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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.


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