Review | Toil & Trouble edited by Tess Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & WitchcraftTitle: Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft

Edited by: Tess Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood

Rating: ★★★★★

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Release Date: August 28, 2018

“Every woman is never enough; she’s always too much. We angered someone, somewhere, for our too muchness.
If to be too much is to be a witch, then I am a witch, and we are all witches. I told this to the other girls, and I heard them all whisper back yes, because to be a witch means our too muchness serves a purpose: it gives us power.”

This anthology was so wonderfully empowering and entertaining, and it’s PERFECT for this time of year. Toil & Trouble is definitely one of my favorite anthologies I’ve ever read – it’s got a great blend of genres to keep you engaged and the witchy thread to connect all the stories.
Average Rating: 3.93 Stars
Most Excited ForThe Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert; Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff; Love Spell by Anna-Marie McLemore
FavoritesDeath in the Sawtooths by Lindsey Smith; The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma; Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff; The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord; Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May
Least FavoritesThe Moonapple Menagerie by Shveta Thrakrar

Starsong by Tehlor Kay Mejia | ★★★★☆
“People find me when they need to see the beauty they feel. They find me when they want to be sure, and when they can’t be. They want a little star magic to tell them its gonna be okay.”

I am a big fan of celestial magic and astrology, so I thought this was a strong opener to this anthology. I liked that it established a different kind of magic that I don’t usually see in fantasy and how strong in her beliefs Luna, our main character, was. She has such conviction and respect for her craft, and I couldn’t help but to be enamoured.

Afterbirth by Andrea Cremer | ★★★☆☆
“In the eyes of the village, my truths cannot be suffered to live.”

On the other hand, this story was not my favorite. While it did have one thing I always love in a book (a trial) it was just kinda icky. Like all the birth and demon baby stuff kinda grossed me out and I wasn’t excited to read this story. But the format of interview-like entries and a dual timeline really worked to create tension and an unreliable feeling that amped up the spooky.

The Heart in Her Hands by Tess Sharpe | ★★★☆☆
“This is the thing about falling. It’s tricky. Sometimes you’re tumbling down into love before you realize your feet have left the ground. But it’s a choice too.”

Who doesn’t love a soulmate story. I mean it’s a much loved trope for a reason, and I was so excited to see it pop up here. But what I loved even more was Bette’s determination to be her own person and not accept other people’s rules as fact, when she doesn’t agree with them. I like the coven structure in the story too, it all seemed very natural. I do think the story was rushed and a little bit confusing at the end, but still very cute.

Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith | ★★★★★
“A person can tell you anything, but bones – those tell the truth.”

There’s always a story in an anthology that I wish was turned into a full length novel, and Death in the Sawtooths is that one for me in Toil & Trouble. While I love all types of magic, I think that bone magic and necromancy are some of the coolest to read about. The story has this beautiful slow, crawling tone that just works. And I think there’s an impressive amount of worldbuilding in such a small package. Mattie just seems like a really good person, and I’m super interested about her time working in the morgue, her past at the Conservatory, basically everything.

The Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert | ★★★★☆
“I do it for me, because if I don’t accept all the parts of myself, how can I be who I really am?”

I think Brandy Colbert is someone I like consistently across all the anthologies I’ve read her in. She’s really able to pack a punch and make you feel for characters in a short time period. Queenie might be my favorite main character across all these stories. There’s something magical about her – an effervescent spark, both warm and illuminating that it’s impossible not to be drawn to her. I absolutely loved her relationship with Webb, and I’ve accepted that every Brandy Colbert story I read is going to have some degree of cheating, and that holds true here. Despite that, I think Queenie’s journey to self acceptance and self love was amazing.

The Moonapple Menagerie by Shveta Thakrar | ★★☆☆☆
“Silly girl. Have a little trust, would you? In us, and in yourself?”

This was a fine story, but it was mostly just really confusing (and forgettable) to me. And I didn’t connect with Shaline or any of her friends. While I did like the story within a story element (Shaline and her friends are putting on a play), the writing didn’t pull me in as much as other stories. It came off more like a middle grade story to me.

The Legend of Stone Mary by Robin Talley | ★★★★☆
“Everybody for miles around used to remember the story of Mary Keegan’s curse, but you wouldn’t know it now.”

I could easily picture this as the basis for a smalltown horror movie and that’s probably one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. It was a very atmospheric story with a builtin history you could feel. The only reason this wasn’t a five star for me was because the ending got a little corny and easy, but I loved the buildup.

The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma | ★★★★★
“…But all of us were girls once, in some way or another, back before we found each other. Before we realized what we had inside us. Before we knew what we could accomplish together. Before we yelled into the night and demanded it remember our names.”

I feel like that quote could sell you on the power of this story better than I ever could. It’s just a beautifully tragic and powerful story about sisterhood and finding strength in yourself and in shared experiences. The writing is very flowery and it’s painful at times, but it definitely left an impression.

Divine are the Stars by Zoraida Córdova | ★★★★☆
“Nothing is is yours!” The Grand Rosa Divina shouted. “The world wasn’t made for you. The world was made.”

This was a really nice family story, not much plot but a lot of character focus. Marimar goes back to Colorado because her grandmother is dying and we get to see the not so happy family feelings surrounding that as well as her grief and pain. It’s a story about connecting to your roots and yourself. It was lovely.

Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff | ★★★★★
“I just want to bite a hole in the world. I wish I could stop smiling at things I hate. Sometimes I wish I never learned.”

If Brenna Yovanoff has a story in an anthology, it’s safe to say it will be one of my favorites. This story made me want to paint my nails silver and kick some ass. I felt so empowered and capable of taking on anything. This is a story about vengeance and saying fuck you to all that’s wrong with the world, and I loved every single second of it.

The Well Witch by Katie Heart | ★★★☆☆
“Men were the most unpredictable animals.”

This is a story about a witch who lives in a secluded house in the desert and with the ability to sense water, has turned her house to an oasis. She’s visited by three men stranded after two of their horses die, and Elsa forms a friendship of sorts with one of the men, Zeb before he leaves to gather supplies. The story gets quite sad, but the historical western setting was incredibly unique and so easy to fall into.

Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths by Jessica Spotswood | ★★★☆☆
“But humans are funny creatures, and their choice always plays a role.
Except, it seems, for Campbell witches. Their fate seems locked in stone.”

I’m a sucker for sister-centric stories, so I love that this story followed the Campbell sisters, each has their own magic abilities, but threatened with madness only one sister can survive to continue the line. Jo, Elle, and Georgie haves such a wonderful, complex relationship. But the ending was super abrupt and rushed. The story felt unfinished, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as others.

Love Spell by Anna-Marie McLemore | ★★★★☆
“La Virgen may be our Mother of grace and mercy, but She is also more mischief than our priests will ever admit.”

I think the romance in this story was probably the strongest in the whole collection for me. Adrían was such a pure, kind person that I loved him instantly. I loved the magic in this story – curing lovesickness – it’s poetic and a little painful, but makes a great story. There’s so much layered into this story about acceptance, rejection, accountability that it really grabs your full attention.

The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord | ★★★★★
“What a wonder – love that powerful, but so careful to never break anything in its path.”

How lucky we are to be blessed with another wonderful sister story in this collection! The Gherin Girls follows the Gherin family, all the women has some form of tactile magic: empathy, soothing, food, plants. It was a very unique magic system that I enjoyed. But the story is really about how the three sisters, Nova, Willa, & Rosie support and care for each other after Rosie’s past abusive relationship. It’s a wonderful slice of life snapshot about healing and family support. The magic definitely takes a backseat in this story, but it was just so good.

Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May | ★★★★★
“Here’s how to fulfill a prophecy: you are a woman, you speak the truth, and the world makes you into a liar.”

This story packs quite the punch as the closer. It’s a moving condemnation of rape culture and misogony. It’s definitely got a dystopian feel: a mix of modern and puritanical where women are convicted of witchcraft for speaking out against their abusers. This is a story about sisterhood and not losing your voice, even when those around you don’t support or believe you. This is incredibly timely and beautifully moving.

Overall this anthology was incredible, and definitely has the best rating spread for me (Five 5 stars and only one 2 star!) The stories are filled with power, strength, hope, and resilience that pour off the page and into your heart.

And it you read all of that you totally deserve a cookie. What was your favorite story from TOIL & TROUBLE? Shar below!


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