Posted in Publisher Proof

The Change by Kirsten Miller

You have to indulge me with this review, because it’s quite a personal response to Kirsten Miller’s novel. It had to be personal, because as a peri-menopausal woman, I fell in love with the idea of a latent power that women can tap into at an age when we are often dismissed as ‘past it’. An age I’ve now reached. ‘The Change’ was a whispered word in my family. At my Grandma’s house there was a clear dividing line at the front door, right into the living room for my Grandad and left into the dining room for my Grandma. I was the only granddaughter and I did spend a lot of time with Grandad, but the other room with my two aunties, Grandma and Mum was where secret feminine conversations took place. ‘The Change’ was first overheard when I was just getting used to my periods starting. Older family members were struggling with the symptoms of menopause. Now, thirty years later I’m experiencing symptoms of peri-menopause and I realise we never really had full and frank conversations about it. Starting my periods was traumatic. I was constantly worried about leaking through my clothes, particularly at school. I was embarrassed that sometimes I had to take my bag to the toilet with me from the classroom and I was mortified that to get out of swimming I had to shout out, in front of everyone, that I had my period.

I’d started my period in my first week of secondary school, in the same summer that I broke my back so I went through an enormous amount of change. I felt tied down and I certainly wasn’t the same tree climbing, dog walking tomboy I had been up till now. I’m thinking that menopause is going to have another seismic effect. I’m already finding it difficult to contain symptoms like sweating and hair loss, but I don’t want to lose myself. I love that menopause is starting to be talked about thanks to media celebrities like Davina McCall and I’m trying to be open and honest talking about my experiences with friends. So I was really up for reading a book about women who are moving towards middle age. Women become more interesting as they get older, more confident and full of wisdom and experience. I certainly found that in my friends and in the characters of this book who I fell immediately in love with. They are definitely meant to be a trio.

Nessa: The Seeker
Jo: The Protector
Harriett: The Punisher

Each woman finds herself bestowed with incredible powers. When Nessa is widowed and her daughters leave for college, she’s left alone in her house near the ocean. Finally, she has time and quiet hours to herself, and she hears voices belonging to the dead – who will only speak to her. They’ve possibly always been there, but she’s been too busy with her family’s needs to hear them. Harriett is almost fifty, her marriage and career have imploded, and she hasn’t left her house in months. Her house was the envy of the neighbourhood and graced the cover of magazines, but now it’s overgrown with incredible plants. Harriett realises that her life is far from over – in fact, she’s undergone a stunning metamorphosis.

Jo has spent thirty years at war with her body. The rage that arrived with menopause felt like the last straw – until she discovers she’s able to channel it, but needs to be able to control it too. The trio are guided by voices only Nessa can hear and discover the abandoned body of a teenage girl. The police have already written off the victim. But these women have not. Their own investigations lead them to more bodies and a world of wealth where the rules don’t apply – and the realisation that laws are designed to protect villains, not the vulnerable.So it’s up to these three women to avenge the innocent, and punish the guilty…

The time has come to embrace The Change.

I loved these women, they were powerful, sexy, sassy and deeply committed to their fellow women – dead or alive. Some might call them witches, but isn’t that a man’s name for a woman who won’t be controlled? Harriett is wonderful! She’s unapologetically sexy and partakes of beautiful men or women when she fancies, but doesn’t feel a need to be attached. She lets her garden run riot and has her own methods for dealing with those who complain. I loved her fearlessness and sense of humour. Nessa has a gift that’s past down through the generations, but has laid dormant till now. I loved that Nessa’s situation is a positive spin on the empty nest, although her gift is not one most people would want. I loved her compassion for the girls she sees and her drive to help, to the extent of taking a ghost home with her. Jo’s gift felt like the embodiment of the rage a lot of women feel about the injustices of the world we live in. The author tells us tales about what women face every day: husbands who control their lives; young girls preyed on by their sport’s coach; vibrant and intelligent women overlooked for promotion; creative women having their ideas stolen by men; women excluded from the gent’s club where a group of millionaire men rule the world. These women are determined to speak out, be open about what women’s lives are like and educate other women to speak their truth and feel their power. It’s inspiring and exhilarating.

The mystery of the serial killer is compelling and really keeps you reading. I kept picking this up in every spare moment, wanting to spend time with these women and see where their investigations lead. I really loved the clever way the author took on the concept of serial killer stories while writing one. She addresses the popularity of crime thrillers and true crime podcasts and how they appeal to men. They’re written as if the victims are expendable and the killers get special nicknames as if they are comic book villains. I’ve often thought this about the Yorkshire Ripper. He’s notorious, but I couldn’t tell you a single name of his victims. There is a truth about the world right at the heart of her story. It comes to light when the women involve the police. There are women in the world who matter and there are others who are worthless, both to law enforcement and to the powerful men encountered in this book. They can be dismissed, because they’re sex workers, or drug addicts, or live in poverty. The Yorkshire Ripper’s first victims were possibly sex workers, then a young girl was attacked after walking home from a night out. She was perceived, by law enforcement and the media, as coming from a decent family. Media headlines screamed that the Ripper had taken his first ‘innocent’ victim. The implication being that the other victims deserved their fate. The author really got this message across, but without losing any of the power, the tension or the desperate need to see the killer caught. Finally, I have to say something about magic realism and being a huge fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Alice Hoffman, I’ve been reading some of the best writers in the genre. Miller’s story is so strong and the characters so well constructed, that I never felt a sense of disbelief. I have quite a collection of magic realism starting with my teenage love for Fay Weldon’s Life and Loves of a She-Devil and Angela Carter’s short stories. This book can easily sit next to my favourites. It really is that good.

Meet The Author

Kirsten Miller grew up in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. At seventeen, she hit the road and moved to New York City, where she lives to this day. Kirsten’s first adult novel, The Change, is a feel good feminist revenge fantasy–with witches. The Change is a Good Morning America Book Club pick for May 2022. Kirsten also the author of over a dozen middle grade and YA novels, including the acclaimed Kiki Strike books, which tell the tale of the delinquent girl geniuses who keep Manhattan safe, and How to Lead a Life of Crime. She is not the Kirsten Miller who wrote All That Is Left (which appears on the list of the books she’s written), but she assumes that Kirsten is lovely and talented.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Book Of Magic by Alice Hoffman

This has been one of my most anticipated novels for this year, then it’s publication date was changed to January 2022 and I was going to have to wait a bit longer. I finally snagged a copy on NetGalley last week, and its no surprise that I started to read it straightaway. Was it worth the wait?

This is the fourth and final book in Hoffman’s Practical Magic series and it really does come full circle. We have three generations of Owen’s sisters in this tale: Franny and Jet, Gillian and Sally, and finally Sally’s daughters Kylie and Antonia. In fact this really does take us full circle, rather like the symbol of the Ourobos, a snake swallowing its own tail which is, rather aptly, the symbol of dark magic. So, here we have those Owenses who have dabbled as practitioners of the dark arts, such as Franny and Jet’s brother Vincent. Could one of the younger members of the family be heading down that dark route and what would call them there?

Regular readers will know that the curse of the Owens family is lodged in the love part of their lives. This was a curse placed by Maria Owens who knew the truth of how women might become undone by men. The various family members have found their own ways of circumventing the worst of the curse, after Jet lost her true love as a teenager. Gillian is married, but she doesn’t live with Ben or wear a wedding ring. Sally has lived with a man but lost him very young and the heartache has closed her to that part of life. Now all she cares for are books. Antonia is married to her work as a doctor, but is having a baby with her gay best friend. However, for their youngest, Kylie, love has been part of her life for a long time. She is inseparable from her best friend Gideon but they have never spoken of their love for each other. Till now. Two losses happen to Kylie at once. The death watch beetle is clacking in the walls of the house on Magnolia Street where Sally, Kylie and both elderly aunts reside still. They have barely said their goodbyes, when Kylie’s Gideon is in a terrible accident and is so badly injured he is in a coma.

Kylie takes matters into her own hands and is drawn to a hidden Grimoire in the Owens Library. A Grimoire is a witches personal journal and book of magic. Kylie believes this book has the answer to ending the Owen’s curse, but the final pages are stuck together and she can’t enact the spell. Kylie returns to where the Owens story starts, in the original Essex county in England. Here she hopes to find the secret to opening the last pages of the book, but there are two warnings attached to her quest. She mustn’t trust the wrong person and if she is the one to overturn the curse, she must be prepared to lose everything. However, when Kylie is in danger, it will take Franny, Sally and her uncle Vincent to join the quest. Which one of them is the key to end the curse? And what price will they need to pay?

I struggled with the first few chapters of the book, but that might have more to do with me trying to read it Christmas week, when having a prolonged time to sit and read is impossible. Once I could spend some time with the story I really started to enjoy it. I welcomed the cross generational aspect to the story, and those reminders of everything that had gone before. From Levi Willard’s teenage love for Jet, Vincent’s years in NYC as a musician and all the way back to Maria Owens and her difficulties accepting the love of Samuel several centuries earlier. There are seeds of hope, as new life comes into the family, as Antonia’s love for Ariel takes her by surprise and new familiars seek out their human counterparts. Sally has always been interesting to me and her continued tightrope walk between the magic that is her birth right and her need to stay under the radar and keep her girl’s safe. The women are always treading a line between the future they are born with, shown on the right palm and the future they choose, shown on the left. I loved how her story ended, it felt satisfying and even full of hope, given the heartache that went before.

What stood out loud and clear was, that despite being cursed in love, the love the women have for each other is a blessing. In particular, Franny and Jet’s love for Sally and Gillian. Brought to the crooked house as small orphans, the aunts loved their nieces as their own and taught them everything they needed to be safe and understand the magic they were born with. Any trouble or danger brought both aunts running to help and protect them, even into their old age and especially in this story. This love stands out stronger than any other in all four books and never dies. Everything I love about Hoffman is there, her wonderful descriptions of nature and the women’s links to the natural world. Her descriptions of spells and their effects are fantastical and so vivid, especially the menacing red rain poisoning a whole community. I love that the books celebrate strong women, who support each other and their right to be individuals. This is a fitting end to a series that begins chronologically with persecution, betrayal and death. It ends with a sense of the Owens family being part of a community, playing a bigger part in the world and learning how to utilise their magic in harmony with the world.

Published by Scribner U.K. 6th Jan 2022.

Meet The Author.

Alice Hoffman is the author of thirty works of fiction, including Practical Magic, The Red Garden, The Dovekeepers and, most recently,The Museum of Extraordinary Things. She lives in Boston. Visit her website: http://www.alicehoffman.com

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.

Recently I’ve begun to realise that one of the literary devices I love most is magic realism. For those who’ve never come across it before, or didn’t know they had, magic realism is a 20th Century style or genre where a novel’s story is mostly realistic but with magical elements that can sometimes feel out of place in the narrative. I think I became interested in this style of writing, from my favourite teenage author Fay Weldon. The Life and Loves of a She-Devil was dramatised at this point and was widely talked about in the media and at school – where any chance to see clips that would titillate were applauded. How innocent we were that, without the internet, we were reduced to TV dramas for our fix of nudity – now we can see six naked people being visually assessed in their pods at any time of day. Back in the 1990s we had to commit to storyline for a whole episode, just for a glimpse of side boob! I read all Fay Weldon’s back catalogue and became fascinated with the skilful way she mixed realistic settings with sudden supernatural, astrological or magical elements. There was an audacity to it that I loved. So, when I came to reading Like Water for Chocolate I was charmed straight away by the love story and the magical powers that Tita has, especially her ability to bake her emotions into her food.

Movie poster for the 1992 adaptation of the novel

Set in early 20th Century Mexico, we meet Tita, the youngest daughter of the family who is hopelessly in love with Pedro. Sadly, Mexican tradition dictates that older siblings marry to carry on the family name, make connections and ensure their financial future. Younger siblings are destined to be the caregiver in the family, remaining single and close to home to help their parents in their old age. Tita and Pedro are in love and Tita’s mother knows this, so what happens next seems unusually cruel. She leaves older sister Rosauro open to marriage and then schemes behind the scenes, as a result and feeling like he has no realistic chance with Tita, he marries Rosauro because then at least he will be able to stay close to his real love. It is their wedding day where we see the full structure of the novel unfold. Tita’s mother forces her to bake the wedding cake, but as she does Tita begins to cry and somehow her sadness leaches into the cake batter. As they serve the cake at the wedding, much to Tita’s surprise, the guests start to experience their own memories of lost loves. Soon the whole room is reminiscing and weeping. From the extraordinary event onwards the novel is split so that a recipe forms each chapter. We are always waiting to see what emotion will get baked or fried into each incredible Mexican recipe as Pedro and Tita circle each other, forever in unrequited love. Would they ever get a chance to be together?

Cover for the movie tie-in edition

I first read this novel when I was an impressionable twenty year old, still in love with the idea of romantic love. Now if I was asked to give advice to Tita, I’d probably say that life is way too short to spend it in such a torturous situation. Pack a bag and get a bus out of there. Build your own life. It’s not just the idea of her sister marrying Pedro, it’s watching the milestones of their life together. If Rosauro had children with him, Tita would be hurt all over again. Every day there would be a new reason to mourn what she could have had. Her reward for this sacrifice? Looking after a mother who’s becoming more infirm by the day knowing that she was the one who took away Tita’s chance of happiness and gave it to her sister. I remember reading and hoping that Pedro’s love for Tita would remain. I couldn’t bear the thought that Pedro might grow to love Rosauro over the years. I won’t ruin the ending for those who haven’t read this extraordinary book, but I will say that it’s one of the most unusual endings I have ever read. I have been known to recreate a recipe from a book, especially where recipes are an important part of the story. I’ve often done it for my book club, where we’ve eaten: chocolate cream pie while reading Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and honesty cake while reading Alice Hoffman’s The Story Sisters. Yet, I’ve never attempted one of Tita’s family recipes – perhaps because they seem so uniquely hers and enchanted by her particular brand of magic. This is a beautiful novel for those hopeless romantics or if you love to be immersed in the culture of the characters from old customs, to celebrations and their chosen foods for those occasions. This has been a book that has endured for me and still feels uniquely magical.

Lumi Cavazos as Tita in the 1992 film

Meet The Author.

Laura Esquivel is the award-winning author of Like Water for Chocolate, which has sold over four and a half million copies around the world in 35 languages, The Law of Love, and most recently, Between Two Fires. She lives in Mexico City.

Posted in Throwback Thursday

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

This was a much anticipated read for me as Alice Hoffman is probably my favourite writer. Most people know her for Practical Magic, but I think her more recent novels have been remarkable. The World That We Knew stands with them. It was sad, unflinchingly honest and strangely magical.


We join Hanni Kohn and her daughter Lea in Berlin at the beginning of WWII.The verbal propaganda against German Jews is now turning into action and after Lea is attacked by a soldier on her way home, Hanni intervenes with terrible consequences. Now Hanni knows she must get Lea out of Berlin, but how can they both leave when Hanni is looking after her elderly mother. Desperately looking for some way of protecting Lea, Hanni falls on the idea of a Golem – a mythical Jewish creature animated from clay. First she approaches the rabbi, who turns her down, but the rabbi’s daughter Ettie is listening and spies a chance to escape home. She assures Hanni she has the necessary power and learning to create such a creature, programmed to protect Lea, but only on the basis that Ettie and her sister can travel with them. They gather river clay, water and blood to create Ava, a strong woman with dark eyes and hair, who will travel as Lea’s cousin. However, all Golems must be destroyed once their purpose is done, so Hanni leaves instructions in Lea’s locket to ensure she can carry this out. Hoffman’s story blends historical fact, outlining the fate of Jews in Berlin and France while the world claimed ignorance, with the fictional story of the four girls. One is lost before they leave the country leaving behind a loved one intent on getting their revenge.

There are other characters in the novel bringing their own story and perspective to the story. Despite having their own narrative Hoffman cleverly weaves their stories together so that they encounter each other at some time during the war. On Lea and Ava’s travels in France we meet Julien, his brother Victor and their parents. As a Jewish family resident in Paris their parents imagine themselves safe from the fate of Jewish refugees like Lea and Ava. At huge personal risk they let Lea and Ava join the household, because their servant Marianne has left that morning. Ava takes to kitchen work while Lea forms a friendship with Juliet. Victor has been mourning for Marianne as we follow her home to her father’s farm in the mountains bordering Switzerland. Victor decides to leave soon after, but his travels take him into the Resistance first where he meets a certain young woman hellbent on revenge. Julien is left behind, when Ava and Lea leave, and he watches as his parent’s assumptions are all proved wrong and they are lead to a stadium in burning heat. They are stripped of their jewellery and other valuables and kept without sanitation or food until they can be transported to the death camps, bewildered and broken. Julien hatches a last minute plan and manages to slip out of the stadium and into the labyrinth of streets until a special messenger gives him an idea of where Lea might be.

We follow these various characters through Germany, to Paris, to a convent where silver roses bloom, and a farm in the mountains where over three thousand Jews are walked to the mountains and freedom. In between the many horrors of war sits the beauty of nature, strangely incongruous and almost mystical in that it carries on without or even in spite of us. I love the audacity of Hoffman’s magic realism in juxtaposing the Holocaust with a mysterious heron who dances in the moonlight, at the river’s edge, with a very unusual woman.
This beautiful novel weaves together the realities of a terrible war, with an element of ancient magic. Hoffman creates a story about the lengths people will go to in order to survive, protect those they love and fight for what they believe in. We also see the amazing healing power of love and forgiveness. Most of all, against a backdrop of the most evil and inhumane act of the 20th century, Hoffman uses the character of Ava to make us truly think about what qualities make us human.

Meet The Author.

Alice Hoffman is the author of thirty works of fiction, including Practical Magic, The Dovekeepers, Magic Lessons, and, most recently, The Book of Magic. She lives in Boston. Visit her website: http://www.alicehoffman.com

The Bookstore Sisters

I usually expect a new Alice Hoffman novel in the autumn as she’s so prolific, but this year it’s a short story to keep us ticking over until her new novel arrives.

Isabel Gibson has all but perfected the art of forgetting. She’s a New Yorker now, with nothing left to tie her to Brinkley’s Island, Maine. Her parents are gone, the family bookstore is all but bankrupt, and her sister, Sophie, will probably never speak to her again. But when a mysterious letter arrives in her mailbox, Isabel feels herself drawn to the past. After years of fighting for her independence, she dreads the thought of going back to the island. What she finds there may forever alter her path—and change everything she thought she knew about her family, her home, and herself. I’m a lover of books about books, and since the words I keep hearing are ‘relationships, charm and magic’ I’m really looking forward to a long bath with this story.

Published by Amazon Original Stories on 1st Nov 2022.