Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic

Practical magic book cover

Title: Practical Magic (Practical Magic # 2)
Author: Alice Hoffman
Genre: Fantasy, Literary
Date of Publication: August 5, 2003
Publisher: Penguin

 


Practical Magic follows Owens sisters Gillian and Sally as they live their lives.  They grow up in a town in Massachusetts where their family is shunned by the entire town.  It is believed that the women in their household are responsible for every terrible (or even mildly inconvenient) thing that happens.  As adults, the sisters part ways, escaping the town to find better lives, but they’re inexplicably drawn back together. 

Practical Magic

I fell in love with the writing style within the first few lines.  Hoffman is both eloquent and tantalizing with each word that she has so carefully selected.  It begins with a narrative setting the scene, but around fifty pages in, I realized that the whole book was like this. It’s too much narrative. Pages after pages of long paragraphs, with very little action to move the plot forward. Every now and then there is dialogue, but the nature of the narrative pulls the reader away from what is happening. I couldn’t truly connect with what was happening.

Not only is the book beautifully written, but it is beautifully twisted. This is revealed early on in the story, and was one of Practical Magic’s saving graces for me. I probably wouldn’t have finished it if it hadn’t had that darkness seeping into an otherwise seemingly innocuous story.  

I love how Hoffman incorporated little tidbits of witchcraft into her descriptions of things:

“Never presume August is a  safe or reliable time of the year. It is the season of reversals, when the birds no longer sing in the morning and the evenings are made up of equal parts golden light and black clouds. The rock-solid and the tenuous can easily exchange places until everything you know can be questioned and put into doubt.”

If only the entire book had been passages like this, without any pesky plot to get in the way of my enjoyment.

I had a hard time relating to the characters. They’re all quite selfish (which, weirdly, is normally relatable for me ;)), but they had very unlikable characteristics attributed to each of them.  I didn’t appreciate how each one of them (aside from Sally) was preoccupied with their looks. Even Hoffman, in her describing of characters, never spent much time talking about their other traits. The way Gillian has literally every man falling head over heels in love with her was a tad tedious.  There was also too much of this “falling in love at first sight” nonsense. It was amusing with Gillian, because she did it a million times, but every character did it, which made it less amusing and more aggravating.

Mild spoilers between the glasses!

Spoilers between the Glasses!

There isn’t much to the plot, other than the characters falling in love many times. I did appreciate the character development between the younger sisters, Antonia and Kylie, but it didn’t quite make up for the irritating first nine tenths of the book.

When Gillian kills her boyfriend and buries him in the backyard, I thought, Finally! This is getting interesting! But not much of interest happened after that. Not even when someone came knocking on their door to investigate…

Spoilers between the Glasses!

I recommend this book to those who love an engrossing writing style, but aren’t expecting a lot in the form of plot.  The characters are a major appeal for this book, and it’s hard to determine who will like them and who will not. I suggest you give the book a shot if you’re wanting to read a book about witchcraft that isn’t a horror or a romance.

starstarstar

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Goodreads | Amazon

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Book Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

There's Someone Inside Your House Book Cover

theres someone inside your house book cover

Title: There’s Someone Inside Your House
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Horror, Young Adult
Date of Publication: September 26, 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers


In There’s Someone Inside Your House, teenage Makani leaves her dark past behind in Hawaii and moves to a small town in Nebraska to live with her grandmother. It looks like her life is finally turning around.  She makes new friends and even has a budding romance with a mysterious loner named Ollie. But this Halloween brings a lot more than just dressing up and carving jack-o’-lanterns.  A serial killer is targeting students from Osbourne High.  Makani must find the murderer before he targets her or someone she cares about.

Book cover

I was disappointed in this book. Marketed as being like the next Scream, which is one of my favourite movies of all time, I was expecting something scary, funny, and self-aware. Unfortunately, There’s Someone Inside Your House was none of these things.

This book isn’t particularly frightening.  The murders are gory and creative, but that isn’t the reason why I read a horror book. I read for the characters. I want to get lost in the story and genuinely fear for the lives of the people I care about. After reading this book, I realized that Perkins could have killed off every single character and I wouldn’t have cared. In fact, that would have possibly made it more enjoyable, if only in the sense that it would have been unexpected and deliciously disturbing surprise.

I’m a huge fan of Perkins’ other works – particularly Anna and the French Kiss.  I would have forgiven this book for not having a great plot and not being scary had I been invested in the romantic plotline.  Perkins spends so much time developing it, yet it fell flat to me. I did not care one way or the other if Makani and Ollie ended up together. It seemed like Perkins was trying too hard to make Ollie a lovable outcast, and he just ended up being a stereotype.

I wanted more about Makani’s friendships. I wanted to see more of her relationship with family. I wanted to see her go to school, interact with her friends and teachers, before the murders started.  I think Perkins needed to spend more time building who Makani is on a personal level, and less time building what her romantic relationship with Ollie was.

One thing about slasher books and movies is that the main character is supposed to be relatable. She’s supposed to be the voice of reason.  However, there’s a serial killer on the loose and Makani barely notices. All she cares about (at first) is her romance. This is all well and fine, yet she’s the main character. This is acceptable behaviour in a zany best friend, but not in a main character.

Spoilers between the glasses!
Spoilers between the Glasses!

 

The killer ended up being someone that I only remembered being briefly introduced earlier. We found out who the killer was fairly early on, so I assumed there would be a twist or two before the end of the book. But there wasn’t one. I’d thought, since the book was compared to Scream, that maybe he had a partner, and that the partner was someone that the reader knew more intimately.  Nope.

Also, the reason why the killer was killing everybody was a little murky.  They had a few explanations as the story progressed as Makani and her friends tried to figure out why he was murdering people, but the explanations got more and more ridiculous. The final rationale was just as silly. Essentially, he didn’t want people moving on with their lives and leaving town after they graduated.  This explanation is unsatisfactory for me, and Perkins didn’t spend much time supporting this in the text.

 

Spoilers between the Glasses!

The main strength of this book is the language. Perkins has a unique and engaging writing style, which unfortunately wasn’t quite strong enough to make up for the unlikable characters and uninteresting plot.

I honestly don’t think I can recommend this book.  The romance is unimpressive, and the mystery itself is not very engaging. This book is quite short and is a very quick read, so I will let you decide for yourself.

starstar

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Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: Tomorrow’s World: Darkly Humorous Tales from the Future by Guy Portman

Tomorrow's World

Tomorrow's World Book Cover

Title: Tomorrow’s World: Darkly Humorous Tales from the Future
Author: Guy Portman
Genre: Science Fiction, Satire
Date of Publication: November 22, 2018
Publisher: Self-published


Set in the not-too-distant future, Tomorrow’s World is filled with little snippets of what reality could look like.  This novel is a clever satire that projects current socio-political trends into a future where technology plays an even more critical role in societal function.

Tomorrow’s World features many time jumps throughout the narrative. Sometimes there’s just a paragraph for one year, and then there’s a leap to the subsequent year. This makes for an entertaining read. We get to follow one potential future and see how culture, politics, and everything else could evolve (or maybe devolve) over time. This novel is quite clearly a satire, making sardonic statements about the world we live in.

While one of the book’s strengths is that it spans over the course of a long period of time, it still follows two main characters.  However, the characters are not the focus.  This book is heavily setting-driven.  That said, its strength is also its weakness. We spend so little time in one year before jumping to the next that we don’t really get to follow Terrence or Walter as closely as I would have liked. The reader is disconnected from these main characters. While I understand who they are on a superficial level, we don’t get to delve deeper.  However, with a satire, maybe this is the author’s point. With an increase in superficiality and religions like “rampant consumerism” emerging (LOL), maybe having protagonists that don’t have much going on beneath the surface is the author’s intent. Nevertheless, I didn’t mind the two-dimensional characters as much as I do with other books, because, as I clearly stated before, the strength of this book lies in the writing and the elaborate tomorrow’s world that Portman has painstakingly crafted.

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Book Review: Delivering Virtue by Brian Kindall

delivering virtue book cover

delivering virtue book cover

Title: Delivering Virtue
Author: Brian Kindall
Genre: Fantasy, Literary
Date of Publication: November 7, 2015
Publisher: Diving Boy Books


When Didier Rain, a broke scoundrel, is approached to fulfill a prophecy foretold by the The Church of the Restructured Truth, the offer is too good to pass up. He must transport the baby Virtue, the church’s prophet’s child bride, over a thousand miles across the western pioneer trail.  During his journey, he meets many peculiar and interesting characters, and he just so happens to learn something about himself along the way.

Delivering Virtue is an 1854 Western historical fiction, a fantasy, an adventure, an allegory. It’s definitely a genre-bender.  Readers need to approach this book with an open mind. I have to admit there were a few times I was taken aback, because I thought I’d known where the story was going (and I’d clearly had no idea).  This is a book that you can’t read too literally. There are quite a few WTF moments, but you just have to remember it’s allegory and try not to be too traumatized by what Didier does.

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Book Review: Ashes of Retribution by L. J. Andrews

Ashes of Retribution book cover

Title: Ashes of Retribution
Author: L. J. Andrews
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Date of Publication: June 28, 2018
Publisher: 4 Arrows


Adira lives in a dystopian world where people have been divided in two groups: the “Pure” and the “Impure”. The pure have no deformities, no marks on their bodies, no scars. The “Impure” could be anyone–from someone who has eyes that are two different colours to someone with a little scar on their left hand.  When Adira was a child, her maid was an “Impure”, and Adira ridiculed her for it. But when her maid was killed while protecting her, Adira realized that the impure are not that different after all. Now that she knows this, what is she willing to do about it?

It took me a bit of time to get into this book. I didn’t fall in love with Adira immediately, and I wasn’t entirely sure where the story was going. About fifty pages in, things got interesting, and I started to understand why Adira was the way she was.  Then, once she’s kidnapped by the Shadow Assassins, the book becomes unputdownable.

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Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula cover

Dracula book cover

Title: Dracula
Author: Bram Stoker 
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: 1897
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Format:
Audiobook,


Before reading Dracula, I had seen almost every iteration of it on television–from the original Bela Lugosi film to the remake TV series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  I have to say that, in this case, the book is better than the movie. Which movie, you ask? Every. Single. One.

I absolutely loved the writing style and the way that Stoker carefully cultivated a tense and bleak atmosphere. This entire book is written in epistolary style–through journal entries and letters and the occasional newspaper article. This in itself should make it challenging to craft an effectively dark and chilling atmosphere, which is required in any good horror novel. Yet somehow Stoker manages to, not only develop a unique voice for each of the characters, but to create that deep sense of foreboding that is so common in great horror books. I found certain passages spellbinding, and I was shocked to discover how a book that was written over a hundred years ago could still be terrifying. (Thanks to Renfield I’ll never look at a fly OR a spider the same way again).

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Book Review: Green Zone Jack by I. James Bertolina

Green Zone Jack Book

Green Zone Jack Book Cover

Title: Green Zone Jack
Author: I. James Bertolina
Genre: Action/Adventure
Date of Publication: July 13, 2018
Publisher: East Third Street Press, LLC


DSS Special Agent Payton Ladd is just about to go on a well-deserved vacation when he’s called back to the field. The nephew of an American senator has gone missing in Baghdad. Payton must go straight to the Green Zone to find him, but it won’t be easy.  Nobody tells the truth, everyone seems to be pushing their own agenda, and, most troubling of all, Payton is compelled to work with his ex-girlfriend, RSO Catherine McCabe, to solve the case.

Even though this book is filled with technical military jargon, it somehow manages to be very fast paced. There is a handy list of acronyms at the end of the novel.  However, for those of us who don’t have a military background, the language can be hard to follow.  I found myself having to put down the book every few minutes to do a Google search.  

That said, Bertolina doesn’t actually spend that much time discussing technical aspects. The plot is very fast paced–plunging forward without lingering on the complex terminology.  At times, I did want the story to move a little slower–particularly during action scenes. They often ended in less than a full page.  I would have appreciated longer and more detailed fight scenes.

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Book Review: Kill Creek by Scott Thomas

Kill Creek Book Cover

kill creek book cover

Title: Kill Creek
Author: Scott Thomas
Genre: Horror
Date of Publication: October 31, 2017
Publisher: Inkshares


World-renowned horror author Sam McGarver has writer’s block.  He hasn’t written anything in two years. So when he’s mysteriously invited to spend Halloween at an allegedly haunted house, he figures he has nothing to lose. When he gets there, he discovers that the reporter who invited him, infamous Wainwright of the website “WrightWire”, actually invited three other horror authors as well. All four of them write completely different types of horror, yet they’re all brought to the house for a group interview as a publicity stunt to increase sales of their future books. But when the sun goes down strange things start to happen in the house, and Sam starts to wonder—what if this house really is haunted?

Kill Creek brings Gothic horror into the modern era.  In the very first chapter, Sam McGarver, who is also a professor at the university, gives a lecture on the elements of true Gothic horror.  It did not go over my head that this book addresses all of these key components. The house on Kill Creek has a tragic, mysterious history that Thomas shares with the reader in the very prologue of the book. This sets the stage for the disturbing events that follow…

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Book Review: In the Night Wood by Dale Bailey

In The Night Wood

In the night wood book cover

Title: In the Night Wood
Author: Dale Bailey
Genre: Fantasy
Date of Publication: October 9, 2018
Publisher: John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


When he was just a young boy, Charles Hayden discovered a mysterious Victorian children’s book called “In the Night Wood”.  Years later, Charles is a failing scholar who is obsessed with the book that so greatly influenced his life. His wife is a distant relative of Caedmon Hollow, the author of “In the Night Wood”.  When she inherits Hollow’s home, he moves there with her to run away from their shared tragic past–the death of their six-year-old daughter.  Charles hopes that he can use this opportunity write a biography of Caedmon Hollow.  Digging deep into the past is never a good idea, however, and it quickly becomes apparent that “In the Night Wood” was inspired by the forest surrounding Hollow’s home.  But how much is truth and how much is fiction? 

The writing style is one of the book’s greatest strengths, and Caedmon Hollow’s Victorian-style house, the woods surrounding it, and the neighbouring town are all beautifully described.  However, I felt that the story somehow managed to feel too rushed, while very little actually happens. The story doesn’t have much substance.  In the Night Wood is quite short, but based on content, it could have easily been a novella or even a short story.

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Book Review: Ghost Town by Rachel Caine

Ghost Town book

Ghost Town Rachel Caine Book Cover

Title: Ghost Town
Author: Rachel Caine
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: The Morganville Vampires # 9

Date of Publication: November 2010
Publisher: New American Library


We’re back to Morganville for the ninth instalment of the Morganville Vampires book series!

Vampires and humans coexist (somewhat) peacefully in the sleepy town of Morganville, Texas.  During the day, Claire Danvers attends the local university, but at night she works for the mad, genius vampire Myrnin in his lab, where he mixes alchemy with science.  In this installment of the series, Claire and Myrnin “fix” the town’s security system, which insures that anyone who leaves Morganville immediately forgets about its uniqueness–namely, the fact that vampires roam the streets at night.  But something goes terribly wrong, and everyone starts to forget who they are. The fact that Claire’s boyfriend doesn’t recognize her is bad enough, but when vampires forget what they are and start to lose their inhibitions? Not yet plagued by memory loss, Claire must seek unlikely assistance in saving Morganville from itself.

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