Category Archives: Reviews

The Hidden Goddess – a review

The Hidden Goddess, by Laurie Martin-Gardner explores feminine divinity in Jewish and Christian tradition. It’s a book that looks at texts, historic practice and modern interpretations and in a small space covers considerable ground.

The book is written in a narrative style, and while there are enough references that you can get in and check things if you want to, this is not an academic text. It is immensely readable and ideal for someone who just wants to get in and explore the ideas. It’s not a book claiming to have exclusive insights or unique knowledge, but it is a bringing together of sacred femininity evidence from traditions that, superficially at least, seem to lack for that sort of thing.

For me there was a mix of the familiar and the wholly unknown here. One of the consequences of reading this book is that I feel inspired to try and read the Bible and look at this for myself. I have tried to read the whole Bible before (and failed) but to go in looking for these details might make a lot of odds.

I think this is the ideal read for anyone who has moved to Paganism from a Christian or Jewish background and who wants to find ways of balancing their old path and their new one. It will also be valuable for anyone whose ancestor work has felt difficult – seeing how the Goddess has always been present in these traditions may help bridge the divide between modern Pagans and our immediate ancestors. For Christian Druids I think it’s a must have (unless you’ve already covered this ground somewhere else!).

I found it an enjoyable read that expanded my knowledge and that may have set me on a reading adventure.

Read the first chapter here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/blogs/moon-books/the-hidden-goddess-chapter-one-the-quest-begins/


The Book of Babalon – a review

I first encountered Anna McKerrow when I had the opportunity to review her Greenworld trilogy. That was a glorious YA series heavy on the Paganism. Her latest title, The Book of Babalon is not for younger readers – it is resplendent with sex magic, and also digs in with the kind of abuses modern women continue to face. It’s glorious, heartbreaking, rage-inducing, enchanted stuff.

If you’re not familiar with the Goddess Babalon, this book would work as an introduction and may send you off on a journey. Do read the author’s comments at the end to see what is rooted in fact and what isn’t!

This is an unapologetically feminist book, telling a story that very much demonstrates why we still need feminism. It’s also full of the sorts of things angry patriarchs would like to shut down – sexual expression, the right to body autonomy, the right to say no. Lesbianism, witchcraft, divorce, abortion… all those things they tell us will happen if women either take up witchcraft or get into masturbation, or both!

This is a story where triggering content is handled with care. No punches are pulled, but none of the horrors are glorified or dwelt on too much. You know what’s going on. If you’ve been there… you know exactly what’s going on. Too many of us have been there. All the things women are not encouraged to talk about – the blood, and the miscarriages, the shame, the stigma, the desires and the dissatisfaction are in these pages. These are stories we need to tell each other.

It’s a powerful piece of writing, and I read it in large, intense bursts because I did not want to put it down.

The story then… Woven through this novel is text in here from an imaginary Book of Bablon, written by Scarlett Woman, founder of an organisation called Bablon. The book within the book explores her history with Bablon, and anyone whose read any 20th century occult stuff will find this familiar, especially around how women can be both ‘goddess’ and totally objectified at the same time. The story itself follows several Bablon members using magic, activism and other avenues to fight oppression and get some control of their own lives. The characters are engaging, and between them they capture a broad range of female experience.

It’s a powerful story, underpinned by substantial philosophy. If you’re already into smashing the patriarchal structures we live in, this is for you. If you think we don’t need feminism any more, this book is especially for you. We’ve got a long way to go on the road to equality.

Buy the book – https://www.amazon.com/Book-Babalon-Anna-McKerrow/dp/1890399698 


Coffee Traveller – A Review

Clink Street Publishing approached me to see if I’d like to be part of the book tour for Coffee Traveller, and so here I am!

This is an interesting book, a mix of poetry, philosophy, wisdom and romance. I read it all in one go as it’s quite a small book, but on the whole I think it’s the sort of thing you might want to just dip in and out of. There are some breathtakingly good ideas in here. There’s depth to the observation and the writer has clearly done a lot reflecting and pondering. These are writings that were not originally created with the intention of publishing a book. It will be interesting to see if Fahad Ben G goes on to do something more deliberate – this is a writer with a lot of potential I think.

My guess is that this is an author for whom English is not the first language. Most of the time this has the wonderful effect of making the familiar less so – turns of phrase, ways of deploying words, oddities of grammar that I rather enjoyed. The cadence of the writing is different, and there’s a freshness to that most of the time. I do think the book would have benefited from some sensitive editing however. It’s difficult working with more poetic language as an editor, but I can say with confidence that it is possible to edit poetry and that a dialogue with an author about intent can be very productive.

Much of this book is concerned with the aftermath of romance. Some of it is about travel and cities the author has experienced, and there’s a lot of philosophy about life and how to get on with it and what to make of it. I enjoyed the philosophy most. There is a little bit of coffee.

You can find the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Coffee-Traveller-Fahad-Ben-G/dp/1913136388


On Brighton Streets – a review

This is both a book review, and a guest blog from Tom Brown

When is the last time you finished a book and felt like a better human being  for having read it? I read pretty voraciously and it’s a a pretty rare occurrence for me. I put off reading this for a while because I’m all too aware of the growing number of rough sleepers and the people that are on the verge of losing any sort of security. Where we live, there are more rough sleepers than we have ever seen before. I’ve volunteered for a local charity and have had the chance to hear their stories and have had to endure the knowledge that some of those that I served coffee and tea to a year ago, have since died. Also, I’ve been homeless and had nearly a decade of insecure housing and unreliable access to sufficient food. (Very glad to say that was some time ago, but what I learned during that time will be with me for the rest of my life)  So, as I say, I was a bit wary of jumping in. I know Nils Visser’s work though and I would read anything he writes (and in fact, plan to read everything he has written)

Right. Enough about me. On to the review. The book under discussion here, is On Brighton Streets by Nils Visser and Cair Emma. It takes you into an understanding of homelessness though the experiences of a set of characters who are entirely relatable, and tells the story that is like the journey that many people make when they begin to understand how this can happen to people, and the way they are treated when it becomes their life. It leads us in through a fairly straightforward understanding of the plight of the homeless and gradually introduces the complexities of their situations, and the realities of the wider culture. It’s readable to the point of being very hard to put down and though it sugarcoats nothing, it leaves you with a sense of hope and a feeling that humanity is perhaps a very good thing to be a part of, and well worth getting in and giving it all another go. It would also be a good book to give to anyone you know who needs a new introduction to the subject. It’s also good for younger readers. The main character is a school age girl, in fact. If all this were not enough, there’s this “All proceeds from this book have been pledged to Cascade Creative Recovery, First Base & Sussex Homeless Support.” Cair and Nils have been at the coalface and have been heroic in their ceaseless (I won’t say tireless, because they are often tired!) work with and for the homeless and vulnerable in the Brighton area.
Here is the link. Go get you one (or several) https://www.amazon.co.uk/Brighton-Streets-Nisse-Visser/dp/9082783649

Down Days – a review

This isn’t a self help book or any kind of technical book about depression and anxiety. It is however, a very readable and useful sort of book.

Craig Hallam is best known for his fiction – which has gothic and steampunk flavours in the mix. He’s a splendid chap. I’m reviewing this book because it has considerable merit, and I like Craig a lot. Reviewing a book about depression and anxiety written by someone who suffers, and being someone who suffers, I have some idea what a brain can do in these scenarios… Craig is lovely, and his book is thoughtful and insightful and some people are going to find it incredibly helpful. (But I can almost hear the voice in Craig’s head trying to explain why I probably hated it, and him…)

If you suffer from depression and anxiety and feel alone in this, reading Down Days might just help ease that a bit. It’s not just you. There’s much to be said for a friendly, understanding voice, and Craig is that.

It is, I have noticed repeatedly, a lot easier to think about other people’s problems. We’re likely to be kinder to other people. I rate your chances of reading about Craig’s experiences and feeling clear that the things that live in his head are horrible, unfair things that need treating kindly. Even when you’re telling yourself that the near-identical things living in your own head are perfectly sensible and justified. Sometimes, what we can feel for other people opens a door to being able to see ourselves differently.

Perhaps the most useful aspect of this book is the scope for giving it to someone else. Talking about mental illness is really hard. Explaining what it’s like is very difficult. I’m a words person, and on a good day I can have a crack at describing it. On a bad day I can barely string sentences together and I don’t talk about what’s happening. Not everyone has good days. Even on the good days, you might not have any words. What Craig has written is a very readable, unthreatening sort of book about depression and anxiety from the inside. So, if there’s a person whose understanding would make a lot of odds to you, but to whom you cannot explain things, this book could be the perfect answer. It would be a way of starting a conversation without having to do the talking, and a way of helping someone else understand without having to dig into the things you least want to have to think about.

One of the things I think reliably breaks people down is not knowing how to treat ourselves kindly. Many of us did not get here alone, and may be kept here by what’s happening in our lives. After a while, you can start to feel like you don’t deserve kindness – that’s very much part of the condition. It persuades you that this is all you are worth, that no one could care, that if they do, you don’t deserve it and that you are at best, a waste of space. This book is kind. This book will be kind to you, and it will show you things that might help you be a bit kinder to yourself, and not have that be a frightening thing.

You can buy this book other places online, but buying direct from the publisher’s blog is also a thing, so here’s the link – https://www.inspired-quill.com/product/down-days/


The Last Priestess of Malia – a review

Laura Perry is an author of several non-fiction titles about ancient Minoan culture and belief. She’s worked extensively with the imagery of this fascinating culture. Now, Laura has written a novel set at the end of the Minoan civilization and it is a truly remarkable piece of work. There is a powerful sense of place here, rich with details of everyday life and underpinned by a wealth of historical insights.

The central character of the novel is a priestess, so the rituals and beliefs of the Minoans are very much at the centre of the tale. Obviously, much of this had to be invented/discovered/remembered. I was struck by how powerfully this had been done. Too many representations of ancient Pagans just retro-fit contemporary belief or play out modern Pagan fantasies. There’s none of that here. The rituals feel specific, and culturally rooted. Many of them relate to specific locations and seasonal events and while we have no way of knowing exactly what the ancient Minoans did or believed, this all feels utterly plausible and convincing.

This is a story about the end of a civilization, and as such, I felt it speaks to the present in a powerful way. One way or another, we are also approaching the end of an era, and perhaps the end of western capitalist culture. Either the climate crisis will destroy us, or we will have to radically re-think how we do everything.  We aren’t the first people to have stood and the end of their known world and there’s a lot we can learn about resilience by looking to the past.

The Minoan world Laura describes is one of a peaceful culture based on co-operation, sharing, trust and mutual care. During the story, we see this culture brought down by an aggressive, hoarding, greedy, power-hungry culture. We see respect replaced with violence. We see consent replaced with conquest. It’s a tough read, but also a pertinent one. Culture is what people make of it. We all get to make these choices and decide what we support and enable, what we resist, and what we do with ourselves.

What do you do when the Goddesses seem to have abandoned you? What do you do when everything you hold sacred is in peril? What do you do when your power is taken from you by people who decide you have no right to self-determination? What do you do in face of abuse, contempt, violation, sacrilege and cruelty? When there is no magic solution to restore justice or give you back what was rightfully yours? These questions are so very pertinent right now, with international companies killing and displacing indigenous people around the world.

This is a beautifully written tale that will break your heart. There’s no making entertainment out of horrors here, but if it sounds like you could be triggered by the content, approach with caution – there are some very difficult scenes in there. Even though it is a book that will break your heart, it has potent and inspiring messages about how to keep going in face of overwhelming adversity.

 

The book is widely available online, here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.com/Last-Priestess-Malia-Laura-Perry-ebook/dp/B07XGDNFWY


Goblins 3 – something a bit like a review

I claim no objectivity for this one. It’s published by Sloth Comics – the lovely folk who put the Hopeless Maine graphic novels out. I proof read it. It’s originally a French comic by Martinage and Roulot, and unlike previous Goblins books, there’s now a colourist in the mix too, so the colours are a bit more nuanced, which is cool. Sloth handles translations, and hence the need for a proof reader.

Anyone who has ever roleplayed in a fantasy setting, or played any other kind of fantasy game, knows what happens to goblins. They die. This isn’t the first project to explore that from the perspective of the goblins, but I’m prepared to bet no one else has got quite as much or as varied an array of deaths, or as much comedy and definitely not the two in combination. It’s very funny.

I read book 1 a while ago – goblins die. By this point, the whole thing has got a bit more complicated. Goblins try things, sometimes it even looks like they might succeed, and then through their own foolishness and incompetence, they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the last minute, and end up splattered.

If you are the sort of person who will laugh at goblins making very bad choices and getting themselves killed, this is for you. It is sick humour. In many ways, this is a one trick pony of a series, but dear Gods, what a trick it is, and how numerous are the ways in which it can be undertaken!

More about Goblins here – http://www.slothcomics.co.uk/titles


How to Save the Planet – a review

How to save the Planet is a small book by Luke Eastwood. Luke is an established Druid author, and while the content here is unequivocally suitable for Druids and Pagans, the book is not written specifically for us. It’s written for people who want to do something and don’t know where to start or what would be best.

This is a no-nonsense, no punches pulled ten step guide to living in a way that is viable for the planet. It’s full of interesting bits of information about what kinds of impact different activities have, their history, their place in our culture and how the alternatives work. It’s all very readable and digestible.

Given the subject matter, this is surprisingly comfortable reading. There’s no blaming or shaming for your average, ordinary person, just clarity about where we are and what has to change. The lifestyle changes Luke calls for are reasonable and realistic. They aren’t going to be easy or comfortable for everyone, but, we are long past time for people who have more than they need taking more than the planet can afford. If you are one of those people and this message makes you feel uncomfortable… get over yourself. That’s all there is.

I think the best way to use this book is as follows – buy a copy for someone who needs to make lifestyle changes. It’s not an expensive book and it is raising money for Greenpeace. It may be the ideal Yule/Christmas gift for the annoying uncle who won’t stop flying places, or the sibling who sees fuel guzzling cars as a status symbol, and so on and so forth.

If you’re feeling weary and overwhelmed and are not coping with the emotional impact of the climate emergency, this book may also be for you. It has a clear message about what you can most usefully be doing. Reading it and finding you’re well ahead on that ten point list is, I can promise you, an affirming and encouraging experience. It’s so easy to end up feeling like your personal action isn’t enough – when so much of this does boil down to personal action and how we shape the culture we are part of.  So, buy a copy, read it, give yourself the opportunity to feel like you’re doing ok with this stuff, and then pass the book along. Author Luke Eastwood is actively encouraging people to share copies and hand them on, so do that. Put it in the hands of someone who needs it – either to affirm what they’re already doing, or to encourage them to get stuck in!

This book is widely available from places that sell books, so check out your online seller of preference or see if your local bookstore will get it in for you. Here’s the Book Depository link https://www.bookdepository.com/How-How-Save-Planet-Luke-Eastwood/9781527245983


Carved from Stone and Dream – a review

Carved from Stone and Dream is a novel by T Frohock. It is the second book in a series – I’ve not read the first but was told they standalone and I could jump in here. So let me start by saying yes, you can totally do that. This book stands alone. My suspicion is that the emotional impact of it would however be very different for the person who read book 1 (Where Oblivion Lives) first, because being invested in the characters already would turn this already intense story into mercilessly edge of the seat stuff from the first page.

Coming in as a new reader I was trying to figure out who I ought to care about, so when a character I barely knew died, I wasn’t that upset, and when multiple characters were in significant peril at the start of the book, it was interesting but I didn’t think it would break me. I suspect if I’d read book 1 already, I would have been in bits most of the way. It’s a tense, story told almost entirely through action sequences – technically it is quite some feat of writing to get that much character, backstory and insight into a book that never lets up.

The tale revolves around the struggles for power between various different groups of Nefilim. It took me a while to piece together who the Nephilim are and how their magic works – both are fascinating, and I don’t want to spoiler it. It’s rich, complex, original stuff that has a real elegance to it. There’s a pretty much perfect balance between coherence in the magic, and mystery – often if the mechanics are too clear, magic stops feeling magical. Equally if the magic hasn’t been thought through, it can be too convenient and unconvincing. Teresa Frohock has nailed it.

Now, all of this would be more than enough story for most authors… but there’s an added layer in that the book is set during the Spanish Civil War and looks at how that contributed to the Second World War. While that’s all framed by Nefilim activity, it’s an interesting and brutal period that I think often gets left out of WW2 narratives. It’s good to see a story touch on it in this way.

This is a violent story, there are some really uncomfortable sequences, it is definitely a book for adults. It’s also a story that has gay characters without the gay being particularly what the story is about. Gay characters are put under the same pressure in fear for their loved ones and families as straight characters in similar situations are, and that makes me very happy. It’s great to see LGBTQ people included in a story where they’re allowed to be other things as well and the plot isn’t about the gay. For extra points, the gay characters are already in an established relationship – it’s not a romance or a coming out story!

The writing is excellent, so if this all sounds like the sort of stuff you might read, pick up a copy. It’s a satisfying story, that comes to a conclusion while leaving plenty of room for future tales in the same setting. You can read it without having to make a commitment to the whole series (anyone else still got issues from The Wheel of Time?) but if you want to dig in for more, you can do that too.

 

Find out more about the book here – https://www.tfrohock.com/carvedfromstone


Tales of Wrong – a review

There is no earthly way I can write objectively about this book, I have too many feelings about the author and the stories to do anything other than gush.

Tales of Wrong is a collection of creepy and sinister short stories from Professor Elemental (Paul Alborough). There’s humour, whimsy and deeply disturbing things here – my favourite blend.

So, let me tell you about my history with these tales. Quite some years ago I approached the Prof about co-writing, and he was initially cautious, but he sent me a short story he’d written – Confessions Of A Swan Eater – which I loved. I persuaded him to co-author with me and we had a lot of fun doing ‘Letters Between Gentlemen’. During that time frame I also got to see Aunt Fanny’s Horn, and I later saw some of the other stories in their early stages. These stories are in this collection, and it makes me so very happy to finally see them on paper.

It is quite a thing to watch a person go from saying ‘I don’t know if I can write anything other than songs’ to holding in your hands the short story collection they’ve put together. And reading it, and seeing how clever it is – because these stories interconnect and are more than the sum of their parts. It’s a fine collection.

I loved this book. And yes, it is in some ways a hideous misshapen baby grown in a filthy laboratory – you can see that from the cover art I’ve inserted into this post. And yes, it is indeed very wrong – the Punch and Judy story is a definite candidate for the award for most wrong thing I have ever read. But it is also wonderful, and I cannot help but feel that when said hideous baby was in the test tube stage of its unnatural life, a teensy bit of me got in the mix – a strand of hair perhaps, or some highly suspect DNA. And it feels good to have been part of this dastardly process and just a little bit implicated in the results.

You can get copies here – https://professorelemental.com/product/337599