Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pagan Spirits' Top 10 Books of 2010

DAY-UM was it hard to pick a Top 10 this year. I read so many good things that I never got a chance to blog about on Pagan Spirits. I think my actual favorite this year was Haunted Honeymoon, the thrilling/funny/romantic end to the Casa Dracula series by Marta Acosta. I have a soft spot in my heart for independent publishers and writers who personally asked me review their books, though. That describes most of these. So here you go.

Of the things I did blog, these are some of the best.

10. Disappearing Light Hides True Evil by Jennifer Tokarz

9. The Ultimate Guides (his and hers) by Violet Blue

8. Hysteria by Rushmore Judd

7. Refracted by Sheila Deeth

6. Punk Minneapolis by Peter Joseph Swanson

5. Walking on Electric Air by Stephen Cubine

4. Dangerous Highlander by Donna Grant

3. Ivan and Marya by Anna Kashina

2. She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror by various authors

1. Death's Excellent Vacation edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L. P. Kelner

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Can't Get Enough Holidays? What to Read This Holiday Season...and Beyond

For those of us who are “book people,” books are the perfect Christmas or Hanukkah gifts to give and receive. Brick-and-mortar and virtual book stores both offer a dazzling array of choices, from nonfiction on the recipient’s favorite subject to best-sellers, beautiful coffee table volumes to poetry to charming children’s books.

It can also be fun to give books about the holidays themselves, especially if you can support some independent authors and publishers. Here are some choices so intriguing, you may want to keep them for yourself!

The Origins of Christmas Songs and Traditions by Rhetta Akamatsu (2008). Christmas has some curious, colorful traditions with a long history. Learn some of origins of these, as well as the hidden meanings behind the Christmas carols we all know and sing, but don’t necessarily understand.

If you enjoy this book, go to and download “Silver Bells” by Anthony “T-Swang” Gullens. This all-new, original R+B arrangement of the Christmas carol favorite makes it more danceable than ever.

ChristmaSin’ by Ed Williams (2009). Ed Williams calls himself a “Southern outlaw author,” and his fiction shows it! With his trademark humor, Ed weaves a (mostly true) tale of his small, rural town of Juliette, Georgia back in the 1970s. Don’t expect a tranquil white Christmas there!

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story
by Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown (2007). Okay, Lemony Snicket isn’t an independent author, but you’ve got to love this children’s book in which a potato pancake leaps out of the frying pan. The latke is meant to be a Hanukkah treat, and he finds himself explaining this to a variety of Christmas decorations who think Hanukkah is simply “The Jewish Christmas.” The latke may be irate, but readers will be delighted.

Lemony Snicket also wrote The Lump of Coal (2008), a Christmas tale in which a grumpy, tuxedoed coal lump searches for his place in the world, and finds it with a drugstore Santa.

Finally, for the grown-ups to stuff in their own metaphorical stockings, there’s "Spicy, Earthy, Sweet" (2008) by Erin O’Riordan. Caught up in the magic of the Festival of Lights, Gabriella wants everything to be perfect for her holiday with Jared. Jared has very specific tastes--and a slight obsession with teasing the individual flavors out of the aromas of fine wines. Even the kosher wine he chooses for the first night of Hanukkah is subjected to his beloved wine aroma wheel. But wine is not the only thing that can be tasted, analyzed, and savored. Gabriella and Jared discover new uses for Jared's favorite toy as the Hanukkah candles burn down...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oliver Frances Visits Pagan Spirits

The weeks leading up to Winter Solstice, Christmas, and then the New Year is a busy one. Still, every busy schedule needs a bit of built-in time for reflection and relaxation. For book lovers like me, there's no better way to relax after a busy winter day than to curl up with a cup of tea and a book.

Oliver Frances' "Heart and Souls" is an especially gratifying read at this time of year. There are three short stories in this little volume. They each read like fairy tales. The first two are contemporary, and the wonder and magic in them are the wonder and magic of everyday adult life, with its hopes, disappointments and triumphs. They are delightful, sweet, old-fashioned romances.

The third is a more traditional fairy tale. In it, Santa Claus is thinking about retiring. He's thinking out loud, half to himself, half to Rudolph, his faithful red-nosed reindeer. A mysterious visitor arrives to help the jolly old elf make up his mind.

BIO: Oliver Frances writes romance and mystery; also his work focuses on social issues.His short stories have been praised by fervent readers around the world, and some were published in Istanbul Literary Review. Frances is an economist who has traveled to many countries and, from these journeys, has learnt about social and economics systems.

Pagan Spirits had a chance to ask Oliver some questions. Here are his answers.

PS: What was the name of the first book you wrote? How did you get it published?

Oliver: Summer Love... Self-published at (To avoid query letters or finding an agent I decided to go on self-publishing and create my own publishing company.)

PS: Which do you find leads you to your best work: your triumphs or your tragedies? Do you write from joy or pain?

Oliver: Spiritual realization. In fact, all the books that I've written recently are spiritual ones or have a great content of spirituality. I don't write from joy or pain anymore. In fact, many years ago I believed that an author had to go through hardships to create a good work, but not anymore.

PS: Do you have a writing ritual? If you listen to music while you're writing, what do you listen to?

Oliver: I hear music--very light one because the deep is in my writing.

PS: Who has been the biggest influence on your career?

Oliver: At the very beginning, Latin American writers. After, Oscar Wilde (and you can notice it in some books that I've written), but recently some writings convey ideas of the result of the readings of Timothy Leary's book or a spiritual book (Brian Weiss' ones).

PS: Do you read for pleasure? If so, what kind of books do you like to read?

Oliver: Before I read anything that fell into my hands for pleasure. Now what I read is because of any researching that I do for a project or studies.

PS: If you were stuck on a desert island, which book would you want with you?

Oliver: The Little Prince.

PS: What project(s) are you currently working on?

Oliver: I am writing short stories in which are combined mystery with spirituality.

PS: Dark chocolate or milk chocolate? Coke or Pepsi?

Oliver: Dark Chocolate. Definitely Coke.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Peter Joseph Swanson's Latest, 'Punk Minneapolis'

It's not exactly a hot tub time machine, but Peter Joseph Swanson's Punk Minneapolis will take you back to 1989. (I was 12 then.) Forget everything you've seen on I Love the '80s. That's all about corporate yuppie mall stuff that would make Raven, Becky, Sandra, Tope, and Bunny Umber want to puke. They're punkers, and their purpose in life is to rock out, drink beer, steal pizza and other essentials, and offend the yuppie world. Technically, Raven is a darksider, but he hangs out with the punk rockers and shares their philosophy.

Life isn't all pepperonis and salad bars, though. Strange things are happening, things that seem to center on the crazy nun who stalks the uptown Minneapolis pizza parlor (formerly a hair salon) where Raven, Becky, and Sandra work. Is that really her face Raven sees in his second-floor window at night? What is the K-Mart ouija board trying to say? Are there really space aliens in the walls, as Tope says?

Several bizarre accidents and cosmic revelations later, we arrive at the '90s. Punk is dead, and so are some of the characters. Others have moved on to become what they once feared and loathed. Only Raven has remained somewhat true to his artistic ideals, wondering how he can make a novel of the beer-soaked, pizza-greased, Plasmatic chaos that was 1989.

The weirdest part of all is that Peter Joseph Swanson's literary ouija board seems to have channeled some images straight out of my head. He writes about Gothic, a movie about Lord Byron and Percy and Mary Shelley I couldn't get out of my head only days before I read this book. I had also just finished watching The Prestige, which features David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. In the book, Tesla is one of Tope's fixations, even though Tope keeps calling him "Tescula." Peter Joseph Swanson, stay out of my brain.

If the epilogue of Punk Minneapolis puts you in the mood for a peek into the lives of Midwesterners in the 1990s, then follow it up with I Made Out With a Teenage Communist!

Friday, December 10, 2010

My 'Secret Santa' Rocks!

This year I took part in the Book Bloggers Holiday Swap. I sent out a holiday gift to a book blogger. Since I happened to know she loved YA novels and chocolate, I sent her Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Twilight: The Graphic Novel. For some fun little extras I included a bookmark, Harry Potter stickers, and a Twilight blank journal. I hope she liked it! She may not know this yet, but she's also getting a package of young adult titles from AG Press--one of the perks of being an editor.

Giving was the fun part, but today I received a gift from my book blogger Secret Santa. She turned out to be Mariah from A Reader's Adventure.

She sent me:

*The Heights by Brian James, young adult, contemporary retelling of Wuthering Heights (which just happens to be one of my all-time favorites!)
*A bookmark for Tera Lynn Childs' Forgive My Fins
*A bookmark for Suzanne Young's Naughty List Series, signed by Suzanne Young herself
*Two stickers for The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

Mariah darling, your gifts were thoughtful and are truly appreciated. (How did she know I love stickers?) I had so much fun with the Book Blogger Holiday Swap, I'll do it again next year.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'The Shame of What We Are' by Sam Gridley

When readers first meet Art Dennison, the preteen is waking up in a hospital, though readers won’t discover why for many chapters. In the next chapter, Art is only four years old. Exploring an abandoned lot where a house has been demolished, he climbs a pile of broken windows and gashes his leg. Starting with that scar, Art has a hard time distinguishing between wounds self-inflicted and otherwise. He is, in some ways, wiser than his college dropout mother and engineer father, even at that age. He detects their strangeness and distance from him early on.

He’s also aware of his own eccentricities. The loss of blood at age four left him feeling lightheaded, and somehow Art senses the feeling never really went away. He’ll never understand his “difficult” baby sister Katie or quite fit in with any of his peers. At one point, he lives across the road from a glorious California beach for weeks without ever realizing the water and sand are there.

Art Dennison has a quirky sense of humor. It grows with him as he ages to a high school senior by the end of the book. His tale can be humorous, though the humor often takes a poignant turn. Like the tale of Laika, the little dog with the white streak on her muzzle whose life was sacrificed in the interest of space exploration, Art’s survival in his parents’ bizarre 1950s world is both inspirational and sad.

Sam Gridley calls The Shame of What We Are “a novel in pieces.” The subtitle describes the way Gridley wrote it. Chapters appeared as independent short stories in the literary magazines Amarillo Bay, Juked, Quay, and Superstition Review. Still, it never reads like a collection of short stories. This is a unified novel, with hints of what’s to come in the earliest chapters, speaking to Gridley’s ability to imagine Art Dennison’s world in all its sticky, sunlit detail.

--Erin O’Riordan, author of Midsummer Night and Beltane

Saturday, December 4, 2010

New Review of "Oliver's Good Night Kiss!"

Natalie and Matthew are trying for a family. With that in mind, Oliver makes plans to leave their love triangle, but not before he spends some time alone with Natalie, one more time. He tantalizes her first with her favorite food before moving on to a more, delightfully naughty fare.

The plot gets more complicated with the fact that Natalie and Matthew are mated werewolves and Oliver, who is a vampire, admits to them both that he loves her.

Oliver’s mind reading skills and Natalie’s heightened senses make this story unique from others in its category, not to mention the turnaround at the end of the story.

This is a great, engaging story with a neat twist at the end, even if you don’t usually read books of this kind. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, looking for another just like it.

    bookmarks (out of 5)
Anita Nurse, Reviewer
Mind Fog Reviews

UPDATE January 2015: If you're looking to read "Oliver's Good Night Kiss," find it at my Etsy shop, Writer's Brain Has Wings.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"The Accidental Healer" by Joshua Graham

"The Accidental Healer"
E-book By Joshua Graham
Published By Dawn Treader Press

Get the code for a free download, now through Sunday December 5, at Graham's official website

These days, a CEO might be the least sympathetic character in all of fiction...even if he has been laid off and his wife left with their two children and his beloved chocolate Lab. When we meet Dave, it seems we shouldn't bother to care about him, since he's on the verge of ending his life anyway. Yet even as he's about to leave the world, Dave finds his heart opening. A brave act of compassion sets the stage for Dave to care about other people in a way he never thought possible. Though short at only about 30 pages, this book packs a thought-provoking twist for readers to enjoy. It may even inspire some to think about their own lives and how much they are willing to give.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hanukkah Reflections

Barukh atah adonai, elohaynu melekh ha-olam
Asher kidishanu b'mitzvo-tav
Vi-tzivahnu le-hadlikh ner shel Hanukkah

Praised are You, Oh Lord, our God, ruler of the universe
Who has made us holy through God's commandments and
commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.

--Blessings of the first night of Hanukkah
The Little Book of Hanukkah, Running Press

"Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening's forehead o'er the earth,
And add each night a luster till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.
Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;
Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap newborn."

--From The Feast of Lights by Emma Lazarus
The Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Peter Pauper Press

"Hanukkah is remembered not only for the miracle of the lights that burned in the Temple, but for the miracle of bringing light to a darkened world. The days of December in which Hanukkah usually falls are the shortest in daylight and the longest in night of the entire year. On the twenty-fifth night of Kislev, the moon begins to shrink from sight altogether, and at the winter solstice, the sun begins to weaken and sheds least of its warmth on the cold earth. It is a time of year when a little light must go a long way. Running counter to the natural process of diminishing light, the ceremonial candles grow in number, shedding more light with each successive night."

--Becoming a Jew, Maurice Lamm

"Hanukkah is about being Jewish and Hanukkah is about what I'm prepared to fight for as a Jew. Hanukkah is about limits and definition. Hanukkah is about reassessing what is non-negotiable in my life...what I am ready to modify or reformulate in consequence of being a proud and loyal American; what, for me, is not up for grabs, not open to dilution or diminution or cancellation or violation. Hanukkah is about consulting the venerable traditions of our people rather than making autonomous decisions about what stays and what must go."

--Being Jewish in a Gentile World: A Survival Guide by Ronald A. Brauner

"Although America's consumer culture has tried to make Hanukkah into a Jewish version of Christmas, it remains a modest festival of candle-lighting and potato-pancake frying."

--Choosing a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant

"Hanukkah may be twentieth-century Judaism's most popular holiday--surely it is the best known amongst gentiles. Of all the holidays in the entire Jewish calendar, it is the last holiday of the ancient world; it is the only one not based on a biblical narrative; the only one that celebrates a military conquest; the only holiday based on a miracle not instituted by a prophet; the only one not celebrated by a synagogue special service, or by a scroll, or by biblical reference. But, as the Hanukkah lights are increased by one for eight nights, the power, the significance and the popularity of Hanukkah and its message grow ever brighter--from day to day and year to year."

--Becoming a Jew, Maurice Lamm

"Each side of the dreidel has a Hebrew letter. Each letter represents the first letter in each word of the sentence Nais godol hayah sham, which means "A great miracle happened there."

--The Little Book of Hanukkah, Steven Zorn, Running Press