Friday, December 31, 2010

In Which Trai Shows Her Work, Year Two

Just as I did last year, I shall share my list of books I read in 2010. My goal was to top last year's number--56--and I did by eight, bringing the total to 64. My goal for next year might just become 75!

As with last year, any books I didn't review on here were either required for school or ones (such as classics) where I couldn't think of anything original to say in my review. Let's hope 2011 brings me, and the rest of you, plenty of good books!

The List:

1) Mother To Be – Tanya Michaels
2) Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
3) Waiting for Baby – Cathy McDavid
4) If Only in My Dreams – Wendy Markham
5) A Walk to Remember – Nicholas Sparks
6) Prescription for Romance – Marie Ferrarella
7) Unexpected Gifts – Holly Jacobs
8) The Distant Summer – Sarah Patterson
9) Morning Glory – LaVyrle Spencer
10) King Lear – William Shakespeare
11) The Magic of Ordinary Days – Ann Howard Creel
12) The Family They Chose – Nancy Robards Thompson
13) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls – Steve Hockensmith
14) A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
15) Angelic – Kelley Armstrong
16) Men of the Otherworld – Kelley Armstrong
17) Voices of Dragons – Carrie Vaughn
18) Jane Austen Ruined My Life – Beth Pattillo
19) Personal Demon – Kelley Armstrong
20) The Shape of Things – Neil Labute
21) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
22) The Girl Who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson
23) Dearest Cousin Jane – Jill Pitkeathley
24) Stuff Every Woman Should Know – Alanna Kalb
25) Supernatural: Origins – Peter Johnson (author), Matthew Don Smith (illustrator)
26) The Glass Menagerie – Tennessee Williams
27) Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart – Beth Pattillo
28) The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson
29) Heartbreak River – Tricia Mills
30) Android Karenina – Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters
31) Something Borrowed – Emily Giffin
32) Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
33) The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
34) Something Like Fate – Susane Colasanti
35) Kitty Goes to War – Carrie Vaughn
36) Something Blue – Emily Giffin
37) Good in Bed – Jennifer Weiner
38) Writing Jane Austen – Elizabeth Aston
39) Baby Proof – Emily Giffin
40) The President’s Daughter – Ellen Emerson White
41) The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice – Abigail Reynolds
42) One Day – David Nicholls
43) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel – Tony Lee and Cliff Richards
44) Emma and the Vampires – Jane Austen and Wayne Josephson
45) Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist
46) Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
47) Arabella – Georgette Heyer
48) The Minister’s Wooing – Harriet Beecher Stowe
49) Our Guys – Bernard Lefkowitz
50) Ruth Hall – Fanny Fern
51) Love the One You’re With – Emily Giffin
52) Lucky – Alice Sebold
53) Soulless – Gail Carriger
54) The Sign of Four – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
55) The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The Struggle – L.J. Smith
56) Bastard Out of Carolina – Dorothy Allison
57) Miracle Baby – Laura Bradford
58) Rabbit Hole – David Lindsay-Abaire
59) The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
60) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
61) The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
62) The Hound of the Baskervilles – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
63) Mr. Darcy’s Obsession – Abigail Reynolds
64) 84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

Have a Happy New Year, everyone, and see you in 2011!

- Trai

In Which Trai Reviews 'Rabbit Hole: The Movie'

(See my review of the play here.)

"I was just trying to make things nice."
"You can't, all right? I'm sorry. Things aren't
nice anymore."

The above is an exchange we hear in Rabbit Hole, a film adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his play of the same name. Eight months after losing their four-year-old son, Danny, in a car accident, Becca and Howie are struggling to keep their marriage together amidst their separate efforts to grieve.

Nicole Kidman plays Becca; Aaron Eckhart plays Howie. Both of them have very different approaches to their grief. Howie finds comfort in a support group, in reminders of Danny, while Becca tries to rid the house of memories of Danny and can't stand the support group. Things aren't helped by Becca's family--her mother (Dianne Wiest), who insists on comparing her adult son's overdose to Danny's death, and her sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard), newly pregnant.

Danny's death was a tragic accident--he ran after the family dog into the street and was struck by a new driver, Jason (Miles Teller, in what looks like his first major appearance). Everyone tries to blame themselves--Becca went to answer the phone, Howie forgot to latch the gate, Jason might not have checked for children as he always did. In watching all the characters try to cope with their grief, going through their daily routines, we see them both breaking apart and beginning to heal.

As the grieving couple, I thought that Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart were fantastic. Nicole Kidman evoked the same reactions from me that Becca did on paper--maybe I didn't agree with her way of grieving (though, really, can you "agree" with someone on something like that?), but I understood her actions and found them rational. She claims at one point that Howie might believe she's not "feeling badly enough," but we slowly begin to see that's not the truth; she feels very deeply indeed. I've loved Aaron Eckhart's work since Thank You For Smoking, and he did an amazing job here considering he's never been married or had a child. I did think the shouting in the argument scenes was sometimes a little too over-the-top on both sides, but they were both great as a married couple and on their own.

What surprised me was my feeling that the play actually worked better as a movie! Some movies adapted from plays do the bare minimum with the medium, simply putting certain scenes outdoors, but Rabbit Hole did all it could, showing scenes that couldn't be shown onstage and really making those scenes count. The opening scene of the play, Izzy telling Becca the next day about her bar fight, is transformed here into Becca picking her up from the police station. Instead of awkward, clunky expository dialogue, we get a scene that's natural and something that really would play out like this in real life. Some subplots are expanded in order to round the film out, but nothing too major is changed, and what little is changed makes sense.

What I loved the absolute most was the movie's ability to show simple but revealing moments that the play couldn't have. One scene that I'm still completely in love with takes place as Howie and Becca are driving to Izzy's birthday party. The cake Becca has baked for the occasion is in the backseat, along with Danny's carseat, which she thinks they should take out of the car. They begin to argue and end up having to stop short. Becca instinctively looks back to check the carseat and make sure Danny's okay, which Howie notices, and when he asks if she's okay, she responds that she was checking on the cake. So much was conveyed just by that glance into the backseat and I give all the credit in the world to Lindsay-Abaire for making the format work so well. (The only thing I felt was wrong was the choice to flashback, however briefly, to the day of the accident. Slow-motion running amounts to something laughable rather than dramatic.)

The film also did a good job of slowly revealing itself to those who hadn't read the play. My mother hadn't and was kept guessing by the first half hour or so, which slowly reveals what exactly happened that day and who all the characters are. It was just as moving as the play; I still cried at the scenes that had touched me in the play. As it ended, my mother reached over and stroked my hair for a minute or two, and we just sat there, thinking about what we'd just seen, what it meant to us, how it made us feel. That, to me, is the highest recommendation I can give for this movie. Affecting, powerful, and incredibly well-done, I have to congratulate all involved.

In Which Trai Reviews '84, Charing Cross Road'

The Book: 84, Charing Cross Road

The Author: Helene Hanff

How I Found It: This wonderful review at The Broke and The Bookish. Thanks, R! :)

The Review: Used books seemed to be the love of Helene Hanff's life. She didn't want to own new ones, instead preferring those that had been owned and read, loved, by others before her. Looking for some rare English books, the American Hanff began a correspondence with a bookstore in London.

Her letters were answered by FPD, later Frank Doel, a reserved, very English man intent on doing his job, providing books for the witty, often mock-annoying woman writing for his assistance. Over time, Helene's correspondence with Frank and the others at 84, Charing Cross Road becomes a friendship and a business relationship that lasts twenty years, and the letters are both fun and touching to read.

Like Hanff and the reviewer who led me to this book, R, I love used books and bookstore. Actually, I think half of my favorite books are ones I got used, either from stores or from Paperbackswap. (Even my copy of this book is used!) My battered and yellowed copy of Little Women, the spine practically bent inward, found in a crate at a used bookstore, was the inspiration behind my college essay. Half of my Jane Austens had owners before me. I could get new editions, my own editions, but I like that my used books have character. The spines might be wrecked, the pages might be wavy or yellowed, but these books were loved!

So I knew as soon as I read the review that I'd probably love the book, and I did! Hanff really did have something special with the workers at Charing Cross Road, and I'm sure all of us book lovers would love to have something like she did. (I'm pretty sure the bookstore owners in my college town only knew me as "strange girl in red coat," anyway...) It's really sweet to read the letters that don't directly involve books, but are instead expressions of gratitude. Hanff sends over meat and other things that are rationed in England; Doel's wife responds by sending a beautiful tablecloth, for example.

It's also nice to watch as Hanff's relationship to the other employees develops. One contacts her secretly for a while, as she jokes that Frank seems to want to be the only one writing to her. One gift from Hanff inspires at least four or five letters of gratitude, and over time, Hanff bonds with them all. After Hanff asks what FPD stands for, Frank begins to sign his letters with his actual name. His reserve slowly melts, and the reader gets to see as he becomes warmer, even joking on occasion, taking in stride Hanff's purposely needling requests.

Overall, this is a really sweet, short (I read it in an hour) story that any book lover would enjoy. A love for books can evolve into something truly special, which is just what it did here. Hanff's friendship with these wonderful employees is touching and will leave you with a smile on your face as well as a lump in your throat, just like it did for me.

In Which Trai Reviews 'Mr. Darcy's Obsession'

The Book: Mr. Darcy's Obsession

The Author: Abigail Reynolds

How I Found It: This was the first I read of Abigail Reynolds' Pemberley Variations series, but not my first experience with her work (see my review of The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice, her modern-day P&P). I have plans to read the rest; I'm pretty sure she was one of the first to come up with the now-ubiquitous variations idea.

The Review: Abigail Reynolds is known for taking Pride and Prejudice and changing things around, playing with the "what ifs?" Here, the story is based around the idea that Mr. Bennet was taken ill before Mr. Darcy could propose to Lizzy at Rosings. She departs to care for her ailing father, and when he dies, Longbourn is entailed to Mr. Collins and Charlotte.

Now, two years later, Darcy and Bingley are both concerned about the circumstances of their lost loves. Bingley is deeply angered by Jane's marriage to a much-older shopkeeper, even if it provides for the Bennet family. Darcy, meanwhile, finds Elizabeth living in Cheapside with her aunt and uncle Gardiner, acting as a semi-governess to their children. Though he knows it is unacceptable to society, he renews his acquaintance with Elizabeth and tries to express his concern for her welfare.

As time passes and Darcy's love for Elizabeth deepens, he decides that he can live with nothing less than making her his wife and rescuing her from the life she now has, society be damned. When Elizabeth misinterprets his proposal as an offer to be his mistress, she angrily refuses, and their connection may be damaged beyond repair. Just as Darcy might be able to redeem himself, reckless actions by Lydia threaten to sink the Bennets even lower than before, and Darcy is left to wonder how he can possibly marry her now.

I've heard, from reviews and fellow readers, that Reynolds' works have improved over the years. This might be the first variation I've ever read, but I honestly don't know if any others will top it. This was surprisingly dark and showed a very seamy side of England of the time, and I found myself loving every minute of it. Reynolds is apparently at work on a sequel involving Georgiana, and I, for one, can't wait.

Reynolds is normally known for the steamy scenes in her works, but for all the seamy society we were shown in this one, there was no outright sex, which was a great achievement. Reynolds manages to capture the gritty aspects of society perfectly without ever delving into the down and dirty. All Lizzy and Darcy ever do here is kiss a few times, and there's some touching of bare hands that manages to be incredibly sensual and romantic. Even if there's no actual sex, however, I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone below 15 or 16 or so--there's references to incest and molestation, mistresses, prostitutes, etc. The dark tone was one thing I really liked about the story. Even if Austen herself referred to Pride and Prejudice as "light, bright, and sparkling," Reynolds somehow made a dark variation work and seem completely in character. Biggest possible kudos to her.

With that said, I liked seeing how she chose to flesh out certain characters and storylines, with just one exception that felt slightly unnecessary and redundant. The Georgiana/Wickham backstory came with an extra layer that provoked a serious "EWWWW!" from me at first (and subsequently). I can understand why Reynolds included it, but it really did feel unnecessary to me. All that aside, the characterizations were done well. Darcy's change is gradual and happens believably. Elizabeth is sometimes a little too witty and modern, but slightly more feminist spins on Lizzy are nothing new, so it's forgivable. Bingley especially got so much more depth than Austen gave him, and he doesn't even have that much screentime! Calm as he is in the original, here he is angry and fairly bitter at Jane's circumstances, but it always felt believable and never once contrived.

The new and expanded characters were also a joy to read. Darcy's unsuitable-for-society Aunt Augusta is introduced fairly late in the book, but she's a real riot, and I'd love to see what her exploits are with Georgiana in the sequel. Mary, a servant girl, comes to Darcy in unusual circumstances, and Darcy accepting her into his staff was touching and true to his characterization in P&P. The real star of the book is Charlie, the street urchin Darcy hires to spy on Lizzy. I agree with many reviewers that he was reminiscent of a Georgette Heyer character. Reynolds also expands on Darcy's family, including Colonel Fitzwilliam, and explores, through them, the dominance men still had over women at that time.

There are a lot of subplots going on, but they are all tied together at the end. No matter how impossible it seems, the happy ending promised by an Austen novel is still there. Everything about this book was just wonderful and I really look forward to Reynolds' other variations with a fervor I hadn't before. Recommended to fans who don't mind reading about the darker side of the period, or to those who want to see a different, more emotional side to those same characters they know so well.

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'

The Book: The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes, Book 5)

The Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

How I Found It: Reading the canon in order.

The Review: The current owner of Baskerville Hall, Sir Charles, has been found dead on the property, and it appears he died of fright. There is only one heir to the property left, Sir Henry, and Dr. Mortimer, Sir Charles' doctor, wants to make sure nothing will happen to him. He travels to see Holmes and Watson, seeking their opinion of the death.

A legend exists of a hellhound that haunts Baskerville Hall, one who ripped out the throat of Sir Hugo Baskerville two hundred years earlier, and who now appears to have frightened Sir Charles to death. When Sir Henry arrives in London and receives a cryptic warning to stay away from the moors by Baskerville Hall, the decision is made: Watson will go to Baskerville Hall to keep an eye on Sir Henry, and Holmes will stay behind in London, relying on Watson's reports. Watson is left on his own to discover just what is behind the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles.

I have to say, though I know this one is a classic and considered one of the best of the Holmes canon, it fell a bit short of what I was expecting. I have a bit of an idea why that was--though I love Watson and find him an engaging narrator, the story just wasn't flowing as well without Holmes. At least, that was how it was for me. We see comparatively little of him here, and some parts of the story just dragged for me. Watson's a dear, but it's better for us all when Holmes is around, too.

Other than that complaint, though, I did like the plot. We've got everything--cut up newspapers making cryptic warnings, a fiery hound that shouldn't exist but somehow does, the mysterious and deadly moors, the shifty servants. All the elements were there; it was just the execution that felt a little weak to me. I did love the eventual reveal of the hound and what the scheme was; I've somehow managed to make it through twenty years of my life without being spoiled on this one, so it felt like an accomplishment to me!

It was nice seeing two familiar faces get more screentime and development. We see Watson on his own for an extended period of time, using some little bits of deduction picked up from Holmes and some of his combat skills from the army. (Watson also gets to be truly kickass. Of the hound, he writes: "If he was vulnerable he was mortal, and if we could wound him we could kill him.") We also get to see more of Inspector Lestrade, and, like Watson, he's not the bumbling idiot most portrayals show him to be. He joins the hunt for the hound and Holmes considers him to be one of the best professionals. It's nice to read the original stories and see the characters how they were meant to be, not the bastardized versions pop culture makes them into.

My minor complaint about the lack of Holmes and the resulting plot drags aside, this one is very enjoyable and rightly a classic of the detective genre. Holmes scorns supernatural explanations for mysteries and does everything he can to prove that this isn't one. (This is one reason why I think monster mashups, which I love for other authors, really wouldn't work with Holmes, but it hasn't stopped people from trying their damnedest.) I'm almost curious to see film versions of this, to see it any of them get it right, and I'm very much looking forward to the next season of Sherlock, as Steven Moffat, the writer, has said that they're taking it on. Recommended to those who want a classic mystery or adventure, and it could be used as a starting point for the canon (despite being halfway through) if one were so inclined.

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes'

Hello, 100th post! :)

The Book: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, Book 4)

The Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

How I Found It: See below; renewed resolution to go through the canon in order. This one was the result of a two-day reading binge.

The Review: I swear that there will be less Sherlock on this blog soon; once I finish The Hound of the Baskervilles, I'll make an effort to read some different things, given that half(ish) of the canon will be out of the way! More variety heading your way soon, I swear.

I actually think I liked this one, as a collection, a little bit more than I liked Adventures. Seeing the stories narrated by Sherlock was fun, and the little developments in Holmes and Watson's friendship are so much fun to read. I still kind of love how Mary got the shaft here; I guess Conan Doyle regretted marrying Watson off so soon, and started to write more stories about the bachelor days or when Mary is ridiculously obliging and lets Watson run off to all corners of the country. (I should be more outraged about this, as a feminist, but mainly I just find it hilarious.) Anyway! Onto the reviews!

"Silver Blaze": Holmes and Watson investigate the disappearance of a racehorse along with the murder of his trainer. I read somewhere that this one caused controversy over the inaccurate way Doyle portrayed the racing industry; I guess I can see why, given the outcome! It was fun to see Holmes work with a competent police officer, Inspector Gregory, although Lestrade has improved once we see him in Baskervilles. I enjoyed this one a lot; I was right along with Watson in trying to unravel the clues.

"The Adventure of the Yellow Face": Watson notes in the beginning that this is one of the few cases where Holmes didn't reach the correct conclusion, though the truth comes out anyway. What appears at first to be a straightforward blackmail tale ends up being something heartwarming for the client involved, and Holmes is even humbled just a bit. It was a sweet story and I was definitely smiling by the end!

"The Stockbroker's Clerk": Very similar to "The Red-Headed League". A man asks Holmes and Watson to help him look into some strange aspects of his new job. Because it was similar to the earlier story, it was a little boring to read, but I did notice Doyle reusing basic elements of certain plots in other stories as well, so it was something he seemed to do at least occasionally.

"The Gloria Scott": This one is told mainly by Holmes, and is about his first case, which took place during his college days. He treats his skills as a hobby more than a profession at this point (which is actually how it's portrayed in Sherlock, as Sherlock doesn't seek payment). Similar to "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", it features a man who wishes to conceal past misdeeds from his child. Instead, he is caught up in a blackmail plot that Holmes helps to unravel. I really enjoyed seeing the two stories narrated by Holmes (this one and the next); it was interesting to see his younger days.

"The Musgrave Ritual": The second story narrated by Holmes, although it's framed by Watson's narration. Watson finally asks Holmes to clean up the papers in their apartment, and Holmes instead tells him of another of his early cases. Another instance of Holmes developing his deductive powers; perhaps not as complex as the later cases, but still a good example of the detective in his younger days.

"The Reigate Puzzle": I truly loved this story; it's definitely one of my favorites out of what I read so far! Holmes suffers a nervous collapse after working himself too hard, and a concerned Watson takes him to the country home of a friend to recover. While there, a series of thefts and a murder puzzle the residents, and against Watson's better judgment, Holmes takes on the case. Even while ill, Holmes still manages to solve the crime. I loved seeing Watson having to manage Holmes during his illness; the passage that really amused me was Holmes' reaction to hearing about the thefts (basically, "OOOH!") to which Watson's basic reply is "Oh, no you don't," leading to Holmes huffing and lying back down. So entertaining, and a good testament to Holmes' abilities.

"The Crooked Man": Holmes is asked to investigate the death of a husband who was part of a bad marriage, but trying to make the best of it. His wife is the prime suspect, and her best friend might have the key to solving the mystery. This one was definitely interesting; I was pretty surprised with what the solution ended up being.

"The Resident Patient": This one concerns the investigation of an epileptic patient and his son who visit a doctor and then seem to vanish whenever the doctor leaves the room. Something is disturbing the patient, and the case's resolution probably isn't what Holmes would expect. I liked the somewhat dark ending and how we do occasionally get to see a case that doesn't work out for Holmes. Even the greatest detective can't win 'em all, right?

"The Greek Interpreter": Sherlock receives a case from his older, just as brilliant, but lazy brother Mycroft. A Greek interpreter has a strange experience and suspects criminal activity, thus calling in Sherlock. This one had a pretty awesome ending; it's got another strong female character like Irene Adler or Violet Hunter in the mix.

"The Naval Treaty": An important naval treaty disappears from the desk of the worker entrusted to copy it, and the worker, desperate to get it back, calls in Holmes and Watson. Retrieving it involves some complex maneuvers. The plan to get it back was quite fun to read about; I loved Holmes' dramatics towards the end and the fact that Watson is still amazed by his friend's talents. I'm also intrigued by Wikipedia's assertion that this was one of the first spy thrillers; it definitely felt like it, international intrigue and whatnot.

"The Final Problem": The famous instance where Doyle, tired of the character, attempted to kill him off in a confrontation with Moriarty, only to revive him when financial and public pressure mounted once more. (The Hound of the Baskervilles is meant to be a case from before his "death", whereas his true return is in, well, The Return of Sherlock Holmes.) Anyway, even if modern readers know it's only temporary, Holmes' death and confrontation with Moriarty are pretty much awesome. I was getting teary-eyed reading the letter to Watson and cheering on Holmes during his confrontation. (Bonus: the dialogue from the Reichenbach Falls incident is used in the amazing final scene of "The Great Game", the first season finale of Sherlock.)

Overall, this collection gives us some great insights into the character of Sherlock Holmes: we see his early days, we see him foiled and confounded, and we see him go out in a true blaze of glory. I liked this one even better than Adventures and it was definitely enjoyable reading!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Which Trai Admits to Negligence

Hello, all! A quick note just to apologize for my absolute lack of time lately--while I've been reading plenty, I've only just started my winter break last week, and the papers I had to write were just eating me alive. I had one in nearly every class! Thus, every promise I made to get the reviews up and coming shortly... well, clearly it didn't happen!

Thus, I now have a backlog of four reviews to get done, and they are:

* The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
* The Hound of the Baskervilles, " "
* Mr. Darcy's Obsession, Abigail Reynolds
* 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff

I have substantially less to do now that I'm on break, and I'm hoping to blow through the backlog tomorrow if I work very intensely. My apologies again, with a promise that I will be back up and running soon and into the New Year, and many happy returns to you all!

- Trai

Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Which Trai Wishes Jane Austen a Happy 235th Birthday!

Hello, everyone! I'm working on my next review (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, hopefully up tonight) and getting through finals, but I just had to say a very happy birthday to my favorite author, Jane Austen.

Mags, the lovely Editrix at Austenblog, thought of things to give Jane for her birthday. I'm not nearly as creative as she is, and like her, my first thoughts really go to all Jane has given me. She and Louisa May Alcott are really just my idols when it comes to writing, and I can't imagine my life if I hadn't marched into Borders one day and gotten my copy of Pride and Prejudice. I didn't think I'd fall in love with it, but I did. I loved Lizzy and Mr. Darcy. I kept reading and I fell in love with each and every hero. Colonel Brandon, Edmund Bertram, Henry Tilney, Captain Wentworth, Mr. Knightley--all of them have their place in my heart, and so do the heroines. One of my treasured possessions from my trip to England a few years ago is a postcard of an illustration of Marianne Dashwood, my favorite heroine, looking out over Norland Park.

I could find something of myself in the heroines. Like Lizzy, I judge too quickly sometimes. Like Anne and Fanny, I don't stand up for myself. Like Elinor, I keep my emotions bottled up. And Emma... well, Emma and I are still on bad terms, for the most part. (Snob! :D)

Jane's life and writing have had such an impact on me. I cried seeing Cassandra's letter about her death in the Morgan Library in the City. I've stood by her grave and next to her statue outside of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. I've walked in the Pump Room. I've not yet been to Chawton, but it's a goal of mine.

Because I can't think of anything to give to Jane, I decided to share with all of you my favorite Jane-related things.

* Of the original novels, my two favorites are Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park.

* Of the film and TV adaptations of the novels, I of course love the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. Other favorites of mine are the '95 and '08 Sense and Sensibility(s), the '95 Persuasion, and the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma.

* When it comes to paraliterature, my favorites have to be Writing Jane Austen by Elizabeth Aston, The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice by Abigail Reynolds, Jane Austen in Scarsdale by Paula Marantz Cohen, and, well, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. ;)

* A very, very special shoutout to the fantastic film version of The Jane Austen Book Club, starring Maria Bello, Amy Brenneman, Hugh Dancy, Maggie Grace, Jimmy Smits, Kathy Baker, and Emily Blunt, among others. It's one of my all-time favorite films, hilariously funny, and compliments the book very well!

So, in conclusion, a very, very happy birthday to our Jane. May she rest in peace, and may her work continue to bring me and others much joy!

- Trai.

Monday, December 6, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes'

The Book: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, Book 3)

The Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

How I Found It: Spurred on by my ardent love for the BBC's modern-day version Sherlock, I've renewed my resolution to read the Holmes canon in order, in its entirety.

The Review: This collection includes some of the more well-known Holmes stories, or at least the ones I'd encountered before I decided to seriously embark upon reading the canon. Not being a Holmes scholar, I'm not sure! But I was glad to encounter some of the famous stories and to be able to go, "Hey, they used that quote in [insert adaptation here]!" My review will be story by story.

"A Scandal in Bohemia": The first and only appearance (in person, anyway; she's mentioned a few more times) of Irene Adler, the only woman to ever outsmart Holmes. I'd read this one before, but it was good to read over again. I do really enjoy this story; it's nice to see Holmes truly respecting someone (although it is true that the outcome of the case would've been the same even if he wasn't there). I'm curious to read Carole Nelson Douglas' series that makes Adler into a detective herself; should be interesting!

"The Red-Headed League": The strange case of a man hired to copy out the encyclopedia, and is then abruptly fired after a few weeks. Allegedly, this story was a favorite of Conan Doyle's, and this was one I had to read in high school. This one I remembered the resolution of; it's not one you'll pick up much on during a reread, but it's still fun to see Holmes' amusement at the client's plight and to see one of the first glimpses (in the stories, anyway, novels notwithstanding) of Holmes' deductive processes.

"A Case of Identity": This is one of the ones I at least partly solved on my own; we'll ignore that it's one of the easier ones! ;) A woman comes to Holmes asking him to investigate the disappearance of her fiance on their wedding day. Holmes pretty much solves the whole case sitting down. The general plot and resolution of this story's been used a hundred times before; I'm curious to know if this was one of the first. There's some interesting critical conclusions about this one on Wikipedia that I hadn't thought about!

"The Boscombe Valley Mystery": Holmes and Watson are asked by Lestrade to solve a murder where the circumstantial evidence seems pretty damning. Holmes, however, believes a third party to be responsible. This is a great example of Holmes' defiance of Lestrade when it comes to the Scotland Yard investigations. It was fun to see how Holmes manages to look past the implications of the circumstantial evidence to come to his own correct conclusion.

"The Five Orange Pips": Holmes and Watson take on the KKK. It's interesting in that there's no true victory here; the mystery's solved, but not everything ends happily. Being an American, it was nice to get a good giggle out of our heroes needing to dig out an American encyclopedia to get their information.

"The Man with the Twisted Lip": A friend of Watson's wife asks him to find her husband in an opium den, and in one of the more amusing incidents in the book, Watson comes across a disguised Holmes in said den. Holmes draws him into the mystery of another woman's disappeared husband. Seeing Holmes' various disguises is definitely interesting; I'm surprised it's not utilized more in the recent adaptations (though in Sherlock, Holmes is a pretty good actor and uses that a couple times).

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle": Holmes is brought a goose and a hat belonging to a poor man, and the goose contains a precious gem. The problem is that no one knows how it got there! Holmes and Watson investigate by trekking off to the man who sold it. A Christmas story, it doesn't deviate too far from the normal Holmes formula present in all the stories here.

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band": A woman comes to Holmes and asks him to investigate the strange death of her sister, involving a ventilator and whistling. You'd better believe Holmes can solve it. This one shows his lack of emotion for the criminals he persecutes, not that most of them deserve any type of strong emotion anyway, and it's no wonder why the recent series chooses to classify him as a "high-functioning sociopath."

"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb": Watson brings a patient of his to Holmes, seeking an explanation for the very odd circumstances surrounding the man's thumb being cut off. The story is primarily told through a conversation with the engineer. I liked that this one had Watson bringing the case to Holmes, rather than the other way around, and the engineer's story is one I can see being played out well on screen.

"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor": Similar to "A Case of Identity" in plot, Holmes and Watson are asked by a recently married man to figure out the whereabouts of his wife, who disappeared during their wedding breakfast. This one's fairly easy to figure out; I got through at least part of it on my own. (We'll pretend I'm a genius and solved more than the easy ones. Right? Okay.)

"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet": Holmes is asked to investigate the disappearance of a piece of jewelry strongly implied to belong to Prince Albert and the royal family. Also somewhat easy to figure out, this one had a superb dressing-down of the client involved for the way he treats his son during the investigation.

"The Adventure of the Cooper Beeches": Violet Hunter, a young woman, asks Holmes about whether or not she should accept a governess position she has been offered that has some strange caveats attached. We see a somewhat softer side to Holmes here; he shows genuine interest in Hunter's plight and seems to care about how it's resolved, although Watson takes care to note that his interest ended when the case did. I guessed this one's resolution, but it was one of the better and more mysterious ones in the collection.

Overall, I really enjoyed this collection; I wasn't bored by any of the stories and any gripes I had can simply be attributed to the fact that there were once serialized in a magazine. For example, it's somewhat tiring for Holmes to do the "As you know, Bob..." of listing off the cases Watson recorded for him, given that they're in the book itself, but one assumes that was for the benefit of first-time or infrequent readers picking up the stories and wanting to find others. It was also a little jarring for the stories to be out of chronological order--i.e., Watson will be married and living with his wife in one, only to be a bachelor still living with Holmes in the next. This one also makes sense; one can assume Conan Doyle perhaps wanted to revisit Watson's bachelor days, given that those were over by The Sign of Four.

Other than those complaints, which are due to the style the stories were initially published in, I can give this one a definite recommendation for people looking to start in on Holmes. Prior knowledge of A Study in Scarlet or The Sign of Four isn't necessary, but it's nice to see the progression of Holmes and Watson's friendship in order.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Which Trai Lists Ten Characters She'd Like to Be Best Friends With

Hi again, everyone! Bear with me over the next few weeks; it's finals season here at college and my reading is mainly sources I need for papers and such! This week's Top 10 Tuesday was too good to pass up: Top Ten Characters I'd Like to Be Best Friends With! Here's my list, in no particular order:

1) Jo March, Little Women: The March sisters were some of the first characters that really felt like friends and family to me! I wrote my college essay on how Jo and Louisa May Alcott inspired me when I read the book at 16. I was already a writer of dark, macabre tales, like Jo, and while I was never a tomboy, I'm not the first and not the last to wish I knew Jo! I loved reading about her adventures and laughing and crying at them. She's firmly at the top of my favorite characters in literature thus far.

2) Colonel Brandon, Sense and Sensibility: I decided to go the road less-traveled and put an Austen hero rather than a heroine! Colonel Brandon is my favorite of the Austen heroes and his backstory is certainly the most fascinating. He's seen battle, but he also has this incredibly tragic romantic backstory and an amazing capacity for love. I just find him a fascinating character and someone I'd love to talk to about his experiences.

3) Kitty Norville, the Kitty Norville series: Kitty usually makes all the lists I do for a reason! She's in her mid-twenties, or at least she was at the start of the series, and I've been reading the books since I was 14. Kitty was the youngest urban fantasy heroine I've read thus far, and I could really relate to her. She's an English major, like me; she's got a sarcastic sense of humor like mine and doesn't know when to shut up; and she's also grown into a really strong, confident character. I feel like I'd really love joking and just talking in general with Kitty!

4) Jacob Grace, God-Shaped Hole: I love the hero of this book. He's obscene at times and surprisingly emotional at others, and he's also a brilliant writer. I'd certainly be interested in what he had to say.

5) Cassandra Mortmain, I Capture The Castle: Cass and her family were the characters of the first book I really connected to after Little Women. I loved her one page and I hated her the next, and she was endearing despite her faults. She's a writer who's in the middle of a very mixed-up family and disappointed in love, and I'd love to be part of that.

6) Grigg Harris, The Jane Austen Book Club: Because nothing's more romantic than a scifi geek who reads Austen! I love his character in both the book and the movie. The book expounds on his fairly sad backstory, while the movie focuses more on the quirky aspects of his character. He'd be able to relate to both my inner scifi geek and my inner Austen fan!

7) Savannah Levine, The Otherworld series: I started this series at fourteen years old, when Savannah's character was 13 at her first appearance. Now, I'm 19 and she's in her twenties. I really grew up with her, and I always enjoy reading her appearances in Armstrong's books. In a series about adult women, Savannah was the one I could really relate to.

8) John Watson, the Sherlock Holmes series: I'd say Holmes, but given that his only friend is Watson, I figured Watson was the safer bet. Who wouldn't want to be a fly on the wall during Holmes and Watson's adventures?

9) Hermione Granger, the Harry Potter series: Hermione was another one I could relate to as a kid. I was really bookish and maybe a little too smart for my own good, and I could relate to Hermione in the early books a whole lot! She also grew up into a mature, bright young woman, and I'd love to be friends with her.

10) Max Evans, the Roswell High series: I loved these books and the TV show as a young teen, and Max was the one who made me think that all lab partners would be opposite-sex attractive aliens. ;) Max is sweet and a good friend to his guy friends (Michael) and his female friends (Liz). The really great thing about him is the lengths he's willing to go for the people he cares about, like when he risks his life and being exposed as an alien to heal Liz after she gets shot. Max was always one of my favorites in the series.

Friday, November 26, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The History of Love'

The Book: The History of Love

The Author: Nicole Krauss

How I Found It: The book itself and Nicole Krauss were mentioned a few times over on Jamie's blog, and I decided to check it out for myself!

The Review: In New York, two lonely people are living separate lives. The first, Leo Gursky, is a locksmith who escaped the SS during the Holocaust and is now living his life terrified of no one noticing his eventual death. He makes a point of being seen everywhere he goes, and his only companion is his friend Bruno. Leo is a writer who once loved a woman named Alma, and his memories of her haunt his days.

The second lonely person is Alma Singer, a fourteen-year-old girl named after a character in little-known Spanish novel called The History of Love. Alma is obsessed with learning how to survive in the wild, and with trying to stop her brother Bird's budding religious fanaticism from isolating him. Alma's mother, a widow, is a translator, and receives a letter from a man called Jacob Moritz, who asks her if she can translate The History of Love into English for him, naming a very high price. Her mother agrees, and Alma begins to wonder if Jacob Moritz is the man who can cure her mother's loneliness. Soon, she begins the search for her namesake, the Alma of The History of Love. Her search for Alma is interwoven with Leo's search for meaning, and interwoven with all of this is the surprising story of the original manuscript of The History of Love.

I love, love, love books about books. I mentioned this in my review of Jane Austen Ruined My Life. This isn't quite literary intrigue like that book or like Possession, my favorite of the genre, but it's a really involving story about a book that has changed lives. I cared about the characters, definitely, but in a way, I cared about the book more! Alma and Leo are our narrators, but there are also sections about The History of Love itself, and I enjoyed those passages the most.

This is one of the most beautifully written books I've read in a long time. Certain passages really struck me and I found myself really thinking about them. One of my favorites comes from the first section about Zvi Litvinoff, author of the titular book: "These things are lost to oblivion like so much about so many who are born and die without anyone taking the time to write it all down. That Litvinoff had a wife who was so devoted is, to be frank, the only reason anyone knows anything about him at all" (pg 70). The voices of all our narrators are clear and distinct, most especially Leo's, but I also loved the way Alma's chapters were done, with numbered headings expressing a thought that would then lead into a small vignette. I'm a sucker for multiple narrators, and the device worked very well here, since it was the thing weaving the separate storylines, all related to The History of Love together. Even the idea of "the history of love" had me intrigued before I even read the book! Krauss definitely has a way with evocative phrases.

I liked how nothing about this book ever really seemed conventional, or at least, not to me, it didn't. The history of the titular book is convoluted and interesting, and the lives of Leo and Alma are well-drawn and fascinating to read about. I got a real sense of Judaism (which I'm lucky enough to be a part of!) as I read it, but it never felt too overwhelming. I liked almost all of the characters and enjoyed spending time with them.

I suppose one could say that there isn't really too much of a plot here, besides Alma's quest to find her namesake, but I enjoyed the ride so much because it was written so well. One thing I did want towards the end was more resolution--I wouldn't have minded the book being longer, though I understand why it ended where it did. I found myself missing the characters and wanting to know what happened beyond the end. Even if the end seemed abrupt to me, I enjoyed every second of this book and am now eager to get my hands on Great House, Krauss' new book. I highly recommend this one to lovers of books about books and to people looking for well-written fiction.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Rabbit Hole'

The Book: Rabbit Hole: A Play (Winner: 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama)

The Author: David Lindsay-Abaire

How I Found It: The forthcoming movie version with Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman (trailer here) caught my eye because, well, I love Aaron Eckhart!

The Review: Every time I read a play, a good play, I always think to myself that I should read more of them. And I most certainly believe that I should; this one took me just under an hour to read, and sometimes I just need something short! This was the perfect companion for a bus ride length-wise, although I should really learn that reading emotional works in the view of the public is perhaps not wise!

As I mentioned above, I first heard of this play when the news came out about Aaron Eckhart's presence in the film version. Having read this, I'm really excited to see what that will look like. It should be a pretty meaty role for Nicole Kidman, and seeing as she hand-picked Eckhart to play her husband, I'm confident he can do no wrong.

This play, 157 pages long, is simple but highly affecting. It is a glimpse into a few months in the lives of Becca and Howie Corbett, a couple grieving the loss of their four-year-old son, Danny, a few months before. Danny was killed when he chased the family dog into the street and was subsequently hit by a young driver, Jason. Howie has found solace by going to a support group for grieving parents and secretly watching video tapes of Danny. Becca, meanwhile, is doing all she can to pack away remnants of their son--donating his clothes, hiding away his books and toys, and resenting friends who haven't made the effort to keep in touch after the loss.

Howie is trying to reconnect with his wife, but Becca's brash relations begin to get in the way. Izzy, Becca's sister, has just announced that she's pregnant, and Nat, her mother, insists on comparing the loss of her own son, Becca's brother, to Becca's entirely different loss. As we witness all of the characters interacting and not interacting, speaking and choosing not to speak, we get a sense of their grief and conflicted feelings.

Of course, all of this is heavy material, but I felt that it was handled very well and that it never became too much or too maudlin. In an author's note after the play, Lindsay-Abaire stresses that there should be no histrionics, no added emotion. Becca and Howie only cry once apiece, and that's it--that's all that's needed, really. It does an excellent job of showing the different ways in which people grieve, and how that can become complicated, especially between two significant others. I'd love to see this performed onstage, let alone on film.

I really enjoyed the play's natural flow and how it really captured the way people just talk. I think it's the most realistic-sounding play I've read so far. Almost every scene consists of straight conversation, and Lindsay-Abaire captured those rhythms really well. There's no stilted dialogue, no awkward phrasing that sounds as though a speechwriter gave it a once-over--it sounds exactly like it would if you were eavesdropping on some neighbors. Given how much I love dialogue (see my previous review for an example of how I rip books to shreds when dialogue sounds off!), this play was like a present wrapped up in a nice bow.

I liked the dynamic between Becca and Howie the best. Becca can't understand what Howie gets out of the support group; Howie can't understand why Becca seems to be intent on erasing Danny, intentionally or unintentionally. Their conversations were, as they should be, the standout of the play and made for the most emotional scenes, the ones where I teared up. The play touches on whether a person can possibly not be "grieving enough," and on the resentment one person can feel when another's method of grieving is pushed on them. (Becca isn't religious and rails against the support group for this reason.) I found myself perfectly able to see both sides of their arguments, which is quite a feat. Becca and Howie's halting attempts at reconnecting were well done. The subplots of the supporting cast--Nat, Izzy, and Jason--all made for interesting scenes and added to the "slice of life" feel of the play.

I can understand why this one won the Pulitzer. Anyone who has grieved a loved one can get something out of this play and think, "I've been there." I know I did. There's no real resolution, but the play ends with a slightly hopeful note. In that way, the play mirrors life. Maybe Becca and Howie will never be able to get over their loss, but they can just push forward and hope for tomorrow. Even if I feel it ended at the right spot, I couldn't help but wish it was longer when I reached the end. I really did enjoy reading about these characters, and the material, as heavy as it was, really made me think about the nature of grief. Highly recommended to readers of drama and those with an interest in the subject matter or the film version.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'Miracle Baby'

** Spoilers herein, but not much more than can already be inferred from the title. **

The Book: Miracle Baby

The Author: Laura Bradford

How I Found It: I decided to do something different this year and read some Christmas-themed novels (mainly romances). Thus, there might be Christmas overload here the next few weeks and you'll all have to live with it. :) Found this one through eHarlequin.

The Review: Well, this is one of the first romances I've read that's just left me uncomfortable. I've got a lot of problems with it, and it just left me with a weird feeling. I'll explain those reasons further down. As I said before, spoiler warning on this one, but really, the title gives a hell of a lot away.

Maggie Monroe has fled to her uncle's Michigan inn in order to get away from her well-meaning but suffocating friends and family and to grieve the deaths of her husband and daughter alone. Ten months after their deaths, Maggie is still paralyzed by grief and isn't eating or sleeping.

She is met soon after her arrival by Rory O'Brien, the carpenter her uncle has hired to restore the inn to its former glory. Rory sees Maggie's grief and wants to try and help her, given that he also has a painful loss in his recent past. Maggie's uncle gives her, through Rory, the present of a "wishing ball," where a person can record their Christmas wishes and see if they come true in the next year. Maggie's wishes seem simple--to learn to knit, to remember her husband and daughter--but unobtainable to her. Rory begins to help her with them, giving her ways to achieve those wishes and future ones, and he finds himself attracted to the grieving widow. However, for every step they take, Maggie finds herself putting the brakes on any potential romance, afraid that any potential romance on her part would dishonro the memories of her husband and daughter. It's up to Rory and a few friends to get her to move past her grief and start a new life.

Okay. There's a lot that I felt was wrong with this book, but the general premise was one of them. I'll link here to a review of another book that was posted a few months ago over at Smart Bitches. That book also had a widowed person at its center, and Sarah (the reviewer) had a gripe with the fact that the heroine was pushing him to move on only five months after his wife's tragic death. Granted, Maggie in this book has been grieving for twice that, but I still felt that ten months was just taking far too many steps too fast, and it dampened my enjoyment of the book severely. I'll try and explain myself below.

I know the two schools of thought on this whole thing. On one hand, I've seen quite a few widowed people in my life, all of whom have waited at least a year or two before dating again. On the other, I've read plenty of Dear Abby columns where people have written in about the "appropriate" time frame for someone to start dating again after a death, and answers always vary. I've seen people say that after losing loved ones to long illnesses, the grieving is usually mostly done already, since there was a lot of time to cope with the death before it happened, but in the case of accidents or sudden deaths (as was the case with Maggie's husband and daughter here), it might take a little longer.

This was why I had issues with the premise--Maggie's husband and daughter were taken from her in a car crash, but ten months later, she is meeting and then sleeping with a man she's only met a week before. I'm not kidding. It's only been ten months, she's still grieving in a monumental way, and then she sleeps with a guy after knowing him for a week? Granted, she regrets it after, but... wow. The timeline really bugged me. There's also the fact that Maggie seems really fixated on grieving her daughter's loss, but that her husband only gets a few mentions. I didn't doubt that she loved them, but something just seemed off. I think her husband deserved a lot more mentions than he was getting.

I think that's one thing that might ring false with me about seasonal romance in general--the timeline is so limited that the romance developed far too fast. Normally, a romance novel covers at least a few months; this one covered maybe six to eight weeks and I just thought that the insta-attraction was very hard to buy, especially when Maggie was in such a fragile state. The idea of the story--Rory helping Maggie find hope again and to move into a more manageable state of grieving--was great in theory, but the execution left me wincing.

Moving on from my problems with the timeline, I just had other issues with this book. The dialogue was painfully corny at times and just didn't ring true to me. It sounded too polished, like quotation marks were put around sentences that would've worked better as description. I just couldn't see people speaking like they did in this novel; it didn't work for me. As I've said before in my reviews, dialogue is the driving force for me, in both the writing I do myself and in the novels I read. I've always been told I have an ear for writing dialogue, so when it sounds "off" in novels, it usually hampers my enjoyment.

I also enjoy novels that show us plenty about the main characters' lives. All the romances I've read so far have shown family, friends, neighbors of the mains. Here, we had a grand total of five characters that we see on-screen: Maggie, Rory, Delilah (owner of a diner in town), Virginia (a waitress at said diner), and Iris (owner of a gift shop). Of all those, we see Virginia and Iris in only one or two scenes, so the only ones we really see are Maggie, Rory, and Delilah. Off-screen, we have Maggie's uncle (whose name only gets mentioned once or twice!), and Maggie's thoughts about Jack and Natalie. I really would have preferred a larger cast of characters; basically, all of Maggie and Rory's relatives are either dead or estranged, and aside from being depressing, it left the novel somewhat repetitive. Maggie going to see Rory. Rory going to see Maggie. Rory going to Delilah's diner. Maggie going to Delilah's diner. Rory and Maggie going to Delilah's diner. And... that's it. It would have been great to have a subplot of some kind, or to have trimmed down the repeated visits to each other's places and added in some interactions with other townsfolk or something. I just started feeling claustrophobic after a while and wanted the characters to go see other people.

There's also the "miracle baby" of the title... something that doesn't come about until perhaps the last twenty pages. And Rory is incredibly happy about conceiving a child with a woman he's known for a little over a month. Their whole attraction just felt far too rushed and I really don't know if I bought it in the end. The baby felt like a copout in order to see that Maggie got her happy ending and found something to believe in, but it just left me with a feeling that they were really rushing into something they probably weren't ready for.

Overall, I felt that this book could have done with a restructuring of the plot and a better timeline. The attraction was somewhat messily done and felt too forced for me to believe in it. The idea behind the book was great as an idea, but on paper, it fell incredibly flat. Not recommended.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Which Trai Lists Her Top Ten Villains, Criminals, and Degenerates

I decided to participate again in Top 10 Tuesday, simply because I just had to sit down and think about which villains have made my skin crawl! This was definitely a fun list and it'll be interesting to see what other choices people made beside the classic ones! A lot of these guys have fantastically creepy screen portrayals to match, too. Only one lady makes my list; she comes in at #10, but if you have any interest in reading the Fingerprints / Echoes books by Melinda Metz, I highly recommend you avert your eyes, as it's a huge spoiler.

** Spoilers ahoy! **

1) Nils Bjurman, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Yeah, this guy beat out the previous head honcho on my list (who's #2 here) by a lot. He takes advantage of Lisbeth in some really twisted ways and just thinking about him makes me mad! I was dying for him to get his just desserts, and luckily Lisbeth served up the hurt! (Played to creepy perfection by Peter Andersson.)

2) Paul Marshall, Atonement: Since 2007 until early this year, this guy reigned supreme in my mind. He's a rapist and he's just... nyuhhh he freaks me out so much. He is the only one that can turn a chocolate bar into the most menacing thing in the world. Watching a younger girl he has his eye on eat one, there's this creepy little paragraph: He crossed and uncrossed his legs. Then he took a deep breath. "Bite it," he said softly. "You've got to bite it." (In order to see this so spectacularly done right, check out Benedict Cumberbatch in the film version. I give that man as many thumbs up as possible because while the chocolate bar scene still gives me nightmares, he succeeded in winning my heart as Sherlock Holmes.)

3) Bob Ewell, To Kill a Mockingbird: This is my all-time favorite book, and Bob Ewell is pretty reprehensible. You have to really feel for Mayella, who's really only on trial because she has no other choice. He's a drunk, he beats his daughter, and then accuses Tom of rape just because Mayella tried to find some sort of affection. And then, to top it all off, he tries to kill Jem and Scout? Not cool, Bob Ewell, not cool.

4) Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter series: Where would any list of villains be without Voldemort? Anybody who tries to kill a baby is not cool in my book! Not to mention, you know, the hundreds upon hundreds of other people he massacred. Basically, all of the Death Eaters and Umbridge fit into this list, too!

5) The Capitol, The Hunger Games series: I still haven't read Mockingjay, so I don't know the worst of it, but, um, making kids fight to the death on live television? Making it mandatory for the families of those kids, and everyone else in the nation, to watch? And doing all this just to show your citizens that they'd better not question the government? Twisted's not even the word.

6) Roman, Kitty Norville series: One of my lesser-known choices, this guy comes from Carrie Vaughn's Kitty books, which I've reviewed here before. He's become more of a major player recently and has had his hands dipped in most, if not all, of the villainy stuff going on since Book 4. We still don't know all of his motivations, but he's got some seriously scary power and I'm really interested to see where his storyline will go.

7) Mr. Harvey, The Lovely Bones: If you want evidence of how creepy this guy is, look at the movie poster and tell me that does not give you nightmares. UGH. He rapes and dismembers Susie, and he's done it to other girls and women over the years, and he's just so severely creepy. (Check out Stanley Tucci in the movie version!)

8) Stanley, A Streetcar Named Desire: Most of the people on my list seem to be rapists... anyway. Abusive jackass who hits his pregnant wife and rapes his already mentally unstable sister-in-law after basically verbally torturing her. Stanley's just a fun guy, isn't he?

9) Sauron, The Lord of the Rings series: Where would my list be without this one? I read these books in elementary school and there's just something about the all-seeing eye and that ring and what it does to Gollum that's all wrapped up in the lovely notion of Sauron.

10) Yana, the Fingerprints / Echoes series: These books (by Melinda Metz) have recently been reissued under a different series title, hence me giving both. There's seven books in the series and you don't find out until the sixth that Yana has been the main villain all along, hence the massive spoiler warning. Believing that Rae's mother was responsible for the death of her own mother (I think; I'm fuzzy on the details as it's been six years), Yana poses as Rae's friend and does some pretty crazy things in order to scare her or try and kill her, including a pipe bomb, sending along her mom's ashes and a bone fragment, and using her powers of mental coercion to try and get Rae to cut herself to death with a knife. "I wonder how many cuts it will take for you to die? I bet thousands and thousands." Yana reforms once it's revealed Rae's mother didn't do anything, but still, she's just scary!

I'm interested to see what villains made the cut for you guys!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: The Movie'

** Given that this is the third film in a trilogy, spoilers ahoy for the first two parts and for this film! **

My sincerest apologies for my lack of updates recently; schoolwork is again taking over my time and I haven't had as much time to read or update. I saw this last week, so this review is incredibly delayed. It is my hope (as it always is) to resume normal updating speed shortly.

And so a week has passed since I saw this and the Swedish side of the Millennium craze has officially passed in the States. I do feel quite a bit of sadness at seeing it go; now we must wait until December 2012 for the American remake starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, which is currently filming in Sweden. Until then, I shall live in my books and the DVDs of the original films, and should any interesting news come up about either the films or the mystery-shrouded fourth book, I might throw out a mention on here.

With that being said, this is of course the final film in the Millennium trilogy and it's been quite a ride to get there. We open with Lisbeth and her father Zalachenko being rushed to the hospital, both of them nearly dead. Zalachenko has been attacked with an axe by Lisbeth; Lisbeth has been shot in the head and buried alive by her half-brother, Niedermann, a blonde giant who can literally feel no pain. The day was saved by Mikael Blomkvist, Lisbeth's once-lover and partner in crime-solving, but their problems are far from over. Lisbeth faces a grueling recovery and then a trial that will determine if she is guilty for three murders and if she can finally be declared legally competent. Unable to truly help herself, it will take the combined efforts of Mikael, the Millennium staff, Mikael's lawyer sister Annika, and Lisbeth's hacker friends to try and bring her to a victory.

To start with, this film had a lot to do and a short space to do it in. It has to wrap up an ongoing story in two and a half hours, and it has to do so while managing a lot of characters and relationships. Overall, I felt that the books were a more rewarding and cohesive experience, simply because there was no way that the movies could do the fairly vast web of characters justice. Some subplots were omitted and some scenes were altered or deleted entirely. Out of all the adaptations, I found this one to be the least satisfying as an adaptation of the book, but it was still great as a movie and a satisfying conclusion to the films.

This film continued to do the things Played with Fire did that I felt improved upon the books. We see more of Millennium than we did in the first film (it was omitted over here), and Christer and Malin get a lot to do. Erika and Mikael as a couple get more screentime; their relationship is fairly important so I was glad it made the cut (again, the cut of the first film that was shown over here omitted this). Some of the subplots that got the axe were Mikael's relationship with Monica (no tears shed by me, as I never did feel that was necessary to the third book) and Erica's tenure at Aftonbladet and relationship with her husband. (I was a little sadder about this one; I'd really wanted to see her own storyline in here, but one part of it--the threatening messages--was twisted to fit this storyline. Her husband is omitted entirely.) This film cuts down on the book's many, many characters and makes the story more manageable.

The performances are still top-notch. Rapace has less physical things to do this time around, as Lisbeth is still rehabilitating for most of it. Instead, we see her dealing with her limited abilities and with the people around her who must help her. Primarily, we see her interact with Annika (Annika Hallin), and there's some sweet, flirty little scenes concerning her and Jonasson, her doctor, played by Aksel Morisse. It was interesting to see the other, calmer side of Lisbeth as played by Rapace, as she finds herself having to deal with people asking her questions she has never wanted to answer. Michael Nyqvist gets a lot to do as Blomkvist; he has his action scenes and then his in-command position at Millennium. I still really enjoyed the way he captured Mikael's devotion to Lisbeth and his hellbent nature when it comes to finding the truth. Teleborian, as the main villain this time 'round, was played to fantastically creepy perfection by Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl.

The supporting characters also turned in good performances. Lena Endre, as Erika, is yet again the normal, grounding force in Mikael's life, and her concern for him shows through nicely. I also liked that the film decided to show the conflict in their relationship that arises from Mikael's occasionally reckless actions; it was nice to see the other side of the coin. Annika Hallin's performance as Annika Giannini was occasionally hit or miss for me--I believed her as a lawyer full-stop, but when it came to her reacting to circumstances, some of her reactions felt overdone (i.e., when her bag gets stolen, when she tells Mikael about the shooting at the hospital, when she sees the tape of Lisbeth and Bjurman). Some humor is brought to the whole thing by Tomas Köhler as Plague, who is used as a stand-in for the whole Hacker Republic that was present in the books.

On the whole, the film does what it's supposed to do: it wraps up the story of Mikael and especially Lisbeth, and it gives the viewer closure. It condenses the book into something manageable and although the amount of names could get unwieldy (I'd read the books and yet couldn't remember until a few days after seeing the film who Bjorck was!), the story still manages to be cohesive and not overly hard to follow. The film cuts down on the talky aspects of the book by interspersing it with bits of action--i.e., Niedermann slowly making his way to a safe haven.

I enjoyed some of the screenplay's adaptational choices more than others. I really liked the little flirtation between Lisbeth and Jonasson; it added some levity and made me smile. As I said before, I liked the decision to show the tension in Mikael and Erika's relationship. I did miss some of the communication between Lisbeth and Mikael; there wasn't as much of that here as there could have been. But all of the book's relationships were preserved well, for the most part.

Then again, some of the things that were omitted really made me wish they'd been kept in, and that's why I will say that overall, I found the books better than the films. I really wish the film had stuck more closely to the book's ending, in particular. We see Lisbeth's confrontation with Niedermann; that's all intact. Where the movie strays from the book is Lisbeth's reconciliations with Miriam and then with Mikael, which really disappointed me. I don't even think Miriam got a mention, which is sad considering the effort Played with Fire made to show their relationship.

And then there was the thing that really, truly bugged me: the change to the final scene with Mikael and Lisbeth. The book ends on the beautifully symbolic gesture that gives real closure to the trilogy: Lisbeth letting Mikael into her apartment, symbolic of the fact that she'd let him into her life, cut him out, and is now letting him in again. Instead, here, she says thank you to Mikael when he comes to her apartment, and it basically ends with them saying "see you around." I had really wanted to see that final gesture on screen; it was what made the book feel really complete to me, and what made me feel it was really over. I read an interpretation that stated that the ending of the book was more ambiguous due to the potential of more books--there will be more adventures, hence why Lisbeth lets Mikael in--whereas the film trilogy itself is more finite, with no possibility for a continuation, which is why the reconciliation doesn't truly happen. I can see that point, but the fact that the one tiny little gesture wasn't concluded threw me more than it should have. I just wish the film had given us more closure to the Lisbeth/Mikael partnership than it did.

Overall, I enjoyed the film's valiant effort to preserve the final chapter of the trilogy in a manageable form. I did not receive all the closure I had hoped for, but I still got a film with great performances that provided a satisfying end to a phenomenal trilogy. The books do a better job at telling the overall story, but I recommend these films to any American Millennium fan who wants to see it all done right (I've shown them to three of my fellow book fans so far and all of them have loved them). Rapace and Nyqvist are basically the essential Lisbeth and Mikael, no matter who might take the roles in the future. I give a big thumbs up to this installment and the trilogy as a whole, and here's to Sally and Kalle, some of my favorite literary friends.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In Which Trai Reveals Ten Books That Made Her Cry

Hi, everyone! I have seen this meme all around the book-blogging world, but have never partcipated in it myself. However, I love talking about emotional experiences reading books, and this is one meme I just had to do. There might be spoilers ahoy!

Many, many books hit me on an emotional level, and there are quite a few that have not made this list. However, these are the ones that stick out in my mind.

1) Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro: This book and its beautifully heartbreaking movie adaptation had me crying buckets worth of tears. It's probably the hardest I've ever cried at a book and its ending is still with me months later. I became so invested in the struggles of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, and their story left me drained but constantly thinking of it. This is a beautiful, heartwrenching book.

2) The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger: I wouldn't want to spoil this book for anyone, but I will say that it is a gut-wrenching tragic love story and one I became incredibly attached to. It made me spend the day between my senior prom and high school graduation crying my eyes out! I raced through this book all the way to its conclusion and it has stuck in my mind as one of the most emotional books I have ever read.

3) God-Shaped Hole, Tiffanie deBartolo: Can you tell I'm just a huge sucker for tragic love stories? This is a little-known book that I truly loved. My friend turned me on to the author's other book, and I found this one and told her she just had to read it! deBartolo is an amazing author. There's a lot of emotional scenes in this book, as Trixie and Jacob, the leads, suffer through father issues as they struggle to build their relationship and leave Los Angeles when they feel it is weighing them down. This is a great love story that most definitely had me reaching for the tissues. I highly recommend this one and her other book, How to Kill a Rock Star.

4) Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult: My Sister's Keeper, of course, made me cry buckets, but in order to play the contrarian, I offer this one as its stand-in for one simple reason. There is a chapter in this book where the events of 9/11 are recounted partly through the eyes of the younger characters. I was only 10 when 9/11 happened, slightly younger than Peter and Josie were supposed to be in the chapter, and I had to put the book away during that chapter because it just hit this wellspring of memories. Picoult captured so clearly that feeling I had of being a kid who just couldn't understand why this was happening to the world and how people could do such a thing. It was a beautifully done scene that hit me really hard.

5) The Last Song, Nicholas Sparks: There's a lot of emotion in this book, as there is in nearly all of Sparks', but this one got me the worst. I was a sobbing mess by the end, but I was glad I read it. It's an affecting family drama wrapped up in a very sweet love story, and I really cared about the characters, as evidenced by the copious amount of tears I was shedding towards the end!

6) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson: If you've been following my blog for a while, you've seen by now that I truly adore this series; it's the best I've read in years. Dragon Tattoo really stays with me because of the impression it made. Lisbeth, our heroine, has been taken advantage of all her life, and there are two really graphic rape scenes in the novel. The second one left me shaking, hyperventilating, and nearly in tears. It's the most visceral reaction I've ever had to a book and I knew from then on that I loved it. As hard as the story was to read, it really hammered in for me the impact of violence against women all around the world and how much we need this to change.

7) Proof, David Auburn: I acted a scene from this in one of my classes and ordered the book straightaway, because the scene I had to do had me not faking the tears I was supposed to cry! This is a truly moving story of a bipolar mathematician's daughter and her fear that she may have inherited his illness. I just remember feeling so connected to Catherine's struggle and seeing her father deteriorate into illness during the flashback scenes was really heartbreaking. This is pretty much my favorite play.

8) The Laramie Project, Moises Kaufman: ... although it's closely rivaled by this one, which was a reading assignment my senior year of high school and a play I ended up acting in later that year. It's the very, very sad but moving story of Matthew Shepard's beating and death in 1998, and the effect it had on the town of Laramie, Wyoming. It's a tough story to read about, but it's got a lot to say about tolerance, homophobia, and compassion, all in the words of Laramie's citizens. This is one book I feel everyone should read.

9) Atonement, Ian McEwan: This is one of my favorite fictional love stories and favorite book-to-movie adaptations, and both of them make me cry! Besides the sad fact of its lovers never truly getting to be together, the details of the Dunkirk evacuation and life as a nurse in WWII really affected me and opened my eyes to a different time period.

10) Little Women, Louisa May Alcott: This is one of my all-time favorite books! I don't think I'm spoiling much by talking about it, as every back cover for it I've ever seen makes some reference to "tragedy" and "Beth." And it's not even that part that really gets me going! I have to choke back a sob every time I read the scene where Laurie comforts Jo during the first part, when she believes Beth's illness is all her fault. These characters feel so real to me and that's part of the reason I find their story so emotional.

What books have made YOU guys cry?? I hope you enjoyed my list! Have a nice day!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening and The Struggle'

The Book: The Vampire Diaries, Volume 1: The Awakening and The Struggle

The Author: L.J. Smith

How I Found It: I read a trilogy of L.J. Smith's when I was 14 and wasn't too huge a fan, but I heard nothing but positive reviews of the Vampire Diaries books. At that time, all of Smith's books are out of print, but now, due to the resurgence of YA paranormal fiction and the popularity of the TV series based on The Vampire Diaries (which I now have plans to watch), all of her books have been reprinted.

The Review: This book is comprised of two separate books, The Awakening and The Struggle. I will try to focus on the strengths and faults of each indiviudally, but the books are so cohesive--really, it's one big, continuous story--that I might just end up evaluating the book as a whole.

I have to start off this review by mentioning that these books have marked similarities to Twilight, although these were out in the 1990s and Twilight only came around in 2005. From what I've read, there was actually a lawsuit--not initiated by L.J. Smith, I think, who says she hasn't read them or seen the movies, but is aware of the similarities. Borders apparently refused to carry both the Twilight books and these books until the lawsuit was settled. I don't know how true this is since I read it on a message board and can't dig up more info, but there are plenty of lists with comparisons between the two out there. There are superficial plot similarities, but I found the characters different in some fundamental ways, and I personally found this story more engaging. (I will put it out there now that I am not a fan of Twilight, as I said in my second-ever blog post.)

The Awakening: Elena Gilbert has just returned to her hometown of Fell's Church, after the death of her parents in France. Living with her unmarried aunt and her baby sister, Elena is trying to readjust to life in her old community. She is the queen of the school and has a circle of friends willing to do whatever she wishes, and she can have any boy she wants--except the new one. His name is Stefan Salvatore, and he is impossibly gorgeous, mysteriously enchanting--and able to resist Elena. Elena makes a vow to have him, stopping at nothing until she gets what she wants.

The atmosphere in the town begins to change as a homeless man is attacked and partly drained of blood, and on the night of the Homecoming dance, one of Elena's classmates is attacked as well. This is the night that Stefan saves Elena from being raped by a drunken classmate, and this is the night when Stefan finally begins to let her in. They begin a relationship, though Stefan still attempts to hide his true nature and darker secrets from her.

I have to say that I liked this first part better than I was expecting. I have read extraordinarily mixed reviews about the series--on the one hand are the readers who read this series when it first came out and have fond memories of it; on the other are the readers of today, who seem to take issue with Elena's character and prefer the show. I will admit that although Elena is self-centered and unlikable until about halfway through the second volume, I found that this is one area where this series triumphed over Twilight, for me. Elena does not sit around and wait to be saved; when she wants something, she goes out and does it. Her friends, Meredith, Bonnie, and Matt, are actually there to support her and help her with these things; they are not simply window dressings in order to put more human characters in the story. Even if Elena sometimes needs help from the vampires in order to get what she needs, she almost always makes a valiant effort of her own first.

I also enjoyed this book a bit more than the second half because of one primary difference--Damon. If you've seen any summaries of the show at all, and even the summary on the back of this book, it plays up the love triangle aspect between Elena, Stefan, and Stefan's evil older brother, Damon. Damon actually is not a huge player in this first part; he comes in very late. Though every other reader and viewer seems to fawn over Damon, I found myself much more in love with Stefan and who he was trying to be for Elena. I guess I'm just not one for the bad boys! Stefan does lay on the tortured-hero a bit too thick at times, but he genuinely cares about Elena and has a reason for wanting to protect her from himself. I really enjoyed seeing their relationship (although Elena does fall in love rather too quickly for my tastes; I do so wish we could change this whole trend of "I see you and now I'm in love!" in YA).

This book sustains the action and mystery very well, as the events in Fell's Church become weirder and scarier. I'd advise that it's best to read the whole book all at once, as each book ends on a cliffhanger and it really is one continuous story. Which leads us into my as-spoiler-free-as-possible review of...

The Struggle: Damon is in Fell's Church and wreaking havoc among its citizens. Stefan has disappeared and so has Elena's diary, in which she wrote all about Stefan and his secret. After she and her friends find Stefan, pages with excerpts from Elena's diary are slowly posted around the school, and Elena finds herself desperate to retrieve it, while trying to do so without Stefan knowing.

The one person who can help her is the one person she does not want to help--Damon. Determined to possess her after what he views as Stefan's betrayal centuries ago, he offers Elena a deal: a few drops of her blood in return for him retrieving her diary. When Elena refuses, Damon works harder than ever to enter her mind and heart, trying to draw her away from Stefan. Time is running out before the contents of Elena's diary will be publicized all around town, and Elena finds herself struggling between Damon's offer and her loyalty to Stefan.

I felt that this half did an admirable job of reforming Elena's character from the self-centered ice queen into the girl who, while still harboring some selfish impulses, wants to be someone more. She is forced to recognize how selfish she has been and that she wants to be someone worthy of Stefan's ideals about honor and love. We don't see all that much of her relationship here, as it is more focused on her efforts to fight Damon and get him to leave her and her friends alone.

I have to admit that I really don't understand what makes certain readers attracted to Damon. I actually have to give Smith a lot of credit for creating such a polarizing character--some think he's just a bad boy waiting to be saved; I happen to think he's a complete monster. Not only is he responsible for murders and attacks over centuries (Stefan drinks only from animals, whereas Damon goes for human blood), he goes so far as to threaten to harm Elena's four-year-old sister if she doesn't obey him! He has no remorse and won't stop until he gets his way, and even if he comes off as over-the-top, his presence still felt genuinely threatening to Elena, Stefan, and the town at large.

So it's my opinion that what's going on between Elena, Stefan, and Damon isn't really a love triangle, because Stefan and Elena are the only ones in love! We never get any indication that Damon wants her for any reason other than to have her, period, and use that to screw over Stefan. He basically attempts to seduce Elena through mind games and manipulation, whereas Elena actively pursued Stefan and there is interest on both sides. I do feel that the marketing for this is somewhat misleading, as there is no love on Damon's side, just a really, really big sense of foreboding and menace.

All in all, though I know the series itself garners mixed opinions, it is worth it to give this one to teens looking for bigger books (the two books combined clock in at 494 pages) that have in interest in vampire fiction, and who might be interested to see an early example of the craze. For anyone concerned about romantic content, there's just some kissing that leads to blood-drinking (glossed over in short paragraphs, not described in great detail), although there's some pretty scary things going on, so I'd recommend this one to maybe 15 and up, unless you feel a younger child could handle it. Happy Halloween, everyone, and happy reading!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Sign of Four'

The Book: The Sign of Four (Sherlock Holmes, Book 2)

The Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

How I Found It: I made a resolution two years back to read all of the Holmes books in order, but never got beyond A Study in Scarlet. PBS' broadcasting of the excellent modern-day-set series Sherlock has set me back on the path of my resolution.

The Review: Writing a review of classic fiction is always intimidating to me. What am I supposed to say that hasn't already been said? But with my lack of reviewing lately, I figured that I'd put out there now that there will probably be a lot of Sherlock Holmes on this blog in the coming months. I'm slightly in love with the new Sherlock series and I really do want to read through the whole canon. A gradual project it may be, but I do hope to complete it.

It's pretty much a guarantee that everyone knows about Sherlock Holmes, and if you don't, I would quite like to visit the rock you have been living under and see how it is you get the Internet access necessary to view my blog. This novel is the second chronologically, and is the second of four Holmes novels written by Doyle (the rest were short story collections). I think it's a general opinion that the short story collections are better, but I found this book perfectly enjoyable and it made me look forward to reading the rest of the Holmes canon.

John Watson is still adjusting to living with his flatmate Sherlock Holmes. Holmes has many odd habits, among them the proclivity towards cocaine when he's bored (!) and his extraordinary powers of deductive reasoning. I really love the opening scene, in which he manages to tell Watson all about his deceased brother from the state of said brother's watch. (This scene was preserved in slightly altered form in the recent Downey Jr. film and the new Sherlock series, as well.) As Holmes and Watson settle in for another day, they receive a visit from Ms. Mary Morstan, a woman who has not seen her father in years and is now receiving strange packages with beautiful pearls inside. The person sending the pearls has requested a meeting with her, and Mary needs Holmes and Watson to accompany her. Perhaps her father is still alive. Perhaps there is a reason she is receiving these pearls in the mail. And perhaps the story is stranger than they could have imagined.

The story is filled with the usual fun elements of a detective story, and the elements I am sure pop up in numerous other Holmes stories--Watson, a notorious ladies' man, falls in love impossibly fast with Mary Morstan. The story behind the treasure trove and the culprit we eventually meet is convoluted and filled with exotic mayhem. Holmes uses various resources at his disposal, including his band of orphans, the Baker Street Irregulars, and an old dog named Toby. So in short, there's adventure, there's romance, and there's colorful characters (and treasure!).

I really enjoyed the story, and I was pleased to find it much easier to follow than I did when I first tried to read it two years back. I really enjoy reading the earlier Holmes stories, because it's funny to think of how great a friendship Holmes and Watson eventually have and then see it from the beginning, when Watson is constantly wondering about Holmes and how he functions. I liked to see their developing relationship here; you can already see the seeds of friendship. Watson cares about Holmes' cocaine usage; Holmes plays the violin in order to serenade him to sleep. The beginnings of such an iconic friendship are a real pleasure to read.

The mystery itself lost me a little bit, especially in the last chapter, in which a far more complicated explanation of the treasure's origin that I had been expecting popped up. Yep, we get that chapter-long confession scene where the villain spills out the entire story. (Although I can say that it wasn't nearly as bad this time as it was in A Study in Scarlet, in which that confession becomes a large chunk of the book.) The book itself was fairly short; I read it online (yay for the public domain!) and went through it quickly. The chapters move along at a fast pace and each one almost invariably ends on a cliffhanger.

So while the mystery itself ultimately wore out my brain, I really enjoyed reading the book for the strength of the character development and for the glimpse into Holmes and Watson's developing friendship. It was so much fun to read and I'm looking forward to moving forward with my little project. I'd recommend this one and the previous book, A Study in Scarlet, to anyone looking to see how Holmes began--I think it's best to read things in order, but that's just me! For anyone who doesn't know the start of the story and is curious, both books are definitely worth a shot. Also recommended for mystery lovers and people who haven't already read Holmes!

(The book itself can be found for free online here. PBS also posted the first episode of the modern-day Sherlock here.)