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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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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