Book Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

practical magicWhen the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunts’ mysterious and sometimes frightening powers — and as their own powers begin to surface — the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into “normal” society.

But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes — in the form of a menacing backyard ghost — the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift — and their key to a future of love and passion. Funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic, Practical Magic is bewitching entertainment — Alice Hoffman at her spectacular best.

From my TBR pile and given to me as a birthday present. The edition I read was published by Random House.

I watched this film not long after it came out in 1998 and is one of the few  films that I’ve ever considered reading the original book it was based on, and 15 or so years later, I did!  The book and the film are definitely different, but the overall story of the film remains true to the book and actually plays to the strengths of the 4 main adult actresses: Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Diane Wiest.


Gillian being the beautiful but wild one, who can never be tied down and is breaking hearts long before she runs away from her aunts and her sister.

Sally is the older, more sensible one, practical, vegetarian, science based one who soon rejects anything that cant be proved with evidence. Her aunts, being the local witches, are shunned by most during the day, but have their advice sought as soon as dusk makes their visitors’ identity hidden.

The book is split up into four chapters, each covering a specific part of the girls’ life.

Superstition is about the girls growing up with the aunts, and learning the price of your heart’s desire.  It finishes with Gillian already having escaped, and Sally moving away with her daughters Antonia and Kylie (the first set of differences with the film, where Sally never moves away and Antonia and Kylie have a much smaller part).

Premonitions is where Gillian finds Sally and the girls (who are now teenagers) in their house, and brings trouble in the form of the dead body of Gillian’s boyfriend Jimmy. Sally is the one person Gillian can talk to – she is scared of the Aunts and doesnt feel she has the right or the want to ask for their help.

Clairvoyance is where Gillian settles in, finds new beau, but things turn for the worse including Jimmy haunting the garden. The lilac tree – under which Jimmy is buried – seems to grow amazingly, attracting weeping love lorn women, until the tree is cut down and burnt. Kylie and Antonia have a much bigger part than what is presented in the film – Antonia is similar to Gillian in the heart breaking skills, and Kylie – tall, ungainly, and sharing a room with her aunt – is soon influenced by Gillian’s behaviour, until she feels betrayed by not being the centre of Gillian’s world.

Levitation finds Gary seeking Jimmy whose malevolent energy continues to haunt the garden. The girls realise they have to call the aunts in to help and turn up the older women do, in their own style of course. The tables have definitely turned on Sally and Gillian. Gillian has finally found someone she wants to fight for and who is probably worth stability and staying put.She also realises that perhaps she is worth what the Aunts are prepared to bring. Sally has had the stability, and found that denying her past and her skills has brought her very little joy. The presence of Gary in her life – even briefly – makes her wonder whether the perceived stability is worth not having him in her life.

Gary makes a very short appearance in the book – but Aidan Quinn is a large part of the movie. In the book Jimmy turns up already dead, but Goran Visnjic has a much bigger part as the threatening ghost of Jimmy – in no small nod to his status as “taking over from George Clooney as the ER hunk” status – no complaints from me on either point!.

The story is told very much in the “epic third person” where it’s a rather lyrical, sweeping, portions of time being swept away – there is very little dialogue between characters and whole decades disappear in a blink of an eye.

So: I love both the film AND the book, which is quite rare for me. Whilst the film is different from the book, there’s at least enough of the spirit of the book kept within it (helped by Hoffman being one of the scriptwriters) to make me satisfied.

Book Review: Strangers by Taichi Yamada

strangersSet in the great human maelstrom of Tokyo, Strangers is a thinking man’s ghost story. Middle-aged, jaded and divorced, TV scriptwriter  Hideo Harada is forced to set up home in his office, situated in a high-rise apartment block overlooking Tokyo’s busy Route 8. One night, nostalgic for his lost childhood, he decides to visit the entertainment district of Asakusa, the city’s dilapidated old downtown area, and there, at the theatre, he meets a man who looks exactly like his long-dead father. So begins Harada’s ordeal, as he’s thrust into a reality where his parents appear to be alive at the exact age they had been when they died so many years before. Although they may be apparitions, he takes solace in seeing them, in spite of the damage it seems to do to his health. Can Kei, the mysteriously fragile neighbour with whom Harada begins a tentative relationship, save him from the ghosts of his past?

From my TBR pile. Published by Faber and Faber.

We find the narrator Hideo Harada, 47, soon to be 48, and recently divorced. Having become emotionally distant from his wife it was he who asked for the divorce, only to be hit hard on two levels – Akayo gets most of the money; mere weeks after the divorce, Mamiya, a producer colleague, informs him that he is going to start dating Akayo.

Hideo lives on the top floor of a building that has slowly been converted from apartments to offices and it’s where he both lives and works as a writer. He twigs early on that despite the highway thundering past directly outside, the building is preternaturally quiet. He works out that apart from one place on the third floor, he is the only person to be in the building after hours.

One day, to escape another night on his own and feeling a tad nostalgic, he takes the train out to where he gew up and ends up in a theatre. The performer on stage gets heckled and it’s this point that everything changes…..the heckler is the spitting image of his father, who died aged 39 when Hideo was 12…..

The two men strike up a conversation, and the two men end up going for a beer….and finds the man married to a woman who appears to be his dead mother.

Over the next few weeks Hideo is torn between two sets of people…the couple who admit to being his dead parents, which makes no sense but he still can’t stay away, and Kei, the woman in room 305 with whom he has started a sexual relationship.

The ghosts are having a detrimental effect however, which Hideo can’t see, even when he looks in the mirror when people tell him how sick he looks.  Finally it takes an intervention from his old colleague Mamiya, for him to make the necessary breaks and work on his health.

Narrated by Hideo, this is a fairly short book at 200 pages. There is a lot of self reflection as to why his parents seem to have returned now, what their departure when he was 12 really meant for him and his intimacy with other people, especially his now ex wife.  Visiting his parents now, even though 10 years older than them, allows his to get some comfort in doing the things he never got to do as a child such as eating ice cold watermelon, playing catch in the street etc

There doesn’t seem to be the consideration that this is a man heading into depression and a mental breakdown….it seems to be a straight ghost story. As you can tell from the names this book is set in Japan, and written by a Japanese author. I don’t know if this is a standard Japanese ghost story or not. The translated text is rather sparse and clean but there’s the occasional word that seems at odds with the rest of the narrative…. Mamiya uses a rosary near the end which has a different connotation for western Christian readers than what the author probably meant. The father figure,whist traditionally formal the first few meetings, starts using some slangy type words later on, possibly to denote how informal things had become,but it does jar the reader a little.  Akayo and Shigeki (the son) are one dimensional, with one token “it was your idea” style conversation with Akayo and a rather jilted contact with Shigeki after everything had happen. Not sure what these scenes were meant to add to the story.

In Summary

A story of loss and second chances, with a few plot twists and surprises (Spoilers!). A Ghost story that is rarely threatening but which is enjoyable distraction none the less.

About the author

Taichi Yamada is one of the most famous and highly respected writers in Japan. Winner of many awards for literary excellence from private organizations and from the Japanese government, he is best known for his scripts for TV dramas, but has also written many novels and plays. He was born in Tokyo in 1934, and graduated from Waseda University in 1958 after having studied japanese Language and Literature in the Department of Education. That same year he entered the Shochiku Film Company and began to work at the Ofuna Studio Production Department. In 1965, he left Shochiku and established himself as an independent scenario writer.


Book Review: Captain America: War and Rememberence by John Byrne (Artist), Roger Stern (Writer), Jim Salicrup (Editor)

captain america war and rememberance marvel Captain America’s endless war on crime and tyranny sets him against new enemies and old, from an army of robot replicas to the black deeds of Baron Blood Plus: Captain America for president Guest-starring the Avengers; S.H.I.E.L.D.; and the late, great Union Jack Featuring Cobra, Mister Hyde and Batroc the Leaper The complete Stern/Byrne run, culminating with the standard-setting version of Cap’s awe-inspiring origin.

From my TBR shelf, published by Marvel Comics, in Hardback. In the introduction, Jim Salicrup mentions that he comes into the sub-editor space near the end of a story process, where no one was happy with the story, but it was too late to change anything. When he became editor, it allowed him to ditch the previous arc which was out of canon by doing what could be classed as a “Bobby Ewing in the shower” moment by having the previous arc as implanted false memories.  It’s this story that kicks off this collection. Captain Marvel works with Dum-Dum Dugan and Nick Fury from SHIELD to recover his original memories, as Cap has to face Dragon Man and Machine Man.

The storyline of Cap possibly running for President is as relevant in the current election cycle as when it was written; Mister Hyde has teamed up with Batroc the Leaper to blackmail the New York Harbour with a container of Liquid Gas in exchange for several billion dollars, only for the pair to turn on each other; Cap gets a phone call that calls him back to England to team up with his old friend Union Jack (James Falsworth), who is now bedridden and dying but has to confront the threat of Baron Blood the vampire.  Interspersed with these stories are the fact that Cap is still coming to terms that all his old friends are now getting very old or dead whilst he is still in his prime (after being in suspended animation for decades). He is also trying to balance being a super hero (Captain America) against earning a living and paying the bills – something that I dont think is necessarily covered in the current batch of comics. He is also getting out and dating again, whilst wondering when to/if to reveal his secret identity and the reasons why Steve Rogers keeps disappearing at strange moments. Previous partners are either now much older (e.g. Jacqueline Falsworth/Spitfire), or have died as part of the life of the super hero.

This was written and produced in the 1980s, and I’m surprised this style of comic has survived this late. There’s lots of exposition via text, lots of “BAM!”s and “THWOCK!”s, the cells are of standard size and colouring, and it’s a straight linear narrative (top left to bottom right, same again on the opposite page). I’m much more in favour of the more modern style, where there’s less story-dump-through-text, more variation in the cell sizes (where narrative can switch into across the two pages), and the colours are more varied and occasionally darker.


Author Details

John Lindley Byrne is a British-born Canadian-American author and artist of comic books. Since the mid-1970s, Byrne has worked on nearly every major American superhero.

Byrne’s better-known work has been on Marvel Comics’ X-Men and Fantastic Four and the 1986 relaunch of DC Comics’ Superman franchise. Coming into the comics profession exclusively as a penciler, Byrne began co-plotting the X-Men comics during his tenure on them, and launched his writing career in earnest with Fantastic Four (where he also started inking his own pencils). During the 1990s he produced a number of creator-owned works, including Next Men and Danger Unlimited. He also wrote the first issues of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy series and produced a number of Star Trek comics for IDW Publishing.



Book Review: Haley’s Song by Jennifer Bryce

hayley's songShe loses a bet that isn’t hers . Haley’s father has a gambling problem that’s now become hers. He lost her in a bet. Now, she must either leave the only place she’s ever known or marry a man who is only interested in a servant he can control. On the run and scared, she finds sanctuary at a ranch with seven men and one little boy. Though hired as a cook and nanny, she quickly realizes she’s found a home. With brothers, Ben and Tate, vying for her affections, Haley starts to believe she can have a life that doesn’t involve alcohol, abuse, and gambling. But the winner of the card game has other plans. Ed Thompson tracks Haley down, determined she’s going to become his wife. But Tate isn’t about to allow that to happen. He’ll move whatever mountain he has to for Haley’s safety. And when she’s kidnapped, he’ll tear the town apart to find her. But Ed has an ace up his sleeve that could end up getting Haley killed.
From LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers January 2015 batch in exchange for a review.
Set in 1948, this is a gentle romance where Hayley escapes from her abusive father after he loses her in a bet to another abusive man (Ed Thompson). Short of money, she rapidly gets hired by the Sherwoods to look after the youngest member of the family, and essentially keep house for a working ranch.  Ben and Tate, two of the Sherwood brothers start vying for her attention and she has to choose between Ben, who is a big town doctor, and Tate, the down to earth rancher.   Her new life is threatened by Ed finding out where she is, and coming to claim what he thinks is his. Meanwhile Haley gets to learn more about herself and others – such as not all men are nasty violent drunks, not all American Indians are bad people (and have been treated quite badly by the whites).
This wasn’t an overtly Christian (a complaint from another reviewer) but it does have some Christian-morals – no one’s sleeping around, the closest they get is kissing under the kissing tree etc. Drinking is bad, Haley’s father  gets his redemption and Ed gets his “just” reward. Tate and Haley are the most three dimensional characters in the story and the secondary characters are a little one dimensional.
In Summary, it’s an ok story, some of the characters were ok, but not the best or strongest story I’ve read.

Sunday Salon: Changing older ratings


Many book reviews sites have a rating system  which is usually on a scale of 1 – 5, (be it numbers, ticks, stars, or thumbs up etc) as a shorthand for followers as to what they thought of a particular book.  Here is an example of some, with a definition of how they class each rating:


respiring thoughts

reading books like a boss

I go through phases of doing ratings for books, and at the moment I am currently not doing any.

However, when reading previous reviews that do have ratings on them, sometimes I will amend the rating, or remove it all together. This is often as a result of having having the time to mull over a book – sometimes months or even years later. If I’ve given a 5* review to a book that I cant even remember reading a few months later – then how good was the book (and therefore how valid the rating)?  I might have loved it at the time, but did it warrant such a rating if it didn’t stay with me?

This is why I’m concentrating on the actual review – writing what I thought about the book at the time without leaving a rating. I have a set of default questions that I have gathered over time that I use when I’m writing a review in order to make sure I cover things more in depth. I hope therefore that anyone reading the review can make up their own mind about whether they want to read the book, and the rating is therefore irrelevant.

Do you change the ratings on your older reviews?

Friday Salon: Sewing Room

I’ve long been jealous of people who have the space to allow for a separate sewing or craft room, with a desk large enough to have a sewing machine out, on display and ready for use; space to stack fabrics, accessories, notions, needles, threads etc.

needle thread needlesI’ve never had such a room unfortunately and dont think I ever will. Instead, the sewing machine is tidied away into a cupboard; fabric and patterns are in big plastic crates in the top of the wardrobe, wool is in a cardboard box in the same wardrobe, WIPs in a crate hidden down the side of the chair I sit in.

Most of my sewing, which is done usually by hand, in a single large chair, with a overhead lamp that can sit over my shoulder as necessary.  This is absolutely fine for the stitching that I’m doing at the moment (read: not much) but I would love not only the space to have my wn stitching room, but also the time to make use of it

What about you? Do you have a craft/stitch room, would you like one and how much use would you make of it?

Book Review: Douglas, Lord of Heartache by Grace Burrowes

douglas lord of heartache #romanceGwen Hollister, cousin to the Marquis of Heathgate, has fashioned a life as a poor relation, raising her daughter Rose in rural obscurity and focusing all of her considerable passion and intellect on stewarding the estate they live on. Douglas Allen, Viscount Amery, is sent to Gwen by their mutual relations for lessons in husbandry of the land. Only because Douglas rescues Gwen’s daughter from certain peril, does Gwen accept the task. As Douglas and Gwen find common ground, and then mutual pleasure, Gwen’s past rises up in the person of the powerful Duke of Moreland, who’s bent on wresting control of Rose from her mother, even if it means Gwen must marry the Moreland heir.

Received from Netgalley in exchange for a review. #8 in a series, but the first one in the series I’ve read. This far in, there is naturally a cast of thousands but I’m not sure there’s much of a loss by coming in partway.

Douglas, the Viscount Amery is sent to see Gwen Hollister’s advice about buying a new house and estate – his now dead father and brothers have left him virtually alone (bar a sick mother) and the family finances in a perilous state.

It’s a pretext of course, by Gwen’s cousins, in an attempt to bring her out from her self imposed exile. She’s been shamed by the family of the Duke of Moreland, and few people are aware of Rose, the daughter of the brief, shameful elopement.

The relationship between Douglas and Gwen is threatened by the arrival of the Moreland clan, whose various members become aware of Rose and Gwen. The Duke of Moreland, a bully used to getting his own way, and with 4 sons unmarried, threatens and blackmails Gwen into a marriage no other party wants to take part in, purely to ensure access to his granddaughter.

Big cast of characters, lots of angst (perhaps a bit too much, which resulted in me skim reading sections), some medium spicy scenes (not like she has a reputation to keep, after all). Reading other reviews of this book has led me to realise that this is only one of a massive set of books – approximately 30 – by the same author, focussing on various characters in the same world. So whilst this is #8 in the “Lords” series, it could also be counted as #1 in the Windham series – apparently.

Not sure I’d take this series any further though I believe other people adore this author