Review: Toil & Trouble – Ft. Lots of Badassery and Witchiness
Hi look I’m finally back! Here today I have my review of Toil & Trouble: Fifteen Tales of Women and Witchcraft, and I adored it.
(Also pls appreciate my new dividers which are both witchy and vaguely rainbow for Pride Month :P)
This book was… spectacular. What even are words?? I adored this. I mean okay, some of the stories were certainly better than others, but overall? Wow.
My average rating for this (if I mathed right, which who knows tbh) was 3.6 stars, but I enjoyed it as a whole enough to round up to four stars.
(Also bc they’re short stories none of them felt like a huge waste of time, even if I disliked them, soooo… that’s nice.)
by Taylor Kay Mejia
Um, I loved this?? So much?? It was just so CUTE! I mean queer witches. When am I not here for queer witches?? (Never, that’s when).
Also Luna was such a great character! Even in this like 20 page long story she had SUCH a well developed character. And you know, I adored her. Clearly.
I also loved Mari. (And like… she was a mood. The way she was completely not buying into astrology)(Even if in this case it was legitimate…)(I’m a skeptic okay?)
My only complaint about this was just that I wanted MORE. And not just in a “it was amazing and I loved them” way. Like that TOO, but it just felt a little too unresolved for my liking.
by Andrea Creamer
This was deathly boring.
The characters were flat and the plot was uninteresting and maybe I’ve just read too much historical fiction but I just DIDN’T CARE.
(Also there wasn’t enough magic. But if I’d cared about anything else in the story I wouldn’t have minded.)
THE HEART IN HER HANDS
by Tess Sharpe
Hello? 911? I’d like to report a robbery? This story stole my heart and it refuses to give it back.
I’m convinced this story was perfect. It didn’t have a single flaw. Not one.
From the first line I was in love, and that feeling just intensified the more I read. It was funny, it was beautifully written, and it had the most wonderful characters.
Also the concept of this story was amazing. You know those soulmate AUs that are all over Tumblr? This is one of those, except it’s extremely heteronormative and Bettina is Not Having It.
The Heart in Her Hands is about a girl who makes her own destiny. It’s also very queer and very cute and very funny.
Basically, it’s perfection.
DEATH IN THE SAWTOOTHS
by Lindsay Smith
This was fun and murderous and not entirely memorable.
I enjoyed it. It was cool. The world was interesting. I was pretty invested while reading it.
It just… didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.
THE TRUTH ABOUT QUEENIE
by Brandy Colbert
This one was… weird. It was a really strange mix of light and angsty and really dark and it just… didn’t quite work for me?
It was pretty well written, the characters were decent, I ENJOYED myself. But it wasn’t amazing, and something felt a little off to me.
THE MOONAPPLE MENAGERIE
by Shveta Thakrar
OKAY I HAVE SOME FEELINGS ABOUT THIS ONE. I was very excited to read this. A theatre production gone off the rails?? SIGN ME UP.
But I… didn’t love it. Largely because they were all idiots and I couldn’t genuinely believe they’d been putting on plays for years. Look I don’t have super high standards. I’ve been in some shows that were… a bit of a mess behind the scenes. But the theatre kid in me was screaming at these idiots because genuinely how was it THAT much of a mess??
Look I’ve preformed with a dozen eight year olds. I know what a messy but (barely) presentable theatre production looks like from behind the scenes. And it’s about twelve times more put together than this.
I genuinely couldn’t even suspend belief enough to buy that these dumbasses had put on three successful productions in the past. Sorry but it’s true.
Also the whole story made no sense. Just saying.
(It gets three stars because it was beautifully written and also because no matter how much I yell about it I will always love anything to do with theatre.)
THE LEGEND OF STONE MARY
by Robin Talley
This was… I don’t even know. I can’t quite put into words WHY I loved this one so much, but I definitely did.
I think in a way it was nostalgic? It very much had the vibe of a lot of the books I grew up reading, only a little more mature, and also gay.
It read a bit more like something written in the 70s/80s/90s (which was easier to get my hands on as a child who only bought used books), only not wildly offensive.
It’s not the sort of thing I typically gravitate to anymore, but it was sort of nice.
It was also very much your typical fantasy story about witches and curse and all that good stuff. Which can get old, but something about this just felt… fresh.
I don’t know if I’m getting my feelings across very well, but to sum it up… this story was both very nostalgic and also very fresh and new, and I completely adored it.
THE ONE WHO STAYED
by Nova Ren Suma
This story was stunning. It was dark and sad and hopeful and beautiful and I loved it. I don’t know that I have the words to adequately review this.
All the stories in this book were about magic, but this one? This one felt like it was woven from magic itself.
It was a story of the power of girls and the power of survivors. It was horrifying and heartbreaking, but most importantly it was hopeful. No matter how bleak it was, it left me with a seed of hope.
DIVINE ARE THE STARS
by Zoraida Cordova
There wasn’t anything wrong with this story per se, it just didn’t work for me. I didn’t care. The magic made just enough sense that I can’t really criticize it, but not enough for me to really get it either. The characters were fine. The plot was fine. Everything was fine.
But the whole time I just felt so… detached.
DAUGHTERS OF BABA YAGA
by Brenna Yovanoff
This was badass and vengeful and weird and I am here for it. Also it was just fun.
THE WELL WITCH
by Kate Hart
I don’t know why I loved this. I genuinely have no clue. But whatever it was, something about this story just grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. I had to put it down in the middle of this story, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was so ridiculously invested, and it was just… so good.
I guess I just love reading historical fiction about girls who are just like “fuck the rules, I’m gonna go be badass and do what I want”
BEWARE OF GIRLS WITH CROOKED MOUTHS
by Jessica Spotswood
This had so much potential. But quite frankly, I don’t think it worked as a short story. I think as a full length novel, with everything more fleshed out, following all three girls, for a longer period of time and with slightly more closure, this could have been amazing.
But it wasn’t. It was a poorly fleshed out short story, following the least interesting of the three sisters, and it was incredibly open ended.
Which is too bad. I think I really could’ve loved this one.
by Anna-Marie McLemore
What is it about Anna-Marie McLemore’s writing that makes me both love it and hate it at the same time?
This was objectively good, I just… don’t think her writing style works for me. It’s beautiful, but I simply don’t care enough.
THE GHERIN GIRLS
by Emory Lord
This legit made me tear up. All three of these girls were so beautifully fleshed out, each with their own interesting histories and struggles and I just adored them.
And while I loved the magic, it was also so subtle, because the real focus of this story was the incredibly moving and personal story of these sisters.
It was so incredibly beautiful and I just don’t even have words.
Also again QUEER WITCHES. I love how many queer witches were in this anthology!
(TW: emotionally abusive relationship)
WHY THEY WATCH US BURN
Why They Watch Us Burn was fiercely feminist and horrifyingly believable.
It’s set in a near future America where women are being condemned as witches for daring to speak up, for being “too much” or “not enough”, for nothing more than trying to live their lives in a way that the men don’t like.
It’s a horrible story, but it’s a masterpiece. It has so many good points, so many political parallels, and also so much female power.
Part of me would have liked the magic to be more prevalent, but I also understand why it wasn’t – how subtle it was only served to make the story even more believable.
I loved this story with all my heart. It truly is a masterpiece.
Read this book. These stories are feminist and empowering. They’re magical and beautiful. They’re funny and unique. They’re so so good. Please read them.