Book Club Nominees

6 Cackling Novels Riding a Broomstick Before a Harvest Moon

by the HOWLers Behind the Scenes, curators of HOWLS Book Club nominees for December’s “DEFINITE Hag” category

When asked why her first instinct was to turn to witches for this category, @Asenath the Unsalted had this to say: “…I like pretty evil ladies…” 

HOWLS reviewers present: Pretty Evil Ladies

Cover of White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi. Cover shows two black silhouettes of trees framing the scene, two white silhouettes of trees behind them, and in the center, some distance away, the silhouette of a house. A girl stands at the edge of the path , leaning into the woods; she is also in silhouette.

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

Nominated by @Asenath

As a child, Miranda Silver developed pica, a rare eating disorder that causes its victims to consume nonedible substances. The death of her mother when Miranda is sixteen exacerbates her condition; nothing, however, satisfies a strange hunger passed down through the women in her family. And then there’s the family house in Dover, England, converted to a bed-and-breakfast by Miranda’s father. Dover has long been known for its hostility toward outsiders, but the Silver House manifests a more conscious malice toward strangers, dispatching those visitors it despises. Enraged by the constant stream of foreign staff and guests, the house finally unleashes its most destructive power. (Amazon)

I like Oyeyemi and the server seemed to like The Icarus Girl, so why not! For me this is a fresh retelling of the witch mythos for the complex and complicated world that we have to live in now. It’s also a queer love story and really creepy. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Slewfoot by Brom. Cover shows an image of a young woman with red hair riding a broomstick in front of the moon. Her dress is falling off of her shoulders, exposing the bare skin. She holds a skull with horns in her lap, and her lower legs appear to have the fur and hooves of a goat.

Slewfoot by Brom

Nominated by @cheesedance

A spirited young Englishwoman, Abitha, arrives at a Puritan colony betrothed to a stranger – only to become quickly widowed when her husband dies under mysterious circumstances. All alone in this pious and patriarchal society, Abitha fights for what little freedom she can grasp onto, while trying to stay true to herself and her past.

Enter Slewfoot, a powerful spirit of antiquity newly woken… and trying to find his own role in the world. Healer or destroyer? Protector or predator? But as the shadows walk and villagers start dying, a new rumor is whispered: Witch.

Both Abitha and Slewfoot must swiftly decide who they are, and what they must do to survive in a world intent on hanging any who meddle in the dark arts. (Goodreads)

This book is an utter delight, and I adored it. A dark fantasy take on historical New England, this beautiful book follows Abatha’s journey as she strives for independence in her Puritan village and Slewfoot’s path of self discovery as he learns where he fits in both pagan and Christian worlds. We get a bit of dark fantasy, a bit of fairy tale, some ghosts and talking critters, and even some bloodshed when Abatha and Slewfoot’s paths clash with the Puritan village. I found it dark and delicious, and I would read it again in a heartbeat. Bonus: the hardcover version includes beautiful artwork by the author!

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Cover shows a woman tied in rope. She is levitating in the air, and leaves are swirling around her. Though her arms are bound to her body by the rope, her fingers grasp for freedom.

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

Nominated by @SemaphoreRaven

Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay ’til death. Whoever settles, never leaves.

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened or the consequences will be too terrible to bear.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past. (Goodreads)

A town nobody can leave, a creepy witch, and people making horrible decisions. What’s not to love?

Hex’s combination of old folklore and new technology makes for a read that both feels like a genre classic with a bit of a twist. It’s both good fun and legitimately creepy, with imagery that sticks with you long after you put the book down. And okay, maybe a little bit of the reason I put it on this list is because I expect it to be a little polarizing and I want to nitpick it as a group. We could write essays about some of the stuff in here, people. Essays.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Wytches Vol. 1 by Scott Snyder. Cover shows a dark, sparse forest. A person is standing in the distance. They are silhouetted and we can't see them clearly.

Wytches Vol. 1 by Scott Snyder

Nominated by @TheLibraryCryptid

Everything you thought you knew about witches is wrong. They are much darker, and they are much more horrifying. Wytches takes the mythology of witches to a far creepier, bone-chilling place than readers have dared venture before. When the Rooks family moves to the remote town of Litchfield, NH to escape a haunting trauma, they’re hopeful about starting over. But something evil is waiting for them in the woods just beyond town. Watching from the trees. Ancient…and hungry.

I am not going to lie to y’all, I don’t know that many witch books and everyone else took the books I was thinking of. But the title is “Wytches” so it must fit, right? I love a good comic book and I really liked Snyder’s Something is Killing the Children, which I read a couple years ago, and I’ve been interested in reading this comic ever since it was on the Visual Horror voting list way back in May 2020. Also, just to note, although the title says “Volume 1”, as far as I can tell, it is a standalone and is titled Vol. 1 to distinguish it from the six individual issues collected in this volume.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Goddess of Filth by V Castro. Cover shows a woman's face cast in pink light. Her face appears in double, as if the viewer's image is distorted or under the haze of some sort of psychedelic.

Goddess of Filth by V Castro

Nominated by @ChelseaPumpkins

One hot summer night, best friends Lourdes, Fernanda, Ana, Perla, and Pauline hold a séance. It’s all fun and games at first, but their tipsy laughter turns to terror when the flames burn straight through their prayer candles and Fernanda starts crawling toward her friends and chanting in Nahuatl, the language of their Aztec ancestors.

Over the next few weeks, shy, modest Fernanda starts acting strangely—smearing herself in black makeup, shredding her hands on rose thorns, sucking sin out of the mouths of the guilty. The local priest is convinced it’s a demon, but Lourdes begins to suspect it’s something else—something far more ancient and powerful. (Goodreads)

I really enjoyed Castro’s writing in Worst Laid Plans, and I’ve been wanting to read more of her work ever since. Growing up in Catholic school in Massachusetts, my mental picture of witches are those women of Salem from the 1600’s, the sisters from Hocus Pocus, or perhaps Sabrina from my 90’s TV set. I love that this title will challenge that stereotype for me and bring a bit of Aztec and Mexican heritage to this list. It seems like it’ll be a fun, modern, feminist tale of friendship and possession, and I honestly can’t think of much more I’d want in a witchy novella.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Cover shows a woman from the shoulders up wearing a Puritan-era hair cap. She is turned away from us and we can't see her face.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Nominated by @Shtuff4Avacadoes

“I believe that the reader will discover here the essential nature of one of the strangest and most awful chapters in human history,” Arthur Miller wrote of his classic play about the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts. Based on historical people and real events, Miller’s drama is a searing portrait of a community engulfed by hysteria. In the rigid theocracy of Salem, rumors that women are practicing witchcraft galvanize the town’s most basic fears and suspicions; and when a young girl accuses Elizabeth Proctor of being a witch, self-righteous church leaders and townspeople insist that Elizabeth be brought to trial. The ruthlessness of the prosecutors and the eagerness of neighbor to testify against neighbor brilliantly illuminates the destructive power of socially sanctioned violence.

Written in 1953, The Crucible is a mirror Miller uses to reflect the anti-communist hysteria inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s “witch-hunts” in the United States. Within the text itself, Miller contemplates the parallels, writing, “Political opposition… is given an inhumane overlay, which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized behavior. A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence.” (Goodreads)

As much as I love theatre, I still haven’t read (or seen) The Crucible. It’s surprising and awful, and I want to rectify that. Reading a play would be a fun change to our usual novels and short stories. Also, the political situation in the 1690s, 1950s, and present day have many parallels, so it would be interesting to discuss them. Maybe we can have a voice call and read a few scenes together! 

(I also may have a “special” recording of the most recent Broadway revival, starring Ben Whishaw, who is my favorite actor.)

The other possibility was Macbeth, which is one of my favorite plays, but I feared that Elizabethan English would scare off fellow HOWLers.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read Goddess of Filth by V Castro. Join HOWL Society on Monday, December 13, 2022 to begin discussion!

About HOWLers Behind the Scenes: This is the team behind HOWL Society’s web presence, from behind the scenes work with the website and bot programming for the Discord to review producers and social media coordinators. These six (and more!) devote countless hours of volunteer work; HOWL Society would not be what it is now without their presence.

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