November 22, 2004
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire: The Wizard of Oz, told from a different viewpoint from what we’re used to, that of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba.

When our story starts off, we’re treated to the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, swooping down on her broom to spy on Dororthy Gale and her group as they discuss her origin. The majority of the book is then told as a flashback, beginning with Elphaba’s mother getting ready to shortly give birth to her.

Honestly, I don’t feel like recapping the entire story, so I’m not. I liked about the first half of the book, but once Elphaba left for the Vinkus, I really felt like the story bogged down. Up until then, it had been interesting with political discourse, love affairs, and interesting characters. After that point, however, it seemed to just drag on and on with no real purpose.

Once the final events leading to Elphaba’s death start to get put in motion, I felt like they were very haphazad and didn’t relate well and were just rushed to finish the book up. The whole part about a possible conspiracy drawing the lives of the three witches together also never set very well with me.

I’m torn whether I would recommend this book or not. Ultimately I found it disappointing, but so many people really love it that it might be worth your time to read.

November 02, 2004
Magician by Raymond E. Feist

Magician by Raymond E. Feist: this is a Viking Classic compiliation of two novels, Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master, both with slight changes, presented as an “Author’s Preferred Edition.”

At the beginning of this saga (this compiliation was almost seven hundred pages), we meet Pug, a thirteen-year-old orphan who lives at the castle Crydee in the peaceful Kingdom of the Isles. He is best friends with Tomas and the two enjoy their boyhood not knowing the destinies that await them.

Soon, Pug is apprenticed to Kulgan, the castle’s magician, and Tomas is choosen to be a soldier. However, strange happenings are soon to occur that plunges not only their world, but also another, into an epic fight spanning decades with repercussions that they never could have dreamed of.

This is another one of my purposely vague reviews because I want this book to be as much a surprise for you as it was for me. I was about half way through when I happened upon a reivew that contained a spolier that would have ruined much of the novel for me if I hadn’t almost reached that part already.

This was definitely one of the better books I’ve read all year and I read most of it in one sitting despite its length. I was constantly amazed at how well he was able to create what amounted to dozens of main characters, all of whom I felt connected to and very interested in seeing how their lives would play out.

If you are a fan of adventures, swords and sorcery, or just love a good yarn, then you cannot go wrong with these books. I have ordered the next book in the Riftwar Saga, Silverthorn, and am anxiously awaiting the time I can return to the world of Pug, Tomas, and so many others.

October 02, 2004
Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde: the second novel in the Thursday Next series, picking up where The Eyre Affair left off.

Again, it’s 1985, England is the world’s biggest superpower and a virtual police state seemingly controlled by the mega-corporation Goliath. Thursday Next, Special Operations Literary Detective, has managed to infuriate Mr. Schitt-Hawse, a Goliath executive, by imprisioning his half-brother Jack Schitt in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Schitt-Hawse proceeds to blackmail Thursday into getting his half-brother back by eradicating any trace of her new husband so that she’s the only one who even remembers him.

To make matters worse, a bunch of bizarre coincidences have resulted in accidents that almost take her life and she still has to figure out if the newly discovered Shakespearean play was really penned by the bard and save the world from turing into a ball of pink sludge.

As with The Eyre Affair, one has to have a certain suspension of disbelief, but I completely loved the book. The literary references and jokes were wonderful and trying to figure out how Thursday’s going to deal with everything that’s going on is both interesting and fun. I really look forward to reading the next book in the series, The Well of Lost Plots

September 17, 2004
Santa Steps Out: A Fairy Tale for Grown-ups by Robert Devereaux

Santa Steps Out: A Fairy Tale for Grown-ups by Robert Devereaux: in December of 1970, the Tooth Fairy, naked except for a necklace of blood-flecked teeth, decides upon a plan - a plan to seduce Santa Claus.

You see, before the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and even God are who they are now, they used to be creatures from Greek mythology with completely different aspects and desires. The Tooth Fairy, though, is the only one that retains her persona from that time and she’s done with the way things are now. Her seduction of Santa Claus sets in motion events that have huge repercussions not just for these magical creatures, but for several humans as well.

At first, I had great difficulty getting into the book and I suspected that I wasn’t going to like it. Yes, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy are having wild, kinky sex (occasionally in the bed of a sleeping child, nonetheless). Yes, it’s terribly shocking to see figures from our childhood given such base emotions. But is it a good read?

I was inclined to say no and half believing I wasn’t even going to finish the novel when, for whatever reason, I found myself becoming more interested in the story and the characters and wondering how it was going to turn out. While it never will never make my favorite book list, Santa Steps Out did manage to hold my attention and I enjoyed the way the book ended.

July 13, 2004
Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears by Ellen Datlow (Editor) and Terri Windling (Editor)

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears by Ellen Datlow (Editor) and Terri Windling (Editor): a collection of fairy tales written especially for adults.

Datlow and Windling are some of the best editors, especially in the horror and fantasy fields, that almost any book they put together is wonderful and this one is no exception. As Ellen Datlow herself says, there’s nothing new in this collection in regards to the themes of the stories since in literary fairy tales, uniqueness and novelty are besides the point. However, even with nothing new, these stories are still amazing.

The stories themselves range from light fantasy to darkly horrific and are retellings of such well-known tales as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Little Match Girl,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and more. Even though we may be familiar with these tales, the authors invariably give each one a bit of their own style or idea and it becomes something entirely different in most cases.

Personal favorites in this anthology included “The Beast,” “Masterpiece,” “Roach in Loafers,” “Brother Bear,” “The Real Princess,” “The Huntsman’s Story,” “Match Girl,” “Waking the Prince,” “The Fox Wife,” “The White Road,” and “The Printer’s Daughter.”

October 12, 2003
The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel

The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel: an absolute delight for several of the senses - seeing and hearing.

This novel starts out in Mexico as the conquistadors are obliterating the Aztecs. After a brief interlude with a conquistador and an Aztec princess, we are in Mexico City still, but far in the future. We immediately meet Azucena, an astroanalyst, who with the help of a gaurdian angel help people put the karma of their past lives into balance. She is going to meet her twin soul and true love, Rodrigo. Soon after meeting him, however, she loses him and begins a journey through many lifetimes to help all the people of the world learn the Law of Love.

At first, going from ancient Mexico to futuristic Mexico threw me off. I also felt a bit lost since the book starts talking about Azucena being an astroanalyst, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I quickly picked up on everything and enjoyed the story quite a bit. The occasional chapters from both a gaurdian angel and a demon always interrupted me from the story - they would always jolt me to reality.

There were several interesting concepts in this book that I found both entertaining and enjoyable. Whenever Azucena wanted to regress to a past life, she would listen to her CD player. A CD with the same tracks that she listened to was included so that the reader could hear what she was hearing. The past lives were also done in wonderful color illustrations by Spanish artist Miguelano Prado showing exactly what she was experiencing.

While the New Age talk may throw some people off, I found the book very entertaining and enjoyable. I would recommend this to anyone looking for something a little bit different to read.

August 14, 2003
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman: when I was in high school I read the most amazing short story ever that was about a murdered angel. It was in this great little anthology that I somehow misplaced and was never able to find again. About five years ago I came across the short story again in one of the ever-excellent Years Best Fantasy and Horror collections. Over the years the story has stayed with me, though never the name or the author. Imagine my delight when, while coming to the end of this amazing collection, I find it contained within.

Neil Gaiman has always been a favorite of mine through both his short stories and his novels (especially American Gods), so I can’t describe how happy it made me that he wrote one of the best short stories that I have ever read (the title, by the way, is Murder Mysteries).

I simply can not recommend Gaiman, especially this collection, highly enough. Everything that he writes is pure magic. There’s heartbreak, there’s happiness, there’s sorrow, and there’s joy, but the most important this is that his stories always ring true.

Pick this up as soon as you can. It is not to be missed. Forgive me if this review seems a bit disjointed, but I am so excited that the title of that missing anthology was mentioned and I have been able to find it again.

Favorite stories of mine from this collection are Chivalry, The Price, Don’t Ask Jack, The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories, Queen of Knives, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar, Bay Wolf, Mouse, Desert Wind, Babycakes, the aforementioned Murder Mysteries, and Snow, Glass, Apples.

August 05, 2003
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: what a wonderful book this was! It was very short (I read it in one day), but absolutely engrossing from the start. A fabulous mixture of love, romance, fairy tale, and recipes.

The book tells the story of Mama Elena and her three daughters - Rosaura, Gertrudis, and Tita, the youngest. When Tita turns fifteen she wishes to be married, but family tradition dictates that the youngest daughter must never marry and look after her mother until the day she dies. Pedro, the boy in love with Tita, in turn marries Rosaura so he can be near the woman he loves. This leads to all sorts of complications and events that no one could predict.

The novel has the same sort of feel as Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic. For example, the sadness of that Tita feels while cooking causes an entire wedding party to experience longing and unhappiness simply by eating her food.

I also enjoyed that included in each chapter was a recipe for the dish that was being prepared. I’m not a cook, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

Simply put, this is a fairy tale of life in Mexico that anyone can relate to. It’s simply delicious and should be read by all.

June 27, 2003
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) by J. K. Rowling: the fifth, and longest, installment in the Harry Potter series.

This book was very different from the previous books in the series. Lots of moodiness from Harry (of course he is a fifteen year old boy; which of them are not moody?), far more injustices and horror than the previous books, and a general darkness that the other books just did not have.

Despite all of this (and the death of a major character, though I won’t say whom), I still enjoyed this book and would come home from work and just read for a while.

Lots of readers have said, however, that they don’t feel that this book was on par with the rest of the series and I do agree. Lots of the “magic” (pun intended) that the other books have really wasn’t here - almost like Rowling’s writing style had changed in between books. I think a lot of it had to do with the subject matter and the darkness of this book compared to the previous, but I did miss that certain something.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this book simply because by this point, I am so wrapped up in the characters that there is no way I simply cannot find out what is going on with them in their world.

April 02, 2003
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman: this is the second time that I’ve read this book and it’s still as wonderful as the first time I read it about three years ago.

Practical Magic is set in our time and in our world, but also in a world where a lover’s passion is so strong that butter melts in their house. Where the ticking of a beetle can signify death for someone that you love. I think we all used to have some of this magic in our world, but we lose it as we get older and reality takes a stronger hold on us. Reading this book is a wonderful way to recapture the amazing in the every day.

The story revolves around sets of sisters in the Owens family - the aunts, Gillian and Sally, and Sally’s girls. All of the women in the Owens family are beguiling and they also happen to be witches. This aspect seemed more focused on in movie (very highly recommended) than in the book, but it’s an important element nonetheless. The relationships between the family is both one of love and one that is convoluted through choices that are made.

While it may sound like a sappy book, the way it is handled makes it anything but. The characters are deep and interesting and you can’t help but experience their longing, their worry, and their love. This book is simply lovely and has become one of my favorites of all time, always staying with me. I can not recommend it enough.

March 31, 2003
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde: one of the most entertaining, original books that I’ve had the pleasure to read in quite awhile.

The place is England. The time is 1985, but it’s not an England or a 1985 that you or I would recognize. England, the biggest superpower, is a virtual police state, the Crimean War is still going on after 130 years, Wales is now self-governed, and Goliath, a mega-corporation, seems to run everything from the shadows.

The novel centers around Thursday Next, a Special Operative, who works in the Literary Division. The nefarious Acheron Hades is out to change manuscripts of important novels by kidnapping characters from their pages. While it sounds outlandish, believe me, it really works.

I found this novel to be hugely entertaining and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. I expected it to be light-hearted and funny (very much like a Stephanie Plum novel), but was surprised to find out that it wasn’t that way at all. The book does require some suspension of disbelief, but I found myself slipping into Thursday’s world with no problem. I could really see it appealing to mystery, fantasy, and sci-fi lovers very easily, but it’s definitely a novel I would suggest that anyone try.

March 20, 2003
Galveston by Sean Stewart

Galveston by Sean Stewart: this was simply one of the most magical, most amazing books that I have read in years.

It’s the story of Galveston, Texas, set after an event that the locals call The Flood. In Mardis Gras of 2004, magic flooded the world, plunging part of Galveston into a never-ending party where things like cars, cigarettes, medicine, and air conditioning still exist. The “real” Galveston, however, becomes one where technology and modern products become rare and won’t work well.

The book centers around Sloane Gardner, the daughter of Jane Gardner, the “mayor” of Galveston who has banished all with magical talent to the everlasting Mardi Gras. Jane has struggled for years to keep Gavleston afloat and wants Sloane to continue in her footsteps. The other main figure is that of Josh Cane, an apothecary who grew up with Sloane. I hate to give any more than this away since I found the book so wildly different from almost anything I had read and never knew where Stewart was going to take his characters next.

This book won the World Fantasy Award with good reason and I would strongly recommend this book to anyone, especially the lovers of sci-fi and fantasy. I felt that the ending was a bit weak - it felt like the story just kind of petered out. However, that alone could not subtract from the wonder that is Galveston.

On a personal aside, few of the books that I ever read are set in Texas, much less Houston or Galveston, a city that I am familiar with. I loved the fact that when the went to a building or walked down a street, I knew just where they were.

February 24, 2003
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fourteenth Annual Collection by Ellen Datlow (Editor) and Terri Windling (Editor)

The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Fourteenth Annual Collection by Ellen Datlow (Editor) and Terri Windling (Editor): I’ve never reviewed one of these books before, but if you’re a horror or fantasy lover, all fifteen volumes of this collection is a must for you. One of my happiest days as a bibliophile is when I found the last volume I needed to complete the collection online at Alibris. I even sent the found of the company an e-mail because these books are so important to me as a reader.

These books are very large - around seven hundred pages. Not only do you get over 500 pages of the best stories of the year, you also get a summation of fantasy for the year (reviews of books, poetry, and music offerings, mostly. A great place to find books that you might have missed otherwise. I have found some excellent works that had slipped below my radar through these reviews), a summation of horror, Fantasy and Horror in the Media (an excellent way to find a good movie), comics for the year, and an obituary section.

You will never find anthologies as fine as these and this volume was no exception. They simply sparkle with magic, contain horror to chill you to the bone, and every other emotion in between. Most of the stories that I carry around with me in my heart always, have been read in these volumes.

My favorite stories included Incognit, Inc. (Harlan Ellison), Le Mooz (Louise Erdrich), Granny Weather (Charles de Lint), Greedy Choke Puppy (Nalo Hopkinson), Achilles' Grave (Ben Pastor), Down Here in the Garden (Tia V. Travis), Riding the Black Horse (Elizabeth Engstrom), Mr. Dark’s Carnival (Glen Hirschberg), The Cavemen in the Hedges (Stacey Richter), The Penny Drops (Ian Rodwell and Steve Duffy), Buttons (Claudia Adrizola), The Artificial Cloud (Justin Tussing), The Pottawatomie Ghost (Andy Duncan), George is All Right (Howard Wandrei), The Abortionist’s Horse (A Nightmare) (Tanith Lee), The Heidelberg Cylinder (Jonathan Carroll), Gone (Jack Ketchum), The Flaying Season (Jeffrey Thomas), Bone Orchards (Paul J. McAuley), and Hallowmass (Esther M. Friesner).

I simply cannot recommend these books enough to all readers, not just those of horror and fantasy.

January 25, 2003
American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: I cannot rave about this book enough. The book revolves around one premise: old gods (such as Odin) don’t just stop existing when they begin to lose their followers, rather they become, in a strange way, like the rest of us. They take jobs, they become grifters; the do whatever it is to survive. There is going to be a war between these old gods and the newer gods (those of tv, the Internet, credit cards), but there is so much more to the book than that. It’s filled with interesting characters and a storyline that is always moving and reshaping itself. There was a hypnotic, dream-like quality to the writing and I loved feeling like I was being sucked in every time I opened it. While I liked Neverwhere, this book was so much better and has hooked me as a Gaiman fan.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: this book was so very Alice in Wonderland on crack, but I really liked it. I’ve read Gaiman’s short stories in several anthologies before, but since this was his first full-length novel, I wasn’t sure how good it would be. While it will never be one of my favorite books of all time, it was very entertaining and enjoyable. I look forward to starting his newest novel, American Gods

A Caress of Twilight by Laurell K. Hamilton

A Caress of Twilight by Laurell K. Hamilton: second book in the Merry Gentry series. While I liked this book, I just don’t enjoy this series as much as I like the Anita Blake books. There seems to be no real danger and I just can’t bring myself to care about the characters as much as I would like to. Lots of sex, but not a lot of heart.

A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton

A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton: first book in the Merry Gentry series. In the beginning I didn’t think I was going to like this book. Since I read it right on the heels of all the Anita Blake books it was so very different to have a heroine that wasn’t a bad ass like Anita and it took me a little while to adjust. I started off thinking that Merry was a bit of a wuss, but eventually I began to appreciate Merry for Merry. This book didn’t have as much substance as the Anita Blake books (I felt the characters weren’t as in depth), but I liked it for a bit of lighter reading. Be forewarned, though, this book has lots and lots of sex, a marked difference from her other books.