SOPHIA’S SECRET – Susanna Kearsley
If it’s a break you are wanting from all of the stress of life, then I can recommend a lovely little book called Sophia’s Secret, by Susanna Kearsley (2008). Classified as ‘historical romance’, it takes you back to the 1708 attempt by Jacobite loyalists to bring James Stewart over from France to Scotland to rule as their king. Most of the characters are based on real people and the research, as far as I can tell, has been impeccably done. Yet it’s a light read, based on the premise that ‘ancestral memory’ persists through our DNA. As soon as I finished this book I wanted to read more by this author and have ordered her latest book ‘A Desperate Fortune’, which is another Jacobite intrigue.
DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST – Juliet Marillier
This book follows the tale of the family of the chieftains children.
Set in Ireland the main character is Lord Collum’s youngest child and only daughter Sorcha through her trials, to do right, help her family and her people.
This is a beautifully written tale and can be read as a stand alone or in conjunction with other books that follow on from this.
Juliet Marillier is an Australian author who crafts a magical world and weaves her words skillfully. I cannot recommend this book enough.
HEMLOCK AT VESPERS – Peter Tremayne
Apart from Capall Bann books my other guilty pleasure is historical murder mysteries. Don’t ask me why they’re so comforting – actually really don’t ask; I can’t afford the therapy in case the answer isn’t nice. But the thing is, they are, and when I’m frazzled by life, I’ll pull something off the stack of “historical slaughter stories I found in the opshop”, and wallow in it. This is one such find.
As it turns out, “Peter Tremayne” is the nom-de-plume of Peter Berresford Ellis, whose book on The Druids I like immensely, so I approached this with more optimism than usual. Hemlock at Vespers is a collection of short stories featuring Tremayne’s main protagonist, Sister Fidelma, a 7thC religieuse and dalaigh, or advocate of the ancient law courts of Ireland. Sister Fidelma is beautiful, with sparkling eyes and amazing red hair, wise, intelligent, quick-witted, adept at almost everything, and holds a rank in her profession second only to the ollamhs who may sit as equals with the High King. We are reminded of this several times in every short story, in case we forget how utterly incredible Sister Fidelma really is. Men underestimate her. Constantly, because she is a woman; but she just smiles mysteriously, and pulls rank and/or amazes them into silence. Despite all of this, as a Mary Sue she’s not too unpalatable, and Tremayne’s historical knowledge goes a long way to making his bite-sized mysteries rather enjoyable. I’m oddly curious to see how a whole novel might read, once the character doesn’t have to be reintroduced in all her improbable glory every five minutes, so Tremayne’s eight other Fidelma novels have gone on the opshop wish list, and if I get lucky I may inflict the results on you here. I really do recommend his Druid book, though; it’s a corker.
THE CHARGE OF THE GODDESS – EXPANDED EDITION by Doreen Valiente
This beautiful book of poetry written by the wonderful Doreen is a heartwarming, spinetingling collection of tales and imagery penned across the course of her life.
It is broken into four sections, each dedicated to a season and named after one of her most famous pieces of prose it is well worth a read.
With a variety of themes and topics, Valiente transports us briefly to another world with her words, painting us worlds of beauty, wonder and danger.
Definitely worth the read. I will be reading this again and again, it was worth every dollar.
LIGHT FROM THE SHADOWS: A MYTHOS OF MODERN WITCHCRAFT – Gwyn
To be fair I actually haven’t finished this one yet, because I’ve had precious little time for reading this month, and, well, you’re here for the book review and don’t need to hear my whining. Anyway; I haven’t finished this; here is a review of one-third of a book so far. I picked it up from a local bookshop and nearly didn’t because it has a tacky cover (standing stones, check; cauldron with a pentagram on it, check; broom-fer-chrissakes, check; weirdly-photoshopped smoke and fire, check; athame and chalice possibly taken from a 1990s computer game, check), but when I was but a wee bairn, a fairy laid a geas on me that I have to buy every single book published by Capall Bann or I would never get any cake*, so I did.
Actually it’s very, very good. It transpires, in themed coincidence (see my fiction review this month) that “Gwyn” is the pseudonym of Michael Howard of The Cauldron magazine, and as one might expect from him, it’s an excellent book filled with folklore (some of which I hadn’t come across before), history, and traditional craft, tied together into one of the very best, (if not the best; I’m only partway through) paradigms of Modern Traditional Witchcraft I have read so far. Gwyn explores witch-lore throughout the British Isles and Europe, and even America, as well as describing a cohesive mythos for practice, spellwork, tool use, ritual, etc. I’m very much looking forward to the rest of this. It deserves a nicer cover. So far it gets a glowing recommendation from me. Just probably don’t read it on public transport if you care what people think.
*that may be a complete lie to justify my reading habits.