Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Review: 'Spellcasting: Beyond the Basics' by Michael Furie

Ever since I didn't get my Hogwarts letter I've been looking for different types of magic in the world, whether it's Wicca (of which I'm not a very big fan), Celtic druism or something else. So when I saw Spellcasting on Netgalley I knew I had to get in there. Since then I've become slightly addicted to Llewellyn's output, although I'm still waiting on some of the magic!

Pub. Date: 08/02/2016
Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.

Spellcasting is an exploration of magical theory and practice, natural techniques that utilize spiritual forces. Join author Michael Furie as he provides lessons on manifestation work, self-awareness and meditation techniques, altered states of consciousness, connecting to the natural world, planetary and stellar information, and information on the Hermetic laws. Discover practical techniques, spells, and rituals for different magical goals, as well as special spells such as the "Princess and the Pea Ritual" and the "Elements of Self-Esteem."
Now, for this review I'm largely putting aside the debate on whether magic exists and, if it does, what it is and how it works. Personally I think the idea of magic is a very open and diverse one which can be interpreted by every one differently. Different societies have opposing concepts of it, even different generations look at it differently. To completely deny the possibility based on the fact you've never seen someone flying a broomstick would be a bit too harsh, especially if there's so many interesting books about magic out there in the world. It's a subject that's always fascinated me and as such I am always glad to jump into books such as Spellcasting to find out more. And I have to say that the magic discussed in Spellcasting is one I found very interesting, while its advice on meditation is very useful as well.

The book is split up into three sections and is very much a kind of guide book, meant to help you on your way towards casting spells. As such the first part focuses on Magical Theory, exploring how knowing yourself, nature and the world around you can help you know your craft and strength. I found the discussions herein very interesting as the idea of working together with nature to realise your goals is a very attractive one. The second section focuses on Magical Practice, discussing different types of magic such as divination and providing in help in taking spells to the next level. The more skeptical you are, the more you'll have to push yourself to take this text seriously. But if you approach it with an open mind there are some really interesting concepts here. The final section focuses on recipes for oils and incense to work your spells with. The including of different herbs is something I liked about this type of magic since, medically speaking, certain herbs do indeed, for example, calm you down and allow you to focus more. By being partially rooted in reality, the actual "working" of the spells is up to your own spirituality.

Michael Furie's writing is very clear and precise. Spellcasting is clearly a book meant for instruction and as a reference book, allowing people to practise their own skills while reading or, like me, take a dip into the water and see what it's all about. His language is clear and he goes out of his way to explain concepts which may be unfamiliar to beginners, even if Spellcasting is a follow up to an earlier book called Spellcasting for Beginners. Even for those who go into this book with a mind set against its topic will find that Furie at least manages to enlighten them on something they question even exists. These kinds of books are a great example of how trying something out can lead to learning about how different people approach life. Even if this type of magic, or any magic at all, isn't something you want to try, there's nothing wrong with finding out more about it.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Although I enjoyed reading Spellcasting I'm giving it 3 Universes simply due to how niche it is. If magic isn't something you're interested in this book simply won't hold very much interest for you. If, however, like me you're curious and have an open mind, I'd definitely recommend giving Furie's book, and Llewellyn Worldwide's other books, a try.

Review: 'UnCommon Bodies: A Collection of Oddities, Survivors, and Other Impossibilities' by

Story collections can be brilliant, as long as all the stories come together to support a cohesive theme or message. That's exactly what happens in UnCommon Bodies and it makes it a great collection of stories, each of which has something to add. Thanks to Fighting Monkey Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 28/11/2015
Publisher: Fighting Monkey Press
Step right up to the modern freakshow — We have mermaids, monsters, and more. You won't be disappointed, but you may not get out alive.
UnCommon Bodies presents a collection of 20 beautifully irreverent stories which blend the surreal and the mundane. Together, the authors explore the lives of the odd, the unbelievable, and the impossible. Imagine a world where magic exists, where the physical form has the power to heal or repulse, where a deal with the devil means losing so much more than your soul.

As the title might suggest, UnCommon Bodies is all about the physical, about how our bodies determine our reality and our fantasy. Each of the characters and each of their stories tries to deal with what it's like to have a body that is "out of the ordinary" or "weird". It's incredibly inspirational to read stories about characters working with what makes them unique or trying to overcome the problems they have with themselves. The body is incredibly central to a lot of modern day popular culture and social media. Everything is sold by being displayed next to or on a body, from make-up to cars, and as a consequence there are some pretty strict ideas out there about what makes a "good body". It's a skinny beach body or a muscular gym body, but any other shape seemingly doesn't exist according to the billboards. As such it's important that literature becomes more diverse and opens itself up to a whole variety of characters.

I wouldn't consider these stories straightforward Fantasy because there's a lot of different genres which flow through the stories; amongst others erotica, suspense, magical realism and poetry pop up. As such, this collection may not be for everyone though. The authors are let loose, allowed to write about who and what they please. These uncommon bodies belong to people all sexual orientations, all history periods and all walks of life. The language varies between different authors, how graphic it is, how descriptive or how minimalist. It's a beautiful thing, to be able to combine all of these different things into one collection and make it work. Occasionally you may choose not to read a certain story or you might find yourself rereading others.

This collection includes stories by a whole variety of authors which all deserve to be listed. They are: Michael Harris Cohen, Vasil Tuchkov, Bey Deckard, Brent Meskehor, Laxmi Hariharan, Robert Pope, Keira Michelle Telford, Jordanne Fuller, P.K. Tyler, Kim Wells, Rebecca Poole, Philip Harris, Sessha Batto, Robb Grindstaff, Sally Basmajian, Deanne Charlton, Samantha Warren, Daniel Arthur Smith, S.M. Johnson, Christopher Godsoe and Bob Williams. Amongst my favourites are probably Cohen's We is We which I loved for his experimental writing. Skin by Brent Meske is an amazing portrayal of the pressures of weight and body-image, while Deanne Charlton's Three Poems are a beautiful break from the constant fiction while also providing the title for the collection. One of the most inspired, however, in my eyes, was Daedalus' Daughter by B.K. Tyler, which is absolutely stunning.

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

Although not each of the stories in UnCommon Bodies was to my taste, I loved the collection overall. I raced through it and loved the originality of each of the stories. I'd recommend this to fans of Magical Realism and Surrealism, because then you know exactly what kind of reading you're in for.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Short Review: 'The Story Without an End' by Sarah Austin, Eleanor Vere Boyle

Everyone has a childhood classic, the book that you're never going to forget about, no matter how much you grow up. The Story Without an End was that kind of book for Austin's daughter, which resulted in its translation from the original German. As a German myself I'd love for more childhood classics to cross international borders so we can all share our favourites. Thanks to Dover Publications and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 16/12/2016
Publisher: Dover Publications
In this classic of children's literature, a child takes an idyllic journey of discovery through the natural world. Awakened by birdsong and the rays of the sun, the child listens to stories of the butterfly and the ocean's waves, dines on strawberries, gossips with fireflies, and sleeps on a couch of moss. Generations of readers have joined the youngster in these dreamlike adventures amid blooming gardens and on a golden boat under starry skies.  
Author Sarah Austin translated this timeless tale from the German original by Friedrich Wilhelm Carové. This version, reproduced from a magnificent Victorian-era edition, features all fifteen of the original full-color plates. 
The Story Without an End is, in simple terms, an old school fairy tale of the middle 19th century. The author of the German original, Friedrich Wilhelm Carové, very much believed in the ideal of humanity and the church and, as such, the fairy tale is full of nature imagery and the wholesomeness of the beauty of nature. It can come across as a little bit overly sweet if the original Grimms' fairytales are what you're expecting, but that is because, as a literary product, this tale is significantly younger than the original versions of any of the old fairy tales. It's written with the intense purpose to make the natural world and natural order seem perfect in and of itself. As long as you can accept the purpose behind the story it's a lovely read.

The language of the story is beautiful, incredibly sumptuous and full of visual writing. It's no surprise that this would be a child's favourite book, with talking dragon-flies and a child hearing stories about mountains and clouds from a water drop. It creates a magical world for its readers and this edition is a large part of making that possible. In this edition of The Story Without an End Dover Publications reproduces the 1834, Victorian-era translation of the German Das Märchen Ohne Ende by Sarah Austin. It's a stunning translation, capturing the eloquence and ease of the German original. Vere Boyle's illustrations are beautiful renditions of different story elements and really add to the overall atmosphere of the book.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

The Story Without an End is a beautiful story, rich in detail and descriptions. It would be perfect for parents with young children or fans of fairy tales. Dover Publications edition is definitely stunning and would make a great addition to any fairytale shelf.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Weekly Overview

Practical MagicIt's been a good week here, I've read some amazing novels which I can't wait to share with you guys next week! Aside from that my lectures have been going really well and I have been enjoying them as well, which always helps. I am absolutely exhausted though, for some reason, so I might take today off and just stay in bed with my Netflix.


So yes, that's me done! Next week's instalment will come from Edinburgh because I have to head down to pick up my German passport! How was your week? Happy with what you read?

This post is linked up with the Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Review: 'The Faithful Couple' by A.D. Miller

The Faithful CoupleI'm really excited to be one of today's stops for the blog tour for The Faithful Couple. I love me some reads that combine different genre elements, whether it's suspense, mystery and drama. The Faithful Couple brings loads of different themes together but unfortunately not all of them always go together as easily as they should. Thanks to Abacus and Little, Brown for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 06/02/2016
Publisher: Abacus
Turn a betrayal inside out and you found its opposite, a secret and a bond. Perhaps that was what friendship came down to: a lifelong, affectionate mutual blackmail.
Neil and Adam, two young men on the cusp of adulthood, meet one golden summer in California and, despite their different backgrounds, soon become best friends. Buton a camping trip in Yosemite they lead each other into wrongdoing that, years later, both will desperately regret.
Their connection holds through love affairs, fatherhood, the wild successes and unforeseen failures of booming London, as power and guilt ebb between them.
Then the truth of that long-ago night emerges.
What happens when you discover that the friendship you can't live without was always built on a lie? 

At the heart of The Faithful Couple is a very intense male friendship, one that spans decades and classes. It's no wonder that the Independent called The Faithful Couple right up Patricia Highsmith alley, and they were right in that. The connection between Neil and Adam is one that, from the beginning of the novel, seems to be centred on both competitiveness, admiration and the very definite hints of homo-eroticism. Whereas more and more TV shows and films seem to include female friendships, popular culture doesn't have a lot of representations of male friendship. So seeing a whole novel dedicated to it is very interesting. Unfortunately the more Highsmith-esque elements of the book don't necessarily portray male friendship in the best of lights.

However, it was interesting to read and to see how A.D. Miller didn't shy away from giving his male characters emotions. This may sound strange, but by moving between the different characters and showing us their thought process and their feelings regarding the other, The Faithful Couple actually gives the reader male characters that are complex and complicated. Too often male portrayals in novels slip into cliche representations of what is "male" and as such male characters often fall flat for me. With Adam and Neil you get to two male characters who are not necessarily likeable but who have a human edge to them.

The novel spans over a number of years and each chapter/section heading is a different year. This approach means that at times the story may feel a little disjoined as the reader loses track of where which of the characters was. On the other hand it means that within each new section the reader gets a fresh new glance at these characters and at London, at how the relationship has grown outside of the narrative. But then throughout the novel it can become quite a problem to happily distinguish between Adam and Neil. Especially at the beginning the characterization isn't distinct enough that one can easily separate them or even pick a side in the plot. Although they are interesting characters they are a little bit too equal at times.

One of the problems I had with The Faithful Couple was that the horrific event that both binds Neil and Adam closer together but also tears them apart isn't actually as horrific or shocking as I was expecting from the blurb. When it happened I wasn't quite sure whether this was "the big event", but it felt too early within the story for it to make a real impact. What redeemed the original event for me was the fact that A.D. Miller quite nicely showed the impact of the knowledge of the event upon his characters. In the end it is things like guilt and and betrayal which can end friendships and A.D. Miller does show that, at times the original event just feels slightly anti-climactic.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I enjoyed reading The Faithful Couple although it at times lacked tension for me. Although the plot could have maybe been pushed a little bit further, I believe it's a great kind of suspense read for a weekend! I'd recommend it to fans of suspense and mystery. Check out the rest of the blog tour stops!
Displaying Faithful_Couple_Blog_Tour_Banner (3).jpg

Displaying Faithful_Couple_Blog_Tour_Banner (3).jpg

Friday, 5 February 2016

Friday Memes and 'The High Mountains of Portugal'

Today I'm using The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. I'm reviewing this book today as well and it's an absolutely mind-shifting read, moving between different stories and different characters quite abruptly. But despite not being an easy read I definitely enjoyed it. So I figures why not share it with you?
The long-awaited new novel from the Booker Prize-winning author of the worldwide phenomenon Life of Pi.To suffer and do nothing is to be nothing, while to suffer and do something is to become someone. He must strike onwards to the High Mountains of Portugal!
In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomás discovers an old journal. It hints at the location of an extraordinary artefact that - if it exists - would redefine history. Travelling in one of Europe's earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this treasure. Some thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist finds himself at the centre of a murder mystery. 
Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he comes to his ancestral village with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee. 
Three stories. Three broken hearts. One exploration: what is a life without stories?
The High Mountains of Portugal takes the reader on a road trip through Portugal in the last century - and through the human soul.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion over at Rose City Reader and Freda over at Freda's Voice respectively.

The quotes below are from an ARC and may appear differently in the finalized product.

'Tomas decides to walk.From his modest flat on Rua Sao Miguel in the ill-famed Alfama district to his uncle's stately estate in leafy Lapa, it is a good walk across much of Lisbon. It will likely take him an hour. But the morning has broken bright and mild, and the walk will soothe him.' 1%
Tomas is a fascinating character and I'm just going to give you a slight tease here, he walks in a very interesting way. And the reason why is rather tragic.

'There is a forceful finality to her last sentence, the words of a woman who has so few wants left that the ones she still has are filled to the brim with her will.' 56%
I really liked this description! Sometimes when you only have one thing you want, you want that with all your soul. It's beautifully tragic and powerful at the same time.

So, this is me done for today. Do check out my review of The High Mountains of Portugal if it sounds like something you'd enjoy!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Les Misérables Read-Through #17: IV.x.5 - IV.xiv.2

We have gotten to the last 20% of the book and it's all truly coming together now. Everything that is happening is either the continuation of or the ending of a storyline and I imagine this will only get worse as the ending gets closer and closer. We have officially reached the June revolution. Tensions are high and the stakes are even higher. Almost all the characters pop up and Hugo is cutting down on his digressions. It's play time!

Chapter Summary:
In the last section of chapters we got to actual start of the revolt during Lamarque's funeral. The new chapters are basically a discussion of the events that are leading up the the final confrontation. We see first how part of the Friends of ABC weren't as interested in actually starting anything so they got drunk first before realizing that pub made the perfect position for a barricade. And then there is the fact Hugo takes the time to let every single character arrive at the barricade or be conspicuous by their absence. Pretty much everyone, including Javert who was pretending to be someone else, is there now.

There is a quite significant moment with M. Mabeuf, who is an elderly gentleman who is sort of friends with Marius but has become poorer and poorer and has basically lost the will to try. He calmly joins up with the Friends of ABC and everyone else at the barricade and is sort of out of place. But then, when there's a moment of crisis, he steps up and it's just a beautiful moment that Hugo manages to describe in such a dramatic way you can just see it!

Feel of the Chapters:
There is a lot of waiting and tenseness in these chapters which is definitely on purposes. There is a lot of preparation and all the characters are constantly moving and interacting, but it's quite clearly just the deep breath before the plunge. Gavroche adds some lightness to it, clearly in his element, but everything feels potentially dangerous. The fact that the whole action happens within most of an evening and a night also adds to the feeling of anticipation. As I mentioned above, Hugo's writing has become very dramatic in a good way. It feels like a stage play, with the reader getting to look at everything but being actively outside of it. I personally cannot wait to continue reading.

General Points:
  • Now, almost 80% into the book, it's all really coming together. Once the barricade was built more and more characters came together, appearing and interacting. It's pretty much what we've been waiting for, but it was worth it.
  • Hugo is a very good geographical writer. When he wants you to know the exact layout of the barricade and the surrounding streets he will make sure that you do. And he even manages to not make it boring.
  • Gavroche provides an amazing insight into what's happening. Because he's so young and yet so confident and capable of interacting, he gets into every single situation. Knowing where his story is going, it's great to see him getting in there.
  • It's interesting to me how much the musical gripped onto the tension between Jean Valjean and Javert, despite the fact it doesn't feature that much in the novel. Yes, it is in there, but I'd say Marius is much more of a central character, for example. I understand that you need to choose a central story line but I still feel they lost the balance.
'Great perils have this fine characteristic, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers.' p.1854
I love this line because it's one of the things that always gets me about such moments of crisis. No matter who's standing next to you, you're both there for the same reason and you can reply on each other even if you don't know each other.
'"The day will come, citizens, when all wil be concord, harmony, light, joy and life; it will come, and it is in order that it may come that we are about to die."' p.1879
This is a part of a speech by Enjolras about their revolutionary zeal. I liked that he is not deceiving himself at all about what's going to happen and I'm a sucker for a mix between heroism and tragedy.
'"Where are the rest of you going?"
"We are going to fling the government to the earth."

"That is good."' p.1817
This is just an amazing bit of dialogue because it's so calm and yet it's all about revolution so I thought I'd share it as a sneaky third quote!