Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆.5
Title: The Rules of Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: Practical Magic #0.2
Genre: Magical Realism/Historical
Audience: Adult
Format: Hardcover
Length: 367 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Source: Library
Content Warnings: death, grief, drug use

SYNOPSIS

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy.

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this more than Practical Magic because the magic felt more real and tangible in this book. I loved the 1960s setting, the sibling relationships, and learning more about the mysterious and strange Owens family in general.

However, I made a mistake by reading this back to back with Practical Magic within a week. The tangential writing style is difficult to binge, and I wish I had taken more time getting through this story. I was also very aware of a few inconsistencies with Practical Magic. They’re understandable considering the 20+ year time gap between publishing Practical Magic and this second book in the series, but as a result the curse and story’s message about love were a bit confusing and contradictory.

I enjoy reading about the Owens family, and I want to read the rest of the series to get the full family saga.

Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: Practical Magic
Author: Alice Hoffman
Series: Practical Magic #1
Genre: Magical Realism
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 286 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: July 1, 1995
Source: Personal collection
Content Warnings: sexual harassment, death, grief

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…

MY THOUGHTS

I liked this, but it did not live up to my expectations based on watching the movie (about 15 years ago). I guess I expected the book to be witchier. I thought this was a witchy, paranormal fantasy, but it’s actually an understated magical realism where you’re never quite sure if actual magic is at play, or mere superstitions and coincidences.

The writing style is interesting. It’s very descriptive, with long paragraphs and little dialogue, reminiscent of stream-of-consciousness writing, but in third person. The book also does not have traditional chapters; instead, it’s divided into large sections with very few stopping points. This unique writing style made it easy to get lost in the story, but it also made it hard to get back into when I had to put the book down.

Overall, this is a heartwarming, multigenerational tale of unusual women and everyday magic, even if the plot is a bit slow and meandering. I enjoyed reading about the Owens family, the sister relationships, and the magical ties that bring family back together.

Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Malibu Rising
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical / Family Drama
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Julia Whelan
Length: 11 hours (384 pages)
Publisher: Ballantine Books; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: June 1, 2021
Source: Libro.fm ALC
Recommended for fans of: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Content Warnings: infidelity, alcoholism, absent parent, death of a parent

SYNOPSIS

Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, their lives will change forever.

Malibu: August, 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over—especially as the offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud—because it is long past time to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own—including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them… and what they will leave behind.

MY THOUGHTS

This is my favorite Taylor Jenkins Reid book yet, after reading Evelyn Hugo and Daisy Jones. The way she writes characters is so nuanced and compelling, they truly feel like real people.

I’m not normally a fan of family dramas, but I couldn’t stop listening to this audiobook. The story is told in dual timeline, alternating between the night of the Riva party in 1983 alternating with flashbacks to the parents meeting all the way up to the “present.” The tension is expertly built chapter to chapter as the story builds towards an explosive and emotional crescendo.

Julia Whelan’s narration was fantastic and brought me to tears at multiple points in the story. All of the Riva kids made great strides toward self-discovery during the night of the party, but I especially love Nina’s growth. Highly highly recommend. This is a top book of the year for me.

Thank you to Libro.fm and the publisher for the ALC.

Review: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Daisy Jones & the Six
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: full cast
Length: 9 hours
Publisher: Ballantine Books; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: March 4, 2019
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: 70s rock
Content Warnings:

SYNOPSIS

A gripping novel about the whirlwind rise of an iconic 1970s rock group and their beautiful lead singer, revealing the mystery behind their infamous break up.

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the real reason why they split at the absolute height of their popularity…until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go-Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Another band getting noticed is The Six, led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend. 

MY THOUGHTS

This book was made for audio. The full cast performance is PHENOMENAL. There’s a reason this book is suggested so often when people ask for audiobook recommendations!

Once again, Taylor Jenkins Reid writes such a compelling narrative that I want to read/watch real documentaries about the era and subject matter, this time classic rock bands from the 70s. This book will make you want to turn up some Fleetwood Mac.

This was a slow burning story full of tension. Each character was fully realized, and I loved the juxtaposition of the different POVs. The interview-style writing led to some humorous moments when different character had different recollections about the same events, and heartbreaking moments when multiple sides of the same story revealed miscommunications that could’ve changed everything for the band.

I thought the big twist at the end could’ve been more impactful. It just didn’t hit right for me. But I absolutely love TJR’s storytelling, and I think she is a masterful writer.

Review: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutano

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: Dial A for Aunties
Author: Jesse Q. Sutano
Genre: Contemporary Fiction (Mystery/Humor/Romance)
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Risa Mei
Length: 10 hours (320 pages)
Publisher: Berkley; Penguin Audio
Release Date: April 27, 2021
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: Finlay Donovan is Killing It, Arsenic and Adobo

SYNOPSIS

A hilariously quirky novel that is equal parts murder mystery, rom-com, and a celebration of mothers and daughters as well as a deep dive into Chinese-Indonesian culture, by debut author Jesse Q. Sutanto.

1 (accidental) murder
2 thousand wedding guests
3 (maybe) cursed generations
4 meddling Asian aunties to the rescue!

When Meddelin Chan ends up accidentally killing her blind date, her meddlesome mother calls for her even more meddlesome aunties to help get rid of the body. Unfortunately, a dead body proves to be a lot more challenging to dispose of than one might anticipate, especially when it is accidentally shipped in a cake cooler to the over-the-top billionaire wedding Meddy, her Ma, and aunties are working, at an island resort on the California coastline. It’s the biggest job yet for their family wedding business—“Don’t leave your big day to chance, leave it to the Chans!”—and nothing, not even an unsavory corpse, will get in the way of her auntie’s perfect buttercream cake flowers.

But things go from inconvenient to downright torturous when Meddy’s great college love—and biggest heartbreak—makes a surprise appearance amid the wedding chaos. Is it possible to escape murder charges, charm her ex back into her life, and pull off a stunning wedding all in one weekend?

MY THOUGHTS

I loved this so much. It was absolutely hilarious and kept me laughing out loud throughout! I am very into the current trend of humorous mystery/crime books.

The story was antics upon antics. If something could go wrong, it did, in the most hilarious fashion. I also loved the family dynamics, the second chance romance, Meddelin’s new confidence, and the way that a book about accidental murder and hiding a body always felt delightfully ridiculous.

Review: Leave It to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Leave it to Psmith
Author: P.G. Wodehouse
Series: Psmith #4
Genre: Humor
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Jonathan Cecil
Length: 9 hours
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Release Date: November 30, 1923
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: The Importance of Being Earnest, Shakespearean comedies, Clue

SYNOPSIS

Ronald Psmith (“the ‘p’ is silent, as in pshrimp”) is always willing to help a damsel in distress. So when he sees Eve Halliday without an umbrella during a downpour, he nobly offers her an umbrella, even though it’s one he picks out of the Drone Club’s umbrella rack. Psmith is so besotted with Eve that, when Lord Emsworth, her new boss, mistakes him for Ralston McTodd, a poet, Psmith pretends to be him so he can make his way to Blandings Castle and woo her. And so the farce begins: criminals disguised as poets with a plan to steal a priceless diamond necklace, a secretary who throws flower pots through windows, and a nighttime heist that ends in gunplay. How will everything be sorted out? Leave it to Psmith!

MY THOUGHTS

This was such a delightful read! I never would have read this if it hadn’t been picked by my book club, but I’m so glad I read this classic British comedy of errors.

I was a little overwhelmed by all the characters at first, but I adored the antics, mix ups, and mistaken identities. The humor was ridiculous and over the top, but I loved it. I laughed out loud multiple times, especially the scene with the chrysanthemum!

I highly recommend this for anyone looking for a lighter classic and a good laugh.

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆.5
Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Genre: Historical/Contemporary
Audience: Adult
Format: ebook
Length: 388 pages
Publisher: Atria
Release Date: June 13, 2017
Source: Library
Recommended for fans of: old Hollywood, celebrity gossip
Content Warnings: sexual assault/rape, domestic abuse, suicide, cancer, infidelity, manipulation, car accident, homophobia

SYNOPSIS

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life.

When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

MY THOUGHTS

I found this book entirely engrossing from the beginning. When I wasn’t reading, this book was constantly on my mind, and I counted down the minutes until I could pick it back up. I was captivated by Evelyn’s early life during the Golden Age of Hollywood and her ruthlessness to do what it took to get was she wanted (fame and love, in that order). She was a shrewd, calculating, manipulative, horrible person, but I just loved reading her story, which made me want to look up some real life Old Hollywood tea.

The pacing slowed a bit in the middle, and I found Evelyn’s relationship with Celia to get a bit repetitive, which is why I docked half a star from my rating.

The ending really surprised me. I liked how Evelyn’s story was told in dual timeline through the lens of the interview with Monique. I would’ve liked a little bit more of Monique’s story, but I appreciated the character development we saw as a result of spending time with Evelyn.

I totally understand the hype for this book and author now. This is a story that will stick with me. It was my first Taylor Jenkins Reid book, but it will not be my last.

Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Jorgeana Marie, Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, Michael Crouch
Length: 9 hours (391 pages)
Publisher: Philomel Books; Penguin Random House Audio
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Source: Library
Content Warnings: rape/sexual assault, war, violence, death of loved ones

SYNOPSIS

While the Titanic and Lusitania are both well-documented disasters, the single greatest tragedy in maritime history is the little-known January 30, 1945 sinking in the Baltic Sea by a Soviet submarine of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German cruise liner that was supposed to ferry wartime personnel and refugees to safety from the advancing Red Army. The ship was overcrowded with more than 10,500 passengers — the intended capacity was approximately 1,800 — and more than 9,000 people, including 5,000 children, lost their lives.

Sepetys (writer of ‘Between Shades of Gray’) crafts four fictionalized but historically accurate voices to convey the real-life tragedy. Joana, a Lithuanian with nursing experience; Florian, a Prussian soldier fleeing the Nazis with stolen treasure; and Emilia, a Polish girl close to the end of her pregnancy, converge on their escape journeys as Russian troops advance; each will eventually meet Albert, a Nazi peon with delusions of grandeur, assigned to the Gustloff decks. 

MY THOUGHTS

This was a very compelling historical fiction book about an overlooked piece of World War II history: refugees in Germany fleeing from the Soviet invasion at the end of the war and the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustlaff. I had previously never heard of this tragedy even though it is the deadliest single ship sinking in maritime history.

The narrative is told in short chapters that alternate between 4 POVs. While each character comes from a very different background and was affect by the war in different ways, they were all running away from something and running to something else. The characters developed a tenuous trust as they traveled together, but tensions were always high because every had dangerous secrets.

This book portrays a stark view of the horrors of war with no time for people to process trauma while trying to survive. I think Ruta Sepetys does a fantastic job of making difficult subject matter accessible to young adult readers.

Review: My True Love Gave to Me ed. by Stephanie Perkins

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆
Title: My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories
Editor: Stephanie Perkins
Authors: Stephanie Perkins, Holly Black, Ally Carter, Matt de la Pena, Gayle Forman, Jenny Han, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire, Rainbow Rowell, Laini Taylor, Kiersten White
Genre: Holiday romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Length: 13 hours (321 pages)
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin; Listening Library
Release Date: October 9, 2014
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for fans of: holiday books, short story anthologies, any of the included authors

SYNOPSIS

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins. Whether you enjoy celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or New Year’s there’s something here for everyone. So curl up by the fireplace and get cozy. You have twelve reasons this season to stay indoors and fall in love.

MY THOUGHTS

This is a really sweet collection of holiday romance stories that rounds up several well-known YA authors. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a fantasy tales were included in this anthology when I expected it to be exclusively contemporary. I also appreciated that not every story was about Christmas (although the majority were). As with most anthologies like this, there were some short stories I loved, some that were duds, and most were somewhere in between, but I enjoyed this collection much more than most of the full-length holiday novels I tried to read this year. Below are my individual ratings for each story:

“Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell ☆☆☆☆
“The Lady and the Fox” by Kelly Link ☆☆
“Angels in the Snow” by Matt de la Pena ☆☆☆.5
“Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me” by Jenny Han ☆☆
“It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” by Stephanie Perkins ☆☆☆☆
“Your Temporary Santa” by David Levithan ☆☆
“Krampuslauf” by Holly Black ☆☆☆☆.5
“What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” by Gayle Forman ☆.5
“Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire ☆
“Welcome to Christmas, CA” by Kiersten White ☆☆☆.5
“Star of Bethlehem” by Ally Carter ☆☆☆
“The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor ☆☆☆☆

Review: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Leave the World Behind
Author: Rumaan Alam
Genre: Literary Fiction
Audience: Adult
Format: ALC
Length: ~7.5 hours (241 pages)
Publisher: Ecco
Release Date: October 6, 2020
Source: Libro.fm
Recommended for fans of: pre-apocalyptic fiction

SYNOPSIS

A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong.

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another? 

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.

MY THOUGHTS

This book will not be for everyone, but I thought it was incredible. Another review of this book introduced me to the term “pre-apocalyptic,” and that is exactly what this book is. It’s about the beginning of the end of the world, but it’s also about the mundanity of everyday life and how people react to disruptions to the status quo on both small and large scales.

A family is on vacation staying at an Airbnb. Then they lose Internet and cell service. Then an older black couple claiming to be the owners of the home unexpectedly arrive with news of a blackout in New York City. But that’s it. That’s all they know. And as the next few days unfold, the tension and uncertainty increase as the characters remain physically and technologically isolated from the rest of the world.

A lot of negative reviews of this book complain that nothing happens and there’s no resolution. That’s kind of the point. The reader is given a few hints about what might be going on in the world, but just like the characters, there is no certainty. A lot of what happens is eerie, unsettling, and even horrifying, but without the ability to access news about what is going on, the characters cling to normalcy as best as they can.

I listened to this audiobook the week of the elections, and it felt a little too real. I could relate to the characters’ frustration with the lack of connection to the outside world because I was constantly checking my phone for news about the results and I was so worried something would happen and I wouldn’t know. I don’t read a lot of literary fiction, but I loved the way this beautifully written book explored issues of psychology, race, wealth, technology, and human connection.

Thank you to Libro.fm and HarperAudio for the ALC.