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
Buy on Amazon (paid link)
Goodreads
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

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.

Review: The House Between Tides, Sarah Maine

Sarah Maine’s novel The House Between Tides begins with a mystery. Hetty Deveraux (which feels too much like a name only a novel character would have) travels to a remote manse belonging to her ancestors and discovers a body has been found under the floorboards. Hetty soon finds herself untangling a century-old murder as she tries to determine what to do about Muirlan House—tear it down and try to preserve the island’s unique character, as the inhabitants of Muirlan Island think best, or renovate it into a resort hotel as her partner Giles urges her to do. Meanwhile, Hetty becomes curious about her ancestors. The island had once been the inspiration and refuge of her great-grandmother Emily’s brother Theo Blake, a famed painter. Hetty discovers that Theo’s wife deserted him under mysterious circumstances, and she begins to fear she knows whose bones were found underneath the floorboards of Muirlan House. Meanwhile Beatrice Blake, Theo’s wife, tells her story in flashbacks. The the stories of two women, living a century apart, link inextricably with family secrets and a crumbling ancestral home in the space between them.

I have to admit this book was a slow starter for me, even with the discovery of a body under the floorboards. Maine does a great job of creating the atmosphere of Muirlan Island in the Outer Hebrides, a remote and unforgiving landscape that nonetheless lures both Hetty and Beatrice with its fierce beauty. Once the story gets going, however, it’s pretty good. Some aspects of the plot were a little easier to guess than others, and the unraveling of the mysteries that lay buried for so many years made for a satisfying ending. However, I was a good third of the way through the book and contemplating giving up on it before it started to capture my interest. I enjoyed the rest of the book. The parallels between Hetty and Beatrice were interesting, and the family secrets intrigued me enough to persevere through some of the parts that dragged. I have seen some reviewers claim not to have enjoyed the parts set in 2010 with Hetty, but I actually found them more interesting because the discovery of the body as well as Hetty’s conflicted feelings about her partner and his plans for her ancestral home were intriguing to me. I love historical fiction, and at first, I found Beatrice’s story the less interesting of the two. However, as I kept reading, Beatrice grew on me. The book is compared to Daphne Du Maurier’s atmospheric writing, which is a shame because few writers can create a brooding setting like Du Maurier, and anyone suffers by comparison. I think I need to stop having such high expectations of anyone whose work is compared to Du Maurier’s. Still, it was a good read, and the setting was well drawn, if perhaps the characters were not always—I found the minor characters very difficult to keep straight, and the family trees impossible. I also found parts of the story frustrating as I hoped Maine was going somewhere with a thread that was never quite woven in well enough.

Rating: ★★★½☆

I am counting this book toward the following reading challenges:

Beat the BacklistI am counting this book for the Beat the Backlist Challenge. This book has been on my Kindle since last September, but I didn’t start reading it until recently. It was published in 2016, and therefore meets the challenge’s qualification of being released before 2017. I read this on my Kindle, but Goodreads says the paperback version has 400 pages, which is the equivalent of 40 points for Ravenclaw, and posting this review should net 50 more points for a total of 90.

Because about half the book takes place in 1910, I’m also counting it for the Historical Fiction Challenge. In addition, Sarah Maine is a British writer, so this book counts towards the British Books Challenge.

British Books Challenge

Finally, as the book is set in Scotland, part of the UK, it also counts as part of the European Reading Challenge, though this is the only UK book that will count toward the challenge.

European Reading Challenge 2017

A Few More 2017 Reading Challenges

I have found a few more 2017 reading challenges I want to participate in since my recent post about next year’s reading challenges. I have to thank Tanya Patrice at the GirlXOXO for maintaining such a comprehensive list of reading challenges. I have been checking in periodically to see what’s been added to her list.

The Backlist Reader Challenge 2017The Backlist Reader Challenge will give me a reason to read some of the older books that have been on my shelf for a while. I tend to do that anyway, and to review them, even if they are not new and have been out in some cases for years and years. What I like about this challenge is any books that are older than 2016 and have been on my TBR pile can count, whether I own them already or not. I can think of plenty of books that meet both qualifications. Anyway, my goal is to read 20 books for this challenge, but I think I’ll play it by ear and see how the year goes. It will be a good opportunity to chip away at my backlist.

Beat the BacklistTo that end, I’m also participating in the Beat the Backlist Reading Challenge mainly because there is a House Cup competition. Ravenclaw, represent! Just to make it interesting and to challenge myself to chip away at more of my backlist, I am not going to count books toward both challenges. I will count them for one or the other, trading back and forth as I chip away. This challenge allows books published in 2016, so I may put in some books I published this year that I haven’t read yet for this one. I will also try to read 20 books for this challenge, but I’m not sure which ones I will target yet.

British Books ChallengeI love British literature, and I was pleased to find the British Books Challenge, which is similar to one I’ve done in the past, but hadn’t been able to locate again. I’m supposed to declare which authors I plan to read, but I’m honestly not sure. I have a ton of authors in my backlist as well as some I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Definitely some Zadie Smith, I think. I have been wanting to read her for a while, and this challenge will give me a good excuse. I might try to tackle George Eliot finally. I need to read Middlemarch. I was also thinking about Elizabeth Gaskell because I really want to watch the miniseries of North and South, and I was thinking of reading it first. Perhaps I can return to some favorites: the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen? I’ve also wanted to read “The Goblin Market,” so perhaps a collection of Christina Rossetti poems? It might also be time to re-read Possession by A. S. Byatt. When is the third Cromwell book by Hilary Mantel coming out, anyway? I promise, if it’s 2017, I’ll put everything aside when it comes out to finish that series. I never did finish her book on the French Revolution, either. I am sure I’ll think of others. I will probably count books I read for either backlist challenge toward this challenge as well, if they fit the parameters. I’m setting a goal of ten books for this one.

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI am really tempted by this Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge, particularly in light of new Sherlock episodes. I think I’ll sign up and see if I can make it work. I haven’t read all the stories in over 20 years. I did fly through all of Sherlock Holmes one summer when my oldest was a baby, and she’s 23 now. I reckon I could give it another go. I remember that being quite an enjoyable reading summer, too. The idea of this challenge is to read all four novels and all 56 short stories. I actually have the complete collection around this house somewhere. The challenge runs for 16 months, too, which seems completely reasonable.

Well, I think that’s enough to be getting on with for now. Still, I’m excited about all four of these challenges. I don’t think I’ll sign up for any more, however, unless the Historical Fiction Challenge runs again (haven’t seen a sign-up post for it yet), and, of course, the R. I. P. Challenge. One further goal: to actually post linkups to my reviews on the challenge websites and participate in the challenges beyond crossing books off my list.