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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River Walker

Title: RIVER WALKER
Author: Cate Culpepper
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
ISBN: 9781602821897
Genre: Romance | Supernatural
Rating: 5 Stars

One moonlit midnight, two very different women meet on the banks of the muddy Rio Grande. Grady Wrenn is a cultural anthropologist, enthralled by a local ghost story about a vengeful spirit known as the River Walker. Elena Montalvo, a spiritual healer, is that tortured spirit’s only defender. Together, Grady and Elena must find a way to end the River Walker’s murderous vendetta— and overcome a maze of cultural barriers to find each other.

Halfway through Cate Culpepper’s River Walker I put it down and said, “Damn it. I wish I’d written this.”

There. Having confessed my literary envy I can proceed clean of heart. River Walker deserves no less.

Cultural anthropologist Grady Wrenn relocates from the Pacific Northwest to a little town in New Mexico and straight into a murder spree. Locals blame the killings on ‘La Llorana’, the legendary ghost that haunts the banks of the Rio Grande, and they accuse Elena Montalvo, the town’s healer, or Curandera, of aiding the accursed spirit.

Enthralled with the story of La Llorona, Grady’s anthropology students take on the legend for their summer project. What better place to start their research than with the local Curandera, smoothing the way for a charming relationship between Elena and ‘Professor Gringa’.

Though the women are drawn to each other, and approach the attraction each with their own set of matching baggage, the enchantment of the romance lies in how they take the time to feel each other out. They get irritated with each other then make up, they squabble and are re-charmed. Just like in real life. There’s a lovely ebb and flow to their courtship, a dance that is refreshingly healthy and mature. Of itself, River Walker is a fine romance.

Baxter Clare Trautman

Baxter Clare Trautman works as a biologist on California’s Central Coast, where she lives on a ranch with her longtime companion. She is the author of the L.A. Franco series of novels.

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The Leaving

Title: 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 Venus Magazine

It’s Here. The third issue of the Venus Magazine!

Dear All:

My thanks, as always, goes to all our contributors for making this, our Summer issue, an issue packed with what I hope you will agree is a great line-up of fiction, essays, interviews and reviews.

Merci beaucoup and, enjoy!

Alexandra Wolfe
Publishing Editor

Alexandra Wolfe

Alexandra is the founder, owner, and publishing editor of the Kissed By Venus web site and magazine.

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Travels Through Love And Time

Title: Travels Through Love And Time
Author: Christine Hall Volkoff
Publisher: Night Publishing, 2010
ISBN: 978-1456466114
Genre: Literary Fiction | Romance
Rated: 3 Stars

Love affects us, touches us, and changes us. It can awaken us, make us soar, and give us faith in humanity, in ourselves. No love, no matter how fleeting, is unimportant; we are always transformed by it.

Ms Hall Volkoff’s novel is about how love comes to us, at different stages of our lives when we need it most and how it makes us, more.

Made up of what amounts to three novellas, this novel shows us the evolution of the heroine’s life, through the prisms of three love affairs. In the first the heroine is a young girl on the verge of womanhood awakened to love by a woman older than herself. In the second she is coming out of an unhappy relationship and meets a woman with who she has a passionate affair, in the third she is a mature woman experiencing desire, for a woman much younger than herself.

I was expecting a romance novel, however, that isn’t exactly what I got. I applaud the author’s effort, there is real feeling in this work, fluency and fluidity, but, it felt like a novel in search of an identity. A hybrid: neither romance nor literary fiction. I never had a real sense for the heroine, she felt a little flat; she never felt real. I like romance novels and I like characters I can associate and identify with, but, that’s me. Perhaps if it had been longer then there would have been more character development, and it would have worked better. As it is, it struck me as a novel without a sense of direction.

If you are looking for a different spin on romance and interested in the exploration of form and the ideas behind how love changes us, maybe this is the book for you. It wasn’t for me.

Caroline Filler

Caroline is a Montreal bookseller. Her great love is reading. She claims no expertise as a reviewer other than being a life long avid reader.

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