Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Review: "The Real Frank Zappa Book" by Frank Zappa with Peter Occhiogrosso

Not only have I had a very interesting adulthood, but I was also lucky to have a very interesting childhood. Sure there were the typical good times and bad times, and there were things I wish I would have done different (like learn to play guitar). But all that aside, My dad taught me to really appreciate music. All sorts of music. In the 70s he would play Frank Zappa alongside Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Ry Cooder, Commander Cody and others and when the 80s hit we became fans of the Talking Heads, Devo and others.

As I grew older I came to further develop this appreciation by learning to love classical music, real hard core blues and more. It all goes back to Frank Zappa. Seriously. Many folks who hear the name Frank Zappa only think of such songs as "Yellow Snow," "Dinah Moe Hum" or even "Valley Girl." Not to mention the unmentionable titles that described various female body parts. For those folks that think of Frank Zappa as only a "potty-mouthed" hippy've got it wrong....WAY WRONG. His greatest works are typically instrumental songs like "Peaches en Regalia," or relatively harmless songs like "Inca Roads." This book describes the best features of Zappa that were constantly overlooked.

Frank Zappa passed away in 1993. (As a side here, in college a friend of mine Jim Damm and I hosted a 6 hour tribute to Zappa on the college radio station, WIDB in Carbondale, IL the night after his death.) He was just in the process of seriously announcing his candidacy for U.S. president, but he found out, too late, that he had prostate cancer and passed away before this could be more than a mention on some talk show. This book was published in 1988. In early 1990, Zappa visited Czechoslovakia at the request of President Václav Havel, a lifelong fan, and was asked by Havel to serve as consultant for the government on trade, cultural matters and tourism. Zappa enthusiastically agreed and began meeting with corporate officials interested in investing in Czechoslovakia. Within a few weeks, however, the US administration put pressure on the Czech government to withdraw the appointment. Havel made Zappa an unofficial cultural attaché instead. So this book doesn't cover the political career of Frank Zappa, but it does have several chapters that show he was getting started.

One of the very unique aspects of this book is that it is the ONLY book about Frank Zappa written by Frank Zappa. On the back cover there is a quote from the New York Post that says, "This book belongs in Every Home." I would have to agree with that. Not for the informative look at his early career, but for the views and opinions on politics, censorship and over-organized religion.

The breakdown of the book by chapters looks like this:

The first 7 chapters cover his career and how he came to do what he did with music and performance art, with some great anecdotes about being on the road with The Mothers of Invention. Chapter seven had me rolling with laughter. This Chapter was about the indecency hearing Great Britain held concerning his Orchestral performance for what would be the movie "200 Motels" starring Theodore Bikel, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon and, of course, The Mothers. Apparantly a stage hand had filed a complaint about some of Zappa's lyrics. Which I should note here, his lyrics were all about absurdism. So this chapter takes the court record and reprints it. The funny part is the setup of all the old Brittania Judges (old men in white wigs) reading and trying to determine the lyrics of many of Zappa's songs and Zappa explaining to the best of his ability, I'm assuming while trying to not crack up laughing.

The next chapter of the book is a very in depth look at music. Including scoring compositions for orchestras and the many headaches involved. At this point Zappa explains the personalities of musicians and how they relate to the instrument they play.

The last part of the book is spent on politics, including the famous PMRC hearings in the 80s on Capitol Hill. Frank shares his knowledge of why the wives of senators wanted legislation on music and why certain senators' wives were the ones wanting said legislation. He ventures to say that Tipper Gore was funding what looks like would be a run for presidency for her husband...and this book was 1988?

If you want some fun rock and roll info with some great political discussion and debate thrown in....this is the book for you. I'll tell you Zappa is not what you think...even if you think you know him.

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posted by Gil T. @ 8:50 PM Comments: 0

Friday, January 25, 2008

Book Review/Discussion: Sandworms of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

The Dune chronicles have come to a close with this final book in the series, "Sandworms of Dune." Frank Herbert created a great novel in the original "Dune" and then continued with 5 more books covering the philosophies and adventures of the planet Arrakis or Dune. Dune is the only place in the universe where Spice Melange was to be found. "He who controls the spice, controls the Universe." The Spice was needed for Guild Navigators to be able to fold space, enabling travel throughout the universe in the blink of an eye. Spice also was known to bring about psychic prescience in some individuals. The Spice is what gave the Bene Gesserit witches their powers. Finally Spice was known to prolong life. Spice was the commodity to be traded instead of coin in Frank Herbert's "Duneverse."

The last book Frank Herbert wrote in the series was "Chapterhouse Dune." In this novel the planet Arrakis (Dune) had been destroyed and the universe was dividing into many separate factions, and an unknown enemy was coming in to destroy all traces of humanity. Of course, this left a major cliffhanger for all Dune fans, and Frank Herbert's Death made it so we would never know what happened.

Enter Frank Herbert's son, Brian. Brian Herbert teamed up with fellow science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson after finding Frank Herbert's notes on the final book of Dune. He and Kevin Anderson put together the notes and found they had what Frank had intended for the ending of the book. As they worked together on the final book they wrote some prequals to the series; The Legends of Dune Series which covered the times which led to the outlawing of "machines in the likeness of the human mind" (Thinking Machines) and the Prelude to Dune series which described how the major Houses in the Dune series came to power.

With the backstory in place it was time to finalize the Dune series. In putting together the material the 2 authors discovered there was 2 books worth of material so they wrote 2 final books in the series; "Hunters of Dune" and this book, "Sandworms of Dune." Now the series is over. Or is it? This final book "Sandworms..." brings about a great closure to the series but the younger Herbert and Anderson are prepared to write some more books for the series. These will be a trilogy titled "Heroes of Dune" with the separate books focusing on "Paul of Dune," "Jessica of Dune" and "Irulan of Dune." The release dates of these books are some time in 2008 or 2009.

Let's start now on this book by saying that Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have wrapped up the series in a very pleasing way for the fans to actually have some closure on all the major characters in some form. At the same time they maintain the philosophy and feel of the original books creating a seamless story from the point where Frank Herbert left off. Many fans felt cheated that the great unknown enemy turned out to be robots, the Evermind Omnius, and thinking machines. I can see that some could have been misled thinking that the great enemy could be spiritual but if you read the series you can see there is some great schism that occured in the books' mentioning of "The Butlerian Jihad." Out of this Jihad a law came to pass, "Thou shalt not create machines in the image of a human mind." Herbert and Anderson in writing the prequals and these final 2 books have very adequately explained this rift and turned it into a great climax to the stories.

In this book, humanity is continuing to fracture in to several factions while a single enemy will be using this division to destroy all human life. The factions consist of; The newly combined Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres, the "no-ship" on which are several Bene Gesserit who don't agree with the merging of the Honored Matres into the Bene Gesserit order, the Spacing Guild are replacing all navigators (who are dependent on spice) with machines that will fold space, since spice is a rare commodity, the Navigators who are being sacrificed are combining forces and getting help from the mysterious "Oracle of Time," The new breed of Face dancers who are not only able to look like whoever they want but also to take the memories of those they take on the appearance of, and finally the fast approaching thinking machines led by the Evermind, Omnius and his co-hort the independent robot Erasmus.

The character of Erasmus the independent robot is one of the most fun love-to-hate evil villians I've read in a long time. His character is one that represents curiousity. He's constantly wondering what makes humans tick. In fact, just like Pinocchio and Data from "Star Trek the Next Generation," Erasmus just wants to be a "real boy," or rather he wants to be human and experience such human traits as love, honor and faith. In the experiments on finding out what makes a human love another human or object Erasmus created some bloody dissections of the human brain and heart in the prequal books. The Evermind Omnius represents the logic and facts portion of humanity. Great characterization exists here and all created by Herbert and Anderson.

The no-ship containing the faction of Bene Gesserit that didn't want to merge with the Honored Matres continues to hide in the universe while at the same time searching for a new home for the Bene Gesserit and the Jews. The Jewish faith has lived on for tens of thousands of years escaping the new religions that have come and gone in the universe over time and the last few known Jews have escaped on the no-ship. The ship is commanded by the ghola of Duncan Idaho and the Bene Gesserit on the ship are led by Shianna who is able to communicate to the sandworms. On this ship there are 5 sandworms which were rescued before Arrakis was destroyed by the Honored Matres. Also on board are other gholas grown from cells found in the last Tleilaxu Master, Scytale's null entropy tube. A ghola is a clone of a human which has the capability to "awaken memories" of the person they once were. The gholas are; Paul Maud'dib Atreides, Lady Jessica Atreides, Chani (Paul's Wife), Liet Kines (planetologist on Dune), Stilgar (Naib of the Fremen on Dune), Yeuh Wellington (Suk Doctor that betrayed Duke Leto in the original Dune book), Alia (sister of Paul and an abomination). These are basically young children until their original memories are restored.

Duncan is constantly barely escaping the tachyon net thrown out by the thinking machines to catch the no-ship. The thinking machines know that a Kwisatz Haderach (a super human who is able to be in all places at once) is on board and wants to possess him to win the war against humanity. But at the same time the no-ship is being sabotaged by an unknown person and the running away from the thinking machines is becoming impossible.

Another Tleilaxu, Waff, is working with the guild navigators to create a new source of spice. He genetically alters the sandworms to create worms that can live in the ocean and they create a new form of spice "ultra-spice." These new worms are planted on the ocean planet of Buzzel and soon thrive.

The new order of Bene Gesserit and Honored Matres are preparing for the arrival of the thinking machines by creating a fleet of ships and weapons to destroy the enemy. They hire the guild and Ixian forces to create the ships and weapons. But soon find out that the guild and Ix is infiltrated with face-dancers working for the thinking machines.

The climactic battle between humanity and the thinking machines is one that creates a great philosophical discussion to be had by all that read the books. This being, that mankind can find peace through cooperation. I've decided not to give any real spoilers because this book must be read and appreciated.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:35 PM Comments: 0

Monday, January 14, 2008

Book Review: "Phoenix Rising" by Kyle Mills

This is the book that not only introduced my latest hero, FBI agent Mark Beamon, but also my new favorite author, Kyle Mills. I should say this wasn't the book that introduced me to the Kyle Mills "Beamonverse" but that this is his first book and the character of Mark Beamon's introduction to the literary world. The first book that got me hooked on Kyle Mills was "Darkness Rising." I then read "Sphere of Influence," in which Mark Beamon teams up with crimelords to fight Al-Qaida. But let's talk about this book.

Kyle Mills first shopped this book among friends to find out if he had anything worth publishing. I'm glad he had some good friends because this introduction to Agent Mark Beamon and his not-so-by-the-book methods is a fascinating read. Not only do you get a book you can't put down but one that also has you questioning what is wrong and what is right.

The premise to this book is; how to tackle America's drug problem. A former DEA agent has the answer but it won't be pretty, nor will it be cheap. The former agent, John Hobart, is working security for a Televangelist. This man of the cloth is seeing many folks die in the "War on Drugs" and seeks a solution. Hobart has an idea how and works on a way to be funded and put the plan into play.

The plan; poison all drugs coming into the country thus killing off all dealers and users. So Hobart begins his dark life of finding the perfect poison and putting it into the drug supply right at the source. The poison is placed into the drugs right at the point of manufacturing in Columbia for the cocaine and then other poisonings to take place after the initial scare to make sure the point is driven home. Hobart starts up the process and forms the CDFS (Committee for a Drug Free Society)but the Televangelist says that the public should be warned. So Hobart must place ads in all major media stating what will happen. Then the deaths begin.

In what begins a great cat and mouse FBI search and a philosophical discussion of whether tens of thousands of people dying is worth it, Kyle Mills has written a great thriller.

If this is not on your list of books to read...put it there, you won't be sorry.

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posted by Gil T. @ 8:08 PM Comments: 0

Friday, January 11, 2008

Book Review: "The Accident" by Elie Wiesel

This is the 3rd and final book in the series written by Elie Wiesel. The first book being the Nobel Prize winning, "Night," which was the author's account of the holocaust. The second was a story of a holocaust survivor coming to grips with the terrors experienced in the holocaust by becoming a freedom fighter in Palestine.

"The Accident" (The original French title of the book was Le Jour [Day]) is the story of a holocaust survivor struggling to adjust to life after World War II. The main character is a journalist whose own experiences during the holocaust have left him, like many others, with a strong sense of despair and self-loathing that he finds it impossible to find any satisfaction in life. Despite the efforts of his girlfriend and others, he finds himself withdrawing from life more and more. The title of the novel refers to an accident that occurs when he is hit by a cab, while on his way to the theatre at the beginning of the book. This accident sets off a series of memories that take the reader through the protagonist's psychological and emotional struggles as he grapples with his urge to end his life while simultaneously recovering from a near-death experience.

During the journalists reliving moments of the past the reader is haunted by many horror stories of the holocaust. One can find it easy to see how the journalist can find no happiness in life. This book is a story that digs in that hope HAS to survive. It's easy to see how one can lose hope but this book really points out how much humankind NEEDS hope.

This book is not one of those uplifting feel good books but it does allow you to enjoy what you have.

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posted by Gil T. @ 7:54 PM Comments: 0

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Book Review: "Imitation in Death" by J. D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts)

Once again I've read a Nora Roberts book and well I'm happy to say so...okay, sure it is her writing as J. D. Robb, and sure it's not her normal genre but wow she can weave a great sci-fi/mystery/thriller when she puts on the pseudonym cap.

The summer of 2059 is a scorcher and crime is on the rise but Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York Police and security department has a case that will soon make things hotter. The body of a prostitute is found in a back alley in Chinatown and the way she was killed is identical to Jack the Ripper's signature. On the toe of the victim is a letter addressed to Eve challenging her to try and catch him.

The only clue he left behind is the stationary addressed to Eve that is illegal in this country since it is not recycled. Only a few outlets in Europe sells them and Eve is able to get the names of the people who bought it who are now living in New York. All the suspects are rich and powerful so Eve has to tread carefully even when the perpetrator strikes two more times mimicking The Boston Strangler and Ted Bundy.
Her superior soon gets complaints and that just makes her job harder. Eve is in a race against time before the suspect kills again but she needs one more piece of evidence before she can take him down.

J.D. Robb (Nora) has written another exciting futuristic romantic mystery that will have fans of many genres jumping on the "...In Death" series bandwagon. I should say at this point, that yes Nora Roberts doesn't completely shrug off her romance writing when writing as J.D. Robb. The romance between Roarke and Dallas really makes the characters human and definitely makes the story more real.

"Imitation in Death" is yet another example of how the characters make the book and that help you get lost in a great story. Secondary characters including Peabody, Eve's assistant, who is preparing to take her detective's exam and move in with her lover, E.D.D. officer McNabb. The heroine solves this dark and bloody case with her usual panache and a little help from her busy billionaire husband Roarke, who along with helping out the police force also manages to find time to buy the Boston Celtics.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:11 PM Comments: 0

George of the Jungle: A cartoon for the ages

I remember sitting back with my bowl of Freakies cereal on weekday afternoons as soon as I got home from school and watching a full day (okay yes it was just the afternoon but it seemed like all day as a kid) of great cartoons. One of my favorites was George of the Jungle. I mean c'mon who couldn't resist singing along: "George, George, George of the Jungle, watch out for that tree. Aaa Ahhh Aaagh!" I remember vaguely when it was on Saturday mornings, but in the 70s it was in syndication and I got to see it after school, and yes my afternoon snack was cereal.

George of the Jungle was one of the many great cartoons produced by Jay Ward, and Bill Scott, the same people responsible for Rocky & Bullwinkle, Tom Slick and Super Chicken. George was a brainless (but not short on heart) Tarzan parody that was always there to save his fellow jungle inhabitants. Okay it was usually Ape (the ape named Ape) that did the brain work, but it took George's face into several trees to finally save the day. I always laughed when George would call is girlfriend, Ursula, Fella.

Now jump to 2008 and some good things are going to happen.

First, the full series will be released on DVD. That's reason enough to celebrate, but wait there's more. Cartoon network is relaunching the cartoon. George of the Jungle, a brand new show is launching on Cartoon Network January 18 at 7:30pm (ET/PT). George of the Jungle is full of monkey business and features a fun, big-hearted hero you already know and love. Catch a new episode every Friday at 7:30p (E/P) on Cartoon Network. Also you can swing by the official website where you can learn about the show, meet George's Jungle family, watch videos, get free downloads and play a game.

Of course, they are modernizing it a bit and the animation is different but c'mon, I can sit down with my son and we can imitate the Tookie Tookie bird together. Ooh ohh ah ah, tookie, tookie!!! Sorry honey, your boys are just watching George. I think Jay Ward and Bill Scott would be proud. Oh the theme song is similar but a bit of a rap beat thrown in. Check out the website for more info.

Check out this video for a sneak peak:

George Of The Jungle Tune In

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I'll let you know how it goes. In the meantime let me know your George of the Jungle Memories. Any of you remember the movie starring Brendan Frasier?

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posted by Gil T. @ 3:00 AM Comments: 0

Friday, January 04, 2008

Book Review: "Dawn" by Elie Wiesel

"Dawn" is the second book in the "Night" trilogy that covers the philosophical gamut of humanity. In "Night," Wiesel's Nobel Prize winning novel, the reader relives Wiesel's real life in the German concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald but portrayed in novel form. "Dawn" covers the character Elisah's life after World War II and again finds the question of humanity at the forefront.

The main character Elisha is a member of the Movement, a Jewish terrorist group, whose purpose is to drive out the English forces from Palestine by any means necessary. Elisha was incarcerated in Auschwitz and then Buchenwald during the war and lost both of his parents in the process. When the Americans freed him, he went to France, which granted him asylum. He was preparing to enroll in Sorbonne to study philosophy when he meets Gad, a member of the Movement, in Paris. Gad came to visit him and talks fervently about realizing the age-old dream of an independent nation for the Jewish people and asks Elisha to join the Movement, which is in need of new recruits like him.

In the Movement, Elisha, only 18 years old, has completed some assignments that meant killing British soldiers, but never the one as personal as what he has to do at dawn. Elisha has to be sole executioner for British officer John Dawson. One of the movement David Ben Moshe has been captured tried and will be executed at dawn for petty crimes. The execution is the severe punishment the British are placing on all captured Movement members to "send a message." The Movement has decided to send it's own message by capturing John Dawson and telling the British if Ben Moshe is executed so will be John Dawson.

The idea of having to murder a man causes Elisha to relive many moments in his past to try to hate John Dawson and for Elisha to justify murdering a man.

The many emotions and ideals covered in this book are moving for such a short novel. Wiesel holds no bars and the reader is forced to come to his own conclusions about humanity, justice and ethics. But the novel does not necessarily try to justify Elisha's actions. In fact, while Elisha contemplates the morality of his impending action against Dawson, he admits, "I did not know the man. To my eyes he had no face; he did not even exist, for I knew nothing about him. I did not know whether he scratched his nose when he ate, whether he talked or kept quiet when he was making love, whether he gloried in his hate, whether he betrayed his wife or his God or his own future. All I knew was that he was an Englishman and my enemy."

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posted by Gil T. @ 7:38 PM Comments: 0

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Book Review: "Sex Detox" by Ian Kerner, Ph.D.

What if someone told you you could experience love, sex and intimacy as you've never imagined it in just 30 days. Would you be interested? Dr. Ian Kerner is a sex therapist and has created a formula and system to "fix" the average American's sex life in just 30 days.

As the good Doctor puts it in his book, "While our cultural exposure to sex has heightened over the last decade, our level of personal satisfaction has plummeted to a staggering low." With this in mind it helps to know that you are not alone. This book will walk you through the 30 days to recharge desire, revitalize your intimacy and rejuvenate your love life. Whether you are married or single, gay or straight, male or female, young or old, you can get more out of your love life with Dr. Kerner's book "Sex Detox."

But wait there is a catch. You have to be active in the program. Dr. Kerner has day by day activities such as deep breathing exercises, keeping a Detox Diary and various discussions and quizzes throughout each day. Okay now here may be the hard part for some; you have to spend that same 30 days you are doing the activities not having sex. That's right no sex for 30 days. But at the end of that 30 days you will find your attitude toward sex, love, desire and intimacy ready to create a beautiful life for yourself.

The book is divided into sections for singles and those in relationships to make it easier. Once again you have to be active in your own growth and this is where the miracle of this book works out. You find out your own strengths and weaknesses and your growth is your own.

Dr. Kerner may not solve the world's oversexed information overload, but he can help you help yourself.

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posted by Gil T. @ 8:16 PM Comments: 0

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Book Review: "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" by Gregory Maguire

Borrowing aspects from the "Oz" books by L. Frank Baum and the "Wizard of Oz" movie Gregory Maguire tells the story of the "Wicked Witch of the West." In this book we learn that the witch was not the wicked one only a side affect of a very superstitious land of Oz, and the political conspiracies of the Wizard of Oz. The wizard is the one to be made out as the bad guy. Where does Dorothy come in? Well, she is merely a pawn for the Wizard to sacrifice so he can have Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) killed and he won't have to worry about a hostile takeover of his regime.

Gregory Maguire has written in this book a great retelling of the land of Oz that sucks you in and never lets you go. This epic novel could easily be place in the same category as J.R.R. Tolkien's "Rings" books and Frank Herbert's "Dune" series, in that it creates a world that has many possibilities and has an ongoing quest that is full of mystery and intrigue. Also the bad guy (gal/witch) is not bad and the good guy (wizard) is not so good, so there's a twist for you my pretties.

Okay when the novel first starts out you begin to think this is one of those that begins to tell the tale that Elphaba is a "victim" of a bad childhood. She was born on a night when her father, a priest for the Unnamed God, is keeping his parishoners in Munchkinland from worshipping a tic-toc dragon that tells the future. But the dragon tells of a priest who's "harlot" of a wife gives birth to evil and the parishoners hunt him down to keep the prediction from coming true. On the lam he has some midwives hide his wife as she gives birth. But Elphaba is born, with strange green skin and sharp teeth and seems to have intelligence behind those infant eyes. She remains to be a mysterious child until her sister, Nessarose is born.

Then we jump to Elphaba going to college at Shiz. She is forced to room with Glinda. Glinda is much worse for the wear on this one in that it will ruin her possibilities of being popular because she hangs around the green-skinned girl. During their stay at Shiz, Glinda is told by Madame Morrible, the headmaster of the Girl's college that Glinda would do well to study sorcery. Meanwhile Elphaba is taken in on the fight for Animal rights. Keep in mind that Animals are not animals. Animals have intelligence and can talk, while animals are simply beasts. So while the well know Cowardly Lion is a Lion and not a lion. Tu compre?
Back to the story....the instructor that gets Elphaba on the track of Animal rights is Dr. Dillamond, a Goat who teaches life sciences. The wizard has recently passed a law that all Animals will be sent back into the fields and is working toward downgrading Animals to animals regardless of their intelligence. Dr. Dillamond is murdered and Glinda's Ama (a type of nanny) seems to have witnessed the murder but soon loses her mind mysteriously. So Elphaba's Nanny comes to take the Ama's place and brings Elphaba's sister Nessarose, since she'll be coming to Shiz as a student in the next year anyway. Oh and Nessarose is not free from being odd, Nessarose was born without arms. During this time Elphaba's and Nessarose's father sends Nessarose a gift, Ruby Slippers. Elphaba becomes jealous of the slippers, but knows that Nessarose is helpless with no arms.

Madame Morrible tries to recruit Glinda, Elphaba and Nessarose into some sort of secret service that seems to be on the side of the Wizard and his government. Elphaba will have nothing to do with this and she and Glinda sneak off to see the Wizard and find some answers. When they are supposed to return to Shiz, Elphaba stays behind.

The book then jumps about 7 years and Elphaba is in the underground fighting against the Wizard. The story then goes on to explain how Elphaba came to living in the west in the castle, Glinda in the north and Nessarose in the east, in such epic detail that creates not a "new" version of Oz but an explanation of how things are misunderstood.

This book took me completely by surprise, I was prepared for a fun story, instead I got a great novel that provided many intelligent philosophical points of good versus evil.

I should close in saying that, yes, this is the same book that influenced the smash Broadway Play of the same name. So now, i'm hoping to win the lottery so I can go see the production. If I don't ever win the lottery well then I'm hoping someone at least releases a dvd of the production.

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posted by Gil T. @ 8:58 PM Comments: 0