A Collective Gathering Place for Readers, Writers, and Seekers

The Ex Hex, by Erin Sterling

The Ex Hex, by Erin Sterling
Avon, 006302747X, 320 pages, September 2021

I was in the mood for a more light-hearted book, so browsing my current stack of library books, I picked out The Ex Hex by Erin Sterling. You can only imagine the laugh I got out of the first line, “Never mix vodka and witchcraft.”1 I hate to say it, but “been there, done that”, and it has never ended up good! At least for me it didn’t turn into the colossal f*ckery that it became for Vivenne Jones.

Brokenhearted by her Welsh summer beau, Rhys Penhallow, Vivienne is doing the best to cheer herself up with a soothing bath, candles, and a bit of cologne conjuring as she laments the loss of young love. Rhys had told her that morning he had to go sort out his betrothal with his father. Clearly, that didn’t sit well with Vivienne who had no idea her summer lover was on the market for another woman. Not only did she curse at him, while tossing his pants in his face, in an attempt to magic her way out of the sadness, Vivenne and her cousin Gwen decide to put a hex on Rhys.

For the most part, it’s all fun and games, to the point where they even throw caution to the wind about Aunt Eliane’s warning to not even do magic while drinking. Their curse for Rhys to always hit just a quarter inch away from a woman’s clitoris and never to have his hair do “that thing” seem like harmless antics, but with the words “I curse you Rhys Penhallow” uttered by Vivienne, their candle bursts into flames.

It seems something has been ignited, but they chalk it up to a gust of a wind and over the years forget about it. Though, it does seem like Vivienne never truly forgot the impact Rhys had made on her tender, young heart.. I mean how could she really when the college she works out is named after his family, who also founded the town she lives in.

Rhys too never truly seemed to forget Vivienne, but in the nine years since he’d been back to Graves Glend, he had created a successful travel business for himself. Sure, clients benefited from a bit of magic that ensured on-time flights and smooth vacations, but Rhys provided a one of a kind service that always got rave reviews. With so much going on with his business in London, It is over a half-a-year since he last saw his family in Wales.

When he stops in for a visit, his foreboding father requests that he return to Graves Glen, Georgia for the Founder’s Day celebration of his ancestor and recharge the ley lines that keep magic afloat in the town. Rhys tries to protest, but ultimately surrenders to taking the trip to America for the sake of family duty. However, the moment he’s within town limits, everything just seems to go wrong.

From an ominous storm to flat tires, Rhys can’t catch a break. Before he can even make it to his family’s house, he finds himself on the side of the road when headlights come right for him, nearly running him over. Turns out, it was Vivienne on her way home from work who nearly nipped him, had he not jumped into a ditch. And here’s where their story begins all over again!

I won’t give too much further away, but I will say they have a hilarious dynamic between them. There’s plenty of banter, despite the unresolved internal feelings of each character. Together, they wrestle witch ghosts, murderous wind-up toys, and potions gone wrong. It is up to them to figure out how to reverse the curse, something former witches don’t seem to leave much instruction on how to do, in order to save Grave Glen.

As far as magic books go, this one is very typical in its approach. There’s a town college for witches, hidden on the normal campus of Penhallow University, where Vivienne teaches Western Civ to incoming freshmen. It takes place during Halloween season, and there’s the focus on haunted houses and ghosts. Vivienne and her family must use magic to improve the small things in their life, from cleaning the apartment to creating a mood setting in the storage room of their shop Wicked Ways.

Sure, there’s the academic witches at the college, but they tend to shy away from Vivienne’s family, in fact, most people don’t even know Vivienne is a witch. She was raised by her mother who chose a normal life and equated magic with bad, so it was only later in life that Vivienne learned the full extent of who she truly was when she went to live with Gwen and Aunt Elaine.

To be honest, the book is more of a rom-com with a theme of witchcraft intermixed within it, rather than a book that truly delves into the craft. But like I said, I was in the mood for something light, and this perfectly satisfied that reading-crave for me. I enjoyed envisioning the setting of the small town and all the cute festivals going on during its peak season of Halloween.

I found both Vivienne and Rhys hilarious and relatable. There’s quite a bit of built up sexual tension and eventual snogging. It does have the traditional flow of a romantic book that culminates in a happy ending. But I think most readers expect that going into a book like this, yet we still enjoy reading the whole thing to see how it plays out.

The one warning I will give is that Rhys has a bit of a charming, frat boy mentality, but not to the point where he’s obnoxious. Actually, I really liked him as a sexy male lead in the book. He rushes into things without thinking, but you can see personal growth and transformation in him, which I think adds to my feeling of reader satisfaction. And Vivienne is a perfectly relatable woman, who has her moments of doubt, but is fierce in her anger towards Rhys and doesn’t back down in advocating for herself.

It’s fun in the meantime to see all the ways the curse goes wrong and how Vivienne and Rhys do their best to extinguish the small fires of disaster in town, which only seems to fan the flame between them. The ending was a little unexpected too, which added a bit more depth to the reasoning behind the curse.

All in all, The Ex Hex is a fun to read romantic comedy filled with witchcraft, magic, curses, and love. There’s plenty of wit, comedy, banter, and… sex! It’s perfect for a few laughs and light-hearted amusement. You’ll find out how curses are reversed and what can happen when two former lovers reunite.

The Midnight Bargain, by C.L. Polk

The Midnight Bargain, by C.L Polk
Erewhon, 1645660079, 384 pages, October 2020

Female sorceresses doing all they can to escape the confines of marriage? Um, what kind of fantastically wonderful story did I get myself into the past few days? The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk! And I certainly enjoyed this exotically fanciful tale.

The story takes place in Chasand, which sort of reminded me of a magical India. It is time for Beatrice to make her way through bargaining season, but she’s set on locating a grimoire that will teach her how to bind with a greater spirit. She’s convinced that if she can do this, her father will allow her to use her influence as a mage to restore the family fortune rather than get married.

Why is marriage such an appalling future for Beatrice? Because Chasand custom forces married women to wear a collar that strips them of their magic in order to ensure they do not conceive a spirit born baby. The mages of this world know spirits are eager to enter the material world, and when this happens it’s pandemonium; the hungry, greedy spirit stops at nothing to satiate their endless desire, often even killing those who stand in their way. The only solution thus far is to prevent women from accessing magic — a solution suitable for male socreers, but absolutely appalling for the girls with innate magical abilities.

Turns out Beatrice isn’t the only one seeking an alliance with a spirit to escape the imprisonment of a husband. Ysbeta, who is the beautiful daughter of one of the region’s wealthiest families, also has her sights set on the grimoire. Beatrice concedes the book to Ysbeta, but Ysbeta does not know the secret code needed to read it. Thus, their friendship forms on the promise that Ysbeta will allow Beatrice to copy the pages of the grimoire in exchange for sharing with her what the book says and teaching her the skills needed to complete the ritual.

Meanwhile, Ysbeta’s brother, Ianthe, one of the most desirable suitors of bargaining season, is increasingly intrigued by Beatrice. When a spirit Beatrice is letting inhabit her body begs her to kiss Ianthe, the sparks between them ignite immediately. Ianthe is kind and open-minded. He empathizes with the situation of Beatrice, who openly speaks her mind on the injustice of women’s lot in society, and is determined to help her the best he can.

Beatrice has a lot to balance in her life. The pursuit of her goal to bind with a greater spirit while still going through the motions of bargaining season adds to the need to handle situations with delicacy and care. Most of all, she has her family to consider; their reputation, their fortune, and their future rest upon her finding a wealthy husband immediately. Much of the plot reminds of a Bridgerton, where competition is fierce and stakes are high, but with sorcerers and mages as eligible bachelors and bachelorettes.

This is one of those reads where you know the author has some background occult knowledge and isn’t just capitalizing on the popularity of magic-themed fiction. The description of the rituals and the spirits is unique, but also very detailed and similar to how it would be done in real life. Polk describes the importance of breath, hand signs, and visualization. I also really liked the mediumship aspect of the characters hosting lesser spirits in their body.

I grew really attached to Beatrice’s lesser spirit, Nadia, who was really funny and cute. It was very interesting to read about how Beatrice cast her circle for protection and bargained with Nadia. Nadia is a lesser spirit of good fortune, so in exchange for the luck she brings, Beatrice would lay out very clear terms of their bargain. For instance, Nadia’s luck for three cups of punch, star gazing, and a kiss until midnight. I think anyone who’s done this type of spirit work, which unfortunately always seem to be men rather than women even in real life, would find the writing very accurate.

Plus, it’s really kick ass to read about women choosing a life of magic and independence over the confines of marriage, even if it’s completely taboo to do. I can’t even imagine how horrible it would be to live in a society that would take away my magical ability, forcing me to be nothing more than a dedicated wife and mother. There’s definitely a theme of fighting for women’s rights, but I enjoyed how Polk didn’t set men against women. The book showed that men can be a huge support for women and part of a greater change.

All in all, The Midnight Bargain was a really wonderful read that I highly recommend, especially for women who are interested in summoning and working with spirits! This is one of the only books I’ve ever read with a main character that is a woman using this type of magic. I’m all for finding fictional role models, so if you’re considering pursuing a summoning ritual, this would be an entertaining book to read.

Even if you have no interest in this type of magic yourself, it’s still a fun book. There’s a lot of focus on the pomp and circumstance of bargaining seasons, adding the flair for romance and drama within the greater story of women’s right to choose their own path. It has made my soul very happy and fulfilled the next few days, so much so that I haven’t even raced onto another book because I’m still savoring this story!

Cackle, by Rachel Harrison

Cackle, by Rachel Harrison
Berkley Publishing Group, 0593202023, 304 pages, October 2021

I was in a mood yesterday, but a quick trip to the library always changes that. Cackle by Rachel Patterson had arrived for me. As soon as I got home, I dove in. Once I started, I couldn’t put the book down, and I finished by the early evening. This book was just the reminder I needed of how empowering it can be to fully utilize my own magic and not shy away from power.

The basic premise of the book is the main character, Annie, is going through a break-up with her beau of a decade. It’s rough and she’s truly on the struggling bus trying to cope, drinking too much and feeling very despairing about her singledom. Since she can no longer afford New York City rent, she takes a job in upstate and moves to a small town named Rowan. Immediately, she loves the charm and small-town feel of Rowan.

Her impromptu meeting of Sophie, the most well-known woman in town, helps her to establish herself in Rowan. But there’s something odd about the way the townsfolk treat Sophie. Annie chalks it up to a mixture of reverence and fear, but Sophie is so doting towards her, she enjoys the company regardless. Annie is one of those people that seeks validation from others and prefers company over being alone.

When she’s not putting herself down, she’s usually crying over her ex-boyfriend Sam. Honestly, at times her depressed, self-depreciation did seem a little old at times, but I think it had its place within the overall context of the novel. And Annie is at least funny, so at times her distorted self-image is a nice comic relief. If we’re honest, many of us have gone through what Annie is experiencing, feeling lost, confused, and unsure of ourselves and the path forward.

Despite all of the emotional turmoil in her life, Annie quickly becomes best friends with the mysterious Sophie, who happens to live in a giant, haunted house in the middle of the woods. Sophie loves sweets, often baking for Annie, and Britney Spears. She’s caring, wise, and just a little intimidating with her subtle jokes of eating hearts and all-black wardrobe. But Sophie looks out for Annie, taking her under her wing, and even curses those who are unkind to her.

Sophie also has the ability to control spiders, so this book will definitely make you see arachnids in a new light. Just an FYI, in case you’re not a spider person! I for one loved all of it and just can’t stop imagining having a cute spider pet now.

As Annie’s relationship develops, she discovers new parts of herself. While she still pines over her ex, just like many modern women who had dreams of a marriage and family, she also starts to realize she has her own power. Power to indeed cause harm to those who bother her, as well as making objects float to her. As if this all isn’t enough to contend with, Annie realizes there are those in town who do not trust Sophie. She must decide for herself if her new bestie is honest and trustworthy, as some townsfolk say otherwise.

Like I said, I read this book quickly, and that’s mostly because it’s one of those chick-lit fiction books, which I have to say I love. Annie has a typical “basic” girl attitude and through surrender is able to discover a whole new power within her. The term “witchcraft” is barely used, as Sophie doesn’t like the stigma associated with it.

In reality, she’s nothing more than a woman who truly owns her desires, doesn’t settle, and is content to be fully in her own power. She’s unafraid to stand up for herself to those who seek to hurt her and finds no reason to shrink herself to please others or make them more comfortable. As Annie learns to do the same, she realizes there might be no turning back.

The revolution of women deciding they want to claim their happiness and be powerful, whether it intimidates others or not is the most potent magic. And Harrison has captured this journey perfectly in Cackle.

Another aspect of the book I really liked is that Sophie and Annie enjoy playing dress-up, dancing, baking or getting drunk together, and simply spending quality time with each other. Cackle celebrates modern-day female friendship, not through bonds of solidarity, but through simple care, nurturance, and honesty.

Sophie is a friend who knows when Annie needs psychedelic mushrooms, whiskey, or simply hot tea. She also doesn’t mince her words and is quite openly against Annie’s pining over Sam, making her new clothes and even cutting her hair. Cackle portrays all the small ways female friends support each other that make all the difference. While it might be hard to see how one is changing post-break-up, with the support of Sophie, Annie emerges a new person. At its heart, this story has a strong theme of friendship, women’s empowerment, and a sprinkle of magic!

The final thing I’ll note that I enjoyed is how magic was not portrayed as malevolent or benevolent. Sophie openly feels comfortable using her power to curse, choke, and probably even kill those who seek to do her wrong. Soon, Annie is learning how to do the same thing. I liked that Cackle wasn’t afraid to show women standing up for themselves and that the full range of supernatural powers was acknowledged without judgement. Sure, at first Annie was a bit taken aback by what she could do, but in time, she learned to wield it wisely.

I think it’s important to know how to both manifest your desires and use your energy to keep that which seeks to harm you at bay. Inevitably, there will always be something a little bit scary about a woman who is fully in control of herself and willing to own this power. It’s the classic witch motif that has caused men to shiver for centuries, but is that a reason to stay small?

Us modern-women of the 21st century think not! And for those of us who need a little self-esteem boost, or a reminder that we can choose who we give our energy to and rewrite our story at any time, Cackle is the book for us! Harrison has done a marvelous job of mixing modernity and magic to inspire us to believe the two can co-exist, even if only in fictional tales that inspire us not to seek our happily ever after, but the true witch within.

Spellbreaker, by Charlie N. Holmberg

Spellbreaker (Spellbreaker, 1), by Charlie N. Holmberg
47North, 1542020093, 303 pages, November 2020

I will admit, I love 19th-century period pieces about magic. Therefore, it was no surprise I picked up Spellbreaker by Charlie N. Holmberg to read this weekend, as it is set in England in 1885. However, England is quite a different society with magic making the world run smoothly, but also contributing to societal class divide. Therefore, Elsie Camden doesn’t feel bad about using her spellbreaking powers to knock the English nobility down a few notches to help out the common folk.

The world Holmberg writes about is filled with mystery, intrigue, and most of all spells to make the world go around. All magic users and spellbreakers must be licensed by governing bodies, and the spells are kept closely guarded, only passed down to those who prove they can be trusted with the power. The whole process of how magicians level up their magic and incorporate spells is absolutely fascinating! It involves these drops of magic which glisten and then are absorbed by the aspector’s skin, permanently making the spell a piece of them. When an aspector dies, a magnum opus of their spells is left behind.

The interesting thing about these magnum opuses is that anyone can use the spells in them once by tearing the page out. Therefore, these books are often handed down to other aspectors or guarded by the magical governing bodies. Recently though, there’s been a string of murders of master aspectors involving stolen magnum opuses. The tension is high as no one can figure out who is behind the ghastly crime of murdering magicians for their spells.

Elsie Camden finds herself smack dab in the middle of the action. Day to day, she works as an assistant to a stone mason, but she also does secret work as a rogue spellbreaker. After being orphaned as a child, Elsie was left to fend for herself in the world. As a fire burns down her workhouse, leaving her to wonder what’s next for her, she is approached by a woman who realizes what she truly is: a spellbreaker.

From this point on, Elsie spell breaks for who she calls the Cowls, though she’s truly never known exactly who these people truly are. She enjoys feeling needed by them and also views herself as a modern Robinhood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Since she’s not registered as a spellbreaker, she’s in both an advantageous and dangerous position for doing this discrete work.

On an assignment gone wrong, Elsie winds up getting caught by Bacchus Kelsey, a man dedicated to earning his aspector mastership. Bacchus is an aristocrat, but he’s different from the others since he’s from Barbados and not of usual English breed. Rather than turn Elsie in, Bacchus decides to capitalize on Elsie’s spellbreaking abilities, as there’s some things about the Duke of Kent’s estate, where he’s staying while in England, that he’d like to refurbished. It’s easier for Bacchus to apply new spellwork once the the spells currently there are removed, thus begins Elsie’s indentured work to pay off the asking price for his silence.

That’s all I will give away for the plot summary, but this is only the beginning of a very neat story. I more want to focus on how this is one of the best magical stories I’ve read in a while. What I liked most about it was Holmberg’s skill at world building. I felt very immersed in this version of 19th century England, which blended the historical cultural values of the time perfectly interwoven with this dimension of magic added into it.

From the different types of magic described to how the process of spellcasting worked, Holmberg really adds the details to make it extremely easy to get lost in without feeling too fanciful. I was surprised to see the book is actually classified as science-fiction rather than fantasy, but this being said, it’s a wonderful mixture of both genres in my opinion. I would perhaps label it science-fantasy, though it’s much more focused on magic than any science or technology.

I also found the character immensely relatable. Elsie is funny, honest, and has a good head on her shoulders. While she loves her readers, she avoids gossip and focuses on her work. She has a sense of identity, which I think is one of the most important things for me in a character. And the other main character, Bacchus, likewise has depth, intelligence, and general relatability. Though they come from different worlds, they are both outsiders in some sense who have their own views of how things are in the world. It’s quite exciting to see what happens when a spellmaker and spellbreaker team up together!

And I just have to say how unique the concept of a spellbreaker was to me! In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about the application of spellbreaking in magical works and did a deep dive in reflecting about the role spellbreaking has in my own magical practice. In fact, it was quite a revelation to realize all the ways I identified with the main character Elsie. After just discussing how fictional works can inform one’s magical practice, I experienced it first hand in reading this book. I now plan on labeling myself as a spellbreaker and seeing how this evolves my perception of the type of magical practitioner that I am.

I also found it refreshing to read a magical fiction book that still had a woman lead that wasn’t focused on witchcraft. I liked Elsie’s ability to break spells, and furthermore how she didn’t rely on magic. In fact, she often broke spells that were cast upon her, preferring to have clarity without magical influence. She clearly understood how magic could be used for both benevolent and malevolent purposes, and she did her part to ensure it was used for the latter. She wasn’t enamored with it, nor seeking fame and glory for herself. She used her abilities for a greater cause with intention, and otherwise primarily kept to herself and focused on her mundane tasks without complaint. I like her very much as a role model.

Overall, Spellbreaker was captivating. It ended on such a cliff-hanger that I just requested the next book in the duology, Spellmaker, from my library. Holmberg has done a wonderful job crafting a unique plot that captures the reader’s attention and opens the imagination. Whether one is interested in a good read or to gain insight into how they might incorporate spell breaking into their own magical practice, I appreciate this different point of view. For now, I am eagerly waiting to see how the rest of the story unfolds!

A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow

A Spindle Splintered (Fractured Fables #0), by Alix E. Harrow
Tordotcom, 1250765358, 128 pages, October 2021

I was so enthralled with The Once and Future Witches by Alix. E Harrow that I decided to read her most recent book, A Spindle Spintered (Fractured Fables #0), over the weekend. Talk about a fairy tale for modern young women! Harrow has a knack for capturing the heart in her tales of romance, magic, and self-discovery.

Zinnia Gray expects to die shortly after her 21st birthday. She suffered the ill effect of lax corporate environmental regulations, which caused a group of children in her town to have incurable health issues. No one has made it past 21. Nevertheless, Zinnia lives by her “Dead Girl Rules”, one of which is to move fast, and pursues a study in folklore. Sleeping Beauty was alway her favorite fairy tale, ever since seeing a photograph of her emerging wide-eyed and alive after death-life trance. Despite her resignation to the reality of her situation, a part of Zinnia hoped to change her story and emerge from the curse of her illness.

On the night of Zinnia’s 21st birthday, her best friend, Charm, throws a surprise Sleeping Beauty party for her – spindle included! As per the traditional fairy tale, Charm encourages Zinnia to prick her finger just like Sleeping Beauty. What happens next is most unexpected!

Zinnia hops dimensions and is transported INTO the bedroom of Sleeping Beauty, called Primrose in this tale. Primrose has yet to prick her finger, as her father has burnt all the spindles, but the tug to fulfill the curse is still strong. Primrose is utterly miserable. From the curse that puppeteers her when she sleeps, beckoning her to succumb to a century of sleep and a life in the palace that narrows her options to marriage to a less than superb knight, there seems to be no escape. Zinnia’s unexpected arrival turns out to be her moment to help Primrose change her story – and that is just what they do!

I won’t go further than this, but the book is AMAZING. Zinnia has a really down-to-earth attitude that still seeks to believe in magic. And the portrayal of Primrose and her world was like reading a real fairy tale. Together, Zinnia and Primrose realize they are living out the same story, but they also have the power to change the narrative. I really liked this concept because I have studied the power of archetypes within the psyche, and I’ve learned the power of identifying the mythological/fairy tale story one is living out. For real change to occur, both individually and on a societal level, requires a change of narrative, and this is exactly what Harrow has given readers.

For instance, Charm is very into women and Zinnia is super open about her own sexual preferences, at one point saying she’s ¾ straight, but acknowledging there’s a piece of her that also finds women attractive. I enjoyed how the characters weren’t type-cast and it embraced the whole spectrum of personality. There’s a lot of blending, rather than fixed edges. From Charm and Zinnia’s friendship, colored with mutual attraction, to the ability for characters to merge with others living out their narrative and work together to change it.

And that’s what is cool about the tale: the bonds of women. While the typical “hero’s journey” is often an individual pursuit, this book portrays fairy tales as a teamwork effort. I think it’s more in-line with a feminine way of being; opening up, trusting, finding allies, and choosing to stick together until everyone is out of harm’s way. There’s an element of choosing to help another over helping oneself, but not in a self-sacrificing way. It is in the spirit of cooperation and seeing that one person as an individual can make a huge difference for someone else, and in doing so, overcomes their own obstacles.

A Splintered Spindle invites us to reconsider what a hero looks like and reimagine the fairy tale so that it’s not only a prince that saves us at the end. True love’s kiss, well that one is kept for the story, but in the spirit of female friendship. And ultimately, sure it’s a happy ending, but also a very heartwarming, honest ending. And I think those are the best kind in real life  because they are not fake. Sure, we can’t outrun reality, but we can always believe in the magic within ourselves.

I sincerely hope that Harrow keeps on writing these revised feminist stories of fairy tales, magic, and witchcraft. This one was short and sweet; I read it for only about 2 hours. I highly recommend it to women of all ages, but particularly young women, because I think it provides a new narrative to live out. For those of us who still hold dear to our fairy tale dreams, this book will be perfectly satisfying too. It’s a wonderful mixture of reality and magic, hope and despair, and the choices we make to forgo saving ourselves to help a friend.

The Once and Future Witches, by Alix Harrow

The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow
Redhook, 0316422045, 528 pages, October 2020

Embracing the season of the witch, my book club picked The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow for our October read, and I am in love! This is such an empowering tale of women finding their strength, courage, and magic to change the world. It’s a reminder of what happens when women from all walks of life embrace witchcraft and join together to raise hell!

At a whooping 528 pages, this book wasn’t just a rinse-and-repeat story with the typical exposition, rising action, climax, and resolution. There were so many twists and turns along the way, which made it a really lovely read to sink my teeth into. I knew this wasn’t a book I was going to tear through, and this opened me up to embracing all the characters that I’m sure will live on in my heart for quite some time.

This is a tale of the three Eastwood sisters, Agnes, Beatrice, and Juniper, who are reunited in New Salem under magical circumstances. Having all escaped the wrath of their abusive father, the girls are each making their own way in the world: Agnes as a mill girl, Beatrice as an assistant librarian, and Juniper as a good-intentioned suspected criminal on the run. As fate would have it, Beatrice chants secret hidden worlds that bring back the lost tower of Avalon, a place that was banished the last time it was called back by witches in Old Salem, leading to the great purge of witchcraft.

Suddenly, the sisters are brought back together, though not without their share of quarrels and hard-feelings between them. Juniper, who has taken up the cause of women’s suffrage, is set on using magic to further the rights of women. Bella, though hesitant to be drawn in, is obsessed with collecting witch-stories and tales. As witches know, all that is required is the will, the words, and the way. Together, the sisters use their strengths to create their own group of witches and start to wreak mayhem in the town.

Mayoral candid Gideon Hill is dead-set on capturing the witches and bringing them all to justice. There’s an oddity about him, and the shadows of the town seem to obey his will. However, this doesn’t stop these women from advocating for the ways of witchcraft to be brought back. And there’s just so many twists and turns, with a whole lot of love — both romantic and sisterly!

I won’t get too far into the plot, because as mentioned already, it’s a long book. But I will rave about it from the stance of a witch. It did a really good job of portraying witchcraft as inclusive, open to everyone regardless of their social status, ancestry, and even gender. The book is filled with spells, fables, and fairy tales – all with a witchy spin to them. It makes one proud to be a witch, and I wish more women could unite under common causes to protect one another.

The book also draws heavily upon the maiden, mother, crone archetype, as well as the united three-circle witch’s mark. There’s a mixture of academic witchcraft aka grimoires and arcane spellwork with witchcraft that is only spoken and passed down through oral traditions. I especially liked the focus on the Daughters of Tituba, which is an African-American group of witches that the Eastwood sisters become involved with.

Another aspect I liked was how magic was used for social justice. As many women in the book acknowledge, small spells are mostly for mundane things, such as whitening the laundry or keeping one’s hair in place, but as the women share their words and ways with each other, they discover that bigger change can happen through magic. I love reading about women working together, understanding each other’s plight, whether it be as a mother, abused daughter or wife, or part of the LGBTQ community .

There’s a strong acknowledgement of the desperation that often leads one to tap into magic in order to create a path where one was not before. This book isn’t about girls who “do the right thing”, it’s about the women who decide to claim their power in a world that refuses to give it to them. I felt very sovereign reading about these badass witches who didn’t back down and kept witchcraft alive even in the face of adversity. They didn’t adhere to stereotypes, but were happy to throw them in other’s face with their pointed hats and broom flying.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this book for anyone who’s into witch-fiction. Once and Future Witches one of the best books in this category I’ve ever read. There’s so much beauty, love, and magic interwoven in the pages; every reader’s heart will certainly swell, as their magic grows. This powerful read will remind you of what can happen when you choose a life of magic and decide to stand in solidarity with a community to achieve so much more than you ever could on your own. All the while, teaching the importance of healing old hurts, forgiving the past, and opening one’s heart to learn to love again. <3

Revelations from the Source, by Barbara Hand Clow

Revelations from the Source, by Barbara Hand Clow
Bear & Company, 1591434319, 352 pages, October 2021

It started with Revelations of the Ruby Crystal (2015), then came Revelations of the Aquarius Age (2018). Now, at long last, Barbara Hand Clow has completed the trilogy with the most recent book Revelations from the Source (2021). I have eagerly been anticipating this latest release after having grown quite fond of the tight-knit community of characters in this series. All my hopes and expectations were exceeded in this dynamic final book, which expertly weaves together multi-dimensional layers of information, inspiring revelations, and reconsideration of how things truly are in the world.

Before diving into things, while this book can be read as a stand-alone, I highly recommend reading the first two books before this one. Clow doesn’t spend too much time introducing the characters in this final book, and the few sentences to summarize the characters’ relationships for those who aren’t familiar hardly does justice to the complexity of their bonds. Plus, the characters have naturally evolved, and therefore their current circumstances in this book are directly related to the previous ones.

This being said, Revelations from the Source was a thrilling read because it has an up-to-date timeline of current events. While not every event in the book happened in real life, the story intends to parallel current events. From the election of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit to hold the position, to political tensions in Iran and the presidency of Donald Trump, all the way up to the COVID-19 pandemic, the book focuses on the characters’ experiences of events.

As I read, I was reflecting on having lived through these experiences, many not too long ago, with a new sense of perspective, as well as room to integrate what I was feeling as I moved through them. This is because all of the characters in the story are very tapped into the zeitgeist, all from their own point of view, such as a psychotherapist working with clients’ processing to an artist capturing energetic transmissions of sound in painting to awaken the masses. Another character is a reporter, who previously covered events in the Middle East but is now a correspondent for a newspaper reporting on the happenings in the Vatican.

My favorite character point of view is Claudia, esteemed fashion-designer and astrologer. Since I am an astrologer myself, I could remember all the full moons and conjunctions described, during which characters perform initiations or simply muse about the world. I especially recall the conjunction of Saturn and Pluto in 2020, which was a significant moment in the book as well, as the characters work together to perform a ritual uniting the nine dimensions. I think those prone to reflecting on the placement of the stars, as well as the tumultuous events of the past few years would have a lot to gain from reading the insights of the characters in Revelations from the Source.

Clow’s astrological background is effortlessly integrated into the fictional narrative of this story. For instance, there is a lot of discussion about the nine different dimensions, with certain characters having more of a connection to each one. Clow previously authored the book The Alchemy of the Nine Dimensions, which I’m sure this story’s plot is based on. I’m always a fan of reading fictional stories where I can relate to a character’s feelings, thoughts, and experience, rather than just a non-fictional explanation of some phenomena. And it’s for this reason that I enjoyed this book so thoroughly. Other topics that Clow has woven in from her previous books include Mayan Codes (The Mayan Code), energetic influence of Chiron (Chiron), connections to other star systems (The Pleiadian Agenda), and lots of raising sexual energy as a form of altering consciousness (Astrology and the Rising of Kundalini)!

However, Clow doesn’t hesitate to venture into some of the deepest, darkest shadows in our culture as well. At times, it was hard to stomach parts of the story, especially the sexual abuse of priests on young children, which is a prominent theme in the entire series. This book really covers a lot of the energetic forces of the Catholic Church, as well as how the energy of youths has been inappropriately harvested for power, money, and prestige. Once again, while the story is fiction, it mentions events that really happened such as the Boston Globe story which revealed the extent of abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church.

Quite a few characters leave the Church, and by the end of it, I felt more confident in my resolve to do so as well. I was born and raised in the Catholic faith, even attending a Catholic university for my undergraduate studies. However I am increasingly finding it hard to find faith in a religion that does not value the spiritual authority of women and is rife with abuse and misconduct. The characters’ journeys were really empowering in my own spiritual path, making me see that I could follow their lead, rather than continue to go along with the corruption that has taken hold in the Catholic religious community. There’s so much history packed in the story, as another character is a scholar of early-Christianity, that I was constantly Googling new topic ideas, such as “Marconi” and “Mithraism.”

Other controversial topics include climate change, vaccinations, 5G towers, and the public-safety response to the pandemic. I will admit, sometimes the beliefs did feel a bit “conspiracy theory-esqe,” but I kept an open mind without discrediting anything. I was especially intrigued by the explanation for the coronavirus springing to life when it did, which had to do with telluric interference. Now that is a thought that has never crossed my mind!

At its heart, Revelations from the Source is a tale of the characters’ awakening into the Age of Aquarius. Due to their reputable, affluent, and influential families, the characters in the story are keepers of secret history, serving as a bridge between past and present. In this way, they serve as foils to modern society, clearly showing where humanity has veered off course, thus resulting in evil forces being unleashed through social strife, political controversy, intimate violence, and looming threats of war.

Clow clearly shows through the plot that the transition isn’t an easy one, and there are many forces at work during this tumultuous time. However, with the right perspective, and tools (art, past-life regressions, astrology, writing), humanity will be able to pull through. What’s most important is that we remember the importance of connection, building trust, and working together to overcome the destructive forces both within ourselves and the world at large.

The story’s theme of friendship and community is a prompt for the reader to find their own community to assist during this changing of ages. And most of all, for readers to continue to do their own investigations and express their revelations with a broader community. In this age where the people have the power and the power is the people, increasing our ability to transmit thoughts, energies, and feelings effectively will be a key to survival.

Overall, I am immensely satisfied with the culmination of this trilogy. Revelations from the Source is a treasure-trove of alternative ideas woven perfectly into the seemingly-static fabric of our 3-D reality. Filled with history, ancient and secret knowledge, as well as esoteric understandings of humanity’s place within the greater star systems, this book will bring you into new realms of realization. By delving into the defilement and debasement of some of society’s most corrupt institutions, the truth is exposed. Something we will be seeing more of as the Age of Aquarius dawns.

I highly recommend not only this book, but this entire series, for those looking for a fascinating read that delves into many dimensions, facets of history, and opens a doorway to a future unlike what we’ve known thus far. The writing is engaging, and the characters will soon feel like an extended friend group (I certainly wish I could call on them for advice!). More and more, those awakening to the shifts will be looking for answers, and while it’s fictional, this book is sure to be the key that unlocks readers’ perception.

Mister Yam, by Yeng K Tan

Mister Yam, by Yeng K Tan
Independently published, 9798450939674, 236 pages, August 2021

I will admit that I did not know what I was getting myself into when I started reading Mister Yam by Yeng K Tan. The bold, contrasting colors on the front of the book, overlaid by a red sheep with golden wings wasn’t much of an indication of what this curious book might be about.

Sure, sure I had read the back-cover description: a twenty-something year old guy disillusioned by corporate life finds his life re-examined when a series of events propels him to embark on a mysterious quest to find answers only he can discover. Kind of generic, right? But let me tell you, this book was so much more than your run of a mill adventure pursuit of the unknown; it’s filled with transcendental wisdom, intimate psychological revelation, and a lot of good eats!

Mister Yam lives a pretty routine life: he has a steady job, though he’s not much interested in career ambition, visits his favorite local bar, enjoys watching the evening news, recently experienced a break up with his girlfriend, and most of all, is always thinking about his next meal.

However, after attending a career fair with his buddy Lorenzo, a series of strange events start happening in his life. It begins when a bald man with a big hat gives him a small wooden box with a lock but no key on a train. Then Mister Yam starts getting phone calls from a person eerily familiar with small details of his life, such as what he’s doing at that moment.

Since the box remains a mystery to him, Mister Yam takes it to a local pawn shop to see if they can tell him more about it. Looking up a data search of the box reveals map coordinates, but nothing else. After learning that his friend Lorenzo has gone missing in the midst of all these random and unexplainable events, Mister Yam feels like he must follow the coordinates to find his friend.

He continues his journey to find answers on a bus headed towards Montana. Oddly enough, at a stop in Idaho, he notices the girl from the pawn shop is also on the bus, and they decide to share lunch. She invites him to travel with her for a bit, and he accepts the offer.

As they ride around in her van, Emma reveals her own experience with the bald man and how her life was inexplicably changed after meeting him. Once a Mormon, the bald man even connects to why she’s back in Idaho at that time. Mister Yam isn’t the type of person to overthink things though, and rather than probe her about who this bald man might be, they just get stoned and hook up.

The next day, Mister Yam continues on his journey to Montana. Once again he meets a woman, Sappho, who assists him in this journey. She had seen Lorenzo check into the hotel with the bald man just a few weeks prior. While they were staying at the hotel, she had an odd experience that matches a dream Mister Yam has been having, where they enter a dark room filled with candles.

Together, they set off into the snowy Montana mountain side to find what is located at these mysterious coordinates. However, this is where my summary will end because what comes next is one of those endings that makes you really question concepts of perception, reality, and the feats of consciousness.

I realize this summary seems rather basic, but do not let it deter you from picking up this book! I intentionally left out a lot of the mysterious events, such as a strange play called The Life of Boris, and the many references to sheep that keep revealing themselves.

Plus, what really makes the book worth reading is the revelations the character has about perception. He’s a foodie by heart, and his descriptions of what he’s eating created a craving in me quite a few times. But most of all, he’s a rather unassuming person who’s open to letting the mystery reveal itself without working too hard to grasp it. Yes, he’s curious, but he’s not over thinking about all the events occurring; he’s more like a passenger on a great voyage of sublime divine planning.

At times I didn’t know what to think about the events, and I really had no idea how it would turn out. But I felt reconnected to my own awareness through reading the book, and I was enticed to be more mindful in my day to day routine. This plot moves along a general path, but it has detours, just like life does. There’s something very “in the flow” to how it progresses.

As mysterious as it seems, there’s always a gentle pulse of love and higher knowledge that seems to be guiding seemingly unconnected events to make it a cohesive narrative. The pieces are all woven together in due time, and I valued Mister Yam’s “take it as it is” style in the matter of getting to the heart of the truth.

Reading Mister Yam instantly reminded me why I adore independently published books. Tan’s writing style is unique, fresh, and one of a kind. This story doesn’t have the same narrative plot that’s been churned out over and over again, making the read a wash-rinse-repeat type of experience.

What I liked most about it overall was the stream of consciousness narration of the main character. I really got into his inner dialogue. And while I did feel like he was very much a dude (I will admit the male mind seems very foreign to me), I completely vibed with Mister Yam’s observations, thoughts about the world, and motivations. It reassured me that as a millennial, we do see things in a way other I want to say older but am trying to not create an OK Boomer moment) view things.

From the disillusionment with a corporate lifestyle to insights about current politics, I felt like Mister Yam was immensely relatable. And therefore, I was more inclined to be interested in how the story unfolded. (To be honest, I was actually very interested and read this book in one day because I just wanted to keep going!) He had valuable insight into the world, and he was also a great tipper. His respect towards those around him reflected his good nature.

The other aspect of this book that I enjoyed is how well it captures the “spirit of the land”. From San Francisco to Montana, I felt the narrative come alive through the character’s interaction with the landscape. Whether it be walking around Berkeley to being hunkered down in the snow of Montana, Tan does a wonderful job of painting a vivid picture for the reader. Even when it was just Mister Yam sitting at the bar, I could see it, taste it, feel it, and hear it.

Overall, Mister Yam is like the millennial’s version of a Burning Man revelations within one’s ho-hum life through a strange series of events that help Mister Yam get at the truth of the matter. There’s a mixture of Jung’s synchronicities with psychedelic revelations that come via perception of the mind, filled with the many tastes of Food Network. If this feels like a random jumble of things, I’ve made my point clear. There’s no one way to explain the deep message of Mister Yam, but reading it is a journey in itself — one that I highly encourage.

The Age of Witches, by Louisa Morgan

The Age of Witches, by Louisa Morgan
Orbit Books, 9780356512587, 528 pages, February 2020

Horses, poppets, and duels within a family of witches? Add a splash of romance and you’re got the magical ingredients for The Ages of Witches by Louisa Morgan. This is a definite must-read for witchcraft-fiction readers. Featuring strong women protagonists and actual occult wisdom, this book was a lovely read. What’s best is that Morgan’s writing flows at a gentle pace, making it so I didn’t rush through it in just a day or two and allowing me to really get wrapped up in the tale.

The story is centered around young Annis Allington, who cares more for horseback riding than afternoon tea and marriage. There’s no riding side-saddle for this young lady; she has a natural repertoire with her horses and enjoys the strength she feels galloping around the streets of New York.

Unfortunately, her scheming step-mother, Frances Allington, has other plans for Annis’s life in order to fuel her own personal desire for a place among society’s elite. What Annis doesn’t realize is that Frances is a witch, who specializes in the use of the maleficia, or dark magic used to control others. Her specialty is working with poppets to control her target and make them bend to her will, which is how she landed Annis’s father as a husband.

Wishing to separate Annis from her beloved horse and lure her into a royal marriage, sealing a title to enhance the family’s reputation, Frances brings her to London to meet with a potential suitor. Well, from Frances’s point of view, the match will be guaranteed for she’s prepared to magically make it so, regardless of the feelings of either party.

James, who recently became the new Marquess of Rosefield, has the weight of the world upon his shoulders now that his family has passed. Coming to terms with the family’s dwindling finances and his father’s debt has put James in the position of having to make choices about how to best secure a future for the Rosefield estate. His mother, Lady Eleanor, eagerly and continually suggests finding a wealthy woman to marry, thus ensuring the future of their family’s legacy.

Conveniently, she has invited Frances and Annis to visit with them, hoping for there to be a spark. Well, there certainly is strong chemistry between James and Annis, but not the way their parents had hoped for. James is appalled at Annis’s forwardness in regard to her desire to become a horse breeder, and Annis cannot stand Jame’s conventionality or views on what is and is not appropriate behavior for a woman.

After the first day though, the feelings between them begin to shift. Annis can sense something is off about it; she’s experiencing embarrassing sensual feelings for James, whom she knows she is not truly attracted to at all. It’s clear that James too is feeling the allure, suddenly looking at Annis in a very different way.

Annis doesn’t know what to make of this and is truly worried about her predicament. She knows that Frances is trying to corner her into this marriage, and she’s also fearful of the consequences, such as losing her beloved horse, if she doesn’t play along.

Luckily, Harriet Bishop, Annis’s aunt and Frances’s cousin, has been following along with what’s happening in her family’s bloodline. Readers are introduced to her at the very start of the book, and I for one was instantly taken with her. I only wish I had an aunt watching over the development of my own magical gifts.

Both Harriet and Frances shared a great-great- grandmother, Bridget Bishop, who was hung for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. Bridget had two daughters, Mary and Christian, who each went down their own witchcraft path. Christian followed in Bridget’s footsteps, freely using the maleficia to have her magical way, while Mary chose the path of magic that does not impede the will of others. Frances’s mother, unlike Harriet’s, had come from the lineage of Christian, who practiced the dark arts without discretion.

Harriet and her grandmother found Frances after her mother had passed. Living in squalor, they awakened her to the secret of the family’s witchcraft lineage and took her into their home to oversee her training. They had hoped she would not succumb to the maleifica’s strong powers, but ultimately the pull was too strong. Frances decides to make her way in the world using the witchcraft that compels, controls, and consumes others, expertly using her poppets to get what she needs in life.

“Witch should be a beautiful word, signifying wisdom and knowledge and discipline, but it isn’t used that way. It’s been made an insult, implying evil, causing fear. The word has been perverted.”1

I know I certainly feel this way sometimes, hesitant to share my personal spiritual path as a witch. Therefore I often found myself agreeing with Harriet’s thoughtful sentiments. She is an admirable witch and herbalist, maintaining discretion about her client’s personal needs. Though, she also knows how the beauty and power of witchcraft can be used for ill and malice towards others.

Stepping into to prevent Annis from the harm Frances wishes to callously inflict on her (though France might truly believe what she’s doing is for the best interest of all despite the lack of freedom of choice or ethics concerning the welfare of others), Harriet ventures to London herself to reveal the secrets of their family to Annis before it’s too late.

As for the summary, I’ll stop here. This is hardly a full synopsis of all the twists and turns the book takes, but it’s hopefully enough to convey the essence of the plot. Once Harriet, Annis, and Frances are in London together, it’s truly a battle of wills for the direction that magic will take.

What I love most about the book is Morgan’s portrayal of witchcraft, which I believe can only come from true reverence for the art, along with a bit of practical experience in the craft. There’s even a character who is a strega! This was especially heartwarming for me to read since I come from an Italian lineage.

Throughout the book are fun cantrips, such as the following:

“The touch of this remedy will move the heart
So kindness is the better part.
Leaf and root and flower bless
The heart that always answers, Yes.”2

The spellwork of the witches, especially with the poppets, is always described in detail. From the herbs used to make a salve to the description of using a piece of hair for the intended poppet, Morgan truly captures what goes into magical workings. She even includes the witches mixing in blood for their spell potency, as well as the use of an adder stone to give the work a boost.

Morgan also does a wonderful job of capturing life in the 19th-century for women. While Annis has budding feminist notions, there’s also still societal rules about what constitutes appropriate path’s for a woman’s live. Offering the option of witchcraft to a young woman is one of the most remarkable gifts to be handed down generation after generation — it’s more than just an alternative path, it’s a route to self-discovery and a life beyond the constraints of social norms.

Magic aside, Morgan has created some memorable characters. I really enjoyed the various cooks, maids, and personal attendants who accompanied the main characters. I can picture the different accents the characters used, thus further amplifying my connection to the story’s setting. I was especially taken aback by Annis’s intimacy with her horses, which gave me a new appreciation for the relationship between horse and rider. At times, I wished I could just hop on a horse and go for a little trot around the block!

All in all, The Age of Witches was a very fun read. I almost want to say it was relaxing. Yes, the plot was interesting, and at no time did my attention stray, but the pace was easy-going. This book had all the elements of a good story: family conflict, romance, and a whole lot of heart. Plus, It made me think about what type of magical practitioner I consider myself to be, and it inspired me to be more active in my herbalism and word craft for spellwork. I highly recommend it as an engaging witchcraft-fiction read!

The Ladies of the Secret Circus, by Constance Sayer

The Ladies of the Secret Circus, by Constance Sayer
Redhook, 0316493678, 464 pages, March 2021

I’ll admit it.. I’ve been very into magical circus books this summer (see my review for Bacchanal). When I found the Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayer in the recently published section of my library, I was delighted to once again be immersed in the enchantment that springs forth from the unique energy of circus life. However, while the plot was decent, this book didn’t stand out as a must-read for me. Overall, it was an interesting story, but written with too many plot gaps and a clear indication the writer does not have much experience working magic in the real world.

The overall premise is that on the day of her wedding, Lara Barnes’s fiancé, Todd, goes missing. Yes, they’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship for quite some time, including him being with other women, but the disappearance is a shock to the small town. While Kerrigan Falls is known for its lack of crime, an eerily similar disappearance happened 30 years prior to the day, when another handsome, young, beloved man named Peter went missing in the midst of his aspiring musical career.

Lara is absolutely devastated by the loss of her love, but can sense there’s something more to the story. She has learned how to do simple magic, or “corrections”, as she calls them. For instance, she alters her wedding dress to better fit her taste that day, though she’s aware the illusion will only hold as long as she maintains concentration. She inherited this power from her mother, Audrey, who chose a normal life, hiding her magic from everyone, including her ex-husband Jason.

In the months following Todd’s disappearance, Lara distracts herself by purchasing a local radio station and putting work into her fixer-upper home. She does her best to avoid media attention and rumors about what might have occurred, as she’s in her own personal state of mourning the loss of her beloved. Though, this doesn’t stop her from forming a romantic relationship with the local sheriff, Ben, who is a bit out of his league with such a big case in his small town. What begins with him giving her updates on the case, blossoms into a friendship, which turns into a budding romance.

As a supportive mother, Audrey is trying to lift her daughter’s spirits. Together, they attend the Rivoli circus, as the owners are long-time friends from the days when their family ran a circus. Audrey’s mother had decided to give up the circus, after going mad from her magical powers and no longer being able to maintain it. While at the circus, Lara has an unusual encounter with a fortune teller, where she is gifted with the diaries of her great-grandmother Cecil Cabot.

Reading the journals, Lara learns her great-grandmother was part of Le Cirque Secret, also known as the dark circus. Suddenly, all she’s known is turned upside down. As she tries to figure out the deeper truth, Lara recalls visits from a mysterious man as a child who had told her Todd was not her destiny. When he appears again following Lara reading the diaries with a proposition for Lara, inviting her to come to Paris, as he needs her help, in exchange for information about Todd and her family secrets, she decides to go ahead.

From this point on in the story, it becomes a dual narrative of Lara’s experience and that of her great-grandmother Cecil’s experience in Le Cirque Secret. While Lara’s story is boring white-bread suburban living, Cecil’s life is filled with romance, passion, and magic of 19th-century Paris and circus performances.

Cecil and her twin, Esme, were the children of one of the most notorious demons in the underworld, Althacazur, who is a favorite of Lucifer. When his wife passes away, he needs a home for his daughters, thus he creates Le Cirque Secret (which also is a good way for him to reel in those who are more eager to sell their souls to him in exchange for what they desire — truly a win-win). Known for her cunning charm and quick temper, Lara soon realizes this man is her great-great-grandfather, and her family’s origin is much darker than she ever imagined.

What’s especially enticing about Le Cirque Secret is that only those with a ticket can see the entrance, which pops up in the middle of an open, vacant spot in the town it’s performing in. Since it’s run by demons, who were essentially hand-picked by Althacazur in order to entertain and babysit his kids, this is no usual circus. All the performers are trapped, fulfilling the contracts they’ve made with demons for the rest of eternity. Nevertheless, there is an element of kinship among them.

Cecil and Esme, despite being twins, are often at odds with each other. Their good friend Slyvie tends to pick sides among them, but she also helps to smooth out the tensions. Oddly, Cecil has no memories prior to her 11th birthday blowing out candles. She can’t recall their early childhood, though Esme can and mocks Cecil for her weakness, as she’s also the only person in the circus that does not have a performance routine.

When Cecil grows weary of her sister’s taunts, she asks father about her lost memories and shares what Esme had told her. This prompts a swift and ruthless punishment for Esme, which changes her forever. From then on, all love has been lost between the sisters. However, Cecil finally finds her own strength and becomes an aerial performer. She learns that she can do more than swing from the bars as an acrobat. Cecil can actually fly through air with her magic, dazzling and astounding audiences.

During a night on the town after a circus performance, Cecil meets painter Emile Gradeux. They have an instant connection, sparking young love in the heart of Paris. Esme has usually been the one to go for painters, tormenting them by allowing her portrait to be painted, knowing it will vanish by morning, as it’s impossible to capture Cecil or Esme’s likeness. There’s something about Emile though that opens Cecil’s heart to happiness and love, and she continues to develop her relationship with them.

Surprisingly, Althacazur takes an interest in Emile and offers him the chance to do three paintings of the circus: one of Slyvie, one of Cecil, and one of Esme. Cecil and Esme’s intense rivalry is fueled by their common romantic interest in painter Emile. Ultimately, many relationships are destroyed, with consequences that are still impacting Lara in modern-day.

Swept away in the elegance of 19th-century Paris, these diary entries are definitely the best part of the book. Intermixed with characters such as Mann Ray, Pablo Picassion, and Ernest Hemmingway, the creative spirit comes alive amid the chaos of the circus. It’s easy to get caught-up in the glamour and romance

On her mission to learn more about her family’s past, Lara discovers more paintings in Paris, as well as a fellow Le Cirque Secret enthusiast, Tedd Barthlow-Bentham, a friend of Gaston, the local portrait framer and art enthusiast of Kerrigan Falls who has accompanied her. When Lara goes missing, Ben comes rushing to her rescue. Eventually, all the pieces come together for what is intended to be a surprising end. Though, if you’ve been reading between the lines, it’s easy to spot it coming.

So, overall the book has an appealing plot and it does keep the reader engaged to an extent. The major drawbacks to the book that irked me as a reader was the flow of the plot, which seemed a bit jerky. Sayer jumps from here to there with little transition, which makes it not as an appealing read. I sometimes didn’t know how things progressed as rapidly as they did in a very short time-frame.

Then, and I think this was my biggest problem with the book, Lara was not a very relatable character. Basic doesn’t even begin to describe her. It’s almost as if she was devoid of deeper emotional feelings. She was very one-dimensional, and most of the time she’s simply confused about what’s going on in her life. The romances between both Todd and Ben seem superficial, and she doesn’t really strike me as someone with a genuine range of emotion, which made me feel she was a bit annoying as a protagonist.

This was interesting because it wasn’t that Sayers couldn’t write a better character; Cecil and Esme have passion, depth, and self-awareness. And as I already said, the parts of the book focused on these characters in Paris were certainly the best. Lara just simply seems naive, selfish, and a bit aloof, not allowing for an emotional connection to be made with her, which as a reader I enjoy having with a main character.

Then my other peeve about the book was that the magic described is the kind of “wave your hand and something happens magic”. It came naturally to all of the characters because of their demonic origins. Therefore, it almost seems taken for granted. Yes, it was neat reading about their powers and their journey to master it. But most of the time, especially with Lara and Audrey, the magic was used to simply enchant life and make it a little better, rather than actually doing anything substantial. It’s mostly all glamour magic.

Plus, the portrayal of the demonic realm was very glossed over and prettily packaged. There was the usual allusion to great people, such as Mussolini, who sold their sold to the devil, or in this case a demon. While Sayers tries to depict the cost of their deal, such as permanent abuse based on the whims of Althacazur, one again, there seem to be little self-reflection or self-awareness on the part of these side characters damned to Hell’s circus forever. The book definitely didn’t weight the pros and cons of selling one’s soul in the way The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab captured (a book I do highly recommend!).

All in all, The Ladies of the Secret Circus was a unique plot and memorable for its originality, but it could have been written a bit better. It’s most redeeming aspect is Sayer’s portrayal 19th-century Paris. Otherwise, it’s a watered-down stunted romance of a confused character trying to figure out her family’s history, drawing the reader into some very superficial aspects of the demonic realm. For those who are looking for a decent book to read, filled with enough mystery and intrigue to keep you occupied, this is an all right selection. It probably will not be a life-changing read, but it might be worth delving into once.