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FICTION THE RULES OF MAGIC by Alice Hoffman Simon and Schuster, hardback PS16.99, ebook PS9.99 HHHH H ALICE HOFFMAN'S novel Practical Magic, released in 1995, was a huge success. It spawned the Hollywood film of the same name about sisters Gillian and Sally Owens (played by Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock), their complicated relationship with magic, and their strong sibling bond.

The past was harked back to, but never really fully explained.

The Owens come from magical stock, and their family's history goes back 200 years encompassing witchcraft, feuds and rejection - the legend being that they are cursed to never find romantic love.

If they do, a horrific end finds those they have affection for. In The Rules Of Magic, Hoffman explores Gillian and Sally's Aunt Frances and Aunt Bridget's (known here as Jet) awakening to the craft in the 1960s.

Franny and Jet, along with their brother Vincent, stay with their Aunt Isabelle. Each of their gifts grows, but can they use them to break the family curse? The Rules Of Magic is a gentle tale, perfect as the nights draw in, and can be read as a standalone story.

THE WHITE BOOK by Han Kang Portobello Books, hardback PS10, ebook PS6.80 HH HHH THIS is South Korean writer Han Kang's third book to be translated into English. It carries a huge weight of expectation after Kang won last year's Booker Prize with The Vegetarian.

The White Book - already being touted a 'masterpiece' is experimental to say the least. It is said to be the most autobiographical of Kang's books, written when she was on a writer's retreat in Warsaw.

Instead of any kind of coherent narrative, characterisation or plot, it is a meditation on the colour white.

With only a few sentences on every second page (sometimes as few as two), the unknown narrator explores objects and things that relate to the colour, whilst also sporadically reflecting on her older sister who died a few hours after being born.

It's hard not to compare it to The Vegetarian, but The White Book doesn't quite live up to the that book's visceral, captivating nature.

The book is so fragmented, and with characterisation mostly absent, it's hard to fully care about the narrator's reflections on white.

It's a shame, because Kang evidently has a masterful turn of phrase, but it ultimately feels a little directionless and self-indulgent.

NON-FICTION A SHORT HISTORY OF DRUNKENNESS by Mark Forsyth by Viking, hardback PS12.99, ebook PS9.49 HHHH H "HUMAN ingenuity can always navigate the labyrinth of religion, so long as it is whipped onward by thirst."

So claims Mark Forsyth, the best-selling author of The Etymologicon (try saying that after drinking a horn of Viking mead) in a memorable chapter detailing the Middle East's historically difficult relationship with alcohol.

In fact, as Forsyth skilfully reveals, ever since apes descended from the trees and discovered the intoxication brought by fermented rotten fruit, man has been tied to, and is regularly torn apart by, the demon drink.

The verbose Forsyth uses charm and wit to breathe life into the booze-soaked sexual rites of the Ancient Egyptians, the sozzled symposiums that inspired great thinkers like Socrates and, more recently, the rampant rise of saloon culture in the Wild West that was eventually crushed by Prohibition.

Lesser-known historical figures like the Mughal emperor Babur and Australia's Rum Rebellion leader George Johnston are drawn in living colour, while Forsyth dispels some of the myths surrounding medieval merry-making and even Jesus' position on water versus wine.

A book best enjoyed in small satisfying sips rather than downed in one.

CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK IMPOSSIBLE INVENTIONS: IDEAS THAT SHOULDN'T WORK by Malgorzata Mycielska, Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski Gecko Press, hardback PS14.99 HHH HH FROM the minds that brought us Maps - that huge, illustrated book of the world, suitable for inquisitive children and interested adults - comes this collection of bizarre ideas and patented inventions that often seem silly, but contain kernels of brilliance and foresight.

Discover all about Reuben Jasper Spalding's 1889 bird man suit, Karolina Sobecka's personal cloud maker and Hugo Gernsback's concentration helmet.

Instead of being A3-sized like Maps, Impossible Inventions is half-sized and the layout suffers as a result.

The comic-strip style invention explanations don't have quite enough room to breathe (and they've overdone it on the speech bubble front), while the text is crammed in and not always easy to follow.

However, the illustrations are witty and well crafted.

Smart and fascinating, although not fantastically well-executed.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 11, 2017
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