Ok, I have to start off by saying I feel a little guilty for reviewing a memoir. I mean, how can I sit here and critique such a personal story? So I’m not going to give a typical review where I’m making suggestions on what could and should have been included and excluded, but rather I’m going to focus on how it made me feel.
The Book of Help made me feel less alone. I could relate to Megan’s yo-yo diets of various self-help techniques and the emotional rollercoaster they took her on. I found her story compelling, her honesty heart wrenching, and her perseverance and resilience inspiring. I found myself falling in love with her love stories, crying with her heart breaks, and asking those big spiritual questions when she herself was lacking the answers. My biggest take away from her story was that self-help techniques are never going to answer your questions or even give you the peace that you seek. All of these different methods lock you in the perception that you are not good enough, that you need to be fixed. As Megan herself pondered through all of her trials and tribulations, why can’t we just live with who we are? Perhaps all of us are broken, and all the different experiences we have are ways to initiate the repairs we seek externally when we really should be honouring thy self. Part of the healing process involves understanding what it is we most need and doing everything we can to align our lives with them. So will all of the fancy schmancy new age remedies out there such as meditation, acupuncture, therapy, and herbalism (just to name a few) meet these needs? I’m not so sure, and as Megan concluded, protection, nourishment, and comfort is all any of us really needs and that will look very different for each individual. So go out there, find your happiness, and live your life by your own terms. We can only be responsible for ourselves. We are not here to fix everyone and everything, because what seems broken, is actually falling into place.
The No-Self Help Book by Kate Gustin proposes that the inner voice inside of us has hijacked our sense of knowing who we are. Essentially, we are not our “self” because the self does not exist. The self in modern Western society and psychology is most similar to the “ego” but further research has discovered that it’s actually a complex system that is controlling, persecuting, and dis-empowering. This was layed out in the ‘Introduction’ which was easy to understand and got me interested in reading the rest of the book.
The first part of the book ‘Selfhoods’ was the strongest section of this book in my opinion. It clearly outlined all of the ways we buy into our own stories at the expense of truly living an expansive life. We tend to over-identify with our emotions and narratives which degrades any values and dreams that we might have. The theme throughout this first section was about understanding that we are not our thoughts, and this is facilitated through having a solid value system. The second section of the book ‘No-Self Speaks’ was eye-opening. It was written in first person so that it seemed like the “no-self” was speaking directly to you. It outlined all of the ways we distort reality by listening to the demands of our emotions. On a side note, this whole section could have been included in the introduction whereby we learn that the “no-self” is just a clever name for consciousness…that we are an extension of everything. The theme throughout this second section was about not taking anything personally. The third section of the book ‘To Self or Not to Self’ combined the previous two sections of the book to show how following the guidance presented in this book can bring more presence and awareness to your life, as the author says “No-self is the largest context in which awareness of everything arises.” It becomes obvious in this chapter that we do have the power to choose our thoughts and feelings. Questions to ask oneself in certain situations and in interactions to bring attention to the “no-self” were included throughout this section which was very much needed. I will say that the sub-section on ‘Decision Making’ was weak and unresolved.
I have only read this book once, but I know I will be using these techniques to the best of my ability. As someone who tends to over-think and over-analyze things, I found this book to be extremely eye-opening. It was a little unsettling to discover that most self-help books out there are indirectly serving the ego. For this reason, I believe Kate Gustin is disrupting the whole self-help industry which is long over-due. This book is revolutionary, and ironically, The No-Self Help Book has helped me a lot.
Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill is a collection of reinvented fairy tale poems and prose for the those of us who wear our crowns slightly askew, for those of us who live our lives asleep like sleeping beauty, and for those of us who lock ourselves up in our towers, waiting for Prince Charming. What appealed to me about this book was the idea that perhaps Gill would be the new Grimm, that perhaps her stories would enchant, inspire, and ignite a sense of adventure and self-empowerment for the now age. Thankfully, this work did not disappoint. The consistent theme throughout is that princesses and fairytales are not exclusive to dusty old books and Disney films- we slay dragons everyday, we dream our own dreams, and only we can be our own knights in shining armour.
Gill has taken the morals of the classic fairytales and have injected them with a much needed modern day context. Some poems are dark, going deep into the woods to confront society’s demons such as eating disorders, absent fathers, the patriarchy etc. This was needed and speaks to the issue about the romanticism of fairytales. For those looking for stories about glamorous balls, glass slippers, and talking fauna, this is not the collection for you. There’s a reason this book is called Fierce Fairytales, the stories are meant to uplift you by first deconstructing the harsher lessons of classic tales. It becomes evident that “once upon a time” is our time.
While I did enjoy some of the poems, I felt the themes were redundant. This book could have been cut down in size by half and it would have been a lot more effective. I did enjoy many of the poems- particularly ‘Why the Leaves Change Colour’, ‘The Woods Reincarnated,’ ‘Somewhere Across the Universe, This Intergalactic Fairytale Is Being Told,’ and ‘The Healing,’ just to name a few.
If fairytales exist for the purpose of teaching and instilling morals and values into the people, then Fierce Fairytales will motivate you to get out of your cold dark cellar and rescue your self-love that you have put into the hands of wolves, villains, and enchanted mirrors.
Daughter of Light and Shadows by Anna McKerrow is a sexy and intoxicating novel set in the fairy kingdom and the price one has to pay to embrace their darkness. The story follows Faye- a proprietor of a new age shop in Abercolme who descends from a long line of witches. We follow Faye trying to come to terms with her Mother’s death and casting love spells with her two good friends. Along the way she comes to learn about her true ancestry which carries a heavy burden for many.
I really enjoyed the blending of the witchy genre with the fairy genre which I haven’t come across in many other books. There was just enough magic without it being too fantastical and this book reminded me of another similar story The Goblins of Bellwater by Molly Ringle. There was plenty of romance and eroticism which I didn’t mind in this particular story since it was used to show how the enchantment of the fairy world brings out people’s greatest desires that would otherwise linger in the peripheries of their being. It was this exploration of light and dark that kept me engaged from beginning to end. The fairy kingdom served as a metaphor for our own shadows. A place where desire, lust, and beauty can distort one’s personal power. The real world setting of Abercolme is the reality we live everyday, fighting our own shadows in order to stay in the light of what is acceptable. The mystical cold beach was the border between the two worlds- the place where spells and magic consummated. The murky waters of the sea were representative of our emotional depths- how far and deep would one go to discover themselves? This battle between light and dark played out in very magical way for Faye that kept me on the edge of my seat. I found myself struggling as Faye did. There were points in the story where I wanted Faye to fully embrace her fairy side- I mean, who wouldn’t be enamoured with gilt, jewels, and gorgeous supernatural creatures? Yet, there were other times when I wanted to see her exact revenge upon Glitonea and Finn, using her full witchy power. Daughter of Light and Shadows cast its own spell upon me, leaving me wanting more and more.
Palmistry- Your Personal Guide (In Focus) by Roberta Vernon is a comprehensive guide on the art of reading hands. I have read a lot of books on palmistry and this one far exceeds all of them. Everything that you need to be able to effectively read someone’s hand is included, from the lines on the palm, to the shapes of the fingers, the colour and feel of the hand, etc. This is where this book stands out. Including tips and tricks on how to read the entire hand is not something you will find in an average palmistry book. I especially loved the chapter on fingerprints and skin ridge patterns. The information in that chapter was unique and intriguing. I wish that there were illustrations earlier in the book that clearly showed what islands and chains look like on the palm because it wasn’t clear in the descriptions given. The chapter on the health of the hands was ingenious and I know most readers will probably jump right to that chapter. There were lots of unique tidbits included throughout that I haven’t read anywhere else. Such as travel lines, and timeline predictions using the lines on the palm. The illustrations were clear and were almost on every page so I didn’t have to constantly flip back and forth. This book is great for beginners and those who have more experience. I guarantee that you will learn new methods and will have your palm right under your nose when reading this guide. After reading this book, I will never look at my hands in the same way again, so go and get your hands on a copy of Palmistry- Your Personal Guide (In Focus)…no pun intended.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton is a haunting tale about an artist, a manor, and a priceless gem, and the interwoven lives of the manor’s mysterious occupants. I had high expectations for this book as I am a fan of Kate’s previous book The Lake House and trained as an Archivist like one of the characters. With that being said, I was left feeling disappointed with this book. I found it to be extremely slow-paced and the story itself was boring. It was an average whodunnit that really wasn’t all that interesting. I was confused as to what the story was really about? Was it a ghost story? A crime story? A story about a mysterious manor? Birchwood Manor was the main character, so I think it might have been more appropriate to rename the book as such. I felt the story was saturated with too many characters and it was difficult to keep up with them. As other readers have pointed out, it would have been nice if the two main characters didn’t share a similar names- Lily and Lucy. The Eldritch Children seemed last-minute and I’m not really sure why Elodie’s subplot was included since it was left unresolved. The Clockmaker’s Daughter needed a stronger supernatural element, less characters, and a more intriguing central mystery.
Crystals Your Personal Guide (In Focus) by Bernice Cockram is a beginner’s guide on healing crystals. Everything you need to know about them is included. Cockram’s explanations and descriptions are easy to understand so the reader will not be overwhelmed by the content. Cockram included information about crystals that I haven’t always seen in beginner’s guides such as the Moh’s Scale of Hardness, tips on how to create crystal healing nets for yourself and others, crystal divination using Astrology and Chinese Magic Squares, and Numerology. These were all nice touches that anyone can incorporate after reading this book. I applaud Cockram for explaining the different types of sacred geometrical patterns for crystal grids such as when you would use a flower of life grid versus a vesica pisces grid. I have not come across this type of information in a crystal book before so I thoroughly appreciated that section. The same goes for the different types of crystal systems that were also explained. Once again, most crystal books neglect to include this information so I was pleasantly surprised to read about this. My only complaint is that the author should have listed crystals that are safe and unsafe for making gem elixirs because a beginner would not necessarily know this. Since Cockram described the steps in making a gem elixir, a short list of safe and toxic crystals would have been a big help. The illustrations throughout were effective and the images of the crystals were crisp and clear. Overall a very informative and quick guide on crystals that I will surely be adding to my collection.
Strange Heavens by Philip J. Imbrogno is a love letter to the sky. This book looks at the historical, physiological, psychological, and psychic connections civilizations have had with the sky over time. In essence, this is a biography of the celestial heavens. The author makes no effort to hide his investigative work into UFOs so this is also discussed throughout which needs to be included if this is meant to be a complete story about the sky. I enjoyed a deeper look at the constellations, and a deeper look at the mythologies and fascination with Sirius, the Pleiades, Orion, the luminaries, and comets. The book ended a little abruptly and I presume this is because it isn’t finished, so I would look forward to reading a conclusion. If you are someone who had stared up at the starry expanse of the sky wondering what’s up there, surely Strange Heavens will be able to answer many of your questions.
Shamanic Qabalah is one of my favourite books I have read from Llewellyn this year. Author Daniel Moler takes the reader on an initiatory journey through the mystical Qabalah from the perspective of South American Shamanism. At first, it seemed that the “shamanic” aspects of the book were missing. There was definitely more emphasis and time spent on the Tree of Life, but as with Western Mystery Traditions, things are not what they seem. Shamanic Qabalahism is about grounding the mystical into the practical. For those who know little about Shamanism, it can appear as a mind tripping exploration of altered states of consciousness. However, this book proposes that the whole purpose of exploring the spiritual should be to harmonize the material world, which allows one to truly acknowledge and embrace their divine essence. My favourite part of the book was the deep look at the Sephiras. I thought they were beautifully and concisely explained. I especially enjoyed the discussions of the corresponding Tarot cards which I feel other books on the Qabalah have skipped past. I wish there was more discussion about how Shamanism incorporates into the Tree of Life in the chapters that delved deep into each Sephira, because from my understanding, it was missing. If you are new to the Qabalah this book will be difficult to understand, but do not let that scare you away. There is an abundance of information contained within this volume that your consciousness will know what to do with. Afterall, one of the main tenets of Shamanism is to create a bridge of trust between the supernatural and natural worlds.
It almost doesn’t seem right to review a book of this type. I would have to re-read this a few more times to fully grasp its messages, but I believe this would only be scratching the surface. Daniel Moler said in his conclusion that this book was only an introductory book on this topic. I sincerely hope that Daniel will follow-up this book with more on this unique subject. As someone who is looking to imbue life with practical spirituality, Shamanic Qabalah has awakened my soul to a new way of viewing the world and cross cultural traditions.
You Are Not Your Thoughts by Frances Trussell is a quick and easy guide on mindfulness. Unlike other books on this topic, You Are Not Your Thoughts describes what being mindful really is and how you can achieve it…yes, you! What’s unique about this book is that it is written using simple language and page long chapters that easily flow into the next. For example, a counting breath meditation is followed by a chapter that discusses the discouragement we can feel when attempting to meditate, which is then followed by a chapter on the breath. Most books tend to brush past the time and patience that learning something new will take, but Frances Trussell makes a point to be honest and upfront about how learning mindfulness is a journey that requires us to unlearn a lot of things. Her words of encouragement and explanation of how mindfulness will change your life are needed in a time when most authors make mindfulness sound like an exclusive rite of passage. Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a complicated ritual or practiced in a yoga studio. Mindfulness is so easy it can be done in anyplace at anytime by anyone. If you’re looking for a manual on how to do it, this is the one!
This book brings mindfulness back to the basics. Simply enjoying a hot cup of tea, noticing your breath, and finding a reason to smile everyday are all ways to detach from your thoughts. It’s this simplicity that is the secret magic of mindfulness.