January Reads: A Comparison of Now and Then

2022

  • My Heart: A Novel, by Semezdin Mehmedinovic, translated from the Bosnian by Celia Hawkesworth
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the verse translation by Simon Armitage
  • All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, by Rebecca Donner
  • Castle Shade, #17 in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, by Laurie R. King
  • How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning of the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith

2021:

  • Women Without Men: A Novel of Modern Iran, by Sharnush Parsipur
  • The Relentless Moon, #3 in the Lady Astronaut Series, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  • No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, by Reed Hastings with Erin Meyer
  • High as the Waters Rise, by Anja Kampmann, translated from the German by Anne Posten

Sentence of the Day, Fourth Saturday of 2022

  • “Then the next night, when you returned, one of the kitchen maids spoke to a dead man as she went home after dark.” — Mary Russell to Queen Marie of Roumania, Castle Shade, p. 235

Developments (Also: SPOILER ALERT)

Mary Russell’s been put into a box that’s barely larger than a coffin. Her fault: she’d been walking around the village in the dark, alone because Holmes had been called away on some urgent business by his brother Mycroft.

Self hates Buried Alive stories, so she is glad this is not that. Though the box Mary Russell finds herself in is very small, only high enough to allow her to squat, she puts all her strength into shooting upwards, and finds that the box she is in is not locked, so the top goes flying up, then flying down again, hard, on the top of her head.

After she recovers from the concussion, she climbs out of the box and finds her boots, her flashlight, her spectacles and most important her knife, lined up neatly next to the box. She secures these items, then goes flying up a village road, knife out to defend against any attackers, and she passes two peasant women who are so alarmed by the sight of her that they drop the contents of their baskets onto the road, which are onions.

And then she proceeds in that fashion up to Castle Bran, where three very handsome young men (servants of Queen Marie) are chatting against a Citroen and stop what they are doing to stare. Then on into the castle where the Queen’s butler (Florescu, he with the fang-like incisors) also stops what he is doing to stare. And past her husband, who has apparently just arrived back from his business in Bucharest, who also does nothing but stop and stare (in horror, Mary Russell notes). She finally recovers enough to turn and address the horrified spectators thus:

“I seem to have . . . had something of a turn, and woke to find myself in a rather grubby situation. Pardon me.”

Castle Shade, p. 195

Self is enjoying this.

Sentence of the Day, Third Friday of 2022

In Brasov, he had managed to claim a corner of what purported to be a first-class compartment, but if things grew worse when they reached Sinaia — as they had on his earlier such trip — he would have to consider some means of taking revenge on his brother.

Castle Shade, Chapter Nineteen

LOL LOL LOL

Holmes is on a separate trip from Mary, having received urgent summons from his brother Mycroft (apparently, their paths continually diverge, throughout this series. And neither of them, of course, seems the least bit put out if they do not see each other for weeks on end. Is this what Victorian marriages were like? How very dry!). Right after the sentence above, Holmes ruminates on his marriage (a very interesting passage. Say what you will, self thinks Holmes cuts a very romantic figure, especially when he broods)

On p. 129, there is finally a kiss, “on the side of the head,” from Holmes to Mary, as he prepares to take on his next assignment, which will entail his leaving her for who knows how long.

Self searches goodreads to see if there’s a follow-up book to this one. No, not yet. She finds this dynamic very interesting, despite the cool indifference between the two. All the reader’s frustrated hopes bust out of the Victorian corsets in the fan fiction.

Nosferatu!

“Holmes, did you see that?”

“I saw that the man was hiding something, yes.”

“No — I mean his teeth. When he smiled? The Queen’s butler has fangs!”

Castle Shade, p. 107

Silent scream silent scream silent scream

Sentence of the Day, 3rd Thursday of 2022

As I sat there amongst the sleeping innocents of Bran, twenty years after reading “The Monkey’s Paw” and eleven years after the hospital, I became aware of a sound.

Castle Shade, p. 97

Self loves the backstory Laurie R. King gives Mary Russell (Her parents are killed in a car accident, leaving poor Mary all alone in the Big Bad World. She becomes an Oxford academic, etc), but why oh why do Holmes and Russell never show affection toward each other? For two people who are supposed to be married, self finds their behavior inexplicably . . . starchy. There is no reason for these two to be married if all they do is talk business? Which, frankly, is all they’ve done (so far) in Castle Shade.

Stay tuned.

A Local Witch

Self is on p. 75. That should count for something. btw, she’s just discovered Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell fan fic — so top caliber! There’s the May/December trope, the Having-a-Baby trope, the How-To-Be-a-Kickass-Detective-While-Pregnant trope, all kinds of tropes!

On p. 75, Mary and Sherlock go for a walk in the woods and find ‘apotropaic marks’ (i.e. ‘run away’ marks) on the trees around the home of a woman living in a wee cottage in the woods.

“Isn’t it odd that they let your Mrs. Varga live in the area, yet mark their paths and houses to drive her away?”

“Not necessarily . . . Although I do imagine they take care to ensure that she doesn’t stray into their private area.”

“Yet they ask her to heal their goats and, I don’t know — make their amulets? Help at childbirth?”

“Probably.”

“Isn’t that a bit like trusting the crocodile in your moat to let you go for a swim?”

“You of all people, Russell, should not be surprised at the lack of consistent logic in a system of belief.”

Self is really enjoying Castle Shade.

Stay tuned.

Suspense!

Self adores the vampire references, the creepy castle. This book has a Gothic feel — are all the others like that? It’s her first Laurie R. King. She is prolific, Castle Shade is #17 in her Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell series. The characters are charming (though hardly affectionate). Self loves the supernatural lore, and the historical context.

Slight digression: What a gorgeous day today was! The sun was out, strong and warm. There were no groups of wandering high schoolers on El Camino. Self wondered if schools had gone back to remote learning in light of omicron.

Chapter Nine

I wasn’t sure what had awakened me, but I had been dreaming. Dracula again, with horse-drawn carriages and dancing blue flames. I turned irritably on the pillow, puling it down under my head — and froze.

Was that wolves?

I jerked up from the pillow, straining to hear, feeling the ghostly stickiness of drying blood on my palms. A long minute ticked by . . . then yes, it came again, a distant howl, unearthly in the night.

Finally, They Arrive!

Holmes and Mary Russell arrive at their destination, a CREEPY CASTLE with a CREEPY, SUPERCILIOUS BUTLER (named Florescu, self is inclined to pronounce the name with a French accent)

Self is all agog. She only wishes Holmes and Mary Russell could behave like married people. Maybe not PDAs. But what is the POINT of having Sherlock Holmes MARRIED if he doesn’t behave like it?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Which One Is the Vampire?

This is a question self never imagined herself asking, never in the course of her very long reading life.

She asks it now because Queen Marie of Roumania is a very mysterious person.

There have been hints that it is she: she is the vampire.

Here are the facts: Whenever the Queen spends time in her summer home, Castle Bran, people die or go missing. Once, “a twelve-year-old scullery maid was preparing vegetables in the castle kitchen and sliced open her hand . . . the Queen was passing and heard the child cry out. She went to see what was wrong, seized a bowl to protect the child’s clothing, and started to bind the injury with a dishcloth.”

People who happened upon the scene saw this: “a young girl bleeding copiously into a crockery bowl . . . apparently half-filled with blood.”

As soon as the Queen left at the end of the summer, the series of occurrences ceased.

Further, whenever the Queen is expected, a man goes about the village, instructing the villagers that their dogs should be kept “inside or tied.” The Queen likes to go riding, and if a dog happens to frighten “her horse and makes her fall, that dog will be shot and the family will go to prison.”

Self is completely hooked on this combination vampire/Sherlock Holmes mystery!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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