All That Glitters by Halo Quin is a heady mix of poetry and prose, folklore and personal insight. This is a book of re-enchantment. Halo is steeped in folklore and has a powerful personal relationship with the wild and the natural world. At the same time there’s a sweetness to her work, and warmth in it.
It’s the sort of book I wish I’d had in my teens. These are words to cut through the loneliness of being an odd creature, a misfit, a dweller at the margins. I think if you’re carrying a lost child inside you, this book may touch that part of you. I felt it keenly. I remembered that youthful hunger for magic and enchantment, and how hard it is to hang on to a sense of wonder and possibility when there is no obvious place in the world for that part of your soul.
Halo is, I think, one of those rare souls whose child self wasn’t tamed or broken, and who carries her wildness inside her. If you were the sort of child who desperately wanted to be kidnapped by fairies, this book is for you.
I think there’s a fighting chance this would stand alone without reading book 1 first, but really, why would you do that to yourself? Read book 1 first and then read this one! There’s always that worry with a series that the author won’t be able to live up to the promise of the opening, or that it will all spiral out of control – well, that’s not an issue here.
I loved book 1, and book 2 follows on from it wonderfully. Mat expands and develops the story and the setting with great style and skill. Life on Mars is explored in greater detail and the plots we encountered in book 1 become even plottier. As some mysteries seem to become clearer, new questions and problems arise for the characters. What’s critically important in this is that it feels entirely controlled. There’s clearly an underlying story here, and as the world building expands, more sense can be made of what’s going on, not less.
This is a wonderfully diverse tale, with characters from all kinds of backgrounds. It sets that diversity in a context that is sometimes supportive, sometimes problematic for the characters. There’s some of that Victorian prudery, and an exploration of prejudice around it, but also a strong pushback against narrow and restrictive ways of being. There’s a look at the realities of colonialism that does not romanticise invasion, conquest or settlement. While the central characters are largely privileged people, the story itself exposes that privilege and its implications in all sorts of ways.
This is a complicated adventure with a lot of action and a great deal going on – murder and revenge, spies and political scheming, evil science, strange sf elements, mystery, wonder, smugglers, airships, afternoon tea… it’s a really strong mix that managed to be both grounded and surprising.
I particularly like Mat’s approach to storytelling – the tale is presented as a series of documents gathered after the event – diaries, text books, letters and so forth. Sometimes the story is fragmented. Sometimes it overlaps, but in the overlapping versions, doubts and possibilities appear. The first person voices of the characters are distinctive, and the choice of who not to give a voice to also affects the plot in significant ways. I think it’s technically a really clever piece of work, which I also enjoyed. I may think about the mechanics of this sort of thing more than is normal!
It’s not easy reviewing a book in a series because almost any comment on the details has the potential to spoiler the previous instalments. This is especially true of this series, where even talking too much about the identities of the characters in book 2 might give away too much about who has survived book 1 and what has changed for them.
I was fortunate enough to get to read and review the first act of The Fiery Crown series a while ago. Act 2 is now in the world. This is the sort of graphic novel series you really do need to read in order. You can get a digital version of Act 1 from Comixology – https://www.comixology.co.uk/The-Fiery-Crown-Act-1/digital-comic/897850 – and I heartily recommend that you do.
This isn’t a standalone book, which makes reviewing it slightly tricky because I don’t want to create spoilers for the first one. I can say if you liked the first one, I think you’re going to enjoy this even more.
In Act 2, we see the story from Act 1 continue in really satisfying ways. The main character is a maiden, caught in a fairy plot involving a unicorn. She’s navigating through a ‘real’ world that has a British 1920s, 1930s feel although it clearly isn’t historical. Act 2 adds depth and richness to the scenario we got to know in Act 1 and moves the story forward – there is magic, and action, loyalty and betrayal, strangeness, whimsy and charm.
The art is lush. Charles Cutting has a unique style, and it’s really painterly and much more ‘arty’ than your typical comic. If you think comics mean primary colours in harsh blocks, think again. This is an art style that has pointillism, impressionism and cubism in its DNA. The result is beautiful, easy to make sense of, visually engaging and strong in terms of atmosphere. I read slowly because I lingered on so many panels, absorbing the details of the art.
The world building and storytelling are excellent. If you’re fond of folklore and fairylore, if you like a bit of Shakespeare, a bit of mumming – you’ll feel at home here. Charles is building a reality deeply rooted in all of these things but at the same time entirely original. The more we get into all of these aspects, the more impressive the balance gets regarding feeling familiar while being entirely new.
It’s always tricky seeing the first book in a series, to know whether to invest in it. Will the author be able to fulfil the promises made by the first book? Act 2 demonstrates that Charles Cutting knows exactly what he’s doing and that this is a story that won’t disappoint.
Susan Perrow is a well established international expert in the field of healing stories. I heartily recommend this book for anyone interested in exploring stories (or for that matter any other creative writing) as a healing tool. For anyone following the bard path, this could be a vital part of your tool kit. While this book is focused on creating stories to help children process grief, there are wider implications and the content will certainly benefit older readers/listeners as well.
Stories to Light The Night lays out what it takes to write a healing story. This is invaluable information for anyone considering such work. The majority of the book is taken up with stories. The book is themed around healing from grief, and the topics covered are – the loss of a loved one, the loss of a family connection, the loss of a pet, the loss of health and wellbeing, the loss of place, environmental grief and loss, cycles of life and change, and a chapter that covers an array of other losses.
The stories themselves are mostly written by Susan Perrow, but a fair few come from other therapeutic authors working in different contexts around the world. As a consequence, there’s a diversity of perspective and experience, which I found really helpful and interesting.
All of the stories are presented with a piece about the context in which they were written. Most of them fall into one of two categories – either that they were written by someone as a way of working with their own grief and then offered to others to help, or they were written for a specific family, child, or community. It means that with most stories, there is also a story about what had happened. Many of them were heartbreaking. I cried over pretty much every story in the loss of a loved one section. They are poignant and not easy, even though these stories are short and accessible. They help you face up to grief and to better understand it.
If you have unprocessed grief, this book is going to do things to you. The work of dealing with grief is important, but make sure you don’t get caught off-guard by this. If you are looking for help with your own grief, this book might aid you, but give yourself plenty of time to digest, process and whimper. I did not realise how much unprocessed grief I was carrying when I started reading, and I was caught out by that. Which is fine – books do that sometimes.
The stories here could be used directly by reading them to people who might be helped by them. If you’re interested in using stories as a therapeutic tool in a healing context, this book is a really interesting introduction to the subject. If you are interested in how to bring healing work into your own writing and storytelling, this book has a great deal to offer.
I loved this book, but it is not going to be an easy one to describe or explain. It is a definite candidate for ‘strangest thing I have ever read’ and ‘book that it is least possible to pigeonhole’. Here’s my best shot.
There are two sections. The first section is a story, often written more like poetry. Archetypes, allegory, parable, cyberpunk myth making with tongue firmly in cheek and no entirely definitive message except that you may be hungry, and that bacon or porridge or cannibalism may be the answer. It hints at many things and invites you to fill in the gaps. It is beautiful, funny and unsettling. If Kafka had set out to write Alice in Wonderland it would have looked a lot like this, I think.
Part two is a comedy grimoire for chaos magicians with a keen sense of the absurd. Wickedly playful, and full of things that undermine and re-frame the first half of the book. It’s a puzzlebox that might give you a cenobite, or summon a sinister jack in the box, or reveal some piece of bad taxidermy that makes you hurt yourself laughing.
Anarchic, ridiculous, startling, bacon rich, perturbing, glorious and probably won’t cause you to summon an actual demon of any great threat or substance. Probably.
Here’s the blurb – It’s Bagatelle. There’s a Wreck in The Zone. This is not part of The Plan. But you are, and your instructions are simple – DESTROY THIS BOOK. Ghosts of Wit is an interactive cybertext. A grimoire for the apocalypse. A tongue-in-cheek rainy day activity book for bored magicians. A bizarre Easter Egg hunt through a twisted Wonderland in the company of dead poets, sinister psychopomps, sentient tarot cards and a mysterious cat with a fiddle. Is there life after Porridge? Who is Mary? What does it mean to Tread Well in life? Who started the fire? Why does the old man smile? And would you like a bacon sandwich? Are just some of the questions this book will not attempt to answer. However if you already know the answers, then jump on your camel and join the hunt for the book that doesn’t exist…
Everyday Enchantments by Maria DeBlassie is a lovely read, and was timely for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about what needs to change in my life if I am to be well and happy. This is not some sort of instruction manual for making or finding magic in daily life. It is a series of essays/reflections/meditations capturing a sense of the marvellous found inside the mundane. It’s a very gentle read, inspiring and often thought provoking. How you apply it to your own life is entirely up to you.
In each chapter, Maria reflects on some part of her life where she finds soul nourishment. Physical activity, baths, food, rest and blankets all feature here. Tales from the garden and the market, and the kinds of simple, everyday things that are available to most of us. If this sounds like the kind of life that would appeal to you, then this book is well worth your time.
The chapters are small – which is really good if your concentration is shot (mine has been). You can just dip in and take what you need, it’s the sort of book you can read cover to cover, or just dip in and out of, or open at random. Some of the writing is first person as the author reflects on her life. Some of it, more unusually, is second person. This is the author writing to herself, but the effect is that she is describing things as though this is your life being reflected. How resonant or distant any of those scenes feel is interesting. There were times when the content sounded like it was being addressed specifically to me and telling me things about my life that I really needed to hear. And there were times when I was very much outside of that second person telling – but that was fine and still enjoyable.
Obviously, this is a book for anyone trying to re-enchant themselves and seeking delight in their everyday life. It’s a good book for anyone trying to climb out of depression, and I can also heartily recommend it for anyone wanting to explore ideas of slower living. For women interested in wild womanhood where you don’t have to abandon the life you already have, this book has a lot to offer. On the Druid side, it has a lot to offer the reader around how we seek and experience beauty, and how we might find inspiration from our immediate environments.
Here is a truly beautiful thing. The Fiery Crown is a comic written and illustrated by Charles Cutting. The cover art is indicative of what’s on the inside so it is easy to tell if the art style is for you. It’s full colour and lush and has that arty, painterly quality throughout. It’s a style that fits the story perfectly.
The Fiery Crown is set in some-when that resembles England in the early twentieth century, but clearly isn’t England as we know it. Much of the difference seems to hinge on a play called The Winter Solstice, and the story around it of the human who wiped out the fiery folk. Only it seems as though at least some of the characters are alive, and passably well and have plans.
This story does one of the things I love most. It tells a tale that feels like folklore. It feels like tradition and fairy lore and it is almost, but not quite familiar. It does draw on tradition, but it isn’t a straight borrowing from tradition, it is largely new, but with its roots deep in the rich soil of folklore. Charles Cutting clearly gets fairy folklore and is thus able to write something that both feels right, but is original. So I have no idea what’s going on or how the story will play out in future instalments and this makes me really happy.
I was fortunate enough to be sent a hard copy for review – it is a beautiful object. There are, I gather, 12 copies remaining from a limited edition print run, at time of writing this. You can pick up one of those here – http://charlescutting.com/The-Fiery-Crown
River Magic by M.A. Phillips is witch lit, romance, and magical realism and I heartily recommend it. This is a contemporary set novel with a main character exploring the Druid path in America. It’s a really lovely book with a great deal to recommend it.
While this is a straight romance, there are a number of queer characters in the story, which made me really happy. It turns out that I enjoy het romance a lot more when it isn’t set in a hetronormative context. Much of the book deals with the developing relationship, not just the opening gambits of getting into a relationship – I really like this I think we need a lot more stories about people who are together rather than just obsessing over people getting together.
The Druid content is perfect – because the author is a Druid. It goes deeper than the rituals and beliefs though. This is a story that is absolutely rooted in a landscape and where the seasons are intrinsically part of life. There’s great richness to the writing around the river, the mountains, and trees that not only brings the story vividly to life but really conveys a sense of lived Pagan experience. I loved reading this, and realised how much I need this kind of story that reflects my values and priorities.
The magic is compelling, and Pagans who have had their own woo-woo experiences will recognise the challenges this brings. It’s one thing doing a tarot reading for love guidance and quite another acting on otherworldly instructions. Again, it’s wonderful seeing this sort of content handled by someone who clearly knows what they are talking about. I also really like the way the author tends to avoid big drama, and keeps the characters in a more realistic relationship with reality.
This is a beautiful book, and I loved it and look forward to the rest of the series. It’s very human, and warm and grounded, while also being magical and soulful.
Luke Eastwood’s The Druid Garden brings together spirituality, philosophy, sustainability and gardening. It’s a timely title that many people may find helpful. If you’ve taken up gardening in response to lockdowns, the inspiration in this book may be exactly what you need. It’s unusual to see so much tree content in a book on gardening, and that’s going to strike some chords with Druid readers.
Luke is perhaps best known for his Druid’s Primer – a well received book that brings together the ancient material on Druidry currently available to it.
Even though I don’t have a garden, I found it a good and interesting read and it gave me a lot of ideas about the garden I one day hope to have. I think it’s a really good example of a way in which we can bring druid philosophy to modern activities in a meaningful way.
I’m by no means an impartial reviewer – Luke approached me for an endorsement ahead of publication, we share a publisher (Moon Books) and I am his publicist. However, I don’t ever review books I didn’t like, and I don’t do publicity for people unless I like their work.
Author R.D. Cain is someone I’ve known for a very long time, and like most of my book reviews, I don’t feel like objectivity is something I’m especially capable of. R.D. Cain’s new book of Meditations, Quotes and Affirmations is something I very much appreciated – it isn’t perfect, but it is bloody good.
The contents are offered for reflection, contemplation, inspiration, aspiration – you can use this however you want. There are accompanying photographs and pages for writing your own pithy wisdom statements, or journaling.
Philosophically it is a very good body of work. I usually find affirmations stressful, but these aren’t a difficult stretch and are much more about what a person could do rather than what they might claim to already be. It’s wonderful finding a body of wisdom statements that aren’t overloaded with privilege, either. The vast majority of what’s here is usable in crisis, and doesn’t become a mockery in disastrous circumstances. It’s also pleasingly broad to the point of being contradictory – there are Buddhist statements about letting go of dreams to live in the present, and there are much more Druid-aligned statements about the importance of dreams for enriching our lives. As the introduction makes clear, take what works for you at the time and ignore whatever doesn’t.
I read the whole thing cover to cover in a couple of sessions. I found that uplifting. I intend to keep this book around and dip into it at need – it is something I will find helpful for repeat use.
There’s one major way in which I wish this book had been different. It really should have been larger and lush, with a tactile cover and really nice paper, and high resolution full colour photographs. It should have been the sort of book you cuddle, and carry round. But, you only get to make books like that with a publisher who can afford it, and this has been put together by a cooperative of creators, so forgive it for not being the act of extravagant beauty it could have been.