Posted in [poetry]

Hestia [poem]

the thrones came with our victory
after the wild titans fell to Zeus’ lightning
and proud Athena’s shield
I didn’t play much of a role in the war
my duty is to the Eternal Flame
without which none of us could exist
mortal and god equally reliant on its sacred fire
it was Dionysus who finally noticed
how I avoided my seat among my siblings
how I left to tend the nearest hearth as an excuse
how I never wanted power in the first place
only purpose
he took my place amongst them
no selfless act but a kindness just the same
Dionysus gained validation amongst his kin
I gained freedom from their constant web of games
even after all these centuries
after temples grew silent and sacrifices grew scarce
somehow the Eternal Flame still burns
I guess my efforts haven’t been in vain
perhaps that is why
even the gods themselves pay homage to me
first and last in all proceedings
for I have kept the fire
when all else has faded to ash
and memory

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “Lore” by Alexandra Bracken

Full Title: Lore
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Published: January 2021 by Disney Hyperion
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult, Greek Mythology, Roman Mythology, Contemporary Fantasy
Edition Details: 576 pages, hardcover
Source: ARC via NetGalley
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’m a sucker for anything involving a revised version of mythology, particularly Greek mythology. So when I saw this book on NetGalley while browsing for advanced copies to request, I couldn’t resist. The idea that some of the gods were being punished with a hunt in mortal bodies sounded gritty and exciting!

Positive Bits

The slow feed of information on the Agon and the people within it was done well. There weren’t a bunch of info dumps to slug through while reading; instead, the details were woven into the story and explained as needed within the context of the story. It helped that one of the main characters isn’t part of the Agon’s world, so we gain lots of explanations via his questions to the other characters.

I enjoyed Athena’s role in the story. As the goddess of strategy and reason, her choices made sense the way you’d expect a deity to consider choices (as opposed to a mortal person). The other gods were interesting in their own ways, but she held a unique place in Lore’s adventure.

An overall theme of being raised within a culture and wanting to leave it played well into the plot, from start to finish. It echoed a familiar thread seen in people who leave certain churches or political factions for their own well-being, and thus it really hit home how lost Lore felt and how hard the entire experience was for her.

Less Enjoyable Bits

Maybe it was just me, but I was left confused several times in the beginning. While the book is written in third person following Lore’s point of view the entire time, there are moments when the scene slips out of focus. I think part of that had to do with reading too fast in sections that included explanations of this Agon event and the world-within-our-world in which it occurs.

Some plot points disappointed me, largely due to the letdowns between culture and choices made by various side characters. If you live in a culture were honor and glory are key to everything, I don’t understand how betrayal of your people fits into that picture. Ever. So sometimes I was left scratching my head and wondering how choices made sense.

I had envisioned a different ending (or two, or three). There’s nothing wrong with the ending that we got, but I personally hoped for more. And without spoiling anything, I had hoped that the person with Poseidon’s power would be more involved in the story. They were mentioned enough to seem important, but then they came and went from the actual plot with little fanfare.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Fear is a foreign land I shall never visit and a language that will never cross my tongue. [ebook – 33%]

Monsters lived in the shadows. To hunt them, you couldn’t be afraid to follow. And the only way to destroy them was to have the sharper teeth and the darker heart. [ebook – 58%]

I was born knowing how to do three things – how to breathe, how to dream, and how to love you. [ebook – 83%]

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – This book is an action-packed reimaging of the Greek gods, and I think it’s worth a read. I can’t help but wonder if the author will release any similar myth-based stories in the future, because I’d grab them too!

Posted in [poetry]

Nephele [poem]

I imagine that it’s hard
being a nymph so far from your sisters
that sometimes you feel yourself
evaporating into nothingness and think
this time is the last time
you get to say goodbye
I imagine that you miss your home so much
that you can’t resist falling to pieces
your flesh turned rain
for a chance to touch the earth again
I imagine you know how fleeting life is
when yours is a constant cycle of condensation
and precipitation
and never holding still
your distant cousins live inside of gargantuan groves
the centuries passing at a slow and steady clip
while you exist in a constant state of flux
I imagine no two winds have even felt the same
across your insubstantial skin

Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “The Boneless Mercies” by April Genevieve Tucholke

Full Title: The Boneless Mercies
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Published: October 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genres: Fiction, YA Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, High Fantasy, Mythology Retold
Edition Details: 352 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: {4/5 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

This book has been on my TBR list for ages, but I kept putting it back in an effort to avoid buying too many new books when my pile of unread books is already unmanageable. And yet, when our local book club asked for suggestions on books to read, I immediately thought of this one. It gave me an excuse to finally buy it!

Positive Bits

This world is harsh but beautiful. The fact that the Mercies and their trade are needed, that people would pay to die at their hands, tells you something about the kind of reality they live in. And yet, each death we witness has its beauty. Even the deaths of “bad” people are done in such a way as to be a mercy killing, so that we walk away with the feeling that death is both a kindness and an inevitability.

I adored the variety of girls involved in the Mercies, particularly when their origins come out during the course of the story. Letting each girl be so different while remaining so close spoke to me, and they felt real compared to a gaggle of photocopy children running wild together. Each girl played an important role toward the finale of the story, all feeding into the plot with their actions. Juniper is my favorite from start to finish, particularly as her story is told.

The end left me both satisfied and a little sad. Without ruining it, I can only say that I had hoped each girl would get to make different choices for their futures after leaving behind the Mercies. More than once, though, we see them at a fork in the road without an obvious path to choose; as we follow them down their choice, we can see all of the potential futures they left behind. The fact that each choice feels like a reasonable one is what makes this book so good!

Less Enjoyable Bits

This book never mentioned that it’s a retelling of Norse mythology or a clever twist on Beowulf. The blurbs mention it, but I honestly skip blurbs on covers out of irritation; I prefer a proper book description rather than snippets of someone’s opinion. Honestly, the mythological tie-ins are a bonus rather than a notch against this book, but they should’ve been part of the marketing.

While it doesn’t bother me, the book does run light on the descriptive imagery. We get an introduction to each person and location with vaguely sketched lines, and then we move on with the plot. For some, that means more space for our imaginations to run amok. But for others, this might be an issue.

There’s a romantic subplot that’s woven throughout the book, only to have no real payout. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was a letdown. If it had been treated as a small detail, the lack of follow through would’ve been just fine. When it’s brought up often enough to feel very important, you kind of need to make something out of it by the ending. Added to that, there’s an almost sapphic energy between the Mercies that’s never explained or explored – another disappointment and, at least in my opinion, a missed opportunity.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Glory. I wanted to touch it. Taste it. I wanted it so deeply I thought my heart would swell up, claw its way out of me, and float away on the wind, cawing like a Sea Witch raven, a prayer caught in its beak.

I’d experienced joy before. Not often, but enough to know what it was, enough to ache for it late at night when I sat quietly beside the fire. Joy was different from peace, though. Peace was slower, calmer, and lasted longer. I hadn’t know this kind of tranquility could exist.

We didn’t speak. There was no need. I felt her heart against mine, and it sang the same sad song.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I will always recommend a good retelling of mythology or folktales! This weaving of magic and Norse-flavored myth is perfect for someone with little familiarity of the base materials.

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] “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 [poetry], [witchcraft & wonder]

werewolf troubles [poem]

they don’t like it when you growl
teeth glinting in the moonlight
they don’t like to be reminded of their place
because humans think themselves predator rather than prey
they don’t like being made to tremble
at the sound of a distant howl
they don’t like cowering in their homes after sunset
you don’t care what they like though
because they seem to like you just fine
when you walk in human skin
as if you’re safe to be around
just because the moon isn’t quite full

Posted in [witchy reviews]

[Witchy Review] “The Holy Wild” by Danielle Dulsky

Full Title: The Holy Wild: A Heathen Bible for The Untamed Woman
Author: Danielle Dulsky
Published: September 2018 by New World Library
Genres: Nonfiction, Wicca, Gaia-based Religions, Comparative Religion, Spirituality
Edition Details: 304 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

First Glance

To be candid, I bought this book based on the cover. My mate and I have matching hoodies with that wolf-woman image on it, and I couldn’t resist taking a closer look at a book with the same art on the cover. Since it was in the New Age section, I took a chance and grabbed it without looking up reviews or skimming the contents.

Positive Bits

Right off the bat, let me applaud Dulsky for how easily equality slipped into the story. Even though the title would imply this book is focused on cisgender folks, she immediately makes it clear (less than a dozen pages in) that she chose to emphasize the pronoun She/Her while seeing that divinity as “irrefutably pan-gender”. Again and again, she makes it clear that all feminine-leaning folk are welcome, regardless of physical form, to include mentioning their ability to use a Prayer for the Energetic Womb without having a physical womb (as it is about the energies of creation). This isn’t a common practice in books, which are either actively cisgender in their focus or passively so.

The writing portions throughout the book encourage you to write your own mythology, and to recognize the God-Goddess-Mystery within yourself in each story. As a writer myself, I find guided journaling to be an important tool for spiritual growth. The appendix at the end includes further questions and meditations to ponder, all of which fit in nicely with the path she outlines throughout the book.

I think there’s a lot of beauty in the poetic-prose Dulsky used to tell her tale. She built the book to be used out of order, and it shows in the way she allowed each elemental section to stand alone in its own story.

Less Enjoyable Bits

As someone who has never been a Christian, I have a hard time connecting to biblical stories. Unfortunately, the main myth that’s retold in each section is based on a feminine figure from the Bible. Salome, Mary Magdalene, Lilith – they all have interesting pasts and are retold with a beautiful shift to the focus of each story, but I’m not familiar enough with the Christian mythos to really connect with them on the level Dulsky likely hoped I would.

Another issue came in the form of an unexplained reference to “the Red Road”. After getting about 50 pages in, I finally looked onto for what she might be talking about. I assumed it was Christian, but it actually comes from a loose interpretation of various Native American beliefs. Considering how often it came up, I’m surprised to say she never explained it from start to end.

I don’t think this book is made to be read in one sitting. I read it all at once, and the poetic-prose became a little foggy after too much flowery imagery. If you read it in pieces over a few days, though, I think that’d be mellowed out to something more enjoyable.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

I am sucking the poison of patriarchy and privilege out of the soil and spitting it moonward, for these are the dire days of the fallen kings and raising queens. – page 44

There are few things in this world that cause more anguish than realizing that you are not who you thought you were, and, quite often, such a realization comes on the heels of a great wounding. The sword of the Dark Goddess hits us in the belly, the seat of our sense of self, and forces us to release the parts of our outward identities, the masks we show the world, that have become restrictive to our souls, the truest parts of ourselves. – page 130

The skeleton of any spell is formed from intention and energy raising, with its specific shape, the flesh laid over the bones, sculpted from the infusion of energy into the intention. – page 193

Is it worth the coin?

Yes(ish) – if you’re looking for a guide on exploring your ties to divinity and your personal mythos, I think this is a great starting point. If you’re looking to explore goddess worship, I’d find a simpler and more focused resource.

Posted in [poetry], [witchcraft & wonder]

siren’s song [poem]

do you hear the insistent rhythm of my heartbeat drum
or the melody of my breath?
do you feel it crawling under your skin
like the ink of a new tattoo
a permanent mark in the making?
do you worry
wonder if this siren song is just a trap plainly seen
or a clever ruse to distract you?
do you see it?
everything you need is reflected
on the surface of the waters
waiting
for you to reach in and
succumb to the lure of the ocean

Posted in [poetry], [witchcraft & wonder]

an underworld spirit [poem]

I’ve come to realize that I’m both
an old soul in a young body and
a new soul just learning how to be alive
meaning there are times
when the only people I relate to
are those with enough years and experience
to be my grandparents
sometimes I’m incredibly confused
by the choices my peers make
because nothing seems thought through at all
but other times
I’m exuberant with my joy for each moment
each breath a gasp of delight
cheeks aching with a permanent smile
or sometimes I don’t understand
why we can’t all just get along and be happy
it seems so simple
this is the life of an underworld spirit
forever teetering between wise and naive

Posted in [poetry], [witchcraft & wonder]

true names [poem]

to know a name is to hold power
but true names are hard to learn
I mean
it’s like a child trying to understand physics
there are bits and pieces explainable in ways that
anyone could comprehend
but the bigger concepts are impossibly complex
so too is my true name
it’s more than just a sound passing through your lips
it’s the scent of rain after a long dry spell
the sepia tones cast over everything by sunglasses
the sharp bite of a lemon wedge
the relief of a well tucked blanket in winter
my true name is an experience
just like me