Review: Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie, narr. Kenneth Branagh

Review: Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie, narr. Kenneth BranaghMurder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Narrator: Kenneth Branagh
Published by HarperAudio ISBN: 0062847929
on October 24th 2017
Format: Audio
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five-stars

A new recording of the most widely read mystery of all time, performed by Kenneth Branagh.

Now a major motion picture from Twentieth Century Fox, releasing November 10, 2017 and directed by Kenneth Branagh.

"The murderer is with us - on the train now..."

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.

My husband and I decided to listen to this on audio as we cook dinner—listening to books while we cook has become a habit. I hadn’t read this one yet. In fact, I haven’t read anything else by Agatha Christie except And Then There Were None. I had the advantage of not having the mystery spoiled for me, so I will not spoil it for you, either (just in case). However, I will say it was quite a satisfying murder mystery, and I was guessing up until the end.

This was my first Hercule Poirot book, and I haven’t really watched any movies or television featuring the character, either. He definitely owes something of a debt to Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes, and I liked him. Kenneth Branagh is an excellent narrator. He does accents really well, which is something I noted when listening to his reading of Heart of Darkness. He even does a really good American accent. His reading of Mrs. Hubbard was fantastic.

I know the reason he read this book is that it’s a movie tie-in for the film he directed and starred in last year. I might want to watch it. It has a stellar cast, though reviews on IMDb are not awesome.

If you haven’t read this book, treat yourself to this audio version. You won’t be disappointed. Kenneth Branagh is a great reader.

This book counts towards the British Books Challenge, as Agatha Christie is a British writer, though the book is set in modern-day Croatia (Yugoslavia at the time). Because of its setting, I’m also counting it for the Literary Voyage Around the World Challenge. I’m counting it as my selection for a classic crime story for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

five-stars

Review: House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Review: House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel HawthorneThe House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Published by Brilliance Audio ISBN: 1597371343
on June 25th 2006
Genres: Classic
Pages: 13
Format: Audio
Goodreads
three-stars

From the author of >The Scarlet Letter comes a landmark of American literature, an embodiment of the greed which can compel people to treacherous actions.

Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables is a study of guilt and renewal from generation to generation. At the time of the Salem witch trials, the patriarch of the Pyncheon family finds himself so covetous of his neighbor’s property that he is led to sinister deeds, turning the community against his neighbor who is ultimately hanged for witchcraft. Though his plot to acquire the land is successful, the dying man's curse on the Pyncheon family comes true generation upon generation. That is, until six generations later when the long-hidden truth is revealed….

This novel is part of Brilliance Audio's extensive Classic Collection, bringing you timeless masterpieces that you and your family are sure to love.

My family visited the actual House of the Seven Gables some years ago.

I’m not sure how much resemblance the actual house shares with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fictional version, but ever since visiting the house, I’ve had Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables on my TBR pile. I picked it up to read some years ago and stalled out. My husband suggested we listen to it as we cook dinner, and I was game.

First, let me say the narrator, Buck Schirner, was great. His Hepzibah Pyncheon was brilliant. In theory, the story idea is intriguing as well: a house with a storied history, haunted by the ghosts of the past, including an accused Salem witch; a family curse. There are some genuinely good moments. As a whole, the book doesn’t compare to The Scarlet Letter, or even to Hawthorne’s short stories. After a certain point, I was just ready for it to be over, to be truthful. I don’t know what it says that my favorite character is the little boy, Ned Higgins, who develops a taste for Hepzibah’s gingerbread menagerie.

This book counts as my Nineteenth Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

three-stars

Review: A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

Review: A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’EngleA Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet, #1) by Madeleine L'Engle, Anna Quindlen
Published by Square Fish ISBN: 0312367546
Genres: Classic, Fantasy/Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 247
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four-stars

Meg Murry and her friends become involved with unearthly strangers and a search for Meg's father, who has disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government.

I first read this novel in elementary school, probably fourth or fifth grade. I decided I wanted to see the movie, but since it had been so long since I had read the book, I thought I should read it again.

Wrinkle in Time Old Cover
The cover of the copy of A Wrinkle in Time I had when I was a kid.

Things I remembered:

  • Meg Murry is pretty badass.
  • Charles Wallace is an awesome character.
  • Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which are a lot of fun.
  • There is this thing called a tesseract, and Meg has to save her father.

Things I had no memory of whatsoever:

  • The religious overtones.
  • Wow, Meg and Calvin got really close fast, didn’t they?
  • Just how long Meg’s father had been gone.

New observations:

  • Meg and Charles Wallace might be on the autism spectrum. My children are, and Meg and Charles Wallace remind me of them.
  • The storyline really moves fast. I mean, much faster than I remembered. Almost too fast (see below).

I haven’t read a middle grades novel in a long time, and I kept thinking, hold up! You’re going too fast! You need to develop that a bit more! I thought maybe, well, this is the speed you need to go with middle grades fiction, but after finishing the book, I’m not so sure. I think some parts were just unevenly developed. As a result, I didn’t buy Meg and Calvin’s friendship. Too fast, even for a kids’ book. I forgot how creepy Camazotz was. In the end, IT was not as scary to me as the spreading darkness. Plus, hold up: what parent leaves a child behind on Camazotz like Mr. Murry does? Unthinkable. I will probably read the other books in the series because I never did read the whole series. I think I read A Wind in the Door. That’s probably it.

I’m counting this book as my children’s classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

four-stars

Reading Challenge Check-In

I finished my first book for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge this week. My husband and I listen to audiobooks when we cook dinner. He hadn’t read Jane Austen before. I’ve actually read all of the complete Jane Austen novels; I haven’t read the juvenilia, letters, Lady Susan or Sanditon. I steered him away from Mansfield Park, and Emma is a sort of long one. I actually recommended Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, but Steve wanted to try Northanger Abbey because he’d heard that it was a send-up of gothic novels. It is also one of the shorter Austen novels, and it’s her earliest novel, though it wasn’t published until after she died. I’m counting this novel under the category of favorite classic re-read. I wouldn’t say it’s my absolute favorite classic novel, but it had been about ten years since I read it, and Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors. I hadn’t re-read this one as I had Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, so it was probably time. My husband loved Mr. Tilney’s sense of humor and shook his head at Catherine’s drama. He figured out the Thorpes were horrible right away. A couple of observations: I teach teenagers, and man, teenage girls have not changed at all in 200 years. Re-read any of the parts detailing Catherine and Isabella’s intrigues and it could be set today. Actually, this novel might not make for a bad modernization à la Clueless. In fact, even Catherine’s infatuation with gothic stories works if one takes the vampire/werewolf/witch fads under consideration. One of the reasons I love Jane Austen in general and this book, in particular, is Austen’s famous wit. Juliet Stevenson read the audiobook, and she was excellent.

I’m also slowly catching up on the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. We had two snow days this week, so no school, and I read five Sherlock Holmes stories:

  • “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”: Sherlock Holmes’s client John Hector McFarlane is a young lawyer accused of murdering one of his own clients but despite the mounting evidence, Holmes smells a fraud. Rating: ★★★★☆
  • “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez”: Inspector Stanley Hopkins seeks Holmes’s help to solve the murder of a young secretary Willoughby Smith, in the employ of invalid professor Coram. Rating: ★★★★☆
  • “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”: Violet Smith seeks Holmes’s help when she notices a man following her as she rides her bicycle to the train station to return home on weekends from her job as a music teacher. While the man never harms her, she is uneasy about him, and she is also uneasy about her employer Mr. Carruthers and his weird friend Mr. Woodley. Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • “The Adventure of the Three Students”: University lecturer Hilton Soames contacts Holmes for help preventing a scandal. He left an exam he planned to give three students competing for a scholarship on his desk, but his servant left the key in the door, and Soames knows that one of the students has looked at the exam. Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • “The Adventure of Black Peter”: Peter Carey, a former whaler known as Black Peter, is found gruesomely murdered with a harpoon. While most people agree he probably had it coming, Holmes and Stanley Hopkins team up again to solve the murder. Rating: ★★★★½

Of these five stories, I probably liked “The Adventure of Black Peter” best, if only for the image of Holmes whacking away at a pig carcass with a harpoon to see how much strength it would take to murder someone with said instrument. Spoiler alert: a lot. “The Adventure of the Three Students” is one of those weird stories when Conan Doyle seems to be trying to prove his open-mindedness. For another example, “The Adventure of the Yellow Face” serves well. Of the three students, two seem more likely to cheat than the third mainly because this third is easygoing, clean-cut, and white, while the other two are 1) an Indian, and 2) a panicky, ragey guy that Soames suspects is probably behind it, but he doesn’t discount the Indian guy because he’s, you know, Indian. It’s almost like Conan Doyle is trying to say, “See? I made the bad guy be the clean-cut white guy and not the Indian or the dude with obvious issues.” “The Solitary Cyclist” is one of those damsel in distress stories that are fairly yawn-inducing. Give me Irene Adler who can take care of herself. Speaking of damsels in distress, it’s a weird thing, but no mention is made of Mary Morstan Watson. She just disappears, and all of a sudden Watson is living with Holmes at Baker Street. I know it’s mentioned in one of the stories that she died, but I don’t recall reading it. I mean, what gives? “The Norwood Builder” and “The Golden Pince-Nez” were pretty much run-of-the-mill Sherlock Holmes stories. The only reference to any of these stories from the BBC series Sherlock that I caught was from “Black Peter.” Holmes shows up covered and blood and carrying a harpoon in “The Hounds of Baskerville.”

I am now caught up with the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge through November, so now I’m just a month behind.

2018 Reading Challenges: Part One

challenge book photo
Photo by Upupa4me

It’s that time of year again! We’re halfway through December, and the new year is in sight. Time to sign up for reading challenges. I like to figure out where I might focus my reading each year, but in all honesty, I don’t actually complete most of the challenges I take on. Still, the challenges make me think about what I want to accomplish in the reading year ahead. Thanks to Kim and Tanya for collecting a great list of reading challenges and updating the list each week.

The first challenge that catches my eye is the Author Love Challenge. I’m in for five of James Baldwin’s books.

I think I participated in the Back to the Classics Challenge a couple of years back, and it was a great one for helping me focus my reading. Like a lot of people, I have a list of classics I keep meaning to get to. I’m just now reading 1984, for example. I’m in for six categories, but I’m not sure which ones at the moment.

I like to do some kind of challenge involving reading books from the UK because I love British literature. This year I participated in the British Books Challenge, and I plan to participate again next year. I’m not sure what I will read. This year, I completed the challenge with ten books, but I didn’t review most of them because most of them were re-reads. I think this year, I will try to read at least five, all of which are new to me.

I’m in once again for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. I have done this one many times. I don’t think I’m meeting my goal this year, but that’s fine. Historical Fiction is my favorite genre, but because I’m trying to branch out, I’ll shoot for five books—Victorian Reader.

I love theme-y types of challenges, and the Monthly Motif Challenge looks like a fun way to diversify my reading selections. I’m going to try to participate each month and read a total of 12 books toward the challenge.

I can’t resist any challenge that asks me to “travel” through books. I’m signing up for the Literary Voyage Around the World Challenge, and I’m shooting for Literary Hitchhiker, 25-40 countries. I’d like to think I could branch out a bit more and do more than the minimum, but looking at my usual reading patterns, I think 25 will even be a stretch for me. It will be a good excuse to diversify my reading.

That’s it for now. I’ll write a new post for any additional challenges that I might want to do. I’m purposely not doing any challenges that require me to tackle books I already own or that are already in my TBR pile. I found those challenges limiting and hard for me to complete, especially when really good books came out that I wanted to read—those books tended to go on my TBR pile, and I wound up spinning my wheels a bit.