Book Review! Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

Hi everyone!
Today’s post will be a review on “Out of Oz” by Gregory Maguire. This is the last in a series called the “Wicked Years”, based on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” series by L. Frank Baum. It started with “Wicked”, which eventually became a Broadway show, followed by “Son of a Witch”, “Lion Among Men”, and finally, “Out of Oz”.

While I have read all 4 books recently, you won’t find reviews for them on this blog. The reason for this is, I read & fell in love with “Wicked” many years ago, but wasn’t that interested in finishing the series. Then I started this blog & compiled my “Books To Read” list & “Out of Oz” found its way on there…but I didn’t realize it was part of the “Wicked Years”. I thought it was a stand alone book. Once I realized it was the final book in the series, I re-read “Wicked” & finished the other books to get a fair understanding of what Maguire was trying to create.
Perhaps you’re thinking, why review “Out of Oz” at all, without bothering to have reviewed the other 3 books? I pondered over this & decided that as this is the final book, it made sense to put the nail in the “Wicked Years” coffin, if you will, with a final book review on the subject. As always, I will try to keep Spoilers to a minimum.

Initial Thoughts:
Hallelujah this series is OVER! I generally enjoy this genre, fantasy based on popular stories & given their own twist, but I had a tough time getting through this series. I really enjoyed “Wicked”, the Broadway musical is one of my favorite shows, but the series declined for me after that. I kept reading because I was curious to see where Maguire took the story, yet I can’t say I really enjoyed the journey.

Plot:
“Out of Oz” starts out with a short summary of all the stories, family trees, maps of Oz, & a timeline of when each story took place in relation to each other. This reminded me of Tolkien/LOTR but was a bit redundant for me because I read the stories back to back so I had good retention of the timeline & how the characters were connected.
We meet Dorothy again & she’s transported back to OZ via the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Scenes like this are what make me love Maguire’s writing. He’s so clever in the way he took something that happened in real life & found a way to make it fit with his story. However, I was disappointed in his version of Dorothy. She’s not the brightest girl in the world & after the first mention of her, she disappears. 100 pages later, I was wondering if she was ever going to make another appearance. I suppose that makes sense though because this series is really not about Dorothy.
The book continues to tell the story of the political going ons in Oz & to be honest, some of it was confusing. At a certain point I felt like I was reading a political mystery with Fantasy characters & I lost interest because it’s just not my cup of tea.
Another aspect of the plot I was intrigued yet ultimately disappointed by was Maguire’s use of characters from the original L. Frank Baum series. I appreciate him incorporating the “real” history of Oz yet I feel like he could have made it even more his own. Without giving too much away, if you’re at all familiar with the original series, theres’s a huge spoiler in regards to one of the characters that kind of kills the whole story because you already know how it’s going to end.
Maguire ends the story with a cliff hanger & when I first read it I was annoyed because I felt like he was setting it up for another book, even though this one was marketed as the last in the series. However, after re-reading the first Quote I mention below, I have a new understanding of why he left it open-ended & I think it’s kind of…beautiful. He’s acknowledging the fact that this universe he created is going to “continue on” – in a fantasy universe obviously – even though the written story has ended.

Quotes:
– At the beginning of the book with the maps/timeline etc: “We believe the explanation we hear last. It’s one of the ways in which narrative influences our perception of truth. We crave finality, an end to interpretation, not seeing that this too, the tying up of all loose ends in the last chapter, is only a storytelling ruse. The device runs contrary to experience wouldn’t you say? Time never simplifies – it unravels and complicates. Guilty parties show up everywhere. The plot does nothing but thicken. – Michelle de Kretser, The Hamilton Case”
WOW! I love this. This quote really made me think. I ended up sharing it with a friend & we debated its meaning – that’s what I love about good literature. It should make you think, feel, & want to share it with others. To me, this speaks to the idea that these stories are their own universe & continue to change & grow even though we’ve closed the book & think it’s over. I could go into way more detail about my analysis of this quote, but I’ll just leave it for you to think about.
– Pg 544/567: I picked up on some song lyrics from “Wicked” the musical & the “Wizard of Oz” film being used as dialogue. Maguire is definitely the kind of author that would sneak in this kind of reference. I think it’s brilliant.

Overall:
Nothing can compare to “Wicked” for me. “Son of a Witch” was pretty good, but I could barely maintain interest in “Lion Among Men” & “Out of Oz”. I think Maguire is a clever writer but sometimes I get tired of how he draws everything out. He puts a unique adult touch on his stories, however, sometimes the sex scenes are a little much for me. I also find it annoying that while many of the male characters are bisexual or gay, (kind of a SPOILER) there is potential for a lesbian love story that gets pushed aside as “unacceptable”. “Wicked” might have some staying power because of the musical, but otherwise I don’t think the series as a whole will be remembered for years to come like the original series or film.

Rating: C+
As I’ve mentioned, quite a few times, I had a hard time getting through this book. I feel like “Best Selling Authors” especially in the Fantasy genre always write extremely long passages of descriptions that drag on & on & really serve no purpose. About 100 pages in, I was annoyed. If you like prose, great. If you like writing that’s a little more direct to the point – you might not enjoy this. I also had to rate this book down for the political nature of it – as I said, just not a genre I enjoy. If you’re interested in seeing a popular Fantasy story from a different, more adult angle, especially one that includes heavy descriptions & politics, you will enjoy this novel & series as a whole.

Have you read any of the books in the “Wicked Years” or seen “Wicked” the musical? If so, what are your thoughts? Am I being too harsh? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

Book Review! Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Hello again!
Today I will be reviewing “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” by one of my favorite authors, Gregory Maguire. Maguire is also the author behind the “Wicked” series, which is based on “The Wizard of Oz” series. I realize “Confessions…” isn’t on my reading list, but I found it while cleaning my room & thought it deserved another read, as I have read it before many years ago. Please continue reading for my thoughts on this book!
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Initial Thoughts:
As mentioned above, I think Maguire is a wonderful author, if a bit long winded. He writes paragraphs upon paragraphs, sometimes pages, of descriptive prose. It can be a bit much at times. I’m a long winded writer too though, so I suppose I should be able to relate to him! I like how he takes traditional fairy tale characters and explores different avenues of their story. I’m not a Cinderella fan, although it would probably appear that I am since I have reviewed the “Cinderella 2015” film, and now this book. Despite that, I was looking forward to this story because I knew Maguire was going to write something much more imaginative and complex than what we’ve all seen in the cartoon.

Plot:
“Confessions…” is set in 17th century Holland and essentially tells the story of Cinderella from the perspective of one of her “ugly” stepsisters – as you may well have guessed. If you’re looking for a spin on “Cinderella”, I would say this story isn’t for you. This truly is a version from another perspective focused mostly on telling that person’s story. The reader gets more information on the stepmother and stepsisters such as their history, how they find their way into Cinderella’s family, & their feelings & actions. It takes about 200 pages (out of 368 total) before the reader sees shades of the “traditional” story. The plot is much darker than Disney’s version, although not as dark as it could be, I suppose. There is a twist at the end that I didn’t fully see coming & will avoid spoiling for you so you can experience it yourself.

Characters:
– Clara aka Cinderella, is a much different character than the Disney Princess most people know and love. If you’re a fan of Cinderella films such as “Cinderella 2015” & “Ever After”, I imagine you will like the overall feel of this character & story in general. Although it takes some time for her to get there, Clara is a much more “modern” woman, compared to her Disney counterpart.
– Margarethe aka Lady Tremaine aka The Evil Stepmother doesn’t change too much in this version. However, her cruelty is explored beyond the typical reasoning of, “She was jealous because Cinderella was pretty”. That’s certainly true, but a lot of her cruelty stems from living without love. I take issue with this concept because there are people who suffer from loss everyday & don’t enslave their stepchildren. With that being said, I understand that fairy tales serve as metaphors for everyday life. So the overall point is that life without love can turn people into their worst selves. Margarethe’s jealousy isn’t just based on looks. She’s jealous of the good opportunity that will come Clara’s way because of her looks. In her time, most marriages weren’t based on love, they were based on dowries, bringing families together, & creating a lineage to inherit titles & property. In a time when feelings didn’t hold much value, a pretty face was definitely a selling point when it came to matchmaking. A pretty girl could hope to marry someone of good social standing & income. I’m comfortable saying this is still the case today, but that’s a topic for another post. With this line of thinking, Maguire touches on the economic & social implications of a widow with two daughters & the stepmother’s concern for their future, especially regarding potential marriages. SPOILER! I thought it was extremely clever to SPOILER! have Margarethe go blind towards the end of the novel. Margarethe was never able to see her daughter’s strengths & let greed blind her, so it’s only fitting that she ends up literally unable to see. This could also be a reference to a version of Cinderella where, after finding her happy ending, Cinderella has her stepmother/sister’s blinded by having birds peck out their eyes.

Quotes:
Pg 349: If you’re familiar with other versions of Cinderella, you can spot some references to them on this page. There are other references throughout, but this page had the most concentrated amount.
Pg 366: “Who knows what bumblebees, crows, or she-elephants lurked there…” These were all familiars to Elphaba or key characters in the “Wicked” series. I didn’t catch that reference while reading “Confessions…”. I only noticed it by chance because I read “Wicked” (again) after finishing “Confessions” so it was fresh in my mind while reviewing my notes to write this review.

Overall:
An entertaining story that kept me engaged. I thought the idea that love can make or break you, as evidenced by Margarethe, didn’t really carry over to the other character’s relationships, so I was somewhat disappointed by that. Clara & Iris, one of the stepsisters, don’t really blossom when they find love, so that theme kind of fell flat in my eyes. I enjoyed Maguire’s clever story telling & references to other Fairy Tales, versions of Cinderella, & even his own work.

Rating: B+
I enjoyed reading this story, but will it make it to my list of ultimate favorite books? Hm, not quite. As I mentioned above, I felt that one of the main messages of the story wasn’t fully developed so overall, the story didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. I won’t take away any of the messages to build my life upon, it was just entertaining. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course, I would still recommend this book. This is especially good for those looking for darker versions of their favorite fairy tales or wanting to read about a different character’s perspective.

Have you read “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister” or any of Maguire’s other novels? If so, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with my character breakdown of Margarethe, the Evil Stepmother? Please feel free to share your thoughts & book suggestions with me in the comments below!

New York, Broadway Review! Honeymoon in Vegas, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Kinky Boots, Matilda, & It’s Only a Play

Hello all!
I recently took a trip to New York – check my Instagram: @MissAl_Leigh for pics! We got caught up in the “blizzard”, plus, the main event I went for (a job fair) was canceled, but we did manage to see 5 Broadway shows that I will recap for you below! Keep reading to see what I thought of “Honeymoon in Vegas”, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”, “Kinky Boots”, “Matilda”, & “It’s Only a Play”!

I have always had a passion for the performing arts. I have been a performer in one way or another since I was 2, starting with dance classes. I saw my first Broadway play, Beauty and the Beast, when I was 8. I fell even more in love with performing and for the next several years took part in local children’s theatre. While I enjoy all types of theatre, I prefer musicals. I have seen a fair number, my favorites being, “Wicked”, “Avenue Q”, “Hairspray”, “Beauty and the Beast” (of course), and “Phantom of the Opera”, to name a few. Obviously none of this information makes me a professional critic or performer, but based on my experiences, I feel like I know what I’m talking about to some extent.

“Honeymoon in Vegas”
Plot:
 This story was originally a non-musical film released in 1992 starring Nicholas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, and James Caan. I’m not sure how closely the musical follows the movie. Jack and Betsy have problems due to Jack’s commitment issues stemming from a “curse” his mother placed on him. They decide to get married in Vegas and wild adventures ensue.
Notable Cast: Tony Danza played Tommy Korman – James Caan’s role.
Thoughts: This show did not seem like Broadway caliber to me. For example, there were a few instances of microphone wires falling off the actors. It was very noticeable, and even more noticeable when other actors would try to remove the wires from their co-stars, or pick them up off the ground. Another issue was when Betsy had a quick costume change. The actress missed her cue to come back on stage and there was an awkward silence before someone tried to cover. She arrived a moment later with her dress almost completely unzipped in the back, being held up by just a belt, which later popped off. Another actress tried to zip up the dress as the scene continued, but was only halfway successful. There were several actors visibly laughing, which made the whole show seem very unprofessional. I was disappointed with Tony Danza’s performance. I’m almost certain he was sick. He was very quiet, had no energy, & looked ashen. I listened to his performance on Spotify & he sounded excellent, although I suppose that could’ve been AutoTuned. 
Best Songs: “Anywhere but Here”, “Honeymoon in Vegas – Finale” 

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”
Plot: “Gentleman’s Guide…” is the story of Monty Navarro, a poor young man who, after his mother’s death, finds out he is part of an illustrious local family – The D’Ysquith Family. This makes him 9th in line to be Lord D’Ysquith. Hoping to impress his spoiled love interest, Sibella, Monty informs her of this amazing news. He’s sure the family will welcome him in but of course, the wealthy family has no interest in acknowledging another heir. Upon hearing of his rejection, Sibella marries a more wealthy suitor. Determined to prove to Sibella and anyone else who might doubt him, Monty sets out on a nefarious mission to quickly shorten his line to the top. Does he get away with murder(s) & win Sibella back or does the law catch up with him?!
Notable Cast: I didn’t recognize any of the cast but I’d like to especially applaud Jefferson Mays. He played the entire D’Ysquith Family – men & women. It was a great casting choice.
Thoughts: While I thought the Cast was extremely talented and the plot was creative and well written – I didn’t connect with this show. It was hard to find the characters sympathetic or relatable because they were murderers, liars, cheaters, and the like. In a strange twist, I would highly recommend this show, but I wouldn’t want to see it again unless I was taking someone that had never seen it before.
Best Songs: None. I didn’t download any of the songs, like I said, I didn’t connect with this show.

“Kinky Boots”
Plot: Kinky Boots is another musical based on a film – based on the true story – of a young man named Charlie who takes over his father’s shoe making company and has to find a way to modernize the company or lose everything. With the help of a sassy drag queen named Lola, Charlie figures out his niche market and grows up along the way.
Thoughts: I really wanted to love “Kinky Boots” because I like the message of finding yourself amidst chaos and learning tolerance. Sadly, the level of professionalism just didn’t live up to Broadway caliber for me. Maybe my standards are too high, but I believe for as much as it costs to see a show on Broadway & as rigorous as the audition/rehearsal process is, the cast should blow me away. I was cringing at parts of this performance. The dancing was sloppy, the singing was pitchy, & I’ve seen more convincing drag queens on episodes of Law & Order. I realize they didn’t hire actual drag queens for the show, but think of all the time they spent rehearsing! They should’ve been able to do anything in those heels! Cyndi Lauper wrote the music/lyrics & you can definitely tell. If you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy the music at least. I can only pick out Notable Cast for bad reasons so I’m not going to name names because I don’t think that’s fair, they may have been having a bad day. Talent will win out, if they truly are not a great performer, they won’t be cast as often in the future.
Best Songs: “Take What You Got”, “The History of Wrong Guys”, “Step One”, “Raise You Up/Just Be”, “Land of Lola”

“Matilda”
Plot: “Matilda” is a musical based off a movie – based off a book by Roald Dahl. Matilda is a super smart girl born into a family of losers who just don’t understand her. As she grows up she learns just how very special she is & how she can take control of her destiny & help those she loves.
Notable Cast: The entire cast was truly amazing from the smallest child to the few adult actors. Think about the attention span you had at age 7, could you have been the lead in a Broadway musical?!
Thoughts: I’m sure I read the book but I don’t remember. “Matilda” was one of my favorite movies growing up so I had REALLY high expectations for this show…& they were beyond met! It was so epically amazing. They perfectly combined the magic of a well executed stage performance with Dahl’s story and classic scenes from the film. The dancing and singing was on point from every member of the cast. One issue I had was the pitch of the children’s voices. Sometimes their little voices were so high pitched you couldn’t really decipher what they were saying. In a hilarious twist of fate, one of the scenes in “It’s Only a Play”, pokes fun at that. I wasn’t completely in love with the music, but the script/lyrics were clever and the story was relatable to audiences of all ages. The staging/use of props was incredible. Some of the tricks they used to create the wild adventures Matilda goes through were so amazing. My words can’t even do it justice here. I laughed & cried. If you’ve ever been a weird misunderstood kid, or heck, adult – you have to see “Matilda”.
Best Songs: “Miracle”, “When I Grow Up”, “Naughty”

“It’s Only a Play”
Plot: “It’s Only a Play” is the story of a group of friends and random associates that work (or want to work) in various facets of the entertainment industry. They’re celebrating the opening night of a new play. Hilarity ensues as reviews come in, tensions rise, and egos explode.
Notable Cast: OH MY GOSH!!! I was literally 50 feet from Martin Short, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing (Rizzo from Grease), & F. Murray Abraham (Salieri from Amadeus)! The cast had some rotating parts, Martin Short had just taken over his role from Nathan Lane – but he’ll return (which they make fun of in the play) & I JUST missed seeing Rupert Grint (RON FROM HARRY POTTER!!!!).
Thoughts: While this play had a lot of big names I recognize and respect, I didn’t really care about seeing it because it’s only a play (pun intended) & as I mentioned earlier, I generally prefer musicals. However, I’m so happy I saw this! The script was originally written in the 1980’s but had been rewritten for today’s audience and it was truly hilarious. They referenced pop culture, everything from snarky remarks about other Broadway shows all the way to the Kardashians. It was awesome to see actors of this quality perform, play off each other, & interact with the audience. I highly recommend this show, especially if you’re at all familiar with the entertainment industry & pop culture.

Official Ranking – in order of what you SHOULD see to what you could check out if you have time…
1. Matilda
2. It’s Only a Play
– Based on talent and level of professionalism, I would move “Gentleman’s Guide” to spot 3 and “Honeymoon” & “Kinky Boots” would tie. However, I decided to base this ranking on fun, how much I enjoyed the music, and how much the show resonated with me, so the ratings stand as thus. While they had their good moments, I doubt I will see these last 3 shows again in the future. I only rated “Honeymoon…” & “KB” above “Gentleman’s Guide…” because I see a ton of room for improvement. I could possibly be persuaded to see them again with the hopes that they were better the next time. “Gentleman’s Guide…” however, was already a very talented performance, I just didn’t connect with it.
3. Honeymoon in Vegas
4. Kinky Boots
5. A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder

Have you seen any of these performances? Will you now? What are your favorite musicals or plays? Let’s chat below in the comments! I’d love to hear any recommendations you might have for me. Please FOLLOW me here to get email notifications when I post. Thanks!