The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Looking Glass WarsTitle:  The Looking Glass Wars

Author:  Frank Beddor

Hardback:  364 pages

ISBN:  0803731531

From the website:

The Looking Glass Wars unabashedly challenges the world’s Carrollian Wonderland assumptions of tea parties, dormice and a curious little blonde girl to reveal an epic, cross dimensional saga of love, murder, betrayal, revenge and the endless war for Imagination. Meet the heroic, passionate, monstrous, vengeful denizens of this parallel world as they battle each other with AD-52’s and orb generators, navigate the Crystal Continuum, bet on jabberwock fights and slip each other the poisonous pink mushroom. Finally, someone got it right. This ain’t no fairytale.

Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, was forced to flee through the Pool of Tears after a bloody palace coup staged by the murderous Redd shattered her world. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the surreal, violent, heartbreaking story of her young life only to see it published as the nonsensical children’s sojourn Alice in Wonderland. Alyss had trusted Lewis Carroll to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere would find her and bring her home.

But Carroll had got it all wrong. He even misspelled her name! If not for the intrepid Hatter Madigan, a member of the Millinery (Wonderland’s security force) who after a 13 year search eventually tracked Alyss to London, she may have become just another society woman sipping tea in a too-tight bodice instead of returning to Wonderland to battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

I found the concept of The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddorto be utterly fascinating.  What if Alice Liddel as the Reverend Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) had been telling the truth:  She was the rightful heir to the Wonderland throne, exiled to England while her black imagination-practicing aunt Redd ruled by ursurption.  What if, in telling Dodgson, she had been hoping the book he’d write would prove her credible, but instead he’d took her for only being highly imaginative and had twisted her tale until it barely resembled the truth.

Unfortunately, either because I’m just not enough of a Wonderland fan, or I wasn’t in the right mood for the book, I found I couldn’t get into it.  I can’t say what I found “wrong” with it, can’t say what I’d wish more for or less of.  The writing is more than worthy, the concept imaginative, and it has sparked a bit of hatred from die-hard Carrollians, but it just didn’t grab me.  It has everything I like, fantasy, adventure, maybe it could’ve used more humor.  It is a mystery why it missed the target with me.

I would recommend it to anyone who likes both the Alice books and darker stories.  There are also sequels to this book, as well as one of Hatter Madigan’s tale.  I’m satisfied that my adventures in the Looking Glass Wars is ended, personally, but I will probably watch the movie when it comes out, which doesn’t seem to be planned at the moment, but I’m sure there will be one someday. 

I give The Looking Glass Wars  by Frank Beddor 3 out of 5 stars.  It just didn’t do anything for me, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it.

Here’s a trailer for the book:

The Boat by Nam Le

The Boat by Nam Le

Title: The Boat
Author: Nam Le
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (a division of Random House, Inc. New York)
Publish Date: May 16, 2008
ISBN: 9780307268082

The thing is not to write what no one else could have written, but to write what only you could have written.

The Boat is a collection of seven short stories from author Nam Le.  Some are more vignettes than short stories, and all showcase Le’s incredible writing talent.  Nam has an amazing ability to get inside his character, be it a 60-year-old man just learning he has cancer or a 9-year-old girl in Hiroshima days before the atomic bomb.  The extensive detailing Le does gives the worlds he writes a certain reality, right down to speech patterns and slang.

Brief summary of the seven stories:
Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice: This first story is a view into the life a young Vietnamese writer in Iowa City, who is up against a deadline in his writers workshop. He scoffs at the idea of stooping to writing an “ethnic” story, but with his father’s visit, he decides to write the story of his father’s experiences in My Lai, South Vietnam army, and the tortures of a “reeducation” camp. Through the interviewing of his father, the relationship with whom has always been strained and somewhat distant, possibly even abusive, both come to understand one another better.

Cartagena: Nam’s writing style in this short story is reminiscent of Cormac McCarney’s. The lack of quotation marks and the quick changes of settings are disorienting, adding the sense of surrealism in the life of Ron, the 14 year old hit man in Medellin, Colombia.

Meeting Elise is the story of a man with cancer, still heartbroken over the loss of his lover 30 years his junior, who is about to meet his only child, whom he hasn’t seen since she was a baby when the witch, his ex-wife, “blew the county, dangling [their] daughter from her broom…”

InHalflead Bay, Jamie has a turn of luck and goes from a loser to school hero after scoring the winning goal.  Because of it he catches the eye of Alison, and because of that he’s in the cross-hairs of Alison’s psychotic boyfriend.  Jamie must decide whether he will remain the coward he had been or will he fight.

Hiroshima, written in the stream of consciousness of nine-year-old Mayako, is glimpse into the mindset and life of the Japanese pre-atom bomb.

Tehran Calling is the story of a Sarah Middleton, who goes to Iran to visit her best friend, who’s involved in a subversive group, and to escape the heartbreak of a love lost. 

The Boat is a heartbreaking story of the reality of the dangers many refugees face.  It is a story of survival, loss, and new connections.  This story is particularly close to my heart as it is about a 16-year-old Vietnamese girl named Mai, which is my youngest daughter’s Vietnamese name.

Nam Le’s writing is visceral and beautiful at the same time.  His style varies in each story appropriately as each story’s characters and subject matter wants it.  He is sensitive to the emotions and world of his characters and shows an amazingly real view into the lives of the mains.  The intricacies of a 14 year old assassin’s life in Colombia to a 60 year old man in New York City dealing with cancer and loss are so real that you forget it is written by a young Vietnamese man in Australia, as each story’s characters are as real as if you were watching them via spy-cam.  Le’s writing is hypnotic and compulsive; he is a literary pied-piper and I cannot help being carried along through the stories.

From a personal perspective, I love the first and last stories the most, as they deal with Vietnamese characters.  My youngest daughter’s father is from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and he came to the US in 1996.  His father came to Los Angeles shortly after his release from a “re-education” camp, followed by his wife a few years later.  My ex, with whom I’m still very close, followed a route common to many Vietnamese who immigrated in the mid-90′s and later: first to LA, then Iowa City to work for the meat-packing company IBP (now under Tyson, inc) and finally here in Logansport.  Because of my daughter, I am especially interested in everything Vietnamese, buying her any book I find on the subject or checking it out from the library, buying her CDs, cooking dishes for her (and ignore her two older sisters complaints about it when I do), and looking up sites and videos on the Internet.  She is very proud of her culture, as I think she should be.

This is my Mai

My daughter Maggie (her Vietnamese name is Mai)

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