The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (2017)

rules of magic hoffman

“Do as you will, but harm no one. What you give will be returned to you threefold. Fall in love whenever you can.” From the Owen Family Grimoire

The three Owens’ siblings — Franny, Jet, and Vincent — have always known they were different from other Manhattan children: with their child psychologist father who sees them as experiments and a mother who makes them follow harsh, incomprehensible rules and lies to them about her family history.

It is only when they become teenagers that just how different they are becomes clear: mind reading, talking to animals, ability to attract or repel people as they wished, and even occasional glimpses into the future are certainly not common gifts. When they approach their parents about these talents, they are told it is nothing, only nonsense. But the children know there is much, much more to it than that.

The year the oldest daughter, Franny, turns seventeen, an summer invitation arrives asking the teens to stay in Salem, Massachusetts with a Great-Aunt who lives in the Owen family ancestral home. All three readily agree to go, despite their father’s protests (their magic should have been nurtured out of them) and their mother’s protests ( they did not know what powerful forces they were tempting.) But the very existence of the invite and the reluctant acknowledgment from their parents that what they could do was magic is too thrilling to ignore.

The teenagers arrive in another world: a place where magical powers are common attributes; where their relatives are considered both cursed and capable of great power; and where they must face the knowledge that the paths they choose could have great consequences.

Franny is curious to know why her mother has lied to her children and hidden from her past. What made her mother so terrified of her children exploring their magical powers? It is in the local library that Franny learns of the curse on the Owens’ witches — cast down upon them more than three-hundred years ago from a women, heartbroken and abandoned– the curse: “ruination for any man who fell in love with them.”

Franny is desperate to know which rules she should follow, the request of the family’s Grimoire, that she “fall in love whenever you can,” or the threat of the family curse that warns of “ruination?” The answer, her beloved aunt tells her, is complicated. It lies in the actions of each member of their family and who they love, but to ignore the curse would be foolish and deeply dangerous.

When a series of accidents, heartbreaks, and deaths occur in quick succession after that summer the three siblings — suddenly alone — know that their magic has grave consequences and that what they choose to do with their powers can indeed ruin their loved ones, and themselves. All three must grapple with the family gifts and the family curse for the rest of their lives: shall they live in fear? In denial? With reckless abandon? What path would be best?

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The Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor (2017)

black tip shark

When she was twelve years old, Maeve Donnelly was bitten by a shark in the waters outside her Florida home. While this trauma would have left many fearful of sharks for the rest of their lives, the exact opposite was true: Maeve became obsessed with sharks. She made learning about them one of her greatest passions as a child and, as an adult, made protecting and studying them her life’s work.

Maeve’s other great passion was her first and only love, Daniel. Their love began when they were teens on their island home and continued until, in their early twenties, Maeve chose to move to Fiji to study sharks rather than stay with Daniel. Her choice and her absence led Daniel to have an affair that resulted in a baby daughter. That betrayal was too great for Maeve to forgive, she left Daniel and dedicated the next several years to shark research around the world. She channeled her grief and sadness into ground-breaking work; she kept her heart closed to all but her sharks.

“I’d been an island of my own making.” 78

When Maeve returns home to a job on her beloved Palermo Island after years away, she is shocked to find that Daniel and his daughter, Hazel, have moved back after Hazel’s mother’s sudden death. Outraged that he would invade her home and horrified that she would have to face — daily — him and his daughter, the little girl she could not help but feel should have been theirs; Maeve is determined to keep her distance.

But that proves to be much harder than she ever imagined. The island is small and her life and Daniel’s seemed destined to intersect. Soon, being so near to the man she had loved so deeply for so long, begins to weaken her resolve to keep him out of her life. In the end, it is Hazel and her open-heart and her curiosity for the ocean — so like Maeve’s when she was a girl — who breaks down Maeve’s walls. She “slips right over the falls” and back into Daniel’s arms.

“What we were doing was miraculous, as if we’d lost our way back then, had been blown wildly off course, and were finally rescuing ourselves, rescuing our life together.” 126

As she returns to her home, her work at a local marine conservancy, and to Daniel; Maeve begins to settle into a pattern that she cannot help but feels like coming home, the life that would have been if not for Daniel’s betrayal seven years previously. However, there are flaws in this “perfect” new life and, despite her best efforts, they begin to wear on Maeve. Daniel is perplexed by vigilant defense of the local marine life, hurt when it takes up her time, and he is out-right jealous at her plans to travel to Africa for further research.

The more these problems grow, the harder it is for Maeve to ignore the feeling that she is playing house, pretending to be Hazel’s mother and continuing her love affair with Daniel as if his betrayal had never happened. In order to preserve the illusion of perfection, Maeve fear she may have to change her life to suit theirs.

Maeve begins to worry that her relationship with Daniel is a “ghost” that she has been trying to “resurrect,” all the while ignoring that truth that he intends her to give up her hopes for her future — travel, research, work — to fit better into his visions of the future.

“I’d lived with the ghost of him. I’d made a nightly pastime of remembering and imagining him. Resurrecting what used to be. I’d circled back to the place where he’d been severed from my life, trying to graft him back on. What I loved was the memory of him, the hope of him. I loved a Daniel that I’d created, one that didn’t really exist except inside of me.” 256

 

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (2014)

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“There are not a finite number of things that can make you happy.” 163

The women in Eby Pim’s family are cursed. They are unhappy women, constantly furious that they do not have more — more money, more love, more admiration — and every one of them seems doomed to loose her husband while young. Upon these losses, generation after generation of women in Eby’s family come unhinged with grief, with all that they feel has been forever stolen from them, and they do not recover.

Eby, however, grows into a young woman who is steady and calm. When she marries for love, to a man named George who happens to be very wealthy; the jealous, grieving women in her life do everything they can to ruin her good fortune. So she and her new husband do they only thing they can think of: they buy a small set of cabins on a swampy lake in rural Georgia give all of the rest their money away.

“There was so much happiness in the world. It was everywhere. It was free. Eby never understood why some people, people like her family, simply refused to take it.” 6

With nothing to extort from her, Eby’s family disowns her but Eby and George build something better: they build a family made up of visitors and locals who are drawn to the magic of their Lost Lake resort. Lost Lake, run with love, acceptance, and understanding by the Pim’s becomes a place of refuge, happiness, and contentment for those weary souls who visit. Having spent a life of love with her husband, surrounded by so many in need her, Eby remains strong when George suddenly dies. The family curse to be ruined by grief seems to have passed her by.

Fast forward fifteen year, when Kate Pheris — Eby’s grandniece — losses her young husband in an accident, it seems that she may too fall victim to the grieving curse and crumble under her loss. But a rare bit of magic changes the course of her life; she finds a long-lost invitation to join her Great Aunt Eby at Lost Lake and knows instantly it is a place both she and her daughter, Devin, can go and heal.

So Kate and Devin arrive at Lost Lake and find they are welcome to come there to rest and heal, but sadly the resort is open for only one last summer. As the summer passes, Kate and Devin fall more and more in love with the aging, fading resort that has brought them back to themselves and one another, and they are determined to save it…for they know there are many more lost souls still in need of its healing magic.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand (2017)

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In The Identicals Elin Hilderbrand cleverly re-imagines The Parent Trap for grown-ups; telling the story of two identical twin sisters who have lived completely separate lives until the death of their father brings them together. Harper and Tabitha Frost were inseparable young girls and best friends when, at the age of seventeen, their parents divorced and made the cruel decision that each parent would take and raise one sister, keeping the girls apart. That decision meant the girls relationship began to fray and by their mid-twenties they had split apart for good. Harper went to live with their father on Martha’s Vineyard and Tabitha remained on Nantucket with their mother; only eleven miles apart but out of each other’s lives for good.

When their father dies, the sisters — along with their cold and controlling mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter Ainsley — are brought back together with maximum drama. All their past hurts resurface, all that they have lost is brought back into focus, and neither woman feels as if the rift between can be bridged.

The universe, however, has other plans for Harper and Tabitha. Both women suddenly desperately need time away from their home islands and their messy lives and a solution presents itself: Harper will live on Nantucket with Ainsley for the summer and Tabitha will live on Martha’s Vineyard and put their father’s estate in order. Just like that the women swap lives and — of course — chaos ensues!

As the two women try restore order to their lives, they both grow stronger and freer in their new roles. Slowly but surely , the sisters begin to build new lives that have room for new adventures, new loves, and for one another. A great summer read!

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (2015)

The lazy hot days of late July, with the kids gone at sleep-away camp, seemed liked the perfect time to re-read some of my favorites. Carry On definitely counts as such.

Originally posted May 5, 2016

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“And it was a happy ending — even if isn’t the ending I ever would have dreamt for myself.”

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WOW! I absolutely loved this book! I gobbled it up, I inhaled it, I devoured it! In fact, if there were not two wonderful people in my life dying to get their hands on my copy of the book, I would have finished the last page and immediately restarted it. Rowell has truly accomplished something magical (no pun intended) with this book…she has made a fantasy story that is quality parts Young Adult romance and whimsical fairy tale. If Fangirl and Harry Potter had a love child, it would be Carry On — it is that good. While Rowell’s Fangirl is not a prequel to this book , the world of Watford was born within the pages of Fangirl and it really is a worthy place to start this journey. You can read my review of Fangirl here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-kf

I hardly know where to start in reviewing this novel. It is a fantasy story set in a magical school in England for teenage magicians learning to use their magic. There are posh uniforms, spells to learn, enemies to thwart, and evil plots to unveil. Even if it sounds like it poor version of Harry Potter, it totally works. The world Rowell creates is just different enough that while you are reading about Watford School, you feel like you are reading about Hogwarts hipper counterpart, not its replica. In a way the story is freer than HP, because the characters do not feel compelled to be so proper, nor their relationships so chaste, and the result is a funny, sexy, and thrilling book…one that gives us spells and epic magical battles but with a much more teen twist (meaning cell phones, drinking, and sex.)

Carry On is presumably book eight in a non-existent series. However, Rowell writes the story in such a way that you learn the entire backstory, the author filling in the blanks along the way so that you feel as if the other six books do exist. The effect is miraculous: readers do not feel cheated, instead reading Carry On gives you the sensation that you have read seven wonderful books, not just one. (More bang for your buck!) As you read, you are pulled into this story and you are given glimpse of all the stories that came before it.

Carry On, at its heart, is a love story. Rowell is doing something profound with this book. In the process of telling us a really good fantasy tale she is also telling us a love story about two young men and defiantly refusing to call it a “gay love story.” It simply is a love story — no qualifiers needed. And what a fantastic love story it is: filled with all the angst and drama and power of any young adult love story but infused with a real sense of tension. As we all know, while most heterosexual relationships are given cultural permission to exist, it is often the case the those for gay men and women are deemed completely taboo. Thankfully that is starting to change, and books like Rowell’s are a reflection of those (slow) changes. She is writing a love story about two men and in no way giving readers the impression that it is off-limits or unallowable. All the characters in the book accept that being gay is just part of their lives or their loved ones. Rowell makes sure that we all know she believes who you love should never matter — only how you treat them.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017)

seven husbands of evelyn hugo

In her newest, non-traditional romance novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid, writes a story about a former Hollywood starlet’s famously scandalous life told as a series of flashbacks that center on her seven widely publicized marriages to similarly famous men. Filled with behind-the-scenes glimpses into the machinations of Hollywood, the novel highlights the ways in which the rich and famous may consider marriage something to maximize their box-office potential; and where love, passion, and compatibility means little.

Evelyn Hugo, once Hollywood royalty, one of the most sought-after and beautiful movie stars of the 1950s and 1960s, in the present day is a reclusive millionaire who is rarely seen and never gives interviews. So when Evelyn reaches out to staff writer Monique Grant at the fictional Vivant magazine, offering the young woman the chance to interview her for the first time in years, Monique jumps at the chance. She digs deep into the press surrounding the actress’s decades-long career and her seven marriages and thinks she has a sense of the woman she will be interviewing. Everything she reads leaves her feeling dazzled by Evelyn’s beauty, fame, and wealth.

However, when Monique arrives to meet Evelyn she is shocked to find that the woman is not interested a magazine piece about a charity event, but rather in finally telling the world the true story of her life. Without preamble, Evelyn asks Monique to write her biography, a no-holds-barred account of every betrayal, every scandal, every lie of the actress’s life.

Shocked at the request, Monique insists she is unqualified for such a task and is uncertain how Evelyn has singled her out from all the other writers in New York City. She knows this is a golden ticket, that a book about the real life of Evelyn Hugo would bring her fame and fortune almost overnight, yet Monique still hesitates. Should she tell her boss? Is this too big of a task to handle? Should she offer the chance to write this book to a more seasoned writer?

Monique reluctance angers Evelyn, who tells her the it is time for her to learn that the most important lesson in becoming a success is taking opportunities as they come; without considering others feelings and without guilt. And so begins the relationship between the two women.

Evelyn tells her story, and as promised, she leaves nothing out. She tells the real history, not the fabricated version concocted by agents and movie studios, but the gritty one about a woman who would do anything, hurt anyone, tell any lie, to become a star. What follows is not just a story about the secret life of celebrities and how truly tawdry Hollywood is off-screen (although it is that), but about a woman who passes up chance to be with the real love of her life in order to “protect” her career.

A bond forms between the woman as they work. As she reveals her secrets to Monique, Evelyn also teaches the young woman several important lessons about standing up for yourself, not apologizing for taking opportunities at work, and for not accepting any relationship that is not making her happy.

Although the writing is a bit dry at times, and the story feels less lively that its subject matter perhaps could be written about, the story is interesting and engaging…with a few twists that keep you guessing until the end.

Garden Spells & First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Garden Spells (2007),  and its sequel First Frost (2014) both by Sarah Addison Allen

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All of the Waverley women possess a bit of magic, never the same as her relatives, but interesting and exciting all the same. Their magic gifts and the special knowledge their magic gives them are well-known in their small North Carolina town, sometimes accepted and sought out, at other times scoffed at and feared. As a result, they are a family of women who always find themselves on the outside of things.

In Garden Spells, we meet Claire, Sydney, and Bay Waverley who all live in Bascom, North Carolina. Their ancestral home is surrounded by a magic garden where the plants can cast spells when prepared just right and in which a old apple tree stands. A tree rumored to show anyone who eats its apples the biggest moment in their lives; apples which the Waverley women who live in the house work constantly to prevent people from eating.

For Claire, who arrived in Bascom at age six, the town and her family who lived in it, were a refuge from the wild and often scary life her mother had lived with her on the road. Claire, like her grandmother before her, prepares foods from the magic garden that bewitch the people who eat them. “Nasturtium mayonnaise gave the ability to keep secrets, crystallized pansies made children thoughtful, honeysuckle wine when served on the Fourth of July gave you the ability to see in the dark, chicory and mint salad had you believing something good was about to happen.” (11) Also, like her grandmother, Claire is a bit of a recluse, fearful of change and wary of building relationships with people who might hurt her. Only through the family catering company, where she sells her magic food, is she a part of the town.

For Claire’s sister Sydney, Bascom was a prison where she was constantly avoided, and at times bullied, because of her family’s oddness. She left town at eighteen planning never to return but now finds herself back, living in Waverley mansion with her sister and her daughter Bay. Bascom, however small minded and mean she finds it, at least offers her and her daughter safety from her violent ex-boyfriend. Sydney’s gift is to be able to tell style a person’s hair and change the outcome of his or her day; a gift that makes her a sought-after hair dresser.

Bay Waverley is only five, but already she knows her gift: she can look at an object or a person and know exactly where it belongs. This means that Bay is always finding lost items, rearranging cabinets, and at times, nudging people towards to situations or relationships where they belong. Although young, she understands that she and her mother did not belong with her abusive father, but here in Bascom. And she also knows that her mother and aunt both belong with men who love them.

The sisters are faced with rebuilding their relationship and helping Bay find a place in a town that neither feels totally at home in. This means Sydney must share her secrets and find peace among the townspeople who mistreated her as a child. For her part, Claire must start to participate in the world more and accept friendship and love do not come with promises to never break her heart, but are worth the risk none the less. The curious nature of their magic blends together just so that all three of the Waverley’s draw good luck, love, and friendship to them all; and they are able to overcome their past hurts and heal.

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First Frost (2014)

“On the day the tree bloomed in the fall, when its white blossoms fell and covered the ground like snow, it was tradition for the Waverleys to gather in the garden like survivors of some great catastrophe, hugging one another, laughing as they touched faces and arms, making sure they were okay, grateful to have gotten through it. It was a relief, putting their world back in order. They always got restless before the first frost, giving their hearts away to easily, wanting things they couldn’t have, getting distracted and clumsy and too easily influenced by the opinions of others. First Frost meant letting go, so it twas always a reason to celebrate.” 10

In a book set ten years after Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen brings back the magical Waverley women with another tale. In First Frost, our main narrator is Bay Waverley, now nearly sixteen and deeply entrenched in both her extended family and Bascom, NC. As October arrives, the Waverley women begin to feel wild and unteethered and cannot help but “want things they cannot have.” The magic tree that grows in the garden at Waverley mansion affects them all deeply, more and more the closer it draws towards the first frost.

In the intervening years since the first book, both Bay’s mother and her aunt have found love and built a loving family in the small town, but their hope to raise Bay without her being ostracized from the town’s non-magic residents were never realized.  Bay remains an outsider at school but resolutely refuses to let it hurt her. She knows, now even more so than when she arrived to Bascom in Garden Spells, that her magical gift — to know where objects and people belong — is exactly that, a gift. Even if it keeps people away from her, especially the boy she has fallen in love with from afar, Josh Matteson. A boy who has laughed at her claims that she belongs with him, spurned her love and left her humiliated.

“She belonged to him. That alone was hard enough to bear. But the fact that she knew he also belonged to her, that he was on a path he wasn’t meant for, was excruciating. Getting him to believe that was the hardest thing she’d ever tried to do. She finally understood that no matter how hard you try, you cannot make someone love you. You cannot stop them from making the wrong decision. There was no magic for that.” 17

Over the course of one month, all of the Waverley women — including now, Claire’s daughter Mariah — must hold the center while the tree and its magic tempts them to take too many risks and put their hearts too much on the line. Despite their sudden desire to keep secrets from each other, it is only together that they can get through the month without too much pain.

First Frost is just as magical and wonderful as its prequel, and it is so fun to see another generation of women in this powerful, loving family grow.