Marie’s Reading: ”The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes” by Zach Dundas

great-detectiveThe Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes by Zach Dundas is funny and conversational and passionate and made me fall in love with Holmes and Watson and their many adventures all over again.

Dundas includes a bit of everything, from Arthur Conan Doyle’s biography to real-life walks around London to meetings of the Baker Street Irregulars to interviews with well-regarded fanfiction writers. He talks about all of the theatrical, radio, television, and cinematic versions of the stories right up through Sherlock and Elementary, and makes the point that every generation creates their Sherlock Holmes anew–Holmes is a kind of cultural barometer.

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Best Holmes.

As a fan of literary histories I also appreciated the insights into how Doyle came to write the Sherlock Holmes stories, and where they fit into their contemporary culture (or, as time went on, didn’t fit in so well).  The discussion of the fandom surrounding these characters was enlightening, too.  If a little scary.

(…in that it hits a bit close to home)

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Best Holmes Movie.

In all, this is a glorious romp through all things Holmes and Watson brimming with passion and fun.  Dundas is a wonderfully funny guy, and his conversational style and footnotes make you feel like he’s telling you all that he’s discovered about Sherlock over coffee at a bookstore.  One fan to another.

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Best Holmes’n’Watson.

The book includes Dundas’s personal must-read list of the original stories, and fantastic source notes.  There’s a whole Sherlockian world out there.  Me, I’m going to curl up with my Annotated Sherlock Holmes for a bit.  I’ll enjoy it on a whole new level now.

–Marie

 

Marie’s Reading: “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch

darkmatterJason is a physics professor who lives with his artist wife, Daniela, and their son Charlie in Chicago.  They’re moderately prosperous and happy, but both of them always wonder what might have been–before they had their son, they were both on track to become brilliant in their respective fields.

Then one night, Jason is abducted by a stranger in a mask, and from there is thrown into an alternate reality.  All he wants is to get back to his home, his family, and his old life.  But it’ll be a long, dangerous road to get there.

Dark Matter is an action packed thriller with a lightning-quick pace, lots of dialogue, and some mind-bending moments.  Crouch constructs scenes with texture and depth.  There’s enough emotional heft to Jason’s quest to give the book a solid grounding, which isn’t always the case with thrillers.  There are some nice sci-fi touches, too, but Crouch never really goes into the details of how the whole thing works (as the title suggests, it’s something to do with dark matter).  If you’re willing to suspend disbelief, you’ll be rewarded with a smart and poignant story about identity and the nature of the self, as well as what makes the sum total of a life.

With plenty of gunfights and daring escapes.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “This Census-Taker” by China Mieville

census-takerJust a short one today, folks.  Weird fiction fans, if you haven’t already read China Mieville’s work, now’s the time to start.

In This Census-Taker, a young boy witnesses a traumatic event.  Afterward, he’s kept alone in his hilltop house with his increasingly erratic and menacing father.  Then one day a man knocks on the door who identifies himself as a census-taker.  Is he the boy’s ticket out?  And who does he work for?

Like a lot of Mieville’s work, this one has a darkly fantastic element to it.  The setting is poor and hardscrabble and mysterious, like something out of Soviet Eastern Europe.  There’s also an element of political dystopia, though we only ever see hints of it.  There’s something other-worldly about this hilltop and the town below.

A lot about this novel comes down to hints.  A lot happens off-stage or is a half-remembered piece of the boy’s history.  There’s a strong sense of ambiguity which adds to the creepy and uncertain feel of the novel.

Mysterious, absorbing, and dark, this slim and deceptively simple novel is a good choice for readers looking for something original and with plenty of style and atmosphere.  Perhaps a good choice for fans of Neil Gaiman or Haruki Murakami.

–Marie

 

Adult Summer Reading Program Drawing TONIGHT!

Hi!  I’ve been on vacation and my brain hasn’t come back yet so that’s why this is a little late in the day.

I hope you’ve all submitted your reading review sheets for the Summer Reading Program!  We have a ton on our bulletin board and they’re awesome–I’m going to share some here on the blog, along with a list of all the books that were read.  Those same review sheets will be the raffle tickets for tonight’s drawing.  The more you filled out, the better your chance to win!

…probably should have told you that sooner.  Again, brain vacation.  Or vice versa.

Good luck, participants!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Heavenly Table” by Donald Ray Pollock

Heavenly TableThe Heavenly Table is set in 1917 in and around a small town in Ohio.  One storyline concerns the Jewett brothers, the other a farmer named Ellsworth Fiddler.  The Jewett boys live a poor, hardscrabble life with their crazy father, Pearl.  Ellsworth lost his family savings in a swindle, and his son Eddie has taken to drinking and disappearing.  As the book goes on, these storylines grow and then intersect.

Along the way there are several more subplots and characters whose stories converge with those of the Jewetts or Ellsworth (or both), adding to the layered and well-populated feel of the story.

The Heavenly Table is atmospheric and vivid.  Engrossing, gritty and dark, and completely absorbing.  There’s a certain raw quality to Pollock’s writing, one that can be gory and gruesome.  There’s a lot of violence in this book, of many different kinds. And yet there’s also pathos and humor, and maybe even a kernel of goodness.

It’s got the feel of a Western, with all the outlaws and whores and soldiers and poor farmers.  But it’s the more the modern, nuanced kind, without too many good guys or lone heroes.  Interestingly, I noticed that one of the subject headings for this book is “Noir fiction.”  So-called “rural noir,” with lots of bleakness and darkness, is pretty in right now.  Sort of a descendant of Southern Gothic.

For readers of Daniel Woodrell, particularly Winter’s Bone.  I’d also suggest Black River by S.M. Hulse if you want something with a similar Western tone but not quite as violent or bleak.  Kings of the Earth or Finn by Jon Clinch might also be good.  Also, do try Pollock’s other books, Knockemstiff and Devil All the Time.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” by Jack Thorne ; based on an original story by JK Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

Reading a play is never the same as reading a novel, of course.  Plays are meant to be seen.  But I’ll still take it!  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Set nineteen years after the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the play picks up where the seventh book left off.  Then we jump a few years, to follow Harry’s son Albus and Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius at Hogwarts.  The two strike up a friendship as they try to define themselves outside of their famous (or infamous) parents.

The play explores the same themes as the books do: the power of love and sacrifice, the long shadow the past casts, and how the choices we make define who we are.  It’s also quite funny and quite touching, just like the books–really, Thorne does a great job of capturing Rowling’s style and humor and character voices.

It’s great to see the old gang back together, and to see how they’ve aged.  I particularly love Ron and Hermione in this story, and all they’re given to do and the way their relationship is explored.  The new characters are great as well, and I love the relationship between Albus and Scorpius.  There are twists and surprises all the way through, and some wonderful callbacks and references to the books.

I’m being cagey because I don’t want to give anything away.  If you want to risk a bit, click those links in the photos!  Suffice it to say that, while reading the script is no patch on seeing The Cursed Child in production (just look at those photos!) it’s a nice return to a world and characters that always reward repeat visits.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “Pond” by Claire-Louise Bennett

PondPond is a collection of first-person stories, told by a woman who lives in a tiny cottage on the outskirts of a village.  Every piece is full of her observations, thoughts, and the detail (sometimes microscopic) of everyday life.

Slowly, page by page, phrase by multi-layered phrase, the narrator’s character is revealed.  She has secrets, she has perhaps something more than just odd habits.  The sense of time is confused, as are the other people the narrator talks about.  There’s a lot left for the reader to piece together and figure out about her.  At the end you’re left with an impression, a feeling, more than anything else.

The narrative voice and the style are wonderfully off-key, just slightly out of tune–the feeling really is one of being trapped inside the head of someone who’s alone way too much.  Or maybe trapped in a small room with that same person, and they will not stop talking at you.

Bennett does such strange and beautiful things with words.  It’s like poetry, almost.  You have to pay attention to every word.  This isn’t one to skim.  Here’s a quote, to give you an example of the voice and style:

“Look here, it’s perfectly obvious by now to anyone that my head is turned by imagined elsewheres and hardly at all by present circumstances–even so no one can know what trip is going on and on in anyone else’s mind and so, for that reason solely perhaps, the way I go about my business, such as it is, can be very confusing, bewildering, unaccountable–even, actually, offensive sometimes.”

Detailed, poetic, at times uncomfortable, Pond is a great choice if you enjoy reveling in language.

I was reminded of The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry while I was reading Pond, mostly because of the first-person, perhaps slightly unhinged narration.  The Divry book is more humorous in tone, though.  I also thought of The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, for the loneliness and anger in the narrative voice, though that one is a linear story.

–Marie