Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Witches' Almanac, 2009-2010

The Witches Almanac: Spring 2009-Spring 2010 (Issue 28)Hah!  I bet you thought I was reading The Society of S, didn't you?  Well, I am, no worries.  However - as things are not always what they seem this Supernatural Summer of 2010, I will interrupt the usual reading list with a previous week's library-stash gem called The Witches' Almanac, issue 2009-2010, which is one in a series of booklets published annually to cover the coming year from spring to spring.  I know - spring 2010 is long gone, and a large section of these booklets is devoted to the horoscopes for the following year.  But the rest offers the lucky reader a treasure trove of fairy tales, folk tales, stories, reviews, various cultural tidbits, herbal and floral know-how, and beautiful, witchy black-and-white artwork.

A while back, the issues used to be more simply bound and harder to find - my first copy ever came from a trip to Salem, Massachusetts about fifteen years ago.  Wow I feel old.  But the newer editions are even more gorgeous with computerized color graphics on the covers to frame a thicker book chock full of great essays like "Floriography: The Language of Flowers" and "Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Charms."

I'll also let the 2009-2010 cover do some of the talking:

Being a compendium of ancient lore and legend -- the indispensable guide and delightful companion for adept, occultist, witch and mortal alike ... contains herbal secrets, advice about animals, mystic incantations, sacred rituals and many a curious tale of good and evil.

Past and future issues are on my list - why not just pencil one of 'em into your own?  If it's terrible, come tell me about it, and write your own review for the Reader's Well!

Happy Casting.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Words from the Well

Good evening, all!  Join me tonight for my very first installment of In My Mailbox, which we will call here Words from the Well, a meme originally started by The Story Siren - whose IMM posts are way fancier than mine, and totally worth checking out.  If you're also into posting your TBR pile or whatever books you acquire howeverwhichway, see that last link for rules and ideas.

I get most of my books from the library, and that's where I picked out today's awesome stash for the next few weeks in this lazy, hot Supernatural Summer!  Now, I may not get to these right away because I have loads of books I actually own that need reading, and boy do they look tasty.  However, I do plan to read and review everything that I post in this meme before the clock strikes twelve and it's time to return.  :sigh:

Before I FallAffinityVoyager (Outlander)
The Girl Who Chased the Moon: A NovelIncantation

Borrowed this past week:

Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver
Voyager (Outlander series, part III) - Diana Gabaldon
Affinity - Sarah Waters
The Girl Who Chased the Moon - Sarah Addison Allen
Incantation - Alice Hoffman

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

In Defense of Food

Yes, I know that Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food does not qualify for my Supernatural Summer theme, but it's okay to take a break every now and then.  Next week, I promise I will continue with the vampires, witches and fairies, and all that.
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

But right now we're going to talk about food.  Reading this book will make you more privy to your own common sense - and you do have it, we all have it, it's just a matter of listening to yourself.  That might sound new age-y but at this point in the American diet, new age-y might save you from all the Western diseases that Pollan claims emerged from the terrible food fads, diets and "nutritionism" the past few generations have held so dear.  And let me say that there is nothing new age-y about the short, sweet tagline on the front cover that explain the contents of Pollan's book:  Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly Plants.  Now, picking this up in the library, I glanced at this and thought, well everybody knows that already, what about it?  I knew this already, somewhere in my mind.  Do I actually make an effort to recognize these things in my diet?  Nope, I'm too lazy and too cheap to go buy organic, I don't have a garden and I'm pretty skinny already so why wouldn't I want to eat too much?  Of course, Pollan knows these excuses and more.  He also knows the history of the Western diet (although I would rather call it the American diet) and explains in Ishmael-fashion how things came to be this way, what we should do (or think on) to change it, and most importantly why we should bother at all.

You may find it difficult to believe me when I say that this book kept me up at night.  Not just reading it, because it was fascinating, but thinking about food (and salivating at the descriptions of home-cooked, fresh meals we should all be eating).  Pollan explains all of his ideas clearly, simply and common-sensibly, just as he should considering the theme of the book.  I really think everyone should read this - it's a small, quick read, and it deals with probably the most important and complex issue in America today, with journalistic competence and easy-to-read language.  Pollan's attack on nutritionism as an ideal is well-founded and a real anvil if you're not already aware of the food industry's ploy to make America fatter and even "more desperate".  Although I do agree with this reviewer of Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, who criticizes the lack of grand-scale solutions or possibilities in that read, but this book - which I actually read - is more about thinking for one's self.  Buy a copy so you can lend it to all your high-fructose corn syrup-chugging friends, and knock that inherent common sense into your veggie-deprived American self!

Monday, July 19, 2010



Graham Joyce wrote a book that I remember liking, called The Tooth Fairy.  Of course this was long ago, so I checked up on it in the library and found someone had taken it out, so I pulled Joyce's Indigo instead.  Indigo is a suspense/thriller about Englishman Jack, his attractive half-sister Louise, and their mad pseudo-scientist father Tim Chambers.  Jack has been chosen as the executor of Mr. Chambers' will, having no better connection with his father in life.  And the will requires him to have Chambers' Manual of Light published, a manifesto on the elusive color indigo - science claims it doesn't exist, artists will do anything to reveal it ... and Jack will do anything to drop the whole thing.  At least until beautiful Louise comes along, the sister he never knew, and the two investigate a mysterious beneficiary of Chambers' legacy in the crumbling ruins of Rome.  What exactly is the color indigo, and how do you prepare to see it?  Was Tim Chambers delusional or a fraud?  Will Jack and Louise get sucked into Chambers' underground world of indigo?  In the midst of their adventures and strange discoveries, how will the two deal with their forbidden feelings for each other?

Joyce's story of indigo and its disciples sucks you right in from the start. I've never thought about the color that way before - between blue and violet, right? Maybe not. Wikipedia says "Color scientists typically divide the spectrum at about 450 nm between violet and blue, with no indigo." This came as a surprise to me, and if you find yourself at all interested in this conundrum, you will probably enjoy the novel. The line between belief and unbelief is very thin - both in Jack and Tim's world, as it may be in yours. After all ....

"the demon of Skepticism is cunning.  I have met him and looked upon him.  From a short distance he does look attrative and seductive.  He is modern and fashionable, streetwise like a young Roman, and he is intelligent, amusing, and friendly.  But on closer inspection, he is, I assure you, quite the ugly brute.  His skin is pocked and peeling.  His hair is falling out and his fashionable clothes are poorly tailored.  The amusing gleam in his eye is none other than the glimmer of hoarfrost.  And his embrace is as cold as liquid nitrogen." (The Manual of Light, Step 1)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Lace Reader

I was so looking forward to reading Brunonia Barry's The Lace Reader after a couple of years reading reviews and fawning over the awesome book jacket description.  In short ....

The Lace Reader: A Novel 

Towner Whitney, native of Salem, Mass. is crazy.  Everyone knows it: she knows it, her lace-reading, oddball family knows it - ever since her sister's death, shrouded in mystery through most of the novel, Towner has landed herself in the hospital for injuries both physical and emotional.  The reader is transported through Towner's world, beyond hope of recovery and as dark as her nightmares, picking up the pieces of information Ms. Barry drops involving Towner's sister's death and the family history in Salem, all of which finally connect in the startling conclusion, when Towner's dreamlike past finally catches up with her - and us.

I loved the dark, swirling dreamworld and perspective ADD here that really make this novel stand out among mysteries.  The New England history, coupled with Ms. Barry's dreamworld of characters and events that may not be what they seem, coaxed me into reading further.  On the other hand, I have to admit that through almost every page in the beginning and middle of the novel, I wanted to put the book down and give up.  The book is very slow-paced, but without the build-up necessary to keep you reading into the night.  The reader does not learn any new information until about the last 100 pages, and for me that is way too late.  My mother says that if she doesn't enjoy the first 50 pages, she puts a book down - I myself continue reading if there is any reason whatsoever to keep going.  And I found that reason here, but the pay-off at the end is disappointing.  The lace-reading hardly factors into the real-world story, and the atmosphere of mystery that kept me reading the first 300 pages is wiped out in favor of a wannabe-satisfying ending.

There are many people who loved this book, and I wanted to love it too.  All things considered, I probably will give Ms. Barry's newest novel a try sometime and hope for the best, but I'm glad The Lace Reader is returnable (to the library, that is).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Practical Magic

I've been wanting to read this book ever since I saw the movie years ago and loved it.  And you know how the book is always even better than the movie, and Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman was no exception.

Practical MagicSally and Gillian begin as both sisters and best friends - but it doesn't take long for life to get in the way and both girls' individual personalities to drive them apart.  Their quiet lives with "the aunts," who are a bit strange with their magic and superstitions, are about to change in myriad ways as they grow into very different women.  Little do they know of the sudden and mutual crisis that will change their lives forever.  Even less can they avoid the buried past come back to haunt them.  Will the sisters ever be able to reconcile their differences?  Can they find it in themselves to face their fears and open their lives to the magic that once was?

The world that Alice Hoffman has created here is so delightful (I hate that word, but bear with me), brimming with innocence and the loss of that innocence.  It's enough to make you yearn for your own childhood and all that you once believed in and for some reason no longer do.  Every sentence belongs in this novel, and no chapter ends without a good reason to continue reading on.  Not sure about you, but I am in love, and definitely plan to pick up Hoffman's other books.  And catch the movie again, of course.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt is based on a true story about Bess Southerns, a poor old widow in a poor family of cunning women (and man).  Around turn-of-the-17th-century England, people are persecuted for being anything but the status quo - a time to be fearful like never before, as Protestants are pitted against Catholics, and neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend.  Fear that is driven on by fear and each side's lust for power.  The "old religion" makes a showing here, referring to Catholicism mixed with the superstition and lore of witches, including the belief in familiar spirits, which is where the trouble in the Malkin Tower of Pendle Forest, England begins.

Daughters of the Witching HillI really loved this book.  The relationships between family members, neighbors, friends and enemies are as transfixing as the suspenseful sense of dread that will keep you turning the pages, even though you already know how it ends.  The perfect pacing and the choices of perspective serve the story well, showing us believable, sympathetic characters that you wouldn't normally associate with the good guys - these women are cunning women, after all, not falsely-accused Christian martyrs - and I fell in love with them.  This story of the brave, doomed family of Bess Southerns will not leave you for a long time, but force you to wonder at the horrors experienced, and committed, by ordinary people within a terrified community.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Now blogging from New York!

Sorry for the delay, but all that traveling business is over, having relocated to New York.  Now... the blog will be undergoing some changes!:  the name*, appearance of the blog, posting frequency of course will be much higher, more interactive-ness with other blogs and I'll try to get some giveaways up soon, as my old books come in from Germany.

I've started the summer fresh with a new batch of books, so everything I read/review during summer 2010 that fits the bill will be under the new tag Supernatural Summer - you'll see why.  I finished 3 books already in this category - reviews will be up within a couple days:

Daughters of the Witching Hill Practical MagicThe Lace Reader: A Novel

*As said, the name of this blog will change to ReadersWell.blogspot.com.  I hope this inspires everyone to comment, advise, criticize on whatever appears on the blog.  I write the reviews here, but I want you to tell me what you think.  Way more fun that way, no?  Thanks for reading, as usual!  -Emily