The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes by Barry Grant

James Wilson has decided to retire from journalism and to live out his days in Hertfordshire. To make the rent a bit easier to handle, he agrees to take on a roommate. Upon meeting Mr. Cedric Coombes, Wilson finds the man’s behavior a tad eccentric and he also¬†experiences a strange feeling and swears he has seen Mr. Coombes somewhere before.

When Coombes is asked to assist on a local murder, Wilson cannot help but to follow along. There he witnesses first hand a display of deductive reasoning that could only have come from a novel. After several instances of seeing such marvels, Wilson begins to wonder just who Coombes really is.

A retiring gentleman takes an apartment with an eccentric roommate only to find himself drawn in to a baffling mystery. The roommate has a brilliant mind, plays violin, and has a penchant for cocaine despite the laws and health risks. Sounds familiar, no?

If the basic plotline of The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes sounds familiar, it is with good reason. It is the first in a series and much like it’s predecessor, A Study in Scarlet, it introduces us two very familiar characters. And though the names have changed, much of the rest remains the same.

Grant has done his research well in regards to creating a unique yet familiar voice for Holmes. Much of his speech and mannerisms are the same, harkening back to his Victorian days, yet there are also minor differences as Holmes grows accustomed to modern times and modes of speaking. The way Holmes is brought in to the modern day is also handled well with enough factual science combined with a bit of hand waving to make the truth plausible.

One thing I found quite amusing, and is something I hope is continued through subsequent books; is how a goodly number of those who meet Coombes/Holmes for the first time have a kind of deja vu. They feel like they have seen him or met him before but can not quite place where. Once Wilson knows the truth about Coombes it is something he finds amusing, and is something I found funny as well.

As much as I enjoyed The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes, I found a few minor drawbacks. For me, I found the book too short. Much like the original story it is a novella and therefore under 200 pages. I found it too short to deal with the various threads of the story in a satisfactory manner.

The other point that irked me was how quickly and neatly the case was resolved. The villain fairly spelled out his crimes to Wilson and Holmes. There was little to no guessing as to who had done it.

As a Sherlock Holmes fan, I liked reading The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes. It was a light and fun story and reminded me a good deal of the animated series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. Fans of Conan Doyle and Holmes might well enjoy this series.

The Emperor of the Eight Islands (The Tale of Shikanoko #1) by Lian Hearn

An ambitious warlord leaves his nephew for dead and seizes his lands.

A stubborn father forces his younger son to surrender his wife to his older brother.

A mysterious woman seeks five fathers for her children.

A powerful priest meddles in the succession to the Lotus Throne…

Each of the stories is the thread in an delicate and intricate tapestry. Where man and myth collide and the laws of destiny are set firm. Where ghosts and guardian spirits are very real and can cause just as much harm as any warrior or assassin. Against the background of a mythical medieval Japan, The Emperor of the Eight Islands weaves these threads together and sets the stage for the epic adventure of Shikanoko.

Japanese history, much like Victorian history, has been an interest of mine for some time. I have long enjoyed reading books set in the Heian era and when I saw this particular book at my local library, I was intrigued. While not set in actual Heian era Japan per se, it is set in a universe that is very very similar. There are, of course, a few minor differences but those only add to the overall story.

For the most part, I enjoyed The Emperor of the Eight Islands. There were a few times where I found the story line becoming jumbled and it became difficult to keep track of who was where. I believe this is because Hearn was trying to juggle four different story lines, trying to introduce all the major players in as few pages as possible. If perhaps they had cut back on a thread or two, then I believe the book would have been an easier read. As this is the first book in a series, Hearn could have easily waited until the second book to introduce some of these characters and expound on their backgrounds.

With the way the story is written, it’s easy to tell this is the first book in a series. Many questions are left unanswered with some handled in a way that is almost jarring. Those who enjoy Heian era inspired stories could enjoy this particular tale. Personally, I won’t be looking for the second book.

 

The Incarnations by Susan Barke

Wang is a taxi driver in Beijing, China. His days are spent ferrying nameless individuals from one end of the city to the other. In the years he has spent driving he has never paid much attention to his passengers, until one day a mysterious letter appears in his taxi and changes everything.

The letter claims to be from Wang’s soulmate and is the first in a series, each one telling of their previous past lives together. Though they seem to appear out of thin air, Wang soon believes he is being watched and believes he knows who the mysterious author is. Also with each letter, Wang knows the author is getting closer to him and to his family.

The Incarnations was another one of those books that I picked up on a whim because the blurb on the back sounded interesting, and once more dear reader I am so glad I did.

In the story we are introduced to Wang, a taxi driver in Beijing; a man who believes himself happy with a wife and daughter. A man who has a strained relationship with his father and step-mother; but who, like many, try to make the best of what he has. That is until the first letter arrives and Wang is taken on a path he did not wish to go down.

It is clearly evident that Barke did her research for not only the letters of the past but for the modern day story as well. The Beijing of 2008 is gearing up for the Olympics and the changes that occur to the city during that time weave throughout the story, mimicking the changes that occur to Wang and his family with each of the letters. The tales written in the letters also have this thread woven throughout, the individuals each going through changes whether for their benefit or not.

What I found truly heart-breaking though was the ending. Given the recurrent nature of each of the tales, dealing with death and rebirth, there really wasn’t any other way for the book to end. It was the path there that was truly hurtful for while Wang believed he knew the truth, he couldn’t have been further from it.

I found The Incarnations to be an absolutely fascinating read. The threads of the past and present and potential future were woven together so well. It is no wonder this book was up for so many different awards. Readers who enjoy novels set in China, whether past or present, should definitely give this one a try. I don’t think they’ll be sorry in the least.

Envy of Angels (Sin du Jour #1) by Matt Wallace

Even in New York, eating out can be hell. With the vast number of restaurants and types of cuisine available, it should be fairly easy for one to find something to suit them – right?

What if the individual craves something a little more…other-worldly? Something that generally isn’t seen on any menu anywhere?

That’s where Sin du Jour steps in. With it’s eclectic staff, they cater events the other guys can’t handle. They’re the place where a demon can go to satisfy his food cravings and where devil’s food isn’t just a name.

I admit, dear Reader, to having passed Envy of Angels over several times at my local library. The tiny blurb on the back just didn’t grab me. However, I have come to learn that a good book reviewer should read as much as they can, so I grabbed Envy of Angels on my last visit.

And I am so very glad I did.

Envy of Angels tells of the catering company Sin du Jour, a fairly small company that caters to a certain clientele. Lena and Darren are the newest chefs there, joining a group of other individuals who work to provide unique cuisine to very unique clients. However when the staff is given the task to prepare a banquet with the main dish being an actual angel, they all must ask themselves – how far is one willing to go to satisfy a client?

I found Envy of Angels to be a wonderfully fast paced and funny novella. At roughly 200 pages it is a small book and intended to be a quick read. Personally, I finished it in a day. The characters are quirky and funny without being completely farcical with the action easily keeping pace. There were a few eye rolling moments, but only because the scenes were so terribly funny.

The only fault I could find was while reading, I lamented the fact that some of the characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been. Given little more than a name and a basic description for a few characters, it was difficult to really get a feel for them. Now that I know that this is the first book in a series, I am hopeful the characters overlooked in this first book will have their moments in the second and third (and hopefully fourth and fifth and so on…) books.

A unique mash-up of Cutthroat Kitchen and Iron Chef, Envy of Angels is wickedly funny and enjoyable. I absolutely recommend this one to my readers.