Monday, November 28, 2022

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie

🍎 This one is, perhaps, by far, my least favorite of Christie's. The background is promising - a teenage Halloween party in English country village - packed with traditional games like bobbing apple, snapdragon, and many more. That part IS fun, also the appearance of Ariadne Oliver, but not, unfortunately, the murder part.

🍎 Ariadne Oliver, the famous crime writer who also makes her appearance on several others Poirot's mystery, is staying at a friend's in a country village. At a Halloween party prep, Joyce, a 13 y.o. girl blurted out that she'd witnessed a murder years earlier, though at that time she didn't understand what it was. Nobody believed her, though, as she's a liar and boastful girl.

🍎 But at the Halloween party, someone drowned her head in a pail full of water used for the apple-bobbing. A deliberate murder! Does it mean that Joyce did witness a murder after all, frightened the murderer, who then took a huge risk by killing her in the middle of a party? Or she's indeed a liar, and some mad scoundrel just happened to randomly kill her?

🍎 Ariadne Oliver called her friend, Hercule Poirot, to investigate the case. He immediately went through all murder cases that had happened some years earlier, which might have incidentally been witnessed by a little girl.

🍎 There'd be the second murder, of course, and then Poirot would come to a conclusion no one would have ever thought, as usual. So, it should have been one of my favorites, but it's not. I wonder why Hallowe'en Party had felt nothing like Christie's. Poirot seemed to be not his usual arrogant, confident self. He's more often on doubts and relies (too much) on other people's opinion. The whole plot/story also felt somewhat (too) unreal. I don't know, on the whole, it's not my favorite. And it's not the kind of book you'd hope to list as Halloween readings - well, unless what you seek is the British Halloween party vibes...

Rating: 3 / 5

Thursday, November 24, 2022

The 2023 TBR Pile Challenge


TBR Pile Challenge has been one of my favorite challenges, and next year it will turn 10! Congratulations, Adam!


My initial list for The 2023 TBR Pile Challenge:
(it will change along the way, of course, but one must start from something, right?)

  1. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  2. Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
  3. Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk (The Dancer) by Ahmad Tohari (Indonesian classic)
  4. Doctor Pascal by Émile Zola
  5. The Professor’s House by Willa Cather
  6. The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy
  8. Summer by Edith Wharton
  9. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  10. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  11. We Have Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  12. Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie

Alternates:

  • The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

 To participate in this challenge, just hop to the sign up post.


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

💎 Another brilliant piece of work from du Maurier! Although not as magnificent as Rebecca, it's still brilliant.

💎 The story is told by one of the most unreliable narrators in literature: Philip Ashley; an orphan who'd been brought up by his cousin: Ambrose Ashley, the owner of a large estate in Cornwall, England.

💎 Ambrose is Philip's world; he worshipped him as brother, father, and guardian. They have each other, this two brothers, and Philip will be Ambrose's heir after he turns 25. But their world is shattered the day Ambrose left to Italy, in need of warmer weather. He met a distant cousin, Rachel, a widow in Florence. He was soon infatuated by her, and eventually married her, and stayed in Florence.

💎 Ambrose soon fell ill with terrible headaches. His letters to Philip changed tone; he didn't trust Rachel, and even called her his tormentor. At this point Philip, whose hatred toward Rachel has rapidly growing, departed to Florence to save Ambrose. But it's too late, Ambrose's dead and buried in Florence.

💎 When Rachel came to Cornwall, Philip has been planning a revenge, since he's sure that Rachel has killed Ambrose. But this spoiled boy, who had nearly no experience in dealing with women before, was soon falling in love head over heels with his cousin Rachel.

💎 Now history repeats itself, Philip began to have similar illness to Ambrose, right after his 25th birthday, when he handed over the estate to Rachel and wanted her to be his wife. The question is, did Rachel really poisoned Ambrose (and now Philip) for their money/estate? Or she's merely an impulsive spendthrift woman who loves gardening, and thus keeping a packet of poisonous laburnum tree seeds in her drawer?

💎 One of my biggest pet peeves in literature is ambiguous ending. I'd prefer a rounded up story, of which I could either satisfyingly happy or mournfully broken-hearted, so that I can immediately close the book, and move on to next one. An uncertain ending, however, left me uncertained, and it's really annoying. My Cousin Rachel is one of the latter. Du Maurier leave us to guess ourselves whether Rachel is really an evil woman, or it's all just Philip's sentiment because of his jealousy. Remember, we know Rachel only from Philip's perspective, and he's emotional and unreliable, and perhaps on the border of madness (as was Ambrose).

💎 On my part, I prefer to conclude that Rachel is not innocent. She's a spendthrift - that's a fact - and her relationship with the lawyer/best friend Rainaldi could not have as innocence as she said it to be. They never talk openly, and always talk in Italian when Philip leaves the room. And the laburnum seed.. why keep it in her drawer? There could have been simple reason, but it's rather fishy, don't you think?

💎 All in all, it's rather an appropriate gothic reading, beautifully written. I admired Maurier's tension building and psychological thriller around a mysterious woman (just like in Rebecca), but.. like I said, I hated the inconclusive ending.

Rating: 4 / 5

Friday, November 18, 2022

A Literary Christmas 2022



It’s that time again! Tarissa of In The Bookcase is hosting another A Literary Christmas Challenge – though “Christmas” and “challenge” should not be in one sentence, right? Anyway, I’m joining again, and this year I’m planning (hoping) to read:


A Very French Christmas: The Greatest French Holiday Stories
French and Christmas in one sentence – now, c'est superb! It’s a compilation of Christmas or holiday stories by French writers such as: Guy de Maupassant, Alphonse Daudet, Irène Némirovsky, and some other contemporary authors.

Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies
A holiday classic and a novella, yum!

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
It’s not a Christmas reading list without at least one murder mystery, right? And it’s on my list of Agatha Christie Perpetual Reading Challenge anyway, so why not reading it on Christmas?

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron
What if Jane Austen investigates a murder mystery that happened at a Regency-era Christmas party? Delicious prospect, eh?


Have you also created your Christmas reading list? I’m even thinking of starting my 1st book this month, or as soon as I’ve finished my current readings (two books)! If you want to participate in this event, go directly to the sign up post.

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Mrs. Osmond by John Banville #BookAboutClassic

🖤 Mrs. Osmond is none other than Isabel Archer from Henry James' The Portrait of a Lady. Banville wrote this book to imagine Isabel's fate after her marriage with the deceitful Gilbert Osmond, who actually loved other woman (Madame Merle) and only married Isabel for money.

🖤 Mrs. Osmond starts where Portrait ends, thus making it a sort of its direct sequel. Banville's similarity in writing to James' style is also quite uncanny.

🖤 After Ralph's death in Portrait, Isabel was said to be leaving for Rome, returned to her bitter marriage with Gilbert Osmond. But Mrs. Osmond "revealed" to us that she's actually reluctant to return home, and made a detour, instead, to familiar places in England and France, in order to sort out her own predicament and what she would/could do when she must inevitably confront her husband. Would she continue to live unhappily in Rome, or could she secure her freedom, which Ralph has intended to when he left her the inheritance?

🖤 Reading this book reminded me again of how I was drowned to Isabel Archer's personalities while reading Portrait. Her intelligence, her crave for freedom, and her independent way of thinking. But also her pride and sense of duty to others who depended on her, which eventually led her to bitterness. In a way, I share those qualities, and that's why both Portrait and Mrs. Osmond would forever be two of the most memorable readings for me.

🖤 I would love to share Isabel's final decision here, but I think knowing the ending would lose the charm of reading this book. You need to follow Isabel's psychological struggle, moments of doubts, and her courage, to truly understand and appreciate the ending, whatever it might be.

🖤 A marvelous book, one that I'm sure Henry James himself would have approved!

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Saturday, November 12, 2022

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie

🥿 "There are certain humiliating moments in the lives of the greatest of men. It has been said that no man is a hero to his valet. To that may be added that few men are heroes to themselves at the moment of visiting their dentist." - This quote alone might be one reason why One, Two, Buckle My Shoe is quite memorable. It's one of very few times when Poirot ever feels helpless. He seems to be more humane than usual; he's just like us whenever we do have to see the dentist. But for me personally - I'll always remember this book with affection - it's the shoe buckle. I remember that that is Poirot's key clue to solve the murder mystery. And only Poirot (whose appearance is always impeccable - he's a dandy!), who could have paid attention to small details like that.

🥿 So, Poirot's visited Mr. Henry Morley, his dentist. He saw/met several other people at the waiting room, but he's mostly impressed by a foot protruding from a taxi which was just stopped in front of the dentist office, wearing a new but non fashionable leather shoe with a large gleaming buckle. The shoe belongs to a former actress, Miss Mabelle Sainsbury Seale.

🥿 Later after Poirot's visit, Mr. Morley was found dead at the dentist office, shot by a gun he held on his hand. Then one of his patient that day was also found dead, poisoned by overdose anaesthetic. Is Morley's death caused by suicide (after realizing that he'd given an overdose anaesthetic to his patient), or was it a deliberate murder? Mabelle's disappearance later on only helps to further complicate the plot.

🥿 This is one of my favorites from Christie. The ingenious plot and a hint of political influence on the case (the rest of suspects include a fascist, a prominent banker, and a leftist) added to the charm. And don't forget the confusion over a double identity, which Poirot alone can solve, thanks to his attention to small details!

Rating: 4 / 5

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim



✍🏼 Elizabeth von Arnim, neé Mary Annette Beauchamp was born in Australia. But then she married a German Count, and moved to Nassenheide, Pomerania, as Countess von Arnim-Schlagenthin.

✍🏼 Von Arnim wrote Elizabeth and Her German Garden as a mockery to German aristocratic society. It's a semi autobiographical novel, written as a diary of the protagonist, Elizabeth, who was developing a beautiful garden on the estate, though she knew almost nothing about gardening.

✍🏼 I enjoyed the book so much for three reasons: a) At times it's so hilarious, I had often to stifle my laughter while reading in public. b) It talks much about gardening, and though I'm not keen on the subject, I love everything concerning nature. c) I loved most of Elizabeth's unorthodox views on life and tradition, which I can well relate. I quote here some of her entries, which is bluntly honest and hilarious.

“I believe all needlework and dressmaking is of the devil, designed to keep women from study.”

"If you have to have neighbours at all, it is at least a mercy that there should be only one; for with people dropping in at all hours and wanting to talk to you, how are you to get on with your life, I should like to know, and read your books, and dream your dreams to your satisfaction?"

"I never could see that delicacy of constitution is pretty, either in plants or women."

"What nonsense it is to talk about the equality of the sexes when the women have the babies."

"To most German Hausfraus the dinners and the puddings are of paramount importance [...] but, I would humbly inquire, are there not other things even more important? And is not plain living and high thinking better than the other way about? [...] It cannot be right to be the slave of one's household gods, and I protest that if my furniture ever annoyed me by wanting to be dusted when I want to be doing something else, and there was no one to do the dusting for me, I should cast it all into the nearest bonfire and sit and warm my toes at the flames with great contentment, triumphantly selling my dusters to the very next pedlar who was weak enough to buy them. [...] is it not pathetic to find a young woman bravely struggling to learn languages and keep up with her husband?"

✍🏼 It's a short but entertaining novel, and I can't wait to read more of von Arnim. The Enchanted April is next. Maybe next year?

Rating: 4,5 / 5