A Collective Gathering Place for Readers, Writers, and Seekers

Manifestation Magic, by Elhoim Leafar

Manifestation Magic: 21 Rituals, Spells, and Amulets for Abundance, Prosperity, and Wealth, by Elhoim Leafar
Weiser Books, 9781578637423, 192 pages, July 2021

In Manifestation Magic: 21 Rituals, Spells, and Amulets for Abundance, Prosperity, and Wealth, Elhoim Leafar truly delivers on his description of this book as “a practical guide to prosperity magic using amulets, talismans and rituals.”1 This wonderful book is written in three parts:

  1. Magic & Sorcery
  2. Abundance, Prosperity and Wealth
  3. Desires, Wishes and Spells

Born in Venezuela into a family of healers, Leafar draws on his spiritual and magical traditions to not only live an abundant life, but to also share his tools and tips for the reader.  In 2015, he left his native country and moved to New York City with only one suitcase and $15. Five months later, he signed a contract with a publishing firm and published his first book Wicca! Love & Soul.  He has published books in both English and Spanish.

I was interested in this book because I began investigating magic and forms of manifestation over the past two years.  The title was intriguing, as well as the number of rituals and spells that the author promised to provide. 

The book is very easy to read and  I found it both entertaining and educational.  Leafar’s style is down-to-earth and he speaks to the reader as if you were sitting across a table enjoying a coffee or meal.  He shares information from his heart and you can tell that he has years of experience with the tools he shares. He begins by explaining the difference between magic and sorcery, which forms the baseline for the book:

“For many theorists, sorcery includes a group of knowledge, practices, techniques and tools for studying magic.  I propose to use the study of magic for the theoretical and sorcery to refer to the practical application of this knowledge.”2

He goes on to say that it is as important to “unlearn” ideas as it is to learn new ones. I love the idea that you come to this practice with a beginner’s mind and see magic and manifestation with new eyes.  He goes on to say that “your magic skills work like a muscle.”3  He recommends that you use the visualizations and tools regularly and even goes so far as to recommend how often to utilize certain techniques. 

There are many great visualization exercises throughout the book. The one called “Visualization Magic”4 will help you start your adventure. I recorded the visualization exercise sat on my back patio and enjoyed the sounds of nature while I listened to the recording.  I felt closer to Mother Nature and began to feel my own innate power connecting with the earth and coursing back up through me. 

In the next section, Leafar lists the tools that you will want to use for manifestation, each of which symbolizes an element. These include a cup or chalice for water, a cauldron for earth, candles for fire, and so on. Along with this list, which includes tips on choosing and using each tool, Leafar also provides a “Consecration Ritual,” in easy steps.

Leafar recommends that you create your very own “Personal Book of Magic.”5  Whether you use a simple spiral notebook, a journal or a folder on your laptop, he lists the ways that this chronicle of your magic journey can aid your growth, as well as celebrate your accomplishments.

I was particularly interested in the chapter that covered using the sun, moon, and planets in magic. As an astrology student for the past 15 years, anything that touches on the stars and planets interests me. Leafar’s explanation of when to work with solar energy and when to call on the moon’s magic really hit home for me. He also had brief information on the moon in each of the 12 signs and how that sign’s energy might contribute to your spells or works.

He gave an example of using the moon phases and days of the week for a healing ritual for two sample clients. It helped me to see the importance of working with the phases of the moon and days of the week to “greatly increase your results.”6 Leafar also talks many times about the importance of clarity regarding your intentions.  This is a critical element, not only for rituals and spells, but for your life.

Next, he covered the energy of the days of the week, various Gods and Goddesses, colors, and crystals.  I feel that he presented a very good foundation for the next section, where he goes into background information for abundance. My favorite passage from this section:

“Every time something good happens in your life, every achievement, every joy, every celebration, let it flow and memorize how it feels. Once you have memorized it and embraced it, you will have filed it in your brain and in your soul and enriched yourself with this emotion.”7

In the section Rituals & Spells, Leafar shares 21 rituals for abundance.  My favorite was the Scroll of Abundance. I’m looking forward to seeing how my scroll works on a long term goal. 

Lastly, Leafar shares several prayers that can uplift you and work to call on Divine support.  My favorite was the “Daily Prayer to the Spirit of Prosperity that Rules the West,” which starts with:

“Oh great spirit of prosperity that everything you touch prospers and grows . . .”8

Everything in this book, from the spells to the prayers comes from the heart of this magician and flows like a beautiful river. This book is best for the student of magic, whether a beginner or someone who has practiced spells for a few years.  It is easy to read and comprehend, and many of the rituals and spells are shared in step-by-step processes that anyone can follow. I really enjoyed his writing style and how he shared his knowledge and years of experience with magic.

I look forward to continuing my work with the spells and rituals from Manifestation Magic. I’ve already received a few ideas about modifying the altar I have in my office, as well as continuing my work with the moon in various phases and zodiac placements.

Inner Practices for Twelve Nights of Yuletide, by Anne Stallkamp and Werner Hartung

Inner Practices for the Twelve Nights of Yuletide, by Anne Stallkamp and Werner Hartung
Earthdancer Books,1644113244, 144 pages, October 2021

I’m sure we’ve all felt that liminal in-between realities that occurs between Yule and the New Year, where we are often left wondering “What day is it?” This year, rather than getting lost in the transition of time, I plan to actively integrate the past and divine the future based on what I’ve read in Inner Practices for the Twelve Nights of Yuletide by Anne Stallkamp and Werner Hartung. Filled with meditations and journal prompts, I am  looking forward to delving into the spiritual energy of this sacred time. Reading this book has made me very excited for the Yuletide season, though I am still not fully on board with all of its information.

Originally published in German, this book has been quite the success. Stallkamp and Hartung are a married couple and both are dedicated to spiritual healing. Stallkamp teaches classes on geomancy and spiritual healing, while also working as an interior designer who clears energy in living spaces and arranges to foster energetic balance. Hartung is a medium who also leads workshops on geomancy and spiritual healing, as well as channeling. Both Stallkamp and Werner are Reiki masters too.

I’ve always felt there was a special energy between Christmas and the epiphany, though I’d never realized that other cultures and traditions honored this time as a sacred pause. Stallkamp and Werner briefly mention this, but choose to not delve further into detail, though I wish they had done so to provide a bit more background information. Rather, the book opens with a channelled message from Minerva, known for being a Roman goddess, who asserts herself as a Elohim, or energetic being, in the transmission. Unfortunately, this seemed like a detour from what I had hoped was going to be a book about the Yuletide season; I suppose I was looking for something more grounded and rooted in tradition.

What follows is Stallkamps and Hartung’s system for the twelve nights of Yuletide. For the most part, the twelve nights correspond with traditional Pagan holidays of the solstices and equinoxes, along with cross-quarter days. However, there are some corresponding dates that are not explained at all, plus there is no information about why these dates were selected. I longed for a deeper explanation of how this system works and where the information came from, rather than just a general overview from a channelled message.

The premise of doing these inner practices during the twelve nights of Yuletide is to both reflect upon the year prior and discover what the year ahead will hold. Since there are twelve nights, each one corresponds to a month of the year, though the days vary and this is not thoroughly explained as I already mentioned. Readers are prompted to use reiki to heal and integrate the past year, while also looking to God, the Creator, and our dreams for guidance about our future during this time.

Meaning, by page 20, we are somehow incorporating channeled messages from a Roman goddess/Elohim for Gaia, while corresponding the nights of Yuletide to Pagan holidays, and now we’re supposed to be doing a Japanese form of energy healing and engage in dream interpretation to determine God’s plan for our lives in the next year. Needless to say I was befuddled about the way the authors have presented this system, as it doesn’t seem to have any coherent spiritual basis and is rather a grab-and-go mash up of whatever spiritual path seems suitable for their purpose.

Not to say things can’t all be integrated, but I think it’s too much to piece together in just the opening pages. The remainder of the book is mostly Christianity-centered, even quoting the Old Testament at times, though it does include prayers to Mother Earth. So, if you’re looking to approach Yule from a Pagan perspective, this probably isn’t the best choice.

Now that I’ve vented my frustrations with the book, I will highlight what I like about it. The actual practice of connecting with the past and present during the sacred pause of Yuletide seems like a meaningful spiritual practice. The authors do provide great questions for reflection, meditations, and energy exercises to integrate the past and prepare for the future. I think I will refer to the book during this time and practice some of their suggestions. Though, I will be doing this based on the tenets of my own spiritual practice, rather than the mix-and-match method suggested by the author.

At the very least, this book heightened my interest in the twelve nights of Yuletide and prompts me to be more intentional this season. I will be looking for signs as to what the year might hold for me during this week, as well as consciously tying up loose ends of the past.

Unfortunately, Inner Practices for the Twelve Nights of Yuletide is not a book I will be recommending this holiday season. However, if a reader is willing to look past the spiritual inconsistency and open to the idea that this is a sacred time of transition, they may benefit from engaging in the practices suggested by the authors. I sincerely hope another book is published on this topic, as I feel there is great value from honoring the traditions of this time during the transition from one year to the next.

Psychedelic Consciousness, by Daniel Grauer

Psychedelic Consciousness: Plant Intelligence for Healing Ourselves and Our Fragmented World, by Daniel Grauer
Park Street Press, 9781644110300,  256 pages, July 2020

Daniel Grauer’s book Psychedelic Consciousness: Plant Intelligence for Healing Ourselves and Our Fragmented World goes as wide as it does deep. This book is an inspired inter-mixed odyssey of both the historical and personal in relation to psychedelics, the culture of usage and practice, and the implications and opportunities present to us today. The best thing about this book is that it lacks the usual pretense, which is part of its charm. At it’s heart, this book is a testament to the author’s desire to relay the message that a meaningful, modern personal journey with psychedelics as a spiritual path is both possible and presently available to us all.

In an era where first hand experience trumps all and the very nature of psychedelic experimentalism is often a solo pilgrimage to begin, this book is wonderfully timely. The jump between subjects occasionally feels like leaps, but the author’s aim is evident and reflective here in the book’s construction, providing a landscape that doesn’t sink us into theory but rather invites us into understanding. Psychedelic Consciousness is an optimistic book — one that looks towards the reader with an open-ended invitation.

This book lends itself to thought-work relating both to becoming-aware-of and dismantling our current biases on psychedelic culture and plant medicine. There is an intimate communion with Grauer as he shares his unique path into his own understandings. He offers practical tips for journeying along with a myriad of personal findings through his explorations.

I think many a psychedelic journeyer has reached the moment of desiring to leap into authentic journey into the jungle or connect with indigenous practices, casting aside the nihilistic and/or purely hedonistic usage and entering a deeper mystery, meaning, and mythology of these sacred medicines. It is natural to start longing for something transpersonal, restorative, and spirited. Grauer, in sharing his experience, offers a lens into what this longing can offer and how it influenced him in his own work, his own dream, and his own hope for bridging the indigenous world with the modern practitioner. 

Psychedelic Consciousness calls the reader to the question what it actually means to be on an integrative, integral journey with our plant teachers. Grauer poses the question to us that he asked of himself: If I were to die, what song would I be playing? If the world were to end tomorrow, would I be happy with who I am?

Beyond the individual in relationship to journeying and practice, Grauer calls readers to lean into our relationship with the unseen, which takes both courage and maturity. Trauma and oppressive ideologies bring fragmentation to the psyche, and Grauer posits that it’s our plant allies that can aid us in restoration. Grauer’s pathways of explorations and guidance offer an opportunity to explore how we ourselves relate to our plant teachers and what our journeying is all about.

The ending of the book is an invitation to connect with Grauer personally through his website — a testament to the book’s weaving qualities and the author’s desire to instigate and inspire an ongoing, evolving, experiential conversation. 

Overall, Psychedelic Consciousness is a wonderful resource for the tidal wave of people who are new to psychedelics and contemplating consciousness. It’s especially geared for Western minds who have had mystical experiences, or perhaps simply *an experience* with psychedelics and wondered what it was all about. I think it’s best for people experimenting or new to their journeys, though people who have been on a medicine path can also benefit from the questions it poses throughout to further refine their own practice and dream of what the possibilities and potentials are.

Yemaya, by Raven Morgaine

Yemaya: Orisha, Goddess, and Queen of the Sea, by Raven Morgaine
Weiser Books, 1578637430, 208 pages, September 2021

Back in May, sitting atop a small mountain in Joshua Tree National Park and meditating as the sun rose at dawn, the word “Yemaya” came through the silence. Instantly, I felt a sense of peace rush through me. I knew Yemaya was a great ocean goddess, but that was my extent of knowledge about her. When I returned home after this experience, I followed an intuitive nudge to bring some cowry shells down to the ocean and honor Yemaya, thanking her for the beauty of the ocean that I enjoy and the calmness that it brings me.

While I felt a call to continue developing this relationship and explore this quiet prompting from either my intuition or the Universe (not sure!), my summer travels took me away from my home on the California coast and into the canyons of Utah, woods of the Sequoia trees, and cities of the east coast from Philadelphia, PA to Providence, RI. Within my heart though, I kept remembering Yemaya and doing my best to connect with her energy wherever I went.

Now that I’m settled into my daily routine again, back to combing the beaches for seashells and spending my weekends reading on the beach, I felt ready to explore this budding relationship a bit more. However, I will admit I didn’t know exactly where to get started. The Orishas have always felt unreachable for me, a white American woman with European ancestry, due to their African heritage. I am well aware of the training and dedication that goes into becoming a devotee of the Orishas, and I also know how inaccessible these traditions can be to outsiders.

Therefore, you can only imagine my joy in discovering the recently published book Yemaya: Orisha, Goddess, and Queen of the Sea by Raven Morgaine. It was all I’ve been searching for and more!

Morgaine is a spiritual artist who has dedicated his life to Yemaya. He practices Candomble, New Orleans Voodoo, Santeria, and witchcraft. He also owns his own shop, Familiar Spirits, in Coventry, Rhode Island. Most of all, he’s an incredible storyteller that brought all facets of Yemaya to life in this wonderfully written book. His inclusion of practical wisdom, anecdotes, recipes, recipes for making oils and candles, along with plenty of Orisha stories made my connection to Yemaya so much more tangible and alive.

In fact, there were times reading this book when I would put it down and have my thoughts be washed away in feelings of love, tenderness, and security. It felt as though I was coming home to a mother who wanted nothing more than to make me feel loved, nurtured, and supported. While I am only in the beginning phases of building my altar and figuring out what this relationship is going to look like in my life, Yemaya assured me this pathway is open to all and that I will find my way.

Filled with his own written prayers, blessings, and spells, this entire book is imbued with Morgaine’s energy in the best way possible. His love and reverence for Yemaya streams through every word written, from warning those seeking to develop a relationship with Yemaya about what she does not like (never put metal on her altar or use it as a ritual tool, also she’s not a dog person!) to all the ways one can win her favor (beautiful combs, pearls, mirrors, white roses). Morgaine does not cut a single corner in laying out the foundation for establishing a relationship with Yemaya, and he happily delves into stories to illuminate the meaning behind why the practices are done the way they’ve always been done.

I truly loved learning more about many Orishas, from Yemaya’s younger sister Oshun to Shango and Eleggua. Morgaine’s writing was one of the most inviting introductions to the Orishas I’ve ever come across, and for the first time, I felt welcomed to partake in and honor these gods and goddesses.

Though, I will also admit, Morgaine’s solemn warning of what is involved in creating and maintaining a relationship with Yemaya is both awe-inspiring and a bit nerve-wracking all in one. More than anything, he conveys that she is not a goddess to call upon on a whim or to instantly demand quick results from. She is royalty, and thus she wants to be treated with respect, care, and devotion. She enjoys her lavish praise and will actively pursue what she wants, letting the practitioner know what does and does not please her.

The experiences shared by Morgaine of working with Yemaya for over 35 years made me realize just how misconstrued my previous assumptions of this great ocean goddess had been. I particularly enjoyed how he went through all the different facets of Yemaya, naming each one and sharing a bit of background information related to that incarnation of her, so that a more well-rounded picture of her was painted.

Morgaine openly shares trials from his own life, from despair at the end of an abusive relationship to being evicted at a very sensitive time in his life following his brother’s passing, to show readers Yemaya’s ever-present compassion for her children. Likewise, he also recounts times where she graced him with her presences, highlighting that Orisha gods and goddesses are more than just abstract energies; they are dedicated protectors, guardians, and way-showers of the natural world and humanity.

What has me most inspired is the descriptions of how to build an altar. I am looking forward to creating the time and space to do this soon. I knew I had been collecting seashells, sand dollars, and mermaid figurines for something! And thanks to the wisdom Morgaine has imparted in Yemaya, I also plan on creating cleansing and protecting my house as well.

Once again, I must impart how thorough Morgaine is in his details of doing these things. He even describes how it’s good to have an altar with drawers to store sacred objects, where to find affordable old furniture, and how to cleanse the furniture. At other times, Morgaine reminds the reader to use a dust mask or that a certain spell might smell weird, but that’s okay. His conversational writing style makes it feel like I am directly receiving this valuable information from a beloved teacher, mentor, and friend.

Somehow, Morgaine finds the perfect mixture of lightheartedness and seriousness to impart these lessons with care and consideration both of Yemaya and the well-being of the practitioner. He very much wants to ensure Yemaya is honored in a way that is pleasing to her, and he also wants to make sure practitioners don’t make foolish mistakes that can have detrimental impacts. Truthfully, he’s the perfect mediator between both, an ambassador if you will, in establishing this relationship.

And what’s so special about Morgaine’s perspective in Yemaya is that it’s inclusive. For him, having a relationship with Yemaya is not limited by one’s race, gender, sexual orientation, or cultural background. He draws parallels between Mother Mary and Isis with Yemaya, as well as acknowledging that many pagans choose to work with deities outside of their own culture’s pantheon. There’s a lovely section on how different aspects of Yemaya are protectors of people of all gender and sexual orientations — Yemaya is mother to us all.

Oh, I could keep raving about this book forever! All in all, Yemaya is a wonderful book to begin a relationship with the great mother ocean goddess. Morgaine teaches the reader how to cultivate a spiritual practice dedicated to Yemaya through telling her stories with the Orishas, sharing her many aspects of self through reincarnation, what offerings she loves and what things she dislikes, and how to establish a relationship nearby or far from the ocean. The anecdotes, recipes, magical associations, and practical wisdom from Morgaine are enough to get someone started on this path for at least a few years!

Mister Yam, by Yeng K Tan

Mister Yam, by Yeng K Tan
Independently published, 9798450939674, 236 pages, August 2021

I will admit that I did not know what I was getting myself into when I started reading Mister Yam by Yeng K Tan. The bold, contrasting colors on the front of the book, overlaid by a red sheep with golden wings wasn’t much of an indication of what this curious book might be about.

Sure, sure I had read the back-cover description: a twenty-something year old guy disillusioned by corporate life finds his life re-examined when a series of events propels him to embark on a mysterious quest to find answers only he can discover. Kind of generic, right? But let me tell you, this book was so much more than your run of a mill adventure pursuit of the unknown; it’s filled with transcendental wisdom, intimate psychological revelation, and a lot of good eats!

Mister Yam lives a pretty routine life: he has a steady job, though he’s not much interested in career ambition, visits his favorite local bar, enjoys watching the evening news, recently experienced a break up with his girlfriend, and most of all, is always thinking about his next meal.

However, after attending a career fair with his buddy Lorenzo, a series of strange events start happening in his life. It begins when a bald man with a big hat gives him a small wooden box with a lock but no key on a train. Then Mister Yam starts getting phone calls from a person eerily familiar with small details of his life, such as what he’s doing at that moment.

Since the box remains a mystery to him, Mister Yam takes it to a local pawn shop to see if they can tell him more about it. Looking up a data search of the box reveals map coordinates, but nothing else. After learning that his friend Lorenzo has gone missing in the midst of all these random and unexplainable events, Mister Yam feels like he must follow the coordinates to find his friend.

He continues his journey to find answers on a bus headed towards Montana. Oddly enough, at a stop in Idaho, he notices the girl from the pawn shop is also on the bus, and they decide to share lunch. She invites him to travel with her for a bit, and he accepts the offer.

As they ride around in her van, Emma reveals her own experience with the bald man and how her life was inexplicably changed after meeting him. Once a Mormon, the bald man even connects to why she’s back in Idaho at that time. Mister Yam isn’t the type of person to overthink things though, and rather than probe her about who this bald man might be, they just get stoned and hook up.

The next day, Mister Yam continues on his journey to Montana. Once again he meets a woman, Sappho, who assists him in this journey. She had seen Lorenzo check into the hotel with the bald man just a few weeks prior. While they were staying at the hotel, she had an odd experience that matches a dream Mister Yam has been having, where they enter a dark room filled with candles.

Together, they set off into the snowy Montana mountain side to find what is located at these mysterious coordinates. However, this is where my summary will end because what comes next is one of those endings that makes you really question concepts of perception, reality, and the feats of consciousness.

I realize this summary seems rather basic, but do not let it deter you from picking up this book! I intentionally left out a lot of the mysterious events, such as a strange play called The Life of Boris, and the many references to sheep that keep revealing themselves.

Plus, what really makes the book worth reading is the revelations the character has about perception. He’s a foodie by heart, and his descriptions of what he’s eating created a craving in me quite a few times. But most of all, he’s a rather unassuming person who’s open to letting the mystery reveal itself without working too hard to grasp it. Yes, he’s curious, but he’s not over thinking about all the events occurring; he’s more like a passenger on a great voyage of sublime divine planning.

At times I didn’t know what to think about the events, and I really had no idea how it would turn out. But I felt reconnected to my own awareness through reading the book, and I was enticed to be more mindful in my day to day routine. This plot moves along a general path, but it has detours, just like life does. There’s something very “in the flow” to how it progresses.

As mysterious as it seems, there’s always a gentle pulse of love and higher knowledge that seems to be guiding seemingly unconnected events to make it a cohesive narrative. The pieces are all woven together in due time, and I valued Mister Yam’s “take it as it is” style in the matter of getting to the heart of the truth.

Reading Mister Yam instantly reminded me why I adore independently published books. Tan’s writing style is unique, fresh, and one of a kind. This story doesn’t have the same narrative plot that’s been churned out over and over again, making the read a wash-rinse-repeat type of experience.

What I liked most about it overall was the stream of consciousness narration of the main character. I really got into his inner dialogue. And while I did feel like he was very much a dude (I will admit the male mind seems very foreign to me), I completely vibed with Mister Yam’s observations, thoughts about the world, and motivations. It reassured me that as a millennial, we do see things in a way other I want to say older but am trying to not create an OK Boomer moment) view things.

From the disillusionment with a corporate lifestyle to insights about current politics, I felt like Mister Yam was immensely relatable. And therefore, I was more inclined to be interested in how the story unfolded. (To be honest, I was actually very interested and read this book in one day because I just wanted to keep going!) He had valuable insight into the world, and he was also a great tipper. His respect towards those around him reflected his good nature.

The other aspect of this book that I enjoyed is how well it captures the “spirit of the land”. From San Francisco to Montana, I felt the narrative come alive through the character’s interaction with the landscape. Whether it be walking around Berkeley to being hunkered down in the snow of Montana, Tan does a wonderful job of painting a vivid picture for the reader. Even when it was just Mister Yam sitting at the bar, I could see it, taste it, feel it, and hear it.

Overall, Mister Yam is like the millennial’s version of a Burning Man revelations within one’s ho-hum life through a strange series of events that help Mister Yam get at the truth of the matter. There’s a mixture of Jung’s synchronicities with psychedelic revelations that come via perception of the mind, filled with the many tastes of Food Network. If this feels like a random jumble of things, I’ve made my point clear. There’s no one way to explain the deep message of Mister Yam, but reading it is a journey in itself — one that I highly encourage.

The Age of Witches, by Louisa Morgan

The Age of Witches, by Louisa Morgan
Orbit Books, 9780356512587, 528 pages, February 2020

Horses, poppets, and duels within a family of witches? Add a splash of romance and you’re got the magical ingredients for The Ages of Witches by Louisa Morgan. This is a definite must-read for witchcraft-fiction readers. Featuring strong women protagonists and actual occult wisdom, this book was a lovely read. What’s best is that Morgan’s writing flows at a gentle pace, making it so I didn’t rush through it in just a day or two and allowing me to really get wrapped up in the tale.

The story is centered around young Annis Allington, who cares more for horseback riding than afternoon tea and marriage. There’s no riding side-saddle for this young lady; she has a natural repertoire with her horses and enjoys the strength she feels galloping around the streets of New York.

Unfortunately, her scheming step-mother, Frances Allington, has other plans for Annis’s life in order to fuel her own personal desire for a place among society’s elite. What Annis doesn’t realize is that Frances is a witch, who specializes in the use of the maleficia, or dark magic used to control others. Her specialty is working with poppets to control her target and make them bend to her will, which is how she landed Annis’s father as a husband.

Wishing to separate Annis from her beloved horse and lure her into a royal marriage, sealing a title to enhance the family’s reputation, Frances brings her to London to meet with a potential suitor. Well, from Frances’s point of view, the match will be guaranteed for she’s prepared to magically make it so, regardless of the feelings of either party.

James, who recently became the new Marquess of Rosefield, has the weight of the world upon his shoulders now that his family has passed. Coming to terms with the family’s dwindling finances and his father’s debt has put James in the position of having to make choices about how to best secure a future for the Rosefield estate. His mother, Lady Eleanor, eagerly and continually suggests finding a wealthy woman to marry, thus ensuring the future of their family’s legacy.

Conveniently, she has invited Frances and Annis to visit with them, hoping for there to be a spark. Well, there certainly is strong chemistry between James and Annis, but not the way their parents had hoped for. James is appalled at Annis’s forwardness in regard to her desire to become a horse breeder, and Annis cannot stand Jame’s conventionality or views on what is and is not appropriate behavior for a woman.

After the first day though, the feelings between them begin to shift. Annis can sense something is off about it; she’s experiencing embarrassing sensual feelings for James, whom she knows she is not truly attracted to at all. It’s clear that James too is feeling the allure, suddenly looking at Annis in a very different way.

Annis doesn’t know what to make of this and is truly worried about her predicament. She knows that Frances is trying to corner her into this marriage, and she’s also fearful of the consequences, such as losing her beloved horse, if she doesn’t play along.

Luckily, Harriet Bishop, Annis’s aunt and Frances’s cousin, has been following along with what’s happening in her family’s bloodline. Readers are introduced to her at the very start of the book, and I for one was instantly taken with her. I only wish I had an aunt watching over the development of my own magical gifts.

Both Harriet and Frances shared a great-great- grandmother, Bridget Bishop, who was hung for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. Bridget had two daughters, Mary and Christian, who each went down their own witchcraft path. Christian followed in Bridget’s footsteps, freely using the maleficia to have her magical way, while Mary chose the path of magic that does not impede the will of others. Frances’s mother, unlike Harriet’s, had come from the lineage of Christian, who practiced the dark arts without discretion.

Harriet and her grandmother found Frances after her mother had passed. Living in squalor, they awakened her to the secret of the family’s witchcraft lineage and took her into their home to oversee her training. They had hoped she would not succumb to the maleifica’s strong powers, but ultimately the pull was too strong. Frances decides to make her way in the world using the witchcraft that compels, controls, and consumes others, expertly using her poppets to get what she needs in life.

“Witch should be a beautiful word, signifying wisdom and knowledge and discipline, but it isn’t used that way. It’s been made an insult, implying evil, causing fear. The word has been perverted.”1

I know I certainly feel this way sometimes, hesitant to share my personal spiritual path as a witch. Therefore I often found myself agreeing with Harriet’s thoughtful sentiments. She is an admirable witch and herbalist, maintaining discretion about her client’s personal needs. Though, she also knows how the beauty and power of witchcraft can be used for ill and malice towards others.

Stepping into to prevent Annis from the harm Frances wishes to callously inflict on her (though France might truly believe what she’s doing is for the best interest of all despite the lack of freedom of choice or ethics concerning the welfare of others), Harriet ventures to London herself to reveal the secrets of their family to Annis before it’s too late.

As for the summary, I’ll stop here. This is hardly a full synopsis of all the twists and turns the book takes, but it’s hopefully enough to convey the essence of the plot. Once Harriet, Annis, and Frances are in London together, it’s truly a battle of wills for the direction that magic will take.

What I love most about the book is Morgan’s portrayal of witchcraft, which I believe can only come from true reverence for the art, along with a bit of practical experience in the craft. There’s even a character who is a strega! This was especially heartwarming for me to read since I come from an Italian lineage.

Throughout the book are fun cantrips, such as the following:

“The touch of this remedy will move the heart
So kindness is the better part.
Leaf and root and flower bless
The heart that always answers, Yes.”2

The spellwork of the witches, especially with the poppets, is always described in detail. From the herbs used to make a salve to the description of using a piece of hair for the intended poppet, Morgan truly captures what goes into magical workings. She even includes the witches mixing in blood for their spell potency, as well as the use of an adder stone to give the work a boost.

Morgan also does a wonderful job of capturing life in the 19th-century for women. While Annis has budding feminist notions, there’s also still societal rules about what constitutes appropriate path’s for a woman’s live. Offering the option of witchcraft to a young woman is one of the most remarkable gifts to be handed down generation after generation — it’s more than just an alternative path, it’s a route to self-discovery and a life beyond the constraints of social norms.

Magic aside, Morgan has created some memorable characters. I really enjoyed the various cooks, maids, and personal attendants who accompanied the main characters. I can picture the different accents the characters used, thus further amplifying my connection to the story’s setting. I was especially taken aback by Annis’s intimacy with her horses, which gave me a new appreciation for the relationship between horse and rider. At times, I wished I could just hop on a horse and go for a little trot around the block!

All in all, The Age of Witches was a very fun read. I almost want to say it was relaxing. Yes, the plot was interesting, and at no time did my attention stray, but the pace was easy-going. This book had all the elements of a good story: family conflict, romance, and a whole lot of heart. Plus, It made me think about what type of magical practitioner I consider myself to be, and it inspired me to be more active in my herbalism and word craft for spellwork. I highly recommend it as an engaging witchcraft-fiction read!

The Ladies of the Secret Circus, by Constance Sayer

The Ladies of the Secret Circus, by Constance Sayer
Redhook, 0316493678, 464 pages, March 2021

I’ll admit it.. I’ve been very into magical circus books this summer (see my review for Bacchanal). When I found the Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayer in the recently published section of my library, I was delighted to once again be immersed in the enchantment that springs forth from the unique energy of circus life. However, while the plot was decent, this book didn’t stand out as a must-read for me. Overall, it was an interesting story, but written with too many plot gaps and a clear indication the writer does not have much experience working magic in the real world.

The overall premise is that on the day of her wedding, Lara Barnes’s fiancé, Todd, goes missing. Yes, they’ve had an on-again-off-again relationship for quite some time, including him being with other women, but the disappearance is a shock to the small town. While Kerrigan Falls is known for its lack of crime, an eerily similar disappearance happened 30 years prior to the day, when another handsome, young, beloved man named Peter went missing in the midst of his aspiring musical career.

Lara is absolutely devastated by the loss of her love, but can sense there’s something more to the story. She has learned how to do simple magic, or “corrections”, as she calls them. For instance, she alters her wedding dress to better fit her taste that day, though she’s aware the illusion will only hold as long as she maintains concentration. She inherited this power from her mother, Audrey, who chose a normal life, hiding her magic from everyone, including her ex-husband Jason.

In the months following Todd’s disappearance, Lara distracts herself by purchasing a local radio station and putting work into her fixer-upper home. She does her best to avoid media attention and rumors about what might have occurred, as she’s in her own personal state of mourning the loss of her beloved. Though, this doesn’t stop her from forming a romantic relationship with the local sheriff, Ben, who is a bit out of his league with such a big case in his small town. What begins with him giving her updates on the case, blossoms into a friendship, which turns into a budding romance.

As a supportive mother, Audrey is trying to lift her daughter’s spirits. Together, they attend the Rivoli circus, as the owners are long-time friends from the days when their family ran a circus. Audrey’s mother had decided to give up the circus, after going mad from her magical powers and no longer being able to maintain it. While at the circus, Lara has an unusual encounter with a fortune teller, where she is gifted with the diaries of her great-grandmother Cecil Cabot.

Reading the journals, Lara learns her great-grandmother was part of Le Cirque Secret, also known as the dark circus. Suddenly, all she’s known is turned upside down. As she tries to figure out the deeper truth, Lara recalls visits from a mysterious man as a child who had told her Todd was not her destiny. When he appears again following Lara reading the diaries with a proposition for Lara, inviting her to come to Paris, as he needs her help, in exchange for information about Todd and her family secrets, she decides to go ahead.

From this point on in the story, it becomes a dual narrative of Lara’s experience and that of her great-grandmother Cecil’s experience in Le Cirque Secret. While Lara’s story is boring white-bread suburban living, Cecil’s life is filled with romance, passion, and magic of 19th-century Paris and circus performances.

Cecil and her twin, Esme, were the children of one of the most notorious demons in the underworld, Althacazur, who is a favorite of Lucifer. When his wife passes away, he needs a home for his daughters, thus he creates Le Cirque Secret (which also is a good way for him to reel in those who are more eager to sell their souls to him in exchange for what they desire — truly a win-win). Known for her cunning charm and quick temper, Lara soon realizes this man is her great-great-grandfather, and her family’s origin is much darker than she ever imagined.

What’s especially enticing about Le Cirque Secret is that only those with a ticket can see the entrance, which pops up in the middle of an open, vacant spot in the town it’s performing in. Since it’s run by demons, who were essentially hand-picked by Althacazur in order to entertain and babysit his kids, this is no usual circus. All the performers are trapped, fulfilling the contracts they’ve made with demons for the rest of eternity. Nevertheless, there is an element of kinship among them.

Cecil and Esme, despite being twins, are often at odds with each other. Their good friend Slyvie tends to pick sides among them, but she also helps to smooth out the tensions. Oddly, Cecil has no memories prior to her 11th birthday blowing out candles. She can’t recall their early childhood, though Esme can and mocks Cecil for her weakness, as she’s also the only person in the circus that does not have a performance routine.

When Cecil grows weary of her sister’s taunts, she asks father about her lost memories and shares what Esme had told her. This prompts a swift and ruthless punishment for Esme, which changes her forever. From then on, all love has been lost between the sisters. However, Cecil finally finds her own strength and becomes an aerial performer. She learns that she can do more than swing from the bars as an acrobat. Cecil can actually fly through air with her magic, dazzling and astounding audiences.

During a night on the town after a circus performance, Cecil meets painter Emile Gradeux. They have an instant connection, sparking young love in the heart of Paris. Esme has usually been the one to go for painters, tormenting them by allowing her portrait to be painted, knowing it will vanish by morning, as it’s impossible to capture Cecil or Esme’s likeness. There’s something about Emile though that opens Cecil’s heart to happiness and love, and she continues to develop her relationship with them.

Surprisingly, Althacazur takes an interest in Emile and offers him the chance to do three paintings of the circus: one of Slyvie, one of Cecil, and one of Esme. Cecil and Esme’s intense rivalry is fueled by their common romantic interest in painter Emile. Ultimately, many relationships are destroyed, with consequences that are still impacting Lara in modern-day.

Swept away in the elegance of 19th-century Paris, these diary entries are definitely the best part of the book. Intermixed with characters such as Mann Ray, Pablo Picassion, and Ernest Hemmingway, the creative spirit comes alive amid the chaos of the circus. It’s easy to get caught-up in the glamour and romance

On her mission to learn more about her family’s past, Lara discovers more paintings in Paris, as well as a fellow Le Cirque Secret enthusiast, Tedd Barthlow-Bentham, a friend of Gaston, the local portrait framer and art enthusiast of Kerrigan Falls who has accompanied her. When Lara goes missing, Ben comes rushing to her rescue. Eventually, all the pieces come together for what is intended to be a surprising end. Though, if you’ve been reading between the lines, it’s easy to spot it coming.

So, overall the book has an appealing plot and it does keep the reader engaged to an extent. The major drawbacks to the book that irked me as a reader was the flow of the plot, which seemed a bit jerky. Sayer jumps from here to there with little transition, which makes it not as an appealing read. I sometimes didn’t know how things progressed as rapidly as they did in a very short time-frame.

Then, and I think this was my biggest problem with the book, Lara was not a very relatable character. Basic doesn’t even begin to describe her. It’s almost as if she was devoid of deeper emotional feelings. She was very one-dimensional, and most of the time she’s simply confused about what’s going on in her life. The romances between both Todd and Ben seem superficial, and she doesn’t really strike me as someone with a genuine range of emotion, which made me feel she was a bit annoying as a protagonist.

This was interesting because it wasn’t that Sayers couldn’t write a better character; Cecil and Esme have passion, depth, and self-awareness. And as I already said, the parts of the book focused on these characters in Paris were certainly the best. Lara just simply seems naive, selfish, and a bit aloof, not allowing for an emotional connection to be made with her, which as a reader I enjoy having with a main character.

Then my other peeve about the book was that the magic described is the kind of “wave your hand and something happens magic”. It came naturally to all of the characters because of their demonic origins. Therefore, it almost seems taken for granted. Yes, it was neat reading about their powers and their journey to master it. But most of the time, especially with Lara and Audrey, the magic was used to simply enchant life and make it a little better, rather than actually doing anything substantial. It’s mostly all glamour magic.

Plus, the portrayal of the demonic realm was very glossed over and prettily packaged. There was the usual allusion to great people, such as Mussolini, who sold their sold to the devil, or in this case a demon. While Sayers tries to depict the cost of their deal, such as permanent abuse based on the whims of Althacazur, one again, there seem to be little self-reflection or self-awareness on the part of these side characters damned to Hell’s circus forever. The book definitely didn’t weight the pros and cons of selling one’s soul in the way The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab captured (a book I do highly recommend!).

All in all, The Ladies of the Secret Circus was a unique plot and memorable for its originality, but it could have been written a bit better. It’s most redeeming aspect is Sayer’s portrayal 19th-century Paris. Otherwise, it’s a watered-down stunted romance of a confused character trying to figure out her family’s history, drawing the reader into some very superficial aspects of the demonic realm. For those who are looking for a decent book to read, filled with enough mystery and intrigue to keep you occupied, this is an all right selection. It probably will not be a life-changing read, but it might be worth delving into once.

Cell Level Meditation, by Barry Grundland and Patricia Kay

Cell Level Meditation: The Healing Power in the Smallest Unit of Life, by Barry Grundland, MD and Patricia Kay, MA
Findhorn Press, 9781644112243, 176 pages, March 2021

… Dr. Barry Grundland was a psychiatrist whose specialty area might have been called psychoneuroimmunology. This is a big word that basically means min-body healing.  The mind, including our thoughts, emotions and attitudes affects the body, and in turn the body affects our minds, thoughts, emotions and attitudes. For over 50 years, Barry worked with people as a true healer –one who helps others come to Wholeness, or a sense of being who they really are…1

Cell Level Meditation: The Healing Power in the Smallest Unit of Life by Barry Grundland, MD and Patricia Kay, MA provides the reader with a broad perspective of the wonders and amazing capabilities of the wisdom of our bodies to heal. The quote above may not be innovative in our current society that is flooded with self-help tools, self-awareness training and contemplative practices of all manner, but the quintessential intention held in this statement about the co-author Dr. Grundland speaks to the simplicity of the book itself and acknowledgment of our capacity to thrive, heal and remain in a state of well-being simply by engaging the healing nature of our bodies in the process. 

“Cell Level Meditation” is a term crafted by Dr. Grundland to describe the power-and simplicity of establishing dialogue with the body at the cellular level and programming those related cells to function in a specific way. Co-author Patricia Kay speaks to the inherent directive and energy of the cell….

… The Cell is a real thing in the material world., and it is a metaphor as well, since it carries a basic “pattern” of organization you can find in every level of Life. The cell has a nuclei for example, which is a central area where you can find very basic information, that is very precise instructions for how things work; this information is inscribed on strands of tightly coiled threads called DNA…2

Kay further sets the tone for what follows and how the reader will be using the cell as a tool for healing:

… For our purposes, at the “level of the cell” we engage the workings going on there at different levels and states of awareness, which we can find with concentration, focus and participation through breath…3

Cell Level Meditation is separated into twenty chapters and makes use of poetry and quotations throughout the book. In general, there is a very poetic tone running through the information provided, which serves to engage the reader at all levels of being and all levels of understanding of neurobiological studies. 

The Introduction lays the groundwork for what follows in the subsequent chapters:

Cell Level Meditation is a vehicle for finding our way “home”.  We take the breath to our cells, offering them our deepest desire to be happy and healthy and strong.  In some way, they hear us and respond…This meditative form is a gift that helps the mind and the body come into healing, which in turn, helps us be ourselves in fullness…4

One of the things I appreciated about Cell Level Meditation is the way in which the reader is enveloped in the intention, whether overtly or subtly in the writings, with a gift of opening to the experience of meditation as a healing soured, as well as greater knowledge of the physical aspects of our being that are co-creators in that healing. 

Chapters one to five act as a primer for the reader and offer tools, exercises and insight into the art of Meditation and its use at a cellular level (chapter one and two), mind (chapter three), body (chapter four) and breath (chapter six). This information in and of its self is valuable in delving deeper into the “whys” of the contemplative arts, whether directed towards cell level use or general mindfulness

There is a specific and supportive rhythm that flows through the teachings of Cell Level Meditation. Each of the remaining chapters expands on these basics and moves through the process of this meditation in a style that is user friendly and allows for time to process and digest what has come previously. Moving through the book, the information has a wonderful way of capturing the mystical in the scientific and the scientific in the mystical. 

Chapter 19, “Conditioned Habits”, is one that calls the reader to awareness of their body’s (cells) wisdom and inherent dialogue (if we train ourselves to listen); and, the acknowledgement that we are all “programmed” (conditioned) towards certain habitual behaviors.  The previous chapters have established the importance of breath as a vehicle of movement and enlivenment, and the practice of breath focused meditation to further awaken the cells and enable these changes and shifts towards a more balanced state. The reader is reminded that this desire and action towards change often brings about chaos, a term used widely in the scientific community denoting the precipice of change or shift from one state of being to another, a naturally occurring evolutionary process found throughout nature….

… Rather than being too worried about being at the edge of chaos”, you are now empowered to stay present with your experience… Even in chaos, you have the breath. You are going into Unknown Territory, but with your intention and hope and the breath. The rest … comes from a higher place. … By working with the edges of our conditioned habits with awareness, willingness to stay present for what is actually going on as sensations in the body, even stuck patterns are called to a higher level when there is a ripe moment…5

These are merely highlights of this book. It is difficult to capture an “experience” in the writing of a review. I believe, however, that the authors have done just that, and more. Additionally, the publisher Findhorn Press was aptly suited for this title. Having reviewed several of their titles now, there is most definitely a theme and level of quality in the work of their authors that provides representation from the scientific/academic community as well as the more esoterically inclined. The overall themes are those of wholeness and collaboration at the levels of the environment, the planet and most importantly those beings who remain as stewards of themselves and their surroundings.

Cell Level Meditation takes the reader into a journey of the microcosmic nature of our self and the profound power of healing and wholeness contained in the singular component of our physical make-up – the cell. And, from that place of the cell the potential for what can be brought back into the macrocosm is limitless. 

Pagan Portals: Hellenic Paganism, by Samantha Leaver

Pagan Portals – Hellenic Paganism, by Samantha Leaver
Moon Books, 9781789043235, 104 pages, March 2021

When I first got my hands on this book, I thought I knew what it was going to be about. I mean, it’s Hellenic so it’s about Greek Gods and Goddesses, right? Let’s be clear: Pagan Portals – Hellenic Paganism by Samantha Leaver is not the typical book that lists the various Olympian deities and provides a basic framework for how and when to worship them. No, this book goes much deeper than that. 

Citing a life-long fascination with Greek mythology, Leaver has crafted a beautifully written book that details the many participants in the Hellenic pantheon. A self-proclaimed Kitchen Witch, Leaver has always felt drawn to the Mediterranean and this book is her personal journey through the various deities and how she works with them in order to foster a connection with the divine. 

Chock full of useful information around the practice as a whole, the book starts with an artfully crafted introduction that explains the society of the Hellenes and gives a brief overview of what Hellenic Paganism is. Leaver makes points on how things have changed since those times, noting that some of the Hellenic practices are no longer viable choices in today’s society. She suggests a variety of ways to do the same things in today’s context, something I found to be quite helpful in aligning myself with the practices in a modern time.

Written simply and with a profound sense of reverence, this book is a delightful entry point into the mythical world of the Greeks and the way they performed their rituals. Leaver clearly enjoys herself as she writes and is eager to share all that she has learned in her personal journey through the pantheon, while at the same time making distinctions between their world and our time. She notes that the psychological aspect of Hellenism differs from other well-known forms of religion, saying:

“Hellenism is more about connecting with and understanding the relationship you have to the natural world, it is all about living the best life you possibly can, with virtue, rather than sin, punishment, and redemption.”1

I really appreciated the depth of knowledge imparted by Leaver, as she delved into many aspects of ancient Hellenic life. Maybe some would find it tedious and want her to get on with the spells already, but I want to know where the rituals and ceremonies come from and why they were done. To me, that fleshes out the ‘why’ of the practice and I feel that is a vital piece of the ritual puzzle.

Leaver points out that much like Wicca, there are multiple paths in Hellenic Paganism and details a few to show their similarities. With that comes different names for deities in the pantheon, something I had not considered much to my chagrin. Of course there would be different names for deities depending on where you lived. Why would everyone use the same name? We don’t even have the same for a spatula in today’s society (seriously, it IS a spatula, not a lifter, and I will fight you). 

What I loved about gleaning this particular nugget of information is that Leaver also expresses her own double-take. She says, “To be honest, I thought I had a good handle on the Gods, until simple things like, ‘wait, the Hellenics call them Theoi’ happened, or ‘wait, there are numerous versions of each mythology out there by different writers at different times.’”2

This admission of disconnect solidified that this was the book for me. The honesty with which Leaver presents her journey, flawed as it was, is an absolute dream to partake of. It also made me feel much better about my own personal journey, as I have experienced similar things while bobbing along trying to figure out what kind of witch I am and who I should devote my time to. There is a difference between knowing that these things happen with others and then actually reading about an experience, and while it’s uncomfortable to watch others struggle in their search for sovereignty, it’s comforting to know that despite what path we find ourselves on, we are all having similar experiences. 

The book is cleverly divided into four parts and a section called “Closing thoughts from a Modern Hellenic Pagan.” The four sections clearly divide up the vast knowledge Leaver has on Hellenic Paganism: the introduction is both straightforward in laying out the structure of the information that will be presented and Leaver’s own journey along this particular path. Subsequent sections titled “Living the Path”, “Relationship with Deity’” and “Magic and Mysticism” are equally well laid out and written in a very approachable manner. 

It’s always interesting to take something like auspicious days and try to make them relevant to today’s society. Leaver does this admirably, making connections to more modern tactics rather than leaving you to figure it out on your own. The best example of this is listed in Hesiod’s Auspicious Days: Day 4: a good day to bring home a bride, begin building narrow ships, and open jars. Leaver offers another way to look at it, saying, “I like to think of this day as the day to begin building projects, a crafty or creative day. This is also a good day to take care to avoid troubles that eat out the heart. I like to use some time on this day to concentrate on all that is good in my life.”3

Pagan Portals – Hellenic Paganism is a great jumping on point for those interested in Hellenic Paganism or just want a deeper dive on the Greek pantheon. I found the information to be very helpful and detailed in a way that was not overwhelming. One thing I did not expect was how many gods and goddesses are considered to be part of the Greek pantheon: there are literally too many to name. If you have even a glimmer of interest in knowing more about this particular branch of paganism, I highly recommend picking up this book. I am happy to add it to my growing collection of books.

The Vine Witch, by Luanna G. Smith

The Vine Witch (The Vine Witch #1), by Luanna G. Smith
47North, 1542008387, 268 pages, October 2019

One of my favorite books that I read this summer was The Vine Witch by Luanna G. Smith. You can only imagine my delight in discovering that it was the first of three books in a series! For two marvelous weeks, I was wrapped up in the drama, intrigue, romance, and excitement of these novels. I considered writing a review of each separately, but then decided to write about them side by side. I can hardly imagine one would enjoy The Vine Witch and not want to continue on with the rest of the series.

As much as I enjoy a brand-new book, I also am thrilled when I discover a fully published series that lets me jump right from one book to the next with no wait time! While the latest book in the series, The Conjurer, was released in 2021, The Glamourist was published in 2020 and The Vine Witch in 2019. I highly recommend reading them in order of publication date, which is easy to do now that they’re all released.

They stories definitely build upon one another, and it’s adds a lot to the newer books already knowing the full backstory. All the characters are introduced in The Vine Witch, and the following two novels expand on the past of two characters, continuing to reveal how the three magical women’s fate is intertwined. Their unique friendship evolves as the women overcome enemies, personal challenges, and twists of fate that captivate the imagination, perfectly blending in magic, mystery, and mayhem.

Now.. onto the good stuff!

Set in the charming Chanceaux Valley, The Vine Witch delves into the story of Elena Boureanu, who has just returned to her human form after spending seven years as a toad due to a curse put on her. It was only her skilled knowledge of poisons that helped her break the curse, gruesomely by eating her shedding toad skin, which contained a specific chemical that was able to alter the effects of the spell. Still haunted by her amphibious time, Elena is eager to get revenge on the person she knows must have put this spell on her: Bastien Du Monde, her former fiance.

Elena returns to her home, Château Renard, and happily reunites with her dear Grandmere, Unfortunately during Elena’s time as a toad, her grandmother was not able to maintain the vineyard or its finances, leading her to sell it to Jean-Paul Martel, a budding vigneron. So far, Jean-Paul hasn’t had much luck with his crop, but he is intent on applying his scientific knowledge to bring the fields back to life.

Despite the rocky start they get off to upon meeting, Jean-Paul allows Elena to stay at Château Renard for the time being. Elena, who feels deeply intertwined with the vineyard is glad to be back, but also is keenly away from a spell lingering over the fields, which is contributing to the bad harvests. She’s eager to use her magic to lift the curses, but knows she must hide her magic from Jean-Paul, who denounces the superstitions of vine witches in the valley.

Meanwhile, Bastien and his new wife are on a mission to buy up the land in the area to expand their own wine-making business, which has become exceedingly popular during the time Elena was gone. For a while Elena hides her presence, not wanting Bastien to know she’s back for revenge, but eventually her identity is revealed, shocking even Elena as she uncovered the truth about her past.

As Elena comes to terms with her powers and grapples with her sparking romance with Jean-Paul, who is opening up to her supernatural world, she also must contend with the evil force that wants to do her in. When a surprising death lands Elena in magical jail, she becomes acquainted with Yvette, a rough and tumble young woman, and Sidra, a jinni. All three women have been accused of murder, but there is also their side of the story that is not give a voice. Their break-out links them together, leading to a bond that will continue to be called upon for the rest of the series.

I won’t go further, as to not give spoilers, but from a magical perspective here are some of the things that I loved about the book. First of all, Smith really makes this magic feel real. While some of the magic is extraordinary, it’s grounded in magical theory and practice. For instance, Elena must take time to reunite with her magical tools and slowly regain her strength after coming back from the curse. There are limits to her powers and this prevents a sense of all-consuming, omnipotent magic dominating the story; it’s realistic.

Additionally, the magic she does is deeply tied to the land, the vines, the animals, and her home, which I believe many witches can relate to in their own lives. Gardens, hillsides, rivers, and streams all become sacred places of power; nature and the elements are the foundation of witchcraft. You get a sense of this as you read, and it inspires one to reconnect with their landscape.

Plus, I found the concept of a vine witch to be fascinating, and it did leave me to wonder if this was ever a real thing. There was a sensuality about her connection to the wine, and the magic felt palpable, as though I could taste it as I read.

Another aspect that I really enjoyed was a local baking witch, whose pastries pointed the way to one’s true love based on their flavors. I enjoyed that there was an exploration of other types of witches, beyond the vine witches, all mixed into the story. It made the story feel imbued with sorcery, as the mundane world thrived without even realizing all the small charms and magical world around it.

I highly recommend The Vine Witch to anyone who enjoys supernatural fiction. As far as books about witches go, this is definitely one of my top five favorites. Smith has done a wonderful job of bringing to life the magic in the mundane. From cooking to gardening, this book will inspire you to include a few spells of your own in the daily routine.