Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Eye of the Crow" by Shane Peacock

This is the first in a series about "The Boy Sherlock Holmes," a series I didn't know existed until I stumbled on the final book at the library a few weeks ago.  Sometimes I'm okay with starting a series out of order, but starting with the last book seemed just too wrong, so I requested this one through the library's website and figured if I liked it, I'd read the rest in order.

I liked it.  I can't wait to read more.  Totally, completely awesome as a Holmes story and as a YA coming-of-age book.

Eye of the Crow involves a thirteen-year-old Sherlock Holmes, and it's very different from the other versions of the character's childhood that I've read or seen.  Usually, he's the son of a respectable, fairly well-to-do family, and thoroughly British.  Here, he's half-Jewish and poor.  And, as a character, he's much more interesting as a result.  He has so much more to work against, so many more obstacles, not just in this story, but in his life ahead.  And it jives with the canonical Holmes too -- that disdain he sometimes shows for the wealthy?  His willingness to bend the law to help lowly transgressors go straight?  His obsessive knowledge of London's every cranny?  I could see all those coming for this poor boy with the brilliant mind.

Because Holmes is already becoming brilliant in this book.  Fumbling a bit, finding his footing in the world of mysteries and detection, but already keen of mind and instinct.  

Okay, so anyway, the plot revolves around an unidentified young woman's murder, and the subsequent arrest of what Holmes believes to be the wrong person.  He sets out to right this wrong, and finds himself falling deeper and deeper into a world of ruthlessness he was little prepared for.  People he cares about get hurt.  People he cares about die.  But he solves the mystery nonetheless.

I do have one quibble with this book, and that's the use of too many names connected to the Canon.  Having Inspector Lestrade's father also be a police inspector was fine, made great sense.  But tossing in other familiar names, like Irene (though not Adler) and Doyle and Dupin... it just got kind of cute, like a game of "Guess who I'm referring to here?"  But that wasn't enough to keep me from enjoying the story or wanting to read the rest of the series.

Particularly Good Bits:

Violins are sad; they are strong; they tell the truth.  (pg. 45)

Reading is like an addiction to him:  he craves it the way desperate folks in the Lime House opium dens in the East End need their drug.  (pg. 95)

He yearns for the time, just a week or so ago, when he was nobody.  (pg. 120)

She also knows she shouldn't try to comprehend this remarkable boy, that that is the way to be his friend.  One understands him by not understanding, by trusting his mind.  (pg. 128)

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Captain Wentworth's Diary" by Amanda Grange

I picked this up at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago, along with Colonel Brandon's Diary by the same author, and also Les Miserables.  Good yard sale! 

Anyway, I've read reviews of Grange's Mr. Darcy's Diary, but I didn't realize she's also written "diaries" for all Austen's other heroes too!  Because the reviews I've read for Darcy's ranged from "it was okay" to "I liked it," I didn't expect a lot from this, and figured I'd read the first couple chapters, then quit if it was disappointing.

I finished the whole book in four days.  Which, for my life right now, is like me staying up all night to finish a book.  I loved it!

Partly, of course, that's because Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel.  Anne Elliot is my favorite Austen heroine, and Captain Wentworth ties with Mr. Darcy for the title of my favorite Austen hero. But really, that meant that I was quite prepared to be disappointed by this, as I was pretty sure it would not live up to my expectations, to what I thought these characters deserved.

I don't read a lot of romances.  I don't read "bodice-rippers" at all, never have, but a non-trashy book that is solely focused on a romance has to have engaging characters and above-average writing for me to like it.  On the other hand, I love and adore slice-of-life books that just chronicle the daily experiences of the characters.  I'm an odd duck, I know.  Anyway, this is one of the most romantic books I've ever read, and I loved every minute of it.  I felt like Captain Wentworth was excellently portrayed, starting out proud, ambitious, and careless.  He grew gradually and believably into the proud, reserved, steadfast Wentworth I love from Persuasion.  Anne herself was reserved, but also lively and engaging, someone it would be easy to fall in love with.

The first half of this book takes place when Wentworth first met Anne Elliot and gradually fell in love with her.  The rest takes place eight years later, during the time frame of Persuasion and a little beyond.  I think it was especially satisfying because Persuasion has so much backstory that is only hinted at and alluded to.  

The one somewhat negative thing I have to say is that it's a little hard to believe that Wentworth would write such long, detailed diary entries.  I mean, my own journal entries tend to run along the lines of, "Took kids to the playground after breakfast.  Made creamed asparagus for supper.  Watched an old ep of Castle after the kids went to bed."  But almost all diaries-as-novels suffer from this stretching of reality, so if you're okay with that, this aspect of the book shouldn't bug you.

While I hope that Grange's other books in this style will be equally delightful, I suspect I may always like this one best.  We shall see!  I definitely intend to read more.

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  G for Great!  Clean as a whistle -- even the smoochy bits are only referred to by saying, "we embraced."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

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

I've read this collection of Doyle's first short Holmes mysteries at least three times before this.  I've read many of the stories more often than that, as quite a few of them are among my most favoritest Holmes adventures.  Still, there were two that I didn't really recall at all!  Those were "The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor" and "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet."  I don't know why.  Curious, no?

But anyway, these are twelve of the finest short mysteries ever penned.  Magnificent.  Terrific stuff, full of intrigue and menace and brilliant deductions.  And excellent writing, nothing draggy or drab at all.  Really, even if you don't care much for mysteries, try one or two of these stories just for the pure deliciousness of it all.

My favorites, in no particular order, are:

  • "A Scandal in Bohemia."  Yeah, the one with Irene Adler, aka The Woman.  Great fun.
  • "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle."  I used to read this every Christmas, and have bits of it memorized.
  • "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."  Exceedingly creepy.  Makes me shiver just thinking about it.
  • "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches."  Parts almost foreshadow The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Also quite creepy. In a good way.

What I'd never noticed before is how many of these do not involve murder, or even the threat of murder.  These days, if no one's been killed (or in danger of being killed), audiences get bored.  Or at least, authors seem to worry about that.  Think of all those police forensics shows on TV -- every episode of every show begins with some innocent person stumbling over a dead body.  But six of these twelve stories don't have any death in them at all, not even a body that's presumed dead and later found alive!  And still, they're engrossing.  

(My dad has a gorgeous set of the complete Sherlock Holmes canon, and I took the liberty of doing a quick photo shoot with one volume while at my folks' a couple weeks ago, hence all the lovely pictures.)

EDIT:  I forgot to include my favorite lines!  Here they are.  Silly me.

Particularly Good Bits:

"My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence."  ("The Red-headed League")

"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact," he answered, laughing.  ("The Boscombe Valley Mystery")

"You have a grand gift of silence, Watson," said he.  "It makes you quite invaluable as a companion."  ("The Man with the Twisted Lip")

"I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner."  ("The Man with the Twisted Lip")

"My name is Sherlock Holmes.  It is my business to know what other people don't know."  ("The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle")

If this was a movie, I would rate it:  PG for dangerous situations and suspense.

Friday, June 21, 2013

"I have an announcement to make!"

I have decided to do it!  I'm going to host my very first blog party.  A party of Special Magnificence.  A birthday party for Bilbo and Frodo, with mathoms and games and speeches all around!  While there's a bit of disagreement as to just when their birthday should be celebrated, due to the discrepancies between Shire-Reckoning and our own calendar, I'm going to go with the commonly celebrated date, September 22.  Actually, that will be the starting date -- the party will run all week, full of merriment, giveaways, and so on.

And during that party, I will launch a Lord of the Rings read-along.  All who wish can join me as I read my way through the whole trilogy.  I'm planning chapter-by-chapter discussions, more giveaways, guest posts (more about that in a day or so), and so very much fun.  I have no idea how long it will take me to do this, --probably about three months, possibly longer.

I've already got preparations underway.  I've commissioned my dear friend Emily to design some awesome buttons and banners, plus some of the giveaway prizes.  You can see (and purchase) her artwork on her website here, or from her Etsy store here.  This is her first Middle Earth-themed series, and she's already got a couple of pieces done -- they are amazing!

I suppose I should explain what a "blog party" is.  On September 22, I will post a list of questions for participants, and also one of those Linky things.  You copy the questions to your own blog, website, or even a note in Facebook, and you answer them there.  Then you come back to my post and add the link to your answers to the Linky thing.  And then everyone can check out everyone else's links to read their answers, make new friends, find new blogs they enjoy, etc.  Great fun!

Also, there will be giveaways.  I'm working on rounding up a bunch of magnificent Middle Earth-themed mathoms* as prizes.  Some (I hope) will be donations from awesome stores on sites like Etsy, and some will be things I've picked up or made in the interim.  Emily is designing one of the prizes too.

As for the read-along, that's pretty straightforward:  I'll post my thoughts on each chapter as I finish it, and you can reply with your own thoughts, creating some nifty discussions.  

Got it?  Good.  Now all you have to do is hurry up and wait.  And all I have to do is organize it all.

*Mathom is the hobbit term for anything which they had no use for but were unwilling to throw away. (source)

Monday, June 17, 2013

An Idea I Need Feedback On

Okay, I have had this crazy idea, and I want to run it by my readers to see if there's enough interest that I should actually pursue this, as it would require quite a bit of work for me.  But also so much fun!

I am thinking of hosting my very first blog party.  In September.  A Tolkien-themed blog party, starting on Sept. 22 (Bilbo and Frodo's birthday) and running that whole week (commonly celebrated as Tolkien Week among enthusiasts).  A blog party with games and giveaways, the whole nine yards.

A blog party that would kick off a three-month-long read-along of the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Also complete with the occasional giveaway, guest posts, and chapter-by-chapter discussions.

You see what I meant about a lot of work?  And a lot of fun?

I got the idea because I've run across comments on lots of blogs lately from people who haven't read the trilogy yet, but would like to.  People who might be a little daunted by the thought of reading 1000+ pages without some kind of external motivation/enthusiasm to keep them going.  Or people like me who haven't re-read it for a while, and have been needing an excuse.

So, my bloggy friends, what do you think?  Would anyone be interested in joining me for a Middle Earth blog party and/or a LOTR read-along?  Starting in September?  Please let me know!

EDIT:  Saying you'd be interested would not obligate you to participate -- I know stuff happens in real life that derails plans.  Also, you could join the blog party, but not do the read-along, or skip the party and just do the read-along.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

My To-Read Pile

Actually, these are only the books I want to read soon.  I have more than a shelf's worth of books-to-read.

My life is going to be way too short.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Favorite First Lines

Inspired by Kara's post here on her blog, The Flowers of Quiet Happiness, I'm going to share a few of my favorite first lines with you.

Oh, that fabled first sentence.  Does it really make or break the story?  I'm inclined to think the first paragraph is more important, really.  While some first lines are so brilliant that almost everyone has at least heard them (I bet you know how A Tale of Two Cities, Pride and PrejudiceAnna Karenina, and Moby Dick begin), other first lines simply serve the purpose of drawing back the curtain on the story.  As a writer, I try not to obsess so much over my opening line that I neglect the rest of the opening paragraph, or even all of the opening scene.  How many readers actually read only the first sentence of a book, say, "Not interested," and quit?  I'm betting most people at least read the first paragraph, if not the first page or chapter.  At least, I hope so.

Anyway, here are ten of my favorite first lines (not counting the one pictured above).  In alphabetical order by title, since I had to order them some way.  I'm also including my thoughts on why I think these first lines work so well.

I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.  -- The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Right away we learn that the protagonist is a teenage girl, loves to read, and gets to meet someone very exciting indeed.  Folks, this is how to introduce two characters and set up the relationship that forms the basis of an entire series.

It was a pleasure to burn.  -- Fahrenheit 451 by Raymond Chandler

Whoa.  That one grabs you, doesn't it?  What's being burned, who's burning it, and what kind of a person takes pleasure in burning something, anyway?

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.  -- The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

This one isn't as attention-getting, not at first.  Still, the phrases "eleventy-first birthday" and "special magnificence" are intriguing, and the fact that this announcement has caused much talk and excitement tells us this might be more momentous than we suspect.

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.  -- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

With an opener like that, you absolutely know that nothing in this book is going to be perfectly normal for long.  Why are these Dursleys so insistent that they are normal?  What are they hiding?  And who wants to be normal, anyway?

He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher -- the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum.  -- Kim by Rudyard Kipling

This is a most instructive opening sentence.  We learn, most importantly, that this character doesn't care much for rules and orders, and that he likes excitement and danger.  We also learn this takes place somewhere overseas, India in fact.  This book will have defiance, guns, and natives.  Sounds fun!

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind:  Paul Newman and a ride home.  -- The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

Probably my favorite opening line ever.  What Paul Newman movie did the narrator just see and, more importantly, why don't they have a ride home?  I just plain love this book, and have random chunks memorized, including this line.

The voice on the telephone seemed to be sharp and peremptory, but I didn't hear too well what it said -- partly because I was only half awake and partly because I was holding the receiver upside down. -- Playback by Raymond Chandler

Wow.  From just one line, you can tell this writer can describe circles around most authors, and also that the protagonist is more likely to stumble than waltz his way through the mystery.  I love that upside-down telephone receiver.  Not afraid of admitting his shortcomings, this guy.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.  -- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Is this narrator unable to go to Manderley, and can only dream of doing so?  Where is Manderley, anyway -- sounds exotic.

"The Signora had no business to do it," said Miss Bartlett, "no business at all."  -- A Room with a View by E. M. Forster

This is another one that tells us a lot about the setting and a character.  Clearly, we're in Italy.  And Miss Bartlett likes making judgments, we can tell already.  So what did this Signora do that she had no business doing?  

The Minotaur had been causing trouble far in excess of his literary importance -- first by escaping from the fantasy-genre prison book Sword of the Zenobians, then by leading us on a merry chase across most of fiction and thwarting all attempts to recapture him.  -- Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

This is the fourth book in a series, so by this time, the reader should know all about the Book World and how characters can move from one book to another.  So Fforde opens by reminding us of that, tosses in a funny-sounding creature (am I the only one who thinks a Minotaur sounds like a minor dinosaur?), and sets up the exciting first scene.  How did that Minotaur escape, and how with Thursday Next recapture it?

So.  What I've noticed here is that a good opening sentence raises questions and supplies interesting information.  I'll try to remember that next time I start a story :-)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin

I would never have read The Happiness Project if it hadn't been for Danielle at the WXROZ blog.  She picked it for her blog's book club, and I've never belonged to a book club, so I thought that might be a fun way to try one out, one where I didn't have to attend meetings, lol.  So anyway, if you want to join us and discuss this book too, go here.  You can read our chapter-by-chapter comments there, and respond yourself if you're reading this.  

I'll just do a quick review here, then, and mention a few of the things I found helpful or enlightening.

Gretchen Rubin decided she wanted to be happier, and she set about learning about happiness and creating a detailed regimen for changing things in her life.  She figured that, by being happier herself, she would boost the happiness of those around her, especially her husband and two young daughters.  She admits that spending so much time on her own happiness felt a little selfish, and there were times when I did think she was kinda self-absorbed.  But she seemed to spend a lot of time and energy sharing her findings to help others be happy too, so good for her.

I don't know that I've read any self-help books since my freshman year of college.  I didn't care for the ones I read, and I'm not dissatisfied with anything to the extent that I'd seek the advice of strangers.  I've read a couple books on parenting by Dr. James Dobson, but that's as close as I've come.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find some helpful ideas in this book.  

One thing that she suggested was, when you find a little task that would take less than a minute, don't put it off.  I've started doing that, saying to myself, "Will this take less than a minute?  Then do it!"  My house is less messy as a result.  I put away the shoes on the floor or change out the dirty towel, rather than say, "Oh, I don't have time."  She also suggested making an effort to smile more, especially when talking to people.  I've tried that for three days now, particularly when interacting with my kids, and I feel like I've been nicer and less irritable.  

Rubin also talked about her collection of True Rules -- an "idiosyncratic collection of principles" (pg. 241) -- that she has used all her life to respond to various situations.  She realized some were more helpful than others, and tried to stop using unhelpful ones.  I'm trying to figure out what my own True Rules are, and maybe I'll post them here some time, just for fun.  Rubin's were things like, "I know as much as most people" and "Never eat hors d'oeuvres, and never eat anything at a children's party."  (pg. 241)  Mine are very different, but the idea is the same -- little sayings I use to respond to things, mentally, as ways to get through things.

So, anyway, I'm glad I read this book because it had some good ideas, but I'm not inspired to start my own Happiness Project.  

Particularly Good Bits:

"Whatever love I might feel in my heart, others will see only my actions."  (pg. 55)

"Although enthusiasm seems easy and undiscriminating, in fact, it's much harder to embrace something than to disdain it.  It's riskier."  (pg. 268)

"A willingness to be pleased requires modesty and even innocence -- easy to deride as mawkish and sentimental."  (pg. 269)