Book Reviews

Book Review: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Book Review: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

TLDR: ★ ★ ★ ★ Languid and lyrical, I was enthralled by this atmospheric tale of a rain-soaked coastal Oregon town cursed by three witchy sisters — and all the riveting mystery and heartbreak their 200-year-old curse brings, even if it was sometimes a bit too predictable.

Thanks to my love of witches in fiction, an absolutely stunning book cover, and a description calling it "Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials," The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw has been on my can't wait to read list since last fall. And while this was much more poignant and not at all the lighthearted fun of the movies it's compared to — the only similarities being a trio of witchy sisters and a curse — this was still well worth the wait.

Set amid the misty haze of a coastal Oregon town, The Wicked Deep follows Penny Talbot as her junior year ends and the locals prepare for Swan season: a three-week period in June when the town is besieged by tourists morbidly eager to witness the curse of the Swan sisters. According to legend, three girls' bodies are inhabited by the spirits of three sisters killed for witchery 200 years ago so they can lure young men into the ocean's depths, drowning the boys as punishment for the town's sins against them.

The local teens have their own Swan season rituals, involving drunken bonfires on the beach and girls testing fate by going for a swim, daring a sister to take them. For Penny, these rituals are usually to be avoided, but this summer is different: her friend drags her to the bonfire party, where she's saved from a handsy drunk by the brooding new boy in town, Bo.

Though he's an outsider, Penny hires him to help out on the lighthouse island where she lives alone with her mother — her father having vanished three years ago — thus charting a new course for the summer that brings love, but also builds to a series of revelations both haunting and sad…

Book Review: An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

Book Review: An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

TLDR: ★★★★ Lovely writing with some really cool ideas, imaginative world-building, and a unique system of magic. While some aspects were a bit too vague, I still loved this dark urban fantasy about a sleek, magical world in NYC and the sad, tragic secret fueling it all.

An Unkindness of Magicians tells of a secret New York, one where magical power lies at the heart of the city's upper echelon. Like a certain wizarding world, there are magical houses, as alive and changing as the magicians who inhabit them. These are no boarding school dorms however, but old family homes for those awash in magic and dripping in generational wealth. The kind of homes you might find in the pages of Architectural Digest — if there was a super secret version available only to the magical elite.

The magic of this world comes at a cost, though: a pain tithe must be paid, extracted from the magician one way or another. Luckily for those in this hidden New York, someone long ago figured out how to pay that tithe with no painful impact on the actual magician. All of which helps a great deal when it comes to their most important event: the Turning, a magical battle royale where each of the houses must duke it out in challenges that escalate from whimsical to deadly, held every few decades to determine which of the families will govern and rule their magical world.

But just as the latest Turning begins, several things happen: women with little magic are being killed, magic itself has gone on the fritz — even vanishing for some — and the mysterious Sydney shows up seemingly out of nowhere, ready to battle with a rare power she expertly demonstrates in an awesome opening scene that sucked me right in...

Spotlight On: The Panther Chronicles Urban Fantasy Series

Spotlight On: The Panther Chronicles Urban Fantasy Series

“These times we live in, girl, they are something big. Something strange.”

Sometimes, books come along and they are just the right thing you need to read for the moment. And sometimes, books come along that are actually of the moment as well. The Panther Chronicles is such a series. Set in the socio-political tumult of 1969, this urban fantasy series combines a very cool magical world with the revolutionary spirit of that time.

There are marches and protests. The main character — nineteen-year-old Jasmine, a black sorcerer from Crenshaw who now attends UC Berkeley — volunteers with the Black Panthers. And J. Edgar Hoover is a slightly unhinged ceremonial magician using dark powers and scribbled rants to control the nation. The relevance to today's political climate is all too apparent.

But I love that this series works even if you aren't politically inclined, because it's also just a really great, fun read. The serious issues aren't heavy handed, but shown as a natural part of the characters' world, much like our own. Characters have an emotional depth that I appreciated — especially Jasmine, who reminded me of me at that age. She volunteers with the Panthers, but she also questions motives and means and methods. And the revolution on the page isn't just political; there's a magical revolution brewing as well. Plus, there's an Association of Magic and Sorcery hidden in a Spanish-style mansion in the Hollywood Hills that needs to be a Real Thing.

There are so many ways to approach this series — if you care about activism and social justice issues, if you appreciate diversity, if you love books brimming with all different kinds of magic and witchcraft, or if you're just looking for a great urban fantasy read, you should check this series out! Take a look...