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Other Words for Smoke

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The house at the end of the lane burned down, and Rita Frost and her teenage ward, Bevan, were never seen again. The townspeople never learned what happened. Only Mae and her brother Rossa know the truth; they spent two summers with Rita and Bevan, two of the strangest summers of their lives... Because nothing in that house was as it seemed: a cat who was more than a cat, and a dark power called Sweet James that lurked behind the wallpaper, enthralling Bevan with whispers of neon magic and escape. And in the summer heat, Mae became equally as enthralled with Bevan. Desperately in the grips of first love, she'd give the other girl anything. A dangerous offer when all that Sweet James desired was a taste of new flesh...

336 pages, Paperback

First published March 12, 2019

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About the author

Sarah Maria Griffin

8 books266 followers
Sarah Maria Griffin lives in Dublin, Ireland, in a small red brick house by the sea, with her husband and cat. She writes about monsters, growing up, and everything those two things have in common. Her first book, SPARE AND FOUND PARTS, is out now.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 363 reviews
Profile Image for Kai Spellmeier.
Author 6 books13.7k followers
September 3, 2020
"Love is love no matter what kind of soul you are or where you're from."

I love messy, helpless queers crushing hard on people they can't have. Oh the bittersweet taste of unrequited love. I also love unapologetic female characters that don't take shit from anyone. This is exactly my kind of book.

My heart was lost from the very beginning. Sarah Maria Griffin writes with a voice that is one part beautiful, the other part fiercely intelligent, both parts dangerous. You'll cut yourself if you get too close. With the first few words she creates a magical atmosphere and manages to keep it up until the last word, adds to it, expands it, weaves her spell and works something unique and addictive.

This novel is the story of a house haunted by hungry ghosts, a dwindling coven of witches fighting a never-ending war against time and other demons, and seemingly boring summers that turn into magical and unforgettable adventures. The characters are fleshed-out and fascinating, and very very gay, the POVs and the change of the narrative style are skilfully executed.

Other Words for Smoke more than just a ghost story. It's a retelling of history, a reckoning of sorts with Irelands past and the horrific way the country has treated its women. I cannot speak much about this, since my knowledge of Ireland's history is rather poor, but the novel is a feminist declaration that discusses gender, power, and queerness.

This novel is the most imaginative work of YA fiction. I devoured it in less than a day. And I want more.

Find more of my books on Instagram
Profile Image for Gabriela Pop.
744 reviews161 followers
January 21, 2019
Yet another mindblowing novel from one of Ireland's most promising voices. Sarah really outdoes herself in this one. I'd loved her previous work and was highly anticipating this novel, so my expectations were set high from the get-go, yet it felt like they were somehow exceeded despite that.
At the core of it all, this is a novel about power, love, fear and the marks our actions leave onto the world, all interwoven with complex threads of family and magic. The book follows the story of a set of lonesome twins trying to navigate growing up, their eerie witchy aunt and her equally eerie house of mysteries and her teenage protegee who is trying to get a grip on that world of power and of magic. There may even be a couple of higher beings taking the form of animals looming over all of their lives!
The writing style is as enthralling as ever and the plot is so captivating that it takes no time to get into the story and wait for it all to unravel. It also feels so easy to get lost into these characters and their stories and to root for them to succeed one way or another.
Atmospheric,tender,spellbinding and unpotdownable. A true pageturner that will stay with me for a long time.


CW: A character is outed (confronted in the book),mentions of homophobia
Profile Image for Amybibliophile.
149 reviews48 followers
July 16, 2019
I finished this a week or 2 ago and have been trying to get my thoughts in order to leave some sort of review.

I have to say I was expecting an all together different story when going into this without reading the synopses and from first impressions of the cover, I also don't think I have read anything that I could compare it to.

It is a coming of age story and one that contains lust, betrayal, magic & witchcraft. Not to forget Bobby Dear - the talking cat, and Sweet James the owl in the wall that eats bones/body-parts and opens doors to other worlds. Sound far fetched right? Right. But somehow it works. I fell in love with Bobby so much it hurts.

It follows twins Mae & Rossa and the 2 summers they spend at Rita's house (a relative) with her and Bevan.
The narrative is what is most unlike anything I've read before, as Mae, Rossa & Rita follow a 3rd person narrative and Bevan 2nd person.
Bevan's interested me the most as her parts were full of intrigue, being manipulated by Sweet James and willing to sacrifice anything to please him. I found myself compelled to him also, and wanted to know more of the happenings inside the doors. I loved that having Bevans narrative in 2nd person, it had the impression of Sweet James getting into her head and influencing her thoughts.

Mae is the teenage twin that is growing up into the realms of womanhood and all the emotions it brings. She feels her brother, Rosso, is maturing at a slower rate than herself and quickly losing common interests. Mae's has teenager hormones overpowering her brain, and falls deeply in 'love' with Bevan, who isn't particularly nice to Mae, but even still Mae tends to put her on a pedestal.

Rossa in the first half of the book comes across as shy and timid, and feels very out of place in this strange new house away from all of his Mom, Dad & friends. Rossa starts to feel like everyone is hiding something when conversations stop & hes asked to run errands to keep him away from the goings on inside the house.
The 2nd summer Rossa feels like a changed character. His interest in drawing means him and Bevan have something to talk about and spend more and more time together, and their relationship becomes intimate, which makes Mae extremely jealous as the roles have reversed.

By the end of this book I felt like I cared for these characters and the paths they were choosing. The story had an element of suspense and truly captured what it is to be a teenager, as well as lure to want to know what illusions and trickery are at play, which you never fully know.

I can see how this book wouldn't be to every bodies taste. Its very weird & the narrative took me a good chunk of the book to get used to, but once I was then I couldn't put it down!
This book is ideal for anybody that likes to read about:
Animal Hybrids
Coming of Age Stories
Irish Tales
Lesbian Love
Profile Image for Lauren (Northern Plunder).
356 reviews190 followers
September 9, 2020
My review was first posted on Northern Plunder, you can read more of my reviews there too.

ow here I empty my soul

Screams into the endless void about how this brilliant book with a theme of obsession is my current obsession. When I first finished reading it on a Saturday night in March, I started re-reading it again the next morning.

I am not okay.

No really, I love this book. [hi look at me being a mess on twitter 32 times]

I first heard about Other Words for Smoke when I attended an Waterstones Q+A Event of Sarah Maria Griffin and Christina Henry. Hearing these two talk was so much fun and I knew I’d have to read some of Sarah’s work because she had me awe-struck ok.

I reached out that night to Lydia about a review copy of OWFS and the rest is history. I’m history. I’m dead.

OWFS follows twins, Rossa and Mae, as they spend two summers with their Great-Aunt Rita, her teen ward Bevan, and a larger than life cat Bobby. In a house that is strange than meets the eye with a Sweet James, an owl living in the walls demanding his hunger be quenched.

There are two main sections to the book; the first Summer where the twins are 14 and get sent to avoid family disrupt. And the second Summer when the twins are 17 and return to Rita’s to escape their family divorce, older and more prepared to face the different type of horror that Rita’s house holds.
“How strange was this mutual, silent agreement that maybe something was badly wrong in Rita’s house, that they’d seen something awful there that they couldn’t quite name, but somehow they felt more able to manage that wrong than their parents.”

There are also some inbetween chapters which give us background development and the history of Rita, Audrey, Bobby, and James. As well as some key scenes from the twins in their years between the two summers.

(Its in this part that there is forced outing which I wasn’t a fan of, but its addressed and I’m happy with how Mae stood up for herself)

Rita is the best authority figure I’ve read about. She’s both motherly and caring but also a power to be fearer. She nurtures Mae’s exploration with magic and tarot reading, she helps shape Rossa into a more confident being.
“…if this thing was evil, then he was good, and he must be able to overcome it. He just had to find the courage – he knew it was in their somewhere, but he couldn’t grasp it.”

Rossa is the character I struggle most to talk about as realistically, I think I’m most like him. Or I would be in that house, faced with that danger and horror. I can’t see me ever being brave, I can see me struggle to keep a float, wanting to keep my sister safe, but not having the courage to face it. And feeling a bit of an outsider to the others in the house who’ve all formed a strong bond.

I think he is at his strongest when he’s not at ends with Mae. The two together have a great dynamic together in the book and I lived for the two supporting each other through the toughest times, and their sibling banter.
“A troupe of sunflowers, standing tall and there – there suddenly like a jewel on the lawn, Bevan sprawled out under the sun on a tartan blanket, her flat stomach to the sky. Her legs a hundred miles of tan.
Oh no.”

Bevan’s blonde hair and “her unfair, impossible legs” help Mae develop the strongest and ever-consuming of crush’s. Mae’s chapters were honestly my favourite to read because SMG has nailed down that First Crush obsession, how it engulfs your every fibre, and you want to do everything to leave a good impression – even allow them to pierce your ears, which terrifies you.

Bobby is a good soul whilst Mae battles with all these feelings engulfing her. He is larger than life, and more than what he seems. But his secret is something earned when the twins are ready and it takes Rossa a little longer to be welcomed into the coven.
“Love is the realest thing, Mae. The world around you will become realer the more you feel it. Doesn’t music sound better already? Isn’t there more meaning? There’s a reasons you had that song on loop. It’s deepened.”

Bevan is also a storm. Mae knows this, accepts it, and both loves and fears her. Bevan is ready to set the world on fire with her anger, confidence, and naivety. Her misplaced trust in Sweet James for a share of his power and “affection” is the moving force of the plot for OWFS.

You can’t read this book and not pick up on how Sweet James is a representation of toxic relationships. He manipulates and controls Bevan to cause harm to others, and later hopes she can set him free from his chains. He is nothing to be desired.

I found it very therapeutic to be able to reflect on how abusive he is as an outsider, whilst reading about how enticed and dependant Bevan is on him and his power. How broken she is when he’s stolen away. It really is terrifying.
“…and you thought you understood all the way that he could scare you, bargain with you.”

But I wouldn’t have wanted their relationship to have been portrayed any differently as they really hooked you in. To be honest, all the characters do in this book.

The only character I haven’t spoken about yet is the queer and forever young Audrey. Her path is one we are introduced too in the second half of the book mostly. Her role is so very important, not only because it contextualises the story with the Magdalene laundries, but also she’s very interwoven with Rita and the separate paths they are both on to be hopefully be together.

I really could talk about my love for this book all day, in fact in real time I have. But honestly this is the perfect blend of fantasy and horror which I’ve been highly recommending to everyone who will listen.

I’m almost done with my second reread (I had to limit myself) and I will be annotating Beth’s copy later on. I also have my another copy going around my USA friends who’re annotating it for me.

Like I said this is pretty much my life right now.

This review probably isn’t good enough. I don’t do my intense feelings enough justice. I don’t do Sarah’s amazing writing justice.

Please read this book. Also, message me when you do.
“You lonesome?” she asked absently.
“Are you? replied the cat.”

It’s like returning home, there’s a comfort I find in this book. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.
Profile Image for Jackie.
631 reviews42 followers
February 20, 2019
An interesting tale filled with magic, betrayal and the lengths people will go to get what they want.

“Other Words for Smoke” creates a twisted fairy tale like story when a set of twins are sent to live with their Aunt for the summer and upon their arrival they find that things are not quite what they seem with a game in progress between two forces with everyone who crosses the threshold becoming the unwilling participants.

This book creates a world where fantasy and reality sit side by side with only a wall between them and the only way into the beyond is selling your soul to the darkness and it’s almost like a cautionary tale as this force preys upon those at their most vulnerable offering them love and acceptance when they need it most.

There’s multiple timelines in this, mostly the first summer and three years later giving us a snapshot into the innocence of the siblings during the former as they are introduced to this house where the evil forces have already taken root and the latter when a far less obvious creature is feeding on the remnants of peace but by having them follow one another it was incredible to see the different roles each character played and how this affected the overall game.

It’s so hard to review this fully because there’s a lot to talk about but it’s all spoilers! I have so many theories and want to analyze it in every form possible from a magic/with element to religion and everything in between so everyone needs to pick this one up when it comes out and we can discuss!

**special thanks to the publishers and edelweiss for providing an arc in exchange for a fair and honest review!**
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,740 reviews5,281 followers
Want to read
July 3, 2019
This is so cool so far! ... buuuuut it was my "finish or set aside/DNF" title for the week, and sadly, I do not have the motivation to finish it tonight, so I'll pick it back up soon. ♥ (pls don't hate me Lauren!)
Profile Image for Aoife.
1,333 reviews584 followers
June 3, 2019
I received this book from Titan Press in exchange for an honest review.

Mae and Rossa are staying with their Great-Aunt Rita and her teenage ward Bevan for a whole summer, and neither of them know what to expect - until they get there and realise that Rita and Bevan are witches and a talking cat lives in the house as well as an evil entity called Sweet James who takes the form of a terrifying owl.

This is a really interesting tale with subtle magic that flashes powerful at times, and an underlying unrest caused by Sweet James and his gluttonous need for negative emotion to feed off of. This book is packed with unlikeable characters like Bevan, Sweet James and even at times Mae and Rossa depending on their mood.

The book takes a lot of inspiration from real life Irish history to do with the Magdalene Laundries and the Catholic Church's treatment of girls that were pregnant and unmarried or just girls who were felt to be wayward. I loved how Sarah Maria Griffin tied this real history into the emergence of Dear Bobby and Sweet James due to the grief and pain the actions of the laundry caused on Rita and Audrey. There was a real power in the words when Griffin talked about the laundries - particularly the fear Rita, Audrey and Deborah all felt when they knew what was happening and the limited choices they had available, as well as when Griffin described the laundry as not just a building but as a threat. Wow.

The style of magic and writing in this book isn't one I think would suit everyone - it can be a bit whimsical at times and it can be hard to figure out what exactly is happening but I think if you go in ready to be brought along on a magical, scary ride - you'll enjoy it!
Profile Image for Chloe.
413 reviews86 followers
July 13, 2023
Other Words for Smoke is a compelling, dark, magical story that makes the haunted house trope into something quite new and fresh. The writing style was both beautiful and very fast and easy to fly through. I enjoyed the weirdness of it. The writing was really its strength. I really liked the setting of this strange house and its strange inhabitants. There is a talking cat, which ALWAYS wins me over. I love books with talking cats, I can give you a list of books that I love that contain talking animal familiars and I'm writing my own book with a talking cat, so yes, that pleased me. There's an evil owl spirit and possession and witchy wonders and a lesbian main character. This UK paperback is also absolutely stunning with its shiny pretty cover and pink sprayed edges.

In the end I don't think it's a book that will leave a lasting impression on me, and I'll likely forget some plot points that I couldn't follow as well. I found the plot a bit disjointed, confusing, and I wasn't able to get too attached to it because of the way it kept switching points of view, person and tenses so quickly. I found that the writing style was such that it made me read it very quickly, bouncing from one paragraph to the next, but because of that, some of the more vague scenes didn't stick in my head very well and I had to reread parts to figure out what had actually happened.

I do recommend this book if you like weird fantasy and horror and whimsical things that don't always have to make sense. I do, so it was a book for me, but I also didn't entirely connect with it or find it to be the best plot or characters. Her writing however truly was lovely and has me definitely open to reading more of her books.
Profile Image for Charlie Anders.
Author 151 books3,790 followers
September 16, 2018
This is a fascinating coming-of-age story with magical elements that feel both grounded and properly mystifying. Mae and Rossa are twins whose parents are slowly coming apart, and they get sent to live with their great aunt Rita and her teenage ward, Bevan, for two separate summers. They soon discover that Rita's house is no ordinary place --- it's one of those spooky houses with a mind of its own, where the rooms change shape and configuration sometimes. Plus there's a talking cat named Bobby, and Rita is clearly a witch (and Bevan is her apprentice.) Bevan is talking to a weird creepy owl named Sweet James who lives inside the walls, and Sweet James seems to have designs on Mae and Rossa. If you go into this book expecting a traditional fantasy novel, or even a traditional coming-of-age story, you might be disappointed---. But that actually makes this book feel more like an accurate depiction of what it's like to be a teenager: you're full of passion and dying to take control of your own life, but adults still hold all the power in the end. Where this book really shines is in Griffin's depiction of teenage longing, the awful misery of being in love with someone who doesn't love you back, or outgrowing your old childish attachments. There are some gorgeous moments in this book that have stuck with me since I finished reading it, and the ending totally got me choked up. Griffin has a keen eye for the beautiful agony of adolescence, and that's what makes this book such a compelling read.
Profile Image for mylibraryofdreams.
557 reviews131 followers
October 5, 2019
Persönliche Meinung
An dem Buch hat mich sowohl das Cover als auch der Klappentext mega angesprochen und deshalb habe ich es mir gekauft, ohne auf Rezensionen zu achten. Grundsätzlich war es gut, aber ich konnte es nicht so ganz greifen und bin auch jetzt nicht sicher, wie ich meine Empfindungen in Worte fassen soll.

«“I think I am going to listen tot hat song again.“
„You’ll listen to it all summer, then every time you hear it again you’ll think of her. Even when you grow up.“
„You’re a cat. How do you know how I’ll feel?“»

Der Prolog war super vielversprechend und hatte mich sofort in seinen Bann gezogen. Wir erfahren nämlich wie die Geschichte „ausgeht“ Und danach wird die Geschichte erzählt und ist unterteilt in Sommer 1, kurze Zwischensequenz und dann Sommer 2 (drei Jahre später) ich liebe ja diese Rückwirkende Erzählung. Wenn der Autor gut ist, wird so total viel Spannung aufgebaut, obwohl man weiß, was passieren wird. Das ist hier so mittelmäßig gelungen. Ich fand es hat sich relativ festgezogen und obwohl der Schreibstil richtig, toll war und Frau Griffin auf jeden Fall ein Händchen für Sprach hat, so fand ich doch die verschiedenen Erzählsichten anstrengend. Einmal hätten wir da Bevan aus einer sehr speziellen Sicht. Sie erzählt das ganze nämlich dir und sagt Dinge: du gehst jetzt dahin und deine Hände öffnen die Türe. Du fühlst dich stark und mutig… blabla… meeega speziell. Anders. Ich kannte das nur von half Bad, wo einige Kapitel auch genau so sind. Die anderen Kapitel waren aus der dritten Person von den Zwillingen Mae und Rossa. Mir gefiel das besondere Band der Beiden und wie man sah, wie sie sich in den drei Jahren verändert hatten. Mir gefiel auch, dass man nie so recht wusste was abgeht, aber gleichzeitig bin ich nun ein bisschen ratlos zurückgelassen worden.
Wenn ich es in Jay Kristoffs Worten sagen müsste: “If her face were a puzzle, most would put it back in the box, unfinished.” das beschreibt das Buch in etwas ganz gut.

«“You lonesome?“ she asked absently.
„Are you?“ replied the cat.»

Eine interessante Geschichte über das Erwachsenwerden, Magie und erste Liebe. Ein Kampf zwischen gut und Böse.

Fazit: irgendwie gut

Profile Image for Kate.
1,241 reviews2,227 followers
December 20, 2019

Beautifully written, wonderfully weird, gay ladies, talking cats, honestly what more do I need in a book?? Docking .25 star cause I wish we got a LITTLE more explanation about everything
Profile Image for kelly.
156 reviews96 followers
April 12, 2020
i'm in love with bobby dear and sweet james and this book is weird weird weird.
Profile Image for Emily M.
371 reviews20 followers
October 4, 2022
This book pulls the difficult trick of starting at the end without, somehow, giving too much away beyond the fact that teenage twins Mae and Rossa survived some kind of fire-related disaster, and that two (or possibly three) other people went missing:
“While the papers flooded with tributes, it seemed to Mae that nobody remembered that Bevan and Rita had kept themselves to themselves…Rita was kind and Bevan was beautiful – this is what remained. This and the smell. They talked about it for years…Great billows of it carried on the wind down over the village and the motorway: smoke, sweet and dark.”
Mae and her twin brother first visit the house on Iona Crescent inhabited by their great-aunt Rita, when they are fourteen – dumped there by parents trying to deal with their failing marriage. Mae is enchanted by Rita’s pretty teenage neighbor Bevan (who she develops her first serious crush on) and by the fact that the two appear to be witches: They read tarot cards – a skill they are willing to teach her – and Rita’s unsettlingly large cat can talk. However, darker things appear to be afoot. In Bevan’s second person perspective:
“You pluck out a slender wand of bone…then place it against the wall like a painter with a brush full of crimson. You press, and the surface gives way like wet sand. It eats the bone and his voice says, more.”
There’s an older storyline that matter here, too, one that involves the old Magdalene Laundry that looms over the town, and Rita’s two girlhood friends – one of whom she loved more than she was meant to. I’m not sure if I can fully explain the themes of this book, but desire - for love, for knowledge, for a special destiny - and loss both loom large over everything:
“It happened in the middle of the afternoon, in the sun drench of the early summertime, long after the worst had happened. Just at the beginning of the continuing lives of those who had lost their friend…The world split, a hairline crack in reality that shone like iridescence and madness.”
I bought this thinking to test it out as a potential gift for my niece, a fellow fan of the queer and witchy. While not a perfect book (I can’t quite figure out when in the timeline Rita found time to go learn yoga in San Francisco, for instance), it was the blend of spooky and unsettling - but not too much so for a young teen reader – that I was looking for. There is also a moral greyness to the magic-users/magical creatures in this book that I wasn’t expecting, but did find interesting.
Profile Image for Museofnyxmares .
233 reviews6 followers
April 19, 2019
Blog Post: https://museofnyxmares.wordpress.com/...

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/museofnyxma...

*I was provided with a copy by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

This was without a doubt one of the most unique books that I’ve ever read. There are just certain special books that manage to create an atmosphere when they are read, that surround you and submerge you deeper into the story, and this was definitely one of those books. I don’t think that I could accurately convey the affect that this book had on one when reading it, because it’s something so powerful and yet completely unexplainable. The best way I can think of explaining it, is that in this, there is a haunted house and whilst reading this, you feel as if the book is a haunted house, there’s something so unsettling and ominous about it, there’s something dark trapped within, yet you want to stay inside its foundations. For a haunted house, may be a haunted house, but it is also still shelter and a story, no matter how haunting, still offers that same sort of refuge, that you can’t refuse.

I want to get straight into what made this such a fantastic book for me and what blew me away the most – the writing! The writing is like a twisted lullaby, there’s something so gorgeously raw and dark about it, but at the same time, it’s also sweet and warms you in the most peculiar way, that you go limp in its grasp and allow it to sing its song. It’s like a fist around your heart, once this writing gets you, it holds you hostage. Bevan’s point of view was unquestionably where the writing excelled the most and was where I truly felt myself being ensnared by this peculiar story and this even more peculiar protagonist. Bevan’s point of view was often told through a 2nd person narrative. I can’t even think of Bevan’s story being told any other way, it was honestly perfect and just sheer genius. The direct address was so powerful in making the reader feel a part of the story every time ‘you’ was read, it made you share the weight of the protagonists actions, a certain culpability, which was frightening and thrilling at the same time. Bevan’s story by far, contained the more darker aspects of the story and naturally, her storyline was the one that gripped me the most, it just reminded me of when you see something so shocking but you find yourself unable to look away. Bevan did some pretty unpleasant things and yet, I didn’t dislike her, I found her endlessly fascinating and for this reason, she was my favourite character in this and the most memorable.

I truly didn’t know what to expect going into this book, as the premise was so original. The story that I experienced though, was just as weird and wonderful as the synopsis promises, there are so many strange goings on in this book that it made for the most dizzying and confusing experience at times. Like I’ve seen some others say, there’s a constant feeling of being one step behind in the book. Just when I’d think I’d gotten the gist of everything that was happening or had happened, I’d be knocked back. I think that this was the only issue that I had with this book, at times I was so muddled up that it took me out of the story. Like I loved the idea of this phantom in the wall, able to create worlds within worlds, doors within doors. And I fully appreciate the mystery of it all, fully embraced it even, but it would have been great to have understood what was going on more thoroughly, it’s such a fantastic concept as well, so I desperately wanted to understand everything.

Another thing that was unique about this, was that we followed 3 protagonists – Bevan, Mae and Rossa. Mae and Rossa’s story was told in 3rd person narrative, I did prefer the 2nd person in Bevan’s, but I enjoyed following each of them. Mae and Rossa’s perspectives seemed to focus more on how they were feeling in themselves and the growing pains they were experiencing, whilst also growing apart from each other. It was nice to see Mae’s sexuality documented so candidly, which is usually reserved for straight crushes. The changes in perspective wasn’t done as cleanly as in the form of distinct chapters, so I did have to adjust to it switching unexpectedly. The most unique thing about the structure and the most exciting, and what was very impressive, was that there were several footnotes scattered throughout. These footnotes were addictive and I was always so happy to see one pop up. They were also another very clever aspect to this story, as they seemed to be written by an all knowing entity, it was hilarious how the footnotes would often contradict what the character had just said, simply offer more insight on something mentioned in passing or fortune tell. I was completely taken in with this inventive addition and thought that it added to the story immensely.

This was a book full of interesting concepts and characters, who were framed with the most exquisitely emotive and profound writing and is sure to leave its scent on you long after you’ve read it, like Rita’s sacred smoke, it seeps into you. The plot was very intriguing as we were flung between past and present many a time throughout, which allowed us to see the present, see how those events played out in the future, and how events from the past had led to the present state of things. I know I keep talking about Bevan, but her progression was the superior aspect of the plot, as we got to see how this thing was gradually consuming her and it was riveting in the most horrible way. There were some surprising twists and turns in this book which made me reevaluate everything I’d assumed about a character, and they came in quite quick succession, so it was quite the shock.This story also contained one of the best ‘villains’ that I’ve ever read, I mean this thing, whatever on any earth he was, was terrifying and was so charismatic, an entity that dominated every scene he was in, but remained this otherworldly mystery to the very end. I can truly say that Other Words For Smoke is a story like I’ve never read before, but now know I’m a huge fan of, it screams magic and I can’t wait to see what the author weaves next. I’ll just leave you with some notes I wrote down while reading – Intoxicating, Seductively and addictively haunting, Deliciously dark, Makes the heart race.
Profile Image for Beverley Lee.
Author 19 books264 followers
January 9, 2021
I started this book with absolutely no idea what it was about. And that, I think, is the very best way. I'm not going to give you a brief outline because that would mean you go into it with expectations, just trust me when I say that the writing is strong and lyrical, the story rich and diverse and enchanting.

It had a very Gaiman-esque feel to me with layers of magical realism pulsing through the narrative. I loved all of the characters, which is very rare. The author has a wonderful voice and, on more than one occasion, I went over the same paragraph twice, revelling in the imagery.

It's a story of power and fear, of love and magic and manipulation. Gorgeously woven, twisted and compelling - this is one of my favourite reads so far in 2019.

Many thanks to Titan Books for the review copy and for putting this author on my radar.
Profile Image for Ellie.
578 reviews2,195 followers
May 22, 2019
“A girl handing it all over to the beasts. Maybe she wanted freedom, too, or maybe something else, something bigger. She was a house for the monsters, herself.”

Because of the prose in this story, which is beautiful and heavily florid, this story can sometime seem like it drags. But because if the prose, it also has a sense of the liminal: it transgresses the border between reality, and magic.

This is a really beautiful story, and sometimes I loved it and sometimes I didn’t. With this style of writing, I feel it suits short stories better because it can get tiring? It took me a little while to get into it, but this story has such a pervading sense of eldritch magic that I loved it.

Talking owls and magical cats. Witches and women, slices in the fabric of the world, humanity. This story manages to be magical but still incredibly human at the same time.
Profile Image for E.
36 reviews37 followers
April 14, 2019
Sarah Maria Griffin has burned a haunted house shaped hole in my heart.

Blending the familiar horrors of a broken home and the supernatural horrors of worlds beyond our own, Sarah’s Other Words for Smoke bewitched and completely broke me (sometimes in the same chapter). Touching on everything from Ireland’s dark history that often goes ignored to the quiet aches of adolescence, the need for self resilience when it comes to magic to the unique presence summer has in our lives, Sarah’s managed to tie together a story unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

Although we’re barely halfway into the year I’m confident enough in saying that this will probably emerge as my favourite book of the year.
Profile Image for Isabelle | Nine Tale Vixen.
2,037 reviews115 followers
December 15, 2020
Recommended by Lauren @ Northern Plunder.

I'm so grateful Lauren put this book on my radar again and again until I finally caved and read it, because holy wow I needed this in my life. Full review to come!

content warnings:
CONVERSION : 13.7 / 15 = 5 stars

Prose: 8 / 10
Characters & Relationships: 10 / 10
Emotional Impact: 9 / 10
Development / Flow: 9 / 10
Setting: 10 / 10

Diversity & Social Themes: 4 / 5
Intellectual Engagement: N/A
Originality / Trope Execution: 5 / 5
Rereadability: 4 / 5
Memorability: 5 / 5
Profile Image for Zaide.
461 reviews16 followers
May 28, 2019
I doubt this review will be much use to anyone, I have no idea what to write and that’s basically because I’m not even sure what I just read. This book made next to no sense to me and I’m looking at all these 4 and 5 star reviews on here and wondering if I even read the same book?? Clearly this was just very much not for me.

One of the POV’s is written in second person and honestly the weirdness pretty much started there. I really dislike second person. Also this character was such a selfish brat and I loathed them.

The other characters are hardly worth a mention. There’s an eccentric aunt who, of course, does tarot and dabbles in some virtually unexplained “magic”. Twins who start the book at 14 and that really didn’t help me connect to their characters because it’s too young for my tastes. The duo seem to be in the midst of a fallout throughout the whole book that is never explained and then of course the author threw in a weird mini sibling love triangle for absolutely no reason.

Then there’s the actual storyline which I cannot sum up in the slightest without spoilers. I will say that it was incredibly weird, had very little explanation and because the book jumped around in time - both back and forth - and had bizarre footnotes that seemed to narrate a separate side story - I got utterly lost with whatever the plot was pretty quickly.

Clearly this is much loved with other readers but it was just too weird and jilted for me, sorry folks!
Profile Image for amanda.
15 reviews3 followers
September 8, 2020
this book. THIS BOOK. this book features ALL of my favourite tropes, but the most important one are borderline destructive couples that will watch the world (and their loved ones) burn for their s/o alright. rita is my favourite. everyone's a mess and they grow and regress and people can be so UGLY when pushed, i loved it. 5/5
Profile Image for Vee_Bookish.
1,459 reviews351 followers
March 13, 2023
A wonderfully weird story about the way past traumas can be carried for years, and sometimes decades. Set in an unusual house in Ireland with ancient beings and endless rooms, this explores toxic relationships, teen crushes and obsession in a truly unique way.
Profile Image for Francesca.
590 reviews2 followers
June 26, 2019
What an absolute stunner of a book. Impossible to pin down and describe read this book for the unbelievable use of language. Narrative poetry - is that a thing? I forget but this book is it.
A treasure of family relationships, love, fear, a wretched history and magic realism this was a joy to read. I took my time because it is so well written that rushing through it would be a disservice. I got the impression each word was carved out exactly so and the results are stunning.

Highly recommended
Profile Image for Susannah.
89 reviews
August 23, 2018
Three and a half stars for this inventive take on practicing witches. For fans of Alice Hoffman who can handle writing that’s a little more grit and a little less whimsical, Other Words For Smoke presents a coming of age tale that makes you question everyone’s motives. While the story follows our protagonists for a few years, a lot of the character development is left to the reader’s imagination. Despite this, the creative mysterious elements kept me reading until the last page, where the conclusion was swift but enjoyable.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publishers for this ARC.
Profile Image for Sana.
1,093 reviews961 followers
Shelved as 'anti-library'
June 25, 2018
Sarah Maria Griffin wrote Spare and Found Parts, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi about bisexual Nell with a mean streak and a mechanical heart so of course, I'm reading this book about twins and dark secrets and other interesting things mentioned in the super long blurb LOL
Profile Image for Kayleigh (Hedwigsbooks).
370 reviews13 followers
April 14, 2019
And once again, Sarah Maria Griffin has broken my heart and proven she is the High Witch of Fiction in Ireland. Absolutely beautiful 💜
Profile Image for Emma.
136 reviews28 followers
May 6, 2019
Friends. Ladies. Gals and pals. Do you like reading stories about sapphic girls? Can I interest you in some lightly-drawn but still absolutely heartrending allegories about the history of women's rights (or previous lack thereof) in Ireland? How about some WITCHCRAFT, and the most deliciously spooky vibes of any book I've read in months, if not years? THEN DO I HAVE A REC FOR YOU!!!

Other Words For Smoke begins at the end, with the prologue taking place after all the other events of the novel have taken place. This gives the story a sense of inevitability - as the reader turns each page, they know that most of the main characters will be doomed to somehow "disappear" by the end, leaving the twin protagonists, Mae and Rossa, traumatised and unable to speak of whatever it is that they've witnessed. However, the exact shape of the catastrophe they survived only becomes fully clear in the novel's final chapters, as the author uses a deft touch to maintain the sense of suspense and mystery throughout.

Really, that sense of suspense and mystery is the crowning jewel of the novel - I actually devoured the whole thing in the space of a single day, sitting up late to finish it even though I had a JOB INTERVIEW THE NEXT MORNING because I literally! Couldn't!! Put it down!!! Mysteries pile up one on top of the other in this novel: is the twins' great-aunt Rita really a witch? Is her ward Bevan really possessed? What is Sweet James, the fiendish owl that lives in the wallpaper and is always, always hungry? What is Bobby, the cat who is clearly so much more than a cat? What is the connection between Bobby and Sweet James? Who are Deborah and Audrey, who are mentioned only in whispers and memories, and what is their connection to Rita? And what is the world behind the wallpaper?

The answers to these questions are revealed agonisingly slowly, but that pace feels perfect - it matches the book's tone, which is one of quiet, menacing horror, both of the supernatural variety and the terribly mundane kind, the kind that once confined unmarried mothers and girls who dared to love other girls to a life of misery in the Magdalene laundries of Ireland and which continues to tear families apart at the seams even today. The magic of this book is real, within the world of the novel - there's no authorial sleight of hand that reveals the witchcraft to be naught but smoke and mirrors at the end - but it's also deeply allegorical, in a way that someone far smarter than me could probably write an entire thesis on. I couldn't tell you how many times a line in this novel sent a shiver down my spine (a lot, it was a lot of times), but while many of those frissons were caused by visceral imagery of tattooed eyes coming to life on a person's skin or of bones sinking into the maw of the eternally hungry wallpaper, the line that is still haunting me several days later rings with the echoes of all-too human despair: "What is it about this house that eats cries for help?"

Anyway, before this review gets any more ridiculously long: this was by far the best YA novel I've read in ages, and probably one of the best horror novels I've ever read (I'm quite certain most people would disagree with me on whether or not it should be categorised as horror, but anything this creepy is definitely horror, IMO). I was also really delighted by the wlw content - it's not the central focus of the novel by any means, but in many ways it's the novel's true heart. I will admit that one or two of the final twists felt a bit forced (specifically, the final reveal about Sweet James and Bobby), and I was initially going to knock a star off the rating because of that, but honestly this novel is just SO GOOD that I couldn't go through with it.

I'll leave you with a quote from the handwritten author's note at the start of the book, which was really what first convinced me that my airport impulse buy had been worthwhile: "If a whole country could be a haunted house, I can think of no more accurate site than [Ireland]. The witches & women of this nation in many ways fuelled the story that lies ahead. I am indebted to them."

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