Tag Archives: Alice Hoffman

Blackbird House

Author: Alice Hoffmanblackbird house

My rating: 4.5 of 5

On the outskirts of a small town just off the shores of Cape Cod sits a small house known to the locals as Blackbird House. Lovingly built by a fisherman–for his wife to live in while he went to sea–in the early days before our country was an actual country, the house has seen numerous inhabitants over the years. Each family has had its own story, and each story has left its own unique mark on the land and the house, connecting the lives lived there across the ages, memory upon memory.

Blackbird House is a welcome, although unexpected, collection of tales centering on a small cabin near the shore. I guess I ought to expect this sort of work from Alice Hoffman, but she still has the gift to surprise me–which is actually really nice. Every tale in this collection was enjoyable in its own right, and seeing the connections between them made them even more interesting. Not that there are particular thematic connections or anything that direct; there are all sorts of stories and characters here, everything from sweet, unexpected romances to heartbreaking tragedies to tales of ungrateful modern youth. No, the connections are more subtle than that, motifs that carry throughout: the sweet peas and the pond behind the house, the white blackbird that haunts the house, red shoes (a sure sign of witches!), that sort of thing. I loved the slice of history that’s presented here, ranging chronologically from early settlement days all the way to very recent years. Yet spun throughout the history is a feel of fairy tales that gives a different weight and experience to these stories, making them timeless in a unique and beautiful way. Blackbird House is definitely an adult collection, but for adult readers–whether your preference is historical fiction, short stories, or even fairy tales–I think this book has something unique and special to offer that is well worth reading.

 

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The Museum of Extraordinary Things

Author: Alice Hoffman

In the city of New York, 1911, many strange and unspeakable things are happening. A girl, Coralie, has lived her entire life in the small world of her father’s museum, obedient to this charismatic yet unstable man. Now, at his wish, she is nightly swimming the Hudson River in costume, breeding an urban legend he intends to cash in on. But it is impossible for the smart, headstrong, curious girl Coralie is deep within to remain demure and obedient forever, especially in the face of such injustices as her father puts her through. Across the same city, a young man going by the name of Eddie has fled the darkness and burden of his past: losing his mother to the Russian pogram, watching his father’s seeming cowardice, always being expected to quietly conform. Turning from the ordered Jewish life of his birth, Eddie has gained a measure of freedom, and even beauty through the lens of his camera, yet the past still seems to pursue him. When these two pained, disillusioned souls meet by chance one day, neither could have expected the consequences or the hopes born in that moment.

As with so many of her books, Alice Hoffman does something magical in The Museum of Extraordinary Things. She creates at the border between the real world and the world of magic, between the mundane and the wondrous. In this story, Hoffman honestly, with great historical detail, displays the harsher sides of life in New York in the early 1900s–people put on display or sold for a pittance, workers in brutal conditions for impossibly low wages, and worse. Yet still, somehow, there is a thread of wonder winding throughout the story. I suppose this is the sort of story that makes one believe amazing things are possible, even when life looks darkest. And that love is possible, even for those who are battered, worn, and disillusioned, afraid to even believe in the possibility of love. I would note that this book is fairly graphic in its description of both great and violent tragedies and of sexual and personal abuses–I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 18, maybe even 21. For mature readers, though, I think The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a moving, mysterious story that is fascinating to read.

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Practical Magic

Author: Alice Hoffman

From the time of their parents’ death, sisters Gillian and Sally lived with their aunts, who–like all the Owens women before–have a reputation (deserved or not) of being witches, or something close. It might even be true. In any case, the fact is that odd things seem to happen around them, and that oddness is transmitted, at least in reputation, to the young sisters. So much so that they both, in their own way, do their best to escape as they reach adulthood: Gillian in her wanton string of fiascoes that leaves a trail of broken hearts across the western United States, Sally in the structured, proper raising of her two daughters–far away from the hint of magic. Little could they suspect that the very choices they make to avoid their past are what will draw them and their aunts together again . . . and possibly even reconcile them to the magic that runs deep in their family.

Practical Magic was a touching, beautiful story. I must admit that when I initially approached Alice Hoffman’s body of work, I expected a straightforward fantasy. I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Instead of your typical fantasy, each of Hoffman’s works that I’ve read so far (and I have a lot to enjoy in the future) tells a haunting, lyrical, and distinctly human story. While some hints of what might be magic do underlie the plot at points, the true magic is the spell Hoffman seems to place on the reader. She writes beautiful stories that touch on real human issues in an honest, insightful style. My sole complaint regarding Practical Magic is the lack of standard chapter divisions; there are some section breaks, but the sections are too long for me to usually read at one sitting, forcing me to break at some random paragraph break. Still, that’s a minor fault overall, and I would still definitely recommend (to an adult audience–18+ I would say) Practical Magic as a beautiful, haunting, and memorable novel.

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Incantation

Author: Alice Hoffman

Everything in Estrella deMadrigal’s life is as it should be; her family is well respected, she has a wonderful relationship with her mother, life is comfortable, and her best friend Catalina is like a sister. It doesn’t seem anything could disturb her comfortable life until a book-burning signals the beginning of some frightening changes. Worse still, Catalina seems to delight in the burning, and somehow, things begin to be different between them. They begin to keep secrets from each other. Little could Estrella know that other secrets, ones her family has kept from her for her entire life, will change how she views herself and the world around her forever.

Incantation is the first Alice Hoffman story I’ve read, and I will absolutely be reading more in the future. This breathtaking, moving plunge into the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition is beautiful; it treats honestly a topic that is excruciating, and it draws out vital universal truths in a manner that is memorable. Hoffman’s storytelling is spare, poetic, and emotionally charged, more so than you might think possible in such a small volume. I cried while reading this, yet felt a strong sense of resolution at the end–even though the end itself is uncertain and painful. Incantation is definitely a recommended story–particularly for those interested in the Spanish Inquisition or the life of Marranos in Spain during that time–just be prepared for an emotional overload.

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