The Sherlockian by Graham Moore – Book Review

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore
Published by Twelve Books, an imprint of Hachette

One of the youngest Sherlock Holmes-enthusiasts ever to be inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, Harold White is very much looking forward to his first gathering of Sherlockian societies, not least because there is a rumor that one of the most illustrious of Sherlockians has actually discovered Arthur Conan Doyle’s missing diary. Let me tell you, these people are SERIOUS about their Sherlock, so this is somewhere on par with confirmation of the existence of life on other planets, or a huge inheritance from a distant relative. Everything is going swimmingly, until said Sherlockian with the huge news is found dead in his hotel room, apparently murdered. Suddenly Harold is certain that he can solve the crime, using the methods of his oh-so-famous hero: Sherlock Holmes.

In alternating chapters, we are taken back in time approximately one century, to Arthur Conan Doyle’s life in the time after he killed off Sherlock Holmes. These days, Conan Doyle is nearly as hated as his character was beloved. Feeling that Holmes has begun to outweigh him in importance, Conan Doyle is trying to prove that he is still relevant as an author and a human being – and not just so he can sign some of his stories as Sherlock Holmes. When a letter bomb explodes in his home, Conan Doyle is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, one he is convinced is connected to the death of a young woman found murdered in a bathtub, a wedding dress on the chair next to her. Along with his less-successful friend Bram Sroker, who had not yet published “Dracula,” Arthur begins an investigation such as would have been undertaken by Holmes himself. Surely the creator is at least equal to the creation?

Oftentimes in a book which alternates storylines, particularly one with dual time periods, one of the stories is much stronger than the other. I can think of numerous books I think would have been better served by cutting out one of the storylines altogether. Such is not the case with “The Sherlockian.” Both stories were engaging and well-plotted, the measure of this is that I was disappointed at the end of each chapter that I would have to postpone following the current storyline, but my disappointment never lasted even half a page, as I was immediately thrust back into the other story. As ridiculous as this may sound, I also loved the chapter length. Each chapter was short enough to maintain suspense and great pacing, but not so short that nothing happened and I became annoyed. Nor did Moore engage in the manipulative technique of manufactured cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, which occasionally happens in suspenseful books with multiple storylines.

Not only was this an exciting, suspenseful, well-plotted story, it was also based loosely on real events. There was really an illustrious Sherlockian found dead by suspicious means, and Arthur Conan Doyle truly did work on cases after initially killing Holmes off – not to mention the fact that he really did feel almost oppressed by the character he created. Moore’s Author’s Note at the end of the book provides a great guide to what was true and what wasn’t. I got a better handle on the fervor of Sherlockian societies and particularly on Conan Doyle’s life, and his attitudes towards Holmes and his reception.

I thoroughly enjoyed Graham Moore’s “The Sherlockian” and have, in fact, already recommended it highly to a number of people, one of whom seems to be crediting it with releasing her from her reading slump. Highly recommended.

Nicole and I spoke with Graham as part of our What’s Old is New podcast on Sherlock Holmes, give it a listen!

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Disclosure: I am writing this on Monday morning. Around noon, Graham and I will be having lunch together, because I was not able to make it to his book signing last week. I will not alter the content of this review after meeting Graham in person, and knowledge that I would have lunch with him did not alter the content of this review (and, really, I would never have suggested lunch had I not thoroughly enjoyed the book, because that would just be awkward). I do reserve the right to correct typos though.
Source: Publisher at BEA.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Everything is Going to be Great by Rachel Shukert – Book Review

Everything is Going to be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour by Rachel Shukert
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

A proponent of the sex, drugs, and theater lifestyle, Rachel Shukert is thrilled when she gets a part in the play of a very prestigious director, even if she isn’t getting paid and has to wear a hat that looks like poo. Even better, the play’s run in New York is so successful that they mount a European tour. In Vienna, Rachel attempts to work around casual but virulent antisemitism and has an affair with an older man, whose father may or may not have been a Nazi. When the show’s run ends, Rachel can’t bear to return to New York, so moves to Amsterdam to crash in the apartment of her Dutch friend and his partner, and eventually shocks and offends nearly everyone she knows by dating a man with a long-term, live-in girlfriend.

“Everything is Going to be Great” is not for the easily offended. Although she is never particularly graphic – which I appreciated, Shukert is not the least bit shy about her sundry sexual exploits, nor about drinking binges, drugs, etc. This sort of narrative voice is extremely hit or miss with me. Quite often, it seems that the author is simply engaging in one final act of exhibitionism, and including everything they can remember that might be seen as shocking simply for the sake of being shocking.

This is not at all the vibe I got from Shukert. Instead of being shocking for shocking’s sake, she instead showed the admirable ability to poke fun at herself on the sly. While reading “Everything is Going to be Great” I could hear the sarcastic ‘can you believe this’ dripping across the page, headshakes of disbelief and all. At the same time, though, she told her story without the moralizing of hindsight, letting her actions speak for themselves and letting the reader experience them alongside her.

The style in “Everything is Going to be Great” is very reminisicent of David Sedaris, without seeming derivative. Actually, I think if Sedaris was a straight, Jewish woman he might actually be Rachel Shukert. Their senses of humor are very similar, and “Everything is Going to be Great” reminded me very much of Sedaris’s essays about living and traveling abroad. Even the level of possible offensiveness is roughly similar. The two main differences between Sedaris and Shukert for me are that I can only listen to audios of David Sedaris’s work – I don’t find that his humor translates well for me at all into the written word, but I did not encounter this problem at all while reading “Everything is Going to be Great” – and that Sedaris writes in essays, while Shukert’s work was a more cohesive long form memoir.

If you enjoy David Sedaris, it would definitely be worth your while to pick up “Everything is Going to be Great.” Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound
.*
Amazon
.*

This review was done with a book received from the publisher at BEA.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Oh, D.E.A.R!: BEA Edition!

Do you remember D.E.A.R? At my elementary school that meant “Drop Everything And Read,” something we typically did for 10 or 15 minutes every day. Best part of my day, really. As my TBR and Library piles are battling for supremacy and trying to sneak in around the review copies who have staked out places on my calendar, I’m thinking back to the simpler days of D.E.A.R., when I believed I had time to get to any book I wanted. And that, of course, got me fantasizing about a world where I really could just Drop Everything And Read for more than just 15 minutes a day.

Do you know what happens when you bring 67 new books into your house in one week? You go CRAZY trying to figure out when to read them all! I still haven’t read a single book from my last D.E.A.R. post in April, but what is really on my radar right now are all the books I brought home from BEA. Obviously I want to read all of them, or I wouldn’t have picked them up (curse my eclectic reading tastes!), but a girl has got to prioritize. Here are the ones I am most looking forward to, sorted by release date and with the product descriptions from the publishers:

The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell – Harper, June 1, 2010

What happens when two New Yorkers (one an ex–drag queen) do the unthinkable: start over, have a herd of kids, and get a little dirty?

The Bucolic Plague is tart and sweet, touching and laugh out loud funny, a story about approaching middle age, being in a long-term relationship, realizing the city no longer feeds you in the same way it used to, and finding new depths of love and commitment wherever you live.

Find out in this riotous and moving true tale of goats, mud, and a centuries-old mansion in rustic upstate New York—the new memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, author of the New York Times bestseller I Am Not Myself These Days. A happy series of accidents and a doughnut-laden escape upstate take Josh and his partner, Brent, to the doorstep of the magnificent (and fabulously for sale) Beekman Mansion. One hour and one tour later, they have begun their transformation from uptight urbanites into the two-hundred-year-old-mansion-owning Beekman Boys.

Suddenly, Josh—a full-time New Yorker with a successful advertising career—and Brent are weekend farmers, surrounded by nature’s bounty and an eclectic cast: roosters who double as a wedding cover band; Bubby, the bionic cat; and a herd of eighty-eight goats, courtesy of their new caretaker, Farmer John. And soon, a fledgling business, born of a gift of handmade goat-milk soap, blossoms into a brand, Beekman 1802.

I secretly (well, not so much anymore, now that I’m putting it on the internet) want to keep chickens. I want to have fresh eggs and know what the chickens that laid them ate. I also want to have a vegetable garden, and maybe enlist said chickens to eat the bugs out of it. Win-win! Now that you know that about me, I don’t think you’ll be too surprised that I can’t wait to get my hot little hands on “The Bucolic Plague.” Plus, I adore wordplay, so I’d read it for the title alone!

Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky – Harper Perennial, June 22, 2010

“Bad Marie” is the story of Marie, tall, voluptuous, beautiful, thirty years old, and fresh from six years in prison for being an accessory to murder and armed robbery. The only job Marie can get on the outside is as a nanny for her childhood friend Ellen Kendall, an upwardly mobile Manhattan executive whose mother employed Marie’s mother as a housekeeper. After Marie moves in with Ellen, Ellen’s angelic baby Caitlin, and Ellen’s husband, a very attractive French novelist named Benoit Doniel, things get complicated, and almost before she knows what she’s doing, Marie has absconded to Paris with both baby and husband. On the run and out of her depth, Marie will travel to distant shores and experience the highs and lows of foreign culture, lawless living, and motherhood as she figures out how to be an adult; how deeply she can love; and, what it truly means to be bad.

Part of the reason that I’m really looking forward to this is that Erica from Harper Perennial seems SUPER excited about it, beyond just ‘this is our book so I am paid to be excited about it.’ I think we have some fairly similar reading tastes, so I can’t wait to get to it.

Innocent Until Interrogated by Gary L. Stuart – University of Arizona Press, July 27, 2010

On a sweltering August morning, a woman walked into a Buddhist temple near Phoenix and discovered the most horrific crime in Arizona history. Nine Buddhist temple members–six of them monks committed to lives of non-violence–lay dead in a pool of blood, shot execution style. The massive manhunt that followed turned up no leads until a tip from a psychiatric patient led to the arrest of five suspects. Each initially denied their involvement in the crime, yet one by one, under intense interrogation, they confessed.

Soon after, all five men recanted, saying their confessions had been coerced. One was freed after providing an alibi, but the remaining suspects–dubbed “The Tucson Four” by the media–remained in custody even though no physical evidence linked them to the crime.

Seven weeks later, investigators discovered–almost by chance–physical evidence that implicated two entirely new suspects. The Tucson Four were finally freed on November 22 after two teenage boys confessed to the crime, yet troubling questions remained. Why were confessions forced out of innocent suspects? Why and how did legal authorities build a case without evidence? And, ultimately, how did so much go so wrong?

In this first book-length treatment of the Buddhist Temple Massacre, Gary L. Stuart explores the unspeakable crime, the inexplicable confessions, and the troubling behavior of police officials. Stuart’s impeccable research for the book included a review of the complete legal records of the case, an examination of all the physical evidence, a survey of three years of print and broadcast news, and more than fifty personal interviews related to the case. Like In Cold Blood, and The Executioner’s Song, Innocent Until Interrogated is a riveting read that provides not only a striking account of the crime and the investigation but also a disturbing look at the American justice system at its very worst.

This sounds like a fascinating case study about the reliability of coerced confessions. I was chatting up the lady from the University of Arizona Press and she was very excited about it. Her excitement was infectious and now I can’t wait to get to it.

The Gendarme by Mark Mustian – Amy Einhorn/Putnam, September 2, 2010

To those around him, Emmett Conn is a ninety-two-year-old man on the verge of senility. But what becomes frighteningly clear to Emmett is that the sudden, realistic dreams he is having are memories of events he, and many others, have denied or purposely forgotten. The Gendarme is a unique love story that explores the power of memory- and the ability of people, individually and collectively, to forget. Depicting how love can transcend nationalities and politics, how racism creates divisions where none truly exist, and how the human spirit fights to survive even in the face of hopelessness, this is a transcendent novel.

An Amy Einhorn book, ‘nuf said. Plus, check out the cover! Isn’t it stunning???

Stranger Here Below by Joyce Hinnefeld – Unbridled Books, September 28, 2010

In 1961, when Amazing Grace Jansen, a firecracker from Appalachia, meets Mary Elizabeth Cox, the daughter of a Black southern preacher, at Kentucky s Berea College, they already carry the scars and traces of their mothers troubles. Poor and single, Maze s mother has had to raise her daughter alone and fight to keep a roof over their heads. Mary Elizabeth’s mother has carried a shattering grief throughout her life, a loss so great that it has disabled her and isolated her stern husband and her brilliant, talented daughter. The caution this has scored into Mary Elizabeth has made her defensive and too private and limited her ambitions, despite her gifts as a musician. But Maze s earthy fearlessness might be enough to carry them both forward toward lives lived bravely in an angry world that changes by the day. Both of them are drawn to the enigmatic Georginea Ward, an aging idealist who taught at Berea sixty years ago, fell in love with a black man, and suddenly found herself renamed as a sister in a tiny Shaker community. Sister Georgia believes in discipline and simplicity, yes. But, more important, her faith is rooted in fairness and the long reach of unconditional love. This is a novel about three generations of women and the love that makes families where none can be expected.

I have heard fabulous things about how gorgeous Hinnefeld’s writing is, but haven’t yet had the chance to experience it. This time I can read it early and bask in the beauty of her writing!

The Wrong Blood by Manuel de Lope – Other Press, September 28, 2010

In the Basque Country in northern Spain, just before the Civil War, three men in dinner suits stop for a drink at a bar before continuing on their way to a wedding. Their trip is interrupted when their leader, the wealthy Don Leopoldo, has a stroke in the restroom.This event, bizarre and undignified though it is, begins to weave together the lives of two remarkable women: the bride, the beautiful and distinguished Isabel Cruces, and María Antonia Etxarri, the bar owner’s adolescent daughter. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, María Antonia is raped and Isabel’s newlywed husband, Captain Julen Herraiz, is shot. Both women find themselves violently altered, alone, and pregnant. A crippled but wise local doctor is the only witness to the mysterious, silent agreement these women conclude in the loneliness and desperation of their mutual suffering. Many years later, a young student, grandson to Isabel, returns to the scene of the events to spend an innocent summer studying for law exams. As he goes about his work, he unwittingly awakens the ghosts haunting both María Antonia and the doctor, and through their memories the passionate stories of the past unfurl before the reader.

I’m totally fascinated by the Basque Country and want to read more and more and more about it, so this seems like a no-brainer. Add to this the fact that Michelle from RiverRun Bookstore was raving about it, and it is on my must-read list.

The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent – Reagan Arthur Books, November 8, 2010

This is the prequel to “The Heretic’s Daughter,” which I loved. PLUS, it is actually about the dad who, it was rumored, served under Oliver Cromwell. That, to me, is even more interesting than accusations of witchcraft, so I can’t wait. Funny, because about a week before BEA, someone was lamenting the lack of historical fiction about Oliver Cromwell. Now, I’m not sure how prominently he figures in this, but let me just say, voila!

Matched by Ally Condie – Dutton Juvenile, November 30, 2010

Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her: what to read, what to watch, what to believe. So when Xander’s face appears on-screen at her Matching ceremony, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is her ideal mate . . . until she sees Ky Markham’s face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black.

The Society tells her it’s a glitch, a rare malfunction, and that she should focus on the happy life sheÕs destined to lead with Xander. But Cassia can’t stop thinking about Ky, and as they slowly fall in love, Cassia begins to doubt the Society’s infallibility and is faced with an impossible choice: between Xander and Ky, between the only life sheÕs known and a path that no one else has dared to follow.

I love me some YA dystopian novels, and this one has been getting a lot of buzz. We’ll have to see if I can wait until November to read it.

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale – Twelve, February 2, 2011

Bruno Littlemore is quite unlike any chimpanzee in the world. Precocious, self-conscious and preternaturally gifted, young Bruno, born and raised in a habitat at the local zoo, falls under the care of a university primatologist named Lydia Littlemore. Learning of Bruno’s ability to speak, Lydia takes Bruno into her home to oversee his education and nurture his passion for painting. But for all of his gifts, the chimpanzee has a rough time caging his more primal urges. His untimely outbursts ultimately cost Lydia her job, and send the unlikely pair on the road in what proves to be one of the most unforgettable journeys — and most affecting love stories — in recent literature. Like its protagonist, this novel is big, loud, abrasive, witty, perverse, earnest and amazingly accomplished. The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore goes beyond satire by showing us not what it means, but what it feels like be human — to love and lose, learn, aspire, grasp, and, in the end, to fail.

Evidently there’s some monkey lovin’ in this book. I’m a bit hesitant about that, honestly, but incredibly curious, particularly because this was one of the books chosen in the the Editor’s Buzz panel.

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And the most coveted book I didn’t actually manage to get a copy of?

Ape House by Sara Gruen – Spiegel & Grau, September 7, 2010

Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants has become one of the most beloved and bestselling novels of our time. Now Gruen has moved from a circus elephant to family of bonobo apes. When the apes are kidnapped from a language laboratory, their mysterious appearance on a reality TV show calls into question our assumptions about these animals who share 99.4% of our DNA.

A devoted animal lover, Gruen has had a life-long fascination with human-ape discourse, and a particular interest in Bonobo apes, who share 99.4% of our DNA. She has studied linguistics and a system of lexigrams in order to communicate with apes, and is one of the few visitors who has been allowed access to the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, where the apes have come to love her. In bringing her experience and research to bear on this novel, she opens the animal world to us as few novelists have done.

Ape House is a riveting, funny, compassionate, and, finally, deeply moving new novel that secures Sara Gruen’s place as a master storyteller who allows us to see ourselves as we never have before.

I know, I know, two books about monkeys. But I loved “Water for Elephants” and this one was getting a ton of buzz at the show. I didn’t get a copy, but I’ll definitely be reading it when it comes out!

By the way, if anyone feels the urge to make me a button for this series, you’ll have my undying love! Maybe a deer reading?

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BEA Plans?

Okay people, I’ve started looking at the BEA website but:

a) It is not the world’s most user-friendly website

b) Seems silly for each of us to duplicate one another’s work

So here’s what I want to know: what events are you most looking forward to at BEA? When and where are they? I’ll compile all the answers everyone gives and post them next week so we can ALL benefit.

Also! Let me know if you want to meet up while we’re at BEA! I’m coming in really late on Tuesday night and leaving around noon on Saturday, so I’m available to meet up Wednesday and Thursday and, of course, at Blogger Con on Friday.

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