Nina Kiriki Hoffman,
A Red Heart of Memories
(Ace, 1999)

It always seems to happen that when I say I'm not buying anymore books for a while, one will show up that I cannot resist. A few weeks after my marriage, I happened to step inside the local Barnes & Noble -- just to look, of course -- and saw one lonely copy of Nina Kiriki Hoffman's new book on the shelf.

Of course, I had to buy it.

I should explain my strange attraction to nearly anything Hoffman writes. I've tried to read nearly all her novels, and am attempting to gather short stories and novellas to complete the collection. I don't buy these books to read only once -- with one exception I have read them over and over again, searching for something hidden inside the innocent words on innocent pages, attempting to figure out why I like her world so much.

A Red Heart of Memories was no different, having the same effect on me as the first book I read by her, The Thread That Binds the Bones. It introduced me to Matt Black, who has the enviable ability to speak to inanimate objects like cars, houses, sidewalks and clothing. I say enviable, because I would dearly love to find out the history behind some of my most precious inanimate objects. If Matt ever visited my house, the first thing I'd do would be to ask her to speak to my oldest book. But I digress.

Matt is a drifter, moving nowhere in particular, relying on the kindness of good-hearted cars and houses for her meals and transportation. She meets Edmund, also a drifter, but one who is moved by Spirit instead of his own will. Spirit sends him to places, where he literally melds with objects that need a little help. When Matt meets him, he appears out of a wall, where he has been for three months.

The one thing I dislike about book reviews is that you tend to know the entire plot after you read one, so I'm going to spare you the disappointment of losing any joy from reading A Red Heart of Memories for the first time by saying that Edmund and Matt decide to travel together, meet some very interesting people, including a ghost and Edmund's sister, who has some enviable magic of her own. They uncover secrets in Edmund's past that have fragmented his psyche, and manage to put him back together.

I can only hope for sequels, now that I've read this book five times. Matt Black has appeared in two other stories, according to the book jacket: a novella, "Unmasking", and a short story, "Home for Christmas." Of course, now I have to track these stories down. (Can anyone out there help?)

I will continue to rescue Hoffman's books from lonely shelves at any bookstore I happen to wander into. Her spell is too strong to resist.

[ by Jennifer St. Clair ]

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