The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

TheWorldthatTo start this review I’m going to use three simple words, breathtaking, beautiful, heartbreaking.

This is a unique story that takes a look at a specific period in history and chooses to focus on the lives of three women in particular whose determination to stay alive makes for compelling reading.

A story of the holocaust Hoffman chooses to highlight not the concentration camps but the lives of those trying to avoid them and by infusing the story with magical realism and myth and folklore creates an epic journey of survival that is harrowing and yet hopeful.

What I really loved about this was the excellent characterisation and the way the story incorporates more than just the grim facts.  This was probably one of the darkest times the world has known and yet by focusing on those people determined to change things for the better and help others even at great risk to themselves it highlights the goodness in people too and this makes the story capture those moments of beauty and light that give it extra depth.  However, bear in mind that this is at the same time, a difficult story, made even more so because of the fact that nothing is held back and the starkness of the reality is undeniably sad.

Hanna and her daughter are in hiding in the City of Berlin.  Hanna has become a thief, sneaking out in the dead of night to try and find food for the family.  On one such occasion she takes her daughter along and when things go horribly wrong decides that the time has come to send Lea away to safety.  Hanna seeks the most unlikely help imaginable.  She visits the house of a rabbi believing that a golem is the best way to protect her daughter.  As it turns out the rabbi’s daughter, an intelligent and quick witted young woman, born ahead of her time really, and very modern in herself determines to help Hanna in her hour of greatest need, at the same time she strikes a bargain with Hanna so that she and her sister might also try and escape the growing horrors of the City.  This is the start of a remarkable journey indeed that takes us into France, explores monasteries and remote schools and farms.  It takes us across country, takes a look at the resistance and gives moments of pure innocence involving a message carrying crane that likes to dance with a young woman made from clay and water.

The main characters are Lea (Hanna’s daughter) a beautiful young girl who unfortunately seems to draw the wrong sort of attention on occasion.   Lea is also the love interest for the story when she meets a young boy and the two form a strong attachment that even when separated (for much of the story) helps to sustain them.  Ava is the golem created to protect Lea and take her to safety.  As the story progresses Ava becomes more and more human and her desire to stay alive begins to override her need to obey the reason for her creation.  Finally, Ettie, is the Rabbi’s daughter who helped Hanna.  Ettie’s story is fuelled by the need for revenge that sees her eventually joining the resistance.

This story is just rich, in detail, in plot, in emotions and scope.  It’s beautifully written and yet at the same time quite unflinching in the details of what is actually taking place.  There’s a love story, in fact there’s more than one love story – three or four – and there are some brilliant secondary characters along the way who support the story really well, I particularly liked Marianne.

To be honest, I don’t want to go too much further with this review or over elaborate on the story because there is a temptation to give things away and I don’t want to do that.  Basically, this worked for me on a number of levels.  It’s a brilliant historical novel, rife with details, that takes a look at a much smaller slice of life.  It has satisfying storylines that intersect and come together in a very pleasing way.  I was rooting for the characters and felt a feeling of deep dread about how everything would all end – and as it happens the conclusion is perfect.  On top of that the magical realism elements, which aren’t for everyone I realise, are so very well done. Ava is a substitute mother who develops needs and longings of her own, she cares deeply for Lea but has her own desires that help to share the story and also give it an element of ‘why shouldn’t she live the life she wants?’ It’s a really interesting discussion point and one that kept me thinking long after the book was finished.

I don’t have any criticisms.

I received a copy through Edelweiss, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

I would rate this 4.5 of 5 stars


Can’t Wait Wednesday : The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

Can't Wait Wednesday

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is : The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman. Because – ALICE HOFFMAN.  I love this author, I was so excited when I saw this book was due out that I nearly had a conniption!

TheWorldthatweknewIn Berlin in 1941 during humanity’s darkest hour, three unforgettable young women must act with courage and love to survive, from the New York Times bestselling author of The Dovekeepers and The Marriage of Opposites Alice Hoffman.

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending.

Expected publication : September 2019

Friday Face Off : ‘Two little fishes and a momma fishy too’


Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book, compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below – the list has been updated to help out those of you who like to plan ahead – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme. This week’s theme:

‘Two little fishes and a momma fishy too’ – A cover featuring a fish/fishes or other sea creatures

I had to have a good think about this week’s theme – then I remembered some of the books I read pre-blogging and I actually wound up with a few books to choose from but I went with a favourite author and chose The River King by Alice Hoffman.

The covers:

My favourite this week is:


I can’t say I really love any of the covers this week to be honest but I think the swan cover has a startlingly bright feel about it.  I also quite like the cover next to this with the shimmery blue and the yellow handwritten font.

Like last week I’ve added a Mr Linky here so that you can leave a link if you wish or please leave me a link in the comments so we can all visit and check out each others covers.  Thanks

I’ll be updating the list soon to take it through a few more months – if you have any suggestions you’d like to see adding then drop a note in the comments.  Thanks

Next week – A cover with a shapeshifter

Future themes: (if you’re struggling with any of these themes then use a ‘freebie’ of one of your favourite covers)


15th March – ‘Beware the moon, lads.’ – A cover with a shapeshifter

22nd March – ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’ – A cover featuring a king

29th March – “I thought unicorns were more . . . Fluffy.”  – A cover featuring a unicorn

5th April – ‘nomad is an island’ – A cover featuring a desert landscape

12th April – ‘Odin, Odin, send the wind to turn the tide – A cover featuring a longboat

19th April – ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – A cover featuring a school

The Rules of Magic (Practical Magic 0) by Alice Hoffman

I confess I wish I had Alice Hoffman’s way with words so that I could review this book in a way which it deserves.  Perhaps I could seek a charm to improve my ability to conjure the best things to say to entice you to pick this up.  As it is, well, I’ll have to make do and just gush profusely at every opportunity because as much as I expected to love this book, having read a good few books by this author previously, this still exceeded my expectations in every way.

Beautifully written, this story has a light, almost ethereal touch.  It tells the story of three children born into a family with a curse and looks at the ways in which they try to overcome the limitations they face and at the same time come to terms with who they really are.  Strong character focus is key to the story.  The characters are wonderfully developed and I simply couldn’t help falling in love with them a little (okay a lot).  Hoffman sketches them in an easy way, making it appear effortless, which is far from the truth.  The story builds with a sense of ‘impending doom’ and the fact that the characters are so enjoyable to read about just helps to increase the sense of foreboding that you feel as you read on.  On top of that this is well paced and enchanting.  There’s a whimsical feel to it all particularly in terms of the times and places depicted.  Those are my immediate feelings, now for a little bit more.

In terms of plot.  Hundreds of years ago the Owens family were cursed.  The history of why and how will be explored in good time but in the meantime this is a look at one particular branch of the Owen’s family tree.  Susanna Owens removed her three children to New York, where she lives with her husband, many years ago.  Susanna is desperate for them to enjoy a regular childhood, she knows they’re different and realises how dangerous this can be.  Susanna has many strict rules about what the children can and can’t do but no matter how much she exerts her authority their own natures will eventually surface.  Franny, Jet and Vincent are the three children and their stories make for wonderful reading as we watch them struggle with their abilities, their differences and their desires.  It’s difficult to go into great depth really.  This isn’t a story that can easily be elaborated upon as ultimately it’s a coming of age tale.  Each of the characters has their own individual storyline, although they’re all intertwined, but what comes across really strongly is the strength of feeling that they share as a family and this is something that holds strong throughout.

The three of them finally begin to make their own voyages of discovery when they first visit their aunt in Massachusetts.  The people in the village where Aunt Isabelle lives believe the stories of witchcraft and fear the Owen’s family, at the same time they all, from time to time, pay visits to the family home in search of more than tea and sympathy As soon as the three arrive things start to fall into place.  Vincent is the first to embrace who he really is with the two sisters following at their own reluctant pace until they finally reveal the extent of their own family gifts and discover the truth behind the family curse.

Now, I realise I’ve probably made this all sound very tame and I’m certainly not going to pretend this is an action packed, war filled adventure because it isn’t.  It’s a magical tale, written with style and compelling to read.  I cold barely put this down and must have read it in two days at the most, even though I was at the same time desperate for it not to finish.

For information, The Rules of Magic is a prequel to Practical Magic.  I think I can confidently say that you could read this without having read the earlier book – in fact, if you haven’t read Practical Magic you could pick it up when you finish this one.

I loved this, it has such incredible heart and soul,  The characters are wonderful and I adore stories about witchcraft.  I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.




Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Posted On 7 November 2016

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faithfulFaithful is a powerfully emotional read that follows in the footsteps of a young woman whose life is left in tatters after a car accident.

Shelby didn’t want to go out on the night of the accident but was strong armed into it by her best friend Helene.  They both argued and whilst this didn’t actually have any bearing on the accident it adds to the guilt that Shelby bears.  Basically it’s a cold night and Shelby’s car spins out of control on a patch of black ice.  Shelby is pulled from the car wreck, nobody see’s her rescuer and she believes him to be a guardian angel.  Unfortunately Helene suffers major trauma that leaves her in a coma, her dreams are gone, she was the most beautiful girl in school and everyone still flocks to see her – believing that she’s turned into a worker of miracles.  Meanwhile, Shelby, the survivor, turns almost into a living ghost.  She hates herself for surviving.  She believes everyone else hates her.  She lives in the basement of her parents’ house.  She might not be in a coma but her dreams also come to an end after that awful night.

Faithful is a strange story – it starts off very melancholy indeed.  Here is a life in tatters.  A young woman who despises herself and who is for a time committed to a psychiatric hospital after she attempts to take her own life.  Fortunately the sadness that pervades the first third of the story does eventually begin to lessen and that in fact is the major insight into what this novel is about.  The main thrust of the story is redemption and self forgiveness. This is a different read to some of Hoffman’s other stories.  There is no fantasy or magical realism here.  This is a contemporary novel about one woman’s life and how she eventually allows herself to start living it.  It is a very powerful story that I can’t deny brought me close to tears on a couple of occasions but don’t let that put you off.  There is a story of hope in here it just takes a little while to shine through.

There isn’t really too much more that I can say about the plot to be honest.  There are no hidden agendas here, no miraculous recoveries or waving of magic wands  Watching Shelby as she goes through her different phases can be almost torturous to watch but at the same time compelling.  She eventually moves away from home and although she still hates herself little by little she begins to turn her life around.

In terms of the characters.  Well, I can’t deny that Shelby can be a little difficult to like at times but that’s because she doesn’t want to be liked.  In spite of her prickliness though, over the course of time she manages to find herself a true friend.  She also has a soft spot for the underdog – and in this case I mean that quite literally.  She starts out working in a pet store and from their onwards finds herself rescuing dogs until there’s barely enough room in her tiny apartment!  I think that probably marks a turning point in her own life to some extent.

I loved Shelby’s relationship with her mother Sue and how this changed so much as the story progressed until Shelby finally recognised the unconditional love that her mother had and how she’d always been there for her.

We also have the two ‘love’ interests in Shelby’s life. Ben loves Shelby. In a strange twist the timing for this is unfortunate for Ben because really Shelby isn’t at a time in her life when she’s ready to be loved.  She hasn’t forgiven herself enough for that.  Later in the story, in a series of ‘if onlys’ both Ben and Shelby come to realise more about their own true feelings for each other and the missed opportunities they had.

We also have the character of James.  His own story has certain parallels to Shelby and similarly it has taken him a long time to come to terms with life.

The final star of the piece is Shelby’s only real friend Maravelle and her children.  Maravelle is a lovely character to read and through her friendship Shelby is able to be a part of her family life, watching her three children grow up and come into their own making their own mistakes and experiencing the good and the bad as they grow into adults.

Even though this seems to be a step out of the ordinary for what I usually expect from Hoffman I found this a really good read.  Yes, it will pull on hour heartstrings but it’s a beautifully written piece.  It looks at the impact that one accident can have on so many lives.  And it brings a ray of hope that people can learn to forgive themselves and to live again.

I received a copy of Faithful courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.


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