Christmas Past: The Fascinating Stories Behind Our Favorite Holiday’s Traditions

Christmas Past: The Fascinating Stories Behind Our Favorite Holiday’s Traditions by Brian Earl

Behind every Christmas tradition is a story. Every year, as we trim our tree, build gingerbread houses, and bake cookies to leave out for Santa, we are continuing generations-old customs and rituals. Knowing where and how these traditions began can add a new level of depth to our understanding of the holidays (and, will surely make you the appointed Christmas connoisseur at all of your holiday parties!).

Christmas Past: The Fascinating Stories Behind Our Favorite Holidayโ€™s Traditions reveals the surprising, quirky, and sometimes horrifying stories behind the most wonderful time of the year. With 26 short chapters, it is a festive, digestible Advent calendar of a book that is perfect fireside reading for the holiday season!

Have you ever wondered why we hang Christmas lights? (hint: so Santa can find us in the dark!) Why do we say ‘Merry Christmas’? And why is egg nog seasonal?? Covering ancient and modern traditions, Christmas Past is filled with the origin stories of happy accidents, cultural histories, criminal capers (including tomb raiders and con artists), and hidden connections between Christmas and broader social, economic, and technological influences. How did the invention of plate glass forever change the Christmas season? What common Christmas item helped introduce fine art to the masses? Why do Americans typically spike their eggnog with rum, rather than the traditional brandy? And speaking of booze, does using the phrase โ€œMerry Christmasโ€ mark you as a drunken reveler? Christmas Past answers all of those questions, and many more.

Thank you to Rowman & Littlefield for sending me an ARC of this title! All opinions are my own.

An A-Z of Jane Austen

๐ฝ ๐‘–๐‘  ๐‘“๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ ๐ฝ๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘’ ๐Ÿค

An A-Z of Jane Austen by Michael Greaney

This was such an interesting read! Jane Austen is my all-time fav, and I always jump at the chance to learn more about her and her life.

I took so many notes and made too many annotations, but there were so many important passages and I just wanted to highlight everything! 26 short essays highlight keywords concepts and activities that wouldโ€™ve been important to Jane Austen, and discussed in her books. Some stand out chapters include B is for bath, H is for horse, D is for dance, and V is for visits. I loved these essays and learned even more about Jane and the Regency era ๐Ÿค

Thank you so much to @bloomsburypublishing for sending me a copy!

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Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander

โ€œ๐‘‡๐‘’๐‘™๐‘™๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘š๐‘’ ๐‘›๐‘œ๐‘ก ๐‘ก๐‘œ ๐‘ค๐‘œ๐‘Ÿ๐‘Ÿ๐‘ฆ ๐‘–๐‘  ๐‘™๐‘–๐‘˜๐‘’ ๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘™๐‘™๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘š๐‘’ ๐‘›๐‘œ๐‘ก ๐‘ก๐‘œ ๐‘๐‘Ÿ๐‘’๐‘Ž๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘’.โ€

Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander

Domestic Fiction

This story opens with Meredith Maggs, who hasnโ€™t left her home in 1,214 days. She likes books, jigsaw puzzles, and baking with her cat. She works remote, interacts with others online, and has a small circle of friends and delivery drivers that help her outโ€”by bringing her groceries, taking her cat to the vet, and checking in on her. She suffers from panic attacks, struggles with anxiety and depression, and her past trauma has forced her into a self-imposed isolation. Her small circle of familiar people and predictable situations are what help her manage.

As the story unfolds we learn more about her trauma, which sheds light on why she relates to the world in the way that she does. Though she is haunted by her past, this is the story of her overcoming, and by the end of the novel Meredith is able to grow and clear the ghosts from her closet. Scary, new, unfamiliar circumstances force Meredith out of her comfort zone, and time and time again she rises and meets challenges head-on until she is able to take back control of her life.

This story is heavily character driven. It centers around Meredith, her thoughts, her fears, her pain, and her heroโ€™s journey.

As a socially anxious introvert myself, I found her to be very relateable. The moments where she doesnโ€™t want to leave the house, or answer the door, or have any interaction with anyoneโ€ฆ those were some of my favorite moments.

Thank you to the author Claire Alexander and Grand Central Publishing for sending me an ARC of this title! All opinions are my own.

TW: rape, self-harm, trauma

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Lighting The Wick

This is a really interesting book that glimpses into the ancient art and modern magic of candles. Packed full of wisdom and spells, this book is essential for witches of all paths.

Candle spells are one of the simplest form of magic. Fire helps to align yourself with the elements, focus your intentions and release your energy into the world.

This book offers a wonderful introduction to candle magic, and teaches readers how to harness the power of the flame. It covers everything from the history of candles to spells of all kinds: spells for love, money, career, health, and luck are just some of the things you will learn from this guide.

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Authors Sandra Mariah Wright and Leanne Marrama are professional psychics based in Salem, MA. You can follow them at @thepsychictea and @leannemarrama on Instagram.

Thank you to Tarcher Perigree for sending me an Advance Reading Copy of this title. All opinions are my own. #atpinfluencers

The Watkins Book Of English Folktales by Neil Philip

These are some of the oldest stories, collected and told here in an effort to revive stories of the past. Some are old favorites and some are new to me, but I am looking forward to reading all of them! There are classics like The Three Little Pigs and Snow-White, and even more new stories like The Old Witch and The Gypsy Woman that I am so excited to read. And it is such a gorgeous copy, I am so proud to add this to my shelves!

There have been countless adaptations of these stories in literature, film, music, and performances across the ages. Even the ‘original’ stories that were written were adapted from stories that were passed down through oral tradition. Authors are drawn to revisiting literature and reworking stories in an effort to create a conversation between themselves and the great works of the past. This illustrates how literature adapts to a new age and its new media, making universal age-old ideas modern and relevant. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants here meaning major texts, “canonical texts”; texts that have withstood time; ancient texts that are still studied today; texts that offer ancient pearls of wisdom; texts that are referenced and made new by modern authors. These folk tales are those great texts.

Thank you to @watkinsbooks and @penguinrandomhouse for sending me this beautiful ARC of The Watkins Book Of English Folktales by Neil Philip. All opinions are my own.

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The OK Tarot

Tarot distracts your logical mind with a story. While your logical mind is distracted, your subconscious mind and intuition are engaged. Let your mind drift and allow the cards to speak to you.

If you chose:

Aแด„แด‡ แด๊œฐ Sแดกแดส€แด…s: ๐ถ๐‘™๐‘Ž๐‘Ÿ๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘ฆ๏ผŒ ๐ผ๐‘›๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘™๐‘™๐‘’๐‘๐‘ก๏ผŒ ๐‘†๐‘’๐‘™๐‘“๏ผ๐ถ๐‘œ๐‘›๐‘“๐‘–๐‘‘๐‘’๐‘›๐‘๐‘’
A hand bearing a sword. You are a leader, and are at the beginning of a victory. But beware of your own power: for a sword is double-edged, and can cut both ways.

Aแด„แด‡ แด๊œฐ Pแด‡ษดแด›แด€แด„สŸแด‡s: ๐บ๐‘œ๐‘Ž๐‘™๐‘  ๐‘€๐‘Ž๐‘›๐‘–๐‘“๐‘’๐‘ ๐‘ก๐‘’๐‘‘๏ผŒ ๐‘ƒ๐‘Ÿ๐‘œ๐‘ ๐‘๐‘’๐‘Ÿ๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘ฆ๏ผŒ ๐บ๐‘œ๐‘œ๐‘‘ ๐ฟ๐‘ข๐‘๐‘˜
A hand is filled with a coin. You have or will soon gain prosperity, financially or in business. Beware of letting your good fortune make you greedy.

Qแดœแด‡แด‡ษด แด๊œฐ Cแดœแด˜s: ๐ถ๐‘œ๐‘š๐‘๐‘Ž๐‘ ๐‘ ๐‘–๐‘œ๐‘›๏ผŒ ๐ธ๐‘š๐‘๐‘Ž๐‘กโ„Ž๐‘ฆ๏ผŒ ๐ฟ๐‘œ๐‘ฃ๐‘’
A crowned cup spilleth over. You have many talents and are admired by many. Let your cup overflow and use it to fill the cups of others.

This is my first time using the OK Tarot so I wanted to do an intuition test to break in the cards and give them a chance to speak to me. IMO all of these cards were probably cards I was meant to pull โ€” tarot has a way of telling me what I need to hear, exactly when I need to hear it. I can also look at this spread as a personal past/present/future reading, or I can focus on the one card that called to me first. All methods are good methods of reading tarot: I like to use it as a tool for recentering, and I take the advice of the cards with the knowledge that the universe is on my side, in big and small ways.

Q: แดกสœแด€แด› แด„แด€ส€แด… แด…ษชแด… สแดแดœ ษขแด‡แด›?

If this is your first tarot reading, let me know what you think! And if you liked this reading lmk and if I should do more of them!

Thank you to @tarcherperigee for sending me the OK Tarot deck by @adamjk@oktarot#atpinfluencers

His Hideous Heart: 13 Stories by Edgar Allan Poe Reimagined

๐•ณ๐–Ž๐–˜ ๐•ณ๐–Ž๐–‰๐–Š๐–”๐–š๐–˜ ๐•ณ๐–Š๐–†๐–—๐–™ : 13 ๐‘œ๐‘“ ๐ธ๐‘‘๐‘”๐‘Ž๐‘Ÿ ๐ด๐‘™๐‘™๐‘Ž๐‘› ๐‘ƒ๐‘œ๐‘’โ€™๐‘  ๐‘€๐‘œ๐‘ ๐‘ก ๐‘ˆ๐‘›๐‘ ๐‘’๐‘ก๐‘ก๐‘™๐‘–๐‘›๐‘” ๐‘‡๐‘Ž๐‘™๐‘’๐‘  ๐‘…๐‘’๐‘–๐‘š๐‘Ž๐‘”๐‘–๐‘›๐‘’๐‘‘

Kแด‡ษดแด…แด€ส€แด‡ BสŸแด€แด‹แด‡ โ€ข Aแดแด€ษดแด…แด€ Lแดแด แด‡สŸแด€แด„แด‡ โ€ข Fส€แด€ษด WษชสŸแด…แด‡ โ€ข Rษชษด Cสœแดœแด˜แด‡แด„แด โ€ข Lแด€แดแด€ส€ GษชสŸแด‡s โ€ข Sแด›แด‡แด˜สœแด€ษดษชแด‡ Kแดœแด‡สœษด โ€ข Tแด‡ssแด€ Gส€แด€แด›แด›แดษด โ€ข Tษช๊œฐ๊œฐแด€ษดส D. Jแด€แด„แด‹sแดษด โ€ข HษชสŸสŸแด€ส€ส Mแดษดแด€สœแด€ษด โ€ข Cแด€สŸแด‡ส™ Rแดแด‡สœส€ษชษข โ€ข Mแด€ส€ษชแด‡แด‹แด‡ NษชแดŠแด‹แด€แดแด˜ โ€ข Dแด€สœสŸษชแด€ Aแด…สŸแด‡ส€

This is His Hideous Heart, a collection of short stories inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. In homage to Poe and his works, thirteen celebrated authors have come together to reimagine Poe’s most popular tales for a new generation.

Some of the most interesting stories were the ones adapted from poemsโ€”Night-Tide by Tessa Gratton (inspired by Annabel Lee) and The Raven (Remix) by amanda lovelace were two of my favorites. I also really loved The Changeling by Marieke Nijkamp and Lygia by Dahlia Adler.

I love that Poe’s original stories are included in the back for people like me who love to compare and contrast the old verses the new!

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True Beauty by Yaongyi

True Beauty Volume 1: available November 8, 2022

True Beauty is a romantic-comedy / slice-of-life / coming-of-age comic that has been published weekly on Webtoon since 2018. I started reading it early on; I got sucked into Jugyeong’s world, and have been following her ever since. When I saw NetGalley was offering an eARC of the first volume, I jumped at the chance to read and review it early!

Jugyeong Lim is just an average ugly girl, mistreated by her family and bullied at school. She thinks that if only she could be pretty, all her problems will be solved. So she teaches herself how to use makeup by binge-watching Youtube tutorials. She slowly masters the art of makeovers, and her dramatic transformation leads to her overwhelming popularity and fame, but what will it all cost her?

Living in a society where people are judged based on their physical appearance, Jugyeong navigates both high school (and the series follows her to college) life, while her self-esteem, romantic life and career are constantly in flux.

It has been a joy to watch Juyeongs character arc. She has come a long way since the beginning of the series, and she is an MC I love to root for.

For Jugyeong, ugliness was a barrier, locking her out. But prettiness can be a cage, tooโ€”I love this series because it explores beauty standards and the cost of beauty, how beauty creates a hunger for praise and approval, the pros and cons of social media, and so much more!

The artist Yaongyi is one of my favorite comic artists right now. Her digital art style is not only beautiful but also very unique. She blends semi-realistic drawings with mild, photograph-like coloring, creating a stunning and recognizable style.

True Beauty Volume One will be available November 8, 2022. Remember, Pre-Orders Matter!

New episodes are uploaded to Webtoon every Wednesday.

True Beauty also was adapted into a K-Drama, which you can watch on Rakuten VIKI.

Thank you to NetGalley for offering me an early eARC of this title. All opinions are my own.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Set in the Mexican Yucatรกn, this is a story about a mad scientist, his human-hybrid creations, and his insidious intentions. It is also an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, but with a fresh feminist perspective.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Historical Fiction | Science Fiction | Horror

Doctor Moreau is a man of science and a purported man of God. Ironically, and hypocritically, though, he uses scientific experiments to play god over his creations, animal-human hybrids who he and his patron hope to use for slave labor. When the doctors daughter Carlotta starts asking questions about the world she has always known, she discovers a tangled web of secrets and liesโ€”and must decide which side she wants to be on.

“Her whole life had been a pretty fiction, a story the doctor had spun.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

In SMG style, this story is oozing with gothic language, vintage fashion, complex characters, fast-paced action, and sizzling romance.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of my auto-buy authors because everything she writes is golden. She uses beautiful images and paints stunning magical settings just with a few words. I love her style, and The Daughter of Dr. Moreau is as good as Moreno-Garcia’s previous works. I especially loved Mexican Gothic, and Gods of Jade and Shadow. This is yet another great and amazing tale from one of the greatest storytellers of our Generation.

Thank you to Netgalley for gifting me an eARC of this title. All opinions are my own.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Marple: 12 New Mysteries

For the first time in 45 years, Agatha Christieโ€™s beloved character Miss Marple returns to the page for a globe-trotting tour of crime and detection. This wonderful collection is written by all of the newest greats: Naomi Alderman, Leigh Bardugo, Alyssa Cole, Lucy Foley, Elly Griffiths, Natalie Haynes, Jean Kwok, Val McDermid, Karen M. McManus, Dreda Say Mitchell, Kate Mosse, and Ruth Ware join Agatha Christie to create a new compendium of Miss Marple’s adventures.

Agatha Christie is quite literally the best-selling novelist of all time (outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare). She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, 19 of which feature Miss Jane Marple as the MC. She is one of Christie’s best-known characters. Because she has such a strong personality and style, it is difficult to replicate her character in a way that stays true to Agatha Christie.

Unfortunately for me, I did not love it as a collection. I really wanted to like it. I tried for a few weeks to read this and set it aside each time, hoping it would get better, and it never did. I really wanted to DNF it, but because I like some of the authors I decided to push through, and luckily libro.fm came through with a September ALC, so I was able to finish it on audio. I think that the authors had a hard time duplicating her character at best, and disrespectfully bungled her character at worst. Though there were a couple of standout stories that I did enjoy: Jean Kwok’s The Jade Emperess, Naomi Alderman’s The Open Mind, and Natalie Haynes’ The Unravelling were among my favorites.

Because each author has their own idea of Miss Marple, IMO, they did not align with the real Miss Marple, or with Agatha Christies writing. There was too much variety for me to believe it was the same character, and each author’s creative liberties clashed too much to be a cohesive collection. The essence of Miss Marple herself became muddled, as if there were too many cooks in the kitchen. This is the limitation with short story collections, and sadly it just wasn’t for me.

While some of the stories may have been โ€œfineโ€, all this collection of stories did was prove that Miss Marple could only be written by Agatha Christie.

Thank you to William Morrow – HarperCollins for sending me an Advance Reading Copy of this title. All opinions are my own.

Marionette by Antonia Rachel Ward

Marionette by Antonia Rachel Ward is an erotic horror novella inspired by traditional folk tales and set in fin de siรจcle Paris.

Fleeing a life of poverty and prostitution, exotic dancer Cece Dulac agrees to play assistant for an erotic sรฉance hosted by mesmerist Monsieur Rossignol. As the sรฉance plunges into perversion, Cece falls prey to Rossignol’s hypnotic power and becomes possessed by a malevolent spirit and a cursed gemstone.

George Dashwood, an aspiring artist, witnesses the sรฉance and fears for Cece. He seeks her out and she seduces him, but she is no longer herself. The spirit controlling her forces her to commit increasingly depraved acts. When the spirit’s desire for revenge escalates to murder, George and Cece must find a way to break Rossignol’s spell before Cece’s soul is condemned forever.

I found this book devilish, depraved, and delicious.

Thank you to Brigids Gate Press for sending me an Advance Reading Copy of this title. All opinions are my own.

The Complete Language of Herbs by S. Theresa Dietz

The Complete Language of Herbs: A Definitive & Illustrated History by S. Theresa Dietz is an essential compendium for any herbalist.

Plants and herbs have been used throughout history to heal the bodyโ€”but understanding how to use the medicinal properties of plants in teas, tinctures, and food has become somewhat of a lost art. This book takes us back to our roots, helping us to decode and decipher the lost language of herbs.

The book is presented like a dictionary, organized alphabetically by the scientific name of each herb. Names and varieties are listed, along with symbolic meanings, possible powers, folklore, and facts, making this a unique and new approach to herbal understanding. Illustrations accompany each entry, making it easy for readers to identify and visualize specific herbs. Every common herb is covered, from Sage to Sasparilla.

“All herbs in this book mean something, and they just might have the power to actually manifest a magical effect if the enablement is, at the very least, a heartfelt wish.” Whether you use herbs for cooking, medicine, aromatherapy, or floral arrangements, we should all be using herbs as magical proxies to enhance our power and better our lives.

A huge thank you to Lydia at Quarto Publishing for sending me another amazing Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of this title. All opinions are my own.