Shadows Over Baker Street: A Holmes Meets Lovecraft Collection

I’ve been on a kick of discovering older books recently, and really enjoyed the classic Shadows Over Baker Street from 2003, edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan. It’s a collection of short stories from a number of fantastic authors including Neil Gaiman and Billy Martin (writing at the time as Poppy Z Brite). The stories feature characters from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes universe, set in a world of HP Lovecraft’s monsters. The notoriously logical Holmes faces mysteries without rational explanation, tied to eldritch beings and their fanatical human worshippers.

The benefits of a short story collection are many. For one thing, the short form keeps the book readable and fast-paced; in this case there was still some feeling of repetitiveness by the end of the book, but it still held your interest as it moved through various vignettes. Because in this format, each story can take a different approach, timeframe, and set of characters, which lets the reader discover not only more of Lovecraft’s plots and characters but also more of Holmes’ cases and adventures. While many of the stories do rely on a Watson-and-Holmes-at-Baker-Street structure, a good number find Holmes in different places, with different narrators or helpers. In one case, Holmes doesn’t appear at all, and the story connects to him through Irene Adler (Tiger! Tiger! by Elizabeth Bear). The overall effect is of a somehow cozy journey into the terrifying and impossible adventures of yesteryear, like ghost stories told by the fire. If you like Sherlock Holmes, HP Lovecraft, or similar universes like Doctor Who, this is a great book to curl up with as the nights start to get colder and spookier.

However, if you’re looking for something slightly more recent but with the same vibe/premise, I’m planning to try 2019’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall, which is also a Sherlock Holmes retelling set in an alternative universe, with plenty of monsters and action, but with all of Alexis Hall’s charm, humor, and LGBTQIA diversity.

What’s YOUR favorite Sherlock Holmes read?

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Reminiscent of Jean Eyre and Wuthering Heights, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is filled with the misty landscapes of Yorkshire, mysterious events, possible hauntings and shocking family secrets. It is a Gothic novel set in contemporary times.

The book opens when Margaret Lea, a young woman who has done some freelance writing and works in her father’s book shop receives a letter from a famous writer, Vida Winter. Ms Winter has never told the truth about her life, spinning a new story with every interview. Now nearing the end of her life, she wants to tell the real story and she wants Margaret to write her biography.

At first skeptical that Winter will now tell the truth, and wondering why she – a young, little know writer – was chosen, Margaret makes the trip to Yorkshire to meet with the reclusive Winter. True to a Gothic setting, the weather is damp and gloomy and Winter’s house is large and imposing. Winter is imperious and demanding, but she does indeed tell Margaret the truth of her past, spinning one story after another.

We meet the twins Adeline and Emmeline, whose parentage is murky. They live in isolation with their mother and uncle in a decaying mansion above the village. The local people describe the family as “odd” and “not quite right” and the twins, who run wild, indulge in dangerous and even cruel acts. A doctor and a governess take an interest in the twin’s behavior which ends in disaster. As more and more servants leave and the house continues to collapse, a fire breaks out and all is lost. Or has something – or someone – survived?

Margaret is haunted by her own twin story and feels the wrench of losing her sibling. The mysteries and atmosphere surrounding Ms Winter’s house play on Margaret’s mind and she becomes obsessed with the tragedies of the past.

This is a fascinating book that is hard to put down. The twins were pretty creepy, which suited the story perfectly. There is plenty of tension and twists – I never saw the final surprise coming, although it fit with what had happened. With a dramatic and satisfying conclusion, this would be a great book to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

If you are taking part in the Online Reading Challenge this year, this book is a good choice for our August theme of reading and stories and how they connect us.

 

 

 

Five Total Strangers by Natalie Richards

A teen thriller that keeps ratcheting up the tension, in the midst of a blizzard Iowans will understand all too well, Five Total Strangers is a suspenseful tale of not-so-chance coincidences and danger that creeps in from every direction.

For Mira, nothing has ever been the same since her aunt died last Christmas – especially since she had to leave her grieving mom to go back to school across the country. Now, it’s Christmas again and Mira is desperate to get home and be there for her mom, but the weather isn’t cooperating. Her connecting flight was just grounded, so the only way to get home in time is to accept a ride from her charming seatmate and her friends. But once underway, Mira realizes that none of her fellow passengers know each other, and she just can’t shake the feeling that something sinister is going on – especially when their things start to go missing. And all the while, the roads just keep getting worse…

The genius of this book for me is the tug-of-war between logic and instinct, as Mira struggles between what her primal, gut-level feelings tell her about a situation and what her logical, civilized brain says. I thought this brilliantly captured what it’s like to be in a scary situation in today’s world, where we know the odds of danger and catastrophe are low…but never zero. The descriptions also vividly conjure up all the unpleasantness and otherworldliness of road travel, including car sickness, dingy rest areas, and dicey gas stations, all overlaid in this case with an unspecified menace, coupled with the frustrating uncertainty and powerlessness that comes with being young. Interspersed with the chapters are ambiguous handwritten notes which suggest nothing is as coincidental as it appears, and which help the tension build to a twist you probably won’t see coming.

Those who like thrilling, suspenseful mysteries, locked room mysteries (with a mobile twist), and vivid casts of characters (all hiding secrets) will want to try Five Total Strangers – if only to remind themselves why winter road trips are an absolutely terrible idea.

This book is also available on Overdrive.

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

Another exciting YA mystery from the author of One of Us is Lying, 2019’s Two Can Keep a Secret is the story of cold cases, twins, secret family histories, and haunted houses which I read in exactly one day. It’s got echoes of Pretty Little Liars and There’s Someone in Your House, though more grounded in realism than either, and is most like A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.

Ellery and Ezra are twins, just like their mother Sadie and her sister Sara were twins. When Sadie and Sara were high school seniors in Echo Ridge, Sara went missing and was never seen again. Sadie left town as fast as she could, settling in California. Now, Sadie’s in rehab, forcing high school seniors Ellery and Ezra to come to Echo Ridge for the first time to live with their Nana, Sadie’s mother. As soon as they arrive in town, they learn that Sara wasn’t the only one – five years ago homecoming queen Lacey disappeared, and her body was found in the local fright theme park. Her boyfriend Declan was suspected, but nothing was ever proven. As Ellery and Ezra settle in, making friends with Declan’s younger brother Malcolm, history chillingly starts to repeat itself as anonymous threats against Homecoming start to appear around town – and then one of the Homecoming Court goes missing. True crime buff Ellery and an implicated Malcolm scramble to uncover the culprit before it’s too late.

To be honest, this is very, very similar to A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder in premise: the smart quirky girl and the younger brother of the unjustly accused unite to solve a mysterious disappearance of the town golden girl. HOWEVER, McManus puts her own twists on it which makes this book stand apart. For one, Malcolm’s brother Declan is no saint, with a hot temper, secrets of his own, and a shaky history with Malcolm – this means that Declan’s innocence is nowhere near certain for most of the book. Secondly, Ellery and Ezra’s relationship with each other and their flawed mother adds dimension to the book; Sadie’s struggle with opioid addiction feels timely. Third, and maybe most importantly, the police play a much larger role in the investigation than Ellery and Malcolm. I really appreciated the realism of teens getting it wrong, repeatedly, while ‘the professionals’ (who amateur detectives love to dismiss) actually do their jobs and get it right.

Overall a solid, plausible, and compelling mystery with twists and revelations to keep you reading; LGBTQ representation in side characters and awareness of ethnic diversity (particularly the difficulty of being one of the only non-white families in town) are plusses. My only request would’ve been to flesh out the side characters more – Ezra and Malcolm’s friend Mia fade into the background where I would’ve liked them to stand alongside Ellery and Malcolm as equals. If you liked any of the YA mysteries listed above, or McManus’ other works, definitely try Two Can Keep a Secret.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

You might or might not remember, but I adore Karen McManus’ work, especially One of Us is Lying. I became interested in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson partly because it sounded similar in theme and character. If you like teen investigators or liked One of Us is Lying, you might like Jackson’s work too.

Here’s the story: Pippa has spent the last 5 years hearing about Andie Bell’s murder, and every time it’s the same story: her boyfriend Sal met her at night, killed her, hid her body, and within a few days was so overcome with guilt that he took his own life. But Pippa knew Sal, and she’s never quite believed it. When she gets a chance to do a senior capstone project on a topic of her choice, she jumps at the opportunity to investigate the case for herself, hoping to cast doubt on the official version. With help from Sal’s younger brother Ravi she digs into everything she can find, requesting records, interviewing Andie’s friends, and just generally turning over rocks that her suspects would rather she not look under. Slowly they put together a much darker picture of who Andie Bell was and why she died, and as anonymous threats arrive Pippa has to wonder if she’s taken on more risk than she can handle.

I liked this book a lot, for the skilled writing and the well-drawn characters; I rooted for Pippa, Ravi, and their friends and I mourned their losses along with them. I especially liked that Pippa had devoted friends, despite being the hardworking bookworm, and that she was compassionate as well as determined as she investigated such a sensitive topic. Jackson adds in realities of life, such racial prejudice, sexuality, blended families, and death. And, with no spoilers, the resolution was as unexpected as you’d want it to be after all that buildup. All in all, very effective, but at the same time it didn’t really compete with One of Us is Lying for my favorite YA mystery – mostly because Jackson stuck solely to one character’s perspective instead of alternating voices like McManus; as a writing style I prefer the breadth of viewpoints you get from an ensemble cast.

If you’re a mystery reader, a reader of young adult books, or a McManus fan like me, don’t miss out on A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, or its sequels Good Girl, Bad Blood and As Good as Dead, expected this fall.

Online Reading Challenge – August

Hello Fellow Readers!

New month, new author for our Reading Challenge. This month’s author is : David Baldacci!

There will be no shortage of authors that are similar to Baldacci and, for that matter, no shortage of David Baldacci books to read. He has written 40 novels for adults (and that number keeps growing). He has several different series with recurring main characters, but they all have some of the same elements in common – a gritty thriller with lots of action, a main character that is usually a loner and often an ex-cop or ex-CIA or ex-military.  There’s a mystery that needs to be solved, requiring the main characters special skills/persistence/past history. These make great “beach reads” that don’t require much deep thinking but are fun and quick to read.

If you’ve already read everything by David Baldacci and/or you’d like to branch out, here’s a list of similar authors – all of which are pretty popular in their own right.

James Patterson

Lee Child

Brad Thor

Michael Connelly

Tess Gerritsen

Patricia Cornwell

Walter Mosley

Brad Meltzer

Daniel Silva

Harlen Coben

Iris Johansen

Kathy Reichs

There will be displays at all three Library locations with lots of titles to choose from.

I’ve actually never read anything written by David Baldacci, so I’m going to try one of his books. There are almost too many to choose from and opinions on each title swing from “the best book ever” to “Baldacci has lost his touch, this was terrible”! I finally settled on The Innocent, the first in his series about Will Robie, who is a “master assassin”. Hmmmm. Not so sure about this, but I’ll give it a try.

What about you – what will you be reading this month?

Online Reading Challenge – December Wrap-Up

Hello Readers!

We’ve made it through another year! Hurrah! I hope you’ve enjoyed our reading explorations!

This month’s inspiration film was The Maltese Falcon, a classic detective film starring Humphrey Bogart. It’s the quintessential private detective movie with a twisty plot, a mysterious woman and a jaded detective.

The book I read this month was The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett (he also wrote The Maltese Falcon which the film is based on), which checks many of the same points including a twisty plot and a mysterious woman (or two). This one is set apart by the detectives though – in The Thin Man they are Nick and Nora Charles, a crazy-rich couple who solve crimes when their social calendar of cocktails and banter allows.

Nick and Nora are the kind of wealthy people that could quickly become super annoying but instead, this pair is funny and charming, madly in love with each other and kind and generous to those in need.  Quite frankly, the mystery – which I found a little hard to follow – was secondary for me (I’m  not a big mystery reader so that’s not a surprise) Instead I enjoyed the characters and the atmospheric setting – I could almost hear the clinking of martini glasses and see the sharp clothes. This book is an enduring classic for good reason!

How about you? How did your reading go this month? Let us know in the comments!

We may be done with the Online Reading Challenge for this year, but the 2021 Challenge begins on January 2! Be sure to check back for all the details!

Enola Holmes: Page and Screen

If watching Stranger Things made you a fan of  Millie Bobby Brown, if you love rebellious female heroines, or if you devour all things Sherlock Holmes, then Enola Holmes may be the character for you. A film adaptation centered on Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes’ younger sister is now available on Netflix, so there’s no better time to discover the mystery book series by Nancy Springer.

The series is six books in all, starting with The Case of the Missing Marquess, first published in 2006. As in the recent film, the book’s action starts when Enola discovers her mother is missing. It’s up to her to travel to London and find her, while solving a few other mysteries and avoiding her older brothers at the same time.

I am excited about this series and its film adaptation for a number of reasons. Nancy Springer wrote some of my most favorite books when I was younger, full of fascinating, sympathetic characters, plenty of action and humor, and covering a wide range of genres and situations. Secondly, I am a self-confessed Anglophile, and I love the Sherlock Holmes character and universe. Throw in a spunky, clever, determined heroine, and I am 100% on board. The fact that the Enola character is played in the film by Millie Bobby Brown, whom I love in Stranger Things, is just a bonus. If you like mysteries, historical fiction, and comparing books to their film adaptations, I definitely recommend you check out the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer.

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check

Hello!

I hope this finds you safe and healthy – these are crazy times we’re living through, aren’t they? I also hope you’re finding the Library’s online services helpful – though we miss seeing you at one of our locations, using e-books or e-audiobooks is a great alternative!

Usually at our Mid-Month Check, I suggest movies or television series that you can check out from the library that fit with that month’s theme. This month, of course, we aren’t checking out physical items so instead, I’m going to point you toward another great online resource available through the Library – Acorn TV! Acorn is a collection of mostly British television series that you can stream for free! There’s an amazing collection of shows to watch, perfect for staying-home and, since so many of them are British, a lot of them will fit into this month’s theme of Downton Abbey! Here’s a selection to get you started.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – set in the 1920s, this delightful series actually takes place in Australia (but it still counts!) with the fashionable Miss Fisher solving a variety of intriguing mysteries.

Victorian House of Arts and Crafts – this is a fun documentary that follows 21st century craftsmen as they work on renovate a Victorian-era house using 19th century tools and techniques.

Keeping the Castle is another documentary, this one about the expense and upkeep of one of those huge country estates in the modern age.

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes is a series featuring classic mysteries with a variety of investigators set in the same time period as Sherlock Holmes.

It’s easy to get started with Acorn TV; simply go to the Davenport Library homepage, click on Digital Content, then click on the Acorn TV. You’ll need your library card number and an RB Digital account (also free) Licenses check out for one week with unlimited renewals.

Of course, you can also watch something from your own collection of DVDs or your streaming services (there are no Library Police!) Mostly, I recommend finding something fun and distracting!

Online Reading Challenge – Mid-Month Check In

Hello Again!

How is your month of Edwardian reading going? Have you found something that has grabbed your interest? If you’re still looking, maybe a movie would be the ticket – there are some gorgeous films set during this time period. Here are a few to consider:

A Room With a View – From the famous production team of Merchant and Ivory, this gorgeous film of love and romance stars Helen Bonham-Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis and is set in the idyllic Italian countryside.

Howard’s End – Another beautiful Merchant and Ivory production, starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, brings the rigid rules of Edwardian society into sharp focus.

Edwardian Farm – Find out how the other half lives when two archaeologists and a historian recreate farm life for a full year using practices from 1906 England. Fascinating!

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady – So beautiful! Filmed on location in England and Scotland, this drama follows artist Edith Holden through the changing seasons.

Murdoch Mysteries – Follow Detective William Murdoch as he solves murder mysteries in Edwardian Toronto using the latest scientific methods.

Parade’s End – From the end of the Edwardian era through World War I, this epic story of romance and betrayal stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.

Mary Poppins – For something much lighter and happier, you can’t go wrong with Mary Poppins. It’s magical and fun and surprisingly thoughtful. Don’t miss it.

Miss Potter – The charming story of Beatrix Potter’s efforts to publish her first books and gain some measure of independence as a single woman in Edwardian England. Lovely and heartbreaking. Starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.