Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: THE FINAL SOLUTION by Michael Chabon

I’ve liked all that I’ve read by Michael Chabon in the past, and this short novel or novella seemed like one I’d enjoy. It’s a mystery story featuring an unnamed but obvious Sherlock Holmes near the end of his life, living in a rural area as a beekeeper, as Holmes’ creator A. Conan Doyle suggested as his retirement. It takes place in 1944, and Holmes is presented with two intertwined mysteries, or perhaps three.

First, he meets and befriends a young refugee boy living with a family nearby. The boy cannot speak, and cannot understand English, but responds to German. The other unusual thing about him is his pet and constant companion, an African parrot who is a frequent talker in several languages. His most common offering is a list of apparently random numbers.

In the rooming house run by a minister and his wife where the boy lives, we meet a man who has an intense interest in the parrot, Bruno, This man, Mr. Shane, is apparently murdered outside the rooming house while attempting to steal the parrot, which cannot be found afterward. The boy is devastated at the loss of his friend. Holmes is called in to help solve the murder by local police, but his true motive is to find the parrot. He suspects one goal will lead to the resolution of the other.

I enjoyed reading this, but as a Sherlock Holmes homage or pastiche it doesn’t work for me, and here’s why. Doyle was always careful to keep us out of the inner thoughts and emotions of Holmes, except by inference and the insights of his companion, Dr. Watson. Here, Chabon tells much of the story from inside Holmes’ head, and we learn all about his sadness at the handicaps of age, his feelings and emotions about being less than he once was. It feels like a betrayal to me, and so antithetical to the Doyle stories, all of which I reread a few years ago, that I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. That may be just my own reaction, yours may differ, of course. The story itself is well crafted and satisfying in other ways, but I can only mildly recommend it.

And Then I Read: TOLKIEN, MAKER OF MIDDLE EARTH by Catherine McIlwaine

A few weeks ago Ellen and I attended the fabulous Tolkien exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York City, and I bought this book about it. I’ve just finished reading and enjoying it. First off, if you can get to the exhibit yourself, do so! If you can’t, everything I saw in person is here as well as many other things of great interest to Tolkien fans.

Continue reading

Rereading: LUCKY STARR BOOK 2 by Isaac Asimov

Cover art © Romas

My favorite science fiction novels for younger readers were the ones by Robert Heinlein, but his friend and fellow writer Isaac Asimov also wrote some that I thought were pretty good when I read them as a child. I didn’t know they were by Asimov until later, as he wrote them under the pen name Paul French. There were six short novels in all, this book has the middle two. I remembered some things from the Venus one, but nothing from the Mercury one, so I may never have read it before.

These are essentially mystery and action/adventure stories in the tradition of the science fiction pulp magazines. The mysteries are clever and the action is entertaining, but the characters are far from complex, more caricatures than anything. David “Lucky” Starr is the intrepid hero with a clever mind for solving mysteries, and his sidekick John Bigman Jones is there for comic relief, fight backup and to ask the Dr. Watson questions. The science they were based on was accurate for the time, but the Venus one in particular—of an ocean world—has been completely ruled out by later discoveries. There are less obvious science flaws in the Mercury story.

I enjoyed reading them, but they do not hold up all that well to my adult ideas about good writing. I may reread the others at some point, but it won’t be a high priority.

Mildly recommended.

J.R.R. TOLKIEN and I

Dust jacket art by Tolkien.

I had a good friend in grade school, Mrs. Grady, the school librarian, who knew my interests. One day—I don’t recall the year, but around 1963—she handed me a copy of this book and said she thought I’d enjoy it. I not only enjoyed it, it was smitten! I loved everything about it, from the cover and endpaper maps with their fascinating calligraphy to the story, the characters, the illustrations, and above all, the entire complex world created by the author. Yes, there were some things I’d found in other fantasy works, but much of it was clearly new creation.

Of course I wanted to read more by Tolkien, and Mrs. Grady told me that a sequel of sorts, but a much longer book in three volumes, had come out in hardcover, but she had not read it or seen it yet.

Continue reading

And Then I Read: THE SECRET KEEPERS by Trenton Lee Stewart

Cover art by Diana Sudyka.

I enjoyed this author’s “Mysterious Benedict Society” series, which I felt grew better as it went along. “Secret Keepers” has all the attractions of Stewart’s earlier books like puzzles and mysteries with the addition of a setting filled with ominous dread and tension that ups the excitement.

Reuben is a loner, a boy living with his mother in a poor part of the city of New Umbra, a city controlled by a menacing mystery man known as “The Smoke,” who no one ever sees. He’s a sort of crime boss with a network of thugs collecting bribes all over the town. Police and government officials fear him too, and are unable to stop him. Reuben likes to explore the city on his own, and has become very good at doing so without being noticed. His mother worries about him, and wants him to make friends, but Reuben is happier playing solo spy games. At least until he finds a very unusual watch. The watch has the power to make him invisible for a short time, though he becomes blind when he does so. Before long he is using it to spy on even more shady characters, but somehow The Smoke has found out about him, and his henchman are searching the city for the boy. Reuben must get away, and his destination is a lonely lighthouse on the coast where even more surprises and secrets are uncovered, and new friends are found. Even with his magic watch, though, can Reuben and his new friends Jack and Penny do anything to protect themselves from The Smoke? You see, he has another watch just like Reuben’s, and is desperate to have them both.

Recommended.