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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-07 20:43
Shedding some light . . . .
The Walker in Shadows - Barbara Michaels

This was at least my third or fourth read of this book.  I initially read it when the Berkley mass market paperback edition came out in 1992; that's the edition I bought new and still have.  I read it again during the summer of 2016, shortly before Halloween Bingo and our buddy read of Michaels's Ammie, Come Home.  And I've just read it again, along with Be Buried in the Rain.

 

This is my first review, however.

 

Pat Robbins has been widowed for a year.  She and her college-age son Mark -- I believe he's 19 -- live in a huge old antebellum mansion in western Maryland.  The style is American Gothic, not the Greek Revival pictured on the above cover.  So the house is spookier looking, less like Tara.

 

 

Pat is a nurse for what I'm guessing is a doctor or doctors in private practice.  Therefore she probably makes(or made, in the early 90s) decent money but not oodles.  I'm not sure exactly what her husband Jerry did for a living before he died.  Regardless how much Jerry fell in love with the house, an edifice like that requires . . . oodles . . . of money to restore, renovate, upgrade, and maintain.  Not to mention taxes and utilities.  It sits on a two-acre lot.  Did I mention taxes?

 

Mark attends the local community college in part for the cost savings and in part to stay with his mom while she's grieving the loss of her husband and his father.  Mark does not have a job.

 

After years, maybe decades, of sitting empty, the house next door to Pat's has been sold and Josef Friedrichs moves in with his teenaged daughter Kathy.  I'm not sure exactly how old Kathy is -- maybe 16? -- but she is blonde and pretty and attends a private girls' school to which Josef drives her every day.  Josef is obsessively protective of Kathy, so when she and Mark strike up a romance, Josef is bitter and nasty to both Pat and Mark, but especially to Mark.  And his nastiness to Pat is about Mark.

 

Given what's revealed about Josef's prior marriage, I didn't understand his vicious antipathy toward his daughter's new boyfriend.

 

Anyway, the house is purchased, contractors come in to repair and redecorate, and Josef and Kathy move in.

 

This house is a mirror image twin of Pat's house.  No explanation is offered as to why a single father with one daughter needs a three-story American Gothic mansion on two over-grown, untended acres, especially since said single father is decidedly anti-social.  It's not like he's going to be entertaining or anything.

 

Within a few days of their moving in, weird things start happening.  Creepy lights, attacks on both Kathy and Josef, and so on.  Pat intervenes, and thus a relationship of sorts is established between the two families.  The weird things get weirder and more dangerous, Mark and Kathy join forces to figure out what it is, and then everyone lives happily ever after.

 

Unlike the problems I had with the house in Ammie, Come Home, the twin mansions in The Walker in Shadows worked well with the story.  There were no structural issues; other than the idea of two people rattling around in a house with five or six or eight bedrooms, the house part worked okay.

 

The historical research Mark and Kathy did to "solve" the mystery also worked well and made sense, with a somewhat surprising twist.  The resolution to the supernatural aspect seemed a little too contrived and easy, but it wasn't totally out of the blue.  I would personally have preferred a little more tension in the climactic confrontation but oh well.

 

Mark and Kathy's insta-love didn't pose a problem.  They're both young and eager and their relationship is more catalyst than main plot, so good looking young man falls head over heels (almost literally) for pretty new neighbor and that's okay.

 

What didn't work for me at all was the romance between Pat and Josef.  Pat is still grieving.  Josef is still angry.  That they fall in love and start calling each other "dear" and "darling" was just syrupy to me.  I realized that Michaels seems to have this problem in a lot of her books -- the romances are often just not believable.  It's as though they're thrown in because someone told her "we're going to publish it as romantic suspense, so make sure you have some romance."

 

There were major romance problems in Ammie, Come Home as explored in our buddy read analyses, and also in House of Many Shadows as well as Wait for What Will Come and Patriot's Dream.  Michaels did better with the romances in both Be Buried in the Rain and Houses of Stone, but I'm not really sure why or how.

 

Could the romance threads in these novels have been improved?  I think so, but I wasn't her editor!  I guess my only comment at this point would be, don't count on a great romance woven through these books; just take them as they are.

 

 

 

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text 2017-10-06 20:55
starting today -- 36,707

I knew yesterday was disappointing, but real life does intrude sometimes.  Here's hoping today is better.

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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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text 2017-10-04 20:50
starting today 34,889

 

 

 

Yesterday was terrible for writing production, but I did a lot of necessary reading, not least of which was my Halloween Bingo Darkest London book.  What an ordeal that was!

 

Fortunately, I had some much better reading to balance it out.  I should have my last Halloween Bingo review ready for tomorrow.  Do you think maybe, just maybe, I'll finally get a Bingo?  Ha ha, I'm not holding my breath!  The odds are pretty good  -- 4 out of 14 -- that it will be one of the seven squares I opted out of.

 

I also did some longhand writing after I went to bed last night and again this morning.  The dogs woke me at 4:00 -- that's actually later than they usually do -- and instead of going back to sleep right away, I did some more scribbling.  A section I had written a few days ago but decided not to incorporate into the text now has a proper place for insertion, so that will give me some better numbers for today . . . or tomorrow.

 

This morning was also grocery shopping and errands, plus the chore of putting all the purchases away.  I'm still not quite done with that, but had to take a break for lunch.

 

Tomorrow I will start packing the car for Sunday's art show.

 

All of this means my writing time is going to be a premium for the next several days.  After Sunday's show, however, I have a break until early November.  Of course, if I sell a lot of stuff Sunday, I will have to replenish inventory for November's two-day show and the other two shows coming up after that . . . but I won't be complaining!

 

Time now to bring in the paper goods and dog food, then get to work.

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text 2017-10-01 17:15
starting at 30,475

I didn't sleep well and have a very stiff neck.

 

Scribbled some longhand after I went to bed last night, but most of it I don't like.  May incorporate some as notes.

 

Still have a lot of other work left over from yesterday that absolutely must be done.

 

I'm afraid of burning out.

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