Quick Review: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

So for a book that is about Witches, their familiars and the Pendle Hill Witch trial all of those things don’t really play much a roll in the main narrative. Yes, the witch trails plays in the background of the story as woman are starting to be rounded up and arrested but it’s a minor plot point that doesn’t really come into place into the very end of the book. It’s really about the limited roles that women have. Fleetwood may be the mistress of her house but if she can’t produce an heir she could see herself without a home and husband. She is the money and privilege but is very limited in her choices. When she finds a letter from her doctor to her husband that says that 1 more pregnancy will most likely kill her she is devastated because she is pregnant and had lost her previous 3 pregnancies. She goes for a ride and runs into Alice in the woods she is convinced she is the only midwife that can save her. Alice is a poor single woman who works as a midwife and a barmaid to support herself and her father. When Alice helps Fleetwood after she fell off her horse she is convinced that Alice is the only midwife that can help her deliver a healthy child and keep her alive. Things get complicated when Alice is named as part of the Pendle Hill witches and Fleetwood must try to save her. Now Fleetwood Shuttleworth and Alice Grey are real people. Fleetwood was indeed the mistress of a noble house in Lancanster. Alice Grey was accused of witchcraft but was the only one acquitted. This I don’t think is a spoiler since anyone with google could have found that out. There is no historical document that links them to each other so the story is entirely fiction. Anyway, over the course of the book the two women bond and find that even though they come from different backgrounds, they really aren’t that different. They lives are completely controlled by their circumstances and they are pretty much powerless to do anything about it. Which is definitely frustrating. It is never fully explicit that Alice is a witch though she does seem to have a familiar as a fox. Again, that really doesn’t play much in the story. While the book is interesting and has some important things to say about the limited roles of women in our society I feel like it’s a missed opportunity. I wish the story would have been from Alice’s point of view instead of Fleetwood. So we could have gotten more with the witches and witch hunt. Also I didn’t really think Fleetwood was all that interesting. Sure, I felt sorry for her. She was married at 14 and at 19 and living with the pressure of producing an heir. Something that she had a failed to do for 5 years. Her husband at first seems supportive but well, I’m not sure how we are supposed to feel about Richard Shuttleworth. He dotes on Fleetwood but is constantly travels. We find out later she has a mistress who is also pregnant. Fleetwood tries to get him to help her with Richard and he only really does it when her life on the line. In the end, they seem to live happily ever after as if nothing in the book mattered at all. It’s weird. I feel like this book could have been better.

So that ends my Pop Culture homework assignment. It was interesting to read different interpretations on the witch myth. While witchcraft probably exists but for the most part witches are not evil. Most of those who were accused of witchcraft were not witches but women who dared to want or live above their stations. All the novels dealt with idea that witches needed to hide who they were because discovery would be dangerous for us. As a woman, I identify with that. I think all women do. We all have been taught how to act in public to not draw attention to ourselves or to draw attention to ourselves when need be. Who we are at work, with friends and at home are often different because we have to be different for the environment we are in. In that way we are all witches. Welcome to the coven ladies.

Review: Firebug by Lish McBride

I have completed a book from my pop culture homework assignment! Firebug is the tale of Ava, a teenager who can start fires with her mind. She is the main assassin for the Coterie, which is like a mafia for magical people. This is not something she wants to do with her life. For one, the head of the Coterie, Venus, killed her mother. For another, she’s a member for life and can’t ever get out of her contract. It’s not awesome. She’s met some good people in her time in the Coterie, though. Ezra, a shape shifter who turns into a fox and Lock, whose mother is a dryad, so he is part dryad, are her team and help her when she goes out on assassin missions. They’re both amazing and I really enjoyed the dynamic between the three of them. The main thrust of the story is that Ava is asked to assassinate someone and she doesn’t want to. This kicks off all kinds of shenanigans. I was riveted. Couldn’t stop listening to this audio book.

This book was excellent. I devoured it. I can’t wait to dig into book two (after I finish my challenge, of course). Beth did a really great job picking this for me. I liked it so much.

Review of Witches, Midwives and Nurses by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English

I feel the best way to express how I feel about this book and it’s content can best be summed up by this gif.

The way that women have been excluded in not just the medical fields but been excluded from the own knowledge about our own bodies is pretty disheartening and infuriating. How much knowledge have we lost because men didn’t like that woman were doing something that they could not or not willing to do themselves. Instead of learning from or trying to understand their knowledge they pushed them out completely. They accused them of witchcraft, they called them unnatural. They made people who would have benefited from their expertise afraid to use them. And for what? To keep power? It’s true that a lot has changed since when women were being burned for witchcraft and even more from when this book was originally published. However it’s 2019 and women are still not fully in charge of our own bodies. Every day a new law is passed that regulates our bodies and limit our medical resources. Lies about our bodies are shared as facts and all because men didn’t want to share space with women. We live in turbulent times but I have faith that the women today have learned from the women from the past and we have no interest going back and will not be excluded from the discussion again.

Quick Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

You know how often the book is so much better than the movie? Well this was exception to the rule because I have to say I like the movie better. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the movie multiple times and am fans of Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I don’t know but the book was kind of blah. A lot of descriptions with not a lot happening. No wonder they made so many changes to the movie. They both follow sisters, Sally and Gillian Owens who both have had some bad luck in love. Sally is widowed early on in the book just like in the movie. She is also focused on being normal even though everyone else in her family are okay with being themselves. Gillian is still the wild spirit that runs away from home and ends up in an abusive relationship with Jimmy who ends up dead but that’s kinda of where the the similarities end. The book takes place primarily in Long Island then in their Aunt’s house in Massachusetts. Maybe that’s what I didn’t like it as much because the Aunt’s were not in it as much as they are in the book. Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing are kinda the best part of the movie and without them the book is kind of lacking. The urgency that is felt with the dealing the spirit of Jimmy isn’t there. There is no build up of the romance between Sally and Gary Hallet. He doesn’t even appear until the last 50 pages of the book. As for a book about witches there really isn’t much witchcraft going on. I was a little disappointed in it but at least I can always watch the movie.

What I’m Reading Now: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

I am also not reading these in a certain order and I hope Beth doesn’t mind. She’s been trying to get me to read this since it came out. Want to know how I know? I have Beth’s hard copy of this book; she loaned it to me ages ago and it’s just been in a stack of TBRs near my bed since then. So, I thought maybe I’d start with this one and then I could give it back to her when I see her next.

A Pop Culture Homework Assignment for Beth!

Welcome to Beth’s Pop Culture Homework Assignment: WITCHES!

Witches seem to be having a cultural moment right now (which is great), so this felt timely. It also felt timely because Beth and I are going to a good friend’s wedding this summer in England, and then while we’re in Ol’ Blighty we’re going to visit Pendle Hill, the site of a 1612 witch trial. (Well, really, THE 1612 Witch trial.) We gotta go pay our respects. This year there are five picks…because when I floated the idea of one short non-fiction piece and one set of selections of a historical text, Beth didn’t say no! (She also didn’t say yes, so I am expecting to receive some flack for this.) So, here we go!

1. Selections from the Malleus Maleficarum by discredited member of the clergy Heinrich Kramer

The Malleus Maleficarum is maybe the best known treatise on witches. It was written in the 15th century and provides legal and theological reasons to execute witches. It laid the ground work for a lot of terrible things that happened to a lot of people. I thought it would be nice to provide some context before diving into the next selection.

2. The Familiars by Stacey Halls

This is a brand new novel (out in February!) that’s also a debut novel AND is written by a Lancashire local! It is set during the Pendle Hill trials! It’s like the universe wanted us to have this homework assignment!

3. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

It’s about witches! It’s about sisters! It’s about women’s relationships! It’s a classic! I honestly can’t believe this book is as old as it is, but I also often can’t believe I’m as old as I am, so here we are, surprised by inexorable march of time.

4. These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

So, this also came out this year, this past Tuesday, in fact. It was on my to-read list and as I was looking for a third novel, I got an email saying that this was coming out. You have to love that timing. It is about Hannah, a real witch who lives in Salem, Mass and who has to keep her real-deal magic a secret, because if she gets caught using it, she could lose it. I believe it also has an LGBTQIA relationship in it. I think it looks great and I really hope Beth loves it.

5. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English

This clocks in at just over 100 pages and is a brief history of women healers. It discusses midwifery, witching, nursing and how traditionally feminine practices have been delegitimized and outlawed as a tactic of the patriarchy to control women. At least, that’s what I remember it being about? I read it while a family member was in the emergency room and we were waiting for test results, so my memories of the book aren’t maybe the best? So, I really look forward to hearing Beth’s thoughts on it and discussing it with her.

So, that’s it. There we go. I hope Beth enjoys these books! If you are reading along with Beth, leave a comment below or hit us up on twitter or the faceyb!

Pop Culture Homework Assignment 2019!

Since it is Memorial Day, it is officially summer! So, Beth and I will be assigning each other Pop Culture Homework Assignments this week! If you are new here, A Pop Culture Homework Assignment is summer reading that Beth and I assign each other. It is usually four books, themed, and designed for us to share something fun with each other (and you!). Also, I like to think it gets us out of our comfort zones, but that might just be justifying assigning Beth a bunch of non-fiction over the years.

So, Join us this summer on two themed 4-book challenges!