The Rules of Magic

617x702bnxsl-_sx334_bo1204203200_The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I read it as an: advanced reading copy

Source: Edelweiss

Length: 384

Publisher: S&S

Year: 2017

It’s been a long while since I was last as enraptured by a book as I was with The Rules of Magic. I don’t know if it’s because I really love Alice Hoffman or if I was just ready for a good magical realism or if this was just the book I needed to kick me out of the awful reading slump I’ve been in for months. In any case, I devoured The Rules of Magic like I was freaking Oliver Twist. Please, Ms. Hoffman, may I have some more?

I’m a sucker for back stories anyway. Aunt Jet and Aunt Frances are among my favorite characters in modern literature. So I was delighted to see them get their own entire novel. Their stories are tragic and beautiful, and both entirely unique to themselves.

Frances is the elder of the two, tall and coltish with blood red hair. She’s prickly and difficult and likes science and has exactly zero time for superstition or family curses. And yet she thinks nothing of the fact that she can call wild birds to her hand just by lifting it up. Bridget, called Jet for her long black hair, is sweet tempered and loves people, though I can’t for the life of me understand why because she has the Sight. They also have a brother, Vincent, the only boy ever born to an Owens woman. He is so charismatic that his delivery room nurse tried to steal him as her own. All the children are talented, as befits Owens children. The sisters are beautiful, but Jet is so gorgeous that boys do dangerous things to try to get her attention. When a flirtation with twin brothers results in their death, Franny, Jet, and Vincent decide the family curse is real and vow not to fall in love. The ways in which they manage to finagle their way around that are truly inventive, sometimes amusing, often heartbreaking.

The cast of characters throughout this gorgeous novel is complex and well rounded. The Owens have a long list of cousins and aunts who make appearances, most notably April Owens, the granny of Sally and Gillian of Practical Magic fame, and Aunt Isabelle. She filled the role in this book that Frances and Jet would later fill for Sally and Gillian: wise woman, mentor, role model, friend. She was the best.

The book was sprinkled with Hoffman’s typical vivid language and, appropriately, rules of magic. For example, uncross your knives if there is a quarrel at the table; do walk in the moonlight; wear red shoes; wear black; go barefoot; plant night-blooming flowers; read novels about magic. To mourn properly, you must drape all the furniture in white sheets, war a black silk band on your right arm, turn the mirrors toward the wall, sprinkle salt on the windowsills, leave sprigs or rosemary outside the doors, wear white to the funeral, go barefoot to it out of respect. Make a protection amulet with black cloth sewn with red thread and containing clove and blackthorn, or lavender. Wear a blue string coated with lavender oil, also for protection. I was inordinately tickled that I do a lot of these things by nature. Wearing black, going barefoot, wearing red shoes if I MUST wear shoes at all… are there people who don’t automatically do these things?

There are also references to various teas that I want to try blending, just because they sound tasty:

  • Fever Tea: cinnamon, bayberry, ginger, thyme, marjoram
  • Frustration Tea: chamomile, hyssop, raspberry leaf, rosemary
  • Clairvoyant Tea: mugwort, thyme, yarrow, rosemary
  • Travel Well Tea: orange peel, black tea, mint, rosemary

One recipe I really wish was included, like an actual recipe, and which I have wished for since I first read about it in Practical Magic, is the black soap all the Owens women use to wash their faces. I know it’s just soap and not magic – maybe – but I still want to try making some for myself. The only thing I can find that might possibly be similar is African Black Soap, but that still doesn’t seem quite right. Can anyone help us out? Bueller? Bueller? Ms. Hoffman?

Hoffman’s magical realism is as nuanced and ubiquitous as ever in The Rules of Magic. Birds coming to Franny’s call, Jet reading minds, plants flowering overnight and out of season, all abound. The real beauty of the book, though, comes from learning more about beloved characters, and watching them learn who they are. Through them, we discover that true magic comes from embracing our genuine nature and learning to love ourselves despite, or because, of it.

The Colour of Gold & The Colour of Cold Blood

51kij9g8mnl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The Colour of Blood novella by Toni Mount was actually my entree into the the Sebastian Foxley medieval mystery series, and it was enough to whet my appetite for more. It is actually the second entry in the series, but each story is written with the intention of being able to stand on its own. The novella focuses on the weddng day of Sebastian and his sweetheart, Emily. The tradition of borrowing a livery collar from one’s guild is showcased in this story. Things go awry, however, when Seb’s livery collar turns out to be a fake. Seb, his brother Jude, and a fairly charming street urchin named Jack have to figure out where the real collar is before Seb himself is accused of stealing it and ending his marriage before it has a chance to begin.Read More »

The Hour of Land

51akddeut2bl-_sx368_bo1204203200_In The Hour of Land, Terry Tempest Williams invites readers (or in this case, listeners) along with her on a journey celebrating a selection of her favorite national parks. She takes us from Grand Teton to Big Bend to the Gulf Islands, Acadia to Glacier. It actually made me interested in America, which almost never happens. This dumb fucking country. But it has some really pretty places, assuming the imbeciles in charge don’t ruin them all, and I would like to go see some of the pretty places now, in part thanks to this book.

This is the first book of Williams’ that I’ve read. I have When Women Were Birds on my TBR but haven’t gotten to it yet. I love her writing, the meditative quality of it. Her descriptions are quiet and lovely and thoughtful. Her social commentary is considerably less quiet and makes you want to take action.

Between The Hour of Land and the other book I’m reading, The Nature Fix, I kind of just want to say fuck it to everything and go run off and join the Forest Service and live in a look-out in the trees.

The Hour of Land

Author: Terry Tempest Williams

Format: Audio book

Source: Phoenix Public Library/ Overdrive

Time: 11h 1m

The Stranger in the Woods

61cbvznrdjl-_sx336_bo1204203200_The Stranger in the Woods was a very compelling book and I have things to say about it. It is the tale of Christopher Knight, the hermit of the Little North Pond of Maine. When he was twenty, he packed up and went into the woods, made a camp, and made no other contact with people after that for nearly 30 years. He survived by stealing from unoccupied cabins and camps nearby the entire time. Read More »

Lightning Round: See You in the Cosmos

51mlrtf2bsxl-_aa300_See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

Publisher: Dial Books

Source: Audible book

Length: 6h 10m

I listened to this audiobook with my daughter. I got it because it had a child narrator and was a younger book, so I thought she might enjoy it. I admit that at times I wondered if it might be a little too old for her since it was for middle grade readers and she’s only six. But she LOVED it. I will be writing a longer post for Book Riot about my experiences with this later. If your child is an advanced reader, and precocious, they might enjoy this one as well.

The Hate U Give

41ctgemf2bol-_sx329_bo1204203200_The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Format: Audio book

Source: my own Audible collection

Time: 11h 40m

This was one of the most important books I have ever read. And one of the most difficult. The murder of an unarmed child at the hands of a cop is never an acceptable event. Turning around and victim-blaming him, trying to say he was in a gang or was a drug dealer doesn’t make it ok. It doesn’t negate the fact that a cop shot an unarmed child. It doesn’t change the fact that, throughout history, we have been systematically taught that some lives matter more than others. 

Star Carter was the sole witness to the death of her childhood friend, Khalil, and is put in a position where she has to decide whether to speak out against the police who killed him, or to stay silent. If she speaks. she will turn the local gang lord against her and her family. If she stays silent, the cop will most certainly be acquitted of any wrong doing and result in race riots in her neighborhood. She also has to decide how much to tell her rich friends at her fancy prep school who could never understand what it is like for her to have grown up in a gang-infested area of town. 

This novel was superbly written, if a tad simplistic in some areas. I remind myself it is written for teenagers and move on. Star is a sympathetic character. I want to give her a hug. She has dealt with entirely too many traumas and hardships, and yet it is not an uncommon story. That is the saddest part of all. Teens should be teens, out worrying that their parents are going to catch them having a cigarette or having sex with their boyfriends and girlfriends or ditching school. They shouldn’t have to worry that cops are going to kill them for being black, or that their friends are going to die in their arms on the street, or that their neighbors are going to kill them because they’re gang lords who are trying to keep people from snitching. 

My only real gripe with the book was that I would have liked for Star to have gotten to confront 115 at the end. I wish the end had been different, but I know too much about history and politics and current events to be surprised by it. It just made me sad. 

 

 

Lightning Round – The Thief Taker

51wrwqo7ssl-_sx332_bo1204203200_The Thief Taker by CS Quinn

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer/ Brilliance Audio

Source: Audible books, my own library

Time: 11 h 28 m

Thoughts: I loved this book. For one thing, I have probably an unhealthy obsession with plague, so just about any book set during the Black Death or the Great Plague is going to grab my attention. Also, this was a gross, gripping mystery. So much gore and death and a genuinely interesting story! I loved Charlie Tuesday. He reminded me a kind of a lot, actually, of Crispin Guest, only a lot later in time. Not a perfect match but similar. The story was intriguing and I did NOT see the twist at the end – well done, CS Quinn! I usually spot the twist a mile away! I listened to this on Audible and the narrator had a dead sexy voice. Not a Benedict Cumberbatch level of knee-melt, but still an appropriately British level of sexiness that made me want to meet Charlie Tuesday in a dark alley sometime.

Lightning Round – Tattoo Atlas

51y1kxrutzl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Tattoo Atlas by Tim Floreen

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Year: 2016

Pages: 370

Source: library hardback

Thoughts: I read this because it fit one of the 2017 Read Harder challenge tasks, and it just sounded good. Overall, I thought it was ok. I thought it could use a little more character development and back story. The ending was, admittedly, totally unsatisfying to me. I had kind of predicted it quite early in the book, but it was something I had hoped would not happen. I highly approve of it for its openly gay main character. More of these, please. In general, I think for teens, this would be a good read and probably have quite the twist. I enjoyed it but the ending ruined it for me because I predicted it and I thought so many other, more interesting things could have been done with it. For adult fans of YA, it left a little something to be desired.

Women in Star Trek #2 – Janeway

janeway_season7For International Women’s Day, you just KNOW I’m going to write a post about Captain Kathryn Janeway. Honestly. Janeway kicks ass and leaves a footprint. She will do anything for her crew. She will fight for them and with them and drag them beyond themselves and what they think they can do on their own. Of all the captains, I truly believe that Kathryn Janeway gave the most of herself to her crew. As much as I love Jean-Luc Picard, or Will RIker, or even James fucking TIberius Kirk, I really don’t think any of them could have gotten their crew home under the same circumstances. Not even close, or at least not with their sanity as intact as it was. Janeway was more than their captain. She was their mother, their big sister, best friend, and most demanding mentor in the universe all rolled into one. Janeway is, hands down, my favorite captain. Love ya, Jean-Luc, but Kathryn Janeway rocks.

Kate Mulgrew herself is also badass. Whether it is giving life to a beloved Star Trek character, giving ALL the sass to a Russian inmate-mafia-smuggler-cook-ruler of the world in Orange is the New Black, to putting the full strength of her voice to an audiobook recording, Mulgrew seems to live her life to the fullest. She is a great supporter of Alzheimer’s research and has helped to raise millions of dollars to fund various charities and research devoted to curing the disease.

Favorite Janeway quotes or scenes:

  • As long as you’re alive, there’s hope. “Hope and Fear”
  • One voice can be stronger than a thousand voices. “The Gift.”
  • I realize that I’ve been hard on you at times. But it was never out of anger…or regret that I brought you on board. I’m your captain. That means I can’t always be your friend. “Hope and Fear.”
  • Keep a docking bay open for us. “Pathfinder.”
  • There’s coffee in that nebula. “The Cloud.” The real reason Janeway was so determined to get everyone home. The Delta Quadrant coffee blows.

Other female captains I’m drawing attention to today:

  • Silva LaForge (TNG, “Imaginary Friend,” “Hero Worship,” “Interface”). LaForge captained the Hera. She was often stationed on outposts near the Romulan Neutral Zone, according to Geordi. Silva LaForge was lost and missing in action, along with the rest of the crew of the Hera. Despite extensive searches, no trace of the ship was found and no one ever discovered what became of them.
  • Captain Rachel Garrett (TNG, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”). Garrett captained the Enterprise-C. She and her crew got stuck in a time loop – those pesky things are always causing trouble – and came out of it in the 24th century. But she chose to go back, even knowing her ship would be destroyed, because in doing so, she went to the aid of a Klingon ship in distress and averted a disastrous war between the Klingons and Federation. Timeline restored! She also took Tasha Yar with her, who was on the wrong ship.
  • Erika Hernandez (ENT, multiple eps). Hernandez captained the Columbia NX-02. She helped rescue Dr Phlox from Klingon space while he was there helping to cure a virus.

Women in Star Trek #1

Since March is Women’s History Month and Star Trek is my favoritest ever, I thought it would be excellent to combine the two things. I know, I’m a genius! But honestly, there are some badass women in Star Trek. I want to take a few days over the course of the month to look at a few of them closer.

nichelle_nichols_star_trek_1967From day one, Star Trek has been pretty progressive in terms of women’s inclusivity. Nichelle Nichols was not only a black woman in a 1960s prime-time show, she portrayed a command officer. Uhura could give orders to a very great number of men on the Enterprise. She was instrumental in the visibility and empowerment of black women and other women of color in film and TV, and she had a very notable influence on the young Whoopi Goldberg.

Perhaps it is cliche of me, or disingenuous, to start with such an obvious choice from the Trekverse. But come on. Given the prominent role both Uhura and Nichelle had, the struggles all women today still face – for equality, the right to control our own bodies, the right not to be slut-shamed or victim-blamed for being raped, and so on and on and on. No one would dare do that to Uhura, and if they tried, I have a strong suspicion that he would find himself wearing his testicles as earrings, if he was even lucky enough to retain possession of them. So yes, I think it is perfect to start with Uhura. Nichelle has been a lifelong advocate for space exploration and equality, and was even employed by NASA from the late 1970s to the late 1980s to help recruit more women and minorities to the space program. Among her recruits were Sally RIde, the first American astronaut; Guion Bluford, the first black American astronaut; and Judith Resnick, who died on Challenger (space.com). Her spirit of fairness and exploration fit in wonderfully with many of the ideals of Star Trek.

Some of my favorite Uhura moments:

  • In “The Naked Time” when Sulu thinks he is a swashbuckler and tells Uhura “I will defend you, fair maiden!” and she replies with “Sorry, neither.”
  • In The Search for Spock when the pain in the ass young officer is commenting about how it’s ok for an officer like Uhura, who is old and at the end of her career, to like the quiet posts where nothing ever happens, but he wants something more exciting. Then Kirk, Bones, and Sulu come in, the young’un is agog at the living legends, and Uhura pulls a phaser on him and tells him “this isn’t reality, this is fantasy. And you’re going to sit in the closet” and then proceeds to beam the men where they need to go on their clandestine mission before she joins them later.
  • Any time she said “Hailing frequencies open.” Because, come on. Those were the words that heralded a new adventure. What would it be? A new alien race? Someone in need of help? Some threat to the galaxy that only the crew of the Enterprise could fix? All of the above? And she got to hear about it first. That’s really exciting, every time, even now when I know every mission they’ve gone on and what’s going to happen and who isn’t coming back.

Other female comm officers I’m giving a shout-out to today include:

  • Lt. Palmer (TOS). She sometimes stood in for Uhura, which, like, big go-go boots to fill. She did her best.
  • Janice Rand (TOS). One of my favorite non-starring characters. She was sassy. That is all.
  • Lt. Trilya (TVH). Her ship was one of the ones that got toasted by the whale probe in The Voyage Home. She reported it to Starfleet HQ.