book reviews, reading

Book Review: “Magic Lessons” by Alice Hoffman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I started the Practical Magic series with this book, the author’s latest to date, because I wanted to read in chronological order instead of published order. This was my first Alice Hoffman book. I’ve been a fan of the Practical Magic movie since it came out in the 90’s but somehow never read the books. I was missing out because this book was so magical and amazing!!

Set during the witch trial craziness in the late 1600’s, the book starts in England with an abandoned baby Maria. A black crow becomes her familiar and a known “witch”, Hannah, in the woods finds her and raises her. Hannah raises her to know how to cure maladies and do a little magic and all seems fine until Maria’s biological mother comes back to see how she’s been growing when she’s about ten and screws everything up. I won’t spoil too much in here but it results in Maria on a ship to the Dutch island of Curaçao by herself. It’s there in servitude she meets John Hawthorne. If you know anything about American witch history your heart just gave a little twinge for Maria because you know his name means trouble for witches. They have a baby out of wedlock and she is left all alone. Eventually, she decides to go find this John Hawthorne and see what has taken him so long to return to her. On her boat ride across the ocean to America she meets Samuel Dias and they connect while she tries to save his life with her magic. The two part ways but are never far from each other’s minds. In Salem, Massachusetts she finds he is married with a child of his own and wants nothing to do with her. He goes to great lengths to keep her out of the way. The rest of the book covers Faith, Maria’s daughter as she grows up and loses her mother to the witch trials and the hardships she goes through that threaten to turn her into a dark witch.

I loved this book so much because it was well researched and romantic bit of American witch history with the fictional story of Maria woven throughout it. I loved that the author inserted an alternative history for a known historical figure from the Salem witch trials, making the story all that much more real and plausible. The author acknowledges that the witch trial craze was bogus and such a tragedy because so many of those men and women, if not all, were murdered in cold blood under false accusations of being witches. Don’t like you neighbor? Accuse them of being a witch. Merchant at the market charge you too much? Accuse them of being a witch. It sounds ridiculous but that’s really how it was back then and how so many innocent people came to the gallows.

I love Alice Hoffman’s writing style. It’s simple and short in descriptions, not droning on and on but it was still just enough to put me into the 1600s and let my imagination go wild. I loved her characters in this story. They were believable and they made me feel for them and their struggles. The bad guys were bad in their actions, but they weren’t unbelievable in what they did or how evil they were. They were simply misguided men who were looking out for themselves above all others, and that’s always pretty darn believable.

I highly recommend this book. It made me want to read everything Alice Hoffman has written! I’m going to be starting “The Rules of Magic” right now!

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