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Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton | Review

The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton
Magical Realism / Contemporary / Fantasy, 288 pages
Published March 13th 2018 by Candlewick Press
From the author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender comes a haunting maelstrom of magic and murder in the lush, moody Pacific Northwest.

When Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island more than a century ago, her otherworldly skills might have benefited friendlier neighbors. Guilt and fear instead led the island’s original eight settlers to burn “the witch” out of her home. So Rona cursed them. Fast-forward one hundred–some years: All Nor Blackburn wants is to live an unremarkable teenage life. She has reason to hope: First, her supernatural powers, if they can be called that, are unexceptional. Second, her love life is nonexistent, which means she might escape the other perverse side effect of the matriarch’s backfiring curse, too. But then a mysterious book comes out, promising to cast any spell for the right price. Nor senses a storm coming and is pretty sure she’ll be smack in the eye of it. In her second novel, Leslye Walton spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl stumbling along the path toward self-acceptance and first love, even as the Price Guide’s malevolent author — Nor’s own mother — looms and threatens to strangle any hope for happiness.


I cannot tell you how many times I've read and fallen in love with a book that I found to be nicely plotted and paced and plenty compelling, only to pop over to Goodreads and find that people are describing it as slow. . . So add this to the list of books I champion under the heading of "SLOW PACING IS NOT THE SAME AS EVEN PACING AND DEVELOPMENT, PEOPLE," along with faves like All These Things I've Done, Tin Star, Tess of the RoadThe Accident Season...
aka, Slow Burn Books (apparently).

(And wouldn't you know, these are coincidentally also my cold fish books. Could it be that what some readers consider slow is being in the head of a female character they don't love unreservedly? There may be a future Book Chat in there, somewhere...)

The Price Guide to the Occult lured me in thoroughly and immediately.  It's darker and more complex than I was expecting; more no-holds-barred than one generally meets with in YA (which is no slight to the vast array of YA that is out there, whether it 'goes there' or not, but Price Guide frequently and immediately insists it will pull no punches).

Yes, it could be cheesy, and yes, it could be over the top -- as a book I just finished reading proclaims, most good books are -- but against a magical realistic backdrop of intergenerational witches on a windswept island, a bit of over the top works. I felt connected to the story from nearly page one; there are some stories that make you feel not just as if you can visualize the place and characters, but as if you know them. Books that make you feel you have spent a considerably larger amount of time within their pages than you actually have. This owes a lot to an author's handle on their story and world, I think -- even when you don't have all of the information, you can tell when an author does. You can tell when their brain has been half-within their story world for quite some length of time. Everything feels realized. Characters act as only they would. There is consistency, through and through.

Price Guide gave me that, along with healthy doses of some of my favorite things -- family sagas about strong, magical women; internal and external conflict; quirky small towns; actual real-world conseqeunces; tall tale vibes -- wrapped up in a story that is both light and dark, simple and complex, fast and slow.  It had its flaws, certainly (the end is too messy and fast-paced to suit the build up that came before, and the build-up in general definitely satisfied me more than the resolution), but there's no denying that I tore through it, (mostly) loved it, and didn't want to be finished when I was. I would very much love stories about the previous Blackburn women of Anathema island. And I very much think I need to finally get around to picking up Walton's other novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.

Maybe you'll disagree with my fondness for this book and these characters, just as maybe you've disagreed with the handful of other books that I've thoroughly loved and ate up, only to see other's call it boring. But either way, I recommend The Price Guide to the Occult just as I've recommended those cold-fish others, and am very curious to hear your thoughts, if and when you read it.


Major trigger warning for themes of abuse, self-harm, and everything surrounding such weighty topics.

9 comments:

  1. I can do slow if the details are interesting enough. Sounds like this one has quite a bit going on with the curse and the guide. I can see why you liked it. Enjoyed your review.

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  2. I think I just might pick this up. I was on the fence. But your review pushed me over the edge.

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    1. If you read it, let me know what you think!

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  3. It's funny that you mention this one along with Tess of the Road. Everyone was saying that these two books were slow, but to me they were fast paced and I flew through them. I definitely enjoyed this one, but I wanted more overall backstory and lineage with the Blackthonrs. Walton does lineage tales so well and I'm slightly disappointed that her sophomore novel didn't have what I think was the strongest aspect of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.

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    1. I flew through both, too! I'm always a little baffled by the things people consider slow, vs. what I consider slow.
      I can see wanting more backstory. I think I could have loved it just as much, or more, if it had just been a generational witch saga that was ONLY about all that had happened, their powers, and who they became in their quirky ways, since Rona's time. That would have been excellent!

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  4. This hits a lot of my buttons (witches! the PNW! darkness! buildup!)- thanks for putting it on my radar!

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    1. let me know what you think if you end up reading it!

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  5. The Price Guide to the Occult is an unexpected and fascinating story that only begins to reveal the secrets surrounding Anathema Island and its founding families. Ideal for readers looking for a twisting fantasy whose memory will linger long after the book is closed. Recommended.


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