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review 2017-05-17 03:19
Mycroft Holmes
Mycroft Holmes - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,Anna Waterhouse

The title of this book was the first thing to catch my eye; the second was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's name on the cover as one of the authors.  How can I possibly pass this up?

 

As an avowed fangirl of Sherlock Holmes, I've learned to stay away from almost all pastiches and mysteries featuring my fictional hero, but his brother... Mycroft makes few enough appearances in the canon that I thought perhaps it might work for me.

 

I thought wrong.  I've realised reading this book that in my mind Mycroft is a distillation of Sherlock; a purer essence of all the things that make Sherlock so formidable.  Put another way, Sherlock is Mycroft with an added touch of humanity (just a touch).  The canonical Mycroft is only ever found in his home, and in his club.  His club, the Diogenes Club, of which he is a founding member, is described thusly in The Greek Interpreter:

 

There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. [...] It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubbable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. 

 

So a Mycroft that hares off on a rip-roaring adventure on the high seas with his best friend, in pursuit of the love of his life and fiancee, is rather an anti-canonical Mycroft.  Sure, he has the stunning faculties the Holmes family is renowned for, but he's also a romantic and, even if this book takes place when he's quite young, entirely too social and emotional a creature to truly call himself Holmes.

 

BUT... boy is this a good story.  In spite of all my grumpiness above, I could not put this book down.  I don't know exactly how accurate it is from a historical perspective, but it certainly felt very, very accurate.  The authors didn't shy away from some of the less savoury aspects of the Victorian age, but thankfully didn't beat the reader over the head with it either.  The atmospheric picture of Trinidad, from balmy weather to superstitious panic felt almost like a character itself. 

 

I don't want to touch too much upon the plot, because the dawning reveal of the plot is, I think, somewhat central to the success of the book.  Suffice it to say that it's a fitting subject for the Victorian time it takes place in, but probably not one that would immediately come to mind when thinking about Victorian fiction.

 

There are some rather extraordinary action scenes, especially at the end; extraordinary in the sense that they are wholly unrealistic and require the reader to suspend disbelief, but I suppose from a statistical point of view, it is almost impossible for an adventure mystery written by a man to begin and end without fisticuffs, gunfights and explosions.

 

If you know nothing about Mycroft Holmes, or can divorce yourself from the canonical Mycroft, definitely check this out if you're in the mood for a fun action adventure.  I truly enjoyed it for that alone, in spite of myself.

 

 

 

 

Total pages: 336

$$:  $3.00

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review 2017-03-30 00:02
The Name of the Rose
The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

I'm not sure there's much I can say here that I didn't already say in my status updates.  

 

This book is long; perhaps not by page count, but psychologically, it often felt endless.

 

Eco is a very talented writer if the only measurements of talent were creating a sense of place, bringing many characters to life, and plotting out a good story.  But he writes excessively.  His sentences run on well past anybody's idea of reasonable, he cannot stop himself from creating lists in narrative form that often run over a page long, and the theological lessons were excessively excessive.  All up, if you could go back and edit the book to include only plot related scenes, I'm not sure the book would be 200 pages long.

 

But those 200 pages would have made a spectacular read.  The abbey, the labyrinthine library, the passages, the codes, the books... the murders.  So much atmosphere, so much potential!

 

The book is broken into 7 days and most of the plot snowballs and takes place in days 6 and 7.  Here William of Baskerville once again channels his inner Sherlock, and the showdown is magnificent.  And tragic.  Days 6 and 7 earned this book the third star.

 

I'm not sorry at all that I read this; I complained a lot along the way, but a lot of it stuck with me.  Still, unless you enjoy a richly written verbosity in your reads, I can't recommend this one.  If the setting and plot sound like your thing - and I can't believe I'm going to say this - watch the movie instead.

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review 2017-03-07 06:15
The Curse of the Kings
The Curse of the Kings - Victoria Holt

This was another difficult read to rate properly.  I couldn't put it down, but there was so much eye-rolling too.

 

The description on the book record is terribly simplistic, but it's as close or closer to anything I could come up with.  Honestly, Holt packed a lot into this book.  The first half is taken up with Judith's background and childhood; it isn't until page 174 that we even get to Egypt.

 

Judith's ridiculous obsession with Tybalt got on my nerves; I'd say someone should have smacked some sense into her, but she never let on to anyone in her world just how insanely besotted she was, she saved all those confidences for the reader.  But the rest of the book was compelling and incredibly readable.

 

The story itself is pretty trope-tastic; it's got the imaginary love triangle, mistaken for cheating, lack of communication, rags to royalty... not to mention the whole Egyptian theme; likely quite a few more I haven't even thought of, but it was first written in the 70's when some of these things weren't tropes yet, or were all the rage.  That somehow made it easier to roll with.

 

The writing kept me coming back.  It had all the qualities of a mid-century gothic that appeals to me, in spite of some the silliness coming from Judith.

 

I'll definitely check out more of Holt's work.

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review 2017-01-25 07:05
A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell, #2)
A Perilous Undertaking - Deanna Raybourn

I've been looking forward to this second book for months and while it wasn't quite as good as the first book, it definitely wasn't disappointing.

 

In the first book, startling revelations about Veronica were a big part of the plot, and Stoker's past was shared in teasing bits here and there.  I suppose, given those revelations, the author couldn't resist using them to prop up the plot in this book, but I'll admit I found the device (especially the you must investigate this!) trite.  At a guess, the family angst bit was perhaps meant to show Veronica's vulnerability and humanity - we all just want to be accepted and loved, dammit!  But it just didn't work for me.  I found the scene with the butterfly in the garden to be far more effective and moving, without being a cliché.  I did enjoy learning more about Stoker's family though.

 

A BookLikes friend of mine wrote, in her review, that the themes throughout this book seemed chosen as much for their shock value as for their ability to showcase Veronica's conscious independence.  She's not wrong.  I'm not sure if the author wanted to shock, or just combat the general assumption that Victorian England was the apex of prudishness, purity and virginal thinking, but either way, this book is not for anyone who prefers a chaste story.  There's no overt sex, but boy howdy, is it talked about.  A lot. 

 

The murder reveal didn't surprise me; the more the author asserts a character's innocence, the more I suspect them, but I hardly cared.  The banter between Stoker and Veronica–actually the banter between anyone and Veronica–were what I enjoyed the most about this book.  If you want a strong, intelligent, pragmatic, rational female heroine you cannot do much better than Miss Speedwell.  Raybourn knows how to write.

 

My favourite highlights: Patricia the Galapagos tortoise, and that final scene between Stoker and Veronica.  That final scene might, in fact, make my top 5 favourites of all time.

 

 

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review 2017-01-03 11:15
Book of Beloved (Pluto's Snitch, #1)
The Book of Beloved - Carolyn Haines

I'm a big fan of Carolyn Haines' Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries, so I was excited to see that she was starting a new historical mystery series, but said excitement was tempered by the fact that she was publishing with Thomas & Mercer for this one, not St. Martin's.

 

I have no idea why St. Martin's didn't publish it, but it wasn't because it was a bad story or concept.  The story was excellent.  A ghost story set in Mobile, Alabama in 1920.  Haines is the first writer to really make me realise just how close the Civil War was to World War I; a mere 60 years separated the two.  I always knew this in an academic sense, but I never really thought about the idea that people lived through both.  Haines also does an incredible job of putting the reader in the deep south in the early 1920's, with all that that implies.  I tagged this as cozy because 90% of it is, but the racial issues running throughout the story aren't cozy at all and Haines does the unthinkable for a cozy author by killing off at least one beloved character.

 

The plot also gets points for freshness; talk about your deep, dark secrets!  I'm not going to say what it is, not even in a spoiler because it would ruin the unexpectedness.  I thought it was clever, interesting, and between it and the ghosts my attention was riveted.

 

The bug in my iced tea?  I have come to expect a certain polished writing style from Haines that wasn't quite up to snuff here.  I'm thinking mediocre editors.  As good as the story was, it could have been tighter and there were definitely a few things that got missed (like the MC parking her car twice in the same paragraph).  The very end was a bit illogical too, but not disastrously so; mostly it just felt weak.  If this had been my first Haines book I don't doubt I'd have rated it higher, because it is good.  But I know what she's capable of so I know it could be better.

 

I hate buying anything that benefits Amazon, but I'll definitely be on the lookout for the next book; Haines has me hooked for at least one more.

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