Archive | June, 2011

Agatha Christie…getting there…

30 Jun

Why am I always too lazy to write about something immediately after I read it? I just want to know. I’ve always been a procrastinator.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?- A man dies at a golf course. Was it accident or murder? What was the meaning of his last words, “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” No Poirot or other detective connection here. Just a pair of Bright Young Things, kind of like Tommy and Tuppence (the same actors played them in adaptations, funnily enough). I liked this one at first, but it fizzled out for me halfway through. I’m not sure why, actually. And the solution to who Evans made me wanna smack myself! At least, I probably would have if I were the one investigating.

  • Did I guess? Yes.
  • My Rating: 7/10

Three Act Tragedy- A man drops dead at a party. Old age or poison? This is a Poirot novel, but Poirot is barely in it. He used to get on my nerves, but somewhere along the line I came to love him, ego and all. This book seemed kind of cold to me. Not just because of the relative lack of Poirot. I just couldn’t connect and I found it draggy in bits.

  • Did I guess? Yes, but I didn’t know the motive.
  • My Rating: 7/10

Death in the Clouds- Woman murdered on a plane. Poirot saves the day. It was interesting to read about the earliest days of commercial air travel, but this book was good but nothing special for me.

  • Did I guess? Yes, I kept going back in forth between two characters but I got it right.
  • My Rating: 7/10

The ABC Murders- Poirot and Hastings. A seemingly psychopathic serial killer is bumping off people in alphabetical order. I really enjoyed the twist in this one.

  • Did I guess? I can’t remember..I think if I did, it was very late in the game.
  • My Rating: 8/10

Murder in Mesopotamia– The wife of an archaeologist in Iraq is receiving threatening letters and winds up murdered. Another Poirot. The narrator in this one is interesting- not a detective, and not a “bright young thing,” but a no-nonsense hospital nurse. I found this book really enjoyable, but the solution was a bit too far-fetched.

  • Did I guess? Yes, I thought it would be too crazy, but it was actually the right solution. You really have to suspend disbelief for it.
  • My Rating: 8/10

Agatha Christie Catch-Up

29 Jun

I’m back with five more Agatha Christie books! Just a few more of these posts and I’ll be caught up.

Parker Pyne Investigates: This is a series of short stories featuring the titular Parker Pyne. He makes a living making people happy. Some of the stories have him fixing people’s relationships. Others feature Parker Pyne getting reluctantly involved in more serious crimes. I much preferred the more crime-related ones.

  • Did I guess? I think I guessed one short story correctly.
  • My Rating: 8/10

The Sittaford Mystery- A ouija board seems to predict a man’s death. I found this kind of a weak book, on the whole. The detective, Inspector Narracott, was essentially useless, and it was actually the accused killer’s fiancee, Emily Trefusis, who solved the crime. I also found the solution pretty unsatisfying.

  • Did I guess? Yeah, unfortunately.
  • My Rating: 6/10

Peril at End House: Several attempts have been made on a young woman’s life. Poirot tries to figure out who’s behind it before it’s too late. I highly enjoyed this one, even though I thought the solution was obvious from the beginning. I did not, on the other hand, know the motive for the crime. The criminal is very clever.

  • Did I guess? Yes, almost from the very beginning.
  • My Rating: 8/10

Lord Edgware Dies: A woman supposedly killed her husband yet was at the same time attending a dinner party. This was a good one, even though I knew the truth early on- once again, before Poirot.

  • Did I guess? Yes, again, almost from the very beginning.
  • My Rating: 8/10

Murder on the Orient Express: This is one of her most popular novels. A man is stabbed to death on a train. This is a really brilliant mystery that I would never have been able to solve if I had not, unfortunately, seen the ending of the movie years ago. That totally ruined the “mystery” aspect for me, but it’s still a great book.

  • Did I guess? No, I already knew.
  • My Rating: 10/10

Agatha Christie

28 Jun

I feel like I need to write reviews of more of the books I’ve been reading. I do read an awful lot. My goal is 111 books this year (for 2011) and I want to accomplish as many as I can by fall, when I’m going back to school. (Blech, by the way).

I have become absolutely addicted to Agatha Christie. Her books are so short so I can finish one in a matter of hours. I realized I haven’t kept up to date since January! I’m on a mission to read them all and I’ve read so many more since then! So I’m going to try to update my quick thoughts on a few at a time, for any mystery lovers out there. I always try to guess the killer, so I’m going to include my successes and/or failures with that as well. Once you’ve read enough Christie you can usually start to figure it out.

The Big Four- This is a Poirot and Hastings one- and another spy thriller.  It felt very disjointed to me because it was originally written in serialized form before being published as a novel. Not a favorite.

  • Did I guess the killer? This isn’t a simple whodunnit, since there are four baddies. But I did guess one!
  • My Rating: 6/10

The Mystery of the Blue Train-Poirot. A woman is murdered on a train and her jewels stolen. This is Christie’s least favorite of her own works. I did enjoy it and I liked the heroine quite a bit, but it’s not a favorite either. Murder on the Orient Express is a far superior train mystery.

  • Did I guess the killer? Yeah, I thought it was quite obvious, actually.
  • My Rating: 7/10

The Seven Dials Mystery-  This is a companion to The Secret of Chimneys. One of the supporting characters from that one, Bundle Brent, is the heroine. To be honest I felt a bit cheated because Bundle really wasn’t as smart as she thought she was. Superintendent Battle solved the crime. But she tried.

  • Did I guess the killer? Yes, eventually. I was fooled until rather late in the game but I caught on before it was too late.
  • My Rating: 7/10

Partners in Crime- A series of Tommy and Tuppence short stories. They work in a detective agency and each story spoofs a popular literary detective of the time (T&T try to use their methods). Unfortunately, most of those characters have faded into obscurity by now but there’s still the timeless Sherlock Holmes and Poirot included! I still loved this book! Even though Tommy and Tuppence are a bit lighter fare than, say, a Poirot novel, there are still some very serious cases mixed in with the comedy.

  • Did I guess? I don’t think I guessed any of them, sadly.
  • My Rating: 9/10

Murder at the Vicarage- The first Miss Marple novel. God, I just love Miss Marple. This is another epitome of a “cozy mystery.” I loved the small village setting, the characters, the vicar’s narration…such a strong book.

  • Did I guess? Yes, I actually picked up on the same clue that made Miss Marple first suspect! So proud of that…
  • My Rating: 10/10

Jane Eyre 1934

26 Jun

So, I’ve finally seen it- the first talkie Jane Eyre, from 1934. It was…different, to say the least. First off, it’s only an hour long, so a lot was cut and rushed. Jane’s years at Lowood (an orphanage in this version) are condensed to her arrival and then the page from the book describing those years! (Yes, they just filmed the book page). There’s no Helen Burns or illness outbreak. Aside from the main characters, those smaller parts that are kept are blink and you’ll miss it. Other transitions are done with Jane writing in her diary.

Secondly, it’s very watered down. It’s not a screwball comedy like the 1940 Pride and Prejudice by any means, but it’s definitely much lighter in tone than the book. The characters are happier and the darker stuff from the book is either cut or just watered down. I’m no movie buff, but I think I read somewhere that this was because it was the Great Depression and they didn’t want to depress people more. Also, aside from Colin Clive, the majority of the cast is American and most of them don’t do that great of a job hiding their accents.

The Characters

Virginia Bruce as Jane Eyre

Yes, instead of a “Plain Jane,” we got a Blonde Bombshell. I’ll give them credit though- they made no secret of it. Unlike other adaptations to cast pretty actresses, they didn’t even try to pretend she was plain. They openly acknowledged that she was pretty. It was kind of weird, but at least they were honest! Her Jane is very outspoken and not at all reserved. She never advertises so I don’t know how she gets the job at Thornfield, but she says she has a small inheritance from her uncle. There’s never anything with her uncle Eyre or the Rivers being her cousins.

Colin Clive as Edward Rochester

This Rochester is always quite cheery and polite with Jane. All the passion between them is gone. Nothing like the book character at all.  I thought they were going to cut his blindness at the end completely! But, no, they didn’t go that far. They didn’t have him lose his eye or hand, but I think most of the adaptations have done that.

David Torrence as Mr. Brocklehurst

They kept his personality mostly intact. Jane doesn’t meet him until she gets to the orphanage. He never loses his complete power as the master here. He fires Jane because she stuck up for a student who drew a caricature of him. She tells him off before leaving and says he “ought to be tarred and feathered, you ugly old crocodile!” Yes, really.

Beryl Mercer as Mrs. Fairfax

She doesn’t really do much. I can remember absolutely nothing remarkable about her character, whatsoever.

John Rogers as Sam Poole

Sam Poole? Who’s that? At first I thought they replaced Grace with a man for some reason. But no, he’s her husband and the drunkard. They didn’t want to show a female alcoholic? Grace has very little to do in this aside from keeping Jane out of Bertha’s room.

Aileen Pringle as Blanche Ingram

She’s not in it very much. The house party is cut down to one ball scene, where Blanche and Rochester dance. She’s also considerably uglier than Jane.

Claire du Brey as Bertha Rochester

The wild look is completely gone! She’s apparently still dangerous because she sets fire to Rochester’s bed. But then she thinks they’re getting married again and is all happy, although demented. Rochester was divorcing her in this, so I don’t even know why Jane left!

Edith Fellows as Adele Rochester

No, I did not get the name wrong. She’s Rochester’s niece in this. Nothing about the backstory in France at all. She’s a happy-go-lucky girl, but clumsy- she gets stuck in a tree, a vase, and trips over her own feet. Rochester dotes on her, constantly giving her presents and even tucking her into bed.

Desmond Roberts as Dr. John Rivers

He’s only in one scene. When Jane leaves Thornfield, she works serving soup at his mission- not teaching. There’s no indication of how much time has passed or how she got the job, or anything. He just calls her into his office, asks her to go to India and to marry him. She asks for time but writes in her diary that she will marry him.

Jean Darling as young Jane

I only included her for sake of completeness. She’s barely in it.

The Ending

Talk about rushed! That’s a given, what with the run-time, but it was still stupid. Sam Poole comes to the mission and Jane serves him soup. He tells her what happened and she goes to find Rochester. She says she will never leave him, Mrs. Fairfax and Adele come in the room, and everyone is happy. That’s it.

Overall

The adult actors were decent with what they were given, but let’s be honest- this is a sugar-coated version of the story.  I can’t say it’s a good adaptation (God, no!) or even a good movie, but it has value for hardcore Jane Eyre fans and/or collectors…like me!

My Rating: 5/10

Divergent by Veronica Roth

21 Jun

I’m sorry this is not a Jane Eyre review! I will get into those adaptations soon, I promise! I just need to get my hands on the 1934 version so I can start at the beginning. For some reason, I forgot to order that one. Oopsies!

For now, I have a YA book review, specifically Divergent by Veronica Roth. It’s set in a dystopian Chicago where society is divided into five factions based on personality traits- Candor (honest), Erudite (intelligent), Dauntless (fearless), Agnegation (selfless), and Amity (peaceful). Sixteen-year-olds must take a test to see what faction they belong in and then choose where they’ll be the rest of their lives. The protagonist, Beatrice, is torn whether to stay in Abnegation with her family or leave them. It doesn’t help that her test results were inconclusive- She’s divergent, and doesn’t fit perfectly in any faction. And it could mean danger if the secret gets out.

Dystopians are all the rage in YA right now. I like dystopians if they’re well done, but I was a bit hesitant to read this one.  It got really good reviews and I was afraid it was just over-hyped, like Matched. And the author, Veronica Roth, is only 22 years old! I was just…nervous. Luckily, my fears were unfounded.

Divergent was great! It has almost as much action as The Hunger Games. The characters were diverse and well-written. Beatrice, or Tris as she renames herself, is a realistic character who grows mentally and physically throughout the novel. I liked the romantic subplot as well- it wasn’t forced and fakey like in Matched.

Divergent is the first in a trilogy and it definitely left me hungry for more! I want to find out what happens next, of course, but I also want to know more about this Chicago’s history. What happened? War? How long has it been that way? I hope Veronica Roth tells us in the next installments.

Gah, I’m so jealous of Veronica Roth and her writing skills at such a young age. I know with more time and experience, she’s going to be amazing. I would love to be like that…if only I had an ounce of creativity.

My Rating: 9/10

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

11 Jun

Graceling is the story of Katsa, a girl “graced” with the power to kill.  I was expecting an action-packed adventure with the bonus of romance. I think my expectations were part of what made the book so disappointing for me.

It started out promising and sucked me in. I liked the cast of characters (well, Po was perhaps a little too perfect) and just the whole idea in general. I really wanted to love this book, but in the end, I just couldn’t.

I think Cashore had a great idea and the bare bones of the plot line were good. It fell apart, however, in the execution. For one thing, it’s poorly written. The prose/sentence structures are clumsy and filled with repetition of the same words and phrases. The awkwardness kept taking me out of the story while reading, even in the interesting parts. Where were the editors for this book, I just wanna know?

Then we come to the plot itself. Like I said, it started out good- in an action-filled scene. Then it quickly went down-hill. After an introduction to the world and characters, it moved to a long, draggy middle of the protagonists traveling, building up to a villain we barely even see and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it anticlimax. I was just disappointed all around.

I think this book could have been great if Kristin Cashore maybe had taken more care to flesh out her ideas- and gotten a better editor. Seriously, whoever did this book was clearly asleep on the job.

My Rating: 5/10

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

8 Jun

My review is finally here on Charlotte Bronte’s most popular book, Jane Eyre. Many people consider this her masterpiece (with a minority preferring Villette). I have to agree- Jane Eyre is my number one of her novels, by far.

We all know the story by this point. A governess falls in love with her employer to find out he has a dark secret…dun dun dun! It’s very much a Romantic as well as romantic novel. It’s very different from anything Jane Austen ever wrote, that’s for sure! (Charlotte was not a fan of dear Jane, by the way).

The first time I read this book, as a freshman in high school, I didn’t get into it until after Jane got to Thornfield. I found the parts with Jane as a child draggy. Now I get sucked into the story right from the beginning. Young Jane is a fiery, passionate creature who’s not afraid to speak her mind. Lowood makes her take on a more controlled, reserved front but she never loses her inner passions. I find Jane so strong and still a realistic character- I just love her.

It’s not a totally perfect book but it’s close. It’s only little nitpicks that bug me- like all the coincidences. Rochester isn’t exactly my favorite character but I totally get the connection and the love between them and on a literary level I do like him. On a personal level, I don’t- but it works in a book. I appreciate how he has to suffer for his sins and really has to earn his happy ending.

My Rating: 10/10