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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-11-08 20:24
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
The Rules of Magic: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

Find your magic.

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk. From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse. The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

A prequel novel, The Rules of Magic explores the early years of Francis (redheaded "Franny") and Bridget (nicknamed "Jet" for her long black hair) Owens, eccentric aunts to Sally and Gillian whom we first met in Practical Magic. Here we read of Franny and Jet's experiences growing up in the 1950s - 60s. Along with their brother Vincent -- the youngest of the family -- the sisters are raised in New York by their mother, Susanna Owens (who tries her hardest to closet her magic roots) and psychiatrist father, Dr. Burke-Owens. You read that right, he took his wife's name! 

 

Having suffered a tragic loss thanks to the Owens curse, Susanna, the second time around, chooses a relationship of comfort and stability rather than love. She does her best to keep her children sheltered from their magical heritage, setting up a laundry list of rules and restrictions regarding their powers, but it's of no use. Curiosity gets the best of them, particularly in the case of Jet and Vincent once their powers begin to surface: Jet learns she can read minds while Vincent begins to get prophetic, though sometimes confusing or murky flashes of the future. Franny is gifted as well, but being the most logical, scientifically minded of the siblings, she is also the most hesitant to acknowledge the truth, instead focusing on trying to figure out how to rationally explain the magic out of her reality.

 

 

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The year Franny turns seventeen, the siblings are invited for a summer stay at the Owens ancestral home in Massachusetts with Susanna's aunt Isabelle. This summer proves to be a monumental one for the Owens kids, as they learn lessons about life that will affect, maybe even alter, their personalities and life paths forever after. Themes / messages Hoffman weaves into these lessons include: embracing who you are at your core, pushing through fear and going for a chance at real love (regardless of consequences), finding yourself strongly nostalgic for home after a time of wanting so badly to leave it, dauntlessly pursuing what you truly want in life, and learning not to waste the finite time of your lifespan being petty or fearful. Instead, live in a space of love, joy and kindness.

 

 

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It is also during this important summer that the Owens siblings meet April. Not only do they later learn that she is a distant cousin, but it is during this summer that April conceives a child. That child is Regina Owens, the mother of Sally and Gillian, the stars of Practical Magic. If you remember from Practical Magic, it was also mentioned that in the story of Maria Owens, the originator of the curse, the father of her child was left unknown. Hoffman names the father in The Rules of Magic, and I gotta say, I was surprised to read that she chose a real life historical figure! Thinking about it though, WHO she chooses DOES play in well to the whole witch theme threaded throughout the two books. 

 

"Maria Owens did what she did for a reason. She was young and she thought damning anyone who loved us would protect us. But what she had with that terrible man wasn't love. She didn't understand that when you truly love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together. That is not a curse, it's what life is, my girl. We all come to ruin, we turn to dust, but whom we love is the thing that lasts."

 

 

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Wow, did I like this installment of the Owens Ladies ever so much more than Practical Magic! Just all around, the plot is richer, the characters more entertaining and more developed, secrets or elements from the other book revealed, better explained, or just tied together in an impressive way.... Loved it all! Honestly maybe even one of my favorite reads of the year!

 

Anyone else get at least a tinge of Branwell Bronte vibes from Vincent? At least in the early portions of the story? I just couldn't shake that image ... what with Vincent's moodiness, mysterious outings all night, the heavy drinking. Even something about Vincent's early interest in the occult and the Magus book gave me that imagery of what I've read of Branwell (he always struck me as the most emo of the Bronte siblings lol).

 

The girl was carrying a backpack. A blue journal peeking out caught Franny's attention. It was one of the notebooks she {Franny} had left in the library. "Are you writing?" she asked. 

 

"Trying to," the girl said. 

 

"Don't try, do." She realized she sounded exactly like Aunt Isabelle when she was irritated. She hadn't meant to be a wet blanket and had no wish to discourage this clever little girl, so she changed her tone. "But trying is a start. What is your story?"

 

"My life."

 

"Ah."

 

"If you write it down, it doesn't hurt as much."

 

"Yes, I can imagine."

 

The girl scampered onto the rocks to join her friends. She waved and Franny waved back.

 

As she walked home, Franny thought that the girl at the lake had been perfectly right. It helped to write things down. It ordered your thoughts and if you were lucky revealed feelings you didn't know you had. That same afternoon Franny wrote a long letter to Haylin. She had never told anyone what her aunt had whispered with her last breath. But now she wrote it down, and when she did she realized it was what she believed, despite the curse.

 

Love more, her aunt had said. Not less.

 

If you, like me, struggled with Practical Magic, I urge you to give this one a go. Maybe the time gap is just what Hoffman needed to get this family's story just right, considering Practical Magic came out in the mid 90s, while The Rules of Magic was released just last year. 

 

 

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review 2018-11-05 20:16
XX
XX - Angela Chadwick

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A provoking and interesting read, not so far removed (in fact, not far removed at all) from current political and scientific controversies when it comes to embryo research, LGBTQ+ rights, and rising intolerance.

Juliet and Rosie apply to a newly approved research program that will allow them to conceive a child “ovum to ovum”. The point: having THEIR child, of course, and not needing to rely on a stranger’s sperm. Huge uproar ensues throughout the UK and the rest of the world, led, it seems, not so much by fears for the children thus conceived (although some characters do voice concerns about potential genetic flaws), but by the fear of men being made redundant. Which didn’t surprise me at all, and was, I think, spot on: should such research be developed in our world, I bet that we’d face this very kind of arguments. (It’s like all that rage against abortions, really: so many anti-choicers are all about Saving The Embryos, but you don’t see them holding out helping hands to take care of the unwanted babies once they’re born. Anyway.)

Most of the opposition to the main characters and their unborn baby also comes from sources that don’t surprise me, including a politician who’s riding the wave of Family Values because that will garner votes. It doesn’t help that the incriminated research has been unveiled by a woman, because this adds fuel to the fire, in a “feminist agenda to get rid of men” way. So we can see that from the start, the whole research and its outcome is not going to get only friends.

I did enjoy the characters’ evolution, when faced with certain choices that forced them to question their own values. On top of the obvious scientific, political and social angle, the story also raises valid questions about conceiving vs. adopting, about what it means to want a child, and why one would love (or not) said child.

I had a little trouble to get into the story at first (also because, silly me, I grabbed too many books from the library at the same time, and had to read before they expired, so it’s not just the story’s fault). I think that was because of the somewhat dry narrative style and a repetitive feeling, with Jules (the narrator) doubting her motives, then trying to convince herself that it would pass, rinse and repeat. Things picked up after a while, though, and made this book in general a worthwhile read.

The other thing that I didn’t like here was, well, the negativity. On the one hand, as mentioned previously, it didn’t surprise me, and I would totally expect harsh reactions to such research in reality. On the other hand, it also felt like 99% of the world was against Becca, Scott, Jules, Rosie, and the other people involved in this. And it made me wonder, would there be -no- support at all for something like this? It was like every newspaper, every magazine, every website only had criticism to share, and there was no blogger out there encouraging these women, approving of the research. So, it was “realistic”, but I would’ve have appreciated seeing more support for Jules and Rosie, for lesbian couples trying to have a child, etc. Seeing a story where LGBTQ+ people get nice things, too, and not mostly negative ones. (In contrast, too, when some things went well, they did so all at once, without that many consequences, which felt strange, and lacking a proper middle ground.)

Conclusion: 3.5 stars. A slow beginning, with a pace that fortunately picked up, and a tackling of issues that was both very realistic but a little too pessimistic to my liking, too.

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quote 2018-10-11 21:02
“Being who you are is so much more important than fitting in will ever be.”
― Cheryl B. Evans, I Promised Not to Tell: Raising a Transgender Child

To my lovely LGBTQ+ community on this #ComingOutDay remember:

 

You matter.

You deserve respect.

You do not have to fit a certain mold.

You are not alone.

 

LOVE IS LOVE IS LOVE 

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review 2018-09-24 10:01
She Wants It
She Wants It - Jill Soloway

[I received a copy of this book through the First To Read program, in exchange for an honest review.]

I had only watched the first season of “Transparent” before, but I guess I knew enough then to recognise the author’s name, and be interested in the book’s premise. As a word of warning, though, if you’re in the same case… uh, the book contains spoilers as to the next seasons. I wasn’t too happy about that, especially since I had been able to avoid them so far. Or maybe it was just unavoidable for starters?

It’s also different from what I had expected, that is to say, more of a memoir, and not exactly “essays” or more structured writing about feminism, being non-binary, questioning, and so on. As such, while it remained interesting, spoilers notwithstanding, it felt kind of disjointed in places, and at the end, I felt like it hadn’t gone in depth into anything.

The last part about Me Too and people coming out about Tambor was also… well, it played straight into the unfortunately usual “she came out about this and now the actor/the show is going to be ruined, we should’ve talked about this among ourselves only and seen where to go from there”. Soloway does acknowledge that it’s wrong, but it still felt like there was much more to say here, and it was brushed over. It’s not on the same level as powerful men paying women they have abused so that they keep silent, but the feeling remains somewhat similar nonetheless, like an afterthought, like something that was mentioned at the end only so that people wouldn’t dwell on it too much. I didn’t like that.

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review 2018-09-13 14:10
Confessions of the Fox
Confessions of the Fox - Jordy Rosenberg

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Mmm, I really had a hard time staying focused on this one. The premise of a Jack Sheppard actually being a trans man (well, probably an intersex person for starters, considering the genitalia alluded to here and there when he’s concerned) was definitely good, since I would like to see this kind of character more often in general. Not to mention my soft spot for rogue-type protagonists, and the 18th seedy London depicted throughout the novel.

The relationship between Bess and Jack was interesting in many ways: Bess’s childhood, Jack’s indenture, both characters having been victims of men in authority and now finding freedom and power with and in each other… The novel explores acceptance in a way that I like, not as something that comes to be, but as something that is : there is no “period of adaptation” during which Bess learns to love Jack the way he is: she loves him, it’s natural, they’re two human beings attracted to each other. No need for that condescending “acceptance” that too often is, in fact, patronising and not so accepting when you think about it. “He’s always been there,” indeed, and then they find each other. Just like Voth has always been there, and many other people that tend to get ignored because it’s more “convenient” that way.

However, I found the academic-sounding footnotes rather disrupting, and to be honest, I wasn’t really interested in the running commentary when it diverged from Voth’s own personal life (probably because I haven’t read the works mentioned in said footnotes, so whatever clever ‘a-ha!’ moments there were to catch, I completely missed them). I guess it takes quite a lot of focus to read this story, and it’s not something I’ve had much this summer. Perhaps I should’ve read it at another time.

Another problem I had was how Jack’s story felt more about concepts than about actual characters—developing some events more, showing more of his ties with Aurie for instance, or more moments when he learnt his trade, would’ve helped flesh him. This would’ve been a good way of highlighting the message “we’ve always been here”: as human and not simply literary beings.

So, my 2 stars are mostly because I know I wasn’t the right audience for this book at the moment, not because I think this novel is “bad”.

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