I8 Media: Mary Balogh, Jane Austen, and Sherlock Overseas

As we hit another weekend, it’s time for “stuff that I’ve consumed over the past week and my opinions of them”:

I’ve never understood the resistance in the popular culture to reading romance novels. What’s so unattractive about women writing about loving men and how much they enjoy sex? If you want to know what women want, romances give you some idea (what they want as individuals, however, is another matter).

Mary BaloghBeside, I plain like reading well-written stories, and that means I read widely, but not very deeply. In romance, that means Eloisa James, Jennifer Weiner, Jayne Anne Krentz, and Marion Chesney. With my wife’s help, I also discovered individual novels like Meg Cabot’s “Boy Meets Girl” – told entirely in the medium of written and spoken words like voicemail messages, emails, memos, and even a Mexican restaurant menu.

All of this is background to explain why I just finished “Someone to Wed,” the third book in Mary Balogh’s Westcott series. My wife’s read her work for years, and she handed me the first book, “Someone to Love.” This book hooked me on the series with the bombshell revelation that alters the destiny of nearly everyone in the titled and wealthy family, with the reverberations playing out through the rest of the series.

Balogh’s books fit firmly in the “comfort read” category. The level of actual conflict is low, the emotional conflict is high (her heroines are mistreated as children or betrayed as adults, leaving deep psychic wounds that have to be addressed). But the family members love and support each other that makes one wish you had them in your own lives.

Pride and Prejudice

I also filled in my knowledge of Jane Austen, watching Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth Bennett in the “Pride and Prejudice” movie, and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC series from the mid-1990s. While I loved the Knightly version – she conveys Elizabeth’s youthful energy and sexy tomboyish charm – I learn more about the book from the six-episode BBC series.

kiera knightly

And Matthew Macfadyen cannot compete with Colin Firth, but I must admit I saw him first as the hapless husband in the hilarious Frank Oz-directed “Death at a Funeral.” (link to YT trailer)

dinklage macfadyen death at a funeral

Come to think of it, Peter Dinklage would make a more interesting Darcy than Macfayden.

We’ll round out our education with two more movies inspired by the book: “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (which I didn’t realize until recently stars a Doctor Who and Cersei Lannister, so I’m REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS!).

Sherlock Overseas

As part of my researching for the upcoming volume 6 in the 223B Casebook series, I read “Sherlock in Russia” and “Sherlock in Shanghai.” These are two translations of Holmes stories written by Russian and a Chinese writer. No one would confuse these with the real thing, but these were competently written tales that reflected life and attitudes in those countries. The Russian stories were written around 1907-8 and hence won’t make it into the series (that book’s already published), but I have a request into the University of Hawai’i Press to reprint one of the Shanghai stories. I don’t know if the price will be too high, but if I can afford it, I think it will be a worthwhile read.

I should mention that Sherlockian Dan Andriacco recently published through the Wessex Press “House of the Doomed,” his attempt at writing a novel-length tale in the style of the Conan Doyle stories. On Dan’s Baker Street Beat blog, he writes about how he approached writing “Doomed.” He paid close attention to the characteristics of the canonical stories, and I’m hoping it paid off.

As for Volume 6, most of the work is already done. The footnotes have been written and edited, and I’m in the midst of writing the introductions to each of the stories. Best of all, I already have a draft of the new “TwainLock” story. It needs some tightening and tweaking, but I’m really happy to have Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes together again, investigating the mysterious death of an undertaker in Twain’s, Hartford, Conn. This also gave me a chance to write about Twain’s wonderful home, and even include a cameo by his wife, Livy!

Safety Not Guaranteed

One of two time-travel movies we recently saw. This was indy-produced, but it was as funny and satisfying as a mainstream entertainment. (In fact, we liked it much better than “Looper,” which was incomprehensible and stupid at times, but finished with an audience-pleasing ending that explains its good numbers at Rotten Tomatoes. I think it also explained why director Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars” movies produced some disappointments among people who long loved the series. Story management is not his strength.