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Lora's Rants and Reviews

My own unapologetic opinions on books and writing. I DO NOT accept review requests but only review books I choose to read and I don't post reviews on Amazon. I'm also persnickity about genre and plot.

Currently reading

The Illumination of Ursula Flight
Anna-Marie Crowhurst
Progress: 6%
Paris: The Novel
Edward Rutherfurd
Progress: 54%
Unnatural Creatures
Maria Dahvana Headley, Neil Gaiman
Progress: 40%
Don Quixote
Roberto González Echevarría, John Rutherford, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Progress: 64%

I've redecorated

For dark, winter nights




— feeling what?!?
Uprooted - Naomi Novik

by Naomi Novik


After enjoying one of the author's other books and hearing this one was good from many sources, I had to try it despite having little idea what it was about. As it turns out, I really enjoyed most of it!


Every ten years a girl is chosen by the local wizard to come live in his tower and rumors about what happens there are rife, though the girls always come back and insist the magician didn't lay a hand on them. They always end up leaving the village and finding a life for themselves elsewhere afterwards.


Meanwhile, the villagers live in the shadow of a forest that contains some sort of evil, with creatures who capture those who come too close and take them into the forest never to return.


This is one of the most original Fantasy stories I've read for a while. The magic is very well done and the characters are also done well, each of them distinctive in their own way. The challenges that face the main character, Agnieszka, range from trying to keep safe from the hazards of the forest to trying to help her best friend who is up against dangers from all sides, to dealing with the royal family and the pitfalls of murderous politics and the court wizards who see village girls as expendable at best.


It was a fascinating story and one that I kept going back to ahead of my other reads up until about the last third. Then it seemed to lose its way and become a little too surreal to hold attention. Many of the plot points were left unexplained, including why the magician specifically took a girl every ten years, although there was a reference to it with inadequate explanation.


It also hit one of my pet peeves with a single graphic sex scene. Why this has become a thing with recent books that wouldn't even be described as Romance much less Erotica I can't imagine. Yes the nature of the relationship was relevant but a move by move about who did what to which body part is completely unnecessary and ruins an otherwise good story! It also makes it unsuitable for young readers, who might have been a primary target audience for this story.


There was an end, but with too much left unexplained.

December Wrap-up

Old Celtic Romances - P.W. Joyce Sigil Witchery: A Witch's Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols - Laura Tempest Zakroff Fairies:: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk - Morgan Daimler Dreamtime Dragons - Nils Visser The Grand Phantom - Harold Cloninger A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens Plum Dandi Knits: Simple Designs for Luxury Yarns - Alicia Plummer, Melissa Schaschwary The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock - Imogen Hermes Gowar The Toy Makers - Robert Dinsdale About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution -  Paul Davies

Yes, there's one more day but although I'm getting close to finishing Uprooted by Naomi Novik, I definitely won't be finishing any other books before January 1st.


I seem to have given myself a lot of non-fiction to read this month. Mostly from Netgalley.


I expect to finish Uprooted between today and tomorrow so I'm counting 11 books for the month. Not bad for me!


The stand out ones besides Uprooted (which I'm really enjoying) would be The Toy Makers and the Dreamtime Dragons Anthology. Both have given me a lot of reading pleasure. I enjoyed the re-reading of A Christmas Carol too. 5 of the books are non-fiction so only a couple of meh books.


I also got through some of the samples backlog again. I've only got about 80 left. I collected a LOT over Halloween!


I still have some non-fiction reads in progress so that may slow me down for January reading, but I seem to be averaging more in a month than I used to. I blame all of you.

Old Celtic Romances

Old Celtic Romances - P.W. Joyce

by P. W. Joyce


This is a lovely collection of old traditional tales from the Irish tradition like The Children of Lir, that many of us have grown up with. Most of these tales are told in prose, though some in poetry.


The Irish tales have always had a lyrical quality to them even in prose and have been the basis for many later stories that build on the tales of both ancestors and the fairy tradition that weaves its magic through this style of storytelling.


This book gathers several of these romance tales into one volume for easy reference and would be a lovely gift for someone who enjoys all things Celtic.


The commentaries are also very interesting and explain the background of the tales. Some readers might have a little trouble with pronunciation of some names and names of places, but there is some help for that in the back.

Heads up...

Smashwords is having an End Of Year Sale and loads of books in all genres are free or greatly reduced.





All e-book formats!

Sigil Witchery

— feeling misdoubt
Sigil Witchery: A Witch's Guide to Crafting Magick Symbols - Laura Tempest Zakroff

by Laura Tempest Zakroff




This is a book about sigil magic, something that has roots in a spectrum of ancient cultural esoterica but became popular with the rise of chaos magick in the 1970s. The book starts with a general explanation and some history of some of the systems where sigil magick began. It then continues with a full chapter on pictorial art from cave paintings to symbols used by secret societies, hitting a few little known facts but missing out obvious things like Runes, which is later explained.


I have mixed feelings about this book. As a book about art and how to apply drawing techniques for interesting looks for sigils, it excels. On magic... not so much. I have no doubt that the author's spells would work for her, but the explanations of how sigil magic works falls short and in some instances contradicts safety information I've read from more experienced and trusted authors on the subject.


I noted that an early reference to the method used in chaos magic(k) gave me the impression that it had been taken from a couple of variations that might have come from Internet forums and thought the author could benefit from reading the book by Austin Spare where that particular method originated, then later she talks about having read that very book and suggests it's difficult to follow.


She also never mentions anything about charging the sigils, which is an important step in the process. For people new to sigil magic, I'd suggest people start at the known authors; Spare, Carroll, Hawkins and possibly Hine.


I think this book would be a good resource for someone who already has a working knowledge of sigil magic and is looking to expand on the artistic possibilities. Her information on art materials was excellent and it's clear she knows her stuff on that. This would be a good supplement for visual appeal and some alternative approaches, plus some I've read about elsewhere like motion sigils get more attention here than in the earliest sources.


Fairies:: A Guide to the Celtic Fair Folk - Morgan Daimler

by Morgan Daimler




This book is about the folklore and fairy tradition of Ireland. It may well be the most down-to-earth book on the subject on the market to date. Rather than the airy-fairy Victorian ideas of pretty little girl fairies that popular culture has spread, this is about the original tales and beliefs that are still prevalent in a mostly Christian Ireland.


The book is well researched. Tales from many places in the British Isles and Europe are cited and the folk beliefs are given context. Actual belief in fairies isn't required to enjoy the relation of the stories, though the author is mostly directing the information at a Pagan readership where some degree of belief is relevant.


There is a lot of repetition. Perhaps it was needed for context but I've seen the same information about fairy behavior in three different chapters and that gives the impression of padding. My only other complaint is that in an early chapter there was a promise to explain the difference between fairies and nature spirits, but only a passing reference to the latter later on. I pretty much understand the difference but would have liked to see it put into words to clarify.


Overall a good reference for anyone new to the subject, although the classic reference books are cited so often that I wonder if someone with more than a passing interest should just reading those works. Mostly well written, though it meanders in the last couple of chapters.

Dreamtime Dragons Anthology

Dreamtime Dragons - Nils Visser

by Nils Visser et al


This is an outstanding collection of stories, all having to do with dragons in some way. The stories are from twelve different authors so styles vary, but there wasn't a dud in the bunch. One by the editor was written in present tense, but it was actually done well which is rare.


I've read a few of the authors before so I knew I could expect above average quality for at least some, but I was pleasantly surprised overall. I've added A.J. Noon to my favorite author list and sent for samples of his other work. I do like a bit of humor in my Fantasy!


The editing was also above average, even for big publisher books. I counted four minor typos for the whole book, plus two in the author bio section. I bet they didn't check there!


It was an enjoyable collection and included sample chapters from some of the authors' other books as well, but they were self-contained segments that didn't leave me wondering what was going on.


It's also good knowing that any money generated from the project is going to a ferret rescue center. So a good read and something to help animals. Win-win! And the cover art is amazing!

Another Christmas book

The Victorian Christmas - Anna Selby

Going through my saved Christmas books to either read or discard. Unfortunately one I was going to read disappeared from my Kindle. :(


This one is non-fiction, giving history of the traditions. Looks good after reading the first part.

The Grand Phantom

The Grand Phantom - Harold Cloninger

by Harold Cloninger


This one came out of my free book slush and the cover and title gave me a Phantom of the Opera vibe, so I decided to read it. It didn't actually follow the plot of Phantom of the Opera very much, but was an interesting story in itself. I think it could have been fleshed out a lot more as it came over as YA Horror and though it alternated between two time frames, there weren't any real sub-plots.


The characters were reasonably well done. At least they weren't all the same. Overall I had the impression of a not very experienced writer, but one with potential. It was an enjoyable enough read anyway

Reading progress update: I've read 6%.

Uprooted - Naomi Novik

It's time I read something off my A-list. I even paid for this one!

DNF at 19%

Cowabunga Christmas - Anna Celeste Burke Anna Celeste Burke

This is basically a light murder mystery. Dressing the body as Santa doesn't make it feel Christmassy and the writing is amateur at best. Life is too short. Nobody even went surfing yet!

Finishing tonight

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

Since this is a re-read, I don't need to write a new review. My old one can be found here:



I'll be finishing it again tonight so might as well post now and save myself the trouble tomorrow.

Plum Dandi Knits

Plum Dandi Knits: Simple Designs for Luxury Yarns - Alicia Plummer, Melissa Schaschwary

by Alicia Plummer, Melissa Schaschwary


As the cover and description would indicate, this is a book of knitting patterns. What's unique about it is an emphasis on stitch patterns that create romantic designs that are very fluid, like nature.


My one complaint about it is that a lot of the patterns are for 'accessories'. I counted 2 patterns for leg warmers, one flared, 1 pair of warm looking socks, 4 shawls, one with a massive cable design, 2 patterns for fingerless gloves with interesting textures plus a pattern for enclosed mittens, an interesting headband that I'll certainly make, 2 scarves, a sort of cabled hat with a big fluffy ball at the top plus 2 more hats, one that the texture pattern made me think of dragon scales, and a cabled blanket.


This wouldn't be bad if there were more patterns for pullovers and cardigans. Apart from the above there was a patter with delicate stitch patterns in a cardigan and shrug, a striped pullover vest, a turtleneck pullover, an interesting patterned cape that I would make longer, and one other pullover with a lovely pattern going down the sleeves which I am very likely to make. No jackets or dresses, which might have benefited from the sort of design that has gone into the projects offered.


There's an extensive stitch glossary, including some unusual ones like the long-tail cast on that I haven't seen elsewhere. I'd say this book is for the more experienced knitter. There are plenty of pictures in color and the stitches are illustrated with clear drawings.


Overall a good knitting book, but I'd like to see more patterns for everyday clothes. You can only make so many hats and scarves before you have too many, no matter how cool the designs.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock - Imogen Hermes Gowar

by Imogen Hermes Gowar


Unfortunately this story is written in present tense and like most books that are written this way, the prose feels stilted and doesn't flow well, plus the tenses get confused when referring to something that happened in the story's past. It's a shame as it had the potential to be really good. People who don't mind reading in present tense may enjoy it more than I was able to. I also had the impression from the description that it would be about a live mermaid rather than an artefact, but I won't blame the author for my expectations being other than what the story was really about.


A merchant, Jonah Hancock, learns that his agent has sold his ship to buy a mermaid. His ship! His means of livelihood!


He is given no choice but to begin a new career in exhibiting what would be considered the body of a freak of nature. It isn't what he wants to do, but it will take him into some unexpected adventures.


The characters were depicted well in this and the plot had some interesting twists and turns, but I found it hard going because of the present tense writing. It just doesn't work for me and I know a lot of other people are the same, so why do recent writers keep doing it? Anyway, I'm giving it 3 stars because I think this author could write well and the plot did have some interesting aspects.

The Toy Makers

The Toy Makers - Robert Dinsdale

by Robert Dinsdale


This is a story about a magical toyshop in the heart of Mayfair, just at the beginning of WWI. A young girl, Cathy, is pregnant and not at all happy with her parent's plans to send her to a 'home' where her baby will be sold to adoptive parents and she can try to pick up the threads of her life in shame.


An employment advert comes to her attention and she decides to take control of her destiny and forge another way forward.


From the start it is clear that the toyshop is out of the ordinary. I found myself quickly getting into the childlike sense of wonder that this magical place attracts and enjoyed watching Cathy learn to fit in with the other residents and toy makers.


It isn't all magic and joy though. The real world encroaches on the magical world of the toyshop, especially when the Great War breaks out. By then we've already learned the far too real history of Papa Jack, who started the toy shop with his two sons. The contrast of the magical world within the real world makes for a good story and kept me interested all the way through.


There is everything from sibling rivalry to magical animals that come alive, war time prejudices contrasted with paper trees that grow and develop living paper mache wildlife, war time correspondence and through it all the perspective of a child discovering everything for the first time.


It's not all happy, but the twist at the end makes the journey worthwhile. Well defined characters and a very unpredictable plot along with good writing make this one of the best books I've read this year!