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Now that I’ve joined the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge I’m a lot more aware of all things Agatha. This challenge will take me several years to complete since it requires reading all of her work in publication order. I’m not moaning about that. I definitely am happy about it. No, what has me shaking my head is all the “knock-offs” of her novels. And I’m not sure “knock-off” is the right term.
This past week I clicked on the main site for Wikepedia and right there in their feature article of the day was this big picture and a big discussion about new video games (on the right) using the mysteries of Agatha Christie! The first one is “And Then There Were None”. They assured me the game “will retain the basic plot elements of the novel.” The main exception will be the playable character and a set of possible endings to the story. What? Different endings? If you want to read the full story, the link is here.
And then I discover there are graphic novels (on the left) of her books. Comic strips of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple? Kerrie, our Challenge Leader read one in an hour and posted her review here.
In addition, you can go to Agatha Christie.com and shop for all sorts of things. [Just as a side note to my family: don't buy me a mug or a game or a deck chair that resembles Agatha Christie. A book bag might be nice though.]
I’m sure all of this stuff has been around for quite some time and I’m just now discovering it. I don’t like to think of myself as old-fashioned. I’m just behind the times. I could qualify as set in my ways, though, because I like my Agatha Christie’s to be novels. One that takes time to read and think about and mull over what the one true answer is.
Our Agatha Christie Reading Challenge has a once a month carnival that you should check out. This is where everyone who is involved in the challenge posts what they’ve read the past month. The link is here. If you are an Agatha fan you’ll want to join in.
A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
William Sloane Associates, 1949
This story about a wagon train to Oregon was not what I expected. First of all, let me explain that I read this for the Decades Challenge (1940’s). I’d added a western into the mix for variety sake. Even though it won a Pulitzer I thought it would be a cowboy and indian shoot-em-up type book. I’m happy to tell you it is not.
This is the story of people going on a wagon train to Oregon in 1845. I should say that at the beginning of the book it’s the story of the men going to Oregon. The story opens with the main character, Lije Evans, who is just playing in his head with the idea of joining the ever growing number of people coming to his hometown of Independence, Missouri, with the sole purpose of forming trains bound for the free land in Oregon.
There’s quite a cast of characters milling around, each with his own reason to go. In addition to Lije there is:
- Dick Summers who was a former mountain man. His wife has just died and he is talked into joining the train as it’s pilot.
- Tadlock who is the organizer/power-hungry, soon to be captain of the group. He never quite learns that people won’t follow someone blindly. Henry McBee is Tadlock’s sidekick. He’s basically just dirty and scummy.
- Curtis Mack is wealthier than most but whose lust hurts others. And there is Charles Fairman who is going west for the sake of his child who, at five, has always had “the fever”.
- Bryd with his “woman” and ten children can barely afford to go but it’s their only hope for a better life. And Reverend Weatherby who has even less but he feels called to preach in the west.
That is just a few of the male characters. For the first eight or nine chapters there is very little about the women on the train. But as the train moves mile after torturous mile, the story of the women begins to come alive. I want to share some of the passages I found meaningful. This one is of Lije Evans as he thinks of his wife Rebecca
“Evans had an uneasy feeling that he couldn’t realize, ever, what it was to a woman to give up her home. They were finer drawn than men, women were, mixed more in their thinking, so that you couldn’t tell what went on in their heads. A woman might hate moving because of leaving her marigolds.”
As the book develops we begin to know more about Rebecca and Judith and Mercy and the other women and men. The author lets us see what they are thinking and experiencing and what their hopes are. But overall, this trip was physically and emotionally exhausting for everyone. On rare occasions they stopped the train for a day.
“The question came and went, leaving the thought that today was a day of relaxation and play for all except the women. The men and boys climbed the rock, and children romped, and even the oxen . . . had a chance to rest their feet. . . . Only here were the little, draining businesses of rubbing and scuffing and wringing out and hanging on a line.”
Looking back at this from the 21st century it all seems so unfair and the trip pointless. But it isn’t my history; it’s the history of my ancestors. The author does a good job of trying to help us understand the motivation and thinking of these pioneers. The writing and the dialogue both sound as if they could have taken place in that time period. That helps add to the purpose of the story. A very good read that I can recommnd to those of you who like historical fiction and, especially of this time period of western American expansion.
1. O’Pioneers by Willa Cather. I’m reading this for the Decades ’09 Challenge. Years ago I read My Antonia by the same author and haven’t forgotten it. This one seems to have the same style of writing.
2. Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski. This is one of my Childhood Favorites I’m re-reading. It’s still so sweet.
3. Travels With Charlie by John Steinbeck. This is an old classic that I first read about 30 years ago and I want to see if it still has that same old charm.
4. Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie. This is her second book to be published. I’m reading them in order of publication for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.
5. Home Another Way by Christa Parrish. I won this novel a couple months ago from 5 Minutes For Books. It’s the debut novel for this author and has had excellent reviews.
6. The 5 People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. I read about half of this book a year ago and then found a copy of the audiobook at the library. The audiobook was read by the author and it was superb. I decided I should go back and read the original again.
What’s on your list? For more What’s On Your Nightstand visit 5 Minutes For Books.
My husband, Jay, is also a book nut. Sometimes we read the same books – thrillers, for example. But generally our tastes don’t match. He loves the Civil War era and books about the American West/Frontier days. Recently he read a book that truly moved him and he just couldn’t get it out of his head. I suggested he write a review of the book to get his thoughts down on paper. I told him he could be a ‘guest blogger’ with his review. Here’s what he wrote:
Gods and Generals
Ballantine Books, 1996
My brother-in-law, Don, referred the book, Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.to me. It’s very good, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. But, when I found out it was a trilogy I decided to read them in chronological order. One of my personal quirks is reading things in order wherever possible.
In my research I discovered that the father, Michael Shaara, wrote the middle book (Killer Angels) first and died before he was able complete a total review of the Civil War. His son, Jeffery Shaara, wrote the other two books.
Jeffery’s book, Gods and Generals. was from the period just prior to the Civil War forward to the battle of Gettysburg. Each chapter highlights a general. There is Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Winfield Scott Hancock, Joshua Chamberlain, Robert E. Lee and more. Because it’s a novel, the author could give his interpretation on their thoughts and feelings. He gives us the generals’ ideas about the war before it began and their inner turmoil moving forward.
“As Lee had expected in the new Confederate Army the clash of egos, the struggle of ambitious men with private agendas, had rendered quick actions and smooth organization impossible.”
The author of Gods and Generals turned out to be a strong recommendation for the balance of the three book series. The writing gave me a visual picture of this war from a general’s point of view both north and south. I enjoyed this book immensely and was moved emotionally by the conflicts these men had to encounter.
If you are going to read about the Civil War I would strongly suggest that you begin the journey reading Gods and Generals by Jeffery Shaara. I also viewed the movie/dvd on this book (same title), which also helped me visualize the characters, and helped turn them into real people.
I am thoroughly enjoying this chance to re-read some of the books I enjoyed as a child. Most of us who are adult book lovers got our start as children. We can all give lists of those favorites. And then, if we have children of our own, we get to share those favorites with our children. For me, it’s now the grandchildren. How great is that?!
The Little House books have been around since the 1930s. They portray a life that only a few people now remember. But, thanks to the popular TV series and re-runs, the books are still popular. Recently while visiting with my mother (88 years young) we discovered an old complete set of the books and started in reading them. Out of all of the books this one, On The Banks of Plum Creek, stands out as a favorite from childhood. Here’s my review:
On The Banks of Plum Creek
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Harper and Row, 1937
Summary: This book features Laura Ingalls in Minnesota when she is seven to eight years old. The book opens with the whole family moving to a beautiful place on the prairie. Unfortunately, there is no house. There is, however, a “dugout” – a house dug into the ground and fortified with sod.
Pa is determined that he will have an amazing harvest of wheat and oats that will bring riches to them all. So he buys supplies on credit to build a nice two-story house. I don’t want to spoil it for you except to say that it does turn out fine. But getting there is tough what with the grasshoppers and the ice and snow storms and other calamities. This is the first book to introduce Nellie and her brother. They play a very minor role, unlike the TV series.
My opinion: It was still a fun read as an adult. I like that the author doesn’t talk down to the reader. She tells of everyday experiences as if they were adventures. For example the task of walking a mile into town with her sister when there was no road. Or the time the roof fell in on the dugout. Or how they picked the plums off the trees by the creek. Although there are a few good drawings to illustrate the story, it’s still a great read for using your imagination. I recommend it for children eight-years of age or older. It would make for a great read-aloud book for the whole family.
If you are interested in re-reading your childhood favorites, visit here to learn more about the challenge.
by Agatha Christie
Penguin Books, 1920
(The picture here is from the audiobook cover. It was prettier than the paperback cover.)
I’ve read a lot of Agatha Christie’s books over the years but this year I joined an interesting challenge. The challenge is to read every single one of her novels in order of their publication. So I am going back to the beginning and starting with her first book.
Summary: The story is set in England, specifically Styles Court, sometime during the first world war. The book is narrated by Captain Hastings who is back in England on a medical leave. He is invited by his old friend, John Cavendish, to spend time convalescing at Styles Court. Within weeks of Hasting’s arrival, John’s stepmother, Emily Inglethorpe is dead, obviously poisoned with strychnine. All this occurs while she is in her bedroom with all the doors locked from the inside. There are plenty of suspects and plenty of clues. Fortunately, Captain Hasting’s old friend, Hercule Poirot, is staying nearby and is willing to assist in solving this mystery.
My Evaluation: For me, good, fun books introduce me to new people. In this book we meet two who will be back in future books. In addition to the narrator, Captain Hastings, Hercule Poirot is the obvious star of this book. He is intelligent, clever, extremely observant, a thinking-man’s thinker and more.
“I looked at the extraordinary little man, divided between annoyance and amusement. He was so tremendously sure of himself.”
Almost everyone is a suspect in the book. And, according to Mr. Poirot, that is the way we must approach solving this mystery.
“Still you are right in one thing. It is always wiser to suspect everybody until you can prove logically, and to your own satisfaction, that they are innocent.”
But for me, it was all the clues that had me confused. There is the coffee cup, the coco, the scrap of paper in the fireplace, an over-heard conversation, some green cloth in the door lock, a fake beard. It goes on. I had my own hunch about who did it but I couldn’t figure out how they did it with all the clues. By the end I was right in my guess of who, but was thrown off by how they did it.
All of it – the many suspects and all the clues – made for an entertaining read. I recommend it to anyone looking for a good diversion from heavier books.
So, this is number one in my quest to read all of Agatha Christie’s novels. One down/only 79 to go! Not all in one year – it’s an on-going challenge. If you’d like to learn more about the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge go here. This book also fits my 1920’s decade for the Decades Challenge.
Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
HarperCollins Publishers, 2007
I’m so glad I finally had a chance to read this book. I’m a big Barbara Kingsolver fan and when I heard she had written about this project, I had to read it. Plus my family and I along with other friends did something similar to this back in the 1970’s during that era’s Back To The Land movement. I was curious to see what her experience was like.
For those of you unfamiliar with her project let me explain. Ms. Kingsolver, her husband and two daughters set in motion a plan to live one whole year eating only what they grew themselves or what was grown within their local area. It was not an experiment to save money.
“We had come to the farmland to eat deliberately. . . . We only knew, somewhat abstractly, we were going to spend a year integrating our food choices with our family values, which include both “love thy neighbor” and “try not to wreck everything on the planet while you’re here.”
They were both deliberate and resourceful. Starting in late winter/early spring, they scoured the area (southern Appalachia) and found a local farmers market and from there they found sources for good quality (mostly organic) vegetables, meat (turkey sausage and lamb), eggs, chicken and fruit. This helped until they were able to get their own garden, orchard, turkeys and chickens producing.
The book is organized into chapters which follows along with what is happening each month. Ms. Kingsolver wrotes the majority of the book but her husband and eldest daughter have good addition. Her professor-husband, Steven Hopp, added essays primarily about the effects of industrial agriculture. Her daughter, Camile, wraps up most of the chapters with interesting stories, some excellent recipes, and a sample week’s menu of what they ate that month.
Because of my experience I wanted to know how they handled the months of harvest. To me, those are the killer months in a project like this. Those are the times when the tomatoes and zucchini and beans and corn are growing faster than you can preserve them. At the hottest time of the year you have to be back and forth between the hot sunny garden and the hot steamy kitchen. Those days, and weeks, seem endless and are exhausting. It’s an easy time to give up. But the Kingsolver family did not. They pushed right on through it and put away enough produce “to last comfortably till the abundances of June.”
After reading this book I’m still a Kingsolver fan. Most of it read like one of her novels. There were parts that could be called “preachy” but the Kingsolvers are very passionate about this subject, and have good reason to feel that way. Some parts of the book stand out for me: her discussion of heirloom seeds, her experience with her turkeys and her tomato harvest (the chapter called Life in the Red Zone). And, if you don’t read anything else, read the last chapter. This is her “heart” chapter in which she talks about what she might do differently and her plans for the future. It has something we can all take away and adopt even if we don’t have access to the kind of farmland Ms. Kingsolver has. I’ve already recommended this book to several people. In my opinion this is a should-read book for those concerned with healthy and responsible eating.