Tag Archives: book review

Everyday Enchantments – a review

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.

More here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/everyday-enchantments


River Magic – a review

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.

More on the publisher’s website – https://shadowsparkpub.com/ma-phillips

This is part of a blog tour, and you can find out more about that here – https://www.storytellersontour.online/2020/10/20/tour-schedule-river-magic-by-m-a-phillips/


Grimworld – a review

My short take on this is that if, regardless of age, you like Tim Burton films, this book is for you.

Grimworld is a children’s book set in a strange and slightly creepy place. The world building is great with lots of details. I particularly appreciated that author Avery Moray does not explain why things are the way they are. This is how it is, and you see Grimworld through the eyes of a young person for whom it is totally normal to eat sugar slugs, and for whom having to talk to the worm lady is just one of those regular, unpleasant things. Kids who relish a bit of gruesomeness, will enjoy this greatly. It’s not one for the squeamish kids, or the ones who have nightmares at the slightest provocation.

The story is strong with plenty of peril and action. The writing is engaging, and there’s plenty of whimsy and humour in the mix. This is a book for young readers who are really into words and language. Emotionally it has some serious stuff going on around death and loss and squaring up to the prospect of your own death in a responsible sort of way. All of this was handled really well, but the emotive content might not be suitable for all young readers.

If you are the sort of adult who enjoys a saunter into books for younger humans, definitely check it out. It’s very readable, ideal for a quiet afternoon or two on the sofa. If you want something to read to your goth-child, it will work for you.

If there’s a Wednesday Adams in your life, or a Para-Norman, get this book for them.

More about the book here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/ourstreet-books/our-books/grimworld 


Old Haunts – a review

Old Haunts is the second Alan Shaw book by Craig Hallam– I reviewed the first one here. Book two takes the same sort of format as the first instalment, with a series of action orientated stories with a distinctly steampunk vibe. There’s fiendish devices aplenty, unspeakable magic (often combined with the fiendish devices) Lovecraftian monstrosities, flying machines and steam powered everything.

The main character, Alan Shaw, is clearly an adrenaline junkie, and volume two sees him taking jobs as a privateer, sometimes doing despicable things for Queen and country. Alan isn’t keen on British Imperialism, but he likes being paid to not quite get himself killed, so this is a moral dilemma he’s trying to navigate.

He’s a considered dismantling of the macho hero archetype, and this particularly interests me with Craig’s writing. The classic action hero fights his way through, and may be the last person standing at the end of the book or film. Lovers, comrades, employers and enemies are all there to provide backdrop in the normal scheme of things. It is this habit of thought that the Alan Shaw stories particularly subvert. People don’t die all the time to give the hero motivation. He co-operates, he doesn’t kill people all the time and when he does occasionally kill, he feels it keenly. His life is full of consequences and responsibilities, he has relationships with people. This is key, for me. Action heroes don’t really have substantial relationships in the normal scheme of things. Alan Shaw does, and he feels his attachments keenly and they shape his life.

The underlying themes for me were very much about consequences. What the main character does, for good and ill, stays with him. Sometimes it follows him around, wanting help, or revenge, or explanations. He doesn’t get to blow things up and move on to the next story, all possible baggage burned away before the next round starts. He’s not a man alone, he needs friends, lovers, family. Sometimes he needs rescuing and looking after. Background characters don’t have to be daft, or weak or vulnerable to make him look good, either.

I like this book greatly because the hero is not your standard issue cool and capable man alone, but a far more interesting and complex human.

More on the author’s website – https://craighallam.wordpress.com/tag/the-adventures-of-alan-shaw/

And you can buy the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Haunts-Adventures-Alan-Shaw-Book-ebook/dp/B078SJ7415/


The Other Life of Charlotte Evans – a review

I picked this book up as part of a Neverland blog tour. It isn’t the sort of thing I normally review – because from the cover it looks like chick lit, and it’s published by Harper Collins, while I normally focus on small publishers and self publishers.

Reading The Other Life of Charlotte Evans got me thinking about how women’s writing is marketed to readers. The colour choices of the cover say to me that I should not expect real surprises or much depth. The blurb goes “A heartrendingly beautiful novel about love, family and finding your own path to happiness.” It all sounds warm, and safe and easy. I didn’t find it to be any of those things.

At the outset, Charlotte is eight weeks away from marrying her man. She’s twenty five, has her own dance studio and a massive mortgage and there’s a five year plan. They’ve got it all figured out, and are in the final stages of pinning down all those little wedding details. However, Charlotte turns out to have a lump in one of her breasts, and suddenly the rosy view looks a good deal more troubled.

What happens after that isn’t gentle, heartwarming feel good. It’s a serious exploration of the fear that comes with facing mortality in this way. There’s a hard look at the kind of strain illness, and the threat of illness puts on relationships. People struggle to understand. Charlotte no longer knows herself, her needs and priorities have just had a seismic upheaval, and all bets are off.

What further complicates things for Charlotte is that, as an adopted child, she knows nothing about her birth family, and as a consequence, nothing at all about her hereditary risks. Asking those questions is dangerous, and takes her into territory she feels guilty about and that threatens to further rock the foundations of her life.

In the eight weeks from the start of the tale to the wedding, many of the people involved in the story make mistakes and handle things badly. Fear and shock do that to a person. Communications become strained. People trying to protect each other end up shutting each other out. Suspicions grow in the silent spaces. In the harsh light created by possible sickness everything and everyone looks different, and the drunken hen weekend planned for Amsterdam looks less fun by the moment.

There were times when the author managed to make me angry with the characters – especially the finance – over their reactions. I was surprised by how much I was willing to invest in Charlotte’s predicament,  and how much it mattered to me when characters started getting things right. The ending wasn’t neat and wholly comfortable, and that was excellent because it felt so much more real for being that way.

Which takes me back to how we present women’s writing. When women write about family things, health and the domestic sphere, it’s so often trivialised and treated as light weight. This is an emotionally powerful book dealing with serious issues, really it isn’t that much about the pretty pink ballet shoes at all. It makes me wonder how many other profound and powerful books are out there hiding behind fluffy looking covers, and whether I need to poke round a bit more to find them.

More about the book here – https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008221614/the-other-life-of-charlotte-evans


What Goes Down – a review

I picked this title up as part of a Neverland blog tour, tempted by a blurb that described a psychological story. It’s a really good book, delving deep into the impact of bipolar disorder over two generations in a family.

This is a book that explores how choices play out over generations. Laurel falls in love and makes some dramatic decisions to get out of her middle class backwater life. It’s the late eighties, her gay brother is dealing with how little the world is willing to accept him. Single mothers are generally frowned on.

We see Laurel’s story juxtaposed against her daughter’s experience. The daughter who, aged twenty seven, has just found out the man she calls Dad is not her dad.

Seph is an artist with a big show coming up, at the start of the book she’s getting over a panic attack of epic proportions and stressing about her work. The revelations about her real parentage send her entire life into a spin. It’s a tale that becomes ever more tense as it goes along, with the breakdown of Laurel’s relationship mirroring the breakdown in Seph’s mind.

This book is a challenge to the toxic myth that it’s ok for creative people to behave in certain ways. The artist who paints for two weeks, barely sleeping or eating might not be challenged at all because it’s what so many of us think artists do. That kind of creative fever is incredibly dangerous, as are the desperate plunges into depression that tend to go with it. History is full of bipolar creatives, but being bipolar can be a real obstacle to creating in a sustainable way, and it ruins lives. The idea of the crazy creative person, whose creativity makes the craziness ok, needs challenging, and this book does so, head on.

Artist Seph is a character I really related to, and I don’t get to say that very often. Anxious, unsure of herself, but also driven and living by her art, she’s dealing with personal turmoil I found very familiar. Obsessive, never happy with her work, overthinking – this is a portrait of a mind I entirely recognised and empathised with. I’m not bipolar, but I experience depression and I used to get those wild, creative highs.

What touched me most about this book was the way in which Seph’s family supports her. They make a lot of mistakes, because they’re realistic people, but they are always trying to be there for her. They don’t blame or shame her for what she’s going through. She is taken seriously, and there’s real concern from the first panic attack onwards. I’m so used to real life stories in which mental health problems are ignored, hidden, treated as an embarrassment or a failing on the part of the sufferer. It is a wonderful thing to read a book in which people really care and really try to help.

You can find What Goes Down on Amazon.


The Bastard of St Genevra: A Review

 

I was approached to see if I’d like to review this title as a consequence of another book I’d reviewed here. Author Diane Gallagher lured me in with the promise of magical realism, healing ancestral lines and a story that revolves around the lives of women. I was not disappointed. As if often the case with good books, it is tricky to talk about the story without spoiling bits of it. What I can safely say is that this story occupies two time frames, one runs from the late twentieth century through to the present day, and the other is concerned with events in the twelfth century. It’s a charming book, highly readable and engaging with thoughtfully rendered characters.

I was especially taken with the way in which the author is able to meet the magic and mysticism of 12th century Catholicism on its own terms. Her historical characters occupy their beliefs and superstitions, the world they inhabit is full of the scope for miracles and divine intervention, ill wishing, cursing, and so forth. It all feels very real and there’s no sense of modern judgements getting in the way. It really makes clear what a magical reality Catholicism was part of in its early days. Coming at this as a Pagan, I found the religious and mystical aspects of the book highly readable and enjoyable.

This is a book about the lives of women – there are three main female characters, and a whole cast of other complex women surrounds them. There are of course men as well, but the action takes place firmly in the female sphere and relates to female life experience. I really enjoyed that. We see everything from the royal courts down to the lowliest peasants, it’s very rich reading.

I greatly appreciated the way love is handled in this book. There are love affairs, relationships, marriages – these are part of life and are explored with care and treated with importance. But, they don’t define the shape of the story, it isn’t ‘a romance’ it’s a weave of life in which love has a significant role to play. It’s rare to get a book with a strong feminine focus that explores love but does not succumb to the romance genre.

I think the biggest take-away for me is the way in which this book has prompted me to re-think the concept of martyrdom. Regulars to the blog will know that I’ve commented repeatedly that there’s no place for martyrdom in Paganism. I’ve previously thought about martyrdom as something that is done to a person, that it is about violence and oppression, and not something to celebrate. There is a martyrdom in this story that entirely defied my expectations and assumptions. The power of the character in question to choose her path, to face her mortality and pain to transform herself is fascinating. For a while there, I was thinking instead about the cruelty inherent in this kind of religion, but as the story plays out, it becomes clear that this martyrdom is a lot more like Odin hanging in the world tree than ever it is the story of a victim. And it struck me that perhaps what makes martyrdom significant is not the horrible death aspect, but the way in which the person on the receiving end refuses to have their spirit broken by it.

The Bastard of St Genevra should be out on the 30th May, you can find out more on the author’s website – https://dianegallagherwritings.com/published-works/novels/the-bastard-of-saint-genevra/


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 


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/


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