writing

Book Review: “Practical Magic” by Alice Hoffman

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This might be a lengthy review because there is so much I have to say about this book! (Good and not so good) I just wanted to lay there out there from the beginning. Let me start by saying that I have watched the movie Practical Magic every single fall season multiple times for almost 25 years. It is a favorite movie of mine, it never gets old, and to me it is perfect! So, it’s only natural that I might have some issues with the book, especially when the book is so greatly different from the movie.

Major differences between the book and movie:

  1. Sally and her daughters do not live with the aunts. In fact, very little of the book actually takes place at the aunt’s beloved Massachusetts home!
  2. The aunts do not play that important of a role in the book.
  3. Sally does not kill Jimmy, and it’s unclear if Gillian did either even though she thinks she did.
  4. They never bring Jimmy back from the dead. In fact, there is very little magic in the book at all.
  5. The town Sally lives in does not persecute her for being a witch and she is actually beloved and included in school stuff.
  6. Sally is the principal’s assistant, she does not own her own botanical shop.
  7. Sally went into depression and hiding for an entire year after her husband died.
  8. Sally’s girls, Antonia and Kylie are not children but teenagers! And I think they reversed their looks too, making Antonia the redhead older one and Kylie the dark-haired younger one.
  9. The curse of a man loving an Owen’s woman is played down and nothing happens to Gillian’s new boyfriend whom she obviously loves.
  10. Gary Hallet is only in the story at the very end and he is very different from his movie counterpart. A bit of a crybaby if you ask me.
  11. There’s no exorcism or banishing of ghosts, though they do recognize that Jimmy’s ghost is haunting the place and Kylie can see him outside sometimes.

Anyway, those are my top complaints off the top of my head, but there was a lot that was different. You’ve been forewarned!

If I separate the book from the movie and just look at the book in itself, it was actually pretty good. I found myself forgetting that I was reading a witchy story and it ended up feeling more like a women’s fiction family drama, which isn’t terrible, it’s just not my first choice of read. I found myself identifying mostly with Gillian who made all these terrible love choices, had failed marriages, and couldn’t seem to stay out of trouble when it came to love. She had poor choice in men and she let men use and abuse her for most of her life. I had a very similar past with love and thankfully I am on the other side of that now with a wonderful husband, but I could really relate to her terrible times. When Gary was introduced I was excited because I had been waiting for him and knew that Sally needed a love interest soon to give it that happy ending, but his character actually made me uncomfortable. He was a crier. And I don’t mean something terrible happened and he cried, I mean Sally puts a cup of coffee in front of him and he cries over it. They’re getting hot and heavy in the car and he cried. I know the author was trying to make him this sensitive man who was in tune with his feelings because that’s what we women are supposed to want in a man, but honestly if my man cried that much over not much I would be a little more than confused by it, which I was with Gary too.

The story had a good pace and was laid out nicely, but I was really frustrated with the length of the chapters. They were so long and had no good stopping points. I can’t read fifty pages in one night, I just don’t have the time, and sometimes one chapter would go on longer than that. I found myself just picking a paragraph at random to stop hoping I’d remember what was going on when I picked it up again to read. I find the best layout is short chapters because then I actually end up reading more because I’m like “Oh, the next chapter is only three more pages. Oh, the next chapter is only six more pages.” Then, I keep going and going. With this set up of epic chapters I was like I’ll just stop here because who knows what’s coming up or if I’ll be able to stop if I read another chapter or two.

Another aspect that shocked me about the book was some of the vulgarity. The F-bomb was dropped multiple times by Sally and Gillian, something I could not picture them actually saying in the movie, but that I guess I could see if I pictured the book them. Also, the vulgar sexual description. The best example I can give is when Kylie is running from a stranger (male) who is saying all sorts of gross sexual things to her because he wants to rape her. It was a thrilling scene as she was running away and I felt for her and was invested, but the language just grossed me out. Again, I understand what she was trying to do, it just caught me off guard.

All in all, it was a good book, but I love the movie way too much to give this a five star rating. It had its faults. I have read the other two books in the series which were written as prequels later in the author’s career and I absolutely LOVE those.

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