Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Club Discussion: Gregory Maguire's Wicked Series

This month I selected Wicked by Gregory Maguire for the online book club because I've wanted to read it for years and I thought it fit well in the month of Halloween. My only disappointment with this book is that I never read it sooner! I had put off reading the book because I was a little irked that Maguire took someone else's story (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum) and repurposed it for his own novel. I've always been one of those people who thinks it's unimaginative to take someone else's work and rewrite it, but that has all changed with Wicked.

Maguire weaves a wonderful tale of Elphaba Thropp, the woman many of us know as The Wicked Witch of the West, and the land of Oz from the time before the infamous Wizard arrives to Elphaba's untimely death at the hands of the unforgettable Dorothy. As Elphaba grows up we see her transforming into somewhat of a political activist. Upon entering college she is immediately drawn to helping Animals who have just been subjected to new laws limiting their rights and taking away their ability to be gainfully employed in anything besides manual labor. For her actions to aid the Animals she is considered a threat to the Wizard. Not to mention the fact that her sister, the ruler of Munchkinland, has seceded from the greater country of Oz, showing growing discontent of the Wizard's rule among the people of Oz.

And there is so much more. There's magic and talking Animals (animals don't talk, Animals do) as one would expect. Many of the mysteries of Oz are fleshed out and made very real. And we see another side to the story of the Wizard of Oz. The book was definitely a grown-up's fairy tale, but I thought it was wonderfully well written.

I also read Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men after finishing Wicked because I just had to know what happened (seriously, it's like Harry Potter for adults). However, I didn't like Son of a Witch quite as well as Wicked because it moved a bit too slow until it got to the end. I did enjoy it though and the ending made my heart smile in a big way. A Lion Among Men was even slower than Son of a Witch and left me wanting more. Liir (the son of Elphaba) was completely left out of the story with no accounting of him or his family, which I suppose was done in order to leave space for another book in the series, but I was still disappointed by it. In regard to A Lion Among Men, I almost felt like Maguire had a deadline and so decided to throw something together. And I was hugely disappointed that the Lion turned out to be such an opportunistic creep - and after Elphaba saved him as a cub! Have any of you read these sequels? What did you think? Am I being too harsh here?

Also, I want to know what you all thought of Wicked! I tried to keep my review short because I really want to know what you all though. Who were your favorite characters? What did you think of Elphaba? How about her sister? Did you think the author left any unanswered questions at the end?

Wicked was also reviewed by:

Oh, and before I forget: I selected the winner for my copy of Janeology by Karen Harrington! I selected the winner using the list randomizer on and got: REBEKAH E. Rebekah if you can send your mailing address to bexadler at yahoo dot com, I'll send the book out to you. Thanks to everyone who entered and check back in a few days because I'll be holding another giveaway then.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Giveaway Remnders and Moleskine Alternatives Contest!

First, I want to post a reminder that I'm giving away a copy of Janeology later this week, enter here by Oct. 30 for your chance to win.

Second, Trish gave a rave review of The Likeness on her blog and she's giving away a copy so don't forget to enter. I don't know when the deadline is though so you better do it soon just to be safe!

Lastly, is hosting a contest for free Picadilly notebooks. Each winner gets three little black notebooks (similar to the more expensive Moleskine notebooks you've probably seen around). Check out the site if this is something that interests you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Live Chat tonight with Water for Elephants Author

Tonight bestselling author Sara Gruen is doing a live online chat to discuss Water for Elephants on I thought some of you might be interested in joining in on that since it was one of our book club selections earlier this year. It might be fun for those of you who have been wanting to read the book, but haven't. Here's the information if you want to check it out:

WHEN: Wednesday, October 22, 8:00pm - 9:00pm ET
WHERE: The Gather Books Essential
COST: Free!

Also, you can check out my review of Water for Elephants here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why the Wind Blows by Matthys Levy

Why the Wind Blows was the first book I received as a review copy when I started this blog and I have to apologize here for taking so long to get to it. This book is really interesting, although it reads more like a textbook than I had expected. I think, in fact, it may have been designed for use in a physical geography class - a purpose for which I think it would be well suited.

Levy gives a lot of explanation about how weather patterns are formed, as well as the history behind weather tracking. From Magellan to the Titanic, he covers a great deal of history and offers many stories to break up the scientific explanations for weather, which I found to be refreshing. He also describes how hurricanes and tornadoes are formed and gives in-depth graphics to help explain both. I think the best thing about this book is that there are so many graphics to help explain what the author is talking about. I'm not very science minded so the illustrations really helped me out.

The one thing I didn't like about this book was the sub-title "A history of weather and Global Warming." The "Global Warming" on the cover is large enough that I had focused on that thinking it would be the basis of the book, but really Global Warming isn't even addressed until the 9th chapter and then it's not really talked about in-depth until we get to Chapter 14. Somehow, when I signed on to read this I had thought it would be more of a journalistic book about global warming and its causes, but it turned out to be more scientific (but not in a bad way!). Just different than what I had expected, which is probably why it took me so long to finally sit down and read it.

Having taken a couple of physical geography and life science classes, I already knew a lot of the things covered in this book, but, as I said, this book would be ideal for a life science or physical geography class because of its easy-to-understand explanations, charts and illustrations.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Interview with Karen Harrington and a giveaway

I'd like to introduce you all to Karen Harrington, author of Janeology, which I reviewed earlier this week. Harrington is a Texas native who has been writing fiction for more than twenty years. Her writing has received honors from the Hemingway Short Story Festival, the Texas Film Institute Screenplay Contest and the Writers’ Digest National Script Contest. A graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas, she has worked as a speechwriter and editor for major corporations and non-profit organizations.

She authored and published There’s a Dog in the Doorway, a children’s book created expressly for the Dr. Laura Schlessinger Foundation’s “My Stuff Bags.” My Stuff bags go to children in need who must leave their home due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.

She lives in Plano, Texas, with her husband and two children.

Harrington has kindly taken the time to answer some questions for this post:

How did you keep track of all of the branches of Jane’s family tree?

I used my genealogy software to create a realistic pedigree chart for Jane’s family. I referred back to it several times to ensure I was keeping my dates and places correct along the way. The chart can be found on my website, too, and my publisher is considering including it in the paperback version.

Why did you decide to tell this story from the husband’s point of view?

I chose Tom’s point of view because he could ask all the questions about his spouse that I would have if I were in his shoes. He was/is the person most interested in finding out the answers to all the “why” questions. So it seemed logical to follow his journey. Plus, I was initially undecided if the spouses of women who kill are responsible in some way for the death of their children. So I wanted to follow that path to its end until I was satisfied I had at least uncovered a few answers. I think I did.

Why add a clairvoyant to the mix?

That’s an interesting question. The short answer is that this character was the vehicle to time-travel into the past. Antiques have long provided intrigue for me. I look at them and think “What if this piece could talk? What if it could tell me what scenes it had witnessed?” So, I developed the idea of a person with retrocognition to give those family heirlooms and photos a voice. I wanted you, the reader, to have the experience of looking at a photo and leaping right into the moment the camera took the picture. Enter, Mariah the clairvoyant.

What inspired you to write this story?

Initially, I wanted to write a story about a woman from the perspective of her genealogy and explore all the dark traits she may or may not have inherited. My father and I share a passion for our own family genealogy. Growing up, I was surrounded by his research and a lot of family photos of relatives I never knew. I developed an early curiosity about who they were and the possibilities of genetic inheritance. Then, there were far too many Texas news headlines about mothers who kill. When I had my first daughter, those stories really kept me up at night. And when a question keeps you up at night, that’s when you know you are going to write about it. So, the two ideas of genealogy and a troubled mother merged. Voila – Janeology!

I really liked the idea that objects are what keep us connected to our past. How did that part of the story evolve?

As I mentioned before, so many family pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents surrounded me during my childhood. We also had a lot of well-preserved antiques passed down through the generations. So I was always curious about the origins of these heirlooms. For instance, the trunk and the necklace featured in the book (both shown on my website) are both family heirlooms passed down from my great-grandfather to my father and now to me.

What’s been the biggest challenge to you as a writer?

Managing the whole landscape of a story as it expands. It gets a bit unwieldy as it enlarges and you must constantly stay on top of it, making sure your facts are correct and that you are consistent. For me, working on the same piece every single day, even if it’s just to tweak one paragraph, over several months is the only way to stay in the story.

I’m also curious about the publishing house you chose. How did you find Kunati? And what was it like working with an independent publishing house?

I have to smile here when you say “the publishing house you chose.” It’s fortunate to be published at all when you consider the number of writers out there. So if your dog had his own publishing house and offered me a contract, I would have jumped at it. That said, my relationship with Kunati began by way of the typical submission process. I sent out my manuscript to dozens of agents and publishers and was thrilled that Kunati selected me; particularly, after I saw the types of bold stories they embrace. Plus, I think my experience with an independent publisher like Kunati has been great because of the level of communication exchanged from the editors and publishers directly to the authors. I’m not sure if the lines of communication are that open to the authors of larger houses. The best thing about my Kunati experience has been learning from the other talented authors on its roster.

Are there any other Karen Harrington books in the works?

Why, yes! I just got my next manuscript back from my freelance editor and I’m working on revisions now. I’m hopeful it’ll be at my publisher in January. (Unless, of course, your dog would like to have a look.)

Lastly, I’d like to know what you like to read. What are the three books you think everyone needs to read at least once in their life?

I think everyone should take on Homer’s Odyssey at least once. There are so many offshoots of this story in modern literature that reading Homer will make one’s reading experience richer.

The same is true for Shakespeare. If I had to pick a couple, I’d say take on Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.

And third, I think every writer should get a healthy dose of Hemingway to learn lean prose and Elmore Leonard to learn dialogue. Any books from these authors are terrific.

And what are you currently reading?

Fresh Kills by Bill Loehfelm and The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.

And now for the giveaway. One lucky reader will receive my copy of Janeology by doing the following:

1. Leave a comment here saying why you'd like to read this book.

2. You can earn a second entry by posting about this giveaway on your bl

The deadline for entering is October 30th.

For more information about the author or the book, you can visit Karen Harrington's website, which includes a pedigree chart for the characters in her book. Also, below is back-of-the-book description of

Tom Nelson is struggling after the death of his son at the hands of his wife Jane. While Jane sits in a Texas mental hospital for her part in the crime, prosecutors turn their focus to Tom. They believe Tom should have known Jane was on the cusp of a breakdown and protected his children from her illness. As a result, he is charged with “failure to protect.” Enter attorney, Dave Frontella, who employs a radical defense strategy – one that lays the blame at the feet of Jane’s nature and nurture. To gather evidence about Jane’s forbears, Frontella hires a woman with the power of retrocognition – the ability to use a person’s belongings to re-create their past. An unforgettable journey through the troubled minds and souls of Jane's ancestors, spanning decades and continents, this debut novel deftly illustrates the ways nature and nurture weave the fabric of one woman's life, and renders a portrait of one man left in its tragic wake.

Book Club Announcements: New Release and Read Wicked for FREE

So, thanks to The Book Pirate, I learned that our book of the month has a new sequel being released today so if you've already read Wicked and Son of a Witch, you really have no excuses not to participate this month. Actually, I should say especially if you've read these books because I know you won't be able to resist getting the next in the series if you've already read the others. I started reading Wicked on Friday night and then shirked all of my real responsibilities in order to continue reading. I'm almost finished but have been forced to put it down because I have so many upcoming deadlines (I bribe myself by saying if I get one assigment completed I can read one chapter before starting the next). This is Harry Potter for me all over again.

Erm, sorry to go off on a tangent. I just wanted to point you all toward A Lion Among Men, the latest release by Gregory Maguire. I also wanted to let you know that if you're super poor like me and you somehow can't find someone to borrow this book from you can read Wicked for free by going here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Janeology by Karen Harrington

I haven't had much time for extra reading lately, but once I opened this book I had to make time. Janeology by Karen Harrington is a book that draws you in from the first page and you can't stop reading until you know what happens. The story follows Tom Nelson through a thorny criminal trial in which he is accused of having not paid attention to the signs of post-partum depression in his wife that led her to commit infanticide, killing their two-year-old son and nearly drowning his twin, two-year-old Sarah.

While Tom is still reeling from the death of his son, and young Sarah is confused about losing her twin and her mother, the state of Texas is looking for someone to blame for the deaths since the mother is found to be mentally ill at trial and is sentenced to a mental institution. As the story unfolds, Tom's attorney takes an unorthodox defense of his client, saying Tom's wife, Jane, was pre-disposed to this life because of her genes. They then go through the lives of past generations from Jane's family, with the help of a clairvoyant, and discover the unsavory details of her genealogy.

While the clairvoyant may be a bit of a stretch for some readers it actually seemed to be just a quick way for Harrington to get this story out. It wouldh ave been far less effective to have Tom and his lawyer digging through old newspaper articles for the entirety of the book as they unearth the details of Jane's family. The story moves at a quick pace, with each chapter leading into the next and making it impossible to put down.

I thought this was an interesting look at a subject that seems to be in the news more and more these days (very Jodi Piccoult-esque), as well as at how blame gets pushed around in the legal system. There was also an interesting underlying theme of how objects in our lives can keep us connected to pasts and memories we may wish to forget. And it will get you wondering how much of you is made up of your ancestors.

This book was also published by Kunati, and independent book publisher, so if you're interested in debut authors an independent booksellers you might check them out.

Also, you can watch a trailer for the book at Karen Harrington's site.

This book was also reviewed at:
Mysterious Reviews
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Books on the Brain
Booking Mama
Bold Blue Adventure
Maw Books Blog

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America

In her memoir, Funny in Farsi, author Firoozeh Dumas uses humor and candor to introduce her family to readers and describe the language and cultural difficulties that come with moving to a new country. Originally from Iran, Dumas moved to the United States at age seven. It was 1972, a time before many Americans had ever heard of Iran, giving the author a much different experience in her first years in California than perhaps is felt by Middle Easterners immigrating to the United States today.

Leaving politics out of her essays for the most part, Dumas is able to endear her family and her culture to readers. She also is able to help us see how the political climate in the Middle East has effected immigrants and American attitudes toward them.

Dumas also has a refreshing look at things I take for granted as both a Californian and an American. The essays from her younger years are filled with a child's sense of wonder and discovery, as well as mischievousness. For instance, when Dumas loses track of her family in Disneyland, she goes to the Lost and Found and waits for her parents to figure out that's where they should go to look for her. When they arrive she realizes her father will do just about anything for her because he's so glad to have not lost her forever, which she uses to her advantage to get all the goodies and balloons her penny-pinching father normally wouldn't allow.

I thought her descriptions of cultural differences were also very well done. At one point she describes her father's love of visiting Costco on "sample day" because of all of the free food he can get. Her father also insists on trying all of the latest boxed or frozen foods (despite the belly aches they get from it) because they are so different from what they would find in Iran.

Culture becomes a theme throughout the book as she grows older, spends time in France and eventually marries a Frenchman. As always, I loved reading about someone else's time in Paris. It always makes me feel better about my own experience because it confirms my belief that I'm not the only person ever to have a difficult time with Parisians.

All in all I really enjoyed this book. Dumas' writing style is fun and quick, and her descriptions of her family's quirks will take you back to your own teenage years.

For those of you in Sacramento, Dumas will be appearing at Sacramento State University on Wednesday, October 15th, at 7 p.m. for a discussion and book signing.

Also, she now has a second collection of essays out, entitled Laughing Without an Accent, if you're interested.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

October Book Club Selection: Wicked

I've been meaning to post this for a few days but life got too hectic there for awhile and I let it slip. This month I'd like to finally read Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I borrowed this book ages ago from one of my friends and still haven't gotten around to it. I thought it would be a good book for October too since it's about a witch. I don't like scary books too much so this is about as close as I could get to a Halloween theme. If you've already read this book, but want to participate, how about considering the sequel?

From Publisher's Weekly:

Born with green skin and huge teeth, like a dragon, the free-spirited Elphaba grows up to be an anti-totalitarian agitator, an animal-rights activist, a nun, then a nurse who tends the dying and, ultimately, the headstrong Wicked Witch of the West in the land of Oz.

Maguire's strange and imaginative postmodernist fable uses L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a springboard to create a tense realm inhabited by humans, talking animals (a rhino librarian, a goat physician), Munchkinlanders, dwarves and various tribes.

The Wizard of Oz, emperor of this dystopian dictatorship, promotes Industrial Modern architecture and restricts animals' right to freedom of travel; his holy book is an ancient manuscript of magic that was clairvoyantly located by Madam Blavatsky 40 years earlier. Much of the narrative concerns Elphaba's troubled youth (she is raised by a giddy alcoholic mother and a hermitlike minister father who transmits to her his habits of loathing and self-hatred) and with her student years.

Dorothy appears only near novel's end, as her house crash-lands on Elphaba's sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, in an accident that sets Elphaba on the trail of the girl from Kansas, as well as the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Lion, and her fabulous new shoes. Maguire combines puckish humor and bracing pessimism in this fantastical meditation on good and evil, God and free will, which should, despite being far removed in spirit from the Baum books, captivate devotees of fantasy.
As always, the book club discussion will be held on the last day of the month (October 31). Hope to see you all there!