Master storyteller Hoffman’s tale pours like cream but is too thick with plot redundancies and long-winded history lessons.

MAGIC LESSONS

Set in late-17th-century England and America, the pre-prequel to Hoffman’s Practical Magic (1995) and The Rules of Magic (2017) covers the earliest generations of magically empowered Owens women and the legacy they created.

In 1664, Hannah Owens, practitioner of “the Nameless Art” sometimes called witchcraft, finds baby Maria abandoned near her isolated cottage in Essex County, England. She lovingly teaches ancient healing methods to Maria, whose star birthmark indicates inherent magical powers; and since Hannah considers ink and paper the most powerful magic, she also teaches Maria reading and writing. After vengeful men murder Hannah in 1674, Maria escapes first to her unmotherly birth mother, a troubled practitioner of dark, self-serving magic, then to Curaçao as an indentured servant. At 15 she is seduced by 37-year-old American businessman John Hathorne (his name an allusion to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote about mistreatment of marked women). Enchanted by the island, Puritan Hathorne loses his rigidity long enough to impregnate Maria before returning to Salem, Massachusetts, without saying goodbye. Maria, with new daughter Faith, whose birthmark is a half-moon, follows him. The ship on which she travels is captained by a Sephardic Jew who gives her passage in return for treating his son’s dengue fever, an excuse for Hoffman to link two long-standing unfair persecutions—of smart women as witches and Jews as, well, Jews. That Maria will find a truer love with warmhearted Jewish sailor Sam than with icy Hathorne makes sense in terms of later Owens women’s stories. For the earlier books to work, Maria must found her female dynasty in Salem, but first she and Faith face betrayals, mistakes, and moral challenges. Maria uses her powers to help others but often misreads her own future with devastating results; separated from Maria during her childhood, emotionally damaged Faith is tempted to use her grandmother’s selfish “left-handed” magic.

Master storyteller Hoffman’s tale pours like cream but is too thick with plot redundancies and long-winded history lessons.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982108-84-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

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REMINDERS OF HIM

After being released from prison, a young woman tries to reconnect with her 5-year-old daughter despite having killed the girl’s father.

Kenna didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend, Scotty. When her baby girl, Diem, was born, she was forced to give custody to Scotty’s parents. Now that she’s been released, Kenna is intent on getting to know her daughter, but Scotty’s parents won’t give her a chance to tell them what really happened the night their son died. Instead, they file a restraining order preventing Kenna from so much as introducing herself to Diem. Handsome, self-assured Ledger, who was Scotty’s best friend, is another key adult in Diem’s life. He’s helping her grandparents raise her, and he too blames Kenna for Scotty’s death. Even so, there’s something about her that haunts him. Kenna feels the pull, too, and seems to be seeking Ledger out despite his judgmental behavior. As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other. Told alternatively from Kenna’s and Ledger’s perspectives, the story explores the myriad ways in which snap judgments based on partial information can derail people’s lives. Built on a foundation of death and grief, this story has an undercurrent of sadness. As usual, however, the author has created compelling characters who are magnetic and sympathetic enough to pull readers in. In addition to grief, the novel also deftly explores complex issues such as guilt, self-doubt, redemption, and forgiveness.

With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2560-7

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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