Tag Archives: New Age

victorian songlight

Book Review of Victorian Songlight: Birthings of Magic & Mystery, by Kathy Martone

Kathy Martone send me a copy of her novel Victorian Songlight.

Description from Goodreads:

The birth of a magical child at the time of the Devil Moon sets the stage for heartache and misery, magic and supernatural love. Beset by unrelenting obstacles and bestowed with remarkable psychic gifts, Kate is often accompanied by fantastical black ravens who carry her through time and space. A well known legend in the Ozark Mountain countryside where Kate lives, Grandfather is a ghost with large golden eyes who frequently rides on the back of Pegasus, another Ozarkian legend. Victorian Songlight is a tale of redemption and renewal, death and rebirth, triumph over darkness. But most importantly, it is a love story. Alone and utterly forsaken, adrift on treacherous waters, Kate meets Grandfather for the second time in her life and they become lovers fulfilling a prophecy at the moment of her birth.


New Age twaddle. And I say that as someone who generally enjoys New Age ideas. I own six tarot deck for goodness sake. But still, I call this Metaphysical twaddle. This book had a point and it wasn’t good storytelling. It was…honestly, I’m not entirely sure what it was. Education about dream interpretation and past life regressions probably. But I don’t feel like I was taught anything, so maybe not.

What I was was insulted and outraged repeatedly. So much so that I’m struggling to be kind in this review. Struggling even after considering that, as far as I see publicly, this book and possibly author, have yet to receive a bad review and may react poorly.

Let’s start with the fat-shaming. Attractiveness is clearly linked to thinness several times in this book, but never so directly as in this quote on page 94.

Carrying a little too much weight on her frame to be called attractive…

I believe my initial reaction was “Fuck you, Martone” and that’s how I feel now too. Because guess what? I’m fat. I am carrying more than ‘a little too much weight” on my frame and the author has now informed me that people who look like me can’t be considered attractive. And this wasn’t a character’s comment that could then be shown to be wrong-headed. It was the narrator’s description of a woman and stood unchallenged. So, again, Fuck you, Martone.

Next, let’s move on to the more amorphous appropriation of cultural beliefs and the treatment of non-whiteness. The book opens with a white couple having a baby that is delivered by a black midwife/sorceress named Jessie. (So, already we have the cliched “magical negro.”) She spoke in such a painfully stereotypical manner I literally flinched. Let me give you an example from page 12.

Dat chile o’ yorn, Mistah Hank, is mighty gifted, being she was born on da night o’ da Devil Moon. Dat birthmark, as you call it, is da mark of dat light in da night sky.

This could have just been character building, giving her a speech pattern, if there had been any other black characters to contrast it with. Jessie does not reappear in the book at any point and was the only explicitly black character. The fat woman above, Trina, is nicknamed Mrs. Bojangles—presumably, because she wears a lot of bracelets (which I’m inferring because we’re told she’s covered in metal) and in reference to the black tap dancer Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson—so maybe she’s meant to be a character of color. I kind of hope not though, since she’s later referred to by one white character to another as “not like us.” But that’s the closest I can come to a not dreamed or spirit guide character being non-white. Certainly, no important characters are clearly not white. Maybe I’ll later be told, “X was meant to be Y.” But as of now, I can’t recall one.

Next, we meet Grandfather, the main character’s spirit guide slash ‘spiritual husband’, who is described as Oriental looking. Is he a rug? Then we’re treated to quite a lot of Buddhist ideas. Grandfather even calls himself the Medicine or Blue Buddha. Followed by the appearance of some generic pan-Indian chieftains in their large feathered headdresses. I think I even remember Egyptians in there somewhere.

I feel like the author just had no self-awareness at all in writing this book. At one point, some practice or another is referred to as being for the Native American Elders only…and then the white woman goes and engages it.

Oh, and let’s not forget Pegasus. Because if you’re going to have casual racism, Orientalism, and appropriation of Native American traditions why not throw in some Greek mythology too…in Arkansas. I mean, that’s exactly where you’d expect to find a Greek winged horse, hanging out with your Oriental looking Buddah-spirit guide in small-town Arkansas. Right? I mean like, obviously.

There was also the painfully shallow treatment of prolonged childhood sexual abuse. It’s literally given two sentences.

…she sought out the help of a new therapist—only to discover that the dreams were, in fact, true. Not only had she been physically and verbally abused, but her father had also molested her, apparently from a young age.

It’s referred to at other times in the book, but it’s basically glossed over in the same manner. (This was also super jarring because until this moment the only appearances of the parents had been at her birth and the parents seemed happy to have a baby.) Add in that too many characters seem to have been molested as children; and the whole thing takes on extra ick when you consider the sexual love affair with a character called Grandfather and the crush Kate had on her uncle as a child.

Then there is the treatment of LGBT people. A gay couple is introduced in the middle of the book, who instantly encourage Kate to become a lipstick lesbian and we’re told:

Kate grimaces slightly, fearful that Gabe will give away the secret she just recently shared with him–the secret of her fifteen-year-long marriage to Miriam.”Okay, smart ass,” Kate retorts, “Know any single dykes around town? If the body’s willing, I’m able.” Laughing hysterically, everyone at the table raises their glasses in a toast to Kate’s sexuality. Kate breathes a huge sigh of relief that, for now, her previous life as a lesbian remains hidden.

This might not be so bad if it wasn’t the first mention of women loving women in the book. Kate had spent the previous 100 pages moaning about being rejected by men and falling instantly in love with Grandfather and then the token Jewish man. And it might not be so bad if being a lesbian wasn’t presented as laughable or something to be hidden. Or the idea of it being previous, but not current (or future as, other than one brief conversation with the ex-lover, lesbianism is never mentioned again and Kate only has relationships with men). Was it supposed to be a phase? And it might not be so bad if the use of dyke didn’t feel like a slap in the face coming out of a mouth of such a character.

I felt the same way about the fact that Kate is a toker. It would be fine if the book at all engaged the fact that she and her friends can get stoned at a dinner party (or bake edibles) without ever fearing judicial or social sanctions. This wouldn’t be so bad (not every book has to be like ‘check your privilege’), except that all of Kate’s food is repeatedly mentioned as organic, her furnishings are often referenced as antiques, her stemware is mentioned by fancy brand name, she goes to a week-long silent retreat, and even takes a (separate) six week-long guided tour to Tibet. All without ever seeming to have to go regularly to work. So, already she kind of feels like this economically exceptional character. So, having her eagerly and frequently engage in an activity that people not protected by whiteness and wealth can’t as safely feels notable. (Arkansas isn’t a marijuana decriminalized state and it’s not specified that Kate AND ALL HER FRIENDS have medical cards.)

Then there is the disconnect between the fact that Kate is always moaning about how she’s been rejected so many times, “woes is me, my life is so horrible,” etc. But throughout the book, she is surrounded by lovely friends who obviously genuinely care about and help her. It makes her feel extremely self-centered and unappreciative. I found her unlikable in the extreme. Which I feel a little bad saying, considering the based on a true story printed on the cover. I strongly suspect a lot more of this is autobiographic than I expected going in.

I don’t know Martone (beyond the necessary discussion to request a book review). So, I can’t know if she is aware of what sensitivity readers are. But I suggest she invest the couple hundred bucks to have her books read by a sensitivity reader in the future. Because as infuriating as I found this book, I didn’t sense that Martone had any ill-intent, just ignorance. I honestly believe she’d tell you that she did a good thing by including a diverse cast in her book. After all, there’s a (maybe) black woman and a gay couple and she included Oriental looking men and Native Americans and a variety of body shapes. Right?

It’s no Carlos Castaneda, but the writing is mechanically sound, it is competently edited, and it has a great cover. Despite that, the writing irked me severely. I’d call it amateurish if not for the fact that it’s readable. There are FAR TOO MANY exclamation points! Names and endearments are used too often in the often unnatural sounding dialogue. People are constantly crying as if it’s the only way characters can express emotion (and often without a scene building the emotion to necessitate tears). There are far too many unneeded descriptive details. (I don’t need to know if the wine is in the left or right hand or what someone on the phone looks like). It’s written in the present tense and the flashbacks stall the plot (what very little plot there is) constantly. Plus, it’s almost entirely telling and dialogue, with very little showing in the narrative, which makes it hard to connect with. And since I’m letting go with both barrels, I’m baffled by the inclusion of Dr. for the author of a piece of fiction. It doesn’t feel relevant. All in all, as much as I hate to be the wet blanket, I strongly disliked this book.


Book Review of Prairie Magic: Mystics, Mystery and Miracles, by Joan Pillen

I won a signed copy of Prairie Magic, by Joan Pillen, through Goodreads.

Description from Goodreads:
New Age in the Old West

Tokada Good Elk, world-famous author and horseman, stood still in the middle of a desolate South Dakota highway. Desperate for guidance, he stretched one hand up to Great Spirit while his other arm cradled the lone survivor of the atrocious crash–a frightened puppy he had rescued from the stranger’s car. The only other article left unscathed was a beeping radar detector grimly warning that time was running out. In order to keep his promise and protect “the secret,” he would need to disappear in a matter of seconds. True to his pledge, the octogenarian hid a clandestine item in his vest. What will the future hold for him and his loved ones? Would dreams die on the highway with the rest of the family?

Book One of the Adventure Seekers Saga, Prairie Magic is exciting, entertaining, and enlightening…the perfect mix of warm humor and ancient wisdom!

Man, I tried so hard to like this book. After winning it, the author commented on another of my reviews and seems really nice. I know she’ll see this one when I post it and I apologize for my honesty, but I just couldn’t like this. I like the idea and the intention, but the book left me cold. In fact, I took notes. And there is no reason anyone should know that I only take notes in very limited circumstances, the most common one being when a book annoys the day lights out of me. The note taking is a cathartic activity. Like when something out of the ordinary happens in your day and you just have to tell someone. That’s when I take notes. The end result is that books I take notes for almost always have longer reviews and very rarely good ones. Though I try to curb it, such reviews are also the ones I’m most likely to let the snark fly in because, again, I’m often venting.

I say all that as a warning about what’s to come. Because this really isn’t a bad book. It just stepped on my toes. I think of it very much like I do a lot of Christian Fiction. If it supports your current beliefs and worldview (in this case pan New Ageism), you will probably really enjoy it. If not, it’s not going to convert you, because it’s smug sense of superiority and self-importance is so incredibly off-putting.

The Hanson and Elk families are made out to be so unbelievably perfect they are completely un-relatable. While their enemies are largely just people who are world-weary and bitter. Honestly, if I had to live next to someone as insufferable as Hope is described to be I might turn wicked too. And while I understand the point of making the family so very, very perfect (I really wish I’d read it on Kindle so I could search out how many times that word was used) was to make their ease and happiness appear enviable in the hope that it might inspire others to follow their path, instead I found it felt very judgmental. No one can live up to that standard. We’re all the Rogers in this story and it’s insulting.

Plus, I just found the relentless perfect people, with their perfect world views, and perfect manners, and perfect appearance, and perfect homes, and perfect love, and perfect children, and perfect horses, and perfect barns, and perfect businesses, and perfect automobiles (really, even they were described as especially nice), and perfect friends, and perfect homeschooling, and perfect understanding of nature, and perfect shopping abilities, and perfect decorating sense, and perfect meals, and perfect communication, and perfect…you get the point, painful; especially the rather lengthy chapter(s) in which they were actively compared to the not perfect people.

The two competing sides of the equation in this book, representing how to live, are really extreme. On one side you have the Disney version, where birds all but alight on the characters’ shoulders, the earth is respected, there is perfect love and flowers bloom from each footprint. Ok, that stuff doesn’t happen, but only because this is most contemporary and not fantasy (except where the mysticism slips so far it reads as fantasy.) On the other, we have a group of people trying to counter the innocent, do-gooders for no reason but that they are bad. They want to stop the nice wholesome project to build strip clubs and other such seedy joints instead. They do evil, are ugly, have no skills (even ones they would have needed their whole lives up to that point), they are shown to be especially and pointlessly cruel, not good business people, have failed relationships; mistreat their animals, etc. The contrast was far too extreme.

There’s also a subtle, but pervasive judgementalism to it all. For example, when talking about a woman who runs the ‘Sassy Cowgirl Collection’ booth, this is said, “If only she hadn’t felt the need to live up to sassy when humble, clever or sweet would have served her much better.” Really, so we all need to be Mary Sues? Because what the hell is wrong with being sassy? Or sexy or slutty even? This book makes me feel that if you’re not wearing pearls and a pastel cardigan (or the New Age equivalent) there must be something subpar about you. In fact, all women except the main characters are described as ‘floozies,’ ‘immature, insecure, woman-child,’ ‘Rodeo queen,’ ‘prom queen,’ and ‘immature, hot mess,’ etc. All slightly demeaning in tone.

This is one of those books with good intentions, that fails utterly for me. The last paragraph of the blurb says the book is supposed to be “exciting, entertaining, and enlightening.” I think it tries far too hard to be enlightening and is thus unable to also be exciting and entertaining.

The book had a very obvious and odious intention of educating the reader about New Age Mysticism. I say odious because it was distracting to the plot and the lessons eclipsed the story several times, for most of the book maybe even. The reader is several times subjected to lengthy descriptions of practices intended to educate them on the uses of particular essential oils or expound on the benefits of crystal or sound treatments or juicing. A brief example (which is actually hard to come by, as most are quite long, like seven step spa treatments, every step having multiple parts and all being extensively explained): “Leif, thank you for the wonderful breakfast! My goodness—scrambled eggs, Belgian waffles and fresh apple-pineapple juice with vitamin C and other nutrients for proper cholesterol levels and excellent cardiovascular health. Delicious and good for us!” Who talks like that? But more importantly, it disrupted the scene, distracted from the dialogue (because it doesn’t sound natural) and took me out of the story.

Eventually, I just started skimming it all. For example, at one point, on page 259, I literally read a section like this, “The four fixed signs of the zodiac—Taurus, bla, bla, bla…symbolic of the four bla, bla, bla, the four bla, bla, bla, the four bla, bla, bla, the four bla, bla, bla and the four corners of the bla, bla, bla.” There were really that many lists of four, but I literally no longer even cared enough to see what was actually listed. I really just said bla, bla, bla in my head and skipped to the period. Especially since some of these mystical lessons were truly shoehorned in. Like a random fan coming up and saying, “Hope, tell me about the World card,” (tarot cards) totally outside of whatever else is happening in the story. (Though I suspect they are supposed to be angels or some such.)

The writing is ok. Though, I had a few complaints. It depends heavily on clichés for characterization. There is too much description. No one can just get in their truck. It has to be a nice, four-door pickup truck. Similarly, there is too much tell, not enough show and names are mentioned too often in dialogue. This means the story is difficult to invest in and the dialogue doesn’t sound natural at times. Lastly, there are so many lists. (This obviously soaked into my psyche because I notice a ton of lists in this review too.) Often times when describing things the author does it with lists. Here’s an example. “Hope’s store, How the West is One, fused Norwegian, Native American and western style clothing and gifts. Employing her deal making skills, relentless shopping tactics and refurbishing abilities, Hope sold treasures at affordable prices.” And while that might not seem too bad on its own, 50 such passages in a row got tedious. It kept the flow of the book always a little off. In fact, the last 25 or so pages of the book is basically just a list of shops and their descriptions, as a newly introduced character goes in and out of each one.

On the positive side, I really do think this author has good intentions. And the theme of learning to live a positive, balanced life is a good one (even if it’s imparted with the delicacy of a sledge hammer). People who are into New Age spiritualism and enjoy reading about it might not feel so much of its inclusion was detrimental to the story. And there is some genuine humor in here. I laughed out loud several times. So, while this book pushed me to the point of ranting, and I really could go on, I think it’s more matter of this being a poor fit for me rather than it being a bad book.