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Book Review: Practical Magic.

Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman.

I’ve had this book for ages but, for some reason, I hadn’t read it. Practical Magic (Griffin Dunne, 1998) is one of my favourite films, so I was a little worried that reading the book would make me feel disappointed by the film. fortunately, that didn’t happen. I loved the book, and I still love the film. For me, I found that there were enough differences that you could see the film was based on the book, but only loosely followed it. The film was written incredibly well, in my humble opinion, so that it complimented the book.

As with the film, it follows the story of sisters Sally and Gillian after their parents die and their move to the aunts on Magnolia street. In the film it follows this idea of being cursed by their ancestor, Maria, and how death follows any who “dare love an Owens girl”. The book differs from this track. It brings up love and feeling cursed, but it’s more centred around what the sisters believe they deserve. Their abandonment issues make them believe that they are not worthy of being loved, or they’re scared to love in case they lose something they care so much about.

They grow up as polar opposites, but are brought together by the death of Gillian’s boyfriend Jimmy. This finally brings Gillian back to the family. Sally left the aunts’ when her two girls (also polar opposites) were babies after fearing they’d be targets like her and Gillian were. As with the film, it follows their journey and how they learn to accept each other’s differences, and to love themselves for who they are.

Both the book and the film are beautifully narrated with vivid concepts, relatable emotions, and ‘real’ family frictions. I’m actually disappointed that Officer Gary Hallet wasn’t how he was portrayed in the film though – I really loved Aidan in this. Gary in the book seemed such a dull character by comparison (which he really isn’t, he just felt different). I’m also sad that Gillian didn’t look like the red-haired Nicole Kidman. The symmetry between Sally and Gillian with Sally’s girls, Antonia and Kylie, was much more subtle than film. In the book, it’s more about attitudes and how personalities can grow, change, converge… dependent upon influences, circumstances and age.

You actually see Sally’s children play a much bigger role in showing this development when it comes to the book.

Despite my love of the film, I still would definitely recommend reading the book as it’s like reading two books based on the same topic – you can see the similarities but, once you accept they’re not the same, you can love both equally.

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Book Review: Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study (books 1-3).

Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study (Yelena Zaltana: books 1-3), By Maria V. Snyder.

A series of books that follow a 20 year old woman (Yelena) from her time as a prisoner awaiting her execution, through to the discovery of being a rather powerful magician. To put things into context, the world Yelena grows up in is divided into to countries: Ixia (ruled by The Commander who had killed the tyrannical magic-weilding King, and split Ixia into military districts), and Sitia (viewed as being more liberal. A refuge for those seeking to escape military rule. Also a sanctuary for magicians).

Yelena chooses to accept the high-risk position of food taster for the paranoid Commander and, in doing so, sets about a chain of events that begin to reveal who she is, where she has come from, and a whole host of other events she was embroiled in without even realising. As any main character should know, their very survival is imperative in order to prevent the whole world from being destroyed, or changed in ways that the general populace would be unhappy with.

I really enjoyed this series. It had lots of action, strong female role models, as well as good and evil warring against each other (and many you think fall into one character, end up switching sides frequently). The general storyline comes across like a good YA fantasy, but parts of the content wouldn’t be suitable for younger audiences, as there are many references to rape, sacrifice, and gruesome murders. The rape scenes aren’t particularly graphic, but the murders are.  The many references to  these ‘bad people’ and the things they do to the young and vulnerable could be upsetting for the more sensitive audiences.

That said, our heroine is no Bella (re: Twilight). She has bouts of self-doubt (well, she was a nobody), she’s uncertain of her skill (she was never really trained), she’s consumed by grief or loss (a lot of people die)… but she claws her way back up and out of the cesspool and kicks some motherfuckin’ ass!

A minor issue with this series is the repetition. Chunks of text from previous books are regurgitated in later ones. I am very well versed in both Ixian and Sitian history, magic, and all that jazz since I have had frequent reminders throughout. I expect these tidbits would be useful reminders if I’d left more time between reading each book, but I read them directly after each other, so they became a little annoying.

In the last book, there also seemed to be a lot of people who were smiling “sardonically”.

Like I said though, minor issues. Definitely worth a read!

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Book Review: Shadowmancer *plot spoiler*.

Shadowmancer, by G.P Taylor.

Well, I had to leave this review for a day or so to see if I truly felt as irritated by this as I did after I finished it… my feelings have not changed, however.  The last time I felt this pissed by a book was when I read James Barclay’s ‘Dawn Thief‘. What. A. Load. Of. Crap.
I found myself fabricating excuses: it’s written for young teens, it’s a short book, it’s… I ran out of excuses. It’s just very basic. A thinly veiled attempt to preach to kids about how you need to believe in God, even if you have never seen Him/Her. In the book, our main character (teenaged Thomas) learns that, when he feels like crap, he just has to close his eyes and he will see his God. He’ll magically feel better, calmer, and more positive. For five minutes. Then something bad happens and he has to repeat the process as, naturally, he forgets that he swore that he’d always believe in Him.

Our messiah, of sorts, even has these attacks of doubt. Plus, he’s a pussy. He manages to forget he’s injured for a while… then starts moaning when he has to walk. Thomas’ female friend, Kate, is equally pathetic for the most part. Despite her being choc-full of attitude at the start. As soon as she shoves on a dress, she gets really lame and whines a lot.
They seem to go nowhere. They wander around, following where they’ve been directed, only to stumble across more bad guys out to steal a trinket that doesn’t seem to do much but bring on the ‘end of days’ (why didn’t God have the forethought not to create this piece of crap? Eh?). They get stuck in a pickle:

“Oh no,” they cry. “We’re going to die!”

“Don’t worry,” says some pillock. “If we sit down, close our eyes, and think of God…” Hey presto! There’s another secret staircase. Handy!

And don’t forget that magic, seances, and tarot cards are all evil! Yes, they are. You’re totally going to hell if you use them. Which makes me wonder if the guy on the back from The Times who wrote: “The biggest event in children’s fiction since Harry Potter” has actually read either book. Some kid grows up wanting to be Harry Potter… then reads this book and learns that God, whilst apparently being all-loving, will probably send you to hell for believing in magic. Sorry kids.

The only saving grace is a few interesting characters, just a shame that they’re mostly pointless in this piece of work. And then it ends.

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Book Review: Seeking Whom He May Devour.

Seeking Whom He May Devour, by Fred Vargas.

Think: werewolf legends and superstition. A small farming village in France finds that a sheep farm has discovered savaged sheep, not killed for meat but for sport. Bite marks are bigger than a normal wolf, so the return of the legend of the Merconteur Monster sets off fears which spread, as the killings continue. The beast moves on to people.

Despite being based on a werewolf legend, you see little of the wolves. Your journey is following the characters involved who decide to track a man they believe is either a werewolf, or has trained a large wolf to kill for him. This group is an odd bunch: an old shepard (Watchee), an abandoned black boy who was raised by a local white woman now under the care of Watchee (Soliman), and a musician/plumber (Camille) because she has a HGV license and the men can’t drive. They pull in an ex-lover (Adamsberg) of Camille’s because he’s an officer that can help in the hunt for the killer, which causes some tension with Camille’s new love (Lawrence, a wildlife specialist who’s been contracted to study the French wolves). It’s a highly dysfunctional group, living like travellers in close quarters, but such an endearing bunch!

I couldn’t put the book down! I just had to know what mischief they’d be up to next. What town they’d visit, who they’d be babbling about, who’d be murdered next… all with the backdrop of rural France. You also had the issues raised as Soliman found he wasn’t so accepted in other regions of France, having taken for granted how the locals had warmed to him once his adopted mother had taken him in and raised him. Watchee, as guardian and watcher, always seemed to manage to have his eye on the world and constantly aware when trouble hit. Out came his rifle and a frighteningly calm resolution to kill anyone who threatened his ‘family’, and he probably would kill them too if Adamsberg didn’t intervene.

Adamsberg took refuge amongst this group, partly for being enthralled by the wolf story, hope that Camille still loves him, and to avoid the wrath of a woman that thirsted for his blood after he shot and killed her drug dealer boyfriend during a raid…

At many points, I actually laughed out loud. The characters had so much life, and personality! Such odd people, but utterly fascinating! I really do recommend this book. 10/10!

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Book Review: Witch and Warrior.

Witch and Warrior, by Marie Brennan.

This is the second installment from Marie, which follows the book Doppelganger. Witch and Warrior follows Mirei (Miryo and Mirage in one form) on her journey to teach herself how to use gifts The Goddess gave her when she is the first of her kind. Being the first complete witch, she is both loved and hated in equal measure. She is fighting to keep herself alive, to teach others about who she has become, to secure a future for those who’ll become like her, but she is also struggling to deal with the politics of huge divide between witches planning to oppose the changes – they are preparing for war.

Initially, the book was a fairly slow start with all the politics, training, guerilla warfare, espionage… and so forth. By part two though, things really began to get interesting. Despite certain twists and turns in the plot being somewhat predictable, they were so rapidly fired out and new problems arose to replace them that you were never left bored, or waiting for something to happen.

There are parts in the book where I just couldn’t physically stop reading, and parts where I couldn’t believe something had happened. The whole combination of varying pace, layered action, and ‘real’ risks to Mirei and her followers, made the read feel incredibly gripping. “Who’s going to die? Who’s going to be captured? Will they survive? Will they lose their powers? Will they be found out?” – were all questions I was asking myself as I was continuing to follow the plot.

It never feels like Marie is drawing the story out either, and she mustn’t feel obligated to extend it into a third book (to which I’m grateful, as I hate feeling like things are dragged out for the sake of another book). Although the book appears to reach its end rather quickly, in my opinion, it’s a very satisfying ending – not too much is explained, but enough that you can draw conclusions yourself as to how things would continue to resolve themselves. It was a more realistic approach, rather than a fairytale ending.

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Book Review: Doppelganger.

Doppelganger, by Marie Brennan.

This was a book I stumbled across by accident on one of those book exchange shelves you find in the workplace. I was intrigued by its original spin on witchcraft as a schooled discipline, as well as it being a birthright. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Brennan interweaves various disciplines, ranging from warrior to witch. They are inextricably linked to The Goddess in her five states: the four elements, and as the warrior. What this book explores is the concept that, for witches, the first magic ritual when they are five days old, creates a doppelganger which has to be killed in order for the witch to be able to control her power. The doppelganger is referred to as being “the antithesis to magic”. Some of these doppelgangers survive, most likely to an exposure to starlight which creates the soul. If the child receives its soul, it cannot be killed by anyone but its other self unless they intend to kill both babies.

Mirage (warrior) and Miryo (witch in training) discover each other and learn about how well they are linked. They are in a desperate race to find a way to ensure the survival of them both, as well as ensuring Miryo can reach the much sought after position of full-fledged witch, before she reaches for her power and potentially kills them both by accident. They cannot accept The Goddess meant to create another self, only for it to be murdered. Certainly not if the witch had to go against her conscience to do so.

This book really did surprise me with how well paced it was, lots of twists and turns to keep things interesting, and certainly felt very original in its concept. I’m really looking forward to reading the second book: Warrior and Witch.

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Book Review: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

The Sorrows of Young Werther, by J.W.v Goethe.

A novella about a young man, an artist and writer, who goes off to the country to enjoy what nature may inspire. In his enthusiasm for new experiences, and meeting new acquaintances, he fails to take heed of friendly warnings, and becomes obsessed with a local woman who’s promised to another man. Despite the fact Lotte marries Albert, Werther attempts to maintain a friendship but only succeeds in exciting his obsessions, resulting in him becoming more and more melancholy.

There are lots of beautiful descriptions of the environment and daily life that Werther observes, but what I grew weary of was how much of a sap Werther became. He was a self proclaimed “sensitive” soul, but he became so hapless without a daily fix of “his” Lotte. It always seemed like Lotte was either truly ignorant of Werther’s passions, or she took pleasure in seeing him so uncomfortable. As it turns out, she isn’t the latter but I can’t really see her being entirely ignorant either, but it seemed like she did nothing in an attempt to prevent his attachment to her.

The book is set out in three parts, part one and two are as if we’re reading letters that Werther writes to an old friend about his life and love, as well as attempting to rid himself of his hopeless feelings once Lotte marries. Part three is an overview of Werther’s life as if written by an editor and contains snippets of things he wrote to his friend, as well as his final letter to Lotte.

Personally, the book wasn’t what I expected it to be. I found myself getting quite annoyed with the characters, and situations that went on. At 170 pages or so, it was hardly a difficult read though. Worth reading if you enjoy reading letters; or reading lots of observations on daily life, seasons, emotions, human interactions, etc…

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