I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of The Witches of Moonshyne Manor from Bianca Marais and Harper Collins in preparation for my interview with Bianca (airing Aug 23/22 on #badasswriters podcast). What a gem of a book this was to read! I love it when I feel so connected with the characters that I wish they were real, and that’s what I felt with this sisterhood consisting of Ursula, Queenie, Ruby, Tabby, Jezebel, and Ivy. You can’t get any more badass than this coven of sassy, smart, strong women! Widget was such a clever character, and I loved the role she played. Persephone and Ruth Bader Ginsberg were also great additions to the mix and I LOVE that Bianca named Persephone’s dog RBG. How fitting for this story! There were so many instances where I paused to highlight or make a note on passages that really resonated with me and that I think will resonate with many readers. So many great uses of metaphors and little bits of humour are thrown in. There were lots of instances of fighting against the patriarchy that were as hilarious as they were truly meaningful.
Setting plays a big role in the story. There was excellent use of language to ground me in the location and in each scene, and wonderful use of sharp specifics that helped me picture exactly what was going on or to make something stand out. I enjoyed the sarcasm, the snappy responses, and the strength that these women all had individually—but especially together. I also loved the way the chapter headings served as a ticking clock, adding to the tension and keeping that at the forefront the whole time. Each character had their own internal struggles and tensions and emotions, and they all played into the bigger picture. The witches were each their own person in their own unique way, but they were also part of the greater whole; they were, in many ways, the same. On an emotional level, despite their magic, they had very real, relatable issues.
The use of recipes and concoctions throughout was fabulous! It was a unique way to add epistolary passages to the book, and I say that because there is usually some sass to the directions, depending on who’s recipe it is, which made me giggle. It adds to the voicey-ness and overall tone of the story. Some of the recipes sound quite interesting!
Overall, this book was an absolute delight to read. I loved the characters, I loved their magic, I loved the writing. It was a compelling story right from the start and there were so many facets that kept me wanting to turn the pages. The characters are quirky, funny, and easy to love. Bianca dives head-first into issues that are very real and uses poignant passages to outline their importance and get to the root of it all: that love is for everyone, no matter your age, gender or identity, appearance, race, skin colour, beliefs, or anything else. Love doesn’t discriminate the way some humans do, and at the end of the day, the only person you need to answer to is yourself and what you believe in. And also, damn the patriarchy! There are very powerful and emotional messages woven throughout this extraordinary story and I felt a solidarity in reading the author’s words. The book’s logline alone made me want to read it: Why were we taught to fear witches and not the men who burned them? If that doesn’t make you pause and think, I don’t know what will! Underneath it all, this is a story about acceptance, love, and not letting anyone own you or trample your uniqueness. It’s about coming together, about forgiveness, and about standing up for what’s right.
Knowing Bianca and what she stands for, I can very much hear pieces of her in these wonderful characters that I wish were real so I could be friends with. And visit in their spooky manor. (Because who doesn’t want to go inside a spooky manor and have cool drinks with witchy friends?!)
About the Book: (from the Harper Collins website/back cover copy)
A coven of modern-day witches. A magical heist-gone-wrong. A looming threat.
Five octogenarian witches gather as an angry mob threatens to demolish Moonshyne Manor. All eyes turn to the witch in charge, Queenie, who confesses they’ve fallen far behind on their mortgage payments. Still, there’s hope, since the imminent return of Ruby—one of the sisterhood who’s been gone for thirty-three years—will surely be their salvation.
But the mob is only the start of their troubles. One man is hellbent on avenging his family for the theft of a legacy he claims was rightfully his. In an act of desperation, Queenie makes a bargain with an evil far more powerful than anything they’ve ever faced. Then things take a turn for the worse when Ruby’s homecoming reveals a seemingly insurmountable obstacle instead of the solution to all their problems.
The witches are determined to save their home and themselves, but their aging powers are no match for increasingly malicious threats. Thankfully, they get a bit of help from Persephone, a feisty TikToker eager to smash the patriarchy. As the deadline to save the manor 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 novel explores the formidable power that can be discovered in aging, found family and unlikely friendships. Marais’ clever prose 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. Heartbreaking and heart-mending, it will make you grateful for the amazing women in your life.
About the Author:
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 taught 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. She’s an experienced public speaker who is in great demand for various events. Marais lives in Toronto, Ontario.
You can connect with Bianca on Twitter @BiancaM_author and Instagram @biancamarais_author. Her website is www.biancamarais.com, where you can find out more about her, her projects and events, and register for online courses she teaches on the various aspects of writing. The Shit No One Tells You About Writing can be found at www.theshitaboutwriting.com (and if you’re an emerging writer, I *HIGHLY* recommend listening to all their amazing episodes!)
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