Book Review — Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft

Right away, before delving into each of these fantastic stories, I must give full disclosure of my bias: I’m both Wiccan and a witch. I have a fairly intimate knowledge of the Craft, both through experience and research. I love being part of this belief system, finding like-minded people, and learning all that I can about it, within the decreasing limits of my so-called free time. So finding this anthology, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, was like coming home to me. I absolutely loved it.

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“An Accidental Witch”, by Liv Rancourt

I was completely entranced by this story from the first page. The descriptions, the characters, the setting — all of it grabbed me right away. In a problem reminiscent of classic sitcoms like ‘Bewitched’, a practitioner of magick approaches her Wiccan friend for a little bragging over her coven’s recent acquisition, and a little help with an awkward situation. Charlotte agrees to help, and succeeds, using her skills in Wicca as well as some quick thinking and a level head. I could see it all so clearly, and the characters all reminded me of people I know and love. Rancourt has provided a fabulous introductory story to the anthology, perfect with a chocolate-covered pastry for nibbles.

“Alba”, by Karen Heard

I was glad to take a break between stories, because I quickly realized there is a change in tone as each tale ends and the next begins. The subtleties and undercurrents of “Alba” were compelling and organic. I love strong subtext, fitting pieces together, and discovering hidden meanings. I love flipping back and forth between sections of a story to uncover what was there all along. Heard did that for me with writing that is breathtakingly beautiful and haunting. Her story strongly reminds me of favourite episodes of ‘The X-Files” and the classic ghost story “Watcher in the Woods”, flavoured with aspects of Snow White and other fairy tales. There is also a twist at the end that I did not see coming, and it was perfect. Read with a good cup of tea.

“By the Pricking of My Thumbs”, by Jonathan Broughton

Ah, vengeance. Justice. Mayhem. Some of Shakespeare’s best works were based on these very themes, these intangible aspects of human nature that both terrify and release. I was floored by this imagining of turn-of-the-century performance of That Scottish Play. Broughton uses incredible detail to skillfully set up a plot that spirals rapidly to its climax. The dramatic irony is intense and juicy. The applause of the audience is definitely well-deserved.

“The Cat Maiden”, by Mertianna Georgia

I have friends who are devout cat-lovers and fans of fantasy fiction who must, absolutely MUST read this story. I’m going to insist on it. (And of course, they will then be compelled to read the rest of the anthology, which is as it should be, because I cannot decide on a favourite here, no more than I could choose a favourite chocolate out of the box.) I adore the sweetness of Georgia’s characters, struggling to be true and strong in a harsh world. Elrick, her protagonist, is fortunate indeed to have been granted two loving guardians with gifts of magick to teach and protect him. I wish I could see this illustrated with watercolours, each picture bordered in gilt.

“The May Lady Vanishes”, by Pamela Turner

I must say, I had my suspicions about a certain character in this story from the very beginning, and I was gratified when I read the solution to the mystery and discovered I’d been right all along. I don’t want to spoil it for you, of course, so won’t go into too much detail. But Turner’s depiction of an occult shop was bang-on. And her visuals brought the story to life immediately. What I liked most about this story, though, is that it really brings home the reality that not all those who practice Wicca and/or witchcraft do so with good intentions. Witches are still human beings, capable of jealousy and poor behaviour. There are consequences for everything. Turner’s characters are entirely three-dimensional in this short mystery.

“The Hanging Witch of Painter Mountain”, by Lawrence Baker

Excellent reading for a warm — or cool — fall afternoon. Baker evokes a combination of creepy, sinister, wistful feelings in this look back to the years after the American Civil War. I love the language in this story, and his use of subtext to reveal the magick in the rough mountain community. This story makes me think of something Stephen King might write, actually. It transitions seamlessly from one reality to the next, as gently as a falling leaf, bittersweet and tangy. “The Hanging Witch” is a notable example in that every word is chosen carefully to provide meaning to the reader, and eloquently so.

“Thirteen Steps”, by Debbie Christiana

Another tale of purposeful witchcraft, tinged with horror for those who admire Stephen King. Poor condemned witch Isabella cannot be pitied for long, as she is one of those who cannot be held back even by time. The fate of the antagonist, self-indulgent journalist Bart Santz/Sanzone, is abundantly clear from the moment he is introduced, which makes riding along with him that much more enjoyable. Oh, that moment when he realizes the point of no return has come and gone… Just delicious. Tea and hot apple pie with this one, if you please. Throw a dollop of whipped cream on top. Trust me.

“Four Bony Hands”, by Rayne Hall

A stunning modern adaptation of a classic children’s fairy tale. Estelle is such a sweetheart, a good woman whose qualities I recognize in a number of my close friends. Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. Perhaps it’s her own karma catching up with her — Estelle is no innocent, though her minor civic crimes were committed with the intention of protecting life. Certainly, her fate is determined by the impact of ignorance and abuse on others. I like this story so much because Hall not only depicts human beings with great honesty, she doesn’t even hold back with the children. There is a harsh reality to being a child in a story with a witch — at least a traditional fairy tale, in which witches are inevitably evil hags with a yen for prepubescent flesh — so in a way, the children’s behaviour is somewhat understandable. If only Estelle had realized her role in their perceived story… I find myself wishing I could read the next chapter, that this one continues on in any one of several directions.

“Mishmash Magick”, by Carole Ann Moleti

Discovering this colourful tale of urban magick was a complete delight. One simply does not expect to encounter witches in the city, let alone builders of magickal circles, crafters of spells, or celebrations of sacred fire festivals in the concrete and pavement landscape. Moleti’s portrayal of the balance between the intangible and the mundane is bang-on. There is a care to the works of the urban witch, a certain way to juggle the Craft without attracting unwanted notice, and she has captured it brilliantly.

“Love Magick”, by Debra Dunbar

Dunbar knows her teenagers, and her facts about Wicca and witchcraft. This story is really and truly lovely, even with its squirmy moments of adolescent awkwardness. The outsider, Blossom, is painfully lonely and accepts an offer from one of her school’s queen bees, Sheila, to work a spell on a boy. Blossom has a good heart, and a strong conscience, and her inner beauty is clearly visible to others even though she doesn’t realize it until her crisis peaks. I wish that real life could resolve itself as well as “Love Magick” does, but that’s why we read — to learn how to work through problems, and improve how we behave toward each other. And that’s really the heart of magick: achieving balance, for the good of all and harming none.

This anthology is a must-read for lovers of magic/magick, fantasy, romance, horror, mystery, and the paranormal. I’m so glad that I read this book.

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.ca/Beltane-Witchcraft-Fantasy-Stories-ebook/dp/B009D41V3E

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This evening: I’m on WebbWeaver Books!

You’re invited to listen to the podcast when it airs at 5:30!

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/webbweaverbooks/2013/09/27/webbweaver-books-proudly-presents-author-tori-l-ridgewood

My first ever live interview — squeee! Palms are sweating…

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Contest Time! Who wants to win a free copy of Wind and Shadow?

There are Rafflecopter draws happening at my guest posts on Book Flame and The Book Rat — click the links and play along for your chance to win a free copy of my debut paranormal romance!

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http://bookflame.blogspot.ca/2013/09/how-to-sell-your-book-online-guest-post.htmlOnly FOUR days left on this one at the time of this post…

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http://www.thebookrat.com/2013/09/wind-shadow-by-tori-l-ridgewood-excerpt.html14 days remaining in this draw at the time of this post…

(waits expectantly, fingers tapping on the keyboard, clicking back and forth between Rafflecopter counts)

Did you enter yet?

😉

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Mabon Thoughts

Blue sky peeking between the edges of the off-white cloud cover reveals their feathery edges, recognizable to Northerners as those that provide the first winter’s snow. The temperature has dropped overnight, welcoming the Autumnal Equinox with near zero celsius cool and fading sunshine. The rich green grass of summer now complimented by the bright reds, oranges, and yellows of changing leaves, nature’s flaming crowns overseeing the last warmth as the last of the growing season is ushered out and the Wheel of the year turns again . . .

I saw the moon last night, just out of her fullness and veiled by the lowering clouds. The chill has already been carried down by the north winds for weeks, but summer has lingered, kissing bared arms with tender warmth even while being pulled away. I wonder if any of the tomatoes which grew unexpectedly in my garden this year have survived the first killing frosts. My back lawn has been carpeted in a scattering of yellowed leaves, and overhead, I’ve seen great flocks of Canadian geese spread in their vee-shape as they escape the approaching cold for the lush feeding grounds of the south.

Of course we become pensive at this time of year. Playtime is over, at least for a little while. An elusive thought finally articulated itself, just this morning, as I was contemplating one last grass-cutting: that summer is not the state of being in this part of the world. It’s winter. This land exists for the cold. Summer is only a brief respite from the long periods of stillness, piling drifts, howling winds, and freezing cold — it comes to allow the living things to prepare themselves for long sleep under white, fluffy blankets and deep dark of midwinter months.

But as much as hunkering down, building our dens, finding our thick woollen sweaters and mitts can bring us sadness, there is an excitement in the undercurrent. The last harvests are being gathered, and we can celebrate everything we’ve accomplished under the sun. To the ancients, this time represented the end of the old year approaching. There are festivals to prepare for and enjoy, renewing ties of friendship and kin, as our circle of activity begins to draw itself closer to the warmth of home.

However you spend this weekend — putting your garden to bed, setting up car shelters, taking down your summer décor — stop for a moment in the waning sun and close your eyes. The pulse of the earth is there, in your blood. It’s in the scent of the wind, fresh with the melted morning frost and aged leaves. It’s in the taste of your food, made more deep and savoury with fall’s appetite. It’s in the rosy cheeks of your son as he rides his bike stubbornly through the cold, not yet ready to put it away, and the pout of your daughter who is told to put her shorts away for another year. Talk to your family and friends about your plans for Thanksgiving, and enjoy the coziness of your socks.

Happy Mabon!

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Mist and Midnight now available from Melange Books!

Mist and Midnight now available from Melange Books!

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Stalked by a cruel and relentless vampire, Charlotte is on the run. Fleeing the city, the powers of magick her only protection, she couldn’t afford to fall for the hot modern prospector Pike Mahonen. Can she avoid temptation in a small town, to keep them both safe?

Find out how the vampire was trapped underground in this prequel to The Talbot Trilogy!

Buy Links:
(PDF) http://www.melange-books.com/authors/torilridgewood/mistandmidnight.html
(Kindle) http://www.amazon.com/Mist-Midnight-The-Talbot-Trillogy-ebook/dp/B00HQA3MKC/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1389544136&sr=8-5&keywords=mist+and+midnight

Thresholds: Endings and Beginnings

My son is twelve years old, turning thirteen this February. I’m trying not to focus on that. But there are certain realities that are becoming more and more clear as the time passes. He has played COD at a friend’s house, knows more about the Umbrella Corporation than I ever will, hacks and cheats with the best online when playing Minecraft, and squirms uncomfortably at awkward romantic moments on TV and movies. But he’s been quietly interested in the idea of dating for at least two years, had his first part time job this summer as a soccer referee, and does his own laundry.

And until recently, he still believed in Santa Claus.

I had mixed feelings about that. I always have.

It seemed a given, when he was a very small child, that we would encourage him to believe in the jolly fat man. Santa Claus has significance for me, as a Pagan, and it’s firmly embedded in the culture of North America. But I had a hard time reconciling myself to one interpretation: that we were lying to our child. It was especially hard when he was four, and he asked why Santa had brought him the Buzz Lightyear he’d already seen at the local department store. We quickly explained that Santa had a deal with the toy stores, and that this was the one time of year when they would give the toys away for free… And the following year, we made sure that Santa left him a wooden toy under the tree, instead of something clearly factory-made.

The questions continued every few years. “Is Santa really real?” Yes. “Hey Mom, guess how I think he travels the world to deliver presents in a single night?” (I was proud of his conceptualization of time, physics, and engineering for Santa’s sleigh.) But every time I reaffirmed his belief, I felt a little more guilty. When would the right time be to admit the truth? How upset would he be, to learn one of the structures of his world was a false front? Would he understand, like Virginia, that Santa is a feeling, a metaphor, a symbol that is in its own way as tangible as snow?

I tried explaining it once, but he wasn’t ready to understand metaphors, so I let it go. I think he was nine.

He’s intelligent, my son. He’s always paid attention to conversations. He catches onto clues. And we haven’t shied away from television shows in which the characters talk about the non-existence of Santa Claus. Still, I thought that at a certain point, he would just sort of figure it out, casually admit it, and we would move on. We would keep it going for his little sister, and he would be in on the fun, the mystery, without being disappointed. But I couldn’t bear the thought of this small part of innocence being lost to him, the disappointment he might feel, so I couldn’t gather the courage to broach the conversation myself.

And then, some time during the last two years, at some point in the holiday season, he suddenly asked his father if he should stop believing in Santa. His friends had begun to tease him, pointing out that they already knew it was their moms and dads. My husband is a good man, and he understood Jack’s dilemma: Do I cling to the childhood that I love for as long as I realistically can, or take the step into the strange new world of adolescence along with my peers? He told his child, “It’s up to you. You can keep believing if you want. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” And our son decided to keep believing just a little while longer.

And now he is in grade 7, on the cusp of being a teenager.

It has come up again, partly because some of his friends are aware that he was a staunch believer all the way through grade school. He’s been teased for believing in Santa into his double-digits. So, we burst the bubble. Dispelled the illusion. Lifted the curtain. And he was a little sad, a little nostalgic, but he understood. He has questions about how we made the magic happen, and with the blinders removed, a new understanding of the other the myths of his younger years: the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.

I’ve told him that if the kids at school bring it up again, he should change the subject or walk away. It’s not up to them to determine what he believes. It’s deeply personal. I related how I’d first figured it out when I was nine, but that I’d never told my parents that I knew until much later. And I told him, I’d kind of thought that was the situation with him — that on some level, for a few years, he’d already understood and decided to keep playing the game. And I admitted to him, in our conversation at bedtime, that many, many adults might not be at all surprised if they came into their living room on Christmas Eve and found a jolly fat man with a big white beard leaving presents. The magic is that palpable. I told him that even now, after thirteen years of parenting, at the age of thirty-six, I still feel a mild shock at midnight on December 25 when I realize that it’s ME, that I have to fill the stockings. I still want to believe, and a part of me does.

Do I wish that I’d gone the practical way and never raised him with the illusion? No. He has had year after year of anticipation, glee, love, surprise, and story. And even if he’d stopped believing at the same time as his friends, they’d find something else to tease him about — that’s what friends and children do, it’s part of human nature. There is a line that teasing crosses to become bullying, of course, but I don’t think we’re there yet. As individuals, we look for reasons to connect with each other, feeling stronger in the collective, and my son’s long-held Santa loyalty marks him as separate from the herd in some ways. Maybe it’s possible that some of them are jealous, on some level, that he was able to keep the dream alive. I know some will look down on him as being childish for it. There is always something that someone will use to belittle him with, in order to build themselves up. And we’re teaching him to see those acts for what they are, though it’s painful at times to go through. Even adults can have a hard time with this. I know.

Now, whether his sister has caught on, or is continuing the play, I’m not sure. Jack hasn’t been particularly careful about discussing the issue in front of her, but neither has she cared.

There is a very real truth that children raise their parents as much as their parents raise them.

If you ever believed in Santa Claus, when did you figure out the secret? I’d love to know your stories, too!

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Good News Monday!

At ilovevampirenovels.com, I have a Dedicated Author Page!

Muahahaha! My media empire is spreading! (rubs hands in maniacal glee)

Okay, maybe not so much, but still, every spot I land on the Interwebs feels pretty good. It’s that whole thing about life moving pretty fast (thank you, Ferris Bueller!) — I enjoy the little things as much as the big things. And this one is more of a medium.

Have a look when you have a chance — it’s Monday! Here’s the jump:

http://www.ilovevampirenovels.com/vampires/tori-l-ridgewood/

First look at the cover for Mist and Midnight, my prequel to The Talbot Trilogy — squee!

This is mostly definitely a fuel to get my engines running! Caroline Andrus has met my expectations and more with this gorgeous rendering of the cover for the novella that sets up Wind and Shadow, and the rest of the Talbot Trilogy. What do you think, my dears?

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Talk about an incentive to work on Book Three: Crystal and Wand — I’m on tenterhooks waiting for edits on Book Two: Blood and Fire.

So, how has the end of your summer been going? I was very down for a while, watching time pass and my to-do list not shortening a great deal, but I crossed enough items off to be okay.

My garden did not do as well as expected, but neither did I put the effort into it that I was planning, and yet the roses, begonias, and a few others are thriving. I had strawberries grow, and tomatoes come up from seeds that fell out last year’s frost-kills. Ambition for next year is renewed!

I’m very pleased that I’ve managed to keep up with my lawn mowing. Last year, I think I gave up in the middle of August — mind you, it was a long, hot, dry summer, but still . . . have you ever tried picking up poopsicles among tufts of still-frozen-yet-slushy-too-long-grass in April or May? It’s not fun. I’m hoping, having kept the lawn trim, to avoid this headache in the spring.

The weather in my neck of the world has cooled considerably, but we’re still having sunshine and some lovely warm afternoons. Each weekend, we put the property further to bed. I’m hopeful that this week, our big Dumpster will arrive so we can properly dispose of old appliances, beds, and random junk that has accumulated over the last year.

The math course I’ve been given to teach is still rather scary and daunting, but I got through the first week with minimal damage to my ego. It’s manageable, but still a challenge. But I’m doing better at self-care, so I think that it will get better. Teachers need to remember to take care of themselves to have the energy and morale to tackle those tough classes.

I think, too, that having had a good summer is fuel for a good fall and winter as well. My family and I had a terrific time at FanExpo in Toronto last month. We only went for a day, but that was plenty with kids in tow — we didn’t even make it through the whole day, leaving at 2. But I got to meet Cathy Weseluck (voice of Spike on My Little Pony) and Luke Perry!

And gape at other celebrities from a distance. Plus marvel at the creativity of the cosplayers, assorted societies (did you know that there is a Ghostbusters Ontario? I didn’t!), check out the booths, play with some technology, meet Drs and Daleks and zombies . . .

I only wish I’d had made the time to make a costume for myself. Next year! Plus, it was terrific visiting old friends and relatives we hadn’t seen in years. (I was feeling a bit shy to take pics of my great-aunt and second cousins, strangely.)

Plus, on the way home, I climbed the Temagami Tower for the first time, a thrilling and scary experience. 154 steps — great for the thighs!

Plus, I’ve been making steps toward a better, healthier lifestyle. I joined Weight Watchers at the end of August, and I’ve started doing yoga regularly again. Just 15 minutes a day, but hey, it’s something! And while I cheated badly on my meals last week, I made a good re-start yesterday, buying all healthy things, lots of fruits and veggies, and avoiding the cheesecake aisle.

That’s a lot of “plus”. On to my Professional Development Day!

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