Monday, September 24, 2012

Everyday Witch Book of Rituals

Prominent Pagan author Deborah Blake adds another volume to her "Everyday Witch" series from Llewellyn Books with The Everyday Witch Book of Rituals: All You Need for a Magickal Year, offering ritual and spellwork suggestions for each New Moon and Full Moon in a calendar year as well as the eight Sabbats and selected special occasions such as Wiccaning (baby blessing) and handfastings (marriage/commitment ceremonies).

It doesn't really match the other books in the series, as the various occasions included are more or less by definition not something hat happen every day, but it is nonetheless an extremely useful manual for either solitary witches or groups; the introduction helpfully includes a section on "Adapting rituals from solitary to group and back again" for those who sometimes work in both modes. Also very useful is the advice for including non-Pagan guests, not only in family-oriented rituals like handfastings, but also for some of the full moons where the ritual theme is something that individuals of any spiritual path can apply to their own lives.

I'm not generally a fan of the conceit than an author's pet, or even her familiar, is a collaborator on a book, but the advice presented here by Magic the cat is mostly pretty straightforward and useful, and not nearly as twee as it could easily have been. The only other point I had any reservations about was the lack of a Blue Moon ritual, a relatively glaring omission given that we just had a Blue Moon this past August.

Overall, this book is highly recommended, easily up to the standard set by Blake's earlier Circle, Coven and Grove (a favorite of several Wiccans I know), and should prove every bit as useful a resource.

The publication date is October 8, 2012; thanks to Llewellyn Books and for providing me with an electronic advance copy. This was my first book from NetGalley, but mostly likely not the last!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

In the Woods

by Tana French.

Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox, detectives on the Dublin Murder Squad, happen to catch the call when the body of a young girl is found at an archeological site near the suburb of Knocknaree. What no one else on the squad knows is that nearly thirty years earlier, Rob--then known by his first name, Adam--was the lone survivor of a mysterious incident in the woods by Knocknaree, in which his two best friends disappeared without a trace and Adam was found, mute and amnesiac, clinging to a tree with his shoes full of blood that wasn't his. Rob knows he ought to disclose all this to his captain and remove himself from the modern case, but the two incidents can't possibly be connected. Can they?

This was our book club selection for September, in a not entirely successful attempt to get away from the Gothic. Not everybody finished the book, which kind of put a lid on the discussion as we tried to avoid spoilers, both for the solution of the mystery and some of the personal developments of the characters. Those of us who did get to the end found it frustrating--is it too spoileriffic to say that while some questions are answered, some pretty big ones are not?

Still, the beginning was good enough that I kept going even when I started to suspect I wasn't going to like the end, the characters were psychologically interesting in a believable kind of way, and the description of the second book in the series sounded intriguing to a couple of us; I can see myself putting it on the List of Books I Want to Read Before I Die.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

All Roads Lead to Austen

by Amy Elizabeth Smith.

The subtitle is "A Year-Long Journey with Jane," and it does just what it says on the tin. California literature professor Amy Smith meets an intriguing man on a vacation in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, and conceives the idea of traveling around Central and South America to have book group discussions of Jane Austen novels in Spanish translation in six Latin American countries: Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Paraguay and Argentina. First, of course, she has to learn to speak Spanish.

I downloaded this to my Nook through Barnes & Noble's Free Friday offer; it's not the kind of thing I would necessarily have read otherwise, and definitely not the kind of book I would buy. Though if I'd stumbled across it at the library I might have given it a try, especially if I'd glanced at the introduction; the author's description of her American students' reactions to Austen was pretty engaging, particularly the part about which characters most deserve a dope slap or two. The whole book ended up being equally entertaining, not least because Smith isn't afraid to make herself look goofy with stories about her own bad assumptions and missteps.

The book definitely assumes a thorough knowledge of Austen, not just the three novels the author used for her discussions--Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma--but also Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey (Smith's acknowledged favorite), though my personal favorite, Persuasion, was only mentioned in passing once or twice. But if you know Austen, this book is both amusing and informative.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Whispers Under Ground

by Ben Aaronovich. Third in his "Rivers of London" series.

When your unit of the Metropolitan Police Department consists of one chief inspector and yourself, a lowly constable, it is not the inspector who has to answer the phone in the middle of the night. Thus PC Peter Grant, still the only official apprentice of the last wizard in the Metropolitan Police, finds himself called out to the site of a murder in the Baker Street Underground station, just to check for anything weird about it. Of course, there is some weirdness, and the fact that the victim turns out to be the son of an American Senator who gets an FBI agent assigned as an observer is the least weird part.

I really liked the first two books in this series, and the third installment doesn't disappoint. It's an interesting take on urban fantasy, being at least as much police procedural, and the police procedures are extremely authentic; you don't see a lot of urban fantasy protagonists wondering how to phrase an official report so that it doesn't come right out and say "I detected the presence of the murder weapon by the magical residue it left in the tunnel." Once again, the voice of Peter as narrator is frequently so funny I had to stop and read out-of-context bits to anyone who happened to be nearby.  A lot of these had to do with shout-outs to other fantasy, like Peter being told that Gandalf could probably drink him under the table; and I have some thoughts about the provenance of a beer referred to only as "Mac's," which we're told comes from a microbrewery in the States.

There are a couple of plot threads with no beginning or end in this novel--I would definitely recommend starting with the first one; the author has said that what he has in mind for this series is something like Ed McBain's 87th Precinct books (of which there were 55 in all, according to Fantastic Fiction), so there may end up being a lot to keep track of. I'm already looking forward to the next book, Broken Homes.