Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Pagan Portals--Runes by Kylie Holmes

There is an old saying that there is only one book about the Tarot and that each writer only publishes a few pages from it. I feel the same way about books written about the Elder Futhark--the so-called Norse runes. (Actually, the runes used by the Vikings were the abbreviated sixteen rune--Younger Futhark.) And just like one encounters the same information over and over again in Tarot books (or for that matter, books about the Golden Dawn), one reads the same material over and over again in books about the runes. Therefore, when one reviews a book on one of these subjects, one tends to only focus on the few pages of unique material that the writer includes (because the base-line is almost always the same--as in if you have read one book on the subject, you have read them all).

Pagan Portals--Runes by Kylie Holmes is your typical book on runes--containing historical information on the runes, runic divinatory spreads, how to make your own rune set, basic meanings of the runes, and suggestions of how to use the runes in magic.

So ignoring the standard stuff that finds its way into every book on the runes, what sticks out?

The book is written in a conversational tone, which is common with all the books that I have read so far from this particular publisher--Moon Books. I will admit that I spent too much time in academia to be completely comfortable with the style when it comes to regular books, despite the fact that I spend a lot of my time in the blogosphere (both as a reader and a lunatic with a soapbox). Think of the style as a conversation or a letter to a friend--some people will like the tone; others won't.

In the historical section, the author includes a diagram that shows the graphic difference between the Long Branch (Danish) and Short Twig (Swedish-Norwegian) Younger Futhark runes. That is a plus. And she mentions a few historical figures who studied and kept the lore of the runes alive--figures in rune history that I was not aware of. That is also a plus.

But she also mentions the myth of Odin as if it is historical and not mythical--which touches upon a bugbear that I wish authors would not do, and that is the mixing of mythology with historical fact. And in the section where she talks about the basic meanings of the runes, she mentions on more than one occasion what the Norse ("our ancestors") believed about the runes...without ever stating her source. I suspect that her source is intuition and not a document (because I have never heard of a document covering this information--the field of runelogy is made up of best guesses)--if it is an actual document, I wish that she would have came out and cited it by name and number. The fact that I think that she is playing fast and mixing her opinions with the historical facts is a negative. (Remember that I suffered though a Bachelors in both literature and history--it tends to make me frown at the mixing of personal belief and historical facts without the writer coming straight out and stating which is which.)

Holmes also includes the Anglo-Saxon, Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems (both in their original language and their English translation) in the historical section (this is important and/or nice if you are just want to read a single book on the runes, and not have to collect rune books like I do). And I will admit that she is the first writer on the subject of runes that I can remember coming out and stating that we do not have a poem for the Elder Futhark itself (the aforementioned poems deal with the Anglo-Saxon and Younger Futharks.

Overall, if you are after one book on the subject of the runes, this book is a four out of five stars. If you are like me and own two boxes of books on the subject, it will depend upon on how important the unique bits are in filling holes in your knowledge base.

[This review was based on a pre-publication e-file copy given to me by the publisher for review purposes.]

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Goetia Workbook by S. Connolly (book review)

One of the customs that most working magicians have been taught is the keeping of a magical journal, a record of one's magical experiments and experience. The custom goes back to Dee and Kelley--or at least, that is the point in history that the custom seems to originate from.
Most of us, including myself, just buy a blank composition book or a blank journal and proceed from there. A few suggestions on what to record have been published over the years. In my case, I was using a template that Donald Michael Kraig published in his Modern Magick book for a long time. (My template has moved away from his example, and now looks more like Dee's and Crowley's style than it does Kraig's example.)
Parts of the magical journals of Dee and Crowley have been published. In the case of Dee, there are large sections that are missing because Dee destroyed a lot of his journals to keep them out of the wrong hands (fortunately, some of the sections that he attempted to destroy survived, including a large hunk of the Enochian sessions). I have watched a couple of other working magicians destroy parts of their own magical journals; and over the years, some of my own records have been lost in various moves from residence to residence (it is what happens you do not move everything personally all by yourself).
Given the examples available to us and the cheap option of blank journal books, I never thought that I would ever give a shout-out to any blank magical journal--even a pre-formatted one, considering that the only viable publishing option is the print-on-demand route. (While a traditional publisher could print a pre-formatted blank magical journal cheaper, the truth is that a large part of the print-run would just sit in a warehouse, due to the extremely low demand for such an item...seriously, are there more than a thousand working magicians in the world at any given time?)
The Goetia Workbook by S. Connolly is a pre-formatted blank magical journal for those magicians working their way though the contact process with the Four Kings and the seventy-two Goetic Demons (or Daemons as Connolly prefers to call them--yes, they are a demonolator [daemonolator], one of those magicians who view the traditional spirits contained in the grimoires more as helper spirits than evil gone amok).
The pre-format is nice, simply for making sure that you remember to include all the important bits in your notes. And I like the fact that it has pages for each of the Four Kings and the seventy-two Goetic spirits (yes, I prefer the term "spirits"...which makes me a ?!?!). There is a space provided for any additional sigils that the spirit gives the magician, and a space to note if blood was offered (I personally use milk mixed with certain herbs as a substitute), et cetera. There is also a brief description of the powers and precautions for each spirit--my favorite being "Sitri is a lust demon and causes men and women to be passionate and get naked around one another."
But let's be honest the pre-formatting alone is not enough to justify a shout-out, so why am I suggesting that a working magician might want to consider shelling out money for something that they could do cheaper? The simple fact that you can get it as a paperback from Amazon and a hardcover from Lulu--the latter being what I would prefer. And why would that be important?
Quite simply because it has been my experience that the most important and significant encounter that one has with any given spirit is the initial contact. The basis of your entire relationship with a spirit can often be determined (typically with a lot of hindsight) from that first initial working. Therefore, with something like a run though the seventy-two Goetic spirits, one wants to make sure that the record of your working is going to be as permanent as you can get it.  
Yes, this shout-out is based simply upon the fact that I think that a working magician needs to ensure that their notes with certain operations, such as the initial contact with the Goetia, is set in as permanent form as one can accomplish. Did you really expect more from me? After all, I am a blogger who uses other people's work as an excuse to talk about things that I consider important (if you did not catch what this review is really about, re-read it again looking for the sole sentence that the entry is built around).
[This review is based on a preview file that the author lent to me.]

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Modern Celt--Seeking the Ancestors (Mabh Savage)

A caution must be issued right up front about this book: this is not a book of lore or ritual/personal techniques. If that is what you are after, this book will not fit your needs. A Modern Celt--Seeking the Ancestors (Mabh Savage) is a "fire-side chat" book; it is a rather informal collection of the author's experiences, tales from her family, and accounts from her friends about experiences gained by coming into contact with the lore and deities of the Ancient Celtic people.

For those people who have experienced the fire-side chat mode, that time after a ritual or lesson when you are sitting around a bonfire (or in the case of lodge members--during the after-ritual dinner) talking to your teacher and fellow students and seekers, the style of this book will be familiar. It is a rather informal book, one that my professors in college and university would have imploded upon reading. It is a step above gossip, generally on the level of the stories that one tells when one's coven (study group or lodge) has became a familial unit of sorts.

This style may be strange to those who have been practicing and studying by themselves, or who have gotten involved in the "strict lodge" setting where students are forced to hang out only with others of their particular grade and degree of knowledge. Hint: the fire-side chat mode is the start of the oral traditions that one hears about.

This book is not heavy on knowledge or techniques. It is a retelling of personal stories. And it will be a comfort for those who have experienced similar events, and educational for those with open minds who have not. I think that the book is worthwhile reading, despite the lack of spoon-fed lore and techniques; but I imagine that there will be readers who take issue with the book because of the lack of information and detail in it (one cannot say that I did not try to warn them off).

Is the information that is given accurate? This is a hard question to answer, at least for me; I am not an expert in Celtic paganism. But I do have a benchmark to attempt to hazard a guess, and that is how the author treats the Celtic Tree Calendar. For those who do not know, the Celtic Tree Calendar was created almost completely out of thin air by Robert Graves during the "paganism has survived underground, and my wild theories is what the ancient pagans actually thought" mode of the pagan revival (the Golden Dawn of the 1880s and the Wiccan books of Gerald Gardner are other examples of that particular stage of the pagan revival). Basically, there is no evidence to indicate that the Ancient Celts used such a fixed calendar, not alone the one that Robert Graves expounded upon.

There are three modes of dealing with the Celtic Calendar: 1) insisting on the truth of it...mainly because one loves the idea that paganism survived underground clear up to the start of the pagan revival; 2) completely abandoning it...because only actual Celtic practices should be used; and 3) splitting the difference...acknowledging the fact that Graves made the Celtic Tree Calendar up, yet using the result because it serves a purpose.

Mabh Savage belongs to the splitting the difference camp. She acknowledges the fictional nature of the Celtic Tree Calendar, and then proceeds to gather some actual tree and plant lore from the Ancient Celts to illustrate that Graves was not pulling it completely out of thin air and that there might be a grain of usefulness in the Celtic Tree Calendar. As someone who belongs to a group that does much the same with the Celtic Tree Calendar, I like that approach (the group that I belong to uses the Celtic Tree Calendar because it needed a Celtic knowledge system that could be represented in diagram form...it is a lodge thing).

Overall, given the fact that book is meant to be, essentially a set of fire-side style stories about how modern Celts are interacting with the deities and practices of the Ancient Celts, I give it five out of five stars. (It would suffer a loss of at least one star if one decided to judge it based on lore or techniques--something that the book is not really about.)

[Disclosure: This review is based on a pre-publication version provided by the publisher.]

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Immersion Mastery (Zack Jezek)

Immersion Mastery by Zack Jezek was a hard book for me to finish. I abandoned it several times since starting to read it in November. I only finished it though sheer force of will.

One of my problems with the book is sheer amount of bragging that the author engages in; he is proud of the fact that he became a Reiki master and Mayan shaman at age ten, and that he is also a NLP master and a professional skate boarder. Jezek wrote this book at the ripe old age of nineteen. Yes, this book brought back flashbacks from earlier in my esoteric career, for I acquired a high degree far too young and said some damn stupid things earlier in my life believing that I actually knew what I was talking about. Maybe Jezek will be different, but I personally find my earliest writings as an esoteric leader and teacher to be almost physically painful to read.

While I agree with Jazek's opinion that his generation are the leaders of the future, I do not necessarily agree with him that his generation is any more unique than any previous generation. Sure, they have their own set of brand-new problems which young adults have never seen before, but a lot of generations have been able to say that statement.

So is there anything worthwhile in this book? And will it appeal to teen and twenty-somethings?

Yes, it will appeal to his own generation who will believe that they are somehow special and that their problems and disadvantages are actually assets and special abilities. And yes, I do believe that attention and compulsive disorders can be assets--history is full of famous people who today would be labeled ADHD/ADD and/or OCD. In fact, I would probably be labeled with an attention disorder if I would have went though high school five years later than I did (ADHD was just being a bad kid when I was in school)--not that I will ever be famous, yet these things are a daily part of my own life to a certain extent. But Jezek lays it on so thick, it is like a commercial to remain immature forever.

And maybe the book does have some worthwhile stuff in it. But it is buried deep in feel good talk aimed at making teen and twenty-somethings believe that they are perfectly ok just the way that they are. I am not sure Jezek is going to feel the same way when he is forty.

As for esoteric techniques talked about in this book (after all, I review esoteric and New Age books), there is a version of the "grounding as a tree" mediation, some game console based mental reprogramming techniques, a watered down version of the immersion method (my regular readers will know this better as magical boot camp or power week), and a hint of the chaos magic technique of interchangeable personalities. But they are all so caked in happy talk that quite honestly, I can't imagine anyone over the age of thirty being able to tolerate this book; or for that matter, any parent that has been exposed to the techniques in a different setting. And there are better sources for each and every one of the exercise and techniques, or at least better written ones (Jezek is far away from being a good writer).

I am giving this a weak two stars out of five.

[Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book though a Goodreads First Reads drawing.]

Monday, August 19, 2013

Candy Crush Saga Guide Advanced Edition (Tyler Davis & Emily Jackson)

Candy Crush Saga [Player] Guide: Ultimate Advanced Edition, by Tyler Davis and Emily Jackson, is a follow-up of the previous game guide that they did for beginners to intermediate players. Starting off with a list of what they included in the first guide (but careful not to give away the actual contents), they then proceed to give hints on how to deal with the obstacles of the tornadoes, chocolates, and time bomb makers, as well as giving general hints for jelly and ingredient levels.

This ebook focuses on what the authors consider the most difficult of the game. A quick list of the levels that they give hints for: 77; 135; 138; 269; 275; 285; 342; and level 417.

Like their preceding Candy Crush Saga game guide, this book consists of general play hints, and not how crack the game level by level (even the levels mentioned are left to the player to completely figure out).

The writing in this ebook is clearer than the last one, but occasionally it still irked me. And in this one, I found myself annoyed by the number of cheerleading statements the authors made about the worth of the ebook. Such cheerleading makes me wonder if the authors on some level suspect that their game guide is a little weak in content.

The authors also assume in one place that you are able to play Candy Crush Saga both on Facebook and on your phone; this is not true in my case (I currently do not have a phone with the ability to play the game on...yes, I am still living in the Stone Age in many ways).

I am giving this four out of five stars, but it is a weak four.

[Disclosure: I grabbed this game guide on an Amazon free day that one of the authors told me about though Goodreads.]

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Candy Crush Saga Player Guide--Fire HD Version (Tyler Davis & Emily Jackson)

The Candy Crush Saga Player Guide--Beginner to Intermediate Version (Fire HD Version) by Tyler Davis and Emily Jackson, as its full title says, is meant for those who are in the early stages of the Candy Crush Saga. My Facebook friends know that I am in the lower 200s on the game, so the question is: Did I find anything useful in this guide? Yes. But first, let's treat this game guide on its proper level--beginner to intermediate players.

I would have found this game guide useful when I was a beginner, just starting the game. I blew a lot of games learning some of the basic information in this game guide. And I had many of a moment of "What the heck is that?" and "How do I get rid of that obstacle?" as I progressed though the levels of Candy Crush Saga. So I believe that it would be useful for its intended audience.

My only complaint about the game guide is that some of the writing is a touch unclear (hence four stars instead of five). Please note that this game guide does not give specifics to beat particular levels; if that is what you are looking for, then you want to give this one a miss and head directly for Google. This is an overview book.

Now, as an advanced player (or I like to think that I am advanced, considering that I am in the lower 200s level-wise), did I find anything of value in this guide? Yes.

For instance because of my current budget, I can't afford to buy charms and boosters, so it was nice to have a reminder of what the various charms and boosters do in the game. Also a couple of the candy types mentioned, Frozen and Rainbow, I had not encountered yet at the time of my reading of this ebook (since my initial reading of this game guide, I have encountered the Frozen Candies). There is also an obstacle mentioned in the preview of the advanced game guide (which will get its own separate review...probably tomorrow or the day after that), the Tornado, that I have yet to see in game play.

And to amuse all my friends, it was not until I read this guide that I realized the pattern behind the formation of the horizontal and vertical stripped candies. I thought that it might be random, but I could never be bothered enough to go Google it. I might be a little thick, or just stubborn.

Anyways, I did find some useful information in this short game guide (it is short), so I am giving it four out of five stars (as I mentioned before, some of the writing is a touch unclear and therefore, I don't feel that I can give it a full five stars--call me a picky Virgo or a nasty ex-literature student if you want).

[Disclosure: I received a review copy of this game guide from one of the authors, who contracted me though Goodreads.]

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Flash review of Commentaries on the Golden Dawn Flying Rolls

Just realized that I have not posted my quick video post (flash review) of the most recent book about Golden Dawn--Commentaries on the Golden Dawn Flying Rolls by the Golden Dawn Community. So here it is.

[Full disclosure: One of the commentaries in the book was written by me; but considering that the royalties from the writers are going to the Golden Dawn Legal Defense Fund, I do not profit if you buy a copy of the book. And as I noted in my review, if you do not like the existence of the Golden Dawn Legal Defense Fund, just don't buy the book.]

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lilith--A Snake in the Grass (Jack L. Chalker)

Lilith: A Snake in the Grass (by Jack L. Chalker) is the first book in the Four Lords of the Diamond series. The series takes place in the future where a galactic Confederation has expanded to cover a third of the galaxy. The population is breed to be legally average, and only on the expanding frontier is random genetics and culture allowed to flourish. The reason that the frontier is allowed an element of chaos is to prevent the human race from ceasing to develop its advances. Interestingly enough, this does not completely eliminate crime; and given the fact that criminals are often the brightest of humanity, the Confederacy needs a secure place to imprison those criminals that might still make a brilliant advancement without having to worry about them escaping.

This secure place is the Warden Diamond, a solar system with four habitable planets and a rather nasty problem. Once you set foot on one of the planets in the Warden Diamond, you cannot ever leave the solar system, thanks to an organism that infects all matter in the Diamond system. But with the bad comes the good, for the organism allows for the development of special powers--the abilities dependent upon what planet you first set foot on.

Into this perfect prison system enters an unknown alien race with advanced technology, a definite danger to the Confederacy. To send an agent into the Warden Diamond is condemning them to a life sentence of imprisonment in the Diamond solar system. But the Confederacy has developed the ability to record the personality and experiences of a person, and imprint this set of memories into another's mind. Furthermore, it allows the Confederacy not only the ability to send an agent into the Diamond, the technology allows them to send the same master agent to all four Warden worlds inside four different bodies.

In Lilith: A Snake in the Grass, we are introduced to the first world of the Warden Diamond system, Lilith, and to the nameless agent that is imprinted onto four bodies condemned to be imprisoned in the Diamond system. Much of the book is about the agent overcoming the shock of being sent into the Diamond (in a new body), learning to control the Warden organism which on Lilith does not allow items that are not natural to survive unless a powerful mind overrides nature's model, and realizing that the new body changes the mind of the agent. In the end, the agent is shaken by the recorded experiences of his mind-cloned counterpart, and we are not given many clues about the alien menace (or so, we think at this point in the series).

I have read this book several times over the years. And it is a series that I have grown to admire more and more over the years as my skill as a writer and literary critic has grown. For instance, this reading I found myself admiring the first sentence of the novel: "The little man in the synthetic tweed jacket didn't look like a bomb." It is an accurate description of the first few paragraphs of the novel, and our first encounter with the technology of the alien menace. And honestly, I wish that I could come up with opening sentences for my own writing that was as good as this sentence.

I recommend this book to science fiction fans. Five out of five stars.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Let's Pretend This Never Happened (Jenny Lawson)

I first discovered Jenny Lawson's writing though her blog--The Bloggess. I must admit that she occasionally writes the way I think. Which is probably not a good thing. I tend to blame my family for that...and the fact that I once fell off a roof and my father and his friends laughed for an hour (after making sure that I was all right--"Just walk it off!"). And given how Jenny writes about her family, I feel like we are kindred spirits.

I do find it fascinating that I am referring to her as Jenny. I normally refer to writers by their last names. But then again, I believe that if I wrote a book about my upbringing, she would refer to me by my first name because people who can look at one another and say, "You just can't make stuff up like this about your family" tend to treat one another on a first name basis.

And while some readers might be tempted to rack up some of these stories to an overactive imagination, I am less inclined to do so...because I have stories that are just as traumatic and weird. And so do my sisters.

One of the things that I found extremely humorous was the ongoing notes from "the editor." This is something I am sure was created out of thin air; but it was darn funny, so who cares. Again, it hits a little close to home (I once had a publisher ask me not to mention my cats in my brief bio...but they are my beta readers--as in I read to them and they nap though the reading).

Anyways, enough digression, I recommend Jenny Lawson's "Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir)" to anyone who has a family that you have stories about that end with "And you can't make this stuff up."

(Five out of five stars.)

[I proudly brought this book at my local bookstore, The Tattered Cover, where I gushed that I read Jenny's blog all the time.]

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Composting by Bob Flowerdew

One of the Bob's Basics books, Composting is obviously about composting, building bins, mixing debris to create the perfect mix to easily compost, etc. The most important thing I learned from the book, oh yeah, dear Dad was doing it wrong. And considering I learned my gardening skills from Dad (and less so, from my mom), I am also doing it wrong. Opps, well, at least, I now know better.

It is actually not surprising that both me and my Dad are guilty of composting in the wrong way. After all, we both learned though example, and in conditions where compost bins were frowned upon. Essentially we learned to use trenches (which Bob Flowerdew calls a lazy way) and a single bin. I am not sure what my neighbors, or my wife for that matter, will think if I set up an additional bin--and I think that I really two more after reading this book.

One thing that this book has talked me out of is the idea that the small rotary (self-mixing) and "dalek" bins will do any good given the amount of plant debris that I have to deal with. If I am understanding the mechanics of composting properly, they are just not big enough to generate enough heat to properly cook the compost, as well as lacking proper air circulation. This bit of information probably saved me some money--I say "probably" because there always seem to be better things to spend the money on...I am never sure what I would do if I actually had money to spare.

So I am hoping that the information in this book helps me. Time will tell. I did reset my compost bin today, and utilized some of the information from this book.

On a sidenote, my wife has read a few pages of this book also, and she finds it interesting. That counts for a lot.

I am giving this book five stars.

[This book was brought at Tattered Cover, a local Denver bookstore. It was found on the bargain shelves.]

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Words (1982) by Paul Dickson

Words: A Connoisseur's Collection of Old and New, Weird and Wonderful, Useful and Outlandish Words (1982) by Paul Dickson is a collection of words--literally, a collection of words. And just like the author, I must admit that I collect words. I think that most writers collect words; after all, words are our stock in trade.

I brought this book in an used book store years and years ago. It was probably Capital Hill books; the penciled three dollar price on end page is a reminder of how much I paid for the book. My copy is well-used; the spine of the paperback (a Dell tradeback) is cracked in the middle, leaving the book in two parts; still I hang onto it, not wanting to throw away my old friend.

Inside of it are chapters are collections of words that relate to the military, drinking, and how to describe someone who is drunk, some medical words, and a lot of areas that I initially would not have realized had specialized vocabularies. There is even a chapter of words relating to prophecy and divination, which inspired me to create my own such list of divinatory words.

If you can find a copy of this, and love the curious words that the English language, buy it. I am not sure if it is in print anymore, but I am not parting with my copy--sorry.

[I gave this book a five star rating on Goodreads.]

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bad Monkey removed from Apple iBookstore

Bad Monkey cannot be brought in the Apple iBookstore.
[File this post under: Mysteries about the business world I will never know or understand.]

As most of my regular readers know, I write a monthly column for the Hearthstone Community Church ("The OFM people") which I later collect into 99 cent ebooks. One of the collections (the 2011 articles) is called Bad Monkey.

Now, awhile back Bad Monkey was uploaded to Smashwords, and then it made its way though the distribution network. Including the Apple iBookstore. I know--I searched for it--it was available on Apple. Pity, I did not take a screenshot of this fact...

...because it has been removed from Apple.

We have all heard of the difficulties that erotica writers have with the iBookstore. H***, I have experienced them firsthand (under two of the pennames that I wrote erotica under). Now, I am experiencing the same crop of problems as an esoteric/Wicca/pagan writer.

And I will never know why my ebook was pulled from sale by Apple. One of the hazards with using Smashwords to upload my stuff is that I do not get to see the notices that Apple sends out when they remove stuff, or outright reject it. Why am I using Smashwords? Because I do not have an iDevice (yes, you need an Apple computer to upload to the iBookstore directly).

My paranoia says that this is the reason that it was pulled off of the iBookstore. 
But I have a paranoid theory. And it involves another about-to-be published book...also called Bad Monkey. I really hope that I am wrong because if my paranoid theory is right, then if a traditional and very popular writer decides to use a book title that is also being used by an independent (indie) writer, then the indie writer loses part of their stock. Apple would never actually do something like this, right?!

Oh well. Bad Monkey: The Collected 2011 Hearthstone Community Church Articles is still available on Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Year of Little Lesson Plans (Courtney Loquasto)

One of the things that puzzles some people about my library is why do I own parenting and children books when I do not have children of my own...gee, I married a school teacher, and am best friends with someone who writes children stories--of course, I am going to have a certain amount of children and parenting books in my library. There is also the little fact that I occasionally need to remind myself of what certain age groups would know or be learning--it is called being a writer.

That is why I entered a Goodreads contest for the book, Year of Little Lesson Plans: 10 Minutes of Smart, Fun Things to Teach Your Little Ninjas Ages 3-8 Each Weekday (by Courtney Loquasto).

Overall, I agree with the concept of this book. One of my fondest memories is my father teaching me to count change at the dinner table (or was he teaching my sister?). Later in life, working as a cashier, people occasionally were amazed that I can do simple math in my head (in my universe, being able to figure out the correct change without punching it into the register is simple math). And I credit that ability to my father spending time to make sure that I liked learning things. Therefore, I encourage parents to buy books like this.

Now, I did let my wife look at the book (she is a school teacher). She pointed out that a lot of these things were being taught to children in school; she also noted that re-enforcement by the parents was a good thing. But she also spotted something that had made me uncomfortable already--the occasional mention of God and Jesus--please remember that I am a non-Christian; no amount of lessons from my mother changed the fact that my heart belongs to another religion. And the history major in me shuddered occasionally at some of the American myths that were suggested as conversation starters. So with the good things that I see in this book, there is also some things that I feel strongly against.

This book is more good than bad. I think that the lists of subjects and starting points for conversations are good for parents to have. But I do object to the conservative viewpoint (and anything that encourages it) that re-enforces the view that America is the greatest county in the world, and that the only real religion is Christianity--especially for the future generation that has to cope with a global world where America and Christianity are simply one way of looking at things and not the only possible way.

[If you missed it, I won this book in a Goodreads contest.]

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Lady and Her Monsters (Roseanne Montillo)

The book, The Lady and Her Monsters--A Tale of Dissections, Real-Life Dr. Frankensteins, and the Creation of Mary Shelley's Masterpiece (by Roseanne Montillo), is a delightful dance between the history of medicine and the development of one of the best known classics of Gothic and horror fiction, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and how science informed the writing of a literary classic.

For a long time I have wondered about the extent that the body snatchers (such as Burke and Hare), and the doctors that they supplied bodies for, influenced what Mary Shelley wrote. While I would have liked to explore such things while I was in college, the program that I was in reserved such things for students much later in their studies (and I am not even sure if Master level students are allowed to pursue such ideas). Therefore, I greeted my winning of this volume with much delight.

I knew some of the material covered in this book, in terms of broad strokes, but being able to put it all together was something that I was grateful that the author, Roseanne Montillo, helped me to do. Knowing the history brings a new level of understanding to the novel Frankenstein (which I read four times during the course of my college work, besides reading on a couple of occasions previously to getting my twin Bachelor degrees).

Literary and history students familiar with the names Shelley, Godwin, Polidori, and Byron, will gain new insight of those individuals--who occasionally despite their fame, come across as really petty human beings (personal judgment call there). Plus the whole episode from a medical history viewpoint is just fascinating.

Yes, I won this book in a Goodreads contest, and I am glad that I did. My only regret is that I somehow misplaced it for several weeks which delayed my finishing reading the book in a timely manner.

I am giving this book five out of five stars.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Year Without Summer: 1816 (William and Nicholas Klingaman)

As many people know, I actually have two Bachelor degrees--one in history, the other one in literary studies (aka literature). And both of my degrees are generalist degrees; the University of Colorado at Denver is not set up to specialize one's degree (not that I didn't end up with some areas that were more well-known than others). Therefore, I feel that I am the perfect person to review the book, The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History (William K. Klingaman & Nicholas P. Klingaman).

The book starts off with an account of the April 5, 1815 volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora. It is an event that even knowing something of modern meteorology (it was something of a childhood hobby) that I would not immediately associate with the effect on the weather that it caused. And at the time, no one alive had a clue what caused the strange weather that occurred the following summer with cold temperatures, strange rain and snow patterns, followed by vast crop failures; this led to people praying for better weather--if it was to happen today, I would imagine some of the same wild theories that were put forth in 1816 to be dusted off and put forth despite modern science.

In 1816, many of the people that one encounters in Revolutionary History (both American and French) were alive and writing their impressions of the year. So were many of the writers one encounters in Gothic and English literary studies (ex. Jane Austen). In fact, reading this book brings another layer to Frankenstein, a book that I had to read four times during the course of my literature program--I would like to argue that some of the weather that one encounters in that book was actually based on the strange weather of 1816; if nothing else, it caused Mary Shelley to stay inside a lot, something that tends to force writers to work on their craft.

Due to the wideness of my studies, I can see how Klingaman could argue that the events of 1816 had long term effects on politics (for instance, in emigration, and attitudes and governmental policies dealing with poverty). But the long term effects tend not to be well-spelled out by the authors--I am not sure that someone who wasn't exposed to the strange mixture of classes I endured will be able to see the long term effects. Still if one is actually interested in the era, hopefully one can fill in the blanks.

This book quotes heavily from primary sources, and the bibliography is excellent; I was able to easily follow up on something that I became curious about while reading the book. I wish that the book had an index; if I ever have to use the book to support one of my wild theories (either in history or literature), I fear that I might have to re-read the entire book--not that would be a problem, it is just not something you want to have to do while fulfilling your Masters program. (Yes, I know that the Masters program is supposed to be a lot of reading; but considering how much is already piled on one's desk walking in, one wants to have indexes handy.)

In places, I will admit that I was not completely invested in finishing the book, or remembering what it said--it is a history book, of course, it gets dull if you do not already know the players involved. Between the lack of an index and those spots, this book should get only four stars; but the overview of a single year (a little about 1815 and 1817) was generally interesting enough that as soon as my wallet recovers, I suspect that I am going to hunt down other books by William Klingaman--therefore, I am going to give it the full five stars.

[This review was based on an Advance Reader Copy that I won in a Goodreads contest.]

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Scar and the Wolf (Plainfield Press)

I have a question for Plainfield Press: Have you met my god-daughter? I ask because Scarlet does a pretty good impression of her. Or maybe it is that all tweens act the same way. (she is just entering her tweens.) Either way, I had to laugh because Scarlet reminded me of my god-daughter. Especially the idea of having to do chores on your special day.

This is a book that I am surprised actually works. The idea of taking the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood, and making it a story starring zombies, well, I just could not figure out how that was going to work. But it does.

And they are zombies that I actually like. They are funny zombies, and the world has a certain type of logic to it. "Don't eat the [cleaning] beetles." There is also plenty of sentences that I like as a writer...because as writers, we play with words and language. And I laughed at the chapter title: The cloak smelled like squirrel pee--it sounds like something that one of my friends would write.

I would definitely recommend this book...I just not sure that I agree with the grades 3 to 7 label; it feels a touch younger than grade 3 to me. Of course, I imagine that this story would be a hoot to read out loud. If nothing else, it has its gross moments--gross as in "Listen, this is really gross." "Yuck!" So maybe, it is grade 3, or maybe not.

I definitely believe that this story (and the others that are sure to follow) will find a set of loyal readers. I presume that Moldylocks will actually find bears.

I am giving it five stars.

[Disclosure: I received an ebook copy of this book from Plainfield Press.]

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Dictionary of Linguistic Absurdities (ChamberProof)

I got this (A Dictionary of Linguistic Absurdities--by ChamberProof?) on a free day, and honestly even then it might have been overpriced. While I normally like silly dictionary style books, this one seems to be repeating the same blue jokes over and over again. And I do mean blue jokes. There is also the fact that quite a few of them depend upon you knowing British politics to understand, which I don't. My advice is to give this one a miss. It gets a whole one star out of the five.

I'm Sorry I Broke Your Company (Karen Phelan)

One of the frustrating things that I experienced while in the restaurant business was the one size fits all management model. A few times a year, a district manager would come up, perform an inspection, tell you what you were doing wrong (based on your sales figures, the extent that the store was clean, and the previous hour of watching only the best employees). The restaurant would prep for the entire week before such an inspection, cleaning things that had not been cleaned since the last inspection; the very worst employees were conveniently given the day off. And none of the advice, one was given by the district manager could actually be used. As an employee, I hated the whole routine.

I learned to hate the whole routine even more when I became a restaurant manager. I had the misfortune of being in the only location of a restaurant chain located in a business district, rather than a shopping mall. For instance, one would be given the advice to "Sample and coupon. Sample and coupon. Sample and coupon." This advice worked great at the shopping malls. It did not work at all where I was managing--coupons just lowered sales figures; it turns out that all our customers knew where we were already, and therefore it was just the loss of a warm body that you could have used in more productive ways and of lower total ticket sales than you would have got otherwise because the only coupons used were by people who were already coming to buy something.

Nevertheless, the advice of the district manager, or owner of a chain, was considered holy writ...even if you know ahead of time that it would not work. Woe be he who openly pointed out the fact that the advice was unsound for the situation at hand. And talking to my customers, I learned that we were all putting up with such antics.

Karen Phelan, in her book, I'm Sorry I Broke Your Company: When Management Consultants Are the Problem, Not the Solution, basically explains why such antics are put forth by companies as the correct behavior. She also explained why I could not get promoted to restaurant manager without becoming the last man standing--oh, I was less than perfect kitchen help and cashier--ironically, I was a really good manager despite the fact that I was not perfect in the previous positions.

I would recommend  this book to anyone trying to understand why consultants (and district managers) tend to make things worse...or at least, harder to actually accomplish anything. I would also recommend it to anyone who thinks that hiring a business consultant is a magic bullet that is going to increase their bottom line and/or save their business.

I am giving this book five stars.

[Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author in a GoodReads First Reads giveway.]

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Ivanhoe Gambit (Simon Hawke)

There are some books that I periodically re-read, and this book is one of them. It also happens to one of the first books that I brought on my own after leaving home (back in the stone age before ereaders and the internet in every home).

The Ivanhoe Gambit is the first book in the Time Wars series. Set in an universe where time travel has been discovered, Hawke uses famous stories of fiction (such as Ivanhoe and Robin Hood) as historical events. In the case of this book, I have never read the original version of the Ivanhoe story, but I am familiar with the history of the Crusades (more so now than when I first read this novel).

One of the reasons that I like this novel is that it is a good example of the literary equivalent of a television pilot--the hook that sells the rest of the series--one that could have stood alone if necessary. One of the frustrating things about the way that the print market was set up was the fact that a book series lived or died based on the sales of the first book (just like TV decides based on the number of eyeballs that watch a pilot episode); during the 1980s, there were several science fiction series that had only the very first book published. A couple of the series I loved based solely on their initial books, despite the fact that none of the rest of the series were issued...or maybe even written.

And one of the frustrating things about such failed literary series (provided that you are willing to admit science fiction into the literary world) was the number of loose ends that some of those first books left dangling. This is not the case with The Ivanhoe Gambit; outside of one loose end, and it can be read as an actual closure of a loose thread if one pays the "what if no more of the series was published," the book is self-enclosed. One can read this book as a stand-alone book. As such, this book is many ways, my model for what first book in a series should be like.

Given the fact that I have read this book a dozen times (at least), it should be no surprise that I give it five stars.

[Disclosure: I paid a whole dollar and some sales tax in 1985 to buy an used copy of this book--a copy that I still own.]

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Contagious by Jonah Berger

As most of the readers of my blog know, as do my Facebook friends, I spend a lot of time sharing pictures of cats and links to articles that make me generally annoyed. (I like the cat pictures--it is the articles that annoy me--in fact, I LOVE cat pictures.) And being a writer, I am generally curious about why certain articles and trends light up the internet.

Contagious--Why Things Catch On (by Jonah Berger) is one attempt to explain why certain things on the internet and elsewhere go viral. It is not the only attempt that I have encountered, but it is the first that I have read by an actual Ph.D. who has conducted research on the subject.

Berger starts off the book with the story of Barclay Prime's hundred-dollar cheesesteak (the brainchild of Howard Wein), something that I never heard of before. Yes, I said, hundred-dollar cheesesteak. Exactly the type of item that I would have been curious about when I was still in the restaurant business...and let's be honest, I am still curious about such things. Berger hooked me with an interesting story, and kept me interested though-out the rest of the book.

I learned a lot about marketing from this book. I am not sure if I can make any of it work for me; let's be honest, I am not great when it comes to marketing (an advertising major, I am not). On the other hand, the book does give me hope that a certain project that I am involved in (yes, the farting monkey project) might have viral potential.

I give this book five stars. And I am keeping the book for my own personal library.

[Disclosure: The book used for this review was given to me by the good people at Simon & Schuster, a result of a GoodReads First Reads contest that I entered--thank you Simon & Schuster and Professor Jonah Berger of the University of Pennsylvania.]

Monday, March 18, 2013

When the Siren Calls (Tom Barry)

When the Siren Calls (by Tom Barry) is a mixture of business drama and romantic suspense. Honestly, I am not sure what to label it--I guess drama is as good of a term as any. Maybe contemporary is the term that I am looking for.

I found the first third of the book hard to get into. I am not sure if I was just having a bad reading day--something that every English major is familiar with--or if it was the book itself that the cause. It may have been the fact that one of the characters, Isobel, was moping around about being unloved...I tend not to like rich (or even just well-off) people complaining about their problems. And there was that point where I realized that two years had passed between two scenes--it was a shock to realize how quickly time was passing in the book. At the end of the first third of the book, I thought that the best the author could ask for was a three star review.

I was wrong.

The second third of the book sucked me in. And the third part just knocked my socks off. As the book progressed, the action speeded up and the emotions of the characters got more intense. I actually came to like the character of Isobel by the end of the book.

The one character that I had absolutely no sympathy for was Jay. I find this interesting because When the Siren Calls is the first book of a trilogy, with the next book entitled Saving Jay. I wonder how Tom Barry is going to make me a fan of that book...I presume that he can win me over for a second time.

So much to my surprise, I am actually giving When the Siren Calls a full five stars and looking forward to reading the next book in the trilogy.

[Disclosure statement: This review is based on a NetGalley galley copy that was provided to me by the author.]

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Some of my occult book reviewing rules

Troll Cat gives all dog lovers one star reviews.
Yesterday on Facebook, a friend of mine was describing her latest wanker of a troll reviewer; it was someone who claimed because previous reviews did not mention what groups she belonged to, nor who she trained with, that all the previous reviews were not helpful. Now, I suspect that this particular reviewer, who gave her a review despite not buying her book, is part of the Loathing Club that another member of her occult bent has organized trying to destory this particular writer's reputation.

Now, I have been described as a troll reviewer myself--by someone (and their group) whom I saw fit to give a three star review to. In hindsight, nothing less than proclaiming this author's book "the greatest thing since white sliced bread with yummy jam" was going to make the author happy. Interestingly, he has spent more energy trying to discredit my three star review than he has spent trying to convince others that the numerous one star reviews that he got was undeserved.

The problem (for him, that is) lays in the fact that I will not change my mind about his book. Basically, I gave it my honest review based on the rules that I have decided upon for judging occult books. Here are some of the things that I judge occult books by:

Price: Is it worth the money that a person is spending on it? Is it a must-have at that price? (And in the case of an out-of-print book, is it worth the outrageous price that it is reselling for?)

Information: Is the book just a rehash of previously published information? Is there anything in the book that I cannot find in some other book, or reinvent on my own if I know the basics of occult study and practice? Does it repeat the same information over and over again? Do I have to double-check everything because your work is riddled with errors? Would I trust a Neophyte to use your book?

Authority: Is this someone's "masterwork"? (I tend to judge texts that are meant to prove that its author is the ultimate authority, one that needs to be listened to, more harshly than I do other texts; there is a difference between sharing information and declaring oneself fit to run the entire esoteric tradition.) Does the person convince me that they know what they are doing? Or do they come across as an "armchair occultist"?

Group Membership: Actually, I do not give a damn about this. It is nice to know from a community viewpoint, and helps explain certain differences between theories and practices talked about--but it really has no bearing on my review. (And my own membership do not need to be disclosed either.)

Personal Feelings about the author: I tend to admit to these upfront; there are some occult writers that I personally know or have watched that I dislike terribly--personalities of sandpaper. This tends to extend to the behavior of their followers. I try not to let it affect my reviews; but with some people, it is hard not to deduct a star from their review if they are guilty of being complete wankers.

Ability to Write: I am sorry; this one will kill my opinion of your book if you lack the ability to write a clear sentence. I understand that occult authorities are not always trained in writing, but one can find editors who specialize in editing occult material.

Usefulness: If your book is glorified paperweight with no useful context...well, you are not going to like my opinion of your work.

There are probably more things that I consider, but you get the idea.

Smashwords Read an Ebook Week 2013

Yes, I am involved in the creation of this ebook.
It is "Read an Ebook Week" until March 9th 2013 on Smashwords.

This time around, I have three ebooks discounted during the annual Smashwords promotion.

Five Reasons Why Magic Fails is 50% off (promotion price $1.50--normally $2.99).

Golden Dawn Rituals--Volume One--Neophyte Ritual (0=0) Three Officer Version is 75% off (promotion price $1.50--normally $5.99).

And the first volume of the pagan/Wiccan friendly children series that I am doing the covers for, Meet Turtle Monkey is 50% off (promotion price $1.50--normally $2.99).

[Update: July 2013: Due to differences in sales expectations and business philosophy, in early July 2013, I ceased to be involved in the Turtle Monkey project.]

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Submerged (Cheryl Kaye Tardif)

As most of my regular readers know, I am a writer. What they might not know is that writers have a tendency to dissect books that they read; it is part of our search as professional readers (because you have to be a reader to be a writer) to find the perfect formula for writing the perfect book.  Not so thay we can copy that book, but so that we can write the perfect book that lays within ourselves.

Towards this quest to find the perfect book within ourselves, we tend to collect books that we consider examples of a perfect book written by someone else. Tonight, I am adding another book to my small collection of perfect books.

Submerged (by Cheryl Kaye Tardif) is an good example of a perfect book. The cover is perfect for the story that it advertises. The pacing is perfect with just the right amount of new information being given, and new questions being placed in play. The chapters are the right size--just big enough to satisfy, yet short enough that one is tempted to read just one more chapter...and then another. The symbolism used supports both the plot and the characters. Submerged is a good example of a perfect book.

(I wish that I was as good of a writer as Cheryl is.)

My only concern with it is that some of the culture references might age quickly, and I am not sure if that can be helped given the speed that our culture changes at.

Submerged is a hard book to put into a category. It is about half romance, half suspense, and a quarter supernatural (yes, math is not my friend); it also a tale of addiction, fall, and redemption. I quite enjoyed reading it.

If you didn't already guess, I am giving this book five stars and two big thumbs up. This book is going to be enjoyed by both regular readers and those picky writers.

Submerged is available on Amazon.

[Disclosure notice: This review is based on a pdf that the author provided me. As for the Amazon link, it is just a regular link because I live in Colorado, therefore I can't be an Amazon Associate.]

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Stryke's Buns Guide (Walt Stryke Clayton)

Stryke's Buns Guide: A Field Guide to Buns of the World (by Walt "Stryke" Clayton) is a novelty item, one that is designed to appeal to the type of drunks that you find around bachelor parties and the gorillas that you find working on loading docks. The book is modeled on the field guides that one uses to identify birds and trees out in the field. Basically, it is a bunch of women's asses photoshopped, costumed and occasionally painted, along with with a description covering the particular species of ass' diet and natural habitant. This book does occasionally use some interesting language and imagery--even being sober, it occasionally makes one chuckle, once one overcomes the shock of it all. I imagine that it is quite funny if one is drunk. Being sober, I am only going to give it four out of five stars (two for its value as a gag gift, two for its creative use of language). Not safe to show anyone other than your drunk friends.

[Full disclosure: This review was based on a copy won in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.]

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sometimes the cover says it all

Destiny Rewritten--Kathryn Fitzmaurice--my goddaughter is so going to steal this book from me. 
There are some books that I just need to see the front cover and read a couple of pages to know that they are so going to be "liberated" the instant that I turn my back. Like this book, Destiny Rewritten (by Kathryn Fitzmaurice), which I recieved a proof copy of in today's mail. Given this cover, I can so picture my god-daughter walking out the front door with it held up high as spoils of war while saying, "It is mine now, old man."

Of course, this is why I am not terribly concerned by the pile of review books on my coffee table. After I get done reading them, they are not going to be there long. I am not sure how the HarperCollins PR people feel about my god-daughter promptly grabbing the book from me the instant that I am done reading it for the review, but I am sure that they have no say in the matter as far as my god-daughter is concerned.

And hats off to the HarperCollins people for putting an illustrated mailing label on this one. It is nice to know that this book needed to be opened immediately, so that my god-daughter could liberate it from me. Obviously, the HarperCollins PR department is used to dealing with reviewers who recieve lots of books in the mail.

Yes, I love the cover illustration. It reminds me of one of the used book stores that I used to spend a lot of money in (and probably will again as soon as my income starts to recover). And I am just waiting to hear what the mother of my god-daughter has to say about the cover...I have a private bet going on this one.