The Scapegracers by H. A. Clarke

Magic and power are second nature to teenage girls and the ambiguity of both suits them immensely. “The Scapegracers” is the best exploration of high school dynamics and teenage girls that I’ve seen for a good long time. Part of it could have been that I grew up in the same town and went to the same high school as the author, and every so often I felt like I recognized something from that. Even beyond that, however, everything from the raw emotion of Sideways Pike to the limited glimpses we got of teachers, felt meaty and real and true to what I remember of high school.

Image ID: Text excerpt from "The Scapegracers" reading, "Why  was I so insecure about everything suddenly? Since when do I care if people like me? Since you remembered how nice it is to have friends, Sideways, sweetie." The Snapchat caption reads, "Ahhh, high school" End ID.

I really enjoyed that high school problems weren’t shortchanged for magic problems or vice versa. Balance in stories is something that is important to me as a reader and “Scapegracers” delivers that really well. The story of Sideways finding friends and finding a new niche in the high school hierarchy is part of Sideways finding her witchy coven and the world of magic opening to her even further, and the blend of the two leads to some incredible twists and turns.

The magic world “Scapegracers” sets up is so fantastic and unique. There are specters, an innate magical soul that only some people have, and book devils, who inhabit witch spellbooks and are trapped in vases if their book/coven is destroyed. It’s less about following rules exactly and more about finding how to make a set of guide rules work you with your own personal flair. It’s a wonderfully rich system that we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of alongside Sideways and her friends.

Image ID: Text excerpt reading, "'I'm called a devil, and I was a book,' he said. His voioce was high, not just in pitch, but in tone. Windy and brittle. 'It's not safe for baby witches to run about without a  book to aid them, Sideways. I just want—'" The Snapchat caption reads, "I'm so curious about this Mr. Scratch." End ID.

The book is written in a limited first person point of view, and it is utilized to great effect, both in giving us Sideways’ complicated teenage internal monologue and for easing us into the magic world that exists alongside the mundane one. We only know what Sideways knows, and she’s really just starting out. At the beginning of the book, Sideways is doing her first big(ish) spell with other people, but by the end we’ve been introduced to witchfinders, a restaurant and art gallery that’s a front for a witch gathering place, and long established covens.

Image ID: Text excerpt reading, "I wanted to be her. No, I didn't. I wanted to be the leather in her jacket. We could be despicable together." The Snapchat caption reads, "This turn of phrase is making me insane." End ID.

The book is also absolutely steeped in queerness. It was, for me, a refreshing departure from “this YA novel is queer, so it’s a coming out story.” There are some characters who are in the process of figuring themselves out, and those subplots are great and well done, but Sideways, our point of view, has got herself figured out as a lesbian, and she’s got a great life with her gay dads. There’s some homophobia, but it’s limited, and falls in with what I would consider standard bullying/douchebaggery for a high school story. We also get to see Sideways and company rage and be vengeful about it, which we love to see.

If you’re a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” especially the early seasons, or just generally enjoy all things queer and witchy, you will like this book. And of course, once you’ve finished “Scapegracers,” you should go pick up the sequel, “The Scratch Daughters,” which I started immediately upon finishing the first book. It really is just that good.

If you enjoy what I do please consider supporting me Patreon or buying me a Kofi.

When the Angels Left the Old Country by Sacha Lamb

I blasted through this book mostly in a single night. It is not only incredibly well written, but also a very fun read that is maddeningly hard to put down. The characters are rich and extremely memorable and the plot never wavers even when there are multiple subplots to intertwine, but let’s back up a bit.

“When the Angels Left the Old Country” is a queer, Jewish mystery steeped in the supernatural. An angel and a demon living as chevrusas (Torah study partners) in a tiny shtetl in Poland are drawn to America to find the daughter of one of the townsfolk who has stopped writing letters home. On the way they encounter spirits of all sorts, goyish demons, and a variety of humans both helpful and decidedly not.

Image ID: Image of text, reading "If she told her family she should be sake on the journey because she had met a nice young man and a Little Ash..." The captain reads, "'A nice young man and a Little Ash' is honestly the best way to describe them." End ID.

It is also a story about identity in all aspects, such as gender and sexuality (what gender is an angel?), what it means to be an immigrant, and differing approaches to Judaism—after all, the synagogue of the nameless shtetl is not the synagogue of upper Manhattan. One of my favorite sub-plots was the angel, Uriel, grappling with its sense of self. An ephemeral being, what does it mean for the angel when it must take on a single identity to travel to America and blend into the human world. As someone who has spent a lot of time grappling with myself and my various identities, I latched onto Uriel not unlike the spirit of the rebbe (which is another fascinating subplot about ibburs and dybbuks).

Image ID: Snapchat image of text, reading, "Little Ash, noticing that the angel seemed in a better mood, wondered if he ought to be worried that it had acted so human as to be upset when it hadn't  eaten, and decided that as soon as they reached America he would bury the papers for Uriel Federman, just in case." The caption reads, "I am fascinated by the tangible effects of the angel existing with a human identity." End ID.

There is also a fantastic layering of religions, they all exist—most notably shown in there being demons from other religions too. Something that exhausts me about Christian-centric approaches to the supernatural is that they tend to assume that the Christian mythology is the Real Accurate One. I adored seeing the way “Angels” allowed these different cultures to exist at once, even though we only see them to a limited extent due to the limits of our point-of-view characters.

While “Angels” is a deeply Jewish book, it is in no way limited to a Jewish readership. At its heart it is a story about being a stranger in a strange land and finding people you can be yourself with, feelings that resonate across marginalized and immigrant communities. For those unfamiliar with Yiddish, Hebrew and other Jewish terminology there is a helpful glossary in the back of the book, which I myself referred to several times because my Hebrew is limited and my Yiddish is worse. If I were to offer a single sentence pitch comparing it to other media, I would say it’s a bit of “An American Tail” meets “Good Omens” with the Jewishness and queerness cranked up to 11.

If you like the sound of those things together, you will certainly like this book. You can pick up “When the Angels Let the Old Country” from a variety of places. I got mine through Bookshop. 

If you enjoy what I do, please consider buying me a Kofi or supporting me on Patreon!

Banquet by A. Szabla


[Edit: Originally posted September 29,  2018]

Do you like eldritch horrors? Do you like the accidental child acquisition trope? Do you like gay shit? If you answered yes to all three then Banquet is the comic for you.

From the earth above, a child has fallen through a mysterious portal, which we know leads into Hell. While his parents and the entire human world believe him dead, but he survives only to be found by Hadrien Galerius Vespatian, fourth crowned king of the Bottomless Pit. Utterly amused by and curious about this little human, King Hadrien, decides against the council of his advisor/bodyguard/boyfriend, the hellhound Bernard, and the anger of some of the other noble houses, to adopt this human child and raise him as a son.

The comic is wonderfully paced and plotted, and the panels manage to be simple yet full of detail without feeling cramped or cluttered or losing any of the story. A. Szabla does an amazing job of conveying facial expression on both the human characters and the monstrous ones. And when the monstrous characters take on human forms, it’s delightful to see how the human form fit and reflect the monstrous character.

While Banquet is humerous at times, it is not just a silly story. It has all the fixings of plot just getting underway. It’s just enough to get you hook and leave you wanting more and anxiously awaiting every new update. And for a new comic that’s a good place to be in.

I will say for those, like myself, who might be concerned about the treatment of a gay couple in the media they consume. The only disapproval of Bernard and Hadrien’s relationship comes from the fact that certain nobles believe that it is not fitting for a king to be carrying on a relationship with someone low born. So fantasy classist, but not fantasy homophobic.

All and all it’s an incredibly fun read and I am eagerly looking forward to seeing Banquet continue.

While I have a hard copy of the first book of Banquet, I do not rightly know where you can get a hard copy outside of FlameCon, where I got mine. [ UPDATE 2/7/2023: You can get hard copies of volume one and, now, volume two, along with a whole bunch of other goodies, on Etsy.] The entire comic for free, online at Since it’s always nice when a content creator makes their content available for free if you enjoy Banquet you should consider supporting A. Szabla’s patreon.



Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs


[Edit: Originally published May 26, 2016]

A thrilling conclusion to a thrilling series. Emma, Jacob and peculiar dog Addison, are the only three peculiars of the original group that haven’t been captured, and now they must free their friends and keep Caul (the mastermind who’s been behind all this from the very start) from completing his abominable plans.

The trio winds up in the worst of worst loops, Devil’s Acre. And must navigate their way through it with the help of Sharon, a tour boat driver. (A delightful play on Charon the guardian of the river Styx). Jacob is finally beginning to realize the extent of his peculiar abilities, which is to control hollowgasts, not just to see them, but even with that their plans hits dead end after dead end. And allies turn out not to be such good allies after all. Victory is only gained at the very last moment.

I should say I’ve had a few issues with the heavily romance driven element of the book from the very beginning, but that’s mostly because I am tired and bitter about heterosexual romances. That being said, it’s very well written and I am very pleased with how it wrapped up. The acknowledgement between Emma and Jacob that their relationship as it was probably wasn’t going to last but friends was a thing they could do. Then at the end of the book they got the chance to be able to take their relationship slower, Jacob was like “hey let’s go that route instead, might be better.” This had me enjoying the relationship by the end of this book more than I had during the previous books.

Something that bothered me, was that we never really got proper closure about what happened to Fiona, the girl who could talk to plants. It’s brought up multiple times that she could have survived her fall off the cliff because she could control plants and could have had the trees catch her, but by the end the subject gets dropped and you never learn if anyone ever went back to look for her to confirm that theory, she’s just assumed dead. If anyone did go back to look for her, Fiona does not appear with the rest of the children when they visit Jacob at his home at the end of the book.

A few warnings. There are a few scenes where peculiars are being experimented on, it’s nothing overly explicit, but they are there. 

The big warning however, comes at the very end of the book. There is a sequence where Jacob’s parents try to have him institutionalized against his will. It doesn’t actually happen, Miss Peregrine and the children show up and put a stop to that, but the whole sequence of Jacob’s parents and Jacob’s therapist trying to get Jacob institutionalized was very, very distressing for me to read.

You can get the book here.

The reviews for Miss Peregrine’s and Hollow City.



They Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman


[Edit: Originally published May 21, 2016]

Nobody Owens, a boy raised by ghosts. When a baby is the only survivor of a family brutally murdered in their homes, he’s taken under the wing of the ghosts of an old cemetery near his house. He is named Nobody by Mrs. Owens, the wife of Mr. Owens, and self appointed mother of Nobody, or Bod for short.

Now, with the man who killed his family still at large, Bod is, for most of his early life, confined to the graveyard. He has teachers in some of the other ghosts, and then there’s his mysterious guardian Silas as well. Silas can leave the graveyard while the other ghosts can’t, so he’s the one who’s charged with getting Bod food, among other things.

Bod has many adventures in and out of the graveyard. He has encounters with ghouls, discovers the guardian of the oldest grave in the cemetery, makes friends with a girl who comes to the graveyard, and even sneaks out of the graveyard in order to try to get a headstone for his witch friend.

This is, thus far, the only Neil Gaiman book I’ve read outside of Good Omens, which is of course, a combined effort of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Therefore, I can’t really say how The Graveyard Book compares to other things that Neil Gaiman has written on his own. 

I greatly enjoyed the book. It’s creepy in the way that visiting a cemetery after dark is creepy. It’s a fun creepy that makes you want to explore more, you want to know exactly what happens to Bod, and despite the apprehension you might feel (there were several sections that had me very anxious about what would happen to Bod), you keep going.

I will always enjoy a book that has a male/female friendship that doesn’t end in romance, and Neil Gaiman delivers that in the friendship between Bod and Scarlett who visits the cemetery on a number of occasions throughout Bod’s life. At the end of the book, when Bod finally leaves the graveyard. It’s not with her, or for her. He’s just going out on his own to have his own life and adventures in the outside world. I was very pleased by that.


The book can be found here.



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Hollow City by Ransom Riggs


[Edit: Originally published May 19, 2016]

The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants- I’m sorry, the wights and hollowgasts, formerly peculiars who lost their forms in an experiment to increase their powers and raise them to the level of gods, are after the Peculiar Children and Miss Peregrine who is injured and stuck in her bird form. The trouble that was brewing in book one has now come to a head!

The children, plus one Jacob, must travel through the war torn country side to London to find help for their teacher and guardian Miss Peregrine before it’s too late and she’s stuck as a bird forever. 

This is a typical book two of a trilogy (this isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a way trilogies often get set up, you can see it in “Hunger Games” too). The first book set everything up, we know what we’re dealing with, then in book two everything increases in intensity. If a series is going to have a book about traveling or searching for something, this is going to be that book (see “The Two Towers”).

The children meet more people, some who help and some who hinder. Some who die and some who don’t. Frankly I was surprised with the amount of deaths and who the deaths were. The plot twist was excellent and beautifully placed. There’s a point in the book where things are winding down and it looks like things are going to be sorted out, but then you see how many pages are left and go “That can’t possibly be right, if it’s resolved then what happens in these pages?” That’s the beauty of the plot twist, it ends the second book and prepares you for what’s next.

Update on the favorite character front, still Millard, but I have a growing fondness for Hugh. The poor boy only has one bee left.

Buy the book here.

Related reviews: Miss Peregrine’s and Library of Souls



Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs


[Edit: Originally published May 16,  2016]

When I started reading this book I described it to a friend as a historical fantasy X-Men AU, and having finished it I still stand by that statement. There was the parallel between Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and The Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters that I saw and there was also the peculiars as sub species of homo sapiens (see mutants as homo superior). However, boiling it down solely to that would not be doing the book justice at all.

This book was fan-fucking-tastic. It had literally been sitting on my bookshelf for two years and I am so mad at myself for not having read it sooner.

It’s the exact sort of eerie that I adore. It’s eerie and mysterious, but it’s not smacking you over the head with grimdark either. It’s exactly as eerie and peculiar as the covers make it seem. The black and white photos that accompany the story are perfectly placed and enhance what your reading ten fold. 

The year is 1940, but no wait, it’s also 2011. September 3rd 1940, it’s a very important date. A date that holds all the answers that our young protagonist Jacob needs after the death of grandfather. “Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man’s grave. September third, 1940.” His grandfather’s last words lead him on a journey that there’s no turning back from. A group of peculiar children and their teacher, who have secrets and not-so-secrets, and there’s trouble brewing abroad that is more that just the troubles of World War 2.

I’m a huge sucker for WW2 era books, and this is the perfect blend of historical and fantasy. You get a whole bunch of weird set to a back drop of World War 2. 

Also, like I talked about at the beginning, I get the same draw from the peculiar as I do with mutants. There’s an othering there that I can identify with which allows me to latch onto the characters more tightly than I might in another book. Basically, if you really like the whole mutant metaphor thing of the X-Men, then I would highly, highly, recommend this book.

For the record, my favorite character is Millard the Invisible Boy. 

Book can be found here.

Related reviews: Hollow City and Library of Souls