Monday, August 27, 2012

Review: THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT by Edgar Rice Burroughs

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1918

Genre: fantasy

Topics: lost world, Germanic horde, jungle adventure


Bowen J. Tyler is an American whose ship is sunk by a German U-boat during WWI. Long story short: Tyler, his dog, Nobs, and another survivor of the wreck, Lys La Rou, wind up on the submarine with a mixture of British and German crew, and Tyler is the captain. Their goal is to reach an allied port, but because someone is sabotaging the boat by destroying all their navigational equipment, they get horribly lost and eventually find their way to Caspak, an underground world where prehistoric animals and "lower-kind of human[s]" still exist.

Remember that crazy book I reviewed a few months ago, A Strange Manuscript Found In a Copper Cylinder (review here)? Well, The Land That Time Forgot is kind of like that book--even down to Tyler writing of his experiences and sending the manuscript off in a bottle to be found by a random guy in Greenland--except good. -Ish. It really wasn't what I was expecting at all.

First of all, half of the book has nothing to do with Caspak--it's all about Tyler's experiences on the U-boat trying to get the German and English sailors to work together, all while dealing with mysterious sabotage. I suppose a part of me was wondering when the heck we would get to land, forgotten or otherwise, but honestly I was enjoying the story too much to care. Tyler is REALLY funny, and Nobs is very cute and lovable, and the story is a fun, light sea adventure. Lys La Rou, whom Tyler decides he's in love with 60 seconds after they meet, also kicked ass in this section.

Weirdly, once The Land That Time Forgot moved to Caspak, I started to get bored. It was mainly all hunting this dinosaur, hunting that dinosaur, blah blah blah. Also, most of the humor left the narrative, and Lys started acting really lame. At one point she had an existential crisis where she was all, "Life seems a joke, a cruel, grim joke... You are a comic little figure, hopping from the cradle to the grave." Uhg, really, La Rou? Save it for your painfully ironic music videos.

la roux bulletproof

The funniest part of the Caspak section, though, was when Tyler, who is from San Diego, fought off a group of Neanderthals with his mad martial arts skills, commenting, "Californians, as a rule, are familiar with ju-jutsu." Haha, what? 1. Is he serious? and 2. Why didn't you use ju-jutsu on the Deutschlanders then, Tyler?

So that was pretty silly. The conclusion of The Land That Time Forgot left a lot of threads hanging in an obvious attempt to get me to read the second book in the trilogy, and honestly I was kind of glad to be done with it when it was over. It's definitely not as good as A Princess of Mars (which is the only other Edgar Rice Burroughs book I've read so far); but it was better than I thought it would be, and a really quick read. For the most part The Land That Time Forgot was a good book, even if I did roll my eyes a lot in the second half.

Download The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs at Librivox|Project Gutenberg

Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: LADY MOLLY OF SCOTLAND YARD by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

lady molly book cover
Original Publication Date: 1910

Genre: mystery

Topics: female detective


Lady Molly and her uncomfortably devoted assistant, Mary, are part of a new group of female detectives in Scotland Yard. They solve mysteries.

After I finished The Experiences of Loveday Brooke (review here), Anastasia from Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog asked if I'd read the series about a female detective written by Baroness Orczy. I didn't even know Orczy wrote mysteries, let alone mysteries with a woman detective! Considering my enjoyment of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I had high expectations for Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, but wound up being pretty disappointed. Let's just say mysteries were obviously not Orczy's raison d'etre.

In my review of The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, I complained that although the mysteries were entertaining and twisty, Loveday didn't have much personality. After reading Lady Molly, however, I'd like to apologize to CL Pirkis for that statement, because Lady Molly has even less personality than Loveday did, and the mysteries and the way they're solved are super-boring.

The stories are all narrated by Mary, Lady Molly's assistant, kind of like the Sherlock Holmes stories. With Sherlock Holmes, though, having the stories narrated by someone else makes sense because it would be difficult to capture the quirkiness of Holmes' personality if they were told from his point of view. There's no way Holmes is going to be an "everyman" in the way John Watson is. Lady Molly, on the hand, doesn't really seem to have any personality, so the only effect of having Mary narrate is that we're completely removed from the action and investigation. At least Loveday squinted when she had an idea and we got to witness her investigating things; with Lady Mary, she just seems to giggle and order Mary around.

In every story, Mary tells us about the crimes under investigation, with an astonishing amount of detail considering she never actually witnessed any of them. Then Lady Molly sends her off to investigate, pops up at the very end, and pinpoints the perpetrator. Her "investigative technique" of choice is emotional manipulation, something no one objects to as long as she's manipulating women and not men. Since Mary is the narrator, we hardly ever see Lady Molly investigate anything, and the solutions to the mysteries never quite make sense. With Loveday Brooke, one can see how she got from point A to point B to point C; with Lady Molly, she just pulls a solution out of her butt and one is never quite sure how she got there, even with the after-the-fact explanation of the "clues" only she knew about. There are a few mysteries where this doesn't happen, but they're very predictable.

The best story is probably "The End," since we do get to see a lot of Lady Molly in action, and find out some interesting back story about her. But even in "The End," Lady Molly's investigation is suspect, and the conclusion to the mystery doesn't completely make sense.

I would say if you're looking for a female detective story, Loveday Brooke is still your best bet. If you do want to try Lady Molly, I'd recommend sticking with "The Ninescore Mystery" and "The End" and ignoring the other stories entirely

Find Lady Molly of Scotland Yard by Baroness Orczy at UPenn Library|Librivox

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review: A DIFFICULT PROBLEM by Anna Katharine Green

book cover
Also published as "Little Steel Coils"

Original Publication Date: 1896

Genre: mystery

Topics: Marriage


Lucy Holmes walks into the office of a detective, looking beautiful and distressed. Quickly she unfolds her tale of woe: her husband went away on a business trip. After a week, he sent her a note saying he would be back the next day. But the morning he was to return, Lucy woke to find a newspaper article saying her husband had died--two days before he sent her the note! A difficult problem indeed.

A Difficult Problem is another weird story from Anna Katharine Green. Why do I keep downloading this woman's stories? Although to be fair, A Difficult Problem is much better than Midnight on Beauchamp Row (review here). And by better I mean it makes slightly more sense. Kinda.

The beginning is pretty fun because it feels like a hard-boiled detective novel à la Dashiell Hammett: the seemingly-innocent woman in distress; the detective (who is never identified), slightly skeptical but drawn in despite his own reservations. It turns out Lucy is keeping pertinent information from him, but not because she's up to no good--it's because she's a TOTAL AIRHEAD. She's like, "Oh my poor husband, I--squirrel!" Once the detective talks her through things ("Focus, Lucy, focus! Good girl!") the solution to the mystery is pretty obvious. The problem the detective has then is how to prove it.

gregory peck

This is where things get weird. He chases the suspect all over New York City convincing people to drop springs into the poor guy's soup, and the suspect--who appears to be a homeless person--really starts spazzing out, even trying to kill himself. It's like How to Catch a Killer Using the Methods of Edgar Allan Poe. Death by spiral! Dude!

Anyway, the ending is really silly and unsatisfying. I hated Lucy and had more sympathy for the killer. Is it just me or does it seem like Green picks on the outcasts of society? "Oh, naturally he's the killer, he's a poorly-groomed homeless person." REALLY?! Shallow much?

A Difficult Problem is sort of a love-gone-wrong tale, except without the conclusion of the one who did wrong getting their just desserts, which is the only reason to read such stories. But on the plus side it didn't take very long to read.

Download A Difficult Problem by Anna Katharine Green from Librivox|Project Gutenberg

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: THE EXPERIENCES OF LOVEDAY BROOKE by Catherine Louisa Pirkis

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1893

Genre: mystery

Topics: female detective


Loveday Brooke is a woman in her thirties who fell on hard times (no details given as to how or why). Instead of letting it get her down, though, she rejected the society she was born into and got a job as a private detective in the firm of Ebenezer Dyer. Thus follows some short mysteries only Loveday Brooke could solve.

I first heard about CL Pirkis at Cynical Optimism. I liked the idea of a female detective and immediately downloaded several of Loveday Brooke short stories, including "A Black Bag Left On a Doorstep," "The Murder at Troyte's Hill," and "The Redhill Sisterhood."

"The Redhill Sisterhood" was probably the best story in the collection; in it, Loveday is hired by landlord to investigate his tenants, a group of nuns he believes is actually an organized gang of thieves. Twisty! Plus, there's a lot of discussion about this newfangled invention, "electricity," and how it's great at preventing robberies. If only more people used electricity, the world would practically be crime-free! Then Loveday figures out she's been double-crossed and sends secret messages to the police.

Even with "The Redhill Sisterhood," though, the stories were just okay. Loveday IS very smart, and the mysteries are difficult to figure out, but also kind of one-note. The main reason for this, I think, is because there's very little in the way of character development. We know Loveday is smart because she figures things out, and that she squints when she's thinking, but beyond that she doesn't have much personality. And what makes her a good detective? It's because "in cases of mere suspicion, women detectives are more satisfactory than men, for they are less likely to attract attention." Okay? That doesn't tell me anything about why Loveday settled on detecting as a choice of careers.

The Experiences of Loveday Brooke probably (hopefully) isn't the best collection of female detective stories out there. I would only recommend it if you're way into classic mysteries or female detectives.

Read The Experiences of Loveday Brooke at UPenn library

Monday, August 6, 2012

Basil by Wilkie Collins

Original Publication Date: 1852

Genre: Mystery

Topics: Secret marriages, classism, secrets, Victorian fears.


So… in our hands is the confession of Basil who is out on the west coast of England hiding from someone out to get him. It's all very hush, hush with fake names and the whole sha-bang. Basil starts his narrative telling us about his family, specifically his father who is super vain and proud of his lineage. Basil has an older brother, Ralph,  and a sister, Clara, too. More about them later.

One day Basil is on an ominbus and hot pretty girl walks in and sits down. He gets stalkerish, follows her home and skulks around her garden. He does a little sleuthing and finds out that the girl, Margaret Sherwin, is a wealthy linen draper's daughter. A linen draper’s daughter! The Horror! And also, he must have her! Immediately he tells the girl he's going to marry her despite her station. Here's the problem:

  1. He's known her for 5 minutes.
  2. His father is going to freak out.

Basil suggests that he marry Margaret in secret, so he has time to break the news to his father. Margaret's dad isn't too pleased with this but agrees as long as Basil doesn't 'claim' her as his wife (wink, wink) for a year, at which time she'll be 18! This has bad idea written all over it but Basil is so smitten he doesn't care.

Basil spends his evenings with Margaret and her mother as chaperon. Margaret doesn't have much personality but he attributes this to her youth and her station. He figures he can mold her into the woman he wants her to be, so it's all good. Enter Mr Mannion, Mr Sherwin's clerk. He's an enigma. He has no past, no friends or family. No one knows anything about him but he has a strange power over everyone in the house. The year is almost up and Basil still hasn't told his father of his marriage but he's optimistic. Then a scandalous event occurs and Basil is on the run. Then more secrets! and plot twists! right until the end.

The first half of Basil took me awhile to get into. The characters are one dimensional and the foreshadowing is rather obvious. At the beginning, Basil has a dream of a fair woman who makes him feel happy and a darker woman who scares him. The fair woman is clearly his sister and the darker one, Margaret. Clara is meek and gentle, blond and kind. In other words a perfect woman. I found this annoying. Basil himself annoyed me- he's such a schmuck and I didn't think anyone would marry a girl he just met without massive amounts of alcohol being involved. I don't think I'm the first one to feel that way. Collins is quite defensive in his Dedication. He insists such things happen in real life.

Basil touches on the Victorian fears of the classes intermarrying. The whole world will go hell in a hand basket if that happens! And when Basil marries Margaret, well, there you go. It's perfectly fine for his brother Ralph to have a middle class mistress though, as long as precious Clara isn't sullied by her presence.

Basil is quite the melodrama. People swoon, break out into cold sweats, and fall into nervous fevers at the drop of a hat. The bad guy is seriously bad and there is sort of a chase scene. Brother Ralph steals every scene he's in. He adds a little levity to the story. Despite all the negatives, the second half is fast paced and quite entertaining.

I suspect that Basil isn't Wilkie Collins best, but it's still pretty good.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Review: LADY AUDLEY'S SECRET by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1862

Genre: sensation

Topics: gender, class, mystery, madness


Lady Lucy Audley is the pampered, childishly innocent wife of Lord Audley. Could such a woman retain dark secrets and go to desperate lengths to keep them? Answer: probably, yes.

Lady's Audley's Secret is a super-soapy novel, but that's part of what makes it fun. I have to be honest and say one of my favorite things about Lady Audley's Secret is that all the male characters are idiots.
  • Sir Michael Audley is an idiot because he thinks a beautiful 20-year-old governess is going to marry a 60-year-old man with a grown daughter for anything other than his money and status.
  • George Tallboys is an idiot because he thinks he can abandon his wife and kid without a word for years and she's just going to wait for him to come back.
  • Luke Marks is a mean idiot.
  • Lt. Maldon is a drunk idiot.
  • Robert Audley is completely lazy and determinedly oblivious, so you could say he plays at being an idiot.
Lady Audley also plays at being an idiot, but she, like the rest of the female characters in Lady Audley's Secret, has a more realistic grasp of the situation in which she finds herself than her male counterparts. Perhaps it's because they're both expected to suppress their intelligence and be idle that Robert is the only guy who eventually gets a clue about Lady Audley.

I love Lady Audley. And I kinda hate her. She's one of THOSE women--you know, the kind other women find really easy to hate, because she attracts all the men-folk, but as soon as you put her with a bunch of other women butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. Mary Elizabeth Braddon's descriptions of her as a beautiful blonde with a childishly innocent demeanor made Lady Audley seem like an evil Marilyn Monroe. At the same time, she's really smart (even though she doesn't act like it--perhaps that's her real secret) and I kind of admired her moxie. All the men wronged in the novel deserved whatever they got; and it's not like she didn't warn them, either.

marilyn monroe
Evil Marilyn gives you kisses.

This isn't the type of book where you have to guess at Lady Audley's secret--that's obvious by Chapter Two. Instead, the tension comes from waiting for the other shoe to drop. Add to that a woman, or several, who may be up to no good, and Lady Audley's Secret is rather Hitchcockian. I loved the suspense and the humor in the novel, especially from Robert Audley ("Don't be German, Alicia." LOL Still laughing about that, I have no idea why), who is pretty dang funny.

All that being said, once Robert Audley figures out the 411, Lady Audley's Secret loses steam. Robert spends a lot of time whining about why HE has to be the one to investigate, and even more time talking to himself about gender and social inequality. I'm all for equality, but I don't want to hear Robert Audley talk to himself about it for ten chapters, thanks. I also thought the conclusion was only possible because of inconsistencies with the character of Lady Audley herself--the point was that she was smart! Like, Irene Adler smart. But at the end, Lady Audley does a lot of stupid things she shouldn't have done if her character was consistent.

Still, I really liked this book. It's bordering on trashy, but it's super-fun and entertaining, and I got a kick out of the main characters. I'm glad I chose Lady's Audley's Secret to be my first Victorian sensation novel!

Find Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon at Librivox|Project Gutenberg|GirleBooks