The Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (Fantasy)

This is the prequel to Alice Hoffman’s novel Practical Magic, which was made into a very popular movie in 1998. As one who had no knowledge of either the novel or the movie prior to reading this book, however, I can attest that The Rules of Magic is a stand-alone story that needs no previous awareness of the Owens family or their house on Magnolia Street in order to be enjoyed.

In true Alice Hoffman style, the characters are engaging individuals who draw you into their unique world, quickly involve you in their lives, and make you want to know that they’re going to be okay. While one can tire of the tales of young people discovering their magical abilities, the Owens girls have always known they were different; witchcraft has been in their bloodline for centuries. They are used to being shunned by neighbors, whispered about in school, and finding themselves so buoyant while swimming that they can’t dive deep to save a loved one in danger of drowning. They do their best to hide their special abilities, whether it’s seeing the future, reading minds, or communing with birds, while trying to fit in with townspeople who simultaneously fear them and seek them out for magical remedies to their problems. They also must face the centuries-old curse that says loving someone means losing that person, sometimes tragically. Dare they love someone if it portends the beloved’s doom?

As a prequel to Practical Magic, this story begins in the 1960s, when sisters Jet and Franny are children living in New York City with their parents and younger brother, Vincent. Vincent — a rare wizard in a long line of witches — has his own approach to dealing with the curse, and the example he sets inspires his sisters to find their own courage. That’s not to say that all will go well, but what is living really about and when is fate just fate and no one’s fault?

Whether or not you knew of Jet and Franny before, The Rules of Magic will make them people you care about as they navigate their way through the complexities of life as Owens girls and as human beings.

Grandma gives The Rules of Magic five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Rules of Magic will be released on October 10, 2017 and is available for pre-order.

Just One Life

Just One Life

Just One Life by Pat Abercromby

This was a difficult book to read, not because of the writing, but because of the subject matter. We follow Fran through roughly sixty years of her life, over half of it married to a man she never truly loves, a man for whom she settles because of his physical appeal but who lacks a sense of humor as well as a moral compass, is a poor communicator, and never provides the quality of companionship she craves. We watch her give up more than one satisfying career to live in places she doesn’t enjoy in order to accommodate her husband’s career, and we learn about the men she sleeps with and the ones she loves but cannot have. We know early on that she will become her husband’s reluctant caregiver after he has a debilitating stroke, and we experience her resentment about giving up all personal ambitions to take care of him in her old age. In short, we’re reading about the life of a woman who comes to regret how it all plays out. It’s not a very jolly topic.

We also follow, on the periphery, the story of her lifelong friend, Iona, who has issues of her own with the men in her life. We see Fran’s and Iona’s daughters grow up, and we learn about the difficulties and joys they bring and how the two women’s lives continue to intertwine. Because of the timespan to be covered, multiple years often pass in a single sentence, which can leave the reader feeling left in the dust. We know Fran well in some ways, but mostly we’re just voyeurs peeking through her windows, watching someone whose days and life are whizzing by without much detail, and we don’t feel particularly involved.

Without involvement, there’s little investment. Add to that the lack of any type of story arc, mystery, or real tension, and you have what is basically a human interest story. Upon reading the author’s guest post, I am guessing that this book is more autobiographical than not (emphasis on “guessing”), which would explain a lack of riveting plot points.

The writing is fine. The story has its interesting aspects. Would I have finished the book if I hadn’t promised to participate in this blog tour? I’m not sure.

Grandma gives Just One Life three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour.

For our Guest Post from author Pat Abercromby, go here.

Everything You Want Me to Be

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Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia (Thriller)

High school senior Hattie Hoffman is the consummate actress, not only on stage but in real life. She has perfected being whoever each person in her life wants her to be – the adoring best friend content to play second fiddle, the conscientious honor-roll student every teacher loves, the compliant girlfriend of the dumber-than-dirt football jock. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and that’s what makes her such an enthralling character in this suspenseful thriller. Everything she does is carefully orchestrated, until the night she is murdered.

The setting is a small town in rural Minnesota, where farming families grow soy and cotton and everyone knows everyone else. County Sheriff Del Goodman is investigating Hattie’s death, a job complicated by the fact that her father is his fishing buddy and good friend. Peter Lund is the new English teacher at Hattie’s high school whose marriage is slowly dissolving. He reluctantly left the life he loved in Minneapolis to move to his ailing mother-in-law’s farm, and his unhappiness is driving a wedge between himself and his wife.

All three take turns narrating parts of the story. Del is a no-nonsense old-timer who doesn’t mince words; Hattie is hovering between childhood and adulthood, attempting to find her real self; and Peter is desperate for someone who appreciates and understands him. Del’s narration chronicles his investigation after the murder, while Hattie and Peter provide backstory leading up to her death, and each has a distinctive voice and perspective that works well to keep the reader engaged. The people we meet are people we recognize – flawed human beings showing honest emotions, overwhelmed by what’s happening around and to them, making understandable, if regrettable, mistakes – which makes it all the harder for the reader to be sure who the murderer really is. A well-written story with engaging characters you will care about and a finish that offers some hope for second chances.

Grandma gives Everything You Want Me to Be five stars.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Mother’s Promise

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The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

The lives of four women – a single mom with cancer, her fifteen-year-old daughter, an oncology nurse, and a hospital social worker – intertwine in unexpected ways in this complex tale exploring family, friendships, marriage, and motherhood.

Alice has stage three ovarian cancer, and she fears for her daughter, Zoe, who suffers from crippling social anxiety disorder that renders her almost helpless without Alice as her safety net. Zoe’s father has never been part of her life, and she has no relatives other than a totally unreliable alcoholic uncle. Kate and Sonja, Alice’s nurse and social worker, respectively, seek to help. But their own lives are beginning to fall apart for personal reasons, and as the story unfolds, each woman learns things about herself and others that will change her life and her relationships forever.

The story is narrated from the points of view of each woman, and we get to know them intimately. We experience Zoe’s paralyzing fear of everyday things, we share Alice’s losses, we ache with Kate and feel her longing, and we begin to understand Sonja’s inability to make a decision that may seem simple but never is. Their lives come together in believable, if unexpected, ways, and each character finds new strengths within herself to do what must be done. This well-written and knowledgeable book is fascinating, satisfying, and absorbing.

Grandma gives The Mother’s Promise five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

The Mother’s Promise will be released on February 21, 2017 and can be pre-ordered.

The Brazilian Husband

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The Brazilian Husband by Rebecca Powell (Women’s Fiction)

The Brazilian Husband is classified as a “Romance” on Amazon, but to me this incredible book was everything but. It is a fascinating story full of secrets, suspense, and surprising revelations set against the backdrop of heartbreaking shantytowns, terrifying urban crime, natural beauty, and the resilient, exuberant people of Brazil. It kept me reading from page one, and I never wanted to put it down.

Judith is a Londoner whose husband of fifteen years has committed suicide. Together with their daughter, Rosa, she is fulfilling his request to take his ashes home to his native Brazil, a place they never managed to visit together.

Judith knew Edson was gay when she married him; it was an arranged marriage paid for by his lover, Gavin, in order to hide the men’s relationship while keeping Edson in Great Britain. What she hadn’t bargained for was the baby girl he brought with him, whom she would raise as their daughter, nor did she expect to fall in love with Edson himself.

Rosa, about to turn sixteen, blames Judith for Edson’s suicide; she doesn’t know her father was gay, nor does she know that Judith is not her natural mother. All of that changes in Brazil as they search for Edson’s family. Nothing is as he said it was, including the circumstances of Rosa’s birth.

While I don’t normally review Romance novels, I was willing to accept this book from the author because she lived and worked in a woman’s shelter in Brazil, which promised authenticity for the setting. I am so glad I did. Rebecca Powell is an extremely talented writer who knows how to keep a story moving while creating a strong sense of place and vibrant characters whose lives and fates I cared about. There is romance, but nothing formulaic about it. Rather, it’s a stirring story with believable people seeking to understand, accept, and love one another under extreme circumstances.

Grandma gives The Brazilian Husband a rousing five stars.   5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Heartborn

heartborn

Heartborn by Terry Maggert (Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)

I’d like to start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. I especially loved the fantasy world that Terry Maggert creates. The imagination and creativity of authors who write these types of books always fascinates me. He has brought to life a whole society living in the clouds, with Skywatchers, Scholars, Watershapers, Blightwings (my favorite), Flyers, and the Factors of the nasty Crescent Council, as well as Windbeasts, Airdancers, elementals, and, of course, Heartborn — the rarities born with a need to care for others.

The story fluctuates between the angels in House Windhook, a powerful family looking to overthrow the oppressive Crescent Council, and a seventeen-year-old on Earth named Livvy. Livvy is waiting for a heart transplant, but we know early on that she is very important to members of House Windhook. Keiron, the youngest son, has plunged to Earth in an effort to find her and save her, while the entire family prepares to do battle with the Crescent Council and its supporters in order to change the future of their society.

I enjoyed the style of writing. I was in the moment with the characters and felt like I knew them pretty well. Where it fell apart for me was the ending when I just became confused. I had to go back and reread parts to make sure I didn’t miss something, and when I finished I still wasn’t sure where Livvy was – on earth or up in the clouds? Were her parents really her parents after all, or was she adopted like she said? All of the people who seemed to exist in two worlds – were they watching and taking care of her the whole time? Were they really angels? There were too many unanswered questions for me.  I know it’s the first in a series, and that’s not the problem. I’m just not sure what happened in the last chapter or two. I will definitely be interested in reading the next book, but there are some things I felt should have been more clear in the closing to the first.

Bella gives Heartborn four stars. 4 stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Fifteen Words

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Fifteen Words by Monika Jephcott Thomas

At a time when World War II-era novels abound, this one is unusual in that it is set in Nazi Germany and follows the lives of a young German couple —Max and Erika – who fall in love, marry, and are then separated by war and its aftermath. Max is a religious man who hates Hitler and his regime, while Erika is a Nazi supporter, having grown up as an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth. They attend medical school together and after graduation, Max joins the army as a medic for the purpose of helping the soldiers, not furthering the Nazi cause. He is stationed in the city of Breslau, running a field hospital set up in a former monastery, when the Soviet army takes control of the city and sends him to a labor camp in Siberia.

Erika, meanwhile, is six months pregnant and is traveling with her father-in-law to the home of Max’s parents where she plans to live and give birth to their baby. She has no idea what has become of Max, but assumes he will be coming home soon, since the war is ending. Neither of them realizes that they will not see each other for four more years.

The title refers to the fact that letters sent home by Soviet prisoners were not allowed to contain more than fifteen words, thereby limiting their ability to tell their loved ones about their living conditions. As readers, however, we are privy to all of the deprivation, horrors, and mistreatment that Max and his fellow prisoners must endure at the hands of the Soviets. In alternate chapters, we observe Erika as she makes a life for herself and her daughter in occupied Germany while Max is gone.

After following their individual lives during four years of separation, it was clear that their reunion as a couple would not be an easy one, and I was particularly interested in how that reunion would ultimately play out. How long would it take them to get used to one another again? Was it even possible? Max isn’t the person he once was and no longer feels a bond with “home.” Erika has her misgivings and her secrets, and their daughter is less than welcoming to her father. Does he ever connect with his daughter, recapture a loving relationship with his wife, and at least come close to feeling as though he might fit in again? Unfortunately, the book stops abruptly upon his return home and leaves all of those questions unanswered.

Overall, this book is well written and well researched. While the story is fiction, the book is inspired by actual events in the lives of the author and her family (see our guest post from author Monika Jephcott Thomas). I just wish I knew more about Max’s fate, as I had become invested in his welfare (Erika’s not so much).

Grandma gives Fifteen Words four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books was given a free copy of the book by the author in return for an honest review and participation in the blog tour accompanying its release.