The first round of the WitchAThon took place between the 13th and the 20th of March.
1. Ostara is a time of rebirth and new life, pick a book in a genre you don’t normally read. – I don’t read as much crime fiction as I’d like.
2. Flowers are a symbol of Spring, read a book that has flowers on the cover. – One last summer has a beautiful field of grape hyacinths on the cover.
3. Ostara begins to bring in a season of fertility… choose a romance book! – while neither title was romance per se, they both had romantic undertones accompanying the main plot.
4. Warm weather is coming back around, choose a book that is set in a warm climate. – One last summer was set in Somerset, not your sunniest destination for a holiday, but the characters do lounge by the pool and enjoy some days in the sun, so I’m counting it!
5. The weather is getting friendlier, pick a nice spot outside and read there! – I read in my back yard and it made me feel SO rejuvenated. Who says reading isn’t an outdoor activity?
6. Nature’s energy is picking up, pick an action-packed book! – The Inquiry had more than sufficient action for one day (you’ll see below why I’m mentioning this).
These reviews contain small spoilers.
I am aware that I have not read any bewitching titles for this readathon, but you will come to understand shortly why these two titles are the best fit for the given theme. Generally, the witches and their culture have been frowned upon throughout centuries, and have had to face injustice whenever attempting to practise their craft. In both those books, the main characters are faced with injustice – mainly life’s unfortunate happenstances, but the shadow of societal meddling is undeniable. Both books are being constructed around women ostracised by their peers, more or less voluntarily. And while their victory isn’t a straightforward one, the realistic ending we are faced with resembles the type of conquest usually reserved for knowledgeable members of society – a role assigned by default to ‘witches’ in the past.
On a personal note, I particularly enjoy reading books set in familiar areas, and as it so happens I’ve traveled both to Wiltshire (mentioned in One last summer) and Brixton/South London (mentioned in The Inquiry) this past month. Which only made me enjoy the books more, as I could more vividly imagine the setting.
The Inquiry by Will Caine
This book deliciously caters to the millennial market, with subtle hints that follow the ‘hot topics’ du jour. The antagonist, Kareem, taunts Sara Shah (our heroine) via text message – almost like an annoying ex, one might say without giving too much away. Incidentally, this also made me almost scream to her, Katy Perry style, do not text your Ex! (At which point it was probably safe to assume that I was hooked by the book). The ‘villains’, during their introduction to the reader, happen to use the infamous sentence ‘You must not tell us lies’ – paraphrasing a phrase that probably triggers waves of rage into any millennial’s mind, especially the Potter-prone public of the British Isles (home of the author). It also touches on feminism, immigration, and the ripples of a rapidly-changing social environment.
While the book seemed to have been structured a bit too hermetically for the genre – the villain’s signature style of action was pretty much see-through after the third conversation involving his past, and his ‘preening’ seemed a tad over the top – it did fit the purpose of his character, and built on his self-made myth of the underdog chomping down mouthfuls of power (the description of his lush fingers being simply a nice touch). Following this line, the (trigger warning) rape scene paradoxically gives us an inkling into his humanity, and that as much as he wished to portray himself as the messenger of justice, not unlike many other hubris-seeking evildoers of literature, he had fallen prey to his passion and its misleading ways. Keeping this in mind, the sociopath label suggested by a seemingly-innocent episodic character (required by the genre as a staple clue-clarification contraption), is confirmed in the denouement by his current amorous conquest, when she jumps to his defence (in a fabulous anti-feminist performance worthy of a classic 00s-teen-lit mean girl).
The book does touch some nerves along the way, one of the most difficult phrases to digest being uttered by a grandmother speaking about her nephew and his incapacitated mother: ‘So I’ve got to stay alive till he’s grown-up.’ In its essence, it is a book following injustice in all its forms – administrative, religious, mistaken and intentional. It shows how hatred and pain divide even the most close-knit communities, and sheds a light on the ‘spare bits’ of society that fall through the cracks in its rush to design the one-size-fits-all model aiming to satisfy the large pool of individual inhabiting the same space.
As a nod to the readathon I was doing (sic!) and to the women that tend to stick their nose in the wrong place (foreshadowing elegantly the rest of the plot), the Witches of Pendle are briefly mentioned in one of the main characters’ conversations. I would classify this book as a great book club read (I managed to devour it in one sitting session with a break for a frugal lunch). This is definitely a crime title aimed at women due to the not-so-subtle romanticizing of the villain, and something that’s sure to feed the hunger of Suits fans until the next season airs.
The book launches today and is available in all formats. Listen to the first chapter here.
One last summer by Victoria Connelly
A nice frilly read, making your shoulders ache for the summer sun, one might think. One could not be more wrong. This was one of the most painful reads I’ve put myself through lately, and that’s saying a lot considering I had prepared myself for it. I had read the blurb (and also The Sisterhood of Travelling Pants in my time), so I knew that something was bound to go askew in a book with a pastel cover advertising the tale of an innocent friendship between women and the trials they might go through.
I was not prepared for the internal monologues and loss that seeps in so many ways in this book. Because I was somewhat close to the subject matter due to some recent events, at some point during the read I had to take a step back and breathe. Granted, the fact that I happened to be going through some cake just as the heroines decided to do the same did not help me in keeping my distance. I was surprised to see that the tried and tested formula of a group of women fitting a set of cardboard types that have been written and rewritten in television and books can still stir some intrigue with their run-of-the-mill dramas; but then again, I think it’s not about the way they’re written, it’s about their story. You need a group of friends that will stand by you when you’re feeling old, you need them to remind you of your youth, and you need to know life is not meant to be lived alone. Breaking their characters down would only play against the gist of the story – that it doesn’t matter who you are, how ‘normal’ you consider yourself, life has a way of teaching us the hard lessons regardless of circumstance.
I was undecided between the unrealistic perspective presented by this book – was it the friends that were happy to oblige you on your whim holiday for an entire summer? (Does anyone even do that anymore? Are house shares still happening outside of student spaces and London?) Or maybe it was the financial means required by hiring an entire priory and some staff for an entire summer. Granted, the characters are baby boomers and they do mention using their life savings, but how exactly can someone even begin to fathom disposing of so many savings in one sweep just on a whim? And wouldn’t your so-called close friends have some big questions regarding this choice? Suspension of disbelief aside, they seem to build your standard eclectic community (shout-out to any Gilmore Girls fans out there), with characters butting in uninvited and slightly inappropriate flirting being accompanied by a good number of wine glasses.
It’s a healing book, a mirror of the average feats one might have to defeat in their middle-age and a cautionary tale for youngsters setting their sights too high and forgetting their frailty.
I chose to do an analysis of this title on Booktube – keep an eye out this Sunday on my channel.