Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Dear Irene," by Jan Burke

This was a zippy read for me.  Finished it in two days, though that's because I was riding in a car for eight hours one of the days.  Actually had time to read!  Wheee!

This is the third Irene Kelly mystery, and they keep getting better and better.  This one involved a serial killer who sent messages to Irene with all these cryptic references to Greek mythology in them.  I'm fascinated by mythology, though I can't keep any of those gods and goddesses straight, so I enjoyed learning random stuff about them here.  Also, i appreciate that Irene usually does not get into Certain Peril by being stupid -- she's usually at the wrong place or whatever, though she does get reckless sometimes... but that's not usually when she crosses paths with murderers.  I like that, as too many female detectives don't get to be truly smart.  Also, Irene is a writer, so you know I dig that.

Anyway, don't have much else to say other than that this was an enjoyable, well-written mystery :-)

Particularly Good Bits:

I watched him struggling to learn that trick of functioning with grief -- that trick of remembering and forgetting all at once, of letting the ghost walk at your side, but not block your way.  I was learning it myself.  (p.84)

Each cover and spine seemed to long to be held again, the way a widower might long for his late wife's embrace.  (p. 150)

The waiting room chairs were apparently designed by the set decorator for the Spanish Inquisition. (p. 274)

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  R for violence and suspensefulness and bad language and implied bedroom activity.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"King Solomon's Mines" by H. Rider Haggard

For years, I've wanted to either read this book or see the movie based on it.  And now that I've read it, I hope to find and watch the movie soon.  Because I think this will be one of those cases where I like the movie better.

Not that I didn't enjoy the book, because I did.  But I didn't really love it.  None of the characters were particularly intriguing to me, other than Umbopa, who wasn't in it much until about two-thirds of the way through the book.  I realized, while reading this, that for me to love a character, that character has to have some kind of secret.  Either something that I don't know, as a reader, or something that they're keeping from the other characters in the book.  And Allan Quatermain, the main character of King Solomon's Mines, has zero secrets.  We know how his wife died, we know his whole life story, we know he loves his son, we know how he makes his living -- we even know how he came by the map that they follow to find the treasure.  And so I wasn't particularly interested in him.  This was a really cool insight for me, and one I'll put to good use when writing my own characters.  Make sure not to reveal everything all at once, lest readers be a bit bored.

So anyway, this is about three Englishmen in Africa who go searching for a lost diamond mine that supposedly belonged to King Solomon back in Biblical times.  It's got lots of adventure, lots of excitement, a big war, some really tense moments, everything you want in an adventure book.  (Well, everything except a character with secrets that I want to be friends with, but that's a me thing, not necessarily a you thing.)  It's one of the stories that inspired  Raiders of the Lost Ark -- in fact, there's one part of this book that is totally used in Raiders, and I loved that to bits :-)  I really want to see the movie version now (it stars Stewart Granger -- yummy!).

Particularly Good Bits:  

"We are in for a curious trip, and a mysterious Zulu won't make much difference one way or another."  (p. 38)

There they came, "not as single spies, but in battalions," as I think the Old Testament says somewhere. (p. 43)  (My note -- that's not from the Old Testament, that's from Hamlet!)

As those who read this history will probably long ago have gathered, I am, to be honest, a bit of a coward, and certainly in no way given to fighting, though, somehow, it has often been my lot to get into unpleasant positions, and to be obliged to shed man's blood.  But I have always hated it, and kept my own blood as undiminished in quantity as possible, sometimes by a judicious use of my heels.  (p. 124)

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG-13 for violence.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sneak Peek

Remember how I said that my friend Emily is designing buttons and banners and stuff for my Tolkien-themed blog party?  Well, I know the party doesn't start for another 7 weeks, but she's got a bunch of art done for me, and I really want to share.  So here are details from two of the bookmarks she's created:

Aren't those amazing?  She's done one bookmark for each book in the trilogy.  I'm going to print some up to be prizes for the party giveaway, and I'm also trying to figure out a way to offer them as printable downloads for people who participate in the read-along.  Still working on that.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" by A. Conan Doyle

This collection of 11 Sherlock Holmes stories does not contain any of my favorites, unlike The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  Still, I quite like "Silver Blaze" and "The Naval Treaty."  But I think I've only read Memoirs once before, as it ends with "The Final Problem," and I kind of avoid that one.  Even though I know the outcome of that tussle at Reichenbach Falls, the story still makes me sad.  When I got to it this time through, I actually put off reading it for more than a day.  But I'd never get to The Hound of the Baskervilles if I didn't finish this, so I made myself read it.

I don't actually have a lot to say about this book.  Eleven confounding mysteries, lots of great moments where Holmes gets to be brilliant and Watson gets to be brave.  Very enjoyable and readable.  Maybe I'm just not in a loquacious mood today.  Maybe I'm still bummed from "The Final Problem."

Particularly Good Bits:

"Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms."  ("The Greek Interpreter")

"You are the stormy petrel of crime, Watson."  ("The Naval Treaty")

" is stupidity rather than courage to refuse to recognize danger when it is close upon you."  ("The Final Problem")

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate it:  PG for dangerous situations, violence, and suspense.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Mr. Darcy's Diary" by Amanda Grange

Encouraged by how much I liked her Captain Wentworth's Diary, I bought a copy of  Amanda Grange's Mr. Darcy's Diary.  And found myself loathe to put it down.  While I didn't like it quite as well as the former, I think that's mostly due to my preference for the story in Persuasion over the rest of Austen's novels.  But this book was a delightful treat -- again, nothing terribly deep, certainly less nuanced than Pride & Prejudice itself, but enjoyable.

I think what I liked best about this was the emphasis on Mr. Darcy feeling challenged by Elizabeth Bennett, and his desire to show her he was equal to her wit and spirit.  As the character himself puts it early on, "She had set herself up as my adversary, and I felt an instinct to conquer her rise up inside me" (p. 44).  For Darcy, whose wealth, position, and temperament insured that things generally went the way he wanted, such a challenge must have been alluring indeed, and it really solved for me the question of why, against his better judgement and all that, he allowed himself to fall for her.

(Also, as a strong-willed girl, I respect a man who thinks he can conquer me.  I can imagine Elizabeth might feel the same.)    

Once again, the diary style is a little straining of the old credulity, though with Darcy being the writer of long letters (with that remarkably even hand that Caroline Bingley prized), it's not too hard to imagine him writing a detailed diary.  Easier than with Wentworth, who would be used to the terser style of the ship's log.  But once again, it hardly matters.

As Hannah said in her review of this on Reading in the Dark, it would have been nice to see a bit more of Darcy the businessman and land owner.  However, that would probably have bogged the story down, and since this is supposed to be a retelling of P&P from Darcy's viewpoint, I can see why Grange didn't want to digress too much.

I've tried reading two or three other books about Darcy and/or Lizzy, and this is the first one that I have truly enjoyed and am glad to have on a shelf in my library.

Particularly Good Bits:  

Bingley was, of course, delighted with everything he saw.  he said how splendid it was and asked no sensible questions, but instead walked around with his hands behind his back as though he had lived there for the last twenty years.  (p. 24-25)

Caroline looked astonished and then displeased, but my expression was so forbidding that she fell silent.  Bingley might complain about my awful expressions, but they have their uses.  (p. 67)

I felt a surge of satisfaction as I realized that Lydia will be just as silly as her mother, and I took enjoyment in the knowledge that Wickham will, after all, be punished for his iniquities, because he will have to live with her for the rest of his life.  (p. 247)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate it:  PG for a very small amount of questionable language and behavior, consistent with Austen's original.

This is my third entry into the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenarey Challenge over on

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Joss Whedon: Conversations" edited by David Lavery and Cynthia Burkhead

This is a rather unique book.  It's a collection of eighteen interviews with Joss Whedon done by a variety of different people, magazines, websites, etc. from 2000 to 2009.  It covers everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Angel to Firefly and Serenity.  And, of course, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.  There's also a lot of discussion of Whedon's work writing screenplays for various movies, and his many disappointments there.  Obviously, since it ends in 2009, there's no mention of The Avengers other than this one, which amused me greatly:

[Interviewer] Kozak:  Given how you seem to embrace ensembles, does Marvel's Avengers project over at Paramount offer any particular appeal?
Whedon:  Y'know, the thing about the X-Men is they have a coherent core.  The Avengers to me is tough.  I wouldn't approach The Avengers, I wouldn't approach the Fantastic Four.  The X-Men are all born of pain, and pain is where I hang my hat.
(Interview with Jim Kozak from In Focus, August 2005.  Page 102.)

Hee.  Clearly, he found a way to rethink that.

Anyway, this is a fascinating look inside the mind and creative process of one of the greatest writers of our time.  And, according to these interviews, Joss Whedon does see himself as primarily a writer, despite his successes as director, show-runner, etc.  He has a lot of good insights into what makes stories tick, what makes characters work, and other things that greatly intrigued my writerly self.

Ultimately, this is a great book for fans of Joss Whedon and for writers, but I'm not sure anyone else would enjoy it much.  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  R because Joss swears a lot, which disappointed me.

Particularly Good Bits: 

"I'm not an adult!" he says, shaking his head.  "I don't want to create responsible shows with lawyers in them.  I want to invade people's dreams."  (p. 70)

"I can't stress enough that I believe the best thing in the world is for everybody who feels like they have a story to tell, to tell it."  (p. 182)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" by Nicholas Meyer

Of all the non-canonical Sherlock Holmes adventures I've read over the years, this is the first one that made me go, "This guy gets it!  These really act, talk, and think like Holmes and Watson!"  Meyer deftly avoids the caricatures that many non-canon stories present, giving them even more depth and realism than some of the original stories did.  Also, he has Watson quote Hamlet several times, and I love that not just cuz I love Hamlet, but because Holmes quotes it several times in the original stories, and so that's a great carry-over.

Meyer's conceit is that Watson wrote this while in his eighties, after Holmes and everyone else involved had died.  It's an approach that works really well, as it lets Watson address some of the more common criticisms of the original.  You know, how many times he was married and the way he sometimes behaves less than intelligently, things like that.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is one of my favorite titles ever.  Yes, it tells you from the start that it's going to revolve around Holmes' cocaine habit.  But I especially love that the word "solution" applies not only to the mixture of 7% cocaine and 93% water he uses, but also to finding a solution to his drug problem.  Because, by the time this story takes place, it is definitely a problem.  Meyer takes Holmes' habit to its logical conclusion:  full-on addiction.  Holmes can't do without the drug anymore, and it's causing him all kinds of trouble.  Thanks to it, he's convinced that there's one man controlling all of London's more audacious criminals, a mastermind, the arch-nemesis he's always craved.  A man named Professor Moriarty.

Yeah, Moriarty.  Most over-used villain of pretty much all time.  I have this pet peeve about Moriarty, because it feels like every single person who wants to write a story about Holmes uses Moriarty as the villain.  From Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) to Sherlock Holmes:  A Game of Shadows (2011) to The Beekeeper's Apprentice to this, it's always Moriarty, Moriarty, Moriarty.  And I get it, I do.  Moriarty was his only true match.  Moriarty was Holmes' foil.  Everyone knows who Moriarty is, so you instantly have anti-Moriarty sentiment to rely on.  But come on, people!  Holmes did have other worthy adversaries.  (And don't get me started on Irene Adler -- she's horribly overused too.)

But Nicholas Meyer does something wonderful here.  He turns the idea of Moriarty the Criminal Genius on its head.  And I'm not gonna say more than that, because this is a cool book and I hope you read it.  But he twists the Moriarty thing in a new and nifty way, and I like it.

So anyway, Watson decides he has to save Holmes from himself.  And the only way Watson can think of to do that is to take Holmes to this doctor in Vienna who's discovered a way to cure people of cocaine addiction.  How he gets Holmes there is a great deal of fun, so I won't go into that here, but I will spoil one thing and tell you that doctor's name:  Sigmund Freud.

Are you rubbing your hands together and laughing soundlessly in a hearty fashion at the possibilities presented here?  Cuz that's what I do every time I think about this book.  It's just such a brilliant idea, and Meyer pulls it off in every way possible.  Love it.

There's also a movie version starring Alan Arkin as Freud and Nicol Williamson as Holmes and Laurence Olivier as Moriarty, and it's great fun too, but I like the book better.  Because the book really delves into Holmes and Watson's inner selves, into the way they really feel about each other.  The exasperation at each others' foibles and the appreciation for each others' talents.  The way Watson stands in awe of Holmes' intellect, but thinks he needs to be more human.  And the reasons why Holmes turned to detective work in the first place.

Okay, I'm just going to shut up now and tell you to find and read this, if you're at all a Sherlock Holmes fan.

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG-13 for drug usage.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Guest Post on The Book Chewers

Hey, guess what?  I'm the guest blogger on The Book Chewers today!  Go here to read my post about my three favorite non-canonical Sherlock Holmes books.