Category Archives: Reviews

Juniper Wiles – a review

Charles de Lint has a new book out, and it’s the second one in his Juniper Wiles series. I’m reasonably sure it stands alone, but I did read the first one first – called Juniper Wiles. I’m not sure why I didn’t review it at the time, but there we are. It’s a charming book with a really interesting premise that carries on into the series.

The premise is that anything sufficiently invested in becomes real. Fans of Charles de Lint will be familiar with his multiverses and otherworlds, and the ways in which he envisages different kinds of realities interacting. If enough people invest in a story, then that story can develop a life of its own – which is of course in some ways a literal truth when you think about fan fiction, cosplay and so forth.

Juniper Wiles is a character in a show that people have invested so much in that it has a reality of its own. Characters from it show up in her life thinking that she is her character – plenty of obvious real world issues here, too. That’s a lot for a person to get to grips with, even more so because her TV character solves crimes. It would be like people from Sunnydale turning up at Sarah Michelle Gellar’s house wanting help fighting actual vampires.

Juniper lives in Newford and has Jilly Coppercorn in her life – this is going to be a much bigger issue for anyone who has read de Lint’s work already. What we have now is a community that includes elders. There are multiple characters with experience of magic, otherworlds and all the rest who are able to support the younger humans in getting to grips with things. As these are stories with some solid LGBTQ content, I found this parallel powerful and interesting. The magical aspect of the story for me mirrors something of my experience of queer comunity and that growing presence of people who have lived longer and know stuff and can provide support. It also resonates with my experience of Pagan community.

There’s also something wonderful about what happens to story shapes when mentors aren’t just people you kill off to make the young protagonist deal with things alone when barely ready. I find I’m much more interested in stories where community plays a part and people support each other. Having an older, wiser Jilly Coppercorn able to help and guide the younger folk is a beautiful thing. I could use a lot more stories with this sort of shape.

Book two is going to greatly comfort anyone who has been made uncomfortable by a certain series about a magic school. Charles de Lint brings both humour and compassion to the issue, and does affirming, heartwarming things. He also has a really clever and original magic system going on in the background of the second book.

These are definitely books for people who enjoy content threatening to break the fourth wall. The writing is knowing, and self aware – de Lint himself is often cited as the father of urban fantasy and yet so much of where the genre has gone is very different from what he does. This is all part of the mix in these stories. His work has always been far more rooted in folklore and the land itself than is usual for urban fantasy. He’s always hopeful, restorative and generous in his writing. If you haven’t read any of his work, really you should.

As a personal note, I read the first book at some speed in order to be ready to be a test reader on the second book. A huge honour, and a wonderful thing to be given opportunity to do. 

Book 1 in the series – https://www.charlesdelint.com/juniper-desc01.htm

Juniper Wiles and the Ghost Girls is now live.
ebooks: https://books2read.com/u/3RzyWG
paper: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1989741061
Non-Amazon Mobi: https://payhip.com/b/D9YqO


The Circle of Life is Broken – a review

My only complaint about this book is that the title suggests a far more depressing read than is actually the case. I should have known better – Brendan Myers isn’t the kind of philosopher to succumb to despair. It is of course a challenging and sometimes uncomfortable book, but there is also lyrical writing driven by a passion for life and existence, a book written to try and express possible ways forward.

For anyone looking for ways to think about the climate crisis, and to think about what they personally might be able to do, this is a good book to read. There are no glib answers here, there’s no sure fire quick fix and there is a lot of analysis of things that have already been tried and that failed. There’s also an enlightening history of ecological science which will help anyone not experienced in that field to better understand the ways in which we talk about the world and how that impacts on our responses to the crisis. Brendan also explores the kinds of psychological factors and human-created pressures acting on us to keep us where we are, with all the disastrous implications.

I particularly appreciated the way Brendan has tackled both the history and current manifestations of eco-fascism. Hate, as he points out, is not going to save anything or anyone. However, there is a lot of eco-fascism out there and like most kinds of fascism, it often seems persuasive to people at a surface level. The classist, racist, eugenics-oriented aspects don’t reveal themselves at first glance. Any argument that involves blaming poor people for existing will lead us into this territory and it is so important to be alert to where that thinking goes and how harmful it is.

For anyone into philosophy, and anyone who wants material to reflect on, this book has a great deal to offer. It is an invitation to engage, to contemplate, and ultimately, to act. Heartily recommended.

More on the publisher’s website https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-circle-life-broken


The Anti-Consumerist Druid – a review

Katrina Townsend has written a really important book that explores – based on her own experience – what consumer culture does to a person. She shares her experiences of compulsive shopping, social media addiction and the way all of this eroded her sense of self. Furthermore she does so without falling into the kind of judgemental puritanism you can find in the newly converted, and also avoids self pity or anything that seems self indulgent. It’s an impressive balancing act and makes the book exceedingly readable.

I came to this book as someone who has always lived fairly lightly and who does not do consumer culture much. I found it an incredibly helpful read because I’ve only ever been able to look at this issue from the outside. I’m glad to know that how I thought consumer culture works is about right. What this book has given me is a greater feeling of compassion for the people caught up in it. If you’re already into the eco-living I can recommend reading this book as a way to develop insight and empathy. Judging people who are in this mess won’t help them. The more we understand how all of this stuff works, the better placed we are to pull people out of it.

My guess is that for anyone caught up in consumer culture, this will be a tremendously helpful book. It exposes the processes by which people become trapped in over-consuming. There’s a lot of good information about the mechanics of the problem, which is bound to be empowering for anyone affected by it. There’s also comfort, reliably, in finding you aren’t alone with a problem and that it’s not some kind of unique, personal failing. There’s so much around consumer culture that is designed to make you feel badly about yourself. Whether you feel like you aren’t living responsibly enough, you feel out of control or you feel like you’re failing by not keeping up, you’ll also feel like you should be able to shop your way out of that. This isn’t an accident.

There isn’t a huge amount of Druidry here – Katrina is new to the path. However, what she’s able to demonstrate is the way in which developing nature based spirituality can really help a person escape from the poisonous grip of consumerism. 

I think this book would pair really well with the Earth Spirit title I have coming out next year. Mine comes from the other side, looking at how to live more authentically and sharing what I know from my own experience of having managed to resist some of this culture of throwaway destructiveness. Consumer culture is a big thing to try and escape from, and  the idea of taking it down is even more challenging, but our lives depend on it. Life depends on it. The more we can do to share ideas and support each other, the better.

I’m going to finish this with a quote from Katrina that summed a lot of this up for me. This is what we are up against. This is what we have to figure out how to change for everyone: “it took a long time and some serious hard work to break once and for all my association between spending money, and feeling a sense of identity, of self-worth.”

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/anticonsumerist-druid-beat-shopping-addiction-nature

https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-beyond-sustainability


Moon Books – Small Press Big Ideas

This month I’m joining in with #SmallPressBigIdeas. I’m going to be blogging about some small presses, starting with Moon Books.

Moon Books is the Pagan imprint of John Hunt Publishing. I’ve had books there since 2012 when my first non-fic came out with them – Druidry and Meditation.

Moon Books publishes a broad array of Pagan titles, some broad and aimed at a wide Pagan market, others gloriously niche. Titles focus on individual deities, different paths, traditions modern and old… Authors contributing to Moon Books come from around the world, and represent many different ways of being human, as well.

For me, Moon Books has been a community as much as it’s been a publisher. Through Moon Books, I’ve met a number of people I really like and who have become part of my life in other ways. This year I was at Halo Quin’s Goblin Masquerade. Laura Perry sauntered over to Hopeless, Maine and designed a tarot deck for us. There are also friends at Moon Books I’ve known far longer than this imprint has existed – Robin Herne, Cat Treadwell, Elen Sentier, Brendan Myers. There are many authors at the imprint who I think of as friends, even if we haven’t met in person. That’s too long a list to type!

My experience of small publishers is that they tend to be far better at taking care of their people than big houses are. If I need to talk to the boss – Trevor Greenfield – about anything, I can count on hearing from him within the week. Usually quicker. Smaller houses don’t have vast sums of money to spend on promoting books, but a lot gets done through clever use of the internet, and mutual support. Rather than seeing each other as competitors, authors at Moon Books look out for each other, share opportunities, and we all keep an eye out for books we can support. No one is ever leaned on to support a book that doesn’t align with their thinking, and there’s quite an array of opinions within the books so we aren’t all comfortably coming from the same place all the time. The support happens where it makes sense, and thanks to that, you’ll see me reviewing titles from other authors here and there. Only the books that appeal to me.

Publisher website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/MoonBooks

Twitter – https://twitter.com/MoonBooksJHP

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/moonbooksjhp/

Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/c/MoonBooksPublishing


Space train – a review

This is not an impartial review. David is my friend, and we’re writing together – a situation I got into because I love his work. I loved Space Train, it’s quite possibly my favourite book of his I’ve read so far.

I have read a modest amount of sci-fi along the way – I’m not an expert in the genre, but I’ve done enough of it to have opinions. This is character driven sci-fi, with the science at a level that seems plausible to a non-expert (me) and doesn’t weigh the book down. I seldom enjoy novels where the ‘hard’ science dominates the story. I’m much more interested in concepts, and this is a book with plenty of those.

What David has done here primarily is to use a futuristic setting in order to talk about tyranny, colonialism, capitalism and the violence that all creates. The Space Train itself carries people fleeing a tyrannical culture, and the story revolves around their experiences as said tyrannical culture goes after them. The cast are a mix of humans and really interesting aliens, and the whole thing has a bit of a frontiers/cowboy vibe to it as well. 

The story is driven by both grief and friendship. Many of the characters have endured loss and trauma in a war that happened before the book starts. There’s a lot in here about how people can support each other through that. The action is dominated by people trying to protect and take care of each other. The plot is powered to a large degree by a cast intent on building community, and there’s a large cast, reflecting that communal feeling rather than focusing entirely on one or two heroes. Different kinds of courage, loyalty and values are explored. There’s also a villainous villain who, had there been a movie version twenty years ago, would have been played by Gary Oldman, or perhaps Alan Rickman.

One of the things that really stood out for me was the way PTSD is dealt with in the story. One of the characters is dealing with a scenario that is so close to a previous horror they lived though, that they are repeatedly triggered. David does a superb job of expressing what happens during that kind of triggering, and how trauma often continues to be very present in a person’s life. As a reader, you can’t tell whether events are taking a turn for the worst or if you’re caught up in a flashback – which is also how that kind of triggering works for the person experiencing it. In terms of PTSD representation, this is one of the most powerful depictions I’ve ever read.

I loved it. If you think space socialism with a high paced plot is for you, then I heartily recommend you check it out.

More on the Publisher’s website – https://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/?ref=spacetrain


The Path to Healing is a Spiral

This is an incredibly grounded book, full of humour, compassion and wisdom. Anna McKerrow explores various approaches to healing while steadfastly resisting ableism and toxic positivity. It’s a powerful read with a great deal to offer anyone who needs to take better care of themself.

I was not having a good week when I read this book back in May. (I had the book well ahead of release for blurbing, and I cunningly stashed a review!) The week in question started with a massive triggering event, and a huge meltdown, then Idabbled in sleep deprivation and then crashed into a period while flirting yet again with anaemia. Health had become a matter of firefighting and trying to keep going. It’s been a tough year on that score with far too many rounds of similar things. I read this book while in a place of urgently needing to heal, and feeling lost and powerless. It was a good book to read in that context.

Anna talks about an array of emotional healing experiences she’s had, and about the kinds of horrible, but not that unusual experiences that meant she needed that. As she points out, most of us will be wounded, repeatedly along the way. Healing is something we need to do. She also writes about the kinds of things a womb can do to your body and more people need to know this stuff, regardless of womb-status.

If you’re curious about alternative healing approaches, there’s a lot to learn here. We get a mix of Anna’s experiences alongside interviews from practitioners, which I found really interesting. This isn’t a how-to book, it won’t tell you how to heal, but it does explore the idea that you could. Some things aren’t fixable, but mitigation, better support and more coping mechanisms are always worth having. It’s a wise and encouraging book in that way.

I think it is people in similar situations to me who will benefit most from this book. It’s for those of us who could do with taking the time to ask what could be made better, rather than just being in a perpetual running battle with the health issues. For those of us with mental illness, it’s a helpful invitation to think about what kind of support we might even need while being offered examples to consider. If your womb has chosen violence, this is definitely for you.

More on the author’s website – https://www.annamckerrow.com/the-path-to-healing-is-a-spiral.html


New Goddess books

Pagan Portals Abnoba is one of those books I had the opportunity to read way ahead of it being published, and so a few words of mine have ended up inside it: “Ryan McClain shares his exploration of the Gaulish Goddess Abnoba. It’s a fascinating insight into both the historical Celtic deity, and modern Pagan practice. The author offers up his own experience not to create dogma but to empower the reader to trust in their own journey.”

I’m not aware of any other books exploring this deity. There are of course a lot of Celtic deities, many of whom exist as an inscription or two – tantalising glimpses of a past that is largely lost to us. But, if you start from the premise that the Gods are real and present, then reconnecting with them is entirely possible.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-abnoba-celtic-goddess

Pagan Portals Demeter –

I was surprised by just how much I didn’t know about Demeter, and by how much there is to know. This is a tightly packed book full of history, legend and possibilities for modern devotion. I read it as someone interested in all of those things but not an actively deity-seeking person.

This would no doubt be a great book for anyone interested in Demeter but who knows nothing more than the story about Persephone. It would be a good read for anyone primarily interested in Persephone or anyone connecting with the Greek Gods as a group, as it reflects in interesting ways on many members of that pantheon.

I often struggle with the Greek stuff because there’s so much patriarchal crap in the mix. This book gives a sense of how Demeter and Persephone might have existed in earlier, more inclusive cultures. I found it led me to thinking about Laura Perry’s work on the related Minoan culture, and how these deities might relate to each other.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-demeter


Folktales, Faeries, and Spirits – a review

One of the major perks that comes with being me, is that I get to read some books long before they are released. That was the case with this new book from Halo Quin, and I had the honour of being asked to write an endorsement. Halo is a writer whose warmth and generosity of spirit runs through everything she does. Her work is always cheering. I make no claims for objectivity, I’m a huge fan of this particular entity (fairy? goblin? I’m not always entirely sure…)

So, this is the blurb I wrote, which is in the front of the book (I will never get tired of getting to do this, although this isn’t one of my better bits of writing, I’m pretty sure I was ill at the time and there are word repeats and frankly Halo deserved better but here we are.)

“This book will be of particular interest to students of Druidry interested in working with folklore, landscape and spirits of place. There are many interesting fairy insights here, and the author provides a valuable map for engaging with stories and spirits in your landscape.”

I’ll add here that if you are starting out on any kind of exploration around folklore, fairy, stories in the land or spirits of place then this is a good book to pick up. If you’ve been poking around in this sort of thing for longer, you might still want it for the sheer charm.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-folktales-faeries-spirits


Pagan Portals Aos Sidhe – a review

Morgan Daimler’s Pagan Portal Aos Sidhe is a small but substantial introduction to Irish fairy folklore and myth. Morgan’s knowledge in this area is immense, and this has enabled them to get a great deal of valuable detail into a small space in a highly readable way.

Folklore is a complicated issue, because it changes over time, and people ‘contribute’ to it by making stuff up. Where the people bringing in new content are deeply immersed in the existing traditions, I don’t think this is much of a problem, it’s just the folk process. Where people come in from outside of a tradition, misunderstand it, misrepresent it and make up bits that suit them that they then pass off as traditional… that causes all kinds of problems. Irish fairy lore seems especially prone to this treatment, and this has been happening since the nineteenth century.

Morgan highlights the things we know from older writing, and traces the origins of the most visible modern additions. Traditional fairy lore is complex and often relates to specific places. Modern interpretations tend to be simpler and more generalised. Not only is this a guide to understanding what’s ancient and what is modern, it also gives a person tools to approach things that claim to be ancient Irish folklore in a productive way.

It was a fascinating read and I very much enjoyed it. I am no sort of Irish fairy expert, but I am a longstanding dabbler in folk traditions, so for me this book was a mix of familiar things and entirely new content. It was interesting to see how my perceptions squared with the traditional material, and I was happy to find that I haven’t acquired any pop culture fairy content and mistaken it for older stuff!

I can very much recommend this book as an interesting, and engaging piece of work, likely to be appreciated by anyone interested in fairies specifically or folklore more generally. For anyone starting out exploring fairy lore, I think it would be invaluable both in its own right and as a prompt for what else to explore.

You can find more on the publisher’s website –

https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-aos-sidhe-irish-fair-folk


Mapping the Contours

Mapping the Contours is a poetry collection from some years ago, which I self-published. I’ve been swapping books with David Bridger a fair bit this year – we’re writing together and getting to know each other’s work has been part of that process. So, this isn’t an impartial review, but on the other hand, as a Druid and speculative fiction author David is very much the sort of person I hope would find my work resonant.

“I became aware of Nimue Brown one year ago, through her non-fiction books, the first one I read for research purposes being her “Druidry and the Ancestors – finding our place in our own history.” I found her mind impressive. Then I read some of her fiction, and found her creativity hugely impressive too.

Then she reviewed one of my novels, and then a second, and then we started talking, and then we became friends, and then we decided to co-author a fantasy series. It’s an exciting and thoroughly enjoyable collaboration in a creative relationship that has grown, and continues to grow, organically.

Now, for the first time, I’ve read her poetry. In her collection, Mapping the Contours, Nimue explores place and relationship in her life along the Cotswold edge. This is her, “…walking myself into the landscape, and walking the landscape into myself.”

It’s remarkable poetry. I read it slowly, then re-read it even more slowly, taking many individual poems in it as either mini-meditations and visualisations, or as starting points for deeper meditations.

I am grateful for this. Opening into my consciousness as it did at first with Nimue’s characteristic humility, it quickly became quite possibly the most meaningful collection of poetry I have ever read.

Mapping the Contours, Nimue Brown, published by the author 2018″

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You can pick up the ebook version for free from my ko-fi store – https://ko-fi.com/s/8e7caa2cfc