Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich

A Short History of ByzantiumA Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 ended what the population always identified as the Roman Empire, but has become known as the Byzantine Empire that John Julius Norwich thought had been given a bad reputation in “the West”. In “A Short History of Byzantium” Norwich condensed his three-volume history of the Greek-flavored Roman Empire into a general history for those interested in history but do not have time for lengthy studies.

In covering almost 1200 years of history in about 400 pages, Norwich had to trim to the barebones of Byzantine history with only tidbits of detail that whet the appetite to want to know more for those interested. While frustration as it might be for those who want more than a “general history”, for those looking for just a straight-forward informative history this book is concise and lively written to keep you from falling asleep.

For those wondering if they should read Norwich’s three-volume history of Byzantium then this book will let you know the author’s writing style as well as make you want to purchase the multi-volume series. For those looking only for a concise history of a nearly 1200 year old empire this is a book for you.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Book Review: Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin

The Ice DragonThe Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Ice Dragon” is wonderfully written children’s story by master fantasy author George R.R. Martin, he of Game of Thrones fame. This short novella follows Adara who always longs for winter because of her affinity to the cold and ice as well as her big friend, the titular ice dragon. But then Adara’s idyllic life comes to an end when the war her nation is involved in arrives in her town. However, Adara and her big friend save her father and siblings allowing them to escape but not without consequences.

This well-written and beautifully illustrated novella is perfect for young readers and is ideal for parents and children to read together.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 18, 2016

Book Review: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume II, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Complete Sherlock Holmes 2The Complete Sherlock Holmes 2 by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The world’s most revered and famous fictional detective first appeared from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle almost a 130 years ago, but the author did not finish with his greatest creation until almost 40 years later even after unsuccessfully killing him off. In this second volume of all the collected works that feature Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. John Watson, the reader gets reacquainted with the great detective and his friend through 33 short stories and a short novella with the added bonus of two Doyle written parodies as well as two essays by the author.

The second volume of the original works of Conan Doyle, in the American publication order, begins with Holmes return to life in “The Empty House”. The opening story of The Return of Sherlock Holmes is just an okay start to the detective return to practice before the story quality through most of the collection improves—“Priory School”, “Three Students”, “Solitary Cyclist”, and “Dancing Men” being the best—until the final three stories. The novella The Valley of Fear begins a noticeable drop in quality throughout the rest of the works, the first half the novella is Holmes at his best but then Conan Doyle repeats his great since with his first Holmes novella Study in Scarlett in which the second half is all flashback of dubious narration or not.

In the collections His Last Bow and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, only four of the 20 stories could be considered close to the same quality of the earlier Holmes stories. In “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge”, Holmes finds competing with a county Inspector who’s methods of deduction gain Holmes’ respect while “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” is a well-written twist of an earlier Holmes story. The Holmes narrated “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” is the better of the two Holmes ‘written’ stories while “The Adventure of the Dying Detective” was Conan Doyle writing a wonderful counter-formulaic story.

Yet while those four stories stood out as the best of the late Holmes stories, the others were of subpar quality and included two of the worst. The third person narrative of “Mazarin Stone” doomed the story from the start and details within the study defied the reader’s suspicion of disbelief. The very next story was in my opinion the worst of all Holmes stories, “The Adventure of the Three Gables”, mainly due to the fact that the Sherlock Holmes presented in that story was not the Holmes in all previous stories and all those that followed.

Although the majority of the volume saw for the most part the quality of Conan Doyle’s storytelling fall, one cannot fail to notice that the author who at one time loathed his creation would do ensure that his—both Sherlock’s and his own—legacy endure with as best writing as he could produce. Within the collected 34 original works, there are many diamonds in the rough that any reader will enjoy reading whether they have read other Holmes works or not.

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Review: The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part III)

The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"

The second story narrated by Holmes himself takes place along the Sussex coast near his villa after his retirement. However mystery finds Holmes as a teacher of nearby school comes staggering up from the coast and dies at Holmes' feet saying "Lion's Mane." Though retired Holmes can not let the strange death not be solved, so the great detective starts investigating and downplaying his extraordinary methods.

3 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger"

A landlady asks Holmes to come visit her horribly scared tenant, who seems on the verge of death and who wants to unburden herself of the mysterious death of her husband. Holmes and Watson visit the woman and listen to her account then Holmes persuades her not to commit suicide.

2 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place"

A horse trainer comes to Holmes with most intriguing mystery surrounding his employer and his Lady sister who owns the titular location. The astonishing facts laid out by the man very much gets Holmes interests and leads to trip to the country and once again around the equestrian turf.

3 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Retired Colourman"

The last Holmes story sees the great detective taking the case of a wronged husband, whose wife and her lover has fled and taken his savings. Or have they? Holmes has Watson go with their client to his home and then to an out of the way village. Upon their return to the man's home, Holmes and other detective have some astonishing news.

2 1/2 STARS

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Review: The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part II)

The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"

A woman beats her stepson and is found with her mouth to her own baby's neck which is bloody when she removes her mouth. Her husband is beside himself when he comes to Holmes and begs him to find a solution. As always things are not what they appear when first looked out.

2 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Three Garridebs"

Holmes and Watson are asked to consult a man who seems to be close to a financial windfall, however the man's fellow beneficiary who meets Holmes at Baker Street is a total liar. The older gentleman is in for an unfortunate surprise as Holmes is on to the liar's trail.


"The Problem of Thor Bridge"
A young woman is accused of murdering the wife of her employer, who does lover her. Her wealthy and volatile employer contacts Holmes to prove her innocence, but the evidence reported in the paper's seems on the surface very much against her. However Holmes looks at little details to piece together the truth of the matter.


"The Adventure of the Creeping Man"

A well regarded professor seems to have changed drastically after a mysterious trip to around Prague. His actions prompt his secretary and his daughter to fear for their safety in the house. Using the secretary's notes as well as descriptions of incidents, Holmes and Watson stake out the professor one night to discover the truth, which sends Holmes from detective genre to science fiction.

3 1/2 STARS

Friday, January 15, 2016

Review: The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part I)

The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Illustrious Client"

Holmes and Watson are engaged by an intermediary for a third party to stop a marriage of a young woman to a notorious Austrian nobleman. The nobleman makes an attempt on Holmes' life after he talks with both himself and his intended bride, however Holmes' uses the attempt as part of his plan. Upon learning of the nobleman's "little black book", Holmes sends in Watson to distract his opponent while he burglarizes the home, but he is seen when escaping. However, the resolution to everything is a stunning twist.

3 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier"

Holmes' narratives this case of a Boer War veteran attempting to learn what happened to a wounded comrade from his regiment. However, the man's family is being all mysterious about the individual in question making Holmes' client frustrated.


"The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone"

A crown jewel is stolen and the British government comes to Holmes to find it. By the time Watson enters the narrative, Holmes has the man but not the stone. After a meeting with the culprit, Holmes gets the stone and returns it to a government peer.

2 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Three Gables"

This story is frankly off from the get-go as it seems it is written by someone other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

1 1/2 STARS

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review: His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part II)

His Law Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"

Mycroft and Lestrade come to Baker Street with a case of national importance, but about who did it but where the rest of the state secrets are. Holmes and Watson begin their investigation, but suddenly the case doesn't seem so straight forward.


"The Adventure of the Dying Detective"

Watson tells of a case during his marriage when Mrs. Hudson comes to his practice to get him to see an ill Holmes. His friend is ill-tempered and forces Watson to avoid touching him and finally getting a layman who seems has combated the exotic disease he has. However nothing appears as it seems.

3 1/2 STARS

"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax"

An independent woman who regularly corresponds with several individuals while traveling from place to place has stopped sending letters and seems to have disappeared. Holmes is asked to look into the case and not being able to leave London sends Watson to inquire in France and Germany after her. However things lead to London and after a surprising false lead, Holmes finds the missing woman.

3 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Devil's Foot"

While on sabbatical in Cornwall, Holmes gets roped into the investigation of the murder and maddening of a nearby family followed soon after by the death of another family member. The village vicar and hermit African explorer as well as an ill-conceived experiments round out this particular case.


"His Last Bow"

The titular case follows not Holmes or Watson, but a German spy as Europe is on the verge of war. His last operation is seemingly coming together as his Irish-American man brings the British naval signal book, but appearances can be deceiving. This second supposed Sherlock swan song is different.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Review: His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part I)

His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge"

Holmes and Watson are visited by a rattled gentleman who awoke in an abandon house in which he had been a guest the night before. Two inspectors arrive at Baker Street looking for the gentleman, who tells all four men what he endured in the last 24 hours. Afterwards, one of the inspectors announces that the gentleman's host was murdered and invites Holmes & Watson to join him at the titular location. The inspector and Holmes take their own paths, but end up at the same result which makes Holmes favorable to the country inspector.

4 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Cardboard Box"

A woman receives a mysterious package with two human ears, Lestrade comes to for Holmes assistance. After a quick investigation, Holmes figures out the entire case.


"The Adventure of the Red Circle"

A landlady comes to Holmes with a problem, though he is not interested but then decides to humor her. After the woman tells Holmes the situation with her tenant, Holmes is intrigued and begins his investigation. The next day, the woman returns to say her husband had been accosted resulting in Holmes and Watson going to her home to spy on the lodger who is not who they thought. Later that night the mystery is cleared up.

3 1/2 STARS

Review: The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The first half of this novel Holmes and Watson help the investigation into the death of John Douglas in Birlstone, Sussex after figuring out a message Holmes received warning of Douglas safety.  The mystery and Holmes' analysis is wonderful, and then Doyle ruins the novella by the overextended backstory that is only saved by the twist ending.

2 1/2 STARS

Friday, January 8, 2016

Review: The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part IV)

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter"

A cryptic message arrives at Baker Street soon followed by it's sender, who spouts off phrases that are at first are confounding. Holmes and Watson soon learn that Cambridge's best rugby player has gone missing the day before the match with Oxford, but without any clue about his whereabouts. Holmes takes the case and soon must face off against one of Watson's fellow medical men.

2 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of Abby Grange"

Inspector Stanley Hopkins asks Holmes to come investigate a murder at the titular home in Kent. However by the time they arrive, Hopkins believe he's wrapped up the case. Soon Holmes shares his opinion though not without a momentary disbelief, however on they return to London Holmes believes he's in err.

3 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Second Stain"

An explosive letter written by a hot-headed European monarch goes missing from it's hiding place, government officials asked Holmes to investigate but he has some demands before taking the case and are grudgingly accepted. But a wrinkle develops when one of Holmes initial suspects is found murdered the morning he gets the case. Those starts several days in which Holmes feels frustrated in bring this case to a close before hitting upon the solution.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Review: The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part III)

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"

Holmes goes up against notorious blackmailer Charles Augustus Milverton. After a verbal exchange at Baker Street, Holmes spies on Milverton's residence in preparation to burglarize his safe. Watson joins Holmes during the burglary, but before they can get the goods they witness one of Milverton's previous victims exact revenge. The duo escape the house, but are seen though not enough to be identified and later decide not to help the police investigate.


"The Adventure of the Six Napoleons"

Lestrade comes to Holmes and Watson with a mysterious series of events surrounding the destruction of busts of the Emperor Napoleon, which the Inspector believes will interest Watson more than Holmes until he gets into the particulars. The next day Lestrade sends a telegram saying the case has gotten deadly. Holmes and Watson then start pounding London's streets to find answers.


"The Adventure of the Three Students"

Holmes and Watson are on a college campus as Holmes does some research when a professor begs the former to help him. Holmes grudgingly listens and finds himself intrigued by the problem.

4 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez"

Inspector Stanley Hopkins comes to Baker Street with a perplexing murder that has no apparent motive. After explaining to Holmes and Watson the facts as well as his investigation using Holmesian techniques, Hopkins inquires if Holmes will look into the case. The next morning they arrive at the murder scene and by early afternoon, the case is solved.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Review: The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part II)

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist"

A young woman arrives at Baker Street asking for advice from Holmes about a mystery man who always follows her while she trains to and from her employment every weekend at a distance, but only for a short stretch of her journey. The young woman mentions the fact that she is engaged, but has had to fight out men from seeking her hand in recent weeks (and after her visit must refuse her widowed employer). Holmes makes some inquires and sends Watson to investigate before learning of his client's decision to leave her employer after his marriage proposal, he then insists on getting to her at once to ensure her safely to the train but arrive too late to find her cab and team deserted on the road. Holmes and Watson meet the mystery cyclist who seems to know what is happening, the three rescue the young woman from a forced marriage meant to gain her far-off uncle's fortune.

4 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Priory School"

The head of a prestigious school arrives at Baker Street exhausted, looking for help in finding a missing student who is the sole child and heir of a political important Duke. Holmes and Watson travel north with the headmaster and begin investigating with very interesting results. The best story of the book so far.


"The Adventure of Black Peter"

Watson along with the readers enter the investigation half way through as Holmes arrives for breakfast with a harpoon in hand followed soon after by Inspector Stanley Hopkins, whom Holmes has hopes for. Hopkins has followed Holmes methods as best he could to find the murderer of Peter Carey, a horrible former whaler captain found dead in his cabin with a harpoon through him and into the wall. The trio go to the cabin and find evidence that someone tried to break-in the previous night. After Holmes investigates inside, the trio await and capture the burglar who Hopkins believes to be his murderer. However, Holmes has a surprise for young Hopkins.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Review: The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Part I)

The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"The Adventure of the Empty House"

A mysterious death brings Sherlock Holmes out of hiding after allowing the world, and his friend Dr. John Watson, believe he was dead. Immediately the two friends go on an adventure as one of Moriarty's henchmen that got away, attempts to kill Sherlock only to be captured by the famous detective and charge with the first murder not attempting to murder Holmes.


"The Adventure of the Norwood Builder"

Holmes and Watson receive a client begging for help because he his implicated in the murder of a man who just named him as his heir. The police arrive to arrest their client, but Holmes believes things are not as they seem though he is frustrated in his deductions. Then a bloody thumbprint that seemingly condemns his client is found, Holmes uses it to find the "victim" alive and well.

3 1/2 STARS

"The Adventure of the Dancing Men"

A venerable country squire asks Holmes for help in trying to figure out whom is terrorizing his wife and cause property damage in the process. The squire and Holmes interact several times until Holmes discovers distressing news, which makes him and Watson race to the squire's home only to arrive too late for their client is dead and his wife is severely wounded. But Holmes assists the local police in the investigation resulting in arresting the the surprised culprit.

4 1/2 STARS

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Book Review: Revolutionary Heart by Diane Eickhoff

Revolutionary Heart: The Life of Clarina Nichols and the Pioneering Crusade for Women's RightsRevolutionary Heart: The Life of Clarina Nichols and the Pioneering Crusade for Women's Rights by Diane Eickhoff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The life of women’s right crusader Clarina Nichols is the focus of “Revolutionary Heart” by editor-turned-historian Diane Eickhoff. Through Nichols life, we not only see the accomplishments of a very determined woman but also see the history of the three great antebellum reform movements.

The life of Clarina Nichols begins at one end of the country (Vermont) to the other (California), but a very important part of her life was spent in helping settle and attempt to influence the formation of the State of Kansas. Eickhoff using recovered sources that had not been known of since Nichols’ death in 1885, brings Nichol life in an entertaining and engaging manner that keeps the reader manner. Eickhoff follows Nichols’ life growing up in Vermont and her troublesome first marriage that helped focus her crusading efforts in the antebellum women’s right movement that was launched by circumstances in her second marriage. While detailing Nichols’ efforts on women’s rights, Eickhoff makes it a point to show Nichol’s as a mother not just as an aside but as one of the main themes throughout the book. And through Nichols, Eickhoff helped bring into the focus how the three major antebellum reform movements—abolition, suffrage, and temperance—were interwoven with one another for a 30 year period.

“Revolutionary Heart” pacts a lot of material in 277 pages in a well-written biography of an under-recognized leader of the early women’s rights movement in the 1850s thanks not only to Eickhoff’s writing but also her background of editing. The life and work of Clarina Nichols helps give context to the 1850s and 1860s when the popular view focuses on slavery and the Civil War. I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn more about the early women’s right movement.

View all my reviews