The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman and Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller

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Family and love are themes for new novels by prolific author Alice Hoffman and historical fiction writer Sarah Miller. Both create and chronicle the lives of fascinating female protagonists.

Once upon a time, your heart was broken. It was shattered into a thousand pieces. Romance, you decided then, was something you didn’t want anyway. Love is for dreamers and optimists. Or, as in The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman, love is cursed.

Despite that their parents enjoyed a relatively happy marriage, the Owens siblings had always known that they should never fall in love. The one they’d fall in love with would be doomed to die young, a heartache that could be blamed on only one thing: as descendants of Boston’s Maria Owens, and her daughter and her daughter’s daughter and so on, the Owens siblings were witches.
As the eldest, Franny scoffed at her “gifts,” but she secretly loved them. Tall, with long red hair and fair skin, she was the responsible sister who could see auras and talk with birds. At 17, she learned to make potions from her Aunt Isabelle; also at age 17, Franny turned away the boy who adored her. It was too dangerous to keep him around.

People always said second daughter, Jet, was a dead ringer for Elizabeth Taylor. With long black hair and luminous gray eyes, Jet was a boy magnet and could read minds. She, however, only had eyes for one boy and though he was exactly the wrong person to fall in love with, she was sure she could outwit the Owens curse.

The only son born in many generations, Vincent was unusual the minute he entered the world surrounded by an aura. Dark-haired and tall, he was a charming, talented musician and magician, the latter perfected thanks to an ancient, forbidden book that had found him. Girls swooned over Vincent, though he sneered at the very idea of love. He couldn’t escape the family curse anyhow, so why bother?

Here’s a light warning: if you’re not familiar with Alice Hoffman, it might take a few pages to see where you’re going. Dip your toes, stick your whole foot in, and you’ll soon be immersed in a tale that’s believable and not, both at the same time, which is exactly what you want in a gauzy novel like this. Fantasy swirls in and out with the characters here, as they also suffer from the same human foibles and desires that we mortals have and it’s all held together by magic. The Rules of Magic serves as a prequel for Hoffman’s 1995 novel, Practical Magic, but with a dram of patience, you can read it first just as easily.

Caroline: Little House, Revisited
Packing stinks. Wrapping up all your things, putting things where you won’t find them for months. Is it worth it to have a new home? A new life? As in Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller, is the sacrifice worth a new beginning you’re not sure you want?

She loved him so. Looking at her husband, Charles, Caroline Ingalls saw the light in his face as he spoke. She knew he’d heard that the government was selling Kansas farmland at reasonable prices, just as she knew how he wanted that, and an adventure. His eyes told her that he also wanted her permission, and she loved him too much to say no.

She hadn’t informed him yet that their family would increase by one, come summer. She barely knew it herself, and she couldn’t imagine giving birth without family nearby. Still, she could never deny her husband his heart’s desire, so she said yes. They’d depart from Wisconsin in late winter, when the river was still frozen solid. They would be in Kansas by mid-summer.

It was cold; five-year-old Mary and three-year-old Laura needed mittens until they reached the southern part of Iowa. They might go days without seeing anyone but each other and oh, how Caroline missed her sister! She missed everything there was to miss about Wisconsin, but the state was weeks behind her. In front of her was a promise and a husband who sang when he was happy. She imagined a garden and crops spread beneath a big sky dome, family, new friends and a new baby.

If you remember thrilling to tales from The Little House on the Prairie, Sarah Miller has another side to the story, and in Caroline, it’s no less exciting. Miller makes this a love story first; Charles and Caroline Ingalls are sweetly bashful and still courting, even though, as this novel opens, they’ve been married a decade. Caroline adores her husband and her girls, but Miller lets her be flawed. Caroline is unsure of herself, prone to seethe silently, and at times she briefly wishes she was childless. That introspection drives this novel as much as does the new world Caroline encounters, making it a perfect addition to a beloved story. ■