Friday, August 12, 2022

The Season of Witches - Megan Giddings, Sangu Mandanna, Bianca Marais

The Season of Witches

Over the years at Boswell, and probably since bookstores existed, there has been interest in books about witches. I’m not talking about nonfiction books here, but fictional narratives. I think it’s because witches often stand in for other-ness, female strength, and prejudice, reaching back to the time of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and beyond. There’s also a long tradition of witches in popular culture, and cultural icons often work their way into contemporary literature. Some of the favorites since Boswell has been open have been The Discovery of Witches and its sequels, from Deborah Harkness, and We Ride Upon Sticks, by Quan Barry. But this year we have not one or two, but three witchly titles which have cast their spell on us, and it isn’t even Halloween.

First up is Megan Giddings’s The Women Could Fly. Giddings uses witch culture to shine a mirror on contemporary society. In Jo Thomas’s America, witchcraft is banned, and punishable by death, and in almost all cases it’s women who are the guilty parties. Haunting her is the disappearance of her mother 14 years, but it’s never been clear exactly what happened. So when Jo is given the opportunity to visit an island in Lake Superior that is said to have her mother’s inheritance, she decides to take on the quest. Giddings takes on all sorts of philosophical questions in her novel, which becomes as much about mother and daughter as it is about the race, class, and gender conflict.

I finished the book was blown away by way Giddings created a world of beauty and discomfort. So much of the story takes place inside Jo’s head – the voice is so powerful. I love the way she plays with genre, and despite it being a very different novel than Lakewood, it is clear that they are from the same writer’s imagination. The Women Could Fly has received raves from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Star Tribune. Perhaps we’ll see a repeat year-end performance of her first novel, Lakewood, which was an NPR best book I 2020, and a finalist for an NAACP image award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for in the science fiction, fantasy, and speculative category. Also like Lakewood, The Women Could Fly is being compared to the work of Margaret Atwood. And The Women Could Fly is already in development for a streaming series.

Megan Giddings is at Boswell this Monday, August 15, 6:30 pm. Register at

Next up is Sandu Mandanna’s The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches. Mandanna is best known for her Kiki Kallira series of middle grade novels. She’s also written for the YA market. It looks like her latest is her first adult romance and it’s a smash. Rachel discovered this one. Here’s her recommendation:

“Mika Moon is lonely; it's the reality of being a modern witch. When she's invited to a mysterious place called Nowhere House to tutor three young witches, she should refuse, but she doesn't. In a house run by a housekeeper, a groundskeeper and his retired actor husband, and a grumpy (and gorgeous) librarian for an absentee archeologist who fosters the girls, Mika is the only person who can help the girls control their magic. Now all Mika has to do is keep the girls' feet on the ground (literally!) and her heart guarded from something she shouldn't want - to love and be loved. Finally, a witch book that really nails it! The magic in this book is that perfect balance of wicca-ish and Sabrina the Teenage Witch silliness, but the real winner is the human element of found family. Mandanna's writing is relentlessly charming - mark me down as devotee!”

From the rave review in Kirkus: “From the three magical girls to the elderly gay caretakers to the hot, young Irish librarian, each resident of Nowhere House is a lovingly crafted outcast reaching for family. Various threads laid out seemingly haphazardly through the story all come together in surprising ways in the last 30 pages for a finale worthy of the tale that preceded it. A magical tale about finding yourself and making a found family that will leave the reader enchanted.” As you can see from this review, TJ Klune fans should pick this one up.

Once again I am grateful for Zoom, that puts authors across the pond on our screens. We’re doing a special conversation with Mandanna on Saturday, September 10, 11 am Central time, which is 5 pm British Time. We’ve heard from other stores that these Saturday morning virtual events are quite popular. Let us know what you think, as if this works, we’ll likely be scheduling more. Register for Sandu Mandanna’s event here.

Finally, there is Bianca Marais’s The Witches of Moonshyne Manor: A Witchy Rom-Com Novel. For those of you who loved Bianca Marais’s first two novels, Hum if You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh, this newest novel might seem like a bit of a left turn, but don’t worry, the storytelling is still first rate. Tim McCarthy was our first reader on this one, and he offered his enthusiastic take:

“Oh, man! By that I mean oh, how does a man review a book like this!? Let's start (and end) with the fact that I loved every minute. I loved the characters, and the plot twists, and the very verbal crow. Most of all, I loved the sense that Marais was having as much fun writing as I was reading about a sisterhood of glorious old witches with a long history in a town that’s been mostly ok with them, until something changes. Now their manor and their popular distillery are being attacked by a mob of irrational townsmen (go figure), and reliving their own tragic past could offer them either salvation or destruction. They’re not sure which. Enter the Mayor’s spiky-haired teenage daughter and her dog named Ruth Bader Ginsburg and you’ve got the setup for a lovely riot. So take a break from our very strange real world and pour yourself into this spellbound concoction of laughter and full-blown feminist power, mixed with suspense and dashes of potent wisdom likely to fly into my thoughts forevermore.”

Library Journal chimes in: “Marais's latest is a quirky Golden Girls with wands that explores women's empowerment, friendship, and loyalty and addresses racial equality, identity, and gender fluidity. A timely, fun modern-day fable about women who refuse to conform.

We don’t have this event quite nailed down yet, but the revamped Women’s Speaker Series, beloved by many of our North Shore readers, is putting together a program with Bianca Marais. There will be a new venue for the program, as COVID restrictions have limited the use of the Lynden Sculpture Garden gallery space. We’ll have details soon, but for now, mark your calendars for September 20.

And that’s August and September. One can only imagine what’s on the docket for October!

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