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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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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June 25 — 9 Days to the release of Wind and Shadow!

LogoColorNoText(Yes, I know I’ve had the countdown before. I am, at times, an unrelenting optimist.)

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic, lately. Listening to my (admittedly overly-long) playlist. Starting to look at Book Two again, which will pick up two weeks after the events of Book One. I’ve also been searching my boxes of notebooks madly for the original writing I did, seven years ago last month, while sitting with my five-month-old in an uninsulated counsellors’ cabin at a children’s camp, waiting for our house to be ready to move into . . .

Where did this book come from? Why was I crazy enough to pursue it?

Because it demanded to be told. And it wasn’t easy, though so many times I wished it was.

It came out of a memory of a road collapsing in Cobalt, Ontario, sometime after 1989. As far as I can tell, there aren’t any pictures of this event online, though I’m sure someone somewhere has a photo tucked away in an album.

And then, it was fed by my love of romance novels and vampires. The very first romance I ever remember reading was an historical fantasy by Robin Mckinley, called The Blue Sword (still one of my favourites — my first and only copy recently fell apart!), although the Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie series certainly qualify as bursting with the elements. While I enjoyed the flowery imagery of books about love, I was also drawn to the macabre and the gruesome, the weird and bizarre. I was a big fan of MAD magazine from the age of 10. And the first horrors I read — Salem’s Lot, Dracula, and Tales of the Cryptkeeper — had me hooked on ghost stories and other stories of the paranormal. Films followed, of course: The Watcher in the Woods, Friday the 13th, The Lost Boys, Interview with a Vampire, Dracula (again!), Army of Darkness, The Monster Squad, John Carpenter’s Vampires, and more recently, 30 Days of Night, Twilight, Blade, Underworld, Dawn of the Dead . . .

So when I started working on Wind and Shadow, I was thinking of all of these influences. It reflects and blends some of the qualities of these works, but is also my answer to certain ideas created by best-selling authors. I’m hoping it has the creepiness and sense of doom created by Stephen King in Salem’s Lot, but that the romance carries the reader into loving the protagonists as much as I do. I am a huge fan of the Twilight Saga, even though I don’t agree with some of the choices made by the characters, and so I worked on an opposite scenario. My vampires aren’t, by and large, sexy and stylish at all times. But the allure of vampirism for those whose lives are not ideal is there. What wouldn’t some of us do for eternal youth, rejuvenation, and strength?

A third element of my life and experiences also demanded to bring itself into this vision. I’m Wiccan, and a witch. I enjoy my craft, feel entirely at home in my spirituality, and I wanted a book that embraced it as much as the film Practical Magic. There are an increasing number of fictional books that incorporate Wicca and/or positive witchcraft, as opposed to the wicked witch trope, and I wanted to add to that body with my own work. I’m hoping that fellow Wiccans and witches, and the Pagan community in general, will enjoy seeing some of their beliefs reflected in the trilogy, but also that non-Pagans will enjoy it as well.

Finally, I realized a fourth influence was at work when I was going through the editing process. As a Canadian, I’m well aware that we aren’t always represented in modern romance or paranormal fiction. There are fantastic Canadian authors out there, but I haven’t read many that produce work in these genres. So I found myself guarding my Canadianisms fiercely. After all, the book takes place in Northeastern Ontario, deep in one of the cultural hearts of the nation. It’s almost tempting to make a count of the shout-outs to Canucks near and far!

I’m still in the planning stages for the release party, but I have goodies ready for giving away: a mug, a t-shirt, pens, notebooks, bookmarks, plus some vampire fang necklaces. My heart is starting to pound again with anticipation . . . Keep your fingers crossed that all goes well on June 25th!

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