Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Norwood Author   Arthur Conan Doyle And The Norwood Years (1891   1894)The Norwood Author Arthur Conan Doyle And The Norwood Years by Alistair Duncan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There have been a great many books dedicated to chronicling the life of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Whether it was his experiences at his own hand at being a consulting detective or his eventual immersion into spiritualism, Mr. Conan Doyle has been scrutinized to seemingly the last scrap of information available to the average Sherlockian. So what, one might wonder, is the use of a diminutive volume on Conan Doyle's brief time spent in the Norwood neighborhood in South London?

Alistair Duncan's meticulous research and obvious affection for his subject has led him to the years 1891-1894 of Conan Doyle's life in Norwood. We learn of cricket scores, and club meetings, real estate queries and letters to Mom. All of this could easily be an odd, tedious compilation of useless facts except that Mr. Duncan has done a superb job of throwing readable charm into the fray.

Who knew that Doyle co-authored a play with "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie? I found the parts concerning Doyle and his literary friends quite fascinating. Doyle blossomed as a writer whilst in Norwood, and there is much devoted to the tedious writing and submissions process as he sent manuscripts to various magazines and waited for reply. To any reader who is an aspiring or established writer, this would ring as quite a comfort to know that even the great Arthur Conan Doyle and his contemporaries suffered through the same writer's blocks, and submission jitters we do.

Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes to the world while living in Norwood, and gained fame as a result. We learn about Doyle's feelings for his subject which often did not mirror the feelings of his adoring fans. Doyle's first possible forays into spiritualism are also covered, and we learn about a spirited and fascinating debate in one of the gentleman's clubs Doyle belonged to between a female guest and the club president on the subject of spiritual and psychic ideas versus Christian dogma.

A full portrait of Victorian life emerges from the pages as we read about Doyle's goings on in the various clubs he held membership to and his outings with his rather famous literary friends. This adds to the volume a gold mine of small historical facts for any writer researching Victorian life. It makes this book not only a fine read but something to keep on the shelf for further reference.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Shifter by Steven D. Jackson

ShifterShifter by Steven D Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

John Davis might be losing his mind. He is a bored young man with a good job and a drinking problem. Could it be his malaise combined with the alcohol that is causing his mind to remember things differently when the world abruptly begins to change around him? He confides his fears to his psychiatrist and a dear friend, and then to a shy acquaintance. When he's done that, however, the cracking reality around him shatters.

The plot takes off running and we are quickly introduced to characters who are stuck in the middle of a cat and mouse game involving people called "Shifters" and "Recallers". A Shifter is someone who can change the reality of their surroundings at will, and a Recaller will remember things the way they were before the change. The events move so swiftly leaving only nuggets of explanation along the way that I found myself a little lost and confused at times and had to go back and re-read passages.

The action is quite good, however, with lots of gun-play, hand to hand combat, chases, and a good slow-motion explosion or two.

John Davis makes for a lovable scarecrow of protagonist. At the novel's start he is a confused, self-pitying mess, but the plot sweeps him up and sends him running and fighting for his life. His antagonists are Brice, and Kendra, two members of a shadowy organization hunting down Shifters and Recallers, using deadly force more often than not to subdue their prey. His allies are his psychiatrist, a man who may or may not know more than he lets on about Shifters, and Jenna, a shy colleague nursing an obvious crush on John.

A story like this, set in England, and full of colorful sci-fi fun is very reminiscent of something like "Dr. Who" and is sure to please any fan of the genre. I rather enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first, as the characters Kendra and Jenna blossomed and enriched much needed layers into the plot.

I could easily imagine this book as the pilot of a fun new television series and hope to see more like this from Mr. Jackson. As first novels go, this is a job well done.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 13, 2012

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Saving CeeCee HoneycuttSaving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CeeCee Honeycutt has spent her childhood worrying over and caring for her mentally ill mother. After her mother's tragic death, she is sent away by her emotionally distant father to live with her eccentric aunt Tootie in the luscious privilege of Savannah, Georgia.

Here, CeeCee's lonesome world becomes noisy with a cast of eccentric new friends and acquaintances. Besides her bubbly aunt, there is Ms. Goodpepper, a radiantly wild friend of Aunt Toots. Then, there is their racist busybody neighbor who has a habit of late night trysts with a local police officer. One can't forget to mention the fiery Oletta Jones, the queen of the kitchen who happens to have a soft spot in her heart for CeeCee.

CeeCee's voice is both strong and believable and carries the novel beautifully from beginning to end. Ms. Hoffman has done a wonderful job of creating a child protagonist who thinks and reacts as a child, and not as an adult written into a child's body. It's easy to feel heartache along with CeeCee as she suffers early on the trials of living alone with her mentally ill mother, and the joys of discovering a magical new life in Savannah.

Each scene moves smoothly to the other, ups and downs, comedy to tragedy, all swirling in a dazzling Southern world run completely by women. All in all the book is a lovely, smooth read which can be enjoyed not only by adults but by girls of all ages.

My main problem with the novel, however, is the character of Oletta. As lovely and caring a woman as she is, I still felt a bit soured over yet another "Mammy" caricature who hems and haws over her food, and serves mainly as the well behaved, suffering saint of the story. An interesting detour in the story does take place as we glimpse more into Oletta's world when CeeCee is taken onto outings with the beloved cook. It's a separate utopia again run by strong women, but I did find it a shame that the tradition of no positive black male characters, so common in Southern tales, continued in this novel.

Although, to be fair, there are actually no positive male characters of note in this story of any race.

The story-lines do follow a rather predictable nature. Pranks and comeuppance, themes of racism, garden parties, and dose after dose of shameless Southern quirkiness drip off each page. It makes for easy, breezy reading, but I did find myself somehow yearning for something more to elevate the three dimensional CeeCee even higher off the pages.

I do recommend this read with a whole heart, as it would be impossible not to smile while enjoying the book. I do, however, reserve myself a bit because I can't quit the nagging feeling that this somehow could have been a more complex novel. Don't let my nit-picking get you down however, because if you enjoy delightful coming of age tales with an authentic heart, you will be quite pleased with this.

View all my reviews