All Our Hidden Gifts

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue

Genre: fantasy

I read it as a(n): paperback

Length: 374 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Maeve is a typical teen – she likes hanging out with friends, doesn’t like school, occasionally has behavioural problems, and mainly just wants to fit in. When she randomly unearths a deck of tarot cards while cleaning out a room in detention, she discovers that she has a strange affinity and skill for reading the tarot. Maeve finds herself suddenly popular, her highly accurate tarot readings wildly in demand among her fellow students. But when a reading goes badly wrong and a girl disappears, Maeve once again finds herself on the edges of society. She finds herself assisted in some surprising ways as she struggles to fix what she broke, find the missing girl, and bring balance again to cosmic forces well beyond her understanding. 

This was a pretty fun read, though at times fairly standard. I liked that it was set in Ireland and had a plot involving some of the tensions between Catholics and Protestants. The way the author worked that into the story was nicely done. It invoked some historical elements that added some extra depth to the plot. I also liked how it seemed she was making a commentary on Christianity and how so often they are nowhere near as loving or whatever as they claim to be. 

The author also explored how being a teen is hard, yes, but it is also when you get new life experiences and the chance to have a lot of personal growth. A lot of the story revolved around this and other normal teen issues like learning how to navigate changing relationships. I think a big takeaway from it was that, even when things turn out fine in the end, that doesn’t mean they stay the same or even that they work out well. Sometimes you have to take life lessons with outcomes you don’t want. That isn’t bad, even if things hurt sometimes. It’s just the way it is. 

I read this because my daughter loved it and wanted me to read it as well. I try to read at least a few of the same books as her throughout the year. Most of the stuff she likes is sort of fluffy fantasy and this wasn’t really an exception. I like that she loves reading so I am always happy to share her books if there’s one she really enjoyed. It is one thing that I hope we will always have in common, a love of reading.

The Witch’s Daughter

the witch's daughterThe Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston (Website | Twitter)

Genre: magical realism

Setting: Batchcombe, Wessex

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 403 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Bess Hawksmith is a young woman when the Great Plague of 1666 swept through her small village of Batchcombe. Naturally, the bereaved townsfolk need a scapegoat to blame for the losses they suffered. Bess’s mother, Anne, is a healer, so bingo! She must be a witch! The townsfolk round her up, along with another old woman who is a midwife, and hang them. The thing is, Anne really was a witch, and so is Bess. Bess flees and spends the next several centuries (she’s effectively immortal) running both from the memory of the horrific persecution as well as from the warlock who made a deal with the devil to give Bess her supernatural powers. Living a solitary life, Bess eventually finds a kindred spirit in young Tegan, a lonely teen who is drawn to Bess and her energy. But in taking Tegan under her wing, Bess inadvertently puts her in danger from Gideon, the man who has been hunting her throughout the years.

This one was, for me, SUPER slow to start. I almost quit. But then it picked up around chapter 4 or 5 and it was a very fast read from there out. I enjoyed this story a lot, though I don’t think it really had anything too unique about it. It was fairly predictable at the end, but the journey getting to the end was worth the read. I have a particular fondness for the Victorian Era, so I enjoyed that section the most. The bit from World War I was awful (an awful experience, not an awful read or awful writing). I don’t know much about that war, nor about the Battle of Passchendaele specifically, but it was an interesting, if sad and gory, part of the book. 

Overall, I think the characters were fairly well developed, but I’m not sure how much growth they really showed. Bess did mature and became a wise woman, but once she reached her maturity, she kind of stalled out. Gideon was consistently wicked but he was not a Bad Boy kind of character to me. I usually like those. Gideon was more like a cancerous presence to be cut out of a life rather than one who held any real attraction. Tegan was just a regular teen and didn’t really show anything other than that. Which is fine. They all worked for the story.

I think readers who enjoy Sarah Addison Allen or Alice Hoffman will enjoy this book. SAA and AH have more complex characters and richer storytelling, but I do think PB will get there eventually as well.

Magic Lessons

Magic LessonsMagic Lesson by Alice Hoffman (Website | Twitter | IG)

Genre: magical realism

Setting: New England Colonies

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 396 pp

Published by: S&S

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

At long last, the story of Maria Owens, the witch they couldn’t hang. Maria was abandoned as an infant in Essex County, England, where she was found and raised by the kind hearted Hannah Owens. Hannah taught Maria all she knew of healing and folk magic, but Maria, as it happens, was a witch by birthright. All Hannah taught to her was compounded by her latent magic talent. When a horrific tragedy occurs, Maria flees England for Curacao. There, she finds love and follows that to New England. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or is it magic?

I fucking love the Practical Magic series. I could probably conclude my review with that. But I’m also a sucker for a good back story, which this is. I always wanted to know what happened to Maria, how she got tricked by a man who left her, where she was from, and where she went after her failed hanging. I could talk about those things. I could talk about Maria’s history, her experiences, what she learned and taught. I could talk about the history of witch trials and women’s power. But I think it would be better for you to go read it and find out for yourself why this is such a great book. 

Favorite lines/ scenes/ characters (potential spoilers!):

  • This was true magic, the making and unmaking of the world with paper and ink (13). 
  • “Never be without thread,” she told the girl. “What is broken can also be mended” (55).
  • Tell a witch to go, and she’ll plant her feet on the ground and stay exactly where she is (164). [Yep. Don’t tell me what to do.]
  • Tell a witch to bind a wild creature and she will do the opposite (184). [I told you, don’t tell me what to do!]
  • Arnold, the horse who belongs to the peddler Jack Finney, is my favorite. He is a good boy.
  • These are the lessons to be learned. Drink chamomile tea to calm the spirit. Feed a cold and starve a fever. Read as many books as you can. Always choose courage. Never watch another woman burn. Know that love is the only answer (396).