Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Sherlockian; A Review and Recommendation, and The Second Book Crossed Off My List

2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

Full disclosure here: I actually started this book a couple of years ago. I don't know if I had a lot of things going on at the time or if I just wasn't in the mood for it, but I put it down after reading the first few chapters. It has been on my TBR pile ever since. 

Excerpt from the book:

Sorry, I couldn't choose an excerpt. This book has too much "muchness" to choose an excerpt, and, besides, it's easy to find one online if you want. :)


Published in 2010, the Sherlockian is about obsession and fanaticism in many ways. The modern part of the book is about Holmes and Conan Doyle fans; the historical part of the book is about readers' obsessions with Sherlock Holmes to the point of treating him as if he were a real person and not an invention of his author. The book also touches on the more militant and extreme views and actions of the Suffregettes.  

There truly are in our modern world Sherlock Holmes fanatics and Arthur Conan Doyle fanatics, and apparently there really is a group of Sherlockians called the Baker Street Irregulars. The main character of the contemporary part of the book is a literary researcher and Holmes enthusiast named Harold White. While attending his first meeting as a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, Harold discovers the foremost Holmes scholar murdered in his hotel room. The man had been scheduled to give a talk on the famous missing Holmes diary which he had claimed to have recently found. Harold is enticed into investigating the murder and finding the diary. In the turn-of-the-century portion of the novel, the main characters are Conan Doyle and his good friend, Bram Stoker. Their part of the story takes place in the last part of the year 1900, just before Conan Doyle brings Holmes back to life.  They are on the hunt for a serial killer, and this hunt happens to take place during the months covered by the missing diary. A lot is written about Conan Doyle's hatred of Holmes and why he killed him off and the public's reaction to the "death."  This is a multiple viewpoint novel, written with every other chapter taking us along the turn-of-the-century investigations with Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Instead of my trying to tell you any more of the plot, I liked this article in The New York Times about The Sherlockian. If you haven't already read the novel, this will give you a good preview of it.

Now, as for my opinion of the book --! Hmm. I liked it and didn't like it. I'm not a Holmes fanatic. I like a lot of the Holmes stories and LOVE the BBC series Sherlock. I liked the character of Holmes in the stories after he was brought back to life better than the earlier Holmes, but I can't say that I ever had a fellow-feeling or sympathy for him. I'm not an extremely big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While I think he was prodigiously talented, I know I wouldn't have liked the man himself. That being said, my own favorite author is someone I know I would not have really liked much in real life, so I am quite capable of being a fan of a canon of literary work without idolizing the author. 

I do like to be able to sympathize with the main character(s) of a novel, and I really didn't feel that way about Harold or the secondary character Sarah. Their part of the story, the investigation into the murder of the Holmes scholar and the search for the missing diary (there really were missing diaries and papers from that period at the end of 1900, by the way), couldn't keep me interested and keen throughout. I kept wavering between boredom and wishing they'd hurry up and a sudden spark of interest and appreciation. Expect a couple of plot twists toward the end, only one of which I thought was well-done.

I liked the Conan Doyle part of the story better, but not because I could sympathize with him. I actually really, really liked how Moore drew the character of Bram Stoker best out of all the characters from both centuries represented. The story line for this part of the novel was more plot-driven, and the murders were more interesting. There were also references to other authors, contemporaries and real-life friends of Conan Doyle's, like Barrie and Wilde, and I really enjoyed those bits. Moore also has Conan Doyle getting very dangerously close to the murders in his part of the story, in surprising ways. I suppose they would be the plot twists to expect in that portion of the story, and I actually rather liked them.

There was nothing really wrong with the plot, and Moore is a talented writer. I thought he did well with the dialog, especially the 18th/early 19th Century dialog. I would have preferred a bit more fleshing-out of the characters in the modern portion of the novel, or at least a bit more liveliness to them, but perhaps there was really no way of doing that; Harold White was just too milquetoast for me. I don't think he could have been improved without totally overhauling him. He would probably work better on screen with the right actor playing him. I do not own The Sherlockian and will not add a physical copy to my book shelves, but I would recommend giving it a try if you haven't read it. There are more good bits than bad. On a scale of one to five I waver between a 3.5 and a 4. I would definitely read another book by Graham Moore.


Graham Moore is a well-known screenwriter and author, probably best known at this time as the screenwriter for The Imitation Game, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Sherlockian was his first novel and was on the New York Times Bestseller List for three weeks.


I'd Kill For That edited by Marcia Talley

Friday, January 29, 2016

First Book of the Year Down

2016 TBR Pile Reading Challenge


Virginia of Elk Creek Valley by Mary Ellen Chase

*I actually wrote this post on January 12 but somehow left it as a draft and didn't post it until today, January 29!

Eleven days into the new year, and I have finished the first book and am halfway through the second book of the year. I can't help but be a bit disheartened at the knowledge that not too long ago I probably would have had three books read by now. I just don't read like I used to. At 49, going on 50, I guess I just don't do a lot of things like I used to do!

Excerpt from the book:
Elk Creek Valley was a blue and golden place that mid-summer morning in the Big Horn Country. It seemed like a joyous secret tucked away among the mountains, whose hazy, far-away summits were as blue as the sky above them. The lower ranges, too, were blue from purple haze and gray-green sagebrush, while the bare, brown foothills tumbling about their feet were golden in the sunlight. 


Virginia of Elk Creek Valley, published 1917, is set on a ranch in Montana not long before the start of The Great War. Virginia is about 17 years old in this story which details a summer on her father's ranch where she has invited three of her best friends from their school back east, along with two male friends and her own aunt, also from the east. The book has the expected East meets West adventures -- trail riding, camping, a barn-warming, bear hunting -- but the story isn't just about spending a summer on a ranch. Almost all of the visitors learn some very personal and sometimes painful lessons during their stay, like letting go of preconceived notions about people and that it's better to admit a mistake and laugh at yourself than to hold onto your pride and make yourself miserable. 

It's a good little story, written in the style so usual for young adult books from the early 1900s and the descriptive prose reminds me a little of Zane Grey's writing. It has religious overtones, typical of this type of book, but they aren't pushy and they don't interfere with the story. It's the type of book I would have read when I was younger. 

The only thing I didn't like about the book was that it was actually a continuation of an earlier book about Virginia and her friends, and there were many, many references to people and events from that book. I read a lot of series books, and I'm used to the author being able to weave in facts that we need to have from a previous book in order to understand certain things. There was no such weaving here. Chase simply referenced people and things without context, which was a little jarring, especially when alluding to a possible tragic romance between Virginia and someone named Jim (we get the feeling that something terrible happened to Jim). I didn't know there was a previous book about Virginia and her friends or I'd have read it first, even if it wasn't in my TBR pile. 

All in all, though, the book was good, and now I can cross it off my list. The characters were interesting and fairly well fleshed out. The plot was believable. The pace was quick. The writing style would be considered "old-fashioned" to modern readers but was typical of the period, with really good descriptive narrative and decently flowing dialog. I probably won't read it again, and it isn't something I will keep as a hard copy. Out of five stars, I would give it a good,solid four. I will look for other books by the same author, in particular the ones she is most well-known for, those set in her native state of Maine.


Mary Ellen Chase wrote more than 30 books, essays, and biographies during her writing career. She was born in 1887 in Blue Hill, Maine. One of eight children born to deeply religious parents, Chase was a scholar, teacher, and educator, earning an MA and Ph.D in English at University of Minnesota. She taught in a one room school, at a coed boarding school, a girls' private school, and two universities, including Smith College. She retired in 1955 and continued to live on-campus at Smith with her long-time companion,  historian Eleanor Duckett. Even after retirement she continued in education, both teaching (adult seminars at Radcliffe College) and learning (taking classes in the Hebrew language). She began writing at age 16, and set many of her works in her home state of Maine, but also wrote two books set in Montana where she lived and worked for a while recovering from an illness.


Next on the list (as of this writing, I'm almost finished with it) is The Sherlockian by Graham Moore.

So, how are you doing with your own personal reading challenge?

~ ~ Lori

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Okay, So I'll Tell You...

2016 Reading Challenge 


...How Many Books Are On My TBR List!


I don't know why I feel so ashamed to admit this, but today I wrote down and counted all of the books on my TBR list, and the grand total is 270. Is that normal?!?

Maybe it is. IS it?!?

Leave me a comment and tell me how many are on your list or in your pile. Let me know that I'm not alone!!

Okay, so once I'd counted all of them, I sorted them in genres and sub-genres, and found that the books on my list run the gamut of categories for fiction and non-fiction. Then I picked out the one I'm going to read first.  It may seem like a strange choice, but my first read is going to be a very old book called Virginia of Elk Creek Valley by Mary Ellen Chase, published in 1917.

Several years ago I did some OCR editing for Distributed Proofreaders for Project Gutenberg which digitizes books and other papers that are in the public domain and makes them available to read free online. One of the first books I helped to proof was Virginia of Elk Creek Valley. I proofed bits and pieces of it, but not the whole thing. It was a well-written little book and reminded me of books I liked to read when I was a child. I have meant, ever since I did the proofing, to read the book as soon as it was finished being digitized, but never got around to it. It seems rather fitting to make it my first book of the year.

If you haven't signed up for the 2016 Reading Challenge yet, you can click on the image below to do so.
Now I need to set aside some time each week to read blogs, particularly other bloggers who are doing this reading challenge. 

Happy Reading!

~ ~ Lori