Book Review: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic (Practical Magic #2)

Find your magic

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.

Review:

This is the first Alice Hoffman book that I’ve read, and knowing that it involved magic and witches, and had themes of being true to your whole self — well, I was anxious to read it. That and the cover really is beautiful.

However, I did not bond with this book. I liked the characters well enough and there was some magic, but something was missing for me. Aunt Isabelle was by far my favourite character. I loved her eccentricities and the idea that people approached her porch at night to receive her spells and remedies and would pay anything for them but would snub her on the street.

Hoffman has clearly done her research and filled out her novel with information of the area, the history of witches and the social situation of the day.

My favourite parts of the book have to do with the themes of accepting all parts of yourself, as illustrated by this quote from the novel:

“This is what happens when you repudiate who you are. Once you do that, life works against you, and your fate is no longer your own.”

I did find myself wanting to finish the book to find out what happened, but also found that most of the novel, especially as it went on, was describing situations and what went on. As a reader, I didn’t feel like a part of the action. It got to feeling like reading a history book.

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On Re-Reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3)

Harry Potter’s third year at Hogwarts is full of new dangers. A convicted murderer, Sirius Black, has broken out of Azkaban prison, and it seems he’s after Harry. Now Hogwarts is being patrolled by the dementors, the Azkaban guards who are hunting Sirius. But Harry can’t imagine that Sirius or, for that matter, the evil Lord Voldemort could be more frightening than the dementors themselves, who have the terrible power to fill anyone they come across with aching loneliness and despair. Meanwhile, life continues as usual at Hogwarts. A top-of-the-line broom takes Harry’s success at Quidditch, the sport of the Wizarding world, to new heights. A cute fourth-year student catches his eye. And he becomes close with the new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, who was a childhood friend of his father. Yet despite the relative safety of life at Hogwarts and the best efforts of the dementors, the threat of Sirius Black grows ever closer. But if Harry has learned anything from his education in wizardry, it is that things are often not what they seem. Tragic revelations, heartwarming surprises, and high-stakes magical adventures await the boy wizard in this funny and poignant third installment of the beloved series.
Review:
This is one of my favourite Harry Potter books and it was so much fun to discuss it in my book club recently. Rowling is certainly bringing in more of the dark aspects of the wizarding world in this installment.
I find it fascinating how Rowling brings in so many important themes into her writing, such as discrimination and wrongful convictions without proper investigation and evidence — there is an almost World War 2 feel to some of what went on in the wizarding world under Voldemort. And then there are the dementors themselves and the fact that the wizarding world is alright partnering up with them, emphasizing again how everything is not always wonderful in the world of magic.
There are also great themes around friendship in this book. Harry and his friends argue and act moodily, just like regular teenagers. And then there is the friendship of Harry’s parents, their friends and their dynamic, and how they bullied Snape. The good and bad of being friends is explored.
Overall, I loved the pacing and the tension and the humour in The Prisoner of Azkaban. There is so much adventure and looming peril that it is hard not to get completely engrossed.
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On Re-Reading The Chamber of Secrets

On Re-Reading The Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2)

The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he’s packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry’s second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockhart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls’ bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley’s younger sister, Ginny. But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone, or something, starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects: Harry Potter himself?

My Thoughts on Re-Reading (not really a review…)

I can’t even remember how long ago I first read this book — I think it was close to the time when it came out, and I haven’t re-read it since. But this year my local library is doing a Book Geeks Book Club for adults and we are reading all of the Harry Potter books. Last month was The Chamber of Secrets.

Again, I was blown away by how much pre-planning Rowling did when she wrote her books. She really knew where they were going as was able to pepper in details that become important in later books.

One of the things I loved about this book was the change in tone. The Philosopher’s Stone was full of discovery and magic and everything (pretty much) was wonderful. But The Chamber of Secrets shows a darker side to the wizarding world: we find out about house elves, Azkaban, Kncckturn Alley, the prejudice against mudbloods and squibs, and the history of the Chamber of Secrets. This is also a book where Harry doesn’t feel at home at Hogwarts anymore. He is miserable at home and now he is miserable at school with people avoiding him and making fun of him. This is a fantastic turn of events and adds more depth to the wizarding world.

I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this book and can see again how kids (and grown ups) fall in love with this series — and how current it is twenty years later.

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

(Harry Potter #1)

by J.K. Rowling

This isn’t exactly a book review — it is so hard to review such an iconic book. This is more about the experience of re-reading Harry Potter after so many years.
Our local library is an amazing place, and this year, they have started a Book Geeks reading club aimed at adults, where our goal is to read and talk about one of the Harry Potter books each month. We had our first meeting earlier this month and it was so much fun. There was a group of us, all who were excited to geek out about Harry Potter.
I was an adult when Harry Potter first came out and I decided to pick it up because I knew I’d never be able to talk to my niece and nephew again if I didn’t because all of their conversation revolved around it. Instantly, I was hooked and raced through the books as they came out.
Re-reading The Philosopher’s Stone now was so much fun. I could look at what Rowling wrote in the context of the whole series and see the brilliance of it. Not only is it an entertaining and exciting book in it’s own right, full of interesting characters and battles between good and evil, but it set up the whole series. I was so impressed by things I would never have noticed all of those years ago, like mentions of characters important in the next books, and themes and story arcs that are integral to the whole series. Rowling’s vision for her series is masterful. I’ve recently heard that Rowling wrote the end of the last book before she ever wrote the first word of the first book — an impressive feat, but this certainly is what unifies the series so beautifully.
What is there to say, really? The Philosopher’s Stone, even 20 years after it was published, is still one of the best middle grade books out there. It is timeless. My daughter recently started reading this series herself and she is as excited about it now as my niece and nephew were all of those years ago.

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