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:

The 2017 Newbery Books

Each year I anticipate the winner and honor books for the Newbery Prize. Past winners have included authors I regularly seek out, like Kate DiCamillo  (Flora and Ulysses). Among my favorite winners are a book about a gorilla (The One and Only Ivan) and Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution of Calpernia Tate.  One quote from that tale of an eleven year old budding scientist still rings true: “It was too bad, but sometimes a little knowledge could ruin your whole day…”

This year’s winner and honor books include a fantasy – The Girl Who Drank the Moon -magic is often a theme in Newbery books.  As a fan of “The Canterbury Tales,” I look forward to reading the Honor Book – The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog, written by Adam Gidwitz.  Another honor book, Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow found its way into book club discussions, as its theme of bullying and discrimination mirrored present-day angst.  Finally, Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan, completed this year’s winners, with the music of poetry and the rhythm of song telling a story of history.

Read them all – it won’t take much of your time – and you will find satisfying tales written well.  Sometimes a good children’s book can be better than one written for adults.

9781616205676_p0_v4_s192x300   The Girl Who Drank the Moon

This year’s winner of the Newbery Prize – Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon – delivers other worldly magic – we all need some right now. In a world similar to Shirley Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery,” one person is sacrificed each year to appease an evil witch and keep the rest of the village safe – for another year.  Unknown to the villagers, the baby is rescued each time by a good witch of the Forest, who safely whisks the child off to a new family in a safer place, while the evil witch, disguised as mother superior in the local convent, thrives on the sorrow and despair of the sacrificing town.

One year the good witch, Xan, who shares her home with an ancient Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, keeps the baby.  When Xan accidentally feeds the baby girl light from the moon, instead of the usual fare of stardust, Luna becomes enmagicked with amazing powers.  Xan subdues Luna’s powers until she is thirteen, when she joins forces with her mother, imprisoned all these years in a tower, whose magic changes paper birds into lethal weapons,  and Antain, a young man from the village with a good heart whose baby would be next on the list to be sacrificed.  Of course, evil is defeated and a new world order of hope replaces the misery.

Each minor character has notes of the familiar in everyone’s life.  Antain disappoints his mother’s ambition for him by leaving the head Council and following his own yearning to be a carpenter.  The little dragon never seems to grow up, until a crisis tears away his youthful outlook and forces him to deliver.  The old Swamp Monster offers steady and sage advice and comfort when needed.  But, my favorite character in this story is Ethyne, who knows the evil witch from her days as a novice, before she left to marry Antain.  Ethyne’s outlook is always positive and cheery, with a steady sense of self which she uses to steer both her husband and the despairing villagers as well as her former subservient connections in the Convent.  Ethyne is that voice of common sense who might bring you a cup of tea when you are down, or suggest a plan to overcome your inertia when you need motivation.  She is someone everyone should have as a friend.

Related Review:  Wolf Hollow


Easy and Entertaining: First Frost and more…

9781250019837_p0_v2_s260x420First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen charmingly continues the story of the magical Waverley sisters, with the cranky apple tree still throwing its apples and the house still locking its doors. Allen includes a coming of age tale and cautionary advice for anyone seeking fortune over family. And, as always, she has a few bon mots to treasure. For fans of “Garden Spells” and its sequels, First Frost is a welcome addition.



As You Wish by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden9781476764023_p0_v6_s260x420

Cary Elwes, the star of the movie The Princess Bride reconstructs the making of the beloved film in As You Wish.

A little hokey and at times strung out – just like the movie – but funny and informative with pictures and insider notes from the actors and Director, Rob Reiner.  Makes me want to see the movie again.

The Plight of the Darcy Brothers by Marsha Altman

Altman continues the story of “Pride and Prejudice” with a few non Austen plot twists, including devout Mary Bennett sowing her wild seeds, Darcy gaining a few brothers from his father’s secret indiscretions. Sisters Jane and Elizabeth have children and manage their respective households as well as their gentlemen husbands. An easy and quick read – The Plight of the Darcy Brothers is a fun read for Austen fans. Thanks to my friendly librarian for the book

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

As with all of Alice Hoffman’s books, “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” includes strange characters in unusual circumstances who must use theIr powers to overcome adversity and find themselves. Hoffman weaves a Grimm-like tale with an evil villain and an unlikely hero and heroine, who are destined to meet. If you can suspend belief, the story will carry you through a gruesome mystery set in Coney Island at the turn of the twentieth century.

Ezekiel, a Jewish boy who changes his name to Eddie, and Coralee, born with webbed fingers, follow singular paths until late in the book, when the body of a dead girl draws them together. Both have unusual talents – Eddie can find missing bodies, and Coralee can hold her breath underwater long enough to pass for a mermaid in New York’s Hudson River – a talent her abusive father hopes to turn into a profit.

As I travel through California, I’ve come to a stop with fewer distractions at Asilomar campgrounds, and finally have finished my traveling library book.
If you are a fan of Hoffman’s facility for turning the ordinary into the other worldly, with her asides of historical drama, you will enjoy the story. But this book is not for everyone.

Rather than describe the many twists, I’m directing you to Katherine Howe’s well- written review in the New York Times – “Girlfish.”

Howe clearly outlines the story, and offers a note of caution: Hoffman’s melodrama does get a little convoluted. The story digresses many times with the main characters’ history as well as Hoffman’s views and diversionary soliloquies. I skipped some of the rambling, and wondered why Hoffman did not end after the dramatic fire and rescue scene…
yet, I liked this book – it carried me away…


Lost Lake

9781250019806_p0_v5_s260x420When Sarah Addison Allen offered her free short story online (Waking Kate) as the teaser for her new book Lost Lake, I anticipated an emotional story with a little magic and some romance.  In a recent interview, Allen discussed her recent health issues – as she does in the acknowledgments at the back of the book – and noted that although her writing helped her through a tough time, she was not writing about it.  Instead, Allen stayed with her successful formula from past books, creating relatable characters who overcome adversity and heartbreak to find a new life with the help of quirky magical happenings and, of course, true love.  Laced with just enough drama, the predictable plot is comforting and enjoyable.

In Lost Lake, Kate and her daughter Devin, return to her great-aunt’s holiday campground just as she is about to sell the property to a villainous, greedy land developer.  Recovering from the recent death of her husband, Kate has delayed starting over, until she finds Wes, her first teen love of fifteen years earlier, who has never left the lake.  Allen changes the rules of the formula romance by adding her trademark magic, daring the reader to suspend belief and enjoy the moment.  In this case, a boy reincarnated as an alligator communicates with Devin to save the day.

I’m a fan of Allen since reading Garden Spells, and always enjoy her stories – this latest brought me out of my reading slump.

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