Monthly Archives: February 2013

Throwback Thursday ~ True Grit

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging often focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Pick any bookish or literary-related media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago.
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

True Grit by Charles Portis

Charles Portis has long been acclaimed as one of America’s foremost comic writers. True Grit is his most famous novel–first published in 1968, and the basis for the movie of the same name starring John Wayne and now the film by the Coen brothers starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.

It tells the story of Mattie Ross, who is just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name of Tom Chaney shoots her father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robs him of his life, his horse, and $150 in cash money. Mattie leaves home to avenge her father’s blood. With the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshal, by her side, Mattie pursues the homicide into Indian Territory.

True Grit is eccentric, cool, straight, and unflinching, like Mattie herself. (via Goodreads)

I finished listening to this yesterday, an audiobook borrowed from the Tempe Public Library’s new OneClickdigital service.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the John Wayne version of the film. Honestly, the B Westerns of the 50s-70s are the reason why I thought I didn’t like Westerns, despite my childhood affection for The Lone Ranger TV show. The 1969 version of True Grit has been (probably undeservedly) lumped in with those movies. My attitude toward modern Westerns is much different and, considering that I really like the Coen brothers when they’re being serious, the 2010 film version was a slam-dunk for my favor. What caught me unaware was Mattie Ross.

I had no idea that the main character of the story was a 14-year-old girl. Further, I didn’t realize that the book is written from Mattie’s first person POV. I hate to just be sickeningly positive, but I like Westerns. I like frontier women. Why had no one told me about this novel?

I did still have one reservation. Mattie Ross is seen as a tom-boy. From my notes on a book called Jo’s Girls (which I’ve since set aside and never posted about), I conjectured the following theory:

I’ve never like tomboy stories due to two reasons: 1.) Tomboys are usually trouble-making brats. It seems that girls can be virtuous and girly or disrespectful terrors. 2.) Not only do girls grow out of being tom boys (something that doesn’t bother me too much), but they seem to have to regain their virtue through hardship.

In general, there’s no middle ground. I relate to these characters no more than I do uber-girly characters.

Mattie is, thankfully, different. Is she a trouble -maker? Yes, but she has reason. She wants vengeance. If Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing says, “O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace,” Mattie would say, “I will eat his heart; be sure of it.” She shrewdly takes stock of her resources and hires Rooster to help her. She could have left it at that, but she doesn’t. She insists on accompanying him and, God willing, shooting Tom Chaney herself.  Sure, Mattie has hardships to overcome, but she remains exactly herself. “I never had the time to get married,” she says at the end of the book, “but it is nobody’s business if I am married or not married. I care nothing for what they say… A woman with brains and a frank tongue and one sleeve pinned up and an invalid mother to care for is at some disadvantage.  Although I will say, I could have had two or three old, untidy men around here who had their eyes fastened on my bank. No, thank you.”

The audio book was read well by Donna Tartt, a Mississippi writer.  She also provides an afterword about her history with the novel, a book passed from one female family member to the next and often loaned but rarely returned. Thankfully, I’m currently in research-mode. If I were in writing-mode, my Nebraska characters would sound like Arkansas characters. I’m very prone to picking up Southern-isms.

The 2010 movie is faithful to the book and full of great performances and beautiful Roger Deakins cinematography.

Review ~ The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes, you can read the final twelve stories that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about his brilliant detective.

It is perhaps the most unusual and certainly the darkest collection that he penned. Treachery, mutilation, and the terrible consequences of infidelity are just some of the themes explored in this collection, along with atmospheric touches of the gothic involving a blood-sucking vampire, crypts at midnight, and strange bones in a furnace.

The challenging and often bizarre tales reflect the mood of the 1920s when they were written. Amid this grey miasma of crime stands the shining figure of Sherlock Holmes who is there to unravel even the most baffling mystery. (via Goodreads)

I decided to start my rereading of the Holmes canon (before I read A Study in Scarlet a few weeks back) with the collection I’m least familiar: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. There might be good reason for my lack of familiarity. While I checked out ALL THE HOLMES from the public library when I was about ten, my rereads have been based on cheap editions (like Dover’s $1 paperbacks) or “collectors” editions (like the gilt-edged Franklin Mint books). Both of these rely on public domain to keep costs down. In the US, the copyright for stories included in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes does not end until 2016-2023, nearly 100 years after their initial publication. Ebooks has relieved this problem somewhat. There have been a couple free/cheap licensed-by-the-estate complete Holmes editions online, discovered with a little searching.

In all, yes, an odd assortment of tales. The tones vary. The POVs vary. In a couple cases, there is some question as to whether Doyle is the author of a specific story. Though not a Doyle scholar, I offer this view: Doyle had been writing Holmes stories on and off for 40 years (while writing novels and a slew of short stories). Wouldn’t you expect an author to maybe play around with the characters and the story at year 30+? Below are a few notes I took while reading. Your mileage may vary.

“The Adventure of the Illustrious Client” – This would be the “terrible consequences of infidelity” tale. Worth noting: Sebastian Moran is alluded to as still alive.  Has there been any further adventures with Shinwell (Porky) Johnson? Also, Holmes gets beaten to a pulp and admits to believing that women are unfathomable.  Watched the Jeremy Brett version of this story. The Baron is neither handsome nor sinister. Kitty’s actions are given a more solid reason and the scene in which Holmes retrieves the Baron’s diary is more chilling. (Read 12/29/2012)

“The Adventure of the Blanche Soldier” – Holmes narrates. An adventure that happens while Watson is off being selfishly married. Rather gothic in its sensibilities; strange house, strange people. Another old friend helps with the investigation, unnamed. Holmes is well-connected by this point in his career. (Read 01/03/13)

“The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” – Includes Billy the page. Have we met Billy before? Third person POV. The only time that the POV was noticeably different from the Watson-first-person POV is when Watson is in the room. It’s rather jarring to not have Watson speak about himself. The story includes quite a bit of Watson-not-present action that would be clumsy to retell as is the usual habit of relaying Watson-not-present action. Unfortunately, this tale is dependent on the utter incompetence of its villains. (Read 01/06/13)

“The Adventure of the Three Gables” – Starts off with a “comic interlude” featuring a negro. Oh, Mr. Doyle. You were a man of your time… Another compatriot mentioned, Langdale Pike, a society writer. The Granada episode pads out this rather thin story with an exchange between Holmes and Pike, and a fist fight between Watson and the black pugilist (of course, he’s a pugilist). Spoiler for the TV episode, Watson loses. (Read 01/14/13)

“The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire” – Pretty simple case. I am amused by this quote in light of Doyle’s investigations into spiritualism: “The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”  Also puts in mind Shakespeare’s quote: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (Read 01/20/13)

“The Adventure of the Three Garridebs” – Speaking of Shakespeare, the next tale begins, “It may have been a comedy, or it may have been a tragedy.” (The two stories follow one another in most collections of these tales.) Use of telephone! (Read 01/20/13)

“The Problem of Thor Bridge” – Another hot-blooded South American woman. We have some practical experimentation in this one. (Read 01/24/13)

“The Adventure of the Creeping Man” – Veers slightly into the realm of science fiction, using impossible science. Could be a weird companion piece to Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” A great mini-anthology would be those two stories and Ysabeau Wilce’s “Hand in Glove.” (Read 01/30/13)

“The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” – This it the other story told in first person from Holmes’ point of view. I don’t ever remember reading this story before (though I probably have), but manged to figure out what had happened from the start. (Read 02/07/13)

“The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” – Among lost adventures: the politician, the lighthouse and the trained cormorant. Doyle was just screwing with his readers at this point, wasn’t he? Again, a Gothic sensibility, the woman with he mutilated, veiled face. And the circus! But this is no case at all, just a tale. It does show Holmes to have some sympathy. (Read 02/17/13)

“The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place” – Watson has a gambling problem? This case is strangely told with the client starting with the least important facts first. Not a great way to woo a reader into the story. The last Holmes story to be written, though not the last in the American edition of Case-book. It’s a fairly good tale that probably could have been better told. The Granada Television adaptation features a young Jude Law. (Read 02/18/13)

“The Adventure of the Retired Colourman” – Holmes is busy with the case of two Coptic patriarchs, so Watson is on the case. (Poor Watson.) Do previous collections have so many mentions of other cases? I don’t recall. Much telephone use. Mr. Barker, Holmes’s rival: “My hated rival upon the Surrey Shore.” (Has there been any Mr. Barker fiction? Surely.)

Genre: Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? I’m rereading Holmes and decided to start with the stories I’m least familiar with.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes
Craft Lessons: Doyle excels at crisp, untagged dialogue. Conversations aren’t entirely reactive. Holmes drives them.
Format: Kindle eText
Procurement: Kindle store

Throwback Thursday ~ The Talented Mr. Ripley

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging often focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Pick any bookish or literary-related media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago.
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley is an unforgettable introduction to this debonair confidence man, whose talent for self-invention and calculated murder is chronicled in four subsequent novels. (via Goodreads)

What I wrote about it on Jan. 30, 2002:

…Why do I like this book so much? It’s about a total amoral putz. Usually I don’t care for fiction in which the main character is unsympathetic. But…is Tom Ripley actually unsympathetic? While he has his “oh woe is me” moments, I can kind of see where he’s coming from. He’s an intriguing character. I do have to agree with one of the blurbs on the book cover. Highsmith’s world is slightly irrational. Things happen that wouldn’t logically happen. The movie tried to make things more logical I think, and strangely that is where it went wrong. Because in the book, even Tom Ripley is honestly amazed at how things are working out for him.

I’ve read three other of Highsmith’s Ripley books and he remains one of my favorite characters in literature. The other thrill of these novels, especially the sequels, is reading in anticipation of how Tom will best the police and keep his secrets. In this, the character and these novels are a bit similar to Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series. How does a character get away with, well, murder?

My fondness for the movie has only increased since that old LJ entry. It’s among my most re-watched movies.

Review ~ Carter Beats the Devil

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

Gold’s debut novel opens with real-life magician Charles Carter executing a particularly grisly trick, using President Warren G. Harding as a volunteer. Shortly afterwards, Harding dies mysteriously in his San Francisco hotel room, and Carter is forced to flee the country. Or does he? It’s only the first of many misdirections in a magical performance by Gold. In the course of subsequent pages, Carter finds himself pursued by the most hapless of FBI agents; falls in love with a beautiful, outspoken blind woman; and confronts an old nemesis bent on destroying him. Throw in countless stunning (and historically accurate) illusions, some beautifully rendered period detail, and historical figures like young inventor Philo T. Farnsworth and self-made millionaire Francis “Borax” Smith, and you have old-fashioned entertainment executed with a decidedly modern sensibility. (via Goodreads)

Back in September of last year, I added Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer to my reading queue. I was (and still am) in the process of researching and writing a historical fiction about amateur magician David Abbott. A friend from ultimate frisbee saw the Steinmeyer and its poster-eque cover art and offered to loan to me Carter Beats the Devil. I’ll admit, I didn’t get to it directly. The book starts a little slow and I left it behind on my sudden trip to Omaha in October. And the planned trip to Omaha in December. And then there was NaNoWriMo in November. When I finally got back to in late January, I pretty much devoured this book.

I went back and forth really, loving Carter Beats the Devil and shaking my fist at Gold for writing such a great book in a genre I’m entering. The latter attitude is, of course, ridiculous. Whatever I write is my own and will have its own merits. But man. This book… I loved the characters. I’d have dinner and a beer with each and every one of them. Well, except for Mysterioso, that putz. The characters all have their quirks and their faults. They love and hate and (some of them) get captured by pirates. (I’d even have a beer with the pirates.)

I was surprised by the historical details that were weaved into the story. As the summary text implies, we start with Pres. Harding and his death. Obviously, some of the plot was going to include whatever mystery goes along with a dead president. I wasn’t expecting Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of the TV. I wasn’t expecting the subterfuge and the use of almost every detail Gold brings into the story.  Usually, I’d be a little put out by an author’s need to tie up every loose end, even ends that a reader might have forgotten were loose. In this book, the completely pulled together ending was satisfying. And Gold pulls it off marvelously like a perfect magic trick. Man. This book…

Genre: Literary Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? Recommended to me. (Ken, you’ll get your book back…er…eventually!)
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes!
Craft Lessons: …And did I mention how wonderfully rendered San Francisco is as a setting? Before I read Carter Beats the Devil, before I embarked on the first draft of One Ahead (my Abbott book), I decided I wanted to do two things: Do right by magic, and do right by early 20th century Omaha.
Format: Trade paperback.
Procurement: Loaned to me.
Bookmark: A calling card.

Mystery/Crime Challenge

Throwback Thursday ~ A Study in Scarlet

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging often focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Updated! Pick any media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago. Remember to keep it book-related!
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

Checkout today’s Throwback Thursday link up for details on the TT giveaway!

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

In the debut of literature’s most famous sleuth, a dead man is discovered in a bloodstained room in Brixton. The only clues are a wedding ring, a gold watch, a pocket edition of Boccaccio’s Decameron, and a word scrawled in blood on the wall. With this investigation begins the partnership of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Their search for the murderer uncovers a story of love and revenge-and heralds a franchise of detective mysteries starring the formidable Holmes. (via Goodreads)

This is another multiple bird post, A Study in Scarlet being the 7th book I’ve read this year. I read the original and skimmed a “remastered” version by Leo Zanav. Also, I realize. Holmes…again.

It’s been a very long time since I read A Study in Scarlet. I had forgotten that it starts slow. There’s a lot of Watson background. It’s also a ways into the narrative before we really see Holmes at work. But, if I were reading this for the very first time, especially if I didn’t know who Sherlock Holmes was, his off-stage introduction would be very intriguing. The “remastered” version cuts pretty much to the chase, leaving Watson firmly in the background. I’m not going to cast too many judgements of this retelling for that, most of the language in the story is Doyle’s, though I am going to roll my eyes at the perceived need to quicken it up for a modern audience. Doyle’s original is pretty compelling even without Sherlock on stage all the time. Doyle’s sort of left-field switch to an American west flash-back (curtailed in the retelling) serves a purpose, to firmly set up the killer’s motives. But again, every Holmes story has been told and retold in so many ways that it’s difficult to be overly upset about it if you’re accepting of most adaptations.

The thing that did bug me is the sanitation of a few things in the “remastered” version. The Criterion is no longer a bar, but a bookstore. The subjects of the postmortem bruising experiments are dead animals when I’m pretty sure that Doyle meant to be rather sensational in suggesting that they were human bodies. There is of course some changing of tone concerning Mormonism and the “Avenging Angels” but far less than some of the reviews of the rewritten version would have you believe. In all, these changes just seem pointless. Read the original, it’s better.

The one thing that stuck me during this reread is how young these characters seem. Sherlock is overly enthusiastic about his hemoglobin reagent experiment and vital in his mannerisms. Watson isn’t returning from being a career soldier; he’s only old enough to have been through med school and briefly seen action before getting shot in the shoulder. When he returns to England, he’s pretty much a late twenty-something trying to figure out what to do with his life. (Doyle was 27 when A Study in Scarlet was published.)

Speaking of adaptations, I was also surprised at how many elements of the originals that the current BBC Sherlock incorporates into its episodes. I’d forgotten the importance of the cabby and the pills in this story. Both elements are used in a pretty creative way by the show’s premier episode “A Study in Pink.” I’ll leave you with the iconic moment of Holmes and Watson meeting, 21st century style.

Genre: Mystery
Why did choose to read this book? I do not tire of Sherlock Holmes.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Craft Lessons: Is it really necessary to start with a bang? Hinting at a character’s character is maybe more interesting than purely showing.
Format: Kindle ebook.
Procurement: FREE at Amazon.com (though I can’t find it in their catalog now…)

Mystery/Crime Challenge

Review ~ Conversations with Kreskin

This book was provided to me by Team Kreskin Productions LLC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Conversations with Kreskin by The Amazing Kreskin, Michael McCarty

Conversations With Kreskin is a cornucopia of stories of Kreskin’s Amazing life, culture, famous friends, inside knowledge of entertainment personalities, his mind power, thought reading, and much more. As a bonus feature, there is an eight-page full-color graphic art insert, “How Kreskin Became Amazing,” as well as many color photographs. (via Goodreads)

When I was a kid, David Copperfield and Doug Henning specials on TV were like holidays. Snacks and desserts would be consumed and the whole family would sit down to watch. For two hours, minus commercials, I would be amazed. Then, I’d spend the next week contemplating how the tricks were done. I’ve really always been a system person. The videos I watched more than Star Wars were the behind-the-scenes documentaries that showed how the special effect in Star Wars were done. I knew there was no such thing as “magic.” There was a technical aspect to their performances that that magicians weren’t sharing. This annoyed me. I felt that I’d probably enjoy seeing how the trick was done more than the trick itself. (I was right. I love seeing Penn & Teller expose the trickery in magic tricks.)

Mentalists, on the other hand, rub me the wrong way. The tricks are less specular and more personal, more deceptive on an intimate level. A mentalists powers either come from a supposed supernatural force or from some unknown pseudosciency aspect of science. Kreskin, for example, claims that there is no paranormal aspect to his abilities, but does chalk it up to some not-yet-known force. I don’t think either of those things are the truth and that his techniques are much closer to the usual methods used by mind-readers and spiritualists. (Timely example: Kreskin’s prediction of Super Bowl results. Boxes within boxes and number codes give prime opportunity for misdirection and switching.)

I had hoped that Conversations with Kreskin might, if not giving a peek into how its done (that’s a lot to ask), at least give a good coherent look at Kreskin’s history as a magician. He’s been in show business for over 40 years and has seen the industry change. I would have liked more of that, even if tinged with the attitude that the current world is going to pot. Mostly the interviews in this book meander from subject to subject with a lot of name dropping and some very dusty history. Why talk about Houdini when you could talk about Copperfield, Henning, or Penn & Teller? One fairly interesting aspectis Kreskin’s  disdain for hypnotism, though calling suggestive trances, which he does use in his act, anything else is splitting hairs. As we’ve seen, suggestibility is dangerous weakness in human psychology. Kreskin is well-aware of that and interested in educating the public. In very sensational ways, of course. It’s too bad that there’s a great deal of other nonsensical baggage that keeps a skeptic from finding the Amazing Kreskin actually amazing.

Genre: Non-fiction, interview/memoir
Why did I choose to read this book? Came across this book at NetGalley and figured it would be worth reading as research for One Ahead.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Finished it. It was a quick read.
Format: EPub and Kindle.
Procurement: NetGalley, in exchange for a review.

Throwback Thursday ~ Dune

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging often focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Updated! Pick any media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago. Remember to keep it book-related!
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

Checkout today’s Throwback Thursday link up for details on the TT giveaway!

Dune by Frank Herbert

Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Maud’dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream. (via Goodreads)

This is what I wrote about it on June 30, 2005:

My mother read all the Dune books. I tried reading Dune in 8th grade. I got to page 100 before becoming completely confused. I watched the 80s movie. That didn’t help. In college I watch the movie again and got a little more out of it. I stole my mom’s copy and vowed to read it one day. (That was probably ten years ago. I’ll bring her book back when we visit.) Eric recommended Dune to me. That was probably a good six or seven year ago. I finally read it, and my adult brain gets it. It is good, very good.

It’s been a very influential book for me as a writer. Herbert was a journalist and wrapped subjects he knew in science fiction paper. The novel was different for its time and that’s always encouraging. There have been two major film adaptations. David Lynch’s 1984 movie has a very interesting feel, though is only kinda-sorta based on the book.

The Sy Fy Channel’s 2000 set of mini-series is closer to the books, but still doesn’t quite get a few things right.

Both are good viewing, and the book is excellent.