A Prescription for Comfort Books

When an Advil at breakfast no longer seemed like such a good idea to my stomach and wasn’t doing a whole lot for my aching back anyway,  focusing on reading a book was hard – but I wanted the distraction so badly.  YA books came to the rescue – from unlikely sources.

UnknownBuried in a pile of old Scholastic books, I found an Alice Hoffman story about a mermaid – Aquamarine.  Hoffman is one of my favorite writers for magical realism; I’ve read most of her books for adults and eagerly anticipate her next one.  Aquamarine is a short tale, not requiring a lot of time or attention; it flows easily into a story about two friends about to be separated at the end of the summer.  Aquamarine is a real mermaid, of course, accidentally trapped in a swimming pool after a storm.

41sKG6FpKvL._AC_UL160_Although I had started reading Eleanor and Park when it was first published in 2012, I never read past the sample pages on my iPhone.  When my ninety-two year old friend suggested we be a book club of two to discuss the ending, I downloaded the story of the two teenagers’ story of first love.  Not exactly star-crossed lovers, these two are from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, but they connect on the school bus and save each other.  A short easy read with an ending my friend says “left her with a good vibe” – glad I read it.

y450-300A recent New York Times article by author Robert Lipsyte  – “My Struggle to Write Honestly About a Test of Manhood” -alerted me to his YA book – One Fat Summer.  The book has been reframed into a movie – “The Measure of a Man,” but the book sounds better.  I have it on my iPhone to read.

“In “One Fat Summer,” my glorified semi-autobiographical hero, Bobby, stood up to the bullies and survived their beating, an important lesson for males then. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. He endured the summer in what he thought was manly fashion, hanging tough, taking risks and trusting only himself. No wonder at the end, the girl liked him back. At least in the novel.”

img_5943-e1453331441807And finally, Margery Sharp.  I found this author through an old movie with Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones in “Cluny Brown.”  Cluny Brown may be the patron saint of the distracted and Sharp perfected the easy style of story telling with  a Sophie Kinsella flair over eighty years ago.  The movie led to reading her books – funny and comforting.  I had forgotten about “The Gipsy in the Parlor,”  a two dollar purchase buried in my list of books on my iPhone.  Not a YA book, but easy reading and I am now happily and distractedly enjoying it .

Do you have a favorite YA book or some easy reading to recommend for an aching back?

 

Happy Halloween! The Rules of Magic

636425476301544428-Rules-of-Magic      Celebrating the power of witches in Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic seems an appropriate way to celebrate Halloween.  Hoffman reveals the back story of the two witch aunts who raise Sally and Gillian Owens in her novel made into a movie – Practical Magic.  This prequel dates back to the childhood of Frannie and Jet,  played in the movie by a feisty Stockard Channing and an aerie Dianne Wiest.

The premise of the family curse bequeathed from the seventeenth century –  that any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will die – controls the romance in the story, but thankfully Hoffman spins this tale with less horror and more introspection.  History plays a big role with the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War changing the direction for some of the characters.  And, if you were wondering how two maiden aunts could have nieces?  Hoffman writes in a brother for them in the prequel, a handsome wizard who resists going to war.  The children in Practical Magic are his grandchildren.

A fast and entertaining read – try it while you are munching on your Halloween stash.

And, if you’d like to try Aunt Isabelle’s Chocolate Tipsy Cake for breakfast, the recipe is here.

 

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More Books About Witches:

Suspend Belief and Enjoy “The House at the End of Hope Street” by Menna van Pragg

9781410461346_p0_v1_s192x300   As a fan of magical realism in literature, I thoroughly enjoyed an old book by an author new to me – The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Pragg.  The idea for the story was inspired by van Pragg’s yearning to establish a house for female artists to give them a year to fulfull their artistic ambitions.  This house, however, exists in its own dimension, only appearing to those who need it.

Van Pragg’s story revolves around three women who need motivation to follow their dreams – Alba, the youngest woman admitted to Cambridge who is betrayed by her family and her university advisor; Greer, who at thirty-nine has yet to achieve her goals of becoming an actress and a mother; and Carmen, the sexy singer with a murderous past.

Taking a cue from the Harry Potter books, van Pragg has portraits on the walls coming alive to speak and give advice.  These pictures, however, are of famous women,  from literary giants – Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath, Agatha Christie  – to esteemed scientists and suffragettes.  The stream of prominent women marching through the plot adds to the fun as each of the main characters faces her challenge and moves on to a better life.   Words stream by in banners, notes mysteriously drop from the chandeliers, colors surround characters in auras of emotion.  The House mysteriously and suddenly provides whatever its occupants need: a magical wardrobe (a nod to C.S. Lewis), shelves of books with titles constantly refreshed, a baby grand piano.

If you enjoy the tales of Erin Morgenstern, Sarah Addison Allen, and  Alice Hoffman, you might add Menna van Pragg to your list of happy diversions – magical realism with a British flavor.

When I discovered van Pragg had written a book with the irresistible title of Men, Money, and Chocolate (2009) – with recipes, I ordered it immediately as an ebook ($1.99).  The story is a little too heavy on schmaltz and not my style, but the recipes may be worth trying.    Van Pragg’s The Witches of Cambridge, (2016) looks like more fun  and is on my list, as is her latest from England to be published in the United States soon – The Lost Art of Letter Writing.  Unknown-2

Related Reviews:

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

9781476799209_p0_v3_s192x300 Alice Hoffman always manages to instill some magic into her narrative, and a little appears in Faithful, but more believable than some of her other stories like Practical Magic or Nightbird – yet just as captivating.

Hoffman weaves the story around a mother-daughter relationship after a devastating car accident.  Seventeen year old Shelby Richmond was driving when the car crashed; she survived but her best friend, Helene, became a vegetable and the town saint.  As Helene lies comatose in her parents’ living room, amazing miracles seem to happen to some who make the pilgrimage to her bedside – scars disappear, diseases are cured, roses bloom in February on the anniversaries of the crash.  Shelby, on the other hand, shaves her head, cuts her self, becomes a drug addict, and hides in her parents’ basement – in shame and guilt at having survived.  The reader follows her journey to redemption as Hoffman takes Shelby from antisocial misery to working in a pet store and eventually to veterinary school.

Along the way, Shelby has help growing up and realizing how to live her second chance at life.  Mysterious postcards appear intermittently in the story, and solving the mystery of the sender becomes a catalyst to reading on.  When the “angel” is revealed, the story satisfyingly provides closure in a number of ways – to tell too much would spoil the reading.

great_pyrenees_tavish Despite her rocky relationship with her mother and her subsequent connections with men, it’s the dogs in Shelby’s life who are the true saviors.  She rescues abused homeless dogs, taking them to live with her in her three hundred foot studio apartment.  Their personalties reflect Shelby’s needs – from the French bull dog, who always leads the way, to the one-eyed small dog who needs carrying, and the gentle guardian, the white Great Pyrenees.  Eventually, her mother’s toy poodle becomes part of the brood.  Dog lovers will readily identify with the value of Shelby’s canine friends.

Alice Hoffman’s stories always catch me unaware – before I know it I am deep in the story and cannot let go.  Although the story begins on a depressing note, Hoffman quickly escalates to her real message, and the dogs in this story were an added bonus.

Reviews of Other Alice Hoffman Books:

My December Pile of Books

After returning a few books to the library unread, I picked up a whole new pile.  I like having a selection – my personal lending library collection at home. Those I returned unread, for reasons ranging from not liking the cover to not having the time or the inclination to become absorbed in their drama:

  • Joshilyn Jackson’s The Opposite of Everyone
  • Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed
  • Iona Grey’s Letters to the Lost
  • Stephanie Danier’s Sweetbitter

I might try them again later – whenever the mood hits.  Have you read any you think I should revisit?

Books checked out and waiting to be read:

  • Alice Hoffman’s Faithful
  • Marie Benedict’s The Other Einstein
  • A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet
  • J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy
  • Ian McGuire’s North Water
  • Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop Around the Corner
  • Gale Forman’s Leave Me
  • William Trevor’s Love and Summer
  • Jeffrey Archer’s This Was a Man

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If you get to any of them before me, let me know how you liked the read.