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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Balance of March 2015

During the month of March 2015, I reviewed the following:

Books:
- "Dracengard - Book 2" by Christopher Vale. Read my review.
- "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Read my review.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About the Book: "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" (1926) is one of 12 Sherlock Holmes short stories (56 total) by Arthur Conan Doyle in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes first published Strand Magazine October 1921 - April 1927. This story is one of only two narrated by Holmes rather than Doctor Watson - the other one being "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane".

About the Author: Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. From 1876 to 1881, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, including a period working in the town of Aston (now a district of Birmingham) and in Sheffield, as well as in Shropshire at Ruyton-XI-Towns. While studying, Doyle began writing short stories. His earliest extant fiction, "The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe", was unsuccessfully submitted to Blackwood's Magazine. His first published piece "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley", a story set in South Africa, was printed in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal on 6 September 1879. On 20 September 1879, he published his first non-fiction article, "Gelsemium as a Poison" in the British Medical Journal. In 1882 he joined former classmate George Turnavine Budd as his partner at a medical practice in Plymouth, but their relationship proved difficult, and Doyle soon left to set up an independent practice. Arriving in Portsmouth in June of that year with less than £10 (£900 today) to his name, he set up a medical practice at 1 Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea. The practice was initially not very successful. While waiting for patients, Doyle again began writing stories and composed his first novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011. He amassed a portfolio of short stories including "The Captain of the Pole-Star" and "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", both inspired by Doyle's time at sea, the latter of which popularized the mystery of the Mary Celeste and added fictional details such as the perfect condition of the ship (which had actually taken on water by the time it was discovered) and its boats remaining on board (the one boat was in fact missing) that have come to dominate popular accounts of the incident. Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his work. His first significant piece, A Study in Scarlet, was taken by Ward Lock Co. on 20 November 1886, giving Doyle £25 for all rights to the story. The piece appeared later that year in the Beeton's Christmas Annual and received good reviews in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. The story featured the first appearance of Watson and Sherlock Holmes, partially modeled after his former university teacher Joseph Bell. Doyle wrote to him, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... Round the center of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man." Robert Louis Stevenson was able, even in faraway Samoa, to recognize the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?" Other authors sometimes suggest additional influences—for instance, the famous Edgar Allan Poe character C. Auguste Dupin. A sequel to A Study in Scarlet was commissioned and The Sign of the Four appeared in Lippincott's Magazine in February 1890, under agreement with the Ward Lock company. Doyle felt grievously exploited by Ward Lock as an author new to the publishing world and he left them. Short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes were published in the Strand Magazine. Doyle first began to write for the 'Strand' from his home at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, now marked by a memorial plaque. In this period, however, Holmes was not his sole subject and in 1893, he collaborated with J.M. Barrie on the libretto of Jane Annie. Doyle was found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on 7 July 1930. He died of a heart attack at the age of 71. His last words were directed toward his wife: "You are wonderful." At the time of his death, there was some controversy concerning his burial place, as he was avowedly not a Christian, considering himself a Spiritualist. He was first buried on 11 July 1930 in Windlesham rose garden. He was later re-interred together with his wife in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire. Carved wooden tablets to his memory and to the memory of his wife are held privately and are inaccessible to the public. That inscription reads, "Blade straight / Steel true / Arthur Conan Doyle / Born May 22nd 1859 / Passed On 7th July 1930." The epitaph on his gravestone in the churchyard reads, in part: "Steel true/Blade straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters". Undershaw, the home near Hindhead, Haslemere, south of London, that Doyle had built and lived in between October 1897 and September 1907, was a hotel and restaurant from 1924 until 2004. It was then bought by a developer and stood empty while conservationists and Doyle fans fought to preserve it. In 2012 the High Court ruled that the redevelopment permission be quashed because proper procedure had not been followed. A statue honors Doyle at Crowborough Cross in Crowborough, where he lived for 23 years. There is also a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, close to the house where Doyle was born.

My Review: In this story, in January 1903, at Baker Street, James M. Dodd sees Holmes about a missing friend, Godfrey Emsworth. Dodd and Emsworth served together in the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa during the Second Boer War, which has only just ended. Emsworth was wounded. Dodd has not seen him since the report of his injury, and "not a word for six months and more". Since Emsworth has always been such a good friend, Dodd believes something is amiss.
Dodd tried writing to Colonel Emsworth, Godfrey's father. He had to write twice before he got an answer, and then was told in a terse letter that Godfrey was not at home; he had gone on a voyage around the world. Dodd was not satisfied with this explanation — he was sure that Godfrey would not simply go off around the world without telling his old army friend.
Next, Dodd went to the Emsworth family home, Tuxbury Old Park, near Bedford. There were four people there — the Colonel and his wife; and an old butler and his wife. The Colonel was something less than a gracious host. He repeated the story about his son's world voyage, implied that Dodd was lying about even knowing Godfrey, and seemed irritated at Dodd's suggestion that he provide information that would allow him to send Godfrey a letter. This the Colonel would not do.
Dodd was still determined to ascertain Godfrey's fate. That evening, in the ground-floor bedroom, Dodd talked to the butler, Ralph, when he came to deliver some coal. When Ralph mentioned Godfrey in the past tense, Dodd began to suspect that his friend was dead. Ralph indicated that no, he wasn't, but that it might be better that way.
If the butler's words had deepened the mystery, Godfrey's appearance at the bedroom window made it utterly bottomless. There he was, with his nose pressed against the glass, but looking ghastly pale. He ran off when he saw that Dodd was looking straight at him. Dodd opened the window and climbed out, thinking to go after him and put an end to this mystery. In the pathways of the park, he could not see where Godfrey had gone, but heard a door slam somewhere ahead of him, not back at the house.
Dodd contrived to stay another day at Tuxbury Old Park, and went looking about the property. He saw a well-dressed man leaving an outbuilding, whose suspicion was aroused somewhat, as Dodd was aware that he was watching him. The outbuilding seemed empty enough, but he was sure that it was where Godfrey had gone the previous evening.
After nightfall, he crept out of the bedroom window again and stole down to the outbuilding. Finding a crack in the shutters, he looked in, saw the man he had seen earlier in the day, and another figure who he was sure was Godfrey, although he could not see him clearly.
At this point came the tap on his shoulder. It was Colonel Emsworth, beside himself with rage, and he made it plain to Dodd that he was to leave on the first available train.
Dodd comes straight to Holmes to relate the story, and Holmes, as is often the case, finds the matter quite elementary. There are, after all, only a few reasons why a family would shut one of its members in an outbuilding. Holmes needs only to ask about the publication that the man with Godfrey was reading, and although Dodd cannot be absolutely sure of it, Holmes seems satisfied with the answer. Only one piece of evidence is missing.
Holmes has his missing clue that same day when he and Dodd visit Tuxbury Old Park, much to the Colonel's fury. The clue comes in the form of a tarry smell from the leather gloves that Ralph has just removed. The Colonel threatens to summon the police if Dodd and Holmes do not leave, but Holmes points out that involving the police would bring about the very catastrophe that the Colonel wishes to avoid.
Holmes makes it known that he has deduced that the mystery can be summed up in one word: leprosy. Upon visiting the outbuilding, Holmes and Dodd hear Godfrey's story right from his own lips. The night he was wounded in South Africa, he found his way to a house and slept in a bed there. When he woke up in the morning, he found himself surrounded by lepers. The doctor there told him that he was in a leper hospital, and would likely contract the disease after sleeping in a leper's bed. The doctor helped heal his wounds, and once Godfrey got back to England, the dreaded symptoms began to appear. His family's fear of their son's seclusion in an institution, and possibly the stigma attached to leprosy, have forced them to keep his presence secret.
The story ends happily, however. Holmes has brought with him Sir James Saunders, a famous dermatologist from London. Sir James determines that Godfrey in fact has pseudo-leprosy, or ichthyosis, something quite treatable.
Another entertaining story, I recommend this one to all readers that enjoy a well written mystery case, mainly featuring Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Book "Dracengard: Book 2" by Christopher Vale

About the Book: It has been over a thousand years since the last Realm War, when the forces of light banished the demonic shedom back to the Realm of Darkness. Now a new evil threatens the Middle Realm as a self-proclaimed wizard and a mysterious black knight lead an army of humanoid lizards against the kingdoms of man.
Sides are chosen as news of the Wizard's conquests spread throughout the Middle Realm. While Terrwyn struggles to overcome lies and betrayal, another young princess leads an elite military order towards Dracengard, and our heroes' faith in the ancient legends is renewed when they come face-to-face with warriors from the Realm of Light.

About the Author: Christopher Vale has lived in seven states and three countries. He has stared across a minefield in Guantanamo Bay, traversed steamy jungles in the South Pacific, and survived twin babies. Now he embarks on his newest adventure as he and his wife raise their three beautiful boys while developing their own self-publishing brand, creating fun, fast-paced novels of imagination and wonder. You can visit him on the web at ChristopherVale.net.

My Review: This is a great sequel to book one. In this book the author continues to bring us lots of adventures, monsters, betrayals, plots and counter-plots, sacrifices, all the good ingredients to make this book an instant success. It is a very pleasant reading that will keep you entertained for hours.
The plot is interesting: In the first book we saw a wizard trying to reunite some magic stones that would give him power beyond anything imaginable. And there was also a dark knight helping him with an army of monsters. In this second book we see the development of this war for power and the characters in the book will have to chose sides. Help for our heroes will come from unexpected places and new alliances are made.
This is the second book of a series, so I recommend that you read the first book prior of reading this one. You will not regret it. And I can hardly wait to read the third book in this series!
I recommend this book to the permanent library of all readers that enjoy a well written book, young adults or not. You will enjoy it the same.

If you read this review, feel free to leave a comment.