Hellebore & Rue

Title: HELLEBORE & RUE: Tales of Queer Women and Magic
Edited by Joselle Vanderhooft & Catherine Lundoff
Publisher: Lethe Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-1590213773
Genre: Magic
Rating: 4 stars

A collection of twelve stories featuring women and magic, this book contains tales of magic of many different varieties, each story with a unique and appealing voice. Some are set in different worlds, combining science fiction with magic such as Thin Spun by Sunny Moraine, which is a beautiful and wise story in an alien setting. Others, such as the humorous Witches Have Cats by Julie Kemp, weave their spells in a more recognizable setting, although the new and reluctant witch of this story doesn’t have a cat at all, but rather an appealing puppy to help her with her spell work.

The magical ingredients of this collection continue in more fantastical settings, both far back in a misty, mythical past as in Kelly A. Harmon’s story Skylit Bargains, in which a courageous heroine and her ‘witchy’ partner battle mythical monsters in the quest for treasure, and in an imagined, post apocalyptical future as in Lisa Nohealani Morton’s And Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness, where magic is practiced in secrecy and silence as ‘angels’ prowl the skies searching for the heretical witches.

My favorite story was probably Steve Berman’s D is for Delicious, in which the witches are recognizable to anyone who read Roald Dahl as a child. A very delicious story that somehow makes you want the witches in it to go ahead and satisfy their appetites, no matter what their craving is for. Stories that also cloak their magic in the everyday world we all know are A State of Panic by Rachel Green and Quin Smythwood’s Gloam. In one, a sorcery practicing police officer solves a crime with definite pagan overtones, and in the other a witch plies her trade in the basement of her lamp store. Both stories juxtapose our known world with the heady, secret aura of witchcraft.

These are all accomplished stories, told in individual and arresting voices, and some of them I enjoyed very much indeed. Magic and witchcraft strikes me as being a difficult subject to tackle within the confines of the short story, and a great many of these ‘witchy’ tales set scenes and introduced worlds and characters I would happily have pursued through a longer work. They’re a brief glimpse into a magic mirror, one that makes you want to step through the looking glass right into this strange world and while each story came to a satisfying ending, I was often disappointed because they were only short.

Kate Genet

I'm a writer, storyteller and an exerciser of a very stretchy mind. I believe in curiosity, wonder and teaching my mind to do back flips.

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The Leaving

Author: Gabriella West
Publisher: Smashwords Edition
Genre: Literary
Rating: 5 Stars

At 15, Cathy is an intelligent misfit living in 1980s Dublin. She soon discovers that her charming older brother Stevie, who’s gay, is falling in love with the one boy in school whom she likes. Cathy struggles with her dysfunctional family, coming to terms with her growing feelings for her best friend Jeanette, and leaving Ireland. The Leaving is a realistic look at adolescence and first love.

I sat down by the fire on a snowy afternoon with this book, intending only to read for a couple of hours, before setting it aside to do something else. But this is a completely absorbing book and it would not let me put it down. I stopped only for something to eat then took up where I’d so briefly left off.

Absorbing is the word that comes to mind to sum up this novel. It is written in first person and has a distinct narrative voice. It is not light fare—it is a deep and insightful look inside a character’s coming of age, coming to terms, and coming to acceptance. It never wavers in its focus and tells a story of confusion, obsession, need and the complete inability of the main character to compromise herself—she will not be other than she is, and in this there is a lesson for all of us, something to think about and admire.

Sometimes books speak to us with a familiarity that echoes our own experience, and we are lucky when this happens, but even if this is not the case, there are some books with aspects that touch on the universal. Anyone who has been through the oft-painful voyage of discovery when we realize ours is not a mainstream expression of sexuality will be able to see some of that experience reflected in this extraordinary novel.
Set in Ireland in the nineteen eighties, this book might be thought to come across as somewhat dated, but I doubt this will ever be the case. Every detail is an expression of the characters’ upbringing, the time and neighbourhood they walk through, but it is so well written that these are details that bring to characters to life rather than to simply date and place them.

There is a strong emotional drive in this book. The story comes to life also through good, strong dialogue and is given depth and feeling by the emotion and thoughts of the main character, who tells us her story. We worry over her, as she worries over herself, but when we start to wonder about her and think that perhaps it would be better if she were to compromise herself somewhat, she proves us wrong, and shows us something we would all do well to remember—to know ourselves, accept ourselves and be at all times true to ourselves.

The relationships in this book are complicated, and not always easy, perhaps sometimes a little stifling and unhealthy, but this is what gives the book such depth and a sense of reality. Life is not often a tidy thing, the ties that bind us to each other are often fraught with knots.

In all, Gabriella West’s novel The Leaving is a book well worth reading, one whose storyline will stay with you long past the last page.

Kate Genet

I'm a writer, storyteller and an exerciser of a very stretchy mind. I believe in curiosity, wonder and teaching my mind to do back flips.

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The River Within

Author: Baxter Clare Trautman
Publication: e-Book
Available: http://baxterclare.com
Rating 5 Stars
Genre: Drama

After a lifetime of reading, it is still sometimes astounding to me that a book, which at its most basic is merely words upon a page, can often grip you by the heart and pull you into its story. Baxter Clare Trautman’s The River Within does exactly this.

The River Within is not an easy story. It is one you will often want to put down, but equally, it will not leave you alone until you pick it back up and carry on. At its heart, this book asks, how do we live with ourselves when our lives have gone wrong? At its heart, this book answers that question – you do what you can and then you do what you must.

Three main characters speak to us in voices of pain, regret and uncertainty, telling us stories that travel from home and relationships, to war and loss. At times distressing and almost unpalatable, these stories touch us deeply and these characters, in the midst of their losses and anguish gain a type of beauty when they at last have enough of lies and start to face, and determine, how to live with the truths that lie at the heart of who they are.

This is a compelling book, beautifully written, with scenes, which take us from the fireside at home to the beat of a war journalist in the Middle East. Each scene is believable, alive, each detail telling and true. The narrative voice is confident without resorting to tricks to tell us the story at the heart of the book, and probably at the heart of all of us as well. How do we manage when we realize our choices have led us to a painful place?

Although the story is told from multiple viewpoints, the transitions are so smooth that we are always within the story, never jarred from the continuous dream that is a good book. The pacing is perfectly controlled, even when we might wish to rush ahead to see what happens, we are guided through this traumatic but beautiful and ultimately heart-warming story with the author’s deft and loving hand.

A story of loss of innocence and a story of the struggle for redemption, Baxter Clare Trautman’s The River Within is a story for our times.

Kate Genet

I'm a writer, storyteller and an exerciser of a very stretchy mind. I believe in curiosity, wonder and teaching my mind to do back flips.

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The Dark Wife

Author: Sarah Diemer
Publisher: Oceanid
ISBN: 978-1461179931
Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: YA / Myth / Romance

Three thousand years ago, a god told a lie. Now, only a goddess can tell the truth.

Persephone has everything a daughter of Zeus could want–except for freedom. She lives on the green earth with her mother, Demeter, growing up beneath the ever-watchful eyes of the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. But when Persephone meets the enigmatic Hades, she experiences something new: choice.

Zeus calls Hades “lord” of the dead as a joke. In truth, Hades is the goddess of the underworld, and no friend of Zeus. She offers Persephone sanctuary in her land of the dead, so the young goddess may escape her Olympian destiny.

But Persephone finds more than freedom in the underworld. She finds love, and herself.

There is almost a lyrical quality to this book, which complements the mythological storyline very nicely. It is like entering a dream world through which gods walk. The language is evocative and draws you into the story in an act of seduction. And although this is a goddess telling her story, we are captivated, and it is a story which tells of love and betrayal, passion and desperation, and the finding of a strength and will to conquer all obstacles. It is a coming of age story wreathed in magic and love.

Sarah Diemer has done an impressive job of characterization in this charming novel. She manages quite deftly to walk the line between ensuring god-like mystique and allowing passions to which we can all relate. Through the story, each character remains constant to their temperament, while revealing their greatest depths through the action of the novel. Persephone grows through the story as a natural consequence of it, which is just the way it should be—all characters need to go through a transformative process.

The actual storyline flows naturally, especially considering that this is a creative retelling of a well-known myth. It had an integral sense and meaning of it’s own, and it seems perfectly natural that the Lord of the Underworld is in fact a goddess, that Zeus has lied about her. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this book is how well it meshes together. There are no parts to it that do not flow, or that do not seem meaningful and likely.

The setting lingers in the mind after reading. It comes to life organically—as part of the storyline—until you are immersed in it, visualizing it perfectly with every sense. There are enough little, telling details to make it seem wholly real.

For such a rich story, my only wish was that it dug a little deeper, lasted a little longer. The storytelling is excellent; the tone just right; I would have been pleased had the story been a little more complex and detailed. I felt in places that it touched only lightly on the action and emotion. But this is no serious lack as The Dark Wife is still, in the end, a lovely piece of storytelling.

Kate Genet

I'm a writer, storyteller and an exerciser of a very stretchy mind. I believe in curiosity, wonder and teaching my mind to do back flips.

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The Slayer

Author: Nadine LaPierre
Publisher: Frisson Books
Publication Date: July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9868668-0-7
Rating 2 ½ stars
Genre: Drama

This is a very long book at over four hundred pages. Is it also a good book? A book that has you glued to your seat, eyes to the page, heart pounding, mouth dry, laughing along with the characters, crying with them?

Not so much, unfortunately. It could be, if it were about a third shorter. It has promise, but as it’s not a first draft, it’s too late for promise. It is exceptionally well researched and the author has something of a flair for dialogue. The storyline is complex and the characters are reasonably compelling although not especially well developed, as though the author was unsure how to express the complexities of their personalities. The setting was well portrayed and a good background for the action of the novel.

In all, this was a frustrating read, mostly because so much of the story didn’t serve any purpose. I had a count up and there are five characters that are completely unnecessary to the story. They serve no purpose in moving the story forward and instead they drag it down until the whole thing becomes tiresome. Four hundred pages is a lot to ask of a fiction reader. The story needs to be tight, well paced and every detail should be relevant.

I visited Ms. LaPierre’s website and read the abridged version available there of the epilogue to this book. This abridged version is great. Everything in it is relevant to the story, the scene is set and we’re given a good look at what the book is going to be about. Unfortunately the full version loses this sharpness of focus and the first half of the book does little other than introduce far too many characters until all is confusion.

I spent at least two hundred pages wondering what the story was actually about. Was it about a murder case? Was it about the main character’s childhood trauma? Was it about the lives and loves of a group of women? There were several places I wanted to put the book down because there just wasn’t any focus and clarity to the storyline.

I did, however, read right to the end and things do clarify in the second half. It does, in fact, become quite a good read, with a pretty satisfying ending. LaPierre’s skill with dialogue is a treat and there are many scenes in the book that have a great sense of immediacy.

The bones of this book are great, it’s just carrying a lot of flab on them. You need to be a very stubborn, forgiving reader to manage this one.

Kate Genet

I'm a writer, storyteller and an exerciser of a very stretchy mind. I believe in curiosity, wonder and teaching my mind to do back flips.

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