Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Amelia Unabridged” by Ashley Schumacher

Full Title: Amelia Unabridged
Author: Ashley Schumacher
Published: February 16, 2021 by Wednesday Books
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary Romance, Books About Books
Edition Details: 304 pages, hardcover
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Rating: {5/5 stars}

This is a spoiler-free review. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

I thought this book looked pretty while scrolling through NetGalley for my next set of ARC requests, and then I saw that it was published by Wednesday Books. So far, the books I’ve read from that publisher happen to be very poignant in their themes and the authors’ voices. Added to that, this is a book about books (or more specifically, a book about the author of some books). I’m a nerd for that!

Positive Bits

This is clearly a book about grief. The description tells us that Amelia’s best friend dies after an argument, leaving her hurt and lost. Grief is a deeply personal thing, but I think the author does an amazing job at showing us Amelia’s grief rather than telling us she’s grieving. To put that into perspective, I teared up within the first few chapters of the book and continued to ache and cry with Amelia throughout her story. When you look at the quotes I chose to share below, you can see pieces of how we’re handed the hurt of loss and being lost.

If we didn’t follow Amelia through her journey to find healing, the grief might’ve made this story unpalatable. Instead, we get to watch her rediscover herself without her best friend or the future they thought they had planned out together. The author wove healing into Amelia’s life without skipping the way grief returns unexpectedly, again and again. It was amazingly real (and better for it).

I happen to enjoy realistic stories, particularly when there’s romance and family involved. The way Amelia’s relationship exists with her own family, her best friend’s parents, and those she meets in her travels are all authentically flawed. People are allowed to fail. Some are even given opportunities to grow beyond their failings, only to fall short of personal growth. Maybe that’s not for everyone, but I appreciate the honest approach to relationship dynamics, especially as someone with similarly complicated relationships.

Less Enjoyable Bits

While I enjoyed the imagery and weight given to Amelia’s grief, I imagine this book will be a difficult read for anyone who’s recently experienced their own loss. Consider this your fair warning.

The characters are all very dynamic, whether they’re part of the main cast or not. However, the locations we visit with Amelia might as well be Anywhere, America. I had issues with remembering whether the nearby body of water was a lake, river, or ocean. I couldn’t remember the layout of a repeatedly visited building, other than one or two small details that I found quirky. Setting didn’t play a huge role in Amelia’s story, even when it might’ve had the need to do so.

While it was written in an entertaining style, I didn’t enjoy the epilogue. It felt rushed and unnecessary to the story itself. Then again, I generally expect a realistic story like this to end in a similar vein. Life doesn’t give us epilogues, because the story doesn’t end until we’re dead.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

While some kids waited for their letter to be delivered by owl or for their closet to one day reveal a magical land with talking animals and stone tables, I’d waited for the other shoe to drop. Because if there’s one thing I learned from books, it’s that life is fair and unfair, just and unjust.

I imagine whales swimming in the air between the trees, the forests of Orman rising up with their dark branches to mingle into the Michigan landscape. I pretend I am not real; Wally and Alex are not real. The world is one giant story and I’m only a figment of some author’s imagination, a discarded character that never made it onto a page. Strangely, it makes me feel a bit better.

I am different, but like the stories, I will hold up to more readings, even if those readings are drastically changed in my after.

There are a hundred thousand ways to tell a story. Medical students help people live longer and continue their own stories. Engineering majors tell a story of technology that goes back to caveman with rocks and sticks. Marine biologists piece together shreds of plot until they know where whales sleep at night and where fish live in coral reefs. Everything is a story, not just writing. You need to find the story that means something to you, a story you like telling.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – this story will make you ache to your bones and then soothe the hurt.

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Black Sun” by Rebecca Roanhorse

Full Title: Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky #1)
Author: Rebecca Roanhorse
Published: October 2020 by Gallery / Saga Press
Genres: Fiction, Epic Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Native American Literature, LGBTQ Fantasy
Edition Details: 464 pages, trade paperback
Source: Advanced Reader’s Edition won via Goodreads Giveaway
Rating: {5/5 stars}

This review is spoiler free. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

I enter giveaways on Goodreads if the book sounds like something I might read. In the case of this book, the description had me entering to win in the first sentence:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.

I’m a sucker for any story based in mythology, but I particularly enjoy magical worlds reimagining unfamiliar cultures. In her acknowledgements and credits at the end of the book, the author points out how often “epic fantasy” only seems to apply to European-flavored stories. I agree, which is why I often seek out those written in different lands.

Positive Bits

The world we’re brought into is beautiful and deadly. Isn’t that the best kind? We visit a land with a holy city run by Priests of the non-Christian variety, as well as wild seas and a crescent coast full of different peoples and cultures. Even without visiting some of the locations mentioned by characters, we’re given enough details to have a taste of their individual quirks. The worldbuilding was done skillfully enough that I never had a moment where I fell out of the story due to confusion over a custom or description.

As a queer woman, I greatly appreciated the fact that LGBTQ folks exist throughout the story without being the story. Representation is important, and I love a good queer-focused story as much as the next person, but the best kinds of representation are when being queer is treated the same as being short or tall – as in, it’s natural and a part of some characters’ stories without being the entirety of their plotline. Also, there’s a nonbinary person throughout this first book who uses the pronouns xe/xir, and I found that inclusion to be done skillfully enough to explain and then move us along to the actual reason xe was introduced.

Trilogies by their very nature have to end unfinished, but there’s a skill needed to leave us wanting more without leaving us at a confusing cliffhanger. This book handles that balance well, leaving us with just enough closure to be satisfied while maintaining enough loose threads to keep weaving the story in the next book. The specific characters who end up together at the end due to circumstance definitely had me wishing for more.

Less Enjoyable Bits

Sometimes, I find details I dislike that are important to the story. I think that might be the case here. For example, one character struggles with alcoholism or at least regularly uses alcohol to seek oblivion, and there’s a decent portion of the story where it’s not given context. It’s just a vice they have, and it gets them tossed in jail (to have them meet up with other important characters, of course). Much later, we learn a few details about their past that hint at why they drink so often, but it’s not particularly satisfying. Then again, maybe any family or personal experience with alcoholism or alcoholics makes this plotline hit different?

We’re given hints of each main character’s past, but sometimes it’s not balanced in the first book of a trilogy like this. While I became thoroughly invested in each of the characters as they came across the page, it disappointed me that we didn’t get more information on the Teek. Considering how their people and culture play into the first book’s story, I would’ve expected to hear more about them than a passing mention. The story in book one still makes sense without those details, but it might’ve been enriched with more of them included.

My only other complaint is on the magic system(s) used in this world. I enjoy fantasy worlds where magic is standard, especially if there are different kinds based on culture or class. That said, this book didn’t flesh out the magic existing in their society. We get hints here and there for plot purposes, but there’s never a really good explanation of what is and isn’t possible with magic (or how). Again, this might be a trilogy issue rather than an issue with this book directly. I can only wait and see in book two.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

She was only ten, then, her destiny far from decided. She had not yet learned that she was poor and that people like her only went to the celestial tower as servants, or that once you were poor, people hated you for it even when you weren’t poor anymore.

“Villain,” he mouthed, liking the sound of it, the weight of the word on his bloodied lip. If protecting his crows made him a villain, then a villain he would be.

Even when armed with blade and bow, even with an army of a thousand at her command, a spearmaiden’s greatest weapon is her tongue.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if you enjoy reading fantasy based in non-European cultures, this book is a great add to your collection. Also, the queer representation is woven throughout the story, so that’s a major bonus!

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Badass Ancestors” by Patti Wigington

Full Title: Badass Ancestors: Finding Your Power with Ancestral Guides
Author: Patti Wigington
Published: September 2020 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Witchcraft, Magic Studies, Angels & Spirit Guides, Spirituality
Edition Details: 256 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – requested by me
Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I know you don’t usually judge a book by its cover, but a good cover design can get your attention long enough to have you reading the description. That happened here, where the cover art drew me in and then the details had me requesting an advanced readers’ copy on NetGalley.

I don’t work with ancestors in my current practice. My family is a far-flung mess of people, with my biological father’s side completely unknown to me. I’ve always wondered where you would begin to work with ancestors in that kind of situation.

Positive Bits

To be honest, I only made it to the end of Chapter 3 before pre-ordering a physical copy of this book. In the introduction, the author already drew me in with a discussion of chosen family, adopted family, and purposefully severed family ties. She then followed through with that promise from the start, covering different definitions of family and ancestors than just blood relatives.

This book provides both research guidance and ancestor rituals with equal balance between spiritual and mundane methods. I found myself browsing some of the suggested resources just to see what I could find, losing a few hours just poking around online. Thanks to prior family tree work, I know there’s one branch of Filipino heritage I can trace back to ship records, but the author provided suggestions that led to a local ancestor’s grave and a marriage to an actress in the 1930s. Neither of those details came up in previous searches, because I didn’t know where to start.

Meanwhile, the rituals are very approachable and intuitive. Her suggestions for tying in culturally relevant foods resonated with me the most, as I’m a foodie at heart and love trying unfamiliar recipes. The idea of integrating that love into something I can share with my ancestors to show them appreciation just made sense. Again, I found myself down a research rabbit hole as I looked into traditional Filipino recipes and clothing (prior to colonization), but I enjoyed every minute of it.

Less Enjoyable Bits

As with most books, there were parts that didn’t speak to me. As a polytheist, I couldn’t connect to Chapter 8 as the author discussed calling archetypes in place of unknown ancestors. The idea hadn’t sounded strange when it was mentioned prior to that chapter, but then she used deities as if they were archetypes throughout this section. That may work for a non-religious witch or someone who believes deities are archetypes of the Unnamed Divine. However, as a person who’s worked to develop relationships with individual deities along my path, I can’t connect to the idea of treating them like ancestors or symbols instead of actual gods.

I’ll admit that I felt a little lost and left out at times, though it’s not the author’s fault. My family is a tangle web of marriages and divorces, immigrants, lost records, and poor folks. I don’t have family heirlooms or anything older than my grandparents’ generation. We have almost no pictures older than that, either. And don’t get me started on how being poor means not putting down roots! All of that is to say, sometimes the author’s descriptions of how her research progressed (talking to elder living relatives, asking about family heirlooms or where traditions started, looking up local newspapers) felt unfamiliar and almost impossible.

Efforts were made to pull in options for those without steady family trees. They were imperfect, but I appreciate the attempt. By the end of the book, I could tell I’m still out of luck on some fronts when it comes to ancestor tracing and the related spiritual workings. Thankfully, there were plenty of other parts that spoke to me and gave me guidance for working with the ancestors I can reach.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Our ancestors were survivors of things far more frightening than our first-world problems. They were strong. How do we know that? Because you’re here. Your bloodline survived millennia of plague, war, pestilence, famine, infant mortality, and just plain old bad luck… just to make you. That means your ancestors were badasses. – in the Introduction

It’s not that a rebel is unaware of those constraints; they simply don’t allow themselves to be held by them. The rebel brings about freedom by way of dissent and justice by way of rebellion. – in Chapter 8, Connecting to Archetypical Badasses

Family traditions tend to have other benefits as well. In our hectic and chaotic, non-stop busy lives, a ritualized tradition offers a feeling of comfort. They give us a constant. – in Chapter 11, Your Badass Legacy

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – because I had a free digital ARC and still pre-ordered the physical book. This is the best introduction to ancestor work in a spiritual context that I’ve come across, and there’s value for both the traditional family person and someone like myself with a less structured family tree.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Werewolf Magick” by Denny Sargent

Full Title: Werewolf Magick: Authentic Practical Lycanthropy
Author: Denny Sargent
Published: September 2020 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Magic Studies, Witchcraft
Edition Details: 240 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – Requested by me
Rating: {2.5/5 stars}

First Glance

As a therian and animist, I enjoy any opportunity to delve into magic related to shapeshifting and spirit work. This book clearly focused on wolves, which happen to be one of my favorite animals, so I decided to ask for a first look. I received an advanced readers’ copy (ebook) through NetGalley. As usual, I get paid nothing to give my honest opinion.

Positive Bits

The overall idea behind werewolf magick is that we need to (and can) embrace our wild side and go a little feral if we want to really connect to our own power. I’ve written and participated in several different versions of this kind of magic, where you reach deep down to find your inner wildness; it’s a powerful piece of energy work.

The author clearly runs with this wildness, as the majority of the rituals included are wordless. Howls and yips and growls are the only magical words used, and I think that’s a smart approach. It makes it a little harder to plan your ritual, as there are no cue cards, but sound is a good carrier of energy regardless of its form.

I appreciated the notes on animal parts and meat usage throughout the book. As someone who prefers to be an ethical omnivore rather than a vegetarian, I respect the balancing act it takes to honor the animals who obviously had to die in order for you to eat or wear them. There are different ways to approach animal parts (fur, bones, or meat) and they all start with an acknowledgement of death and your role in the process.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I’ll admit that this book is too eclectic for me. There are repeated notices that the author makes no claim at being a shaman, which is all well and good. But then there are random pieces of the Greco-Roman pantheon, modernized versions of old Nordic ritual, and a surprise visit from an Egyptian god. Throughout that mix, we have Gaia used as a name for the Earth as a being (but not as Gaia, the Greco-Roman goddess) and a liberal smattering of mantras from Hindu practices (without any explanation about their source or purpose). The author could’ve used a bit more explanation between rituals to tie together his eclectic pieces, but they were presented as disjointed mosaic pieces.

In the history of werewolves presented, the author travels a familiar and well-worn path of pretending that witches (and, therefore, werewolves) have always existed and were hunted down during the Burning Times. And yet, enough witches and werewolves hid to bring their practices to us today. The truth is, we’ve recognized as a community that the “history” we were taught was a tool to loan authenticity to new practices. After all, everyone respects an ancient teaching, right? Each example of werewolves in the past is dubiously tied together in a string, and it’s supposed to guide us from ancient werewolves to today’s shifters in an unbroken line… that I’m not buying.

Based on personal studies and experience, I found his entire section on Fetches to be misguided. Take it or leave it as you will, but I find that a Fetch or similar thoughtform isn’t an alter ego (wolf or otherwise) of myself. Rather, it’s a separate and directed entity. The author treats the animalself (his word for your animal side) as both a part of you and something apart from you, depending on the working presented. I feel there’s no ambiguity in what is Self versus what is outside of Self, and this makes the entire use of animalself as a Fetch an impractical process – one that I would expect to cause you some discomfort, if not exhaustion. There’s a reason we practice magic with the help of external energies and items other than ourselves.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The names are less important than the truth behind the powers.

We are smart, feral, amazing beasts who can dress in a suit for work and later that night run naked and howling in the woods under the moon.

Our wild gods are not spiritual metaphors or cosmic entities, they are the dirt beneath our naked paws, the rain that tastes sweet on our tongues, the lunar dance of the tides within us and the fresh scented air of Spring that fills us with green energy.

Is it worth the coin?

No – there are other resources on wolf mythology and shapeshifting that can be found, and I would pick up something more focused if I were studying either topic.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Aradia” by Craig Spencer

Full Title: Aradia: A Modern Guide to Charles Godfrey Leland’s Gospel of the Witches
Author: Craig Spencer
Published: August 2020 by Llewellyn Publications
Genres: Nonfiction, Magic Studies, Witchcraft Religion & Spirituality, Mythology
Edition Details: 240 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC – Requested by Me
Rating: {4/5 stars}

First Glance

In my early witchy studies, I tried to get my hands on anything written by older sources in an effort to understand the foundation of what witchcraft had become. At that time, I was a Wiccan and read through the writings of Gerald Gardner, Dion Fortune, Doreen Valiente, and other Big Name Pagans.

I tried to read Aradia, Gospel of the Witches multiple times, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. From the random inclusion of Lucifer to the rambling stories, I just couldn’t see anything of value for my personal path in Leland’s work, especially as I have no ties to Italy or its traditions.

Thankfully, someone who has those ties has taken the time to retranslate and discuss Leland’s Aradia. I requested a copy of the book when I saw it was available, because I hoped this time someone had made the Gospel make some kind of sense.

Positive Bits

I’ll start off by saying that Spencer made a good decision to write this book. Period. When you realize something is needed and you have the ability to provide it, I think it’s wise to step in and create a resource for others. He did a wonderful job on citing sources and noting where he changed the original translation (as well as why). It’s always a good sign when someone explains their process to you, because you can retrace their steps and see the clear delineation between points A and B.

Pointing out the Catholicism flavoring different portions of the Gospel makes the stories easier to follow. I hadn’t considered it before, but clearly local stories and folktales are colored by the cultures they live inside of; as those cultures change, so do the details of the stories. As I’ve never been Catholic, it was helpful to see the pieces that fit into the Catholic worldview separated and explained throughout the Gospel.

Spencer made sure his Part Two section included enough basic framework to point in the direction that Aradia’s witchcraft would travel without bogging it down in details. In “Attending the Sabbat”, he broke down ritual into individual portions that each tie together to form the great working. I’m always intrigued by new breakdowns of the ritual process, as the differences are often where a ritual’s magical flavor comes in.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I disagree with the premise that witchcraft is inherently a religious act. In the Gospel, I can understand and agree with the idea that the witchcraft of Aradia is meant to be a religion. However, there are so many paths of witchcraft out there that don’t interact with any higher beings, focusing instead on the use of personal and elemental energies to perform spells and rituals. I feel it’s often easy to slip on blinders as a religious witch and fail to recognize this. (As a hard polytheist and animist, I get it.)

Other than that disagreement, I actually found no issue with this book. Spencer set out to provide a better translation and context for Leland’s Aradia, and he did so. Period. I didn’t find his revelations (i.e. interpretations) to be overly invested in a personal agenda or attitude. Instead, he took the time to explain any interpretations he had that didn’t line up with Leland’s original, and he included enough sources to make checking his work possible for those so inclined.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The moral of this story (and it could also be said of Italian witches) is that we should never attack what we do not understand. We should never attack a divinity just because our own  personal path does not lead in their particular direction. Looking at the world today, this is a lesson that many people could benefit from learning – witches included. (56%)

The spirit of witchcraft is the driving force and power behind the words, not the rigid dogma of a set formula. (92%)

Be the witch you are meant to be, and let the magic of the Old Religion guide you, guard you, keep you, and show you its deep secrets. (98%)

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in historical (traditional) witchcraft, particularly of Italy. It’s a good resource for anyone focused on the “Old Religion” style of witchcraft as a religious path, particularly if you’re drawn to the European and/or Wiccan paths due to their ties to a historical context.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “In Focus Numerology” by Sasha Fenton

Full Title: In Focus Numerology: Your Personal Guide
Author: Sasha Fenton
Published: August 2020 by Wellfleet
Genres: Nonfiction, Numerology, Fortune Telling, New Age,
Edition Details: 144 pages, hardcover
Source: ARC – Requested by me
Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I hadn’t heard about this book in particular until I ran across it on NetGalley as an ARC. In my personal experience with books on numerology, I’ve been disappointed by a lack of depth. However, I decided to take a chance and try another volume on the subject.

Positive Bits

Aesthetically, this book is appealing. While not necessarily important to the topic itself, I think it’s always a sign of focus when a book is designed to be pleasing to the eye as well as informative. Think of it as an artistic investment in seeing the book reach more readers.

The author managed to cover far more numerology applications than most books I’ve run across previously. The usual suspects based on your name and date of birth are present, but then she dove into using numerology to check on specific times and dates, as well as your karmic focus for this life and your hidden passion. It even had a section on higher numbers, something I appreciated as some food for thought (particularly in a system that usually condenses all numbers down to single digits). The tidbits of historical references were well integrated, giving my researcher’s brain a place to look if I’m curious about where the basis of each practice evolved.

Another small but important feature is the inclusion of the alphabet-to-number table at the beginning of each chapter. I don’t know how many books require you to write it somewhere, memorize it, or keep a finger on the page that has that information while you move forward to learn about using it. Not having to flip back repeatedly is convenient.

Less Enjoyable Bits

This is more my personal preference than anything else, but I wish there’d been more detail on the history of numerology and the references to historical sources were explained with more depth. I like knowing the where, when, and why behind practices I use today (particularly in an effort to respect source cultures and avoid appropriation). Some of the referenced materials are familiar, like the Hermetica, so I knew more about the topic than the author shared, but overall it felt like crumbs when I wanted a full loaf of bread.

I didn’t do a word count, but it felt like some numbers received less detail in various sections. It wasn’t enough to render their information unhelpful, but it was just noticeable enough to make me wrinkle my nose. However, it might’ve also been a formatting issue, as I’m looking at an ARC. Perhaps the numbers will be formatted into individual pages, in which case an extra (or missing) paragraph will be moot (or at least less obvious).

While the overall style of the book is aesthetically pleasing, I did find some of the clipart out of place. Most of it is in the minimalist line-art style, so there’s a flow to it. But here and there, we get random pencil sketches? In Chapter 9 on The Birth Day Number, for example, there’s a section called “Day Number Crystals” with a sketch of a crystal cluster and then below that a section called “Fruit, Vegetables, Herbs, and Spices” with a sketch of a couple of apples. They aren’t bad sketches, but I flipped back through the book and found zero other sketch-styled art among the minimalist images used in other chapters.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Sorry! This book is relatively focused on defining numbers based on what aspect of your life you’re trying to divine details from. Other than sharing the numbers that applied to me personally, I don’t think there are necessarily quotes I felt the need to share. I will note that I read all of the numbers rather than just my own, and I found them to each have a balanced amount of positive and negative details included.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if you want a starting point in the topic that’s not just the bare minimums, I think this book is a good resource.

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “Modern Witchcraft” by Deborah Blake

Full Title: Modern Witchcraft: Goddess Empowerment for the Kick-Ass Woman
Author: Deborah Blake
Published: July 2020 by St. Martin’s Essentials
Genres: Nonfiction, Wicca, Witchcraft Religion & Spirituality
Edition Details: 256 pages, trade paperback
Source: ARC [requested by me]
Rating: {3/5 stars}

First Glance

I was curious about this book, as I haven’t picked up many beginner-focused books lately. I figured it would be a good peek into that side of available witchy literature, and luckily it was available on NetGalley as a reviewable ARC to request. I’m not receiving anything for this review, other than having a digital copy of the book in my possession.

Positive Bits

This book is for those interested in goddess worship and Wicca. I’ll get into that shortly. However, from that perspective, the information it contains is just enough to wet your whistle. The topics all have a minimal amount of details provided, but I believe this works to give an overview of each topic rather than a deep dive that would come with later research.

My favorite section had to be Five-Minute Rituals to Connect with the Feminine Divine. Contrary to the title, the suggestions lean toward small acts of spirituality you can add to your mundane moments in life. I personally love these kinds of lists, because I’m a firm believer that you’re a witch in and out of the circle. Using an evening shower as an opportunity to cleanse both physically and energetically just makes sense, as does the simple act of thanks in the morning. When you first approach Wicca and/or witchcraft, it can feel like everything is loud and big and bright and overwhelming. The Five-Minute Rituals are ideal small steps to bring spirituality into your life without getting bogged down in checking every single box.

The same applies to a section on Practical Suggestions for Creating Positive Change. Blake describes the ways we can use our own focus to build our experience of the world. If you think negatively all of the time, you reinforce the negativity around you. By working to change your inner thoughts to something positive (like affirmations and noticing the positive around you first), you can gain a more positive outlook. This, in turn, pulls more positivity into your life – like attracts like. My favorite affirmation reminded me of the witchy animism I currently practice: “I come from the earth and the stars. I am filled with elemental power.”

Less Enjoyable Bits

This book is for those interested in goddess worship and Wicca. It isn’t for secular witches or polytheists, as it has a hard focus both on the spirituality behind worship and the idea that all goddesses are faces of the same Goddess. Considering the modern witchcraft movement and overwhelming amount of information online, this book is written in a way that would help someone interested in Wiccan-flavored goddess worship and witchcraft as a focus. I don’t think it’s good for a broader audience than that.

That said, I started off my witchcraft journey as a Wiccan and trained in a Wiccan-derived coven, so the content provided fit into my past experience. Actually, this book comes across like those from the early 2000s when I started my studies; the attitudes and beliefs match with the Wiccan witchcraft of that time period.

The resources in this book are dated. Based on my own experience, I’m going to guess that Blake stopped buying/reading introductory books after a certain point as they were no longer necessary. However, that means she references WitchVox (a defunct website that used to be helpful for finding fellow witches nearby) and no books other than her own that were published in this decade (the newest is from 2008). This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, as Wicca itself has a core of beliefs that haven’t changed since its introduction to the public, but Witchcraft has evolved and changed in so many ways that these aged resources don’t represent the variety and depth of information now available in print.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

When Witches talk about the power of words, it is another facet of the idea that what you put out into the universe is what you get back.

The goddess loves you. Even when other people let you down, the goddess accepts you just the way you are. She doesn’t care that you aren’t perfect. She doesn’t care what color or size or age you are, whether you are gay or straight or bi or asexual. No matter what gender you were born to, if you consider yourself a woman, so does She.

And when I feel powerless or frustrated or angry, I can listen to the rain and the wind and remember that in the smallest element, there can be found the potential for incredible power. After all, a drop of rain seems innocuous until it becomes a flood, and a gentle breeze can change into a tornado that wipes out everything in its path. We may seem as tiny as a single drop of rain, but together, we can move mountains.

Is it worth the coin?

No – There are plenty of well-written books on Wicca, including many focused on specific traditions within Wicca itself. This book is just too broad in its focus to be useful, especially with the lack of current resources for a new witch to look into after reading.

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Hunted by the Sky” by Tanaz Bhathena

Full Title: Hunted by the Sky
Author: Tanaz Bhathena
Published: Upcoming Release Date – June 23, 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genres: Young Adult, Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction & Dystopian Romance
Edition Details: 384 pages, Hardcover
Source: {Advance Readers’ Edition}
Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

This is a spoiler-free review. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

The gods of reading took pity on me, and I once again found a book in my Facebook feed. Fierce Reads promoted this novel via ads that allowed viewers to request an advanced readers’ edition. After reading the description, I had to take a chance:

Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.

Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl—Gul—in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance—and discovers a magic he never expected to find.

Dangerous circumstances have brought Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort…a world with secrets deadlier than their own.

Added to that, the book is specifically mentioned that it explores identity, class struggles, and a world inspired by medieval India. I couldn’t resist!

Positive Bits

As someone who enjoys YA, I still find myself frustrated by characters who act a little too immature or naive. Thankfully, Gul and Cavas (the main characters of our story) manage to find that balance between youthful folly and energetic luck.

The chapters pivot between the viewpoints of Gul (female) and Cavas (male), which is one of my favorite methods of telling a multi-POV story. We even get a chapter at the end in the POV of an antagonist who will obviously be around for book 2.

The magic and beings in Ambar are built well, obviously steeped in a familiarity with mythology and a heavy dose of creativity. I admire the way Bhathena sketch out our experience, using a first person POV to allow us to really experience each location ourselves.

I love a good revenge scheme, especially if nothing goes according to plan. I won’t say more, as I’m not willing to share any spoilers, but I enjoyed being wrong about where the story takes us.

Less Enjoyable Bits

Some of the side characters should’ve been given more depth, in my opinion. The story isn’t made less by their flatness, but I think it could’ve been made even richer if we saw more of those people.

For example, the three main people Gul interacts with from the Sisters of the Golden Lotus are slightly 3-D, but I found myself disappointed to not get more out of their backstories and actions. We get bits and pieces, enough for their presence to make sense and be important, but we don’t get a full picture of their character.

I also wish more characters were given depth, largely because that tends to leave you wondering who is important to the plot. It’s not essential, but I prefer a little less lead-by-the-hand reading. When there are multiple fleshed out characters, you end up guessing (and sometimes being wrong about) who will play a key role in the story. When only a handful of specific people get full descriptions, you know they’re the important players and all of the guess work is lost. (Again, that’s a personal preference.)

Tidbits Worth Repeating*

* Without spoiling the plot, but giving you a taste of the mood…

“You have to eat sometime, princess.”

I look up from the plate full of lotus sabzi, dal, and rice and into Amira’s dark eyes.

“No one cares, do they?” I ask. “About girls like us.”

Something shifts in her gaze, something I don’t quite understand. “Eat,” she says again before leaving the room.

I don’t.

One kindness for another, the mammoth tells me as I cling to it. You did not let me die in the market; I will not let you fall.

Do not judge yourself too harshly, Savak-putri Gulnaz. Subodh’s voice feels like a gentle breeze in my mind. I am older than you are and have made mistakes that are even bigger. There are always ways to make amends. 

Is it worth the coin?

Yes! I recommend this book if you like big worlds based on various real world cultures (other than European). I’ll be keeping an eye out for book 2.

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Sadie” by Courtney Summers

Full Title: Sadie
Author: Courtney Summers
Published: Upcoming Release Date – September 4, 2018 by Wednesday Books
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense
Edition Details: 320 pages, hardcover
Source: {Advance Readers’ Edition}
Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

This is a spoiler-free review. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

I actually ran across this book in my Facebook feed, as an ad that asked interested readers to sign up for a copy. Mind you, I assumed it’d be a drawing for a handful of lucky people. Instead, I got an email telling me to be ready for my copy to arrive in the mail!

That said, I will point out that I didn’t request a copy just because I wanted a free book. I was intrigued by the first lines I read about Sadie:

I’m going to kill a man.

I’m going to steal the light from his eyes.

I want to watch it go out.

You aren’t supposed to answer violence with more violence but sometimes I think violence is the only answer.

Positive Bits

As someone who normally reads romance and fantasy novels, I wasn’t sure a thriller (YA or not) would be up my alley. I was wrong! The pace and storyline are set in such a way that I think almost anyone could enjoy it. After all, my main complaint against thrillers and true crime stories is usually related to an overabundance of graphic detail; Summers managed to avoid that without minimizing the core crimes at play in this plot.

I’m a sucker for interesting new ways to tell a story. In Sadie this plays out in a pattern of interwoven podcast scripts and chapters in Sadie’s perspective (written in first person). It kept me tied up in the story without having to give me too many nitty gritty details all at once. It actually reminded me of episodes from true crime shows, where the narrator gets you interested and then they reenact different sections of their story as the episode plays out.

I’ll be honest. This book is the kind of story that I personally end up hate-reading. Like, I absolutely despised what was happening, but I had to know how things turned out. I love a story that’s strong enough to drag you in against your will and make you stay.

Less Enjoyable Bits

There were times I was a little frustrated with the limitations of a Sadie POV scene, because it would end abruptly and not pick up at the same point the next time we rejoined her. Most of the switches were spaced in acceptable moments of flux, like getting back on the road or getting a new piece of information. But one or two just seemed to leave the reader hanging for no good reason.

I’m trying not to give any spoilers, so I’ll just say this. Even a well-written story about a bad man doing bad things to people involves a bad man doing bad things to people. It turns your stomach, as it should. Nothing was graphic, but as a reader less accustomed to thrillers and their bookish kin, parts of the story made me uncomfortable in a way I’m not used to experiencing.

My last note? I like my stories to end with every single string of plot tied into a tidy knot. But that’s a personal preference.

Tidbits Worth Repeating*

* Without spoiling the plot, but giving you a taste of the mood…

Girls go missing all the time.

Restless teenage girls, reckless teenage girls. Teenage girls and their inevitable drama.

West McCray [Studio]:

I spent the weekend with my daughter and she could tell something was wrong. I didn’t want to let her out of my sight, but at the same time, I almost couldn’t bear to look at her.

But love is complicated, it’s messy. It can inspire selflessness, selfishness, our greatest accomplishments and our hardest mistakes. It brings us together and it can just as easily drive us apart.

It can drive us.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – if you’re into thrillers and crime shows. I wouldn’t read this book again, at least not the same way I read and reread my favorite romance stories. But I’m definitely recommending this book to my wife, whose growing collection of true crime novels could use a new addition.