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rules of magic book sunflowers

I think it’s safe to say that my one little word this year is a sneaky one.

Back in January, I chose magic for my 2017 word, believing and hoping I needed it after a year (in 2016) that felt hard at every turn. I needed all the gumption I could get last year, and I haven’t stopped needing it this year: many days have required equal parts magic and grit. But my word has always been there, peeking around the corner, surprising me, especially when I’m not looking for it.

I do occasional author interviews for Shelf Awareness, my longstanding freelance gig, and I was thrilled when my editor asked if I’d like to talk to Alice Hoffman about her new novel, The Rules of Magic. It’s a prequel to Practical Magic, which I had not read, but I’d read and adored Hoffman’s novel Faithful, and I was so excited about this one.

Spoiler alert: I loved the book. It’s an utterly enchanting, heartbreaking story of three siblings who have to reckon with their unusual gifts and the very ordinary human experiences of love, loss and figuring out who they really are. And I loved talking to Alice, who was so warm and engaging, and answered my questions patiently. The book comes out today, and to celebrate, I’m sharing a few snippets of the Q&A below.

KG: The magic the characters use [in The Rules of Magic] is a kind of everyday alchemy: there’s a sense that magic is already here in our world, and they can channel it or avoid it via certain “rules.” Can you talk about your concept of magic and magical power?

AH: I’m interested in everyday magic: magic that you could turn a corner and find. I think a lot of that has to do with the books I read as a child, because those are the books that make you a writer. I loved Ray Bradbury’s books, and there’s a real sense of that everyday magic in the here and now. That’s what I’m interested in both as a reader and a writer: magic that is affected by the everyday.

My books have a kind of push-pull regarding magic, and also between the mystical and spiritual and the demands of “real” life. In The Rules of Magic, they’re braided together. The characters really fight against who they are, so that’s another push-pull. The book is ultimately about being who you are, and I think that’s really hard to do, even if you’re not a witch.

It’s hard for a lot of us to be who we are, even if we’re not fighting a family curse.

It really is just that: accepting yourself. It’s true for everyone in the book, and it’s a process. It takes a whole lifetime to learn who you are.

Courage is a thread that runs through the book: choosing courage over caution, being brave above all. Can you talk about that? How does courage relate to magic?

In a certain sense, the characters discovered this thread on their own. The book is really all about courage: the courage it takes to be different, the courage it takes to be in love, and the courage it takes to be human. Most people spend their lives running away from all that. The characters have to learn that.

The book deals with destiny and choice: the characters try to dodge the family curse, and they wrestle with accepting fate versus making their own choices. Can you talk about that?

That’s a big question. But it’s central to the book: the idea of the curse, which affects whether and how the Owens women fall in love. And yet, if you love someone, and open your heart to them, they will ultimately break your heart, curse or no curse. They may betray you; they may not be who you thought they were. Or they may get sick and die, as ultimately we all do.

At some point, inevitably, there is pain involved with love. I think it’s a big leap to make, and I think people are very brave when they do it. I think part of the Owens “curse” is just being human. And along the way, there are beautiful, wonderful things, and that’s part of being human too: such joy.


If you love magic, gorgeous writing or a good story, I highly recommend The Rules of Magic.

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brave necklace coral scarf

Last fall, it was a line from Hamilton: “Summon all the courage you require.”

This spring, it was a sentence from Donia Bijan’s lovely novel, The Last Days of Café Leila: “The only thing to do was to keep moving, to do something, to show courage, to give everything she was capable of giving.”

Right now, it’s a few lines from Alice Hoffman’s stunning new novel, The Rules of Magic, which comes out in October. It is the story of the Owens women: Franny, her sister Jet and their aunt Isabelle. I fell particularly in love with Franny, redheaded and prickly, and this line (about her) I wanted to write on my skin: “Above all she was brave.”

“Let’s see what you’ll have,” Isabelle says to Franny at the end of one summer, pointing to two pots of fresh tea. “Courage or caution?” Franny doesn’t hesitate: “Courage, thank you.”

Many years later, Franny admits to her aunt, “Maybe I’m afraid of love. It’s too powerful.” Isabelle scoffs at her: “Who chose courage [over caution]? You’re stronger than you know.”

As we head into September – a month I always love and which, this year especially, carries its own challenges – I am doing my best to choose courage, every single day.

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anne's house of dreams book cover sea pei north shore

A few weeks ago, the hubs and I drove up to Prince Edward Island, for a quiet, blissful stretch of days (our third) on the Island’s north shore.

We first visited PEI a few summers ago, but I have known and loved it for a long time: through the beloved books of L.M. Montgomery, who introduced me to such heroines as Jane Stuart, Emily Byrd Starr, Sara Stanley, and – of course – Anne Shirley.

My mom handed me the first three Anne books when I was a child, and I read and reread them until the corners of the paperbacks were worn soft. I later did the same with the remaining five books in the series, and I still have most of my beat-up Bantam copies (though I had to replace the first one after it went missing). I’ve picked up various beautiful editions of several Anne books over the years, and I’d love to buy the entire set in the recent lovely Sourcebooks and Tundra incarnations. But when I want to find a particular passage or dive into a whole book again, I always reach for my childhood copies, their heft comforting in my hands.

I took a stack of books to PEI. This is typical vacation behavior for me, but it’s especially tempting when we drive, because luggage and space limits aren’t a problem. On our first trip to PEI a few years ago, I tucked a couple of Anne books into my suitcase on a whim. I hadn’t reread them in a while, but I thought I might want to flip through them while I was there.

What I hadn’t quite expected: I hardly wanted to read anything else.

Montgomery is a master of the elegant description, and her love for the Island comes through in the voices of her heroines – all of whom are deeply rooted in the Island’s rust-red soil. The green fields with their soft red furrows, the glimpses of blue sea around so many corners, the fields and woods and rolling hills, the rocky and sandy beaches of the north shore, were at once entirely new and utterly familiar to me.

I spent hours on that first trip rereading passages from a couple of Anne books and Jane of Lantern Hill, and I did the same thing when we went back last summer. This time, I dove straight into Anne’s House of Dreams, and I didn’t even regret ignoring the other books sitting in my tote bag. (I suppose I should have known this would happen – but I couldn’t not bring them. Just in case.)

house of dreams page sea pei north shore

For three days, I was right where I wanted to be: on the Island’s north shore in body and spirit. Sinking my toes into the sand, wading in the surf, and also walking and talking with Anne and Gilbert, Leslie Moore and Miss Cornelia and Captain Jim. I pictured Anne and Gilbert’s little white house of dreams, with its glorious garden, more vividly than ever before. And I watched the sky and the waves and the sunsets with as much love as Anne herself, I feel sure.

There’s magic, sometimes, in reading a book in the place where it’s either set or was written. I have read A Moveable Feast in a Paris hotel room, Gaudy Night in Oxford parks and cafes, Daphne Kalotay’s novels while learning the particular Boston streets she describes.

There can also be magic in utter escape from your current reality: I’m too fond of Harry Potter and Jodi Taylor’s time-travel series not to know that. But when you visit a place you’ve loved for so long, and the real, physical truth of it is just as wonderful as you imagined, it can be lovely to luxuriate in being right where you are, on and off the page.

Have you ever visited a place just because you’ve read about it – or purposely matched your reading material to your location? I’d love to hear about it, if you have.

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three lives bookstore interior nook nyc

We are (somehow) halfway through the year already, and I’m doing what I always do: taking stock of the books I’ve read so far, and sharing a handful of my favorites with you.

I’ve read about 75 books thus far in 2017, and here are a few I have particularly loved. (I found a couple of them at the wonderful Three Lives & Co., pictured above.)

Wittiest Love Story: The Romantics by Leah Konen. I read this YA love story – ably narrated by Love herself – on our Florida beach vacation in March, and loved every page. The footnotes are hilarious.

Most Beautiful Memoir: A Country Between by Stephanie Saldaña. An American journalist married to a Frenchman (and former monk) moves with him to Jerusalem, and this luminous, wise, honest book is the story of their navigating so many cultural in-betweens.

Best Novel about Family and Food: The Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan. Mouthwatering descriptions, a really wonderful family saga, and a few lines near the end that kept me going all spring.

Series That Keeps on Getting Better: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor. This series about time-traveling historians with a penchant for disaster – including, but not limited to, copious explosions – is so much fun. Lots of dry British wit and so much tea, but my favorite thing is how fiercely this (truly) motley crew fights for one another, in every era.

Best Story About Friendship: Summerlost by Ally Condie. The story of Leo and Cedar, who become friends while working a summer theatre festival, captured my heart and still won’t let it go.

Poetry That Sings: anything by the wonderful Brian Doyle (whom we lost last month, sadly). I’ve read three collections of his wise, funny, thoughtful, keenly observed “proems” this year: How the Light Gets In, A Shimmer of Something and The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be. Each of them cracked my heart open in the best way.

Best Book on Writing: Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I savored this one over many commutes, and it was a treat: incisive, plainspoken, inspiring.

Best Lit Crit I’ve Read in Years: Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees. A whip-smart tour of seven little-known badass feminist British writers = catnip for my brainy English-major side.

The Wise, Luminous, Lovely Book I Didn’t Know I Needed: Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear. I keep coming back to this slim book, with so many lines about loss, building a creative life, loving your people well and paying attention.

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? I’d love to hear about them.

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birds art life mug

“I found myself with a broken part,” Kyo Maclear writes in the introduction to her luminous memoir, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation. During a year of dealing with her father’s illness and other challenges, Maclear found herself unmoored. “I had lost the beat,” she writes. Struggling with her responsibilities to her father, husband and sons, she found herself with no words: a troubling state of affairs for a writer.

Searching for a way to relocate herself in the everyday, Maclear met a musician whose passion was urban birdwatching. Birds Art Life chronicles the year they spent watching birds in and around her home city of Toronto.

I’m back at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Maclear’s quiet, gorgeous memoir, which I picked up at Idlewild Books in NYC this winter. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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tree buds red brick harvard yard

It’s a grey, gloomy day in early April. I’ve stayed home from work with a bad cold, and all afternoon, I’ve been listening to the slow drip, drip of rain outside. The purple tulips in their vase on my kitchen table are growing leggy; they’re reaching out, bending and stretching crookedly, for the light that is in short supply today.

We are nearing the end–I hope–of a winter that has felt long, even though we haven’t had too much snow by our usual Boston standards. One arctic blast in December and a couple more since the New Year left our teeth chattering in single-digit temps, but those frigid spells haven’t lasted long. And the snowstorms, though fierce, have been few and far between. We even had a couple of 60-degree days in late February.

What I’m missing, in these early spring days, is the light.

I’m over at the Art House America blog today (where I write occasionally), talking about my efforts to watch for the light in this season. Please join me over there to read the rest of my piece.

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charles river cambridge sunset

Hope and Love

All winter
the blue heron
slept among the horses.
I do not know
the custom of herons,
do not know
if the solitary habit
is their way,
or if he listened for
some missing one—
not knowing even
that was what he did—
in the blowing
sounds in the dark.
I know that
hope is the hardest
love we carry.
He slept
with his long neck
folded, like a letter
put away.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will – as is my tradition – be sharing poetry on Fridays here this month.

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