Friday, 2 February 2018

#33 Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Did you know, dear reader, that Agatha Christie is the world’s most widely published author in any language? Did you also know that her books are outsold only by the Bible and the works of Shakespeare? This is an enviable position to be in for any author and no small feat given how many books have been published yearly since the time period in which Ms. Christie worked. Born in 1890, Ms. Christie worked in a hospital during WWI and had her first 6 manuscripts turned down before finding success in 1920 with The Mysterious Affair at Styles featuring one of literature’s best known detectives, Hercule Poirot. She went on to become a pharmacy assistant in WWII where she acquired a working knowledge of poisons which was filed away for use in future novels.

Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in 1934, and features a memorable cast of characters travelling on the famous luxury train. In classic Christie fashion, a murder is committed, multiple suspects are then interviewed by the great detective Monsieur Poirot who must uncover the clues, unveil the secrets of the passengers and reveal the murderer travelling among them.  And just when the reader has drawn their own conclusions as to whom the murderer is, there is a shocking twist near the end drawing the tale to a suspenseful finish.

Regarded as the “Queen of Crime”, Agatha Christie is known as a master writer of suspense, plot development and characterization and for those who are fans of the genre, her many works  are more than worthy of bookshelf space. Until next time…have you read a book today? 


#32 All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer

In the spring of 1939, Paris is preparing for war.  A little blind girl, Marie-Laure, lives with her father who works at the Museum National d’Histoires Naturelle where he is busy packing valuable artifacts to hide from the Germans. During the occupation, they flee to Saint-Malo on the coast of France with one of the museums most valuable treasures.

Told through the alternating voice of Werner, an orphan German boy who grows up with his sister secretly listening to stories from places they have only dreamed of. As a young boy, Werner understands the power of mass indoctrination and realizes that his fate will not be the one of his dreams but rather a pre-determined life of military service to the oppressive Nazi regime. He teaches himself to fix radios and soon becomes an expert whose skill is required to track down the resistance. Werner’s work with the Germans leads him to Saint-Malo and to Marie-Laure, whose uncle has been broadcasting secretly for the resistance for years. When he realizes that a Nazi officer is searching for an artifact hidden by her father, Werner feels the need to protect Marie-Laure and he does what he can to keep her safe. 

This is a story rich in period detail that will appeal to those with an interest in
WW II. Filled with complex relationships and difficult choices, this novel weaves an affecting tale of heartache, loss and the challenges the human spirit faces in the worst of circumstances. This is a moving story of people trying to be good to one another during a horrific time in our world’s history and it is a worthwhile book to settle into during the long winter months. Until next time…have you read a book today? 


# 31 Origins by Dan Brown

A continuation of the Robert Langdon series, this novel is the latest offering from Dan Brown.  It is a thrilling journey through modern art and technology, challenging the faithful of all religions along the way.  

Langdon has been invited by his genius former student Edward Kirsch to Bilbao, Spain to attend a gala presentation in which Kirsch intends to unveil his latest discovery which will answer the ongoing questions of human existence: Where do we come from and where are we going? When the presentation turns deadly, Langdon becomes entrenched in the investigation and must rely on his knowledge and his wits to reveal Kirsch’s discovery to the world and to untangle those responsible for his friend’s death. Helping him uncover the key to unlock Kirsch’s discovery is Ambra Vidal, the director of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Together they must uncover clues hidden in religion and culture and race against those trying to prevent Kirsch’s discovery from seeing the light of day.  

A rapid and suspenseful story, Dan Brown writes an intelligent, well-researched tale which captivates the reader.   For those who are fans of the series, we are once again taken on a wild adventure through history, given cryptic clues to solve and are introduced to a strong supporting cast of characters. 

Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with his other novels (The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Inferno also feature his brilliant professor of religious iconology and symbology which is a fictitious field related to the study of historical symbols).  While they are all worth reading, Dan Brown designs his books to stand alone; past knowledge of the main character or his vast experience is not required however if you do find yourself as intrigued as I was, you should put Dan Brown’s other novels on your book bucket list.   Until next time, have you read a book today?


#30    The Little French Bistro by Nina George

Once again dear reader, I am drawn to a book about all things French and I absolutely will not apologize! As the saying goes “Paris is always a good idea” and I find that reading anything about the City of Lights keeps my dream of returning to Paris, alive.

I must admit that the circumstances of the main character Marianne were just a little too relatable. Marianne is the wife of Lothar, whom she was married to for 41 years and controlled by him the entire time. While in a restaurant in Paris, on one of the rare occasions he takes her anywhere, Marianne is disturbed by a woman she sees on the street. Following her comments about the scene before them, the reaction of her husband flips a switch deep within Marianne. She decides she has had enough and leaves the restaurant.  But instead of simply going outside to get some fresh air and calm down, she leaves Lothar and her life behind and disappears into the French countryside where she follows signs that she’s ignored for too long, ending up in a little town along the French coast. Here in the town of Kerduc, she sees her life for what it was: not lived for herself but for her husband; any desire or dreams she may have had were stolen by him until she simply stopped living. Wanting to return to her true self, she meets a colorful cast of characters that open their town and their hearts to her and whose acceptance guide her back to the woman who was lost for so many years.

At its heart, this novel is about self-discovery and new beginnings which is fitting as we close 2017 and ready ourselves for the beginning of another New Year.  For me, 2018 will be one of transition and as I embark on new and unexpected changes in my life’s direction, I will surely discover things about myself that, even at 52, will give me clarity and guide me back to the woman I have always been.  So let’s raise a glass of bubbly and toast to finding ourselves, to aha moments that may present themselves with gentle grace or with bruising force and to see these lessons for what they are: an opportunity to learn about ourselves and to become, like Marianne, the person we’d always hoped we would be. Until next time…have you read a book today?


#29 Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

I do enjoy a great, classic mystery, dear reader. Not the blood, guts and gore type that is so prevalent in some books and TV shows today but rather the good, old-fashioned kind ~ like in the game Clue: with a quirky detective, a colorful cast of characters, complete with plot twists and unexpected resolutions. This book definitely falls into that category.  It is a cleverly written novel that pays homage to Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries and will have you hooked long before you can ask “Whodunnit?” 

Susan Ryeland, long-time editor for the best-selling crime writer Alan Conway, is reading his most recent manuscript about his character, the great detective Atticus Pund, who quietly solves mysteries throughout the English countryside. While reading, Susan has no reason to suspect that the manuscript she holds in her hands will be any different to the others that she has edited over the years.

In the manuscript, Conway’s character Pund is investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house in the sleepy village of Saxby-on-Avon. After piecing together the testimony of the villagers, Atticus, in the manner of all great detectives, naturally discovers who the murderer is.  Just as the culprit is about to be revealed, Susan discovers that the final chapters are missing and embarks on some detective work of her own to discover the missing pages and to find out who has committed the murder in the novel. While searching, Susan becomes convinced that there is another story buried in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life murder and it is up to her to solve both mysteries. 

This novel will have you playing detective right along with Atticus and Susan, keeping you up late into the night as you puzzle out the clues while trying to solve the mysteries. What a great way to spend a long winter night! Until next time…have you read a book today?


Sunday, 29 October 2017

#28 The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

# 28 The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

Let me be honest, dear reader. I struggled with this book.  Like you, I read the synopsis on the cover; seek out reviews from reader friends and let reviews in magazines like Oprah guide my purchases. I thought this book was sure to be a winner and maybe for someone else it will be but alas, for me it was a hard slog.  

One thing that drew me to the novel was the setting. Occurring in Montreal at the turn of last century it gives wonderful insight into the time period and the harsh realities of the Depression.   The Lonely Hearts Hotel is the tale of two children who are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage during the harsh winter of 1914. As they grow, they are discovered to be child prodigies. Rose is a natural comic and dancer while Pierrot is a gifted pianist. To help raise funds for the orphanage, the children travel around the city giving concerts for the rich.  As they grow, their connection to each other deepens as their performances expand and they fall madly in love.  Torn apart as teenagers, they each must find their own way in the unforgiving city pursuing dreams they once shared. After years apart they are reunited and must re-discover each other while they conspire to make their childhood dreams a reality.   

While I liked the idea of the story I had a hard time getting hooked and realized that I was struggling with the style of writing.  I can’t say that I’ve experienced this all that often.  The Hobbit is one of the few books that come to mind where I’ve had a similar experience. Every few years I try reading it again because it’s a classic and I feel honor bound to keep trying. I still haven’t managed to finish it so sadly there is no way I could even try the other books in the Ring series. If you are a die-hard Tolkien fan, please accept my sincere apology. All I can say is that I’ll keep trying!  

Through this experience I’ve learned a lesson about book buying: check multiple sources. I admittedly got sucked in by the hype that surrounded this book and the over-the-top reviews on the jacket that elevated the novel into the realms of new classic creating expectations that were, for me, not realized. I failed to have personal conversations with others that have read it and as a result it took me too long to read and even longer to write this blog.  Again, dear reader, I offer my apologies.  I’m sure there are readers who will undoubtedly love this book and think me mad.  To those people I can only say “happy reading!” To those who choose to bypass this book, please consider adding my own novel “Erosion” to your must-read list. 

Once again, I apologize for this lack lustre review but I cannot in good conscience say I enjoyed a book when I did not.  Gotta love free speech! Until next time…have you read a book today?


#27 The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

#27 The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Have you ever found yourself gravitating toward the same topic over and over again? Well, dear reader, it seems I keep picking up novels that take place during wartime and this novel, which is filled with period detail and rich in intrigue, will keep you riveted.

The Alice Network begins with Charlie St. Claire. Unwed and pregnant, her mother is taking her to Switzerland to have her ‘little problem’ taken care of.  While travelling, we learn about Charlie’s desire to find her French cousin Rose who has gone missing during the war.  When they reach London, Charlie escapes from her mother and follows the only clue she has: an address which leads her to a miserable, old woman named Eve who, despite being drunk and dangerous, may be able to help Charlie in her search.  

The story unfolds between the two women in alternating chapters and time periods.  As Eve and Charlie travel the countryside of France, we learn of Eve’s desire as a young woman to serve in the war and of her recruitment into a spy network, of her service to her country and the horrible things she witnessed under German occupation. Young Eve immerses herself in her role as waitress in a French restaurant where German officers gather, listening closely for information that could help the resistance. When she finds herself the subject of the owners’ attention, Eve must decide how far she is willing to go in the name of her country. 

While she actively engages in the search for Rose, Eve is seeking to bury the ghosts that haunt her while Charlie must find her voice and her place in the world. As the women travel across France following clues that could only bring heartbreak, an unlikely bond develops between them. It is one of the many relationships woven throughout the story that drive the events and choices of the characters involved giving them dimension and depth. 

This is a riveting tale of redemption and betrayal.  It is a well-researched book that highlights women’s roles during wartime and the sacrifices made that go beyond sending their men off to war never to be seen again. It runs the gamut of human emotions that will captivate you entirely so that you won’t be able to put it down. Until next time…have you read a book today?