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Sunday, January 21, 2024

'Witch of Wild Things' by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland


From the BLURB: 

Legend goes that long ago a Flores woman offended the old gods, and their family was cursed as a result. Now, every woman born to the family has a touch of magic. 

Sage Flores has been running from her family—and their “gifts”—ever since her younger sister Sky died. Eight years later, Sage reluctantly returns to her hometown. Like slipping into an old, comforting sweater, Sage takes back her job at Cranberry Rose Company and uses her ability to communicate with plants to discover unusual heritage specimens in the surrounding lands. 

What should be a simple task is complicated by her partner in botany sleuthing: Tennessee Reyes. He broke her heart in high school, and she never fully recovered. Working together is reminding her of all their past tender, genuine moments—and new feelings for this mature sexy man are starting to take root in her heart. 

With rare plants to find, a dead sister who keeps bringing her coffee, and another sister whose anger fills the sky with lightning, Sage doesn’t have time for romance. But being with Tenn is like standing in the middle of a field on the cusp of a summer thunderstorm—supercharged and inevitable.

I am a seasonal reader, and that’s a very hard thing to be in Melbourne at the moment where we’re swinging between heatwaves and downpours. So I find it interesting that in a bit of a reading slump, I randomly decided to reach for a witchy book that includes a character whose mood can change the weather … 

This is my first read by Gilliland - and it’s her third book, but first adult romance. Her second YA book - ‘How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe’ - won and was shortlisted for a slew of awards, and was already on my radar. But TikTok actually put me onto ‘Witch of Wild Things’ - about a Mexican woman who returns to her hometown where her dead sister haunts her, another curses her, and the boy who made her swoon over AOL until he broke her heart has grown into a hot man with forearm tattoos.

The fact that we come from dirt, and eventually turn to dirt, is spooky and incredible to think about it at the same time. My sister is dirt by now, surely. All of our ancestors are, too. This must make dirt holy, holy enough for the old gods to walk upon it from time to time. Holy enough that Nadia gives it a little cup of espresso to drink every single morning.

 I’m so glad I started with this book because it *hit the spot* - was lovely and spicy, but also made me weepy and tender-hearted. Our protagonist Sage has a particular story-arc about being the oldest sibling to her two sisters, and defaulting to a parental responsibility role that’s so rarely explored in fiction like this … imagine Luisa Madrigal’s ‘Surface Pressure’ song from ENCANTO, made into a novel. 

It’s also very ‘Practical Magic’ by Alice Hoffman (BUT - it’s actually more of the 1998 Sandra Bullock/Nicole Kidman classic movie ‘Practical Magic,’ with its cottagecore-comfy and whimsy, whereas the book is … not? It’s darker. So if you prefer movie ‘Practical Magic’ then *this* is the book for you … not the actual Hoffman book, FYI and lol) 

You can *kinda* tell that this book struggled to find a strong plot, however. And Gilliland hints at this in her acknowledgements, where she talks about a severe bout of writer's block from which this story was borne, from the scraps of an abandoned and unworkable idea. It does have a little bit of that feeling, like; she was immersed in this town and this family, the universe, and an actual strong through-line of story had to be somewhat shoehorned in. 

So while I loved this - I maybe would have liked a few threads to be more deeply explored and wrapped up, and *maybe* it got slightly too easy by the end … but those are minor quibbles in an otherwise very sparkly and lovely book.


Tuesday, January 16, 2024

'Everyone and Everything' by Nadine J. Cohen


From the BLURB: 

When Yael Silver’s world comes crashing down, she looks to the past for answers and finds solace in surprising places. An unconventional new friendship, a seaside safe space and an unsettling amount of dairy help her to heal, as she wrestles with her demons – and some truly terrible erotic literature. 

Funny and tender, Everyone and Everything is about friendship, grief and the deep, frustrating bond between sisters. It asks what makes us who we are and what leads us onto ledges. Perfect for fans of Meg Mason, Nora Ephron and Victoria Hannan, this is an intimate, wry and wise exploration of one woman’s journey to the brink and back.


'Everyone and Everything' is the 2023 debut by Australian author, Nadine J. Cohen - from Pantera Press.

I've just come off an absolute roll with a certain type of new (millennial?) women's fiction. I've been calling it 'Fleabag'-esque. I don't like the term "well-dressed and distressed," for how some of the covers are often stylised - but I'd take "Women's Fiction with Bite." So I was in a bookshop the other day with a legit legend bookseller (Jaci from Hill of Content) who knows I have devoured 'Crushing' by Genevieve Novak, 'A Light in the Dark' by Allee Richards,' and 'Search History' by Amy Taylor ... when we were browsing the shelves and she just gently placed Nadine J. Cohen's debut into my hands and said; "Trust me," and reader - she was right. 

This is the story of Yael Silver who joined the 'orphan's club,' far too young, and when the book begins has just made an unsuccessful attempt to end her life because of her latent grief over the deaths of both her parents and Nanna, an f-boy who emotionally wrecked and ghosted her and a general feeling like she's become a burden to her older sister, Liora. 

Yael is on a long and slow pathway to recovery that largely begins in earnest when she starts regularly visiting the McIver's Ladies Baths in Coogee - perched on a cliff-face and offering her a scenic place to cry and read bad erotic fiction in peace. Until she meets older woman Shirley and they form an odd and healing friendship. 

At one point Liora asks Yael; 'Is that what it's like in your head all the time?' after she shares another random and disturbing thought, to which Yael replies; 'Yup.' And this is essentially the book, too. Chapters are broken down by months spanning a whole year, but they're made up of almost vignette fragments; wisps of memory and tangents (sometimes deeply emotional, recounting her childhood or the lead-up and come-down of her Nanna, mother and father's deaths - other times pop-culture heavy; "Pacey Witter cures all ills.") It's all cogent, I must stress, and brilliantly done for reading like a patchwork of a healing mind, and the memory-squares amounting to so much insight as to who Yael is as a person. She's deeply funny and relatable (from Cher Horowitz praise to 'Gilmore Girls' marathons, she reads like a friend) but also very broken and fragile, and I found myself both smiling and crying in equal measure. 

Jewish identity is also tenderly touched on in this book in a way that I really don't feel like I've read much in contemporary Australian fiction. Like how Yael looks back on her Nanna, mother and father's mental states at various times in their lives - how she retrospectively wonders what her grandparents being Holocaust survivors must have done to those lines of generational trauma;

I think about her often fraught relationship with mum, who, like all children of survivors, grew up with irrevocably damaged parents, and six million ghosts. 

... and musing on how comfortable Jewish people are with death, compared to gentiles. 

I absolutely adored this book. It wasn't easy, but it was beautifully wrought and Yael was a fine companion.


Monday, January 8, 2024

'Gwen and Art Are Not in Love' by Lex Croucher


From the BLURB: 

Gwen, the quick-witted Princess of England, and Arthur, future lord and general gadabout, have been betrothed since birth. Unfortunately, the only thing they can agree on is that they hate each other. 

When Gwen catches Art kissing a boy and Art discovers where Gwen hides her diary (complete with racy entries about Bridget Leclair, the kingdom's only female knight), they become reluctant allies. By pretending to fall for each other, their mutual protection will be assured. 

But how long can they keep up the ruse? With Gwen growing closer to Bridget, and Art becoming unaccountably fond of Gabriel, Gwen's infuriatingly serious, bookish brother, the path to true love is looking far from straight …

'Gwen and Art Are Not in Love' by Lex Croucher is; "an outrageously entertaining take on the fake dating trope."

I know, I know - I am forever forgetting about my first bookish social platform love, my blog. I can't promise I'll be any better about updating on here in 2024, but I don't want to let the cobwebs entirely take over so I wanted to at least shout out a *little* something.

This 2023 YA historical queer title is my first Lex Croucher read, but it won't be my last by the British author because I absolutely fell head-over-heels in love with this book! 

It exists in a post-King Arthur world, where the legend of Camelot and the Round Table still live on as myth and legend and the latest crop of teenage young royals are dealt the unfortunate blow of being politically and patriotically moulded into the second-coming of that once-great reign. Down to the political marriage alliance between princess Gwen and wealthy Lord, Arthur - who have been betrothed since childhood, and hated each other since then too. 

Their feelings towards each other are particularly clouded because both are queer and develop feelings for others throughout the timeline of a tournament that Gwen's father has thrown to highlight the prosperity of new Camelot. 

For Arthur, it's Gwen's brother and the next King of England - Gabriel - who perhaps feels the weight of Arthur Pendragon more than anyone. For Gwen, it's the only female knight competing, Bridget LeClair. 

I cannot stress enough how much I loved this book; not least for the wide themes it addresses about weight of expectation, what history highlights and hides, and how much of courage takes fear. 

'To be truly brave, first you must be afraid—and to be afraid, you must have something you cannot bear to lose.' 
There's also plenty in here about how cruel families can be, and how your chosen family can come to mean more and see you so much clearer than you see yourself; 

‘You know … fathers aren’t always right, just by virtue of being fathers. Or even … just by virtue of being king.’

This was also a deeply, deeply funny book. One of my favourite character's was Arthur's steward, Sidney and the brotherly/jovial relationship they had with one another. 

But hands-down, the romances are stand-out. I was swept up in Bridget and Gwen, Arthur and Gabriel and every heart-palpitating glance, kiss, up-against-a-wall make-out session ... all of it! I actually loved them all so much, I'd have been fully onboard had Croucher announced this as an ongoing series following the foursome as they stand to rule over a very new England. 

Alas, she's moving on to another queering of a beloved myth next; Not for the Faint of Heart, a Robin Hood re-do! *squeeeeee*!

I can't wait! 


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