Category Archives: Lists

Sherlock Holmes, from the Adult Shelf

The House of Silk– Anthony Horowitz.  (Hachette, 2011, 295 pages.) Spooky atmosphere and satisfyingly suspenseful plot twists would make this a good Victorian mystery, even if Sherlock and Watson were not at the center of it all. Weaving together two seemingly disconnected cases, and hinting at a much larger conspiracy, Horowitz tells an exciting and engrossing tale. The best part about this, though, is how well he captures Doyle’s Victorian prose style and language, and the characterizations of Holmes and Watson.

The Italian Secretary: A Further Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, by Caleb Carr. (Carroll & Graf, 2005,256 pages.)  No surprise that the author of The Alienist has a terrific ear for recreating Conan Doyle’s language, while telling a story that could fit into Doyle’s world. Ghostly, Gothic touches and a very nice haunted mansion idea.

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon. (Harper Collins 2004, 175 pages.) Here, Holmes is an older gentleman, but still as sharp as ever. He meets Linus, a young boy who is a Jewish refugee, staying with the neighbors. Linus’s parrot has a fondness for rattling off number sequences in German. When the parrot goes missing, and one of the neighbor’s boarders is found murders, Holmes agrees to come out of retirement. There’s something nostalgic and sweet about this story. Whether it’s the way Holmes gruffly befriends the young boy, or the inclusion of the parrot, it’s a gentler atmosphere than most Holmes-inspired tales.

Sherlock Holmes and the Ice Palace Murders, by Larry Millett (Penguin, 1999, 336 pages). It took a while to get used to the idea of Sherlock Holmes visiting America, or in the sparse, somewhat frontier setting of Minnesota. I picked this up at the library by chance. (And had the entirely unworthy thought of comparing it to the Book of Mormon, in that it took literary figures far from their accepted setting, to construct a wholly new mythology.) The mystery and characterization grabbed me, though. I had no idea there were others in Millett’s series. I might read them.

The Art of Detection- Laurie R. King (Bantam, 2007 459 pages). Detective Kate Martinelli investigates a murder within a community of Sherlock Holmes-obsessed enthusiasts. I wish Laurie R. King would write more Kate Martinelli books. I know she’s done extensive volumes of her own Holmes adaptation, starring Mary Russell, but I find the idea of Married!Holmes decidedly creepy. It verges on fanfiction.

Sherlock and Watson, image from the BBC.

And then of course, there’s the BBC Sherlock, bringing Sherlock and Watson into the 21st century, with text messages, riffs on classic cases, and of course Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch. They’re so good, it’s hard not to picture those actors when I’m reading anything Holmes

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Arthurian Legends

Do the Arthurian legends have a place in historical fiction? Or are they fantasy? There are certainly geographic connections in various versions, steeped in the landmarks and lore of the British isles.

There’s a strong tie to fantasy novels as well, with a rich landscape of castles and magic.

For the rich tapestry (sometimes I can’t resist puns) of a medieval historical setting, full of magic and betrayal and battles, here are some books and series to explore.

Arthur: The Seeing Stone, by Kevin Crossley Holland. Reading this borders on a prose poem, it’s so perfectly lovely. It’s hard to find, but well worth tracking down. The story continues in At The Crossing Places, which is also gorgeous, and concludes in King of the Middle March. I haven’t read the last volume. Yet. I should.

Here Lies Arthur, by Philip Reeve. Presents Arthur as a rough and barbaric warlord, the legend of his greatness entirely constructed by Myrddin’s stories.

Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga begins with The Crystal Cave, and continues into The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Day. I read these in high school and college, and loved the story, particularly the aspects of Merlin discovering the possibilities of magic. Also, they’re beautifully written.

And I’ll round out the list of Arthurian favorites with a total guilty pleasure: Merlin, the British television series. Merlin and Arthur are teenagers in a Camelot that fears and forbids magic. The antics of Merlin trying to hide his powers while assuring Arthur’s royal destiny are a wonderful blend of humor, adventure and outrageous cheese.

Arthurian Retellings I Haven’t Finished: I haven’t read some of the more famous Arthurian stories. I’ve read bits and pieces of The Once and Future King, by T.H. White, but it never grabbed me. I’ve also given Malory’s Morte d’Arthur a shot, struggled through a few pages before I gave up. In both cases, I keep promising myself I’ll go back. But as long as I have other options like the ones mentioned above I think it’s pretty likely, I’ll read them instead.

I also read about halfway through The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It was a summer in high school. I don’t remember exactly where in the story I stopped, or why. Possibly just the sheer endlessness of it.

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Out Of Print (But Really Good) Historical Fiction

The process by which books go out of print mystifies me. While compiling lists of book recommendations for the subgenres featured here, I turned to my own bookshelf for inspiration. And I found that several of my very favorites are out of print. (Or, at least, Amazon.com lists them as “available from these sellers,” which is a pretty good indication.) So, if you see these books at a library, or a secondhand book store, snap them up!

Quest for A Maid, Frances Mary Hendry, Image from GoodReadsQuest For a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1992, 288 pages) Meg Wright is nine years old when she sees her sister, Inge, kill the King of Scotland. Who is several miles away. Witchcraft, a sea and shipwreck adventure. Also great characters: Meg, whose perspective captures the historical details, her sister’s magic and decidedly gray-area morals, adorable young Davy Spens, and the Maid of Norway, a young girl at the center of all kinds of scheming and conspiracy, just because she’s born to be queen.

 

Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park (Puffin, 1981, 204 pages) The setting and plot alternate between present day New Zealand Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, Cover image from GoodReadsand Victorian England, so this novel gets bonus points for time travel. Sullen and awkward, Abigail Kirk knows she doesn’t fit in with her classmates. She’s a shy loner, and she likes to make her own dresses. A piece of antique lace she sews onto a dress transports her to Victorian England, into the lives of the Bow family, who won’t let her leave, because they think she’s the “Stranger” destined to save the family. The way Abigail resists, and then, is drawn into their lives, is beautifully written. I remember reading this in sixth grade, and being completely in love with Jonah Bow, one of the characters from the past. It also stands up to rereading.

A Witch Across Time by Gilbert B. Cross (Athenaeum, 1990, 224 pages).  Spending the summer on Martha’s Vineyard while recovering from an emotional breakdown, Hannah encounters the ghost of a young woman who was falsely executed as a witch in 1692. The lines between the past and Hannah’s present begin to blur, as Hannah gets haunted by this girl. I remember Hannah hallucinating, and her family worried that she was crazy. I also remember being scared out of my deliciously shivering tween mind. In high school, I was in a one-act play that had more or less exactly this “girl haunted by a witch, people think she’s crazy” ghost plot. Crossroads, I think it was called.

Doing research for this site, I ran across dozens of enticing books I haven’t read, only to check at the NYPL, and find them, yep, out of print! Boo! Hiss! Or maybe British-therefore-hard-to-find-in-bookstores-here. That also happens.

Some hard-to-find-books I haven’t read yet:

Gatty’s Tale– Kevin Crossley-Holland. I think this is less out of print than it is British.

More to be added… what are your out of print or hard to find favorites?

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