Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume 2

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Genre: Fiction/Mystery
Pages: 871
Warnings: Some Racism, Sexism, Murder and Kidnapping
Rating: 3.5/5

The Return of Sherlock Holmes
The Valley of Fear
His Last Bow
The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes

I suppose I started reading this collection for the same reason I watch regular TV shows every week. I wanted consistently interesting short stories, and that's exactly what I got. However I made a mistake reading them all straight through in this convenient collection, and the formulaic plots bothered me more than they would have otherwise.

One thing I cannot get over, and I think the whole Sherlock collection looses points for, is the lack of humor. There is just no comic relief in these tales, which made them difficult to read one after the other. I don't think this would have bothered me as much if I'd had another book to alternate between, but I was in a bit of a dry spell, literature-wise. Some might argue Sir Doyle attempts humor in those scenes where Holmes asks Watson what he thinks about such-and-such then corrects him, and the reader is supposed to laugh at the doctor's thick-headedness, but I just felt bad for him. Watson is a dear character, and when you that remember from the reader's point of view (based on the evidence the reader has) his guess is just as likely to be true as Holmes', the whole joke seems very mean-spirited.

I mentioned it in my review of Volume 1, and I will only bring it up briefly, but Sir Doyle's portrayal of minority characters (anyone not white, land-owning, and male) leaves a lot to be desired. If he can't write non-priveledge bodies as being anything but a stereotype, I'd rather he didn't write them at all. Less briefly: it bothers me even more after reading "The Case of the Three Students", where the Indian student is treated by Holmes exactly like the two other (rich, british, white) students in the context of the story, which proves Sir Doyle could have written much more humanistic characters.

I did notice an improvement in terms of the mystery complexity, which I appreciated. No where is this more evident than in "The Valley of Fear", which uses an extremely similar set-up to "A Study in Scarlet". Both stories have two parts, the first of which takes place in 1890's England and the second some years previous in America. However everything else about "The Valley of Fear" is a vast improvement! The murder mystery is much more clever, the action is better paced, and the second part was well-introduced as well as being a mystery story in it's own right! Clearly Sir. Doyle had come into his own as an author by this point, and his skills greatly improved with practice.

I also enjoyed the change in Watson's "voice" over time. Sir Doyle seems much more comfortable in his writing abilities by "The Valley of Fear", and I felt there was less awkward prose. I noticed Sir Doyle has a very fanciful way of describing the scene, which appeals to me greatly. I shall always imagine a foggy London day as John Watson saw it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: Ending Elder Abuse, A Family Guide

Authors: Diane S. Sandell and Lois Hudson
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 144
Warnings: Descriptions and images of Abuse
Rating: 2/5

There is so much valuable information contained in this book! I wish it had been presented in a way that didn't take away from the content. Despite the title "a family guide", this book seems to have at least two additional goals. The book starts by telling the story of Ms. Sandell's personal experience with elder abuse, which is obviously not a guide, but does make the reader aware of the horrors of elder abuse. Mingled in the family guide are encouragements to lawmakers and CEO's to take elder abuse seriously, and consider creating grass-roots groups that would be able to enact change. Instead of being a family guide this book opens with a personal testimony and combines family-specific advise with advocacy advice, and this lack of clarity left me without any clear guidance.

I have no problem with Ms. Sandell's personal testimony, because the story itself was heartbreaking, and it encourages readers to use the data in the guide portion of the book. Ms. Sandell relates how she placed her mother, Bessie Jarvis, in a nursing home nearby. One day an orderly called her to say her mother was injured. When Ms. Sandell arrived her mother was covered with bruises, including a hand-print on her face. No one had reported this incident, and she was told by the facility that sometimes the elderly bruise easily. No one wanted to accept or admit what happened to her mother. It was terrible to read, especially when I imagined something like that happening to my loved ones. However Ms. Sandell refused to let things lie, and she discovered a network of people who were working to stop elder abuse, in all its forms. She went on to affect legislation in her home state of California, and continues to this day to participate in community outreach programs. 

The next few chapters are a jumbled mass of suggestions, advise, resources and coping mechanisms, in a haphazard and disconnected order. I believe the remaining chapters are meant to function has a comprehensive personal guide for caretakers when their elders can no longer live alone. However the formating in these chapters is variable, and the content is not organized. I feel the later chapters in this book could benefit greatly from rewriting. 

All together, this book was only a partial success. The first few chapters made me aware of elder abuse as a systematic and absolutely awful tragedy. They also left me with an urge to do something to affect positive change in this dire situation. However, the "guide" portion of this book was highly confusing, and left me with no clear idea about what I could do. There was some very useful advice for how to assess long-term facilities, but they were hidden in the back of the appendix!