Review: The Year My Mother Came Back

cover54630-medium“The Year My Mother Came Back” by Alice Eve Cohen is one of the most beautiful memoirs I’ve ever read. I love memoirs, because they can be so touching and so very real. And because they are so real, they can hit very, very close to home.

This is the story of the author’s journey through breast cancer treatment, and what interestingly, and unexpectedly, came along with it. One day, her mother, who passed away thirty years ago, appeared at the kitchen table, as if she’d never been gone. The author’s relationship with her mother had been a strained one, and that is what I believe makes this memoir so special. It’s not a story of a woman who was best friends with her mother, or even of a daughter who feels compelled to “work it all out” with the mother she didn’t get on well with.

Instead, this memoir is the story of an everywoman’s struggle with illness while also trying to move somewhat gracefully through daily life, an everymother’s battle to get through the challenges, doubts, fears, and guilt related to her own role as a mother, and an everydaughter’s need to feel mothered and cared for by the woman who raised her. Cohen doesn’t try to fix her relationship with her mother. She simply dwells within that cared-for feeling that her mother gives her when she appears–regardless of what the relationship had been before. She just wants her mom.

I adored this book, and loved the author’s spunky, yet intellectual, writing style. One can tell this is a smart woman, and a woman who truly knows how to portray a feeling in writing. As a daughter who doesn’t have a relationship with her mother, I found this book to be so heartwarming and comforting. I don’t think I’ll ever find good middle ground with my own mother, and I’ll never feel truly mothered by her. But, I can take all of the lessons and hurts and be the kind of mother that I wanted for myself. That is the lesson that was confirmed to me with this memoir…take what you learn, and use it going forward. The past is the past, and what we have now is…well, now.

And, by the way, the cover is smashingly gorgeous. I’m a sucker for a great cover!!

Thank you to the publisher Algonquin Books for providing me with a complimentary pre-release ebook copy of this memoir, via the NetGalley reviewer platform. I was not required to write a review at all, and these opinions are strictly of my own making.

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Review: Herbal Goddess

download“Herbal Goddess” by master herbalist Amy Jirsa is an absolutely beautiful book, chock full of wonderful information. “Herbal Goddess” limits its scope to ten of the author’s favorite herbs, which is unusual for an herbal resource, but also what makes this book special.

The author brings the reader into a relationship with each of the ten herbs, exploring elements of medicinal healing, culinary uses, meditative and and magical correspondences, how to use the herbs in beauty treatments, and even draws the reader into a yoga session for each herb, inspired by herb’s the elemental and chakra aspects.

The photography in this book is incredible–so earthy and gentle and vividly colored. Just lovely. And the tone the author uses is personable, friendly and fun, yet credible. It is obvious that Jirsa knows her stuff, but she never comes off as preachy.

My favorite aspect of the book (besides the lovely photography) is the fact that Jirsa limited the book to only ten herbs. At first, I thought it would prove to be a boring read, due to that limitation, but while drinking in this book, I realized she had hit on something truly wonderful. By keeping the book’s scope to only ten herbs, Jirsa was able to show the reader these herbs from every direction, allowing the reader to truly understand the power and beauty of each herb, and how that herb can be brought into the practice of everyday health and healing, at every level.

This is a phenomenal book for anyone who loves gardening, herbs, natural health, yoga, simple living, or who just has sweet dreams of the outdoors. A wonderful, wonderful book, which I plan on purchasing in physical form once it is released in 2015. Since it is such a valuable book to refer back to, I definitely want it in my herbal library!

Please note that I received a complimentary pre-release ebook copy of this book from the publisher Storey Publishing, LLC, via the NetGalley reviewer platform. I was not required to write any review at all in exchange for this ebook, and my opinions are entirely of my own making.

Review: The Beginner’s Guide to Wicca

downloadAs I’ve stated before, I don’t label myself as Wiccan, not because I don’t have a love for the path, but simply because I prefer to avoid religious labeling. I don’t like to corner myself in, and don’t like all of the baggage that comes along with religious labels (regardless of the religion). But, if one were to browse through my bookshelves, they would find a robust collection of books on Wicca. I think I have, in physical or ebook format, nearly every “intro to Wicca” book I’ve ever come across. I love them. I don’t adhere to everything in any one single book, but I pick and choose (and add) to my heart’s content.

I am a practitioner of witchcraft, and most books about witchcraft happen to be books written by (and for) Wiccans who practice witchcraft. As long as one understands the difference between Wicca and witchcraft, there is no conflict, and I love reading about various faith paths anyway, so these books are always fascinating to me, even if I don’t practice all of what is contained in the books.

Recently, a friend and I spied a lovely little book at Barnes and Noble, called “The Beginner’s Guide to Wicca” by Kirsten Riddle. I notoriously and unabashedly judge books by their covers, and based on how adorable this book’s cover is, it was a must-have for me.

It’s a very quick read, very practical, and immediately applicable to implementing a daily practice in witchcraft, or for beginning a faith study in Wicca. The book’s illustrations are yummy, all done in simple colored sketch format, making the book’s pages look textured and artsy (I like artsy…).

The book contains simple spellwork, wonderful tips and instructions, and a brief, yet thorough, description of Wicca’s history, premises, and practices.

As with any Wicca (or witchcraft) 101 style book, I’d recommend that the reader not simply take the word of only one book. This is a book to add to a collection, not just a book to base an entire faith practice on. Because both Wicca and witchcraft are such eclectic paths, every witch or Wiccan will have slight (or dramatic) variances in what they are teaching, what they believe, and how they practice their faith or craft. The study of Wicca and witchcraft must consist of as many books as the seeker can get ahold of, which will allow that seeker to create his or her own personal path! This is what I see as one of the most pivotal beauties of the path of Wicca, paganism, and witchcraft.

I do so love to pick and choose!

I definitely recommend this book to anyone wishing to study or practice Wicca or witchcraft, so long as the reader is willing to read more books on these topics than just this one. This book is definitely only an introduction, but a lovely one, and one that I’m happy to have in my collection!

Review: The Radical Housewife

cover52416-mediumThe Radical Housewife” by Shannon Drury was definitely not what I expected. I was anticipating a book about supporting and advocating for feminist principles from home, as a housewife. I was expecting lists of ideas and examples for projects on how to involve family members in a grassroots style activism, based at home, and how to navigate the path of feminism when living a lifestyle that isn’t generally viewed as feminist. 

Instead, the book is truly what the title says…Shannon Drury is a radical housewife. The book is essentially a memoir of her journey in feminist activism, while also trying to be a full-time caregiver to her children. Rather than talking about how she supports and advocates for feminist principles at home, and how to radiate that feminist influence outward, Shannon is a hit-the-streets, sign-wielding activist, which I admire tremendously.

Unfortunately, the book did not really suit the need I was seeking, as I was hoping for a manual on how to do it from home. However, I do not say that in order to diminish the impact of this book. The writing style was powerful and often hilarious. The author clearly points out the difficulty women (and  parents or caregivers, in general) have in becoming involved in causes they are passionate about, because of the lack of child care available at advocacy meetings and events.

I enjoyed reading about the author’s passionate involvement in NOW, her explanations of how many of her feminist articles came to be, and particularly her description of marching in a rally, with her young son by her side. Powerful stuff.

The book, though with great elements of humor, is very heavy, due to the gravity of the topics it surrounds. The author inspires passion in the reader, while also showing a side of herself that she sometimes doubts and questions, showing the reader her truly human (and very feminine) side.

A highly recommended read, though do not expect the book to provide a to-do list stating how to be a feminist from home.

**Please note I received a complimentary eBook version of this book from the publisher Medusa’s Muse, via the NetGalley book review platform. I was not required to provide a review in exchange for the eBook, but do so of my own free will. All opinions stated in this review are entirely my own.

Review: The Mother’s Wisdom Deck

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I’ve mentioned my spending problem recently. Well, although the negative aspects of overspending are many, I do have to admit that I have bought some really amazing things. One of those things is The Mother’s Wisdom Deck, which I purchased on one of my frequent trips to Barnes and Noble (the barista in the B&N Starbuck’s actually has my order memorized…venti-sugar-free-caramel-frappacino-with-soy-milk-and-light-whip-and-a-pizza-stuffed-pretzel…not really the easiest order, and I don’t live in a rural area…that was kind of my first clue that I had a problem with spending, lol).

This is an absolutely beautiful oracle deck, with such pretty, gift-set packaging. The hardcover display cover holds the deck, as well as a wonderful, full-color guide book, with lovely descriptions and explanations for each of the vibrantly colored cards. What I love the most about these cards is the way nature and the Divine Feminine shine through so vividly in the gorgeous artwork. The colors used are just amazing. Each card is so detailed, and provides such wonderful images for meditation. After I draw cards for the day, I enjoy displaying them on my personal altar. My daughter is drawn to the cards, as well. They are beautifully delicate images, with so much detail and symbolism, but they also have color and imagery that naturally draws children. (I love this deck so much that I’m afraid I’m running out of adjectives to describe it!!)

The card descriptions in the guide book are two to three pages each, and contain quotes, meditations, and reminders of the beautiful, but often difficult, aspects of a woman’s life. There is truth here, not silly nonsense.

Above are the two cards I drew today, which, interestingly, were Swan (representing the qualities of grace) and Lake (representing the qualities of serenity)…after I draw the cards, I meditate on the images until I feel I have come away with how the images apply to and reach out to me, and how I feel when looking at them. Only then, I turn to the lovely guide book, and read the authors’ descriptions of the images. I’ve never been disappointed with a reading. For those cardomancers who appreciate a deck that addresses reverse readings, this set is even more special. The authors provide inverse keywords for each card (I’m a big fan of inverse readings!!).

This set would be a wonderful gift for any mother or motherly person, regardless of faith path, and regardless of whether or not the receiver of your gift is a tarot or oracle deck fan. As a pagan, I of course naturally gravitate to the images of nature in the deck. As an artist, I swoon over the artwork. And as a woman, the words and images touch me very deeply. Definitely a purchase I am thrilled with, and a deck that I treasure.

For Animals Like Us

thrashingThrashing About With God by Mandy Steward is a book for those on a spiritual journey. It is a book for those who are full of questions, full of uncertainty, full of disillusionment and even a bit (or a lot) of anger, full of desperate hope.

Mandy Steward, a pondering artistic spirit, and the wife of a pastor, found herself not quite hitting the mark of that “life to the full” we’d all been promised in Sunday School. Pray harder. Have more faith. Trust more. None of it seemed to be working. Mandy, like many of us, had given up some of the deepest and most sacred parts of herself (such as her practice of art), to fit the mold of marriage and motherhood, to essentially live that so-called American Dream that most of us are brought up to seek out and grasp, and vehemently hold onto.

But she was no longer herself. So she decided to take a journey, and documents this journey in “Thrashing About With God.” Mandy opens herself up to story, to art, to passionate living, and to loving her family and others in a new way. A way that isn’t tied to “church” or to “religion.” A way that is all her own, and a way that began, little by little, to bring her alive.

I loved this book. I will say that for those who lean toward fundamental Christian beliefs, this is not the book for you. And, in my opinion, it’s not meant for you. There are a lot of books out there in that genre. This book, rather, is for those of us with questions and fears about where we’ve ended up, with confusion and possibly even anger about what we’ve been fed, with disillusioned beliefs about what’s happened to all of the baggage that goes along with the word “Christian.”

This is a book for those of us on a search for authenticity. And whether that search leads us back to, or away from, Christianity, Mandy is a supportive friend who trusts you to make your own decision. I found this book during my journey away from Christianity, but that is absolutely not to say that this book is in any way anti-Christian. Her tone is open, honest, raw and passionate.

This book is one of a kind, and much needed for many of us, especially women, who may be in the camp called “strange”, “eccentric” or a bit “out there.” There are more of us than we realize, and it’s wonderful to know we’re not alone.