Review: Freeks

Freeks by Amanda Hocking Cover

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from netgalley in exchange for a review. This review is spoiler free.

Come one, come all, to Gideon’s Traveling Sideshow, a roving carnival traveling to their latest destination where the payout proves to be grand. As long as they make it to the vernal equinox. However, this isn’t your typical side show filled with cons and shenanigans. No, many of the members of the troupe have real supernatural powers– pyrokinesis, telekinsesis, speaking with the dead, are among the few gifts the novel mentions. No matter where Mara turns, everyone seems to have a special ability. Except for her. Even her fortune telling mother has secrets. Because of this, Mara dreams of having a normal life, free from the only show she’s known. Their latest town may be more trouble than anyone bargained for.

As a tarot reader, I was insanely curious to read this book; I love books that include tarot in their plots. Which is why I wanted a copy to review. I wanted to know how Hocking treated tarot in Freeks. I’m happy to report she doesn’t disappoint. Right off the bat we’re created with a hand drawn tarot card image section divider. Which instantly made me long for a real purchasable deck. I hope they do, the images were fun and fresh.

Mara’s mother is the carnival’s fortune teller, which meant the cards played a more prominent part in the book. Whenever Hocking brought the cards up, I took notice. I’m happy to report that Hocking knows her stuff. Lyanka has her own reading rituals and has a good grasp of modern meanings. Even though the cards are treated more as a prop for her powers, the readings done are easy to read and flow well.

Death DOES show up in a reading, which always makes me flinch. I quickly relaxed however because the card was treated almost exactly in the same way I introduce it to my clients when they draw it. It was almost spooky, and I wondered if somehow Hocking remote viewed in on some of my readings.

Overall, this is a fun young adult novel.  At it’s heart it’s a coming-of-age story for Mara, who wants love and a normal life. In this new town she meets a boy whom she thinks she can have a short relationship with before the Sideshow moves out. She learns to deal with relationships as a young adult and she talks through the difficulties of being a freak and wanting to be normal. However, the main gist of the book doesn’t happen till well after half-way through. Which meant I wanted a longer book, to learn more about Mara’s past and where she came from.

Bottom Line: Freeks is an easy read. I stayed up all night long to finish it. The book’s twists and mysteries kept me guessing– which is the mark of a good book for me. The world is fantastic and I found myself wishing I could stay in it for longer. Freeks reads as a stand alone book, but I’m hoping Hocking continues the adventures of Mara.

Review: Llewellyn’s Complete Guide to Tarot

Llewellyn’s Complete Guide to Tarot Cover

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from netgalley in exchange for a review. I also purchased a copy for my library.

If it’s one thing I know in reviewing books it’s “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I’ve said this before and I’m saying it now. Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Tarot by Anthony Louis is a great book, filled with wonderful tarot tidbits for all tarot enthusiasts. However, this is NOT a complete guide. Louis even states this very clearly in his preface. Instead, this book takes the approach of guiding readers of all types into the broad spectrum of topics tarot contains. Louis sees the book as a complete course in tarot. Topics covered include: why study tarot; tarot history; tarot structure and the differences between RWS, Marseille, and Thoth; card uses; and the various meanings and correspondences the cards have.

What I liked: Louis has a great voice in his writing. There are many areas in the book that he made me laugh with his vernacular. The chapters are chock full of good information. As I read through the book, I found myself thinking about how “scientific” Louis makes tarot sound. He captures the essence of why we use the cards and has answers for many questions people ask about the origins. Louis isn’t afraid to talk about the cards’ Christian influences either (very few books touch on this subject). While describing each individual card, most books stick with meanings laid down by AE Waite or Aliester Crowley. Not in this tome, Louis includes a history of interpretation that dates back to Etteilla. Which is great for those of us who love doing meaning comparison and want to know how card meanings transitioned over time. Another aspect I enjoyed was the fact that Louis references many other authors and their works in the book. It’s like you are also getting to know the wider tarot community while learning about the cards.

What I didn’t like: There is so much in this book that it’s a quick catalogue of topics. Louis doesn’t go too deep with any one subject. Which is fine because otherwise this book would be huge. So, if you were looking for a true “Complete” guide to tarot, then look elsewhere.

Bottom Line: Llewellyn’s Complete Guide to Tarot is a great starter guide to the world of tarot. There’s a lot of good information in this book. I loved how it went towards the sciencey side of the divination tool. Louis. Anthony has a friendly voice which invites you into learning tarot and becoming a member of the tarot tribe.

Review: 365 Tarot Spells by Sasha Graham

365 Tarot Spells Cover

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from netgalley in exchange for a review. I also purchased a copy for my library.

Sasha Graham’s 365 Tarot Spells is a both a stand alone volume and companion to her previously published 365 Tarot Spreads. Tarot is a marvelous magical companion. It’s small and portable and can be used in a variety of ways to affect change in one’s life. Graham’s book helps to promote tarot’s use as a flexible tool for producing results. She’s created another day-by-day style book filled with wonderful spells you can use to get what you want in a variety of different ways. Each spell contains a short list of ingredients (some spells require easy to access components in addition to the tarot cards themselves) and a description of how to put the spell into action. A sidebar containing an incantation to activate the spell, a generic card image, and a tidbit from that day in history rounds out each spell.

365 Tarot Spells is a homage to another well designed tarot book called Tarot Spells by Janina Renee. Graham’s spells are well thought out and have a modern, fresh vibe to them. I liked the wide variety of spell topics and cards used for the spells. Graham does guarantee that each card makes an appearance at least once in the book. There is a wonderful and very thorough index of spells and categories in the back of the book that can be used to quickly find just what you need. She’s even added 78 spells for you to connect and bind yourself to each and every tarot card in the deck. Doing so can have the powerful effect of making the whole deck a spectacular tool for creating magic.

There’s a lot of good information in this book. I will say that the layout still has bugs in it. It seems that ePub manufactures are still trying to mimic print layouts. And when they do this, the text suffers because reading on a device isn’t the same as reading off a printed page. There are many cases in the ePub where the side bar cuts text off and overlaps the main spell working. Where there are layout images, they appear very small–sometimes unreadable.

Bottom Line: Looking for new ways to use your beloved tarot decks? Want to learn how to use tarot to attract things to you? Then 365 Tarot Spells is just the book for you. Graham includes a wide range of topics for you to cast spells. This is a modern witches grimoire for casting tarot spells.

Review: The Creative Tarot

Cover art for The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from netgalley in exchange for a review. I also purchased this book for my library.

Tarot and creativity go hand in hand. In fact, many readers view their tarot spreads as stories to be unfolded and told. I’ve always believed tarot is a perfect creativity companion: in story creation, cheerleading, and inspiration. Enter The Creative Tarot by Jessa Crispin. A writer, a reader, and a creativity coach, Crispin has written a good book for creatives looking to learn and use tarot in their creative works. She carefully introduces tarot to the creative audience by describing the tarot history and mythology. Then she delves into the cards themselves by describing the images on a standard Rider Waite Smith Deck, describing how the cards relate to creative projects, and inspiring all types of creatives to use the cards. The back of the book includes some good spreads and tips on how to read for oneself and for others.

This is an all-inclusive book. Crispin pulls creative examples from all over the spectrum: writing, acting, dancing, art. Every card has wonderful stories and examples from the real world which brings each card forward and relatable. At the end of each description, Crispin has added material for further review and study. There’s songs, movies, and books in this section. I found myself bookmarking items and looking at the prints of artwork online.

Bottom Line: Want to learn more about the connections tarot has to the creative process? Interested in having a book chock full of good inspirational ideas? Want some good spreads on using tarot with your projects? Then you’ll enjoy The Creative Tarot. I believe it’s accessible for all levels of readers and is a fun and enjoyable read.

Review: Oracle of Initiation (Tarot edition)

Oracle of Initiation (Tarot Size version)
Written, Designed, and Published by Mellissae Lucia
ISBN 978-0-9834562-0-9

Visionary Gateway of Unity from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.
Visionary Gateway of Unity from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.

Mellissae Lucia’s Oracle of Initiation (Tarot version) is a 68 card deck designed and conceived by the author. Lucia states that the deck is “a mysterious and shape-shifting deck” that can offer “experienced guidance for embracing the beauty in spiritual transformation.” The deck is structured in eight worlds, each with eight cards that help the seeker understand the growth of their own life journey. She says that there are two types of cards, gateway and painted body cards. “Each Gateway card offers their main description and then their four elements for each of the realms. After the Gateways come the seven Painted Body cards. The Painted Body cards each have a focusing phrase and their main description, followed by the cross-cultural goddess, god or archetype that is the Guardian corresponding to that Painted Body spirit.”

My review copy included a tarot-sized set of cards wrapped in a velvet blue bag to hold the cards in, and a copy of the 400-page companion guide. I ended up requesting a copy of the PDF guide because the companion book does not have some of the card meanings in it. With this in mind, here’s my in-depth review of this deep and mysterious deck.

The Cards
The tarot-sized version of the Oracle of Initiation comes with 68 cards. Each world takes the reader and seeker through various human development stages. The cards themselves are 2.75” wide by 4.75 long and are made of a sturdy card stock. The finish has a linen texture to it but they are also a bit glossy, which makes them a bit hard to shuffle in my hands. Seriously, the cards jumped out of my hands when I first held them—it was as if they all wanted to speak at once. Even after a few months of owning the cards, they want to jump out of my hands. The card backs are black with a red graffiti art on them. This pattern is not reversible; however, Lucia’s companion guide does give many suggestions on how to read the cards reversed. The edges of the card hold up rather well, too. They retain their black sheen, after all the times I’ve shuffled them.

Back art from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.
Back art from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.

The artwork on the Oracle of Initiation are a combination of photographs taken while she was in the New Mexican Graffiti Tunnels and some stylized hand-drawn art. The photographed cards are amazing to look at. They jump out at you and have an otherworldly appearance to them. Even after looking through the deck many times, I find it hard to believe that they aren’t manipulated in any way. The companion guide suggests that you look at the art to give you more details of the messages that Spirit are showing you in the cards; which is a great idea and something I love. Even the way the figures in the card move, evoke meaning to follow.

How It Reads
It took me forever to get to this reading section. There is so much in the Companion Book that I wanted to take my time to read through it and get to know the deck better. As I am not really used to reviewing oracle systems, I’m curious to see what the cards say about themselves in this three card reading. When I do these readings, I try not to overlay any other knowledge than what the LWB or companion book suggests.

1. What can you teach users?

Collaboration from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.
Collaboration from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.

I received 39. Collaboration, also known as the Balance of Alliance. The deity for this card is Gaia, and I’m loving the synchronicity. The Companion book describes this card as being “an authentic collaboration” that can provide “mutually beneficial association allowing both parties freedom within connection.” I think that this is a great answer to what the deck can teach users. By the deck providing the images for exploration and the person reading the card to provide understanding and divine connection, this deck can provide an awesome collaboration.

2. What are your strengths?

Naivety from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.
Naivety from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.

I received 4. Naivety, also known as the Initiation of Innocence. The deity for this card is Tara (haha, almost typed tarot there). The Companion book says that we “are they channel through which the inspiration of the galaxies may grace the earth, a starlight medium. (Our) initiation of innocence is remembering that within (our) naive quest for expansion, (we) are still flying blind, apprenticing to the ways of earthen awakening.” So, I take this that the deck is good to use with an open mind, a sense of play, and a willingness to expand one’s senses into the journey and contract they enter in with the deck.

3. What are your weaknesses?

Assimilation from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.
Assimilation from the Oracle of Initiation by Mellissae Lucia.

Finally, for this last question, I got 61. Assimilation, also known as the Discernment of Unity. The deity for this card is Shango. The Companion book says that “assimilation is an awesome responsibility, attuning with all that surrounds you. The discernment of unity recognizes that assimilation is not simply absorbing: it is reweaving yourself into the matrix of existence, harmonized with all.” From these statements, I think that the deck is telling us that it can only show us what we need to do, but the work of integration (assimilating) the knowledge falls upon our shoulders and that it isn’t as easy as doing readings and writing journal entries. There is real work to be discovered with this deck, but only if you are willing to play and integrate the knowledge.

The Books
Lucia has two books to guide us through the Oracle of Initiation deck. I have both the 400 page Companion book, released for the initial deck publication (and kickstarter version), and a downloaded PDF guide made specifically for the tarot edition.

The 400-page Companion book is a wonderful marvel. The first 92 pages of the book take you on the journey through the deck’s creation. It gives you a huge record into how Lucia pushed her art and her spiritual direction to model the deck into a unique work of art. Then she introduces the structure, expanding on each of the eight worlds that the deck is broken into. She then describes how each world’s cycle comes together and interplays with one another. Finally, she devotes a chapter on the various ways to use the deck and how to read the card by listing to the divine voices we all carry. Nine spreads are included throughout the book, in-between the various card meanings. One really cool thing that the Companion book includes is a marked tab system on the page edges— this helps readers find the card meanings quickly.

The LWB PDF is a slimmer booklet. It contains choice bits of information about the deck, how it’s designed, and good bite-sized snippets of the meanings of the deck. In a way, I found the PDF a better quick-guide into the cards themselves.

Final Thoughts

The Oracle of Initiation takes awhile to get into and understand. But those who are willing to take the time, will enjoy the messages and connections it has to offer. I had the pleasure of attending a Study Group class taught by Mellissae at 2015 Readers Studio. We used cards from the Oracle of Initiation, along with cards from other oracles, to build a circular reading that can help us get closer to who we really are and get in touch with these messages. Like the reading I constructed from that workshop  I feel like I am only starting out on the personalized journey and connection with this deck. One that I am excited to see where it takes me.