Tag Archives: reviews

New books for Druids

Australian Druidry, by Julie Brett comes out this month, while Reclaiming Civilization by Brendan Myers has just been released. Both titles are highly pertinent to anyone following the Druid path and as I’ve read both I thought I’d review them together.

Brendan Myers is a philosopher and academic with a really accessible writing style. I’ve been following his work for a long time. In this most recent book he explores the concept of civilization. Inevitably this means a fair bit of looking at the ideas of our ancient Pagan ancestors. It also means exploring what people think civilization is, and flagging up all the things that aren’t hard wired, or inevitable, and could in fact be changed. For anyone hankering after a different sort of society, this is an uplifting book, and there’s enough in it about how we live as individuals to help any one of us, alone, to start pushing more deliberately towards better forms of civilization. I highly recommend it.

Julie Brett’s title at first glance has no obvious relevance to Druids outside of Australia. But, I want to make the case that this is a book for Druids everywhere. It is to a large extent an exploration of the seasons and the landscape. Now, mostly what Druidry works with is based on solar events and known Celtic festivals. Our wheel of the year was not ancient history, most groups that we know about celebrated some, but not all of the festivals with the equinoxes probably the least celebrated of the lot.

The wheel of the year makes sense (a bit) in relation to the British and Irish agricultural year. However, for the international Druid, there may not be hawthorn in May. Imbolc may well not be the time of first flowering. There may be no harvests between Lammas and the autumn equinox. There’s plenty of information out there for Druids wanting to work with their ancestors of tradition, but not much guidance for Druids who want to work with their own seasons and landscapes.

In this book, Julie shares the methods she used to establish an Australian wheel of the year. In doing so, she’s created a road map that any Druid, anywhere can use to begin working with the seasons on their own terms. Reading it some time ago when the book was still in development, I realised that even here in the UK, there isn’t always a tidy match and that there had not been enough of my landscape in my practice.

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.















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.










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…


Adventures in reading

Gabriel Bradford Millar, Crackle of Almonds (selected poems) published by Awen.

This is a collection that spans a long poetic life – the first poem dates from 1958, the last one in the book came from 2011. I very much enjoyed it. These are the kinds of poems that all make good sense at first reading, with striking images that transform the ordinary into the remarkable. If you re-read and ponder, there are depths to explore. There’s a lot of writing from a position of empathy with other women – something I find I need to have more of in my life. It’s warm, human, forgiving work, well worth a look.

More about the book here – http://www.awenpublications.co.uk/crackle_of_almonds.html






The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane – this one really supplies the adventure! I love Robert Macfarlane’s landscape writing, and I have been inspired by his mission to get people more engaged with the natural world. So I started out ready to love this book. Then I didn’t love it at all, it seemed to be about a man with far more time, energy and resources than I can dream of, driving around the country to visit remote places. Most of us can’t do this, and if we did, those remote places wouldn’t be the wild places they are. Wildness as a privilege for the few cannot be the way to go. But then, about two thirds of the way through, a huge shift in the author’s perception occurs. A re-seeing of the world, a willingness to encounter the wild in smaller, more local ways, and at this point I fell back in love with the writing. If you are the sort of person who sees nature as ‘away’ and exotic, and only possible in the absence of humans, then this would be a book to read because you may discover something in the author’s journey.

More about the book here – http://grantabooks.com/The-Wild-Places






Manic Mosaic, By Alexis Bear

This is a book about living with depression. It’ small enough to be easily read, which if you’re at the bottom of a hole, is a major consideration. The book revolves around the author’s first hand experiences with depression and health care, and there’s a lot of valuable information in it. The two sets of readers who will benefit most from this are 1) people who have just got a diagnosis and are frightened, confused, overwhelmed… This book will give you insights, show you that you aren’t alone, and give you some tools for navigating. 2) People living with, or dealing closely with someone suffering depressive illness. I think category 2 may be the most important here, because Alexis Bear does a superb job of explaining how the depressive mind works (or doesn’t) and what you can do that will help, or at least not exacerbate things. Its not easy to help a depressed person, and the useful interventions may be counter intuitive, because the normal mind does not function like the depressed mind. It’s also a feature of depression that when you’re sat at the bottom of the hole, explaining how you came to be there, why its a hole, why you can’t get out, why you can’t look on the bright side or just get over it, is not only impossible, but makes you feel worse. Pressing this book into a person’s hands may save a lot of trying to explain why, this week, all you can do is cry. I’ve just had a mostly crying patch, and I know its exhaustion, but I also know that this whole process makes very little sense to anyone else.

Manic Mosaic on Amazon

Poetry and poetical things

After my recent rant about bad poetry, here are three poetic titles I’ve read in the last week or so that I can heartily recommend. All are accessible, and offer rich, rewarding reading experiences that draw you in rather than leaving you confused and/or alienated.

See With Heart – Janey Colbourne. This is a small collection of poems and photographs reflecting a deep love affair with the natural world. Clarity, simplicity and soul – this is a lovesong to life, joyful and reflective in tone.

More about the book here – https://heartseer.wordpress.com/publications/

And do potter around Janey’s blog and read some of her writing – there’s a great deal of poetry there freely available.



Grief is the Thing with Feathers, by Max Porter

A bit mainstream by my usual book hipster standards, but at the same time, this book gives me hope for the publishing industry because it is so good, and so surprising. It is a novella, by length and narrative shape. Most of its ‘chapters’ sit on the page like poems and deploy language in poetic rather than prose ways. I expect if you’ve studied Ted Hughes, there are lots of literary eggs to enjoy, but if you barely know anything (me) it’s still perfectly readable. It is a deeply emotional book about loss and grief that directly challenges all contemporary notions of how fast we should get over it. Alongside this, is the thing with feathers, the shamanic presence of Crow, helping, hindering, participating… It’s an incredibly powerful piece and it does not swing round to reassuring us that all is well. Death hurts. Death continues to hurt. We learn to live, again. And again.

(Thanks to my father, who gave me this as a birthday present.)

More about the book here http://www.faber.co.uk/shop/fiction/9780571323760-grief-is-the-thing-with-feathers.html


Book Hipster

I didn’t set out consciously to be a book hipster. I started out as an omnivore, cheerfully reading anything that I could get my hands on. Some years ago I started noticing a thing – namely that bookshops made me feel depressed. The TV and movie tie ins, the ghost written celebrity fluff on the front tables, the way in the speculative sections everything looked like everything else… and then the internet and ebooks came along (it was a long time ago!)and I was saved.

I don’t buy or read much from the big publishing houses any more. They just aren’t putting out material that interests me, for the greater part. Instead, I pick up books from small publishers, and self-publishers, and that’s been a joy. I have the advantage of being a reviewer known for doing this, so the books I want quite often come and find me.

Mainstream publishing is a mess, because the decisions are driven by the desire for profit, not the desire for good books. Smaller houses and self publishers can of course be trying to do the same thing, but many aren’t – there’s not much scope for wealth at that scale, you may as well write what you love.

I want to be surprised by books, not locked into a familiar formula. It’s really that simple. When publishing is run by the accountants and the marketing department, you mostly get things that are already famous (and therefore familiar) or you get things that are just like things you already know about. It’s the exact opposite of what I want.

This year I decided to start identifying as a book hipster. I was in a conversation at an arts centre, and someone asked me who I read. I paused, and then I said ‘you won’t have heard of any of them’ and there was really only one way to go after that. Unlike other hipsters, I’m prepared to get excited if more people find the things I’m into. Also, I figure I can probably annoy the other sort of hipsters while I’m at it, which is bound to be fun.

Book reviews, and ancestors

Boneland, Alan Garner. This is an adult sequel to the two children’s books, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, and The Moon of Gomrath. Here we find Colin as an adult, troubled, and deeper into the mysteries of the edge than ever. It’s quite a challenging reframing of the first books. The writing is incredible, evocative, reality breaking, heart breaking, ambiguous, glorious… and bloody difficult to talk about without spoilers. If you love Alan Garner’s work, it’s a must, if you haven’t read anything else, you could read this, it would stand alone without knowing the two previous books in the set. I usually like talking about books, I loved this book and I don’t want to talk about it – an unusual reaction, but this is a unique piece of writing.

More about the book here – https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780007463251/boneland


British Barrows: A Matter of Life and Death, Ann Woodward. A fascinating book for anyone obsessed with ancient ancestors in the landscape. The author is an academic, and much of the book is based on her field observations, and her assessment of finds and records of other digs. There’s a lot of technical information – hard on the non-specialist, and a lot of visual thinking to do – a nightmare for me, but scattered through are incredible ideas, observations and possibilities. Perhaps the most exciting is the possibility of a crane bag – with no reference to crane bags or Graves, only to bags, and graves. I also didn’t know before reading that many barrows have no evidence of burials in them, these are places for the living as well as for the dead.

More about the book here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-British-Barrows-Matter-Life-Death/dp/0752425315


Goddess Calling: Inspirational Messages & Meditations of Sacred Feminine Liberation Thealogy
by Karen Tate

Eco-spiritual-feminism. In a series of powerful essays, Karen Tate explores the relationships between politics, gender issues, spirituality and activism. Reclaiming Goddess in our lives is very much about reclaiming healthy, balanced, sustainable relationship with everything else on this planet. For the weary activist courting burnout (and I fear that’s the majority of us) this book is a real lift and contains a lot of much needed hope and inspiration.

There is a section of meditation working with Goddess imagery – meditation is a rather personal thing so whether the exact content will work for you is impossible to predict, but if you know how to take and adapt things to suit, there’s a wealth of raw material here and inspiration for approaches to meditation. I found it a really good read. If this sounds like your sort of thing, I can definitely recommend it.

More about the book here – http://www.changemakers-books.com/books/goddess-calling

Acts of re-enchantment

Exotic Excursions – Anthony Nanson.

A short story collection that takes us to many locations while at the same time questioning the whole process of ‘white man goes somewhere and feels entitled to comment’. It’s clever stuff, and provocative, and turns a certain kind of colonial writing on its head in some really interesting ways. It’s got a large paranormal element, too. Shades of the X-Files when it comes to what’s ‘out there’ but delivered with far more elegant writing. I very much enjoyed it. Fellow readers who are looking for books where the excitement of genre fiction meets the depth and quality of literary writing should definitely pick up this title.

More about the book here – www.amazon.co.uk/Exotic-Excursions


A Modern Celt – Mabh Savage

A Pagan book looking at modern witchcraft practitioners who identify with Celtic traditions and exploring how that works in a modern context. It’s quite personal writing, rather than being an academic overview of the modern movement, and it’s not covering the Druid side of this at all. It would be a particularly good read for teenage Pagans, especially ones who don’t come from a Pagan background and could do with some ancestors of tradition. There’s lots to chew on, and plenty of good information but nothing likely to lead a person out of their depths. I find writing aimed at teens can often be a bit preachy in tone, but this author is clearly young, and speaking from experience in a way I think other young Pagans would benefit from. It’s not been offered as a book for teens but I very much recommend it as one.

More about the book here –www.moon-books.net/books/modern-celt


Through the Cracks in the Concrete the Wilderness Grows  – Luke Eastwood

I know Luke through his Druidic books, so when he announced a poetry collection I was keen to get a copy. This is a really good collection – definitely one for Druids and green minded folk. There’s a lot of eco-content, a lot of reflection on how people live and treat each other and relate to the world. Some of it is dark and troubled, some if it is really edgy, but ultimately, it’s a positive book. I read it in a single session and it felt like taking a journey from ignorance through learning and despair and round to a better way of seeing things. The writing is direct, accessible and incredibly punchy. You don’t have to know anything in advance of reading this. This isn’t poetry to interpret, it’s something you can let happen to you.

More about the book here – www.lukeeastwood.com/books.htm


Books for opening unexpected doors

Whispers from the Earth – Taz Thornton. It’s a small book, with a collection of really lovely teaching tales. The tales are warm, affirming, helpful. Like many good stories, the surface of the story is invariably simple and easy to get to grips with, but there’s a lot to think about if you choose to fully engage with it. What interested me most is what Taz has to say about channelled stories, and the way stories can teach and inspire. She’s offering this as a subset of writing, but I feel this is what we should be doing with all stories all the time – looking for the richness, the soulfulness, the scope for layers and depths. I enjoyed the book, I read it in a single evening. I particularly recommend it for people who have recently stepped onto the bardic path.

More about the book here –www.moon-books.net/books/whispers-from-earth


Places of Truth – Jay Ramsay. This is a really interesting collection of poetry. 7 different locations, each explored in a short time frame. There’s an intensity of presence and connection as the poet is affected by the landscape in each chapter. There are also photographs to help the reader connect with each place, which I found enriched the experience. Each chapter has its own tones and moods, different sections will no doubt resonate more than others. For anyone interested in land and poetry (so, Druids, definitely!) it’s a fascinating read. It opens doorways to making personal poetic journeys in the same way. Jay shows how, through close attention and contemplation anything might become meaningful to us. Any scene might take us into a mystery, any exchange might lead to something transcendent. It’s a very lovely collection to read and I certainly recommend it.

More about the book here – www.awenpublications.co.uk/places_of_truth.html


Dancing with Dark Goddesses – Irina Kuzminsky. Poetry, with very arty photographs – the juxtaposition of the two creates some interesting and engaging effects. There’s some incredible wordcraft in this volume. There’s a great deal of saying things that are generally considered unsayable, things about female experience that just don’t get aired much, if at all. Inevitably, some of this is angry, dark and challenging, some of it is painful and tough to read. It’s not, however, some kind of emotional pornography. The invitation is to look and learn, not to look and be titillated. I see increasingly this willingness to deliberately take dark journeys, to face the things we do not speak of and start naming them, and Irina is certainly part of this wider movement. If you are already dancing with dark goddesses on your own terms, you may be glad of her as a fellow traveller. If you’ve not considered such a journey, this isn’t an easy place to start – but then, there are no easy places to start.

More about the book here – www.awenpublications.co.uk/dancing_with_dark_goddesses.html

Magical reading for people who like to think

Blood on Borrowed Wings, by Darren Stapleton

There’s a saying that genre fiction means loads happens and no one thinks about it, while literature means nothing happens and everyone thinks about it a lot. That this is too often true is one of the reasons I struggle to find books I want to read. Blood on Borrowed Wings has that perfect balance of action and introspection. Set in a grim future, with political intrigue, dark secrets and modified humans who can fly, the main character thinks about what’s happening to him. It’s not just about solving the plot and finding out what’s going on, it’s also about finding out who he is and deciding who he is going to be.

I found it a gripping read. The setting, and some of the characters truly enthralled me. There’s dark humour here, and the kind of thoughtful word-crafting you’d expect from a literary author, but with the kind of plot you’d expect from a summer blockbuster movie. That balance of humour and darkness, sharp dialogue, insight, action and intrigue put me in mind of Mark Lawrence.

I gather this is book one of a series – it leaves me wanting to know what happens next. It is dark and violent, and what’s suggested is darker and more violent again than what’s shown, but it’s also key to plot and characters, not there for the sake of it. If you are craving clever speculative fiction, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Find out more about the book here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blood-Borrowed-Wings-science-thriller-ebook/dp/B01BGYNXSE/

To Be A Young Witch, by Siusaidh Ceanadach

The author suggests at the beginning that this is a book for 16 to 18 year olds, but I would cheerfully put it into the hands of any younger Pagan who has some adult support. It’s written for the young Pagan to read, with adults on hand, not to read for them, so the main issue I think is how literate your proto-witch is. Beyond that, it’s an accessible introduction to what witches do, and the way reality starts to look if you adopt a witchy outlook on life. Siusaidh uses stories as part of her teaching – a great way of expressing ideas and making them available, and a way for the reader to see themselves, and their own potential reflected back. The book is nicely illustrated. The content is sensible and responsible, no one is going to get themselves out of their depth or into trouble working from this book. Of course it represents a world view, a take on history and practice and whether that aligns with your take is another question, but if the image of the traditional British Witch as wise person and healer speaks to you, this is a good book to work with.

More about the book here – http://www.millhouse-publishers.com/#!product/prd17/4469855381/to-be-a-young-witch


Ghostbird, By Carol Lovekin

In two cottages that have belonged to one witch family for generations, live a mother, a daughter and an aunt. It’s almost a fairytale set up. However, as the daughter of the family comes into her own as a teenager, she starts feeling able to ask more questions – what happened to her father, and to the sister she’s not allowed to speak of? What happened to her mother? Why are they living like this? There are dark secrets in this family, held by years of pain and silence, and young Cadi must either make sense of it, or be swallowed by it herself. This is a beautiful, haunting story, full of myth and magic, and the journeys from despair to hope. It’s a fantastic piece of witch-lit – with its focus on the lives of women, a compelling expression of witchcraft, and some fantastic magical realism, it’s everything a Pagan fiction reader might want from a book. The author isn’t a Pagan, but she certainly gets it. I loved it, I cannot praise it highly enough.

More about the book here – http://www.honno.co.uk/dangos.php?ISBN=9781909983397

Ways to live – a trio of reviews

It occurs to me that all three things I’m reviewing this week have explicit things to offer about how we live, and how we might need to rethink how we live. All three things could be discussed from an array of other angles, but I’m going to run with this common thread…

Circles of Meaning, Labyrinths of Fear, by Brendan Myers. An epic and at the same time accessible philosophical book about how to live well and fully. It really is a handbook for life, and challenges us to explore 22 different forms of relationship and re-imagine ourselves in light of how we can live out those relationships in more meaningful ways. Each one of those 22 chapters was totally fascinating, and rewarding to read. Every chapter gave me things to wonder about and new ideas to play with. It’s a practical, inspiring book full of details – history, philosophy, popular culture, all manner of studies into all kinds of things plus the author’s many insights. A great read, and offering much to chew on, I can heartily recommend it.

More about the book here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/circles-of-meaning-labyrinths-of-fear


Fullmetal Alchemist, Brotherhood – the anime adaptation of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, by Hiromu Arakawa. 64 episodes, with a complete and well plotted story. I could write you pages about the plot intricacies, and about the alchemy, but what really interested me was the importance of relationships in terms of getting things done. Threads of causality that come from how characters treat each other. The long term consequences of small gestures. It’s an expression of how big moments in history are made out of the actions of many, many people. A powerful tide for change can be created by lots of people all making a small move in the same direction. Themes around not giving up, not succumbing to despair, not accepting defeat in the face of overwhelming odds run through the story, but what’s key in keeping those themes alive is the two young central characters, who refuse to give up, and who refuse to let others give up either, and the wide reaching consequences this has.

I reviewed Crown Moon, by Anna McKerrow, last year (review here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2015/07/20/eco-pagan-mythmaking/) and was delighted to be offered book 2 for review. I loved Crow Moon, but Red Witch is an even better book. Strong plot, strong characters, compelling magic, and a dark view of the future. This is a world in which we (the Redworlders) have burned most of the fuel and fought a long and brutal war over what little remains. We’re fracking, and letting the poor starve. The Red Witch of the title – Melz – comes from a little alternative enclave in the south west of England – Greenworld. It’s not however, a book of easy or comfortable morals. There’s good and bad in everyone. At the same time, a lot has gone wrong. Human relationships with power, energy and the land are at the heart of what has gone wrong, and the book is in many ways an invitation to get our shit together before it’s too late. How we treat those around us, how we give and withhold resources and information are contributors to the world we co-create.

More about the book here – http://www.annamckerrow.com/books.html

Everything we do is about relationship, and how we hold those relationships affects everything.