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Toil & Trouble: 16 Tales of Women & Witchcraft edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe {review}

Toil & Trouble: 16 Tales of Women & Witchcraft edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe

Featuring Brandy Colbert, Zoraida Córdova, Andrea Cremer, Kate Hart, Emery Lord, Elizabeth May,

Anna-Marie McLemore, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Lindsay Smith, Nova Ren Suma, Robin Talley, Shveta Thakrar, Brenna Yovanoff



Toil & Trouble



My Review - 3 Stars

“This is what witchcraft looks like: It is women holding hands, harnessing power, and changing their fate.”

Why They Watch Us Burn, p. 455


This is the second YA anthology collection I’ve read this year and there were enough gems to make me very glad I asked for a review copy. All the stories feature witchy heroines in a variety of genres and I was fascinated to see the authors take their stories in such different directions. I also appreciated the diversity of the characters, whether sexuality, race, class, etc.

Anne-Marie McLemore’s Love Spell was the best in this collection. I loved the imagery, what it meant to be a bruja in the town, the way the heroine’s Catholic faith was woven in, the blighted Harrow pear tree, the acolyte Adrian. All of it. This is the second short story I’ve read by her and the second time her writing has blown me away. I really need to read one of her novels!


“Every woman is never enough; she’s always too much. We angered someone, somewhere, for our too muchness.”

Why They Watch Us Burn, p. 453


Right up there with Love Spell was Elizabeth May’s Why They Watch Us Burn. The writing was absolutely stunning and the story incredibly empowering. I don’t want to say anything about the plot beyond that. But Love Spell and Why They Watch Us Burn are enough reason to read this anthology.

Among the other standouts, Tess Sharpe subverts our ideas about fate and curses in The Heart In Her Hands. Lindsay Smith’s Death In The Sawtooths had just the right amount of creepiness. I liked how Mattie viewed her gift from Lady Xosia in spite of everyone else’s reaction and the way bullying factored into the story.

Brenna Yovanoff wove in the effects of the Cold War in Daughters Of Baba Yaga, which was such an interesting focus. I really liked how Emery Lord’s The Gherin Girls explored gaslighting and emotional abuse in the context of Rosie’s past relationship, as well as how she and her sisters supported one another.

There are several stories that explore issues that may trouble sensitive readers. One that stands out to me is The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma, which needs a trigger warning for sexual assault, molestation, and rape. It was hard to read in places and I’m not someone who needs TWs. It’s a very powerful and a worthwhile story but tread carefully if those triggers are upsetting for you.



A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.

From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely--has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.


Buy The Book Here:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Add To Goodreads


Disclosure: I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.

The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick {review}

The Phantom Tree - Nicola Cornick

The Phantom Tree



My Review - 5 Stars 

"She had been waiting for five hundred years for news of her son."

The Phantom Tree is my kind of time travel novel! Now, please don't ask me about whether the particular mechanics of time travel as displayed in this story could actually work or not. It made enough sense to me so I went with it.

What really sold me on this story is that instead of a present day character traveling back to the past, we get a character from the past traveling to our present day. With this fascinating premise, we meet Alison Bannister who has been searching for a way to return to the 1550s and save her infant son Arthur ever since she emerged through a door to the present.

The years passed but Alison has not given up on hope. When she finds an old portrait of her cousin Mary Seymour, she's one step closer to figuring out how to return home. But at the same time, the portrait draws her back into the orbit of her ex-boyfriend Adam who believes the portrait is of Anne Boleyn. She can't be fully honest with him about what she knows and she needs his help to investigate. The story spills out from there and it kept me absolutely enthralled.

We get to see what happened to both Mary and Alison in the past, along with Alison's present day life. There were several twists and turns, including one big one I did not see at all coming. There was the perfect amount of mystery and intrigue as we try to learn what happened to Mary and baby Arthur. There's also the question of whether Alison can go back or if she should go back. After all, Arthur will no longer be a baby upon her return and she'll be a complete stranger to him. Not to mention, everyone at that time believed her to be a witch.

I really enjoyed seeing Past Alison compared to Present Alison. Present Alison sees a therapist and has a hard time trusting others with information about her personal life but she must risk opening up to the people closest to her in order to have a chance at finding Arthur. The insight into Mary Seymour's life was gripping and heart-wrenching. Women did not have an easy go of things at Wolf Hall, nor anywhere, really, in the 16th century.

I've never read anything by this author before but I was impressed with her writing. Gorgeous prose and impeccable plotting, backed up by excellent research. A thoroughly enjoyable and engaging read!



“My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.” 

Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait—supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better. The subject is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr, who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child. And Alison knows this because she, too, was in Wolf Hall...with 1557.

The painting of Mary is more than just a beautiful object for Alison—it holds the key to her past life, the unlocking of the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance and how Alison can get back to her own time. But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbors secrets in its shadows...

A spellbinding tale for fans of Kate Morton, Philippa Gregory and Barbara Erskine by the bestselling author of House of Shadows.


Buy The Book Here:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Add To Goodreads


Disclosure: I received an advance copy from Graydon House in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.

What I'm Into (July 2018 Edition)


I spent two weeks in my hometown, which included the 4th of July parade, and capped off the month by moving to a new, temporary home, courtesy of my friend's guest room. It's been an interesting summer, to say the least. 


Read and Reading 

Untitled design (2)

 I can't stop marveling over the mastery of the storytelling in Children Of Blood And Bone (Adeyemi). Hands down it’s one of the best YA Fantasy novels I’ve ever read. From page one, the world-building and character growth was unparalleled. It’s fast-paced but it never felt like too much. I needed to know where it was all headed and whether certain characters would be redeemed. There were so many passages and arcs that are relevant for us, that resonated and gave me hope. Zélie, Amari, Tzain, and Inan captivated all my waking thoughts until that heart-racing cliffhanger ending. I need March to be here so I can dive into book 2! I have no idea where Tomi Adeyemi will take this series but I’ll be there every step of the way. I buddy read this with the lovely Chelsea and I highly recommend having someone at the ready for discussion. You will want to talk about this one! Definitely a favorite of 2018.


Women of Color writing fantasy is where it’s at! I absolutely loved the fantasy romance Song Of Blood & Stone (Penelope). Jasminda was such a richly nuanced character and I loved her heart for other people. Jack was just as complex and it was fascinating to watch him carry his burdens while trying to figure out how to be the best leader. There were so many twists and turns and I didn't always know what the right call would be. And of course, I loved watching Jasminda and Jack fall for one another, despite the odds against them. They took such good care of each other and their strengths complimented one another. I loved the way Penelope addressed the plight of the Lagrimari refugeees and the varying response from Elsiran officials. There are so many parallels to the US right now, it's uncanny. There's so much we can learn from well written fantasy if we have ears to hear. I cannot wait for book 2 to come out!


Thirsty (Hopkins) was as wonderful as I heard it was! In fact, it's easily one of the best contemporary romances I've read this year. Sal was such a captivating character and having only his POV as the narrator just plain worked. We meet him shortly after he was released from prison and watching him navigate his new life, which includes avoiding his old gang, working two part-time jobs, and trying to figure out where he belongs in the neighborhood, was gripping. I could see how hard Sal was working and how the odds were stacked against him, particularly as a Person of Color- the whole system is stacked against ex-cons but especially so for PoC. When Vanessa, his long-time crush, gives him a chance, I so badly wanted them to make it work. Vanessa was strong and determined and a great balance for Sal. She doesn't trust him at first and it was wonderful to see her wariness melt away over time. They were so good together but the pressures working against Sal were always lurking in the background and I had no idea what decisions he would make. The story veers away from stereotypes and I was really impressed with the Latinx representation (although, to be clear, I'm saying this as a white woman. I will defer to Latinx reviewers in this regard.) I loved how the neighborhood was portrayed. There's such a strong sense of place and community and belonging. Vanessa and Sal stay where they grew up because this is where their friends and family are and it's a vibrant place, even if it has problems. The character growth was tremendous and you'd better believe the ending made me tear up. I loved this one so much!!


I haven't had a chance to gather my thoughts regarding A Conspiracy Of Whispers (Harper) yet but I'm still flailing from how good it was! I just cannot get over how she built the story and the writing was perfect and gah so happy. Between this and Taylor Brooke's Fortitude Smashed, I guess I'm a fan of sci-fi romance now! Now to figure out what to read next in that subgenre...


Mariana was another enthralling Kearsley novel! I love how her stories play with the paranormal and intuition. I’ve never believed in the concept of past lives or perhaps I should say I never understood it. But Mariana’s story turned out to be a rather compelling argument. I loved figuring out who the present day characters were in their past lives! And I absolutely adored watching Julia find a home and community in a small British town. The resolution was perfect and I closed the book with a smile on my fave and a sense of satisfaction in my heart.

This Is Where You Belong (Warnick), a blend of memoir and research exploring how to feel at home where you live, gave me so much to think about. I really appreciated Warnick’s exploration of what helps us feel at home in a place and what we can do to cultivate that feeling, as well as how our personality can impact it. Some of it seemed common sense but I think we could all do with a refresher course on how to better embrace your community—even if you’re like me and know you’re not where you’re supposed to be. Warnick is writing from a fairly privileged perspective so your mileage may vary in terms of takeaways. But I’m really glad I read it, especially as I consider where my next home will be.


You can see all the books I've read at Goodreads

Currently reading: Hot Mess (Belden), The Library: A Catalogue Of Wonders (Kells),  The Line Becomes A River: Dispatches From The Border (Cantú), Darius The Great Is Not Okay (Khorram), Tear Me Apart (Ellison), Trail Of Lightning (Roanhorse)





I am almost done listening to the first season of Slow Burn, all about the Watergate scandal. It is uncanny and terrifying how relevant it is for us. Highly recommended.


Pantsuit Politics is doing a deep dive into 9/11: The Day.


I haven't had a chance to finish watching Hannah Gadsby's Netflix comedy special Nanette yet (how does it take me more than a month to watch a show I really want to watch?!) but I really appreciated the discussion on Pop Culture Happy Hour with Kumail Nanjiani and the larger implications for the comedy world.




  • A publicist loved my idea for a client- such validation!


  • Lunch at Egglectic with Junice 


  • I have very complicated feelings about the 4th of July and America and patriotism but when it comes down to it, there's nowhere I'd rather be on the 4th than my hometown. I love our parade and seeing what businesses will do for their floats this year and cheering for the high school bands and making sure PFLAG and the county Democrats knows at least one person in the crowd is glad they're there (very happy more and more people cheer for them each year.) I sat with my best friend and her family and it was so hot but so worth it.


  • Burger Social with my old friend Keith! It's been several years since we'd last seen each other and it was so fun to catch up in person. He was one of my close friends in high school and there's nothing like a friend who's known you that long and seen how far you've come. I'm grateful when friends can evolve together and when it doesn't matter how many years have passed, it's just like you were chatting in art class yesterday. Plus, I got to introduce Keith to the magic of fried pickles! He's a convert now.


  • Erin and I walked about town and then got drinks at Burger Social. What can I say? They make a mean Old Fashioned! Our pal Mike, who bartends there, talked me into trying it with top shelf liquor this time and I was very impressed. We got to sit on the roof and it was pretty perfect.


  • My darling friend Sharone was in the process of moving across the country, which meant the fates aligned and I got to see her! Sharone, Jesse, and I had a late dinner at Luong-Loi and it wasn't nearly long enough to talk about all the things but it was nevertheless wonderful.


  • The annual family reunion! It was really great catching up with everyone as always but this year was extra fun because a few of my cousins brought their copies of A STORIED LIFE for me to sign and my uncle announced my novel during the announcements. (Yes, our reunion is big enough to require announcements and name tags.) One of my cousins put her copy of the book on the sign in table so she and her sisters could tell everyone about it. It was so meaningful and unexpected! 


  • Taking over Market Cafe with Laura, Ellie, and Heather. It's been ages since the four of us have been all together- I usually see them in some combination when I'm back home but not all at the same time- and it was just the literal best. Heather decided we needed to have a Naperville photo shoot and we now have pictures of us all over town. There may even be one of me posing with a horse statue.


  • Ellie helped me brainstorm my next novel. I've known the beginning and the end for months but that pesky middle has been trickier and this session gave me a few solid ideas.


  • My best friend's kiddos have been asking me to sleep over for months, if not years, and we finally made it happen. I sent Erin and Mark off on a date and the kids and I had a fun evening together. I babysat K when she was a baby before I moved away but I've never watched both of them before and I'm so glad it finally happened. I love being their auntie!


  • My old roommate Jen and I were almost ships in the night but she got into town for a visit right before I left so we grabbed breakfast together. It's always so good to catch up in person!


  • Marijke and I went to Once Upon A Crime and Magers & Quinn, which are always lovely to browse. I didn't buy any books but my wish list grew longer!


  • I got together with a bookstagram pal who just moved to the Twin Cities! Caitlin is a fellow romance reader and it was so fun to trade recommendations in person at Spyhouse Coffee. We might have to start a romance book club!


  • Moving is never fun but my new temporary guest room has wall to wall bookshelves! A huge perk, though I am not keeping all of my books out.


  • Libib, a website and app that sync. You can scan (or manually enter if there isn't a barcode to scan) your entire personal library and have a digital record! You can add all kinds of tags after you've scanned them- I'm just doing read, unread, fiction, nonfiction. I'm geeking out over it! No more wondering if I already own something when I'm at a used bookstore or trying to remember which series are incomplete. 




Favorite Instagram:


A few of my favorite novels that belong to what I call the bibliophile genre. They’re about book nerds, whether they work at a bookstore or deeply love the written word. I can’t get enough of this genre! Tell me your favorites because I’m always looking for more...


(If you want to follow me on Instagram, my user name is leighkramer.)


On The Blog:

A STORIED LIFE at the Library! (If your library orders my novel, let me know and I'll update this list!) 


Book Reviews: The Late Bloomers' Club 




What I'm Into

What I'm Into Link Up Guidelines:

1. This link-up will stay open for one week. The next What I'm Into link up will be Monday September 3. 

2. Link the unique URL of your post, not your blog's home page. Readers peruse link ups months after the fact and you want to make it easy for them to find your What I'm Into post.

3. Please include the What I'm Into button or mention you're linking up with What I'm Into at Leigh Kramer.

4. Visit at least 2 other posts in the linkup!





What have you been into this month? 

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