Monday, October 10, 2022

October Reads: Cackle by Rachel Harrison and Small Town, Big Magic by Hazel Beck

 I've finished two more books out of my ginormous TBR pile to wrap up my staycation. Many more to go, but I feel like I have my reading mojo back again and am so happy about it. I decided to review both of these novels in this post because they're both witchy themed and definitely appropriate reads for October.

Cackle was just released in paperback with a very different cover. I bought the hardcover last year, started it, and yes, you guessed it, put it down and didn't pick it up again for months. I powered through it Friday and finished it Saturday afternoon. I'll confess I was a bit disappointed in it. I think mostly because I was expecting something more along the lines of a lighter fare witch story. It could be entirely my fault for going into it and being dismayed that it wasn't what I was expecting. It was definitely more of a "woman power" novel about finding your own strength and owning it. 

Quick synopsis: Annie is leaving a long relationship where her boyfriend thinks they're better off as friends. She's heartbroken, and leaves NYC to teach in a small upstate New York town. Rowan is a beautiful, Hallmark-esque town with friendly people and quaint shops. Enter Sophie, a beautiful woman who eagerly begins a friendship with Annie. It's weird how the townsfolk seem to be a bit afraid of Sophie and deferential to her whenever she's around. Soon, Annie is exposed to more of Sophie's life, and it's pretty odd. A giant home/castle in the woods, spiders that interact with Sophie, things appearing by magic. Sophie is a witch. And she's nice but if you cross her, she is quick to punish. She wants Annie to come into her own power, forget pining over her ex-boyfriend, and stand up for herself. She doesn't need anyone to live a happy life. Annie struggles with this--it's attractive and hard to resist. 

Will Annie fall under Sophie's "spell"? I felt this novel had some promise, but fell short of what I was hoping to read. I was disappointed in the ending and felt it went from potentially charming to a bit dark and gave me Stepford Wives vibes (I saw the original Stepford Wives movie as a kid on TV and was deeply horrified by it). I guess I don't like the conclusion that you have to be alone in order to be happy and free as a woman. 

I waited months for this to be published, and it's taken me checking it out twice and renewing it a few times from the library to finish it. Ugh! Again, another one I had huge hopes for, but was disappointed. Mostly disappointed in the main character Emerson. Bookstore owner? Love it! Independent woman-Love it! But holy cow she's a real pain in the butt. Annoying doesn't cover it. Always saying how smart she is, how capable she is, how tough she is. It gets. so. old. Emerson and her circle of friends are all witches in the small town of St. Cyprian, MO. Only thing is, Emerson doesn't know she's a witch. There's a horrible governing body of witches called the Joywood who wiped her mind clear in her teens when her powers didn't appear when they were expected. So for ten years Emerson has been oblivious to it all, while her friends have been hiding it from her and protecting her. 

Annoying asshat Mayor Skip tries to have Emerson killed by some heavy black magic, and low and behold, Emerson's hidden powers appear and she destroys the black magic. She finds out she's a Confluence Warrior, and she's meant to save the town from a horrible black magic flood that's going to destroy not only St. Cyprian, but possibly the Midwest. This black magic is concentrated in the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers, right where St. Cyprian is located. But Emerson must find the ritual that will stop the flood before it's too late. And she has to do it in secret, with her friends, so the Joywood don't find out and destroy Emerson. 

There's some romance, but it's low level between Emerson and Jacob, her love (she kind of remembers, but kind of doesn't thanks to the mind wipe) from high school. Still friends, and some smoldering occurs. She's got a heck of a great guy there, but doesn't seem to appreciate him as much as I'd expect. He's a peach. While their relationship progresses, it seems as though it's Jacob doing all the heavy lifting and Emerson accepting it without much giving. 

Anyway, I will read the next book, which is out sometime in 2023 just because this novel ends with a huge cliff-hanger moment. I'm interested enough in the other characters and what happens with all of them. Emerson's circle of friends are the best part of the novel. Emerson is annoying and hard to like as a character. 

Rating for Cackle: 3/6 for potential as an interesting novel about owning your own power, living your life. Fell short of my expectations. 

Available in hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Rating for Small Town, Big Magic: 3/6 for a novel with a lot of potential that was almost sidelined by the annoying main character Emerson. I really liked her circle of friends and will read the second book to see where it goes. It is touted as a rom-com, but it's definitely not one at all. 

Available in trade paperback, audio, and ebook. 

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