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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-11-05 02:34
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Practical Magic - Alice Hoffman

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape. One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

For over two hundred years, the Owens ladies have been one cursed family! Orphaned sisters Gillian and Sally Owens are brought to live with their eccentric aunts, Francis and Bridget. Introducing the girls to their magical roots, the aunts quickly see Sally as the more natural witch, while younger Gillian is more taken with her inner bohemian spirit consumed with falling in love... repeatedly. 

 

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Because the town has never let up on its gossiping and trading witch stories regarding the Owens women, young Gillian and Sally grow up fielding a mountain of ridicule. By the time they are grown and ready to start their own lives, the sisters are ready to do just about anything to escape the Owens curse --- the one that kills any man who falls for them --- Sally marries for comfort rather than love while Gillian literally runs away from her East Coast upbringing, escaping into the western regions of the US.

 

If you're coming to this book because you love the movie (as I did), let me warn you now, the similarities between the two are few and FAR between... for real! Plus, the first chapter is going to be a tough one to get through for animal lovers. 

 

Alice Hoffman has become one of my very favorite authors in recent years and I'm only now just getting to this one, perhaps her most famous book because of the movie. The movie being a favorite of mine for years already, I figured this one would be a sure favorite as well.... but honestly, I struggled with it. I still liked it, but it was a struggle. There's a certain magic to Hoffman's writing that, despite this novel's title, was seriously lacking. Sure, magic was mentioned, and there were moments here and there where I felt Hoffman's classic writing style coming through, but it wasn't start to finish lovely whimsy as some of her other books have been for me. Maybe because the movie was just so cozy and amazing, I set the bar too high going in?

 

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Case in point: (movie vs book)

 

* Movie Sally owns a natural beauty care store where it's rumored witchery goes into her recipes... while book Sally works as... a high school administrator?! Not saying the job isn't important but hard to work magic into such a comparatively dull environment! 

   

     -- Also different: 1) The way she meets husband Michael is portrayed a little differently in the book. Again, the aunts have no magic involved in the union like they did in the movie... it just comes about by "right place and time" kind of thing, like anyone. 2) We get to know Sally's girls as teens -- Antonia a stunning redhead, little sister Kylie a 5'11 "awkward giantess" --  rather than just small children where the movie stops. Sally and her girls also spend much of the book living in NYC, which I found confusing during this book, but it's actually explained nicely in the prequel, The Rules of Magic.  3) Book Sally actually DOES get to the top of the phone tree... without Gillian's help! In fact, she's a regular there. 3) The whole relationship with Officer Gary Hallet -- memorably portrayed by Aidan Quinn in the film -- is way more lowkey (almost boring) in the book. It's actually Gillian that has the way more interesting romance (and I'm not talking about Jimmy)... but more on that later. 

 

* Movie Gillian and her relationship with Jimmy: There's one section of the novel where Gillian is thinking back on the time she spent with him (this is after it comes to an end) and within her thoughts are NSFW kind of descriptions of Jimmy being rough during sex, getting off on the violence, and how she would let it go on because the violence during sex was less painful than the beatings he would give her if he didn't get his way. Yeah, this was lightly glossed over in the film but the book gets heavy with this reality at times. Between book and movie there's also a bit of a switch with Jimmy's final resting place: instead of under roses in Massachusetts, his spot is under lilacs in NYC. But what remains in both book and movie is the presence of toads (even the one who spits the ring!).

 

    ---- Gillian takes up with Sally's co-worker Ben, who proves to be a solidly decent guy. Aptly, he's also a neat mix of scientist and part-time magician.

 

 

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The aunts were looking out the window, watching what avarice and stupidity could do to a person. They shook their heads sadly.... Some people cannot be warned away from disaster. You can try, you can put up every alert, but they'll still go their own way.

 

 

Another area where there are some differences is with the legend of Maria Owens, the originator of the curse. Some of the details there were altered a bit by film's development. Just in general, the "magic" element felt pretty underdeveloped until Part 3, "Clairvoyance", where the story gets into the battle between Jimmy and the Owens sisters. Prior to that, it felt more like a general domestic drama regarding family tensions, sisterly bond, etc. The book really didn't come alive for me until the relationship between Gillian and Ben was introduced. Really wish this element HAD been incorporated into the film, and I'd certain be happy to read a spin-off book focusing on these two and where they ended up. 

 

It doesn't matter what people tell you. It doesn't matter what they might say. Sometimes you have to leave home. Sometimes, running away means you're headed in the exact right direction.

 

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While it was cool to see the origin of characters I came to love on screen, the novel needs better transitions. There are people regularly introduced or scenes changed mid-paragraph, which made for a choppy "quick, backtrack!" kind of reading experience. Still, I do love that the heartwarming closing words of the book were incorporated into the film. 

 

 

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url 2018-04-17 16:39
The Rules of Magic
The Rules of Magic: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

Months ago, I made a big fuss about this book and how excited I was that I could get my hands on the ARC...and then promptly went silent because I'm lazy like that. I ended up getting the book and reviewing it for Bust.com. I actually struggled with it; it was a good story, yet I think I wanted or expected it to be something it wasn't. I don't know if Practical Magic can be recaptured in a prequel or a sequel or any other method. This link is ancient by internet standards, but in the interest of trying to be an actual blogger again, I guess this as good a place as any to start.

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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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