Getting a review copy of your most anticipated release of 2021 is one thing, but getting to interview the author of said book is a whole other level of me screaming. Everything about this book sounded amazing — not only is it sapphic YA fantasy, it also has the best concept ever. It’s almost as if Adrienne Tooley reached into my mind and took a list of things I like to see in books to then just decide to, I don’t know, write a book.
Sweet & bitter magic is just a book I could go on and talk — or rather ramble — about for hours, but let’s just let you in on what it’s about, shall we? I promise you you’ll need this book after reading about it!
What is Sweet & bitter magic about?
Sweet & bitter magic by Adrienne Tooley
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release date: March 9th, 2021
Genre: Young Adult, fantasy
Representation: sapphic relationship, some mental illnesses
Trigger warnings: grief regarding loss of a loved one, including death of a sibling, death of a parent, and death of a friend, anxiety, depression, and mental illness, emesis (brief mention of vomiting on page), brief mention of tattooing/needles, amnesia
In this charming debut fantasy perfect for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Girls of Paper and Fire, a witch cursed to never love meets a girl hiding her own dangerous magic, and the two strike a dangerous bargain to save their queendom.
Tamsin is the most powerful witch of her generation. But after committing the worst magical sin, she’s exiled by the ruling Coven and cursed with the inability to love. The only way she can get those feelings back—even for just a little while—is to steal love from others.
Wren is a source—a rare kind of person who is made of magic, despite being unable to use it herself. Sources are required to train with the Coven as soon as they discover their abilities, but Wren—the only caretaker to her ailing father—has spent her life hiding her secret.
When a magical plague ravages the queendom, Wren’s father falls victim. To save him, Wren proposes a bargain: if Tamsin will help her catch the dark witch responsible for creating the plague, then Wren will give Tamsin her love for her father.
Of course, love bargains are a tricky thing, and these two have a long, perilous journey ahead of them—that is, if they don’t kill each other first…
Let’s chat with the author!
Hi Adrienne! First of all, thank you so much for doing this interview with me, I’m so honoured! Could you introduce yourself and your debut a bit?
Of course, I’m so excited to talk with you! I grew up in Southern California, majored in musical theater in Pittsburgh, and I live in Brooklyn with my wife, six guitars, and a banjo. I write books but I also write folk music and have put out a handful of EPs. I don’t do theater anymore though, at least for now!
SWEET & BITTER MAGIC is a standalone YA fantasy filled with whimsy and plays on a fairytale world. A witch cursed to never again feel love and a girl hiding her own magic reluctantly team up to search for the origin of a memory-stealing plague. On the road, both girls face their pasts—which surface in ways they’d never expect. Expect flirtatious banter, a slow-burn romance, and complicated family dynamics.
Sweet & Bitter Magic was one of my most anticipated releases because of the amazing concept (seriously, wow!) and of course because of the fact that it’s sapphic! Do you still remember coming up with this idea?
At the heart of it, SWEET & BITTER MAGIC is a book about grief and a book about power. Both of these concepts are explored through the eyes of two very different girls. With a dual POV I got to see the world through the eyes of Wren, a girl who feels everything, and Tamsin, who feels nothing (though not by her own volition).
I wanted to look at the past through different lenses. After all, grief and ghosts look different to everyone. How people choose to face their past, how they continue onward even in the face of unbearable loss, is power in its own right.
But beyond that, I wanted to explore the idea of strength and power and how that affects the world and the individual. When being told that strength is good, and weakness is bad, how does that affect the ways a person can grow? How does that affect their relationships? How does that affect their own perceived value? And then, on the flip side, how does a person deal with the consequences of that power?
SWEET & BITTER MAGIC offered me a way to attack those concepts head-on.
What were your favourite types of scenes to write?
I’ve always been a journaler and a writer of short prose. I’ll often write vignettes and small chunks of scenes to get a handle on new characters or new settings. So the scenes where I get to live in that style of writing tend to be my favorite—when I really get to dig into a character’s mind, the one room they’re in, the things that make them tick. Chapter three of S&BM is one of those rare times I get to put a whole chunk of that style in as is. I also really enjoyed writing the flashbacks, figuring out how to give juuust enough information to inform the scene without giving everything away. Teasing out Tamsin’s past was a really fun part of this book.
Which character from Sweet & Bitter Magic did you connect with the most? Why?
At sixteen I was absolutely a Wren—I felt everything so powerfully, every passing glance, every spark of hope, with that ache in my chest that called me forward and away from my hometown. I relate so deeply to her curiosity about a world she’s never had a chance to explore, and the desire to learn and study her craft.
These days, I can relate to some pieces of Tamsin, too—I tend to reflect on the past fairly frequently, and this winter the radiator in my apartment has been acting up so I’ve begun to empathize with her inability to feel warmth…
You’ve already achieved a lot of things, of course, but what’s an author dream of yours that you’re still hoping will be fulfilled?
More books! While S&BM is my first published book, it’s not the first book I ever wrote. I’ve toyed with a lot of ideas that haven’t yet seen the light of day, and I have a lot more stories to tell. I hope that someday I’m able to look at an entire shelf of published novels. Getting to build a career alongside readers is a true dream!
This is your debut novel (congrats on getting published, by the way!). What’s something that surprised you about the publishing process?
How long the publishing process takes! Before I was a part of it, I never realized the patience necessary to take the traditional publishing route. It can be months between finding out you’re getting published and just getting to announce it. Then you have more months to draft, revise, and release. But then everything happens all at once. It’s very much a “when it rains it pours” kind of situation.
What’s something you hope your readers will get from reading this?
There are so many different ways to love. And no matter what, that love should be cherished and I hope my readers know that they deserve to be seen and appreciated.
You are an AMM round 8 mentor which is such an amazing opportunity! Do you have any advice to the aspiring authors (including me) reading this?
Be diligent, be patient, and always be looking for ways to level up your craft. Read widely and often! So much about what happens to a book after you write it comes down to luck and timing, that it’s important to focus on what you can control: ie your characters, the heart of your writing, constructing an intriguing voice, studying and improving your craft.
One of my favorite and most rewarding things about mentoring, is not just meeting amazing new authors and helping them get their work out, but also how the experience develops my own craft. There’s no way to dig into someone else’s work without digging into the craft and learning it more deeply.
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
Keep at it kid! Not a word you write will ever be wasted.
And lastly, what’s a book you’d recommend to the people reading this?
WATCH OVER ME by Nina LaCour is an amazing ghost story of a book that tackles family, grief, and power–many of the same themes as S&BM, but through a lens of fabuslism rather than fantasy.
Thank you so much for this interview, Adrienne! You’re already such a big inspiration to me and I wish you all the best in the future!
About Adrienne Tooley
Adrienne Tooley was born and raised in the desert suburbs of Southern California. She grew up in the theater, earning her B.A. in Musical Theatre from Point Park University. She and her wife currently live in New York City where she works in hospitality tech. In addition to writing novels she is also a singer/songwriter and has released several EPs which are available on Spotify & other streaming sites. Her debut novel, SWEET & BITTER MAGIC, will publish from S&S/McElderry in Spring 2021. Her second novel, SOFI AND THE BONE SONG, will release from S&S/McElderry in 2022.
About this tour!
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This tour was hosted by TBR and beyond tours! Thank you for letting me participate!
It almost seems like there’s no good way to end this post. I truly don’t know what to say because, like, we’re talking about my most anticipated release of the year! Which I ended up absolutely adoring! Which is the best feeling ever but also leaves me utterly speechless!
If you’re interested in reading my thoughts on this book, you can find my Goodreads review here! Also, I’m honestly still somewhere up in the clouds because of getting the chance to write this post so I think it became pretty clear that I admire Adrienne Tooley, but…