Category Archives: Reviews

The Life & Times of Algernon Swift

The first time I met Bill Jones was in the Stroud High Street, where he tried to sell me a pun. The pun in question was on a postcard. Since then, I’ve followed Bill round a fair bit – well around Stroud at any rate. He gigs more widely but I’m not an especially dedicated stalker. He does performance misery that often turns out to be strangely amusing. And now, this. The Life & Times of Algernon Swift.

This is a small novel, so heavily illustrated and possessed of word balloons that it is classified as a graphic novel. The illustrations are all black ink, which works well for all the comments about colour in the landscape. Bill is very good at catching moods – gloom, anxiety, perplexedness, worry… as Algernon Swift nervously makes his way through a cloudy world.

The cover warns that the book contains over 200 puns. Readers of a delicate disposition need to be aware of the dangers. I hurt myself reading this book – my sides, mostly. Some peculiar and unexpected noises came out of my face while reading – hooting, snorting sounds of amusement, and a fair sprinkling of punished groans. (For reasons of decency I am limiting myself to just the one pun in this review, and that was it.)

If you like whimsy and wordplay, and have a decent tolerance level for double meanings, and were not viciously bitten by a pun at a tender age, this may be just the thing for you.

You can find it here on amazon, and no doubt other places as well.


By Wolfsbane & Mandrake Root

One of the things I particularly like about author Melusine Draco is her willingness to look at the darker side of things. There can be a tendency to try and airbrush Pagan history, to sanitise us for reasons of both personal comfort and wider public presentation, despite all the evidence that the human history of magic is not all peace, love and rainbow unicorns.

Poisoning and witchcraft have long been linked, and one of the things the book does is to explore those connections and whether it’s a fair point.

Wolfsbane & Mandrake Root explores the use of poisons in magic and in healing. Often plants with the capacity to heal are potentially poisonous as well – with much depending on the quantity deployed. It’s something of an antidote to amateur herbalism as it really demonstrates how easily a person can get this wrong, and some of the anecdotal tales about herb use recommended by the internet is truly hair-raising!

This is not a book designed for people to use it as a herbal workbook. It’s a good reference book, and because it’s what I do, l read the whole thing flat out, cover to cover. It was surprisingly entertaining and readable for a text clearly designed for the greater part to be dipped in and out of. If you like this sort of thing, it’s exactly the sort of book to read. If you firmly believe that all herbs are benevolent and that nature is kind, this book is going to give you some serious headaches.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-by-wolfsbane-mandrake-root

If you like peering into the darker side, I can also recommend Melusine’s By Spellbook and Candle (hexing and cursing) – http://www.moon-books.net/books/pagan-portals-by-spellbook-candle


New Goddess Book

 

 

I’ve been a fan of Karen Tate’s work for some time, and her new anthology, Goddess 2.0 turns out to be entirely brilliant. It’s an anthology walking its talk by offering a diverse array of voices and opinions – not all of which fit neatly together. Being able to come together without having to have total agreement is one of the core tenets of this new work.

The anthology brings together some powerful voices, including Carol P Christ and Starhawk, along with others I hadn’t heard of before. The essays range from the personal through to large scale political insight. Some look back at history, recent and ancient, to track the route Goddess thinking has taken, some look forward to consider where we are going next. There’s much to chew on.

I don’t self-identify as a Goddess worshipper, but the vision of a world inspired by the divine feminine is one that appeals to me. I love the way that this book moves past much of the vague language of patriarchy to talk in terms that are broader and more human. The issue of how one person having power over another, or over some other part of the natural world, is inherently problematic, is a recurring theme. Co-operation must replace competition. Any ideas about any group of people having power by default over any other group of people has to go. It’s a simple enough idea, and gets to the heart of the problems we currently face.

There are many things we might do as individuals to help change things for the better. This book is full of ideas and observations. I found it uplifting and encouraging to read, and came away with a clearer sense of why things are currently as they are, and how I can help create change for the better.

More about the book here – http://www.karentate.com/Tate/Book-Goddess2.html 


For the love of God, Marie!

Some books are not easily described, so as I fumble my way towards a review, let me start by clarifying that this is a brilliant, surprising sort of book and I really liked it.

For the love of God, Marie! is a graphic novel by Jade Sarson. Page by page it is indeed a comic, but there’s a lot of it and a proper novel shape, so ‘graphic novel’ seems the right term. The main character, Marie, starts out in the 6th form of a Catholic school in the 60s, and we follow her through her trials and adventures into the 90s.

It’s a beautifully drawn book. There are some manga influences, so for the less manga literate odd things (like being able to see where a person’s eyebrows are regardless of where their hair is) may cause confusion. You have to trust the artist and trust that what she’s showing you is more important than a literal representation. I found it a visually accessible book, although Jade does challenge you to keep up with the action sometimes and doesn’t spell everything out. She uses a fairly limited pallet to remarkable effect and she really, really knows what people look like.

I knew before I got the book that it had a significant amount of erotic content. I’d expected it to be a romp, but once it gets going, the story I found touching through to heartbreaking. Marie sets out to love everyone, especially the people deemed least loveable. There’s an innocence to her, an obliviousness to the idea of sexual sin. However, as a Catholic schoolgirl, with Catholic parents, she’s subjected to continual humiliation and slut shaming because she loves too much. Misunderstood, she doesn’t get any easy time of it, and fate plays some cruel tricks on her.

Representations of polyamorous folk in literature are few. Promiscuous men (and that’s not the same thing) aren’t so unusual, but women who are plural in their loving, don’t show up much. This is the least erotic book I’ve encountered with a polyamorous lead; a bisexual character and a woman whose life and sexual identity don’t stop in response to motherhood or becoming middle aged. I wish there was more of this sort of thing.

There’s a naked woman on the cover of the book. If naked people having a good time offend you, then you won’t like it. We live in a culture that fears sex, is horrified by it, doesn’t want people under the age of 18 looking at it but will cheerfully show them depictions of war and murder. This has always confused me. But then, I found a lot to empathise with in Marie, and I’d rather live in a world where no one is condemned for loving too much.

More about the book here – http://www.myriadeditions.com/books/for-the-love-of-god-marie/


Hope and Matlock the Hare

This autumn I undertook to re-read the Matlock the Hare trilogy – I proof-read the third volume earlier in the year, and that’s not the optimal reader experience. Plus, I wanted to read the series as a whole from a position of understanding what it’s really about.

Book 1 of the Matlock series introduces Matlock the Hare, on his quest to solve a riddle to become officially more magical. As a magical hare, he’s got three such tests to do, and the reader can be forgiven for thinking this sounds like wizard school for hares. But it isn’t. As Matlock sets out in book 2 on trial number 2, it’s increasingly obvious that the glorious magical world he inhabits is beset by problems. When you get to book 3 it becomes evident that the story you were reading is not really the plot at all, which is all I am going to say on the subject.

Re-reading the trilogy, it struck me how clever the whole thing is – the apparent main plot line distracts you from a whole other story that’s being woven right under your nose, and becomes visible only towards the end of the third book. The re-reading process is full of new surprises and delights as you start to see how the real story was there all along, hiding in plain sight.

What struck me most on the second time through was the mix of political satire, and hope. Making dark comedy out of modern politics is in many ways a natural reaction, but usually there’s a quality of despair to it. To poke the heaving mess that is modern politics while remaining warm-hearted, and able to encourage people to hope for the best, is an incredible achievement. We need more of this sort of thing.

On the second read, the third volume had me in tears. Not over the overtly sad bits, or the twizzly bits, but over a long passage about the importance of hope and how to live well. Life at the moment can feel like a desert where hope is just a dead thing whose bones you can see. But, in the Magical Dales, hope is alive and well, and waiting to be found.

Commercialmass is looming as I write this blog. If you need to gift someone with something good, do consider getting this set – it’s beautiful stuff, with gorgeous illustrations, giggles/chickles (did I mention a language to learn?) the routine puncturing of officious pomposity, crumlush creatures, and hope. Lots of hope. It is a series you can read repeatedly, and that stands up to close inspection, without tidying itself up too neatly – I always feel a bit cheated by that. The books leave you with plenty to wonder about, while also providing a very satisfying sort of read.

More here about Phil and Jacqui Lovesey’s Matlock the Hare  – http://www.matlockthehare.com/


Along the Way: A review

 

Author Simon Cole comes from a counselling background to the subject of meditation, and the result is a small book which I can wholeheartedly recommend. I’ve never seen an approach to mediation quite like this before!

How the book works is that you get a section of philosophy, pondering the kind of broad life issues that most people will be able to relate to. Then you get a short meditation that allows you to take those ideas further on your own terms.

This is very much a contemplative approach to meditation. There’s quite a lot of the ‘just noticing’ that I’ve seen in meditations that claim a Zen-approach, but again Cole’s book is not like anything I’ve seen before. Noticing becomes a deliberate process of engaging with a series of things – perhaps in your body or your immediate environment. It’s an invitation to engage with the world in a non-judgemental way, and to see what arises from that.

It’s a beautifully non-dogmatic little book, with invitations aplenty for the reader to go their own way, come to their own conclusions and hold their own beliefs.

The sections are short, making it ideal for people who need a pointer for a brief meditation – an ideal book to keep to hand for when you need a prompt or a focus. These are great exercises for busy minds, and for the kinds of people who want to take the stillness of meditation and do something with it.

I thought it was great, I’ll definitely be reading his most recent title soon.

Along the way on amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Along-Way-themed-meditations-living/dp/1539065308/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1477315631&sr=1-1&keywords=along+the+way%2Csimon+cole


Shapeshifting into Higher Consciousness

 

I must confess this is a book I’ve known about for ages and not picked up because I assumed it would be too New Age for me. However, reading bits of articles from Llyn Roberts, and hearing some of her youtube videos, I realised I’d very likely made a mistake. So I spent the weekend reading this one.

Shapeshifting, is essentially a magical way of talking about change. Changing ourselves, our outlook, our perspective and changing what we do and how we are in the world as a consequence. Llyn offers an array of tools from Shamanic cultures to help the reader do this. It’s a very readable book, the exercises are very usable – you can pick out odd ones, or work with them as a more deliberate project.

There are a number of things I particularly liked.

Firstly this is a book full of interesting meditation work. I get bored silly, and frustrated, when meditation is presented just as emptying your mind and observing your thoughts. I like creative approaches, and this has them in abundance. There are some really innovative guided meditations here, and the kind of work that can take a person from meditation into true journeying. There’s also guidance for facilitating the meditations for groups, which is rare and valuable content.

Secondly, the author draws on shamanic traditions from all over the world, and does so clearly from a basis of having studied with many indigenous teachers. However, the result is not some kind of single amalgamated shamanism – Llyn places practices within cultures and traditions, points out differences of world view as well as similarities, and paves the way for a reader to go on and read other titles or follow up in other ways. It feels very respectful, and is certainly rich with insights, mixing more conventionally teacherly material with anecdotes from personal experience.

The third thing that really struck me is how far the core ethos of the book is from New Age thinking. It’s not about personal enlightenment, or personal gain or using your will to get everything you want. This is a book about being a conscious and responsible inhabitant of the Earth. It’s a book that supports activism, ecological and social responsibility. While there’s every encouragement to dream big and manifest your intentions, it’s also very clear that we all have a duty to do that in sustainable ways that don’t have a ghastly price tag on them that someone or something else will be obliged to pay.

I can entirely recommend this book for offering meditation material I’ve not seen anywhere else, and a responsible but also inspiring outlook on how we might all do a better job of managing our place in the world.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/shapeshifting-into-higher-consciousness


Albums I am listening to

I’m sure there’s a language for music reviewing, along with a sense of the kinds of things a reviewer should talk about in order to communicate usefully with readers. As I don’t really have a handle on that, I’m going to give these three albums the simple review of “I really like them.” They all have things that make them unusual, I’ll comment as best I can as I go, but the best thing to do is follow the links, and have a listen.

Findings – Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater. Folky, but mostly original material, lovely intricate arrangements, mellow.

http://www.angehardy.com/shop/details/findings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

kitchenette by Sq Bomb – who describe themselves as “sizzling electro, dance, punk, pop, poetry and rock ‘n’ roll crackle.” Sounds about right to me. Lots of earworms here, in a gloomy, grungy kind of way. feel good for people who generally don’t.

https://sqbomb1.bandcamp.com/releases

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come Black Magic by Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys. Sexy, sleazy, subversive, surprising and any other good words beginning with S that I have failed to think of…

https://armyoftoys.bandcamp.com/album/come-black-magic 


The Broken Cauldron

 

Very occasionally, a book comes into my hands that is so brilliant, so jaw droppingly, mind alteringly good that I barely know how to talk about it. This is one of those.

Lorna Smithers is a poet, and blogger. My instincts are to call her an activist and revolutionary, but this is not how she self identifies – Awenydd is the word she uses. I’ve been following her for years at Signposts in the Mist and very much enjoyed her first poetry collection Enchanting the Shadowlands.

The Broken Cauldron is a mix of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and pieces that blend these forms. Here, myth meets literal truth, and poetic truth speaks from the past to the future. It’s a book that must be experienced, no description could do it justice.

Lorna is steeped in the mythology of the British Isles, but she comes to it with a radical perspective that will shake up what you thought you knew. There’s re-imagining of Arthurian and other mythology here that recasts the myths in a whole new way and speaks to contemporary life in ways that are startling, and disconcerting. If you don’t know the myths, I think this is still entirely readable and may be a really good place to start.

Lorna has an amazing knack for retelling these ancient stories in a way that makes them contemporary, and also gives a new perspective on the tale. Her activism and deep love of land sings through the work, her grief, rage and frustration at how we keep playing out the same toxic archetypes are powerful forces.

It’s a small book, but a mighty one. It will stay with me, it has impacted on how I think about all sorts of things, not least on reimagining what a bard might be *for* in this day and age.

Cover art by my other half, Tom Brown of copperage.deviantart.com

More information about The Broken Cauldron here – https://lornasmithers.wordpress.com/publications/the-broken-cauldron/


Rhuna, The Star Child

rhunaRhuna, The Star Child by Barbara Underwood

I love the scope the internet gives me to have totally random encounters with authors and their books. I knew nothing about Barbara Underwood, or her Star Child series, but saw a shout out for bookbloggers on Twitter, and here we are and I’m part of a book tour. The book tour, you should know is  doing a giveaway. It’s for a $20 or equivalent in currency Amazon Gift Card and you can find that here – https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/bf633057100/

Diving into a series is never going to be the ideal way to start. However, Rhuna, The Star Child was an entirely readable book and the author drip feeds backstory in a way that helps someone in my position get orientated, without (I think) annoying a reader who already knows what’s going on.

I think in essence this is New Age fiction – its historical fantasy set in ancient Egypt with an idealised culture called the Atlans floating about doing strange magical and technological things. I infer that Atlans will turn out to be Atlantians. All the glorious crazy Atlantis ideas work so much better in fiction than in the MBS section, and makes for great escapist speculative reading.

There are a number of things that particularly appealed to me. The main character – Rhuna – is mixed race, and a mum. She has a small child and a teenage child. So she’s trying to save people and thwart evil plots and be part of a household, and this is great. She’s not an exception, either – although this is a culture with definite gender divisions in it, women are active and able to participate in meaningful ways. This is a world in which people seeking power is a major problem, but we’re given a heroine who does not want to use her unique powers and skills to advance herself. I’m excited to see this more egalitarian thinking in a story.

At the outset, the story seemed like one of those straight down the middle good versus evil setups. To my delight, as the tale progresses, it becomes more complex, more uneasy. Bad guys turn out to have good qualities. Good guys turn out to be more ambivalent figures than we’d first thought. The idealised Atlan state may be a lot more colonial and dictatorial than is really a good idea. Attitudes to race, power, identity and culture sneak into the mix, and what looked idyllic starts to seem hypocritical and suspect. It leaves a lot of room for the story to develop in future books.
If you’re looking for alternative speculative fiction, and a plot that isn’t about people seeking power, check it out.

Here’s some blurb:  This thrilling sequel to Rhuna: Crossroads is set in mystical Ancient Egypt where Black Magic was developed by the followers of the legendary villain, The Dark Master. As strange and frightening curses plague the population, Rhuna discovers the underground organization that performs this uncanny new magic, but she can only combat it with the help of her long-lost father. Having learned from her father amazing new skills to empower her on the Astral Plane, Rhuna once again strives to preserve peace and harmony in the idyllic Atlan civilization. Far more challenging than fighting powerful Dark Forces, however, is Rhuna’s personal anguish when her daughter becomes involved with the leader of the Black Magic movement, and the once-perfect Atlan society based on utopian principles begins to crumble all around her. Shocking events escalate Rhuna’s world to a breathless climax as she and her family undergo a momentous upheaval, and she is forced to make great personal sacrifices for her loved ones.

Website: http://www.rhunafantasybooks.com/-the-books.html

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01ANDQ73W/ref=series_rw_dp_sw

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30301577-rhuna-the-star-child

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/609503