Book Review, Fiction, Review, Thriller, Women's Fiction, Young Adult

Book Review Round-Up: June 2022

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Review of ‘Wild Is The Witch’, by Rachel Griffin

Iris and her mother are witches and run a wildlife refuge in the state of Washington.  They keep their magic a secret but they do use it in their work.  Pike Alder is an intern that grates on Iris’s nerves and who doesn’t like witches—at all.  His arrogance ignites her anger and Iris turns to her favored way of dealing with strong emotions.  She concocts a fatal spell which she was then supposed to destroy—much like writing a strongly worded letter to someone who has hurt you and burning it up.  But unfortunately, that doesn’t work out.

The Bahá’í Writings mention avoiding anger as we would a lion, so it’s good to have a way to let go of our anger.  But Iris finds out that what she thought was a good way of letting go of her anger isn’t that good after all, and spends most of the book trying to fix her mistake.  This journey helps her understand not only the person who ignited such anger in her heart, but also a fatal mistake made by a fellow witch.  Iris’ internal monologue really helps readers gain insight into dealing with anger and fear, and bridging the gap between two seemingly dichotomous opinions.

I don’t like the enemies-to-lovers trope, as it often leads to toxic relationships.  But in this case, it becomes clear that the trope isn’t always as clear-cut as it seems.  Also, the romance is part of the plot but not at the heart of it, which I deeply appreciate.  Wild is the Witch is much more about finding your true self and being okay with what you find.  And this journey is set in a gorgeously atmospheric book that paints incredibly vivid scenes throughout.

Review of ‘The It Girl’, by Ruth Ware

I used to read a lot of thrillers then got a little tired of the formula that a number of big-named writers were using.  It made the most popular thriller books hollow and a little boring to read.  Ruth Ware’s The It Girl is the opposite.  There is a lot of character development, so much so that at times I felt it was more of a book about gaslighting and mental health (in a good way though).  It made the tragedy that started this whole thing all the sadder, and the denouement all the more surprising.

April Clarke-Cliveden is the it girl—rich, beautiful, intelligent, and popular.  Although the two roommates are quite different, April and Hannah Jones become friends, and the former’s murder devastates Hannah.  But ten years after finding her college roommate’s dead body in their room, Hannah is faced with the possibility that her testimony may have sent an innocent man to jail, where he died.

The book is divided into “before” and “after” chapters which give us enough information to remain quite thoroughly confused about what happened that night, and who could be the actual killer.  It’s a deeper dive than expected from thrillers and makes for a much more satisfying read.  There wasn’t any sense of urgency, and only near the end was there even an imminent threat.  And I’m all here for it.

Review of ‘Our Crooked Hearts’, by Melissa Albert

The main thing that came out of this one for me was the exploration of the relationship between mother and daughter within a story about witches and magic.  It really made me wonder how far I would go to protect my own daughter, and while I certainly hope I would never so what was done in this book, I can understand the why (even if I don’t approve of it at all.)

Ivy is on summer break and can’t escape the weirdness at home.  She was in a car with a drunk driver who, spotting a mysterious stranger in the middle of the road, got into an accident.  Now punished, she is left to mull over what happened that night and over all the other weird things about her mother, which leads her down the path of Dana’s past.  When she was a teenager herself, Dana and her best friend were taken under the wing of an older girl and taught magic.  But the older girl’s intentions are dark, and we all know what happens with dark magic.  As Ivy starts digging into her own past and her mother’s past, unexpected truths are revealed.

While Dana learned that power is a drug and can lead one to do some terrible things, she herself succumbs to the power that she has a mother to make a decision that completely changed the course of Ivy’s life.  It makes me think about how so many parents, for fear of their child getting hurt, exert their power as parent in a way that causes, ironically enough, more harm than good.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the separation of mother and child begins at the moment of conception.  The child, at first so completely depend on its mother, begins its slow, inexorable journey to becoming its own person, separate and distinct yet still powerfully connected to their mother.  This story is, at its core, one of that separation gone wrong, when a mother goes beyond what is acceptable to do what she thinks will protect her child.

Review of ‘Love from Mecca to Medina’, by S.K. Ali

I just love how books featuring religious protagonists can help followers of different religions understand that, although the social laws may be different, religion, at its core, is all the same.  Because as a Bahá’í who has been on Bahá’í Pilgrimage, I found Zayneb’s struggle to remain focused on her spiritual journey while on Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina uncomfortably hilarious.  I totally saw myself in some of those moments when I’m trying to let my higher self become stronger and then suddenly my lower nature just comes right on in, interrupting my attempts to commune with God.

I also saw myself in the way the various members of the Muslim community knew each other despite living on different continents.  There was always only one or two degrees of separation.  Again, it’s the same with the Bahá’í community, more so since we are a smaller community, numbers-wise.  Listening to Bahá’ís drawing out the degrees of separation between each other during Pilgrimage over fragrant Persian tea was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played.

The essence of the story, to me, was the vital importance of talking things out in order to make a relationship work well.  So many misunderstandings happen in so many books about relationships, but the essence of the solution is often lost in the romantic dénouement.  However in this book, there was such a focus throughout on the higher and lower natures that the conclusion came quite naturally, something I deeply appreciated and wish was more common than not.

Thank you to Raincoast Books and Simon & Schuester Canada for ARCs, to Orca Book Publishers for review copies, and thank you to all the publisher who sent me electronic ARCs through Netgalley!

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