An overly rich treacle tart, sweet and flavorful but hard to get through.

THE BOOK OF MAGIC

In the conclusion to Hoffman’s Practical Magic series, a present-day family of witches and healers wages a final battle against the curse that has plagued them since 1680.

Thanks to an ancestor’s bitter curse, anyone who's been in love with and/or been loved by an Owens family member for the last 300 years has met death and tragedy (with rare exceptions involving risks and personal sacrifice). Hoffman’s prequel, Magic Lessons (2020), detailed the origin of the curse. In this series finale, Hoffman brings the three most recent generations together: sisters Sally and Gillian, whose youthful adventures introduced the series in Practical Magic (1995); their beloved elderly aunts, Jet and Franny, and long-lost uncle Vincent, children themselves in 1960s Manhattan in Rules of Magic (2017); and Sally’s daughters, Kylie and Antonia, whom she’s shielded from knowledge of their unusual heritage and its curse. The novel opens with Jet about to die, aware she has no time to use the knowledge she’s recently gained to end the curse herself. Instead, she leaves clues that send her survivors on a circuitous path involving a mysterious book filled with magic that could be dangerous in the wrong hands. Then an accident makes the need to break the curse acute. What follows is a novel overripe with plot twists, lofty romances, and some ugly violence along with detailed magic recipes, enjoyably sly literary references, and somewhat repetitive memories of key moments from the previous volumes. While centered in the Massachusetts town where the Owens family moved in the 17th century, the novel travels to current-day England (briefly detouring to France) and becomes a battle of good versus evil. The Owens women’s greatest challenge is knowing whom to trust—or love. Hoffman strongly hints that the danger arising when someone chooses incorrectly is less a matter of magic than psychology and morality. Ultimately, for better or worse, each Owens woman must face her fear of love. For all the talk of magic, the message here is that personal courage and the capacity to love are the deepest sources of an individual’s power.

An overly rich treacle tart, sweet and flavorful but hard to get through.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982151-48-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

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PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION

A travel writer has one last shot at reconnecting with the best friend she just might be in love with.

Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. She loves wearing bright colors while he prefers khakis and a T-shirt. She likes just about everything while he’s a bit more discerning. And yet, their opposites-attract friendship works because they love each other…in a totally platonic way. Probably. Even though they have their own separate lives (Poppy lives in New York City and is a travel writer with a popular Instagram account; Alex is a high school teacher in their tiny Ohio hometown), they still manage to get together each summer for one fabulous vacation. They grow closer every year, but Poppy doesn’t let herself linger on her feelings for Alex—she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship or the way she can be fully herself with him. They continue to date other people, even bringing their serious partners on their summer vacations…but then, after a falling-out, they stop speaking. When Poppy finds herself facing a serious bout of ennui, unhappy with her glamorous job and the life she’s been dreaming of forever, she thinks back to the last time she was truly happy: her last vacation with Alex. And so, though they haven’t spoken in two years, she asks him to take another vacation with her. She’s determined to bridge the gap that’s formed between them and become best friends again, but to do that, she’ll have to be honest with Alex—and herself—about her true feelings. In chapters that jump around in time, Henry shows readers the progression (and dissolution) of Poppy and Alex’s friendship. Their slow-burn love story hits on beloved romance tropes (such as there unexpectedly being only one bed on the reconciliation trip Poppy plans) while still feeling entirely fresh. Henry’s biggest strength is in the sparkling, often laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, particularly the banter-filled conversations between Poppy and Alex. But there’s depth to the story, too—Poppy’s feeling of dissatisfaction with a life that should be making her happy as well as her unresolved feelings toward the difficult parts of her childhood make her a sympathetic and relatable character. The end result is a story that pays homage to classic romantic comedies while having a point of view all its own.

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0675-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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