Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft- edited by Jessica Spotswood & Tess Sharpe

Image result for toil and trouble book coverYA-ICON

(various authors, 2018)

A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

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.

(via Goodreads)

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I actually really liked the way that Destiny @ Howling Libraries did her review of this book, so I think I am going to use a similar format:

My Favorite Stories


Death in the Sawtooths

The Ghern Girls

Why They Watched Us Burn

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Starsong – Tehlor Kay Mejia (3 stars)

This one was super simple for me. Something to lightly take off on. A young Latina girl is confident in her faith and herself (and her image). It explores some candle and incense rituals.

Afterbirth – Andrea Cremer (5 stars)

This one was the most Salem of them all. This is the type of story I think of when I think of witches, and I loved every moment of it. An unwed woman is having a difficult birth. Midwives do everything they can but unfortunately life was lost. Now one of the midwives is put on trial because the young woman was alive, and then wasn’t.

The Heart in Her Hands – Tess Sharpe (4 stars)

I loved the rebellious heart of this main character. In this story, witches are marked with the first spoken words their true love says to them. When Bette feels the tell-tale burning of those words on her ribs, she knows she will meet her true love soon. The problem is that she has been in love with her best friend for as long as she can remember. But denying Fate comes with dire consequences. This was a fierce story of breaking free of the mold, and thinking for yourself.

Death in the Sawtooths – Lindsay Smith (4.5 stars)

I LOVED this story! It actually really reminded me of Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire with the tone and setting of the story. I loved that it featured an idea that is rarely explored. It didn’t feel like a “witch-y” so much as “creepy” but I still really enjoyed it. A woman whose job it is to settle the souls of people passed, is called to for her expertise, despite being looked down upon by the rest of the townspeople.

The Truth About Queenie – Brandy Colbert (4.5 stars)

This was one of the first stories that had me wishing for more. Queenie is your average run of the mill teenager, with a huge crush on her famous best friend. When he comes home, with a girl, Queenie swallows her pride and tries to be happy for him. But a mysterious past is brought to the surface and Queenie is tested on her desire to be more like her aunt (Big Queenie) or renounce her special qualities like her mother. It feels like a typical contemporary with a touch of magic.

The Moonapple Menagerie – Shveta Thakrar (2 stars)

This one was hard for me to get through. It was super fantastical, and not in the way that I generally get from witch-y stories. It felt more like a story of faeries and the story within the story was a little hard to wrap my head around, especially when reading the story in fragmented pieces. This was definitely not my favorite in the collection.

The Legend of Stone Mary – Robin Talley (4.5 stars)

I LOVED THIS STORY. But it definitely could have been good as a full length novel. Something weird and wicked surrounds the stone of a girl they call Mary. A descendant of Mary, Wendy, is drawn to her statue one Halloween night, after being told continuously that she should never go near it.

The One Who Stayed – Nova Ren Suma (4 stars)

This one was interesting. I can see why many people liked it. A coven of girls plot revenge, and protect others like themselves in the wooded area off the highway.

Divine Are the Stars – Zoraida Córdova (3 stars)

This was an interesting one. Features nature-friendly witches. A dying matriarch of an interesting family has called all her relatives to her ranch in the desert to receive her will.

Daughters of Baba Yaga – Brenna Yovanoff (3 stars)

This one was forgetful for me. Two unrelated girls in a high school discover each other among nasty catholic school students who act one way and then act differently in front of adults.  They find that they must “avenge things,” but what?

The Well Witch – Kate Hart (4 stars)

This one was a tough one as well. I needed a better conclusion from it. Too much was left unsaid. Three “travelers” stop at an otherwise isolated home in the desert. They promise to stay until their horses are well, but of course that is not what happens.

Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths – Jessica Spotswood (4.5 stars)

This one was at times hard to follow. Three sisters are doomed to destroy each other until one is left standing. Each possesses different kinds of magic. One of the sisters has a vision of herself as the surviving sister, and formulates a plan to save both of her sisters if this vision is in fact what is to happen.

Lovespell – Anna-Marie McLemore (4.5 stars)

This one broke my heart a little. Two brujas are from a family of healers, but these two have special healing powers. Townspeople come to get a cure for love sickness. After being denied at a church service, an acolito brings her communion and sparks a connection between them.

The Ghern Girls – Emery Lord (5 stars)

Three sisters with different kinds of power reconvene one weekend in their hometown. Each has their own secrets but they band together to support and protect the one sister when she is faced with a particularly toxic ex.

Why They Watch Us Burn – Elizabeth May (4.75 stars)

When women speak out against men who rape or abuse them, they have one of two outcomes. They go to trial and get hung, or they are shipped away to a “camp” in the woods. Women don’t ever come back from those camps so who knows what happens. At these camps, you are nameless, and are responsible for two things. You must pray, and you must work. Failure to do those simple tasks results in no food, or worse.


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Final Thoughts

Listen, I am usually the first person to tell you that I don’t typically read short stories, certainly not whole anthologies of them, but I have been hyped about this book since I heard about it here on the blogosphere. I immediately pre-ordered it, but ultimately decided I would wait until my favorite month to dive into it. I mean, c’mon, it’s in my blog name, how can I NOT read an anthology of witch-y stories in October? And boy was did I devour these tales. I was pleasantly surprised by how many I really loved, and how little I felt dissatisfied by such an abrupt ending! That being said, there were several stories that left me needing more, which is always hard. All in all though, I am so so glad to own this book, and have it to revisit these stories every year.

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on deck book On Deck:

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

adult book

10 thoughts on “Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft- edited by Jessica Spotswood & Tess Sharpe

  1. Oh this sounds absolutely brilliant! It has everything I look for in a book and I’m just sad to have missed my October window to read it… But hey, I can always pick it up on a dark, stormy night 😛
    Anthologies are quite a varied mix and so there’s always some stories that will fall short and others that will blow me away. Which I suppose is everyone’s experience as well. That’s the only part I don’t like: the ebbing of my enjoyment throughout hahaha
    Anyway, wonderful review 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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