Fantasy


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

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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!


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

I’m well on my way toward completing my two challenges way ahead of schedule :  Spring Reading Thing 2010 and Once Upon A Time IV.    Anansi Boys is my fourth book in a list of five.

Author :  Neil Gaiman

First Edition’s Publication Date : January 1, 2005

First Edition’s Publisher :  Harper Collins

This Edition’s Publication Date :  January 22, 2008 (Paperback)

This Edition’s Publisher :  Harper Perennial

ISBN-10: 0061342394

ISBN-13: 978-0061342394

No. of pages :  368

The Story :

Fat Charlie’s (who really isn’t fat) humdrum, safe, comfortable life goes out of whack the moment he learns of his embarrassing father turning up his toes  on a karaoke stage.  Charlie Nancy had no idea his father was a god; neither the fact that he had a twin.  Now brother Spider, the hip, dashing, cool side of the family has turned up to say hello and is determined to stay.  Problem is, Spider has Charlie’s fiance all starry eyed with him and his boss, seething with murderous revenge.

Charlie just wants Spider to go away.  So he dabbles in some magic which backfires on them both.  Now, Spider and Charlie have to face the consequences and dredge their strengths from within.

The Review :

I have never read a Neil  Gaiman novel before… I mean one where he is the sole writer.  Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch was from a Gaiman-Pratchett tandem so I couldn’t tell where Gaiman was or Pratchett began as I’ve never read a Terry Pratchett either.  Now, I understand all the hype about Neil Gaiman.  He is an original, if not a very good mish-mash of perhaps a lot of  influences, who had morphed into a writer altogether of his own kind.  He has a unique way of writing which marries well with his peculiar imagination.

With Anansi Boys, Gaiman  takes the Caribbean folk god, Anansi and weaves his own creative legend around Anansi’s two sons.  The premise is simple, that of a man coming to terms with his lineage.  But Gaiman is a writer who is anything but simple.  So the fundamental premise is layered with lots of other threads: sibling rivalry, filial love, forgiveness, dualism, and self-actualization.

Gaiman here is not given to being serious, though.  His writing imposes a lot of humor, levity, charm, quirkiness and  of course that bit of surrealism that,  I think, marks his style.  Part of his forte here is his characters who he fashions into people we can like or at least pay sustained attention to.  You may not identify with them but somehow  he can make them interesting in their own way.  Take his lead, Fat Charlie, who is something like a push-over, rather passive and calm, painted as boring and yet you get to like him for what he is and how he is developed.  Even the cantankerous mom-in-law-to-be is an amusing figure who will, strangely, get on your good side as well.

To Read Or Not To Read :

Anansi Boys is strange and funny at the same time, but I suspect, with  the author’s piles of accolades, this is isn’t the best of his work.   Perhaps I should get hold of more of  his novels to experience him at his best.  But as an introduction to him, Anansi Boys doesn’t fail him, although it may not effectively goad some new readers to shell out for another one of his novels, unless they can tell from the book that the author has a lot more to offer.

Although this seems like a YA novel, the youngest readers who would probably appreciate this book fully would be in their late teens.  The more mature, the better of course because of a bit of complexity in Gaiman’s concepts and writing style.

On the whole, Anansi Boys is a rather enjoyable book.  Just be in the mood for some eccentricity and you’ll have a nice solo time with this one.

My Mark :  Very Good



From a serious book on ancient warrioresses to a quirky one on a dissatisfied wife with a magic potion…. I figured I needed a light, no-brainer for another sleepless night.  Plus, it is in my challenge lists from  Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010.

Author :  Jane Heller

Publication Date :  December 2, 2008

Publisher :  IUniverse

ISBN-10: 059553550X

ISBN-13: 978-0595535507

No. of pages :  336

The Story :

Have you been married for so long you can’t even remember why?  Meet Elizabeth Baskin, a successful high-end hotel rater and a neat freak who feels her husband had become a one-star rater with a paunch,  a bald spot, and heavens! a penchant for sprinkling crumbs on newly dust-busted counters.  She decides that the only way to save her marriage is to make him over and return him to that dashing, funny guy who rescued her from an overheated car on the freeway.

Taking  a tip from her sister, she bluffs her way as a Goldie Hawn referral into the exclusive clinic of Doctor Farkus, the new celebrity-favored “life enhancement” specialist known to have  purportedly amazing potions with secret ingredients from some exotic forest.   At her visit, she runs into Clover, a housewife with the same need:  an enhanced husband.  The two strike up a friendship and agree to keep in each other updated with the results.

After Elizabeth describes her spousal makeover need, Doctor Farkus prescribes his  potion with strict instructions on its dosage.  Elizabeth guiltily but determinedly pours the  potion into her Roger’s orange juice every morning and waits for that magic transformation.  But Elizabeth gets antsy after a few days of seeing no immediate changes and decides to up the ante by dumping the entire two packets into Roger’s morning juice.

By day’s end,  Elizabeth’s wish of a totally enhanced, romantic husband comes true.  But too good to be true?  Indeed, as her Mr. Wonderful soon turns much too marvelous for her to handle.   With Clover corroborating the fact that their super enhanced husbands are just too “hot” for them to keep up,  both friends decide that their old husbands were a much better deal.   So what to do but ask for an antidote?  Only Dr. Farkus is nowhere to be found!

So begins the chase for the antidote that drives these two Beverly Hills wives into all sorts of hilarious escapades in their desperate attempt to save their marriages.

The Review :

Intended to be a light read, The Secret Ingredient will treat you to some chuckles.  It’s really laid-back fiction, the sort you pick up on a lark when you’re tired of serious or “meaty” stuff.  This isn’t the kind of reading for you if you want a novel with more depth.  Rather, you must be in a light and easy mood to be entertained by something like this—where you don’t care how silly and  ridiculous the characters or the plot at times get to be.

With this book,  you just go with the flow to enjoy it.  After all, that’s  what you do when you settle for a fairy tale.

My Mark :    Good — Quirky but Charming!

I had to leave off my current book, Last Of The Amazons, which needs a bit more concentration, in favor of a lighter read for a whole night’s vigilance in the I.C.U.    As I have volunteered for night duty in attendance to my ailing father, I figured an easy but interesting YA book would be just the thing to keep me wholly alert ’til the morn. 

Among my choices for the Once Upon A Time IV and Spring Reading Thing 2010 challenge lists, Hush, Hush just fit the bill.

Author :  Becca Fitzpatrick

Publication Date :  October 13, 2009  (Hardcover)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

ISBN-10: 1416989412

ISBN-13: 978-1416989417

No. of Pages :  400

The Story :

When God made man and Earth, some angels have looked on these creations with a consummate desire for dominion. A league of angels conspired to tempt Eve to eat of the Tree of Life, so God stripped them of their wings and cast them to Earth.  These fallen ones were denied  human perception of  the world  with all  its sensual clarity.   To experience the world through vivid sensations the way humans do — this what a fallen angel covets.

After the fall, a race emerged known as the Nephilim, immortals born of a union of angel and mortal. Only through the possession of the Nephilim can a fallen one experience the world as humans can.

For a Biology project, Nora is partnered with cocky, mysterious, and uncooperative Patch. She must get to know him enough to complete her project or risk failing the subject. While she knows almost next to nothing about him, he, disconcertingly, knows so much about her.

Forced to get to know him, she discovers dark and dangerous layers. For Patch is no ordinary boy. In fact, he isn’t even human. However, Nora can’t seem to shake off her dangerous attraction. Suddenly, her normal life doesn’t seem so normal after all. Someone is dangerously after her.  Who and why, Nora must find out to save herself.

The Review:

I can understand the allure this book has. The stunning cover hints of an irresistibly dark but sexy fantasy, which may not disappoint for some. This is primarily a romance with the supernatural as a very attractive component. As a deviation from the ubiquitous dark creatures like vampires, this time it is fallen angels, character concepts not often used and therefore a novelty for many young readers.

The protagonists are in their teens so this must contribute to the book’s categorization as young adult literature. But in my book,  the qualification for YA stops here.   As I have reiterated before, books in the YA category may have very adult concepts and jargon inappropriate for the preteeners and possibly, for those in their early teens. This book exemplifies this. Although there are no explicit sexual scenes, a lot of sexual innuendo exists. Moreover, there are hints of what some people may even consider as sexual harassment in the dialogues. The relationship between Nora and Patch may also be viewed as abusive at most or disrespectful at the least.

Although there is always something irresistible about the “bad boy” which ups those delicious romantic shivers in any romance, this particular characterization simply isn’t what one would want kids to admire in a romantic lead. To make it even more objectionable as YA,  the disrespectful ways of Patch toward Nora and Nora’s increasing attraction in spite of (or because of ?) it, feelings which I suspect may border more on lust than love, aren’t what I would rate as good fodder for teen and pre-teen minds.

However, despite my adult reservations, I feel this book is one of those  which young girls would gravitate to (the cover is simply irresistible).  The premise of fallen angels  and the dark romance are certain come-ons.   Writing is mundane, the characters not imbued with much depth; but these aren’t objectionable in a book designed to be  a 400-page breezy read.  They just makes reading effortless and fast.

Regardless of my misgivings on its classification, I  enjoyed Hush, Hush. I’m not saying it is a real page-turner but true to its bestseller status, it did keep me up and awake.  It was interesting enough in spite of its flaws.  Perhaps to like it, just suspend disbelief and go with the flow.

If you are a teen, chances are big that you will love it as it is.  As an adult in your thirties or beyond,  you probably will tend to be more judgmental of this book.

I won’t be surprised if this book morphs into a movie.  It just has that mass appeal to it.

As An Aside :

Becca Fitzpatrick is coming out with the sequel, Crescendo, this year.   For Hush Hush fans,  something to keep you on tenterhooks.  smiley

My Mark :  Good  —  Entertaining!

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