After Alice, by Gregory Maguire

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Preview on Amazon Kindle

This book was difficult for me to get into, and it wasn’t really what I was expecting. Only about a third of the book is actually set in Wonderland. The rest of the chapters are back in England, following other characters. The different stories only loosely tie together, and I found I had a hard time caring about any of the characters or stories. It’s not until the last third of the book that you start to get a sense of how all the stories tie together. But there are still gaps and holes.

I found it a rather disappointing retelling of the Alice in Wonderland story. I kept thinking that the end would tie it all together for me and would change my perception of the entire book. But that didn’t really happen. Maybe it’s a book that would benefit from a second read, but I don’t have much desire to ever pick it up again so that will remain a theory untested.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: None

You might also likeThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. LewisThe Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman; Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story, by Carolyn Turgeon

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

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Preview on Amazon Kindle

I love the movie The Wizard of Oz. When I was 4 years old, my mom got me a copy of the movie on VHS, but when I put it in the VCR (I feel so old!), the tape was nothing but squiggles. Somehow the tape had become corrupted, and I was devastated. We went back to the store to exchange it, and the store clerk sadly told me that they didn’t have any other copies but that I could pick out any other movie I wanted. Well, I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I took my little brother, and we marched up every aisle, looking behind every movie, because I knew there had to be another copy hidden there somewhere. And our hard work paid off — I found a copy of the special 50th anniversary commemorative edition. It had a booklet on the front cover talking about how the movie was made, and it had a beautiful close-up picture of Dorothy’s red sequined shoes. I was in heaven. I must have watched that tape over and over and over. I flipped through the booklet so often that within a few years, it was in tatters. Even though I haven’t used a VCR in years, that’s probably still one of the most used presents I’ve ever received.

So it was only natural that I would want to read the original story. As a child, the book didn’t compare to the movie. There was no singing, dancing, or magical transition from black-and-white to color. And they got some of the details wrong — Dorothy’s shoes are supposed to be red, not silver, and Miss Gulch is supposed to scare Toto in the beginning and become the Wicked Witch of the West.

As an adult, however, I enjoy reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz every now and then. The movie follows the book loosely, with a few of the lines in the movie taken directly out of the book. And the book has a darkness and morality that is reminiscent of the Grimm fairy tales. (The Tin Man became the Tin Man because the Wicked Witch of the West enchanted his ax to basically hack his body apart.) But it’s still so whimsical that I guess you can consider it a children’s story. The other Oz books aren’t as captivating to me as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is. But perhaps I’m biased.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: A little

You might also likeThe Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster; Coraline, by Neil Gaiman; Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie

Magician’s Gambit, by David Eddings

51vnhH25Z-L._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_I remembered this book being my favorite of the series when I was younger, but I couldn’t really remember why. Then, as I started reading it again, I realized it was because this is the first book where you get a female narrator. The change of narration is refreshing, and the female narration, in particular, has a different voice than Garion, the main male narrator.

This book picks up right where Queen of Sorcery ends. I recommend reading the two books back to back so that you can keep up with continuity. If you liked the first two books in the series, then you’ll like this one. The story keeps moving along, following our merry band of adventurers.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: Mild

You might also likeThe Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson; The Sword of Shannara, by Terry Brooks; The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

 

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Preview on Amazon Kindle

The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in 1890, and in true Wilde fashion, it provides a critical (and often stinging) portrait of British society at the turn of the century. Because I am not very familiar with British politics and pop culture from the late 1800’s, many of the references are lost on me. However, I feel like many of Wilde’s critical remarks could be made today. His characters are vain, petty, immoral, and silly. They elevate things of little importance and ridicule that which is of most importance. They are obsessed with beauty and art and themselves. One only has to browse social media for a few minutes to realize that we are much the same today. Just like the characters Wilde has created, we are trying to stop the hands of time to remain forever young and beautiful. Our pop culture icons seem more important than the ugly tragedies taking place throughout the world. And the lives of our pop culture icons (often truly tragic) are seen as a form of entertainment. Wilde’s satirical society has, unfortunately, become reality. Although I prefer Wilde as a playwright, his novel is one that could easily be adapted to today’s time and not much would be lost.

 

The first half of this book is a bit tedious, as it is mostly social commentary with references that I didn’t always understand. The story that we are most familiar with (the aging of Gray’s portrait) really picks up in the last half of the book.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: Very, very mild

You might also likeAmerican Gods, by Neil Gaiman; The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende; Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Queen of Sorcery, by David Eddings

51AJ+VhgyuL._SX299_BO1,204,203,200_I don’t think I appreciated this book in The Belgariad series when I read it as youth. I didn’t connect with some of the new characters, and I didn’t really understand some of the detours that the group of main characters took. However, as an adult, I can see that Eddings took this book as an opportunity to have fun with the genre. I think the dialogue is wittier than the first book, and the new characters are well-worn types of the genre that Eddings breathes life into in a tongue-in-cheek way.

As I mentioned before, Eddings is well aware that this book/series is formulaic, and you start to see him playing with that formula in this book. The characters start to realize that they are cogs in a larger machine and that each of them is there because they have a specific purpose to fill. Eddings knows exactly what he’s writing and rather than apologize for that, he leans into it and creates a masterful, if predictable, world. And because you think it’s predictable, he’s able to throw in delightful surprises (such as when one of the protagonists starts a magical duel a bad guy, but it gets cut short by another protagonist sneaking up and knocking the bad guy out cold. As a reader, you gear up for a fantastic duel that is cut short by something far more practical and efficient).

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: Mild

You might also likeThe Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson; The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss; The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan

Valentine’s Day Book List

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” ~Dr. Seuss

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up.” ~Neil Gaiman, The Sandman

Whether you are single or paired, chased or scorned, in love or in lust, there’s a book for you this Valentine’s Day:

Love conquers allPrincess Bride, by William Goldman

Love is blindJane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

Lovers and hatersWuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Will they or won’t theyWhat Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

Love will find a wayLandline, by Rainbow Rowell

Teenage angstEleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Lusty loveOutlander, by Diana Gabaldon

Gal’s DayAttachments, by Rainbow Rowell

A woman scornedThe Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

It could always be worseGone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings

51PV1njIRAL._SX296_BO1,204,203,200_I am not even sure how many times I have read this book and series. I first read it when I was probably 11 or 12, and it became a type of escapism for me. There are ten books in all, across two series, and I became intimately acquainted with the characters while in my youth. But I had not read the series for probably 10 years before picking it up again recently. I wasn’t sure if it would hold up as well as I imagined from my youth. I’m still not sure that I am able to read it impartially enough to give a good judgment on it. However, I am re-reading it now on the tail end of reading a number of The Wheel of Time books, and as I’ve posted in another post, that series does not sit well with me. (One major positive characteristic of Pawn of Prophecy and subsequent books is that Eddings collaborated heavily with his wife, Leigh. Later books also bear her name as co-author. I think because of that, the women, though they are few, are written much better than the women of The Wheel of Time. Jordan should have let his wife read his manuscripts before publication.)

Pawn of Prophecy introduces us to our prototypical fantasy hero — the young boy of humble origins who sets off on a trek to rescue something of great value. Eddings has admitted that this story is a rote fantasy, and it is extremely formulaic. However, as a youth, I think I found comfort in that. (**Spoiler**) I knew that the hero would win by the end, and good would prevail. As an adult reading it again, I still oddly find that familiarity comforting. What sets this book and series apart, in my opinion, is the characters. And the fact that Eddings doesn’t take himself too seriously in this genre. It is not a silly book, but as you progress through the story, you get the sense that the characters know they are part of a formula, and Eddings plays with that idea (almost breaking the fourth wall but not quite). It creates a world that is easily understandable, a plot that is not too confusing, and characters who have surprising depth and instant familiarity.

Pawn of Prophecy is a foundation book. Not much happens to advance the plot, but there is a lot of world building and character building. The good news is that it is a very quick read, and you don’t feel bogged down by details. There is enough action to keep you entertained, and the banter between characters is engaging.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: Very mild

You might also likeThe Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson; The Hobbit, by J.R.R Tolkien; A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin