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Book Review – In Five Years

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Overall Rating: 🖤🖤🖤

I have never read a greater hook than the one I read in, ‘In Five Years,’ by Rebecca Serle. Dannie Kohan goes to sleep one night engaged, and wakes up five years in the future, getting a small glimpse of a moment in time – but with an entirely different man than the one she became engaged to. This sets off a chain of events that forever impacts Dannie’s life, especially when Dannie actually meets the other man from her dream.

The fantastic hook and premise set far too high of an expectation for me, and as the book played out, I found myself disappointed and wanting. I thought I was opening up a dynamic love story, but it turned out to be a sad tale of friendship, more than anything. Had Serle labeled their work as contemporary fiction, rather than the time-travel romance tale it was marketed as, I think this would have prevented such the let down that I felt.

As to the beautifully wonderful things that Serle did fantastically, the structure of the novel was quite intriguing, as the reader already knew the ending. The real reason I kept reading was to figure out how Serle masterfully tucked together an intricate web of a story, towards the ending revealed to us from the very beginning.



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Book Review – A Court of Mist and Fury

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Overall rating: 🖤🖤🖤🖤
Romance rating: 18+ (Bumped up from the previous novel, due to the portrayal of some of the darker romantic themes.)
I enjoyed this book so much more than the first in the series! There was beautiful character development on Feyre’s part. Maas has the ability to incorporate such real feeling emotions in her characters. In the previous book, a quart of thorns and roses, there seems to be the general consensus that it had a very beauty and the beast feel to it. With the second book, a quart of missed and fury, it had a different flavor all its own. (Despite there being the familiar theme of stealing away Feyre from the world she knew before) The world building in this book was better than the last, and the unique chemistry that forms between the characters was more palpable than the previous book. The plot development shows that Sarah J Maas really considered her overarching goal for the series before she ever put pen to paper for the first novel, and for that I truly commend her.

However, the unrealistic character transformations for Feyre’s love interests really became distracting for me. The biggest issue that I had with the second book in her series, and the reason why I couldn’t give it a full five stars/hearts, is that I just didn’t find the timeline and love interest character swap to be believable. The main character, Feyre, had a change of heart regarding two very important characters, and I think those feelings that Maas wrote felt very organic and genuine. But I just didn’t buy into the good guy suddenly becoming a bad guy and the bad guy suddenly becoming the good guy. It’s not that the storyline itself is unbelievable, but the abrupt character shifts just didn’t make sense. Some actions aren’t fully explained, leaving the reader to wonder why the new good guys did bad things in the past and the new bad guys did good things. The ending seemed to be one of those too good to be true endings, where our main character Fayre pulls off a challenging heist over an ancient, more prepared adversary.

Despite the drawbacks of the second book, I personally would favor it more than the first and will be reading the rest of the series eagerly. Sarah J. Maas’s ability to write in beautiful emotional characters is certainly one of her greatest talents, and though I had several questions throughout the book, I still continued reading so I can continue on Feyre’s journey with her.




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Book Review – Phoenix Unbound

Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Overall rating: 🖤🖤🖤.🖤
Romance rating: flexible 18+
I went back and forth on how to rate this book, and I struggled for a while on putting my finger on exactly what it was that pulled this book back from being rated 4 stars. Grace Draven cultivates immediate intrigue in the first chapters of Phoenix Unbound, and I found myself turning page after page eagerly. The middle began to lull for me, and the pacing slowed. The characters are compelling, so I continued reading towards the ultimate crescendo of the novel, and JUST when I thought Draven was going to pull the rug out from under my expectations as a reader, the direction shifted and the novel tied together in a wholly unexpected way. I think this would have worked if the twist had felt more planned, and less crafted by happenstance. I feel there is a difference between a plot twist, and finishing a series with an unexplained bang – just to have some sort of ending. For those that have read the book or intend to, I am speaking of the very, very end.

Some of the best features of this book were the world-building and the deeply rich lore. Draven created an immersive world that is rich in its flavor and surroundings, and I found myself enraptured by their depiction. While this book might not be one that I purchase for my personal collection, I would certainly recommend this book to others if they are fans of fantasy and compelling backstories for their female heroines.






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Book Review – Sign Here for Horns

Sign Here for Horns by V.K. Ludwig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


When I say I woke up on the morning of November 16th with zero intention of purchasing an adult genre sci-fi alien rom-com with endearing characters and quick-witted dialogue, I MEAN IT. Seriously. I am generally not a fan of the alien romance subgenre, but I’m pretty sure that V.K. Ludwig has converted me. After seeing it recommended twice on several online forums, I figured it couldn’t hurt to take just a peek into the sample. I thought it couldn’t hurt to see what all the fuss was about, right?

Well let me tell you, I was so, so wrong. The sample was so chuckle inducing that I found myself purchasing the ebook. The female protagonist, Lilly, was instantly relatable, and the love interest, Jax, extremely likable. It has a few plot twists, with a HEA type of ending.

My biggest wishes are that there were more world-building and deeper plot beyond the chemistry between the two characters. There is obviously a colorful background that this story took place within, and the sub-plots were brief enough to give a small glimpse into the world around them, but I found myself wanting a little more.

I’ll leave my review off saying that I have followed this author on Goodreads and Instagram, and would likely purchase another of her books without having to read the synopsis. If you’re into chuckle inducing, R-rated rom-coms, I don’t think you can go wrong with this author.



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Book Review – A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


From the moment that readers are introduced to Feyre, we are immediately immersed and enmeshed with a strong female lead who has been shouldering the burdens of the world on her shoulders. I sympathized with Feyre, and really came to root for her as she struggled to make sense of the Fairy world that she unknowingly threw herself into.

The characters don’t quite have perfect chemistry, but now that I am well into the second book I believe that that must have been purposeful. I’m glad that I waited to read the second book to rate the first one, because I think it better informs what the first book actually is intended to be for the reader. Because a Court of Thorns and Roses was so reminiscent of stories like beauty and the beast, I really found myself wanting to love the love story. There were a few plot twists that didn’t quite make sense but against the backdrop of the second book, I’m sure in the series some of these unexplained twists will come to light. I would not call this book a ‘cozy’ love story at all, but it’s very well written, and the characters extremely believable and relatable.

Overall rating: 🖤🖤🖤.🖤
Romance rating: flexible 16+

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Book Review – Serpent & Dove

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Haunting. Enchanting. The perfect mix of magic, love, and loss.

From the moment that the reader becomes acquainted with Lou, we understand that there is something unique and special about this world we are being introduced to. Thrown immediately into a secretive operation between Lou and her friend Coco, we become intimately familiar with the interworkings of the pair of witches.

Serpent & Dove has a pleasant and attractive hook, that constantly pulled me in. I was very nearly halfway into the book before I could even blink. From the moment I opened those pages, I was championing Lou and her seemingly hopeless attempt to escape and be free. Lou is incredibly relatable. Her assertive personality and quick wit pair well with her haunting backstory. I would love to be able to sit down to dinner with Lou.

The plot twists in Serpent & Dove held me constantly on edge. Shelby Mahurin weaved a masterful love story, mystery, and action/adventure sewn onto the backdrop of what I could only compare to 18/1900’s London. Her scenes were vivid, and her story compelling.

I have already reserved the sequel, Blood & Honey, at my local library, and I have a feeling that I will have to own a physical personal copy of Serpent & Dove in the very near future. If you are a fan of drawn-out romances embedded within a colorful plot, I would HIGHLY recommend Serpent & Dove as your next read.



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Book Review – Circe

Circe by Madeline Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Madeline Miller quickly made my charts as a favorite author with her retelling of the Greek mythology of Circe, daughter of Helios, the god of the sun. Miller portrays Circe as being the outcast of her own family, as well as an outcast from the gods themselves. Circe finds no true home for herself until she is sent to live the rest of her days on a deserted island. ⁠

It is in her solace that Circe begins to find who she is as an individual, apart from the disappointment forced upon her by her father, and apart from the wariness of the gods. Her tale is weaved with many familiar faces in Greek myth, such as Icarus and Odysseus. ⁠

The journey of Circe’s mending heart seemed to reach out and heal something within me, too. I walked away from this novel feeling as if the world might be both a little brighter and a little sadder, all at the same time. If you are a fan of Greek mythology and classic retellings, or have a penchant for subtle romances, you will enjoy this novel!⁠



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Book Review – We Were Mothers

We Were Mothers by Katie Sise

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


‘We Were Mothers’ was a dramatic break from my usual reading, and I opened her pages with no expectations. I was blown away by the realness that Katie Sise wrote into her characters. Somehow, it was as if every relatable housewife/mom/mother/sister/friend had been rolled into the character line-up: Cora, Sarah, Jade, and Laurel.⁠

The book quickly addresses the untimely death of Cora’s sister, Maggie. Though it occurred years ago, she and everyone around her seem to still feel the pain of her passing. It is revealed that Maggie’s death has some… extenuating circumstances, brought back to light by a series of events related to the sudden disappearance Laurel’s daughter, Mira. ⁠

The entire novel covers the span of a weekend, but it feels like so much more time passes than that. The internal dialogue and multiple perspective changes seem to slow the pacing down, hence the rating of only four hearts out of five.⁠

Even so, the pacing of the novel picks up rather quickly towards the end and becomes an absolute page-turner as you search among the fractured clues, trying to understand what exactly happened all those years ago to the beloved sister and daughter, Maggie.



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Book Review – The Song of Achilles

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Another beautiful read, authored by the immensely talented Madeline Miller. I found that I did not like this novel quite as much as I enjoyed ‘Circe,’ but this more than filled my quota for mythological retellings for the time being. ⁠

Upon first glance, you might think that this novel is about the life of Achilles, and in a way it is. However, it is more accurately about the life and influence of Patroclus, a cast-off prince who was exiled by his own father. Patroclus falls in love, goes on adventures, and faces the kind of loss that makes you weep.⁠

Miller took this age old tale, and revitalized it into quite the masterpiece.



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Writing Druids in Fiction

First and foremost, I feel there must be made the extreme clarification that the druids that I write of in my fiction are simply the best interpretation I have made of the druids of the past. I have then applied this interpretation to the fantastical world that I have created. In this world, they face realities and challenges that the druids of old did not have to face, and as such take actions that the druids of the past could never have conceived. Even so, it is important to me, as an author and writer to portray as accurate a depiction of these mysterious peoples as I can, given the constraints of my fantasy realm. A great challenge to this attempt was the fact, however, is that the history of the druids was never set upon paper. Much of the druid society that we know of today is limited to information compiled after the fact by Greeks and Romans who observed the druids as mere spectators. All of this aside, it can be said with fair warning that the research that I have done, and perhaps even the research other esteemed scholars and experts have completed, might be complete and utter hogwash.

Without further ado, the conclusions of one very tired, but motivated writer:

The Conundrum:

The Romans saw the Druids as bizarre, barbaric priests who indulged in the most horrendous human sacrifices, searching for auguries in the entrails of their victims.” “Those readers who have encountered Celtic mythology” understand that the Druids were “depicted as an all-powerful and essential element in society,” which had been reduced over time to become the simple wizards or parlor trick wielding “soothsayers.”

The problem posed by Ellis, is one that poses the ultimate conundrum of the Druidry rabbit hole, “who is right in their perception of the Druids?” The Romans or The Greeks, who opposed the Celts? The several centuries removed descendent groups of the Ancient Order of Druids? Ellis’ answer to this problem is simple: “Everyone is wrong but everyone has glimpsed a tiny part of the reality, so everyone is right and we all get a prize.” Ellis also cautions against blindly accepting the early tales written by the Greek and roman writers, in that it would be like accepting, without question, the account of the “American Indians from the perceptions of nineteenth century white American settlers.” Ellis offers that the Druids were an “intellectual class who could, and did, organize national revolt against Rome,” elucidating the Roman rhetoric against them, insinuating that they were in the conduct of “inhuman rites.”

From the Outside Looking In:

The teachings of the druids were conducted exclusively orally, due to the “religious prohibitions on committing their knowledge” to writing such that their knowledge would “not fall into the wrong hands.” Julius Caesar expanded on this, explaining that “Druids believe that their religion forbids them to commit their teachings to writing,” but Caesar additionally believed that “this rule was originally established… because they did not want their doctrine to become public property, and in order to prevent their pupils from relying on the written word and neglecting to train their memories.” Ellis surmised that it could take anywhere from 12-20 years to reach the highest level of understanding and knowledge among the druids.

Ellis proposes that the druids were not simply “barbaric priests or priestesses,” but that they made up the highly intellectual caste in the Celtic society, being not just those of religious roles, but those who were “philosophers, judges, teachers, historians, powers, musicians, physicians, astronomers, prophets and political advisers or counselors.” Additionally, Ellis believes that on occasion, druids could also serve as “kings or chieftains.” He also contends that “Druids, of course, were both male and female.” Ellen Evert Hopman agrees with this concept, saying that druids were the “history-keepers” and the “repositories of lore and wisdom. Hopman believes that Druids were considered the ultimate source for “law, medicine, the knowledge of nature and the gods and goddesses, the Otherworld, and the timing of ritual and agricultural cycles.”

Ellis concludes that Druids “were an indigenous Celtic intelligentsia, evolving from original wise men and women during the age of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ among the ancient ancestors of the Celts, losing their original functions… They were found in every part of the Celtic society, but it was not until the second century BC that the Greeks realized that these individual learned functionaries had a collective name – the Druids.”

Ellis recounts Diodorus Siculus (c.60-c.21 BC) and Strabo’s (64 BC-AD 24) perspective of the classes of intellectual Gaul society into three categories: the Bards, the Vates and the Druids. “The Bards are singers and poets; the Vates interpreters of sacrifice and natural philosophers, while the Druids, in addition to the science of nature, study also moral philosophy. They are believed to be the most just of men and are therefore entrusted with the decision of cases affecting either individuals or the public.” Diodorus agrees with this categorization, believing that Druids were held in high prestige in society, and that they would “foretell the future by the flight or cries of birds and slaughter of sacred animals” (Ellis, 51, 1994). It was Gaius Julius Caesar who wrote in De Bello Gallico, Book VI, that there were what he would describe as “three classes in Gaul – the intellectuals called Druids (Druides), the military caste (Equites) and the people (Plebs).” Author Ellen Evert Hopman writes that broke down three similar sections within the Druid order, being the “Brehons, Vates, and Bards” who all had “separate functions.” She contends that the “Bards specialized in poetic composition and singing, whereas the Vates practiced divination and seership.” The Brehons, Hopman contends, were the “judges” and “arbiters of the ancient Brehon laws.” She contends that the clergy, being made up of both priests and priestesses, were known as the Druids.

To expand on Caesar’s understanding of Druids, he said that they were known to “officiate at the worship of the gods, regulate public and private sacrifices, and give rulings on all religious questions. Large numbers of young men flock to them for instruction, and they are held in great honour by the people. They act as judges in practically all disputes, whether between tribes or between individuals… Any individual or tribe failing to accept their award is banned from taking part in sacrifice – the heaviest punishment that can be inflicted upon a Gaul.” Caesar additionally contends that the Druids were organized such that they were led by one individual who held the highest regard and respect of them all. Upon that head’s death, there would be the selection of one to take his place, given that there was someone of proper merit available. If there were multiple claims, Caeser contends that they would decide upon their next head by voting, “though sometimes they actually fight it out.” Caesar makes an interesting observation on the selection of Druids, stating that they are “exempt from military service and do not pay taxes like other citizens” leading some to “present themselves of their own accord to become students of Druidism,” with others simply being sent “by their parents and relatives.”

Caesar’s understanding of druids is not so different from Hopman’s. The author simply further broke this group of druids down further into the three tiers: Brehons, Vates, and Bards. The Bards, by Hopman’s assertion, “were the storytellers.” Hopman believes that it was the bard’s responsibility to perform at ceremonies, such as at “night vigils at holy wells” or “before a hunt.” The importance of the bards lay in their responsibility to upkeep the “heroic cycles and of rhymes, riddles, songs, prayers, proverbs, traditions, and genealogical lore.” A master poet or bard was one who retained and recited as much as 350 stories from their repository. Hopman believes that the Ovates, or Vates, “were keepers of prophecy, divination, and sacrifice.” They also delved out deaths through sacrifices, according to Hopman, being “death by air (hanging), death by water (drowning), death by fire (cremation) and death by earth (burial alive).” Hopman contends that while druids practiced sacrifices, Julius Caesar had no evidence of burning wicker men, as he had published in his propaganda against the Gauls.

Caesar believed that Druids had a cyclical perspective on life, in that the soul of a druid “does not perish, but after death passes from one body to another.” Hopman agrees with this understanding, in that she endorses the belief that the Druids believed in reincarnation. There are many druid origin tales, ranging from Amairgen the first Druid of the Gaels to the third mythical invasion of Ireland, and the three Druids: Fios, Eolas and Fochmarc. It is believed that it was Mide of the Nemedians “who lit the first Druidical fire at Uisneach,” a sacred fire that was lit at “the exact centre of the country.” Eliis explains that the Druids “gathered every year to light the famous Fire of Bel at Uisnech where stood the Stone of Divisions.”

Delving into the Lore and Origins:

Ellis touches on the Tuathe Dé Denaan, the Celtic gods and goddesses, in that they also incorporated Druids. The tales say that the gods and goddesses came from four cities; Falias, Gorias, Finias and Murias, where the gods were instructed by the Druids Morias, Urias, Arias and Senias. Urias was of “noble nature,” and lived in Gorias. Morias lived in Falias. Arias was a poet who lived in Finias. Senias lived in Murias. (Confused yet?)

Here’s a little breakdown to make things simpler:

  • City of Falias, lived the druid Morias
  • City of Gorias, lived the druid Urias (of noble nature)
  • City of Finias, lived the druid Arias (the poet)
  • City of Murias, lived the druid Senais

The god of the druids was Ogma, son of The Dagda, the Father of the Gods. Ogmas was the god of “eloquence and poetry.” It was said that the druids of the De Denaan could conjure storms when they wished to. Mug Ruith, a sun god, was also categorized as a druid who could dry up waters.

J.A. MacCulloch wrote in The Religion of the Ancient Celts (1911), that the Celts had “strong ties to the unseen,” and were “eager to conquer the unknown by religious rite or magic art.” Pomponius Mela said that the “Druids profess to know the will of the gods.”

When writing a druidic language, bear in mind that “Goidelic was the earliest form of Celtic spoken.” Various other dialects developed, such as the Brythonic and Gaulish dialects. Ellis explains that the modern day survivors of the ancient languages are Irish, Manx and Cornish Gaelic or Goidelic and Welsh, Cornish and Breton.”

While there is skepticism at specific breeds, there does seem to be a cohesive agreeance that there is a connection between Druids and trees, ranging from Oaks, Hazels, Rowans, and a variety of other trees that existed and served symbolic purposes.

The Celts worshiped in line with the “mother goddess concept,” where the “mother goddess was Danu.” The Celts did not seem to begin as a patriarch dominated society, however it made a transition over time, aided in part by the influence of Christianity.

The druidical year was “divided into two halves,” being Samonios from October/November to Giamonios (April/May), and from Giamonios to Samonios. Samonios to Giamonios was the dark half of the year, and Giamonios to Samonios was the light half of the year. Certain days were special above others, to include: the winter and summer solstices, a festival “equivalent” to Lugnasad, and a festival at the same time as Beltaine. Though no specific day was set for Samhain or Oimealg, these times were also special.

Dark Half

  • Samonios Oct/Nov “seed time/summer’s end”
  • Dumannios Nov/Dec “dark”
  • Rivros Dec/Jan “frost time”
  • Anagantios Jan/Feb “time to stay indoors”
  • Ogronios Feb/Mar “cool month”
  • Cutios Mar/Apr “time of wind”

Light Half

  • Giamonios Apr/May “shoot time/winter’s end”
  • Simivisonios May/Jun “bright spring”
  • Equos Jun/Jul “horse racing/trading”
  • Elembivios Jul/Aug “wooden fence”
  • Edrinios Aug/Sep “hot time”
  • Cantlos Sep/Oct “song month” (celebrate harvest?)

Female Druids – Druidess/Bandrui:

To understand the role of female druids, or Dryades/Druidesses, Ellis contends that one must “bear in mind the fascinating role of women in Celtic society as opposed to their position in other European cultures,” in that the role of women in the Celtic society “far exceeded those of Greece or Rome.” Women in the Celtic community could be leaders, chieftainesses, priestesses, and lead their people into battle. Boudicca, Medb of Connacht, Scathach and many more stand as examples of these unique roles. There was Chiomara, wife of Ortagion, who was a chieftain of the Tolistoboii. During the Roman invasion, Chiomara was captured by the Romans and was raped by a centurion. When it was discovered who she was, a ransom was sent to her husband, who agreed to pay it. Ortagion met with the centurion upon the bank of a river, and Chiomara had him decapitated, keeping the head in Celtic fashion, and taking it to her husband. The Greek report of their conversation is cited to have gone along like this: Ortagion – “Woman, a fine thing is good faith.” Chiomara – “A better thing only one man be alive who had intercourse with me.” Now can we just have a round of applause for such a great exchange, whether true or fanciful. According to Plutarch, Celtic women “were often appointed ambassadors.” This perspective of equality caused quite the stir in the time of the Romans, as indicated buy Tacitus’ comments in his Annals, in that the “celts had no objection to being led by a women,” and affirms this point in his Agricola, saying that “there is no rule of distinction to exclude the female line from the throne, or the command of armies.” This perspective of equality perplexed the Romans. In the Celtic society, “women could be found in many professions, even as lawyers and judges, such as Brigh, a celebrated woman-Brehon.” Inheriting property, divorce, settling debts were all items that could be handled by the individual, regardless of gender. Ellis and Professor Markle point out that “Druids included women in their political and religious life.” Ellis elucidates that “in Celtic tradition the existence of female druids is explicit,” with references to the “bandruaid,” or druid women. Alternate spelling can be found in the Rennes Dinnsenchus, where Brigit was said to have been a ban-drui before converting to Christianity. The epic told that she was raised up in the druidic traditions, and potentially was “nourished on the magical milk of Otherworld cows.” Adding to the mixing of magic and druidry, T.D. Kendrick mentions a community of Druid women, “who could raise storms, cause diseases and kill their enemies by supernatural curses.” The art of prophesizing is called the imbas forasnai, or the Light of Foresight. A druidess who is cited as using this gift is Fidelma, who gives advice to Medb, the queen of Connacht in the Irish epic, the Tain Bo Cuailnge. Fidelma is described as having yellow hair and wearing a speckled cloak. Her eyebrows are uniquely described as being pitch black, and her eyes even more interestingly described as having triple irises.. She is painted in beauty, in that the tale is told such that “her lips were inset with Parthian scarlet” and her teeth “were like an array of jewels between lips. She is described as holding a light gold rod in her hands, inlaid with gold. By the tenth century, the role of the Celtic woman was transitioning due in part to the impact of Christianity upon Ireland. It became such that laws were created that were “considerably less generous to women.”

Citations

  1. Ellis, P., 1994. The Druids. London: Constable and Company Limited, pp.1-278.
  2. Hopman, E. E. (1994). A Druid’s herbal for the sacred earth year. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.

All imagery credits from this article go to Paul Kerby.