RSS Feed

Category Archives: 2017 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie

Since I discovered I greatly enjoy Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries, I went with this book as my next read because it sounded interesting. I was not disappointed. Like the other books, there were several twists and turns and all the little clues factored in to the final reveal of the murderer. I have to say I actually like these books a little more than Sherlock Holmes stories.

The book is written mostly from the perspective of Hercule Poirot’s good friend Captain Hastings. The premise for the book begins with Hercule Poirot receiving a letter about an imminent event that Mr. Poirot will be involved in and signed with the anonymous signature A.B.C. The event is a murder. Not a high-profile, sensational murder, but a crime against a lone shopkeeper that barely gets its own article in the newspaper. Thus begins a series of murders committed in alphabetical order (both the person’s name and the town) with letters sent ahead of time in warning.

You meet a host of interesting characters, ranging from the self-important Inspector Crome and the violently jealous boyfriend of one of the victims to the world-traveling brother and quiet personal secretary of another victim. Throughout it all you get snippets from other people’s points of view. You begin to think the murderer is one person then a piece of evidence shows up and it’s not them. Then clues lead you to think it’s someone else, but lo and behold it’s not them either. The actual murderer at the end really surprised me.

It was actually a really good book. Anyone who enjoys murder mysteries would greatly enjoy this book. I would also recommend it to anyone who wants to get into reading mysteries. There is no gory or sexual scenes which is nice. The majority of the time is the analysis of the evidence and creating conclusions based on what has been found. They are very similar to Sherlock Holmes, but a little better in my opinion.

My rating:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 12.27.43 PM

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

I decided to read this book because it sounded like an interesting self-discovery book. I can’t say that I was disappointed, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. I would label this book a classic, primarily because of its language and content. I actually found it was quite interesting although I’m not quite sure why.

The story follows Kitty Fane. She is a young (mid-20s) woman living with her husband Walter in the English colony in Hong Kong, China in the 1920s. Kitty had only married her husband in order to be married before her younger sister, and there is no love in her heart for her husband. She has an affair that her husband found out about. He gave her two choices he divorces her (leaving her ruined socially) or she goes with him to a remote Chinese village to help fight a cholera epidemic. After fighting with her lover, she consents to go to the village.

When she gets to the village, she is in a severe depression and the rest of the story is how she comes to view herself and those around her. There is the local English Customs official for the town that she finds herself in company with a lot, her husband Walter, and the local nuns that she spends the bulk of her time with and help to shape her ideas. The nuns in particular have a profound impact on her as she slowly changes her views of the world.

I think this book was a wonderful cultural read. You learned quite a bit about the English in China in the early 1900s. There’s prejudice and racism. Kitty in particular is quite racist, but for the time the language and opinions wouldn’t have been at all unusual. The first third of the book is Kitty having and being caught about her affair. After that, you move into rural china where a lot of the interesting aspects of the book are. You learned about nuns and why they become missionaries and how they are happy in their work. They reference traveling by chair all the time. I was correct in what I thought that meant, but was still surprised by this mode of travel. Here is the chair that is described. It is carried by collies (indentured servants) from the front and back.

Overall I thought it was an interesting read. I can’t say way in particular I thought it was good, but it was just the general impression of writing style, language, culture, and emotional growth. I can’t say Kitty grew by leaps and bounds, but she did grow some. I liked that the romance scenes happened ‘off stage’ by being alluded to and then a scene change. I enjoyed the language and writing style as well. The chapters are extremely short, some only a page or two long. It made it easy to stop as needed.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys classical fiction. Also, anyone interested in early 1900s China or the English colonization of China in that time frame might enjoy this, as long as they keep in mind it is still fiction and the story focuses on the emotions and life of a young woman. I’m giving it three cheese slices only because I think this is a one and done read. I can’t think that I’ll go back and read it, but it was an enjoyable read the first time through.

My rating:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 12.29.30 PM

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I’m pretty sure this is the first book I’ve read by a Black author. I decided I wanted to read something in honor of Black History Month and asked the library to recommend some authors to read. When Maya Angelou came up, I remembered I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was on my TBR list and decided that would be the one I was reading.

I cannot say I was blown away by the book, but I found it to be a very interesting cultural study. Having grown up after desegregation and the civil rights movement, a lot of the information and events in the book weren’t surprising. However, it was still fascinating and moving to see the world through the eyes of a young black girl.

I thought the most powerful part was her graduation from eighth grade. She discussed how the speaker was talking about the white school getting new microscopes and such but the black school was going to get a paved field. She explained that to a black girl she felt he was telling they could only have athletes as heroes, they could only hope to work in the trades but that was all – there was no hope for them to get into any other field. I found that very interesting. I had never seen words from that point of view before.

I thought the book was going to be more emotional for some reason. There was quite a bit of emotion and there were several heart-rending events, but it always felt somewhat detached. I’m not quite sure why. I almost wanted to get further in her head and see more of her thoughts than was in the book. It did give me insight into African American traditions (not sure that’s quite the right word…maybe habits?) and mindset. It was also a glimpse into a different era in a way you don’t often get to see (a child’s view as opposed to an adult view).

For anyone interested in a cultural study or African American history, this is a great read. For someone looking for an interesting book or memoir, this is also a good read. As for someone looking just for a book to read, I’d have to say you need to either be interested in memoirs, history, or culture in order to fully enjoy it.

My rating:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 12.29.30 PM

Florence Grace by Tracy Rees

Florence Grace by Tracy Rees

I was somewhat torn on how to review this particular book. Let me begin by saying the audio book narrator was fabulous and the book was actually a lot longer than I had expected. The beginning and end of the book were wonderful. It was the middle of the book I had some issues with.

The story follows Florrie Buckley, a young girl from the wild moors of Cornwall being raised by her grandmother. She is a special girl with a strong intuition that is taught by a London born school teacher and the local wise woman. Before her grandmother dies, Flory learns her mother comes from a powerful London family, called the Graces, that disowned her when she married a low-born Cornish man. Florrie is then sent to live with the Graces.

In London, Flory meets her extended family members. The Graces are obsessed with power and status and to that end are not easy on Flory as she transitions from Florrie Buckley to Florence Grace. Some of their actions are downright cruel. She is close with her cousin Sanderson and feels a very close kinship with her other cousin Turlington. Turlington is the heir to the family, but is also the black sheep that is disowned on a regular basis. Florrie is miserable in London until she meets to people – Rebecca, the daugther of the local cheese shop owner, and Jacob, an orphan boy Florrie becomes friends with. These two people, along with Turlington, become the sole sources of comfort in her life. There is love won and lost, and the rediscovery of who she is and what she wants out of her life.

I’m not going to put any spoilers in here. However, my biggest issue with the book was Florrie’s relationship with a man that is no good for her. Like her friends point out, there is not way she can be with him. When she is with him, she is so torn by her feelings she loses sight of who she is and has become. Most of the middle of the book I was regularly annoyed with her for her actions with the man. Unfortunately, it’s nothing I haven’t seen with actual women and men who are bad for them. That being said, it’s still annoying.

This book is written as a historical fiction and follows the dynamics and societal rules of the day, but primarily focuses on Florrie and her emotions. You don’t see the flashy balls or the verbal batting that is so interesting in Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters novels. Additionally, the vocabulary, phrasing, and topics are definitely not the same as if it was written in the time period.

I was going to give the book three marks, but I feel like this is a book I’d read again. It has some sage advice and some very interesting parts. It also teaches lessons about being true to yourself and admitting what you really want in life. It awakens ideas of what some people will do in order to achieve power. For people who enjoy drama, this is a great book. Those who don’t enjoy drama may not like this. A good way to recommend it is if you like Emma and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, you’ll probably like this book.

My rating:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 12.29.16 PM

The Pitbull Dog Breed: A Comprehensive Pitbull Owner’s Manual, Including Breed Specific Techniques by Edward Stenson

The Pitbull Dog Breed: A Comprehensive Pitbull Owner’s Manual, Including Breed Specific Techniques by Edward Stenson

I actually found this book to be somewhat pointless. It’s only 40 pages long (which I didn’t realize when I bought it offline). The book gives you a brief overview of the breed history and breed characteristics. It gives the general training methods for the five basic commands, not breed specific. You can find the same instruction in any training manual. That’s pretty much all, there isn’t any depth to the book. It’s literally just an overview. I have no idea why it’s labeled “comprehensive owner’s manual”. As a new pitbull owner I was really hoping for more. There are better books out there – I found them. Some are much more in-depth on the training side and some much more in-depth on the history side but most fall into a good mix that’s more than just an overview.

My rating:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 12.29.50 PM

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

My husband and I listened to The Orient Express last year and it made me realize how much I liked Agatha Christie. Her Ms. Marple series and And Then There Were None have been on my TBR list for a while. When we had another trip last week, we downloaded And Then There Were None to listen to on the way. I am no longer surprised by how great her books are.

The story begins describing the journey of eight people as they travel to Soldier Island. Each person got a letter from someone they knew inviting them to spend a week for various reasons. Each person accepted. When they arrive at the island they find a butler and a maid…but no one else. There hosts are not there. Just after dinner, the group gathers in the parlor for after dinner drinks. A mysterious voice booms into the quiet room accusing all ten people in the house of a murder. Shortly after, people begin to die and not die simply. Their deaths follow a pattern set forth in the poem Ten Little Soldier Boys poem that is posted throughout the house. What follows is a series of confessions, old memories, deaths, suspicion, and confusion. The book is so well written it is difficult to determine who the killer is and why. You learn all the stories of the accused crimes and determine for yourself if they are guilty or not.

The characters are well developed and thought out. Even the characters who die early you still get a really good feel for who they are. The background stories are interesting and give a great depth to the story line. You never feel like you are back in time reliving the events, but are getting a synopsis from the people that were there with all the emotion and clarity they choose to offer. This makes the retelling even more interesting as each one has been accused of murder. To be able to see if each character views him or herself as guilty is fascinating. Furthermore, you get to see how fear and suspicion affect people in a given situation. The things people do and the way they change under stress and constant fear was very interesting to see as well. I actually think the ending was the most brilliant part.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes murder mysteries or wants to get in to mysteries. It’s a completely clean book – no sex, no drug usage, no foul language, and the murders almost all occur ‘off screen’; the ones you do read are not gruesome, cruel, of violent in any way. The language is interesting without being confusing. The mix of characters unique and adds to the story. All-in-all are wonderful read.

My rating:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 12.27.43 PM

The Night is Mine (Night Stalkers #1) by M. L. Buchman

The Night is Mine (Night Stalkers #1) by M. L. Buchman

This is the first book in M. L. Buchman’s Night Stalker series. I’ve actually read the whole series, but reviewed very few of the books. The series is based on the best helicopter fighting squad in the Army that runs missions at night in the dangerous Hindu Kush Mountain range on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The information you learn is actually pretty cool, but it is a side benefit of the different story lines.

The book is about the first female in the SOAR program (the helicopter squad that flies at night). Captain Emily Beale grew up in Washington and joined the Army out of college and has been flying ever since. She is the first woman to break into the most elite squad there is. Shortly after she joins this amazing squad, she is pulled out on a secret mission to the White House. Here childhood crush is the current President and she is instructed to look after his wife, the First Lady, as it appears someone is trying to kill her. She is followed by her commanding officer, Major Mark Henderson, known as the Viper for his hard ass skills and amazing flying. The two develop a relationship throughout the story that is both interesting and unique.

This is one of my favorite books in the series. I come back to it again and again when I need something interesting to read. The story line is full of twists, turns, surprises, and emotional drama. However, it’s not the annoying, unnecessary emotional drama that a lot of romance books are filled with. All the emotional turmoil in the book is developed well and makes logical sense. The information you learn about different aspects of the White House, Secret Service, the Army, and helicopter flying are interesting, but I’m sure it’s mostly just basic information that anyone can discover easily. The characters are well-developed and work perfectly with the story. Most of them are easy to image or relate to, which is really great.  Almost all the characters you meet again later on in their own books or novellas of the series.

If you like military romance or romantic suspense this is a great book to go with in order to kick off the series. I’d also recommend it if you like romance, but it definitely isn’t a light-hearted book or an easy read. However, I find it is totally worth the read if you enjoy a good story.

My rating:

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 12.27.43 PM