Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of MagicThe Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Rules of Magic is magic realism, but the book takes an unusual approach. The plot follows the lives of the Owens siblings: Fanny, Jet, and Vincent, who are part of a family with a history of witchcraft. They were born with unusual abilities and raised to understand how to create potions and work spells.

These skills come with a price: curses that affect their lives. They also have to deal with prejudice and misunderstanding, even from their own relatives. These problems are what make the novel special. On one level, it's a story of magic. On another level, it's a story of unique people coping with the things that make them different.

Although the main focus of the novel is on the three siblings and their love lives, the plot covers many years and wanders a bit, especially during the second half. It takes place in the mid twentieth century, so the Vietnam war and the draft are touched on. The war affected the lives of everyone during that time, but it came up late in the book and seemed a bit out of place. Still, the characters were full and interesting. I was left thinking about them after I was done with the book.

I love Alice Hoffman's writing, but I prefer her novels with a hint of magic rather than this one, where magic is central to the story. For that reason, it didn't come up to others I've read such as The Dovekeepers or The River King, but it is still a good choice for readers who are fans of her writing.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Life Without Living by S.C. Alban

A Life Without Living (The Strega Series, #1)A Life Without Living by S.C. Alban
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Life Without Living is a paranormal romance written from the points of view of the two main characters: Kate and Gio. The novel is a page turner, especially toward the end. Its story creates a wonderful life filled with curses and sorcery, but also brings a message relevant to life and love away from its pages.

Gio (short for Giovanni) is an Italian who has come to a small town in America in search of the woman with “...the one soul whose existence would allow [his soul] to continue instead of remaining in [an] eternal pattern...” of emptiness. Gio has been cursed with an eternal life void of any warmth and meaning. He understands this curse and the power of the man who placed it. He knows he lives in a world of witches and magic.

Kate, however, is unaware of the magic in the world around her. She's been married for nine years, to a handsome, successful man and has a good job, working for a publishing firm. She believes she is living a life worthy of envy. However, there are signs things are not the way they should be in an ideal marriage. Her husband is controlling and has a short fuse. He hasn't crossed the line to abusive, but he's close.

This mixture of two plot lines in search of each other, is what makes this book remarkable. It's a fun book, creating a world that is wonderful to think about. But it is also the story of a woman in a bad relationship who doesn't understand her own actions or lack thereof. It's about blaming yourself and your own perceived weakness for a situation that is complex and confusing. Here's an excerpt that offers a taste of this aspect of the novel:

But slowly, something was changing inside me. Something, and I didn't have a clue as to what, had began to tug on a loose thread. Gradually, cautiously, so that I didn't even know it was happening, something began to pull the strands apart. The cloth had begun to unravel.

A Life Without Living is well worth reading and the other bit of good news is that it is the first book in a series.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul


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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

The Shell SeekersThe Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you open The Shell Seekers to a random page, you are most likely going to find very detailed, often beautiful, prose. Here's an example:

Olivia knew that she would never tire of the painting, even if she lived with it for most of her life. Its impact hit you like a gust of cold, salty air, The windy sky, racing with clouds; the sea, scudding with white-caps, breaking waves hissing up onto the shore. The subtle pinks and greys of the sand; shallow pools left by the ebbing tide and shimmering with translucent reflected sunlight. And the figures of the three children, grouped to the side of the picture; two girls with straw hats and dresses bundled up, and a boy. All brown-limbed, barefoot, and intent on the contents of a small scarlet bucket.

I loved the idea of writing about the daughter of a famous artist and her bohemian upbringing. So many books concentrate of people in positions of fame and power, but their families have stories to tell as well. I also loved having so much of the plot center around a painting which works as a metaphor for many of the family issues.

Yet, the novel didn't catch me. I was easily distracted, even at the most critical parts. Part of this was due to the descriptions, which were lovely, but too numerous. I found myself skimming descriptions of landscapes as the novel went on, especially the lists of flowers. But more than that it was the characters and a feeling that the author was intruding with her own opinions. When I was done with the book, I was left with the feeling Rosamunde Pilcher had great respect for stoicism.

The scenes of Penelope as a girl and a young woman were interesting, especially when the American troops were camped in Porthkerris. Yet Penelope's interactions with the important people in her life never seemed to have much emotion, even when she claimed to be in love. This was also true of Olivia, especially at the end of the novel, which might explain why Penelope's relation with her middle child worked.

I would recommend The Shell Seekers to readers who enjoy careful descriptions, historical settings, and a unique picture of rural England.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul





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