The Old Power Returns – Morven Westfield

The Old Power Returns
Morven Westfield
Harvest Shadows, forthcoming June 2007
312 pages

Generally I’m not a huge fan of fiction, but I had the opportunity to read this particular novel over a weekend while flying cross country. And I do have to say it’s pretty good!

Set in the early 1980s, “The Old Power Returns” features Wiccans, psychics, and vampires, just as its prequel, “Darksome Thirst”, did. An added geek feature is the collection of references to circa 1980 computer technology that pepper the story.

It took me a little while to get into the story, partly because there were a lot of references in the first couple of chapters to events from the first book in the series. However, with some reading it wasn’t too difficult to get at least some idea of the events leading up to this book, though not enough to spoil the promised fun of “Darksome Thirst”, which is now on my wish list.

Westfield does a great job of writing a story that drew me in. There were plenty of interesting twists in the action; Frederick the vampire was one of my favorite characters (and one of the more unique bad guys I’ve seen created). However, all of them were well-rounded and distinct.

I think I only really have two small quibbles about this book (and don’t let them deter you!). One is that the book could have used a bit more editing. There were parts that were a bit wordy, or where the author used a particular phrase in two consecutive sentences. Also, the overall message of “Wiccans are good, not evil” got a bit tedious and heavy-handed. I realize that there are still plenty of misconceptions about neopaganism in general, but the traits of Wicca might have been worked more smoothly into the text rather than mini-essays presented as dialogue. Still, the effort is appreciated, and the info itself was pretty accurate.

Overall I found this to be an engaging read once I figured out the backstory. It may start a little slow, but “The Old Power Returns” is a great page-turner by the end!

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need – Joanna Martine Woolfolk – April BBBR

The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need
Joanna Martine Woolfolk
Scarborough House, 1990; Taylor Trade Publishing, 2006

And so here we have April’s Bargain Bin Book Review, the 1990 edition of this book (without CD) plucked from the fate of pulping at the last moment! It’s actually been on my list for a bit, since I wanted to be able to translate the chart that was created for me last year. So when I saw this on the clearance rack, it was all mine from the word “go”!

I was very pleased, too. The title is quite accurate, at least for a novice to astrology. The information is very well-organized, starting with the Sun sign and moving on through the various planets. Rather than obfuscating the necessary information with tons of jargon, the interpretations of each planet/sign combination is explained in simple but thorough terms. Woolfolk certainly doesn’t waste any words, but instead stuffs this text full of everything you need to get a decent idea of what your chart supposedly means.

Granted, not everything fit me exactly, but then again this sort of basic astrology isn’t really a “one size fits all” thing; more like guidelines to how your chart may be interpreted. I’m sure that people who focus more on astrology tend to get more complex information out of the planets, but for someone just curious about their chart, this is a good guide. I can’t speak for the book’s facilities as far as creating your own chart, as mine was done for me, but it’s definitely an excellent guide if you can draw it up yourself.

Overall, very good introduction to the topic. I’m definitely hanging onto it so I can periodically look at my chart and see how much of it actually applies to me as I change throughout the years. While I don’t think we’re slaves to the stars, so to speak, I think there’s something to be said for using one’s chart for very general ideas of areas to enhance or change as needed.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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Man and Beast – Reader’s Digest

Quest For the Unknown: Man and Beast
Reader’s Digest
144 pages

I originally bought this book as a single copy rather than part of the entire series. As is normal for the type of book collections that Reader’s Digest, Time/Life and other magazine publishers put out on “odd” topics, this one is a nicely designed hardcover with a good mixture of text and pictures. The cover, in fact, has an awesome picture of an eagle mask on it.

But enough about the cover. Let’s go inside.

The book covers a wide variety of mystical aspects of animals, starting with a solid introduction to cryptozoology, then seguing into shapeshifter lore, and finally heading into the worship of animals and animal-based deities. Each section devotes well-researched text about its topic, punctuated with many full color illustrations, all captioned to show relevance.

It is a pretty basic book, of course, as it’s meant for the general public. Those who are already well-versed in animal-based mythology, cryptozoology and related topics will find most fo the material familiar. On the other hand, if you’re new to any of these topics, or just want a basic reference book around, this is a good choice. Additionally, if you’re a parents and want to introduce your teenaged child to animals in mythology and ritual, this would be an excellent guide as the language isn’t particularly difficult and most intelligent teens (even preteens) should have no problem with it.

Overall, a really nice coffee table book. Nothing really outstanding in the pagan/occult realm, but a good introduction.

Four and a half pawprints out of five.

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The Haitian Vodou Handbook – Kenaz Filan

The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa
Kenaz Filan
Destiny Books, 2007
283 pages

Vodou is a religion that I’ve been interested in for several years, but never quite sure how to approach. I always wanted to give it more respect than the paradigmal piracy of Hyatt and Black’s Urban Voodoo, which is well-written, but as is the downside of paradigmal piracy, not always as respectful of the paradigm being borrowed from. While that works for some people, it’s something that personally I’m not comfortable with. On the other hand, not being in contact with any practitioners of Vodou, I wasn’t really sure where to begin as far as solitary practice went.

This book has some answers for my dilemma. It’s basically an introduction (and a very thorough one at that!) to Vodou that will make sense to neopagans (such as your dear and beloved reviewer). However, it is NOT “Vodou Wicca” or some crap like that. The traditions themselves are not mixed with neopaganism (e.g., drawing down Ezili Freda under the full moon), though Filan does make mention of recent neopagan integration of the service of certain lwa into personal practices. Rather, it’s the religion of Vodou explained in a way that it answers some of the misconceptions that are common in neopaganism.

Of course, the audience isn’t restricted to neopagans. This is an excellent introductory text for folks of any background. Filan covers a lot of ground in not quite 300 pages–the history of the culture that gave birth to Vodou, as well as origins of various elements of it; detailed chapters on individual lwa; and an explanation of some of the more common rituals and magics practiced. The back of the book has pages of useful resources, whether you’re content being solitary or would like to get in touch with a reputable house.

I definitely have to commend the citational endnotes. Too many authors don’t give credit where it’s due, but Filan shows his work nicely. His writing style is easy to read with a light dash of humor (especially when describing the antic of the Ghede!). However, he’s not afraid to tackle controversial subjects, such as racism, and problems that non-Haitians may face when exploring Vodou (and how those problems got to be there).

This isn’t a candy-coated (or, for that matter, ooga-booga scary) look at Vodou. It’s honest and respectful, and has a good balance of information and respecting oathbound material. If you’ve any interest in this religion whatsoever, even just curiosity, this is a great place to start.

Five pawprints out of five.

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