PRACTICAL MAGIC

Part of Hoffman's great talent is her wonderful ability to sift some magic into unlikely places, such as a latter-day Levittown (Seventh Heaven, 1990) or a community of divorcÇes in Florida (Turtle Moon, 1992). But in her 11th novel, a tale of love and life in New England, it feels as if the lid flew off the jar of magic—it blinds you with fairy dust. Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned sisters, only 13 months apart, but such opposites in appearance and temperament that they're dubbed ``Day and Night'' by the two old aunts who are raising them. Sally is steady, Gillian is jittery, and each is wary, in her own way, about the frightening pull of love. They've seen the evidence for themselves in the besotted behavior of the women who call on the two aunts for charms and potions to help them with their love lives. The aunts grow herbs, make mysterious brews, and have a houseful of—what else?—black cats. The two girls grow up to flee (in opposite directions) from the aunts, the house, and the Massachusetts town where they've long been shunned by their superstitious schoolmates. What they can't escape is magic, which follows them, sometimes in a particularly malevolent form. And, ultimately, no matter how hard they dodge it, they have to recognize that love always catches up with you. As always, Hoffman's writing has plenty of power. Her best sentences are like incantations—they won't let you get away. But it's just too hard to believe the magic here, maybe because it's not so much practical magic as it is predictable magic, with its crones and bubbling cauldrons and hearts of animals pierced with pins. Sally and Gillian are appealing characters, but, finally, their story seems as murky as one of the aunts' potions—and just as hard to swallow. Too much hocus-pocus, not enough focus. (Book-of-the-Month Club selection)

Pub Date: June 14, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14055-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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