What I’m Reading – Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

In preparation for Alice’s Hoffman’s Facebook Live event this week where she will discuss Practical Magic, I’ve decided to finally pick up Practical Magic in honor of it’s 25th anniversary.

Facebook LIVE Q&A:
July 28, 2021 @ 5pm EST

I only recently watched the film Practical Magic and read The Rules of Magic (review here), so I’m a new fan of Alice Hoffman – and I’m loving every moment of it. If you haven’t read anything by Alice Hoffman, I highly recommend you give it a try. Her writing is lyrical, like magic.

Synopsis

The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author 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…

Book Review – The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Genre: Fantasy; Young Adult

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

I purchased The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna months ago and it sat on my shelves (and then in boxes as my family moved from Virginia to Alabama at the start of the summer). I knew I loved the cover and the synopsis, but for some reason each time I went to select my next read, this one never grabbed my attention.

Then the buddy read – an engagement group I’m in selected this novel for July. I picked it up and didn’t put it down until I reached the last page.

I devoured this novel in two days, while on a family vacation. Before my husband left town for training (he’s in the military), we wanted to do something special with our daughter, so we headed off to Great Wolf Lodge. It’s Alice’s favorite place, and it was the perfect family getaway before my husband left for a couple of months. 

We played at the water park, arcade, and MagiQuest all day – while I read all night. I was so exhausted, but it was the happiest I have been in a while. The perfect weekend trip. 

The novel begins in Deka’s village as they prepare for the blood ceremony, where all 16-year-old girls are tested for impurity. If their blood runs red, they are pure, but if it runs gold they are deemed impure. This is where Deka’s story truly begins – when her blood runs gold.

As the priests in her village punish Deka time and time again, an unknown woman comes to give Deka the option to remain in her village or flee and chart a different course. Deka learns she isn’t alone and that there are other girls like her – the Alaki.  

The transformation we see in Deka as she begins to accept who she is and discover her real purpose is powerful and inspiring. As women, whether in fiction or reality, we are often labeled and judged, here it is no different. This story captures the struggle and journey to self-acceptance in a way I have rarely seen in the novels I read. 

And FINALLY we have a story where our female protagonist has a love interest but this is not the main driver of her transformation, journey, or anything else – it just simply is an element that enhances the story. Deka does not change or grow because a man believes in her – she does all of these things because she learns to believe in herself. It’s refreshing. 

It’s not a man who holds Deka up and makes her stronger – it’s her friends and the sisterhood with her fellow Alaki standing beside her, guiding her, and helping her as they discover the truth and fight for what is right. 

If you haven’t already, please pick up The Gilded Ones whether at your local bookstore or online. You will not regret it. I loved every moment of this novel. 

We also have a date for the sequel, so you have until April 5, 2022, to catch up before The Merciless Ones is released. 

Buy The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna here at Thank You Books (Birmingham, AL) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read The Gilded Ones? Let’s talk about it here in the comments or on Instagram.

Book Review – The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

#BookstagramMadeMeDoIt – And oh boy were they right. 

Before we get into a plot overview, let’s start with – I read this one in 24 hours. I picked it up and COULD NOT STOP. It was the most important week of the year at work, and instead of making sure I was well rested in preparation – I read. 

Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince starts off as all great hero stories, with the death of our main character, Jude’s, parents. Shortly after our characters – Jude along with her two sisters Taryn and Vivienne – arrive in Elfhame and their lives are changed forever. 

Jude battles to prove herself as worthy of the Faerie and their world, defying everyone who stands in her way including her step-father and a Faerie Prince named Cardan. 

In this novel, Holly Black built a memorable, exciting, and terrifying world. Throughout the story, I pictured these young kids – Jude, Taryn, and Vivi – being pulled into this strange world and having to adjust to their surroundings along with the death of their parents. It is the stuff of nightmares but is also somehow gorgeous. 

Layer that on top of being raised by the man who murdered your parents before your eyes and I’d say this book borders on a horror novel. 

But it wouldn’t be the fae without some juxtaposition. While under the surface it’s ugly and gruesome, on the surface and all around us is beauty and the intoxication of being among faeries. This contrast is best seen between twins, Jude and Taryn. 

There’s so much more I want to say and discuss, but I promised no spoilers. Once I’ve finished all three books, I’ll write a discussion post and talk more in depth.

For now, I’ll tell you this book has it all – complicated family relationships; love triangles; unlikely relationships; and OH MAN a plot twist. This book is everything I hope for when I pick up a Young Adult novel. 

If you haven’t read The Cruel Prince and you enjoy Young Adult and High Fantasy – add this one to your TBR. #BookstagramMadeMeDoIt, and now I’m paying it forward. You won’t regret it. 

Buy The Cruel Prince by Holly Black here at Old Town Books (Alexandria, VA) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read The Cruel Prince? Let’s talk about it here in the comments or on Instagram!

Book Review – Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, Book Two in the All Souls Trilogy, picks up where we left Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont in A Discovery of Witches (book review here) as they travel into the past to uncover the secrets of Diana’s magic and find a book that could change everything.

Diana and Matthew land right in the middle of Elizabethan London and immediately realize their tasks – teaching Diana to control her magic and finding Ashmole 782 – are going to be more complicated than they originally thought. The reader has the pleasure of experiencing the city (along with the other places they visit) through the eyes of Diana, a historian, who has studied and dreamed about the places she is visiting and people she is meeting her entire life . 

It’s like a fairytale, especially if you consider how dark and terrible most fairy tales really are. 

I absolutely LOVED A Discovery of Witches, so I had high expectations going into this novel. It did not disappoint. While it wasn’t as magical (sorry for the pun) as the first novel, I really enjoyed Book Two. 

We already have a witch and a vampire, throw in the pomp and circumstance of the 16th century and it’s the perfect mix for a wonderful story. 

One element I really enjoyed was Diana’s constant reckoning of what history books had taught her and what the real experience was like. For example, she notes she always told her students London would smell vile, but in reality it’s a pleasant smell (at least where they are in the city). 

Throughout the book we do have little flashes to the present time, but they are short and not too distracting from the main plot. We see how Diana and Matthew are tweaking the events of the present and how their family, friends, and even enemies are taking notice. 

And of course, there’s romance. We didn’t get much more than tension building in Book One, so thankfully we find a little release in Book Two as the couple spends more time together and begin knocking down all of the secrets and walls creating a division between them. By the time they arrive back in the present, they are a newer and stronger couple. I can’t wait to see where they go in Book Three. 

If I had to try and pinpoint why this novel didn’t quite sing to me like Book One, I think it would be the feeling that the characters are spinning their wheels and making no progress for a portion of the novel. I enjoyed the stories and adventures, but I often found myself frustrated Diana and Matthew weren’t more focused on the tasks at hand. 

This novel is a perfect cocktail of historical fiction, fantasy, romance, and “save the world”-ness. In my opinion, it’s one of the best “adult” fantasy books for those of us who grew up with Jane Austin, Harry Potter, and Twilight. 

Now … onto The Book of Life, Book Three in the All Souls Trilogy. Stay tuned for the review in the coming weeks.

Have you read the All Souls Trilogy and want to discuss? Leave a note in the comments here or on Instragram. 

Buy the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness here at Kramers Bookstore (Washington, DC) or at your local bookstore!

Book Review – The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Genre: Fantasy Fiction

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

In one word, The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman is enchanting. Full disclosure, I went into reading this after recently watching the movie Practical Magic so the curse of the Owens family was fresh on my mind. Sometimes, with prequels, knowing the fate of the characters can take away from the story, but not here. 

The story begins with Franny, Jet, and Vincent at a young age and their first summer with Aunt Isabelle. Although their mother has tried to hide the truth, the children begin to realize they have a secret – they are witches. With the promises of no spoilers, I won’t provide much more description, but it’s a fun and heartbreaking ride as they each grow up. 

My life ebbs and flows from kind of busy to overwhelmingly busy, so I wouldn’t directly correlate how much I like a book by how fast I read it. However, I did finish The Rules of Magic in 3-4 days. 

Alice Hoffman’s writing style is unique and spellbinding. At first I was unsure of the narrative style, which reminds me of an old story being told around a campfire, but it grew on me within the first few chapters and I was hooked. Spellbinding really is the perfect word because it’s sing-songy and will have you tangled up before you know it. 

Of course, if you have seen Practical Magic and know what the curse of the Owens family is, you know this tale is full of heartbreak and tears. The happy moments are bittersweet and beautiful but don’t carry the same lightheartedness of most stories. The drama throughout the pages is not flashy and overdone, it’s subtle and heart-wrenching. 

I’ll go as far to say this novel is emotionally taxing, but worth every moment of the pain you feel. Because ultimately, this is a story about love and how the only solution to your struggles and heartbreak is to love more.

It really was a fun book to read. It’s also nice to read a fantasy novel about witches that doesn’t involve the apocalypse or some large-scale, life threatening obstacle. They are normal(-ish) people who happen to be witches and are just trying to make it through the day and find a little happiness while they are at it. 

I haven’t read any of Alice Hoffman’s other novels, but I highly recommend this one. I enjoyed it from start to finish. 

Buy The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman here at Old Town Books (Alexandria, VA) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read The Rules of Magic? Let’s talk about it in the comments here or on Instagram.

Book Review – A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Genre: Fantasy; Fiction

Rating: 5 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

In The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness – the first book of the All Souls Trilogy – readers meet a witch named Diana Bishop. She’s a witch who never mastered her craft and altogether avoided it for a majority of her life, mostly because she blames her parents’ death on magic.

But, of course, what a woman wants is rarely tied to fate. Through a series of accidents (at least that’s how they appear) Diana meets the vampire Matthew Clairemont and her life changes forever. 

The historical detail mixed in with the unbelievable tension of their relationship was enough to hook me in the first chapter. Without so much as a kiss, Deborah Harkness is able to build up to a sexiness and tension that leaves you screaming for more. On top of that (I’m a sucker for a good vampire romance), Diana’s journey and the conflict surrounding the mysterious alchemical manuscript is fantastical and unlike anything I’ve read. 

In a word, this novel is EXCITING. It’s the perfect book for an adult who loves Young Adult Fantasy but wants to read something for an older audience. 

I first decided to pick up A Discovery of Witches because I’ve been wanting to watch the show on AMC. I always try to read before watching. But I was not expecting to get sucked into this novel this way. It was immediate and overwhelming. 

As a writer, this is the book I wish I wrote. I don’t know if I can say that about anything else. 

This re”vamped” take on witches, vampires, and daemons is spectacular and had me obsessed from page one. 

One key element for me – while the arc of the story is dependent on her relationship to Matthew – the plot and conflict is not driven by any kind of drama between the two of them.

So often when we have a female lead, the story is driven by the back-and-forth relationship-based drama. Yes, Diana and Matthew being together is a key driver of the plot, but this isn’t about their quarrels as a couple – it’s about so much more. And, not going to lie, just LOVE a strong female lead. Diana Bishop takes no shit. I’m here for it. 

I can’t say I read this in a day or one sitting. At nearly 600 pages, this was a huge undertaking. It took a few days, but every moment I was away from the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

If you haven’t already, please go pick up A Discovery of Witches. Next on my list are the remaining books in the trilogy, so stay tuned for future reviews.

Buy A Discovery of Witches here at Old Town Books (Alexandria, VA) or your local bookstore!
Have you read A Discovery of Witches or any book in the All Souls Trilogy? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Book Review – The Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell

Genre: Fantasy Fiction

Rating: 4 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

The Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell picks up right where we left off in The Last Magician (read my review here). Esta and Harte are running from the Order, and Jack Grew. They have to find the stolen artifacts before they get into the wrong hands. Early in the novel, they jump two years into the future and, due to some complications, the book maintains a steady leap between 1902 and 1904 throughout the novel. 

The novel is told from the perspective of Esta, Harte, Jianyu, Viola, Nibsy, and more as the story unfolds. In St. Louis, Esta and Harte work to obtain the Djinni’s Star while the remaining pieces of Dolph Sander’s team remain (by no choice of their own) in New York City to find Delphi’s Tear. There are twists, turns, and all out moments where you want to SCREAM at Lisa Maxwell. 

One of my favorite parts of this book is having a chance to learn more about our supporting characters – Viola, Jianyu, and Nibsy. The Last Magician gave us small backstories for these characters, but reading from their perspective really let’s us dive into Jianyu’s nostalgia for his home country, Viola’s loyalties and desires, and Nibsy’s affinity and overall plan to take control of the artifacts and, ultimately, magic. 

Esta and Harte also finally give us what we want, an acknowledgement of their feelings and connection to one another. This is one of the more bumpy and complicated pieces of the novel, but I love a slow build that is all tension and no satisfaction. I will be shipping Esta and Harte forever. There are a lot of potential power couples in this novel, but in the spirit of keeping to my promise above about no spoilers – I will keep quiet for now. Once you read the book, let me know and we can discuss.

This novel took me a while to read. It’s hefty (nearly 700 pages) and requires a serious level of concentration. We are jumping through time and from character to character, which brings me to my next point. 

I haven’t decided yet if I love or hate the constant change in time and perspective. The subheaders and writing style make it very easy to follow who is talking and what timeline we are in. But sometimes you only get one (or less) page with a character before you are jumping to the next. It builds tension and suspense in such an aggressive way. It kept me reading, pushing forward, and wanting to know more. But it always made me want MORE. Right when I was getting there – so close – CHANGE. 

I highly recommend this series, starting with The Last Magician followed by The Devil’s Thief. I’ll be picking up the third book in the series later this year when it’s released. 

Buy The Devil’s Thief by Lisa Maxwell here at Old Town Books (Alexandria, VA) or at your local bookstore!

Have you read either book in The Last Magician series? Let me know what you thought in the comments!

Book Review – Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy

Rating: 4 / 5 

SPOILER ALERT!

If you have somehow made it through the past 15 years without reading or watching anything Twilight-related, there are spoilers below. 

I need to be honest up front – I am an OBSESSIVE Twilight fan and I go very hard for Team Edward. It’s been more than a decade since I first met Bella, and I still watch the movies regularly. In fact, I just reread Twilight a few months ago. I tell you this because it’s important to know going into my book review of Midnight Sun. I have been waiting for Edward’s point-of-view for a while (like I said, over a decade). If you aren’t a Twi-hard, like me, you may not enjoy this one as much as I did, but here we go.

Much like the 50 Shades of Grey series from Christian’s perspective, this shift of in vantage point to let you hear, see, and experience everything from the other side. The preconceptions I had about what Edward was thinking were shattered as I finally got a look beyond Bella. Stephenie Meyer did an excellent job of weaving people’s thoughts with their verbal dialogue. It was easy to read and engaging. From the scene where the boys at school line up to ask Bella out to Edward’s complicated relationships with each of his family members – it gives a new light to the story. 

I was hoping we may learn more than we didn’t previously know, which didn’t happen. We had a glimpse of Edward’s “birth” and his early days, but it wasn’t more than what we previously knew. This is likely because Bella and Edward are together for a majority of the story and they are very open with each other. I think this will improve in the future books since the couple does spend some time apart. 

We also get a better understanding of Edward’s individual relationships with each member of his family. My favorite, which I won’t get into in hopes of not spoiling anything, is Jasper. He’s much more than we ever imagined. The love permeating off of Esme is also something to behold. I hope to be half of the mom she is.

However, there are some things we learn throughout this story that weren’t present in the first novels. First is about how Bella and Alice became such good friends. I don’t remember Twilight getting into the details of how Alice helped Bella recover from the fight with James, but Edward does give us some additional details that help explain the strong connection. 

Overall, I’ll just say this was a fun read. I was unable to put the book down and read it cover-to-cover in less than a week. I love this series and this just gave me another avenue to learn more about some of my favorite characters on a journey we started together long ago. If you are a Twilight fan, I highly recommend it. If you have yet to read any of the Twilight books, start with the original series and wrap it up with Midnight Sun. The original series is still at the top of my list. Even Edward Cullen can’t compare with that. 

Buy Midnight Sun here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

Have you read Midnight Sun? Share your comments below!

Book Review – The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

Genre: Young Adult; Sci-Fi; Fantasy

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Note: There are NO spoilers in this review. When discussing in the comments, please provide a spoiler warning if needed.

I consume a lot of fantasy and sci-fi literature, movies, television shows, and video games. While I love a good sappy sparkly vampire story, it’s rare that a world, story, or universe created by an author feels real and like home. The older I’ve gotten the less I’ve been able to completely disappear into the depths of Mordor or the halls of Hogwarts. They are wonderful stories, but I don’t find myself pulled to them in dreams like I did when I was a child. 

This novel did just that. Lisa Maxwell builds a beautiful new take on magic in this mixed Fantasy/Sci-Fi world. If you are a lover of young adult or fantasy literature, I highly recommend this book. When I wasn’t sneaking a few pages into my day whenever I could (yay motherhood!) I was walking the streets of New York City in my dreams. I was alongside Esta and the other Mageus, shying away from the Brink and plotting to take down the Order. 

Ultimately, this is a story about a young girl, Esta, eager to prove herself while trying to figure out who she is and what she really wants. (Like young girls do) she struggles between her personal desires and how she was raised. It was refreshing to have a strong female character whose struggle wasn’t centered around being a woman. So often stories are told because there is a woman and she is strong and she’s doing something only a strong woman could do, but I find it frustrating that it’s “special” when a woman conquers a challenging obstacle. 

I never felt like this story was only important because a woman was at the center. This is such an intangible element to attempt to describe, but this made me hopeful for the future of literature and storytelling. I am so tired of feeling like it’s a novelty to have a powerful female lead. Women are just extraordinary, everyday. It’s not a novelty, it’s just reality. 

Esta’s choices lead us on a journey with many twists and turns, but they happen organically. Lisa Maxwell was never forcing an Ah-Ha moment on us just for the shock factor. The story flows and feels genuine.

Like most novels that shift between narrators, it took me a few chapters to find the flow. But the narrators have unique voices and, when you meet each character, the transition between becomes seamless. I found myself eager to hear from the different points of view in the scene. The impact helps to round out the picture and build tension, which remains from the first page through the last.

The push-and-pull of tension (sexual and otherwise) throughout the novel created a sexiness without any real “sexy” scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I am a sucker for an erotic novel (hello Christian Grey), but, thankfully, Lisa Maxwell didn’t try to force it into the story. The tension is ever-present and not always romantic. It pushes the story along and makes you want to keep reading more.

The last note I have is related to the time travel this novel is centered around. Generally, time travel as a plot device makes me uneasy. There is always something that doesn’t sit right with me, a loophole not discussed or explored, or the move back into the past erasing the entire story you just read (looking at you School for Psychics Book 2). However, in The Last Magician, it works. There isn’t a lot of digging into the science and there are no multiple timelines. Do something – the future is impacted. The story keeps it simple, which I appreciate, but doesn’t ignore the impact of changing the past.

If you are looking for a novel (and potentially series – stay tuned) to pull you in from front to back, this is the one. The Last Magician is a beautiful story and a new take on magic. The sights, sounds, and people feel familiar but with a unique flavor. This book will remain on my “recommend-to-a-friend” list.

Buy The Last Magician here on Amazon (or at your local bookstore)!

Have you read The Last Magician? Let’s talk about it. Leave a comment or send me a message letting me know what you thought of the novel.