Book Review: The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman

From the whimsical adventures searching for Norwegian fae, in Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries, today’s review remains in the North but it ventures back to the dark times of the witch trials. The Emporium’s attraction to The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman is clear -put witch is the title and the bookshelf will covet it but scroll down to see if this novel deserves a place on the shelf on merit alone.

Book Review: The Witches of Vardo by Anya Bergman

Title: The Witches of Vardo

Author: Anya Bergman

Publisher: Bonnier

Genre: Fiction, Witchlit, Historical fiction

Release date: 12th Jan 2023

Blurb

1662. Norway. A dangerous time to be a woman, when even dancing can lead to accusations of witchcraft. When Zigri, a normal fisherman’s wife, desperate and grieving after the loss of her husband and son, embarks on an affair with the married son of a wealthy merchant, it is not long before she is sent to the fortress at Vardø, to be tried and condemned as a witch. Summer is twenty-four hours of light and winter is twenty-four hours of darkness, and night is closing in.
 
Zigri’s daughter Ingeborg leaves her younger sister and sets off into the wilderness to try to bring her mother back home. Accompanying her on this quest is Maren – herself the daughter of a witch ­– whose wild nature and unconquerable spirit gives Ingeborg the courage to venture into the unknown, and to risk all she has to save her family.
 
Also captive in the fortress is Anna Rhodius with instructions to extract the confessions from the supposed witches. Once the King of Denmark’s mistress, she has been brought to Vardø in disgrace. What will she do – and who will she betray – to return to her privileged life at court?
 
These Witches of Vardø are stronger than even the King of Denmark. In an age weighted against them they refuse to be victims. They will have their justice. All they need do is show their power.
 
The Witches of Vardø is based upon the real events of witch hunts in Norway in 1662. A blend of historical fact with magic realism, retellings of old Nordic folktales, Norse mythology and Sámi mythology, and told from the points of view of Anna and Ingeborg, it will take your breath away.

Thoughts from the Emporium

After reading, this novel’s worthiness for being on the enchanted shelf is beyond doubt. Spellbound, Amber and Willow have also bought copies to keep for themselves for the knowledge it contains and the compelling storytelling they know they will return to. 

Beyond the witch trials in the UK and Salem, the Emporium’s witches’ knowledge of them is sketchy, so both were intrigued by this book’s basis in fact. What followed horrified and enthralled them in equal measure and triggered heated debates between customers about the role of misogyny, fear and spite in the persecution of so-called witches.

Told in two voices, the reader sees the story from the viewpoint of the accused and   those against them, gave a full experience of the events. The smattering of mythology and folk tales  blended in added depth and context to the magical side to the novel. 

Daughter of a physician, Anna is outspoken, and intelligent and used to the finer things in life and in exile to Vardo. Like many characters in this book, she is complex and multifaceted. Willow and Amber wanted to dislike her; she made their blood curdle with rage at her support for tracking down the witches but when her life story was revealed their stance wavered. Was she a  woman with good intentions trapped by circumstance? Like Willow suggested. Or pure evil which was Amber’s more rigid stance. Book clubs will have fun unpicking their thoughts.

Ingeborg’s chapters highlighted the harsh realities of the fishing village she lives in where poverty is rife, women vulnerable and superstition thrives. Young, she has grown up too fast to care for her younger sister Kirsten while battling her own grief with the loss of her brother. Loss and grief are consistent themes in the book, exploring how its power can  lead to unwise decisions with far reaching consequences. Her loyalty, level headedness and love for family shone on the page making everyone eager for her to succeed on her mission to rescue her mother when she became entangled with a frenzy of hate, fuelled by misogyny and ability to use the accusation of witch as punishment for any misdemeanor or perceived fault.

Maren, daughter of a feared and infamous witch provided the mystical elements to the novel with her fantastical stories, unreliable narration and unwavering strength. She added to the are they or aren’t they witches thread that cleverly ran throughout.

The Emporium witches were completely immersed in the 17th century world Anya Bergman created thanks to the small details in character, location, dress and experience. They could taste the sugar almonds and feel the pleasure of seeing the Northern lights. The research must have been immense and they were thrilled to discover a reading list at the back of the book so they could explore things more for themselves.

The Witches of Vardo is a compelling, dark and emotional historical tale of loyalty, female strength, magic and betrayal. Its impactful and the unexpected ending showcased its strength in storytelling.

Author Biography

Photo of Anya Bergman. Petite white woman with dark hair huddled in a snuggly thick fur lined coat.
Anya Bergman

Anya Bergman lives in Ireland. She graduated from Edinburgh Napier with a Master’s in Creative Writing with distinction in 2020. She lived for six years in Norway researching this book extensively. The Witches of Vardø, a passion project, is her debut novel.She says: “My aim is to raise the lost of voices of the women of Vardø with tenderness, to reclaim their agency and to empower the reader with a strong sense of F*** the patriarchy!”

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Book Review: The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

This is the last review of the year unless another book sneaks in from the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf. A stunning copy of The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore arrived on the bookshelf courtesy of Random Things Tours. As usual, when a witchy book arrives there was a scrabble between the staff to see who would read it first. Willow won.

Scroll down to see her unbiased and honest review.

Book Review: The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Book cover for The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore Jade coloured background with gold lettering, gold stats and white snowflakes. A black stylisied crow flies in the sky and a nordic black house is at the bottom with white fir trees.

Title: The Witch and the Tsar

Author: Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Genre: Historical fantasy, folklore

Release Date: 8th December 2023

Blurb

As a half-goddess possessing magic, Yaga is used to living on her own, her prior entanglements with mortals having led to heartbreak. She mostly keeps to her hut in the woods, where those in need of healing seek her out, even as they spread rumors about her supposed cruelty and wicked spells. But when her old friend Anastasia—now the wife of the tsar and suffering from a mysterious illness—arrives in her forest desperate for her protection, Yaga realizes the fate of all of Russia is tied to Anastasia’s. Yaga must step out of the shadows to protect the land she loves.

As she travels to Moscow, Yaga witnesses a sixteenth century Russia on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan—soon to become Ivan the Terrible—grows more volatile and tyrannical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.

Thoughts from the Emporium

The stunning illustrated cover with its golden gilt reflects the majestic tale inside. This reimagined tale of Baba Yaga is a beautifully written and captivating novel. Willow was gripped by the extensive world building, the depth of all the characters and dramatic plot. As someone who was unaware of the folklore connected to Baba Yaga this was a refreshing read. The language and vivid descriptions brought the colourful Russian cities, the horror of war and the scheming gods to life.

This version of the immortal witch, Yaga was far removed from the hateful, child eating witch she’s famous for. Instead, she was portrayed as a caring and reluctant hero. Her strength, chemistry between those she loves, including the animals she can charm, and her desire to protect the Motherland at all costs, makes her unforgettable. In the uncertain times we live, the politics of the sixteenth century and the war it fuelled felt oddly relevant and made the story more impactful.

Everyone at the Emporium adored Little Hen, her house on chicken legs despite the initial reaction being disgust. As a background character, she stole everyone’s hearts.

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore has successfully blended an inverted Yaga legend with the history surrounding Ivan the Terrible to create an immersive, dark and enlightening treat that will be well loved by those visiting the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf. It is a strong contender to be one of the bookshelf’s favourite novels of 2022.

Author Biography

Photo of Olesya Salnikova Gilmore White woman sitting on some steps, wearing black. Dark hair, smiling
Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore was born in Moscow, Russia, raised in the United States, and graduated from Pepperdine University with a BA in English /political science, and from North western University School of Law with a JD.
She practiced litigation at a large law firm for several years before pursuing her dream of becoming an author. She is happiest writing historical fiction and fantasy inspired by Eastern European folklore. She lives in a wooded lakeside suburb of Chicago with her husband and daughter. The Witch and the Tsar is her debut novel.

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Monday Merry Meet: Jeanna Louise Skinner

It’s the last Monday before Christmas and the Enchanted Emporium is hectic with customers wanting last minute presents, candles for calm and lotions to help have a happy day. We’re delighted to have a tea break to chat to paranormal romance author, Jeanna Louise Skinner. Her debut novel, The Book Boyfriend was recommended by Kiley Dunbar in her Monday Merry Meet so we’re looking forward to knowing more.

Monday Merry Meet: Jeanna Louise Skinner

Mug with a reindeer on it next to some teabags
Image by Luisella Planeta LOVE PEACE 💛💙 from Pixabay

Willow: Hi Jeanna, come in. Can we get you a drink? We have our own blends of tea, Yorkshire tea, as no one can beat that for a proper cuppa, coffee or something different?

Jeanna: Thank you so much for that lovely warm welcome, Willow. I’m delighted to be here. I adore your magical emporium and regularly find myself getting lost in all the mysterious nooks and crannies as a visitor, so it’s lovely to drop in with my author hat on. I’d kill for a decent cuppa but decaf if you possibly have it. Milk, no sugar, please.

Willow: Your debut novel, The Book Boyfriend, is a paranormal romance. What drew you to that genre?

Jeanna: I’ve always loved all things magical and mysterious. Some of my favourite movies growing up were Mannequin, Splash and Big. You know, the kind of film where the fantastical happens, but it’s within the real world. I love high fantasy too, but I feel like there’s something whimsical about grounded fantasy or paranormal. Something about the “What If” nature of the supernatural that resonates in my soul. I used to enjoy the spookier side of the supernatural more when I was younger and ate up shows like The X Files, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more chicken and I can’t do the scary stuff anymore. I still want all those Will-They-Won’t-They Mulder and Scully feels though, and Paranormal Romance gives me the hit of magic that I’m looking for with the HEA endings I crave. My sweet spot is Cosy Paranormal/Fantasy Romance and my personal brand is that but featuring plus-size and neurodiverse characters.

Willow: I loved those films and watched all of them on repeat as a teenager.

Amber: The Book Boyfriend contains our favourite things, bookshops, magic and romance. And to top it off, it has a map. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Jeanna: The Book Boyfriend is the book of my heart.

It’s very meta in that it’s about a romance-loving bookworm who wants to write but who struggles to put her messy thoughts on to paper. There’s a throwback swoon-worthy, brooding historical hero who literally, magically appears out of the book the heroine is reading, plus a grumpy bookshop cat. The idea came from a conversation with an old friend years ago where she was lamenting the fact that the real life men she knew couldn’t match up to her fantasy heroes and that her book boyfriends just couldn’t be real. It was literally a lightbulb moment in my head. And I set it in a bookshop because there’s no place which feels more magical to me (except for possibly a library).

The map was kind of a happy accident. The Book Boyfriend is set in Exeter where I live. It’s a beautiful old city with so much history but I feel it’s often overlooked in literature, so I mined Exeter’s very rich historical seam for titbits and plot bunnies. The cathedral plays an important role in the story, as do the centuries old underground passages, both of which are major tourist attractions here today. And of course, I had to delve into Exeter and Devon’s abundance of ghost stories and folklore.

My husband is born and bred here and even though he’s not an illustrator by trade, I know he’s talented at drawing. I mentioned to him one day that I’d love to put a map of Exeter in the book; one which shows the then and now of Exeter in the 16th century and how it’s changed today. Well, let’s just say he rose to the challenge in true book boyfriend fashion. I’m thrilled with how it turned out and all the little details he included. If you look closely, you can even see a tiny horse and cart figure near the cathedral.

I wrote this book to be a love letter to Romance and included loads of Easter eggs for book lovers to find. And there’s even a choice of covers because I know how some Romance fans love a clinch cover with a real-life couple, but others prefer the cartoon Illustrated style.

Open book in candlelight. The pages are bent to form a heart

Willow: It sounds fabulous and everything a magic loving romantic bookworm desires. Unlike many romance books,  Emmeline isn’t your petite and neurotypical heroine. How important do you think representation of everyone is in fiction?

Jeanna: In many ways Emmeline is me. I tried very hard not to make her a self insert, but she’s the me I always wanted to read in books. Of course, there are lots of ways where we’re not alike, but she means a lot to me as a character. It’s my hope that others will read her story and see themselves in her, especially in her strength, because she’s unbelievably resilient and resourceful.

Emmeline has schizophrenia, a mental illness which is still very highly stigmatised and misunderstood. I’ve already mentioned my brand being plus-size and neurodiverse paranormal romance, and I stand by this. I’m privileged in lots of ways but I’m also marginalised in others. Namely, being plus-size, neurodiverse and disabled. If my stories can make just one person feel seen or represented in a positive light, it will all be worth it. We need diverse books isn’t just a throwaway slogan. It truly matters. I’m proud of the work that myself and others – especially indie authors – are doing to bring positive representation to publishing, but I feel that traditional publishing still has a way to go.

Willow: Yule has arrived here in the Emporium and Whitby is full of Christmas cheer. Are you someone who enjoys the festivities or more bah humbug?

Jeanna: I adore Christmas! I’m a big traditionalist and I used to go all out making my own mince pies, Christmas cakes and having the perfectly decorated tree etc, but I’ve had to take a step back these days because of my health. So now I try to take joy from the smaller things. My very favourite part of Christmas is that feeling when you find the perfect present for someone, the anticipation of them opening it and their eyes lighting up when they do. It feels magical to me. Very much like when you know someone is The One or that moment when I strike gold whilst writing – which doesn’t happen often enough, unfortunately.

Willow: There are so many different ways to be published nowadays. What has your journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Jeanna: Oh goodness, that’s a long and complicated story so I’ll try to keep it brief. I started out like many aspiring authors in that I went down the querying route. I spent a lot of getting down and dirty in those trenches and I still have the scars to prove it. I thought I’d made it when a small indie publisher showed interest in The Book Boyfriend. It was so exciting. I was finally a real published author, but months after my dream came true, my publisher closed. I got my rights back relatively quickly and easily and I’m so grateful for that. I know so many authors who’ve had nightmares where returning rights are concerned. So, in March I became a self published author. It was never on my radar to self publish. My health issues mean I have limited spoons and time to devote to pretty much everything and I knew self publishing would mean a LOT of hard work, so it wasn’t really what I wanted. But I’m here now and I wouldn’t say I’m thriving as an indie author. Surviving, maybe? So I’m taking each day as it comes and I’m truly grateful for all my readers, followers, friends and family who are cheering me on.

Willow: That is some journey, and we wish you all the luck in your indie career. I am very ritualistic in my day. Do you have writing rituals to help you write?

Jeanna: Absolutely none. The only thing I do need is relative peace and quiet to write otherwise I’m as scattergun as it comes with my writing process.

Amber: We’ve spoken to many would be authors this year. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Jeanna: The best bit of advice I’ve ever been given and something that’s much easier to say than do:

WTFB – Write The F##king Book.

It’s a cliché but you can’t edit, polish, query or publish a blank page.

I just wish I would listen to my own advice more!

Amber: I need to remember that one.

Willow: We sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Jeanna: Anything that keeps my ADHD brain occupied on the task in hand so “Focus while the candle is burning” would be wonderful, please!

Willow:  One of candles when lit invokes memories of your perfect day? Where would it take you?

Jeanna: To Blackbury Camp in Devon, the site of an old Iron Age hillfort and an enchanting bluebell wood. We used to visit every year before I got sick. I remember spending one particularly magical early summer’s day there with a picnic and the sun beating down on us, while the boys went off looking for faeries and wisps in the trees.

Amber: The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity all year round. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Jeanna: I don’t know if it’s influenced my writing but I swear I heard (heard not saw) a werewolf once. The sound gave me the shivers. Even now it’s making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it.

Dark blue background. A silhouette of a wolf howling against a full moon
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Willow:A werewolf experience is something we’ve not heard of in the Emporium but there have been several sightings in East Yorkshire. If we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

Jeanna: Probably something to do with focus again because my combination of ADHD and CRPS is huge energy-sucking bummer of a cocktail. Either that or I’d like to do something amazing like time-travel.

Amber: What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Jeanna: Probably the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake. I first read it as a gothy teenager and I fell completely in love with Peake’s gothic-laced fantasy world. It’s Dracula meets Game of Thrones but better than both, imho. There was a beautifully detailed BBC adaptation years ago, but I think it’s the perfect time for a new version.

Amber: I need to search for those. Thanks.

Willow: Our assistant Rosa says hi. She couldn’t be here today because she’s at her son’s Nativity, but she has a box full of romance novels for people to borrow. What would you add to Rosa’s box of Romance?

Jeanna: Oh gosh, so many. Can I choose two recent favourites?

Willow: Of course. It’s Christmas, so the more the merrier.

Jeanna: Holding on To Bluebell Lodge by Rachel Bowdler. A gorgeous enemies to lovers sapphic romance by the sea.

Just Fake Married by Marty Vee. As the title implies, it’s a fake relationship romance, but this one has all the feels, mutual pining, a New Year’s Eve kiss, only one bed and doggos. LOTS of cute doggos.

Amber: And finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Jeanna: I’m (not) very busy writing the first book in my new series. It’s called Pumpkin Spice and it’s book one in The Bluebloodsuckers series, which is about a modern-day European royal family who also happen to be vampires. Pumpkin Spice is a Cinderella-inspired steamy plus-size romcom with a fat, witchy, sword-forging heroine and a handsome Prince Charming who becomes a vampire when the clock strikes midnight. It’s human sunshine meets grumpy immortal and so much fun to write. I’m hoping to release it next Autumn.

I’m also writing a short story in the same series which will be published first in Hexes and Ohs, a witchy paranormal romance charity anthology from The New Romance Cafe. It’s available to preorder now and ALL the proceeds will be going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Willow: Vampires and witches will make a great combination. Good luck with your writing and we’ll be pre-ordering Hexes and Oh’s from here. Have a lovely Christmas.  

Photo of walnuts, iced star cookies and cones.
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Author Biography

Photo of Jeanna Louise Skinner. White woman, long curly hair wearing an orange jumper
Jeanna Louise Skinner

Jeanna Louise Skinner writes plus-size romance with a sprinkling of magic. She has CRPS and ADHD and she is passionate about writing people underrepresented in Romance, especially those with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions. She lives in Devon with her husband, their two children and a cat who sounds like a goat. Her debut plus-size paranormal romance The Book Boyfriend is out now in ebook, paperback and audio. 

Blurb:

If your fictional boyfriend came to life, could you write your own Happily Ever After?

Emmeline always dreamed of being an author, finding comfort in words and between the pages of her beloved romance novels, but a mental health diagnosis leaves her blocked and unable to write. Then she inherits a crumbling, second-hand bookshop from a mysterious old friend and Emmy discovers that magic is real. Maybe her fantasies about the heroes in her favourite historical romances aren’t so far-fetched after all?

Lord Jonathan Dalgliesh is the handsome stranger – wielding a sword as dangerous as his Tudor past – who appears in Emmy’s bookshop asking for help. Together they must race against time itself to lift the curse imprisoning him inside an ancient book. But when growing threats to Emmy’s safety are proved real and not another symptom of her illness, she must learn to trust her own voice again. Can she find the words to save Jonathan and her shop before tragedy strikes on the fateful final page? Romance-addict Emmy may be, but this damsel is about to kick distress into the Ever After.

Featuring a fierce, body-positive, fat and tall heroine; a morally-grey, swoonworthy Tudor hero; mental health rep; romance novel references galore; a dusty Devon bookshop setting; history, mystery, magic; and the grumpiest, chonkiest bookshop cat, “The Book Boyfriend” is the perfect witchy, slow burn, time-travel romance for fans of Outlander, A Discovery of Witches, Practical Magic and many more!

Social media links: 

Tiktok: https://www.tiktok.com/@jeannalouiseskinner

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeannalstars/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeannalouiseskinner/

Book Review: Widdershins by Helen Steadman

Willow and Amber were thrilled when Widdershins and Sunwise, the second book in the series arrived on the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf, courtesy of Random Things Tours. They knew the stories were written with love and attention when they unwrapped the package to discover the books came with a corn dolly for fertility, and lavender and tea to aid sleep.

Scroll down to see if they were right.

Book Review: Widdershins by Helen Steadman

Widdershins by Helen Steadman

Title: Widdershins

Author: Helen Steadman

Genre: Historical Fiction, Witchlit

Release Date: 8th April 2022

Blurb

‘DID ALL WOMEN HAVE SOMETHING OF THE WITCH ABOUT THEM?’


England, 1649. A sadistic witch hunter. An apprentice healer accused of witchcraft. Can she escape the hangman’s noose?
When John’s parents die at the hands of a witch, he faces a choice: an easy life with a woman who serves Satan, or a hard life with a preacher who serves God. The cursed orphan chooses the church. Raised on raging sermons, he discovers his true purpose: to become a witchfinder and save virtuous souls from the jaws of hell.
In a town mesmerized by superstition and fear, two destinies collide. As John rounds up t

he local witches, Jane gets more than she bargained for when bartering with the apothecary. Instead of trading herbal remedies, she finds herself on trial for consorting with the devil. Can she prove her innocence, or will she be condemned to death?


If you like historical novels based on real witch trials, you’ll love Helen Steadman’s Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise. Recommended for fans of The Familiars, Tidelands and The Witchfinder’s Sister.

Thoughts from the Emporium

What a fabulous read! History plays an important role in the witches’ lives yet to their shame neither had heard about the Newcastle witch trials which this series covers. Beautifully written with intricate details masterfully blended into each scene, this novel immersed both Willow and Amber into the 17th century. It allowed them to breathe in the aromas of the herbs, choke on the stench of disease, hear nature and the hubbub of village life, and experience the culture of the time. For part they enjoyed walking side by side with Jane learning the ways herbs were used and how they were integrated in society, but the sense of danger and the tightrope knowledgeable women walked was terrifying.

Glimpsing into the life of John made an emotional impact that surprised them. Despite knowing the horrors he’d commit, they pitied the boy he was and understood the reasons how he came to change his stance when strict fanatic puritan views were rife. The hatred and twisted views after radicalisation were harder to forgive as was the societal change taking power away from women during birth to those of male medics. The impacts of these can still be seen today.

The collision of Jane and John’s lives horrified the witches and were grateful those times have passed but the fear lives on. They are eager to read Sunwise to find out more.

Helen Steadman is a wonderful storyteller and makes historical fiction accessible where in other hands, it could have been heavy with too many facts and no soul. She tapped into the characters and era and made them come alive. This is witchy historical fiction at its best and on par with Barbara Erskine. The Enchanted Emporium is proud to have theses books in its collection and the witches are now hoping Helen Steadman will wander down Black Cat Alley for a Monday Merry Meet. Willow suspects they have much to discuss. Watch this space!

Author Biography

Photo of Helen Steadman. White woman smiling with dark shoulder length hair and cosy jumper. Trees in the background.
Helen Steadman

Dr Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her first novel, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise were inspired by the seventeenth-century Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf was inspired by the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, who defected from Solingen, Germany in 1687. Helen’s fourth novel is God of Fire, a Greek myth retelling about Hephaestus, possibly the least well-known of the Olympians. Helen is now working on her fifth novel.
Despite the Newcastle witch trials being one of the largest mass executions of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made
herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.
The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who defected from Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. During her archive research, Helen uncovered a lot of new material and she published her findings in the Northern History
journal.

Monday Merry Meet: Alys West

Today we’re excited to chat to Alys West, author of the witchy series the Spellworker Chronicles. We hope you enjoy hearing about Samhain, her books and spells.

Monday Merry Meet: Alys West

Willow: Hi Alys, come in it’s blustery out there. It’s as if you brought your Storm witch with you. We’ve heard the waves hit the harbour walls all day. Usually we’re too far away.

Amber: On the plus side the courtyard has gathered so many autumnal leaves, I can make a wreath.  Can I get you a drink? We have our own blends of tea, Yorkshire tea, as no one can beat that for a proper cuppa, coffee or something different?  

Alys: I’ll have a cup of green tea with jasmine if you’ve got it.  Thanks for inviting me to visit your wonderful shop. I love Whitby. It’s one of my favourite places. I always feel history really strongly here and there’s so many stories to tell about Whitby. I set my steampunk romance, The Dirigible King’s Daughter here and I’m sure I’ll come back to it in future books.

Willow: We’d love to read those. You write novels surrounding witchcraft and the occult. What drew you to that genre? 

Alys: Ooh, thanks for the tea. That looks lovely.  I’ve always read a lot of fantasy and I’m a big fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Merlin.  I’m also deeply fascinated my folklore. When I started writing Beltane I wanted the magic to be organic, to come from the earth and the folklore of Glastonbury.  I think all of the witches in my books are essentially hedge witches. Their power is mainly instinctive and comes from hedgerows and gardens rather than reading magical books.

Willow: We know all about instinctive magic and it often gets Amber into trouble.

Amber: Willow prefers tried and tested magic from books.

Willow: Not always. I love your atmospheric settings. Beltane was set in Glastonbury and Storm Witch is located in West Orkney. How important are locations for you and what comes first, the location, character or plot?

Alys: Location is hugely important to me. I’m very influenced by the spirit of a place.  With my writing, I start with the place and the story grows from it. Beltane grew out of the landscape around Glastonbury.  Storm Witch was inspired by a folk tale about a girl called Janet Sinclair who lived on the island of Westray in Orkney in the seventeenth century who was believed to be able to call up storms.   

Amber: I found the Storm Witch highly relatable and their emotions cause havoc with their powers. How easy was it to write those scenes?

Alys: I’m pleased to hear you related to the Storm Witch. It was pretty cathartic to write those scenes. It was a bit of a release to allow those emotions out. As a person I feel things deeply but do my best to hide it so I was probably working through some of my own anger by allowing the Storm Witch to let rip!

Willow: As you can see with our pumpkins and window display, we are looking forward to Halloween. Is Samhain something you usually celebrate?

Alys: Yes, Samhain is a really important time of the year for me.  I love autumn. In the Celtic tradition, Samhain is the start of the new year. It’s the time when our energies turn inwards as the days grow shorter.  I’ve got much more comfortable with the idea of retreating and recharging in the winter and Samhain is the start of that period. 

There’s a Samhain tradition which I like to follow; you eat an apple and each seed symbolises something you’d like to grow or develop during the winter months. Traditionally you would then eat the seeds but I like to see that as optional!  

So I won’t be out Trick or Treating but I’ll be celebrating the turn of the seasons at home with candles and the leaves and seeds I’ve gathered on my walks. 

Willow: It’s a beautiful way to celebrate it and we must give you one of our Samhain candles before you go. Every writer seems to tread different paths to publication. What has your journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Alys: My journey has been a bit twisty-turny but I feel I’ve ended up in the right place. Initially I tried to get a traditional publishing deal and had an agent for a while. However that didn’t work out so I indie published Beltane. It’s been hard work but I wouldn’t have changed it. It’s allowed me the freedom and time to write the stories I wanted to tell.  I’ve also met some absolutely brilliant people along the way who have supported my writing and helped me keep going.  If I was to change anything, I think I’d have gone indie straightaway. Indie publishing is right for me and my books. I could have saved myself a lot of rejection letters if I’d embraced it sooner!

Willow: Spells and magic can be very ritualistic. Do you have writing rituals are strict writing regime?

Alys: I always sit in the same green Ikea chair. We moved house a few months ago and the writing chair was not available for a few weeks and it really threw me. Other chairs are available in our house but none of them felt right.  I also need tea when I sit down to start writing.  That’s usually a pot of green tea but I move onto peppermint later in the day. I like to write first thing in the morning but don’t think that means I’m up at six every morning. I like my sleep so for me first thing in the morning is about 9.30am!

Amber: I secretly write. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Alys: There’s masses of advice out there for new writers and it can be overwhelming. When I was younger I absorbed the maxim that you must write every day. I have a long-term health condition which means that’s simply not practical for me and I spent a lot of years feeling that because of that I would never be a writer. I’m older and wiser now and have learnt what works for me. 

In my opinion, many writing books are about what works for that writer. Some of that may work for you but other bits won’t. The most important thing you can do is keep writing and as you do that, you’ll find out what approach works for you. 

Having said all of that, I do recommend reading books on story structure. These are generally written for script writers but apply equally to fiction writers. My favourite is ‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke. It’s definitely worth picking up a copy of that, Amber.

Amber: I’ll seek it out. Thank you. If we used magic to bring one of your characters to life so you could share a coffee with them, who would you choose?

Alys: Gosh, that’s a tough one because I love them all.  I’m going to go with Winston because he’s got that bad boy charm going on but underneath he’s a bit of a softy.  In the next book in ‘The Spellworker Chronicles’ we’re going to find out a bit more about Winston’s past.  Over coffee I could ask him a few searching questions but I know him too well to think he’d open up and give me a straight answer. Most likely I’ll get a lot of jokey deflection. Seeing behind that as one of the challenges of writing his character.

Willow: Talking of magic, we sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Alys:  I’m a bit of a people pleaser so the ability to say no would be useful. If you can make that the ability to say no without guilt then that would be even better.

Amber: Releasing the guilt is important and already accounted for in the spell. The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity all year round. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Alys: I’m originally from York which is absolutely packed with ghosts. There are stories of ghosts in most of the pubs, the theatre and various historic buildings. I’ve never experienced anything paranormal even though I’ve worked in a few buildings which are known to have ghosts. The most I’ve experienced is a strong sense of negative emotions in certain places. I do believe buildings can absorb the feelings of the people who inhabit them and I think I pick up on that sometimes. 

Willow: If we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours what would it be and what would you do with it?

Alys: Right now, I could do with a superpower that allowed me to travel instantly to where I need to be. My Mum is currently in hospital. It’s an hour’s drive each way to visit her. I’d like to be able to teleport straight to the ward to see her rather than spending ages stuck in traffic and then pop to my parent’s house to have a cuppa with my Dad.

Amber: We hope she feels better soon and teleporting would be ideal. What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Alys: ‘Spirited’ by Julie Cohen. I’ve only just finished it and I absolutely loved it. Julie’s a fabulous writer and she packs such a lot into a book. ‘Spirited’ is about Victorian spiritualism but it’s also about sexuality, female power and colonialism.  The characters became so real to me that I’ve kept thinking about them and wanting to know what happened to them after the novel ended.

Willow: We loved that book. Great choice. Our assistant Rosa couldn’t be here today because of childcare issues but she has a box full of romances for people to borrow.  What would you add to Rosa’s box of Romance?

Alys: Oh gosh, it’s so hard to choose! I’m going to go with ‘Thornyhold’ by Mary Stewart. I loved Mary Stewart’s books when I was younger and read them all again when I decided to start writing myself. This is my favourite. It’s a wonderful story of romance and magic which a big dollop of mysticism.

Amber: I’ve heard good things about her. And finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Alys:  I’m working on ‘Stone Magic’ which is the third book in ‘The Spellworker Chronicles’. It’s taken a while for this one to reveal itself (turns out living through a Pandemic is not good for my creative process) but I’m really excited about it now.  It’s going to pick up the story from the end of Storm Witch and follow the investigation into the deaths of The Order. After ‘Stone Magic’, there’ll be a fourth and final book in the series which has the working title of ‘The Winter Tree’.  I’m not making any promises as to when they’ll be ready as I don’t write very fast and life has a habit of getting in the way but I will get there. 

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit The Enchanted Emporium. It’s been lovely to sit in your wonderful shop and chat to you both. Thanks as well for the tea, very much appreciated!

Beltane by Alys West

Title: Beltane

Author: Alys West

Publisher: Fabrian Books

Release Date: 8th June 2016

Genre: Fiction, supernatural

Purchase: Amazon

BLURB

Struggling artist, Zoe arrives in Glastonbury seeking inspiration. The small Somerset town is steeped in myth and legend and Zoe’s sure it’ll be the perfect place to work on a book about King Arthur. But behind the shops selling witchcraft supplies and crystals real magic is being practised.
When Zoe meets Finn her life changes forever. Not only is he a druid connected to the ancient energies of the earth but she dreamed about him long before they met. Finn’s life is in terrible danger and Zoe’s dreams start to reveal more of the plot against him.
After dreaming of a deadly battle at a stone circle on Dartmoor, Zoe starts to wonder if the dark magic around her is playing tricks of its own or if she really can see the future. Will she learn to trust Finn, and herself, in time to stand any hope of surviving the powerful magic that will be unleashed at Beltane? Or is it already too late?
This gripping story of magic, romance and the supernatural will entrance fans of Deborah Harkness and Phil Rickman and keep you spellbound until the very last page.

Author Biography

Alys West

Alys West writes contemporary fantasy and steampunk. Her first novel, Beltane was inspired by the folklore of Glastonbury. Her second novel, The Dirigible King’s Daughter is a steampunk romance set in Whitby. Storm Witch is her third novel and is set in the beautiful Orkney islands which she fell in love with back in 2010 and has used every excuse to return to since (including setting a novel there!) She is fascinated by folklore and folk tales which are a big influence on the stories she tells.

Alys has a MA in Creative Writing from York St John University and teaches creative writing at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York. She’s also a book whisperer (like a book doctor but more holistic) and mentor to aspiring writers.

When she’s not writing you can find her at folk gigs, doing yoga and attempting to crochet. She occasionally blogs at www.alyswest.com, intermittently tweets at @alyswestyork and spends rather too much time on Facebook where you can find her at Alys West Writer. She is also on Instagram at @alyswestwriter. To keep up with Alys’s news you can join her Facebook readers’ group ‘Druids, Spellworkers and Dirigibles’.

Monday Merry Meet: Rachel Burge

Ever since we read Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge, we’ve been wanting to know more about the author and how the story came about. So imagine our joy when Rachel Burge popped in for a drink at the Emporium.

Why not grab yourself a cuppa and take a break to catch up with her too?

A mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream, pumpkin and leaves illustration
Pumpkin and coffee by Image by Irina Alex from Pixabay

Monday Merry Meet: Rachel Burge

Willow: Hi Rachel, come through to the back and have a seat if you can find one. Sorry for mess. Amber has been creating the perfect pumpkin for the window display and we have an excess of them everywhere. In fact, you can take a pumpkin or two with you when you go home, if you’d like?

Amber: Carving pumpkins isn’t as easy as I thought and seeds and gloop go everywhere. If you let me use magic, it would have been tidier.

Willow:  I doubt it. What would you like to drink, Rachel? We have our own blended teas, Yorkshire tea, coffee or something stronger? We still have some parsnip wine, raspberry gin or damson vodka.”

Rachel: I’ve never had parsnip wine and would love to try some. Thank you!

Amber: Congratulations on the publication of Waking the Witch. We were excited when it arrived on the bookshelf. I had a sleepless night when I started it, as I had to read just one more chapter. Can you briefly tell our readers what the story is about?

Rachel: Waking the Witch tells the story of a seventeen-year-old girl called Ivy who is searching for her mother after being abandoned as a baby. She tracks her down to a remote Welsh island, where she discovers a disturbing truth about her past and why her mum gave her up. The story draws on Welsh mythology and Arthurian legend and offers a fresh take on some well loved stories and characters, namely Morgan le Fay and Merlin. It’s feminist, witchy, and very creepy!

Willow: Though we believe witchcraft is a way of life not just for Halloween, there is always more interest in witch related books this time of year. How did you come up with the story? Was your inspiration character or plot based?  

Rachel:
I tend to be inspired by setting first and foremost. I was looking up “remote places in the UK,” looking for a good location to set a creepy story, when I came across Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli), off the west coast of Wales. Isolated from the rest of the world, the tiny island has no roads or amenities and only a handful of residents.

Bardsey has been a site of holy pilgrimage since the 5th century and there are 20,000 saints and holy martyrs buried there. As it’s only about a mile long, you can supposedly dig anywhere and find bones. I was also fascinated to discover the island’s few residents move to the mainland each winter and take their farm animals with them, leaving the place deserted. Could something sinister be happening there in the darker months, I wondered?

I became excited when I discovered that Bardsey claims to be the site of Avalon and Merlin’s last resting place. In some tales, he’s trapped in a tree, cave or tower. Interestingly, Bardsey has a tower in the form of a red-and-white striped lighthouse. After seabirds kept crashing into it (as many as a thousand birds were killed in a single night), they replaced the rotating white beam with a fixed red LED light, which birds aren’t drawn to.

I took these facts and used my imagination to come up with an explanation for what might be happening on the island. The result is Waking the Witch.

Amber: What a fabulous background story.  I found the opening chapters in the butterfly room immersive. The imagery was vivid. What made you choose a butterfly zoo as a setting for Ivy’s job?

Rachel: I wanted to write about a character who undergoes a major transformation. I was brainstorming ideas and the image of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis came to me. Butterflies symbolise metamorphosis, and I had a crazy notion that maybe my character could physically transform too. Once I had this theme and imagery in mind, I decided my character should be fascinated by butterflies and want to work with them.

illustration of cupped hands surrounded by butterflies
Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

Willow: It’s a good fascination to have. They’re enthralling creatures. We love to hear about author’s publication journeys. What was yours like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Rachel: I’ve always loved writing and have wanted to be an author since I was at a school. After studying English Literature at university, I worked on a local magazine and then as an online editor and feature writer. As I was coming up to my 40th birthday, I remembered my childhood dream and started working on a novel in earnest. I came up with the idea for my first book, The Twisted Tree (a ghost story based on Norse mythology) while doing a tarot course with Maddy Elruna.

As well as being a gifted tarot reader, Maddy is a Norse shaman and talked a lot about the Norse gods while explaining the meaning of the different cards. One card that really captured my imagination was The Hanged Man, which shows Odin hanging from the world tree, Yggdrasil. The Twisted Tree is based on this particular myth and features the Norns and Hel, queen of the underworld. 

Maddy also led me on several shamanic journeys where she contacted Odin on my behalf. He had some surprising advice for me, and even helped with several plot points I was stuck on. (But then he is the god of poetry and writing!)

The tarot card The Hanged Man A man is hanging upside down
Image by Virgo Gemini from Pixabay

Amber: I need to look her up. She sounds fascinating. I dabble with writing beyond my book of shadows. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Rachel: Try to get as much feedback on your work as possible. There are websites where you can look for beta readers, or you could join a writing group and read each other’s work. I’ve learnt a lot from the feedback of others. Although I now have an editor to read my work, I still try to get my books read by as many people as possible before they’re published.

Willow: I find I need my own space to perform spells and have my own rituals I perform beforehand. Do you have a particular writing routine?

Rachel: I write whenever I have a spare moment, usually in my office at my desktop computer. I don’t have a particular routine, but I will light candles and play spooky music to help me get into the mood to write.

Amber:  We sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

I would probably choose confidence, as it’s something I’ve always lacked, or a good night’s sleep.

Amber: This is a question we ask everyone because the Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Illustration of a ghost reading ghost stories

Rachel: Yes, I’ve had several experiences which happened as a child. I grew up in a small two-bedroom house with my mum and my nan. Mum had me when she was 18 and I shared her childhood bedroom, which was filled with her collection of clown dolls. I don’t mean one or two – every surface was covered with them. One day, I must have been about seven, I was playing on the floor when I saw a doll move by itself. It didn’t fall off a shelf or slip from its stand, its hand moved as if it was beckoning me.

Other things happened, too. A door knob rattled when there was no one on the other side, and once when I was in bed I saw a white mist, like a whirlwind, hanging above my head. I asked my nan about it the next day and she told me that several of my relatives had died in the house. If there was anything there, then they were my family and wouldn’t hurt me.

Willow: I agree with your Nan about your relatives but clown dolls are horrifying at the best of times, never mind haunted ones. If we could blend a potion in our workshop to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

Rachel: I often have tarot readings to help me make difficult decisions, so I would probably ask for the power to see exactly what my various futures would look like depending on which choices I make. (I don’t believe the future is fixed. Instead, I think it changes based on our thoughts and actions).

Amber: What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Rachel: Michele Paver’s Dark Matter, a ghost story set in the Arctic. It creates such a creeping sense of dread while you’re reading it and I was afraid to turn the light off at night.

Amber: What are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Rachel:
I’m writing another spooky book. It’s set in autumn, my favourite season, and draws on the beauty and horror of the natural world.

Willow: Thank you so much for visiting the emporium. It’s been fascinating to talk to you and you’ll have to come back again when your next book is out. Maybe we can compare tarot card collections.

Rachel:
Thank you for having me! It’s been lots of fun.

Author Biography

Photo of Rachel Burge. White woman, smiling straight long hair parted in the middle. Leaves are in the background
Rachel Burge

Website: https://rachelburge.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RachelABurge

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelburgewriter/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Rachelburgeauthor/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/burge0709/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/rachelburge99

Cover for Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge,
Red and white lighthouse emitting red rays of light. A large black cormorant with wings spread in the fore ground is guarding a person in the foetal position. They are surrounded by a circle of runes.
Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge

Blurb

A darkly spellbinding story of witches, sisterhood and coming of age, steeped in Welsh mythology and Arthurian legend.

Ivy has spent years looking for her birth mother, but when she finally finds her on Bardsey Island, she is shocked by what greets her. According to folklore, the cormorants that fly over the remote Welsh isle are the terrifying witches of Arthurian legend – and they are searching for Ivy.

Her mum warned her not to come and to stay away from the lighthouse, but now it’s too late. As the shadows draw closer, Ivy must look deep within herself if she wants to survive. For not every story in folklore is true, and some evils aren’t what they seem…

An unputdownable new stand-alone novel from the bestselling author of THE TWISTED TREE and THE CROOKED MASK.

Our review can be found here.

Book Review: The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson

Following Kate Johnson’s visit for a Monday Merry Meet, we’re excited to share our review for her latest release, The Hex Appeal. Have you read it, we’d love to know what you thought?

Book Review: The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson

Book cover for The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson. Dark purple backgound, white font entwined with green foliage. A cottage is at the bottom and a dungaree wearing woman is on the upper right side while a man is on the left looking at her
The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson

Title: The Hex Appeal

Author: Kate Johnson

Publisher: One More Chapter

Genre: Paranormal romance

Release Date: 1st October 2022

Blurb

Encanto meets Hocus Pocus in this perfect witchy romcom. An absolute must-read if you love Erin Sterling’s The Ex Hex and Lana Harper’s Payback’s a Witch!

It’s just a bunch of hocus pocus…

Essie Winterscale lives in a huge and ever-changing house in the village of Good Winter, in deepest, darkest Essex. She lives with various witches of various ages, one of whom is still a bit salty about having been burned at the stake in 1635, one who keeps accidentally casting fertility spells, and one who knits things that create the future.

All Essie ever wanted was to have a normal life but in the end she found herself drawn back to Beldam House because she just can’t stop her witchiness (although the ability to instantly chill wine is pretty awesome, even she has to admit).

Into this coven of chaos stumbles gorgeous, clueless Josh, their new landlord – and he’s just discovered his tenants haven’t paid rent since the 1700s! As Josh is drawn further into the lives of the inhabitants of Beldam House, Essie is determined to keep him at broomstick’s length. That is, until a family secret, lying hidden for centuries, puts Josh firmly under her spell…

‘Funny, smart and sassy…No one creates such brilliant worlds quite like Kate does’ Julie Caplin

Thoughts from the Emporium

Blimey! What a fantastic and perfect novel to lift the spirits on a dreary day. Some books make you believe the author had a ball writing it and this is one of those.

Bedlam house, where the witches live, is an explosion of magical imagination. The small details such as fencing animals, loved up plants and ability to knit the future gave the world building depth and made the setting unforgettable. The location is a character of its own.

Essie is a witch who believes she is only useful for one day and their talent has hilarious consequences. The chemistry and misunderstandings between her and Josh were a joy to read and the threat of the curse kept everyone on those toes. No one knew where this novel was taking them but they were never disappointed.

With a strong cast of supporting characters this could easily become a series.

Willow is convinced, they’ll discover missed details when they reread, adding to the reading experience. This is always a sign of strong world building and storytelling. There have been many good witch related stories this year but this is one of the best romcoms.

Author Biography

Photo of Kate Johnson. Smiling white woman with pink wavy hair
Kate Johnson

Kate Johnson is a Romantic Novel of the Year Award-winning author of romantic, mystery, and science fiction and not a stack of cats inside a raincoat, as many people believe. Kate lives in Essex with a small pride of cats, and writes books because actually being a space pirate, witch or murderer sounds like hard work.

Social media

Twitter, instagram & TikTok: @K8johnsonauthor

Facebook: @catmarsters

Monday Merry Meet: Jessica Thorne

Hello October! It’s officially spooky season and time to celebrate by meeting with another author who has written about witches, Jessica Thorne. Her book The Water Witch is out now and we can’t wait to chat about it.

Black and white photo of umbrella in the rain
Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

Monday Merry Meet: Jessica Thorne

Willow: Jessica, please come in. Pop your umbrella in the stand. It’s fitting that we’re about to chat about your book, The Water Witch and the heavens haven’t stopped raining all day. But the plants love it and it makes people linger for longer in the shop and see more things they like.

Did you find us ok? When they’re too many customers the Emporium gets fed up and starts playing games. It hides the entry to the snicket.

You should dry off soon, the fire is lit and —

Amber: I’ve cast a drying spell, so everyone’s clothes should dry quickly

Willow:  Except for Lady Denver’s cashmere coat, which you singed. I apologise for the smell, Jessica, if burning is still in the air.

Amber: How was I supposed to know that spell wasn’t to be used on goats. Your ancestors need to add disclaimers at the bottom of their spells. What can I get you to drink? We have all blends of tea, from Yorkshire to herbal tisanes, coffee, hot chocolate or something stronger?

Jessica: Yorkshire tea is perfect, thank you. The stronger the better. I am Irish, you know.

Willow: The Water Witch is set in Brittany, and we’ve seen some of your videos and photos linked to the location. What made you set it there rather than somewhere more local like, let’s say Robin Hood’s Bay?

Jessica: I have always loved Brittany and spent a lot of my holidays in the region. I love the myths, the legends, the people and everything about it. And we’re fellow Celts, as the Bretons are so fond of saying.

Willow: It is a beautiful place. Your novel is based on a curse, a lost city and love. What came first, the plot or your characters?

Jessica: In this case I think the legend and the setting came first. I just knew I wanted to write about the lost city of Ys. Ari was the first character and everything came out of that combination. But in this case the setting itself is very much a character. I love stories of ancient curses and that sort of twisty way they have of working out or being thwarted.

Amber: We love them too. What has your publication journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Jessica: I’ve been published since 2007 and under a number of names. I’ve written YA and adult, I’ve been published by a Big Five Publisher and smaller traditional ones, by eFirst, and I’ve self published. I think the main thing is to find the right place for a book which isn’t always where you would expect. There may be one or two things I would do differently but on the whole it has brought me where I am now and I am very happy with that.

Willow: That’s good to know. I have set rituals to start my working day. Do you have a certain writing routine?  

Jessica: Not really. When my children were very small  I worked full time, so I learned early on to get the writing done whenever and wherever I could, whether that was in the morning, or late at night or in the car waiting for the outside school. I can write anywhere, although I admit I find it very suspicious if its too quiet. I tend to play loud music these days.

Illustration of books and an ink pot and quill
Image by Janet Gooch from Pixabay

Amber: Many of our customers are secret writers. Do you have any advice for those starting out?

Jessica: Tell the story you want to tell, the thing that interests you most. Don’t try to follow trends. It may take a while but you will find a home for that story eventually. Everything in publishing moves in cycles so if you love a genre or subgenre it will probably come around sooner than you think.

Amber: The Enchanted Emporium sells several candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Jessica picks up the Little Red Hen candle which inspires those around you to help without asking

Jessica: Definitely this one! Please!

Willow:  One candle invokes memories of your perfect holiday or day when lit? Where would it take you?

Jessica: Not very far back at all – while researching The Water Witch my husband and I went on a research trip to the locations in the point, in particular the Pointe de Castelmeur. I can’t describe how magical that place is. We had it all to ourselves and sat there for ages, just enjoying the wind and the waves below. There is a particular noise in local legends which is meant to be the gates of Ys shattering and while we were there, I swear, we heard it. Absolutely magical.

illustration of a ghost reading a book

Amber: Ghosts and paranormal activity plague the Enchanted Emporium? Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Jessica: I once worked in a haunted library, does that count? I love all things ghostly, and yes, it always influences my writing. I believe there are paranormal things all around us and one day we will understand them well enough to drop the “para” bit.

Willow: A haunted library could give a lot of inspiration. If we could blend a potion to give you a special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

Jessica: I’d talk to the dead. (but only for 24 hours, right?)

Amber: Yes, talking to them for longer is overrated. What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Jessica: King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald – one of the greatest books about Irish Fae I’ve ever read. Dark and scary, generational trauma, and true love.

Willow:  What would you add to Rosa’s box of Romance?

Jessica: Playing for Love by Jeevani Charika – a rom com about secret gamers. And handbags.

Willow: Great choices. Finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Jessica: Actually it IS top secret. But after that I’m hoping to get back to writing some epic fantasy romance.

Willow: We can’t wait to see what it is. Thanks for visiting and good luck with your writing.

Author Biography

Jessica Thorne

Jessica Thorne writes romance and fantasy from the heart which often strays into weird and wonderful liminal places. She works in a specialized library of rare & occasionally crazy books.

She writes adult fantasy women’s fiction, which wanders from Space Opera to time travel to epic fantasy, including The Water Witch, The Bookbinder’s Daughter, The Lost Girls of Foxfield Hall, The Queen’s Wing, Mageborn and Nightborn. The Stone’s Heart was nominated for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Fantasy novel of the year in 2020.

http://www.rflong.com/jessicathorne/

@JessThorneBooks on Twitter
@JessThorneBooks on Tiktok
@JessThorneBooks on Instagram

Book cover for The Water Witch by Jessica Thorne.
The Water Witch by Jessica Thorne

Blurb

The man smiles at the water witch as he opens the city gates and unleashes the wild sea. All will be destroyed. With her last breath the water witch curses him, her lover who has betrayed her and her people. ‘The sea will take all your menfolk. Until the day you save my city, I curse you and yours to drown’.

Present day, France. Archaeologist Ariadne Walker has always loved Brittany’s steep cliffs, crashing waves and endless shifting skies. But she’s left devastated when her fiancé Simon drowns on a dig searching underwater for the lost city of Ys. Local legend says it was destroyed centuries ago: and that the water witch, once the princess of Ys, still drowns the men of this region in revenge…

Escaping the old myths and stories, grieving Ariadne is walking on the heather-strewn cliffs on a stormy night when she’s approached by a mysterious masked figure. As he removes the mask Ariadne’s heart almost stops beating. She sees a glimpse of Simon’s face before he disappears, laughing, into the waves below.

Only Rafael – a local whose family have lived here for centuries – has answers. He says the water witch has doomed Simon’s soul to become her servant, forever wandering the rugged shoreline. She will soon claim Rafael too. The only way to save them both is to find the lost city, where the secret to breaking the curse is hidden…

Thrown into a magical underwater world of lost treasures, ancient promises, and dangerous betrayals, will Ariadne find a way to finally break the curse? Or will the water witch demand another sacrifice?

An absolutely addictive romantic fantasy read filled with passion and mystery, that will sweep you away to the wild coast of northern France. Inspired by real myths and legends from this magical place, The Water Witch is perfect for fans of Luanne G. Smith, River of Shadows and Jennifer L. Armentrout.

Book Review: The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais

It’s Wednesday! The ideal day to share our review for a witchy book which landed on the bookshelf thanks to Random Things Tours. The blurb and cover captivated the witches and then they demanded Rosa to read. Find out why they were so adamant she tried it below.

Book Review: The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais

Book cover for The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais
Blue cover with witchy paraphernalia dotted around a gold cauldron
The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais

Title: The Witches of Moonshyne Manor

Author: Bianca Marais

Publisher: Harper 360

Genre: witchlit, fiction

Release Date: 23rd August 2022

Blurb

The House in the Cerulean Sea meets The Golden Girls in this funny, tender, and uplifting feminist tale of sisterhood featuring a coven of aging witches who must unite their powers to fight the men determined to drive them out of their home and town.

A coven of modern-day witches. A magical heist-gone-wrong. A looming threat.

Summoned by an alarm, five octogenarian witches gather around Ursula when danger is revealed to her in a vision. An angry mob of townsmen is advancing with a wrecking ball, determined to demolish Moonshyne Manor and Distillery. All eyes turn to Queenie—as the witch in charge, it’s her job to reassure them—but she confesses they’ve fallen far behind on their mortgage payments and property taxes. Queenie has been counting on Ruby’s return in two days to fix everything. Ruby is the only one who knows where the treasure is hidden, those valuable artifacts stolen 33 years ago on the night when everything went horribly wrong. Why didn’t clairvoyant Ursula see this coming sooner? Wasn’t Ivy supposed to be working her botanical magic to keep the townsmen in a state of perpetual drugged calm, all while Jezebel quelled revolts through seductive bewitchment?

 The mob is only the start of the witches’ troubles. Brad Gedney, a distant cousin of Ivy, is hellbent on avenging his family for the theft of a legacy that was rightfully his. In an act of desperation, Queenie makes a bargain with an evil far more powerful than anything they’ve ever faced. And things take a turn for the worse when Ruby’s homecoming reveals a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.

 In a race against time, the women have nine days to save their home and business. The witches are determined to save their home and themselves, but fear their aging powers are no match against increasingly malicious threats. Thankfully, they get a bit of extra help from Persephone, a feisty TikToker eager to smash the patriarchy. As the deadline approaches, fractures among the sisterhood are revealed, and long-held secrets are exposed, culminating in a fiery confrontation with their enemies.

 Funny, tender, and uplifting, THE WITCHES OF MOONSHYNE MANOR explores the formidable power that can be discovered in aging, found family, and unlikely friendships. Marais’ true power is her clever prose that offers as much laughter as insight, delving deeply into feminism, identity, and power dynamics while stirring up intrigue and drama through secrets, lies and sex. Both heartbreaking and heart-mending, it will make you wonder: why were we taught to fear the witches, and not the men who burned them? Above all, it will make you grateful for the amazing women in your life.

Thoughts from the Emporium

If last year’s The Ex Hex brought witchy fiction out of the shadows into the wider commercial fiction, The Witches of Moonshyne Manor will cement the sub-genre into its rightful place in commercial fiction. Full of humour, this novel has a cast of six octogenarian witches who have heaps of wisdom, quirks and depth which make them unforgettable. While in most books, there is a clear favourite character, here it is impossible to choose. With Jezebel showing you’re never too old for a healthy sex life, Ivy with her plants and Queenie dedicated to her lab, it’s inspired. Full of magic and uplifting chuckles, its witchlit at its finest.

Everyone found this novel captivating when the tension built as the witches fought against a mob to protect the manor but it is more than a story about survival. It covered the longevity of friendship, betrayal and scandal and captured many observations of life in concise but quirky ways.

The recipes and spells from the Moonshyne grimoire sprinkled between the chapters were a clever addition and brought the readers into the story.

Despite wanting to know the ending, no one wanted the spellbinding book to end and is one of the reasons, those at the emporium think this is a book to read, recommend and treasure. Just like watching Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic is a Halloween tradition, rereading this will be part of the spooky season routine.

Author Biography

Photo of Bianca Marais. GDark haired white woman with grey/blue eyes and pink lipstick
Bianca Marais

Bianca Marais is the author of the beloved Hum If You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh (Putnam, 2017 and 2019). She teaches at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies where she was awarded an Excellence in Teaching Award for Creative Writing in 2021. A believer in the power of storytelling in advancing social justice, Marais runs the Eunice Ngogodo Own Voices Initiative to empower young Black women in Africa to write and publish their own stories, and is constantly fundraising to assist grandmothers in Soweto with caring for children who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In 2020, Marais started the popular podcast, The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, which is aimed at helping emerging writers become published.

Other blogs on the tour

19th Sep
IG: Iamessgarcia bookshineandreadbows @bookshineblog
bookishdreamer3 IG: bookishedreamer58

20th Sept

Secretworldofabook @secretwofabook
Readerofrivendell @readerofrivende
apartofyourbookworld @apartofyourbook
21st Sept
Book Before U leap @bookleap
IG: ashleighheartsbooks
IG: katebubsbooks

22nd Sept
IG: stratospherekawaiigirl crooksbooks @beckyc_89
bethanys bookshelf @_thisisbethany

23rd Sept
IG: karenandherbooks cookiebiscuit @cookiebiscuit
Read Write Inspire @fluttermouse

26th Sept
draliceviolett.com @alicetheunique book-for-thought @bookforthought
bakers not so secret @bakersNNSblog

27th Sept

IG: boozy_bookaholics IG: penfoldlayla IG: whatjaneyreads

28th Sept
theenchantedemporiumbookshelf @witchesofwhitby bookshortie @bookshortie1 
IG: staceywh_17

29th Sept
thepufflehuffkittehreads @pufflekitteh calturnerreviews @calturner
ramblingmads @ramblinfmads

30 Sept

IG: books.brownies.etc booksteaandme @booksteaandme1
budgettalesblog @emilypankhurs12

Monday Merry Meet: Kate Johnson

Welcome to the last Monday of September. With celebrations of Mabon over, the staff at the Emporium are gearing up for the busiest times of the year, Halloween. Where as Willow used to have a subtle approach to the season, under Amber’s influence and Rosa’s romantic view of the Halloween decorations have exploded this year. Amidst the chaos, they are delighted to catch up with author Kate Johnson. Her latest novel, The Hex Appeal was loved by everyone and provided chuckles and endless imagination on every page.

Amber sees it as a blueprint of how a witch should live without the constraints of normality while Willow thinks she has enough to contend with with the clashes between Vincent and the resident ghost feline, never mind flying glass parrots.

Monday Merry Meet: Kate Johnson

Cobwebs at old window
Image by Myri Roet from Pixabay

Willow: Hi Kate. It’s so lovely to see you. Mind your head when you come through to the back, Amber attempted to talk to the spiders to make extra cobwebs for Halloween decorations and they’ve taken it to the extreme. It’s like walking into Shelob’s lair. She has convinced them to depart the Emporium while we chat, just in case you are arachnophobic.

Kate: That’s fine. You should see my house. The spiders are both entertainment and food for the kittens.

Willow: That sounds mayhem. Rosa’s putting the kettle on. What would you like to drink? We have a range of teas, including Yorkshire, coffee, hot chocolate or something stronger? We had a good harvest of damsons last year so have some damson gin.

Kate: Damson gin will do nicely, thanks.

Amber: We’ve all read your new novel, Hex Appeal and were blown away by your world building in Beldam House. It was full of small details that made the house feel alive. Did you have as much fun writing this book as it appears on the page?

Kate: So much fun! I sat back and thought about the things you get in witch stories, and the things that had been weird or amusing to me recently, and then just… amplified them. I started growing carnivorous plants in the first lockdown, and they can be quite spectacular. So they had to go in the book. And I really liked the idea of a house that changed to suit your needs, like the house in Encanto (and how’s this for a sign: my new kittens were nicknamed the Encanto kittens by the RSPCA: it was meant to be!). The village of Good Winter is a mixture of the village where I live and others around it—even the names aren’t entirely out of the realms of possibility: we have a Good Easter and a Cold Christmas, and there’s a Beldam’s Lane and Gall End (that being short for gallows) around here too.

Willow: They’re fantastic names. Essie and her family are a fantastic group of witches, each with their unique abilities. What came first in the writing process, characters or plot?

Characters, always. I spent a while thinking about Essie and her backstory, and Josh and his, and how the two would come together, clash, push and pull each other. I kind of thought of the household a bit like What We Do In The Shadows: a disparate group of people who only have one thing in common, but it’s a really big thing, so it’s what binds them. As for plot… I never usually plot. I just went, “Blah blah, Witchfinder General, great evil threatens the earth, somehow they’ll fix it, now on with the witty banter!”

Amber: He brings us to the next question. The threat in Hex Appeal is based on the Essex witch trials and the general witchfinder. What made you choose this part of history as the novel’s foundation?

Kate: Well, he’s the most famous person associated with witches hereabouts. Essex has a strong association with witches, and in fact more people were executed as witches in Essex than any other English county. This is almost entirely down to Matthew Hopkins, who was less a witchfinder than a con artist who profited from the persecution of helpless people, mostly women, and didn’t care much that they could—and often did—end up being hanged. It honestly amazed me that he isn’t considered a serial killer. The number of deaths he’s responsible for is in the hundreds.

An etching of Matthew Hopkins the General Witchfinder. Man wearing tall hat, breeches and moustache and short pointy beard.
Mathew Hopkins The General Witchfinder

Willow: We agree.  Evil man. I’ve also read Little Haunting by the Sea about the relationship between Jen and a Victorian child only she can see. Have you had any paranormal experiences and has that influenced you work?

You’d expect so, but no! But then again I have fierce protection. A while ago one of my cats sat on the sofa beside me, and really took umbridge at a patch of empty air a foot or so in front of her. Hissing and growling like mad. Then she suddenly stopped and began to purr. Now, was she fighting off an invisible demon for me? She’ll never tell.

black kitten hissing
Image by ktphotography from Pixabay

Amber: She sounds a good protector. We’re gearing up to celebrate Halloween, is it something you celebrate or avoid?

Kate: Unsurprisingly, I absolutely love Halloween! I always have. I take my costuming quite seriously and have an impromptu lecture prepared for when people tell me “It’s all very American,” because my friend, it’s more British than queuing in the rain to see the Queen. In fact it’s the origins of Halloween that form an important plot point in Hex Appeal: the festival of Samhain, which wasn’t always a fixed date but fell at the midpoint between the autumn equinox and winter solstice. It’s very much the nightfall of the year, when there is more dark than light and the cold settles in for the winter.

Rosa: We love being nosy. What has your publication journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Oh… long. Recently at a writing event the chair of the panel referred to me as the “longest-serving” and none of us could work out how many books I’d written (including me). I started writing for small presses, then slightly larger ones, then larger still. There have been a few small disasters, but nothing I really regret doing.

 I think the only change I’d make to that journey was holding my horses a bit when I first began submitting, because none of those books were remotely ready! I’m very glad self-publishing wasn’t around back then, because I’d probably have thrown up some very green books and set myself back.

Amber: I like to dabble in writing. What advice would you give new writers?

Kate: It’s like any craft: you’ve got to put the hours in. Read everything in your chosen genre (and outside it too!) and write lots. Be prepared to discard a lot, and I mean a lot. Be sensitive to the world around you but develop a thick skin for criticism.

Willow: The Enchanted Emporium sells a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Kate: Ooh. A good night’s sleep. Or confidence. (Do you have one that helps with indecision?)

Amber: Now that would be a bestseller. We have a candle that invokes memories of your perfect season? Where would it take you?

Kate: Autumn. A proper crisp autumn, where it’s cold enough to wear a pretty coat and a cute hat. Crunchy leaves underfoot, the scent of woodsmoke in the air, a cosy blanket in the evenings. Bliss!

Autumnal coloured maple leaves
Image by Shirley Hirst from Pixabay

Willow: I agree with you there. If we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

You know what, I’d like a potion that helps me learn things really quickly. So I could play the piano, speak fluent French, understand the causes of WWI, that kind of thing. So long as I don’t lose the memories after 24 hours!

Willow: Losing all that knowledge would be cruel. The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf is always on the lookout for new books. What book would you add to it?

Kate: Jessica Thorne’s The Water Witch. It weaves in wonderful Breton folklore with a modern romance. I love Jessica’s books (also check out her Ruth Frances Long YA titles, which are brilliant and include English and Irish folklore).

Rosa: I’ve seen The Water Witch on the Enchanted Emporium’s bookshelf and She’s rumoured to be popping in soon. I adore romance novels and have a box full of them to share with customers. What would you add to it?

Kate: My absolute favourite romance author is Jennifer ruise. I pick her up whenever I need to remember how to be funny. I also want to recommend Jeevani Charika, who writes lovely warm romcoms with British Asian characters.

Willow: Finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Kate: Hex Appeal has been such a whirlwind I haven’t started work on a new book yet—but I have a couple of projects on the back burner. I’m hoping to do more paranormal romance, but exactly what flavour…? We’ll see.

Willow: Thanks for visiting and if Essie, Blessing, Avery, Maude, or even Lilith are in the area, please tell them to pop in. We will have lots to talk about.

Kate: If Lilith pops in, I apologise in advance.

Willow: Ha ha we’ll have to make provisions for that outcome. She’s a force to be reckoned with.

Author Biography

Photo of Kate Johnson. Smiling white woman with pink wavy hair
Kate Johnson

Kate Johnson is a Romantic Novel of the Year Award-winning author of romantic, mystery, and science fiction and not a stack of cats inside a raincoat, as many people believe. Kate lives in Essex with a small pride of cats, and writes books because actually being a space pirate, witch or murderer sounds like hard work.

Social media

Twitter, instagram & TikTok: @K8johnsonauthor

Facebook: @catmarsters

Book cover for The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson. Dark purple backgound, white font entwined with green foliage. A cottage is at the bottom and a dungaree wearing woman is on the upper right side while a man is on the left looking at her
The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnosn

Blurb

Encanto meets Hocus Pocus in this perfect witchy romcom. An absolute must-read if you love Erin Sterling’s The Ex Hex and Lana Harper’s Payback’s a Witch!

It’s just a bunch of hocus pocus…

Essie Winterscale lives in a huge and ever-changing house in the village of Good Winter, in deepest, darkest Essex. She lives with various witches of various ages, one of whom is still a bit salty about having been burned at the stake in 1635, one who keeps accidentally casting fertility spells, and one who knits things that create the future.

All Essie ever wanted was to have a normal life but in the end she found herself drawn back to Beldam House because she just can’t stop her witchiness (although the ability to instantly chill wine is pretty awesome, even she has to admit).

Into this coven of chaos stumbles gorgeous, clueless Josh, their new landlord – and he’s just discovered his tenants haven’t paid rent since the 1700s! As Josh is drawn further into the lives of the inhabitants of Beldam House, Essie is determined to keep him at broomstick’s length. That is, until a family secret, lying hidden for centuries, puts Josh firmly under her spell…

‘Funny, smart and sassy…No one creates such brilliant worlds quite like Kate does’ Julie Caplin