The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

2021 is the year that I read outside my comfort zone. This means reading more horror and science fiction. My latest read is a mix of fantasy, occult, and paranormal fiction called The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. This book lays a solid foundation as the first book in the Bethel series.

In The Year of the Witching, Henderson indulges in her love of witchcraft, dark fantasy, cosmic horror, and ghost stories by telling the story of a rigid puritanical society that shuns and abhors dark powers and the witches that tried to ruin the town.

The Prophet’s word is law in Bethel. Immanuelle Moore struggles with this proclamation, despite being raised in the faith. Her mother conceived her out of wedlock with a Bethel outsider of a different race. Immanuelle’s once proud and highly revered family was cast into disgrace when she was born. Her very existence is blasphemy to the Prophet and his followers. Despite of, and perhaps because of, the disgrace her family is in, Immanuelle works hard to follow Holy Protocol, worship in the faith, and lead a life of conformity, devotion, and utter submission. All the other women in the settlement follow these rules, so Immanuelle shouldn’t have a hard time doing so.

Out one day, Immanuelle is lured into the Darkwood that surrounds Bethel. The Darkwood is forbidden as it is the place where the first prophet had chased and killed four powerful witches many years ago. The Darkwood is haunted by the spirits of the witches and people who stumble in are never seen again. This forbidden place gives Immanuelle an extraordinary gift: the diary of her dead mother.

The diary holds the secrets of her mother’s life as well as the history of the Prophets and the Church. The more Immanuelle reads and digs into the mysteries, the more she understands what she has to do. Immanuelle has always known that there is something extra inside her. Both fascinated and fearful of what she finds out, Immanuelle discovers why her mother once worked with the witches. She must do something to save Bethel from its own darkness. Bethel must change.

This book is also available in the following format:

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

How do you choose what books you want to read? When I’m not diving through my massive to-read pile, I find myself seeking out books with interesting covers first and then I read the book description. This is how I stumbled upon my last read, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. This fantasy novel wrapped me in a cocoon of alternate histories where witches are real and they are tired of being hunted. Magic and the suffrage movement become tightly tied together as Harrow tells the story of witches who will do anything to survive.

The Once and Future Witches tells the story of the three Eastwood sisters: James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna. It’s the late 1800s and the sisters are struggling. They haven’t seen each other in seven years when their father tore them apart and scattered them to different places. They have been feeling a tug in their bodies that something isn’t right. Their grandmother taught them the words, the ways, and the will to practice magic, but it always seemed small.

In 1893, magic and witches don’t exist. In the past before the burnings began, magic ran wild throughout the world, but man ruined it. They started burning the witches who opposed them and those that fit their idea of what a witch was. Today’s witching is smaller. It’s hidden in nursery rhymes and the charms that are done to keep the home tidy and appearance perfect. It’s not the witching of old. In this escape from the past, women have decided that it’s safer to seek power by fighting for the right to vote and joining the suffrage movement.

Juniper, Agnes, and Bella end up joining the suffrage movement in New Salem, but finding that it isn’t quite what they expected, they start looking for magic in the unexpected. The three start gathering the forgotten words and ways of witches hidden in the obvious places. Talking with other women, they discover that everyone has their own magic and start compiling their magic together. Magic and the women’s movement begin to converge leading to a witches’ movement that puts the women of New Salem at risk. The deeper they dive into magic, the more dangerous it becomes. Stalked across the city by those who want to destroy them, the sisters must forge new alliances, dig for old magic, and bind themselves closer together if they want to survive.

This book is also available in the following format:

Wytches by Scott Snyder

The first thing that drew me to Wytches by Scott Snyder was the cover, it did such a great job of grabbing my attention while also letting me know what the tone of the novel was going to be before I even opened the book. Dark, stylized art that was personal and small in scope. No world-ending apocalypse in this horror novel, just a family struggling to cope with their past and trying to accommodate to a new home. Little do they know that the woods that surround them holds an evil more sinister then they could imagine.

The horror in this novel comes from how little we see. As a fan of horror I always appreciate when a writer is able to show restraint in showing too much of the monster. Snyder does a fantastic job of only showing the wytches in little chunks throughout the story. It helps to preserve the mystery of the monster and horror is largely anchored in fear of the unknown, once the monster is explained to us, it ceases being as scary. Snyder knows this and does a fantastic job of showing the reader just enough of the wytches so that the reader knows to fear them.

Jock’s art is stylized, chaotic, yet also clearly defined. Some artists that draw in a similar style to Jock border on abstract art but Jock is able to draw these fantastically beautiful and dark settings and characters while grounding them as well. Jock is able to take the extremes of this chaotic art style, with bright and dark colors contrasting all across the frames with paint splatter and exaggerated figures and balance that style with a more grounded style and the two styles mesh wonderfully throughout the story and add to the tone and presentation of the work as a whole. Typically, the extreme exaggerated borderline abstract art is used when the supernatural is occurring, and this contrasts with the clearer more-traditional sections of the work where the protagonists aren’t being confronted by tree-wytches.

Overall, Wytches doesn’t go out and do anything that transcends the trappings of the horror genre, but it isn’t trying to. It is a very well-executed horror story about a family coming to terms their traumatic past, and in the process having to fight off supernatural wytches. It is a spooky story that nails it all where it counts. Atmosphere, art, writing and scares.

For other spooky scary stories, look no further than the Davenport Public Library’s Halloween Libguide! If you are looking for more graphic novels to dive into, our Comics Libguide is the one for you!

New Religion & Spirituality in November

Featured new additions to DPL’s Religion and Spirituality collections! Click on the title to place a hold. For more new books, visit our Upcoming Releases page. As always, if there’s a title you would like to read, please send us a purchase suggestion.

51j2QVhAyfL__SX334_BO1,204,203,200_  Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber – Tattooed, angry and profane, this former standup comic turned pastor stubbornly, sometimes hilariously, resists the God she feels called to serve. But God keeps showing up in the least likely of people—a church-loving agnostic, a drag queen, a felonious Bishop and a gun-toting member of the NRA. As she lives and worships alongside these “ac­cidental saints,” Nadia is swept into first-hand en­counters with grace and by this grace, people are trans­formed in ways they couldn’t have been on their own.
y450-293  Grounded: Finding God in the World by Diana Butler Bass – The headlines are clear: religion is on the decline in America as many people leave behind traditional religious practices. Author and commentator Diana Butler Bass argues that what appears to be a decline actually signals a major transformation in how people understand and experience God. The distant God of conventional religion has given way to a more intimate sense of the sacred that is with us in the world. This shift, from a vertical understanding of God to a God found on the horizons of nature and human community, is at the heart of a spiritual revolution that surrounds us.

The Vatican Prophecies: Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions, and Miracles in the Modern Age by John Thavis – A behind-the-scenes look at how the Vatican investigates claims of miraculous events. Apocalyptic prophecies and miraculous apparitions are headline-grabbing events that often put the Catholic Church’s concept of “rational faith” at odds with the passion of its more zealous followers. To some, these claims teeter on the edge of absurdity. Others see them as evidence of a private connection with God. For the Vatican, the issue is much more nuanced as each supposed miraculous event could have serious theological and political consequences. In response, the Vatican has developed a highly secretive and complex evaluation system to judge the authenticity of supernatural phenomena. Former journalist John Thavis sheds light on this little-known process,
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Why I Am a Salafi by Michael Muhammad Knight – The Salafi movement invests supreme Islamic authority in the precedents of the Salaf, the first three generations of Muslims, who represent a “Golden Age” from which all subsequent eras can only decline. In Why I Am a Salafi, Michael Muhammad Knight confronts the problem of origins, questioning the possibility of accessing pure Islam through its canonical texts. It is also a confrontation of Knight’s own origins as a Muslim, exploring not only Salafism’s valorization of the origins, but takes the Salafi project further than its advocates are willing to go, and reflects upon the consequences of surrendering the origins forever.
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Witches of America by Alex Mar – When most people hear the word “witches,” they think of horror films and Halloween, but to the nearly one million Americans who practice Paganism today, witchcraft is a nature-worshipping, polytheistic, and very real religion. So Alex Mar discovers when she sets out to film a documentary and finds herself drawn deep into the world of present-day magic. With keen intelligence and wit, Mar illuminates the world of witchcraft while grappling in fresh and unexpected ways with the question underlying every faith: Why do we choose to believe in anything at all? Whether evangelical Christian, Pagan priestess, or atheist, each of us craves a system of meaning to give structure to our lives. Sometimes we just find it in unexpected places.
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Where I am Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond by Billy Graham – Now in his 97th year, preacher and evangelist Graham invites readers to follow the “Gospel Plan of Salvation” to the “ultimate destination… Heaven found in Jesus Christ.” Graham evokes biblical authority with his trademark “the Bible says,” interspersing stories from scripture alongside reminiscences from his lengthy global ministries. In the moving final chapter of what may be his last book, Graham’s reflections on “when the Lord calls me home” proclaim his steadfast faith in the gospel message he has preached.

 

Among Others by Jo Walton

As you can reliably guess from the fact that I write for this blog, I am a librarian. So I knew I would love Among Others by Jo Walton as soon as I read the dedication page:

This is for all the libraries in the world, and the librarians who sit there day after day lending books to people.

among othersThis book is for me! Awesome!* And this Hugo & Nebula award-winning novel is a treat. Mori is a well read 15 year old who has already accomplished a lot: she overthrew her mother, an evil witch, in a magical battle that killed her twin and left Mori with a shattered hip. She’s read just about everything that’s ever been published in the SF genre (well, everything before 1979, when this novel is set), besides Philip K. Dick, whom she dislikes. In the Wales of Mori’s childhood, magic and fairies are very real, but they aren’t all-powerful. Magic isn’t even the focus of this story; what could have been a bombastic, typical tale of good triumphing over evil (at a great cost) in a climactic magical duel  is instead a bildungsroman, the story of a smart, confident, magical girl discovering her identity. Mori’s most important challenge is discovering the value in her life now that her deed is done and her twin is dead.

When you are the hero, when you’ve already saved the world, and you’re a teenager stuck at boarding school based on the whim of a father you’ve never known, where the other girls taunt you for your Welsh accent and your limp, and where both the fairies and the magic of your childhood and your twin – your other half – can never reach you, what is the point of living? On Halloween, Mori sees the ghostly remnant of her sister near a portal to the next world and is tempted to follow and join her in death, but:

…I was halfway through Babel 17, and if I went on I would never find out how it came out. There may be stranger reasons for being alive.

Her love of books, libraries, writing, and the other worlds of the SF genre buoy Mori through the turbulent year after her sister’s death and lead her to the path her adulthood will take, so though her tale may sound grim, it’s really effervescent and uplifting.

Among Others is a fantasy novel, but Mori’s engagement with the realm of science fiction is so cogent, meaningful, and pervasive in the novel that this is a must read for fans of both genres.

 

*I have to add, though, that we do a lot more than sit and lend books! Sometimes we stand and lend DVDs 🙂

Best Books, Part 3

The thing about librarians is, they’re always reading about books and hearing about books and reading books. So they’re bound to know the best books. Here’s the next in our end-0f-year recap of best books.

Rita listened to her favorite book, Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. “When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer. Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans – and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.

“This recording kept my attention from beginning to end. It is the first in a trilogy and I can’t wait for the next one. The writing is excellent, her description and use of words is brilliant. This book is for anyone who enjoys good literature and fantasy”.

Witches, Goblins and Ghosts, Oh No!

Halloween is fast approaching, and of course this makes an ideal time to read some of those gory horror books. However, if you’re not a big Horror fan (like me) you might enjoy these titles of a kinder, gentler nature.

Brida by Paul Coelho

Well, I should’ve known better. This popular Spanish author, Paul Coelho, has written other books about witches (The Witch of Portobello most recently) but from the title and the cover art, I guess I was expecting something different. And, really, it’s more of a light romance. The main character, Brida, is a 21 year old Irish lass who wants to become a witch, so the story line revolves around her search and/or efforts to become one. There’s some pulling together of Christian and spiritualist themes which I personally didn’t understand, but then, I kept reminding myself that it was a work of fiction.

Mozart’s Ghost by Julia Cameron

As for ghosts, I’m just finishing up Mozart’s Ghost, by Julia Cameron. This, also, has turned out to be a light romantic story. Here, the main character is Anna, a 30-something “medium –medium” as she calls herself. Anna moved to New York a few years ago in part to escape the conservative Midwestern views present in her home town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. In order to pay the rent, she teaches school by day, but her main focus is to establish herself as a medium, someone who helps others contact recently departed loved ones (i.e. – ghosts). When a struggling young pianist moves into her apartment building, she finds his constant practicing very distracting. Even more disturbing, though, are the frequent intrusions she gets from Mozart’s ghost, who is anxious for Anna to “help” the pianist correctly interpret his complex musical compositions. I’m not going to spoil the ending for you. Besides, as I said, I haven’t finished it – yet!

Unfortunately, I really haven’t read any goblin stories recently – but if you’d like to recommend one, I’d certainly give it a shot. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these “Halloween Light” suggestions.