Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Sign of Four/The Great Mouse Detective/The best way to end 2011

My intelligent thoughts on The Sign of Four may not be sufficient to fill a whole post, but I just rewatched The Great Mouse Detective and it's the last day of 2011 and I WANT TO SPEND IT WITH SHERLOCK. *Ahem*

First of all, props to Disney for making a faithful representation of Sherlock Holmes in mouse form. I was too innocent (and too traumatized by the world's creepiest bat) to see it when I watched this as a child, but Basil has all the signs of being manic-depressive and nursing a cocaine habit.

Basil is depressed (note the violin).

Basil is manic (note the pupils...and confiscate the gun).
Really, between the bat that haunts your dreams, the slutty bar mouse, the morbidly obese cat that eats anyone who annoys Ratigan, and the excessive drinking by cartoon animals, this is THE BEST KIDS' MOVIE OF ALL TIME. Sure to leave emotional scars and a deep-seated love of mice and all things Sherlock Holmes.

Anywoodle, I do have a couple of observations regarding The Sign of Four, other than its shocking lack of crime-solving mice.

When the story picks up, Watson has been living with Holmes for years and is starting to get used to his peculiarities. What he CAN'T seem to get used to is the sight of Holmes injecting himself with cocaine and/or morphine, which seems to be a regular occurrence.
Three times a day for many months I had witnessed this performance, but custom had not reconciled my mind to it. (p. 91)
Poor, sweet Watson. He's just a moral, upright mouse man who wants to live a quiet sort of life. Not much chance of that since Holmes needs either a complex mystery or drugs to keep his thinky bits stimulated.
I suppose that its influence is physically a bad one. I find it, however, so transcendently stimulating and clarifying to the mind that its secondary action is a matter of small moment. (p. 91)

But this story does see Watson finding love with the lovely Mary Morstan. And they are disgustingly adorable. Even Holmes begrudgingly admits as much as he reaches for the cocaine bottle.

In mouse form, she's quite out of Watson's league.
Next year for me will include Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (aka Irene Adler! Finally!). Until then, Happy New Year, everyone . . . and I leave you with this sage advice from Watson.

SOURCE: Conan Doyle, Arthur. (1938). "The Sign of Four." In The Complete Sherlock Holmes (pp. 91–173). Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishers.

Friday, December 30, 2011

"The End of Mr. Y," the start of a migraine

I have mixed feelings about this one. Well, I HAD mixed feelings. I've since moved on and now don't feel one way or another.

Anyway, I was reading this simultaneously with Wages of Sin (that's the last time I will mention that monstrosity), and I think it unfairly benefited by comparison. Also, it's a book about books, and I DO love a good book about books, especially with passages like this:
Real life is physical. Give me books instead: Give me the invisibility of the contents of books, the thoughts, the ideas, the images. Let me become part of a book; I'd give anything for that. (p. 117)
Our protagonist and narrator is Ariel, a PhD research assistant studying thought experiments, "experiments that, for whatever reason, cannot be physically carried out, but must instead be conducted internally, via logic and reasoning, in the mind" (p. 82). She's scary smart but also self-loathing, self-destructive, snarky, mildly autistic, and generally miserable. She pursues knowledge with abandon, neglecting formation of healthy human relationships.

At the start of the story, her research supervisor, Professor Saul Burlem, has gone missing and she's trying to carry on her work without him. He and Ariel had connected over their shared interest in Thomas E. Lumas, a 19th-century writer and physicist who enjoyed pissing off other 19th-century physicists by daring to disagree with them, punching them in the face (well, just Darwin the one time), and insisting on the existence of a fourth spatial dimension. He used his "fictional" stories, centered on the supernatural world, to work out his subversive theories.

Lumas died shortly after completing his last and most infamous work, The End of Mr. Y. This particular book is surrounded by mystery and the legend that everyone who reads it dies soon after. Ariel doesn't care a whit about curses and would love to get her hands on a copy of this book. Alas, there seem to be none left in existence.

The story has an eerie, Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus sort of ambience, which I dug. Also, sharing Ariel's mind space means seeing the world the way she does, which can be fascinating. For example, her thoughts upon observing two men loading vending machines into a white van: "For a moment I suddenly think the machines are alive, and these men are taking them prisoner."

But the tangents. SO MANY TANGENTS. Because Ariel notices everything that's ever happening anywhere, we have to take notice, too. And since she knows everything about everything, we have to suffer through intricate explanations of scientific concepts we might not find interesting. Between the tangents and the name-dropping (Derrida, Butler, Baudrillard, Heidegger . . . yeah, we get it, Ariel, you understand All The Hard Things), I had trouble hanging on until the end.

Really, it's a miracle I made it past the opening page. Hitting me with a Butler quote stating that nothing real is really real in reality is an excellent deterrent.

Go ahead, Ariel, sum up my feelings about this book:

(P.S. Hipster Ariel is quoting book Ariel from p. 300.)

SOURCE: Thomas, Scarlett. (2006). The End of Mr. Y. New York: Mariner Books.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Last "Wages of Sin" post EVER

**NOTE: Spoilers ahead! I am summarizing the entirety of this book, and I'm doing it just for you. You'll thank me later.**

Wages of Sin was nearly the death of me (see what I did there?) . . . but I'm done! Let the brain cell regrowth commence! *celebratory trumpets sound*

So where were we? Oh, yes . . . Cin goes to meet Kali, the Destroyer. And Kali looks like this, because our dear author has never had an original idea.

Except Kali isn't wearing the metal bra. We prefer our vampires topless up in here.

Turns out she wants Cin to work a blood-magic spell to open a portal to her demon dimension so she can retrieve her princess crown, which will give her the power to go back in time and NOT kill her girlfriend in a fit of jealousy (yeah, she did that) and NOT be bound to the mortal dimension. Then she plans to destroy the world and rule over everyone who manages to stay alive. It's all quite ambitious.

Cin puts on her brave-girl face and fakes confidence through all the talk of world destroying and actual zombies walking around and Kali caressing her suggestively. Then a bat flies by her head and she crumbles into a quivering mass of hysterical womanhood. I grow tired of her stupidity.

Then Kali drinks Cin's blood, but she bites her boob instead of her neck . . . because this author has never met a stereotype she didn't like.

Then The Righteous come to her rescue and swords are drawn and fighting happens and Cin uses her magic to set Kali and Sebastian on fire a little bit. Then they all run away.

Back at the house, Cin decides for certain that she wants to be a vampire and goes to her room to bask naked in the setting sun, as you do. Michael walks in and is struck powerless by her nudity . . . because he's a man. All noble thoughts of saving her from becoming a vampire and keeping her away from his man parts are forgotten. Sexy times ensue. I encourage you to use your imagination here, because our dear author seems not to have any personal experience with this sort of thing and instead drew all her references from a generic porno. But I won't deprive you of this tidbit:
His manhood stood out proud and terrifying. I sucked in my breath and stared. He had to be joking; there was no way this was going to work. 
Needless to say, it DOES work . . . despite the fact that virgins don't tend to melt into puddles of ecstasy the first time (on account of the agonizing pain) and vampires (aka dead things) shouldn't be able to get erections. Oh, and also he bites her neck and drinks her blood while they're in the throes of passion. Classy.

The whole becoming-a-vampire part is treated like a trip to the grocery store. He drinks her blood, she drinks his blood, she goes to sleep (dies?) for three days (original), and wakes up a vampire. No inconvenience or discomfort whatsoever . . . so in fact far more pleasant than a trip to the grocery store.

Once a vampire, she's suddenly very brave. Unfortunately, she is still an idiot. Her first day as a vampire, she finds a nest of bad vampires who have been killing prostitutes. Michael tries to get rid of her so The Righteous can do their thing without her getting in the way, but then this happens:
I stuck out my chin. "They're my vampires, I found them, and I'm going with you."

She then proceeds to be of no help at all while the other three are fighting and also somehow manages to distract Michael and get him stabbed.

Later, she goes to her old house, where her aunt and uncle are now living with their kids, to retrieve a book that contains a spell to bind Kali in a rock or tree or something. When she gets there, she finds that Kali and Sebastian are holding her aunt and uncle hostage to lure her out of hiding. She goes to them and pretends that she's seen the light and wants to be on their side and do everything they want and maybe even have some sexy times with Kali. Then she convinces them to travel to Stonehenge, where she will perform the spell to retrieve Kali's crown.

Things happen on the journey. Cin inexplicably understands sexual innuendo and giggles about a pub being named The Cock and Bull. She also alternates between being terrified of Kali and feeling quite comfortable enough to go shopping with her. In case you haven't caught on yet, NOTHING ANYONE DOES MAKES SENSE.

Character arcs. Who needs them?

When they get to Stonehenge, Cin starts to work Kali's spell but switches over to the binding spell and traps Kali in one of the stone tablets. And a werewolf attacks Sebastian. (If you're wondering why there's a werewolf, that makes two of us.)

Then The Righteous show up, and the four of them touch swords and say a little motto about defending the innocent and being the hand of justice or some such nonsense. At this point, they've become the Three Musketeers and D'Artagnan, because why NOT rip off that story, too?

And everyone lives happily ever after as vampires who save people but also survive by drinking human blood.

Let's never speak of this again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Emergency post (about Wages of Sin...what else)


I've read only one chapter in the book-that-shan't-be-named since I last posted, but something truly awful has happened. I need support in this, my darkest hour.

It started out like any other reading session spent with this particular book. Eye rolling, exasperated sighing, dry heaving.

But THEN, Michael, he who is noble and Scottish and undead, says to Cin, she who can't figure out whether she is a dimwitted hussy or a dimwitted virgin:
"Woman, do as you're told!"
Now, normally, I would be outraged at this man-person who has the gall to be so brazenly sexist. Never mind how high his cheekbones are!

But, today, when I read those words, I initiated a one-person slow clap. All I could think was, "YES. Finally. Make her go away and conjure a sandwich or something."

This book has brainwashed the feminist out of me. I may never be able to get it back.

Quick, someone recite Friedan and reverse the spell!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Wages of Sin vs. Brain Cells, Round 3

**NOTE: Spoilers ahead! I am summarizing the entirety of this book, and I'm doing it just for you. You'll thank me later.**

OK, my little chickadees. I know you're DYING to hear what's going on in Cliche Town, and I am here for you.

Maybe it's all the whiskey I've been drinking, but these latest chapters didn't seem quite as soul crushing as the ones before. Let's see how this post goes. Maybe I'll realize at some point that I'm in shock from The Stupid and have gone numb and emotionless. (Wages of Sin lobotomy. It's a thing.) We'll find out together.

We are all seated in the green drawing room (Cin, the three hotsy-pants vampires . . . and me, the one in the corner clutching a glass of whiskey as though my life depended on it). Cin tells them about her evil-vampire problem and they figure out that another, more powerful vampire must be controlling him because there's no way he would be able to get in her head all by himself, being new and weak and not very smart in general.

Cin asks Justine in private if vampires have sexy powers, because she's just so darn attracted to this Michael character and he MUST be using his vampiric seduction skills to make her all fluttery since she's NORMALLY a reasonable person who keeps her clothes on in public. Justine assures her there are no shenanigans; "it is sheer human lust." What a relief?

Then bad vampire Sebastian starts calling to Cin in her head and she has to be locked up so she won't try to leave the house or turn someone into a weasel. Justine and Devlin go out to hunt for bad vampire, and Michael stays to make sure Cin doesn't hurt herself. But just to be sure, he TIES HER TO THE BED. If that isn't a recipe for sexy times, I just don't know what is.

Michael asks Cin if there's anything he can do to distract her from the creeper voice in her head. Her answer: "Hit me or kiss me." This is troubling for a number of reasons, but I wouldn't have minded if Michael hit her just a little. Much to my disappointment, he chooses the latter, completely predictable option. And he just can't believe his luck because she's the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. So they kiss, and it's the best kiss EVER. But sexy times are kept to a minimum because Michael is a good Scottish gentleman, and she is tied to a bed. It just wouldn't be proper.

Then Justine and Devlin come back with injuries and news. It turns out that bad vampire Sebastian is being controlled by an ancient she-demon/vampire called Kali, the Destroyer who is trapped on the earth but wants to return to her own dimension and thinks Cin can break the curse with her super-awesome witch powers. But this demon is BAD. Bad bad bad evil. And she's too strong for the good vampires to kill because she's been around forever, since before Jesus. So everyone is screwed.

Cin has to decide whether to run and always be looking over her shoulder or to kill herself so no one she loves will be hurt and she can't be used to aid and abet bad demon lady and possibly cause the deaths of thousands of people in the process. But Justine suggests they make her a vampire because then she won't have any of her human weaknesses and maybe she can live long enough to figure out a way to defeat the Destroyer. As far as reasons to become a vampire go, I suppose this is pretty sensible. As long as she's not doing it because she thinks Michael is pretty. In fact, for a nice change of pace, Michael tells her she makes him wish he were human. As refreshing as that may be, I'm still not convinced a lovely gentleman vampire would be interested in Cin. It's Edward and Bella instalove all over again, and it makes me throw-upy.

Then we get some back story on Devlin. It turns out he used to be part of Kali, the Destroyer's man harem. This conversation between him and Cin gives us another opportunity to marvel at Cin's blatant stupidity, which is now one of my favorite pastimes.
"She liked to drink from young, strong men. There were perhaps thirty of us bound in chains in one large, well-appointed room in the cellar of some great house. We were fed and clothed well and every night Yasmeen would come and choose two of us to make love to her while Kali watched."
My face flamed. I had to ask though. "Kali didn't---?"
"No, never. She prefers women."
I looked at him blankly.
"In her bed. She prefers women in her bed, not men."
"Oh," I said, but it took a minute before understanding truly dawned on me. "Oh," I said again.
SERIOUSLY, Cin?! I know you're a viscount's virginal daughter, but geez. Use your noggin. How embarrassing.

Oh, and then she has a talk with Michael, and he tells her he named his sword Ophelia. And she's like, oh silly you for naming your sword. Then, he laughs and says, "All men name their swords," which is OBVIOUSLY innuendo. But does Cin get it? No, of course not. And she claims she has never seen a man's naked chest before. She is clearly deprived.

But our sweet, innocent viscount's daughter is perpetually trying to jump Michael's bones. And he won't let her because he thinks he's beneath her since he was just a peasant when he was human and now he's the undead. But she is pulling every card she can think of. She actually says, "You make me burn, and if I'm going to die, don't let me die a virgin." She's like a teenage boy at the prom during an alien invasion. But still he resists her wiles. And she pushes up her boobs and pouts, and makes me wish, again, that Michael had hit her when he had the option.

Then the vampires go hunting to see if they can have another go at the Destroyer. While they're gone, Cin's dearest friend leans out the kitchen door to pick up a kitten, and of course bad vampire Sebastian is right there and grabs her and threatens to kill her if Cin doesn't come with him. So now she's following him through the woods to the bad, bad, evil vampire she-demon.

I don't know about you, but I'm on the edge of my seat.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


**NOTE: Spoilers ahead! I am summarizing the entirety of this book, and I'm doing it just for you. You'll thank me later.**

Things have taken a turn for the worse over here in Cliche Town. I made it three chapters, and I already need to purge before I am poisoned by my hatred for this book.

I fear I may have given our dear author more credit than she deserved. I assumed a book that revolves around a powerful witch would AT LEAST feature a strong female protagonist. Imagine my shock and dismay when I realized this character is WORSE THAN BELLA.

But seriously, guys.

I knew something was amiss when she needed help to kill one silly vampire. If I were a witch with double-witch powers, I would be like, "Step aside, vampire hunters. I'm gonna vaporize this m-fer. Won't take but a second." I mean, earlier, she turned him into a weasel on accident. Can't she just do that again, on purpose? And then step on his head?

So she's utterly helpless . . . for some reason the author hasn't bothered to explain.

She decides to use a spell to summon the good vampires (The Righteous) to her mansion. But they ARE still vampires and could be dangerous, so the clever girl uses her generous bosom to make them more receptive to her. I'll just let her tell you what she's wearing. She does it so well.
It was a Cyprian's dress, a creation for a high-class courtesan. Made of crimson silk, which happily matched the lining of my cloak, it clung to every one of my generous curves. Shockingly sleeveless and scandalously low-cut in a deeply plunging V, its skirt fell from the satin band below my breasts to hug my hips ever so slightly and swirl out in a tiny flare at the floor.
She explains that at night in the privacy of her room, she often puts on this dress, cakes on makeup from her secret stash, and admires herself in the mirror while pretending she's one of "those women." Yes, she said THOSE WOMEN. *bangs head repeatedly on keyboard*

So she's in her ballroom (everyone has one, no big deal), wearing this seductive dress, and she works this incredibly annoying spell (four pages of chanting!) to summon The Righteous from London.

Using Morrigan, Great Phantom Queen, Keeper of Death, she speaks telepathically to one of the good vampires (the sexy one, obvs), and he appears sexily in the doorway and waits there sexily while she explains to us how incredibly sexy he is. She describes your typical attractive man-person, but then she says he looks like a pirate. So he's a hot vampire pirate named Michael, The Devil's Archangel. There you go.

And this is where she just goes for it and becomes "woman with heaving breasts who needs strong man to save her."
He was not armed with so much as a dagger, but when his fingers clenched on the door frame and I heard the soft crack of the wood underneath, I realized that those beautiful, lethal hands were weapons in themselves. And even knowing that, all I could think of was what they would feel like on my skin, moving up my arm, drawing my hair aside, moving lower . . . 
Did you just throw up in your mouth a little?

What I REALLY wanted to do when I read this was punch Cin in the face. What I ACTUALLY did was fling the book at the wall and hang my head in sorrow for womankind.

After she's done telling us about his strong hands and high cheekbones, dreamy vampire pirate realizes she's a witch and lunges at her, and she uses her witch powers to lift him off the ground and pin him to the wall. My frustration knows no bounds! WHY can't she just do that with the BAD vampire?!

But, just in case you were thinking there's hope for her yet, while she has him lifted up against the wall, all she can think about is how badly she wants to touch his chest. I'M NOT JOKING. Then she lets him down and they start talking like a civilized witch and vampire should, but he can't stop staring at her "generous swell of breast." And she likes it because she HAS NO SELF-RESPECT.
I wanted to wrap myself up in him, to feel his arms around me, to feel safe again. My breath rushed out in a quivering sigh.
Just when you think they're gonna go at it right there on the ballroom floor, the other two good vampires show up (thank GOODNESS). We have Devlin, the Dark Lord, and Justine, The Devil's Justice . . . and they're attractive, of course. Devlin is a Gaston lookalike and has an "arrogant nose," whatever that is.

Justine is perfect and exotic and gets Cin's juices flowing, apparently.
There was something indefinable about her that made you imagine her naked in a bed, all that glorious hair tousled around her, her eyes sleepy and heavy-lidded from lovemaking.
This poor girl needs some action, like now. Oh, but Cin really wants us to know that Justine's breasts aren't as large as hers. This is important information for some reason.

I left them sitting in Cin's drawing room, drinking whiskey and discussing her problems (WHERE to begin?).

Whiskey sounds good right now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Welcome to Cliche Town, population: Wages of Sin

**NOTE: Spoilers ahead! I am summarizing the entirety of this book, and I'm doing it just for you. You'll thank me later.**

You guys, I made it through five chapters before I had the overwhelming urge to make everyone feel my pain. I'm pretty proud of myself.

The VERY FIRST page is an excerpt from what I'm assuming is just one of the many horribly written sex scenes awaiting within. We have "lust, desire, tenderness, a fierce masculine need to possess." Also involved are expectant shivering and wanting and leg wrapping and tongue plunging and purring and hip grabbing. What else? Oh yes, falling to the sheets in a tangle of limbs. I think we have it all covered now.

And then I turn the page, and, to my horror, the dedication reads,
To my wonderful parents. . . . And to my grandmother, Phyllis Jean, because I made you a promise.
I don't want to think about parents and grandmothers directly after reading your horrid sex scene, Jenna! And Grandma Phyllis, WHAT did you make her promise to do?!

So there's that . . . already. And then the protagonist introduces herself.
My name is Cin. It's an unusual nickname, one that always incites speculation about how I received it. Some say it's because of the color of my hair, blood red and sinful. Others, the ones who whisper behind their hands, or cross the street rather than pass me on the sidewalk, say that it's because of who I am, of what I am. Ah, what is that, you ask? I am a witch . . . among other things. . . . Once I was young and sweet and innocent, just a girl with her whole life ahead of her.
So she's basically Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Then we're in Surrey, England, in 1815. And you can be certain it's 1815 England because 22-year-old Cin (whom I'm picturing as Willow in period costume using a terrible English accent) is saying "posh," and her dear Papa is wearing a cravat, and her loving Mama is flouncing. And they all love each other and everything is perfect, and all I can think is, "Jenna is going to KILL these people."

Then, while her parents are out at a party, Cin wakes up from a nightmare that has caused sweat to drip seductively between her breasts (as it does). And she has a terrible feeling something terrible has happened . . . and that's because something terrible has happened. Her parents have died on their way home in a chance carriage accident that is no one's fault (boring). And even though they literally fell off a cliff, their lifeless bodies are found tightly embracing at the bottom. Because that's true love.

Then Cin has to be a grown-up and find SOME way to carry on with the obscene amount of money she's inherited . . . and her servants . . . and her personal chef. And when her mom dies, she absorbs her magic. So she's a really powerful witch who doesn't know how to control her witch skills. [Insert more Willow comparisons here.]

And just as I'm thinking, "SO MANY cliches; so few pages," I get to this sentence:
When I was sixteen I had fancied myself in love with one of the footmen, a horrible cliche, I know.
DO you know?! Don't you mess with me, Jenna Maclaine. If you wrote this book to be ironic, I demand you tell me now.

Then Cin's childhood friend, who wants to marry her but whom she doesn't really like that way, returns from a long trip. And he can't wait to show her his new hobby . . . BLOOD SUCKING. (Cue the ominous music.) Then he tries to kill (?) Cin . . . or make her a vampire because she refused to marry him? I'm not at all sure. In any event, she gets away from him, but now he has her blood coursing through him and can somehow get in her head and make her crazy.

She locks herself in the house so she can study up on her vampire lore and figure out how to kill this dude before he kills her. And this is where I stop picturing Willow, because SHE would already know how to kill a vampire.

Then Cin gives up, because books are hard, and decides to go see an herbalist in London who knows things about things. The herbalist says he used to know a vampire slayer, but he got killed recently, but oh look he left his diary and here's an entry about good vampires who kill bad vampires so why don't you see if they'll help you. And she says, oh posh, I'll never welcome strange vampires into my home. Never. Never. I shan't ever do such a silly thing. So of course that's exactly what she's going to do.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Smooth Criminals 2012 Reading Challenge

I was fully intending to stop at one challenge for 2012. (I already have plenty of job-related reading deadlines, thank you very much.) BUT this one hosted by Ben at Dead End Follies looks so fun, and it encompasses a lot of genres I've been wanting to dabble in. So, eight books, 12 months . . .

Hardboiled classic: Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett

Noir classic: Double Indemnity, James M. Cain

Prison book: King Rat, James Clavell

Book written by a writer who did time: If He Hollers, Let Him Go, Chester Himes

Book with psychopath protagonist: The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson

Gothic novel: Uncle Silas, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Classic where the plot revolves around a crime: The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins (reviewed in four parts: uno, dos, tres, cuatro)

The “why the hell am I doing this to myself?" book: We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver

Wages of Sin (I brought this on myself)

Last month, I divulged some of my dirty, awful book secrets in this post. One of those books offending my shelves is Wages of Sin, which is of the adult paranormal/fantasy/romance genre. I have not read it. I never intended to read it. But Amanda over at Dead White Guys sort of kind of dared me to (and baited me with promise of cookies) . . . and the stubborn 12-year-old tomboy in me CANNOT refuse a dare OR cookies.

So here I am, fresh off my high from A Study in Scarlet, cracking the pages of this salacious little gem. How far I've fallen. I can't even see Danielle Steele from here.

I decided the best way to tackle this challenge is to blog as I read. So if I come across something utterly ridiculous (and I fully intend to), I can immediately unburden myself of the dreadful knowledge. If I waited until the end, I would be unleashing a whole bookful of crazy all at once . . . and that just wouldn't be healthy for any of us.

DISCLAIMER: Jenna Maclaine is an actual human being with hopes and dreams and feelings and writing aspirations, and her books DO have a following (Goodreads informs me this particular book has a passel of five-star ratings). My opinions, harsh as they may be at any given time, are merely my opinions. They don't reflect on the author as a person or on her fans or on their literary preferences (unless you happen to agree with me, of course). This sort of book just isn't my cup of tea. And when I dislike a cup of tea, I mock it and bemoan its existence. It's how I cope.

And so it begins . . .

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Study in Scarlet (or Three Cheers for Sherlock Holmes! *squeals girlishly*)

I will do my very best to keep this post from drifting into SHERLOCK HOLMES IS MY HERO territory. But...I can't...I just...*sigh* I love him.

A Study in Scarlet seems to be less about plot and more about "This is Sherlock Holmes. This is Watson. Behold their unlikely friendship, and lament their absence in the real world." That being said, Conan Doyle does not skimp on the plot.

The first time I read this I was about 10; so the Sherlock Holmes projected in the movie screen of my mind looked a little something like this:

A very fancy mouse, indeed
Reading it again as a 26-year-old who has experienced The World and has a few more pop-culture references at my disposal, my mental picture of Sherlock is a little different:

Decidedly unmousy
I think what has always drawn me to Sherlock as a character is how likable he is despite his many unlikable qualities. He is an antihero. He solves crimes, yes, but he has nary a righteous motivation for doing so; usually, it has something to do with his being bored. He is a glutton for praise (as Watson puts it, "He was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty"), he goes through periods of depression during which he scrapes away morosely on his violin, he occasionally reaches for the cocaine (this is only hinted at in A Study in Scarlet but becomes apparent later in the series). He is insufferable, really, but we can't help ourselves. We want him as a friend.

And then we have Watson. Dearest Watson. Without him, without his reasonable voice providing the narration, we would be entirely lost. Can you imagine if the story were told from Sherlock's perspective? I'm almost certain what goes on in his head borders on the sociopathic. And we would be privy to his every thought, which would eliminate his trademark Big Reveal and spoil all his fun. Besides, Sherlock's antics are far more amusing from the outside looking in. But Watson is much more than the straight man in this comedy duo. He is a hero in his own right, having served as a doctor in the second Afghan war. But he is a little sensitive, still recovering from a long illness following a serious war injury, and completely unaware of the Sherlock storm coming his way: "If I am to lodge with anyone, I should prefer a man of studious and quiet habits. I am not strong enough yet to stand much noise or excitement." Oh, Watson . . . little did you know.

Watson is still a mustachioed mouse, as far as I'm concerned.
Providing a different kind of contrast to Sherlock are detectives Gregson and Lestrade. I assume they are sometimes good at their jobs because they can't ALWAYS be calling on Sherlock to save their butts, but my goodness they seem stupid. They're always trying to one-up each other and coming to the most outlandish conclusions and taking all the credit when Sherlock solves the crime with his hands tied behind his back. They're basically Laurel and Hardy go to Scotland Yard.
We know who the killer is, tra-la-la.
So I mentioned there was a plot. Well, there's a body, found in a most unusual setting under most unusual circumstances. Everyone thinks it's MOST unusual, except Sherlock, who has nearly solved the whole affair by page 23. But because Sherlock is so delightfully sarcastic and derives much amusement from watching Gregson and Lestrade spin their wheels and bicker like "a pair of professional beauties," he doesn't TELL anyone what he's figured out. Obstruction of justice? No, silly . . . just Sherlock being Sherlock.

So that's Part I, and then all of a sudden we're in the North American desert with a bunch of Mormons. And we're thinking, what the hell is going on here? Where is Sherlock?! I'm here only because I was promised there would be SHERLOCK. But there's a point to this tangent, and it turns out to be a convoluted and incredibly complicated back story to explain what Sherlock already deduced (mostly), and he's just going to have a little nip of cocaine while he patiently waits for us to catch up.

And then, just in case we were napping for the first 84 pages, there's a conclusion in which Sherlock explains each and every step of deductive reasoning that led him to the killer. As I was reading it, I was thinking, "Yes, I get it, Conan Doyle. I'm no Sherlock, but I don't need it spelled out for me AGAIN." But then I realized, it's not Conan Doyle who is underestimating our intelligence; it's Sherlock, the cocky bastard. He just needs to make sure that we/Watson see precisely how brilliant he is.

And we do, Mr. Holmes, we definitely do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Finn (or the reason I've showered 5 times today)

Jon Clinch has done what few writers have dared and even fewer have succeeded in: He took a beloved classic (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and rewrote it from the perspective of Huck's delinquent father. This man barely makes an appearance in Mark Twain's classic, but he leaves his stain on the few pages he's given, and Clinch takes the handful of clues Twain left and faithfully follows them to their likely origins and ends. In so doing, he answers the questions Twain didn't see fit to answer: How Huck came to live with the widow Douglas; who Huck's mother was; and, perhaps most interesting, how Finn ended up dead in his river shack, where Twain's Jim and Huck found his naked body, surrounded by "heaps of old greasy cards scattered around the floor, and old whiskey bottles, and a couple of masks made out of black cloth; and all over the walls was the ignorantest kind of words and pictures, made with charcoal. There was two old dirty calico dresses, and a sun-bonnet, and some women's underclothes, hanging against the wall, and some men's clothing, too."

So what did Twain tell us about Finn? He's fond of whiskey, he lacks basic human decency, and he is vehemently racist. And Clinch's Finn? Yep . . . check, check, and check. He's like the Grinch, if the Grinch had a weakness for forty-rod and murdered Cindy Lou Who before stealing her Christmas tree.
Behold the face of pure evil.
The story opens in the present, following the downriver journey of a fly-swarmed body that has been violated in an especially disturbing way. Then we meet Finn, who is drinking (surprise!) and telling his bootlegger, "I've broken it off with that woman." Cue the ominous music. Me thinks Mr. Finn is up to no good.

From there, the chapters alternate between past and present, attempting to explain how Finn became the dirty river rat we know and loathe and chugging steadily toward two conclusions: the mystery body in the river and Finn's body in the shack.

My biggest fear starting this book was that Clinch would try too hard to make Finn a sympathetic character. I don't WANT to like Finn. He's gross. We will never be friends. At the same time, it would be a mistake to write Finn as a one-note villain with no character arc. So Clinch's first attempt at explaining Finn's malfunction is a brief sojourn into his childhood, where we meet his stern father, the Judge, and his brother, Will. Will is sick all the time and Finn is neglected because Will needs All The Attention. At this point, I'm thinking, "Nice try, Clinch. I remain unconvinced."

Then we find out why the Judge disowned Finn, and, yeah, I did start to feel a tiny something close to sympathy. And I wasn't even mad about it. Well played, sir.

Besides Finn and the Judge, other minor characters from Adventures of Huck Finn are fleshed out, including the widow Douglas, Judge Thatcher, and the King. One example of Clinch's descriptive abilities is found in our first introduction to the King, who, as it turns out, is a dirty pedophile in addition to being a con man:
His stomach rolls abundantly out over his trousers despite a half-pair of home-knit galluses, and his threadbare crotch strains as he sits. He is bald as a lizard and his skin is the color of a fish belly, so white as to be nearly blue and spotted all over with moles and tiny scabbed lesions. He has done his beard the disservice of attempting to shave it with a found blade or some other scrap of metal within the past week, riverwater his only lubricant and no mirror in sight, and the result is that his flaccid cheeks resemble bottomland poorly tended and gone to brush.
Ugh, vomit. And it gets worse, but I don't dare spoil it for you.

The only relief from all this nefarious activity is Huck himself, who doesn't figure prominently here (in what Clinch declares is "Finn's book"). He is very much like his father, even as he stands in stark contrast to him. In much the same way, Finn resembles Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They are the same story, but in Finn, all the innocence has been stripped away. Clinch tells the story of what Huck could have become under his pap's tutelage, and, yeah, I guess he does it pretty well.

In other news, WHAT IS THIS?

And WHY isn't it on my dog right now?

Friday, December 2, 2011

2012 To-Be-Read Pile Challenge (aka more fun with participation)

Hello, fellow readers trapped under a pile of unread books (picture a happier version of 127 Hours, with more reading and less arm amputation).

Yes. Precisely.

Adam over at Roof Beam Reader is hosting this challenge. His entreaty: Read 12 books from ye olde TBR pile in 12 months.

Continuing with my goal to set goals for myself, I hereby officially join the fray. These are the books against which I will do battle in the year 2012 (in no particular order):

1. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
2. Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther
3. My Antonia by Willa Cather
4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
5. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
6. The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszak
7. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
8. Blindness by Jose Saramago
9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
10. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
11. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
12. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

And here are my two alternates (insurance against potential unreadables lurking in the above list):

1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
2. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

Let the challenge begin (in about a month)!

I can play, too, please?

Literary Blog Hop

I'm new to the book-blogging game, but this community of book bloggers is one of the most incredible things I've found on the interwebs (yes, even better than Marcel the Shell), and I want to set a precedent for being a joiner. And, oh, look! I'm just in time for the Literary Blog Hop! Let the joining begin!

Each month, the folks over at The Blue Bookcase pose a question for book bloggers everywhere.

This month's brain picker is "What work of literature would you suggest to someone who doesn't like literature?"

When I first saw this question, I thought, "Maybe I'll be a joiner next month." This is a hard one for me because I grew up reading the classics (and The Saddle Club series, of course. I'm not a freak.). So it's hard for me to understand the kind of person who doesn't like literature (are you sure that's a thing?).

But then I realized . . . I'm married to just such a person. When we first met, my husband was reading The Art of War (and I said, "Come to mama"). But with 5 years of retrospect, I'm able to admit that he is basically classics averse. He's read a lot of classics, but he gravitates toward Harlan Coben and Robert Ludlum and away from Dickens and Eliot. Also, if he doesn't like what the characters are up to at any point in the story, he tends to proclaim his disagreement loudly, in quiet places where everyone else is being quiet. So the way I came at this challenge was by thinking of what I could recommend to him that would not cause him to yell in public.