Tag: Historical Fiction

The Witch Haven (The Witch Haven #1) by Sasha Peyton Smith

Apparently, I’ve been very drawn to witchy historical fiction over the past couple of years, and The Witch Haven has been an absolute treat to read. Set in 1911 New York City, this is the tale of Frances Hollowell; a young girl mourning the recent loss of her brother while trying to scrape by a meager existence as a seamstress.

Then the whirlwind begins.

Fending off a drunken attack, Frances’ sewing scissors end up in the man’s neck, killing him. The thing is, Frances has no idea how those scissors got there.

In the midst of being interrogated by the police for murder, two mysterious women show up in an ambulance to announce that Frances is gravely ill and needs to be whisked away to the Haxahaven Sanitarium: a clever ruse concealing a school for witches.

Thrust into a shocking new life, Frances begins learning the basics of domestic magic, but also begins to learn that there are other magicks out there: even one that may allow her to bring back her murdered brother.

The rest I will leave to the reader because it moves quite quickly, and there are many surprises along the way.

Ms. Smith really knows how to set the tone of a story. I often find it hard, especially in the intro of a multi-book series, to get into a smooth rhythm of character introduction, world introduction, and character/story progression. The Witch Haven, however, flowed quite well into a steady beat of what was going on and where it was going. I think the manner in which Frances was learning what was happening around her at the same time as the reader really lent itself to this endeavor.

In fleshing out the world of The Witch Haven, Ms. Smith did a very nice job introducing a wide variety of girls from very different walks of life as Frances becomes more and more familiar with Haxahaven. In this, as well, Ms. Smith builds a very strong sisterhood that, to me, will become the foundation of the subsequent books. Frances’ strong-willed personality really helps push the story in directions that become more and more thrilling, and opportunities for her to really build her magical knowledge.

Book two is slated to release in October 2022, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how much more Frances develops as a young witch.

The Twilight World by Werner Herzog

There is just something about Mr. Herzog that is just wildly appealing. I have watched his films, read his commentaries, and attended lectures where he talks about his process. His demeanor, poise, and language is uniquely him, and unmatched by anyone else out there.

When I read that Mr. Herzog was releasing a fictionalization of the story of famed Japanese soldier, Hiroo Onoda, my interest was piqued. When I found out that Mr. Herzog, himself, was narrating the audiobook, I knew it was destined for my TBR list.

The Twilight World isn’t a long novel. Weighing in at 144 pages, it is the perfect vignette of Mr. Herzog’s flavor of vocabulary and storytelling. It’s a quick read, but definitely takes time to build up each layer of descriptive scenery and the typical Herzog-ian level of minute detail.

OK, here’s the rundown. In late 1944, on Lubang Island in the Philippines, as the Japanese were withdrawing, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was given orders to basically hide out and hold the island until he was notified by superior officers to do otherwise. What happens from there is a crazy tale of guerilla warfare and survival that lasted 30 years until he was relieved by his commanding officer in 1974.

One of the things Mr. Herzog excelled at in this novel is also one of the things, to me, that became one of the most annoying elements of it: the concept of time becomes non-existent. Yes, Mr. Herzog uses very gorgeous language to describe how days become months become years become decades, but, again, to me, it minimizes the survival aspect of the situation. Via novel, Mr. Herzog had the opportunity to deep-dive into the mindset of Onoda and his companions, but, instead, there is very little emotion associated with the soldiers.

At the end of the day, The Twilight World isn’t a world-changing presentation of historical fiction, but it is a nice little snapshot of a very unique and fantastical story that is deftly executed by Mr. Herzog. I would definitely recommend the audiobook to get the full experience.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

I learned from reading The Once and Future Witches that Ms. Harrow is an excellent storyteller; a writer capable of weaving delicate wisps of plot and story that intertwine innocently until they don’t.

I was hesitant, however to pick up The Ten Thousand Doors of January because it was her first novel, and I just enjoyed Witches so damn much.

Boy am I a moron.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is the story of January Scallar: the semi-ward of a wealthy Vermont businessman/collector/eccentric. January doesn’t really fit in this world. She is basically holed up in Mr. Locke’s Vermont mansion while her father travels the world building up Locke’s collections of interesting artifacts.

As the story progresses, we start to learn that there is quite a bit more going on surrounding Mr. Locke, January’s father, and January herself. There are a multitude of worlds hidden behind random doors all over this world.

As I do not like to spoil any novel I read, I’m going to leave the synopsis at that.

As I mentioned earlier, what strikes me in reading Ms. Harrow’s works is the rolling and organic way her storytelling develops. Both of the works I’ve read from her, and especially this one, showcase and absolute love of the storytelling tradition and her adroit way of pulling in the reader as if in conversation. I absolutely love this style and I wish there was more of it.

The sensory descriptions in this book absolutely lend to the style. All of the smells, sounds, tastes and textures come to life in a flowing language that gently cradles the reader like a warm hearth. Cheesy description, but apt.

I know that Ms. Harrow has stated a few times that she has no plans of revisiting the tales of January and the multitude of doors, but, with so many doors, who says that intentions have to be stated?

The Conductors by Nicole Glover

The Conductors (A Murder & Magic Novel) by [Nicole Glover]

This book was provided to me by NetGalley in return for a fair review

It’s only been recently that I have started reading more in the realm of historical fiction, but I’m finding I am enjoying it more and more. In The Conductors, Ms. Glover — in her debut offering, by the way — weaves an intriguing tale of a very closely knit community in Philadelphia; loosely tied together by their traditions, a heritage of stellar magic, and two former conductors on the underground railroad who now spend time solving some of the mysteries of this community.

Interspersed with looks back to pre-freedom times, and how a fair number of the primary characters came into the orbit of Hetty and Benjy (our crafty protagonists), one cannot help but see the comparisons to Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

This novel, however, very much stands on its own two feet. With the introduction of a mysterious murder of someone close in their circle, the two main characters — Hetty and Benjy Rhodes — begin an investigation that uncovers intrigue, shame, lies to one another, and lies to oneself.

Above all, though, I find The Conductors a story of love and self-discovery. Even without the wonderful booster of magic, sorcery, and the acceptance and acceptable use thereof; this novel would still reach its intended point. The magic, though, makes it all that much more interesting.

Book Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

This book was provided to me by NetGalley in return for a fair review

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This book was an absolute wonder; a tale of women who tried, and women who dared. Women who took the rules and norms of an uncertain time in their hands and used the ways, the words, and definitely the will to attempt change an untenable situation.

Basically put, the Eastwood sisters are moderately fledgling witches who each set out, individually, from their horror of a home to find a better life in the city of New Salem. Each has their own motivation, and none figured their sisterhood would figure into their bigger pictures.

What pulls them back together is a promise for renewed magic and a strong danger with powers and wiles vastly unknown to any of them.

You have the stalwart Agnes, who finds herself working in a small factory, the studious Bella who satiates her craving for knowledge at a library, and the youngest, and wildest of the three, James Juniper, who embodies the piss and vinegar required to help pull everyone together to right the wrongs pushed on them by a male-dominated society.

In the unfolding of this amazing tale, Ms. Harrow presents an incredibly multi-faceted approach at the history of women and the ways of their folk, their mothers, their mothers’ mothers and the subtle wending of witchy ways.

Set in the backdrop of a rising suffragist movement. Very quickly, the Eastwood sisters, June most of all, pulls together a group of high-spirited compatriots to try to sort out the troubling storm brewing in New Salem and the apparent rise of one Gideon Hill.

What unfolds is a very heartwarming tale of determination and sacrifice; a grand story of rediscovering lost histories and unearthing the untapped potential in those who have seemingly lost everything.

This is definitely a book I will be revisiting. The characters are all rich, diverse and very relatable. The twists are all incredibly well-formed and exhilarating as well as heart-breaking. For every gain of self-realization, there also comes the heartbreak of the reality of choices.

I would not have changed anything at all.

Order your copy here.