Friday, November 27, 2009

A Study in Scarlet (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Happy Black Friday! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and thank you for taking the time to check in with the Genoshan on your holiday weekend! I'll jump right into the review so you can go back to eating your leftovers.


After being wounded in battle in Afghanistan, Dr. John Watson returns to London on leave and attempts to find ways to occupy his time. After several weeks of idle debauchery, he discovers that his funds are quickly running out, and so decides to leave his expensive room and find a more economical situation, preferably with a roommate. Through a mutual friend, Watson meets a strange fellow named Sherlock Holmes, and the two decide to go halvsies on a two-bedroom flat on Baker Street. After a few weeks of living together, however, Watson is confounded by the number of strangers who visit the apartment and pay Sherlock for "private meetings" (get your mind out of the gutter). Holmes finally confides that he is a private detective, and is often consulted by police officers and civilians alike in order to solve difficult cases.

The next day, a case is brought before Sherlock Holmes that he is less than willing to take on, since he knows all the credit will end up going to the police. Watson, however, convinces him to at least check it out, and the two go off to solve their very first mystery together. The police had found a man dead on his back in an uninhabited building, with no signs of any kind of struggle or wounds. For some reason, though, there is plenty of blood on the floor, and the word "Rache" is written on the wall in it. Despite the seeming perplexity of the case and the police's inability to solve the crime, Sherlock Holmes sets off on his own to catch the dead man's killer using only logic and reason as his tools.

If you've been reading my Wednesday Supplements of Sherlock Holmes short stories, you know by now that this is the basic formula that Doyle uses for most of his mysteries. A Study in Scarlet is different—and better—in quite a few ways, though. First of all, it's a novel, so it's obviously longer. The case is more complex, and there are several dead ends and near misses that Holmes has to shrug off throughout the book. Secondly, it features an incredible flashback that mostly takes place in America, written in a completely different, but equally engaging, voice. You get a kind of western/detective story amalgamation that seems weird at first, but ends up working really, really well. Thirdly—and this is probably the most important—, this is the first story! Here, the reader is introduced to Sherlock Holmes and his faithful biographer, Watson, for the very first time. Doyle makes the meeting remarkably natural, and includes several misgivings that Watson initially has upon meeting Holmes. I thought that I might have gotten sick of all this Sherlock Holmes stuff by now, but A Study in Scarlet is so well written that I could hardly put it down. It's not very long, so I read it all in an evening. That's one of my favorite things about these stories, actually, that I can just pick them up and read through them quickly, and they're almost always enjoyable. This was a much better book than I expected, though. I still have plenty of Holmes stories to get through, and I might find something that I end up liking more than this, but it's definitely my favorite so far. I recommend checking out A Study in Scarlet first if you're interested in this Sherlock Holmes stuff at all. You won't be disappointed.


A Study in Scarlet
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle came up with one of the most singular characters in all of literature, but was able to write a compelling story around him as well. I can hardly believe this book was written over a century ago.

Some people might not like reading mysteries, so I can understand them not wanting to read something like this. When it comes down to it, though, if a book is good, it's good. The Harry Potter books are mysteries; most comic books are mysteries; The Lost Symbol, the fastest selling adult novel in history, is a mystery. Try it out, I think you'll like it.

It's rumored that Doyle stole some of his ideas from Edgar Allen Poe and a couple other people, but I honestly don't even care. He did a great job writing a strong protagonist and an accessible, entertaining mystery. I can't wait for the next one.


There's definitely a reason why Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognized characters in the world. These books are no joke. I've been having way more fun with this little project than I ever could've imagined. I highly recommend taking a look at some of them.

Again, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Thanks for remembering to stop by for a quick review. Have a great holiday weekend, and keep reading, Genoshans!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Further Goings-On of Sherlock Holmes!

Love! Hate! Murder! Intrigue! I have for your reading pleasure eight more thrilling exploits of the amazing Sherlock Holmes!

From Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Musgrave Ritual"

Synopsis—A long-trusted butler goes missing just days after having an argument with his employer. Sherlock Holmes suspects foul play, but where's the body?
Comments—Not terrible. The only thing of note in this one is that Watson goes into some of the quirkier details of Holmes' character, like the fact that Holmes keeps tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper.

"The Reigate Puzzle"

Synopsis—Holmes and Watson go to visit an old friend of Watson's, and stumble upon a small, country mystery! A string of robberies has been plaguing the village of Reigate, although the burglar doesn't seem to be taking much...
Comments—I really enjoyed "The Reigate Puzzle." While it wasn't the most exciting story, there were so many clues and obvious tips that I completely missed, which made the ending really satisfying.

"The Crooked Man"

Synopsis—A man is seemingly murdered by his wife after the two have an argument one evening. Sherlock Holmes is brought in to look over some of the more peculiar aspects of the case, however, like the existence of an extra set of muddy footprints that were tracked into the room, and the animal tracks climbing up the curtains.
Comments—I didn't enjoy this very much, but it contains the only instance in any Sherlock Holmes story or novel where Holmes actually says "Elementary." That alone is probably worth the read, right?

"The Resident Patient"

Synopsis—A young doctor comes to Holmes with a curious problem: his landlord and benefactor has become increasingly delirious in recent weeks, and now swears that someone is out to kill him. Can Holmes discover the identity of the supposed killer before it's too late?
Comments—It may not seem like much from the synopsis, but "The Resident Patient" is actually really good, and it kicks off a string of amazing stories that are all in a row. It was the first time so far that I've just plowed through from story to story, unable to put the book down.

"The Greek Interpreter"

Synopsis—A Greek interpreter is kidnapped and forced to aid in a shady international business deal. When the man is finally set free, he tells of his curious adventure to only man he knows who can shed some light on the situation—Mycroft Holmes?
Comments—Sherlock Holmes has a brother? What? Watson is just as amazed as you and I when he meets the older and smarter—though much less energetic—of the two Holmes brothers. Great mystery, too.

"The Naval Treaty"

Synopsis—An old school chum of Watson's is thrown into a fit of brain fever when an important Foreign Affairs document left in his charge is stolen. He turns to Sherlock Holmes to find the document before it falls into the wrong hands and causes an international crisis!
Comments—First of all, this is probably one of the best mysteries that I've read so far. It's got a ton of different things going on, and the ending makes perfect sense, even though I couldn't figure it out ahead of time. Secondly, though, and more interestingly, the plot revolves around a secret treaty that Britain signs with Italy and Germany that France and Russia can't find out about or else it would result in a global catastrophe. This was written in 1893. Twenty years later, a World War is started because Britain had a secret treaty with France and Russia that Germany and Italy didn't know about. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle basically almost predicted World War I, wow.

"The Final Problem"

Synopsis—The last Sherlock Holmes story! Two years after the death of Sherlock Holmes, Watson takes up his pen to tell the detective's last tale.
Comments—Amazing. After months of chasing Professor Moriarty around London, Holmes becomes the hunted, ultimately falling to his death at the Reichenbach Falls. I actually got a little emotional at the end of this one, not gonna lie.

From The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Empty House"

Synopsis—Sherlock Holmes lives! Having barely avoided death at the hands of Professor Moriarty, Holmes goes into hiding for several years, but is forced to come out of retirement to put one of his old opponents behind bars.
Comments—I honestly don't know how he did it, but Doyle brought Holmes back in a way that made sense, and I'm glad he did. I've seen characters die and come back in comic books plenty of times, but this is a great story and a fantastic way to start a new book.

That's all the short stories for this week, but make sure you check back in on Friday when I review the first of Doyle's four Sherlock Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet. Until then, keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (Rebecca Miller)

Next Friday, November 27, sees the release of The Private Lives of Pippa Lee in theatres, written and directed by Rebecca "Hey Look At Me My Dad Wrote The Crucible So I Wanna Be A Writer Too" Miller. I'd like to say that I did extensive research on the film and timed this review to perfectly coincide with its release, but in fact I'm just incredibly lucky. It stars Robin Wright-Penn, Keanu Reeves (we share the same birthday, just yeeeaaaaars apart), Monica Bellucci, and Blake Lively(!), and is adapted from a novel by the same name, written by—wait, this can't be right—Rebecca Miller? Huh, so she's adapting her own novel? Wonder how that's gonna turn out. Wikipedia doesn't even list her as an author, or TPLOPL as anything other than a film, for that matter. Curiouser and curiouser. Well, let's not judge until we've at least seen the trailer, shall we? Back yet? I'll wait {thumb twiddling}. Alright, what'd you think? Yeah, same here.


Pippa Lee is a middle-aged woman who is forced to move into a retirement village after her much older husband suffers a series of heart attacks. While the new living situation isn't ideal for Pippa, she finds comfort in the fact that she has now regained her youth in a way, being the youngest resident of the village by at least a decade. Content with the idea that the adjustment to the house will just take time, she begins to settle into her new life. One morning, however, Pippa wakes up and discovers a chocolate cake on the kitchen table, sliced up and served on several plates. A few mornings later, she finds a dirty frying pan in the sink and eggshells on the counter. Thinking that her aging husband is growing senile, making himself meals in the dark, she installs a security camera in the home. Unfortunately for Pippa, it's not her husband that has the problem: Pippa has been sleepwalking.

Here the book jumps back four decades or so, to the point in Pippa's childhood where she says she first began sleepwalking. The book doesn't exactly make it clear how or why this started, or how or why it specifically ended, but it seems more like a writing tool anyway, geared as a transitional element to bring the reader back to what I like to refer as Pippa's White Oleander period. She has a terrible relationship with her mother, a woman so hopped up on diet pills she can hardly stop talking. She begins seeing an older man, taking drugs, moving from one bad situation to another. It's all very dramatic, I promise. I don't want to ruin the whole book/movie/traveling cliche circus for you, so I'll just get right down to it: this book is okay. It's about as okay as you can get. It's not fantastic, but it isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. It's really just okay. I'll expound.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee starts out as a serious piece about the problems a middle-aged woman faces when her older husband is on the verge of death. She doesn't want to watch him die, but loves him too much to even consider leaving him. It's fresh, compelling, and a great idea for a novel. Then it jumps back to Pippa's teenage years, and it's sex this, drugs that, bad situation over here, terrible life choice over there, meet the future husband and fall in love. There's no real suspense or sense of excitement about it, because you know it's all going to work out just fine. In the beginning of the novel, middle-aged Pippa is a happy, well-adjusted housewife, so we know where her life is going. Rebecca Miller might as well have written, "Well let's just see how she got here, in case you're curious." It's interesting, it's well-written, but it doesn't really drag the reader in at all. Everything is too neat and tidy. I'm not really giving anything away by saying this, but I hated the ending of the book because it wasn't a book ending, it was a movie script ending. Everything was all cleaned up and the loose ends were tied and every little issue became resolved within the last ten pages. Then, looking back, I realized it fit, since the rest of the novel wasn't really a novel, it was a prose film. Again, it wasn't bad. I wouldn't go around saying this book is terrible. It just wasn't all that great, either.

Apparently, Rebecca Miller has done this before. Her first film, Personal Velocity, was adapted from her first book, a collection of short stories. I'm sure the woman is a fantastic screenwriter and director—although that trailer looks like garbage, honestly, so who knows, maybe she's not—but I don't see the need for a novel and a film, within a year of each other. Does she think that publishing the novel first gives her more credibility? Can she not decide which she wants to focus on? Remember when you were little, and your favorite movie would come out, and there'd be a companion book that would come out at the same time, and it was crap because the studio had it written just to make some more money? That's what this feels like. I like her style of writing, I think the voice is good because it's clean and well-suited for narrative. I think she does a very good job at creating characters and making them real. I also think she's not a very good storyteller, though, and could have written a fantastic novel if she kept Pippa in the retirement village the whole time. That might not have made a very interesting movie, though...


The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
by Rebecca Miller

She's really lucky that she's so good at characterization, or else this score would have been much lower. Like I said before, the entire middle portion of the book was a cheap White Oleander knockoff. I'm sick of wayward girls getting into trouble because they lack an adequate mother figure.

I think that this could have been a great book, and just wasn't, almost by accident. It's adequate. Read it if you like, I wont stop you. Maybe you'll love it. You might as well just go see the movie, though.

I enjoyed reading this book while I was reading it. It has a voice that's easy to follow, and is never heavy handed in its themes. I realized once I'd finished that it read so easily because there was no real substance, so there's that, but it's not a terrible book. It's okay. I guess.


If I'm flipping through the channels a year from now and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is on TBS, I'll probably watch it, because I like Robin Wright-Penn and Blake Lively. I wouldn't pay to go see it, though. If any of you do check it out next weekend, let me know how it is. Otherwise, keep reading, Genoshans!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More Sherlock Holmes Short Stories!

This week, the Wednesday supplement is being posted on Thursday. It's fun keeping you on your toes that way. That and I hadn't finished this week's eight stories until last night. As I'm sure you remember from last week, each review includes a brief summary of the story, followed by a few choice comments, and a rating from 1-5, with 1 being God awful, and 5 being His gift to Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts.

From Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"

Synopsis—Watson is visited by a young engineer who has just lost his thumb in a terrible accident—or was it foul play? The two men take a trip to see Sherlock Holmes in the hopes of discovering exactly what this engineer has gotten himself into.
Comments—Eh. It wasn't terrible. I admit I had no idea what the final outcome was going to be, but it didn't blow me away.

"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"

Synopsis—A young Lord calls upon Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend Watson when the Lord's new bride goes missing the day after their wedding. Could it have been a jealous ex-lover?
Comments—Skip this one. I saw it coming a mile away.

"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"

Synopsis—When a banker in possession of a priceless national heirloom is robbed in his own home, he enlists the aid of Sherlock Holmes to get back the missing jewels. The plot thickens, however, when all of the evidence points towards the man's own son!
Comments—There are enough twists and red herrings in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" to make it one of the better stories so far. I was never quite sure where it was going to end up, but didn't feel like it came out of nowhere, either.

"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"

Synopsis—A young red-head (Doyle really likes red-heads, apparently) is hired as a country governess for a wealthy, if eccentric, family. As the family's quirky requests grow more and more outlandish, however, the woman decides to ask Sherlock Holmes for help in discovering what's really going on with them.
Comments—This one is just weird. You'd think Doyle would want to end the book with a bang, but this bizarre tale is lackluster at best. Also, I'd like to point out that for the entire first half of this story, I thought it was titled "The Adventure of the Copper Breeches" and had something to do with a special pair of pants...

From Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"Silver Blaze"

Synopsis—A famous racehorse goes missing, and the trainer is found dead in the moors outside the training grounds. Can Sherlock Holmes and his faithful friend Watson discover the whereabouts of the horse and reveal the identity of the killer before the Wessex Cup race?
Comments—Not a bad way to kick off the next book, I must say. "Silver Blaze" is the most original story of this bunch, and includes more forensic investigation than some of the others.

"The Yellow Face"

Synopsis—Sherlock Holmes is visited one day by a distraught young man whose wife seems to be hiding something. Could it possibly involve the couple's new neighbors, and the freakish yellow face that sometimes appears in an upstairs window?
Comments—This book is a little different, and breaks form more often than Adventures does. "The Yellow Face," for example, includes an introduction by Watson that states how, for once, Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his deductions. That little novelty doesn't make this story any better, though. The ending is slightly unexpected, but only in one minor detail. Boring.

"The Stock-Broker's Clerk"

Synopsis—A young stock-broker's clerk comes to Holmes' office hoping the detective will be able to shed some light on a strange work situation. The new position that the clerk has just been hired for seems too good to be true—and just may be!
Comments—Really now, Doyle, this again? "The Stock-Broker's Clerk" is basically the exact same story as "The Red-headed League." Strange new job, a little too good to be true, someone lying about their identity. Nice try. The only truly interesting thing about this story is that it begins with a little background into Watson's medical practice.

"The 'Gloria Scott'"

Synopsis—Sherlock Holmes' very first case! A friend of Holmes' from college enlists the young detective's aid when the man's father dies of horror after reading a simple note. Does the note have some hidden meaning? What could be so terrible as to scare a man full to death?
Comments—Another disappointment. Similar to the self-plagiarism of "The Stock-Broker's Clerk" of "The Red-headed League," "The 'Gloria Scott'" is pretty much the same story as "The Boscombe Valley Mystery." This story is even worse, though, because it's completely expository. All of the stories are told by Watson after the fact, but this one is told by Watson as told to him by Holmes, so at some point the dialogue goes three or four quotation marks deep. I had no idea who was speaking half the time.

So far Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is not nearly as good as Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but perhaps that will change. We shall see. Until next time, keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lost Girls (Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie)


Before anything else, I have to warn you that this book, Lost Girls, is porn. I had heard rumors to that effect, but didn't know of anyone who had actually read the thing, so I didn't know if it was artsy, almost porn, or legit, hardcore porn. When I saw it in a huge, leather-bound version at Borders the other day—with a nice "For Adults Only" sticker on it, btw—I decided to see if it was really all that scandalous. It is.


Set just before the outbreak of World War I, Lost Girls tells the story of three women who meet in an Austrian hotel and quickly become close friends. These three women, however, are not just ordinary people, but Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy, from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan, respectively. Another unique quality that these three women share is that they each had luridly sexual childhoods, committed unspeakable acts of depravity, and have never shared their secrets with anyone—until now. Alice details her misspent youth as a virtual concubine to the "Red Queen," an abusive woman with an insatiable sexual appetite; Dorothy tells a story that involves becoming rather intimate with three farm hands and a "wizard" of a man; Wendy confesses to having been sexually involved with a charming young street urchin named Peter and his "lost boys" one summer when she was sixteen. Startled by the bizarre similarities between their childhoods, the women continue to grow closer together, until they ultimately become lovers themselves.

So yeah, it's pretty much just porn. Alan Moore made an interesting comment regarding Lost Girls that I had discovered before purchasing the book, and which made me curious as to the artistic elements vs. its pornographic nature:
If we’d have come out and said, 'well, this is a work of art,' they would have probably all said, 'no it's not, it's pornography.' So because we're saying, 'this is pornography,' they're saying, 'no it's not, it's art,' and people don't realise quite what they've said.
"They," naturally, are anyone who might be a critic of the book. As it turns out, he was right. Since he preemptively labeled it "pornography," it hasn't received nearly as much criticism as would be expected. Nevertheless, that doesn't change the fact that, indeed, Lost Girls is one big, fat, comic book porn.

I don't like Alan Moore very much. I didn't enjoy Watchmen or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and as much I loved the film version of V for Vendetta, I couldn't even get through the first few issues of the comic book. Lost Girls is a little better. Moore and Gebbie—who are married now, btw, as a result of working on porn together for 16 years (yeah, that'll do it)—do a really good job of separating the characters and their stories stylistically. Alice's stories look completely different than Dorothy's stories, which look nothing like Wendy's stories, which have little in common with the smaller stories told through a book they read together, which don't look anything like the regular style of the main narrative. Lost Girls is also very mathematically meticulous, and is broken into three books of ten chapters each, with each chapter consisting of 8 pages. I also have to admit, begrudgingly, that the way Moore retells each of the girls' stories is rather ingenious. Apparently his idea for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which brings together characters from several different novels to fight crime and solve mysteries, was born out of the sexual dalliances of Lost Girls. Enough of this artistic mumbo-jumbo, though.

At this point, I'm sure half of you are saying, "Oh my god, this is absolutely disgusting," and the other half are saying, "I get it, it's porn, but is it good porn?" Interestingly enough, both of these comments can be addressed pretty much simultaneously. Yes, it is disgusting, it's an absurdly depraved book containing several absolutely unspeakable sexual acts which I hope to God have never actually been committed by anyone over the course of human history. That being said, it's also a comic book, so it's not nearly as disgusting as watching things that are half as bad in a John Waters movie or a real porn. Yeah, it's gross, but it's clearly not real. My biggest problem with Lost Girls, though, was that after a while it got boring. It's just the same thing over and over again. People having sex, telling stories about having sex, having more sex, watching other people having sex, etc. ad infinitum. This book is gigantic, and every single page depicts someone having sex. Although, when I think about it, I guess that's kinda the point...


Lost Girls
by Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie

Similar to poetry, I'm not going to give a numerical rating to pornography. Poetry and porn have a lot in common, actually: both are highly subjective; both can be intensely personal; both tend to induce phrases like "Oh yes, this is exactly what I've been looking for" or "why would anyone ever publish this garbage?" If you're into comic book porn, then read Lost Girls, because I can't imagine that there's a book out there with more sex page-for-page than this (and no, you can't borrow my copy, that's gross). You can get it in stores for $45 now, or on Amazon for cheaper, which is a deal considering until recently it was extremely rare and cost well over $100. However, if you're squeamish, sexually inhibited, uninterested in porn and/or comic books, prefer movies, never want to think of your favorite literary characters doing explicit things to eachother, don't enjoy lesbians, or are under the age of eighteen, this book is not for you. I must say, though, this is definitely my favorite Alan Moore comic. Does that say more about me, or him?

Either way, keep reading, Genoshans!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes: New Wednesday Supplement!

Welcome, Genoshans, to the first installment of my new weekly supplement: The Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes! In honor of the new Sherlock Holmes film that's coming out Christmas Day, I decided it might be fun to go through the detective's entire canon (I was lucky enough to pick up The Complete Sherlock Holmes: Volumes I & II from Barnes & Noble for only $12!). Each Wednesday leading up to Christmas, I'll review 8 of Doyle's 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories. Then, as the release of the film draws closer, I'll review the four Sherlock Holmes novels as well. Due to the number of reviews this involves, I'm going to modify my usual numbering system and condense it significantly. All the short stories will include a brief description, followed by a review, and will be rated on a scale of 1 to 5. When I review the novels, I'll go into greater detail as to who Sherlock Holmes and his faithful assistant Dr. John Watson are, since that knowledge isn't actually all that crucial to enjoying these shorter works. I don't expect all of you to read every Sherlock Holmes story Doyle ever wrote, but hopefully this will help those of you who are interested find stories that you'd definitely enjoy!

From Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"A Scandal in Bohemia"

Synopsis—The King of Bohemia asks Holmes to retrieve a compromising photograph currently in the possession a past mistress, one Irene Adler.
Comments—A great introduction into the methods and characterization of Holmes and Watson. This one also lets readers know that, no matter how impressive the great Sherlock Holmes may be, he's still far from perfect.

"The Red-Headed League"

Synopsis—A red-headed man approaches Holmes in regards to the unexpected loss of a cushy job that the man had recently attained just for having red hair! Holmes, though, thinks that something sinister is afoot.
Comments—This one was kind of a stretch. Sometimes you can almost see what Holmes is thinking, but the results of this one come literally out of nowhere. All of these are unbelievable to an extent, but "The Red-Headed League" was a little too much for me.

"A Case of Identity"

Synopsis—A woman's fiance disappears on the day of their wedding. Could it have anything to do with her stepfather's objections?
Comments—Some of these stories are about terrible crimes with sinister motives involving cruel individuals, but many are just flippant curiosities. "A Case of Identity" is playful and enjoyable, and does a great job showing readers that Sherlock Holmes doesn't just deal with murders and jewel thefts.

"The Boscombe Valley Mystery"

Synopsis—A young man is accused of killing his father, and Holmes is brought in to consult on the case.
Comments—This is probably my favorite so far. In some of the stories I could kinda figure out who the culprit was ultimately going to be, and this was one of them, but the motives were totally unexpected. I like knowing that even the mysteries that seem easy to solve might have more to them than just "who done it."

"The Five Orange Pips"

Synopsis—Mysterious letters from the KKK prelude death to all who receive them! Holmes must find a way to stop these evil men before they strike again.
Comments—It's interesting seeing the KKK as this esoteric, post-Civil War organization, as opposed to the more modern group that showed up during the civil rights movement, but that doesn't pull this one through. It's a curiosity as far as Holmes stories go, though; looking back, all of the events that transpire would've happened with or without Holmes' intervention.

"The Man with the Twisted Lip"

Synopsis—A woman's husband goes missing, so she enlists the help of Holmes and Watson to track him down. The last place she saw him: a vile opium den!
Comments—I was so disappointed by "The Man with the Twisted Lip." I figured it out really early, and was hoping for some kind of twist that would cancel out my deduction, like in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," but I ended up being right. It made it really uninteresting.

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"

Synopsis—A friend of Sherlock Holmes' discovers a stolen jewel inside his Christmas goose. It's up to Holmes to determine how it got there.
Comments—Eh, I guess this was alright. It was fun watching Holmes and Watson work backwards from the stolen item for once, instead of trying to find something. Other than that it was just okay.

"The Adventure of the Speckled Band"

Synopsis—A distressed young woman approaches Sherlock Holmes when the terrifying events that led to the death of her sister seem to be repeating themselves.
Comments—"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is one of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. It's the first of the short stories that presents Holmes not just as an intellectual, but as a powerful adversary to those who would stand in his way. It also has a ton of interesting twists, I liked this one a lot.

So there you have it, Genoshans, the first installment of my new Wednesday Sherlock Holmes supplement. Next week I'll have eight new stories, moving right into Doyle's second book of Holmes short stories, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. And don't forget to come back Friday for the regular, weekly book review! This week's title is scandalous, to say the least.

Keep reading, Genoshans!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran Foer)

I've heard really good things about Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel, Everything Is Illuminated, so when I received a request to take a look at his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I put it at the top of my list. Of course, the fact that the request came from my girlfriend might've contributed to that as well. Luckily for me, I'm dating a lovely girl with exceptional taste in literature—this book kicks so much ass.


Oscar Schell is a nine-year-old boy living in Manhattan. He's extremely intelligent, but quirky and strangely neurotic. He has anxiety issues, most of which stem from trauma over the death of his father on September 11. One afternoon, while looking through some of his father's old things, Oscar finds a small key in a tiny envelope marked "Black." He tries the key in every lock in the Schells' apartment, but none of them match. He decides that the only way to discover this last secret of his father's life is by trying the key in every lock in New York, starting with everyone in the phone book with the last name "Black." With nothing more than a list of names and this mysterious key, Oscar sets off to a different address each Saturday, hoping to find some clue that will bring him closer to his deceased father.

That's what happens, but that doesn't really tell you anything about the book itself. I have never encountered another novel like this, it's incredible. It's completely original, even innovative, to the point where it's almost hard to explain. Foer supplements the main narrative of Oscar's journey with letters from his grandmother and grandfather at different points in their lives. At times the story goes back to Germany in World War II and the bombing of Dresden. It jumps to their lives together before Oscar's father was born. Oscar's grandfather can't speak, so he writes in little daybooks that he carries around with him. Foer often adopts this method of communicating in the novel, writing only one line per page in the grandfather's "voice." Foer also includes photos of people Oscar meets throughout his journey, or of places he visits and items he picks up along the way. It's fascinating how many conventions this novel breaks without thinking twice. It's bold, creative, and has one of the most compelling styles I've ever seen.

I really can't say enough about this novel. I hate being so emphatic and emotional about this when Im trying to describe its qualities and merits objectively, but I can't help it. A lot of the events that take place seem fantastic and outlandish, but the characters and the tone make everything believable. If Oscar jumped off a bridge and flew to New Jersey on page 200, I would believe it. Foer does a spectacular job of making everything and everyone in this novel stand out. Oscar exists. His grandmother exists. His grandfather exists. The limo driver that takes Oscar and his mother to Oscar's father's funeral exists. All of these characters live and experience grief and frustration over the aspects of their lives they can't control. And it's consistent. Foer develops all these little neuroses in Oscar that stick, even the things that are never explained, or aren't explained until halfway through the book. Nothing is left out or forgotten. This book is more real than any memoir; I highly recommend it to absolutely everyone.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer

I can't imagine improving on this novel at all. The only reason why the story doesn't get a 10 is because I'm selfish and wanted more. I wanted to find out what happens to the characters after the story ended. I still have questions I want answered, but I guess life's that way, too.

It's original, but in a way that works. I'm so impressed by the risks that this novel takes, and how well those risks are rewarded. I would not change a thing about the way this story is told.

Read this book. If you buy it and somehow don't like it, I'll give you your money back myself and give it to someone else. If you've ever had any kind of tragedy in your life, if you've ever felt sad or happy or alone or anything, if you've lived at all, you'll enjoy this book.


I wish I could read this book with you. This isn't some kind of guilty pleasure, or a novel that just happens to strike the right chords with certain people. This is the pinnacle of great literature. Seriously, read this book.

P.S. Next week I'm going to have a surprise for everyone. In honor of a certain detective film that's being released Christmas Day, I'm going to begin a weekly supplement reviewing all the works that the film is based on. I'm sure you can deduce what film I'm talking about from these elementary clues. Until then, keep reading, Watson! I mean, Genoshans!

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