Murder on the Orient Express Review

Holy crap! Two posts in just over two weeks? What is this, sorcery?!

Nope! Just little ol’ me, finally getting a little time to read for my own pleasure! So, what did I read you may ask? (Or you might not ask, since it’s the title of this blog…) Well, friends, I decided to go tried-and-true: Agatha Christie.

Hercule Poirot is easily one of my favorite personalities sprung from the world of fiction. Now I have a confession to make: I had never read any Agatha Christie story before this one. I know! I’m sorry, don’t crucify me! It actually occurred to me only recently that I hadn’t read any of the stories, but I have a (somewhat-)valid excuse:

My parents instilled in me a love of Poirot since I was a kid. I have seen all of the Peter Ustinov Poirot’s, and many others (but Ustinov is by far my favorite), and absolutely adore the character. So why did I never read the books? Well, that’s a question I asked myself two weeks ago.
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You see, I saw that there is going to be a new film version of Murder on the Orient Express, and immediately was ecstatic because, I mean… c’mon, it looks amazing. But then I was like, wait – have I never read any of the Poirot novels?? Well let’s change that.

So I took matters into my own hands. I bought several Poirot novels, only two of which I’ve seen in film version, including my all-time favorite Hercule Poirot story, Death on the Nile (Maggie Smith for the win!), and a copy of Murder on the Orient Express. Keep in mind, I have not seen these movies in years and couldn’t (still can’t) remember the majority of the murderers – only the plots, which means that I can enjoy the endings as intended!

For those who are unfamiliar with Agatha Christie, here’s a little somethin’ for ya: Christie is a wildly successful crime novelist and short story writer. In fact, she is so successful that she is the most published author, only being out-sold by the Bible and Shakespeare. She’s written over seventy novels, as well as short stories, plays, autobiographies, and romance novels. Most of her books are detective stories, and more than fifty of them include my dear Hercule Poirot, private investigator.

So, now that that’s cleared up: let’s hop to it! This story is the ultimate mind-fuck. I’m just putting it out there now. Obviously I’ll say now that there will be no spoilers in this article, because I’m not a monster. Here we go:

One: Plot

Okay, Christie has always been known for her amazing stories, that is no doubt. However, this story is incredibly intriguing. The story is obviously centered around Poirot, but the plot of the novel is this: On a train journey across the Orient, Poirot finds himself in a sleeping car with thirteen other passengers. Overnight the train is stopped by a huge snow storm and the train, and its passengers are stranded together. Come morning things get interesting – the wealthy Samuel Ratchett is found stabbed a dozen times in his compartment. Who committed the crime?

This is amazing for many reasons, but primarily because there’s just nothing like it. As far as murder mysteries go, it’s usually a man that gets poisoned in a mansion, or is shot in a small town and the place is in a frenzy trying to find the murderer. In this case, there are thirteen passengers, plus Poirot, and no one could have come on or off the train, leaving everyone in cramped quarters and high tension.

What a lovely setting!

Two: Writing Style

Christie’s writing style for Murder on the Orient Express is really nothing short of brilliant. It’s broken up into three parts: “The Facts,” “The Evidence,” and “Hercule Poirot Sits Back and Thinks.” This is honestly the best possible way to construct this novel. The first part, “The Facts,” really just follows Poirot on his journey from one train to another across the Orient, up until just past the murder. The second part, “The Evidence,” meets with all of the individuals on the train and gets their testimonies/alibi’s. And finally, in part three, “Hercule Poirot Sits Back and Thinks” about the information he has received and begins to piece together what really happens.

As someone new to the Christie writing genre, I was unsure at first what to expect in terms of writing flow, and difficulty in understanding the language of the 1930s. But I have to hand it to her, she writes a mean novel! The way she split it into three parts made it very easy to understand what was going on and how the characters each fit in to the plot. Sublime!

Three: Characters

It can be very difficult for an author to write this many novels with the same main character. As a writer myself, I can see how it would be strenuous to consistently come up with unique stories, and new unique characters. Now I understand that Christie got inspiration for this story from the true story of the Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932. However, she put a very imaginative spin on it, and made it so intriguing.

Each character gets their own aforementioned chapter, but it’s not without reason. Each person is telling Poirot where they were and what they were doing at the time of the murder, and each person has seemingly airtight alibis. Christie shows the difference between gender, classes, generations, and cultures, and seems to do it seamlessly, all the while still centering around our favorite investigator who always has the answers halfway through the plot but you’d never know it.

Honestly, I am so glad that I read this novel. I’m already reading another, and hopefully, if my workload doesn’t get too crazy, I’ll be able to write a review on that shortly. Obviously, I will be seeing the film version in theatre in November, and absolutely cannot wait! So I’ll definitely do a book vs. movie ASAP.

Hopefully y’all found this helpful if you were considering getting into Agatha Christie novels, and I find that this is a really great story to start with to get you used to the kind of language and detective style that Poirot has.

As always, if you have any comments or questions you can leave them below or you can shoot me an e-mail at rachel@booksandcleverness.com! I hope to hear from you all soon!

Until next time,

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

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Top 3 Favorite Short Stories

Hey y’all, I’m back! I’ve been incredibly busy recently with summer classes, and as of today finished my last summer class before the fall (and my wisdom teeth and ankle surgery *insert whining emoji*). But YAAAY!

I took a really cool class, though, called The Short Story. Can you tell I’m an English major? Anyway, it was very interesting, we covered a lot of different mediums, including radio dramas, “story songs” (aka….songs), and even a comic book. It was really cool to see the different ways in which a short story can be portrayed. However, obviously the main objective was text.

So I thought, hey! I haven’t really been reading for myself in my spare time, but I have been reading a LOT! So I figured, what the heck! Lemme give you guys my top three favorite short stories that we covered in my class (keep in mind, we read a hell of lot more than three, so this was a tough list to narrow down – honorable mentions will be at the bottom)!

So, without further ado:

“Maggie: A Girl of the Streets” – Stephen Crane

I’m sure some of you might have read this story – really a novella – before in high school. But I dropped out of my public high school for a period of time, and when I went back to a different school we certainly did not cover short stories, mostly just Shakespeare (yaaaassss! <3). But let me tell you: this story is GOLD.

To give you a little background, “Maggie” is set in the poor tenements of New York City at the turn of the century, and centers around a girl, Maggie (duh), and her brother Jimmie. The two grow up in an abusive family with two alcoholic parents. The story progresses from their time as children to their lives as adults, where Jimmie is basically the King of the Streets, and Maggie grew to be a really beautiful woman (Crane describes this as “blossom[ing] in a mud puddle”). The story takes an ugly turn, and I won’t tell you any more than that, for fear of ruining it for you. But oh my God, please go read it.

From the book I was reading, Barbara Solomon’s The Haves and the Have-Nots, it was about 65 pages long – so longer than your average short story, but certainly not longer than a book or even really a modern novella (although it is considered a novella).

I HIGHLY recommend this story. Keep in mind, it is set in the tenement districts of NYC – so a very poor, very depressed time period, with alcoholism and all kinds of other not pleasant things. So if you’re not in the mood for something dark, don’t read it just yet. However, I think it was fantastic, and something that everyone should read. If not for the sake of the interesting plot, at least for the historical significance and imagery.

“The Musgrave Ritual” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It wouldn’t have felt right not to include at least one Sherlock Holmes story. We read practically half of  The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries and it was fantastic!

“The Musgrave Ritual” is honestly the epitome of Sherlock Holmes, in my opinion. While the story is told, as always, through Watson’s perspective, this story is actually set many years prior when Holmes was first starting as an independent detective. Holmes helps an old school acquaintance. His Butler, and the butler’s scorned lover, have disappeared. In order to solve the mystery, Holmes must first solve his friend’s old family “ritual” or riddle:

“Whose was it? His who is gone. Who shall have it? He who will come. Where was the sun? Over the oak. Where was the shadow? Under the elm. How was it stepped? North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and by one, and so under. What shall we give for it? All that is ours. Why should we give it? For the sake of the trust.”

Like WTF??  If you want to know the answer, you’ll have to read the story…. Muah hahaha!

“To Build a Fire” by Jack London

I’m sure many of you have read The Call of the Wild, but for those who have not read any of his short stories – please do! “To Build a Fire,” like most Jack London stories, are very man vs nature. It centers around an older, but physically fit, man in the Alaskan wilderness. Rather than going the easy way to the campsite, he and his dog go through the rough snow storm the long way.

True to Jack London form, he gives glimpses of what the dog is feeling or experiencing through a lens, and makes for a really wonderful read. While certainly not as depressing as “Maggie” it does have parts where you’re going to be yelling at the book and saying “you’re such an idiot,” “how could you?” and “daaaamn!” But it is well worth it!

If you’re interested at all in what it’s like in the harsh Alaskan wilderness in the late 19th century, this story is definitely for you. But I find that it’s just an overall wonderful story, that I think everyone needs to read.

So that’s all, folks! Those are the three most impactful, and exciting stories that I read during my six week session. I hope you guys read them because I really enjoyed them, and think you will too. Hopefully, now that I have two weeks on my own, I’ll be able to finally read some books for my own entertainment and not for a good GPA, but I’ll keep you guys posted!

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or e-mail me with the address below! Hope to hear from you soon!

By the way, honorable mention goes to:

  • “A Pair of Silk Stockings” – Kate Chopin (The Haves and Have-Nots)
  • “The Five Orange Pips” and “The Adventure of the Dancing Men” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries)
  • Because it’s a classic: “The Gift of the Magi” – O. Henry (23 Great Stories)

Until next time!

Rachel

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Works Cited

Crane, Stephen. “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.” The Haves and Have-Nots, edited by Barbara Solomon, New American Library, a division of Penguin Group, 1999, pp. 219 – 284.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. “The Musgrave Ritual.” The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, Signet Classics, 2014, pp.  421 – 439.

 

London, Jack. “To Build a Fire.” 23 Great Stories, by David Leavitt and Aaron Their, The Penguin Group, 2013.

Book vs TV Series: The Handmaid’s Tale

Hey guys! As usual, I’m sorry it’s been for-fucking-ever since I posted last, but I think I have a pretty valid excuse: we bought a townhouse! So I’ve been really busy, I’m trying to get acclimated, and get my doggy acclimated (harder than it sounds), and I just started school again. So, that being said, with all the craziness going on, I’ve managed to read a book!

Now I’m sure you’ve gathered this from the title, but I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have to be honest, I’ve heard of this book before, and have seen it in passing and book stores my whole life and never had a desire to read it until I saw a trailer for Hulu’s new original series of the same name. I was listening to Britney Spears radio Pandora (like there’s any other station, amirite?) and a REALLY short commercial came on, because I’m not paying for that “no ads” shit, that basically said something like, ‘My name is Offred. But I had another name, once, in my other life – but I was asleep then. Now I’m awake.’ or something like that and I was like SAY WHAAAAAAAAT?? So naturally I bought it immediately.

And I’m really glad I did. This book has it all. It’s interesting and intriguing from the first page to the last (particularly the last), but it doesn’t go overboard. What I mean by that is that a lot of books, especially books set in dystopian societies, tend to want to cram too much information in there. It’s like the author needs to give an explanation for why certain things happen a certain way, and while I fully agree that authors should give you information, I don’t always believe they should give you all of the information.

There are some books, like The Martian, where more information is needed because most of the readers aren’t fluid in botany, engineering, or frickin’ space travel, But some books, like Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA by Tony Mendez (the real-life guy that Ben Affleck played in Argo) that overloads you with information. I really, genuinely, honestly, do not give a fuck about all of these acronyms – I understand that a lot of government branches have long names and they require acronyms, but do you really need to bring up like twenty different branches throughout the first fifty pages and then NEVER bring up what the acronyms stand for again? I mean seriously, I was flipping through the book like four times a night trying to figure out what the hell branch of government he was talking about at any given time. I respect you, Mendez, you done good in Iran, but chill the fuck out with the acronyms.

Anyway, Atwood does a fantastic job of giving you enough information so that you know it’s sinister, or enough information to know what’s going on or what could happen, without blatantly expressing such. The novel is expertly written, it ebbs and flows back and forth between past and present, and captures the horror, complacency, terror, and understanding that come with being a Handmaid, and a person, in this society.

While I definitely could have used another 40 pages or so of information, she does offer an “Historical Notes” chapter at the very end that I found interesting, and definitely food for thought.

I will say this: if you don’t like kinda gross, but not gory details, don’t read this book. But if you love women fighting back, if you love the power and strength that women can conjure even in the hardest, darkest, and most oppressive of times, you will love this book.

I’m actually mad at myself that I never picked it up sooner, because to me it’s fantastically empowering. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!

Now, as for the TV show…. it’s aight. *shrug emoji*

Before I continue: I’m only three episodes in, so this review may be inaccurate after I watch a few more episodes, but so far I find this show fun, entertaining, but only somewhat accurate to the book, with a few small issues hidden in there too.

Look, I’m never one of those people that thinks it needs to be exact to the book. The only time I get upset is when a movie (or in this case a TV show) changes the facts of the story. For example, I was upset when the Burrow burned down in HP and The Half-Blood Prince. I completely understood that it was for action in an otherwise non-action-y time in the movie, but the Burrow didn’t burn down in the book! The biggest problem I had with that was just the complete lack of accuracy. They could’ve just had a fight at the Burrow – that would have made sense – but to burn down the house meant that in the following movie the Burrow needed to look different than it had the previous five movies, which completely threw me off as an audience member. Now obviously that’s a small example, but honestly those are the kinds of inaccuracies that bug me in this show.

They’ve changed little facts. Like in the book we don’t know what happened to Luke, but Offred mentions he’s dead in the first or second episode (not a spoiler at all, though, guys – it happens like 30 seconds into the show). We never know Offred’s real name because her name is supposed to be a treasure and secret that’s just for her, but in the show we know it’s Jen. In the show Serena Joy is not only seemingly much younger, but also does not have the slight handicap she has in the book, and doesn’t even seem very resentful, and actually seems somewhat pleasant most of the time. The Commander as well has dark black hair in the show, but they make it a point to say that he has grey hair in the novel.

Now, okay, am I being nit-picky? Yes. But isn’t that what I’m here for?  I mean, if the question is: Is this a good, entertaining, interesting show? Then the answer is undoubtedly yes. Yes yes yes. But if the question is: Is the show basically the book but in show format? Then no. They’ve added things in, like Ofglen’s story, and they’ve taken things out, like Serena Joy’s background. Also, is it just me or do the characters seem a little disconnected from one another.

Like Nick and Offred obviously have some kind of tension between them, but Nick isn’t as flirty or sarcastic, or even as douchey in my opinion, and Offred isn’t as snarky back to him. In fact I’ve barely seen any of that and that was some of my favorite stuff from the book.

But I’ll be lenient here. I understand that they’re not making a movie, they’re creating a series and that needs to span at least twelve episodes, and from what I’ve heard they’ve been renewed for a second season. So I guess you can’t really take a 300 page book and turn it into 24 hours. Also, I will admit that I’m still early in the game: from my experience, shows start to pick up around the three episode mark, and I’m about five minutes into episode four, so maybe I just need to give it more time.

So, my final thoughts? Read the book. It’s absolutely incredible. The writing is phenomenal, the imagery is spectacular, and it’s just truly extraordinary, ESPECIALLY in today’s society, with all the crap that’s going on, and this patriarchal thought process that says women are just toys to be played with, have no say over their own bodies, and anything that goes wrong in their lives is directly caused by them and not any extenuating circumstances (*cough cough* sexual assault).

As for the show, it’s a very interesting, fun show to watch. It’s not fun in the traditional light-hearted sense, but it’s an entertaining show that keeps my interest. Have I watched better shows? Yes. Am I hesitant to watch more because they’re 57 minutes long? Yes. But if you have the time, and you like extra drama, then this is perfect for you.

But I still highly highly highly recommend the novel. I think it’s something any feminist (and don’t start on me with the feminist term, I understand people misuse it, abuse it, and use feminism as a crutch. But I’m just a traditional feminist who just genuinely wants women, and people in general, to be equal and treated equally, with the right to do whatever they please with their own body – no shaming involved! That, to me, is exactly what feminism represents, and I will use the term as such) needs to have on their bookshelf. If for no other reason than to empower yourself when you read it.

And for any man interested in this novel – good on you! I’m 100% sure that you’ll enjoy this novel, and if you don’t let me know and I would love to hear why. I think this is a great book for men to read, again, if for no other reason than you can get into the mindset of a woman who has no control over her situation and body. I’m also of the belief that the more you’re enthusiastic to learn about new topics, or topics that may not directly affect you, the more prepared and better off you’ll be for life in general. Education is a wonderful thing!

Okay! That said, I will try to continue watching the show and if I change my mind on any of my opinions stated before I just might write an edited review, so if you’re interesting in keeping a look out for that post or any other articles I write in the future, follow me! You can add your e-mail address to the box on the top right, and you’ll get a notification every time I post on here!

In the meantime, if you have any opinions, comments, or questions, please feel free to comment below or to e-mail me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Until next time,

Rachel

E-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Banned Books Week!

Hello everyone! I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I’m back! Today I actually have something that I want to talk about, something that I’ve recently learned about and just can’t understand: banning books.

Throughout America there is currently a bit of an uprising in the reading community. Different places throughout the country are attempting to ban books from schools and entire cities, and sadly it seems like there is a decent amount of support to make it happen. Fortunately, the last week of September is known as Banned Books Week, where people can show their support of keeping these books somewhere with immediate access, and promote the education of long-time masterpieces in the American culture.

One of the most controversial books right now is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Why? Because it uses the word “nigger” frequently throughout the book. While I want to stress that it is never okay to use that word, ever, I also don’t think it’s a word that we, as a society, should pretend never existed. For hundreds of years black people were brought from their homes in Africa to a place where they were treated less than animals. They were called “nigger” and they were oppressed, beaten, and turned into slaves.

When the 15th Amendment was passed, these slaves were legally created equal, but they were not socially created equal. They were continually called the “n” word and they were treated as inferior humans. Even today the “n” word gets thrown around like it’s nothing. In regards to Huck Finn, it’s important to remember that everything said in the book was not meant to insult the reader, but rather educate the reader on what happens and what is said in 1880’s daily life.

Another book that is constantly under fire is The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920’s book about rich partying socialites has been under scrutiny for its content on alcohol and sex. This particular ban irks me to my core because the entire 1920’s was exactly that: booze and sex. In the mid 1920’s Prohibition was in effect. All of New York City is said to have had at least 100,000 speakeasies (give or take the thousands that were shut down by Prohibition agents). The 20’s brought another kind of excitement for young adults as well: sex. It’s said that during that time “men found the clitoris.” Basically, the majority of cities in America were completely alcohol dependent, and sexual activity was at an all-time high. Haven’t you seen Boardwalk Empire??

The thing to remember with books written a long time ago, is that they were NOT MEANT TO OFFEND they were simply meant to bring awareness to the public by writing about what happens in daily life, while still adding a fun fictional flair to the work. But the thing that upsets me the most is that these books are part of our history they are written by people who experienced these lifestyles and wanted to tell others about it. It’s written to bring light to fact that young white people just called black people “niggers” not even because they hated black people, but because that is what they were told was the acceptable behavior.

It’s bringing light to the fact that even the richest, most affluent and respectable families in the 20’s were fueled by illegal alcohol, affairs, and often cruelty. That is what was acceptable. Fitzgerald was not saying that partying all the time is the right way to live your life, he was simply telling a fictional story of what he believed happened during the Roaring Twenties.

The thing to remember is that all of this is history. No one is saying that everyone should forget slavery happened, because it did! It did, and it was awful, and cruel and just plain wrong. And yet, people are saying that a fictional book should be forgotten because it uses a word that was used every single day for hundreds of years in the book. No one is saying that we should forget that there was a ban on alcohol for years and it drove people to do horrendous things, and yet they’re saying to forget this fictional book because it glorifies partying, drinking and sex.

It’s hypocritical and it’s wrong. That’s why for the last week of September the American Library Association is challenging readers to read and understand as many banned and challenged books they can. To prove that no one can tell you what you can and can not read. No one can tell you that you are not allowed to have opinions or the right to freedom of speech.

So for the last week of September, choose a book and read it!. I’ll list a bunch of books that are currently banned in cities or that are being challenged (almost banned) in cities. You can read as many as you want, or as little as you want. Just spread the word! Exercise your right to read what you want to read.

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

The Call of the Wild – Jack London

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

The Jungle  – Upton SInclair

Moby Dick – Herman Melville

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

1984 – George Orwell

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Ulysses – James Joyce

AND SO MUCH MORE!!! This is only a fraction of the banned and challenged books! Visit http://www.ala.org for more information on banned books and to see what books are banned and being challenged.

Until next time! Happy reading!

Rachel

email: rachel@booksandcleverness.com