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review 2018-04-10 16:42
A primer from a veteran of the Western Front
A Yankee in the Trenches - Robert Derby Holmes

Robert Derby Holmes was a Bostonian who in 1916 decided to enlist in the British army.  Traveling across the Atlantic, he signed up with the Royal Fusiliers and, after a couple of months of training, was sent with his unit to France.  His book is an unvarnished recounting of his experiences, one of particular interest as it was written for an American audience that was only just beginning to experience the conflict when Holmes’s book was published.  Interspersed with the account of his service are a number of tips as to how Americans at home might best support “Sammy” at the front, all of which he follows up with a concluding chapter that reiterates some of his advice and follows up with additional suggestions.

 

Though many books have been published that recount the experience of trench warfare, Holmes’s memoir is of interest for two reasons.  The first is its date of publication; written while the war was still ongoing, it is undimmed by the intervening years that separate most accounts from the conflict.  The other is its unusual perspective, which not only relates what life in the trenches was like, but attempts to interpret the customs, patterns, and language of a foreign army for American readers.  In doing so, Holmes does not make assumptions of his reader’s prior knowledge, which makes his memoir one of the most accessible accounts of the miseries of the Western Front.

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review 2018-04-05 18:50
The House at Baker Street / Michelle Birkby
The House at Baker Street (A Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson Investigation) - Michelle Birkby

When Sherlock Holmes turns away the case of persecuted Laura Shirley, Mrs Hudson, the landlady of Baker Street, and Mary Watson resolve to take on the investigation themselves. From the kitchen of Baker Street, the two women begin their enquiries and enlist the assistance of the Baker Street Irregulars and the infamous Irene Adler.
A trail of clues leads them to the darkest corners of Whitechapel, where the feared Ripper supposedly still stalks. They discover Laura Shirley is not the only woman at risk and it rapidly becomes apparent that the lives of many other women are in danger too.
As they put together the pieces of an increasingly complicated puzzle, the investigation becomes bigger than either of them could ever have imagined. Can Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson solve the case or are they just pawns in a much larger game?
It is time for Mrs Hudson and Mary Watson to emerge from the shadows and stand in the spotlight. Readers will discover they are resourceful, intelligent and fearless women, with a determination to help those in need . . .

 

I really appreciate what the author was working at with this book—taking a famous work of a dead white male author about white male main characters and finding a way to give voice to the women who languished in the background of those novels!  And why wouldn’t Martha Hudson and Mary Watson be bored with their supporting cast roles and be anxious to take on starring roles of their own?

 

The book isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.  But it is obviously a first-published book.  There’s a lot of potential here and I’m glad to see that there’s a second novel in the series.  Good ideas and decent writing deserve to be rewarded.

 

I think many Holmes purists wouldn’t be too impressed with this series because the books have a very 21st century vibe to them (Go, girl!) and they maybe make Sherlock and John look more human than Conan Doyle portrayed them.  I found that refreshing, but I suspect my gentleman friend (who is an intense Holmes fan) would not be amused.

 

If you aren’t too deadly serious about the Holmes canon, this heretical little novel might be to your liking.

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review 2018-03-28 19:31
The Forgotten Ones - Steena Holmes

This was a really good read. It was also sad, eerie and mysterious. A story that dealt heavily with mental health issues and what it can do to a family. The circumstances this family went through because of some of those issues is very sad and intriguing.

My eyes bulged and my jaw dropped at times, it was just so crazy unbelievable, yet you know it could happen. The author did a great job with this.

Thanks to Lake Union Publishing and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-03-25 02:29
Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Final Problem
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection - Arthur Conan Doyle,Stephen Fry

It is with a heavy heart that I take up my pen to write these the last words in which I shall ever record the singular gifts by which my friend Mr. Sherlock Holmes was distinguished. In an incoherent and, as I deeply feel, an entirely inadequate fashion, I have endeavored to give some account of my strange experiences in his company from the chance which first brought us together at the period of the “Study in Scarlet,” up to the time of his interference in the matter of the “Naval Treaty”--an interference which had the unquestionable effect of preventing a serious international complication. It was my intention to have stopped there, and to have said nothing of that event which has created a void in my life which the lapse of two years has done little to fill.

The Final Problem was published in 1893 and was meant to be ACD's last Holmes story. The author had grown tired of the Consulting Detective taking up all of his focus as a professional author, and tried to free up his time and his mind for more worthy projects. 

At least, ACD created a fitting final appearance for Holmes. He goes out in style. 

 

The Final Problem is a tough story to review. It's a story that hits home hard for any fan of the series, not just because of the ending, but also because we see Holmes pushed to the edge. He's showing cracks - Watson notices his looking run down. He's been beaten up, and Holmes himself remarks upon his mental state:

“Yes, I have been using myself up rather too freely,” he remarked, in answer to my look rather than to my words; “I have been a little pressed of late. Have you any objection to my closing your shutters?”

The reason for this is that Holmes has met his match. 

“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed--the word is passed to the Professor, the matter is organized and carried out. The agent may be caught. In that case money is found for his bail or his defence. But the central power which uses the agent is never caught--never so much as suspected. This was the organization which I deduced, Watson, and which I devoted my whole energy to exposing and breaking up."

In trying to expose Professor Moriarty, Holmes exhausts himself bringing down his organisation bit by bit, and at the same Holmes time is being hunted.

 

 

The final problem arises while Holmes and Watson are seeking respite in Switzerland. They are pursued even there, and the hunt is forced to its crisis at the now famous Reichenbach Falls: 

It is indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring forever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing forever upward, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamor. We stood near the edge peering down at the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.

 

And then all that Watson is left with, all the we are left with, is one of the most gut-wrenching letters in literary history:

"I am pleased to think that I shall be able to free society from any further effects of his presence, though I fear that it is at a cost which will give pain to my friends, and especially, my dear Watson, to you."

That letter gets me every time. ACD could hardly have chosen a more dramatic ending to the series at the high time of Holmes' success.

How shocking it must have been to read this story as a follower of the series at the time it was written, at a time when this really did seem like the end for Holmes and Watson.

Of course, we now know that there are more stories, but at the time, the public reaction to this story was so strong that ACD was eventually persuaded to continue the series after all. 

 

But what about the story itself?

 

Apart from the high drama and the ultimate proof of the friendship between Holmes and Watson, and incidentally, the reassurance that Holmes, contrary to popular belief, does care about the other people in his life - including Mary Watson, there is another aspect of The Final Problem that I always ponder on. It is this one, the first ever meeting between Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty: 

“‘ You evidently don’t know me,’ said he. 
“‘ On the contrary,’ I answered, ‘I think it is fairly evident that I do. Pray take a chair. I can spare you five minutes if you have anything to say.’ 
“‘ All that I have to say has already crossed your mind,’ said he. 
“‘ Then possibly my answer has crossed yours,’ I replied. 
“‘ You stand fast?’ 
“‘ Absolutely.’
To me this is one of the most beautiful depictions of the duality of the human mind/spirit/whatever. It's the Jekyll/Hide, the ultimate light/dark side stand-off, and it is happening in a sitting room. While the focus of this story is often described as the altercation at the Reichenbach Falls, the more interesting challenge is fought at the first face off where Holmes and Moriarty could almost be two sides of the same coin - they would even complete each other's sentences except they don't even need to exchange statements at all because they already know what the other is thinking!
 
To me this is one of the great scenes in the canon.
 
I also love that he chose the Reichenbach Falls as the setting. However, it is a choice of location that in my reading may also carry a more personal connection for the author.
I'll need to resort to another ACD biography for back-up but from the horrible one I finished last week (Andrew Norman's Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Sherlock Holmes) it appears that the trip to Switzerland was an ad hoc trip on account of his wife having been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Like so many other sufferers, they believed that the Alpine air was a cure for the illness, and they stayed for quite some time (I believe she also returned there), but to no avail. She eventually died from tuberculosis a few years later.
 
So when reading this story, I was wondering of course if ACD, with his medical knowledge, had some inkling about whether his wife would recover.
No antibiotics at the time meant that 50-60% of TB patients died within 5 years.  
 

In many ways, The Final Problem is one of the saddest stories in the canon but also one of the most beautiful because it shows off so much about the human side of the characters, their friendship, their failings, their vulnerability. Of all of the stories, this one haunts the fictional world of 221 Baker Street like no other. 

 

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review 2018-03-23 20:21
The Forgotten Ones

Danger, wonder, secrets, family, and forgiveness. This book is a MUST HAVE.

Elle has done a good job of managing life. Her mother is certifiable, and the mood swings can take a toll on her. However, life has a way of taking a detour, and Elle is fixing to stumble on a huge secret - one that her mother has kept buried for years. 

When Anna Marie was growing up, she had a rather dysfunctional childhood. Her father was a long haul trucker and her mother - well her mother lived in a world all her own. Gertie lost many of her children, and they were all buried in the backyard. David would weave stories for his little daughter, weaving a fantasy world that will stay with Anna Marie for the remainder of her life. As much as she loathed her parents, she used that same fantasy world with her daughter Elle. 

Brennley, Elle's best friend and roommate is also a fellow nurse. Together they weather the storm of losing patients and battling the emotions that come with it. Brenn and Elle balance each other out. While Brenn knows the background of Elle's mother, their past is as much of a secret to her. One of her patients, a man dying of cancer, becomes more than just a patient. Brennley is becoming more and more attached to the lonely older man. But as they become closer - a bit of Elle's past is opened. Brennley calls her, reading a letter that David has written. She believes that Elle is the granddaughter of the man in the hospital bed. Elle does not think so, her grandparents are dead - it is what she has always been led to believe. But secrets have way of reaching the surface and this one is about to put her entire family on a roller coaster that is going to take many twists and turns. Buckle your seat belt, and get ready for a story that will literally knock your socks off!

A missing child, an imaginary friend, and the secrets of the past have come back to haunt Elle. As she listens to the stories that David tells her from his hospital bed, she believes that they are made up - at least at first. As her mother becomes more and more unhinged, Elle begins to wonder what really happened, and who Bella really was. 
By continuing to delve into her mothers past, she begins to push against the history that she has been told, and comes to not only love her grandfather, but wonder what her own future is going to hold. But before her world entirely gets turned upside down, there is one major secret that her grandfather has been hiding - and it could entirely destroy her mother.

OH MY GOODNESS. When you sit down to read this book - do not start it late at night! Book hangover material! The twists and turns that Steena Holmes weaves will keep you guessing, and wondering. As the story progresses, you begin to really feel sorry for David. Choosing between a wife or a daughter is not a decision any person should have to make, but when you are hiding an even darker secret - life becomes a torment. Elle is determined to find the truth, but her mother is becoming more and more unhinged. 

This book is one that will make you laugh, it will make you angry. It will leave you horrified and mystified. Ya'll this book has it all! There are no disappointments, no letdowns, just page turning electricity.

 

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