So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King

The Language of Bees by Laurie R. King

Part of a series based on the retirement years of Sherlock Holmes and his young wife Mary Russell, this volume is the first of a two volume story that is completed in The God of the Hive.
Holmes and Russell come home from seven months abroad to find one of his bee hives has died out and that he is the father to a grown man. Waiting for them is young Surrealist artist Damian Adler, Holmes' son by Irene Adler, who was his opponent in Arthur Conan Doyle's story "A Scandal In Bohemia." Having outwitted Holmes in the Doyle short story, Laurie King creates this account based on the premise that Irene outsmarted Holmes a second time by keeping from him the existence of their love child Damian.
This first volume outlines the rocky beginnings of a relationship between the three unlikely family members, a retired detective, his young protégée and wife, and his war-scarred son. Damian needs his father's help and Mary gets drawn in to a family that keeps growing as we learn of Damian's wife Yolanda and 3 year old daughter Estelle. Yolanda's involvement in spiritual pursuits draws the newly united family into a confrontation with a religious leader whose penchant for human sacrifice threatens all their lives. Holmes brother Mycroft also plays a significant role in this family drama.
If you have followed the relationship between Holmes and Russell since their first meeting, this is a wonderful addition that adds depth to their characters and an exciting adventure that King fills with details of the time and place. Just be prepared to face the words "to be continued" as the story reaches a climax. The God of the Hive will be required reading for anyone who enjoys this book.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation

Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation by L. Frank Baum writing as Edith Van Dyne

Aunt Jane's Nieces on Vacation is the seventh of a ten volume series written under the pseudonym Edith Van Dyne by L. Frank Baum. The series chronicles the adventures of three young women who are all nieces to John Merrick, a rich childless industrialist. Uncle John takes an interest in their upbringing because they will be the heirs to his vast fortune, and the books chronicle his adventures with them.

In On Vacation, the three nieces, Louise, Elizabeth and Patsy, return for the summer to Uncle John's farm in the upstate New York village of Millville where they decide on a whim to start a newspaper. Rich Uncle John buys them all the equipment they will need, setting up a modern newspaper print shop in an empty building, and the three nieces learn what it is like to put out a daily paper.

The description of an early 20th century newspaper from set up to production makes this an interesting story. Add in some local intrigue with a new paper plant, immigrant workers and a local politician. Season with a talented Bohemian female artist and a mysterious vagabond with amnesia. Stir well with Baum's talent for positive prose, and you have a delightful tale for a young woman of 100 years ago.

While we today may marvel at Baum's depictions of the locals, foreign workers and the members of polite society, these archaic portrayals are useful in getting a view of social structure and perceptions in 1912 just before the start of World War I.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu

The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu: Being a Somewhat Detailed Account of the Amazing Adventures of Nayland Smith in His Trailing of the Sinister Chinaman
by Sax Rohmer

The first of a 13-volume series by Sax Rohmer, this is one of the most racist books I have ever read. Asians or Asia are always mentioned with a racist or pejorative adjective. An Amazon reviewer says of the Fu-Manchu series: "thematically, Rohmer serves as a literary bridge between Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories and Ian Fleming's James Bond." Complete with a doctor sidekick to chronicle the adventures, Rohmer tells the tale of Denis Nayland Smith and Dr. John Petrie as they struggle to oppose Dr. Fu-Manchu's exploits in London working for a shadowy Chinese organization whose goal is world domination. A brilliant scientist and leader of a band of devoted non-White slaves, Fu-Manchu's goal is to kill Western imperialists who stand in the way of Chinese advancement. The "seductively lovely" Kâramanèh, who is Fu-Manchu's Egyptian slave, provides a forbidden love interest when she becomes infatuated with Dr. Petrie. A rousing adventure, with Fu-Manchu killing people all over London as Smith and Petrie slowly come to grips with the powers they are up against, the book displays much of the European fear and misunderstanding of The East at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Pistols, Petticoats, & Poker. The Real Lottie Deno: No Lies or Alibis

Pistols, Petticoats, & Poker. The Real Lottie Deno: No Lies or Alibis
by Jan Devereaux

The sensational exploits of "Lottie Deno" have been well documented in The Story Of Lottie Deno: Her Life And Times by J. Marvin Hunter, and Lottie Deno: Gambling Queen of Hearts by Cynthia Rose. Jan Devereaux looks behind the legend to piece together the facts. Her research is impressive and her writing is relaxed. Not being a native of the Southwest, it took me a while to get used to her narrative style, but I was rewarded with what she calls in her subtitle "The Real Lottie Deno, No Lies or Alibis." Devereaux is an amateur historian like Hunter, and she is wise to not give up her day job in the healthcare field. She has excellent local credentials and her work, while lacking academic polish, shows thorough research.