Wednesday, May 31, 2006


I have been in a bit of a Sherlock draught, and after watching a snippet of the Richard Roxburgh Hound of the Baskervilles the other evening, I realized enough was enough. So, I toted out the Complete Annotated Sherlock Holmes edited by Leslie S. Klinger. Over the past two Christmases I have acquired all three of the expensive volumes, and though they have been looking beautiful chez Desktop, I have not yet cracked them open. Was I ever in for a treat. They are a dream!! It would take me years to go through every little tidbit or goody tucked in this extensive academia. I was most enthralled by Klinger's insertion of some of the great essays of the Baker Street Journal, which he has interspersed appropos where needed. Especially, on his personal essay about the Great Hiatus and some of the abounding theories of the Master's whereabouts.
Different boats float for different people, this is my boat Cookies. Klinger, an eminent member of the Baker Street Irregulars takes a much more scholarly approach to the Canon than his predecessor, William S. Baring-Gould the long time authority on annotated Sherlockiana. I have hours more to spend perusing this gorgeous set and cannot wait to learn more about the World's Greatest Fictional character.

My Sherlockian frame of mind led me to a couple of biographies on the subject. The first being Baring-Gould's thorough account aptly entitled Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. Baring-Gould's theories are incredulous and not altogether credible, but a heck of a lot of fun anyhow. His most famous is that Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler produced an heir, that inimitable Nero Wolfe of Thirty Fifth Street. This is a little too much for me, but I enjoyed Baring-Gould's vast knowledge of everything Holmesian.

I was most impressed as well by June Thomson's Holmes and Watson: A Study in Friendship. This book gave some much needed time to our friend Wats., who is often sidelined Nigel-Bruce like as an erratic nitwit. I have been in love with Watson, our fair mediator, gambler, ladies' man for years and hate to seem him catagorized as such ( Ian Hart is the best Watson I have seen to date, by the way on film or on telly ). Thomson tends to generalize and often merely summarize some of the events spanning the forty six years of friendship but she makes some interesting notes about SH and Watson and her index is incredible ( she includes Dorothy L. Sayers, he-llo! ) Thomson addresses the ludicrous assumption of a homosexual relationship, and possible ( further plausible ) theories of her own concerning the Great Hiatus. Her insight into the Holmes-Mycroft relationship was also quite acute. I liked her idea that Holmes and Watson ( and Moriarty in fact ) may have met in Barts before the fateful Stamford introduction of A Study in Scarlet. Further, Thomson delves into Moriarty as a scientific genius supposing her may have calculated E=Mc2 before Einstein's birth. She spends equal time on Sherlock and Watson and draws on the gentler parts of their tumultuous relationship.

Mitch Cullin's A Slight Trick of the Mind peers into Holmes as an elderly gentleman around the time of the Second World War. Though less acerbic and sardonic than Michael Chabon's The Final Solution, it adds a tender psychological insight into the aged faltering of the World's Greatest mind.

John Lescroart's Son of Holmes dives into the world of the next Sherlock. I hate the portrayal of Watson, and Lescroart lacks Caleb Carr's astute Doylean voice circa. The Italian Secretary . Not my favourite pastiche.

I am always interested in people who take a different approach to the pastiche. For example, those who lurk in the minds of Moriarty and Lestrade, and even Mrs. Hudson. My favourites of the day include Carole Nelson Douglas and her Irene Adler series. Laurie R. King is the other authority in adding a feministic touch to the masculine world of the Baker street genius, but as Sherlock Holmes would never marry ( for mental equivocality or ANY other reason ), I write her off after the inspired The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Chapel Noir and Castle Rouge are the two Irene Adler books that dive into Jack the Ripper territory. I like the parallel between Nell Huxleigh ( the "Boswell" of the Adler series ) and the astute Irene and Holmes and Watson. Her slant on the Scandal itself ( the introduction to my favourite femme fatale ) is particularly colourful.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

And it's quite a list with one downright hearty conclusion, mateys, I'm in love with Anthony Horowitz

Since my exams ended, I have done nothing but read kids's books. ... okay, a few adult ones too, but only in between.
I cannot possibly give them all some time cher bloggie because there are tons...tons.... tons of them....
Instead, I will pick away at some of the memorable ones.

First, Wendelin Van Draanen's Sammy Keyes series. They are not the greatest thing since sliced bread... not nearly as clever as my newfound friend, Peter Abrahams, but not bad for lunch breaks at work. So, I'm not whining.

A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh. This is a story about Mall, a young woman in a fictional rural English society Eyam in Derbyshire circa 1655. Therein, the plague strikes traveling via a parcel of dress patterns from the country's more urban centres. Mall has to watch the horrific ramifications of the disease that could kill her entire family and community in a fell swoop. The tenderness of this often haunting story is channelled in the character of Thomas, Mall's beloved shepherd, who risks his life burying the village's dead, foregoing any thoughts of his own contraction of the disease to stay near Mall.
The story seems rather dense for the 9-12 group it is listed for---what with Walsh's impeccable gutteral dialect and Mall's pitch perfect narrative----and, it has a bit of a cop-out ending that flowed a little too seamlessly, but nonetheless this is quite a collage, this Parcel, and I would recommend it to older readers.

Lily's Big Day by Kevin Henkes

I come from an extended family obsessed with Mr. Henkes. I have read Chrysanthemum, Wemberley Worried, and Julius, Baby of the World more times than a sane person should admit counting. Whenever I do a reading for primary kids I skip the rest of the books on the library shelf and skip to the Henkes. His YA books leave a lot to be desired, but his careful, humorous picture books are snort pop -out- your -nose funny. Lily's teacher is getting married and Lily ( our Scarlett O'Hara with whiskers, as one reviewer cites ) is determined to be the flower girl....whether or not a pretty little mouse named Ginger, her teacher's neice, has been chosen instead. More than one mouse spends time in the unco operative chair by the end. Too funny.

Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris.

A cute story about a troll named Ed who adopts a boy named Christian who falls in love with a bookwormish princess named Marigold. Christian and Marigold's forbidden love is transplanted through p-mail ( mail carried a la pigeon ) and there are some cute laughs. Shrek-ish to say the least.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
This adorable throw back to the episodic tales of Alcott and Burnett is furnished by Birdsall.... first time novelist and lucky winner of the National Book Award for a chraming gem. I read most recommendations people give me and when someone said this might be my cup of earl grey, I hopped on. I was entranced by the summer magic afforded to four very different sisters and the rich boy next door ( Marchs and Laurie, anyone ? ) There are rabbits, a gardener named Cagney, and a four year old named Batty who always wears fairy wings. Fast driven plot, this is not.... however, it is savoury perfection for those who pine for the fiction of yesteryear. Loved it ! It made me breathe a sigh of calm relief.

Another book that tastes like peppermint tea is Mandy by the Julie Andrews who I had forgotten dabbled in kids' books. Mandy is a beautiful orphan story reminiscent of Alcott and Burnett. A Secret Garden-esque plot has our young orphan creeping over the hedges that line her orphanage and a broad beautiful estate beyond. Mandy commandeers a small nearby gardener's shed, fills it with trinkets, plants, and love and becomes even more desirous of a home of her own. It harks back to days of yore, tugs on ye olde heart strings, and makes the Melrose Duck sing. Good show.

Peppermints in the Parlour by Barbara Brookes Wallace.
Nice gothicky mystery for the whipper snappers with great, bleak language and Dickensian flair ( with a dash of Poe *natch*)

The Claidi Collection by Tanith Lee.
Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast for the Young Sort. Weird clockworky tale of fantasy and magic and mechanical things and romance.

Bilgewater by Jane Gardam
This book was recommended by my impeccable kids lit resource, but I cannot say I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was too dark for the mood I was in and read more sad than escapist. A young, flawed, awkward woman boards in her father's all boy's school and learns harshly the lessons of being closely scrutinized by members of the opposite sex. With the arrival of a suave, sophisticated girl linked to a nearby college, Marigold decides to dabble in chic-ness. The thing is cold and depressing, a Holden Caulfield for girls. It left me with a non-toothpasty taste in my mouth and I don't think I'll ever return. I like the name Terrapin though, and might use it in the future.

Shug by Jenny Han
Characters are named for the Colour Purple. Hello. Fun!

Ingo by Helen Dunmore
This decade's Splash for teens

I am the Messenger and The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
We're talking uber dark, Duckies. One of the two of these morbid meanderings is narrated by death. But, both make statements, both meddle in the macabre, and one of the two delves into the horrors of the Holocaust. Kudos for intermingling suspense and history and itching to take a leap.

Trickster's Queen and The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce
Everyone in the world knows that I love Tamora Pierce and I shalt forever more so let me sum it up in "fantastic" and move on.

Okay, can I now finally squee about Anthony Horowitz? Book lovers of the world unite, this guy is Versatility in human form. Genius thy name is Horowitz. I must confess the obsession began a la Foyle's War, and Midsomer Murders, but he is so much more than a clever constructor of adult screenplays.

I love Alex Rider. Will forever more, and have now caught up finishing the last I needed Eagle Strike. Perfection. Cannot wait for the Rider movie in August.
Other Horowitzian delights sans Alex:

The Diamond Brothers' Series:
The Falcon's Malteser
South by Southeast
Public Enemy Number 2
Three of Diamonds.

If you don't want to read the aforementioned merely based on their clever titles, then something is obviously wrong with you. They are film noir for the kiddies.... Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade for a 12 year old. The kid wins... every time.... outsmarting his older, Private Eye brother and coming home with not the credit, but the carefully won hearts of every reader.

Horowitzian dapples into Elizabethan history ( is there anything this guy cannot do?) lead you to the Devil and his Boy. This book is partly written for the benefit of sceptical adults. You have to have a basic knowledge of the history to read how he turns Shakespeare for Dummies on its ear. I laughed hard.... very hard.... face very red and throat contorted hard. Tom Falconer reminds one of the protagonist in Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease, but he is far more humane and far more loveable and adventurous. In the speed-reader time it takes you to get from page one-176 you have an uber-short reconstruction of pigsty London, a quick fix of Shakespeare writing Titus Andronicus and an audience with the painted Queen ( not to mention a girl pick pocket worthy of Tess in Horatio Lyle). The ending is a surprise, though every cliche is trampled out blazingly. But the delight in Horowitzian cliche.... is he's laughing at it up his sleeve, and turning it on a 360 degree angle. This will not disappoint.

Anthony Horowitz meets Clive Barker and you've got the Gatekeeper's series:
Raven's Gate and Evil Star are darker than the usual Horowitzian fare. His dark, macabre humour is replaced with well... dark macabre. Scary and intended for the teen audience. I felt chills up my neck.

The last Horowitzian read was The Killing Joke: an irreverent smorgasboard of quips and satire for adults. A puzzle is intertwined with the quest of one man to find a joke's origin.... but his encounters along the way make this Quixotic tread memorable. A beach read with intellectual spice.

Welcome Home by Stuart McLean This is McLean's anthropological leap into the life of small town Canada. From Saskatchewan, Ontario, through Quebec and the Maritimes, McLean set himself a list of criteria and ran with his instinctive talent for capturing the everyday by visiting an array of towns sans bank machines, finding pin boys still existed at bowling alleys, and meeting people so real and so distinctively Canadian they captured the heart of the country: whether waiting at Corner Gas-ish bus stops, or chatting with Stuart about their most recent sculptural forage into the world of automotive metal squeezed into art, McLean is in his element. The best travel literature book I have read since the similarily Canadiana masterpiece-in-the-making Beauty Tips from Moosejaw by the irrepressible Will Ferguson

Last but not least the Sherlockian in me ignites with Laurie R. King's latest The Art of Detection. The title might surprise those used to her Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell books when you find out it is actually set in modern San Francisco and pulls a CSI type look into the murder of a die hard Sherlockian.
King is an underrated mystery writer and throughly worth your time. She knows her ducks.... lines them in a row.... and adds a punch with her emotional appeal. I am a fan, yes I am.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"The King's English" by Betsy Burton

This book is a love song to bookselling. Betsy Burton opened a book shop in Salt Lake City Utah in the late '70's called " The King's English" and this book is her hymn of praise. It is written episodically and interspersed throughout are lists of books she has loved, hated, handsold, used, been inspired by. Also, lists she has received from other Independent Bookstores throughout the states. In the age of large bookchains, all-consuming and overwrought discounted department stores, The King's English unravels the war the Indies had with the new superstores at the beginning of the 90's.
Perhaps the most inspiring part of this book was finding someone who related first hand to the joy of pairing someone with his/her perfect book. I boast in my own job that I can tell what a person's perfect book match is by merely extracting a trait or two of their personality. Asking questions with carnivalesque flair and hoping that what I put in their hands is not only a snippet of myself, but of something greater: a force that might change their life! This highly sentimentalized view of the power of book exchange was exactly what I need as I think about leaving my own special bookstore.... how it has been the greatest experience of my life.

Burton relays the hyper activity of a Harry Potter sleepover, the financial troubles that caused her colleagues and herself to painstakingly choose which books must be sent back to the publisher to save the fiscal year, how she helped ( or not ) John Mortimer take luggage out of his car at the airport, and how she and Isabel Allende cooked dinner together. In fact, I think it is the author anecdotes that made the book for me. Her charming encounter with Tony Hillerman ( who I am beginning to believe must be the nicest duck in the business.... this is not the first time I have heard him spoken of as such ), her laugh-out-loud signing with Sue Grafton and her look at the prim Elizabeth George ( who borders on bitchiness in my opinion ). Also, her reminiscence of Rohinton Mistry's cancelled engagement after he was treated badly at the Utah airport not long after September 11th. For a woman so invested in her job....and her favourite authors, this unforeseen circumstance nearly broke her heart.

Burton was and is driven by an innate passion stronger than any external business force. I want to explore this pseudo-mythical book paradise which looks like a house and has rooms full of different books.

A bookseller's calling is a high one.... and it means so much more than facts and figures.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Jumping the Scratch by Sarah Weeks

I picked up Jumping the Scratch because the cover was so subtle. Just a button on a sea of red. I thought if the words inside are as minimalist as the cover, this will be a good time.

Jamie Reardon is in an awkward phase of life. Not out of elementary school, his father has left, the life he once knew and loved ( a domestic paradise, really ) is far behind him, and he lives in a trailer with his mom who spends her nights working at the local Cherry factory, and his aunt, Sapphy, whose own employment at said factory caused a freak accident and the loss of her memory.

For such a thin book, Jumping the Scratch deals with huge issues including amnesia, divorce, and sexual abuse.

Jamie is a convincing narrator. He loves his aunt and its his details of the story that make it most believable. He writes of the china gravy boat his aunt eats her favourite sorbet in after she has broken the rest of the dishes, he abashedly admits that he thought "Arthur" was visiting his Jr. High class instead of the "Author" his teacher had mentioned. The title becomes an interesting metaphor for snippets of Jamie's life. First, he loves his aunts old records: Billie, Frank Sinatra et al, secondly it is his euphemism for amnesia, if his aunt can skip the scratch on her memory she will be okay again. Thirdly, it is the block that hinders him from fully acknowleding an abusive moment. Throughout the book, Jamie drops hints at "tasting butterscotch" : a flavour thoroughly repulsive.

All loose ends tie well. Jamie's story is short and to the point. The details are what make it. You feel for Jamie as he shirks the cans of cherries his mom sends for his lunch, the peanut butter he scrapes off his sandwich as a supposed "memory-builder", the copy of the Hobbit he pretends to read to avoid bullying at school, also for his budding relationship with odd duck Audrey Crouch, hypnotist and be-speckled pseudo genius who saves Jamie from burying himself too far in his shell.

Jamie's Aunt Sapphy wants her memory, Jamie wants to lose his; it is an interesting dichotomy and one that works rather well within the confines of Weeks' sparse prose.

Don't spend money on this. You'll finish it in an hour. But sign it out somewhere.