Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Beryl Coronet
Illustration for “The Beryl Coronet” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

This week’s story in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge is “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet,” which was published in The Strand in 1892, and collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Banker Alexander Holder seeks Holmes’s help in finding a missing beryl coronet, offered to him as security for a loan to a high-ranking government official. Holder suspects his son of taking the coronet, as his son has had some problems with money and has been borrowing from his father. Holmes, on the other hand, isn’t so sure that young Arthur Holder is the guilty party.

This story contains Holmes’s famous statement: “It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Other than that, I didn’t find too much to like about it, to be honest. It was an easy mystery. There were not too many people who could be guilty, and Doyle seemed to be rather leading the reader away from suspecting Arthur from the outset. The line, “I knew my man, however, and I clapped a pistol to his head before he could strike. Then he became a little more reasonable” struck me as funny in the way of many of the best lines Holmes delivers in the series Sherlock are funny. We also have Holmes in disguise in this story. Ultimately, however, it didn’t satisfy as a mystery, and I didn’t find the client and his family all that interesting or likable. This one gets a “meh” from me.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the seventh story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Resident Patient.”

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Review: The Club Dumas, Arturo Pérez-Reverte

The front of the jacket blurb on this book describes it as “A cross between Umberto Eco and Anne Rice… Think of The Club Dumas as a beach book for intellectuals.” The source for this description is The New York Daily News. I don’t know that I agree with the description.

The Club Dumas is the story of Lucas Corso, a book detective who searches for rare editions for wealthy clients who don’t mind if Corso bends the law to obtain what they’re looking for. Corso becomes embroiled in the story of The Club Dumas when the owner of part of the original manuscript of The Three Musketeers, is found hanged, the victim of an apparent suicide. Corso is hired to authenticate the fragment, but soon finds himself enmeshed in a search for copies of Of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows, a book purported to contain instructions for summoning the devil. Only three copies of this book survived, according to Corso’s client, Varo Borja. The book’s author was burned at the stake in the Inquisition, and most of the book’s copies were destroyed. This book was apparently made into a film, The Ninth Gate, which I haven’t seen, starring Johnny Depp as “Dean” Corso.

I purchased this book at a used bookstore in Northampton on my birthday. It looked promising. In the end, I really had to force myself to finish it because I just wasn’t into it, but I had passed the point of no return. You know what I mean. You’ve invested too much time in a book to stop reading it, and there is also this bit of curiosity about the ending and how it will all tie together. Perhaps if I had read The Three Musketeers, I might have enjoyed it more. I do actually think that familiarity with that book is a prerequisite for enjoying The Club Dumas.

I really despised the cardboard cutout women characters, standard-issue blond femmes fatales. Ugh. No personality and only described so far as the sexual desire they provoke in the male characters. So tired. So boring. So sexist. I think it was the depiction of the two women characters (I only counted two) that soured me on the book. Otherwise, it has a lot of what I like—books at the center of a mysterious plot. The ending I was hoping would pay off wound up being weird and confusing. I don’t know that I really get it. I don’t want to re-read it to figure it out either because I just don’t care about any of the characters enough to try to figure out what happened.

It seems like a lot of readers like this book, so your mileage may vary, but it didn’t do much for me, and I’m so glad I’m done with it so I can read something good. Please Lord, let the next book I read be good. I need a palate cleanser. I keep saying life is too short to read bad books. I wasted a lot of time on this book. I need to take my own advice and forget about how much time I’ve invested in a book. Even if I’ve passed the “point of no return,” I need to put the book down and walk away. I think I need to give up on this genre, too. Too many turkeys in the bunch. I think Matthew Pearl does it well, and perhaps a few other folks out there, but by and large, it’s resulted in quite a few of my worst reads in the last ten-fifteen years (cf. Interred with Their Bones, The Book of Air and Shadows, The Rule of Four, Codex, and The Geographer’s Library—for which I apparently never wrote a review).

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J. K. Rowling (???), Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

I didn’t go to a midnight release party, but I did drive up to the local Barnes & Noble some time yesterday afternoon to pick up Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The Barnes & Noble had a power outage. The line was really long, and at first I thought it was because so many people were there to get the new Harry Potter book. Well, they were, mostly, but the line was mainly long because two cashiers were filling out receipts by hand.

Anyway, if you know me and know this blog, you probably know I am a pretty big Harry Potter fan. I may not be the biggest fan you know, but I’m the biggest one I know. I have read all the books multiple times. I have seen all the movies multiple times. I will have a ticket for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them when it comes out. I am on Pottermore and have been sorted into Ravenclaw at Hogwarts and Thunderbird at Ilvermorny. My cat is named Bellatrix. Appropriately, she is a black cat. I have read many of the articles on Pottermore several times, so the new canon is pretty well lodged in my head. I even wrote a fanfic for NaNoWriMo last November that imagined what Albus Potter’s first year at Hogwarts might be like.

I didn’t like this book much. I don’t know how much J. K. Rowling had to do with it, really, but it didn’t sound like her at all. It reads like fan fiction, and not very good fan fiction. Not only that, but a couple of things revealed in the play directly contradict canon that has been released on Pottermore or in interviews. Rowling is notoriously bad at remembering she’s said things, so that could explain it, but it seems sloppy to me.

For those who want a brief synopsis of the plot, it picks up at Platform 9¾ and retreads the epilogue of the last book, picking up with Albus Potter befriending Scorpius Malfoy on the train, much to cousin Rose Granger-Weasley’s disapproval. The boys become fast friends and are sorted into the same house at Hogwarts. I won’t tell you which one, but it was the first of several wrong moves (in my opinion). The two boys are unpopular loners at school and don’t much like it. Albus Potter overhears his father argue with Amos Diggory about using a Time Turner found in the possession of Theodore Nott to travel back in time to save Cedric Diggory. Amos is cared for by Cedric’s cousin Delphi (no reader will be fooled, like Albus was, that she was not who she said she was). Albus and Delphi concoct a plan to steal the Time Turner from Hermione, who is keeping it in her office at the MInistry for Magic (I won’t tell you her job, but it was one of the few satisfying aspects of the book). As you might guess, everything goes wrong when Albus convinces Scorpius to abscond from the Hogwarts Express and go back in time to save Cedric.

OK, where to start. The characters do not sound at all like themselves. I have read these books so many times, and I have immersed myself in everything I could find. These are not the characters I know and love. Harry particularly strikes a wrong note, as does Draco Malfoy. Ron and Ginny were just about the only major characters who sounded more or less like themselves to me. Even Albus Potter, whom we meet only in the epilogue, strikes a major false note based on the character I read in that single chapter. The characterization alone leads me to believe Rowling had very little hand in this play, and I can’t imagine why she rubber-stamped the results. The plot is also convoluted. Even for a story set in the wizarding world, where crazy things are expected, this plot strains credulity. I have big problems with the character of Delphi’s existence. Once it’s revealed who she is, the first thing I wondered was when did that happen, and the second was how. You will see when you get there, if you read this book. But that is not the only part that is confounding. The actions of Albus and Scorpius in just about every instance when they go back are ridiculous, as are those of their parents. And the last time? They send a message asking for help in the most gobsmackingly unbelievable way.

I expected a play would be different. I was prepared not to like it as much because the depth of world-building and characterization would be taken on by actors and stagecraft I wouldn’t get to see. Even taking the fact that this is a play into account, I was surprised by how much I didn’t like it because I was fully prepared to give it a real chance. My mind was way more open than it would have been for just about any other book of this type.

I managed to avoid spoilers, so I won’t discuss them anymore here, but if you want to follow me in the comments to discuss them, we can move the conversation there. I think I’m just going to pretend this book doesn’t exist and enjoy the rest of the stories J. K. Rowling has (actually) written. As flawed as my own fanfic is—especially toward the end when I was running out of steam and trying to meet the word count—I actually prefer it to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Review: The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Jeremy Northam

The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)The penultimate book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is The Silver Chair. This book features the Pevensie siblings’ cousin Eustace Scrubb, who first appeared in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Jill Pole, a classmate of Eustace’s at a boarding school called Experiment House. Eustace and Jill are being chased by bullies when they are magically whisked to Narnia and become embroiled in a quest to find the missing Prince Rilian, the son of King Caspian X, who is now an old man.

*Sigh*. Where to start with this hot mess. I didn’t like it from the start because it’s quite clear that Lewis is attempting to skewer progressive education in his characterization of Experiment House, but rather than create a good satire, he winds up sounding like an old fart who doesn’t know what he’s talking about (“Back in my day, we took switches to kids and prayed in school!”). Eustace and Jill are not nearly as likable as the Pevensies. Puddleglum is fun, but then I think I liked him mainly because of Jeremy Northam’s voice characterization—he had the best West Country accent. The male superiority is maddening. Jill actually says, “Where I come from, they don’t think much of men who are bossed about by their wives.” Um… What? I can’t imagine Lucy Pevensie saying such a thing. Yes, I know all about Susan being interested in lipstick and stockings in the next book. Which I will read to say I’ve read the whole series.

It’s clear Lewis was thinking of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by having the Lady of the Green Kirtle kidnap and enchant Prince Rilian, but the stories diverge quite a bit aside from a passing similarity, which is a bit of a pity, because the rest of the plot is unremarkable. For a children’s book, the pace bogs down rather unforgivably once the characters go underground, and the plot is predictable from the start to the finish. Jeremy Northam’s narration, however, is superb. I just wish he had better material to work with. One thing I figured out after reading this book—I would love to visit Hogwarts and Middle Earth, but I have zero desire to go to Narnia.

Book Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Adam & Eve, Sena Jeter Naslund

[amazon_image id=”0061579289″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Adam & Eve: A Novel (P.S.)[/amazon_image]Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel [amazon_link id=”0061579289″ target=”_blank” ]Adam & Eve[/amazon_link] takes place in the near future, from 2017-2021. Protagonist Lucy Bergmann, recently widowed, finds herself in possession of information that will rock the foundations of the three Abrahamic religions: 1) we are not alone in the universe; and 2) Genesis may not have happened the way it’s recorded. A secret organization called Perpetuity is determined to prevent this information from being released; meanwhile, Lucy herself goes missing in a modern-day Eden when her plane crash lands, and where Lucy meets a naked man who calls himself Adam. Adam is a former soldier and may be mentally disturbed.

Where to start. I didn’t like this book, especially the last third. I never empathized with any of the characters. The story starts with the death of Lucy’s husband, which reminded me of nothing so much as Wile E. Coyote’s misadventures in Looney Tunes. If you read the book, you will see why. Lucy seemed to be the most incurious person I could imagine. If my husband left behind a top secret flash drive with all his research and dropped the bombshell that he had discovered extraterrestrial life, then died, I would look at every single file on the flash drive to see what there was. But not Lucy. She just wears it around her neck like some kind of talisman. In fact, I can’t recall she ever used a computer at all with the exception of when other people used one around her to show her something. And even then! Even then! She showed no further curiosity, even when this other bombshell is possibly dropped (because Lucy is not curious enough to verify whether it is true or not), she does not look at the flash drive again. Lucy is the most developed character, and that is saying something when she comes across as flat on the page.

The last third of the book was difficult to follow. I am a fairly close reader, but I found myself confused and wondering if I had missed something. The threat of Perpetuity never seemed all that real, and I couldn’t bring myself to be afraid that a group like that would really be all that concerned about Lucy’s news, even if it did exist. The rewritten Genesis, when the reader finally gets to read it, is just kind of boring, and the reader never really gets a good look at Lucy’s flash drive because, as I said, she is not curious. She drove me nuts with how incurious she was. It was ridiculously easy for other characters to hide things from her or to trick her.

What makes me sad about this book is that Sena Jeter Naslund’s novel [amazon_link id=”B000FC10KC” target=”_blank” ]Ahab’s Wife[/amazon_link] is absolutely brilliant. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I fear that readers who read this book might never move on to discover Ahab’s Wife because they are put off by this book, which tries to be an allegory but winds up just being kind of a confusing mess. This book might do better if it were marketed as science fiction instead of literary fiction, but even so, I’m afraid it didn’t hold together for me. If you have not read any Naslund, please do not let this review dissuade you from trying her because she is brilliant! Just not in this case. Read my review of Ahab’s Wife and give it a try, but skip this one. To be fair, all of the other tour members seemed to like the book better than I did, so your mileage may vary, but do read the reviews on Goodreads and go into this one with your eyes open.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to participate in my first book tour. Full disclosure: The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

You can visit other stops in the tour for Adam & Eve.

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Charity Girl

Charity GirlI read Georgette Heyer’s Regency novel Charity Girl as part of Austenprose‘s month-long celebration of Georgette Heyer. It was the first Heyer novel I’ve read. My review of Charity Girl can be found here at Austenprose. I was honored to be asked to be a part of the celebration, and I was certainly game to try a new author that so many of my wonderful blog friends have enjoyed. Unfortunately, I don’t think Georgette Heyer is for me. I had a lot of difficulty understanding her Regency slang, which I understand is well-researched and authentic. Still, Jane Austen, who wrote during the actual Regency, managed to make her books timeless and easy for even modern readers to understand.

In addition, I really felt the plot was very thin and driven mainly by dialogue. It was easy to guess how the novel might end only a few pages in, and the characters were not very interesting to me. I’m not sure if I’d give Heyer another try or not. Romance isn’t really my thing, though I have read and enjoyed a few romance novels before.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Crime and Punishment

Crime and PunishmentThough I wasn’t due to finish Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment via DailyLit until next week, I decided to go ahead and finish today. I really wanted to like this book. It’s one of those books you hear a lot about. It’s one of those books people like to say they’ve read. I should preface this review by saying that I’ve read very few Russian classics. I tried to read Dr. Zhivago; my sister Lara is named after Yuri Zhivago’s love interest. I couldn’t get into it, even though I loved the movie. I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (review), and I really didn’t like it all that much, although I found the concept intriguing.

The central character of Crime and Punishment is Raskolnikov, a student in St. Petersburg who murders a pawn broker and her sister with an axe. Most of the book centers around his mental state both before and after the crime. I had a great deal of difficulty with the names. Some of the characters have nicknames, which made it nearly impossible for me to keep up with the characters. I’m sure this is purely a cultural-based confusion because if a character in a book were named William but variously called Will, Willie, or Bill by other characters, I doubt I’d have trouble. However, in a book with names that are already challenging for me to keep straight, I found myself quickly confused, and I think that confusion hampered my enjoyment of the novel. I might have done better to read a version with more notes. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the end result is that I’ve been put off Dostoyevsky. I’m not sure I’d want to try another book of his after not enjoying this one, especially when I think about the large number of books in the world I could read instead that I might truly enjoy. I found parts of the book compelling—the murder scene, Svidrigailov’s death, a fight among some of the women (whose characters I confess I had the most difficulty keeping straight) in the middle of the book, and the end—but these moments were few. Most of the book I found hard to get through both because of my confusion and because the story was not grabbing my interest. I had already reached what I call “the point of no return” before I decided I didn’t like the book. The “point of no return” is the point at which you’ve read so far into the book that you feel you should just go ahead and finish. I really, really wanted to like this book, which is why I pushed myself up to that point. When I realized I didn’t like it, I felt sad. I have so rarely been disappointed by classics.

My next novel from DailyLit will be Gulliver’s Travels, a much shorter novel, and one I have neglected. I was supposed to have read it in high school, but I found it difficult to understand at that age. I think I will enjoy it better twenty years on from the last time I tried to pick it up. It’s a British book, which will enable me to continue to the next level in the Typically British Challenge.

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