#CBR7 Review #169: The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes adventure stories. I immersed myself in the short stories and novels alike, and I delighted in the adaptations, particularly the episode of Wishbone that adapted The Hound of the Baskervilles (to date, my favorite Holmes novel). So I am always curious/suspicious when someone not-the-author writes a spinoff or adaptation of a popular and beloved author’s work (see: admirers or sycophants of Jane Austen). But when my friend K offered to lend her copy of Anthony Horowitz’s take, The House of Silk, I thought, “Why not?” Why not, indeed.

The novel is written by a much older Dr. Watson after Sherlock Holmes’s death and his own retirement. He decides to write of one previously untold adventure, one that involved crime of exploitation and a dangerous underground network. Art dealer Edward Carstairs comes to 221B Baker Street upon the theft of many paintings his journey from the States, particularly the involvement of escaped criminal Keelan O’Donaghue, whose twin brother was killed during a standoff in Boston. Carstairs and his wife Catherine unwittingly lead Holmes and Watson to a deeper mystery into the criminal underbelly of London. And there may or may not be a cameo from an infamous villain in Holmes-lore…

I enjoyed this mystery. I thought Horowitz’s writing did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle credit–he gave a bit of something to the fans, without being a carbon-copy of the Holmes mysteries. I feel like good adaptations capture the spirit of the work without resorting to pedantry. If you enjoy a good mystery/Sherlock Holmes adventure, you will probably enjoy this tale. I think it will motivate me to checkout the sequel, Moriarty.

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#CBR7 Review #168: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Oh, sweet mercy. What am I supposed to say about this book? My sister and my friend F both read it last year or so. My sister LOVED it, and F was “meh” on it. Basically, I’ve heard you either love it or hate. And spoiler alert: I did not love it.

I felt like there two different novels jammed into one. Theo Decker goes to the art museum with his mother, when an explosion kills her but leaves him miraculously alive. While trying to get out, he meets an old man who gives him a ring. He also takes a rare painting, The Goldfinch. And it is the heart upon which this novel hinges. If this is what the novel hinged on, I think it would be a great psychological arty read. But, dear reader, there is more. Much more. Theo goes to live with a wealthy family and becomes part of their life while also discovering the old man’s business partner and beautiful young ward. And then, his deadbeat dad shows up with his new girlfriend and take Theo away to Las Vegas. There, Theo meets Ukrainian high school student Boris and does a lot of drugs. And that is only about half of the novel.

Donna Tartt is a skillful writer, but the novel dragged on with so many extraneous parts. If I wanted to read about teenagers thwarting the law and drinking and doing drugs, I would read The Catcher in the Rye. If I wanted to read about an adolescent obsession with a teen girl, I would read Middlesex. Or Paper Towns. I liked the art storyline, and it definitely made sense with the Boris storyline, but I felt that a lot of trimming was necessary. A lot. Also, I found Theo to be a boring and very self-interested main character. And that did not make the reading experience pleasurable in any sense of the word.

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#CBR7 Review #167: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

My brother’s English major cohort read 84, Charing Cross Road for their book club last fall, and I was intrigued. I’m always interested in what other book clubs are doing, and I often will read what other people read, because I’m one of those highly social people who is all about talking about books with other people who like books. Cannonball Read is my kind of hangout (although the Extrovert in me would *love* an in-person meet).

But back to 84, Charing Cross Road. Helene Hanff is a freelance writer who is trying to make ends meet in New York. She is looking for a rare but affordable used book and has exhausted all her resources stateside. She sends a casual inquiry to a bookstore in London on Charing Cross Road, and the proper but delightful response from Frank Doel starts a correspondence that spans decades. Hanff requests rare books and becomes more daring with an increase in income. Doel’s responses slowly become less formal and more friendly as he shares more about his wife and children. Hanff, Doel, and the bookstore itself become characters in a winsome and witty tableau about the incredible power of books to bring us together, even if we never meet.

This is a book lover’s book. While I am a friendly person, I sometimes struggle when I am in a new situation without any common touchstones. But often, if I discover that a fellow stranger likes certain books that I do, that ice is so much easier to break. Like Jane Austen. The moment I discover a fellow Austenite, it’s like we speak the same language. Can you imagine what I would do if I met a fellow Barbara Pym fan???

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#CBR7 Review #166: Saga (Vol. 4) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Oh, now I’m sad. I’ve read all my Saga and now I have to wait until September. Like the rest of everybody. That’s the problem with really loving something in the moment—you catch up and you can’t binge read/watch it. Blargh.

Volume 4 takes place a few years after the events of the third. By now, Hazel is an adorable toddler, though her narrative voice is still that of a much older individual. Both Alana and Marko are trying to figure out how to make ends meet when not immediately in danger. That’s where the story takes its most heart-wrenching turn yet. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but for a lot of people, the tensions that take place are domestic in nature, and they could occur in the Midwestern United States, in the 1800s, or in an intergalactic space opera. The complexity of the characters and their relationships to one another really builds in this volume. Gwendolyn meets someone from The Will’s past. Prince Robot IV has gone rogue. The Lying Cat is still the best thing ever. Again, the art is incredible, and the humor/pathos/adventure are all still in place. All is as it should be.

I’m really eager to see where Vaughan and Staples take Volume 5. Volume 4 ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m eager to see what happens in the end. I mean, I’m probably going to get my heart crushed in the end, but isn’t that what a heart is for (at least when it comes to books)?

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#CBR7 Review #166: Saga (Vol. 3) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I can’t imagine how torturous it must have been to read Saga as the issues and volumes were released. Volume 2 ended on a cliffhanger (I won’t say what it was, obviously), so I was very grateful to have Volumes 1-4 on my hands right away. You’ll want to read Volume 3 quickly after Volume 2, that’s all I’m saying.

Again, in her irreverent style, Hazel narrates the text. But this time, the narration goes back and forth in time a little bit. Here, I feel like Vaughan made one of his strongest storytelling choices to date. By backtracking from the cliffhanger moment a bit, you can see where the characters all landed at that moment, and how the choices and circumstances got them there. There are obviously several interests at play. You even understand how The Will and Gwendolyn arrive at the place that they do, when considering the twist that occurs in that particular storyline. And of course, we can’t forget about the incorrigible Prince Robot IV. He simply won’t go away, though his storyline takes a sudden turn, too.

Vaughn and Staples tell a terrific tale and always keep you guessing. It’s one of the greatest strengths of Saga. Also, the character development is terrific. As Hazel reveals more and more of her life and adventures that occur after the events in the series, you get the sense that hers is a finely-crafted nature, one that will turn her into a rich and interesting woman. I really do hope that I we get to meet the adult Hazel at the end.

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#CBR7 Review #164: Saga (Vol. 2) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

So, I definitely polished off the published volumes of Saga way too quickly. How could I help it? I’ve never read anything quite so compulsively readable and addicting! I think just about every graphic novel I read from here on out is going to be hampered by unfair comparisons to Saga. It’s pretty much the most perfect space opera I’ve ever read: adventure, gory action, romance, and deliciously dark humor.

Side note: it’s going to be difficult to say a whole lot about Saga that is (a) not a spoiler and (b) not consisting of me shrieking, “SQUEE SAGA OMG IT’S SO GOOD READ IT NOW!!!!” Although, I will totally be saying this throughout the reviews. Because the volumes are just that good. Sorry if I get a little boring in my reviewing. But, you know, go read it for yourself. After you’ve read Volume 1, obviously.

Volume 2 is the story of Marko’s parents, family tension, and the coming together of family across planetary divides. Because Marko has (obviously) not told his parents that he ran off with a member of the enemy, he has a lot of explaining to do. Hazel’s narration told from the future is hilarious and well-timed. Marko and his mother go to find the accidentally exiled babysitter Izabel, while Alana and Marko’s father get to know each other better. And then we have Prince Robot IV searching for the star-crossed family, The Will reluctantly joining forces with someone from Marko’s past, and more delicious sass from The Lying Cat. Seriously, I need a Lying Cat in my life.

It’s rare that I’ve seen humor, sorrow, wit, action, adventure, and beautiful drawings married in one text, but Saga is that rare text. Time for you to go read for yourself!

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#CBR7 Review #163: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

While I’m definitely nerdy, I don’t know that I classify as a *true* nerd. I’m not even a noob (newb? nüb? Please advise). I’m more like a nerd tourist. And I definitely don’t game. So random chance alone brought me into contact with the self-titled Queen of the Nerds, Felicia Day. In summer of 2010, I was checking my Facebook feed, when one of my friends posted a music video entitled, “Game On.”

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I was delighted. I had no idea that you could put together Bollywood and video games, but somehow, it worked. When I exclaimed in delight, my friend told me I needed to watch The Guild, Day’s show that the video was promoting. Did I have to like video games? I wondered. Nope. Not a bit. And throughout the last five years, I have delighted in Day’s internet persona and production of The Guild. So I was eager to read her memoir.

Day’s has been a random and interesting life, filled with doing things she loved and nerded out over. Day had a sporadic homeschooled education, but she parlayed her love of learning into college education in math and music. Then she decided to become an actress. So she moved to LA and worked on random commercials to make bank. And then she built the courage to create The Guild. And then she became famous.

I’m really glad that so much of The Guild was featured in this memoir, because that was my entry into Day’s world. I also found her doxxing episode to be horrifying, and I felt Day deftly tackled issues of sexism in gaming, internet culture, and Hollywood. She comes across as delightfully awkward and real. When I went to a Patrick Rothfuss book signing in 2012, I asked him what it was like to hang out with Felicia Day. His immediate response was a gushy, “It was so awesome.” Apparently, she swears like a sailor while playing board games. She’s my kind of people.

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