The Bibliophile's Adventurers Club

Exemplars of bookish delight

Tag: fiction (page 1 of 6)

A study in scarlet

If ever you get the chance to add this little publication to your library, you simply must do so . . .


For you see, Beeton’s Christmas-Annual of 1887 first introduced us to Sherlock Holmes.

Arthur Conan Doyle was twenty-seven when he wrote the tale (perhaps you recall this video). It would receive little more than rejection at first. Even after publication, it wasn’t the most popular. Perhaps readers of the day felt it untoward to read of murder and mayhem around the holidays; perhaps that’s why only a handful of complete copies of the Christmas Annual exist today.

Nonetheless, A Study in Scarlet went on to be published as a book in July of 1888 (Doyle’s father illustrated that version); a second edition made an appearance the following year, and an American version a year after that (1890). Of course, that’s but a start of a myriad of editions, translations, and adaptations–not to mention the countless other stories featuring Holmes and Watson.

If you’d care to read the story that started it all, you’ll find A Study in Scarlet on Project Gutenberg.

“There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.”  

— A Study in Scarlet



The Old Man and the Sea

The September 1, 1952 edition of Life magazine featured a story by Earnest Hemingway titled The Old Man and the Sea.  It featured black and white illustrations by Charles Tunnifcliffe and Raymond Sheppard–and sold five million copies in two days.

It’s the story of poor old Santiago, a down-on-his-luck fisherman who’s gone eighty-four days without catching a single fish. He remains undeterred, however–and sets out alone in search of the catch of his life. It’s the story of determination, friendship, and persistence.

The novel received the Pulitzer Prize the following year (May, 1953) and catapulted Hemingway to international success. A fitting end to the work published in his lifetime.

In 1999, Aleksandr Petrov wrote and directed a short oil-on-glass animation based on Hemingway’s tale. It went on to win 13 awards–including an Academy Award for Best Short Film, Animation. You can watch Petrov’s take on The Old Man and the Sea, here.

Second chances

Northanger Abbey was the first Jane Austen novel I ever read. Or more to the point, that old, mass market paperback with a yellowed cover and yellowed pages to match was the first Jane Austen novel I ever picked up.

I made it all of ten pages, before abandoning hope.

That, I figured, was that. No more Jane Austen for me. But time wore on, and friends wore me down. Finally, I agreed to read Pride and Prejudice; it was love at first page.  I went on to read all of Austen’s novels—all except Northanger Abbey.

So imagine my dismay when my book club announced the book of July was none other than Northanger Abbey . . .

Reluctantly, I picked up a new copy; specifically, a Penguin clothbound classic so, if nothing else, I’d have a lovely cover on which to gaze.

Then I started reading.

You know, strangest thing, it wasn’t at all as I remembered it (i.e. dull).  As a matter of fact, it was nothing of the sort.

I thought it charming and witty; and found it especially amusing when she offers the following aside:

‘Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom, so common with novel-writers, of degrading, by their contemptuous censure, the very performances to the number of which they are themselves adding; joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if you accidentally takes up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another—we are an injured body.’

And let’s not forget the fact that it’s basically a parody of gothic novels—something of which I can wholeheartedly get on board.

Needless to say, if you haven’t already done so, I recommend you read Northanger Abbey. The story seems especially fitting for a chilly autumnal evening, when the sky is grey, and you’re in need of good, old fashioned entertainment.

Oh, and if you’ve got a book long abandoned, you might want to give it another try. After all, books, as in life, just might surprise you, if only given a second chance . . .

Tell me a story: I Capture the Castle

Despite the heat of the summer (and trust me when I tell you the heat is oppressive), I still can’t resist curling up with a good old-fashioned “hot water bottle” book, particularly during the last few weeks of cloudy, rainy days we’ve had here in Texas.  For me, a hot water bottle book means one that was written in the “days of yore,”  mostly starring young(ish) women and their roles and lives in respectable society, typically not without a splash of the romantic, but not enough to qualify as romance novels.  The recent spate of hot water bottle books I’ve read were all published before 1950 and I suppose it surprises me, although it shouldn’t, that the female characters are as sassy as they are.  Many of them would find the world we currently live in quite comfortable, I have no doubt.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – published in 1948

Dodie Smith is most famously known as the writer of 101 Dalmatians, the premise upon which the adorable Disney movie was based; but I Capture the Castle goes a bit beyond puppy dogs and be-furred (pretty sure that’s not a real word but to heck with it) villainesses.  Cassandra Mortmain is our young heroine of the novel. Cassandra’s father is a one-hit wonder of an author who blew all of his money on purchasing an old, crumbling English castle, in which the family now lives.  They’ve sold off all of their creature comforts, including most of their furniture, in order to buy food to eat. However, when Cassandra’s older sister comes of marrying age, suddenly it seems like the family’s fortunes may turn around.  With a rich set of bachelors moving in next door and her father growing more and more morosely hopeless in his writing escapades, her world is turned topsy turvy and Cassandra begins her own journey of maturation and discovering the world of adults.  If you’re familiar with Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce, Cassandra is how I imagine Flavia in her late teens.  At her very first adult party and observing the dancers, Cassandra remarks:

I leaned against the carved banisters and listened to the music and felt quite different from any way I have ever felt before – softer, very beautiful and as if a great many men were in love with me and I might very easily be in love with them.

You should read this one to find out if the precocious teenager grows up, falls in love, and comes into adulthood (relatively) unharmed and unscathed.

Summer 2014 books I can’t seem to get through

Summertime is full of reading lists–not that I’m complaining–but before I start in on those, I guiltily have a stack of books that have sat dusty, half-read on my nightstand for 6+ months or so.  I know, I know, there’s the whole contentious debate about whether or not you should walk away from books that you can’t seem to finish, but the three I’ve shared below are worth getting through.  Sometime.  Maybe.

Under the Dome by Stephen King: With every word, every sentence, every chapter, I admire his genius.  No wonder they turn all of his books into TV shows and movies–they practically write themselves.  You could very easily cast the stories yourself and just hand the actors the books to use as the script–easiest job in Hollywood.  Arguably, I think Stephen King is the most prolific writer of our time and his work just keeps getting better over time.  Oh my darling Stephen King, I do love you; but why does this book have to be as thick as a telephone book (remember those)?  I think I’m actually at the point where the TV show has moved along further than I am in your book.  And I’m halfway through!  I need to finish this one before spoilers start revealing themselves via TV commercials for the series.


A Feast for Crows (aka the 4th Game of Thrones book) by George R. R. Martin:  I find that people are typically divided in two camps on this one, either they’ve eaten up all of the GoT series as quickly as they can, or they’ve slowly lost interest during the third or fourth one despite the excitement and anticipation during the first few books of the series.  Quite frankly, the premise is getting a bit old for me.  People die, or do they?  People are lost, or are they?  People are bad, or aren’t they?  It’s all a bit much, this emotional and dramatic back-and-forth, and knowing that the series isn’t finished yet allows for multiple cycles of these ups and downs and plot twists to come.  I’m a little bit worried that by the time I get down to really finishing the books, I’ll have forgotten all the previous ones, but thank goodness for Wikipedia summaries.



The Last Lion by William Manchester and Paul Reid:  I really like this book.  Really, really like it (count them, that’s three “reallys”).  It’s the third in the trilogy biography of Winston Churchill’s life and was completed by Paul Reid, as the original biographer William Manchester died before he could finish this last one.  This veritable tome dives into Churchill’s life in detail during WWII and despite all of us knowing what ends up happening (the pitfalls of historical nonfiction), it still kept me riveted.  That is, until the Allies won the war.  The last 50 pages of this book have been sitting on a bookshelf for approximately a year waiting for me to get through.  I loved reading about Churchill: the bulldog, Churchill: the obstinate, Churchill: the master and commander throughout the war and the London Blitz.  But after that bit, the rest of the book is about Churchill: the old man with failing health and politician.  I really owe it to the novel and to history to finish this one up properly–but how/where to find the motivation?

And yourself? What books do you find yourself unable to finish?

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