Book review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 13, 1995
Source: Purchased

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…

Back in 2017, I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic. I loved that book so much and decided that I needed to read Practical Magic asap. Well, fast forward a year and a half, and I found it at a used bookstore. Fast forward another three months and I’ve finally read it. It only took constant (though well-meaning and affectionate) prodding from one of my friends, who wanted to borrow it.

Almost every time I pick up a book by Alice Hoffman, I get the same feeling. It happened with Seventh Heaven, it happened with The Rules of Magic, and it happened again here with Practical Magic. Maybe it’s because all of these books feature at least a little bit of magical realism, but they just have this vibe about them that transports me right to where the characters are.

I loved all of our characters here — Sally and Gillian, Antonia and Kylie, Frances and Jet, and even minor characters like Gideon, Ben, and Gary. This book is very heavy on relationships, both platonic and romantic. I think that my favorite thing about the book was the bond between the sisters. Antonia and Kylie’s love for each other, in particular, really made the book for me.

Something that surprised me when I was reading was all of the emotions I felt! I did not expect this book to pull at my heart like this, but there were a number of times when I was reading that I almost cried!

I’d highly, highly recommend this book if you’re at all interested in magical realism or family bonds.

#killingthetbr: three months on shelf
#romanceopoly: faraway land
#ps19: a book with a two-word title

Have you read Practical Magic? Have you seen the movie? Should I drop everything and watch it now?Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Goodreads ⭐ Amazon ⭐

Decades before the events of Practical Magic, Franny, Jet, and Vincent are just three kids trying to navigate life in 1950s New York City.  Their mother, Susanna, has forbidden them from doing anything that might reveal their magical bloodline: no black clothes, no cats, no crows, no magical books.  Most importantly, due to an old curse, no falling in love.  The children grow accustomed to these rules.

But when their mysterious Aunt Isabelle offers to host them for the summer at her Massachusetts home, the children experience freedom like they’ve never known.  Not only are they allowed to run around at all hours of the day and night, but Isabelle also teaches them about their magical abilities and the perils of trying to ignore them.  Despite Isabelle’s lessons, the children are still no closer to breaking the curse – will any of these characters be able to find love?

Have you ever loved a book so much that you didn’t even know what to say about it? From the first chapter, I loved these children.  As we watched them grow up, I wanted to keep them safe from the heartaches that I knew were coming, but I also wanted them to learn and grow into better people.  Once I hit Part 2, I was fully immersed in this story and could hardly put it down.

I would love to go into a detailed review about this.  How the writing flows and the story moves fluidly from town to town, from decade to decade.  How much I loved every single character.  How the plot twists were just twisty enough to keep me on my toes, but never out of place or over-the-top.  But I feel like I’d be doing readers a disservice to get into the plot.  This book is so good that I think it’s best to go in nearly blind.

I think I’m in the small minority of people that have neither read Practical Magic nor seen the movie, but I need to remedy that ASAP.  I only just finished this book and I already want to go back to this universe.

Final rating: ★★★★★

I was invited by Simon & Schuster to read The Rules of Magic in exchange for an honest review.  I received my copy via Netgalley.

Book queue

It’s been a busy three days when it comes to galleys!  Thinking that I’d only be approved for one or two if I was lucky, I requested a whole ton of books on Netgalley earlier this week.  Then, as I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business and trying to do the job that I actually get paid for, my phone started blowing up.  Seriously, notification after notification was rolling in and I had no idea what was going on.

I had a constant flow of emails from Netgalley, which was so unexpected!  Not only was I approved for five galleys that I’d requested, but I was invited to read Alice Hoffman’s new book!

I’m already knee-deep in The Inevitable Collision of Birdie & Bash, so, what’s next?

What’s next in your reading queue?

   Goodreads   Amazon

I read Hoffman’s Seventh Heaven a few months ago and absolutely adored it. I put a few of her books on hold at my library and was happy to get an email pretty shortly after that this one was ready for me. From my previous experience with Hoffman, I kept expecting that magical realism to show up. It was my favorite part of Seventh Heaven, and there is a distinct lack of it in The Museum of Extraordinary Things. I think that, more than probably anything else, soured my opinion of this book.

As the book begins, we learn that Coralie’s father, the Professor, runs the Museum of Extraordinary Things on Coney Island. The Museum houses wonders from across the globe: a large tortoise, tropical birds, a human mermaid, a wolfman, a butterfly girl, and acrobat brothers, among many other exhibits. Professor Sardie is always on the hunt for the latest and greatest wonder that will allow him to compete with the lavish Dreamland, not far from his Museum. Sardie is a strict man, often cruel, and while Coralie has obeyed him her entire life, she longs to get out and experience the world herself.

Meanwhile, a photographer named Eddie Cohen lurks around Manhattan, photographing disasters, criminals, and arrests for the papers. As a child, he and his father worked as tailors with many other Russian Orthodox immigrants. Not content to spend exhausting hours locked in a factory for mere pennies, Eddie soon turned to more questionable means of earning money, discovering at a young age that he had a talent for finding missing people and solving unsolvable crimes. As an adult, Eddie has given up on this profession in exchange for his photography, but is unwillingly drawn back in as a friend of his father’s requests assistance in finding his missing daughter.

You would think that a book set in 1911 New York, amidst corruption, gangsters, prostitution, and “museums” showcasing manufactured monsters might be interesting. And it was, I guess. But the setting just didn’t do it for me. When I read historical fiction, I want it to feel natural, like all these events just happen to occur in the background of our characters’ story. I can’t fault Hoffman’s writing, and I can’t say that I didn’t learn a thing or two of New York’s history while I was reading, but the setting felt haphazardly thrown in. Eddie just happens to end up at the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. The Dreamland fire just happens to start while he’s in the neighborhood. None of it felt genuine. None of it felt quite right.

When it comes to the characters, I was more than a little disappointed. While I felt a connection with Eddie and could understand the motivation for nearly all of his actions, I can’t say that I felt the same about Coralie. While, sure, I felt absolutely awful about everything she’d been through in her life, that’s about all that I felt. I felt more strongly for Eddie’s dog, Mitts, than I did for Coralie. I felt more strongly about many of the Museum’s wonders, who may have only appeared on a few pages, than I did for Coralie. Outside of wanting her to get a happy ending, I was interested in her story only in relation to Eddie’s. (I was not a fan of their romance, but I did enjoy their interactions.) My disinterest in Coralie definitely impacted my reading speed, as I found myself distracted whenever I came to one of her chapters.

Something happened toward the end of this book, though, that made me rethink my previous opinions: it actually got really interesting. While I had been crawling through this book, getting distracted every few pages and leaving to check Facebook or Goodreads or Instagram, suddenly I was flying through the pages and wondering how exactly everything would resolve with only 50 – 40 – 30 – 20 pages remaining. That’s what I remember about Hoffman. That’s what I’m looking for in a book. So, while this book isn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever read, I’m still giving it a solid three stars. There are books that do this sort of setting and this sort of plot better, but this one is still worth a read.

Final rating: 


For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #10: a New York Times bestseller