Review: Walking in Beauty by Phoenix LaFae

Walking in Beauty: Using the Magick of the Pentacle to Bring Harmony in Your Life by Phoenix LaFae

Published: July 8, 2020 by Llewellyn Publications

Buy this book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating:

Synopsis: Using the pentacle and its five points as a magickal framework, this inspiring book presents techniques and exercises that help you manifest joy, discover your inner and outer beauty, recognize blessings, and bring balance to your life. Phoenix LeFae presents a revolutionary approach based on the five points of the pentacle–Beauty, Devotion, Desire, Creativity, and Expression.

Walking in Beauty awakens you to the magnificence of the world; it is both a meditation tool and a key to greater awareness. Through exercises, rituals, affirmations, and beauty acts you can take out into the world, this marvelous guide shows you how to run the energy of the pentacle through your body and clear any blocks that keep you from living a fully engaged and beautiful life. 

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Llewellyn!***

The concept of this book was really appealing to me. One of the first ideas that you learn in paganism and witchcraft is that the points of the pentacle symbolize the five elements and the circle represents all of those elements working together in harmony, toward a greater goal. LaFae takes this concept and applies it to the concept of beauty. Beauty of the self, beauty of the soul, beauty of the world. Our society is severely lacking in an appreciation of the small things and that is what this book is about. Everyone gets too busy to notice small, beautiful things in the world but this is ultimately detrimental to your magick and to your soul.

I loved the layout of this book. It has sections where it asks you to journal all of your feelings or revelations about the portion that you previously read. Some of the assignments are to find a beautiful thing and add it to your beauty notebook. This book is definitely going to be added to my personal collection. Reading it for the purpose of a review, I didn’t get a chance to work through some of the assignments but I want to. So I will be going through this more thoroughly later.

The rituals were also pretty good. They are not beginner rituals (as the books points out it is not a beginner’s guide to magick) in that it doesn’t cover the basics like grounding, casting a circle, releasing a circle, setting up an altar, that kind of thing. The rituals are beautiful in their own way and I can’t wait to try them out.

The ultimate goal of the beauty pentacle is to use the newly positive view that you develop and spread that beauty outward. To use small acts in your community to spread the power of the pentacle ever wider. I love that idea. If everyone did that the world would be a much more positive place.

New Releases Wednesday

Clean: The New Science of Skin by James Hamblin

Published: July 21, 2020 by Riverhead Books

Goodreads

Synopsis: The author of the popular Atlantic articles “You’re Likely to Get the Coronavirus” and “I Quit Showering, and Life Continued” explains the surprising and unintended effects of our hygiene practices in this informative and entertaining introduction to the new science of skin microbes and probiotics.

Keeping skin healthy is a booming industry, and yet it seems like almost no one agrees on what actually works. Confusing messages from health authorities and ineffective treatments have left many people desperate for reliable solutions. An enormous alternative industry is filling the void, selling products that are often of questionable safety and totally unknown effectiveness.

In Clean, doctor and journalist James Hamblin explores how we got here, examining the science and culture of how we care for our skin today. He talks to dermatologists, microbiologists, allergists, immunologists, aestheticians, bar-soap enthusiasts, venture capitalists, Amish people, theologians, and straight-up scam artists, trying to figure out what it really means to be clean. He even experiments with giving up showers entirely, and discovers that he is not alone.

Along the way he realizes that most of our standards of cleanliness are less related to health than most people think. A major part of the picture has been missing: a little-known ecosystem known as the skin microbiome–the trillions of microbes that live on our skin and in our pores. These microbes are not dangerous; they’re more like an outer layer of skin that no one knew we had, and they influence everything from acne, eczema, and dry skin to how we smell. The new goal of skin care will be to cultivate a healthy biome–and to embrace the meaning of “clean” in the natural sense. This can mean doing much less, saving time, money, energy, water, and plastic bottles in the process.

Lucid, accessible, and deeply researched, Clean explores the ongoing, radical change in the way we think about our skin, introducing readers to the emerging science that will be at the forefront of health and wellness conversations in coming years.

My Thoughts: As a bar-soap enthusiast I am really fascinated by this book. I have also been thinking that we may have done ourselves a disservice as a society by our determination to be “clean” and “germ free”. It’s an interesting take and I will be reading this book.

The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson

Published: July 21, 2020 by ACE

Goodreads

Synopsis: A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

My Thoughts: I ❤ dark fantasy. I ❤ stories about witches. A young woman rebelling against a conservative religious upbringing into witchcraft (vaguely reminiscent of my own journey). Yes, please! This sounds so creepy and wonderful. I am looking forward to it immensely.

Review: The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

51024058The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Published: April 7, 2020 by Orbit Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Harriet Bishop, descended from a long line of witches, uses magic to help women in need — not only ordinary women, but also those with powers of their own. She must intervene when a distant cousin wields dangerous magic to change the lives of two unsuspecting young people… one of whom might just be a witch herself.

Frances Allington has used her wiles and witchcraft to claw her way out of poverty and into a spectacular marriage with one of New York’s wealthiest new tycoons. She is determined to secure the Allingtons’ position amongst the city’s elite Four Hundred families by any means necessary — including a scheme to make a glorious aristocratic match for her headstrong and reluctant step-daughter, Annis, using the same strange power with which she ensnared Annis’s father.


To save Annis from this dark magic, Harriet reveals to her Frances’ misuse of their shared birthright and kindles in Annis her own nascent powers. Together, Harriet and Annis must resist her stepmother’s agenda, lest she — and the dashing young lord she suspects she could come to love — lose their freedom, and possibly their lives.

Rating: 3 star

Review: This book started as a 4-star book, then dropped to a 2-star book and finally by the end is an “it was fine” 3-star. The writing of this book was lovely. I found myself entranced by the prose and would look up to find that several hours had passed. Just last night I was so enthralled with the plot and the writing that I stayed awake reading until 2 a.m. It’s not surprising that the book only took me 3 days to finish.

I love books about witches, probably because I am one. I love books that explore the role of witchcraft in history and how women have historically used this knowledge to empower themselves. The characters were rich and I enjoyed them all. The basic premise is that Harriet and Francis are descended from a witch named Bridget Bishop. Bridget was executed in the 1600’s for witchcraft. Harriet’s side of the family tree has adopted the gentler side of the craft, using it mainly for herbalism and assisting locals with their various ailments and ills. Francis’ side of the family tree had adopted the “bad” side of the craft, manipulating and magically forcing others to do their bidding in order to gain power for themselves. Annis is a young girl from the family tree who is just coming into her powers and for whom Francis has nefarious plans. Harriet endeavors to stop this plot and it culminates in a clash between the two witches with Annis as the prize.

This book was a slow burn with not a lot of action to it, and I was fine with that. The information being presented was largely interesting and once we did get the showdown between Harriet and Francis it was really refreshing and exciting. That portion is what kept me up most of the night.

***Spoiler alert:*** From this point on there will be spoilers.

The biggest problems I had with the book are the ending and that this book didn’t know what it wanted to be.

Is it the story of Annis? A girl ahead of her time, bucking the norm, and determined to make her own way with her newfound powers. Is it the story of a 200 year old battle between two sides of a family to ultimately decide if they are bad witches or good witches? Is it a story of the temptations of good and evil and the blurry gray area in between? Unfortunately it could have been all of these things, but ended up being none of them. None of these things are explored in any depth and I was really disappointed by that.

The ending was very plain. James and Annis decide that they didn’t just have feelings for each other because of magic, they actually do love each other and want to get married. How boring. How predictable. And then we are subjected to a very long lecture about how James might seem like a good man, but we should keep his manikin around just in case he decides to start behaving like an ass later. Because he’s a man after all, so you just never know and a woman can’t be too careful. Why can a novel not show us strong women without equaling telling us about how all men are asses? Even ones who aren’t asses but they might decide to be later because….well they’re a man. I am weary of it. It is possible to tell a story about strong, empowered women without demeaning men. I promise it is.

There was also an unintended moral problem in the story. We are told early on that good witches use their powers to help, bad witches use their powers to compel. Bad witches will always succumb to darkness and be lost to a lust for power. But on at least 3 occasions the “good” witches use their magic to persuade people to give them things. A horse, money, and then more money. All for their own benefit. So while those people may not have been harmed, the man was reimbursed for the horse and the money was plentiful and wouldn’t be missed, does that make it okay? What is the difference between magically persuading someone to give you something and just outright forcing them to give you something? Unfortunately, I don’t think the author intended for this issue to be presented and so we never get the answer to that question. In the end, even evil magic can be tucked away in a corner for safekeeping…just in case, and one will still be a good witch.

Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

44218347._SY475_Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Published on January 14, 2020 by Feiwel & Friends

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.

Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.

Rating: 5 star

Review: I believe this book earns the distinction of my first 5-star book of 2020. It was phenomenal. I have not read a book by this author before, but if this is any indication then I am going to have to read some of their other offerings. I honestly don’t have enough good things to say about it.

The contrasting stories were so expertly woven that when the two were merged in the final chapters I just sat in wonderment at the dichotomy and similarity of the two narratives. I found both of them enchanting. The world presented by the 1500’s France era of suspicion and fear at things the people did not understand and, as a result, were more than willing to blame the “other” people for. And the present day world of Emil and Rosella in which strange happenings are accepted as part of the culture but that the “other” group of people is still to be considered with suspicion for other reasons.

And through all of it you have two women, Lala and Rosella. Both of them struggling with the roles assigned to them by the society they inhabit. And there was also a lesson in these pages, but not quite the one the author explained in her Author’s Note. Personally, I found that a bit annoying. I don’t like being told by anyone what the point of the story is supposed to be. Their bottom line may not be my bottom line. And, to me, it treads dangerously close to telling me how to “properly” read the story. But since it was at the end of the book, I could only get mildly annoyed because I had already formed my own opinion about the book by that point.

Anyway, back to the message that I took from the story. This is a story about women. The roles that are assigned to them by the various people in their life; family, lovers, friends, and society as a whole. All women are told by the world who they ought to be. But the message of the story is that you can either accept that role or craft a new one. That it is within your power to take all the things that people tell you that you are and embrace them to a new end like Lala, or spit in the face of them and use their power to fuel your own like Rosella.

Frankly, this is a book that I would pass on to my daughter when she’s older as an example of the power she inherently has as a woman and the ways she can use that power to whatever end she desires. I loved it.

Destruction by Sharon Bayliss

Alright guys, I have been MIA long enough. I am literally dragging my fingers across the keyboard to post this, but here it is!

destruction Destruction by Sharon Bayliss

Published April 14th, 2014 by Curiosity Quills Press

Buy this book at: Amazon / B&N / Books a Million / Book Depository

 

Synopsis:

David Vandergraff wants to be a good man. He goes to church every Sunday, keeps his lawn trim and green, and loves his wife and kids more than anything. Unfortunately, being a dark wizard isn’t a choice.

Eleven years ago, David’s secret second family went missing. When his two lost children are finally found, he learns they suffered years of unthinkable abuse. Ready to make things right, David brings the kids home even though it could mean losing the wife he can’t imagine living without.

Keeping his life together becomes harder when the new children claim to be dark wizards. David believes they use this fantasy to cope with their trauma. Until, David’s wife admits a secret of her own—she is a dark wizard too, as is David, and all of their children.

Now, David must parent two hurting children from a dark world he doesn’t understand and keep his family from falling apart. All while dealing with the realization that everyone he loves, including himself, may be evil.

 

Rating: 2 star

 

Review:

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Curiosity Quills!

This will probably be a short review because the book just wasn’t that good. My first annoyance with it was actually the blurb. It gives away so many big plot points. I mean, who writes these things? It tells me the entire arc of the story almost, guess I didn’t need to read the book after all.

I was highly annoyed with the magic in this book too. I hate it when books don’t give magic any consequences, it’s jut there to fix all your problems. The book claims that doing magic can make you deranged and evil, but the main characters seem to have no problem whipping out complex magic when it suits them…and seem to suffer no ill effects or other consequences. For example, fiddling around in someone’s brain? Well it was for their own good, so no consequences. The only possible consequence is that the person doing the meddling now had to remember all those bad memories they were erasing, oh the horror! End snark.

David was a fairly likeable character until he started excusing a rape (he’s a dark wizard, can’t help it) and then perving on a 17 year old (but she’s a fertility witch, he couldn’t help it!). Notice a pattern here? It is always the magic’s fault, not the character’s.

In the end, I didn’t care for this book. It was a fairly good idea but not executed very well. The characters were marginal but not unlikeable. The magic was poorly executed and seemed completely secondary to the story. I won’t be continuing with this series.

 

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

unholy ghosts Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane

Published May 25th 2010 by Del Rey

Cover and synopsis from the Goodreads book page

Buy this book at: B&N/ AmazonBook Depository / Books A Million

 

Synopsis:

THE DEPARTED HAVE ARRIVED.

The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully tattooed witch and freewheeling ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for banishing the wicked dead. But Chess is keeping a dark secret: She owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump, who wants immediate payback in the form of a dangerous job that involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

 

Rating: 4 star

 

Review:

Anyone who has spent time in the online book reading community knows the name of Stacia Kane.  Normally her name is synonymous with a kickass author who just…well kicks ass!  At least that is what led me to buy this book.  I appreciated my interactions with her as a reader and so wanted to show some support.  Yet, still, I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to like this book for much of the first half.

Chess is awesome, let’s just say that right off the bat.  I loved her.  But then, if you read my other reviews you’ll see that I have a penchant for some seriously fucked up characters.  So that might explain my affection for her.  She is not a nice character.  She’s high most of her waking hours and something of a bitch for the remaining hours.  And that is exactly why I liked her so much.  She was gritty and real and I wanted to hear her backstory. And whoa, what a backstory it was.  No wonder she was high all the time, I would have been too.

The world was an interesting one too.  But I have to admit that I wasn’t overly pleased with the world building and felt like a lot was simply assumed.  I really hate it when an author assumes that I know what the hell they’re talking about, and Kane did that to a certain extent in this book.  But it wasn’t overly so, and so I could overlook it and enjoy the world building that we did get.  I liked the story that got Chess involved in the whole case and liked the pacing for how it unfolded.  My biggest complaint about this world was the slang.  It grated on my nerves and took me quite awhile to become accustomed to.  Eventually I found that it didn’t bother me so much, but at first I was ready to pull my hair out.  Along those same lines was my issue with the character’s names.  I can’t be all that terrified of a mobster drug dealer named Bump.  It makes me snort giggle just saying it.

But then there was Terrible.  Yes, that’s a name too….remember what I said about the names?  At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like him all that much but by the end *sigh*.   He’s a cutie and I was rooting for him in the love interest department.  A giant teddy bear who could also probably decapitate someone barehanded if he wished.  So attractive.

Oh, and the bad guy!  I admit, it surprised me.  I figured out the red herring pretty easily, or at least I prayed that it was a red herring and turned out to be accurate.  But I just didn’t suspect the real culprit. It never really crossed my mind and then when it happened I was dumbfounded.

I enjoyed this book a lot but it took awhile for me to get into it.  Once I hit the halfway point I was completely invested but before that it wasn’t looking too good.  I would suggest this book to fans of the genre, but people who are not Urban Fantasy fans might give up before the good parts.  For me, I will be reading the next one for sure.