Journalist Memphis Zhang isn’t ashamed of her Wiccan upbringing—in fact, she’s proud to be one of a few Chinese American witches in San Francisco, and maybe the world. Unlike the well-meaning but basically powerless Wiccans in her disbanded coven, Memphis can see fairies, read auras, and cast spells that actually work—even though she concocts them with ingredients like Nutella and antiperspirant. Yet after a friend she tries to protect is brutally killed, Memphis, full of guilt, abandons magick to lead a “normal” life. The appearance, however, of her dead friend’s sexy rock star brother—as well as a fairy in a subway tunnel—suggest that magick is not done with her. Reluctantly, Memphis finds herself dragged back into the world of urban magick, trying to stop a power-hungry witch from using the dangerous Flower Bowl Spell and killing the people Memphis loves—and maybe even Memphis herself.
I’ve always known that rats live in the Muni Metro tunnels, but this morning, after I almost fall onto the tracks, I find out that fairies hang out there too.
This should come as no surprise to a person like me, even though I banished magick from my life two years ago. In that time, I haven’t come across anything like fairies or talking sparrows. Not one rag doll has tried to jump into my shopping cart in ages. Yet, all at once, magick has come back to me.
In the Castro Street station, waiting for an M, L, or K car to take me to work downtown, I stand on the edge of the platform with a trickling crowd of morning commuters. Teenagers heading to Union Square for midsummer shopping sprees mingle with hipsters and Asian elders. There are a couple of indigents, one slumped against the wall, the other pacing and muttering. They wear shabby clothes with dirty, threadbare cuffs. Their BO could be bottled for biological warfare.
A high whining sound and blasting horn signals an inbound train. I move with the crowd, the wind from the tunnel gritty yet refreshing on my face. A shove at my back throws me off balance. It’s split-second fast, and I can’t tell if I’m being pushed to the tracks or pulled away, as my head is thrown back and the dim yellow ceiling lights lurch into view. At the same moment, a woman’s voice cries,
A disheveled man in a San Francisco Giants jersey has hold of my arm. I glance at him as the train pulls up in front of us and the doors open—his eyes obscured by sunglasses and the bill of his baseball cap, and his face covered in graying stubble. He’s the homeless guy who’s been sitting on the floor.
“Thanks,” I mumble.
“You okay?” A young woman dressed like an H&M salesclerk puts her hand on my shoulder, and the man’s tight grip on me loosens and slips away.
“Yeah,” I say as the woman and I step through the doors together, carried forward by the impatient crowd that could give a hoot about my almost-accident. You’re alive, aren’t you? No biggie, their indifference says. The doors close. The man has not followed us. In fact, he seems to be distracted by something just behind the train. I let my shoulders relax, unaware until then that they’ve been tightly hunched. I look out the window. Our train hiccups once before starting its slow glide out of the station. He stands on the platform and, unexpectedly, I read the gray cloud of his disappointed aura—but in response to what, I can’t tell.
With a smile of thanks to the young woman, I move away from the door farther into the car. I find standing space near a back window. As the train enters the subway tunnel, something on the tracks catches my eye. It’s a rat, looking a little dazed and sniffing a bit of discarded muffin. Isn’t it terrified by the rumbling train? I wonder why it doesn’t scurry away. Then I see the reason. A tiny fairy is riding it bucking-bronco style. A fairy who’s waving a shiny sword at me.
In the few seconds before the train rounds the corner of the tunnel, I note that the fairy is only pretending to ride the rat. Its wings beat rapidly, much like a hummingbird’s. I’m not familiar with this variety of pix. The ones I’ve seen are slow flitterers mostly, butterfly-winged. I can’t determine the fairy’s gender, but guess it’s a dude. No self-respecting female fairy would take part in such tomfoolery. He waves the sword around his head as if holding an imaginary lasso.
I allow myself to toy with the idea that perhaps I’m merely hallucinating. Perhaps there’s a speck of dust on my retina or this is just a childhood memory resurrected. But I know that’s wishful thinking.
And I have to say I’m more than a tad concerned.
When I first heard about The Flower Bowl Spell I was excited. A witch with Chinese heritage who can see fairies, has a cool job reviewing musicians, lives with a hot guy and can cast some serious spells with stuff you keep around the house. Memphis rocks.
What I liked about this book:
From the first page, Memphis becomes someone you want to know in real life. Fairies in the subway and a childhood filled with magic both seen and unseen and a personality that feels completely real. In other words, not all sunshine and moonbeams. The girl has some attitude. (In a good way!)
What I Didn't Like:
Not A thing.
This is a great summer read that I enjoyed very much. The voice of the book grabbed me on the first page and it was a page turner from then on. The fairies, magic and spells with regular household items was right up my alley! I will be looking for more books in this series and was very excited with Olivia was able to answer a few questions for the blog tour!
1. In The Flower Bowl Spell, the character grows up in a Wiccan household. Is that your background— I loved that element of the story as it gave a background that really captured my interest.
I grew up with a very loose mixture of agnosticism from my father, and Episcopalianism and Buddhism from my mother, which made for a lot of questioning, skepticism, and speculation about religion and spirituality from an early age. I think Celtic lore probably made it’s way into my life very early on through the musical Camelot. I didn’t learn about Wicca until I was in my twenties, so that would be the mid-1990s. As a feminist, it appealed to me and I did a ton of reading about it—Starhawk and Silver RavenWolf among that. While I didn’t become a wiccan myself, I used what I had learned in my fiction writing.
2. I love how you incorporated fairies into The Flower Bowl Spell. What was the inspiration for the story?
I used to ride the Muni (San Francisco’s subway system) a lot when I was in high school and later when I worked downtown in an office building. And yes, occasionally, you see a rat or mouse on the tracks along with the garbage that gets blown around there. Pigeons are forever wandering down to the platforms looking for crumbs.
I’ve always been fascinated by fairies—the first one in my life was probably the Disney version of Tinker Bell, and she scared me—she tried to get Wendy killed, and I so related to Wendy!—but I also had that classic book of Flower Fairies, and I loved them. Growing up in a city, as a kid, I came to the conclusion that I’d never see a fairy, but one day, years later as I waited for the Muni train to go to work, some movement on the tracks caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. It was probably just a paper napkin floating by, but I thought, Wouldn’t that be cool if it wasn’t? After all, the Tooth Fairy makes house calls all over the world—maybe she was using the subway tunnels to get to some child’s home! LOL
3. What are some of your favorite hobbies when you are not writing?
Reading, of course! Although I occasionally write book reviews, so then it becomes work, which is fantastic. I wish I had more time for making greeting cards and a little bit of scrapbooking and stamping. I’m a fan of Tim Holtz. But I have a long way to go before I get to the point of producing any of the amazing stuff I see online by really dedicated scrappers. I also enjoy going for urban hikes around San Francisco (there are so many hills, so I always get a good workout) and nature hikes in the beautiful areas nearby, like Marin County.
4. What is your next project?
I’ve been working on a sequel to The Flower Bowl Spell, and also a prequel, which will be YA and takes place when Memphis is 15 years old. I also drafted an upmarket fiction novel about two sisters who own a tea shop in San Francisco. And then there’s my collection of short stories. I might do a poll soon on my website, oliviaboler.com, to find out which of those projects readers would like me to publish next.
5. What are some of your favorite witchy books and movies?
Oh wow, that’s a good question. I love the Harry Potter series, of course, both books and movies. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman was a fun book and movie. Not exactly about witches, but Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer has to go on my list of favorite witches of all time. The Wizard of Oz is a must, and every kid should read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As an adult, I enjoyed A Discovery of Witches, and while it’s not witches, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is about magic and fairies.
If you would like to check out more about Olivia Boler, pop over to her website: http://www.oliviaboler.com/
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