Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After Alice by Gregory Maguire. William Morrow. 256 pp.

After Alice by Gregory Maguire. William Morrow. 256 pp.

From the multi-million-copy bestselling author of Wicked comes a magical new twist on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lewis’s Carroll’s beloved classic

When Alice toppled down the rabbit-hole 150 years ago, she found a Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But what of that world? How did 1860s Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance?

In this brilliant new work of fiction, Gregory Maguire turns his dazzling imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings — and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Carroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend of Alice’s mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is off to visit her friend, but arrives a moment too late — and tumbles down the rabbit hole herself. 

Ada brings to Wonderland her own imperfect apprehension of cause and effect as she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and see her safely home from this surreal world below the world. If Euridyce can ever be returned to the arms of Orpheus, or Lazarus can be raised from the tomb, perhaps Alice can be returned to life. Either way, everything that happens next is “After Alice.”

I’ve got a couple of Gregory Maguire books sitting on my shelf but haven’t read a single one yet; I keep saving them for a rainy day and getting distracted by other books. He wrote a moving, arm-hair-raising introduction to My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, and I’ve been looking forward to reading his fiction. So you can imagine my reaction when I heard that his next book was an Alice in Wonderland spinoff and that he was signing at BEA; it was one of the must-attend events on my schedule. However…I got stuck in over an hour and a half of traffic on the way to BEA and didn’t arrive in time to get a ticket for his signing. Later in the day, I saw a small pile of books on the ground at the Penguin Random House booth and asked a rep if I could take a copy of each. And that’s how I nabbed this ARC (along with an advance copy of Geraldine Brooks’s upcoming novel, The Secret Chord).

I had no idea what to expect from After Alice because the back cover merely displays a couple of paragraphs of text from the book (I found the above summary on Goodreads later). I figured it would take place after Alice had visited (and returned from) Wonderland. But it’s actually a sort of parallel narrative, following Alice’s neighbor Ada as she falls into Wonderland — you guessed it — after Alice.

Since having kids (and thereby finding myself with far less reading time), I’ve become a wholehearted proponent of the DNF (Did Not Finish). When I was younger, I would finish a book 99% of the time; I couldn’t bear to not see a story through, even if I was hating it. Now, though, I give it fifty pages, and if I’m still miserable, I jump ship. “Life’s too short to read bad books,” I often tell my husband. And then I immediately feel guilty for calling a book a “bad book” just because I didn’t like it or because it wasn’t for me at that point in my life. Still, though, I have far less free time lately and won’t muddle through something if I’m feeling like my time is being wasted.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that I almost didn’t finish this book. It took some time to get things moving, and I couldn’t see how the multiple plot lines would connect or why I should care about them. As time went by, though, I began to enjoy Ada as a character and was delighted by how different her experiences in Wonderland were than Alice’s. If you know Carroll’s Wonderland, you’ll find just enough of it here to make things similar without becoming boring. The Duchess is here, and the Mad Tea Party, and the White Queen and the White Knight, among others…but they interact with Ada differently than they do with Alice, and this is a story all its own.

I was delighted by the adventure and loopy logic, but also by the historic aspects. Ada’s journey to Wonderland doesn’t occur in a vacuum; there are people back in Oxford searching for her, and their stories and societal roles allow this to border on being a historic novel as well. Maguire examines the ideas of restraint and propriety, and how the levels of each differ depending on one’s lot in life, from clergy and governesses to escaped slaves and physically disabled children. Throughout the course of the day, the characters find freedom in various unexpected places, some aboveground and some below. I loved witnessing the breathing room that they found when routines were shifted and the shackles of polite society loosened a bit.

The only thing about this book that caused it to fall a bit short for me is how randomly-placed some of the asides are. There’s a thought-provoking examination of the effects of a town’s architecture on the sort of literature its residents produce, which I loved reading, but it takes place at the beginning of a chapter following the housekeeper, Mrs. Brummidge. It’s almost as if these thoughts are hers, but they’re clearly not because her character is far more straightforward and industrious than pensive. It’s almost as if the narrator (or Maguire himself? I’m not sure) is sprinkling his own thoughts here and there. They’re bright thoughts, but the way they fit into the narrative was a little shaky for me.

All in all: There’s a lot going on here, lots of food for thought as well as entertainment, and I ended up loving this book much more than I expected. Can’t wait to add it to my Alice shelf (which is overflowing…).

National Poetry Month: Selection #4

NationalPoetryMonthBanner

It’s that time again. Time for another of my favorite poems. I could choose half of the poems from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass, because their rhythms are familiar and beloved to me after decades of re-reads, but for today I’ll go with this deliciously nonsensical one. It’s titleless, but it’s evidence read by the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, in case you’d like to find it for yourself.

They told me you had been to her,
And mentioned me to him:
She gave me a good character,
But said I could not swim.

He sent them word I had not gone
(We know it to be true):
If she should push the matter on,
What would become of you?

I gave her one, they gave him two,
You gave us three or more;
They all returned from him to you,
Though they were mine before.

If I or she should chance to be
Involved in this affair,
He trusts to you to set them free,
Exactly as we were.

My notion was that you had been
(Before she had this fit)
An obstacle that came between
Him, and ourselves, and it,

Don’t let him know she liked them best,
For this must ever be
A secret, kept from all the rest,
Between yourself and me.

Review: Queen of Hearts Volume One: The Crown by Colleen Oakes

QueenOfHearts

Queen Of Hearts, Volume One: The Crown by Colleen Oakes. SparkPress. 206 pp.

I’m a big fan of retellings. I’m also a lover of all things Wonderland. So it should come as no surprise that I make an effort to get my hands on every Wonderland-revamped book I can, from Frank Beddor’s sci-fi series The Looking-Glass Wars to my personal favorite, A.G. Howard’s Splintered series. The only one I’ve seen and passed up so far is Alice in Zombieland, because I pretty much hate zombie stories (although I might make an exception for that one eventually). Is that terrible? I know zombies have been all the rage lately, but they do absolutely nothing for me. I saw 28 Weeks Later (someone else’s choice) and struggled through the entire movie, fully aware of the minutes of my life I was so tragically wasting.

So. With the exception of zombie tales, I’m always happy to visit someone else’s version of Wonderland. It just shows how many people were, like me, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s pivotal works. My favorites are the ones that coexist harmoniously with Carroll’s original tales. In Splintered, for instance, Alyssa’s ancestor was the Alice Liddell, and now she must clean up the mess her I-forget-how-many-greats-grandmother made in Wonderland. In Kellie Sheridan’s Follow the White Rabbit, Alice has come and gone, and the residents of Wonderland are scouring prophecies to find out when/if she will return. There’s a tie-in in The Looking-Glass Wars, too, but I haven’t read that one in years and can’t recall exactly how it worked.

I somewhat enjoyed reading Queen of Hearts, but not as much as I usually enjoy Wonderland retellings. I found Dinah, while not entirely likable, to be an interesting character. She was strong and independent and untraditional, and I liked that. I also liked how often she pleasantly-surprised herself when she was thrown outside of her comfort zone. Oakes’s world-building was admirable; I particularly liked the image of putting prisoners “on the tree.” It was cruel and terrifying and worked rather well.

However, this book had numerous downfalls for me. I found that Dinah’s struggles with her father weren’t entirely believable. (Why continue to seek the love of someone who treats you so horribly, parent or not? She seemed too smart for that.) I also felt like the sexual tension between her and her best friend, Wardley (what a great name, by the way!), lacked definition or resolution, and the line (I paraphrase) “She longed to one day make him her king” was included far too many times. (At least three by my count. I got it after the first time!) Also, the plot stops abruptly at the end of the book. At 206 pages, this reads like the first half of a novel instead of the first volume of a series. A longer book with a more complete story would have been preferable. There were also a handful of grammatical errors that bugged me, most notably

Morte stomped his hoov [sic] again.

Um…”hoof” is the singular form of “hooves.” (This error appears three times, so it’s not a typo.) Throughout the book, Dinah is frequently described as plump (her maid struggles to cinch her corsets tighter and tighter, and many people comment on how much daintier her half-sister is), but in one scene the author chooses to refer to her as “leaner than the average Wonderland woman…her legs lean and muscled.” Poor word choice — or using a word when you’re not quite sure what it means — is distracting. Things like this could have easily been uncovered in a round of proofreading.

Regarding the retelling aspect, the setting was so far removed from the Wonderland I know and love that it felt like it could be any old fantasy kingdom. Dinah’s world is really a new creation, which speaks well to Oakes’s creativity but was frustrating for me since I picked this book due to my love of Lewis Carroll’s work. Yes, some of the characters here are named after the ones in the original work, but there weren’t enough connections for me.

All in all: An interesting story with some noticeable flaws. Read if you enjoy fantasy and aren’t distracted by plot or grammatical errors. If you’re an Alice fan, I’d look elsewhere.

Review: The Moth in the Mirror by A.G. Howard

TheMothInTheMirror

The Moth in the Mirror by A.G. Howard. Amulet Books. 40 pp.

Let’s start here: I don’t buy books for my Kindle. Really, I don’t. I accept review copies electronically, but if I’m gonna pay for it, I’d like to be able to hold it in my hand. So when I heard that The Moth in the Mirror was going to be released, at first I rejoiced…and then I learned that I couldn’t buy a print copy. That’s right; it was released as ebook only. So I broke my streak and made this the first-ever paid purchase on my Kindle. (Lest you think this was a huge financial sacrifice, allow me to point out that this is a novella, so it only set me back $1.99. Maybe I need to stop whining.)

Since I pre-ordered, I awaited this novella’s release eagerly, constantly watching the calendar out of the corner of my eye. Then, on the release date, I forgot. (I try to stay on top of things, but one day tends to slip into another when you’re a stay-at-home mom.) I got an email from Amazon at 12:30 AM saying that The Moth in the Mirror had been delivered to my Kindle, and I stayed up far too late to read it all in one go. (No regrets, of course.)

This book is part of the Splintered series by A.G. Howard, a terrifying dash through an awesomely revamped Wonderland. Its events take place between books one (Splintered) and two (Unhinged, which comes out in January and which I am absolutely DYING to read…it’s the book whose release I am most eagerly anticipating at the moment). If you’d like to know more about Splintered, check out my review here. Basically, this novella is an aside in which Morpheus, Alyssa’s dark Wonderland spirit guide, pries into the memories of Jeb, Alyssa’s best-guy-friend-slash-love-interest, to uncover his weaknesses and win Alyssa for himself.

I normally rant about how much I hate love triangles, but I am SUCH a fangirl when it comes to these books. The rivalry between Jeb and Morpheus is palpable, and it makes me alternately cringe and laugh out loud. Even though I’m Team Morpheus all the way, I enjoyed getting a glimpse into what Jeb was doing in his offscreen time from Splintered. At first, I couldn’t see where it was all heading; it just seemed like a random combination of scenes. In the end, though, the similarities between Alyssa’s two suitors are highlighted in a very real, imperfect, human way that surprised me as much as it surprises Morpheus.

There were some great references to Lewis Carroll’s work here, too. My favorite was Lorina the lory (named for the real Alice’s older sister); I loved that little Liddell nod. (See what I did there? Oh, wait. That’s only funny if you now that Alice’s last name was “Liddell”…and that “Liddell” rhymes with “little”…oh, never mind.) And is Lorina’s husband, Charlie, a nod to Charles Dodgson? I choose to believe so.

Let me also mention that I missed Alyssa. I enjoyed following her adventures through Wonderland and wished that I could have seen a little bit of her in this installation. I did find it interesting to observe the boys without her, though, and I found it surprising (even though I probably shouldn’t have) that they held such different images of her in their minds.

All in all: Worth reading, but read Splintered first. This is a series worth diving into!

Creepiest Alice Story Yet…And I Loved It! Splintered by A.G. Howard

Splintered by A.G. Howard. Amulet Books. 371 pp.

Splintered by A.G. Howard. Amulet Books. 371 pp.

Splintered has been out since January, but I didn’t hear about it until last week. (I know, I know. As a Wonderland-lover, I’m ashamed of myself.) Somebody tweeted about it and I saw the gorgeous cover and had to know more. Then I learned that it was an Alice spinoff and decided that I had to buy it. This is rare, because my decision to become a stay at home mom meant that my book budget had to be severely decreased. But this looked good, and I still had a little bit of money on a Barnes and Noble gift card, so soon enough, Splintered was on its way.

It’s about a girl named Alyssa, a descendant of Alice Liddell, and her family’s struggle with madness. Desperate not to end up like her institutionalized mother, Alyssa travels down the rabbit hole to reverse the curse that’s been laid on her family ever since Alice first entered (and allegedly screwed up) Wonderland.

This isn’t Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, though. It’s darker, more devious, and much more dangerous. Alyssa is inadvertently followed by Jeb, her best-friend-slash-crush, who loyally believes the unbelievable and agrees to aid her on her quest. There’s a love triangle between the two of them and Morpheus, Alyssa’s guide through Wonderland. (Please allow me just a brief fangirly moment: Morpheus’s smoldering wickedness was far more appealing than I expected to find it. What is it about bad boys??) Anyway. The characters from Wonderland are all here: the Walrus and the Carpenter, the mad tea party attendees, kings and queens, etc. It was a delight to see them so gothically reimagined.

The writing is clean and descriptive, the plot is so fast-moving that I couldn’t believe the author could fit so many events into so few pages, and it was simply a pleasure to read. It gets creepy, too: I’m rarely frightened by the books I read, but at one point the hairs on my arm were literally standing on end. (Please note that I’m not the type of girl to use “literally” figuratively. I actually did had goosebumps.)

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was remedied in the end: Alyssa just seemed so passive. The only way she was getting by was by being rescued, time and time again, by one of the guys. And as much as it’s good for friends to save one another, she was always the one getting saved and never the one doing the saving. But it was all for a character development purpose, and I enjoyed watching her grow stronger and more sure of herself as the book progressed.

I read this in less than a day. I tried to slow myself down because I knew the next book in the series hadn’t been released yet, but it was just too good. Because he knows me so well, my husband asked if it was good enough for me to purchase the next book in the series. I replied with a wholehearted, “Absolutely.” Splintered is a great start to the series, and the book is just gorgeous. I mean, look at that cover art. And it’s printed in purple ink. It’s like a dream come true. A really dark, creepy, twisted dream come true, but still.

All in all: Excellent. This is the best Alice spinoff I’ve read so far. (Keep in mind, though, that this is YA fantasy. If you don’t like fantasy, or love triangles, this probably isn’t for you. But it was sure for me!)

Giveaway! + Interview with Author Kellie Sheridan and Review of Follow the White Rabbit

WhiteRabbit

Follow the White Rabbit by Kellie Sheridan. ebook. Patchwork Press.

Lewis Carroll, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

* I have a shelf dedicated to various printings of Alice, annotated and not, and Alice spinoffs.
(It’s so overstocked, I had to start a second shelf.)

* My mom threw me a mad-tea-party-themed baby shower.

* I visited Oxford simply because it’s where C.L. Dodgson spent his days. (And to set foot inside Alice’s Shop, where I spent the bulk of my souvenir money.)

* My son’s name is Charles, after my favorite mathematician.

Needless to say, I’m a sucker for all things Alice. So when I saw Follow the White Rabbit listed on NetGalley, I knew I had to check it out. And I’m so glad I did. Before I write more about how much I enjoyed this book, I’m delighted to present an interview with the author, Kellie Sheridan.


Literature lovers of all backgrounds seem to be drawn to the Alice books. Do you remember your first experience with Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass? What was it about them that you loved?

While I would love to be able to say my first experience with Alice happened within the pages of Lewis Carroll’s books, but alas, that’s not the case. My first Alice was the little girl in the blue dress from Disney’s versions, and that movie will always have a soft spot in my heart. Now, I love seeing all the different adaptations. It’s pretty incredible how many different directions this story has gone since 1865.

What is it about Wonderland that appealed to you as a writer?

Nostalgia, the silliness, the character. Absolutely everything. There is so much possibility within the pages of the Wonderland stories, that really anything goes. Right now, my version of Wonderland is stagnant, and more like our world than the one from the original books, but it’s evolving and as it does, I am going to have so much fun.

What was the hardest part about continuing someone else’s original work?

The plotting. Oh my goodness, the plotting. My characters are attempting to follow at least the general path of the overall story, but of course… it’s never quite that simple. Layering three existing characters into their new incarnations, while plotting in circles… well, it’s very detail oriented. And I love it, but I want to make sure I do it right.

Who was your favorite character to reinvent?

While I really like writing The Mad Hatter character, the White Rabbit is probably the most fun. Technically the only thing that character HAD to do was get Alice to Wonderland, once that was done (minor spoiler: Alice goes to Wonderland :P)) the White Rabbit was free to choose her own destiny, and I love that!

What are you working on at the moment?

In addition to my own work (see the next question), I’ve been hard at work with Patchwork Press. I’m currently helping to polish both The Rising by Terra Harmony and A Grimm Legacy by Janna Jennings. As a group, we’ve got a lot, a lot of books scheduled for the final quarter of the year. It’s a little nuts.

Any news about Awake and Dreaming, the next installment in the Beautiful Madness series? (I’ll admit that this is a selfish question…I want to find out what happens next!)

This month! (September) It’s currently going through the ringer with beta readers, before it goes to my editor. I won’t be doing a blog tour or anything for this one, because it’s taken so long to get from A to PUBLISH on this one, as soon as it’s ready, it’ll be going out there into the world.


Check out Kellie’s website here.

Follow Kellie on Twitter: @Kellie_Sheridan


Okay, on to my review. Follow the White Rabbit is a novella and part one of the Beautiful Madness series. It’s not a retelling of the Alice stories; rather, it takes place in a post-Alice Wonderland. Prophecies have been made about the return of Alice, among other things, but not everyone in Wonderland is keeping an eye on the skies. Rather, they go about their lives, unconcerned about the welfare of their home. Except for Gwen. She’s a faithful student of the prophecies and anticipates the return of Alice via the white rabbit. She and her housemate, Marc, are approached by the White Queen and asked to help determine when and where Alice will arrive.

Kellie Sheridan does a fine job of capturing the essence of Wonderland: the quirky, the everyday, the magical, the unexpected. Citizens of Wonderland are like us, but they are different, too, which makes them even more interesting. Old characters have been reimagined, but they’re still there, still recognizable, if you look closely enough.

There’s an undercurrent of the struggles between chaos and order, between nature and technology, that makes for a beautifully twisted mirror of our civilization. I really can’t wait to see where this is all headed.

My only complaint is that a novella doesn’t give the reader much time to really get to see the characters in action. I feel like I know about them because I’m told about them, not because I’ve actually gotten to know them. And I really love getting to know a character over time. But my only complaint is that I wanted more, so there are worse things that could happen, you know?

All in all: Check this out if you love Alice, or fantasy, or if you’re looking for a quick but interesting read.

Thanks again to Kellie Sheridan for her time and for providing a digital copy of her book for the following giveaway.

Aaaand on to the giveaway. Unfortunately, since this blog is hosted by WordPress, I can’t embed the contest widget here. But the good news is that all you have to do is click on the link below, and what’s one more click in the grand scheme of things, right?

Enter the giveaway here!

P.S. This is my first giveaway. If it’s glitchy, or just really obviously novice, I apologize in advance. Let me know if you’ve got suggestions for running future giveaways!