Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Dresden Files - Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher’s series The Dresden Files is a hard to put down page-turner through all eight books. I loved it and I hope the rumor that he will continue the series turns out to be true.

Sci-Fi Channel show! Look for the series to really take off with the debut of a two-hour pilot on the Sci-Fi Channel this summer produced by Nicholas Cage. SCI FI Channel has cast Paul Blackthorne (24, Presidio Med) to star as Chicago-based wizard and detective Harry Dresden in The Dresden Files. Director David Carson (Star Trek Generations) has been tapped to helm the project. Production on the two-hour backdoor pilot film is set for a Summer 2006 premiere.
According to Cage, "Norm and I feel that Paul's passion for the part and talent will translate into a charismatic performance."

The first book is Storm Front. It introduces Harry Dresden as the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things -- and most of them don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a -- well, whatever.
There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry is seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get... interesting.
Magic. It can get a guy killed.

Second: Fool Moon. Business has been slow. Okay, business has been dead. And not even of the undead variety. You would think Chicago would have a little more action for the only professional wizard in the phone book. But lately, Harry Dresden hasn't been able to dredge up any kind of work — magical or mundane.
But just when it looks like he can't afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise.
A brutally mutilated corpse. Strange-looking paw prints. A full moon. Take three guesses — and the first two don't count...

Third: Grave Peril. Harry Dresden's faced some pretty terrifying foes during his career. Giant scorpions. Oversexed vampires. Psychotic werewolves. It comes with the territory when you're the only professional wizard in the Chicago area phone book.
But in all Harry's years of supernatural sleuthing, he's never faced anything like this: the spirit world's gone postal. All over Chicago, ghosts are causing trouble — and not just of the door-slamming, boo-shouting variety. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone — or something — is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc.
But why? And why do so many of the victims have ties to Harry? If Harry doesn't figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost himself....

Fourth: Summer Knight. Ever since his girlfriend left town to deal with her newly acquired taste for blood, Harry Dresden has been down and out in Chicago. He can't pay his rent. He's alienating his friends. He can't even recall the last time he took a shower.
The only professional wizard in the phone book has become a desperate man.
And just when it seems things can't get any worse, in saunters the Winter Queen of Faerie. She has an offer Harry can't refuse if he wants to free himself of the supernatural hold his faerie godmother has over him — and hopefully end his run of bad luck. All he has to do is find out who murdered the Summer Queen's right-hand man, the Summer Knight, and clear the Winter Queen's name.
It seems simple enough, but Harry knows better than to get caught in the middle of faerie politics. Until he finds out that the fate of the entire world rests on his solving this case. No pressure or anything...

Fifth: Death Masks. Harry Dresden, Chicago's only practicing professional wizard, should be happy that business is pretty good for a change. But now he's getting more than he bargained for.
A duel with the Red Court of Vampires' champion, who must kill Harry to end the war between vampires and wizards...
Professional hit men using Harry for target practice...
The missing Shroud of Turin...
A handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified...
Not to mention the return of Harry's ex-girlfriend Susan, who's still struggling with her semivampiric nature. And who seems to have a new man in her life.
Some days, it just doesn't pay to get out of bed. No matter how much you're charging.

Sixth: Blood Rites. Per usual, wizard-detective extraordinaire Harry Dresden is in trouble. He barely escapes an assassination attempt, courtesy of the Black Council of vampires, when Thomas, a vampire who has helped Harry out on occasion, asks him to take a case. It seems someone doesn't want porno film director Arturo Genosa's latest effort to get off the ground. An entropy spell has killed two of Arturo's assistants, and Thomas wants Harry to find the culprit. With suspects abounding--Arturo has no fewer than three ex-wives--Harry decides to pose as a production assistant at the studio. Though he isn't able to stop another sabotage attempt, this one threatening an actress' life, he does save the young woman. With danger closing in, the last thing Harry needs is a sexy succubus and a surprising revelation about his heritage. Filled with sizzling magic and intrigue as well as important developments for Harry.

Seventh: Dead Beat. This adventure finds Chicago's preeminent wizard coping with his new roommate--vampire half-brother Thomas. Harry soon has problems bigger than Thomas' clutter to deal with. Marva, one of Harry's vampire foes, summons him with a threat to his police-lieutenant friend, Karrin Murphy. Marva demands Harry get the Word of Kemmler for her, or she'll frame Murphy for murder. Harry doesn't even know what the Word is, but while he's trying to find out, and also what damage Marva will be able to do with it, several necromancers descend on Chicago. When Harry learns that the newcomers are students of Kemmler, an evil wizard who mastered ancient spirits in a way no one has since, he discovers that they are seeking the Word, too, in hopes of seizing the powerful knowledge within it and calling forth a powerful creature known as the Erlking. Butcher's latest maintains the momentum of previous Dresden outings and builds the suspense right up to a rousing conclusion.

Eighth: Proven Guilty. Harry Dresden, Chicago's only consulting wizard, takes on phobophages, creatures that feed on fear who attack a horror film convention, in the diverting eighth installment of Butcher's increasingly complicated Dresden Files series (Dead Beat, etc.). Harry finds that fighting monsters is only the prelude to maneuvers amid the warring wizards of the White Council and the vampire Red Court. Less and less V.I. Warshawski with witchcraft, Harry aims his deductive powers at political intrigues rather than crime solving. The body count from the magical melees, however, would do any hard-boiled gumshoe proud. Butcher's believable, likable set of characters goes for the jocular much more than the jugular. Deeper fears do run through the book, and Harry, taking on an apprentice, has to face up to the consequences of his all-too-human failings.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Gerald's Game - Stephen King

The story is one of King's most compelling: Jessie Burlingame's husband Gerald enjoys kinky sex games with his wife. Actually, he probably depends on them. When the Burlingames try out their handcuff game down in the house by deserted Kashwakamack Lake, Jessie decides she's had enough. She experiences a flash from her childhood (another game she didn't like), and kicks out, rebelling both against her husband and her past. Gerald suffers a fatal heart attack, falling to the floor. And Jessie is still handcuffed to the bed.
This is really interesting stuff, the setup for a nerve-jangling novel. And on some points, King delivers. Jessie's battle to get a water glass and actually drink from it is an unlikely, yet stunning, source of excitement and tension. Women she has known in her life become her "voices," sides of her personality she assigns personification. The interplay of the voices is great, too, if a little one- dimensional. And there are the flashbacks: Jessie, you see, once spent another afternoon on a deserted lake with a man. But she was ten, and the man was her father, and he played a game with her then, too. This memory is the core of the novel, and it's a disturbing and frightening core. It actually might go a long way to explaining why Jessie let herself be used by Gerald. The most interesting thing about this book is that the story takes place in one room. King is a master of intensity, to be able to write an entire story that exists only in the one room and still masterfully keep you wondering what will come next is sheer brilliance. This book is not one of his scariest books, but it is in my top ten best books to read. Read this book even if you don’t like King’s books, because this is far from his usual, most of the action takes place in Jessie’s mind as she descends into madness.

Good Omens - Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

Good Omens is a very funny, very serious book about the end of the world. The Antichrist has been born and is now 11 years old, and all manner of classically predicted phenomena are manifesting. Naturally, most of them are being ignored, misinterpreted or missed altogether. And since this is the work of Gaiman and Pratchett, there is a darkly comic twist to the action.
For instance, the Antichrist has been mislaid -- Heaven and Hell think they know where he is, but they're wrong. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse do know where he is, but they've been delayed by groupies. Also, they are lost. The only people who have correctly identified him are not, actually, people: one of them is a Hell Hound, currently incarnated as a small dog with a humorously floppy ear; and the other is an accurate but dead witch whose 500-year old prophecies would explain the whole problem, if only anyone understood them.
Crowley and Aziraphale, the respective minions of Hell and Heaven, have been assigned to bring about Armageddon. However, they have come to the conclusion that they like the World (not to mention the Flesh, the Bentley and Antique Books) and have absolutely no desire to end it. The rest of the legions of angels and demons, though, have had nothing to do for all these millennia, and are ready to rumble. The last two members of the Witchfinders Army are loose in the countryside, being distracted by an ageing dominatrix and the last descendant of Alice Nutter, the Witch of the title. Atlantis is rising. Gardens everywhere are being menaced by tunneling Tibetans. And in these troubled modern times, the evils personified by the Horsemen of the Apocalypse might very well include Cruelty To Animals (pro or con not specified) and Embarrassing Personal Problems.
Part of the genius here is Gaiman and Pratchett's uncanny ability to take any situation to its dreadfully logical extreme. Somewhere in the hysteria, you realize they are describing very real horrors, and that laughter is not so much a reaction as an escape. Portions of the book are satisfyingly grim -- the rage of the kraken and the revenge of the rain forest come to mind. Cover blurbs universally refer to the humor of this book; and it really is very funny. But it's a lot more than merely funny. The artfully done humor here is of the British, rather than American style. It owes less to the pratfall than to the deadfall: we go trustingly along until the ground gives way beneath us, and the unexpected is revealed. The authors present a compassionate but merciless view of the human condition: the Apocalypse happens to everyone sooner or later; all our worlds end. And what matters is not to be Good or Evil Incarnate, but Human Incarnate.
If you have never encountered this collaboration between two very original minds, I urge you to jump at the chance now.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Minion – L. A. Banks

Fallon Nuit is a master vampire who had a seat on the vampire council but when he went rogue he was banished into eternal darkness. Through a series of accidents Fallon was able, with the help of the evil Egyptian deities known as Amanthra, to free himself and make several second- generation vampires that his rescuers can inhabit. Fallon's goal is total control of the vampire territories on Earth and the death of the slayer.
Street smart Damali Richards is making a name for herself and her group as a singer for Spoken Word. She is also the slayer protected by seven Guardians who battle the creatures of the night including the Amanthra vampires. As she is nearing her twenty-first birthday, she is coming into the full use of her considerable power and both Fallon and the vampire council want her stopped. There is only one person who can get close enough to her to achieve this objective, but she is also the only woman he ever cared about. It will be interesting to see if he will sacrifice his humanity for untold power and riches.
Minion is the first book in a five book series that will appeal to fans of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake, Vampire Executioner novels. L.A. Banks has written an urban fantasy novel that deals with several social issues in a manner that is both educational and entertaining. The character that is the most intriguing is the man who will be either the Slayer's savior or doomslayer which is why readers will want to read Awakening, book two. The sixth book, The Damed, will be coming out soon.

The Castle of Otranto, A Gothic Story - Horace Walpole

This work is considered the first gothic novel in the English language; its supernatural happenings and mysterious ambiance were widely emulated in the genre. First published pseudonymously in 1764, The Castle of Otranto purported to be a translation of an Italian story of the time of the crusades. In it Walpole attempted, as he declared in the Preface to the second edition, 'to blend the two kinds of romance: the ancient and the modern'. He gives us a series of catastrophes, ghostly interventions, revelations of identity, and exciting contests. Crammed with invention, entertainment, terror, and pathos, the novel was an immediate success and Walpole's own favorite among his numerous works. His friend, the poet Thomas Gray, wrote that he and his family, having read Otranto, were now 'afraid to go to bed o'nights'. The novel is here reprinted from a text of 1798, the last that Walpole himself prepared for the press. Many people will say that the book is predictable and barely worth reading. I disagree completely. It is packed full from page one with action, intrigue and the supernatural. It is the epitome of a gothic novel.

Wieland; or the Transformation: An American Tale - Charles Brockden Brown

Wieland, his first novel, tells the story of a religious fanatic who builds a temple in the seclusion of his own farm, but then is struck dead, apparently by spontaneous combustion. Several years later, his children, in turn, begin to hear voices around the family property, voices which alternately seem to be commanding good or evil and which at times imitate denizens of the farm. Are the voices somehow connected to a mysterious visitor who has begun hanging around? Are they commands from God? From demons? Suffice it to say things get pretty dicey before we find out the truth.
This is a terrific creepy story which obviously influenced the course of American fiction. Brown develops an interesting serious theme of the role that reason can play in combating superstition and religious mania, but keeps the action cranking and the mood deliciously gloomy. The language is certainly not modern but it is accessible and generally understandable. It's a novel that should be better known and more widely read, if not for historical reasons then just because it's great fun.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Son of a Witch - Gregory Maguire

When a Witch dies—not as a crone, withered and incapable, but as a woman in her prime, at the height of her passion and prowess—too much is left unsaid. What might have happened had Elphaba lived? Of her campaigns in defense of the Animals, of her appetite for justice, of her talent for magic itself, what good might have come? If every death is a tragedy, the death of a woman in her prime keenly bereaves the whole world.
Ten years after the publication of Wicked, bestselling novelist Gregory Maguire returns to the land of Oz to follow the story of Liir, the adolescent boy left hiding in the shadows of the castle when Dorothy did in the Witch.
A decade after the Witch has melted away, the young man Liir is discovered bruised, comatose, and left for dead in a gully. Shattered in spirit as well as in form, he is tended by the mysterious Candle, a foundling in her own right, until failed campaigns of his childhood bear late, unexpected fruit.
Liir is only one part of the world that Elphaba left behind. As a boy hardly in his teens, he is asked to help the needy in ways in which he may be unskilled. Is he Elphaba’s son? Has he power of his own? Can he liberate Princess Nastoya into a dignified death? Can he locate his supposed half-sister, Nor, last seen in shackles under the Wizard’s protection? Can he survive in an Oz little improved since the death of the Wicked Witch of the West? Can he learn to fly?
In Son of a Witch, Gregory Maguire suggests that the magic we locate in distant, improbable places like Oz is no greater than the magic inherent in any hard life lived fully, son of a witch or no.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A New Musical - Wicked - The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz

This is an update on a book that I listed below. Wicked - The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It has been made into a Broadway musical. Currently it is on Broadway, but it will come to Dallas in April 2007, but if you want tickets, they are selling out fast. Here is their synopsis: Long before Dorothy dropped in, two other girls meet in the Land of Oz. One, born with emerald-green skin, is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular. How these two unlikely friends end up as the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch makes for the most spellbound new musical in years.
WICKED, the untold story of the witches of Oz, features music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, Academy Award winner for Pocahontas and The Prince of Egypt) and book by Winnie Holzman ("My So Called Life," "Once And Again" and "thirtysomething"), and is based on the best-selling novel by Gregory Maguire. With musical staging by Tony Award winner Wayne Cilento (Aida, The Who's Tommy, How To Succeed...), WICKED is directed by 2003 and 2004 Tony Award winner Joe Mantello (Assassins, Take Me Out, Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune).
Recommended age for children is 8 and up.
No children under 4 admitted. No one will be admitted without a ticket.
Running time for the show is 2 hours and 30 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission.
Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal says: "HOORAY! BROADWAY'S GOT A BIG NEW MUSICAL THAT'S GOOD ENOUGH TO RUN FOR A DECADE OR TWO! If it doesn't please you, you're too tough to please. It's funny and touching and full of beans (not to mention child-friendly). Kristin Chenoweth finally has a full-fledged star part that's worthy of her. Broadway buffs have been waiting for her to land a bona fide star part in a successful show. Well, this is it. She sings like a cherub and acts like a damned good actress, and Stephen Schwartz has written her a show-stopping comic turn. I can't imagine anyone in the world have done a better job as Glinda. It's going to make her a star right this minute. Idina Menzel nails her co-starring part with equal aplomb. Not only does she look great in green, but she blends pathos and warmth in just the right proportions. Joel Grey, bless him, is back on stage. Stephen Schwartz has given us the most poignant new Broadway ballad to come along in ages. Wayne Cilento has choreographed with dapper precision -- this show moves. You'll be enchanted by director Joe Mantello and set designer Eugene Lee's miraculously elaborate-looking Kingdom of Oz. GO!"
And there are many more reviews by excellent papers, so go check out the musical's website at http://www.wickedthemusical.com/index.htm
Read the book, enjoy the show, yes it is expensive, but every once in awhile you should treat yourself. This is one of our childhood memories. The Wizard of Oz has been seen by just about everyone. This is a completely different look at an old story we all know.

Archangel, Jovah's Angel, The Alleluia Files, Angelica, Angel-Seeker - Sharon Shinn

And so it came to pass... Through science, faith, and force of will, the Harmonics carved out for themselves a society that they conceived of as perfect. Diverse peoples held together by respect for each other and the prospect of swift punishment. There are Angels to guard the mortals and mystics to guard the forbidden knowledge. Jehovah to watch over them all...
An age of corruption has come over the land, threatening peace and placing the Samarians in grave danger. Their only hope lies in the crowning of a new Archangel. The oracles have chosen Gabriel, and further decreed that he must first wed a mortal, Rachel. It is his destiny and hers. And Gabriel is certain that she will greet the news of her betrothal with enthusiasm, and a devotion to duty equal to his own. Rachel, however, has other plans...

Jovah’s Angel
All is not well in Samaria... Great storms are sweeping the land, the deserts flood, and the skies rain down death and destruction. As they have always, the people turn to the angels for help. Yet even their splendid voices, raised in supplication, cannot seem to reach the god Jovah...
Then, the proud and beautiful Archangel Delilah falls victim to the rage of the wind, as she is torn from the sky, her wing broken. She can no longer soar in the heavens, guiding and guarding those below. She can no longer be first among the angels.
Though Jovah's anger blows all about them, the oracles must still consult him to choose a new Archangel. His choice is Alleluia, a solitary scholar. Her fate, in turn, may well depend on the mortal Caleb, a man who believes only in science - and himself.

The Alleluia Files
And a god will fall... Legend says the Archangel Alleluia and the mortal Caleb left a record of the truth they discovered about the god Jovah, though no document has ever been found. In time, an underground cult arose, seeking to find again what Alleluia found. But the reigning Archangel called down the wrath of Jovah upon the cult, and hundreds died in a hail of thunderbolts. Yet some still survive...
Among them is the woman Tamar, child of cultists, raised by angels. She believes that the actual disc, the Alleluia Files, exists. She is determined to find it, and free the people from their fear of Jovah, and the rule of angels.
She encounters the angel Jared, who has come to question the wisdom of Bael
and his treatment of the cultists.
Together, they will journey the length and breadth of Samaria, seeking a truth that will alter the face of Samaria forever...

Sharon Shinn returns to the planet called Samaria, with a new tale of an earlier time... Legend has it that the original settlers of Samaria were carried there by the loving hands of the god Jovah. To keep the peace, he created a legion of land-dwelling angels, led by an appointed Archangel. Now, two hundred years later, Jovah's latest appointee is the Archangel Gaaron, whose dependability and allegiance to the people of Samaria make him a wise choice. And for Gaaron's life-mate, his Angelica, Jovah has chosen the woman Susannah, of the nomadic Edori tribe.
With trepidation, Susannah bows to the will of Jovah. For her heart is still with her people and her Edori lover, faithless though he might be.
In the lofty reaches of the Angel Eyrie, an unspoken affection slowly develops between the two. Then word comes to Gaaron of a terrible threat besetting the land - black-clad strangers who call down fire from the sky, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
Now what is in the hearts of the Archangel and Angelica may never be known, as the very future of the planet hangs in the balance...

National bestselling author Sharon Shinn returns once more to the planet of Samaria, where men and angels live under the watchful eye of the god Jovah, in this richly romantic tale, which begins where Archangel left off. In that time, the women who crave the attentions of angels were known as angel-seekers - a term used with awe by some, and scorn by others.
Elizabeth was born to wealth, but circumstances forced her to live as a servant in her cousin's household. Determined to change her life for the better, she makes the journey to Cedar Hills, hoping an angel will take notice of her, and take her as his own.
Rebekah is a daughter of the Jansai tribe, raised to hate the angels - and to marry whichever man her father chooses for her. But in her heart, she longs for a different life. And when she finds an injured angel near her village, she defies her upbringing to care for him. In time, these two women, whose paths will cross, will both find what they desire, in surprising - and dangerous - ways...

Slave Trade, Slave Masters, Slaves Unchained - Susan Wright

Slave Trade is the first in a trilogy of sexy science fiction novels to be published by Pocket Books in April 2003.
Human slaves can't defy their alien masters - or can they? Rose Rico never believed the rumors that the government was secretly selling human beings to the Alphas in exchange for advanced alien technology. The idea that human sex slaves were a luxury item throughout the galaxy was just too ridiculous to take seriously-until Rose found herself, along with hundreds of other human captives, bound for the far reaches of space, and compelled to cater to the depraved desires of her new alien masters. As a rule, pleasure slaves don't live very long, especially the stubborn ones. But Rose refuses to give up. Someday, somehow, she'll win back her freedom-or die trying!

In the second book of the "Slave Trade" trilogy, the galaxy heats up for Rose Rico and her renegade band of pleasure slaves while things heat up inside their ship! S'jen and G'kaan beat the Domain out of Qin territory, with disastrous consequences for their colony planets, while Rose leads a one-ship raid on the Domain. Despite being recaptured and forced to serve as pleasure slaves for the Alphas, Rose leads her crew through a dramatic series of twists and turns that leave the Solians aimed at their final target - to liberate Earth!

In the third book of the "Slave Trade" trilogy, Rose Rico intends to kick the Domain out of the Sol system forever. But space battles don't help when it comes to overthrowing the corrupt rulers of Earth, who regularly send quotas of native pleasure slaves to the Domain. Rose and her renegade band of pleasure slaves will have to get creative in order to beat the enemies among them, while the weighty forces of the Domain are thrown against Earth in an effort to regain control of the galaxy's raw supply of nubile pleasure slaves.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Vampire Kisses - Ellen Schreiber

In the hopelessly small town she calls "Dullsville," sixteen-year-old Raven longs to become a vampire. She stands out among the soccer preps at school with her black nails, her black clothes, and her fascination with Anne Rice.

A haunted mansion in the town has new tenants after being empty for years. A mysterious family moves in, but strange rumors pop up about them all over town --- they don't like garlic, they have a strange accent, etc. Raven particularly longs to be acquainted with the family's seventeen-year-old son who is seen only at night. Readers will enjoy her spying methods, including breaking into the mansion.

Surprises appear in every chapter. For example, Raven dresses preppy on Halloween instead of in her usual black and goes trick-or-treating. She also must take a boring part-time job, where her boss insists she not wear black anywhere and cover herself in pleasant red or pink accessories. Raven still manages to keep her unique style throughout.

Overall Raven is fairly normal, with a best friend, an annoying little brother (called "Nerdboy"), and school dances to attend. She stands up for what she wants, even when it's unpopular, and she even enjoys a little romance with the mysterious Alexander at the mansion --- though it's more exciting than she expects.

VAMPIRE KISSES is a wonderfully funny story. Even non-vampire fans will enjoy this one!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wicked - The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

When I was a child in the early '70s, one of the Big Three networks aired the classic movie "The Wizard of Oz" with some regularity, about once a year or so. I watched it every time it was on, captivated again and again by the struggle between Dorothy's innocent "good" (ironic, given Judy Garland's eventual reputation) and the absolute "evil" of the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West.

A few years ago, I picked up a brand-new hardcover by Gregory Maguire called Wicked, purely on the basis of its subtitle: "The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West." I started reading and honestly could not stop, enchanted by Oz once again, and this time from a vastly different point of view and of sympathy.

Wicked's flavor is the gothic freakishness of Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor blended with liberal amounts of dark humor and socio-political satire a la Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins, seasoned with honesty, sympathy and earnestness. It is the heretofore-untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West. In it we learn about:

• her name (Elphaba)
• her childhood (really weird parents and unfortunate skin)
• her sister (Nessarose, an armless conservative zealot who will become Wicked Witch of the East and who will die when Dorothy’s Kansas house lands on her)
• her schoolgirl days (where she and Glinda the "Good" will become reluctant pals)
• her politics (she becomes a freedom fighter, working with an underground resistance movement to bring social rights to the thinking Animals, among other things)
• her life's great sorrow, the loss of her one true love.

The infamous Dorothy is seen briefly in the prologue, but doesn't appear in the story proper until the fifth and final part of the book. Dorothy is depicted as a large-boned farm girl, a dull-witted but well-intentioned sort; Toto is "merely annoying." If you rewatch the movie, you'll grudgingly admit that this seemingly cruel characterization is actually pretty on the mark as far as the motion picture Dorothy goes.

Kirkus Reviews said, "Save a place on the shelf between Alice and The Hobbit -- that spot is well-deserved." Wicked does earn a spot on the shelves of classic fantasy, but so does it earn a niche alongside the best modern literary fiction. Maguire has created a truly great -- and flawed -- heroine in a novel that is a psychological analysis on one of the most "evil" characters of the twentieth century.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: The Dynamics of Torture - by John Conroy

Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People is a riveting book that exposes the potential in each of us for acting unspeakably. John Conroy sits down with torturers from several nations and comes to understand their motivations. His compelling narrative has the tension of a novel. He takes us into a Chicago police station, two villages in the West Bank, and a secret British interrogation center in Northern Ireland, and in the process we are exposed to the experience of the victim, the rationalizations of the torturer, and the seeming indifference of the bystander. The torture occurs in democracies that ostensibly value justice, due process, and human rights, and yet the perpetrators and their superiors escape without punishment, revealing much about the dynamics of torture.

Here are what some other people are saying about it:

"The most compelling parts of the book are Conroy's interviews with the 'ordinary people' of his title... He approaches torturers not as monsters but as fellow human beings."--John Schwartz, Washington Post Book World
"Conroy's book is nothing short of gripping... He has allowed himself to identify not only with victims but with those who tolerate torture... He has dared to place himself at the emotional center of his difficult, troubling subject and forced us to follow him there."--Jill Laurie Goodman, Chicago Tribune
"A brilliant, disturbing book."--John Krewson, The Onion
"Conroy's book is a page turner."--Carlos Salinas, Amnesty Now
"Conroy's reporting is inspired."--David Bosco, New York Times Book Review
"Intelligent and insightful."--Dan Cryer, New York Newsday
"I am impressed with Conroy's intellectual honesty and unflinching humanity.... He wants to understand how torture happens, and his curiosity drives this disturbing book."--Anne-Marie Cusac, The Progressive (Best Books of 2000)
"Conroy's book, the work of 10 years, is thought-provoking, chilling and a brilliant piece of reporting."--Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"A Chicago journalist's gripping, disturbing inquiry into torture and human nature."--Chicago Tribune