Our Favorite Fictional Witches

IMG_7080

Happy Halloween, all of you lit witches!

Once, when I was little I mentioned to someone that I thought Maleficient was beautiful. It didn’t go over well. I was reminded lots of times that witches are bad or evil, usually old and covered in warts, certainly never young or kind. This is, as most of you know, a completely ridiculous stereotype. Witches are everywhere and most live by a strong ethical code to harm none. You’ll find witches of all shapes and sizes with their noses in books, sipping tea and petting familiars. Nothing to be frightened of.

With all the lovely witches I know in real life, we all still have our fictional favorites. So I put together my list and I asked around a bit to find out the who’s who of fictional witches these days. Here’s some of our favorites, with some suggestions for where you might find other, fictional witches you’d like! Pull a cat into your lap, stir some honey into your tea and snuggle in for a Halloween read. 

#1 Diana Bishop, The All Souls Trilogy:

Diana was, by far, the favorite. As a woman, mother, wife and witch, almost all the witchy women I talked to said they found her relatable and engaging as a fictional witch. You might remember that I recommended the trilogy a while back, but click here if you need to read my opus to Diana and Matthew’s relationship!

What other witches are saying:

“Diana resonates so deeply with me, because she resisted her magic for so much of her life, ashamed and scared to be what she really was. And when those guards were let down, she was a true force to be reckoned with. I read the trilogy at a time when I was just starting to become aware of my own resistance to my magic, and so I felt like I went on the journey with her a little . . . minus the whole fate of the world resting on my willingness to come to terms with who I Am and come into my power. Although, MY world certainly depended on it.” -Sara

“I love how she is a rower like me and felt so real in her character, like she could totally exist in this world, right now. And how she not only had magical talents but was an athlete- that really resonated with me: then witches aren’t just all about metaphysical but also physical. I love how Deborah Harkness characterized her.” -Therese

#2 Hermione Granger and Miranda McGonagall, Harry Potter:

Running in a close second were the witches from the Harry Potter series. Nicola, in particular loves her, with Professor McGonagall as my favorite. The wonderful thing about the witches in the Harry Potter series is that though there are plenty of wizards to complement them, the witches keep up — hell, they dominate, magically speaking!

#3 Sally, Jilly, Jet and Frances Owens, Practical Magic:

Practical Magic (the film) is an obvious favorite among witchy women. A Stevie Nicks heavy soundtrack, that house (that KITCHEN!), and the hair on those women. It’s hard not to love them to pieces. But here’s a witchy secret: the book is much different and it’s just as good. It’s kind of like a two for one.

#4 The Ironteeth Witches, Throne of Glass:

You all know how much Nicola, Alyssa and I love Sarah J. Maas’ witches (and how we’re practically hopping in anticipation for the next book). Manon, Asterin, the whole 13th really. We just love them.

#5 Elphaba, Wicked:

We’re letting Gregory Maguire into our womanly space because we love Elphaba so much.

What other witches are saying:

“Elphaba was sorely misunderstood and so terribly mistreated. She was so passionate and outspoken and she didn’t hold back when it came to what she believed to be right and true. Her powers came from her heart. She’s one who reminds me to stay authentic (green skin and all).” – Lindsay

Read all these and need some new witches? Let’s see if we can pick something out that’ll strike your fancy.

Historical/Paranormal Fiction:

If you’re a fan of the Belle Epoque era, Paris and witches, the M.J. Rose’s The Witch of Painted Sorrows might just be the one for you. For my full recommendation, click here.

Scary and Literary Fiction:

If you’re in it for a mystery and you’re willing to get a serious dose of the mind-bending creeps, then Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching is for you. We discussed it earlier this year and were scared witless.

Romance:

If you’d like a hefty dose of romance with your witchcraft, along with a Irish setting and a vengeful warlock, try out Nora Roberts’ The Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy.

Young Adult:

If you think you’d like to see what it’s like for witches in an alternate-timeline future, you might like Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season. Here’s my recommendation for the series, thus far.

What other witches are recommending:

“I live near Salem, MA, so I’ve always been fascinated with New England witches and witch trials. If you like historical fantasy and want a unique take on witches, pick up Kendall Kulper’s Salt & Storm (2014), Drift & Dagger (2015), and Saltwater Heart (2015). They are companion novels about three generations of the Roe family: witches who reside on Prince Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, during the 19th century, and sell their spells and charms to protect seafarers (especially whalers). Salt & Storm focuses on sixteen-year-old Avery, who wants to be the next Roe witch (like her grandmother); but her mother forbids her from seeing her grandmother and using magic. (Read the Goodreads summary here.) Drift & Dagger, Salt & Storm’s prequel, is about Avery’s mother, Essie. (Read the Goodreads summary here.) Saltwater Heart brings to life a love story that is briefly mentioned in Salt & Storm. (Read the Goodreads summary here.)” – Alyssa

Middle Grade:

For middle grade readers and adults alike, I recommend Monica Furlong’s Juniper and Wise Child, which I recommended a few months ago.  

Allison Carr Waechter wants to thank her favorite lit witches Alyssa and Nicola for always inspiring her to find a bit more magic inside a book and her Tea Coven sisters for their love and support. 


The Diviners: An Audiobook Recommendation

7728889I’m not typically a huge audiobook fan. However, I’ve been getting into podcasts more lately, so I decided to give audiobooks from the library another shot. I checked out Libba Bray’s The Diviners, read by January LaVoy and I absolutely think it was better than reading the actual book to myself.

First of all, January LaVoy is one of those narrators who can do male and female voices with no trouble at all. She can do accents and inflections that sound completely natural, which in a book whose genre falls pretty squarely in the “horror” scene is pretty amazing. Horror can be hard to play off, especially in a story with an ensemble cast and one third person narrator, and LaVoy’s work is flawless.

So, that being said, even without LaVoy as a narrator, I’d recommend The Diviners to you if you wanted to read the regular old book. First off, nobody does creepy period work quite like Libba Bray. I read the Gemma Doyle Trilogy in college and it gave me weird dreams for weeks. The Diviners is no different in terms of Bray’s talent, it’s just set in 1920s New York City, rather than a Victorian boarding school for young women:

Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened. (summary from Goodreads)

The story itself is great. Bray has done her research and LaVoy’s narration of the audiobook paint a gorgeous picture of 1920s NYC. I appreciate that Bray has included a somewhat more diverse cast in this first book and I’m interested to see what happens as the story develops. It’s sometimes hard in the first book in a series of books with an ensemble cast to get a good read on all of the main characters, but I feel like Bray does a nice job giving us enough to get to know all the characters enough to stay interested.

However, it is nearing Halloween and I’ve mostly been focusing on spooky reads this month, so I should tell you that one of the main reasons I wanted to recommend this book is that it is so, so scary. Bray chose to follow the killer through the murders in the book, so we don’t just get the “Scooby gang” perspective. I’m going to go ahead and little an itsy-spoiler(ish) slip and tell you that you’re going to be so sad when each victim dies. Bray is in it to break your heart.

There’s no gore or jump scares, it’s a slow burn of creepy mystery that will keep you thinking, but probably won’t have you starting awake with nightmares. I don’t have a high threshold for scariness, so if you’re accustomed to Stephen King-level horror, you probably won’t find this very scary. I thought it was pretty scary though, so if you’re into medium-level scary books this will probably work for you. 

One of the things I found most attractive about the book, other than its scare-factor, was that its main character, Evie is a really human person. She likable and unlikable at turns. She does stuff that she shouldn’t, but she does stuff she should too. And most of all, she’s fairly self aware. She seems to know that she can be selfish and off-putting, but like most young people, isn’t quite sure how to work things out. I love that Evie knows her way around an apology and while she definitely steps in it from time to time, she has a good heart. 

If you’ve got time for one more scary read this month, see if you can hunt down The Diviners on audiobook at your library. You can listen while you do the dishes or take a dog for a walk. Spice up chore time! Lucky you, the next book in the series, Lair of Dreams is already out, so no waiting for your sequel.

Allison Carr Waechter hears little whispers behind her back as the veil grows thinner. Don’t look behind her. No, I said don’t, you fool! Don’t tell her what you saw, she knows all too well what lurks in the shadows.


The Stuff of Nightmares: Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf

24807186

Ryan Graudin’s Wolf by Wolf, the first book in a duology, is frightening, but not in the traditional sense of what makes a great Halloween read. It’s a historical fantasy and a spy thriller that reimagines what could have happened if the United States had stayed isolationist and the Axis Powers had won World War II.

It’s 1956, and the Third Reich and Imperial Japan have conquered much of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Each spring, to celebrate their joint victory, they host the Axis Tour: a motorcycle race, in which ten Hitler Youth members and ten citizens of Greater East Asia ride from Berlin to Tokyo.

The protagonist, Yael, wants desperately to win. The award? A dance with Hitler at the Victor’s Ball. A chance to kill him. Not as Yael, a Jewish concentration camp survivor and resistance fighter. But as Adele Wolfe, an Aryan beauty and last year’s victor, who masqueraded as her twin brother to win the formerly all-male competition and the Führer’s heart.

How is Yael able to impersonate Adele? Wolf by Wolf flashes back to 1944 when six-year-old Yael was Dr. Geyer’s Experiment #85. Chemicals and injections that changed her appearance to look Aryan have an unexpected side effect: she’s a skinshifter. She can be any body.

Who are you? (On the inside?)

The answer to this question was something Yael had to fight for. Her self-reflection was no reflection at all. It was a shattered mirror. Something she had to piece together, over and over again. Memory by memory. Loss by loss. Wolf by wolf.

It was easy–too easy–to pretend. To fill that empty space inside her with other lives….Girls who never had to face the smoke or watch the syringes slide under their skin. Girls who never had to stare into the eyes of the Angel of Death. Again and again and again.

It was too easy to get lost.

This was why, every night before she fell asleep, she peeled back her sleeve, traced the wolves, and said their names. Because somewhere in there–in those fragments of gone souls and memories–was Yael.

Not chemicals, but essence. The real Yael. (Wolf by Wolf, p. 47)

Graugin’s protagonist is both the stuff of nightmares, a monster, and humanity’s greatest hope during Hitler’s reign of terror. She’s more than Yael. She’s special. She’s going to change things. As Volchitsa–

[s]he-wolf in Russian, a stubborn, fierce creature for a stubborn, fierce girl…. (Wolf by Wolf, p. 48)

As Graudin acknowledges in her Author’s Note, the complexity of Yael’s identity is at the heart of this book, which ingeniously subverts racial superiority myths:

What makes people who they are? The color of their skin? The blood in their veins? The uniforms they wear? I gave Yael the ability to skinshift to address these questions, as well as to highlight the absurdity of racial superiority. By taking creative liberty with this surreal element, I hoped to push readers out of their own comfort zones and into Yael’s many skins and, by doing so, to impart a deeper understanding of what humanity is capable of. Both the good and the evil.

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult). She thanks Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Edelweiss, and the Boulder Book Store for providing her with a digital galley edition for review purposes. The quotes have been checked in a finished copy.  Please follow Alyssa (Spellbinding Books) on Tumblr and Twitter.


Down a Darker Path: The Comics of Emily Carroll

91bldT8CbtL81gs3Mk0AALIt’s almost Halloween and I think we’re all looking for something a little scary to read. How about something downright terrifying? If you’re looking for something that will get under your skin and give you chills, something to only read in the daytime, then I suggest the work of Emily Carroll.

Carroll’s work has largely been in the realm of webcomics, which is fantastic for you (and me too!) because right after you read this, you can skip over to her website and get going. Carroll’s illustrations have an almost delicate quality; it’s similar to the work of Edward Gorey. They’re gorgeous and almost all of her comics have a fairytale-like quality to them.

I can almost guarantee that if you like Angela Carter or any of the other dark fairytale adaptations that I’ve recommended here in the past few months, that you’ll like Carroll’s work. In addition to her collection of webcomics, Carroll has a “real” book out, though you could always do what I did and buy the digital version, which seemed fitting after reading the webcomics.

Through the Woods is mostly new tales, conjured up from Carroll’s brain for the printed page. The exception is “His Face All Red”, which I strongly suggest you read in its webcomic version first to catch the original movement of the frames, which is much creepier than in the book. The other tales are new, though the prequel to “The Nesting Place” is one of Carroll’s webcomics, “All Along the Wall.”

Because the comics are so short, I almost don’t want to tell you what they’re “about.” Because short form horror depends so much on novelty, it seems wrong to give too much away. I’ve included some of the pages from Through the Woods at the bottom of this post so you can see Carroll’s beautiful work — I’m hoping it’ll draw you in and that you’ll click over to her website and enjoy a taste of her storytelling, before checking Through the Woods out from your library or buying it.

My recommendation would be to start with the webcomics. Many are interactive (like “Margot’s Room,” where clicking on objects will reveal a larger story. Others are somewhat less interactive for the reader, but Carroll’s use of scrolling up and down and left and right all add to an immersive experience that is difficult to come by in a book.

Through the Woods is worth it though. Carroll clearly knows how good horror should be constructed in a highly visual medium like comics and her page turns are well timed and the stories are well paced. However, while all of this is well and good, and obviously attractive to me as someone who likes scary fairy tales, this is only the tip of what make these stories so interesting.

Overall, what I like best is Carroll’s use of the unknown, the pauses, the gaps, and loose ends. Many of her stories don’t tie up nicely. It’s rare for Carroll’s stories to have a pat ending where the reader gets to know “what happened.” Many have classic horror endings, where one storyline is tied up nicely, but it’s obvious that another horror is lurking around the bend, and those are satisfying. However, my favorites are when Carroll gives us the puzzle pieces, but it’s clear that some are missing. Whatever our imaginations conjure up is most definitely more terrifying than any “answer” Carroll could give us.

This is the genius behind these short pieces, they engage our imaginations so deeply that we’re left thinking about the missing pieces of the plot, or the open endings for days. I also like that Carroll delves into scary territory that isn’t totally reliant on gore. I mean sure, there’s some gros s stuff, “Out of Skin” for instance, is a little more gory that I typically prefer, but Carroll’s ethereal illustrations render it palatable. The “scare” in most of these tales is visceral, but also psychological, and the double-down is really effective.

I’m always in for suspenseful stories, but I’m kind of a lightweight when it comes to horror, so coming from me, this is a big deal! Again, this reminds me most of Angela Carter’s work in The Bloody Chamber. It’s horrific, but it’s also beautiful. The balance is what makes it work for me, I think. This idea that horror and beauty so often go hand in hand is something I think women understand especially well. So please, go check out Emily Carroll’s beautiful webcomics and should you be further motivated, Through the Woods is available now.

81MbVvlfluL

From “Our Neighbor’s House” in Through the Woods

91GQpDDW9cL

From “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold” in Through the Woods

Allison Carr Waechter is ready for the thinning of the veil. See you all on Halloween, you beautiful wraiths!


What to Read Around Halloween: A Roundup (Part 2)

This continuation of last week’s post includes 2015 releases I’ve read and want to read. (Summaries are from Goodreads.)

238459522259527118748653233408912439685819547848206975862152444622010129247897962418792523845997

Blood and Salt, by Kim Liggett: Romeo and Juliet meets Children of the Corn in this one-of-a-kind romantic horror. “When you fall in love, you will carve out your heart and throw it into the deepest ocean. You will be all in—blood and salt.” These are the last words Ash Larkin hears before her mother returns to the spiritual commune she escaped long ago. But when Ash follows her to Quivira, Kansas, something sinister and ancient waits among the rustling cornstalks of this village lost to time.

Daughters unto Devils, by Amy Lukavics: When sixteen-year-old Amanda Verner’s family decides to move from their small mountain cabin to the vast prairie, she hopes it is her chance for a fresh start. She can leave behind the memory of the past winter; of her sickly Ma giving birth to a baby sister who cries endlessly; of the terrifying visions she saw as her sanity began to slip, the victim of cabin fever; and most of all, the memories of the boy she has been secretly meeting with as a distraction from her pain. The boy whose baby she now carries.

The Dead House, by Dawn Kurtagich: Part-psychological thriller, part-urban legend, this is an unsettling narrative made up of diary entries, interview transcripts, film footage transcripts and medical notes. Twenty-five years ago, Elmbridge High burned down. Three people were killed and one pupil, Carly Johnson, disappeared. Now a diary has been found in the ruins of the school. The diary belongs to Kaitlyn Johnson, Carly’s identical twin sister. But Carly didn’t have a twin . . .

The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen, by Katherine Howe: A haunting, contemporary love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Conversion. It’s summertime in New York City, and aspiring filmmaker Wes Auckerman has just arrived to start his summer term at NYU. While shooting a séance at a psychic’s in the East Village, he meets a mysterious, intoxicatingly beautiful girl named Annie.

The Suffering (The Girl from the Well #2), by Rin Chupeco: It’s been two years since Tark Halloway’s nightmare ended. Free from the evil spirit that haunted him all his life, he now aids the ghostly Okiku and avenges the souls of innocent children by hunting down their murderers. But when Okiku becomes responsible for a death at his high school, Tark begins to wonder if they’re no better than the killers they seek out.

Sweet Madness, by Trisha Leaver and Lindsay Currie: Sweet Madness is a retelling of the infamous Borden murders from the point of view of Lizzie’s Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan.

The Uninvited, by Cat Winters (categorized as adult fiction): From the award-winning author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds comes a stunning new novel—a masterfully crafted story of love, loss, and second chances. Set during the fear and panic of the Great Influenza of 1918, The Uninvited is part gothic ghost-story, part psychological thriller, perfect for those who loved The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield or The Vanishing by Wendy Webb.

The Unquiet, by Mikaela Everett: For most of her life, Lirael has been training to kill—and replace—a duplicate version of herself on a parallel Earth. She is the perfect sleeper-soldier. But she’s beginning to suspect she is not a good person. The two Earths are identical in almost every way. Two copies of every city, every building, even every person. But the people from the second Earth know something their duplicates do not—two versions of the same thing cannot exist.


We’ll Never Be Apart
, by Emiko Jean: Murder. Fire. Revenge. That’s all seventeen-year-old Alice Monroe thinks about. Committed to a mental ward at Savage Isle, Alice is haunted by memories of the fire that killed her boyfriend, Jason. A blaze her twin sister Cellie set. But when Chase, a mysterious, charismatic patient, agrees to help her seek vengeance, Alice begins to rethink everything.

These Shallow Graves, by Jennifer Donnelly: Set in gilded age New York, These Shallow Graves follows the story of Josephine Montfort, an American aristocrat. Jo lives a life of old-money ease. Not much is expected of her other than to look good and marry well. But when her father dies due to an accidental gunshot, the gilding on Jo’s world starts to tarnish. With the help of a handsome and brash reporter, and a young medical student who moonlights in the city morgue, Jo uncovers the truth behind her father’s death and learns that if you’re going to bury the past, you’d better bury it deep.

A Thousand Nights, by E.K. Johnston: Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next. And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow.

It’s a Wonderful Death, by Sarah J. Schmitt: Seventeen-year-old RJ always gets what she wants. So when her soul is accidentally collected by a distracted Grim Reaper, somebody in the afterlife better figure out a way to send her back from the dead or heads will roll. But in her quest for mortality, she becomes a pawn in a power struggle between an overzealous archangel and Death Himself.

MIDDLE GRADE

16181516MarcyKate Connolly’s Monstrous is fairy tale fantasy combined with a Frankenstein motif. A year ago, twelve-year-old Kymera was killed, along with her mother, by the evil wizard who abducts and murders girls, using their young blood as a powerful ingredient in his magic spells. Fortunately, her father has brought her back to life, but without her original human body and memories of her previous life. After many experiments joining her human parts with multiple animal parts, she has been recreated as a hybrid with patchwork skin, cat eyes, claws, wings, and a barbed tail. (Recommended with Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird here.)

20499923A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano: Pram Bellamy is special—she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help.

23676581Dead Boy, by Laurel Gale: A darkly funny and literary debut novel about a dead boy named Crow who has a chance at friendship – and a chance at getting his life back. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you don’t deserve a life. Crow Darlingson died in the 4th grade. But he’s still alive. And growing, actually. He can’t eat or taste anything, his body parts sometimes fall off (mom always sews them back on, though), and he’s only allowed to leave his house once per year, on Halloween.

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult). She thanks Edelweiss, NetGalley, the Boulder Book Store, and publishers for providing her with ARCs and DRCs for review purposes. Please follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.