2016 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · 2017 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · Book Reviews · Random Thoughts

Hit the Restart Button

So I fell a little behind on my reading, blogging, and reading challenges last year. For my followers I apologize. I have been getting back into things over the holiday season and uploaded my 2017 reading challenge. I will be using the PopSugar Challenge. My last year results were poor for me and I hope to do better this year. I read a lot last year that I didn’t log, most I didn’t review unfortunately, and some I didn’t even finish. Hopefully this year I find the time to put into my blog and am able to help you guys find a few books to try. This year’s reading challenge looks interesting and I’m looking forward to stretching my book horizons some. See you in the shelves!

2016 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · Book Reviews

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder Orient Express B.C.

I have wanted to start reading Agatha Christie for a while now. My husband recently read And Then There Were None by her and absolutely loved it. It is hard to find a book that engrosses him, so when he was so captivated I knew I would have to read one of her books as well. I had downloaded the complete Miss Marple collection on my Kindle, but  I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. So when we had a long trip coming up, I decided I would download us a couple Agatha Christie books to listen to on the way. My husband actually suggested Murder on the Orient Express and I am extremely glad he did.

Let me start by saying the book is part of the Hercule Poirot series, which I have discovered is similar to Sherlock Holmes with a few full length novels and many, many short stories. This book is one of the full length novels and can be read independently.

The book is set between 1930 and 1932 (based on context clues) and opens with Mr. Hercule Poirot getting on a train with two passengers to head toward Turkey. During the ride, he observes the couple and notes so inconsistencies. He disembarks in Istanbul never intending to see them again, but is obliged to board with them on The Orient Express in order to quickly return to London. In preparing to board, he runs into his friend, the owner of the train line, who helps him gain a berth in the fully booked train. Two days into the journey, a wealthy American is found murdered in his suite after the train is stopped at a snow drift. From there, Mr. Poirot is assigned to help solve the mystery of who murdered the man.

There are a lot of twists and turns, several surprises, and an ending that is unexpected. I found Mr. Poirot to be a highly amusing, well-rounded character. For me there was a lot of humor in the book. The book also made you think and try to puzzle out what really happened. There is a mysterious woman in a red kimono, a monogrammed handkerchief, and a few mysterious sounds.  Mr. Poirot does a good job of helping to sort out the timeline and who was where. My husband and I didn’t figure it out until just before he revealed the murderer. You have to be into interesting mysteries if you read this book. There is very little action and most of the book is sort out the facts from interviews with the people on the train and observations made by Mr. Poirot.

The audiobook was very well done. The narrator, Dan Stevens, did an amazing job bouncing between characters and accents. I would highly recommend his audiobook if you want to listen to it.

I think this book should be read by anyone who really enjoys a good mystery that has you puzzling out how the murder was done. Anyone who likes Sherlock Holmes mysteries will most likely highly enjoy this. There is not a lot of action, so if that is what you are looking for, this book is not for you. But if you want to be entertained and have a great way to work your brain, then this is the book for you.

My rating:

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2016 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · Book Reviews

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park B.C.

I’ve been a Jane Austen fan for a while now. My favorite of her works was Persuasion until I read this book. I absolutely loved Mansfield Park! Like all her other works, there is romance throughout, but not the near erotica of today’s romance. There’s no sex, no innuendo, no open sexual flirtation, just a little hand-holding (rare) or a kiss (very rare), but primarily just the interesting conversation and lively interactions between ladies and gentlemen.

Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price. Fanny was born to a rather poor family with a load of children. When her mother’s older sister offers to raise Fanny, she is sent to live at Mansfield Park at the age of 10, far away from her family and closest sibling, her older brother William. However, she takes of residence with her aunt and uncle Mr. and Mrs. Bertram and their four children – Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia. While growing up, she becomes close friends with Edmund and a personal helper to Mrs. Bertram. She is quite content with her second-place role to the rest of the children in the family. Also, there was Mrs. Norris, Fanny’s other aunt and Mrs. Bertram’s sister who is a continual busy-body in their life and reminding Fanny of how grateful she should be for the wonderful life she had been given.

The meat of the story falls just after Fanny turns 18. The elder sister of the Bertram family, Maria, lands a fiance and eventually a husband in the wealthy, but boring Mr. Rushworth. A new preacher moves into the area and his wife brings her younger sister and brother for an extended visit. The sister, Mary Crawford, begins to court Edmund and the brother, Henry, is a player who plays with the emotions between Maria and Julia. Eventually, there is a big kerfuffle at which point Maria’s husband decides to remove himself and his wife to his estate to the north, away from Henry Crawford,  Henry Crawford is essentially banned, and both Crawfords retire to town. Edmund is heart-broken, Fanny is heart-broken for Edmund, Julia is heart-broken, and Maria finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage.  Later, Henry Crawford pops back up when Fanny is visiting family and begins to court her. Fanny attempts to shake off the courtship but cannot seem to manage it. Eventually, Henry returns to town to wait for her he says while Fanny tries to convince Edmund that Mary Crawford doesn’t really love him.

It is a highly emotionally charged book. I loved Fanny and felt a strong connection with her. You felt each one of her emotions as she dealt with her growing emotions and love for different people. Her emotions are so pure and real you cannot help but relate to her. I found myself often yelling at the other characters because you could see what should happen but everyone was messing around. It was a fabulous book that I will be reading again.

My rating:

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2016 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · Book Reviews

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jeanne Rhys

Sargasso Sea B.C.

I was quite excited to finally get my hands on this book. I had heard a lot of good rumblings and reviews about it. I am a huge Jane Eyre and was excited to read about the back story of Bertha and Rochester’s life in Jamaica. However, I don’t know if it was the writing style or how I was reading it but I was surprisingly unhappy with the book. I do think though that the way I read, in bits and snatches when I had a free minute, contributed to  way I didn’t like it. I think that I will need to read it again to actually enjoy and fully understand it.

The book is written with quite a lot of Jamaican dialect, just so any future readers are aware. It is not super difficult to understand but it takes a little bit to get the hang of understanding the phrases readily. The book starts out with Bertha as a girl growing up with her mother on a plantation. It goes through her life, her friends, and her views on the world around her. In particular, it is an interesting study on the lives of whites in an area abundant with newly freed slaves.  In comes a man her mother marries and there lives subtly change. When the family is attacked, the move and Bertha begins to attend boarding school. Then the book cuts to the wedding between Bertha and Rochester. Of course, like all the reviews stated, Rochester is not directly named but anyone who had read Jane Eyre knows that it is him. Interestingly, Bertha is not actually called Bertha until much later in the book. After the wedding, the book follows Rochester’s thoughts for quite a while. It goes through his struggle on his marriage and dealing with his new wife, his struggles with his family, and what he is hoping to accomplish. You don’t really get a feel for Bertha much in this section, but again it may have been the way I was reading the book. A little bit further into the book you have other people intervening and complicating the marriage with stories, lies, and hidden truths.  Eventually, you get to hear Bertha’s thoughts again and how she is dealing with the different developments and people around her. I didn’t think the writing really reflected her descent into madness very well, but I am going to read it again to see if I missed the slow changing of her thoughts.

For any other Jane Eyre fans, I would recommend the book. It did give a very interesting view of a Rochester that we did not get to see in Jane Eyre. I would recommend that you take your time when you read it and really pay attention to details and not wait long if you have to put it down before you pick it up again. It also provides and interesting view on how whites were treated in Jamaica after the freeing of the slaves. I was quite surprised by how much of a picture it painted of the time period, attitudes, beliefs, and fears that were present at the time.

2016 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · Book Reviews

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This book has been on my to-read list for quite a while. I had downloaded the Kindle book a while ago and when I logged on to Audible, I found I could get the audiobook for free since I had purchased the corresponding Kindle book. I am quite glad that I read the book. I added it to my list of books to read before you die. It quite an uplifting story and would be great for anyone to read.

The story follows 10 year old Miss Mary. She grew up in India with her parents until cholera wiped out her household. When she was little, she was raised by her nurse and was given anything she wanted. Everyone had to listen to her and do what she said. So when everyone was gone, she didn’t really know what to do. She was sent to live with her uncle in England. Her uncle was very hands off and left her to her own devices. Between her maid, the housekeeper, and a gardener, she slowly transitions from a spoiled, bored, sickly child to a rather independent, lively child who enjoys gardening. She is encouraged by everyone to spend as much time outdoors to improve her health and strength. She meets Dicken, her maid’s brother who has a strong affinity for animals and talking to him helps her see the world differently. She finds her way into a garden that has been shut-up and hidden for a decade. Between her and Dicken they begin to bring the garden to life and the changes they make there begin to reflect themselves in the spirits and health of the young ones. Mysterious crying in the house leads to a new discovery the helps to bring the magic of the secret garden completely to life.

I think the story is a great message to everyone. It teaches about the importance of not being spoiled and lazy. It shows acceptance of disabilities and illustrates the power of thoughts. I found the story to be highly enjoyable and engaging. The writing was simple and fun to read. The language was not extremely difficult but it did provide vocabulary that most children now-a-days do not hear very often. It is also told from the child’s point of view so it will be very easy for children to relate to. Even as an adult, I was able to connect with the story. The simple lessons taught throughout that I mentioned before are relevant even to an adult’s life and it helps to see the world through their eyes. I highly recommend this book if you have never read it before.

My rating:

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2016 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · Book Reviews

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I read this book in middle or high school years ago. I remembered it a couple months ago and decided to buy it. I remembered enjoying it greatly back then and hoped I would still enjoy it. I was not disappointed. I enjoyed it as much this second time as I did when I was younger.

The book has an interesting premise. Several people are invited to live in the same apartment building. Unbeknownst to them, they are all heirs, or immediately related to an heir, of one Samuel Westing. After a couple months, the death of Sam Westing is announced and the heirs are invited to the Westing mansion to have the will read. The will proposes a game, the Westing game, to determine who will inherit the money. The heirs are broken up into pairs and each set given a set of clues and $10,000 that they must agree how to spend. Then the game begins. While the pairs try to determine the significance of their clues, interesting things begin to happen. Bombs going off, friendships created or lost, old secrets coming to life, rampant theft, and the secrecy of clue keeping the apartment building interesting and the heirs stirred up. I liked that at the end of the book, they tell you want happened to everyone after the game was over and where they were five years later. It’s always nice when there is an epilogue and you are not left wondering what happens to them later.

The characters are well developed and completely relateable. They are as unlikely a crew as could be imagined – a bride from China who can barely speak English, a judge, two doctors, a cleaning lady, a retired court stenographer, a high school athlete, a retired dressmaker, and a disabled child just to name a few. Each person has a distinct personality and traits that you learn more and more about through the book. One of my favorite characters was the judge. However, as you learn more and more about each person’s history, they all become more interesting.

Even though I remember who inherited, I was still surprised that I couldn’t figure out how until the reader discovered it in the book. It is a clever story line and engrossing in its puzzle like nature. It is written for young adults, but older adults will enjoy it as well. There is no vulgarity, no sex, no drugs, nothing unmoral, just a good storyline. I think it is especially good for younger adults as a way to find entertainment that is completely wholesome and interesting. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good mystery. The only downfall to it is that I will have to wait a while to re-read it so I forget how to solve the puzzle! It is quite short as well, under 250 pages, and would be great for a summer read. Check it out!

My rating:

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2016 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge · Book Reviews

Anne of Greene Gables by L. M. Montgomery

I love the Anne of Green Gables series. I fell in love with it about a year and a half ago when I first read the stories on the recommendation of a friend. I loved them so much my husband bought me the box set for Christmas LOL. When I ran out of audiobooks, I found that I still had the first Anne of Greene Gables on my iPod so I just started listening to it. I forgot how good the book was. Anne is such a fun, imaginative, and energetic character. It would be so hard to not like her. She sees life in such an interesting way it is hard not to be thoughtful about how you think life compared to Anne. She is so open-minded and imaginative that it makes you begin to think things would be like in your life if you follow her example.

The story follows Anne after she is adopted by Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert. Throughout the five or so years the books cover you see her grow from a fascinating young girl into an interesting young woman. She makes a series of amusing mistakes and gets into a lot of scrapes. She makes friends, learns about herself more, and becomes loved by the town. She read about her growing relationships with her adoptive family, her best friend, and the rivalries she develops at school. Throughout it all, Anne renames places to make them more interesting, talks about her dreams and desires, and uses her imagination to create such interesting stories it is hard not to enjoy.

The is a wonderful coming of age novel that demonstrates the value of being yourself and following your dreams. Anne is a great role model for young girls and the book is light-hearted throughout, even in the sad places thanks to Anne’s interesting thoughts and insights. I highly recommend this book to anyone, even adults. It’s one of my favorites and I think everyone could find some value in it, the least of which is wholesome, clean, and light-hearted entertainment.

My rating:

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