I couldn't help but compare this to the movie Practical Magic. I haven't read the book version.
Old crumbly house? check
Three generations of women? check
Estranged relationships? check
Inherited magical talent? check
Wronged ancestress? check
Madman intent on Murder? check
Love solves all? check
So you might be able to understand that I was less than impressed by this. Add a plodding pace, little momentum, and a couple whining characters to the tired plot...and, well. sigh. It's a shame really, since the concept was fantastic. Someone just needed to take a more firm hand in editing. Or something.
Each Sparrow woman wakes on her 13th birthday with a unique talent. Rebecca felt no pain. Elisabeth could make anything edible,* Elinor smells lies, Jenny sees other people's dreams, and now, Stella. Stella wakes with the ability to see how a person will die. It's an alarming gift, and one that forever changes a family.
What kills me is that there was a built-in opportunity for suspense and Alice Hoffman didn't do anything with it. I think that she tried - there were some red herrings, but the potential was so much greater. Had she exploited it even just a little more it would have done wonders with the pace. Meanwhile, the reader is sitting there, everyone, even the characters know that there's a killer out there who's looking for the family and their big solution is to have Stella live at a different house, and for the father to jog around the town looking for suspicious things every morning. It was totally lame. The father seemed mildly concerned, but not much. It's barely a blip on Elinor & Jenny's map, and no one really even bothers to stress caution to Stella. She may just be 13, but she wasn't a moron. Furthermore, the end of that storyline with the killer? Completely lame. Compounded by the fact that Hoffman left it with just a passing mention and a comment about fate. I could go on about other issues I have, but I think I'll stop now. Horribly disappointing.
A telling bit of the discussion: When I referred to the climactic scene? Book group was all, "there was a climax?" No joke. We were all a little surprised at how many people we knew outside of book group who love, really, really love this book.
At some point, I need to realize that just because I revere Green Angel, it doesn't mean everything else she writes is good. I'll keep trying, though. Incantation was better, even with its faults. At least it was fresh.
*Nine-frog stew, anyone? Don't forget to strain the mud and mosquitoes out... Other Sparrow women talents: somebody could run really fast, another could hold her breath for 20 minutes, something about forecasting weather well, not burning in fires...etc.