A Study in Scarlet

studyinscarletby Arthur Conan Doyle
First sentence: “In the year 1878 I took my decree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the Army.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, violence (but most of it just talked about), and some, well, murder. It’s in the mystery section of the bookstore.
So, for  book group this month, we didn’t really want to read something long (it’s a busy month for all of us), and we were thinking classics, and I hit upon the idea of each of us reading a different Sherlock Holmes short story (or two). I decided to start at the beginning (mostly because I’ve read short story knock offs of this, and I wanted to see how Sherlock’s Study in Pink held up) and read “A Study in Scarlet”.

I have read many of these stories before, though it’s been a long (!) time, and I can’t be considered a fan of Doyle’s or Holmes’s. Which means, I don’t remember the stories. At all.

Things that struck me: Holmes is much less of a jerk than he is in the BBC series. (I think he was arrogant in the old Jeremy Brett series — it’s been forever since I’ve watched those — but he wasn’t insufferable.) He’s smarter than you, but he’s not insufferable about it. He calmly explains his methodology to Watson not because Watson is stupid but because Holmes wants him to understand how he does things. He does thing Lestrade and Gregson are stupid, but that’s because they’re police and they aren’t putting the time that Holmes is in learning how to be a good detective.

Doyle also explains EVERYTHING. It wasn’t so much a mystery for the reader to solve but rather explains everything in detail, including things Holmes could never know. (See: the first five chapters of part 2.) I wanted to be able to at least attempt to solve it myself, but I guess standards for mysteries were different in the 19th century. Which leads me to the ridiculous anti-Mormon chapters. (See: the first five chapters of part 2.) They were SO pointless (except, as Hubby tells me, sensational anti-Mormon literature was in vogue in London during that time), and even though it eventually wound its way back to the story, they really didn’t serve ANY purpose. (Not to mention being wildly inaccurate: at one point, Doyle had the characters fleeing Salt Lake City headed toward Nevada and going through deep gorges and tall canyons. Hon, if you’re headed out of Salt Lake and you’re going through canyons, you’re going toward Wyoming. Toward Nevada, you’ve got nothing but desert. And that’s just the geography. I won’t even get into the religion part.)

So, did I like it? Well, it was okay. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t knock my socks off. Maybe it was the wrong one to randomly pick (I think I like Study in Pink better….), but it wasn’t terrible, either. Maybe I’ll read another one just to see if they get any better.

My Lady Jane

myladyjaneby Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
First sentence: “You may think you know the story.”
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Content: There’s some mention of sex (it’s a “special hug”) but it’s completely off the page. Otherwise, it’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

You think you know the story of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for 9 days. (And you probably do.) But Hand, Ashton, and Meadows have re-imagined it as a love story, a humor story, with a big of magic (there are people who can change into animals in this version of history). It’s charming.

The plot is somewhat irrelevant: there’s Edward, the king who dies and gives the throne to his cousin rather than his half-sisters. But, that’s really all there is of history. The authors go from there, letting characters live who should have died, giving characters romances and a future together. I’m trying not to give too much away, because it really is fun discovering how they twist history.

There is a bit of an intrusive narrator thing going on, but for the most part it works. It’s a silly story (actually the word I kept coming up with while I was reading was “adorable”), but it’s a silly that isn’t overbearing or dumb. Maybe it ran a wee bit long (I found myself losing interest about halfway through, but I didn’t put it down and it picked back up). But, it was a light, fluffy distraction for a little bit.

Creeping Shadow

9781484709672by Jonathan Stroud
First sentence: “I knew at once, when I slipped into the moonlit office and eased the door shut behind me, that I was in the presence of the dead.”
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Others in the series: The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy
Content: This  is not for the faint of heart, but rather for people who like to be scared. Still, lots of action, and if you don’t mind the scary stuff… It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Lucy has left Lockwood and Co.

Let that sit in for a minute.

There was a poltergeist at the end of The Hollow Boy who told Lucy she would be responsible for Lockwood’s death, and that spooked her so much that she couldn’t stay. She didn’t really leave on the best terms, and since then she’s been freelancing for other firms. It’s not ideal. But she (and the Skull, who is really one of my favorite characters) is managing alone.

Until a case — of the ghost of a cannibal — comes that Lockwood needs Lucy’s talents for. She goes to help — as a consultant, only for a night — and they successfully catch and eliminate the ghost. But things go wrong from there. The skull is stolen, there’s a collector who is buying up strong sources, there’s a Creeping Shadow terrorizing a nearby town. And all those things lead up to something Very Big and Very Wrong. And Lockwood and Co are the only ones who are equipped to deal with it.

I feel like a broken record: read these! They’re awesome! The mystery is intriguing, the characters are fantastic, and it’s spooky without being gory. It’s fast-paced, and action-packed, with tons of funny elements. It’s just SO good. The whole series. I love how they’re all inter-connected, but also individual stories. And Stroud just knows how to tell a story.

Just read the series, already. It’s that good.

Smoke

smokeby Dan Vyleta
First sentence: “‘Thomas, Thomas!’ Wake up!'”
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Review copy pilfered from the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s a bit of violence and some swearing, but aside from it’s length (it’s huge) there’s nothing I wouldn’t expect a high schooler to be able to handle. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Imagine a world where everyone’s bad thoughts, awful actions, impure intentions come out of the body as smoke. The more wicked the action, the darker the smoke. And it doesn’t just come out of you, it stains you, eats away at your heart. Grim, no?

Thomas is a latecomer to the posh boarding school for the upperclass where they teach you how to control your smoke. It’s not really working for him; he’s convinced that because his father murdered someone, he’s destined to be black at heart. He makes friends with Charlie, a son of a prominent Lord. Everything is going as well as can be until Thomas and Charlie make some discoveries, and their lives change forever.

It’s a weird conceit: a Dickens-era London with this smoke (is it magic? It it destiny?). It’s getting at class issues (the more upper class, the less likely you are to smoke for various reasons), and issues of pre-destiny. It’s interesting. It’s an interesting bit of story weaving; there’s some dark characters, and a bit of twisty action. Even so, I found myself impatient with the book. It’s really long. Like REALLY long. I get impatient with really long books. But, I persevered. And, while this won’t be my favorite book this year, it was interesting. And I’m definitely intrigued with the ending.

So, maybe it was worthwhile.

A Gathering of Shadows

gatheringofshadowsby V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “Delilah Bard had a way of finding trouble.”
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Others in the series:  A Darker Shade of Magic
Content: There’s violence, some mild swearing, and a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore, but would be good for high schoolers as well.

It’s been four months since the end of Darker Shade and Lila has moved on. She secured a position on a ship (well, secured makes it sound like she wasn’t underhand in the dealings…) of a privateer. She’s enjoyed her time at sea, developing an intriguing relationship with the captain, Alucard Emery. Among other things, he’s taught her magic. And with the Essen Tasch — magic games between three countries — coming up, she’s intrigued. So much so, that she finds a way to get into the games.

Kell, on the other hand, has felt his life constrict. He is not trusted by the king, who has increased the guards around the king. He and Rhy are not prisoners, but close. So, when Rhy comes to Kell with an idea — compete in the Essen Tasch — Kell is intrigued. And, eventually, convinced.

A quick side note — much more than the action-packed first novel, this one felt like it was full of exposition. We learn about Lila learning magic. We read about Kell’s restlessness. But nothing much happens. And, I have to admit that I lost patience with that.

That said, I did finish it, and the ending was, well, a lot more exiting than the rest of the book. And I’ll probably read the next book.

A Darker Shade of Magic

darkershadeby V. E. Schwab
First sentence: “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.”
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Content: There are three f-bombs, some reference to sex (but none actual) and a lot of violence. That said, I think it’d be a good crossover for the high school set. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

I want you to know up front that whatever I write here won’t do this book any sort of justice. I really do need to work on an elevator speech for this one at work, because it really is THAT good, and I’d love it if more people read it. But, summing up the plot? Not as easy as it sounds.

Kell is many things: a brother, a prince, a magician, a smuggler. He lives in what he calls “Red” London, a world of magic and opulence, where the Thames runs red with blood. The reason he needs to give it a marker other than the city name is because Kell is one of the few people (well, really only two) who can travel between worlds. He moves through doors of his own making to “Grey” London (ours, set in the early-1800s) to “White” London (an incredibly violent and vicious place), but never, ever to Black London. That’s been sealed off from the other worlds after the magic there went bad and began killing people. However, when Kell accidentally brings a token from Black London back into his world, he discovers that he’s created a problem almost too big for him to handle.

I didn’t even mention Lila… a thief and pirate wannabe that Kell picks up in Grey London, who ends up being more than a sidekick.

Seriously: I don’t know where to start with this. It feels like a Gaiman novel, rich and opulent with its world-building, and yet Schwab never forgets the plot (not to mention the palpable tension when Kell’s life is on the line, multiple times). It twists and turns and weaves and is just unputdownable.

It’s also nice that it comes to a conclusion (albeit a bit rushed, but that’s often the case for me in fantasy novels), while leaving the door open for the sequel. Which, of course, I can’t wait to get my hands on.

Lilliput

lilliputby Sam Gayton
First sentence: “All down the pebble path to the beach, Lily sulked about her iron shoes.”
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Content: There’s some abuse and danger, and there are some larger words, but for the most part, this one is suitable for grades 3 and up. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Lily is a young child in the land of Lilliput when this big giant, Gulliver, comes and snatches her away. He takes her back to London to serve as “proof”. It seems, his stories of his travels have been dismissed as fake and so for the sake of his pride, he kidnapped Lily. He has her in a cage while he finishes his book. Lily, however, just wants to be free. Her life span is a lot shorter than Gulliver’s, and she’s spent half of her life in this cage. She needs to be free.

So, she keeps trying to escape. And eventually, she finds some humans who are willing to help her.

It’s an interesting take on Gulliver’s travels, and I enjoyed having it from the point of view of Lily. There’s some nice subtle commentary on the ethics of taking people from their homeland as well as the conditions which children often found themselves in, both in orphanages as well as in apprenticeships. It was a nice change to have the Spanish character be the “good” guy (in addition to him being the stay-home dad while his wife traveled the world).

But, while it all added up to something nice, it wasn’t overwhelmingly compelling, in my view. And that’s too bad.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)