Bestie Book Club
Meet the *powerful* March pick for Chloe's Book Club: The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton
Welcome to the second installment of Chloe’s Book Club—a new community for book lovers from Chloe Lukasiak and Girls’ Life magazine.
We’re *so* excited you’re here. Each month we’re reading, discussing and obsessing over a new book; so if you haven’t signed up already, be sure to CLICK THIS LINK and officially join the club. (We’ll email you with Chloe’s Book Club updates, reading guides, special contests and giveaways, event invitations and more.)
Here's a quick guide to everything you'll find inside this post (and beyond). Just remember, *major spoilers* are ahead (so look for the spoiler ratings before you read!).
THE PRICE GUIDE TO THE OCCULT — THE BOOK CLUB AT-A-GLANCE
+ The Recap
+ Chloe's Commentary
+ The Party-Planning Guide
+ Chloe's Discussion Questions
+ The Giveaway
+ Details on how to participate
+ Buy the book — and get 15% off with our B&N discount code!
Our March installment of Chloe’s Book Club stars The Price Guide to the Occult, a haunting maelstrom of magic and murder from Leslye Walton, author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. To get 15% off your copy, head over to Barnes & Noble and use the code chloereads at checkout (offer available through through March 31, 2018). Pssst: Be sure to share this exclusive code with all the babes in your book club!
Ready to get started? Read on...
Spoiler level: Moderate
The Price Guide to the Occult is raw, relatable and beautiful. Set on a fictional island in the Pacific Northwest, the story begins centuries ago with the formidable Rona Blackburn—a powerful witch—and spans the multiple generations of Blackburn women who follow in her cursed footsteps...their powers dwindling with each daughter.
But before we explore the Blackburn fate any further, let’s start with a very important trigger warning: This book explores heavy themes of self-harm. Specifically, the main character is in recovery from an addiction to cutting. The book describes, in detail, her past memories of cutting and her current desires to hurt herself. Her scars, and her attempt to hide them, are mentioned frequently throughout the novel. Some scenes are graphic, and others could be interpreted as being romanticized. We are so grateful that this title explores issues like mental health and self-harm, and we admire the main character for the strength she shows throughout the story. We encourage all readers to check out the resources in the back of the book and learn about ways you can be an ally for loved ones dealing with mental health issues. But if you feel like any of this subject matter could be triggering to you, we suggest you stop reading here.
And now, back to Rona: She was a force to be reckoned with. She was kind and powerful and independent and odd. When she arrived on Anathema Island and laid claim to her ancestral land, Rona was made to feel like an outcast—except, of course, when her neighbors could benefit from her inexplicable abilities to heal wounds and erase pain.
When an accident brought the town’s doctor to Rona’s door, she meticulously mended his wounds—and soon, they found themselves entangled in a brief affair. But one day, suddenly ashamed, the doctor was gone. He returned with the other members of the Original Eight—the men of the island’s founding families—and, driven by guilt and fear, they burned “the witch” in her home.
But Rona, impervious to fire, survived. And cursed them.
Fast forward over a hundred years, and we meet Nor. She’s the eighth Blackburn daughter; a remarkable teenage girl who just wants to live a normal, boring life. She’s very aware of the curse that allegedly awaits her (ever since Rona’s banishment, Blackburn witches have been doomed to carry out a brief, whirlwind affair with a descendant of the Original Eight), but Nor hopes the curse has played itself out through enough generations...and maybe, just maybe, she’ll be spared the drama.
A mysterious book comes out—the titular The Price Guide to the Occult—promising to cast any spell for the right price. As the success of the book (and its spells) start to sweep the nation, strange things start happening: Nor, a plant and wildlife whisperer, notices that the island’s once-friendly flora are sprouting thorns and growing fierce. Sea creatures are fleeing the archipelago. And ominous fern tattoos see a very sudden, very suspicious spike in popularity. Nor senses a dark storm coming straight for Anathema—and she’s standing in the center of it.
The story builds in a slow, steady burn. We fall into a rich world of history and legend and lore, beautifully illustrated in the author’s lyrical language. We meet an incredible cast of characters: the aptly-named BFF, Savvy; the ridiculously romantic Reed; the lovely, lovable grandmothers—stern but sweet Judd and her partner, Apothia. And we feel Nor’s pain as she struggles with the many demons that haunt her: a traumatic childhood, an addiction to self-injury...and, well, actual monsters thirsty for her blood.
The author spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl who is stumbling along a path toward self-acceptance and first love—even as The Price Guide’s evil author, Nor’s own mother, threatens to strangle her hope of happiness. It’s a story about finding your power and conquering the darkness inside of yourself; and it’s an emotional, empowering read woven with sweet scenes and relatable moments.
We might even say it’s magic.
Spoiler level: High
Would you think I was cheesy if I said that this book really ~grew~ on me? (It’s OK, I know I’m cheesy! And if you’ve read the book already, I hope you get the joke. LOL.)
But it did grow on me.
To be honest, I loved it from the beginning—the prologue is lovely and lyrical and takes you to a long-ago time of legend and lore.
But it was when I met Nor—and her grandmother, and her grandmother’s partner, and her best friend, and her mother, and her boss (or whatever we want to call Madge)—that I realized what a wonderfully complex cast of strong, female characters is at the center of this story. It’s truly the perfect book club pick for March—which, as I’m sure you know, is Women’s History Month.
There is a lot of women’s history shared in this novel—nine generations, to be exact. But beyond that, it was extremely refreshing to see a plot driven by so many interesting and diverse females. There were no flat, supporting characters; every woman was remarkable in her own unique way.
Let’s start with Nor and completely ignore the fact that she’s a descendant of a powerful line of witches who is harboring a set of secret magical skills. (No big deal to the Blackburns.) Honestly, I just loved meeting a teenage protagonist who had chosen a different path than the traditional high school experience. It’s pretty typical for novels about teens to revolve around the world of high school—which makes perfect sense, as it’s one of the most common shared experiences for young people (and I happen to love those stories, too!). But as someone who is home-schooled and going through my teenage years without a homeroom and a football team to be my anchor for everything, it’s interesting to connect with a character who has chosen an alternative option for her education.
Then there was Nor’s grandmother, Judd, and her partner, Apothia—I really loved their relationship and how these two *extremely* different women seemed to balance each other out perfectly. And I adored Savvy—she is such a solid best friend who has the most random quirks. (Everyone needs a best friend like Savvy; someone who will push you out of your comfort zone a little bit, but only when you need it.)
And then that takes me to Fern—Nor’s own mother. As the story’s villain, she is evil and awful in all the ways. But beyond her truly horrifying habits (like torturing her followers and conjuring up actual monsters and whatnot), what I found most disturbing was thinking about her as a mother instead of just an antagonist.
My own mom has always been my best friend, my fiercest protector and my greatest supporter—and I am so grateful for our relationship. Looking at Nor, I can’t even image what it would be like to not only grow up *without* that bond...but to survive an abusive childhood and then continue to be attacked once a teen. Nor’s strength and resilience, in spite of everything she’s been through, is remarkable. And Fern is one of the most horrific, unforgivable characters I’ve ever encountered.
This story was about power: the magical kind, of course, but also the kind that every woman has inside her. And I loved that, at its core, the book encourages readers to define their own sense of strength and find courage in every mistake, every scar and every step.
So what’s *your* power?
Spoiler level: Low
Here’s *exactly* how to throw a “Spa Vibes Soiree” inspired by the Milk and Honey Spa…
Photo by Apryl Ann Photography via 100 Layer Cake
SPA SIPS: Set up a few pitchers with flavored spa waters: Just place your spa combo into a pitcher, cover with cool water, muddle to release flavors and then chill until serving. Try cucumber/basil, pineapple/lemongrass or mint/raspberry.
SPA SNACKS: Take your cue from the characters. Channel your inner Vitória Oliveira by serving herbed *everything* and tons of veggies (her garden is epic!). Give a nod to Nor’s birthday cake with raspberry jam-stuffed donuts from your local bakery (unless, of course, you want to whip up a homemade 3-layer cake topped with frosting and drizzled with honey and candied figs). Or, serve brunch basics a la Apothia’s breakfast table: Bagels, hazelnut spread and fresh berries are the new classic combo.
DECOR: Set the aesthetic with warm mood lighting (grab rose-tinted light bulbs at a hardware store and pop them into lamps), soft harp music (try a spa-inspired Spotify playlist) and thoughtful aromatherapy (luxe lavender is key—spread the scent with a candle, room mist or essential oil diffuser). The finishing touch? Plenty of plants, naturally. Trick out your table with fresh ferns and pretty potted greens—a nod to both Fern Blackburn and the lush setting of the story. Bonus points for extra witchy vibes c/o candles and crystals.
DRESS CODE: All black everything. Obviously.
TO-DO LIST: Make DIY sleep sachets filled with crushed lavender and rosebuds—just like Summersong made for Nor when she was a young girl. (Find the flowers at a natural foods store.) Extra credit: Apply mineral mud masks and whip up a batch of crystal-infused soaps.
Spoiler level: High
Use the questions below as a discussion guide for your Chloe’s Book Club party or as thought-starters for your own personal journaling. Posting online? Be sure to tag #chloesbookclub and @chloesbookclub. We can’t wait to hear what you think!
1. The narrator first hints at Nor’s issue with inflicting harm upon herself (often referred to as self-harm) on the first page of the first chapter. From there, her addiction is discussed frequently throughout the rest of the book: First we’re given hints; then, on page 70, we learn the origin of Nor’s very first set of scars and begin to understand where her addiction developed. As the story progresses, we continue to see Nor fight, struggle, resist—and survive. Were you familiar with self-harm before you read this book? What did you learn? What surprised you? What scared you? If you knew a friend or family member was hurting themselves, how would you encourage them to seek help? (Also: We strongly encourage you to check out the resources in the back of the book and learn about ways you can be an ally for loved ones dealing with mental health issues.)
2. On page 53, Nor empathizes with Reed over his father’s recent death. “Losing a father was something with which Nor could empathize.... Of course, the big difference between Nor and Reed was that Nor had never actually met her father. What would it be like, she’d wondered, to actually have a father and then to lose him? She’d imagined that loss would be unbearable.” What do you think is worse: to have something you love, and then lose it—or never experience something at all? How do you think Nor’s feelings about her father’s absence change by the end of the story?
3. On page 55, Nor rips up a love note. “If he knew her — really knew her — how could she be sure he’d still like what he saw? She couldn’t. So she’d torn it up and never brought up the first note with him, either.” Do you understand Nor’s actions? Have you ever been scared to let others see the real you? Why?
4. On page 64, Nor recalls a night when her mother points out the parts of Nor’s face that came from herself (a dimple in Nor’s left cheek; an arch in her eyebrow) and Nor’s father (like the slope of her nose). “Afterward, Nor had gazed at herself in the mirror, wondering if she’d recognize the parts of her in her father’s face if she ever saw him.” Do you recognize parts of your parents within yourself—whether physical attributes, personality traits, similar habits or styles? Which ones?
5. On page 74, we learn that the success of Fern Blackburn’s book is attributable to endorsement from a YouTuber—but it turns out that Fern is the real influencer in this situation. Do “influencers” have power over you—whether it’s a celebrity, YouTuber, blogger or even a friend? Alternatively, do you have influence over others? How can influence be a good thing...or a bad thing?
6. On page 107, Fern is torn between her head and her heart. “This was what it felt like to be around him—constantly pulled in two directions, wanting to be both seen and unseen, and not knowing which one she preferred.” Has a relationship ever made you feel completely confuzzled? How did you find clarity?
7. On page 116, Nor is getting a strong sense of danger that she can’t quite define. “She recalled what Savvy had said about how dogs could sense an earthquake even before the ground started to shake.” Have you ever had a gut feeling you couldn’t shake? Do you follow your intuition? Why or why not?
8. On page 169, Nor has a major breakthrough (go Nor!). “She gave into her own power.” There is so much left unexplained behind this simple statement. What does it mean to you? How did this scene make you feel? On pages 173 and 180, we also see Nor expressing some fear and guilt over her power. Do you think this is a normal reaction? Why or why not?
9. On page 211, Nor has an opportunity to come clean with Judd and trust her with everything that’s going on. But, spoiler alert, she continues to hide the truth. (If you found yourself screaming, “Tell Judd!” in your head, you weren’t alone.) How could the story have changed if Nor had confided in her grandmother earlier? In scary situations, why is it so important to seek advice from a trusted adult?
10. On page 252...well, it’s just such an epic moment. The novel has so many stirring scenes—and this might be the best one. (Feel free to debate or discuss that opinion, though!) “‘You’re wrong, Mother,’ Nor said quietly. ‘I am the thing the darkness fears.’” Chills! What does she mean—literally, figuratively? Discuss, discuss.
One book-loving babe will score the *ultimate* Chloe’s Book Club merch pack, including a Chloe’s Book Club mug, notebook and notepad...plus, a copy of The Price Guide to the Occult signed by author Leslye Walton! Oh, and did we mention the winner will *also* receive a Nook Glowlight 3 from Barnes & Noble? YAS.
Ready to enter—and, fingers crossed, win? Here's how: 1) CLICK HERE to sign up for the Chloe’s Book Club newsletter (you must be on the newsletter list to win!). 2) Make sure you're logged into your GL account, then scroll down to the bottom of this post and click on the pink "Enter" button as many times as you want between now and April 15 at 11:59 P.M. EST. 3) We'll announce one winner right here on Monday, April 16. Good luck!
So you've read the book and you're ready to talk all things Price Guide? Wondering *exactly* how Chloe’s Book Club works and what it means to be a member? There are so many ways you can get involved—whether it’s solo, on social media or with your whole squad. Here's a quick list…
+ SOLO. Take your personal reading game to the next level by using Chloe's discussion questions as a guide for your own journaling and personal reflection. If you love to read, it could be fun to start a special book diary where you keep track of all your favorite novels—and the personal musings they inspired.
+ ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Share your thoughts on The Price Guide to the Occult using the hashtags #chloesbookclub and #thepriceguidetotheoccult on Twitter and Instagram. (Just remember: You have to have a public account for us to be able to see and respond to your posts!)
+ WITH YOUR SQUAD. Host an IRL book club party, of course! Check out the "party-planning guide" section above for deets and ideas. (And don't forget to send us your cute snaps—we want to share them!)
ICYMI: Our besties at Barnes & Noble are hooking you up with 15% off your copy of The Price Guide to the Occult—so be sure share this exclusive offer with all the babes in your book club! Click here to find the book on the B&N website. When you get to checkout, type in the code chloereads and hit "apply." Proceed with checkout as usual.
And...that's it! Click the pink button below (you must be logged in) to enter the giveaway. Good luck, book clubbers!