This year I read and reviewed 32 books for publishers! The genres I read and reviewed were self-help, new age/spirituality, and fiction. I have selected my top 3 picks for each category ranking them from #1-3. Books ranked from #1-3 are books I would purchase hard copies of (if not already). In each category I also included a bonus pick which is a book I enjoyed but would not purchase. I also added the biggest flop I read of each genre which are books I thought I was going to enjoy but ended up hating. Included in each category are a mixture of books that I read for publishers and for my own leisure.
Comment down below with the #1 book you would most like to read in 2019!
Here we go….
The No-Self Help Book by Kate Gustin, JP Sears
‘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 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.
Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard
‘Late Bloomers’ by Rich Karlgaard is a look at what this taboo concept is really all about. Karlgaard uses many real life examples to show that late blooming is more common than what we have been led to believe. We live in a culture that places too much emphasis on early success which undermines those who need more time to blossom. The book looks at what led us to the point, specifically the societal conditioning. The following chapters examine the psychological and neuro-scientific research that reveals that late blooming is in fact normal. The standout chapter for me were the strengths and gifts that late bloomers possess and that late blooming offers. As someone in their mid-twenties who still doesn’t have their life together, this chapter made me feel better and more confident in my abilities. There were many tips included throughout this chapter on how to step into one’s potential and power. For late bloomers, being able to see their weaknesses as strengths is paramount for their self esteem. A point I would like to make is that the so called “early-bloomers” usually come from affluent families who are able to accelerate their success. Also, I felt some of the examples of late bloomers were a little weak. Some of them were more “second career” examples, whereby someone had a successful career prior to blooming in their ideal environment. I also think that being a late bloomer doesn’t have to mean becoming a CEO at 45 or famous at 65. Everyone defines success in a different way, so there needed to be less examples around material success and more examples having to do with personal fulfillment. Overall this is a must-read for every late bloomer who feels misunderstood and hopeless.
The Happiness Passport by Megan Hayes
‘The Happiness Passport’ by Megan Hayes is an international exploration of what happiness means to various cultures around the world. Like most people, I have been guilty of being fascinated with foreign cultures and their seemingly relaxed and pleasurable ways of life. If you have ever wondered how to accomplish this, then this book is a must read. Megan takes the reader on a journey to every corner of the world and delves into what happiness means to each culture. Readers will be surprised to learn that the Danish ‘Hygge’ that has become somewhat of a mainstream fad, is only one small example of what different countries consider to be their idea of happiness. This book is more of a encyclopedia for happiness seekers, because Megan introduces the reader to a new vocabulary full of beautiful words to describe the state we are all seeking. I was moved reading this book because I learned that some cultures were able to articulate my own idea of happiness that I myself could never find the words for. This book was broken down into chapters regarding happiness that is found at Home, in the Community, in the Soul, Spirituality, and Calm of the everyday lives of the various cultures featured. This drove home the message that everyone has their own idea of what happiness looks and feels like to them. I would recommend that you keep a pen and paper close by when reading this book because there will be so many new words that will be added to your lexicon once you’re finished. Words are powerful because they are elements of language, and what better way to learn the language of happiness than through beautiful descriptive words from all over the world.
The Book of Help by Megan Griswold
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’ by Megan Griswold 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.
Biggest Self-Help Flop
How to be Alone by Lane Moore
I didn’t know anything about Lane Moore before reading her book but if I did I wouldn’t have “wished” for it. I found the swearing throughout to be offensive and perhaps this is Lane’s no nonsense way of speaking her truth, but it wasn’t something I liked. I thought the title of her book and message was misleading. I thought this book was going to be a survival guide for loners, but instead it was a series of chapters about Lane, ironically not being alone. There is a difference between being alone and feeling alone and this book is definitely about the latter. One can be alone in this world by not having any friends whatsoever or never having been in a romantic relationship and another person can feel alone by having all those things which was Lane’s issue. I didn’t feel her brutally honest stories of her life to be helpful in any way. She didn’t offer any concrete advice or make me feel better about my own life. She tried linking her lonely childhood to her failed relationships as an adult but it felt like she was trying to sound like a therapist…but not a very good one. I was left feeling very confused about this book. The cover made it look like a psychology textbook and her central message was weak. She didn’t explain how to be alone. It was more of a rant and nostalgic trip down memory lane about her issues around attachments in relationships. If she explained in her individual chapters about what it actually “felt like” to be alone in relationships it would have made a huge difference. Also, if she offered advice or tips at the end of each chapter on how to work with this and accept it, this book would have been successful.
Shamanic Qabalah by Daniel Moler
‘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.
Dictionary of Gypsy Mythology by Claude Lecouteux
A compendium of hermetic knowledge that’s as good as Gypsy gold for those outside of Eastern Europe… ‘Dictionary of Gypsy Mythology’ by Claude Lecouteux is a comprehensive guide of Romani mythologies and beliefs, containing stories from Roma authorities and a variety of tribes. It is a valuable source for those who wish to learn more about these mysterious people, their history, and culture. The information contained within this book is sourced from a 19th century Ethnologist who spent time living with the Romani peoples. The Roma do not have their own alphabet or written records, thus, all of their stories are based on the oral tradition, which makes this dictionary an invaluable curated archive of their culture. A discussion on the Egyptian and Indian origins of the Roma is featured throughout, as well as an exploration of the pagan and Christian symbology that has weaved itself into their lives. What I loved is that every god, goddess, animal, mythological creature, folktale, rite, song, and joke was explained within the Roma’s cultural context. This helps the reader understand why they have such beliefs in the first place and how this informs their lifestyle and choices. There are plenty of footnotes and citations listed to support the content of the book, making it both a credible academic resource and an enlightening read. I am so happy that I got to review this book! My Mother’s side of the family is Romani so I grew up with a lot of stories about their folklore. To this day we still practice bits and pieces of domestic magic and fortune telling, although none of it has been documented. Both me and my Mom started to record it a few years ago so we will always have a record to be able to pass down through the generations. My Romani heritage is not something we as a family like to “advertise” because the stigmas are still extremely strong……not even my Dad who doesn’t have Romani blood approves of my Mom’s heritage. It’s a culture that is misunderstood and is still ostracized to this day. I’m always hunting for the next book about the Roma, and this one was the most in depth and interesting one that I’ve read.
Stones of the Goddess by Nicholas Pearson
‘Stones of the Goddess’ is a crystal user’s guide on working with goddesses and the Divine feminine. Nicholas Pearson’s expertise in crystals is apparent throughout as this is a detailed and well researched manual. The stand out for me was the rock formations process compared to the maiden, mother, crone triality that we see in several goddess stories. This scientific and geologic look at nature’s cyclical process is the essence of this book- that the goddess is present in the mineral kingdom. There were several crystal grids, charm bags, elixirs, meditations that were included. This book couldn’t be more timely as we are currently experiencing the women’s empowerment movement and the rise of the feminine. If the Goddess represents nature and change, using her gifts will help us navigate our way through this new expansive consciousness.
Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm by Stephen Harrod Buhner
My review is pending but here is the description of the book:
In Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm, Stephen Harrod Buhner reveals that all life forms on Earth possess intelligence, language, a sense of I and not I, and the capacity to dream. He shows that by consciously opening the doors of perception, we can reconnect with the living intelligences in Nature as kindred beings, become again wild scientists, nondomesticated explorers of a Gaian world just as Goethe, Barbara McClintock, James Lovelock, and others have done. For as Einstein commented, “We cannot solve the problems facing us by using the same kind of thinking that created them.”
Buhner explains how to use analogical thinking and imaginal perception to directly experience the inherent meanings that flow through the world, that are expressed from each living form that surrounds us, and to directly initiate communication in return. He delves deeply into the ecological function of invasive plants, bacterial resistance to antibiotics, psychotropic plants and fungi, and, most importantly, the human species itself. He shows that human beings are not a plague on the planet, they have a specific ecological function as important to Gaia as that of plants and bacteria.
Buhner shows that the capacity for depth connection and meaning-filled communication with the living world is inherent in every human being. It is as natural as breathing, as the beating of our own hearts, as our own desire for intimacy and love. We can change how we think and in so doing begin to address the difficulties of our times.
Biggest New Age/Spirituality Flop
Occulture by Carl Abrahamsson
The title says it all. Exploring the occult through popular culture and history. This is not the occult that we have come to understand, but rather occulture as in a post-modern movement. This is why I finished this book scratching my head. I was hoping for an exploration or uncovering of secret symbolism throughout popular culture, but instead received some lectures about the driving forces behind everything from Counter-Culture to Freud, from Dreams to the Media. These driving forces were explained from a philosophical and sociological angle, so I do feel a proper explanation of the “occult” was missing. Ironically, popular culture has distorted the occult to the point where we assume it is merely about magic and spells, but neglects to inform us of its psychological components- such as free will, cause and effect, intention, and individuation. This is where the author does a great job at exploring those components but neglects to actually explain what occulture actually is? Is it a corrupted esoteric lifestyle? Is it a desensitized trend? I would recommend placing the conclusion ‘Intuition as a State of Grace’ at the beginning of the book because it actually concisely summarized the contents of the book. This is a book I will read over and over again, hoping some of its content can actually sink in. If you would like to twist your brain and go on a mind bending journey through the underpinnings of society, this is a must read. I wouldn’t recommend this book if you are fairly new to exploring the occult, as your preconceived notions of it will surely be obliterated which you might find to be empowering or devastating.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
A few months ago I visited my local New Age shop to purchase some books on Bach Flower Therapy. While perusing the shop, I came across a pile of books stacked on the floor whose top book was glistening under the flourescent lighting and whispering my name. It was Garden Spells. My synchonistic meeting with this book was beautiful. I went into the shop to purchase books on flower therapy (which I did) and left with a novel about floriography (the art of interpreting flowers). The messages in this book were what I needed to absorb at the time, and thus I am grateful for our encounter. This book follows two sisters and their magical garden in North Carolina. This was the second book to make me cry because I related so deeply to the sisters’ perseverance and struggles. If you think a magical apple tree and unrequited love might be your cup of tea, pick up a copy of Garden Spells...you won’t be disappointed.
Fierce Fairytales by Nikita Gill
‘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 Anne McKerrow
‘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.
The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister
‘The Scent Keeper’ by Erica Bauermeister is a beautiful story about discovering the sensory depths of love. The descriptions of the scents wafted through its pages intoxicating me with their tones of heartache, loss, and survival. I thought the characters were beautifully flawed and relatable. The story-line about a family who collect scent memories was unique and magical. This book reminded me of ‘The Perfume Collector’ by Kathleen Tessaro although more enchanting and quirky. I never knew something like scent branding existed, and so I finished this book wanting to learn more about this obscure practice. The story ended with many unanswered questions but I believe this was intentional. I have a new-found appreciation for scent and its power to reveal the truth.
Biggest Fiction Flop
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
‘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.
Down below are the top 3 books I want to read in each genre
The Metaphysical Diet by B. Taylor
Kabbalistic Astrology and the Meaning of Our Lives by Kabbalist Rav P.S Berg
The Science of Planetary Signatures in Medicine by Jennifer T. Gehl
The Fortune Teller by Gwendolyn Womack
Wicked like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic
Origin by Dan Brown
That’s all folks! Please comment down below with your favourite book of 2018.