Alice, Always

By Alyssa Nicole

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”-King Of Hearts, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

A young girl wearing a dress the color of cloudless skies tumbles down a rabbit hole in pursuit of a frantic waistcoat-wearing critter. Sound familiar? Alice in Wonderland, the whimsical children’s tale born from the brilliant mind of author Lewis Carroll, has been a beloved tale since 1865. This story holds a special key to my heart, for I was lucky enough to be cast as the eponymous character when I was sixteen years old. I coalesced myself with Alice’s character that summer, and to this day she and her story are imprinted upon my heart.

I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass immediately after I was cast as Alice in my community theater’s summer production. I wanted to fully immerse myself in the character and the story so I could better understand my role and the cast of chaotic characters I would be interacting with. I quickly fell in love with both books, and wanted to do justice to the sprightly, inquisitive young girl I would be playing.

It was intimidating to say the least, being handed a one hundred fifty paged script, and then realizing I had lines on every page. I was diligent as I studied, with the help of my proud mother quizzing me every night. I so enjoyed working with the colorful cast of characters, who were just as zany outside of their roles as they were in them. I met a forever friend amongst them who would one day have an incredibly significant impact on my future. The summer of 2005 was as fantastical and dreamlike as Wonderland itself. I still vividly remember the excitement of donning my big blue dress, the bright spotlights of the stage as I sat daintily at the Mad Tea Party. It took many rehearsals not to laugh during that scene! I cradled the Duchess’s pig baby, recited ridiculous rhymes to the Blue Caterpillar, played croquet with the Queen of Hearts, enjoyed silly banter with the Cheshire Cat, and was nearly decapitated by the executioner in a chaotic court case! And no, I did NOT steal the Queen’s cherry tarts! After two weeks’ worth of performances, I took my final bow as Alice, a bittersweet moment that has become preserved as a forever memory in my mind. Photographs, pamphlets, and a wooden key remain pressed between the pages of my precious scrapbook.

It was not until I turned thirty that Alice in Wonderland would become significant to me again. It was the year that everything changed, much like my sixteenth year, taking a tumble down a rabbit hole once again. That day my mom and I challenged ourselves to a Wonderland-themed escape room, a clever recreation of the Carrollian classic. Months later, I reconnected with my old theater friend who needed actors for one of the plays that she had written. I acted in a few plays after Alice but had not done anything theatrical since I was a teenager. In my usual say yes to anything mentality I agreed to take a small role to help her out. It was in this skit that I met a fellow Alice aficionado, who (spoilers!) would one day become my husband. Our first date was spent comparing our Alice collections that led to over five hours of chatting and a magical summer of falling in love. That fall, I dressed up as Alice for a Halloween Murder Mystery Dinner with my boyfriend as Lewis Carroll. It was fun reprising my role as Alice again, even if it was for only one night. Two and a half years later, we got engaged. The summer before the wedding was one of the best I can remember. That July, my mom threw me an incredible Alice in Wonderland bridal shower at a lovely Victorian tea shop. Tiny tea pot boxes filled with favors sat at every place setting, and my mom created lovely candlesticks with teacups stacked on top of them. There was an amazing assortment of wonderful finger sandwiches, salads, fruit, and dainty delights. It was a magical day, wearing my ruffled cottagecore dress, sipping tea with my bridesmaids, doing an Alice oracle reading, and enjoying games and gifts. The final game was also Alice-themed, where people received points based on Alice-related related regalia (watches, hearts, top hats etc…). Now of course, no one in attendance was wearing a top hat, so when my mom called it out everyone glanced around the room at each other as if to confirm this fact. Suddenly from the stairwell, a man’s voice called out “I am!” and there was my husband- to-be, fully dressed in a Mad Hatter’s costume! My mom hatched this plan months prior, plotting with her future son-in-law and somehow successfully keeping it a secret from me. I screamed and leapt out of my seat, hugging him as though I had not seen him in 10 years, when in fact I had just seen him that morning. My mom joyfully cried, “Let’s get these two married already” and everyone cheered! And so, we were at our fairytale fall wedding.

Alice in Wonderland has made an impact on my life, the heart of many significant moments throughout the years. On the cusp of 34 years of age, I often find myself feeling like my own life is very much a Wonderland; confusing, chaotic, sometimes downright bizarre and a little bit scary. But all the same, it is whimsical, magical, wondrous, and a wild adventure full of twists and turns. Alice remains steadfast throughout all the chaos, yet flexible enough to acclimate to the ever-changing world she stumbled into. While this story in its essence is merely a fantastical dream of a young girl, it is also an inspiration to me in my own life’s journey. Carroll described Alice as “wildly curious,” “loving and gentle,” “trustful” and “courteous to all.” Though she was polite and respectful she had no trouble using her assertiveness when indignant over what she perceived as immoral or illogical, not unlike myself. She is inquisitive, clever and very brave. And yet it seems that Alice recognizes that oneself cannot be so easily defined. “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” Ambiguity is the key that can unlock the door to self-discovery.

Another element I love about Wonderland is the openness to absurdity. I am quirky by nature and find that silliness brings levity and fun to routine. Why not believe in six impossible things before breakfast, as the Duchess does? Why not make up your own words to songs like The Mad Hatter? Why not make up your own rules to games like the Queen of Hearts? Nonconformity is often the mother of innovation and creativity. By thinking outside of the box, a Wonderland of possibility is at our fingertips.

Now I sit with a porcelain cup filled with chamomile brew, finishing off the last crumbs of homemade lavender teacake as I thumb through the well-worn pages of one of my most favorite stories. It is amazing how certain books can have such an enormous impact on your life, how the universe that an author creates from the depths of their own mind can still have an impact centuries later. Stories can be carried in our hearts, leave lasting imprints on our minds and interwoven with our psyches. Which books have shaped your life?

Melinda’s Top 10 of 2022

As 2022 comes to a close, it’s clear that there is no shortage of good books to read these days! In no particular order and with no rhyme or reason, here are the ten books that I enjoyed most this year.

The Cloisters

A circle of researchers uncover a mysterious deck of tarot cards and shocking secrets in New York’s famed Met Cloisters.

The Sentence

A small independent bookstore in Minneapolis is haunted from November 2019 to November 2020 by the store’s most annoying customer. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day, but she simply won’t leave the store.

The Last Laugh

Tress Montor murdered Felicity Turnado–but she might not have to live with the guilt for long. With an infected arm, the panther who clawed her open on the loose, and the whole town on the hunt for the lost homecoming queen, the odds are stacked against Tress.

Malibu Rising

Four famous siblings throw an epic party to celebrate the end of the summer. But over the course of twenty-four hours, the family drama that ensues will change their lives will change forever.


A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat.

In My Dreams I Hold a Knife

Six friends. One college reunion. One unsolved murder. Ten years after graduation, Jessica Miller has planned her triumphant return to her southern, elite Duquette University, down to the envious whispers that are sure to follow in her wake.

Firekeeper’s Daughter

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into an FBI investigation of a lethal new drug.

Normal Family

Chrysta Bilton’s magnetic, larger-than-life mother, Debra, yearned to have a child, but as a single gay woman in 1980s California, she had few options. Until one day, she met a man and instantly knew he was the one she’d been looking for.

The Children on the Hill

1978: At her renowned treatment center in picturesque Vermont, the brilliant psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Hildreth, is acclaimed for her compassionate work with the mentally ill. When she brings home Iris, she does not behave like a normal girl.

I’m Glad My Mom Died

A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor–including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother–and how she retook control of her life.

Wishing you a New Year full of good books!


Book Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

It’s been some time since I read a novel that truly surprised me and Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street not only surprised me, it astonished me. This strikingly original, difficult, and heartfelt novel disguises itself as a horrific story about a serial killer and a missing child, leading readers down disturbing paths and in all the wrong directions as it slowly but surely reveals itself to be much more.

Told through the perspective of multiple narrators, we follow the life of Ted, a strange and lonely man who lives at the end of the forebodingly named Needless Street. He has boarded up all the windows in his house, which sits at the edge of a deeply wooded park and regularly hosts visits with his estranged daughter. His only friend appears to be his cat Olivia- who is also a narrative voice and is quite charming.

The tale opens on the anniversary of the disappearance of a young girl, a disappearance that Ted was initially suspected of causing, and we also meet the vengeful sister of the missing girl who is still trying to track down her sister’s potential murderer years later. This deeply layered plot is revealed little by little with each chapter, and keen readers will note right off the bat that all is not as it seems with each narrator, and we are clearly not getting a complete picture.

The final few twists of this novel are stunning, and absolutely heartbreaking, making this a standout novel of psychological horror, but also an emotional story of trauma and finally, and most importantly, hope. A detailed author’s note at the end further explains Ward’s excellent work on this story and why this is a very realistic tale of trauma. Highly recommended for fans of deeply woven mysteries, unreliable narrators, and psychological horror.

Note: There are some very upsetting and intense scenes in this novel, particularly depicting animal abuse and child abuse, so please proceed with this trigger warning in mind.

Request a copy here or snag a digital copy here!

Nicole’s Top Ten of 2021

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley– An iconic work of early English literature is updated in Headley’s feminist adaptation, bringing to light elements never before translated into English.

A Hawk in the Woods by Carrie Laben– A suspenseful, dark tale of family trauma, abuse of power, and the bonds of sisterhood that centers on supernaturally gifted twins Abby and Martha Waite and follows Abby’s choices after she discovers she has been diagnosed with late stage melanoma.

The Push by Ashley Audrain– A tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family and one woman’s deeply affecting and difficult story of motherhood, womanhood, grief, and guilt.

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kupersmith– Haunting and inspired, this novel looks at the stories of three women in Vietnam, weaving together Vietnamese folklore and themes of national and racial identity, women’s bodies and their burden, and sweet revenge.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca– A standout novella featuring an interesting combination of atypical structure, beautiful writing, and body horror about two women who meet in a queer chat room. This book, and the ending in particular, will keep you thinking long after you finish this short work.

Love and Fury: A Novel of Mary Wollstonecraft by Samantha Silva– An amazingly well-crafted and beautiful historical fiction novel of Mary Wollstonecraft – arguably the world’s first feminist and one of the world’s most influential thinkers. Inspiring and enlightening.

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel– Perhaps my most favorite book of the year, this heartbreaking and remarkable novel is inspired by the life of McDaniel’s own mother. Set in rural Ohio during the 50s, readers follow Betty Carpenter, as she endures terrible discrimination, violence, loss, and love in this luminous and often emotionally difficult book.

The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling– A beautifully written gothic romantic thriller with a dash of magic and horror. Drawing inspiration from such classics as Bluebeard and working the dangerous bridegroom trope, Starling delivers an engaging and tense tale.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo– A skillful and fantastical reimagining of The Great Gatsby that reimagines Jordan Baker as a queer Vietnamese immigrant, embellishing upon Fitzgerald’s original plot  with commentary on gender, race, and  sexuality, set in a magical Jazz Age New York.

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke– A timely and moving meditation on isolation and longing, both as individuals and as a society, delivered in a beautiful graphic novel.