Practical Magic

So, Practical Magic. If you’re familiar with the story, it’s probably because you’ve seen the movie once upon a time. The movie is good – I like it. Very female-centric and all about women solving their own problems. Men are either plot devices or the reward at the end, which is a nice change from the patriarchy. But I’d never read the book before now.

The book is significantly different: after her husband dies, Sally moves to Long Island, and that’s actually where the action takes place, not the old family house in Massachusetts. It’s mainly in Sally’s ranch house in a nameless NYC suburb. The aunts don’t have to go away because they’re by and large not there to begin with (but I can totally understand wanting to use Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as much as you can). And there are way more dudes in the novel, though they are still mostly either plot devices or the reward at the end. There is more romance in the book, but it is somehow less the focus of the story. The focus of the story is competent women and girls solving the problem of this creepy, abusive guy who needs to stop haunting them and their neighborhood.

I enjoyed it. Look for a review of the prequel, The Rules of Magic, about the aunts when they were young later this week. I will probably get the pre-prequel, Magic Lessons, once my to-read pile calms down a bit. If you liked A Discovery of Witches, I suspect you would also like Practical Magic.

Rebecca

A book I would like to rename “Becky with the Good Hair.”

Rebecca is a quasi-classic. I read it for book club and several of the other members had read it when they were in school. I had not. Because I knew it was suspenseful, I went ahead and read the wikipedia plot summary ahead of time. I am a person who doesn’t mind spoilers or knowing how things turn out, obviously. (Yes, I sometimes flip ahead to read the last few pages of a book too.) It helps me concentrate on things other than the plot, like the crafting of the story and the characters and the mood.

Rebecca, the book, made me SO ANGRY. First, it’s three separate types of book: the romance at the top, the psychological thriller in the middle, and then a more straightforward mystery at the end. PICK ONE. Second, the unnamed narrator is very ill-treated by ever single other character in the book – I mean, the author doesn’t even give her a name, which is to illustrate how mousy she is, but then why does anyone take any interest in her at all? But it totally undermines the romance at the beginning when her husband, Maxim, seems to love her, knows she’s out of her depth coming to Manderley, and then gives her absolutely no support? And because Daphne Du Maurier wants to drive home what a mousey non-entity she is, the narrator never takes the initiative on anything, preferring to let the staff do what they want or doing things the way Rebecca, Maxim’s dead first wife, did them. By the end of the book, I just didn’t care.

But we had interesting discussions at book club, talking about whenever Maxim really loves her, how the house represents Rebecca and her influence over the story, and how effectively creepy Mrs Danvers is despite not actually being in the book that much. So while I didn’t like Rebecca, I do appreciate the discussion it spawned and I’m glad I read it in a way that I got to talk about it with other smart people afterwards.

Book-length poetry

In Paris with You was a unique book for me, despite its somewhat formulaic romance plot (which isn’t a bad thing!). Why?

  • It’s translated from the original French, which means that the takes on the characters are different than you might get in a book originally in English. Specifically, Eugene is allowed to be slightly depressed, and that’s totally normal.
  • The hero is named Eugene.
  • It’s a book-length poem. I read poetry infrequently enough that the language that the authors uses is different enough, more emotional and less action-oriented, that it was refreshing.
  • It’s got a lovely happy-for-now ending that leaves open a proper happy ending.

In Paris with You was a great Sunday afternoon read. Would recommend.

A fizzy and happy romance

Royal Holiday was a fizzy delight of a romance novel, inspired by a combination of Meghan Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, and the author’s own grandmother. In the book, Vivian, the mother of the main character in Guillory’s prior book, The Wedding Party, tags along on her daughter’s work trip over the Christmas holidays in London for the British royal family. There, she meets a retainer for the family, and they proceed to have a whirlwind romance. But alas, Vivian must go back to Oakland and her job. What does the future hold? (Spoiler: it’s a romance novel, so it’s required to have a happy ending.)

Royal Holiday was a fun read, and I was gratified to read a romance novel about a couple in their 50s. Love isn’t unique to those in their 20s! I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Fizzy happy romance

Jasmine Guillory writes contemporary romance novels that mostly take place in Oakland, not far from where I live. The places are familiar, the characters are a delight, the situations are vaguely ridiculous but not unbelievable, and I am in the bag for her books.

The Wedding Party is the third in an ongoing series, each focused on different characters. In this case, it’s an enemies-to-lovers plot that takes place between Maddie and Theo, the two best friends of Alexa, from the first book. The action takes place while Alexa and Drew are planning their wedding – so it’s nice to get updates that the happily-ever-after ending from the first book, The Wedding Date, continues to be happily-ever-after.

Maddie and Theo don’t like each other, but the have a spark of chemistry one drunken night and then it just sort of spirals into them actually falling in love. You know how it ends. It’s a romance novel. You’re probably reading it because you want the reassurance that these not-too-screwed-up people are going to have their happy ending, and there will be some dumb decisions and drama along the way to keep you entertained. The Wedding Party delivers exactly what it promises.

Recommended.

Beach read romance

Alyssa Cole writes enchanting romance novels. A Prince on Paper is about a man, Johan, who is a step-brother to a prince and Nya, a former finance minister’s daughter. Their relationship is fake, in theory, to give her an excuse to leave the country and him an excuse to keep the attention off his younger brother. It goes as you would expect a romance novel to, with them falling in love for real.

Her Reluctant Royals series is fun and well-written and I appreciate that none of her characters are ever jerks. If you’re looking for a romance novel, this one isn’t going to change your life, but it’s fun and enjoyable and charming. Sometimes that’s what you want from a book.

Melodrama can be fun

A Discovery of Witches is a book that I am not convinced is good, but you can bet I devoured it and will read all three books in the trilogy. The question is: why?

First, let’s get the basic plot out of the way. Diana is a witch, but she doesn’t use her powers, nor is she interested in using them. She’s perfectly happy being an American history professor at Oxford. Until she calls up a book from the archives: Ashmole 782. This book, it turns out is enchanted, and everyone from the three non-human races (vampires, witches, demons, all of whom look conveniently human) is interested in reading it. Alas, she’s already sent it back to the stacks. Don’t bother with why everyone wants it. Ashmole 782 is the book’s macguffin. Everyone is suddenly after Diana.

One particular vampire, Matthew Clairmont becomes more entranced with Diana than the book. He turns out to be French nobility, because of course he is. They fall in love very melodramatically – the whole book is very melodramatic – and he protects her as they have adventures and he awakens the witchy part of her. Of course he does.

Which brings us back to the question of why do I like this book? I’ve admitted to enjoying romances, and the romance aspect is part of it. I’m much more partial to a story about relationships than a story where people are horrible to each other. There’s enough horror in the world.

But it’s not like this is a happy book – there’s kidnapping and torture and death. There is Good – Diana and Matthew and their families – and there is Evil – the Congregation, a group of people who want to keep Diana and Matthew apart, who also want Diana to bring the book back so everyone can learn what’s in it for their own advantage.

It’s melodrama, a genre that is so over the top that it’s practically camp, and A Discovery of Witches is definitely taking itself seriously. And that might be why I devoured it: the heightened emotions, the very clear good vs evil, putting family first, and the love story. There is something appealing about that, especially when it’s on my television screen or in a novel.

And so yes, I will read the second book in the series, which involves time travel, and probably the third, too. And I might tell you to read them too.

Read The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star is easily one of my top books of the year. Like the other Nicola Yoon I recently read, it’s a YA romance. This is her second book and the writing style is slightly less linear and definitely choppier – the two main characters, along with others, share the storytelling responsibilities – and it works well.

Natasha is the child of illegal immigrants from Bermuda, and is probably going to be deported at the end of the day, unless a miracle occurs. Daniel, the son of Korean immigrants, is on his way to a college interview at Yale (second best university, after Harvard, according to his parents). They meet and their story is almost entirely contained in that day, with the exception of the epilogue.

It strongly reminds me of Before Sunrise, never a bad thing. Their romance is electric, delightful, and potentially doomed.

I am definitely recommending this book to almost everyone.

A delight of a YA romance novel

Everything Everything is a very sweet YA romance that I quite liked. There’s a girl, Maddie, who is allergic to everything and can’t leave the house. Ever. She is shockingly well adjusted and ok with this – she knows it keeps her safe and alive. But then a Boy moves in next door and everything changes. They communicate via text and email and then he comes over and she decides she needs more.

It’s a delightful, specific story about two people falling in love for the first time, and if you like romance novels, it’s a good one.

Myth and romance

I loved The Song of Achilles. It’s a retelling of the Iliad and some other related Greek myths through Patroclus’ eyes. It’s his view of history, his love of Achilles, their relationship, what it was like for them to grow up together, what it was like to go to war together, and what it was like in the camp.

But mostly: it was just a gorgeous love story. I’m a sucker for them, really. And Madeline Miller told this one so well. It’s highly recommended.