There is an old saying that there is only one book about the Tarot and that each writer only publishes a few pages from it. I feel the same way about books written about the Elder Futhark--the so-called Norse runes. (Actually, the runes used by the Vikings were the abbreviated sixteen rune--Younger Futhark.) And just like one encounters the same information over and over again in Tarot books (or for that matter, books about the Golden Dawn), one reads the same material over and over again in books about the runes. Therefore, when one reviews a book on one of these subjects, one tends to only focus on the few pages of unique material that the writer includes (because the base-line is almost always the same--as in if you have read one book on the subject, you have read them all).
Pagan Portals--Runes by Kylie Holmes is your typical book on runes--containing historical information on the runes, runic divinatory spreads, how to make your own rune set, basic meanings of the runes, and suggestions of how to use the runes in magic.
So ignoring the standard stuff that finds its way into every book on the runes, what sticks out?
The book is written in a conversational tone, which is common with all the books that I have read so far from this particular publisher--Moon Books. I will admit that I spent too much time in academia to be completely comfortable with the style when it comes to regular books, despite the fact that I spend a lot of my time in the blogosphere (both as a reader and a lunatic with a soapbox). Think of the style as a conversation or a letter to a friend--some people will like the tone; others won't.
In the historical section, the author includes a diagram that shows the graphic difference between the Long Branch (Danish) and Short Twig (Swedish-Norwegian) Younger Futhark runes. That is a plus. And she mentions a few historical figures who studied and kept the lore of the runes alive--figures in rune history that I was not aware of. That is also a plus.
But she also mentions the myth of Odin as if it is historical and not mythical--which touches upon a bugbear that I wish authors would not do, and that is the mixing of mythology with historical fact. And in the section where she talks about the basic meanings of the runes, she mentions on more than one occasion what the Norse ("our ancestors") believed about the runes...without ever stating her source. I suspect that her source is intuition and not a document (because I have never heard of a document covering this information--the field of runelogy is made up of best guesses)--if it is an actual document, I wish that she would have came out and cited it by name and number. The fact that I think that she is playing fast and mixing her opinions with the historical facts is a negative. (Remember that I suffered though a Bachelors in both literature and history--it tends to make me frown at the mixing of personal belief and historical facts without the writer coming straight out and stating which is which.)
Holmes also includes the Anglo-Saxon, Norwegian and Icelandic rune poems (both in their original language and their English translation) in the historical section (this is important and/or nice if you are just want to read a single book on the runes, and not have to collect rune books like I do). And I will admit that she is the first writer on the subject of runes that I can remember coming out and stating that we do not have a poem for the Elder Futhark itself (the aforementioned poems deal with the Anglo-Saxon and Younger Futharks.
Overall, if you are after one book on the subject of the runes, this book is a four out of five stars. If you are like me and own two boxes of books on the subject, it will depend upon on how important the unique bits are in filling holes in your knowledge base.
[This review was based on a pre-publication e-file copy given to me by the publisher for review purposes.]