REVIEW: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxiere

I’ve put this book on my TBR years ago. I don’t remember why I did it (although, knowing myself, the cover tempted me), but I can only thank my past self. This book is beautiful.

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Alone in a country they do not know, Molly and Kip are in desperate need of a job. So desperate they accepted to work for the Windsor, the family living in the haunted Sourwoods. Once settled as servants, they begin to uncover the secrets of the family, the house and the tree that grows in it: what do they lock behind the strange,old green door? What does master Windsor do in there? What sickness is the family suffering? And who is the nightman the youngest child speaks of?

I liked almost everything about this book: the rounded characters you come to sympathize with (Kip is a real sweetheart, he’s probably my favourite), the compelling story that pushes you to go on reading to find out what’s going on. It has an eerie atmosphere about it, but being a book for 9-12 years old don’t expect it to scare you too much.
The only thing I didn’t like was how long the book began to feel toward the end. That’s when the pacing of the story, not the fastest but anyway flowing, started to feel a bit off. There is a particoular event (no spoilers!) that although required to end the story, really seem to cut the pace. Furthermore, the last chapters are short and some might have been merged as the switch serves only to change the character from whose point of view the story is told.

Despite this little flaw, however, it still is a beautiful story: it’s filled with magic, it tells about love, life, courage and the need to do what’s right; how sometimes what we want to do and what we have to do are very, very different things.

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DP explanation of High Days #1 – Samhain

Samhain, celebrated October 31, is the third and last harvest festival. The themes of this holiday are the beginning of the winter season, the re-making of the world and the return of the spirits to the world of the living.

Known also as the Calend of winter, Samhain marks the beginning of the winter season, a change that had impact on our ancestor’s life. Because the sustenance of Celtic populations came mostly from agriculture and livestock,  the beginning of winter marked the end of the work on the fields: the harvest had been reaped, the animals had been brought home to the safety of their sheds and those who went to pasture with the animals came back home too. The festival of Samhain was held after all this work had been done and it was believed bad luck to harvest after the festival.

To the Celts the alternation of light and dark had a profound symbolic meaning. The year was divided into two halves: the light began with Beltane, the dark with Samhain. The gap of time during which the celebrations takes place are a “time out of time”: because they are boundaries, they are both within this world and outside of it. This is the mythic time during which the world is destroyed and remade. Chaos prevails only to be followed by the re-creation of the world:

“during this interval the normal order of the universe is suspended, the barriers between the natural and the supernatural are temporarily removed, the sídh lies open and all the divine beings and the spirits of the dead move freely among human beings and interfere, sometimes violently, in their affairs”[1]

The belief in the return of the spirits are reflected in the customs of the feast. The dumb supper, for example, survived up to the 20th century: food would be left out for the ancestors who walked the land during the night. An offering of corn or potatoes might also be left outside the house to the fairies, to propitiate good luck and a good harvest for the incoming year. Going out during the night was deemed inappropriate, as fairies fly from mound to mound and one could be snatched by them. Those brave enough to go outside disguised themselves, as Scotland costume demonstrates: masked and often with faces painted black, young men went around causing mischief during the night.

[1]Celtic Mythology by Proinsias MacCana, pp. 127-128

Sources
Celtic Mythology by Proinsias MacCana
Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton
Celtic Heritage by A. Rees and B. Rees
http://www.tairis.co.uk/festivals/samhainn/
http://www.maryjones.us/jce/samhain.html

T5W: Books Featuring Witches

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To begin October (one of my favourite month!) in the proper way, here’s a collection of various witches of every kind that I gathered for this week’s topic. And no, no Harry Potter because that would be rather predictable 😉

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Stardust is a modern fairytale, or at least it reads as such. It seems appropriate then that the “evil” characters – Ditchwater Sal and the Lilim – have so many traits in common with the classical witches you can find in tales: evil, wicked and hungry for power.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The birds talked to Patricia when she was little. She doesn’t know how they find her, she doesn’t know how to contact them again. What she knows is that she’s a witch and that she wants to attend a magical future. What she doesn’t know, though, is that together with her childhood friend, she’s going to save the planet.

Dreamwalker By J. Oswald
The mother of the dragon protagonist (Benfro) is your friendly village witch: cottage at the outskirt of her society.? Checked. Collecting herbs? Checked. Helping people with her concoctions? Checked. Her practices reminded me of the modern hedgeriders or traditional witchcraft. Plus, she’s a dragon and this makes her even more cooler.

Wizard’s First Rule by T. Goodkind
I know, I know: Kahlan isn’t a witch and her powers aren’t magic or spells. However the sisterhood she’s part and head of, as the Mother Confessor, made me think about the one in the Mists of Avalon. She loves people, she’s devout in serving her community and fights for her people. Not very witchy-like in the usual sense of the term, but there’s more to the archetype of the witch apart from the cauldron and the incantations.

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer
Okay, okay: the character isn’t really a witch. She’s just one of the other humans to discover how to bend reality through a computer file. And she isn’t more that a side-character in this book, although she’s featured in the sequel (where she flees to Atlantis to be with other reality-bending women). I liked the character, though, and I liked this concept of magical world that…isn’t that magical.

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October’s here!

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I like October: the coloured leaves, the hot tea, the first warm sweater. October is a happy month, for those who are little bears like me and enjoy cozy time on the sofa or a quiet walk in nature. I must say it has been a little clouded the last few days and the gloom and the mists over the fields remind more of November than of the beginning of autumn we’re in. The temperatures are still warm, though.

I have a little goal for this month: start an ongoing devotional activity in the evening and in the morning. I want to familiarise myself a bit more with the ADF core order of ritual and there’s nothing better than practice to achieve this. My only obstacle is to figure out a place in which I can ritualise at 6am in the morning, but I believe I’ll sort that out.
I’m also about to read the chapter of the Dedican Manual about mental training so I believe I’ll have my 10-15 minutes of meditations back in my life soon.

On a sidenote, I discovered that October 3rd Cathu Alesiae (the anniversary of the battle of Alesia) is celebrated:

 Alesia was the last major engagement between Gauls and Romans and marked the turning point of the Gallic Wars in favour of Rome. The siege of Alesia is considered one of Caesar’s greatest military achievements and is still one of the classic examples of siege warfare and circumvallation. – Battle of Alesia

Although I am not a Gaulish polytheist I live in ancient Gaul territory so I found it appropriate to pray the Ancestors, pay homage and let Them now their sacrifices aren’t forgotten

source

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T5W: Books You’ve Read Because of Booktube/Blogging/etc

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Since I started lurking following the book community, especially BookTubers, I found a lot of great (and not-so great) titles to put my hands on. These are the books that I’ve been pushed to read the most, for a reason or another.

Furiously Happy, a Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
I saw this book in a wrap-up, I thought “I have to read it” and after three or four days I had finished it. It’s that good. It’s a collection of essays about basically everything that happens in the author’s life, told with a big dose of humor. I appreciated Mrs. Lawson being open about her dealing with mental illness: she has a way of with words that make you laugh even when you’d like to cry (which isn’t bad) and describes her experience in such a way that you can’t but relate. We’ve all been through horrible things, after all.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Saw on a YT channel, I thought I was going to read an eerie story and got…nice vintage photographs. Don’t get me wrong, the story and the writing aren’t bad, they’re just not what I was told they were: horror or at least creepy. It really wasn’t to me, so it felt like a bit of a letdown (and no, I’m not intendioned to go on with the series: it didn’t catch my attention).

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace
Written by a girl whose booklr I used to follow, this is a collection of poetry. I gave in to buying it when I saw it was listed for the 2016 Goodreads award and it didn’t disappoint: the poetry, modern in style, is touching and some poems are so relatable to my own experience in adolescence that I almost cried here and there.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I saw this book multiple times on multiple YT channels as the “must read” for every nerd and videogame lover. I bought it and…it was a huge disappointment. The story is boring and the main character is too. Overall it seems like a whole book was written just to show the knowledge of 80s pop culture of the author. Which is amazingly vast, but unfortunately not enough to write a novel about.

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
The best way to describe this book is: “it’s like reading Mass Effect”. I really liked it and I’m soon going to re-read it to get into the companion novel, too. It’s set in space, but it’s more of a character-driven novel than a space opera. The various humans and aliens that populate the pages are well thought of and I appreciated the effort put into creating different alien species. However, the writing sometimes feels a bit off, although I couldn’t say exactly why.

Special mensions go to Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire and All the Birds in the Sky by C.J. Anders! Both of them wonderful books that I recommend you check out.

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Week 1, aka: I’m bad at writing liturgy

I’m trying to work on the first oath that I intend to perform during the equinox rite. The oath is just a self-commitment to the work the ADF stands for and an affirmation of the dedicant in front of the Gods, Ancestors and Spirits.

While reading the book the fellowship gives you for training, there was a small oath to be performed and I did it. You know, when pagan books tell you to “stop everything” and recite the occasional small prayer for this or that purpose? Exactly that. I was firm in my decision and recited that first oath, but it came out a bit…impersonal. Which is why I decided to make a simple, but full, ritual as it is outlined in another work: The Dedicant Path throgh the Wheel of the Year, an awesome resource that is helping me organising my work. Many thanks to M. J. Dangler for writing it.

However, while trying to write something, writer’s block came in: how should be the structure? The pace? What’s wise to include? (It’s still an oath: I don’t want to dedicate myself to works I can’t sustain.)
I ended up writing almost an exact copy of the already-existing oath and thinking that whoever wrote those words probably knows better than me, as there’s no other way I could phrase my commitment to virtue, piety and study that sounds better than those lines. They’re simple and on point. I added some tweaks here and there: personal things I value or believe important in my practice, and that’s that. It’s still (mostly) identical to the one printed, even though I know I’ll work on it a bit more.

So yes, turns out I’m not great at writing prayers. My solitary practice has always been mostly silent because you can’t chant while mom and sis have tea in the kitchen, unless you want to solicit their attention. My prayers have never been written down, I’d just start speaking. This is all new, the ritual structure seems complex and in any case it’s different from what I was used to, and I’m starting to get frustrated with all the things I don’t know. When they said that building a Druidic practice would “challenge and irritate you – we promise!”, I didn’t believe it would happen so soon!

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REVIEW: Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

I do not love grammar. For all the love I bear to languages, grammar is always my least favourite part. That thing that stands between you and expression. Unfortunately, rules are what make us comprehensible to others.
In my almost 20 years of studying English – my, do they sound a lot! – I’ve learned about verbs and sentences and tenses, but never (not properly) about punctuation. It seemed sensible to me, when our professor gave us a list of books to choose from, to pick this one: first, because the subject matter is one I’m weak in. Secondly, because I want to learn to write properly. Punctuation is as essential as words, in that regard.

truss_book-a7ef04dc51ca66b0ffa7b6e403faa170e627455a-s6-c30I begun the book with great expactations, as it is (apparently) well known and well loved. I enjoyed the introduction, although I found some bits…uncanny. I read pleasantly of the various mistakes, the horror of the author at misplaced apostrophes, the history bits.
I must say that I did found interesting rules for the semi-colon and some for the comma; apparently they escaped my formal education. However, much of what is written is ridiculously…predictable. Maybe it’s because usage resamble a lot that of the Italian language, or maybe because I studied a lot of grammar. Either way, that part didn’t give me what I was hoping for (superior punctuation powers, that is). However it did help me point out mistakes I make regularly, so I call it a win.

The problem that became apparent all through the reading is the obnoxious insistance of the author on herself: I get it, you illustrate stuff that happened to you by recalling a life event. Many non-fiction books of this level do. Many bloggers do, too. It gets annoying, however, when there’s a continous stream of insults of any kind masked as “humor” or those very self-centered part that are meant to point out how superior you are.
I still need to understand what statements like: “I bought a book on grammar while every other girls was having dates and abortions and were at the isle of Wight, and wrote rude letters to a teen-ager” really give to the book. To me, it sounded like “I was not like other girls” discourse; meant just to underline, once again, the stupidity of others or the abyss between the stickler and the non-sticklers.

The constant pointing to the internet as the Devil, come to destroy the world, is something I still have to understand. More specifically, the claim by Truss that punctuation will disappear because it was invented for the printed medium of books and not the interwebs is absurd. There exist tumblr, with its uses of language that are meant to convey tone and allow people to write in a way that is more similar to speech (and yes, it does take a linguist do appreciate this), there are the facebook status updates of people who forgot how to use a comma; people that don’t care because “it’s the internet”. And then there are websites like Wikipedia, scholarly institutions like universities, companies and a whole lot that use punctuation because it will never cease to be usegil.
I really don’t see why a person can hate the old : – ) emoticons because they’ll make punctuation be forgotten, and be taken seriously. By the time the author made this claim, it was the end of the book; I was seriously done with these amount of absurdities and obnoxious tone though.

I gave the book 3/5 stars: it’s good, it’s not bad written, it gives information. You need to be really good at ignoring the author’s voice, though. I honestly hoped for it to be better.

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