Review of Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman

I borrowed an audio copy of Alice Hoffman‘s Practical Magic through my local library. I finished it several days ago and forgot to write the review!

Description from Goodreads:

When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts’ mysterious and sometimes frightening powers — and as their own powers begin to surface — the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into “normal” society.

But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes — in the form of a menacing backyard ghost — the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift — and their key to a future of love and passion.

Review:

If you’ve seen the 1998 movie by the same name you know the plot of this book. It was fairly loyal to the book. Though the book isn’t quite as intense as the movie, preferring a more modulated and thoughtful tone that I very much enjoyed. I appreciated the realness of the sisters, especially when contrasted with the everyday occurrences of magic in their and their ancestors’ lives. I thought the writing was lyrical and the narration on the audiobook lovely to listen to.

Review of How to Save an Undead Life (The Beginner’s Guide to Necromancy #1), by Hailey Edwards

I borrowed an audio copy of How to Save an Undead Life (by Hailey Edwards) through Hoopla.

Description from Goodreads:

Grier Woolworth spends her nights weaving spooky tales of lost souls and tragedies for tourists on the streets of downtown Savannah. Hoop skirt and parasol aside, it’s not a bad gig. The pay is crap, but the tips keep the lights on in her personal haunted mansion and her pantry stocked with ramen. 

Life is about as normal as it gets for an ex-necromancer hiding among humans. Until the society that excommunicated Grier offers her a second chance at being more than ordinary. Too bad no one warned her the trouble with being extraordinary is it can get you killed. 

Review:

So, I just didn’t particularly care for this. I suppose it wasn’t bad, just not to my taste. I thought Grier was the perpetual victim and it got on my nerves. She basically spends the whole book walking heedlessly into danger, only to be saved by the strapping boy next door. She never confronted the powers that be about her situation (though she was smart enough to understand it) and then, at the end, there’s a bit about how she’s making plans of her own. But after a whole book of her floundering, I couldn’t believe a word of it. Plus, a new (and probably important character) was introduced IN THE LAST CHAPTER. 

But my biggest issue was that the whole book is predicated on the fact that Grier was supposed to have just gotten out of prison (a horrible, supernatural prison that she was never expected to leave). But the reader is just told this. It’s so remote that you forget about it. How to Save an Undead Life felt very much like a second book. As if there should be a first book that addresses how and why Grier went to prison. The whole thing felt very anchorless and baseless. I get that it’s supposed to be the mystery in the next book (or books), but the reader REALLY feels the lack of explanation in this book. 

A last small gripe, the title makes no sense to the book (as for as I can see). 

The writing and narration (by Rebecca Mitchell) were technically competent. The grammar and such is sound. No complaints on that front. All in all, others may like this more than me. But I’m glad to be finished with it.

Edit: I’ve just realized I’ve read another book by this author and in re-reading my review of it, I find that I had almost identical complaints. If I can help it, I won’t be making the mistake a third time.

Review of The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle

I borrowed an audio copy of The Ballad of Black Tom (by Victor LaValle) from my local library.

Description from Goodreads:

People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.

Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his black skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their trained cops. But when he delivers an occult page to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.

A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?

Review:

I found this a really powerful novella. It deftly shows how easily the injustice and cruelty of everyday racism can push even good men to monster-like acts. (I was going to say turn them into monsters. But I don’t think Tom is ever a monster; just emotionally beaten by the racial realities of the 1920s.) I found it especially poignant how, even after the fact, the primary white character erases Tom from the event, effectively hiding the embodiment of white America’s sins (and his own participation in it) from himself, rendering it moot. All in all, I found this atmospheric and evocative. Plus, Kevin R. Free did a great job with the narration. A+