September 14, 2012
The Dream-Maker’s Magic by Sharon Shinn
Safekeeper’s Trilogy: Bk 3
Another beautifully told coming-of-age fantasy from Sharon Shinn! Dream-Maker’s Magic focuses on the evolving friendship of two misfits- Kellen, whose mother insists she was born a boy, has been raised as such. She presents herself as either gender depending on her mood or the situation. Gryffin is a physically handicapped boy who is very smart and determined to succeed. The two go to school and then work together in an inn/restaurant. I like how the author depicts the change of the seasons and the seemingly simple yet multi-layered life of a small town. The plot ended up moving in ways I did not expect- so you may be in for some interesting surprises.
The exploration of both gender identity and disability was also very intelligently and sensitively done- it makes you think without being politically preachy.
This the 3rd in a trilogy of loosely connected books set in the same unnamed kingdom- the others being the Safe-keeper’s Secret and the Truth-Teller’s Tale. I thought this was the best of the three- I still recommend reading them in order though.
Read in March 2009
Sacred Mushrooms: Secrets of Eleusis by Carl A. P. Ruck
Thesis that psychotropic mushrooms were used in the Eleusinian Mysteries.
There is a more in depth version by same author called Road to Eleusis but I thought I’d get the main gist of it by reading shorter version since it ties in with Mysteries of Demeter: Rebirth of the Pagan Way
I thought that while Ruck made some interesting points about the role of mushrooms in ancient religions, he went too far. He incorporated everything that remotely resembled a mushroom including crosses. It just became ridiculous. The fact that the publisher seems to be focused on drug-related books (as advertised in the back of the book) did not add to his credulity. Obviously he was more motivated by the promotion of psychedelic drugs than the search for the truth about the role in ancient mystery religions.
I think the use of mushrooms or other entheogens in Eleusis may have been possible, but I would rather see this explored by a less biased and more academic source.
Mysteries of Druidry by Brendan Myers
Brendan Myers has an original and insightful take on Druidry.
I’ve read a lot on Celtic religion- both ancient and modern and gotten rather jaded- it gets to be a lot of the same stuff. He does have a early chapter with introductory information, which makes it fairly beginner-friendly. His strength is the instructions for contemplative spiritual practices such as “peaceful abiding”
Overall the scholarship was quite good, and he included footnotes, though there were a few Victorian ideas like Lugh being a sun-god, and personal interpretations asserted as fact, like Maeve of Connacht being the same being as the Morrigan. I also disagreed with his opinion that one must have a college education to be a Druid, it’s rather elitist, and it is only one way to be educated.
This is a great resource for both beginners and more advanced practitioners and friendly to different traditions of Druidry.
Read Aug/Sept 2010
Growing up, James McBride knew nothing of his mother’s past. His father was black & his mother was white, but she left her previous life behind her and refused to discuss it. Finally as an adult, he convince her (Ruth McBride) to tell her story, and share it in this memoir. She grew up the daughter of a Polish rabbi in Suffolk, Virginia, and fled to the North with her African-American lover. She married twice (both husbands died) and raised mostly by herself 12 children, defying the grim odds of poverty. I thought the Color of Water was quite well-written. The chapters alternate between James’ recollections of his childhood, and his mother’s narrative. She is (or was?) a strong, determined woman, and a stern but loving mother. I found it interesting, for one because in my generation, interracial relationships & families are seen as no big deal for the most part. But Ruth faced stares of puzzlement and hostility as she led around her children around New York City.
December 18, 2009
Robin Hood by J.C. Holt
Who was Robin Hood, if the man existed, and how has the lore surrounding him evolved? J.C. Holt traces the legend of Robin Hood back to the area of Wakefield and Barnsdale forest in 1225.
One of the key things that I learned from this book was the distinction between tales taking place in Barnsdale vs. Sherwood forests. I realized that growing up, I heard the Sherwood stories, in which Robin and his Merry Men fight against the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham. Whereas the older Barnsdale stories had an abbot and others as enemies.
Holt pieces together evidence of the geography of the legends, the audience they were directed at- originally yeomen, a class of household servants and how they spread and developed later on. He bemoans the obscuring of the older tales and their in his opinion, debasing.
Though it was quite informative, I also found parts of it to be rather dry. I think it’s better to read this if you’re more familiar with the Robin Hood legends. As I have just begun studying them, I realized I kind of jumped into the deep end of the pool with this one!
Read in April 2009
December 15, 2009
The Red-Haired Girl in the Bog: the Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit by Patricia Monaghan
Fantastic! In Patricia Monaghan’s various pilgramages to Ireland, she explores the landscape with dindsheanchas, traditional stories associated with places, many of which I’d never heard of. The anecdotes she shared of her adventures and people she encounters were interesting. She also includes many insightful commentaries about history and modern issues facing both Ireland and the rest of the world- from ecology and economics, to the survival of language and culture. Her descriptions of the land make you feel like you’re there. I can’t wait to travel to Ireland!
One critique I do have to give though, is that Monaghan cites a variety of sources, many of which are good but the scholarship of some are questionable. However this is more of a fun, casual read than a scholarly book, but there is a wealth of information here.
I’d also love to see similar books about Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall as well as non-Celtic nations.
Read July 2009
While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer
While I’d heard news stories about cultural tensions with Muslims in Europe esp. France I did not realize the full extent of these problems. Bawer details many outrageous human rights abuses especially of women, children, gay and Jewish people by Muslim immigrants.
He blames European countries’ policies of multiculturalism & cultural relativism for being so “tolerant” of Islam that they turn a blind eye towards extremism. He claims that any criticism of Islam is suppressed as being racist.
He points out that the U.S. is used to immigration and encourages new citizens to see themselves as Americans, and embrace common values of democracy and equality, but Europe was not prepared to integrate large numbers of immigrants from drastically different cultures, and native Europeans have a lack of confidence in their cultural values stemming from the World Wars and guilt over colonialism.
One big caveat I have with “While Europe Slept” is that Bawer does not cite his sources- no footnotes. It seems odd, especially when he mentions specific incidents and quotes. That said, it has sparked my interest to further research Islam in Europe. I think he raised some valid criticisms of European policies, though I do think he has a bias against the E.U. that didn’t seem especially relevant to this book. His dismissal of any real racism or discrimination towards African & Asian immigrants in Europe seems unfair and dishonest.
Read July 2009
May 18, 2009
The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart by Bill Bishop
Why is there such political and cultural polarization in America today? That is the question Bill Bishop sought to answer in “The Big Sort”. He discovered that while we were once much more mixed in our neighborhoods, cities and counties, we have been moving- often intentionally to be around “people like us”. So how and why did this shift occur? He traces it back to the year 1969- before that people trusted each other more, and trusted the government much more. After events in that year, there has been a steady decline in civic involvement, and increasing distrust among races, religious vs. secular people, liberals vs. conservatives as these groups have had less contact with each other.
There are a lot of statistics and numbers laid out in this book, which I liked being a former political science major. For others it may be more than you want to know. But it’s great to see thorough research backing it up, not just rampant speculation as many other books have done. Also while you are reading this think about how your lifestyle has been “sorted” and what impact that has on your actions and worldview.
March 9, 2009
The Forestwife by Theresa Tomlinson
Fleeing an unwanted forced marriage, orphan Mary runs away to the woods of England. She is worried about the wild creatures and outlaws that live there, but willing to take her chances. Her nurse Agnes follows her, and proves to be an essential companion and mentor, who is knowledgeable of herbal healing and wilderness survival. They become part of a community of people who live in the forest avoiding the oppression of local lords, including Agnes’ son Robert.
The idea of a Forestwife, a wisewoman healer who lives in the woods is cool, and makes sense- wouldn’t the Merry Men need a healer? And I also like the description of the seasons and what people did in preparation/reaction to them.
The story was well-told, and historical authenticity fleshed out the feel of the setting. The dialogue uses a lot of archaic words, which might be difficult for some, but I found it understandable.
It seemed like Theresa Tomlinson really did her research, and it helps that she grew up in the areas associated with the Robin Hood legends! This is part of a trilogy, the other books are Child of the May, and Path of the She-Wolf, the latter has only been published in the UK unfortunately. However it does look like there are copies available online for decent prices.
Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna
Where do church traditions like preaching sermons, the practice of Communion or even having a church building and a paid minister come from?
If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of these things, read this book to find out! Most of these practices are of pagan origin, absorbed from the broader culture or added in intentionally to increase the status of the church. Viola believes these practices should be rejected not only because of the non-Christian origin, but also because they are harmful to building Christian communities. He supports his claims with Biblical citations.
Before you pick up “Pagan Christianity” there are some things to keep in mind- it is focused on Protestant traditions, and aimed at an evangelical Christian audience. Despite this, I think it would be of interest to anyone curious about where various aspects of institutional Christianity come from.
Frank Viola is a prominent organizer in the house church movement, and he is upfront about that. George Barna, founder of the Barna Group,
The book was quite well researched, with plenty of footnotes. It may not go into as much depth on each as an academic work would, but I think it’s great that the authors brought this information to a mass audience.