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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-05 18:13
Halloween Bingo BLACKOUT -- Witches -- Practical Magic -- omens abound, and I liked the movie better
Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman

 

 

 

Practical Magic wasn't my first choice for this square.  I originally intended to read Wicked, which I had picked up for 75 cents at one of those Friends of the Library sales.  But it was too much another good vs evil diatribe after I'd already read several of those, so after about 50 pages I set it aside.

 

Then I tried a few Kindle freebies, but they didn't grab me either, for a lot of reasons.

 

Last week, the writing bug bit me again, really hard as you've maybe seen by my tallies of daily production.  The Secrets of White Apple Tree Farm was -- is -- one of those weird phenomena that come to me all at once, beginning, middle, and end.  I'll be working on it again today when I finish this review, even though I also need to load my car for Sunday's art show and do a hundred other mundane tasks.

 

White Apple Tree Farm is a contemporary gothic, set in a fictitious community in northern Indiana similar to where my husband grew up.  There are some small details of the setting that are based on places -- but not people -- that actually existed there at one time.  My objective is to finish this book as soon as possible.  Hold that thought.

 

Last year, right after I had finished and self-published The Looking-Glass Portrait, I began another book.  It did not come to me in a flash, and in fact has undergone some major conceptual changes since the beginning.  One of the first changes was to the title.

 

I love coming up with titles for books.  I have, literally, lists of titles with no books to attach to them.  Rarely do I change a title once a project is underway; more often it's the title that drives the plot.  But with the book I started last year, the original title didn't work.  It so much didn't work that when I changed it, I completely forgot the original.  I even scrubbed it from the computer files I set up to collect research information.  And as the concept for that book evolved, I realized that the new (and now current) title offered some opportunities I hadn't considered.

 

The new title was -- is -- Forgotten Magic.

 

As with The Looking-Glass Portrait, that new book involved a house, and therefore I had to go looking on the internet to find just the right picture of a house to keep in my mind while writing.  I wanted a Victorian with lots of gingerbread, more romantic than creepy.  I wasn't sure, however, if there were any Queen Annes in the location where I wanted to set this story, so when I did my image search, I included the actual setting, which is Whidbey Island, Washington.  My search brought up this:

 

 

I learned that this house was built for the filming of the 1998 movie Practical Magic, which I had never even heard of, much less seen.  Although the story is supposed to be set in Massachusetts, the filming was done in Washington.

 

One the simple pleasures I had in writing LGP was that I incorporated details of places I actually knew because I had either lived or visited them.  When the idea for Forgotten Magic came to me, I knew that the atmosphere of Whidbey Island was perfect for it.  I have family who live there and I've visited a few times.  Finding the picture of the "perfect" house seemed like a little bit of an omen.

 

It's not, however, the house that is being used in the book as it's being written, for various reasons, but that's not the subject of this review.

 

Because I had not seen the movie, I checked to see if my library had the book.  They didn't, but they did have the DVD of the movie.  I checked it out.  And I enjoyed it -- except for the utterly stupid last scene.  I also recognized . . . things.

 

The character of Sally Owens (Sandra Bullock) opens a little shop in the town.  The scenes were filmed in the picturesque village of Coupeville, on Whidbey Island.  It's instantly recognizable.

 

I grabbed some screen shots while viewing the film on the laptop.

 

This is Coupeville.  The building out on the water at the upper right is a gift shop that's a favorite subject for artists.  I tried to find a souvenir cap there, but everything was made in China, so I didn't buy one.

 

Later in the film, there's another scene in Coupeville that really caught my attention:

 

 

Practical Magic was released in 1998, so filmed probably 1997-98. 

 

In July of 2013, I went up to Washington for a kind of family reunion.  My daughter and her husband and son (and dog) drove all the way from New Jersey.  With my son and his wife and son, we hit some of the usual touristy spots, including Coupeville.  We walked up and down the streets, poked into some of the shops, and even stopped for ice cream cones.

 

That's what caught my attention:  The building in the middle of that screen shot is the ice cream shop we stopped in.

 

Well, of course.  Anyone can see a shot in a movie and say, "I was there!" and maybe yes, and maybe no.  A quick Google search indicates the business is still there.

 

Next to the ice cream shop, on the far left of the screen shot, is another building.  The sign on the front reads "The Jan McGregor Studio."

 

I was quite certain, watching the movie, that I had been in that building.  In fact, I was almost certain I had bought something there.  I knew what that something was, and I knew where it was, so it was a simple matter of going to my bedroom, opening the bag it was still in, and scanning the hand-written receipt for a bundle of Japanese silk fabric swatches. 

 

The irony of refusing to buy a made in China souvenir cap but then buying the Japanese silk is not lost on me.  Or maybe it was an omen??

 

 

Because I have a bit of a fetish about fabric.

 

For various reasons, Forgotten Magic languished.  I've worked on it off and on, but other things interfered, and my passion for the novel wasn't strong enough to shove them aside.  Maybe the passion that's driving White Apple Tree Farm will fade, too, as the empty time of summer gives way to art shows and holidays and other obligations.  But Forgotten Magic is clearly not forgotten; I put together a cover art mock-up to use as my Bingo marker.

 

After the huge disappointment of The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, I knew I had to have a comfort read for my last Bingo square.  I put in a request at the library for Practical Magic. It arrived Monday.

 

I knew that there were huge differences between the book and the movie, so I was prepared for that.  I had read -- or tried to read -- Alice Hoffman before and so I was also prepared for that.

 

The book was still a bit of a disappointment, and when I finished it last night I knew exactly why:  It's me, not the book.

 

The movie had a focus the book lacked.  The movie also had characters I liked.

 

I read, and have always read, because of the people.  I want to care about them, root for them, empathize with them, encourage them.  I want them to be more than I am, to do things I can't do or am afraid to do.  I write for the same reasons -- the people.

 

Most of the characters as Alice Hoffman created them were not very likable.  The aunts are either mean or irresponsible.  Sally is too perfect and self-righteous.  Gillian is often just plain stupid.  Antonia is a bitch, then Kylie is a bitch.  None of them seem to care when their actions impact other people negatively.  (Holy shit, don't we see enough of that on the news these days?)

 

The book's lack of focus stemmed, I think, from the use of too many viewpoint characters and an omniscient point of view.  This problem was exacerbated by shifts from present to past tense.  You can call me a funky old traditionalist, and I won't be insulted, but I like a certain consistency in the writing.  Maybe it's fine for a more literary style like Hoffman's, but I found it distanced me from the events and especially the emotions.

 

The screenplay, on the other hand, narrowed that focus to the character of Sally Owens and made the story her story.  Instead of all the bad romantic choices made by Gillian and Antonia and Kylie and the drugstore girl and all the boys they ever loved, Sally became the microcosm and the prism.  Her hurt became everyone's hurt.  Her triumph became everyone's triumph.

 

I wondered how the book would have fared under the scrutiny of Christopher Vogler, whose work The Writer's Journey is virtually a bible for screenwriters and, by extension, novelists.  Then I realized that it would have fared exactly as its conversion to screen played out.  The film was better.

 

But there were other aspects of the film that I felt succeeded where the book didn't.  Although the film purports to be set in Massachusetts with its connection to witchcraft, most of the book's action takes place on Long Island, New York, where Sally has escaped to in order to raise her daughters without any influence from the aunts.  The milieu is suburban, and instead of being an outcast, Sally is fully accepted into the community.  She works at the school and the girls are more or less normal. 

 

The magical elements are far better integrated in the film than in the book.  More important, however, was that the emotional elements were better developed.  The aunts loved the sisters and cared about them; in the book the aunts were nasty and cruel, and I could only imagine them allowing the young Sally and Gillian to eat Snickers for breakfast out of a sense of neglect, not affection.  Sally and Gillian, for all their differences, still loved each other in the film.  It wasn't always easy, but the love was still there.  So was the love Sally had for her daughters -- and the love they had for the aunts.

 

Sally's romance in the book takes a back seat to Gillian's, and I found Gillian's romance with the biology teacher to be shallow and contrived.  The fact that Gillian's story in the film did not end with a happily ever after relationship seemed more fitting; she emerged from the near-death experience with renewed hope and faith in the magic of love.  (The resolution of the murder in the book seemed stupid and contrived, too.)  Sally's romance became the main thread in the film and provided motivation for all the other events.

 

One of the impressions I took away from reading the book was that Hoffman had a little bit of the Daphne DuMaurier stamp -- she didn't much like people.

 

I watched the movie three times when I checked it out the first time; I checked it out again and watched it twice more.  I make no apologies for being a romantic and for demanding a happily ever after ending from a romance.  The film version of Practical Magic worked much better as a coherent character story and as a romantic story than the book did.

 

As I said, however, that cheesy ending to the film was dumb; the final paragraphs of the book were actually better, but they weren't enough to save it from mediocrity.

 

I think on my next trip into town I'll check the film out of the library again.

 

But I have writing to do first.

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review 2017-09-21 00:00
Practical Magic
Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman Even though this is a tale about witches, to me it seems more a story about family, specifically sisters but family in general also. And it does have romance too. I enjoyed it.
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review 2017-05-15 18:03
Knots not worth untangling
The Lace Reader - Brunonia Barry

Copy obtained through local public library.  I don't know the author nor have I ever had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.

 

I began reading the book a couple of weeks ago, but only got a few pages into it before being interrupted.  I set it aside, then went back and started over when I was sure I would have more time.  By page 103 of 385, I knew the struggle wasn't going to be worth it.  I always think it's my fault that a book isn't working, so I checked out some of the other reviews -- I almost never read reviews before I read the book -- and found I wasn't alone.

 

No spoilers here, because I didn't finish the book and I'm not likely to.

 

Towner Whitney, whose real name is Sophya, comes back to Salem, Massachusetts, after 15 years in California.  Her grandmother/great-aunt Eva has disappeared.  I think Towner was raised by Eva, but I'm not sure.  Towner admits she lies a lot, and also that she doesn't remember things well because she had a nervous breakdown after her sister Lyndley died.

 

I think Towner's mother is May, who lives on a little island and rescues abused women and their children, but the family relationships aren't really clear.  Auntie Emma is Eva's daughter, I think, but again I'm not sure.  Beezer is Towner's brother.

 

Quirky characters are great if you can keep them straight and each becomes a real person.  None of these people did, not even Towner.  Her quirks were too inconsistent, too unexplained.  She can read people's minds and she hears voices -- especially Eva's and Lyndley's -- and she can read lace (it's kind of like reading tea leaves or some such) but there doesn't seem to be any purpose to it.

 

Towner dwells on her mental illness but doesn't really seem to care very much about it.  She doesn't have any direction or motivation or even any emotion.  And yet I got the impression that she wanted people around her to care about her.  I'm not sure that that's the impression author Brunonia Barry intended to convey, but it's the one I got.

 

As a result, I just didn't like Towner, and it's difficult for me to continue to read a book when I don't give a shit about the main character.

 

The book is well written in the technical sense, and I'm assuming the details of Salem and its environs are accurate, but everything fell flat for me.  It's like a book that a bunch of ladies read for their Tuesday afternoon book club, and they all think it's wonderful and deep and literary and quirky, but they really don't understand it and aren't sure they even like it.  They read it to impress their friends.  The sexy parts embarrass them -- though to be honest, I hadn't encountered any really sexy parts in the first 103 pages -- or horrify them, but for the most part they really don't understand the sexy parts.  They read books like this because it makes them feel somehow superior, even though as soon as they reach the end and move on to the next book, this one is forgotten.

 

I'll probably forget it, too.

 

Also posted at

https://fearlesslyintelligent.blogspot.com/2017/05/the-lace-reader-by-brunonia-barry.html

and I may expand it there.

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review 2017-03-17 14:35
Great Story and Characters
Some Practical Magic - Laurie C. Kuna

Cassandra/Cassie is a witch and had turned ninety and her mother was on her butt because she wanted to see Cassie married. Then her mother reminded her witches didn’t live much past two hundred and twenty years. Cassie’s mother was Medusa. Cassie was a journalist but also wrote some nonfiction books. She was going on a book tour . Endora was Cassie’s car/ familiar. For the last ten years Cassie had written a column on household hints ( also what her books were about)  called “ The Kitchen Witch” for the Salem Evening News.Cassie was proud of her writing skills. Her Book “When Dust Bunnies Attack” was already tenth on the nonfiction bestseller list.Mirak Sanders/ Mick was known to his fans as M. S. Kazimer  was a horror/suspense author. Jennifer was Mick’s former fiancee but still his publicist. Cassie and Mick were seated next to each other on the book signing part of the tour. Mick asked Cassie to autograph a book for him and told her he had her other books. Mick was having dinner with Robert Whitman who was suppose to be an author but was actually an FBI agent. A serial killer had started murdering people that duplicated crimes in Micks novels and using his murders as blueprints for his own murders. There had been fifteen in a five year time span. Mick was definitely attracted to Cassie and it was only getting stronger and Cassie was also attracted to him. Jennifer had finally ended their business association and flew back to N Y to pack her stuff and find her own apartment. It was never a good time for a witch to start a relationship with a  human so Cassie’s mother and other witches had said.

I loved this story . It had a great plot and held my attention from the beginning to the end. I loved how this had the paranormal aspect but also the suspense of the  serial killer in it. This story made me laugh at times. I was not happy to see Endora hurt in cat form by the killer. I liked how Medusa accepted Mick and the witches were all willing to help catch this killer. This was a great book to read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the characters and the ins and outs of this story and also how it very successfully covered two genres and I highly recommend.

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review 2016-10-14 15:17
Quick Thoughts: Practical Magic
Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic

by Alice Hoffman

 

 

For so many reasons I couldn't quite pinpoint--and had required a long, thorough think--this book was both frustrating and fascinating at the same time.  I went through a roller coaster of thinking: "Man, this book is not working for me" to "Hmm... this is actually quite interesting."

Practical Magic is a fairly well-known book-turned-movie that was celebrated during the years I'd been growing up.  When mentioned, many people had stated, quite happily that they really loved the movie.  I never actually saw the movie myself, as much of a Sandra Bullock fan as I am.  It just never really appealed to me, and I'm sad to say that even after reading the book, I'm not sure I'd search out the movie to compare--many others have expressed that this is one instance in which the movie is actually more enjoyable than the book.

Practical Magic spans many years from the childhood of our protagonists, Sally and Gillian Owens, on through their teenage years, and then into adulthood.  The entire book is written in four separate parts without chapter separations, detailing the childhood and adolescent years of the sisters in the first two parts, and then transitioning into a brand new conflict in the sisters' adulthood.  In fact, it almost feels like two separate stories... although at the same time I could probably argue that the entire book is a series of small anecdotes and story tangents melded together.

At times, it got very confusing because I wasn't entirely sure where we were going with the story.  When something seemed to be happening, the next paragraph or two (or ten) would meander into a completely different setting with a different character and a different story line.  I admit, I really, really got lost sometimes when the transition was a bit awkward.  Other times, the transition wasn't so bad and I had an idea what the story was getting at.

It probably also didn't help that I had a hard time relating to or liking any of the characters in the book.  And it also probably didn't help that my attention wandered as well since the story itself seemed to wander so much.  This book was written in a very narrative-heavy fashion with a very small amount of dialogue, but somehow maintaining a good amount of showing rather than telling, as hard as that is to believe.

Practical Magic is well written--I will give it that.  It's a great, magical concept and I DO like the premise of it.  But other than that, this book really just wasn't something I found all that enjoyable.


***

2016 Reading Challenges:
Goodreads Reading Challenge
BookLikes Reading Challenge
Bookish Resolutions Challenge
2016 Halloween Bingo

 

 

Source: anicheungbookabyss.blogspot.com/2016/10/quick-thoughts-practical-magic.html
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