Murder on the Orient Express

853510Murder on the Orient Express

By:  Agatha Christie
# of pages: 
Series:  The Hercule Poirot Mysteries (#10)
Monthly Motif (November)


Goodreads description:

Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel 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.

Isolated by the storm and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer amongst a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again…

My opinion:  This is the second Christie novel I read in a week.  Just before this I read Hallowe’en Party and didn’t enjoy it very much.  I’m pleased to say I really liked The Murder on the Orient Express!  It was mainly on my list because of the movie that was just released that I’d like to see.

Hercule Poirot is returning from solving a mystery in Syria and is able to secure a berth on the unusually crowded Orient Express on his way to Paris (and eventually to London.)  As the train begins its journey, Poirot studies the other passengers.  Little does he know, his observations will come in handy after the train becomes stuck in a snowdrift the night before a man’s body is discovered.  The man, Ratchett, was a wealthy and mysterious traveler with what the other passengers describe as a frightening countenance.  In spite of the bad vibes Poirot received from the murder victim, he decides to help his friend who works for the railway and investigate the murder.

The investigation includes interviewing all of the passengers and analyzing the evidence.  Poirot calmly listens to everyone and even though he seems confused at times, he’s also very determined to find explanations for the inconsistencies that cropped up in the search of the crime scene and the interviews.

I appreciated Poirot much more in this book than I did in Hallowe’en Party.  He’s super clever and competent and I liked how he handled the case at the end when he presents his theory.  The reader can tell how logical and driven he is to discover the truth, but at the same time, he allows his emotions to briefly show at the end.  He’s just the man I’d want to help me solve a mystery!

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Unique plot, still a relevant story over 80 years after publication.

Gone Girl

Gone Girl
By: Gillian Flynn

Challenge:  RIP VIII

Published: 2012

# of pages: 415

Official description:  Marriage can be a real killer. 
One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn. 
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.

My opinion:  I thoroughly enjoyed this book!  I definitely neglected my children at times while reading Gone Girl.  The book moved at a good pace and constantly kept my attention.  The characters were both likable and unlikable at times.  When I wasn’t reading the book I’d be wondering “What happened to Amy?”  And I started rooting against Nick, hoping he’d “hang for his crime,” and changed my mind over time.  And can I just say – I know someone who is eerily similar to Amy.  I think that made me enjoy the book even more.

I do have to warn readers – this book is full of foul language.  It is also fairly sexually graphic.  The good parts of the book outweighed the bad in my opinion, but be warned.

And I’m excited that the novel is going to be made into a movie!

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Interesting/unique plot, well-written, complicated characters, lots of language and not so great (as far as morals go) characters.

Other reviews:
S. Krishna’s Books

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Life of Pi

Life of Pi
By: Yann Martel
Published: 2004
# of pages: 401
Quote:Despite attending a nominally Christian school, I had not yet been inside a church—and I wasn’t about to dare the deed now. I knew very little about the religion. It had a reputation for few gods and great violence. But good schools.”

Official description: Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.
Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel – known as Pi – has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions – Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.
But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen, his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest oftravelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.
As Yann Martel has said in one interview, “The theme of this novel can be summarized in three lines. Life is a story. You can choose your story. And a story with an imaginative overlay is the better story.” And for Martel, the greatest imaginative overlay is religion. “God is a shorthand for anything that is beyond the material – any greater pattern of meaning.” In Life of Pi, the question of stories, and of what stories to believe, is front and center from the beginning, when the author tells us how he was led to Pi Patel and to this novel: in an Indian coffee house, a gentleman told him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” And as this novel comes to its brilliant conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with the imaginative overlay is also the story that contains the most truth.

My opinion:  I loved this book more than I can say!  It is so much better than the description makes it sound.  According to the description, it sounds very intellectual and like it’s filled with lessons, but although there are several profound ideas throughout the story, that’s just what it is – a story.  If you feel intimidated by the description or even by the description of the movie, I urge you to pick up the book and try reading a few chapters.  I think you will want to continue reading just like I did.

This would be a great book club read.  I find myself wanting to discuss it with others!  I’m also eager to see the movie although before I didn’t have a desire to watch it.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Great writing, beautiful descriptions, smooth storytelling, interspersed with just the right amount of humor

Other reviews:

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The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black

By: Susan Hill

Published: 1983

# of pages: 192

Challenge: RIP VI

Official description:

What real reader does not yearn, somewhere in the recesses of his or her heart, for a really literate, first-class thriller – one that chills the body with foreboding of dark deeds to come, but warms the soul with perceptions and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story by Jane Austen.

Austen we cannot, alas, give you, but Susan Hill’s remarkable Woman In Black comes as close as the late twentieth century is likely to provide. Set on the obligatory English moor, on an isolated causeway, the story has as its hero one Arthur Kipps, an up-and-coming young solicitor who has come north to attend the funeral and settle the estate of Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. The routine formalities he anticipates give way to a tumble of events and secrets more sinister and terrifying than any nightmare: the rocking chair in the nursery of the deserted Eel Marsh House, the eerie sound of pony and trap, a child’s scream in the fog, and, most dreadfully, and for Kipps most tragically, the woman in black.

The Woman In Black is both a brilliant exercise in atmosphere and controlled horror and a delicious spine-tingler – proof positive that that neglected genre, the ghost story, isn’t dead after all.

My opinion: This is the type of ghost story I enjoy! The Woman in Black is short, but is still a great example of the Gothic genre. The story has the feel of a novel written in the 1800s, so I was surprised that it was written in 1983. I feel like ghost stories nowadays have to be scarier and scarier, just like horror movies. People have become desensitized, which is reflected in literature and film.

Anyway, I was happy with the amount of supernatural suspense. There were times I was tensed up, just waiting…waiting… feeling so incredibly creeped out! But it isn’t overwhelming, just the perfect amount. I highly recommend this well-written ghost story to lovers of Gothic tales, lovers of suspense, and anyone who wants to try reading a story from this genre. It’s a good book to start with because it isn’t going to be too much for someone who is sensitive.

Oh yeah, and can I just say that I liked the ending as weird as that may sound? It was unexpected and definitely rounded out the novel.

Look for the movie coming out in February 2012! Looks SO creepy, it gives me goosebumps to watch the trailer.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars: It was very well-written and a great story. In order for me to give it 5 stars, however, I would want it to absorb me so much that I can’t stop thinking about it and imagine myself in the novel alongside the main character. This didn’t do that for me, so that’s why I’m giving it 4 stars instead of 5.

Other reviews:


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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

By: Stieg Larsson

Series: Millennium Trilogy, Book 1

Published: 2005 – English version in 2008

# of pages: 631

Official description:

Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo combines murder mystery, family saga, love story, and financial intrigue into a complex and atmospheric novel, with an unpredictable style, intriguing scenes, and giant twists to the plot in many places.

Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago. All these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander. Together they tap into a vein of iniquity and corruption.

It also could be described as another thriller with romantic affairs, that Salander cannot cope with.

My opinion: It took awhile for me to become interested in this book. It wasn’t until about 80 pages in that I started enjoying it. I think it may be that way with most readers. The first part concentrates on the character Mikael Blomkvist’s financial journalism career, so unless the reader is interested in financial affairs, this part won’t be interesting. Although as soon as the mystery started unraveling I was hooked! I’m surprised I enjoyed this book so much because it’s very violent and graphic. There’s a theme of sexual abuse and violence against women.

However, I loved the mystery. It was intricate, but not too complicated. I was able to work out a couple of the pieces, but the whole thing wasn’t spoiled. I couldn’t put the book down because I just had to know what happened next!

The only thing I disliked is how there’s a story within a story. There’s the beginning and end which concentrate on Blomkvist’s financial journalism career and then there’s the middle, which consists of the mystery. Thankfully the mystery makes up most of the novel, but then again, that makes the end feel especially out of place. I felt like the book had already ended, but I still had to read a lot more before the actual end. It didn’t tie together very well.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars: Very well written (and translated since it was originally written in Swedish), good character development, unique and thought provoking subject matter.

Other reviews:
You Can Never Have Too Many Books

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Bridget Jones’s Diary

Bridget Jones’s Diary

by: Helen Fielding

Published: 1996

Once again, a book I picked up at a used book sale to read for fun! I’d never seen the movie either, but was curious about the story. It seemed like it would be an easy read and sure enough, it went quickly.
The story is about Bridget Jones, a single woman who decides to journal her life for a year. She makes up several New Years’ resolutions and keeps track of her “progress” in the journal. She wants to drink less, quit smoking, lose weight, and start a serious relationship with a good guy to name a few of the resolutions.
The reader is immediately pulled into the story because of the humorous point of view. Bridget is an independent woman, but also has a need to please people and a hard time saying “no.” That puts her in countless awkward situations, but also makes her an endearing character. The book is funny, but there’s also a serious undertone. Bridget’s life is shaken by family problems as well as personal problems. She very much wants certain things and it’s hard for her when they always seem out of reach.
I think it’s safe to say that this is based off of the novel Pride and Prejudice (including a character named Mr. Darcy!). I liked this modern twist and recommend it to adults who want an easy read, something funny and (for the most part) lighthearted, fans of chick lit, and those who enjoyed the movie. Which, by the way, is almost as good as the book.

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Eat Pray Love

Eat Pray Love

by: Elizabeth Gilbert

Published: 2006

# of pages: 334

Quote: “And the ‘highways’ are horrible, made surreally dangerous by the dense, mad prevalence of Bali’s version of the American family minivan – a small motorcycle with five people crowded on it, the father driving with one hand while holding the newborn infant with the other (football-like) while Mom sits sidesaddle behind him in her tight sarong with a basket balanced on her head, encouraging her twin toddlers not to fall off the speeding motorbike, which is probably traveling on the wrong side of the road and has no headlight.” -p. 289 (thanks Elizabeth Gilbert for describing so perfectly what I always try to tell people about my travels to Indonesia!)

I’ve been hearing about this book for about a year now and have always been intrigued. Mainly by the title and the cover, but I sort of knew what the book was about and it sounded interesting too. I went to a used book sale a couple of months ago at the school my mom teaches at (it was a fund raiser). I saw this book and immediately grabbed it because it’s one I’ve been meaning to read, but haven’t felt motivated enough to check it out at the library and really get around to it. We just went on a vacation to New Orleans and I was unable to make it to the library before the trip. So I went to the pile of books I bought and this one called out to be read first.

This is a memoir by a woman who left her husband, her home, and her country behind to “find herself.” Finding herself meant finding her place (physically, emotionally, and mentally), what she enjoys, and how she connects to God. After her divorce she travels to Italy (eat), India (pray), and Indonesia (love).
In Italy, Gilbert…eats. It’s her pursuit of pleasure and as most of us would do if we wanted to solely pursue pleasure, she ate and relaxed. She made lots of friends, did some traveling, and ATE. It makes me want to go to Italy and eat too!! I also admire how she was able to put aside the guilt that often accompanies American women while eating. She does say that she was underweight before she arrived in Italy, but she also admits that she more than made up for it and even had to buy more jeans because she grew out of her regular pairs! I think she did a great job in Italy.
In India, Gilbert goes to an ashram (a place of Yogic devotion) where she spends the entire 4 months learning to pray and meditate. She does make some friends, but her conversations with those friends mainly consist of discussions of prayer and meditation. Although she does discuss more of her past… and how it is getting in the way of prayer and meditation. Blah. I wish I could say I enjoyed this part or admire Gilbert for her accomplishments, but I mostly found it boring. I was also a little annoyed that although she claims to believe that all paths and religions lead to God (they just all go about it in different ways according to her), she seems to be condescending about Western Christianity at times. If it’s equal to Yoga or Hinduism or whatever other religion, then why seem to sneer at it? I noticed that Gilbert seemed to scoff at several things American in the book though. Part of me understands this, sometimes I feel that Americans don’t have the same grasp of reality that the rest of the world has, but then again, I don’t think I’d go around claiming that all things are equal and have God in them and then do that. I am an open minded person and although I don’t believe that all religions and spiritual paths lead to God, I do understand why other people believe what they believe and I don’t expect them to be the same as I am.
In Indonesia (Bali), Gilbert tries to find a balance of pleasure and the discipline of meditation. I think she does a great job. She spends part of each day in prayer and meditation, but doesn’t let it consume her life the way she did at the ashram. She’s secure enough that she can also make friends and spend a lot of time hanging out with them or relaxing with a book or traveling around town. She connects to people a lot more in Bali, making two friends in particular, Wayan and Felipe. Because she’s so secure in who she is at this point, she’s able to give to these friends without getting lost in them. I found the descriptions of Bali to be fascinating!!! Their culture and the way they live…it’s so unique. I’ve been to Java before (Jakarta and a coastal town) and expected Bali to be like Carita, the beach town I visited. However, Bali is not predominantly Islamic and it has its own customs and traditions.
Overall I was disappointed in the book after hearing all of the hype. Gilbert’s writing style seemed almost juvenile at times. Sometimes it seemed pointless how selfish she was being. But I guess that was the path she HAD to take (although she didn’t really HAVE to, but she felt like she did, so same thing I guess). I’m just glad that not everyone needs to do that. It kind of makes me sad that she felt she had to do all of that stuff just to find happiness and contentment and her place in the world. Also that she had to do so much WORK to find God. But she did have an amazing adventure and met so many great friends, so even if she went out of her way to find God and happiness, at least it was worth it just for the friends she made.
When I was almost done with the book I saw the preview for the movie. I had no clue there was a movie in production!! I was watching it and suddenly realized why it seemed familiar….”I’m reading that book!” I’m actually really excited about the movie, I think it’s going to be better than the book. Of course, I’m a Julia fan, so that helps. But I think that the movie will take the best of each section of the book. Hopefully it won’t go into so much detail with the meditation…after all, they don’t want the audience to be bored watching someone chant and meditate. Anyway, definitely looking forward to that.
I recommend this to adults who enjoy memoirs and the contemporary non-fiction “finding yourself” genre. I also recommend this to people who love traveling/other cultures and enjoy reading about other people’s travels.

Other Reviews:

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