Witchy Weekends: Review of Deborah Blake’s New Book

I encountered this book when Alethea Kontis recommended it on her #FriendlyFridays series, and since I’m fascinated by spellbooks as cultural artifacts, I checked it out. While it was published earlier this year, it took several weeks to arrive after the presumed release date due to the supply chain woes currently hampering the book industry (as well as most other industries right now). But it was definitely worth the wait; this is a fun one!

The Eclectic Witch’s Book of Shadows by Deborah Blake is part grimoire, part journal, part recipe collection, and part friendly encyclopedia. It is both practical and entertaining, with a wealth of competent knowledge that any practitioner from New Age to hobbyist to pagan can find real value in. It also contains ample space for the reader to add plenty of their own knowledge and experience to make this a truly personal book of shadows.

This cover art gives you a good idea of what the interior illustrations look like.

The sections included in this book include herbs, stones, candles, magical recipes, divination, gods and goddesses, invocations and quarter calls, spells, rituals, recipes, and correspondences. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and yet radiates respectful kindness of the faith practices (and to some extent psychology) of a healthy swath of the population.

This book contains charming and colorful illustrations by Mickie Mueller, the kind that give off a peaceful and cheerful vibe. This is not the sort of book conspicuous Goths like Azrael Abyss and Circe Nightshade (from SNL’s Goth Talk, ca. 1997-2000) would gravitate toward, but a useful and fun book that could be appreciated by a young or new practitioner and an experienced one and everyone in between — as well as those who, like me, find this genre of literature interesting for its peek into another worldview.

24 Hours Left…

Hey there! If you were on the fence about taking my Gothic Story Elements class this Saturday afternoon, please note that you have about 24 hours left to sign up for it. (That *might* be flexible, but seriously do it before tomorrow evening.) The course will be conducted over Zoom — and you don’t need your own Zoom account, since you’ll get a link to join at registration — so you can take it from anywhere online.

Writespace sometimes offers discounts on classes at the last minute, and it looks like they’re doing that with mine, woot! If you want that discount code, let me know ASAP.

You can register for the course here.

Here’s the course description, too, in case you missed it before…

GOTHIC STORY ELEMENTS

photo by Bee Felten-Leidel on Unsplash

What do a darkly beautiful aesthetic, #WitchyGirlAutumn, and a tantalizing sense of foreboding all have in common? They can be part of the rich pageant of Gothic story elements that make so many “classic” — or “forbidden” — literary pleasures so deep. In this three-hour generative workshop, we will dip our feet into the chilling waters of Gothic literature to find out what that genre entails. Expect a multi-faceted exploration as we discuss a range of examples in visual art, film, music, and mentor texts. Our writing time will include the opportunity to use these Gothic  elements to begin a story or enhance one you’ve already started. Students will have the option of sharing what they’ve written during the workshop. Come with your favorite writing utensils (a laptop, a legal pad and sharpened pencils, a leather-bound journal and a fancy feather quill—whatever works for you). Let’s kick off the Gothic season in writing style!

All levels of writing experience welcome.

Why, Yes, Virginia, Adulthood IS A Myth!

Believe it or not — and if you know me, this won’t be a stretch for you to believe — I am still working through the requested reviews from my Books I Read in 2020 list! Seriously, thank you to everyone who requested those reviews. I appreciate your engagement so much, and I’ve had fun revisiting so many of the titles I read last year.

At this point, I’ve finished almost all of the requests, either as blog posts or as book chat videos I was doing for a while with my friend Kara. And I now have three books left to tell you about. Allow me to knock one of those off the list today while the next chapter of the new novel I’m writing incubates in my subconscious…

 

 

If you type “adulthood is overrated” into a Google search bar, you will get umpteen kajillion sites with articles or products or other content declaiming this travesty against our youthful expectations. Normale.

Adulthood Is A Myth, a compendium of comics by Sarah Anderson about the travails of becoming an adult, takes this pseudo-despair about growing up into “real life” one step sideways. Her comics are amusing and well drawn; they dive deep into the maelstrom of emotions that is the proverbial Human Condition with just the right levels of snark, angst, and immense relatability.

It would be easy to dismiss Anderson’s collection as a lot of comics about millennials not being able to get their shit together, but it would be wrong and ageist to do that. The fact is, adulthood is not a state of being that comes with a manual, despite the proliferation of self-help books related to the subject. Most of the time we observe the world around us and the generations that came before us to find answers, and our life trajectories are shaped by world events. And thanks largely to technology (which has changed not only the metaphorical size of our world but also our ability to view and interact with it), 21st-century young adults have a really different row to hoe from all of us who came before them. Frankly, Gen Z is basically a generation of cyborgs — and as a parent of kids in Gen Z, I mean that in the most loving and practical way.

The comics in Anderson’s collection aren’t really about that, though, which is one reason this book has such wide appeal. It’s about human interaction and daily, practical functioning and the challenging emotions so many of us experience regardless of age or time of life. Moreover, she does it all with a wryness that will make you feel maybe just slightly superior (in a non-snotty way) if you’re generally competent at adulting, and make you feel absolutely seen and heard and understood and even maybe cared for if for you, like for most of us, managing this American life is challenging sometimes.

I really enjoyed this book and will admit I gobbled it up in about an hour, cover to cover.

I’m also not squeamish about telling you that I did it late on a Saturday afternoon, with a basket of laundry next to me, sitting on the floor at the top of the stairs where I had gotten distracted by seeing the book on top of a pile next to Han’s desk and decided it was the right time for me to stop and read a book even though I was literally in the middle of doing a household chore.

(And if that doesn’t give you some context of where my head was or why this book hits all the right notes, I’m not sure anything will.)

Be well!

My Little Free Library: A Note

Yesterday when I went out to put some more books into my Little Free Library I found this delightful thank-you note.

I love being the steward of a Little Free Library. Sometimes the people who use it will leave me thank-you notes or holiday cards telling me how much the LFL means to them, how much they love having one in our neighborhood. I cannot even tell you how much I love and appreciate that our LFL has been embraced by our community! Honestly, it sees a brisk business and has been largely self-sustaining since about two or three weeks after my husband built and installed it, several years ago. (He’s working on an extension for it now, a large shelf to attach to the bottom, for taller children’s books. I’ll be sure to post about it once it’s done.)

Every now and then, my stock runs a little low. I’ll start running out of certain genres of books from the substantial pile of them that runs along the wall of our dining room. In particular, new releases and more recent hardcovers, especially in the YA category, tend not to make their way back home to the LFL. But I don’t mind much, because as far as I’m concerned, if someone falls in love with one of our books and cannot part with it, okay. I’m happy to have helped make that bookish love connection! And usually people will leave something else in its place, so the stock is always rotating. Periodically, I’ll put out a call among my friends and colleagues to see if anyone has any books they want to donate, and folks always come through. So there will always be more books.

Here is what I would tell the thoughtful stranger who placed this note for me yesterday:

I’m so sorry you lost your books in your move. That happened to me once, when I was in college. My parents moved from the house I’d grown up in to a new place in the middle of the semester, so I wasn’t there to participate in a meaningful way. I lost a whole crate of paperbacks, some of which I’ve never been able to replace. It still makes me a little sad, because books are such a part of who I am and have always been. I’ll keep putting more books into this Little Free Library, and you’re welcome to keep taking them. Let me know what you like to read, and I’ll keep an eye out for that for you. Welcome to the neighborhood.  🙂

Happy reading, everyone!

Poem-A-Day 2021, Day 27: Book Spine Poetry

One of my favorite kinds of found poetry is the Book Spine Poem. Tonight I made one entirely out of a few of the poetry books in my personal library.

If you’re not familiar with this form, the idea is to make a poem out of the titles of books. Once you see one, it’s perhaps easier to get the idea. So here’s mine (with my arranged and punctuated text below):

original love
the currency:

poisoned apples,
stolen mummies,
exchangeable bonds —

in danger,
we put things in our mouths.

lay back the darkness:
ungodliness,
the resurrection trade,
footnotes in the order of disappearance…

shipbreaking
joyful noise!

asunder:
the magic my body becomes!

yesterday had a man in it.

the dream songs:
dance dance revolution.

***

Have you made any Book Spine Poems lately? Want to make one? Feel free to share yours in the comments below.

Artistic Theft (More or Less)

One of the books I read in 2020, Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, is on the list of books some of my blog readers have requested a review of, so here goes!

This little coffee table book — or perhaps “end table book” is a better term, because it is short enough to read and digest in one sitting — makes a lovely gift for someone who is beginning on their creative life journey, or for someone who has been trending on the artistic side for some time but maybe has fallen into a slump, or otherwise just needs a little push to take things to their next level. In fact, this is how Kleon’s book came to me: as a gift from a very thoughtful friend.

One of the things I enjoyed about Steal Like An Artist was its unintimidating format. Rather than being a textbook or even a workbook with exercises, it presents its simple but effective wisdom in a highly digestible and visually stimulating list of truths to consider.

Here is part of the book’s description:

“Nothing is original, so embrace influence, school yourself through the work of others, remix and reimagine to discover your own path. Follow interests wherever they take you—what feels like a hobby may turn into your life’s work. Forget the old cliché about writing what you know: Instead, write the book you want to read, make the movie you want to watch.
 
And finally, stay smart, stay out of debt, and risk being boring in the everyday world so that you have the space to be wild and daring in your imagination and your work.”

This blurb captures some of the essence of the book fairly well. For me, even though I can’t say I was particularly surprised by any of Kleon’s advice, there were definitely some things in there that I needed reminding of. One thing that I particularly have trouble with sometimes is preventing the world from being too much with me, to the point that it stifles my ability to do mentally challenging creative work — such as, for example, writing a novel — no matter how much I enjoy doing that artistic activity. This book reminded me that sometimes the world being too much with me can be turned to my artistic advantage.

Would I recommend this book? Sure, I would. Not perhaps for the successful working artist on a productive streak, but most definitely for the person who is thinking about jumping into the bracing waters of making art, or for the artist who needs to get their mojo back and could use a little reminder that yes, they really can do this thing.

February Book Chat with Kara

January was a wee bit hectic, so Kara and I pushed off our book chat until this week, and since it’s valentines season, we’re tackling books with romantic plotlines (category romance or no).

You’ll hear in this video that I make reference to my Reading Year in Review lists. (If you want to see those, here they are for 2019 and 2020.) I always invite my readers to request reviews of any titles on those lists — it’s never to late to ask, if you want to know about them — and this year a few people wanted to know more about Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, so I’ve done that review in this month’s book chat video. (More reviews are coming, so if you requested one, please don’t think I’ve forgotten about you, even if it’s been a minute.)

This picture doesn’t include Kara’s chosen titles, because it’s a pandemic and we can’t actually get together. You’ll just have to watch the video to see what books she talks about!

 

Enjoy!

2020 Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level

Last year after I posted my 2019 Reading Year in Review, I got requests to rank the romances I’d read over that year by heat level, which I happily did, and that request has been made again this year regarding my 2020 Reading Year in Review by a few people. I’m very pleased to oblige. (And if this becomes another annual tradition, I’m good with that.)

Here is a quick guide to what heat levels are in category romance: it essentially refers to the sensuality level or raciness of the story. While there are several different explanations for how to rate such things, I’m going to use this one here, which is really interesting and worth reading. (It will also explain with further context the rankings which follow.)

Here are the five levels of heat, in order, with very brief descriptions:

*  MILD — Sweet like a Hallmark Christmas movie, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to my adolescent children or even mature middle schoolers who were genuinely interested in the genre. In many examples of this heat level, the most titillating thing that happens might be kissing and the occasional cute innuendo.

*  MEDIUM — Generally equivalent to a PG-13 movie in that intimate situations or scenes are there, but they aren’t graphically described and won’t likely make people (who like the concept of kissing books) uncomfortable; I wouldn’t feel awkward recommending books like these to high school students who liked YA romance.

*  HOT — Sometimes called steamy, sexy, or spicy, this level includes most category romance books and offers a wide range of description of intimate activity and the language used to describe it; the titles I’ve included here also represent a wide range within this heat level.

*  NUCLEAR — Expect graphic descriptions and possible forays beyond vanilla.

*  EROTIC (ROMANCE) — This heat level pushes boundaries, most definitely; the characters’ emotional journeys are lived through explicit sexual activity, but (unlike in erotica) the emotional journey and the external story still retain primacy — as does the all-important happy story ending.

My reading diet is fairly inclusive, and I’m trying to make it broader every year. Representation matters, and so does buying and reading books which have it. Really diving into my lists over the years will net you quite a range.

I’m going to rank titles I read over the last year which are category romance, meaning they are in the romance genre and would not likely be shelved in a bookstore as something else (such as fantasy or science fiction or realistic fiction), even though some of the books I read in those other genres do have strong romantic subplots. (As always, if you want a review of any of the titles I’ve read over the last year, just leave me a note in the comments.)

And so here are the category romance titles I read last year, ranked by me:

MILD:
Charles Bewitched (Doyle)

MEDIUM:
Courtship and Curses (Doyle)
Sweetest in the Gale (Dade)* — This title goes into two sections because it is a short story collection, and different stories within it have different heat levels.

HOT:
Slippery Creatures (Charles)
Teach Me (Dade)
Office Hours (Jackson)
40-Love (Dade)
Salt Magic, Skin Magic (Welch)
Royally Bad (Flite)
Red, White & Royal Blue (McQuiston)
The Rogue King (Owens)
On the Edge (Sahin)
The Duke and I (Quinn)
Sweetest in the Gale (Dade)* — This title goes into two sections because it is a short story collection, and different stories have different heat levels.
The Blood King (Owens)* — This novel almost qualified for the medium level because it contains actually very few scenes of intimacy, but at least one of them is fully written, and not particularly euphemistic, right there on the page.

NUCLEAR:
Blaze (Tomlinson)

EROTIC:
All Together (Harper)

I’ve begun a list of titles people have requested reviews for, which I’ll be posting here on the blog in the weeks to come. Pile on in the comments if you want to know more about any of these books or any of the others from my general 2020 list. Happy reading!

2020 Reading Year in Review

A few years ago I began keeping a list of all the books I read in a given year. My hope was that I would do more reading for pleasure.

Reading. You know, that thing I’ve been doing since I was four, that activity which makes me happier than most other things, that reason (probably) I became a writer in the first place? Good grief, I love books so much.

But I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t doing a lot of reading for pleasure. I was reading a lot of students’ papers to grade them. (Spoiler alert: that is often not the same thing, even when I do enjoy reading some of those papers.) I was reading a lot of emails. (There was little to no pleasure in that.) I was reading for utility and purpose and requirement and work, but I was not taking time to read for fun. That had a very adverse effect on my entire life.

Being a list maker by nature, I thought if I kept a list of books I read, at the end of the year I would see that I’d done more reading than I thought I had, and it would boost my mood. Deciding to do this is one of the better choices I’ve made.

That first year I logged probably a dozen books, and my reading diet was very focused on fantasy, which is one of the main genres I write in. In the years since, as I continue keeping my list, the number of books I read in a year has steadily increased, and so has my reading diet. I try to read much more widely now, which has been very good for me, too.

2020 was, as you know, a challenging year. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, we opened the door to let the old year out and the new year in. (This is an old tradition.) We actually opened multiple doors. We thought about opening the windows and taking off the roof too, but it was pretty freaking cold outside. Still, I commanded the old year to “get the hell out,” and Fabulous Offspring #1 actually grabbed a broom and swept our entry hall onto the front porch to really make sure 2020 took a hike. (We are nothing if not committed to our metaphors.)

During the pandemic, particularly in the spring and early summer, I saw a lot of people online lamenting about not being able to sustain enough focus even to read. I felt that. It hit me, too. But then — even though doing actual creative work, such as writing, and actual teaching work, such as grading papers, felt nigh impossible for a while — I did manage to get back into reading. For fun. For stress relief. For calming my mind before bed. This even helped me start writing again.

And wow, did I read a lot.

This is not nearly all the books I read this year. Some were on my Kindle. Some are up in Fabulous Offspring #1’s room, and I don’t have time to find them. Some are at school in my classroom, some went through my Little Free Library, and some have been lent out to other friends.

This year I enjoyed my way through a whopping 41 books, possibly the most I’ve ever accomplished in my adult life, and definitely the most in a single year since I began teaching. So without further ado, here is my list — with some caveats:
* This year, I am including titles that I re-read. I didn’t use to but think it has value now. However, if I read a book on here more than once this year (and that did happen in at least a couple of cases), I am listing it just the once.
* I am not listing any books I began but did not finish.
* This list also does not include manuscripts I’ve read but which are not yet published. There were several of those (because critique groups, yo).

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Circe by Madeline Miller
Limit Theory by Ronald E. Holtman
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
Courtship and Curses by Marissa Doyle
Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles
Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Anderson
Teach Me by Olivia Dade
Charles Bewitched by Marissa Doyle
Office Hours by Katrina Jackson
Blaze by Christa Tomlinson
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
40-Love by Olivia Dade
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch
Royally Bad by Nora Flite
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
F in Exams: Pop Quiz by Richard Benson
The Kontrabida by Mia Alvar
Catacombs by Jason Zencka
The Rogue King by Abigail Owen
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Blood King by Abigail Owen
Once Two Sisters by Sarah Warburton
Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer
On the Edge by Brittney Sahin
Your Book, Your Brand by Dana Kaye
Story Genius by Lisa Cron
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
Sweetest in the Gale: A Marysburg Story Collection by Olivia Dade
Feng Shaun (Wallace and Grommet)
Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby
All Together by Brill Harper
World’s End by Clare Beams
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
The Evil Garden by Edward Gorey
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

If you would like a review of any of these books, please tell me in the comments, and I’ll do my best for you! Similarly, last year it was requested that I rank the romance titles I’d read by heat level, so if you want those for this year as well, I’m happy to do it. Just drop me a note in the comments.