After a promising beginning, this novel, the debut appearance of Sherlock Holmes, falls a bit flat and ultimately fails to deliver on the promise.
I'veAfter a promising beginning, this novel, the debut appearance of Sherlock Holmes, falls a bit flat and ultimately fails to deliver on the promise.
I've read quite a few of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories at this point, but I've approached them in somewhat random order, only coming to this first Holmes novel after reading several others, as well as a couple of the short story compilations. Generally, that presents no problem, as the Sherlock Holmes stories rarely refer to each other and have little in the way of continuity. However, this book shows some flaws that would not be present in Doyle's later work.
The beginning was wonderfully exciting and engaging: the main characters in the Holmes universe are brought onstage quickly and just as quickly given life and personality. The dialogue between Holmes and Watson, always one of my favorite elements of these stories, is excellent: funny, witty, and with the authentic ring of conversation between real friends.
As the characters were introduced and the main mystery began to ramp up, I was completely drawn in, expecting a smart, fast-moving, clever Sherlock Holmes story like so many others I've read. However, the plot takes a sharp turn in the middle of the book, one that in my opinion was very much for the worse. From the streets of London, which Doyle seems so comfortable describing, the reader is suddenly torn away to the desolate plains of Utah, there to see Brigham Young and his murderous gang of Mormons. Arthur Conan Doyle never visited Utah, and his descriptions of the place and the Mormon people are drawn from rumor, imagination, and the writings of others. As such, Doyle's Utah is an odd patchwork of the accurate, the plausible, the hokey, and the ridiculous.
Living in Utah myself, being formerly Mormon, and being very familiar with Utah's history and that of the early Mormon church, I found the juxtaposition of real people (sometimes with misspelled names) and institutions with bizarre fiction very jarring. What's worse, you can tell that Doyle is out of his element and kind of flailing in this section: his prose, normally so clean and direct, becomes flowery and overwritten. It feels like shifting from reading a late-19th Century writer, and a modern-feeling one at that, to an early-19th Century writer. The "Utah" section of this book is the worst writing I've ever read from Arthur Conan Doyle. It's the kind of distracting aside that's completely absent in most of his work.
Thankfully, the plot does eventually return to London for the conclusion of the mystery and the great reveal. Even there, though, it isn't the ultra-neat resolution of The Hound of The Baskervilles or any one of dozens of short stories, depending on some really implausible developments that I won't spoil here.
Still a fun book, still a vital introduction to one of the most famous, essential characters in literature, but clearly a first effort by a writer who would become far better at this. Three stars!...more
This book was an absolute blast! The best way I can describe it is as a hard-boiled detective novel...minus the hard-boiled detective. It's a crime caThis book was an absolute blast! The best way I can describe it is as a hard-boiled detective novel...minus the hard-boiled detective. It's a crime caper story where the protagonist is just a regular guy, flawed yet likable, and in way over his head.
For a book published in 1955, it's surprisingly fast-moving, exciting, and gritty. The dialogue is fantastic; so authentic and believable that it's almost exhilarating to read. Off hand, the only other author I can think of who can do that so consistently is Elmore Leonard, whom this book reminds me of quite a bit.
I grabbed this book from Project Gutenberg, where it's available for free because its copyright inexplicably lapsed, and I'm glad I did. I'll be looking for more John D. MacDonald for sure....more
The best way I can sum up this brutally acerbic, straight-faced piece of satire is this: even knowing it was(Open spoiler for the 275-year old essay.)
The best way I can sum up this brutally acerbic, straight-faced piece of satire is this: even knowing it was coming, when the other shoe dropped (the famous "A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food..." line), I laughed out loud. This is an amazingly well-crafted piece of writing....more
Wow, what an amazing little work. One of the best short stories I've ever read - and maybe the most precisely and perfectly crafted. Some great shortWow, what an amazing little work. One of the best short stories I've ever read - and maybe the most precisely and perfectly crafted. Some great short stories - Maugham's "Rain" and Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" come to mind - have narrative and emotional climaxes that hit you like a baseball bat across the face. Not this one. "The Yellow Wallpaper" is intimate, seductive, and nasty...more like someone crawling into your bed and sliding an ice pick into your ear.
The feminist message for which the book is rightly famed comes across as plain as day, but everything here serves the story. For my money, "The Yellow Wallpaper" depicts a first-person descent into madness as well, and as disturbingly, as anything Poe ever wrote....more
Since this is my first time reading H.P. Lovecraft after a lifetime of being exposed to his writing at second hand, I will defer commenting on him inSince this is my first time reading H.P. Lovecraft after a lifetime of being exposed to his writing at second hand, I will defer commenting on him in general until I've read a few of his better-known, better-regarded stories.
Commenting on this work in particular...it just kind of lays there for me. Not especially horrifying, or even absorbing. I don't know if this was an early work, and therefore maybe a not-fully-formed example of his style, but it's a very short one, and I believe it was originally published in a 30s pulp magazine. In any event, it was building towards something ominous and creepy, but ended horribly abruptly. I will say I was pleasantly surprised at how readable this was; Lovecraft is known for esoteric vocabulary and intricate syntax, but I actually found the sentences artful as well as sturdy in structure.
A fun, short read that disappointed slightly, but leaves me wanting to read more....more
At his best, reading Bill Bryson feels like getting cornered at a dinner party by your well-read, well-traveled uncle, or perhaps your favorite historAt his best, reading Bill Bryson feels like getting cornered at a dinner party by your well-read, well-traveled uncle, or perhaps your favorite history professor in college: garrulous, generous, humorous, full of gee-whiz facts and pithy observations, wanting to tell you a story but in no rush to get to the end. And One Summer is Bryson at his absolute best.
The best thing about this book, for me, is that it took elements of the era with which I was already somewhat familiar - Charles Lindbergh, the 1927 Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, Al Capone, the explosion of "talking" motion pictures, Mount Rushmore, and so many more - and wove them into a neat, rambling, yet oddly cohesive overarching tale of one very eventful season. Yet he managed to incorporate literally dozens of subtexts, anecdotes, and facts of which I was previously unaware, thus enriching my understanding of events and people that I thought I knew well. I was spellbound.
The best thing about Bill Bryson is that he seems to get better with each new book. I can't wait to read his next one....more
Probably the weakest of King's post-car crash novels that I've read, but still a fun book that I plowed through in two days. I enjoyed the slow, leisuProbably the weakest of King's post-car crash novels that I've read, but still a fun book that I plowed through in two days. I enjoyed the slow, leisurely build, something he hasn't indulged in for quite some time. And the horrifying payoff, where King gets his Lovecraft and Shelley on in a big way, is great....more
My first Charles de Lint! I'll call it a three, but really it's islands of five floating in a sea of two, if that makes any sense. Some moments of amaMy first Charles de Lint! I'll call it a three, but really it's islands of five floating in a sea of two, if that makes any sense. Some moments of amazing beauty and emotion, and a sense of real wonder, held back by some slow pacing and characters who did annoyingly irrational things. I wonder if both those perceived flaws were due to this book being fairly early in his career. I'm definitely in the market to read more de Lint, but I think I'll be moving from this one to his more recent work, rather than backwards to his earlier....more
I'm conflicted. Wheaton is funny, nakedly confessional, and as someone of almost my same exact age, shares a wealth of common cultural reference pointI'm conflicted. Wheaton is funny, nakedly confessional, and as someone of almost my same exact age, shares a wealth of common cultural reference points with me.
However, the actual structure of the Just a Geek kind of bothered me. Large swaths of the book consisted of him reproducing entries from his blog, and meta-blogging about them from his current point of view. I think I would have found it more interesting if I had been a follower of his blog, but getting both the old Wil and the new Wil back-to-back reduced the impact.
Still a quick read, and a fascinating look into Wil's life as a "has-been."...more
Fun, funny, gross, and fascinating. I enjoyed this one enormously; probably even more than I enjoyed Stiff, the other Mary Roach book I've read to datFun, funny, gross, and fascinating. I enjoyed this one enormously; probably even more than I enjoyed Stiff, the other Mary Roach book I've read to date.
What I enjoy about Mary Roach among other gee-whiz writers of popular science, language, or history (Bill Bryson, Sarah Vowell, &c.) is that Mary always seems to be the perfect stand-in for her readers as she travels and researches. By that I mean that she always seems to ask the questions I would have wanted to ask, raise the same concerns that occur to me, even make the same jokes I would have (if a bit more cleverly than I would have managed). It makes her a tremendously readable writer, and it leaves me wanting to become a Roach completist....more
This little novella is the "coda" to Beagle's masterpiece The Last Unicorn, and while it came out over three decades later, I just finished reading thThis little novella is the "coda" to Beagle's masterpiece The Last Unicorn, and while it came out over three decades later, I just finished reading the two of them for the first time, back to back.
It's a lovely story, told by the protagonist, a nine-year old girl named Sooz. It trades the overwhelming power of the prose in The Last Unicorn for a smaller, more humble narrative voice that, while not quite as spellbinding, is still charming and memorable. Sooz herself is clever, brave and spunky, and Beagle manages to paint her as such with admirably few brush strokes. All our best (surviving) friends from The Last Unicorn appear, and the story line is laid to rest in a beautifully bittersweet manner. The end.
The book itself is much more of a straightforward adventure story/fairy tale than its predecessor; there's none of the self-referential, winking, anachronistic humor here. As a completely different look at the world of The Last Unicorn - different time, different perspective, same people and places - it was fascinating. It shows Peter S. Beagle's world to be a place that might have unlimited stories in it, the same way Middle Earth seems to....more
Wow. WOW. I had no idea. My head is spinning a little.
I'm trying to restrain myself from gushing with superlatives here, and failing. Best book I've rWow. WOW. I had no idea. My head is spinning a little.
I'm trying to restrain myself from gushing with superlatives here, and failing. Best book I've read for the first time in the past year. Best modern fairy tale I've ever read. One of the best fantasy books I've read, period.
I was of course already very familiar with the 1980s animated film version of this book, and have loved it since I was a kid (in spite of the cheesy America soundtrack). I'd been meaning to read the book for decades, and when it came up as part of the second Humble Ebook bundle, all of a sudden it was easy, which is usually the way I actually get around to doing things.
I'm not sure exactly what I expected from this book. Certainly, I expected to enjoy it - I don't go out of my way to read lousy books - but I don't think I expected to be blown away, and blown away I was. You know that feeling you get when you begin to read a new book, and somewhere in the first page or three you have to catch your breath, because you realize you've been holding it? This book gave me that spellbound feeling, and it's largely thanks to Beagle's command of language. The prose here is gorgeous: without being overtly flowery or poetic, it simply flows, and overflows with power. Description is vivid and lovely, dialogue is natural and riveting, and Beagle has a knack for dropping made-up words, or "wrong" words, in such a way that they make sense and are all of a sudden the perfect, the only word for the occasion. The only other author I can think of right now with a similar touch is Neil Gaiman - though, of course, Peter S. Beagle came first, and the influence is apparent.
And speaking of Gaiman, this book is the same kind of smart, humorously self-aware modern take on the classic fairy tale as his excellent Stardust (among others of his work) or William Goldman's The Princess Bride. In fact, in terms of tone I'd kind of place it between the two: less winking than Goldman, less straightly played than Gaiman, but superior to either of them - and that's saying a lot, as I adore both of those books. Maybe superior isn't the word for it so much as greater, because beyond merely being an enchanting and entertaining story, The Last Unicorn succeeds as a deep and timeless fable about death, change, love, faith, dreams and courage.
This book was simply a delight - even knowing from the beginning what was going to happen (and the film hews pretty much exactly to the book, right down to the dialogue), I found myself eagerly turning (well, swiping) the pages. The Last Unicorn is jammed with so many humorous, unexpected, and wise turns of phrase that I gave up on highlighting passages about halfway through. I laughed, I cried, I finished and was delighted to find out there's a sequel (and that I'd already bought it without knowing). Five stars and my highest possible recommendation for this book, whether you like fantasy or not....more
Interesting read. It was fascinating to read this after having read 2000's On Writing. King's voice is different here, as in 1983 he was a rocket-hotInteresting read. It was fascinating to read this after having read 2000's On Writing. King's voice is different here, as in 1983 he was a rocket-hot best-selling author still in his thirties, rather than an established best-selling author in his fifties. Here he writes like a man with something to prove, to himself as well as you. Also, this book was clearly written before King openly recognized he was an alcoholic, as he rather gleefully mentions multiple instances of getting shitfaced.
The book itself is meandering and discursive, and it reads more like a set of informal lectures than a "proper" work of literary criticism. King touches on thirty years of horror in the form of films, television shows, and books, taking a few examples of each medium and discussing them at length. In keeping with King's utter inability to write about anything other than himself (that sounds snide, but it's a wonderful quality and I mean it as a compliment), he discusses many of these pieces in terms of how they shaped him as a person and a writer.
Perhaps the best compliment I can pay this book is that it made me wish I were more familiar with the material discussed. It made me want to become a Roger Corman completist, a Twilight Zone completist, reread Frankenstein with a kinder eye, and then come back and read this book again.
King also takes aim at the notion that violent or horrific media cause violent and horrific acts. In an reasoned yet impassioned essay, he argues that if anything, horror fiction serves as a release valve rather than a focus for violent feelings. It's one of the best parts of the book.
I enjoyed this book, not quite as much as On Writing, but well worth the read, as a glimpse both into the horror genre, and King's own development as an author....more
Let me lead right off by saying that I've never read a book like this before. By that, I don't mean "I've never read a book with this particular settiLet me lead right off by saying that I've never read a book like this before. By that, I don't mean "I've never read a book with this particular setting or plot before," but more generally, "I have never read a romance novel before," nor anything that might in a million years be termed chick-lit. Not once.
So, in that light, Sealed with a Kiss serves as my introduction not only to debuting novelist Rachael Lucas, but to an entire genre of fiction. And I now propose to draw sweeping conclusions about both, based solely on this one book. (No pressure, Ms. Lucas.)
The first thing that popped right off the page and into my face was the language. In a good way. I think I may have brought some negative bias to the table in that my expectations of the quality of writing in a "chick book" were fairly modest. I was pleasantly surprised, though: Lucas's prose is effortlessly smooth, humorous, peppered with cheerfully exotic (to my ear) terms such as "loo roll," "snog," and "loudhailer." She excels in description, constantly pulling the reader into her world with vivid simile and metaphor that managed to be surprising yet felt instantly familiar. The reader, much like the protagonist, finds him- or herself in a place that is new, yet at the same time warm and inviting.
Perhaps most surprising - and most impressive for a first novel - the dialogue in Sealed with a Kiss is excellent. Economical, streamlined, and always with the authentic ring of actual conversation. As this is a book whose plot necessarily hinges on verbal interactions between the characters, clunky dialogue would have been the kiss of death, but Lucas handles it deftly. In fact, I would say that Rachael Lucas shows writing chops here that would serve her well in just about any literary genre she chose. Though this is her first published novel, I would venture a guess that she's an experienced writer.
I can't remember if the blurb described this book as "breezy," but I certainly do. I normally seem to gravitate to novels with Big Conflict: novels where the protagonists are fighting for their lives, freedom, souls, or sanity; where they're trying to save the whole planet from destruction, keep an innocent man from being lynched, or cast the One Ring into the fires from whence it came. So it was a stark contrast, reading a book where the main questions were: Will Kate get the guy? If so, which guy? And will she learn a little about herself in the process? Also, what is that nasty bitch Fiona up to?
A story where the stakes are so comparatively small maintains interest based mostly on how deeply the reader buys into the characters. Luckily, there is where the author's strong powers of description and good ear for dialogue pay off, as the characters here seem nuanced and three-dimensional, familiar as old friends. It's another thing that pleasantly surprised me, as I sort of expected the characters in a romance novel to be cartoonish, one-note hunks or hags.
Which is not to say the people are all realistic. All the main male characters are uniformly described as gorgeous, to the point that Kate winks at the fourth wall by musing that the island seems to be some sort of absurd Hot Dude Refuge and Game Preserve (OK, my wording there). And the main love interest, Roderick, had me pinching the bridge of my nose with his over-the-topness. By the time he'd been put forth as...
1) strikingly handsome 2) a real Scottish laird 3) funny 4) but with a wounded heart, waiting for the right girl to come and heal his hidden pain
...I was near the breaking point, so when "Oh, by the way, he rescues adorable orphaned seals in his spare time" was added to the pile, I admit to snorting out loud incredulously. No dude is that perfect, otherwise what hope is there for the rest of us? But I have the feeling that my quibble here is with the conventions of the genre; one might as well look at Maxim magazine and complain that all the girls are too airbrushed and collagened. To buy a copy of Maxim is to subscribe to a certain brand of pleasant fantasy, and so perhaps is to read a romance novel.
At any rate! Three stars, and that doesn't really convey what an enjoyable read this was. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is an aficionado of this genre, and it's a fun read even if you aren't. Rachael Lucas's voice here is warm, humorous - and tender when the moment calls for it. I'd happily read her next novel.
PS - Oh, and final kudos to the adorable cover art. Cover images for e-books in particular can be of such varying quality, from eye-catching art to slapdash home Photoshop work. Yet much like the label on a wine bottle, the cover art of an e-book is the first and sometimes the only chance to set itself apart from all the rest, for better or worse....more
Kurt Vonnegut's books always feel to me a bit like a Coen Brothers movie does (or did anyway, before the bros started applying themselves to more convKurt Vonnegut's books always feel to me a bit like a Coen Brothers movie does (or did anyway, before the bros started applying themselves to more conventional material such as No Country for Old Men and True Grit): like a headfirst plunge into a weird world, full of odd people and off-kilter conversations, yet a world which feels instantly familiar and believable. And much like watching one of their movies, one inevitably realizes while reading a book like Breakfast of Champions that in the midst of all the oddments and black humor, some very sharp observations are being made about humans and how we live with ourselves and each other.
What else to say? Well...my own politics line up fairly well with Vonnegut's, so that was an easy pill to swallow. Also, he obliterates the fourth wall here in a way that is brazen and extreme even for him. I'd rate this one just a touch behind Slaughterhouse-Five, but not much. It was a delightful, eye-opening read....more