Ramadhan Hiatus

It's been sooooo long since I've posted anything that I have to get re-acquainted with my blog! It's not that I haven't been reading; to pass the time in this hot and humid weather with the special bonus of not being able to drink anything (Fasting Month!), I go through a lot of books. But mostly, they're just Agatha Christie re-reads or books that I don't have to pay a lot of attention to while reading. I have the massive War and Peace waiting patiently to be started, but in this state, I don't dare to touch it yet. Let a month pass before I begin that particular novel.

As it is, I knew I would be lazy about getting a post up, so I thought: why not just do an update post about the books I've been reading and will soon post reviews of? I have plenty of ideas swimming around in my head, and rather than letting them slip out, it'd be better to just jot them down in a post of their own. So here it goes:

Books I have read and not posted reviews of yet:

They Found Him Dead
The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Eat Pray Love
The Thirteen Problems
Miss Marple's Final Cases
The Witness for the Prosecution and Selected Plays
Hallowe'en Party
The Seven Dials Mystery
Postern of Fate

I'll get to these as soon as my brain decides to function without food or water! Besides my overdue reviews, I have to catch up on some of my challenges. Now, the 2012 TV Addict Reading Challenge I've long given up on for the simple reason that the books are unavailable to me and I can't afford to order so many. That's somewhat sad for me but, hey, there are other books and other challenges; The Historical Challenge, I am happy to say, I have almost completed. With only one book to go, I should be able to finish it in the remaining months. Finally, we have the New Authors Challenge for which I have a couple of new books lined up (the reviews, of course, I'll be posting in August).

It has also been quite some time since I've posted anything new on my Why haven't they made the movie?! feature. For me, there are always plenty of books I'm only too ready to have turned into movies, and I have the perfect book in mind. Watch soon for a post on Cotillion to pop up! My other feature, My Blind Date with a Book, overlaps with the New Authors Challenge so I'll be updating that soon as well.

Destination Unknown

Rating: ****
Another novel with the same theme: the fear of youth ruling the earth; a huge power looming up to take over the world!! Etc. But still, I have to say I liked the novel. It was mostly due to the different approach to the same theme, and the character of Hilary Craven. I liked how the novel turned out to be something quite different from what I had expected (hint, it turned out not to be all about taking over the world!).

Destination Unknown takes Hilary Craven, a disillusioned and heartbroken woman into the heart of a conspiracy. Tired and broken, she is given a chance to do something before ending her life. Traveling through unknown territory and barren deserts, will she be able to find herself along with the people she is sent to look for: a number of reputable young scientists who have mysteriously disappeared - gone behind the curtain?

Will the conspiracy remain a mystery forever? Somehow, with Agatha Christie, one never thinks so. With the usual cast of intelligent and charming characters, I enjoyed reading Destination Unknown.

Anna Karenina

What can be said about a classic? Simply that it was beautifully written. Its fluidity of expression made me glide across page after page without effort, relishing each sentence for its uncanny ability to express. I rarely come across a book that reads itself! Anna Karenina was all that and much more. It was a book that covered not only all elements of style, but of theme and characterization as well.

Anna Karenina covers the drama around Anna's life as she steps into a world of affairs and deception. Swept off her feet by the charming Count Vronsky, Anna, a married woman, finds herself moving away from all that she has known and into the life of a social outcast. We follow her through the initial deception, later revelation and final despair. Life is not all glamor and gold in the upper sphere - something we are shown through the eyes of the various characters. Side by side to this story, we have that of Kitty, a young unsophisticated girl who, rejected by Vronsky, finds herself questioning her choices and feelings of love.......

Anna Karenina fascinated me mostly because of its realism - or so I imagine life would be in the Russian upper class. I found myself drawn into the various scandals, behaviors and accepted norms of the society. The representation of the characters and their actions was satisfyingly realistic. You were sure that it could have happened in no other way. The emotions felt by Anna, by Vronsky, Levin and Kitty were those people in similar situations have felt and never been able to put into words. When you find an author who has the ability to express those intangible thoughts and feelings, reading becomes a pleasure.

As one critic puts it, "we do not judge: we watch".

Endless Night

Rating: ****
The first time I read Endless Night, I had no idea the title was taken from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence; now, a masters in English literature later, I instantly recognized the familiar poem.

Michael Rogers comes to Gipsy's Acre and falls in love with it. But how can a penniless nobody afford to buy an expensive estate? Fate introduces him to Ellie, a rich, young heiress. The young couple fall in love and decide to build the home of their dreams on the site. Unfortunately for them, there is a curse on the land and it won't leave them in peace. Things get from bad to worse until one day..........

So that I don't give it away, I won't say what other Christie novel Endless Night reminds me of. It has altogether an eerie atmosphere to it and one is never sure what it is: a love story? a psychological mystery? a supernatural novel? or just simply what is normal for Agatha Christie? a mystery? The main plot twist comes when you are well past half-way point and the ending comes as a huge surprise; but the story manages to be intriguing even before the twist and turns Agatha is most famous for. The psychological element is introduced so cleverly, so effortlessly that before you know it, you understand it all.

I find myself agreeing with critic Anthony Berkeley's views on Agatha Christie's books. Below is his take on Endless Night.

"The old maestrina of the crime-novel (or whatever is the female of 'maestro') pulls yet another out of her inexhaustible bag with Endless Night, quite different in tone from her usual work. It is impossible to say much about the story without giving away vital secrets: sufficient to warn the reader that if he should think this is a romance he couldn't be more mistaken, and the crashing, not to say horrific suspense at the end is perhaps the most devastating that this surpriseful author has ever brought off."
Definitely one of Agatha Christie's best. A story that you can relish and sink your teeth into.

The Labours of Hercules

Rating: ***
Hercule Poirot has never doubted his abilities - until one day a parallel is drawn between him and his namesake the great Hercules of Greek lore..... To live up to (or in his own mind surpass!) the glory of Hercules, Poirot decides to take up the famous labours that the Greek hero went through. The twelve stories that follow are all that an Agatha Christie fan could wish for.

The novel contains some of the most famous characters in the Christie universe including Inspector Japp and Countess Vera Rosakoff. I enjoy this novel each time I read it because it has some of the simplest and sweetest stories Christie has written. Among them is The Arcadian Deer which tells the story of a young, handsome mechanic who is searching for the woman he fell in love with, The Augean Stables which concerns the reputation of a good and honest politician (really!); The Labours of Hercules also introduces the character Amy Carnaby - a timid old lady's companion who turns out to be something more. Of course there is also the final reappearance of Poirot's one and only flame Countess Vera Rosakoff. Now old and retired from a life of crime, in Poirot's eyes, she still has more fire than all the girls of the younger generation! All in all, reading these stories passes a fun couple of hours.

A Caribbean Mystery

Rating: ***

Miss Marple is vacationing in the West Indies - an out of the world spot where her nephew Raymond hopes she will regain her health and find some time to relax. But where Miss Marple goes, murder soon follows. The first inkling she gets of something not quite right is when Major Palgrave dies from 'natural causes' a day after telling a story of a serial murderer. Apparently, the Major had a photograph of the said murderer, and yet none is found on his body! Miss Marple must figure out who Major Palgrave had recognized from the photo and who the next victim will be before it's too late....

In A Carribean Mystery, we again hit upon one of Agatha Christie's best. The setting with the confusing murder story, the misleading (yet in the end always clear!) evidence is as charmingly laid out as ever and gets the reader every time! I enjoyed the characters and was so happy that Mr. Rafiel, a rich character in the novel, was to appear in a future novel as well: Nemesis.

Sir Nigel

I have all my best ideas when I'm so sleepy that I can't write them down. Then, in the morning, they're all gone!  That was the case with what I wanted to get down about reading Sir Nigel. I've lost the words that can grasp how the novel combined the brutality of war with a sense of chivalry and romance. Sir Nigel, a young impoverished man of gentle birth, has no other desire than to fight for England. He has his chance when the King visits his home and he is made a squire to Sir Chandos, one of the bravest knights of England. War is never a pretty business, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle infuses this story with Nigel's youth and innocence and his love for Lady Mary.

Honor. Sir Nigel shows the worth of honor in 14th century England. A man's honor lies in fighting for England, for one's lady, or dying by the sword. To gain this glory, Sir Nigel takes a vow to do three deeds of honor for Lady Mary. Journeying through England, he fights battles against the French, Spaniards and all at Brittany always in the search for more honor.

I loved the character of Sir Nigel and how his optimism, energy, chivalry and honor molded him into a great knight. The novel is a pleasant way to wile away the summer hours when there is no electricity to take your mind off the heat!

This is also my fourth historical fiction book this year, which means that I have only one more to go to complete the Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry. Yay! \o/

Passenger to Frankfurt

Sir Stafford Nye is known for his sense of humour and his love of the unconventional; so, when he is given an unusual suggestion by a lady at an airport - she wants to switch places with him - he decides to gamble and willingly allows himself to be drugged. This meeting later drags him into a vortex of international conspiracy in which people are striving for world domination with the aid of the youth - a popular theme used by Christie.

A mediocre novel: That's how I feel about Passenger to Frankfurt. Nothing much caught my attention - not even the main character. The story was uninspired and unreal, the characters were passable, and so was the amateur detective: Sir Stafford Nye. We don't even have the satisfaction of a good ending.

Rating: **

The fact is, Passenger to Frankfurt is an international crime mystery and I hate those. Just read my review on The Big Four and you'll see....Now since this is clearly not my cup of tea, I'll leave you to form your own opinions.

Appointment With Death

Rating: ****
Another one of Christie's psychological mysteries, Appointment with Death deals with the dynamics of the Boynton family. At the head of this dysfunctional group is Mrs. Boynton, a woman who takes pleasure in psychologically controlling and torturing her victims - and who better as experiments than her own family? her own daughter? Travelling through Jerusalem, the Boyntons make their way through the tourism sites. But even a cornered rat may strike back when pushed to the limit and soon Mrs. Boynton is found dead at Petra.

I always enjoy the more psychological of Christie's detective novels and this one was right up my alley. I enjoyed the characterization, the portrayal of people under psychological duress, and the hopelessness of those who feel they are beyond all aid - it was all expertly drawn. How many of us have seen in films the effect of prolonged torture which inevitably ends in a numb, broken acquiescence to all requests? The whole process of mental control and what it does to those subjected to it was subtly shown in the Boyntons. While the images were not brutal like those in the movies (!) it was a truthful representation. Definitely one of my favorites.

Les Miserables

Les Miserables is one of the greatest classics in French Literature. Written in the nineteenth century by Victor Hugo, it covers many of the highs and lows of the time, its instability and the miseries of the lower stratum. The time period in the novel covers the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napolean's rule. With a violent history behind it, and more bloodshed yet to come, Victor Hugo shows through one man, the shaping of a whole new society.

Jean Valjean, a young peasant condemned to 19 years in prison, finds his mind broadening after meeting Bishop Myriel despite the years of ignorance that have warped it. Faced with honesty and goodness, he is forced to review his life and begins the journey towards greatness. Where one man who has never known the light, fights against generations of darkness, others will soon follow. Jean Valjean goes through struggle after struggle in Victor Hugo's stupendous novel, finds himself thrown back, yet perseveres against all odds.

At times, the length of the novel and the long pages of history and architectural lessons forced me to skip (a lot!) of the sections, but I found the story pulling me through it all. It was amazing to read how Jean Valjean faced life, how he, an uneducated peasant with nothing except his two hands, educated and broadened his mind, his knowledge and his wisdom - not only for himself, but for others. There were set backs which made it only all the more real. This was no easy walk in the park, but a struggle against his darker self and that of others. It took great courage and strength to become the man he at last becomes.

Now I hear that the novel is being turned into a film starring Hugh Jackman as the famous hero Jean Valjean, Russel Crowe as his main antagonist Javert, Anne Hathaway as Fantine, and Amanda Seyfried as Cosette. I look forward to watching it!

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo is a tale about revenge - anyone who has seen the movie knows the outline: Edmond Dantes, a young and successful sailor about to marry the girl of his dreams, is sent to prison falsely accused of being a spy. Presumed dead by his family, he vows revenge against those who got rid of him for their own greed and desires. Left a treasure by the only true friend he found in prison, he escapes and becomes the Count of Monte Cristo. One by one, he takes down his enemies. Consumed by revenge he sees nothing - not even the innocent.

I really enjoyed reading The Count of Monte Cristo. It was a light and easy read and those who like adventure, mysterious strangers, and fabulous treasure will love this book. For history geeks, the story captures the essence of France and Italy in the early 1800s and has a lot of references to historical figures. Actually, the whole story is historically inspired with Edmond being sent to prison because it was believed he was a Bonapartist - a follower of Napoleon.

This is the second book I've read by Alexandre Dumas that has been turned into a film. Like The Three Musketeers, the film is not completely faithful to the story. For one thing (spoilers ahead), Edmond doesn't end up with Mercedes!! Yes, that was a shock to me too, but as I read the story, I realized that the author wouldn't have him wind up with an 'old lady' when there was someone young and beautiful under Edmond's protection. Another huge change was that the villain in the movie was a morph of two villains in the novel. Unlike in the movie, Alexandre Dumas shows Edmond's interest and love for his old benefactor and employer Morrel and his family. The Count views them as his own family and does everything for them, taking care of them in their time of need. All in all, although the movie is good, there are a lot of differences from the novel and trust me, reading the book will be fun and different from the experience of the movie.

Death on the Nile

Rating: *****
One of my favorite Christie novels: intense, emotional and moving, from start to finish, I'm involved one hundred percent in the story. I've re-read the mystery more times than I can count and yet every time I pick it up, I'm engrossed. The twists and turns, the character portrayals, the happy and unhappy endings, all go towards making this book one of Agatha Christie's best.

OK, I'm over-selling it.........that way you'll pick it up and think WTH? I thought this was supposed to be awesome! Moving on to the summary.....

Jackie's honeymoon doesn't end up as she had planned - especially since she's not even on it! Things take an unexpected turn when her fiance falls for her best friend, the young, rich and beautiful Linnet Ridgeway. Jackie is convinced that Linnet went all out for Simon and didn't give a thought to their friendship, and her revenge is simple: follow Linnet everywhere on her honeymoon. Be the thorn in the new couple's happiness. But would she commit murder? It looks like it when Linnet is found murdered - shot through the head. Simon is convinced of Jackie's innocence and it seems he is right. Jackie simply couldn't have done it. But then, who else has a grudge against the young heiress?

Simon is oblivious, but lucky for him, Poirot happens to be on the same cruise and has formed opinions of his own. Can it be that Linnet was murdered, not for love and revenge, but for her money? The suspects on the boat increase with this new motive and Poirot has his work cut out for him. Luckily he meets an old friend, Colonel Race, who is on board for a secret mission of his own. With plenty of motives to go around, the truth stays pretty well hidden.

Some thoughts
The murder was very well planned - but that wasn't what kept me interested. It's the play of all the characters involved and the emotional drama that keeps you hooked. Jackie and Linnet may hold center stage, but there are plenty of other interesting characters who manage to attract attention.

Sparkling Cyanide

Rating: ***
It has been one year since Rosemary's death. One long year in which her husband George Barton, her sister Iris, her lover Stephen Farraday and his wife Sandra, George's secretary Ruth Lessing, and finally attractive and charming Anthony Browne, have had time to obsess and hold on to their secrets and feelings towards Rosemary's suicide.

But was it suicide?! The shocking idea awakens everyone from a stupor and brings the idea of murder into the forefront. Surely there was something odd about Rosemary's suicide? Depression was too weak a motive for someone so vivacious and full of life. Iris for one, has begun to doubt once her brother-in-law and guardian shows her anonymous letters which question the suicide. George intends to recreate the fatal dinner. With the other guests skeptical, things become serious when George gives a toast to Iris's health, takes a sip of champagne, and dies choking on the table.......

With a murder committed the authorities have no choice but to look deeper into the circumstances of Rosemary's death. Secrets are bound to come out and someone might do anything to keep that from happening. At one point, it seems everyone at the table that night had a secret..but who is guilty? Iris hopes not Anthony Browne..........

Some thoughts
The characters were pretty charming. OK, I'm only thinking about Anthony Browne! The murder takes place in the fast set and the police have to sift through a lot of controversies, affairs, and jealousies. The rich and entitled it seems, are not so different from the rest of us.

In Sparkling Cyanide, also known as Remembered Death, we see one of Christie's frequently appearing characters, Colonel Race. Colonel Race mostly appears as a side detective alongside the more popular Hercule Poirot or Superintendent Battle, but in this case, he is the lead sleuth assisting the police.

The novel is slightly reminiscent of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in that all six suspects on Rosemary's death reveal their feelings, in a separate chapter, of the night of the death - only one of them is the murderer and is not revealing all the facts. The novel also has the same plot as Christie's previous short story titled Yellow Iris. The novel in itself is well written and interesting, but it has the same tricks we see in all the other novels: the preconceived idea of the murder, everybody-has-a-motive type of case, and finally the illusion to make us think that the second murder was a direct result of the first - it is all cleverly planned, but has been done so often before that a seasoned Agatha Christie reader should pick up on it at once.

The Phantom of the Opera

The opera is haunted: so learn the new owners on the eve of their becoming managers. Choosing to view it as a practical joke, Monsieurs Richard and Moncharmin refuse to take the Opera Ghost seriously. The demands of money, the reservation of Box Five - all these things seem like a way to get money out of the managers. But things reach a dangerous peak when a death occurs - orchestrated by the Phantom; or so everyone believes. Who is this mysterious phantom and how does he make his presence felt without ever being seen? Is the Opera House really haunted? or is there some mysterious figure lurking in the depths of the building?

It is young Christine Daae who first discovers the lair of the Opera Ghost. Her actions and consequent disappearance causes Raoul, her childhood friend, to investigate with the help of the mysterious Persian who seems to know all that is going on.....

Weird, improbable, yet oddly fascinating - that's how I found The Phantom of the Opera. The whole concept of the entire underground system of the opera seems unreal, and yet it is actual fact! The phantom, or 'Opera Ghost' is an uncanny creature who pops up here and there keeping the workers at the opera on their toes and rules like a king. His various gifts, cultivated in the face of his hideous face, allowed him to haunt the opera. His ventriloquism, his penchant for building traps and contraptions - all aided him in his mysterious home underneath the Opera House.

Poor Erik. I was more inclined to say 'Poor Christine and Raoul'; but then I didn't know Erik's story before he took to haunting the Opera. Erik wasn't the normal hero you would feel sympathy for: he was cruel, sadistic, evil and selfish, but all the while you felt his handicap and pitied him. His psychological representation was eerie and he fluctuated between despair and intense devotion. His obsession with Christine Daae leads to his downfall and also unlocks the little good left in him.

This book is a part of my New Author Challenge 2012. The Phantom of the Opera is my first book by Gaston Leroux and was a good experience. I just might pick up other books by him.

Sleeping Murder

Murder always finds Miss Marple; even murder from a generation ago. While staying with her nephew Raymond, Miss Marple meets Gwenda Reed - a distant cousin's wife. Gwenda suffers a shock when a play stirs up dormant memories of a murder committed in her childhood.

Rating: *****

Miss Marple is intrigued by what newly married Gwenda remembers. Worried, her advice to Gwenda and her husband is to leave it alone; but the youthful pair have ideas of their own and before they know it they are in the thick of the mystery and have to face some horrible revelations. Who is this mysterious Helen Gwenda saw strangled at the foot of the stairs? Is it someone she knew? And the deadliest question of all: was her father a murderer? The murder takes her into a maze of truths which Miss Marple had foreseen, but once they begin looking into the sleeping murder, they have to end with the truth.

Some thoughts
One of my favorite Miss Marple mysteries. The characters Gwenda and Giles are endearing in their newly married happiness. The whole homey feeling of buying a new house and settling in gives a nice atmosphere to the novel - along with the mystery of the murder!

The detection in this novel was superb with the final revelation coming as a surprise and yet somehow strangely fitting. As in most Christie novels, the case begins with a supposition which the characters drag on till the end, when Christie masterfully shows us what absurd idiots we have been to believe what we are told instead of going by the evidence alone. And yet, somehow, one never learns and the whole clever trick is played successfully again!

The Moonstone

Colonel Herncastle enacts his final revenge when he leaves the Moonstone, a huge Indian diamond, to his sister's daughter, Rebecca. The Moonstone is not just any diamond; its size aside, the stone holds a curse that changes the holder's life. The diamond plays havoc with Rebecca and her family breaking them apart. A romance as well as a detective story, the diamond and its theft remains the center interest, with the reader as invested in the result as the protagonists.

There is something about Wilkie Collins that I just love. The reading is so easy and fluid that I can go on for hours without tiring of the storyline or wishing it to move quicker! The story is first picked up by one character and than another, relating the story of the diamond from its origin in India to the final result with first hand experiences related.

I liked the character portrayals of Franklin, Rachel, Godfrey and it was pleasant to read the interactions between the characters, the development of the relationship between Rachel and Franklin, its low-point and its final resolution. Although the story was plausible, I was a little let-down by the truth behind the theft of the diamond. I had been expecting an elaborate scheme, the type we find in Agatha Christie, and was looking forward to a complex and exceedingly clever plan. But although the theft itself was not what I had expected, the characters and the rest of the story involving the relationships and personalities was well written. Even the character Ezra Jennings, who appeared late in the novel, was unique and interesting.

The Big Four

Rating: ***

The Big Four covers an international conspiracy involving four mysterious figureheads from around the world. The idea of this mysterious organization called 'The Big Four' is the birth of a new world (an idea that had obsessed Agatha Christie in Passenger to Frankfurt, N or M? and other novels). The threat of unknown figures with a mania for killing off any number of people to cleanse the existing world was one that scared most people who had gone through the war. Number 1 is a man from China who constitutes the 'brains' of the group; Number 2 is an American representing the money; Number 3 is the scientific genius - a famous French female scientist; Number 4 is the 'enforcer' - a man skilled at transforming his appearance and one who gets the job done. It is this man whom Poirot fears the most.

We start the novel off with Poirot deciding to embark on a journey - a journey by boat - to go to his friend Hastings and live the rest of his days in peace and quiet. But by chance, Hastings has come to London, and the aborted departure is anything but good for 'The Big Four'.

Definitely not one of my favorite novels. I am not a fan of Christie's 'international conspiracies' myself more partial to the intimate and personal mysteries involving a family circle with some romance thrown in!

I find Agatha Christie's introduction in Passenger to Frankfurt also fits this novel,
To write a story .... you must come to terms with your background. If the background is fantastic, then the story must accept its background. It, too, must be a fantasy - an extravaganza. The setting must include the fantastic facts of daily life.
Can one envisage a fantastic cause? A secret Campaign for Power? Can a maniacal desire for destruction create a new world? .....
It is not an impossible story - it is only a fantastic one.

I found this particular novel more fantastic than enjoyable. The only point of interest was the battle of wits between Number 4 and Poirot - although there was never any doubt who would succeed! Hastings was his usual dense self.

They do it with Mirrors

I gotta say, I liked this one better than most Miss Marple mysteries.

Rating: ****

At the center of the mystery lies Carrie Louis; the vague, aloof and unworldly old lady. Miss Marple comes to visit her old friend all because of a 'feeling' Mrs. Van Rydock, Carrie's sister, has about the atmosphere at Stonygates. 'Feelings' are Miss Marple's speciality and when she reaches Stonygates, she sets out to find her village parallels. It is Edgar Lawson who stumps the veteran detective. He just won't fit anyone she knows! There is definitely something wrong about Edgar Lawson - and it's not the fact that he's schizophrenic.....

Things take a turn for the worse when Christian Gulbrandsen, Carrie Louis's stepson from her first marriage, ends up murdered at Stonygates. Further heating up the situation is the discovery that someone has been trying to poison Carrie Louis. Shocked and disturbed, Miss Marple realizes that she is dealing with a very clever murderer. They are all caught up in the deception and no one sees the truth, until Miss Marple realizes which way to look.

The whole clue lies in the character of Carrie Louis. I loved the play of illusion and reality in They do it with Mirrors. Christie once again uses her successful device of getting us involved in an illusion which takes us away from how the murder was really committed. The character portrayals in the novel were also interesting with intense and passionate figures like Gina and Stephen, along with strong characters like Walter. Miss Marple also shines in the novel with her clever deduction - you have to realize that the murderer camouflaged the actual murder pretty cleverly. Going back over the novel, you see all the little clues that point only one way.

Murder in the Mews

Rating: **
Murder in the Mews is a collection of four short stories starring Hercule Poirot alongside Inspector Japp and Mr. Satterthwaite. Most of the stories have similar plots to later short stories (or even novels) written by Christie. Most notable is Triangle at Rhodes which has many similarities to the novel Evil Under the Sun utilizing the same love-triangle. The other stories include Murder in the Mews, the titular story, with a similar setting to The Market Basing Mystery which features in Poirot's Early Cases, The Incredible Theft similar to The Submarine Plans also in Poirot's Early Cases, and finally Dead Man's Mirror, which uses practically the same devices as The Second Gong. The later stories mostly feature Hastings alongside Poirot. Having read all the later stories, I didn't enjoy reading these so much. However, for a first time read, the endings are satisfyingly unexpected and entertaining.

The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage follows young Henry Fleming during his first battle in the American Civil War. The youth battles not only with the Confederate army, but with his own thoughts of succumbing to fear and hysteria. Although covering only one battle, for the infantryman, more than a few days pass.

Stephen Crane was realistic in his depiction of how a mind feels fear. The ups and downs in Henry's moods are expertly sketched. I identified with the hero quite a lot: The sudden sweat when you feel that others know what you are thinking; that you have been a failure; the secret can be anything you feel ashamed about. Vividly we see Henry's shame after he flees from the battle and the sudden false pride when, his secret not being discovered, he is hailed as a hero among his fellow soldiers. It's all so real. We've all felt fear, and the unique portrayal of the step by step process of each thought and feeling was realistic. Henry suffers agonies during the battle and the agony of feeling inadequate haunts him the most. It is with him every step of the way. His mind become his greatest enemy.

As a new author, I have to say I want to read more Stephen Crane. I liked the style of writing and the pace of the story was perfect. As for the Historical Fiction Challenge, I did enjoy the depiction of a battle and it was great as a psychological representation of fear, but didn't make the cut as one of my favorite Historical Fiction books.

And finally my My Blind Date with a Book challenge. This is my first novel by Stephen Crane, and I think I would rate it (see my method of rating here) 4. Enjoyed it. Second will probably happen.

4.50 from Paddington

Rating: ***

On her way to St. Mary Mead, Mrs.McGillicuddy is shocked to her core when she sees a murder committed, by a man whose face she can't see, in a passing train. Luckily for her, she is going to visit an old friend who happens to be great at solving murders!

4.50 from Paddington, or the title I like better, What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, is one of Christie's more improbable stories. As far as the identity of the murderer is concerned, we are given no point of reference from which we can look back and say, of course, that did seem suspicious, that did indicate so and so! No clues link back to the murderer and we are given no points about his character before the final revelation! (Somewhat like in The Sittaford Mystery) It was an impossible, unlikely and incomplete story.

Miss Marple's contribution is miminum and we find none of the deduction that is so common in Hercule Poirot's mysteries. She stations herself near the area where the body is found, but besides discovering the body, she never shows us how she got to the killer's identity before the final showdown. Another fellow crime writer, Anthony Berkeley Cox hit the nail on the head when he said,

"I have only pity for those poor souls who cannot enjoy the sprightly stories of Agatha Christie; but though sprightliness is not the least of this remarkable writer's qualities, there is another that we look for in her, and that is detection: genuine, steady, logical detection, taking us step by step nearer to the heart of the mystery. Unfortunately it is that quality that is missing in 4.50 from Paddington. The police never seem to find out a single thing, and even Miss Marples lies low and say nuffin' to the point until the final dramatic exposure. There is the usual small gallery of interesting and perfectly credible characters and nothing could be easier to read. But please, Mrs Christie, a little more of that incomparable detection next time."

That being said, it was still a mystery novel with a satisfying murder and a nice little love triangle developing in the midst of all the worry! There is after all, something to be said for Christie's romances - although in this case, the incomplete ending extended to the romance!! The only thing that made the story likable was the character of Lucy Eyelesbarrow (I have never enjoyed Miss Marple's stories), and as we were nearing towards the resolution of her story, Christie mischievously cuts it short and leaves us in suspense!!

The novel contains characters from Miss Marple's world including her nephew Raymond's son and the son of her vicar Leonard Clement. Chief Inspector Craddock, who appears alongside Miss Marple on numerous cases, is the godson of her long-time friend Sir Henry Clithering! I just add these facts as interesting tidbits on Christie's world.

Dumb Witness

Rating: ***
The witness may be dumb, but so is Poirot when he receives a two month old letter from a woman who is now dead! Apparently the death was from natural causes, but coincidentally, old Emily Arundell had suspected someone from her family of trying 'to do away with her' on a previous occasion. Certainly the rewards would be great with four dependents standing to inherit a lot of money on her death. Imagine the surprise and consternation of the rest of the family when the money is left to Emily's annoying and dim-witted companion!

Not one of my favorite Hercule Poirot mysteries as you can see by my rating. I spent the entire time suspecting one person because of one clue; imagine my shock when it turned out to be the only person I hadn't suspected! I suddenly realized how Hastings must feel......

The deduction in the novel was sound and looking back I realize that Christie had paved the way for the identity of the murder. But not one I would want to read again any time soon.

A Doll's House

A Doll's House deals with issues in Ibsen's day that weren't even regarded as issues. Ibsen says,

"Modern society isn't a human society, it is only a society of males"

It is with this revealing statement that you should read this play. Once you see that, Nora's actions become clear. Her hiding her forgery from her husband, her taking money from a stranger - are all to protect her husband's pride and illusion of her as a child. Even after eight years of marriage, Nora has only lived in a doll's house. She has never been a real person. Playing first with her father, after her marriage, she molds herself into a plaything for her husband. It is when things become too real that her marriage suffers a crisis. Faced with social ruin, Torvald shows a side of his character that Nora had never seen: the side of reality. All her life she has suffered from what so many women go through; she has lived a lie to please the male members of her family and never known it.

Expected to be a wife and mother first, Nora realizes that for her, being a human being first, like any other man, is more important. As the play progresses, the spendthrift wife's character is developed to show a girl with an immature understanding of the social world. Nora has been content to live her life under the protection of a husband whom she believes loves her unconditionally. She herself, living in this fantasy world, would do anything to protect those she loves. But that the world is a make-believe one she quickly realizes with Torvald's reaction to her actions. He is obviously not the man she thought, but is she the woman he believed her to be? Nora, always honest, realizes that she herself has a lot to grow and decides to leave her husband and children to discover the truth of herself and society.

The play met with a lot of controversy when it was first published in 1879. Dealing with the sacred institution of marriage, A Doll's House came under severe criticism for it's portrayal of such a wife. It was considered unnatural for a woman to walk out on her children. Ibsen was famous for dealing with the 'incomprehensible' and 'unnatural' woman; his effort was to show exactly how it wasn't unnatural and how the roles of women shouldn't be defined but be simply shown as human beings.

N or M?

Rating: ***
Tommy and Tuppence, the indomitable detectives, are back again in their third mystery (I count Partners in Crime, a series of short stories, as their second). Now middle-aged, they have two grown up children and must get used to the idea of not being needed. With the second war, things become harder as they remember their time in The Secret Adversary set in WWI.

But as fate would have it, Mr. Carter finds a job for them - a top secret job, involving great risk, and on which the whole future of England rests! (melodrama, I know) The words of a dying man lead Tommy and Tuppence to Sans Souci, a boarding house near the seaside, where they are certain the top agents of the German government are hiding out. Known only as N or M, they must discover their secret identities before an attack on English soil....

Definitely not my favorite Tommy and Tuppence novel. Unfortunately, the later novels of these two likable characters get worse. N or M? is followed by By the Pricking of My Thumbs and Postern of Fate, both of which feature the couple in old age in uninteresting stories. N or M? like many of Christie's 'detectiveless' novels, is full of surprise happenings and accidental discoveries. While not as bad as Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, a lot of the discoveries in the book are not intended by Tommy and Tuppence, and so reflect poorly on their intelligence. N is discovered absolutely by chance, and M's identity is uncovered by a chance utterance that seems a bit too forced! Also, I find there is a lot of stereotyping in Christie's novels: the bad tempered Prussian officer bullying his subordinates, the rebel Irish girl, the angry German with something to hide....The only person I liked was Betty, the adorable toddler who is loved by everyone in the boarding house - she reminds me of my niece!

And I have a century...........

This is my hundredth post!! Hurray \o/.... For all those who aren't cricketing fans, making a century means getting a hundred runs in cricket - the equivalent to my writing a hundred posts. (ok, not really, but still!)

Lately, reading over my blog, I find I'm slightly obsessed with Christie (and I haven't even written posts on all the books I've read in the past few days). What can I say? She's a great mystery writer. But writing this blog has been, and continues to be, an awesome experience. It's so fun to read and to write all about my views and recommend certain books I find fascinating. It also gets me more out into the world of books; more than I've ever tried to go before. What with different challenges and having my own personal challenges, blogging has become more about finding books for myself than recommending them to others.

Recently, due to some family troubles, I quit blogging for a couple of months. Then, one day, I found I had been awarded the Liebster Blog Award! It was all I needed to get reading again.

Check out the rules for spreading this award here.

I've made two trips to my local old bookshop and have stocked up on quite a number of books. But, whatever my plans for reading may be, it's wedding season here in Pakistan - that means going to the weddings of friends and family is going to take up at least four to five days per wedding! That may seem like a lot, but a traditional wedding has a few days of 'dholki' where relatives sit around and sing songs, one day of 'mehndi' where the dress code is yellow, orange, red or green, the Wedding (hosted by the bride's family), and finally the Walimah (hosted by the groom's family)! It's a crazy week, but so much fun. As soon as the season is over, I'll be back.....

Death in the Clouds

Rating: ***
I started Death in the Clouds knowing who the murderer was (no, I didn't read the ending first) and found that it wasn't all that enjoyable. I liked the romance but the plot was typical of Christie: the murder was confined to a small place (the murder takes place in an airplane). It was a case of been there, read that...

When Marie Morisot, a notorious money-lender is found murdered on a plane, practically every other person on board is tagged with a motive that makes him or her suspicion till the final dramatic moment....could it be the unknown daughter posing as someone else? the embezzling Englishman? perhaps the archaeologist who seems to be forging antiquities? Luckily, or unluckily for the murderer, Hercule Poirot was also on that flight, and he doesn't take kindly to murder happening under his very nose!

In most of her novels, Christie manages to start the whole investigation off with some sort of preconceived idea of the murder......that's what you have to watch out for. The start of an investigation is the most crucial in any Christie novel because the statements and ideas of the murder by the detective are almost always initially wrong! For example (spoiler alert) in Death in the Clouds, the idea is that the murder was committed by someone passing by the victim (with the possibility of a blow-pipe floating around in the background confusing the whole issue) and therefore, automatically the characters are divided into possibilities and non-possibilities: people who passed the victim and others who definitely did not. It's the 'did nots' that you have to look out for! There is always some sort of illusion at work which keeps the detective, and us, away from the reality of the murder. (Talk about suspecting the least likely suspect!)

So, reading back, I see I've been rambling, but I can't make my meaning any clearer. Perhaps, reading more Christie will help me to put my finger on it! All in all, not one of my favorites.

The Hollow

The Hollow is on of the few Agatha Christie mysteries that I would like to have in my permanent collection.  Something about the story always brings me back to it. It has a unique atmosphere and an eerie quality to its characters that fascinates me.

Rating: ****

The Angkatells include Sir Henry and his wife Lucy Angkatell - the hosts at the Hollow. Invited are guests Midge Hardcastle, John and Gerda Christow, Henrietta Savernake, Edward Angkatell, and David Angkatell. Postponing John Christow's murder would have been better for the unknown murderer; unfortunately Hercule Poirot, who had been invited to lunch, arrives unexpectedly at the scene of a crime.

Hercule Poirot finds himself in the middle of a murder and with the gun still being held by the chief suspect: Gerda Christow. But are things what they seem? Poirot thinks not, and sets out to find the truth - something the people at the Hollow seem to know and desire to hide....

Truth is one of the main issues in this novel. For any Agatha Christie fan, Poirot's reverence for the truth is well-known, but we have another view argued by a character in the novel: isn't it better to make people happy? What use would discovering the truth be except to bring more misery to the living? Poirot, for once struck, nevertheless sticks to his own beliefs, but when he at last does know the truth, it is what he does with it that matters. As he says in the end,

You do not understand. To you it is unbearable that anyone should be hurt. But to some minds there is something more unbearable still - not to know.......To the scientific mind, truth comes first. Truth, however bitter, can be accepted, and woven into a design for living.

The scientific mind and the creative mind are poles apart, but the truth is something they both have to face and deal with. The novel is detailed in portraying the various ways the characters have of dealing with the grief of John's death. I feel sympathy for every character caught in the murder (the poignant images of grief are near the end). Everyone has lost something or comes near to losing something. The plot is actually very simple, but Agatha Christie never allows us to grasp it until the end!

Dead Man's Folly

Rating: ***
A folly - I admit I always thought it meant a foolish mistake; apparently it is also some sort of structure! Dead Man's Folly features Hercule Poirot who is summoned peremptorily by the famous detective author Ariadne Oliver to Nasse House. Once he arrives at his destination, Mrs. Oliver tells him her fear: she thinks someone is working behind the scenes, manipulating her murder hunt, to bring about a real murder!

Poirot, never skeptical of his friend's insights, takes a look at the people assembled at Nasse House for the big fete. Things take a turn for the worse when Poirot, unable to avert the disaster, finds the body of young Marlene Tucker; the girl who had been playing the part of the victim is now the real victim. The key to the mystery, Poirot is certain, lies with Mrs. Folliat, the former owner of Nasse House who now lives in the lodge of her former residence. "There will always be Folliats at Nasse House", murmurs an old man. Some sort of message? or curse?

Mrs. Folliat is a unique character and holds the central interest. Being relegated to the outskirts of the house she was once mistress of, she still carries herself with self-assurance and is recognized as the mistress of Nasse House. What secrets she holds is for Poirot to discover - she won't reveal them.

Dead Man's Folly is mostly centered around relationships: the relationship between mother and child, and husband and wife. What people do for family and how much they are willing to accept. Hercule Poirot, always sympathetic, gives his little talks and tries to bring people together. I love his little match-making parts in the novels.


So, I've been searching and searching for this book for months in all the old book stores and two days ago, I find it! Cotillion is my all time favorite Georgette Heyer book, and by all time I mean ALL TIME. I love the book, I love the characters, and most of all, I love the ending.

Kitty Charing has lived a secluded life in the country with eccentric Mr. Penicuik - a man who has adopted her as his daughter. When her miserly guardian comes up with a plan to marry her off to one of her so-called cousins (Hugh, Dolphinton, Freddy and Jack) and bestow his inheritance upon the couple, Kitty decides to be a little adventurous. She is expecting four proposals, but she wants only one........

Piqued at the non-arrival of her childhood-hero Kitty quickly plans and forces another into a sham engagement. Once away from the country, it isn't long before she adapts herself to the more modern London; her improved style and looks are noticed by more than one...........has she accomplished what she wanted?

Cotillion is lighter and so much sweeter than Heyer's other books. The characters seem sweet and charming, yet realistic; simple and so refreshing. There are the normal amount of absurd characters, likable characters, clever characters, and unscrupulous characters and you always manage to fall in love with the ones Heyer intended.

The Elephant Vanishes

Haruki Murakami. The author is all the rage these days so I finally decided to give him a try. I think it's safe to say that I'm lost. Most books have some focus, some central plot or message - with the various stories in The Elephant Vanishes, I found myself at a loss; I couldn't figure out the meaning of any of the stories which is when I decided to let meaning go and just read.

Most of the stories in The Elephant Vanishes were odd and led nowhere, but they all seemed familiar for some reason. Some line or paragraph just rang true. Sex was of course an important issue in most stories - it gave it that modern touch, but besides that, the stories all grasped at some truth that I still can't lay my finger on. The best I can do is say that they seemed to be of today, of this world that we live in.

Haruki Murakami is an experience that is never complete. I think that to figure him out, his style, his meaning, you just have to keep reading - something I mean to do.

I'm Back!!

For two months I have been away from my blog. The year 2012 didn't start out as well as I had hoped, but I'm back now and mean to read like crazy to make up for lost time! With that in mind, I went to the bookstore and stocked up on more Agatha Christie! Hopefully, you'll be reading reviews on her books very soon.

What got me back into the blogging mood was a place in Bundleofbooks' top five new blogs! I was so excited when I read the comment on my blog. Thank you to Bundleofbooks who got me back to reading! So far, the only books I've read in 2012 are The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien and The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami - something I mean to remedy pretty quick.

The Princess

I've heard a lot about D. H. Lawrence and his books Women in Love and Lady Chatterley's Lover from my friends. Spying The Princess on a book shelf I decided to give it a try. I think, having read a few of the unfinished short stories, that Lawrence is the type of author that takes a lot of getting used to. His ideas were of course modern in his time, but even now it takes some effort to fall in with his unique writing style. I'm struggling to get through the book and all the unfinished endings don't help. I'm tempted to leave it and try another book.

The Hobbit

My first book of 2012! I've finally read The Hobbit, and it was a good read - it had a similar writing style to The Lord of the Rings. I really enjoyed getting back into the Middle-earth world again, although I have to say I missed the elves and the men.

The ring isn't the central interest of the story - that lies with the dragon Smaug - and yet it plays a crucial role. Bilbo Baggins discovers the ring early on in his quest with the dwarves, and all his future adventures are tied to it. It helps him escape the goblins, because of it he manages to save his friends from the spiders, from the elves, and from the dragon.  The hobbit seems to have a lot of luck, which is why Gandalf had such implicit faith in him as a companion for the dwarves.

As for the "central interest", I didn't find it too interesting. That's because, although the dragon (and the gold) was the destination, it wasn't the high point of the adventure. When the dwarves and the hobbit finally reach the dragon, the novel isn't as intense as I expected. All the adventure had been played out before hand with the band's confrontation with other enemies. The novel lacked the depth that Tolkien was to give the more popular sequel. The history of the characters wasn't given in such detail and over all the novel was more light-hearted - the doom of middle-earth wasn't in everyone's mind. But all in all, it is a good prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

Hello 2012

Starting a New Year is so much fun. So many days in which to read books! And the resolutions to make: How many books will I read in 2012? How many challenges will I take part in? or, What are my blogging plans for the upcoming year? Well, this is that post....

So, my resolutions for 2012. Here it goes:

1. Prepare back-up posts: Since I've given my exams I've been much more free and have been working regularly on my blog; but what I have realized is that some days I just can't post - sometimes I don't read anything for a week and prepare no posts. For this reason it is better to prepare posts when I am free as a back-up for later days.

2. Read whenever I can: Since starting this new job I haven't been able to manage my time so efficiently yet. I come home tired and decide not to read and instead watch TV! This has to stop!

3. Make a list of books to read: Let me start now!
  • Middlemarch
  • Anna Karenina
  • War and Peace
  • Rhett Butler's People
  • The East of Eden
  • Divergent
  • The Outlander series
  • The Sword of Truth series
  • The Secret Circle series
  • The Count of Monte Cristo.......
OK, so the list is too long. Moving on;

4. Join more than two challenges: I've already joined four! :D

5. Push myself out of my comfort zone: For this I did No. 4 and started my own My Blind Date with a Book feature.

Hmmm.......what will be my first read of 2012? With the movie on The Hobbit coming out, I think I'll read the book first.