Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Sherlock Holmes

So I'm ending the month with one of the greatest literary detectives of all time.  He is one of those characters everyone knows, even if you have never read one of his stories, or seen the myriad of screen incarnations.  There are so many takes of the original story, it would be impossible to even catalog them all, at least not without taking up way too much of your time.  I would argue that he is the most recognizable fictional character to ever grace our collective consciousness.  Since you have already seen the title of this post, you guys know I'm talking about the great Sherlock Holmes.

Not only do I argue that he is the most recognizable character, I also think an argument could be made for him being the most influential character of all time.  I would wager that without Sherlock Holmes, there would have never been a Hercule Poirot, nor the bazillion consulting detectives that came after him.  And I think it could also be argued, that had Dame Agatha had still managed to dream up Monsieur Poirot, he wouldn't have been as popular as he was in his own right.  Thousands of mystery writers owe their livelihoods to Sherlock Holmes, and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Hell, even Sesame Street couldn't help but have a Sherlock Holmes character of their own, Sherlock Hemlock.

How can you not idolize a man who can tell you where you were born, where you bought your shoes, what you had for dinner last night, whether you are carrying on a torrid affair, your financial situation, and the reason why you are visiting him, all within a few minutes of meeting the man?  And it's not like he makes a secret of how he does it, he will gladly explain it to you, even if it's only to show off his brilliant brain.  Add in the fact that he is a neurotic, manic depressive drug addict, and you have the ingredients for one of the most engaging characters of all time.

For a character that originally starred in 56 short stories and four novels, he has gotten around since then.  I'm not even going to count all the "new" adventures of Sherlock Holmes that seem to pop up on book store shelves on a regular basis.  He has appeared in over 200 movies, and quite a few radio and TV adaptations.  He has been played by a string of actors, including; Basil Rathbone, Johnny Lee Miller, Peter Cushing, John Barrymore, Charlton Heston, Alan Napier, Christopher Lee, Larry Hagman, Michael Caine, Frank Langella, Robert Downey, Jr., and Benedict Cumberbatch.  That's not even touching the men who have played him.

Simply put, Sherlock Holmes is the God of Mysteries, and we need to all bow down, and pay homage to him. The genre I'm addicted to, the authors I adore, and the characters I love, all owe their existence to this pipe smoking, violin playing, swordsman.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Elinor Carlisle always assumed she would marry her childhood friend and distant cousin, Roderick Welman.  Instead he fell in love with Mary, whom Elinor and Roderick used to play with on their Aunt Laura's lavish estate.  When Mary is gruesomely poisoned by morphine, suspicions naturally fall upon Elinor.

Then Aunt Laura, who bequeathed her estate and fortune to Elinor, is also found to have died from a morphine overdose.  The murderer seems obvious to everyone - everyone, that is, except Hercule Poirot.  The Belgian sleuth summons all his powers to unravel the intricacies of a case that seems deceptively simple on the surface.

I'm so glad that the synopsis is a little off on Hercule Poirot's involvement in this book, yes he is in it, but as in The Mystery of the Blue Train, he is an almost off page participant.  He is there in the beginning, and he does solve the case in the end, but that's it.   The middle section, the huge middle section, is simply the story itself.  How the characters interacted with each other, the way misunderstandings grew into suspicions, the way characters were manipulated and discarded like trash, all take center stage.  For that matter, Poirot is only brought in at the behest of young Dr. Lord, who seems to have taken a fancy to Elinor.  He's more than an afterthought, but not by much.  And I loved this book for that reason.  It's the perfect dose of Poirot for me, too bad the rest of his books aren't as sparse in his usage.

When I first cracked the book open, I was struck be the initial similarities between it and The State Vs. Elinor Norton by Mary Roberts Rinehart.  The Rinehart proceeded this one by quite a few years, so at first I was feeling a little trepidation.  I was concerned that Dame Agatha had "borrowed" from my second favorite mystery author of all times.  Luckily, other than they both have a woman named Elinor on trial for murder, and that both books both open with the trial, and they both have a male bystander in love the with heroine,  they don't really have all that much in common.  The victims, the motives, the plot twists, and the solution, are all completely different between the two books, so by the end I was able to breathe a little easier.

I can't say that the mystery itself compelled me all that much, it was a little twisty and circumvent for my taste, but the characterization more than made up for that.  More than anything, this is a character novel, driven by them, and created for them to live their lives. From Elinor, Dr. Lord, Roderick, Mary, the two nurses taking care of Aunt Laura, to Mary's abusive father and even on down to Poirot, it's the characters that drive this story, not the mystery.  I think it's the family dynamics that turned the story in that direction, because first and foremost, it's family relationships that are at the heart of the entire damn thing.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Here is Where by Andrew Carroll

If you didn't know that Edwin Booth saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln, months before his brother assassinated President Lincoln, you aren't alone.  I had no clue, and that's the point of this book.  The author, Andrew Carroll, who had files upon files of little know historical oddities, decided to travel the United States, visiting the sites of pivotal points in American history, that most of us have forgotten about.  And forgotten is probably not the right word, let's just say this book is full of events and people that most of us never heard about, though we should have.

He had a few self imposed criteria. They had to be sites that were nationally important, not just some fun local event that didn't have that much of an impact, outside of the neighborhood it took place in.  But most importantly, they had to be unmarked, which most of the time, meant they were forgotten.

But this isn't just a book full of unconnected events and the personalities involved, instead its a travelogue that celebrates this country's past, and honors those that are trying to preserve it.  The author isn't just slapping down some dates and names, he's letting us in on the journey, allowing us to share in the discovery, to revel in our collective history.  Each trip is a separate journey, and we are right there with him, as he visits the sites and talks to the locals, gleaning information from everyone he meets.  You can feel the reverence and even the awe that he feels at times, being on location, where those we should honor, gave up their lives or fulfilled a life time of accomplishments.

He starts us off in Hawaii, not the most logical choice, nor his first choice.  Rather he is forced to accommodate his journey, to meet the demands of where he is going.  And it's with Hawaii that my studying began.  I was unaware of how a kamikaze pilot crash landed on the small island of Niihau.  Nor did I know of his capture by the locals, and how some trusted members of the community, who happened to be of Japanese heritage, tried to help him in escaping.  It's that incident that helped cement the distrust of Japanese Americans, and helped to land them in internment camps for the remainder of World War II.

What follows is a state by state tour, exploring other such events. But he doesn't go off willy nilly, or even follow in a way that makes the most geographical sense.  Instead he breaks the stops down into categories, using these events and places to explore broader themes running throughout our history.  He visits those who are trying to figure out who was here before us.  He delves into the darker side of expansion, discovery and growth.  He visits the homes of men and women who pushed our country forward through innovation and science.  He even touches upon the future, how our past teaches us about what is to come, and how there are those who are trying to preserve it for those generations to come.

And just to put out there one random fact that I never knew, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, started in Haskell County, KS.  I live in Kansas, but haven't been into the Western part of the state, I always knew that I never wanted to take a trip to Sublette.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books, for this review.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Love, Wordsmithonia Radio Style

No, I'm not in love.  And no, I have no current prospects for it.  But for some odd reason, it's been on my mind a lot lately.  I'm not sure if it's the amount of m/m romance books I've been reading since I got my NOOK last November, but love is on my mind.  I'm not even sure if I'm ready for the emotion itself, but I'm ready for the music.  There are certain songs that can make my heart skip a beat, and get me thinking of the last time I was in love, or the prospect of finding it once again.  Not sure what the Fates have in store for me in the love department, but I know that there are certain songs I will never stop listening to.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Bat - 1959

When mystery novelist, Cornelia Van Gorder, decides to rent a house in the country for the summer, she considers herself lucky to stumble upon The Oaks.  A sprawling mansion, built and owned by bank manager John Fleming, The Oaks seems like the perfect place to escape the heat of the city.

What Cornelia didn't realize was that John Fleming didn't know she would be taking the house, it was rented out by his nephew Mark Fleming, without his permission.  You see, John was on a hunting trip in the woods with his physician, Malcom Wells, and before he left, he stole a million dollars from the bank, and hid it in the house.  He set up his head cashier, Victor Bailey, to take the fall, and plans on faking his own death.  When he confesses his crime to Dr. Wells, someone dies all right, and the hunt is on for that million dollars.

When you add in the faceless killer, The Bat, to the mix, danger lurks around every corner, and down every hallway.  The Bat seems to have taken an interest in The Oaks as well, is he on the look out for the money, or is he there for a more sinister motive.  But most importantly, who is the man behind the faceless mask and steel claws?

I know for a fact that I had never seen this movie before I ran across a copy of it at The Dollar Tree, about ten years ago.  But when I saw that it had Agnes Moorehead playing Cornelia Van Gorder and Vincent Price as Malcom Wells, I had to pick it up.  Agnes Moorehead has long been one of my favorite actress, and one that I'm not sure gets the respect that she deserves these day, and Vincent Price is a legend, how can you not like him.  I'm even pretty sure I watched it that first night, and I was instantly in love.  I've sine seen the movie at least ten times, and I'm sure I'll end up watching it at least 20 times more.

What I did not know until a few years ago, is what the movie was based off of, nor did I know it was actually the third movie adaptation of the source.  It's based off the stage play, The Bat, by Avery Hopwood and Mary Roberts Rinehart.  The play itself is an adaptation of her book, The Circular Staircase.  I won't even confuse you with the fact that the play was novelized again, by Rinehart, and was called The Bat as well.  I actually have the lovely Yvette of in so many words... for cluing me in on this fact.  She did a review of The Circular Staircase, which sounded so much like this movie, that I had to do a little further reading, and sure enough, one of my favorite movies was something I could read as well.  Suffice it to say, I have since fallen in love with Mary Roberts Rinehart, a fact that many of you already know.

Enough of that, back to the movie. Directed by Crane Wilbur, the movie showcases the strengths of it's two main stars.  Agnes Moorhead shines as the strong, older woman who has taken life by the horns, and run with it.  She is independent, makes her own way, and speaks her own mind.  Even in the face of fear, she takes charge and never lets the fear overwhelm her.  It's the type of role that she was brilliant at, and the fact she gets to use that sharp wit of hers, didn't hurt.  Vincent Price is at his slimy, oily best.  I don't think there has been another actor who can play such a role, and still have the audience love him.

The rest of the case includes some great character actors.  Lenita Lane is Lizzie Allen, Cornelia Van Gorder's maid, who has been with her for years, and is hilarious.  Gavin Gordon plays Lt. Andy Anderson, who has a few secrets of his own, and may not be all he claims to be.  John Sutton is Warner, the butler turned chauffeur, who has a past of his own, and could just as easily be The Bat.  This movie also marks the last on screen appearance of Darla Hood, better know for her time with the Our Gang movies.

I'm not going to spoil the end and tell you who The Bat turned out to be, nor am I going to tell you the final body count, but I think you will be surprised by a few of the deaths.  I hope you take the time to discover this thrilling gem for yourselves.

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Memoriam: January Through June, 2014

It's almost impossible for any of us to really pay attention to all those that have passed from the public eye.  Whether they are famous or not, every year we seem to lose those that have contributed to society in ways that we may never realize.  They are actors, musicians, entertainers, politicians, activists, scientists, and writers.  They enrich our lives through their works, and without them, our lives would be just a little bit more empty.  I would like to take this time to thank many of them for their contributions.  I obviously can't include everyone on this list, so I will let those I can include, stand in for those I can't.  Whether they are on this particular list or not, we owe all of them a big thank you.

January 2014

Phil Everly, 1939-2014. American Musician, The Everly Brothers; "Wake Up Little Susie" & "All I Have to Do Is Dream".

Larry D. Mann, 1922-2014.  Canadian Actor; The Sting & Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Harvey Bernhard, 1924-2014.  American Movie Producer; The Omen & The Lost Boys.

Russell Johnson, 1924-2014. American Actor; Gilligan's Island.

Dave Madden, 1931-2014.  American Actor; The Partridge Family & Alice

Hal Sutherland, 1929-2014.  American Animator; Sleeping Beauty & He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

Ben Starr, 1921-2014. American TV Producer; The Facts of Life & Silver Spoons.

James Jacks, 1947-2014. American Movie Producer; Heart and Souls & The Gift.

Arthur Rankin, Jr., 1924-2014.  American Animator; The Hobbit, Mad Monster Party?, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and a bazillion other TV Christmas specials. 

February 2014  

Maximilian Schell, 1930-2014.  Swiss Actor; Judgement at Nuremberg & The Black Hole.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014.  American Actor; Capote & Doubt

Richard Bull, 1924-2014. American Actor; Little House on the Prairie.

Joan Mondale, 1930-2014.  Former Second Lady of the United States of America.

Shirley Temple Black, 1928-2014.  American Actress and Diplomat; Curly Top & Bright Eyes.

Sid Caesar, 1922-2014.  American Actor and Comedian; Your Show of Shows & Grease.

Ralph Waite, 1928-2014.  American Actor; The Waltons & Roots.

John Henson, 1965-2014.  American Puppeteer; The Muppet Show movies.

Mary Grace Canfield, 1924-2014.  American Actress; Bewitched & Pollyanna

Harold Ramis, 1944-2014.  American Actor, Director, Screenwriter; Ghostbusters & Caddyshack.

Jim Lange, 1932-2014.  American Game Show Host; The Dating Game & Name That Tune.

March 2014  

Glenn Edward McDuffie, 1927-2014. American World War II Veteran.

Joel Brinkley, 1952-2014. American Syndicated Columnist and Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist.

Berkin Elvan, 1999-2014. Turkish Student.

Ken Forsse, 1936-2014.  American Inventor & TV Producer behind Teddy Ruxpin.

Vincent Lamberti, 1928-2014. American Chemist & Inventor of Dove Soap.

James Rebhorn, 1948-2014. American Actor; Independence Day & Lorenzo's Oil.

April 2014 

Mary Anderson, 1918-2014. American Actress; Gone With the Wind & Lifeboat.

Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014. American Actor; National Velvet & Babes in Arms.

Frans van der Lugt, 1938-2014. Dutch Jesuit Priest Working in Syria.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1927-2014. Colombian Novelist; One Hundred Years of Solitude & Love in the Time of Cholera

Rodney "Skip" Bryce, aka DJ E-Z Rock, 1968-2014. American Musician; "It Takes Two" & "Joy and Pain"

Bob Hoskins, 1942-2014.  British Actor; Who Framed Roger Rabbit? & Nixon.  

May 2014

John Ernest Dolibois, 1918-2014. American Ambassador to Luxembourg & Nuremberg Interrogator.

Jim Oberstar, 1934-2014.  U.S. Congressman from Minnesota's 8th District.

Tony Genaro, 1942-2014. American Actor; Tremors & Hearts & Souls.

Roger L. Easton, 1921-2014. Former Head of the Space Applications Branch of the Naval Research Laboratory. Creator of the Project Vanguard Satellite System, and Inventor of GPS.

Ed Gagliardi, 1952-2014. American Guitarist, Foreigner; "Cold as Ice" & "Hot Blooded". 

Matthew Cowles, 1944-2014.  American Actor; All My Children.

Michael Gottleib, 1945-2014. American Film Director; Mannequin & Mannequin Two: On the Move.

Stormé DeLarverie, 1920-2014.  American Drag King, GLBT Activist & one of the Stonewall Rioters. 

Lee Chamberlin, 1938-2014.  American Actress; The Electric Company & All My Children.

Maya Angelou, 1928-2014. American Author ( I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings), Poet ("On the Pulse of Morning"), Dancer, Stage Actress (Porgy & Bess, The Blacks),  Film Actor (Roots), Singer ("Run Joe"), and Activist.

June 2014 

Ann B. Davis, 1926-2014. American Actress; The Brady Bunch.

Ruby Dee, 1922-2014. American Actress & Activist; A Raisin in the Sun & Jungle Fever.

Carla Laemmle, 1909-2014.  American Actress; The Phantom of the Opera & Dracula.

Casey Kasem, 1932-2014. American DJ, Radio Host, and Voice Actor; American Top Forty, Scooby Doo: Where Are You?, Super Friends, & Transformers.

Eli Wallach, 1915-2014. American Actor; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly & The Magnificent Seven.

Meshach Taylor, 1947-2014. American Actor; Designing Women & Mannequin.