Autumn Pictures II

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Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa – Part II

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Book Review: Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

* This review contains spoilers concerning the overarching Sherlock Holmes plot and some single cases as well*

Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is the second collection of short stories about the master sleuth Sherlock Holmes dutifully recorded by his best friend and fellow lodger Doctor John Watson. Again it’s an illustrious assortment of cases the consulting detective is working on and again it’s a great pleasure to read them. Being short stories they are fast paced and most of them show one or multiple of Holmes peculiar character traits and his unorthodox methods of catching criminals.

The second story collection contains 11 cases, one of them containing a narrative that’s crucial to Sherlock Holmes’ world overall. It is the case in which the famous detective allegedly dies, falling down the Reichenbach Falls locked in a struggle with his most formidable opponent – Professor Moriarty. I do find it strange to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was at this point already tired of his creation and decided to put such a (more or less) definite end to his detective’s exploits. He could simply have stopped writing, but he decided to kill his main character off. I haven’t read much about the backstory, but I do find it extraordinary. And more so still – he decided to bring Sherlock Holmes back in the end after many years and wrote more than double the material about him again (looking at my Complete Edition, I am not half-way through). It is amazing how he found the inspiration to take up his pen again and write so much more about his Baker Street sleuth after having already decided – “enough now, I will kill him in my last story to put an end to the series”. But I’m glad he did.

The last story of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Final Problem, is exactly that case in which Holmes allegedly loses his life. We don’t learn that he has survived until the next story collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes (the contemporary audience had to wait 10 years). The story introduces us to Holmes’ bitterest enemy, ex-professor Moriarty and in the same narrative stroke gets rid of him. There is a great sense of adventure in this case, as Holmes and Watson actually flee to the Continent and Moriarty is a constant threat. In the end, I think it doesn’t quite live up to that adventure, as it’s so short, and the whole affair would have been amazing as a full-length novel. As it stands, it’s a quick account of how Holmes challenged his most dangerous adversary and by sacrificing himself rid the world of this criminal. He lost his life and won the battle at the same time. Luckily, Doyle decided to revive the legend that is Sherlock Holmes and we do get to read more cases.

The case of The Reigate Puzzle is a great case in the collection as well. In it Holmes is recovering from an illness and pretends to make mistakes in his investigation of a crime only to lure out the criminals. In the end he is even attacked and Watson and the  police have to come to his aid. I think this is a quintessential Holmes case – the consulting detecive demonstrates his strange methods and acting skills and in the end it comes to a dangerous exposure of the criminal resulting in an exciting struggle. It is a treat to read, I find.

In The “Gloria Scott” and The Greek Interpreter we get to know a little more about Sherlock’s past, but as ever only morsels. In The “Gloria Scott” he recounts his first case and how he got to decide on his profession. He doesn’t act actively in this case, but in terms of his background story it’s a nice narrative. The Greek Interpreter introduces us (out of the blue) to his older brother Mycroft, who might be called quite a character himself. Again, the case itself is in the end a little inconclusive and Holmes saves his client, but doesn’t catch the criminals, but the introduction of his brother makes it worth reading.

All in all, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is another great short story collection I would heartily recommend to anyone. As long as you are familiar with the set up of Holmes and Watson in Baker Street, there is nothing to stop you picking up the book and enjoying the 11 short and entertaining records of Holmes’ exploits. The standard is very high throughout and each case presents some more of the detecive’s eccentric behaviour and methods. A real treat.

My reading tips for Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

  • The Final Problem
  • The Reigate Puzzle
  • The Naval Treaty
  • The “Gloria Scott”
  • The Greek Interpreter
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Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa – Part I

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Game Review: Lego Marvel’s Avengers

After having played Lego Marvel Superheroes I was excited to see that there was a new Lego superhero game I could get into. Admittedly, I still haven’t managed to finish the previous game (my saved game is not on my home console…), but why not try my hand at a revamped version? Lego Marvel’s Avengers is a solid Lego game like many others, but there is nothing that makes it great or even as exciting as its predecessor. It’s fun to play, but it doesn’t rise to Lego Harry Potter or Lego Marvel Superhero heights and is easier to put aside.

First of all, the level design. I think the length mostly aims for a happy medium, which is also helped by each level being seperated in 3 parts in freeplay mode. As the levels follow the stories of Avengers, Age of Ultron, Thor – The Dark World, Iron Man 3 and Captain America – Winter Soldier we frequently get into cut scenes or need to accomplish something that happens in the films (get Quicksilver to pick up Thor’s hammer etc). In a way that adherence to the story feels like an integral flaw. Often levels are simply designed to get to a certain point in the story. In a way that should make sense and work well, but unfortunately in this case many little tasks and riddles feel shoehorned in to stretch the time before reaching the next story point. Lego Harry Potter was exceptionally good at incorporating the level design in the story, which this game fails to do in my opinion. The look is great, though – the graphics cannot be faulted in any shape or form, especially for a Lego game.

The Red Bricks aren’t Deadpool’s property anymore, but instead the Collector has been integrated into each freeplay level. He is always looking for a specific item to add to his collection and in return the player receives a Red Brick. The idea itself is quite nice I think. However, if I could choose, I still prefer the Deadpool Red Brick Missions of the previous game. The player had to find the Red Brick levels scattered throughout New York and they could only be unlocked with a certain number of Gold Bricks already collected. So it took a while until all stud multipliers were unlocked and so all characters could be easily bought. In Marvel’s Avengers it is fairly easy to get to the “drowning in studs” stage, but that’s actually not a bad thing.

One new feature of this game is the use of multiple Hub areas. In the previous game we only had New York, but it was incredibly massive and I can’t say I ever got bored of it, but that might just be me. In this game we have New York, Washington DC, South Africa, Sokovia, Tony Stark’s residence in Malibu and Asgard. I like the idea and it’s nice to have other freeplay areas to explore. New York is still the largest one and while the others can be completed in a couple of hours, the Big Apple has WEEKS of quests, Gold Bricks and races in store. Maybe not quite, but it’s huge.

In Marvel Superheroes we got iconic and obscure characters from all over the Marvel Universe, but the choice was very varied and it was always exciting unlocking a new character token. Marvel ‘s Avengers falls flat on this. Some main Marvel characters are missing, for example all X-Men or the Fantastic Four. Of course I know why – this game is about the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and those characters don’t appear. But then the ranks are filled by very obscure comic book characters. That is nothing bad in itself – I actually quite like coming across a new character and once in a while checking what their place in the whole comic universe is. But I can’t help but feeling the incongruity – no well-known characters from comics, as they don’t appear on-screen in the MCU, but super obscure characters that are comic-only. I can imagine there are licensing deals involved as well. It also poses one small problem – I never know what kind of powers they have and tend to stick to the ones I know. Here the game does help a bit by always giving you two random playable characters when you start in New York after a load, so you get to know quite a few.

There is one thing, that is much better than in the previous game, though: The race quests. While Marvel Superheroes has reduced me to tears or forced me to put down the controller and leave the room a few times, Marvel’s Avengers has made these races finally possible to complete. For street-level racing you are using Quicksilver or a different fast character and they are much easier to navigate through the race rings as cars or motorcycles. Also the time limit is much more generous, so it might get tight now and again, but all of them are possible to finish. The worst races from Superheroes, the flying races, have been majorly improved upon as well. The characters respond much better and don’t accidentally boost off in the wrong direction or stop flying when they are not supposed to. I am very grateful for that update!

All in all, Lego Marvel’s Avengers is a good solid Lego game, but there is one problem: it’s a sequel and doesn’t live up to its predecessor. The game tries to steer clear of copying Lego Marvel Superheroes, but in doing that also takes away a lot of the appeal it could have had. The level design feels too rigid and uninspired at times. Basing everything on the Marvel Cinematic Universe films was supposed to help, but it seems like it hindered creativity instead. I would recommend this game to Marvel fans and gamers who are looking for the next Lego game to get into, but I would always prefer Marvel Superheroes if there is a choice.

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Tenryûji in Kyoto – Part II

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Book Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the first short story collection featuring the master sleuth himself and his trusty friend and ally Doctor Watson. Watson is our narrator and jumps back and forth in time between the cases, sometimes telling a story before his marriage to Mary Morstan, sometimes detailing an adventure that took place while he was married. Sherlock Holmes draws conclusions and forms theories from the wildest tiny details, but once he explains his logic, everything sounds perfectly reasonable. Yet – we never manage to fathom a mystery ourselves going on the same facts. Just like our narrator and ally Doctor Watson we are in awe of Holmes’ extraordinary reasoning powers.

The first short story collection features 12 adventures. I really like the length of each, as they are exactly right for reading in one session. There are always great twists involved and – at least for me – it is difficult to see them coming. Even reading some stories again after a few years, I never remember all the details, so it’s nice to come back to them and rediscover the mysteries behind the cases. The greatest appeal of the stories, though, is Holmes’ character and his methods. Doyle has created a truly inspirational character who has been around in many different incarnations in literature, TV, games and films ever since his inception in Victorian times. And I find that absolutely wonderful.

I also love that you can feel Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was very much writing for a contemporary audience, so at the time a modern audience. The stories are mostly set in the 1890 and they give a very clear picture of the times. It is clear that Holmes and Watson are modern men and know what is going in in the world (each in their own way) and they are firmly planted in that late Victorian era. Reading it today, it’s fascinating to see how they behave as modern gentlemen in a world that is now somehow remote and very outdated for us. But precisely that gives us, as a byproduct, a beautiful glimpse of Victorian day to day life, their values and attitudes.

The two stories that stand out for me are A Scandal in Bohemia and The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. A Scandal in Bohemia, the very first story, introduces us to Irene Adler, the woman who manages to outwit Holmes. She has of course become a firm favourite for adaptations, but I feel none I have seen quite does her justice. She is neither very aggressive, nor exceedingly feminine or mischievous. She has had a colourful past, but she has found someone she wants to spend her life with and she does everything to protect that future life. She is very smart and quick-thinking and despite being on different sides, she feels warmly towards Sherlock. I like her a lot as a character, but of course this is her only appearance.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle is a wonderful Christmas story. At the heart of the case is a goose and Holmes and Watson follow a trail through the whole of London – a proper wild-goose chase – with a satisfying conclusion though! The case also includes one  of those wonderful scenes in which Holmes deducts a whole life story from an abandoned hat and with that manages to find the owner among the busy bustle of London city life. It is a more cheerful story than some other mysteries and thus perfectly attuned to the Christmas spirit.

I love all Sherlock Holmes books and the first story collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a perfect start for anyone wanting to read the original cases of the Victorian master detective who is still so very present in our modern day. The actual first story is the novel A Study in Scarlet, but for anyone looking for the “proper” set up of Holmes and Watson at 221B Baker Street, The Adventures will be a better choice for the beginning. 

My reading tips for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:

  • A Scandal in Bohemia
  • The Blue Carbuncle
  • The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet
  • The Man with the Twisted Lip
  • The Adventure of the Copper Beeches
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Cornwall

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Tenryûji in Kyoto – Part I

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Book Review: Poldark (2) – Demelza

After being introduced to this book series by Winston Graham through the recent TV adaptation and becoming captivated by the first book Ross Poldark I read the next one right away – Demelza. While the standard is still very high and the narrative is just as flowing, this part is less elevating and has more of a sombre feel throughout. It still holds the fascination of very realistic characters that we’ve grown to care about and we hope to see do well.

*I will be discussing the plot now, so anyone not wanting to read spoilers, simply skip to the final paragraph in bold*

The book opens with Demelza giving birth to their first child, their daughter Julia, which brings Ross and her much happiness. Over the course of the book Ross tries to raise his mine’s profit by founding a smelting company that has no ties to the others, especially the ones under Warleggan control, and can thus bid for the ore independently and in time produce fairer prices for the mines. A new doctor comes to the district, Dwight Enys, who soon strikes up a friendship with Ross. Demelza rekindles the old attraction between Verity and Captain Blamey, which all Verity’s family was opposed to. All the while Francis and Elizabeth’s family suffers for Francis’ gambling losses, while he is encouraged to play by his friend George Warleggan. So a lot of potential for conflict – and there is.

As said before, this chapter in the saga is less elevating, especially because of the tragic ending. But the characters have become so dear, so you try and follow through. They are very close to reality. Sometimes people do something and then regret it very soon after. People know better, but they still do something wrong. That is 100% taken from everyday life.

Demelza feels Verity should know marital happiness like her and seeing she is unhappy just being there for the family with no life of her own, she decides to meet Captain Blamey, Verity’s lover from years ago. Her naive curiosity takes her into an awkward situation. Especially she has no eye for the consequences – which no one could have really foreseen. She succeeds and in bringing the two together, she is causing a big rift between the Nampara Poldarks and the Trenwith Poldarks, which in the end through a long chain of unfortunate circumstances leads to her own daughter’s death. She only meant for the best, took an unusual path and that backfired in the worst possible way.

Already now there is a lot of looking back to better times. Ross and Demelza had a short period of bliss, just the two of them, but life has carried them further now. They keep referring back to those times as in the past, which is very sad to read sometimes. Julia’s heartbreaking death at the end just underlines that again. There is no way back. What has happened has happened and will always stand there in their past reflecting on the present. The way Julia’s death is broken to the audience is very sudden and shocking and creates a real feeling of abrupt loss.

The book is fiction, but does not depict a perfect world. Bad things happen to good people and people with selfish intentions progress in the world. There are perfect marriages by chance, like Ross and Demelza’s, and dearly wished marriages from one side turn out to be mismatched and misjudged, like Mark and Keren’s or even Elizabeth and Francis’. It’s the unpredictability of what may happen and all those unforeseen consequences of seemingly trifling actions that can turn whole lives upside down. And precisely because you don’t know what’s going to happen, you want to read on and know more.

Despite the darker and grittier mood in Demelza, this book continues the Poldark saga and again we feel for the characters and want to know how their lives unfold. They are realictic people caught in many testing and difficult situations and every one reacts and copes differently. Even when there are darker spells in life, people always find hope and pick up their lives and shape them into something new. While in Demelza the straining times take up more of the book, the last page anticipates a brighter future, in time. And I certainly want to read about that in the next part, Jeremy Poldark.

 

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