Book Review: “Practical Magic” by Alice Hoffman

I read this book in a day. A single day, starting before work at 7:45, and then continuing through lunch and even a bit at the comic shop later. I devoured this book, turning pages so quickly towards the last quarter of the book that I’m surprised the book didn’t burst into flames.

Was it perfect? No. And that’s probably because I was spoiled by reading The Rules of Magic first, which was recently released as a prequel to Practical Magic. There are a few things that Hoffman wrote about in The Rules of Magic that directly contradict what she wrote about in Practical Magic. Only one of these instances truly bothered me, though, and I’ll get to that part in a bit.

This book did not turn out the way I thought it would. That’s a good thing. It did have more romance than I was expecting (and there were a few steamy scenes, which I guess made sense because this was about adult relationships and not the teenage ones from Hoffman’s other book), but I also didn’t mind the romance. It worked. It wasn’t forced, it wasn’t cheesy — it just made sense. I think that’s my problem with romance novels, or with major romantic plots/subplots in other novels: everything just feels forced and that it falls into line too well.

The relationships between the sisters made sense, and I could feel the fear that Sally, the older sister, constantly felt. She had been forced to grow up far before her time and she was paying for it later in her life. That’s sad, but it also resonated with me for some reason.

The main plot of the novel (as far as I can tell?) seems to revolve around Gillian (the younger sister) returning from her mad romps across the country to her sister Sally’s doorstep, dragging a dead body behind her. The rest of the novel deals with the consequences of this dead body, and Hoffman gives just enough details to make the reader understand what’s happening while the characters in the novel are still oblivious (dramatic irony, anyone?). Still, as I said before, it’s not cheesy.

My one gripe that there’s not enough “magic” present here. Yes, later on one of the girls discovers she’s got some innate magical abilities, but the magic and the wonder that were present in The Rules of Magic just felt different here. It’s certainly a case of “I read the newer novel first and Hoffman’s storytelling abilities have greatly improved over the past 23 years,” so I can’t really take points off for this. If I’d read this book first, I think I would’ve had a higher rating of it.

The one major thing that changed between The Rules of Magic  and Practical Magic is that in The Rules of Magic, Jet (who’s one of the “Old Aunts” in Practical Magic) fell in love with a boy and tried to run away with him. In Practical Magic, it is mentioned that Jet only loved one boy and he was struck by lightning out on the village green. While yes, she did love that guy, that’s not the last guy she loved, and it’s certainly not the way the one she loved died. If you’re going to write a prequel to a story you wrote over twenty years ago, at least go back and double-check what you wrote in the first one to make sure there aren’t any continuity errors.

Is this book perfect? Not quite. Is it a popcorn-book? No, try again. What it is is a good story with compelling characters, and I was nearly flying through the book in the last 20 or so pages, desperately trying to see what would happen because I was honestly getting scared at that point. (No, it’s not a horror novel, but I did get super caught up in what was going on, and that’s the way I like it.)

I’d give this book a solid 4/5 stars. It’s certainly something I’d like to reread, and it’s something that entertained me greatly. It’s not perfect, but it’s not vaporous. It’s a solid magical realism novel that sucks you in before you’ve even realized it.

I’ve now read three books in the past two weeks, and I’m feeling like my old self again. Watch out, y’all.

Have you read any of Alice Hoffman’s books? What did you think of this one? Should I have read the original first and the prequel second? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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