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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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: 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: 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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Book Review: Under My Skin by Lisa Unger

Under My Skin

under my skin book cover

Title: Under My Skin
Author: Lisa Unger
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Date of Publication: October 2, 2018
Publisher: Park Row


A year ago, Poppy’s husband was brutally murdered while out for an early-morning jog. Poppy can’t remember what happened to her in the days following his death. She hasn’t been the same ever since.  At night, she’s having terrible nightmares, and during the day, she keeps seeing a hooded man who follows her everywhere. But how much of this is real? Are the nightmares memories? Does the hooded man even exist? But, most importantly, does Poppy have buried memories of who killed her husband, and if she does, does she even want to remember?

Poppy is a photographer, and though she hasn’t photographed anything since her husband’s death, her perspective—the way she sees the world—is coloured by her artist’s perspective. She evaluates the people around her, not just the persona that they show to the world, but who they really are. What lies Under their skin.  This unique perspective was more noticeable earlier in the book, and as the story’s events unfold, it becomes clear that Poppy isn’t quite as observant as she believed herself to be.

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Book Review: Martha Kite Among the Congregation in Exile by D.W. Cropper

Martha kite book cover

martha kite book cover

Title: Martha Kite Among the Congregation in Exile
Author: D.W. Cropper
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Date of Publication: April 20, 2018
Publisher: Reliquary Press


Martha Kite, a former pickpocket and actress, is hired by the Crown to rescue a supernaturally gifted child from a group of religious fanatics called the Congregation in Exile.  But Father Simon Pitch will not be discouraged, and he will stop at nothing to resurrect the Great and Terrible Lord, even if that means killing the gifted child’s “ungifted” twin sister. Martha Kite is driven to protect and rescue both children, but at what cost?

While the story has a very quickly paced plot, the major appeal for this book is the language.  D. W. Cropper makes use of an elaborately crafted narrative and complex language.  In the beginning, I found it hard to follow because of the heavy tone and dense descriptions, which were at times overly complicated.  I got used to it as the plot progressed and the story picked up.  While complex, the book is very well written, and Cropper does an excellent job of setting a dark and twisted stage for his horror story to play out on.

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Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr Penumbra

mr penumbra book cover

Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Genre: Literary, Science Fiction
Date of Publication: October 2, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Unemployed and desperate, Clay Jannon takes a night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  Mr. Penumbra is odd, there are rarely any customers, and Clay isn’t permitted to read any of the books.  But of course, he doesn’t obey that particular rule, and he quickly discovers that this place is a lot more than just a bookstore…

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Book Review: The Dark Beneath the Ice by Amelinda Bérubé

Cover photo

the dark beneath the ice

Title: The Dark Beneath the Ice 
Author: Amelinda Bérubé
Genre: Young Adult, Horror,
Date of Publication: August 1, 2018
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire


Marianne’s life is falling apart. It isn’t because her parents are getting divorced, because her mother had a psychotic break, or even because her best friend moved away. It’s because strange and terrifying things keep happening whenever she’s around. Light bulbs burst. Mirrors crack. Furniture moves. Convinced she’s possessed, Marianne tries to communicate with the demon inside of her. This turns out to be a horrible mistake…

A major strength of The Dark Beneath the Ice is the language Bérubé uses as she describes the horrors that Marianne is experiencing.  She describes the world she’s created through lyrical prose.  The frequent use of water and ice imagery—which ties back to the title perfectly–is haunting, yet beautiful.

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Book Review: Dogwalker by Arthur Bradford

Dogwalker

Dogwalker Book Cover

Title: Dogwalker
Author: Arthur Bradford
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
Date of Publication: August 27, 2002
Publisher: Vintage


Dogwalker is an off-beat collection of short stories that share a similar tone and style.  While some of the stories are realistic and others are outright outlandish, they feel like they could all be set in the same world—one that mirrors our own, but is a little warped, like we’re looking through a funhouse mirror and something isn’t quite right.  Some of the stories are ridiculous (dogs giving birth to babies?!), which makes for an entertaining read.

I appreciated the absolute strangeness of each story. I never knew where the stories were going.  However, some stories end abruptly, with seemingly no resolution or purpose to them. I both enjoyed this, since it added to the quirky nature of the book, and I didn’t like it, because I wanted to know what would happen next!

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Book Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Bone Witch

The Bone Witch book cover

Title: The Bone Witch 
Author: Rin Chupeco
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Date of Publication: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire


The Bone Witch is the story of a young girl, Tea, whose life is turned upside down when her brother dies. But her life isn’t turned upside down because he died. It’s turned upside down because she accidentally brings him back from the dead.  Tea discovers that she is a bone witch, a rare and feared type of asha unlike the other witches in her village.  Tea must move to the city to learn how to harness her power.  She becomes an apprentice to the only other bone witch she’s ever met.

The Bone Witch is a dark, setting-driven young adult fantasy with lyrical prose.

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