[Book Review] Will the real Sherlock Holmes please stand up?

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

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“With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.”

This is definitely a What If book. What If Conan Doyle’s famous literary detective Sherlock Holmes was actually a woman? The rest of the book flows from that premise.

I am a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan. Seriously, I’ve read and watched ’em all. And in this new addition to the Sherlockian multiverse, all my favorite characters from the series make their reimagined appearance. There’s Lady Holmes, but also a new Watson and Mrs. Hudson. A new version of the inspector, a bare hint of archenemy Moriarty, and an intriguing Mycroft-based character who promises to play a larger role in the sequel.

A Study in Scarlet Women is also one of the few books I’ve read told from the perspective of Holmes, rather than the average-minded Watson. Here, though, we get an inexperienced Holmes, trying to break into the detective business in a world that is not forgiving to women who try to make their respectable, independent way in it. She is also liable to make terrible, silly mistakes when the world – and people! – do not conform to her logical expectations of them. Continue reading

Defining Dystopia. Hint: It’s not about love triangles.

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I’m about halfway through reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale with Tash from The Bookie Monster, and it has dawned with me that over the last few years, I’ve slowly lost sight of what the dystopian genre is all about.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes North Korean oppression, mixes in the gender-driven segregation of fundamental Islam, and frames it all in the language of Christianity. In no place in the text can you take a step back and scoff, this can never happen. It might. The story makes you believe it might.

This is the chilling power of the genre – it says, This could be the world. Our world. Tomorrow. The dystopian genre is a cautionary tale. It’s a warning. It’s the uneasiness of premonition. It is the Greek seer Cassandra, blessed by the gods to see the future and cursed to never be believed.

Reading The Handmaid’s Tale, it occurred to me that the mushrooming teen dystopian genre has been selling oppression lite. To win itself a shiny “dystopian” label, the ubiquitous YA book checks the box  marked “oppressive society” and perform a token wave to its character’s rejection of the status quo. These worlds don’t need to be realistic or thoughtful or threatening (and perhaps that’s why Divergent’s world pissed me offSeveral times.) They just need to involve oppression. The weirder the better. Continue reading

[Small Chirps] A Flow Chart for Hipsters

If the number one rule of hipsterdom is you like things that are cool before anyone else realizes they are cool then any and all genre readers are the ultimate hispsters – right? Who liked Harry Potter before the rest of world did? Yep, that was us, sitting in our own little world, praying for our letter from Hogwarts. The same goes for Game of Thrones; my friends have been talking about their love/hate of the series for a full decade. Everyone else is really late to the party.

As a result, we genre readers are more inclined to go out on a limb and try the next crazy book. But if we love that book, it’s not always easy to find a follow up. Luckily, our friends over at Goodreads have done the heavy lifting for us. They created this fancy flow chart to guide the hispter along to his or her next read. Take a look at it below. And don’t forget to vote in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012!

[ Book Review ] Diving into the Cabinet of Earths

The last time I read a children’s book was circa January 2008, my freshman year of college. Over that bitter winter break, I read (and fell in love with) Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. After that, I was up to my ears in Modernist literature and 19th century Russian philosophy, with nary a moment to spare for anything unrelated.

As I was about to graduate, I discovered that a professor in my favorite department – Slavic Studies – was about to release a children’s book of her own in January 2012. Intriguing! How would this professor, with myriad scholarly articles to her name, transition to children’s literature? Naturally, I had to find out for myself. Continue reading

[ Advanced Book Review ] Teen assassin nuns in medieval Brittany

Advanced Review: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

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Publication date: April 03, 2012

Grave Mercy is middle grade novelist LaFevers’ first foray into Young Adult fiction. And what a great debut!

When Ismae’s arranged marriage ends on her wedding night with her husband going to get a priest to burn Ismae for being a witch, the young girl escapes to the convent of Saint Mortain. There, she is told that the scars she had from birth mark her as a daughter of Mortain, the god of Death, and is given the choice to stay and become one of His handmaidens, tasked with dealing death at his bequest. After seventeen years of being a victim, it is no choice at all.

Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?

Ismae’s first important assignment takes her straight into high court intrigue; Brittany fights to remain independent from France, and the young duchess who can make that possible is besieged by traitors and treason. It is up to Ismae to use her training to unravel the undercurrents at court and serve Death by eliminating the enemies of Brittany. But in the real world, nothing is so straightforward, especially when it comes to the Duval, the duchess’s handsome and tempestuous young adviser–who may just be the traitor Ismae’s looking for.

I haven’t had much luck with YA novels recently, but this book has renewed my faith that I can still be blown away. It has suspense, adventure, betrayal, and a well-built, believable romance.

Continue reading

[Small Chirp] Making an Impression: Beauty in The Hunger Games

First off, I cannot give Suzanne Collins enough kudos for creating Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the Hunger Games trilogy. It’s like the woman went to Mary Sue Academy and made a point of reversing everything. Katniss is strong, interesting, and flawed all over the place: she’s not particularly friendly or charming, resists being thrust into place as a political symbol, is uncomfortable with guys liking her, and (gasp) isn’t even particularly pretty. Just about the only thing going for her is she’s not clumsy, right?

I kid, I kid. Katniss is gutsy and devoted and actually takes the time to think about whether what she does is justified or justifiable, and I love her.

What I was curious about, though, was how the filmmakers would treat the issue of beauty–and lack of it–in their adaptation.The books make a special point of paying attention to appearance. The superficiality of the Capitol comes out through outlandish fashion and extravagant food, and the brutality of the Games is even creepier in light of it. And of course, as I mentioned, the fact that neither Katniss nor Peeta is gorgeous is incredibly refreshing in the piles of books about pretty girls and their attractive crushes.  I tend to be out of the loop on trailers and such, so the only image I had of Jennifer Lawrence and the other actors going in was a movie poster I saw that was all moody and cheekbone-y. Great, I thought. It’s going to be The Help all over again, where the costumers for Emma Stone read “uncontrollable frizz” and decide to go with “flawless corkscrew curls that I would kill to have.” Continue reading

[ Best and Worst ] Little Lo & Big Blu

Incidentally, both the best and the worst books I’ve read were courtesy of the same professor. One was an unassigned, personal recommendation, and the other required for class. One of these books I’ve read so many times in the intervening three years that I’ve inadvertently memorized the first chapter. The other I will never, ever forgive my dear professor for implanting in my memory.

Best: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Once again, I return to my original Lolita, with its ailing spine, peeling cover, and well-thumbed through pages. It’s the 50th Anniversary Vintage Edition, with fleshy pink lips gracing a cover that I know Nabokov would abhor. The précis, which I am fairly sure Nabokov would decry as a clumsy, cliché, and cursory sketch of his most complex novel, reads:

Awe and exhilaration – along with heartbreak and mordant wit – abound in Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Most of all, it is a meditation on love – love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

When I learned that half my task was to write about my best read, it took less than a millisecond for Lolita to burst to the forefront of my prefrontal cortex. It was instantaneous, reflexive. I’m not even sure it came from my memory, but rather my spine. However, it took only another half a second for me to say to myself, “No, Whitney, you cannot write about Lolita. I forbid it.” Continue reading