Monthly Archives: January 2012

Review: A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Along with Captain Kirk and the Doctor, my fandom of Sherlock Holmes began in my middle school years. I was aware of the immortal detective but had never really read any of the original source material featuring Holmes until one day in reading lab, I picked up a newly arrived copy of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” I consumed the book in a couple of days and was soon ready to move on to more.

My parents indulged my new interest in Holmes, purchasing a paperback copy of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”, a hard cover book with reprints of the original Strand editions of the short stories and “Hound” and even buying me a role-playing game called “221 B Baker Street” to try out. (I don’t recall playing it much because the game was a time consuming one and required more patience to learn to play than my friends were willing to invest).

It was a good time to be a Holmes novice. The Jeremy Brett Holmes adaptations were hitting my local PBS station. At the time I didn’t understand or appreciate their faithfulness to the original material and how refreshing that as compared to other portrayals of the great detective in other mediums.

In my original reading of Holmes, I jumped around a bit. It wasn’t until late in my original journey through the Holmes canon that I acquired a copy of “A Study in Scarlet” and “Sign of the Four” in paperback and read them.

Every once in a while, I get a hankering to re-visit the Holmes canon. This time around, the desire came from the debut of the second season of “Sherlock” on the BBC and discovering a series of audio adaptations of the Holmes canon ready by Derek Jacoby. I’d meant to start off where I started all those years before with “Hound” but due to a user error in loading the audio book to my .mp3 player, I found myself starting over where it all began with “A Study in Scarlet.”

As a Holmes fan, I have to admit that the novel length Holmes adventures aren’t the strongest things in the canon. Conan Doyle seems a bit more comfortable working in the short story format and the early Holmes short stories are among the more memorable and exciting in the canon. But when it comes to “Scarlet” I must admit I find myself enjoying it more for the introduction to Holmes and his methods than the actual mystery itself.

Seeing the first meeting of Holmes and Watson is among the the highlights of the book as is their growing friendship. Seeing Holmes initially keep Watson at arm’s length is intriguing. It’s also interesting to see how Watson is portrayed here–he’s not the bumbler that we Nigel Bruce made him out to be in the later Basil Rathbone films. At several points in the course of the narrative, Watson comments on his general sense of laziness and a lack of motivation.

The characters of Holmes and Watson are interesting enough to more than make up for the novel’s lack of compelling mystery. The story speeds along for the first half, but hits a huge speed bump when Conan Doyle shifts the focus to America and his reflections of Mormonism. (Let’s just say he doesn’t appear to be a fan). The third or so of the story that gives us the details as to why the crime occurred aren’t nearly as much fun or page turning as what came before and it’s only once Watson takes the narrative back over that things really get rolling again.

All that said, I can still see why Holmes created such an impression and a stir in his debut. He’s not entirely likeable, but he’s still a compelling and fascinating character.

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Review: Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation

Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation
Doctor Who and the Ribos Operation by Ian Marter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The combination of the classic series’ best writer (Robert Holmes) with the arguably the Target novels’ best writer (Ian Marter) makes  a winning combination for a  television adaptation. Add in that “The Ribos Operation” is an underrated script by Holmes and you’ve got the potential for something really special.

Marter’s adaptation of the script tells the same story without necessarily being a play-by-play rehash of what appears on screens. Certain scenes are shifted for sake of the narrative flow but for the most part it’s the same story you’ve seen on TV, VHS or DVD. A strong script full of solid double acts and well crafted characters is enhanced and expanded by Marter with great success. Marter is able to make certain monsters a lot more threatening once freed of the TV budget limitations. He’s also able to insert a bit more brutality into the deaths that take place during the fourth episode of the show.

Easily one of the better offerings from the Target range.

As for the audio reading, John Leeson acquits himself fairly well. Of course, his K9 is spot-on, but he does a decent job mimicking Tom Baker and Mary Tamm as the Doctor and Romana in the story.

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Review: The Mediterranean Caper

The Mediterranean Caper
The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A cover blurb on another Dirk Pitt novel compares the hero of Clive Cussler’s novels to James Bond. The comparison is an apt one, especially when it comes to the first two novels in the series, The Mediterranean Caper and Iceberg.

In the same way that Fleming used Bond as a way to comment on the ways in which masculinity could and should be defined, Cussler defines what is masculine through the opinions, actions and attitudes of one Dirk Pitt. For example, in Caper, Pitt meets a women who has been mourning the passing of her husband for a number of years and decides the thing she needs to help her get over his death is to find someone new to make love to. Within moments, Pitt and the woman are having a little sex on the beach (not the alcoholic kind mind you) and the woman is soon totally over her depression and grief and now devoted to Pitt. (In many ways, the scene reminds me of the “cure” put forward in Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m talking about).

But the attitude doesn’t just extend to women. Pitt is the alpha male of alpha males in the novel, including wandering around naked at one point while being debriefed by his superior officer. Pitt is also one of the few people in the world to ever navigate his way out of a deadly maze trap, all while wounded and losing blood.

In many ways, Pitt is Jack Bauer and Chuck Norris of his day and age. He lives hard, loves hard and gets the job done. Like Bond or Bauer, Pitt is generally right about his assumptions, while others higher up in authority are wrong. And he’s not afraid to say it or act on his assumptions.

These thoughts occurred to at about the mid-point of Caper and they really helped me to not worry so much about the details of the story and just go along for the ride. I doubt any one will mistake this book for fine literature but as a popcorn, escapist thriller, it’s kind of a fun ride and it certainly does keep the pages turning. Pitt is called in to investigate an aerial attack on a local airbase from a World War II era plane. Is it a ghost come back or could the timing of the attack be tied into the discovery of a wreck just off the coast? Pitt soon finds himself facing a hiding Nazi war criminal, who just happens to be the uncle to his new female love interest. It’s a battle of wits and a race against time for the two.

Again, the less you think about the story and just kind of let it wash over you like a big-budget Hollywood thriller, the happier you’ll probably be. It’s interesting to read the novel thirty plus years after its initial publication and to take note of the multiple references to smoking that litter the novel. Moving forward it will be interesting to see if and how Pitt’s (and to the same extent Cussler’s)attitude toward the use of tobacco changes. I can’t imagine that Pitt would be the smoker in the latest installments that he is here.

So turn the brain off and just enjoy. You may be glad you did.

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Mixing It Up Challenge Book List

I’ve decided to take part in Mixing It Up Challenge for 2012.  Still not sure what level of participation I may undertake during the coming year.  But here’s the list of what I’ve read as part of the challenge.

UPDATE (Feb. 27) : I’ve decided I’m going to try for the two-tier cake level which is 13-15 books in the categories.

I’ll also include a link to my review of each book, both on the site and on GoodReads.

Classic: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
Science Fiction and Fantasy: Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card
Biography: My Seinfeld Year by Fred Stoller
Graphic Novels and Manga: Morning Glories, Volume 1 and Volume 2 by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma
Romance: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Children and Young Adult: Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
Modern Fiction: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood 
Horror: Ancestor by Scott Sigler 
Crime and Mystery: Heartbroken by Lisa Unger
Journalism and Humor: Tough Sh*t: Life Advice From A Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good by Kevin Smith
Social Science and Philosophy: The Pregnancy Project by Gaby Rodriguez

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Review: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of the more familiar titles in literature, I have to admit my familiarity with it comes less from the literary work of Jules Verne and more from the big-screen adaptation by Walt Disney. (And to some lesser extent, the now defunct ride at both American Disney theme parks). Growing up, the film’s climatic battle with the squid was featured on numerous Wonderful World of Disney clips show.

So when I sat down this time to read the original novel, I had to push aside memories of the Disney film and really try and focus on original novel as written so many years ago by Verne.

Having waded through the novel, I have to admit that in some ways the movie is better. Or to be more exact–my memories of the film are better. (I haven’t had time to revisit the film yet, so it should be interesting to see if it can compete with the memories and impressions I have of it.) Like The Lord of the Rings saga, the story works a lot better in a visual medium. Once our intrepid heroes find their way on board the Nautilus a lot of the story becomes about exacting detail of how far we’ve traveled and the wonders under the sea. At first, it’s interesting but like the epic quest in Tolkein, it starts to wear a bit thin after a dozen or so pages and you start asking yourself–could something, anything maybe start happening, please?!? Even the battle with the undersea creature is a lot more thrilling in the movie, if only because it’s given a bit more time to breath on the big-screen. In the original novel, it’s relatively short compared to the overall exploration of underwater world and the marvelous creation of Captain Nemo.

Honestly, I found the search for Nautilus and the mystery surrounding it before its big reveal to be a far more compelling and interesting story than much of what happens once we actually get on board the vessel. The cat and mouse chase to try and find the ship makes for some compelling reading early on and there were times as I waded through the last third of the novel I wished Verne had kept that same urgency and intensity in the overall book.

Reading the novel, I had to keep reminding myself that books are a product of their era. I kept trying to put myself into the mind of a reader when the original novel was first published. And I can see how some of what Verne describes and crates could inspire awe and wonder within a reader. And perhaps given the greater emphasis put on character creation in the more modern era when it come to genre literature, I had different expectations than those readers who originally picked up the novel when it was first published.

I don’t mean to say that the novel wasn’t a good one nor a necessarily enjoyable experience. It’s just one of those cases where it’s hard to separate the novel from the many interpretations that have come along since it was first published.

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Mix It Up Challenge

I think 2012 needs a good challenge or two to keep things interesting.  And while I’ve challenged myself on the total number of books I’ll read this year, I haven’t had a challenge yet on the variety of books to read this year.

Enter this challenge, issued by Musings of a Bookshop Girl.   It’s the Mix It Up Challenge and you can find out details HERE. 

I’m going to shoot for the Mixing Bowl level and see how things go.  I can always bump up the challenge level later, right?

So, who’s with me?

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Booking Through Thursday — Looking Ahead

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saw this article the other day that asked, “Are you ashamed of skipping parts of books?” Which, naturally, made me want to ask all of YOU.

Do you skip ahead in a book? Do you feel badly about it when you do?

Since I’m not in school any more and am not being quizzed on the books I read or having to write essays on them, I don’t feel too bad if I skip ahead from time to time. I try to avoid it, but there are times when there’s something I’m reading that I have enough of an investment in to want to know how it turns out but not enough patience to plow through the book (this is especially the case if the book is boring me). This happens a lot of times with mysteries, especially if I happen to deduce the ending before the characters in the book do.

Also, I recall the study that came out last year that said no matter how hard we try, we will never read all the books out there or see all the movies or TV shows out there.  Simply not enough time.  So why not skip or find SPOILERS every once in a while?

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