“The Rules of Magic” : Basic Human Truths

 

One of the reasons that I attend several book clubs is for motivation to try new genres and authors. Although I’ve read some books in the past that would be considered paranormal, I don’t know that I would have chosen to read The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman unless it had been a book club pick. It isn’t AT ALL what I expected.

This book is a prequel to Practical Magic, for which there is also a movie that I’ve never seen. Possibly it was the picture on the movie ad that made me expect The Rules of Magic would be light, autumnal entertainment. Not so; in fact, tears came to my eyes countless times in the reading. Yes, the blurb DOES mention “loss,” but I just didn’t anticipate the feelings this book would evoke.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many paranormal elements to the story, especially as the children…Franny, Jet, and Vincent break more and more of their mother’s rules aimed at protecting them from their history and connections to magic. No walks in the moonlight, no black clothing,  and no cats, just to name a few! Once their mother and father allow them to visit their aunt, however, things really start to devolve. Over time, they eventually break most of the rules they’ve been taught, including warnings against falling in love.

Before I get to those “basic human truths,” or BHTs (not to be confused with that suspect additive, BHT :) I want to mention that Ms. Hoffman’s use of setting…both place and time is excellent. The Northeastern U.S. with its change of seasons affords wonderful atmosphere, and I felt a comfortable familiarity with the times in which the children grow up and try their hands at being adults, the 1960’s and 1970’s. Now, for those nuggets of humanity that even the witches and wizards in this book experience:

winter scene from Pixabay.jpg no attrib. req.

“…forgetting her loss would be worse than the loss itself.”  (p. 231)

“…when you truly love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together.” (p. 254)

“I just do the best I can to face what life brings. That’s the secret, you know. That’s the way you change your fate.” (p. 258)

“Life is a mystery, and it should be so, for the sorrow that accompanies being human and the choices one will have to make are a burden, too heavy for most to know before their time comes.” (p. 266)

“It is simply the way of the world to lose everything you have ever loved. In this, we are like everyone else.” (p. 297)

“Well, we can’t really know our parents, can we?…Even for those with the sight, parents are unfathomable creatures.” (p. 331)

“But rules were never the point. It was finding out who you were.” (p. 365)

“Know that the only remedy for love is to love more.” (p. 366)

***

The book closes with unexpected developments and a new set of rules, one of which I know from my own life: “Always leave out seed for the birds when the first snow falls.” I thoroughly enjoyed this story and look forward to reading others by Alice Hoffman!

Hoffman, Alice. The Rules of Magic: A Novel (The Practical Magic Series Book 1). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

To end this post, I’m including a link to a lovely song, “A Case of You,” by Joni Mitchell taken from the soundtrack of the movie, “Practical Magic,” which I plan to watch, someday very soon. 

If you’ve read this book or others by the author, please share some of your thoughts in the comments!

 

Talking with Kids about A Culture of World Peace

Please check out this awesome book “All Are Welcome” by Alexandra Penfold — in this reblog from Patricia Tilton at Children’s Books Heal!    ~Becky

International Day of Peace, Sep. 21, 2018 All Are Welcome Alexandra Penfold, Author Suzanne Kaufman, Illustrator Knopf Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Jul. 10, 2018 Pages: 44 Suitable for Ages: 4-8 Themes: Diversity, Inclusiveness, Classroom, School, Friendship Opening: Pencils sharpened in their case. / Bells are ringing, let’s make haste. / School’s beginning, dreams to […]

via All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold — Children’s Books Heal

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #1

hattie

Many of us are in agreement that we love bookstores. My favorite establishments are those that also offer used books and assorted vintage goodies, such as magazines, music and other miscellany. Although not widely traveled, I have wonderful memories of great bookshops spread from Duluth, MN, to Williamsburg, VA, with many in Michigan and Canada sandwiched in between.

As you can well imagine, I’ve made memorable “finds” in those visits. These items tend to fall into two groups: something specific I was looking for, or a totally unexpected piece. The coup that I will relate today definitely falls into the “unexpected” category.

Prior to my recent move to Texas, I had also lived and worked in this state for some years when my children were young. Before heading back to my home state of Michigan, I began studies toward earning elementary education certification and fulfilling my quest to become a teacher. Denton, Texas, being the home of two universities, is a logical place for a used bookstore, of course. Recycled Books, Records, & CD’s , at the time I lived there, was already bursting its seams at a small location, and is today housed in a larger spot within a former opera house in the picturesque town square.

That day, I had at least one of my daughters with me, and we were just scanning the small children’s section. An author’s name on a hardcover picture book caught my eye…Don Freeman of Corduroy fame. The title, Hattie the Backstage Bat, wasn’t familiar to me, so I decided to take a look. It was a former library edition, in good shape, with no tears or other visual damage. I then looked toward the front of the book to notice that it had belonged to the local, Emily Fowler Library, and at one time been sold out of the library’s used bookshop, before ending up at Recycled Books and priced at $1.50. Turning the page, I was astounded to discover this:

Don Freeman jpeg 001 (2)

I can just imagine Mr. Freeman visiting the library during the year following publication of this book, meeting the eager listeners, and producing this original drawing for them right on the spot. Yes, Hattie’s blue hat did get a little smudged, and unfortunately an uninformed or overworked library worker  stamped “discard” in the middle of her left wing. I love it, just the same, and will treasure this book always! As an added bonus, the story is charming, and I shared it (along with other Don Freeman titles) with countless children during my years in the classroom.

In doing a little more research on this author, who died in 1978, I find on a lovely website, run by his son, that he was not only an author and illustrator of children’s books, but also a painter and lithographer who “vividly portrayed the street life and theater world of New York City in the 1930s and 40s.” That site contains a wealth of information and images, so you may want to take a few minutes out of your day for a visit.

What is your favorite “find” from a bookstore?

~Becky

 

Celebrate Independent Bookstores!

indie books

On the last Saturday in April (and every day!) celebrate and support those wonderful, independent bookstores. My mind floods with memories of shops I have known and loved, with many of them now being too many miles away for a quick visit. What factors are most important to you in a bookstore? I certainly have several thoughts on the matter, but also wondered what some of you look for in your “tome travels.” Leave a quick comment about what you think makes a great place to shop, or about your favorite “finds,” on your way out the door to load up on books!

TIP OF THE HAT: Among my all-time favorites is Snowbound Books in Marquette Michigan…

snowbound

Meatless Mondays – Vegetable Paella: hold the gravel, but don’t skimp on the saffron!

saffron
Saffron

A friend of mine recently expressed a preference for chicken paella over that made with seafood. You know exactly what I was thinking…and the following post is a tried and true recipe for vegetable paella!

I recall an entertaining chapter in Derek Lambert’s book, Spanish Lessons, in which the author’s wife carefully plans a dinner party while they are residing in Spain. Paella will be the main attraction, for which they rent a huge pan to cook the dish over an open fire. In a comedy of errors, two of their “friends” drop the pan and spill much of the ingredients on top of some gravel that had been brought to the yard during their remodel. Not wanting to admit their mistake, the men just scoop up what they can and pick out the obvious pieces of gravel. You can just imagine what happens at the table as the guests begin eating…

No, this recipe doesn’t contain gravel. What is paella, you might ask. It’s a traditional Spanish, or Valencian, dish that contains rice, often various meats or seafood, and a variety of legumes and vegetables. To me, the taste is dictated by the main spice: saffron. Sure, it’s expensive, but adds a deep, earthy flavor that is crucial to success.

Shopping List (amounts vary depending on your preferences)

Saffron
Paprika
Rosemary (if desired: sprig of fresh or dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
Vegetable stock (have at least 2 cups handy, but could also use part water)
Garlic (chopped)
Onion (diced)
Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers (long slices)
Tomatoes (diced: fresh or canned)
Green beans (cut: fresh)
Eggplant (hefty chunks)
Portabella mushrooms (large, cut into thick slices)
Chickpeas (canned or pre-cooked)
Rice (Arborio or other; I’ve used gluten-free with success)

Soak a healthy pinch of saffron strands in a bit of hot water. In a large, low pan, stir fry the eggplant, onion, garlic, and peppers in olive oil to soften. Add rice (at least 1 cup), stock, tomatoes, saffron, rosemary (if wanted) and a few teaspoons of paprika. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer, uncovered, for at least 10 minutes. Stir as needed, although some cooks like to allow the rice to cake a bit on the bottom of the pan, being careful not to let it burn.

Add the chickpeas, green beans, and mushrooms. Cook about 15 minutes longer, or until the rice is softened and the mixture is thick and bubbly. If you plan to imbibe, a good Spanish red would go nicely!

paella

 

Peter Mayle: A Life in Provence

provence

 

I was recently saddened to learn that one of my favorite authors, Peter Mayle, has died. The first book I ever bought by Mr. Mayle was Where Did I Come From?, which was purchased over 40 years ago in anticipation of telling my children about the facts of life. Decades later, when I was introduced to his travel memoir, A Year in Provence, I had no idea that this was even the same author. During the intervening years, he had published several other books for children and worked in advertising. He and his wife then took the plunge and gave up their lives in England to relocate in France.

The book was serialized for the BBC, and I came across the videos (yes, videos) at the library, while living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Filmed in Provence, the story was mesmerizing. I could relate in some small way to what he and his wife faced, having myself moved to various parts of the U.S. and adjusted to unfamiliar cultures. Those changes never required learning another language, however!

The views and vistas portrayed in the films were like nothing I have ever had access to on a daily basis, even in the most scenic areas of Michigan’s Great Lakes, North Carolina’s shores, Virginia’s mountains, or Texas Hill Country. Beyond the story’s familiar theme of moving to a different type of world, one can also find the more elusive theme of life never being too far along to try something new. This is such an important belief, and I think it resonates for many of us.

The mini-series wasn’t a critical success, evidently, although John Thaw’s portrayal of Peter Mayle was excellent. I loved it, though, and have watched it more times than I care to admit. Thanks to finding the series on the dusty bottom shelf at the library, I was led to the body of works by this wonderful author. I still remember the pleasure of cuddling up by the fireplace with a snowstorm raging outdoors and experiencing the warmth of the French countryside and the scent of lavender.

Peter Mayle wrote several successful sequels to that book, which are presented a bit more like collections of short stories. All the books contain humor, food, wine, weather, friendship, local culture and beautiful locales. How else would I ever have bumped into truffles (the mushroom-like fungi, not the chocolates), boules, the mistral, or pastis? This author wrote other enjoyable non-fiction, in addition, usually centered on various interesting aspects of French culture. To my delight, there were also his novels to devour, which portray many of the same characteristics as his memoirs, along with crimes solved, business deals conducted and wine produced. There’s some romance to be found, as well. A lovely movie with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard is based on Mayle’s book, A Good Year.

With regret, I have to admit that I didn’t bring the entire collection of Mr. Mayle’s books with me when I moved. I did keep A Year in Provence, of course, and I especially value my ARC (advance reading copy/uncorrected proof) of A Good Year, with the plain blue cover. This format seems just that much closer to the author’s keyboard, somehow.

Try his first book, and if you love it, you’ll have a treasure trove to explore beyond that one. I’m extremely sorry that he’s gone, but surely this author knew that his writing had affected the lives of others, as evidenced by the book sales and fans, increased tourism to Provence, and readers who sought him out when visiting the region.

Merci, Monsieur Mayle!

Dealing with Personal Issues through Our Characters

 

 

Spring is the season of renewal and new growth. It can also be a time to reflect on pleasant memories or to revisit excruciating challenges that still haunt us. I recently read an intriguing article, “Dangerous Writing: Go to Your Battlefield”, by author and teacher, Tom Spanbauer. (Poets & Writers, January/February 2016). At the risk of being too general, he speaks about digging deeply into ourselves, to address difficult topics that are important to us, in order to shape our fictional works. His words certainly opened my eyes.

Throughout the course of Spanbauer’s piece, I realized some important facts about my own work. As most writers of fiction, I borrow from reality and include snippets of this person and that individual in the characters I attempt to bring alive. What I hadn’t faced is that some of their problems, issues, and challenges are my own, and I may be using the writing to work through them.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that I’ve brought any of these  scenarios full circle to solutions. Guess that I’ve danced on the edge of danger, but haven’t really dived in. I plan to revisit my own “dangerous writing” and push it to the limit, getting everything I can out of the telling. I hope that the resulting characters will appear even more realistic and some personal answers will materialize, as well.

Spring beckons, along with buds erupting on trees, flowers poking through dark earth, and birds singing new songs. We don’t have to “start over” to begin again. Whatever we face might be just a little easier, a touch sweeter, or a bit brighter by giving in to the season and wringing it for all it has to offer. Use it to the extent of its worth. After all, we don’t have forever…do we?