Wicked is Gregory Maguire’s marvelous interpretation of the Wizard of Oz story.   A few years ago,  I was entranced by his  rather cynical and realistic  “behind-the-scenes”  notion of this tale.   Who could have thought of the politics, the pathos, and the twisted perception of events that, in Maguire’s mind,  shaped the famous children’s story as we know it today?  After reading his ingeniously told Side B of the story, I can never look at the Wicked Witch of the West the same way again.

In case you’re curious about what I deem to be this author’s best,  see a review from Room Full Of Words.    Indeed you may be hard put to find a rendition of  the Wizard of Oz that is charming but also scathing, compelling and so multi-layered in scope as Wicked.

Naturally, I gravitated towards this sequel, Son Of A Witch, which tells the story after the Wicked Witch of the West’s, Elphaba Thropp’s demise.

Author :  Gregory Maguire

Date of First Publication :  September 27, 2005

Publisher: Regan Books; 1st ed edition (Hardcover)

Date of Publication for this Edition :   September 30, 2008

Publisher of this Edition :  Harper

ISBN-10: 0061714739

ISBN-13: 978-0061714733

No. of Pages :  464

The Story :

After the revolution that unseated the Wizard of Oz  and had Dorothy inadvertently melting the Wicked Witch of the West, the tale in Oz continues. The countryside of Oz is menaced  by inexplicable murders in which victims’ faces are scraped off, the crimes many believe to have been perpetrated by the Yunamata.   Liir, the little boy in Elphaba’s castle, is found broken and at death’s door.  He is delivered to a mauntery either for care or burial.  No one knows who he is or what had almost cost him his life, except for Old Mother Yackle, a silent, batty crone who believes he is Elphaba’s son.

The Superior Maunt assigns a young girl, Candle, who plays a domingon beautifully , to give whatever comfort her music may bring, either to aid in Liir’s death or help in his mending.    Liir responds to the healing music and wakes to slowly remember what brought him here.  His life is a journey of questions :  Who is he? Is he really the witch’s son? What of his missions:  to find his childhood friend, Nor and to grant the Yunamata leader’s dying wish?

With Elphaba’s broom and cape in hand, he faces his questions as best he can.  Meantime, he learns of the political machinations behind all the murders  by the powers-that-be in Oz.  So he takes up the cudgels of his questioned heritage and decidedly albeit resignedly takes up the fight for the people’s rights just as his eccentric mother of a witch had done before him.

The Review :

I have read Wicked and have been flying around on its broomstick, until I  crashed with a resounding” THUD” with Son Of A Witch.

As a sequel, Son Of A Witch is darker and much more serious than its predecessor.  The overall feel is like going through a wasteland of negative emotions.   Although Maguire incorporates love, forgiveness, perseverance, and honor,  they come at the expense of an overbearing sense of depression all throughout the book.  It is a dreary fantasy that comes across as too odd, too black,  too serious, too everything.  Maybe because it doesn’t have that light other side to it like Wicked had.   I mean Wicked, although cynical, came out fantastically done because it was more like the “inside scoop” on what really happened in the fairy tale, the Wizard of Oz.  That made it totally interesting, without mentioning Maguire’s superb writing and conceptualization yet.  Son Of A Witch, though, isn’t based on anything so perhaps immersing in this rather eccentric world becomes too tedious to bother.    A non sci-fi reader trying to read science fiction would perhaps know what I mean.

Actually, I am hard put on how to rate this particular book as I did like some aspects and but mostly hated a lot of others.   The pros going for this book  are Maguire’s prose and main character development.  He handles shifting from serious philosophical meanderings to crude down-to-earth remarks rather well. There is humor in this book;  Maguire is never without it.   His brand is not the subtle kind but straight-to-the point jocularity that is oftentimes laced with sarcasm or vulgarity or even childishness.   Character development is to be lauded as well.   Liir’s personality progression  is realistically paced and drawn.

Now on to the cons…Despite the prose I have always admired of Maguire and the  believable development of the main character,  the author just manages to strip this book of much appeal.   It is its universal dreariness, its oddity perhaps, and its tiresome characters that bring the book down as a crashing bore.  I just stayed with the book so I could make this review;  otherwise, I would have chucked it out as a waste of time.

To Read Or Not To Read :

I can’t help but compare Wicked and Son Of A Witch because I am sorely disappointed.  Invest your time in other reads unless you so love Maguire’s Oz or you just revel in Maguire’s phraseology and his style of festooning his fantasy world with realism.  Then, you may not mind the pervasive moodiness this book offers.

In case you still feel like reading Son Of A Witch, don’t attempt to do so if you haven’t read Wicked.  The author assumes you have read the first so he does not offer explanations about events or characters in this one.  Moreover, the conclusion is a hanging one as the story continues on to A Lion Among Men, the third and last book of The Wicked Years trilogy.

As with Wicked, this sequel is far from a YA novel.  Allusions to and spot mention of violence and sexuality categorize this book as adult fantasy.

In A Nutshell:

I don’t think Maguire should have made a sequel, much less a trilogy.  Wicked is brilliant in itself and doesn’t need to be propped by a rather unsatisfying addendum.

My Mark  :  Fair

While rummaging through a sale bin, this particular book caught my eye.  Not many books talk about household help so I picked it out as something different.  The story revolves around an au pair which, in Philippine society, is equivalent to an all-around nanny that helps in chores.  Maidservants are  an integral part and most often a necessity for middle to upper crust lifestyles.  We have nursemaids for our children, the requisite cook, washerwoman, and house cleaners.  Depending on the size and finances of a household, the quantity of househelp ranges from one, who has to do almost everything, to a battalion with specific work assignments in a huge house.

The book  is very British, however, and has nothing to do with the Philippine way of life.  But knowing that a lot of us can’t live without our helpers, I was intrigued by this book’s premise on how dependent we can get on our maids  or nannies and to what lengths some of us as employers would go to keep them.

Author :  Fay Weldon

Date of Publication :  April 10, 2007

Publisher :  Grove Press

ISBN-10: 0802143016

ISBN-13: 978-0802143013

No. of pages :  288

The Story :

As a young modern couple, Hattie and Martin have outre views about a bevy of things, including deciding that the state of singleness but togetherness is the way to go.  But both are unprepared when baby Kitty is born.  Hattie, the career woman, suddenly finds herself bored with the drudgery of domestic chores and child rearing that she longs for her old job back.  Martin, equally disappointed with tasteless home dinners, reluctantly agrees to Hattie’s decision to hire an au pair.

Agnieszka arrives to seamlessly take over the domestic chores and child-rearing burdens,  leaving Hattie suddenly free to pursue her career and Martin, happy about dinner time and his laundry.  Everything is wonderful and Martin and Hattie intend to keep it that way by making sure that the au pair is happy so she can live with them forever.  Never mind the little stories that don’t seem to connect nor the blatant belly demo, the couple are prepared to go to the extremes just to keep their au pair with them.

The Review :

Hattie’s  grandmother, Frances, relates the couple’s help hiring adventure in her cynical, offhand style with undercurrents of dark , dry humor.

Although the telling is most amusing, it may not appeal to readers who like straightforward plots.  True to the narrator’s granny character, the story goes off tangent several times when she starts reminiscing about her own life.  While this is where most of the author’s wit glimmers,  it does take a bit of concentration to be unfazed by the interrupting deviations in the narration.

In truth, a straightforward telling will perhaps make for a a much thinner book;  the whimsical meanderings of the narrator just plump it up.  It depends on one’s taste now to deem the book humorously satisfying or simply convoluted.  Personally, I found it rather engaging and didn’t mind the flip-flops here and there.

Speaking from a more conservative Asian point of view,  I know I would never warm to the characters, Hattie or Martin,  had they been real. I am rather put off  by their cavalier attitude toward baby Kitty and most everything else. Their grandmother’s nonchalance bothers me as well.  For instance, the revelation  about her husband being an imprisoned dope dealer struck me as more akin to a yawn than the serious predicament that it realistically is.  However, as fictional characters, they do have loads of entertainment value so that the finish, although absurd,  is a jaw dropping surprise twist that left me flabbergasted.

My Mark :   Good!

Pressed for reading time?  Grab a young adult book.  YA is always my answer to a need for  light, easy- to- read but fun book.  Vampirates just fits the bill…

Author :  Justin Somper

Publication Date :  October 4, 2006  (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN-10: 0316013730

ISBN-13: 978-0316013734

No. of pages :  336

The Story :

Fourteen-year-old twins Grace and Connor are left orphaned and penniless in a gossipy old village and so both flee the clutches of their would-be guardians.  They take a dinghy out to sea only to be cursed by a storm and separated from each other.  Connor is rescued by a pirate ship while Grace is saved by a dreaded Vampirate, the terror their father had warned about in a catchy but strangely  comforting shanty.

Despite being oceans apart, both siblings never give up hope that the other is alive and focus their energies into finding each other.  Meanwhile, Connor carves a new life as a pirate while Grace faces dangers from the Vampirate crew who have yet to know of her existence on board.

The Review :

“Yo Ho Ho and a pint of blood!…”

What better way to curdle your RBCs but merge two devils into one — pirates and vampires!  Hence, vampirates!  Quite an original concept and a rather great way to grab the reading attention of very young readers, from nine to fourteen years old.  Well, it caught my attention and I’m no spring chicken (Hey, I’m no geriatric either, LOL! ; but, I’m way over my teen years.  How old? Let’s just say I’m supposedly too old for YA.  Tee hee!).

Since the book was written with this reading market in mind, I must review from this viewpoint and pretend to be twelve.  If I were twelve, I would love this book and cajole mom to buy me the series.

It starts out strong with a good ditty and two engaging twin characters.   The vampires are interesting creatures and quite different from the usual.   There are normal pirates in the book as well; and well, they are  the usual jolly, swashbuckling lot,  quite appealing to young boys.  An innocent, budding romance is also in the air for girls just discovering the world of crushes.

Somper’s writing is just right for the age bracket but his style and the plot may be a little too juvenile for adult tastes.  Still as an “oldie”, I was entertained and finished the book in a day.

One thing I am puzzled about, though, is the fact that the story is set well into the future, specifically the year 2505.  However, with the mention of swords and galleons and the utter lack of modernity in the story,  the whole thing really feels a lot more sixteenth century”ish”.  In fact, you would forget the story’s futuristic date.   Maybe this question is answered in the sequels?

To Read Or Not To Read :

This is a series book, as most YA books are.  To date, there are five, the latest being Empire of the Night, which according to Amazon, will be out in August 2010.  Definitely read if you’re a kid or when you’re just too bored being an adult.  Just remember that this series isn’t over yet with the fifth.

My Mark  :  Very Good!


June 20, the last day of my two challenges has come and gone.  I hang my head in failure of completing Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010.    Shame, shame as only a half read book stands in the way of a satisfying finish.   Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand is my Waterloo.

Blame should not fall on this book.  On the contrary, Mortal Love is very intriguing and seems to be well written; however it is the kind that demands more than the usual attention and a certain amount of concentration I could not give.  Reading a few pages at a time isn’t the right way to approach this novel.

It would be unfair to review a book  one has not thoroughly read down to its last page.  So I shall set this book aside for a better time and mood.

In the meantime, there is still no getting away from the fact that I did not complete challenges which I undertook to goad me to read what was on my shelf.  Nevertheless, despite my failure to stick to the challenge list, I deviated to light reading borrowed from others in these hectic months so as not to miss out on a good hobby.  At least I still got some reading done.  :)  Guess I now have to get down to brass tacks with my Chunkster Challenge.  Only about seven more months to go!  Yeah, there’s still time but with a mountain of pages and my schedule, good luck to me!

Still having barely enough reading time this June, I reached for an easy to read book,  more like an airport read…

Author :  Brad Meltzer

Date of First Publication :   September 5, 2006 (Hardcover)

Publisher of First Edition : Grand Central Publishing

This Edition’s Publication Date :  May 1, 2007  (Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher :  Warner Vision

ISBN-10: 044661212X

ISBN-13: 978-0446612128

No. of pages :  622

The Story :

A crazed assassin attacks the U.S. Presidential entourage at a NASCAR race and changes Wes Holloway’s life forever.  Wes, the President’s aide,  survives with disfiguring facial while the President’s best friend, Ron Boyle, is shot and killed.  But after eight years, Wes spots Boyle, very much alive.  The CIA and the FBI are after him for information and the assassin is on the loose once more.  Now Wes must figure out the mystery of Boyle buried in old crossword puzzles, Freemason history and Jefferson’s two-hundred-year-old codes, before the Book of Fate catches up to him.

The Review :

One of the factors influencing my decision in purchasing a book is the one-liner reviews from respected magazines, newspapers and authors, just like  these  encouraging comments for the book:

“Move over, Da Vinci; take your code and shove it!…a page-turner.” —- Liz Smith, New York Post

“Meltzer’s tale of intrigue and pathos  in politics engrosses.”  —–  Entertainment Weekly

“A teasing code and a tireless pursuit….the jolts just keep coming.”  —- New York Daily News

Most of the time  I can rely on these little snippets.  But this is one time these people have completely missed the mark.  How they can describe this book in glowing terms make me suspect these may be paid opinions.

As a thriller, it isn’t so thrilling.  Meltzer has given us a bland plot sprinkled with mysterious symbols, both of which seem to make the book trail sadly after Dan Brown’s  wake.  With puzzles,  symbols and the references to the Freemasons (for perhaps more mystery), it looks like Meltzer is simply trying to cash in on the tidal wave from Dan Brown’s popular theme of weaving symbolism  into his thrillers.

Alright, he says he meticulously researched  everything.  I am not disputing that.  It’s just why try to style yourself, no matter how much less, after another author?

One other thing, it feels as if Meltzer is trying too hard.   Why the FreeMasons are so crucial to the plot, I haven’t a clue.  Even the schizoid character, Nico, seems simply thrown in to up  the ante albeit being an unnecessary angle.  Moreover , the whole story simply does not focus on its title, The Book of Fate, which from beginning to end appears to be  some sort of vague Bible.  There is not much reference to it nor does the plot give it any importance. I believe the novel was probably titled so because it just sounds great and  intriguing.  After all, it must sell, sell, sell!

To Read Or Not To Read :

Reading this book is like grabbing something so one has something to do.  After all I’ve said though, it isn’t very bad when you get down to reading it but it isn’t great either.  Rather mediocre.  A read, toss, and forget-about-it novel of which its mediocrity is its merit of getting you adequately by when you’re just killing time.

In A Nutshell :

In the end, you come out not clear about what the novel’s  Book of Fate really is.  Oh and the whole conspiracy theory  is really not much of an attention grabber, either.    Again, bland and boring.

The Book of Fate is definitely an airport read, if you don’t mind the watered down Dan Brown wanna-be.   It’s  engaging in the first dozen or so pages then the gripping interest peters out and the action stays on an even keel throughout the middle.  Not an engrossing piece; but guaranteed you won’t miss your plane with this one.

My Mark :  Mediocre  — A not so thrilling thriller

Author :  Joanne Harris

Publication (First Edition) :   February 1, 1999

Publisher (First Edition) :  Viking Adult

This Edition’s Publication Date :   November 7, 2000

Publisher :  Penguin

ISBN-10: 014100018X

ISBN-13: 978-0141000183

No. of pages :  320

The Story :

The story begins when Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk  arrives in the tiny village of Lansquenet.  She sets up a chocolate shop, a seeming godsend to the sleepy town where nothing ever really happens.  But, for its chaplain, Pere Reynaud, the shop  with its delectable florentines, chocolate brazils, and pralines  present an outright threat to his parish’s status quo— a community lifestyle of strict piety, conformity and self-denial.  It doesn’t help that its shop owner is a largely irreligious, attractive, inordinately charming woman with an uncanny ability to guess one’s  favorite chocolate confection.  Is she a witch?  No one knows, and Vianne isn’t even sure herself; but, her delightful, mouth-watering creations seem to weave their magic in the hearts of the villagers.

To Pere Reynaud, however, her chocolates present an evil indulgence that threaten to crack his  rigid inculcation of spartan pleasures in the name of the suffering Christ.  So the straw that breaks the camel’s back is Vianne’s planned chocolate Easter festival at the end of the Lenten Season which goads Reynaud to vow for her permanent removal from Lansquenet.

The Review :

This charming story is a sweet, amusing  jibe on how excessive devoutness beyond common sense can carry religion to the realm of the ridiculous.  Joanne Harris pokes at skewed morality with an engaging hand… and a delectable one at that.  So a caveat:  the mention of chocolate in all its luscious forms and the entrancing descriptions of  chocolate-making  arouse cravings; in this case, it would be good sense to have a box of these delicious devils by your side before settling down with this rather pleasing, light-hearted book.

Along with the well crafted plot,  Harris spins incredibly palpable characters to love in her rich yet simple prose.

On the Side :

The cinematic version of Chocolat had been shown in 2001 with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp leading a great cast.  Although it deviates quite a stretch from the novel, the movie captures the feel of the original material pretty well.   Still it  is an inferior substitute.  The story is better told in Harris’ hand.

In A Nutshell :

A delectable book with luscious pages of magic realism, Chocolat is as irresistible as that one little bit of truffle.  Besides, as this book obviously points out— what is life without chocolate?

My Mark  :  Outstanding!  — A lovely keeper

I’ve not been a very active blogger this month.  With a myriad things that came my way plus being in the midst of preparing for a life presentation for my grandmother who turned 100 years old  yesterday,  my hands were just too full for posting reviews.

But here’s one for a book I just couldn’t resist plucking off the store’s shelf.  I’m a fan of Michael Crichton for his story-telling versatility.   As an author who never seemed to have written about the same thing in his entire career,  his fiction would careen from  corporate politics to dinosaurs, from global warming to aircraft investigations.  After his death, I sadly thought I had read the last of his stories.

But surprise, surprise!  Someone discovered a full manuscript in his hard drive ; hence this new book.  Of course, I just had to have it….

Author :  Michael Crichton

Publication Date :  January 1, 2009  (Hardcover)

Publisher :  Harper Harper Collins Publishers

ISBN-10: 0061929379

ISBN-13: 978-0061929373



The Story :

It’s the mid-seventeenth century, a time of profitable privateering in which a man could make his fortune if he were daring enough to do so.   At the English colony of Port Royal in Jamaica, Captain Jack Hunter sets his sights on the impregnable Spanish dominated  island of Matanceros where a galleon sits at anchor, heavily laden with treasure.

Never mind if the island is infamous  for its unconquerable reputation with a fearsome protector, Callas,  its terrifying canons and 300 men at arms.  Assembling a crew with special skills, Hunter attempts to take the island and its treasure by the very route which has remained impassable to all.  Up unassailable walls, through fetid jungles, and in terror-filled waters, these pirates fight to steal treasure and glory, enough to satisfy all who love excitement in tall tales.

The Review :

This latest written creation,  discovered  among the late author’s  memoirs, is a jolly romp in the high seas for those who get a kick out of shallow entertainment.  The plot is complete with everything a  tall tale of a  pirate story should have :  treasure, kraken, damsel in distress, and risks Indiana Jones would have envied.    If you’re looking for realism, this wouldn’t be up your alley.  Plus, don’t expect any depth or multi-facets in any of the characters either.  There aren’t any.

The story reads like it were Crichton’s first attempt at novel-writing — amateurish, bumbling.   I guess there must have been a good reason why this book remained in the author’s  hard drive.  I don’t think he meant to publish it yet or it wasn’t ready for publishing.  Perhaps, this book is still in its drafting stage because although it has a compete enough outline for a story, it just didn’t feel finished.   It  definitely isn’t up  to the standards of a Crichton novel,  given that his plots are always so much better  thought out than this.

In other words, this book is a big COULD HAVE BEEN , and it’s sad that this is all it can remain to be — a potential.

But a thought just occurred — the book may not be too bad as a YA novel.  Its very shallowness and swashbuckling appeal  would just be grade-A with action-inclined youngsters.  In hindsight, it’s quite good if I had approached it with that genre in mind.  But, I was expecting the same style for the usual Crichton target readers.

Despite what I’ve said though, I admit Pirate Latitudes was still rather mildly entertaining and a breezy read.  I just wish the author were still around to refine  it to  a  marvelous adventure-thriller.

In A Nutshell :

This may be great with teeners.    Read if you must;  you might enjoy it for the moment.   Just don’t purchase a hardbound.

My Mark :  Mediocre — Ok

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