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.