it. There is also a brief mention of other fae creatures I’m curious about.

LEGEND OF STONE MARY by Robin Talley

This is a story to read on Halloween night, or when the wind is howling. The ending of this story stood out to me — such an interesting approach to curse breaking. Robin Talley is another author who has now moved up my TBR.

ONE WHO STAYED by Nova Ren Suma

TRIGGER WARNING for sexual assault, violence and gang rape. The sense of foreboding in this story is palpable. My least favourite out of this collection, there is something about the narrative style that just is not for me.

DIVINE ARE THE STARS by Zoraida Cordova

At the heart of this story are two cousins and their complicated relationship with their grandmother.  As the entire family gathers from around the world, called together by the dying Rosa, true colours come out. I would love to check in the Marimar and Chuy in the future and see how they do.

DAUGHTERS OF BABA YAGA by Brenna Yovanoff

This story reminded me of Stephen King’s Carrie — in reverse. I like how it’s not cruelty to herself that pushes our heroine over the edge, but cruelty to someone else. An interesting tale about what it is like to be an outsider for things that you cannot control, and how empowering it is to take pride in those differences.

THE WELL WITCH by Kate Hart

A true moment-in-time story, our characters had a life before the events of the story and we know they continue to have one after. We are just spectators for one of the defining moments. This story felt like a western, but with magic and a strong female main character. It also ended a little too vaguely for my taste. A great story though, I will definitely be looking for more by Kate Hart in the future.

BEWARE THE GIRLS WITH CROOKED MOUTHS by Jessica Spotswood

Only one woman in a generation will live to old age. This is a known fact to the three Campbell sisters. When eldest sister, Jo, has a vision which leaves everyone alive, if not together, what is she willing to do to hold on to the possibility. I loved the sister dynamic in this story. The main thing that bothered me about this story was that there was a second, less violent, solution to their problem that seemed obvious to me, but no one seemed to acknowledge.

LOVE SPELL by Anna-Marie McLemore

I have been meaning to read more by this author for years and now will DEFINITELY be doing so. This story particularly hit home to me as I was raised Catholic and often take issue with the exclusionary nature of the church. That said, I loved how this showed how such attitudes are not indicative of all members.

THE GHERIN GIRLS by Emery Lord

Another story about three sisters with magical abilities and complex relationships. I really enjoyed it. Nova, Rosemary and Willa felt real to me. I loved how each of their magical abilities factored into how they dealt with life and love. We see, that even for a strong woman with a great support network, it is extremely difficult to leave an abusive relationship and that recovery is a long road.

WHY THEY WATCH US BURN by Elizabeth May

Look at our handprints. Memorize our names. We did not go quietly

The end of this story gave me chills. This is a story about the oppression of women in particular or any group in general. It is about the power that comes from taking back your identity and your name. I won’t say this is my favourite story, but it is definitely the one that hit me the hardest.

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One thought on “Review – Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft, edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tessa Sharpe

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