Posts Tagged ‘Books’

The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 1The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 1 by Robert Kirkman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first hefty graphic novel I’ve read in quite awhile. It’s definitely entertaining and you want to keep reading.

But it can also get really depressing. I’m not spoiling you by saying people die – a LOT of people die. More than in a Shakespearean tragedy.

So if you want to delve into this, I’ll pass on the same advice my friend Austin who loaned this to me said – “Don’t get too attached to any of the characters.” He’s not kidding.

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Coming attraction in books

Who’s excited? I am.

Mockingjay cover

Thanks to MNPP for the tip.

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All things Agatha Christie

I was digging through my old blog posts and was shocked to discover that I’ve never written more than a passing reference to Agatha Christie.  This is unacceptable as she is my favorite author.  I own every book she’s ever written and have read most of them.  If you aren’t familiar with her work it’s time you got an education.  (And I don’t mean that Carey Mulligan movie.  More on the Oscar nominations in a future post.)

Agatha Christie is one of the most prolific and popular mystery writers in history.  In her lifetime she penned 80 novels, 20 collections of short stories and a half-dozen original plays.  Her books have been translated into 56 languages and she has only been outsold by one other book – the Bible.  She passed away in 1976 at the age of 85.

What she is known for is detailed character studies – she was often more fascinated with the psychology of the murderer than the crime itself.  But her plots were generally woven in a careful and intricate manner.  Christie wasn’t an author that needed to rely on a twist ending (OK, maybe twice) – all the pieces were there for the reader.  Piecing them together is the challenge (and the joy) of reading her books.

Along the way she established a few famous detectives but only two really held the interest of her readers over the years.  Hercule Poirot, the round Belgian investigator appeared in her very first novel, A Mysterious Affair at Styles and would carry through her work for decades.  Eventually Christie grew tired of writing about Poirot, but she kept him in many books to soothe public demand.  Her other famous sleuth was the mild-mannered spinster Miss Marple, from St. Mary Mead.  Marple appeared in a dozen books and many short stories.

If you’ve never read any of Christie’s books, you might be wondering – where to start?  A fine question – I’m here to help.  Below is a list of a few books that I think are a good place to get started – some of Christie’s best to introduce you to her work.  When in doubt – stick to the work in the 1930s to mid-1940s.  After that the quality became more sporadic.

  1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – The closest Christie ever got to a twist ending, this was the Poirot book that really got her noticed.  Shocking in its dénouement, you’ll wonder why you didn’t see it coming.
  2. The Murder at the Vicarage – This is the first novel to feature Miss Marple and to my mind remains the best.
  3. The A.B.C. Murders – My favorite of the Poirot novels, this is the prototype for the serial killer genre so popular today.
  4. And Then There Were None – My all-time favorite Christie book.  If you see the ending coming, I owe you $5.

Over the years there have been (far too) many attempts to adapt Agatha Chritie’s work for the stage and screen with varying degrees of success.  Christie did all writing for the original plays and adapted plays herself and the greatest by far has been The Mousetrap.  It is, in fact, the longest running play in history – still going on London’s West End today after 57 years.

Amongst the movie adaptations, a few were truly successful.  And Then There Were None came out in 1945 and wins my personal award for Most Faithful to the Original Text.  Later versions would alter the location or the ending in ways that were not great.  The most famous film was 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot.  Although it moved away from the original book slightly, it was still well-done and exciting, featuring a host of famous actors including Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave and Maggie Smith.  It went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards and took home one of them – Ingrid Bergman for Best Supporting Actress.

After that the idea of doing a star-studded adaptation was in vogue, but the results got worse year after year.  Soon they moved to TV movies which went from really bad to pretty good.  Perhaps the best was Thirteen at Dinner starring Peter Ustinov as Poirot and Faye Dunaway as a famous actress.

Far better results came from (no surprise) the BBC which launched two successful TV series based on Christie’s books – Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet and Miss Marple starring Joan Hickson.  Later attempts have dipped into ludicrous territory – putting detectives in stories they never belonged in and changing major details along the way.  (This transgression made its way into later episodes of the Poirot series also.)

And that’s a brief introduction to the wonderful world of Agatha Christie.  I hope you’ll check out her work – it’s some of the most fun and quick reading you can get.  Enjoy!

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What’s in my Bookbag

First of all I acknowledge that I haven’t posted in quite awhile.  My apologies if you were missing me, but I was going through a writer’s block phase, I guess.  Anywho, at the moment I’m typing while on the train home from New York, which is a great time to relax and get some thoughts down.

For this post I thought it was time I talked about what I’ve been reading lately – because it’s actually been a lot!  Also I haven’t mentioned a book on this blog in ages.

catching-fireMost recently I devoured Suzanne Collins’ books – The Hunger Games and Catching Fire – the first 2 parts of a planned trilogy.  It’s classified as “young adult fiction,” but considering the subject matter I would have to take issue with that label.  In the post-apocalyptic country of Panem, the wealthy denizens of the Capitol force the plebeians in the 12 outer districts to participate in an annual lottery.  One boy and one girl in their teens from each district are selected to participate in a televised death-match, with the winner promised a life free from want.  Gripping and fast-paced, I think these books are not to be missed.

Biographies are something I enjoy on occasion, and I’ve recently read two.  The first was Julie Andrews’ autobiography Home, which chronicles her life up through the start of her film career.  One learns much about life in London during wartime, and about the heady days of Broadway in the 50s and 60s.  The book was slow to start, but once she begins talking about life in My Fair Lady, it becomes most compelling.

As delightful a storyteller as she was a teacher, Julia Child’s book My Life in France is enchanting.  Her ability to describe food and the experience of eating it is a revelation.  We learn a lot about the French way of life, and how Julia maintained a storybook love affair for decades.  After reading this, you will never look at a cookbook the same way again.

I know it’s not always historically accurate, and there is much disdain for his style of writing out there, but I don’t care – I love Dan Brown.  He spins a tale in a way that you are drawn along like a fish on a line, and his books are hard to put down.  So I was excited for his latest, The Lost Symbol, which takes Robert Langdon on an adventure in our nation’s capital.  As a resident of the D.C. area for years, the book was a particular pleasure.  I learned a lot about our fascinating and storied city, all the while being sucked into another exciting adventure.  On the whole I don’t think this one lived up to Brown’s previous 2 books, but it was nonetheless an enjoyable read.

For a complete change of pace, I was interested in our book club’s choice of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  But feeling the pull of a purist, I chose to first read Jane Austen’s original novel.  And that was definitely a tough one – I eventually felt it sailing along, but it was a challenge to get into.  However, I was well-rewarded when taking on Seth Grahame-Smith’s book, as it lifts directly from Austen’s text for much of the novel, allowing me to move quickly from scene to scene to enjoy the brain-munching mayhem.  It’s hard to explain how this mix of classic and contemporary works, but I assure you it’s seamless.  And if you ever read the original and though a few characters were just awful and deserved to be punished – rejoice!  This time around, they get what’s coming to them.Pride-and-Prejudice-and-Zombies-Cover

So there’s just a sampling of what I’ve been reading lately – how about you?  Have you read any of these and would like to offer an opinion?  Or do you have any good recommendations for me to pick up next?

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Like so many bloggers out there, it’s time for me to post my 2008 year in review.  To keep it simple, I’ll list my best and worst picks in each category.

I have two little caveats.  First of all, I’m behind on my year-end movie viewing, so there’s a lot of awards fodder that I have yet to see – Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon…  So I’ll be focusing on what I’ve actually seen.  And for my worst on each list, I will sometimes be focusing not so much on the worst thing, but perhaps the most disappointing.  You’ll see what I mean.

Best and Worst of 2008Best movies of the yearWall•E and The Dark Knight

This one has to be a tie, as both films were just unbelievably good.  The former was a simple love story that tugs at the heart, with visuals so stunning you wonder, “What can they do next?”  The latter was a tightly wound action masterpiece, with a performance by Heath Ledger that deserves a posthumous Oscar.  Dual brilliance!

Worst movie of the yearVantage Point

I’m fairly certain that when the director was putting this action thriller together, his intention wasn’t to make the entire audience crack up.  And yet that’s what was happening all around me as we saw this stinker.

Best DVDs we rentedJohn Adams (TV) and Young @ Heart (movie)

John Adams was a real surprise.  I’d heard all the good reviews but was unprepared to be so enthralled with…history.  And for movies there was nothing more enchanting than a group of senior citizens breathing new life into classic rock in Young @ Heart.

Best and Worst of 2008 2

Worst DVD we rentedThe Advocate

Not even the naked tush of Colin Firth could save this horrendously bad and bizarre tale of people who put animals on trial for witchcraft.

Best and Worst of 2008 3

Photo courtesy ABC.com

Best TV show of the yearLost

I loved me some Battlestar Galactica, but with so few episodes actually airing in 2008, I have to give the edge to the full 4th season of Lost which took things in exciting new directions between flash-forwards and the revelations about the Oceanic 6.  “JIN!!!!”

Worst TV show of the yearHeroes

Yes, I know it can’t really be the worst when you think about horrible reality shows on E! and VH1, but this one was by far the biggest disappointment.  Poised for a huge comeback (or so we were told) it merely fizzled out with the same lame crap they did in season 2.  When a sophomore slump turns into junior junk, it’s time to throw in the towel.

Best album of the yearFunplex by The B-52’s

For a band that’s been around this long, it was a blast to see them come out with something so amazing and fun.  But I’ll give an honorable mention to Adele’s 19 which was a real find.

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Most annoying song of the year – “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry

Yeah, I’m not going to be buying an album unless I know it’s pretty good (the wonder of the iTunes revolution).  So I’ll pick this song as the one that grates on my nerves every time I hear it.  An SNL parody didn’t help matters much.

Best and Worst of 2008 5Best book I read this yearAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

To call a book life-changing is high praise, but in this case it fits the bill.  In the last 6 months we have really changed our lives in small ways towards purchasing and eating local food and it’s been awesome.

Worst book I read this yearThen We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

This was not only totally opposite what I expected from reading the cover, it just was annoying.  Our book club managed to talk about it for about 20 minutes before we were ready to set it aside and gab about things in life that are actually interesting.

Favorite new game of the yearThurn und Taxis

I like the pace, style and myriad choices this game offers.  Relatively easy to learn and most satisfying.  Good times!

Worst game situation of the year – An opponent gets the “Heavenly Halo” card in Killer Bunnies

Argh!  It kind of makes you want to kill their bunny.  Except you can’t.  (I’ll explain this game further in an upcoming post.)

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That’s my list – how about yours?  Are there some real winners for the year I just haven’t seen/read/heard yet?

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The Lace Reader – a quick review

The Lace Reader The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
What I enjoyed about this book the most is the pacing – it moves at a fast clip and (generally) doesn’t dwell on any once scene for too long. The characters are intriguing, and the pervading mystery keeps you reading.

Once the final mystery unraveled (no pun intended), I was actually a bit disappointed. I felt like it was a bit of a throwaway, although perhaps a second reading would illuminate that the answer was there throughout the narrative. But for now it felt like an obligatory Hollywood twist ending.

So on the whole I would have given this just 3 stars, but the brisk pace and fascinating setting made me bump it up to 4.

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