Thoughts – The Sign of Four

The Sign of FourI used to read a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories. Of course, this was years ago and I think I must have overdid it because I avoided Conan Doyle for years. Like the plague. Then I came across a few short stories when purging the shelves and thought it would be nice to take a look again, and it turns out, I still like me a bit of Sherlock and his handy sidekick, Doctor Watson. Feeling confident, I downloaded The Sign of Four from The Gutenberg Project and decided I would get re-acquainted with the duo. Not so much joy ensued.

Here’s the general overview: a man has gone missing, a treasure has been misplaced, and Sherlock is asked to stick his nose in and sort out the conflicting mess. It’s wildly more complicated than that but I’ll be honest, I couldn’t get into this one and barely trudged to the end. The mystery was bland to me and this is supposed to be one his most revered Sherlockian works. People supposedly love this one and to a high degree I might add.
I may not have had much interest in the actual mystery but what I did find interesting in this story was the drug use. Yep, right at the start Sherlock is getting high on cocaine (I have so little opportunity to quote the Grateful Dead let me revel in it!). It made me wonder why anyone would hire someone who seemed, at least here, to be mildly stoned for most of the day to solve a mystery. Also of interest, we get to meet the future Mrs. Watson.

I want to tell you more but I fear that my boredom with the story will cause me to give too much away. Besides, there are many favorable reviews of this book out there that if you like Sherlock, google it then read it. It might do wonders for you. If I may though, I’d recommend The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s still my favorite.

The Sign of Four
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Gutenberg Project Ebook

Review – The Likeness

The LikenessI read this book many weeks ago (months really). Why the long wait for the review? I didn’t know how to talk about this book. I started this post a few times and wanted this review to be more than just me blabbing on about how good it is. And still here I am one more time, and sadly, I think that’s what it’s going to come down to. So, I’ll get it out of the way now — if you’re not reading Tana French you should be. Go, now. Buy her books.

Detective Cassie Maddox is working domestic abuse, a department she’d rather not be assigned to, but after her last case went bad, it was her best, and some would say, only option if she wanted to remain on the force. When a body turns up in an abandoned cottage in the countryside, it leaves her, and her fellow detectives, stunned. The dead woman in a ringer for Cassie — every detail is exactly the same even down to an alias Cassie once used as part of an undercover case. She is, as far as anyone can tell, a dead Cassie Maddox. Cassie’s old boss from undercover wants to send her back under as the dead woman, and when Cassie agrees, that’s when the fun starts.

If you want a book that will lull you off into a pleasant sleep, this isn’t that book. If you want a story that will feel like it’s got an iron grip on your throat for over 400 pages, this is that book. Holy crap is French good at the tension. There isn’t one chapter of this book where you don’t feel it. One thing that helps, her characters are so real you never even stop to wonder if there’s anything wrong with them because, on the surface, there isn’t anything off. She hides the flaws so well you don’t even see anything coming, and when it does, it hits hard.

As usual, I read ahead. I couldn’t take the stress. It’s good stress though; stress that keeps you reading, unable to stop even when you know sleep would be the right move. French doesn’t skimp on words or details. Her books are heavy — the details of the characters’ lives are so wonderfully splayed out across the pages you feel you know these people so intimately that by the end of the book you end up worried about them. And Cassie is an incredibly likable character which made the ending so much more difficult. Relax, that’s not a spoiler.

While French’s books aren’t a true series, they do follow some of the same characters and I like that I get to see old characters in new situations. I liked getting reacquainted with Cassie Maddox and while I know she doesn’t appear again, I’m all right with that because I know that no matter what happens, the next French book will keep me up late. I’m looking forward to that.

The Likeness

By Tana French

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143115625

PS – I borrowed and devoured French’s third book, Faithful Place. Again, wow. A review soon, I promise.

Review – The New World

Confession: I haven’t read the Chaos Walking trilogy. I kept meaning to then all these other books got in the way and it never happened. Everyone loves the books, and from what I’ve read about them, there’s a pretty good chance (a high probability if I’m honest) that I’ll feel much the same about the series if I ever get around to reading the books.

One day, tapping buttons on my tablet (by this I mean buying books), I came across this short story which is a precursor to the trilogy. It was free. Why not? Who could resist free?

Viola is aboard a small ship with her parents who will soon be attempting to land on the planet. Viola is less than thrilled. She’s never lived anywhere but on a ship in space and the last thing she wants is to leave the only life she’s ever known. As the day of the attempted landing approaches, nerves fray and the worst possible thoughts become reality.

This is a short story, about 25 pages so I can’t say more and I wouldn’t want to ruin this for anyone that might be interested in reading it. I will say that if you’re like me and you haven’t read the series, this will only make you want to. And if you’ve read the series, you’ll probably just want more.

The New World
By Patrick Ness
Candlewick Press
ISBN: 9780763656492

Review – The End of Mr. Y

The End of Mr. Y was the start of my reviewing slump. I finished this book and decided to sit on it for a few days before writing. My thoughts needed to percolate. OK, so, I had no idea what this book was about and no idea what I thought of it. I didn’t know what to write. I still don’t know how to describe this book or what I think of it. Be patient. I plan to get there.

Ariel Manto is a woman with no plan. She’s a columnist for an obscure magazine and has made the bold choice of returning to academia to study even more obscure concepts than the ones she writes about. During her research, she comes across a book titled, The End of Mr. Y. This book is supposedly cursed and all who read it mysteriously disappear, including her advisor, who, before he went missing, told her abruptly to stop researching the book and forget the topic. Ignoring his advice, Ariel tracks down a copy of the strange book anyway and using a formula she finds outlined in the pages of the book, brews a drink that will take her into the troposphere — a strange dimension where she can enter the consciousness of others. Incidentally, this is where all the missing people are and it may be too late for Ariel to be saved.

So, the troposphere. I. Don’t. Get. It. First, it’s a mind experiment. Then a government conspiracy involved with what I think is some rouge version of the CIA involving autistic children. And there are all these mice involved. It’s confusing. As. All. Hell.

There’s so much going on in this book. At times, it feels like a mystery. Other times it feels like an academic paper on physics gone wrong. And all the mice — what was with the mice?

At one point, as Ariel is entering the troposphere, she ends up in the mind of a mouse. It’s entertaining for a bit but then it keeps going and we end up finding out that there’s a mouse god. Well, he’s not really a mouse, but he is to Ariel and no amount of explaining fixed that he was still a mouse. For me or for Ariel.

There’s a love story here as well. And, Ariel, well, she’s not a good candidate to be part of a love story. She sleeps with anyone, for almost any reason. Model of a happy, healthy relationship she is not. I couldn’t buy into her suddenly being in a semi-normal relationship, especially when her new partner is a former priest with lots of issues.

Here’s what got me with this book — it didn’t feel accessible. Physics is not something I know much about but I’m a curious person and I will read almost anything that promises science of some sort. That’s what drew me to this book. Unfortunately, for me, it didn’t work. I felt disconnected from the story. I wanted the characters to bring me in, but they didn’t. All of the characters are such a strange mismatch of people. I had high hopes for them since I do tend to like characters on the weird side, but they didn’t have any harmony. Every character felt separate and didn’t mesh for me.

This wasn’t the book for me but I will say that it hasn’t turned me off of Scarlett Thomas’s writing. She’s incredibly, so incredibly creative. In fact, this is a very smart book. Plot wise, it’s crazy but even though I was struggling with it, I never wanted to stop reading. I just wasn’t getting it. Maybe that says more about me than the book. Who knows.

Have you read this one? Thoughts? Opinions?

The End of Mr. Y
By Scarlett Thomas
Harcourt
ISBN: 9780156031615
2.5 stars

Thoughts – The Mists of Avalon

This isn’t going to be regular review. Over the course of the seven weeks I spent reading The Mists of Avalon, I started writing down what I liked/didn’t like about this book and a few thoughts that I didn’t want to slip away. It may be a little disjointed but I’ll try to pull it back together at the end when I finish up this little experiment.

First, for those unfamiliar with this book, The Mists of Avalon is a re-telling of Arthurian legend from the perspective of the women. It closely follows with the generally known legend and all the characters are there. If you want a more detailed description, I give you this. Yes, it’s the lazy way but this is already a very long post.

Character-wise — I love the strong women. Igraine, the eventual wife of Uther Pendragon and the mother of King Arthur, is miserable and it’s hard to blame her. Especially when she finds out she’s really just a pawn for Viviane, her sister and priestess of Avalon, who has already once married her off to an older man and plans to marry her to the man who will be high king so she can bear him a son. Viviane is strong, not likeable, but admirable. She has strong convictions and even a few regrets especially for her family and the strains put on them by their fates. Morgaine, Igraine’s daughter by her first husband, the Duke of Cornwall, and to a certain extent, Viviane’s adopted daughter, becomes a priestess of Avalon. When she falls victim to Viviane’s fate machine, she runs when her life is essentially brought to ruins. Morgause, Igraine’s sister and Morgaine’s aunt, may be a harsh woman with designs on power his above her abilities, but give her credit, she knows what she wants and how to get it. Even if how she gets it is through sex but she’s not ashamed so why should we be.

Then there’s Gwenhwyfar, King Arthur’s wife. What a twit. Really. I couldn’t stand her and I have a very high tolerance for liking this character in most Arthurian re-tellings. Here, she’s a conniving woman who only wants a son and will go to any length to guilt and goad her husband into being a better Christian because she believes that a stronger more fanatical faith will bring that wish to fruition. She’s whiney, annoying, and honestly, not that smart. She doesn’t see the big picture and is so worried about supposed pagans and their evil that she can’t even see what she’s doing is tearing the country apart as her husband is trying to salvage it. As a side note: if you want to read a strong Gwenhwyfar, read Helen Hollick’s Arthurian re-telling — The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner, and Shadow of the King. The Gwenhwyfar in that story is strong and unafraid of her fate and faces everything head on.

The men. Arthur is Arthur but he’s not so much the strong Arthur that I like so much. He’s more of a non-factor since this story is about the women but he’s the high king and has to be there. Lancelet. My god, just bang the girl and get it over with. I say this now because I couldn’t take it anymore. Unrequited love doesn’t sit well for me and there’s entirely too much of it here. Yet, it’s a big part of this story and it wouldn’t be this story without this little triangle. And when I say triangle I mean that in the threesome sort of way. Imagine at will.

Mordred, Morgaine and Arthur’s son, is a fascinating character. He was raised by Morgause and is full of the need for power but the difference is that he knows how to find it and yield it. Raised in Avalon, he can raise the power of the goddess and knows his way around courtly diversions and behavior. He is able to manipulate Arthur and gain his way into Gwenhwyfar’s heart all the while planning a way to gain the throne for himself. A character that at some moments is a playful child, a homesick man, a man in love, and a man loyal to his brothers, Mordred is a slight chameleon. You want to like him but in ways you just can’t. Morgaine seems to feel the same way about him and she’s his mother. What does that tell you?

Merlin is Merlin and very grandfatherly but doesn’t play the part I want him to in this book but, again, it’s not about him. Kevin the Bard, oh how I love his interactions with the twit. Kevin was disfigured in a childhood accident and Gwenhwyfar believes he’s the devil himself and actually blames him for a miscarriage at one point. He gets what he deserves in the end for his betrayals though but I did find him an interesting character in his thought process on the changing role of religion among the people and how old ways needed to change. Morgaine doesn’t agree with him and this becomes the cause of tension for these two and seeing them battle it out is interesting.

Morgaine. I need to talk more about her. Honestly, I adore her in this book and she’s not always a character I like. In some stories, she’s a horrific person willing to murder and seize power at every opportunity, in The Mists of Avalon, she mostly runs from her fate. She doesn’t actively seek power and even when she can use it to get what she wants, she doesn’t. Yes, some of her actions are harsh but she does have a degree of humanity about her that I like.

I still love the setting, the storytelling, and the tension. It’s a long book and nothing is rushed which also at times makes you wish something would happen. You have to be patient and wait for the fates to work it out though. Although, as I got down to the end, parts did feel slightly rushed but I think that was because I had become used to this world moving slowly and when events happen all in succession, it felt out of place but it also felt that it needed to come to an end so I was fine with it.

This isn’t my first time with this book and it won’t be my last. I discovered much about this book on this re-read and I’m sure I’ll discover more in successive reads. While there are many Arthurian legend books I adore, this is certainly high on the list. It’s a wonderful story full of amazing women. Even if you don’t care for Arthurian legend, read it for the women. They stand above.

Thoughts – The Mists of Avalon

By Marion Zimmer Bradley

DelRey

ISBN: 0345350499

4.5 stars

Review – In The Woods

Tana French is a new to me author. I’m sorry I waited so long to read her too. I kept seeing rave reviews of her books and now I know why. She deserves the praise.

In Dublin, Rob Ryan is a detective waiting for a case. He’s spent time and effort waiting for the perfect case that will make his career and when that one drops in his lap, it’s not at all what he wanted. In a small town outside of Dublin called Knocknaree, a 12 year old girl is found murdered at an archeological site. Her father is the leader of the group protesting the building of a roadway through the town and it leaves everyone wondering if the murder could be a warning to him to cease his fight. When that leads nowhere, Rob and his partner Cassie Maddox are forced to look elsewhere for answers. And all through the investigation Rob is trying to come to terms with his past. When he was a small child, he and two other friends went missing in the same woods that are now being searched for clues to the current murder. He wants his memories to return, in fact wills them to, but nothing useful comes of it and his life, the one he carefully planned down to his wardrobe, comes tumbling down around him.

There is so much going on in this book and in the end it doesn’t feel as if it’s enough. The details are fantastic and the way French introduces you to her characters — opening up slowly, peeling back layers — you see just how complicated and messed up they all are in this book. They’re all broken in some way and trying hard to make sure the lives of others are at the very least put back in place with answers to their questions. Rob and Cassie know they can’t fix others, and especially not themselves, but they try to cover every single thread that’s available to them even when it leads places they don’t want to go.

Honestly, while the murder that takes place is solved, and satisfactorily at that, with a suspect I didn’t see coming but should have once the story got going, what I wanted to know about was what happened to the kids twenty years ago in the woods of Knocknaree. There’s no answer and I was OK with that but still wanted to know because it was so tantalizing. It was too interesting to just let go and my mind kept making up scenarios. Rob does make attempts at remembering and those snippets only add more to the mystery and unwanted drama to his life. You know the questions won’t be answered although you do get enough detail to round out the story. I liked how the disappearance almost had a mythical reason to it but then again, what do the memories of a young boy really mean when the event that brought on the memories was a traumatic one?

I know this book isn’t necessarily a series but I do know if I pick up another Tana French book it will still be the same sort of setting but with some old and new characters. You know what, bring it on.

In The Woods

By Tana French

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143113492

4 stars

 

Review – The Master of Heathcrest Hall

The Master of Heathcrest Hall is the third book in the Magicians and Mrs. Quent series following The Magicians & Mrs. Quent and The House on Durrow Street. I’ll try to avoid spoilers but you’ve been warned. It’s a series afterall.

Ivy Quent is living a calm and happy life with her husband, Mr. Quent, and her sisters. Her husband’s star is rising and things are going very well for them personally. Suddenly, their calm life takes a turn, and Ivy, who has been successful with the help of her husband in hiding her magical abilities, begins to find the task difficult especially when questions are being raised by prominent members of society. Things in the city begin changing fast. War is imminent, spies crawl all over the city looking for people to turn in, and soldiers begin occupying the city waiting for it to come under siege. Lord Rafferty, a close friend of Ivy’s, is doing what he can behind the scenes as a member of Parliament but his efforts seem trivial compared to what he is up against. Eldyn Garritt, the illuminist, has turned spy and using his skills to help the realm. It’s only when Ivy, Lord Rafferty, and Eldyn come together does the realm stand a chance.

It took me a very long time to read this book. I think I may have waited too long in between book and found myself wondering about a few details here and there but it wasn’t anything major. My big problem was that I felt it just took long for things to happen. Flipping between Ivy, Lord Rafferty, and Eldyn, and seeing all of their stories and what they were going through was interesting but it took a long time for the three to come together. This wasn’t something specific to the third book but something with all three in the series for me.

The world building is interesting though and that was the reason I continued with the series. The magical parts are solid and the way it’s integrated it in the story makes it feel normal in the course of these characters’ lives. They just don’t discover they have these abilities all of a sudden, it grows and changes. I also enjoyed the Austen-esque feel of the series — the etiquette, the dress, the manners. Austen feel mixed with fantasy, well, yes please. It’s a yes with a but though. I’m glad I finished the series because I was interested to see where the story would go after book two, and I was satisfied with the ending. I didn’t lack for answers and didn’t think the story needed more. It was a story finished. And here’s the but part, it was a slow read for me. I’m qualifying this but statement with a for me because that’s the case. I’ve read reviews of this book that loved the pacing and the way the story drew out the lives of the characters. It didn’t work so much for me on that end.

This was an average read for me but it’s an interesting world, the magic is a likable element and feels very much a part of the world and not something apart from it. The characters are likable but I wish they had more opportunity to interact. Their lives don’t permit that to happen often, understandable part of the story actually but it would have been more interesting if they had. If you like fantasy with a hint of Austen-esque manners, give it a try and don’t let time lapse between reads. I think these books are meant to be read successively for full affect.

The Master of Heathcrest Hall

By Galen Beckett

Random House Publishing Group

ISBN: 9780345532480

3 stars