Classics, Fiction, Mystery

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Just like A Study in ScarletMurder on the Orient Express was one of the Modern Readers’ Magical Mystery Tour books from last summer. Every since I saw The Mousetrap, one of Agatha Christie’s plays, and watched the Doctor Who episode that includes Agatha as part of the storyline, I’ve wanted to read one of her famed mysteries.

Synopsis

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stopped the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train was surprising full for the time of the year. But by the morning there was one passenger fewer. A passenger lay dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.

Review

For years I wondered why Agatha Christie had such an appeal, until my father-in-law gave my husband and I tickets to see the stage production The Mousetrap in Philadelphia one weekend. And I now know why she is the queen of mystery writing. Her plot and pacing are superb – it is easy enough to follow along, the writing in her books and the dialogue in the play made you feel like you were in the hotel/on the train with the inspector as they attempt to solve the mystery.

Christie reveals enough details and suspicious that the reader can attempt to solve the mystery themselves, but she also allows for enough wiggle room for you to eventually be surprised by the final twist without feeling completely blindsided. While I have not been a mystery reader for a terribly long time (this could probably be considered my first true mystery novel, save for a Patterson novel I read shortly after college), I have quickly come to appreciate the differences in storytelling required for a good mystery versus a good novel.

Suspense is key, but in moderation. If the crime is committed at the start, then there should be enough background build up for each character that it doesn’t feel procedural. If crimes are continuing to be committed, it should feel like at least one character’s life is still under threat.

After reading Murder on the Orient Express, I immediately went out and purchased more Agatha Christie books – they make for a delightful, quick, beach or summer read and I have enjoyed them immensely.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $13.99 • 9780062072495 • 265 pages • originally published in 1934, this edition published January 2011 by Harper Paperbacks • average Goodreads rating 4.15 out of 5 • read in June 2016

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Classics, Fiction, Mystery

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Last summer, my book club, the Modern Readers, decided to go on a magical mystery tour, reading one contemporary, one Agatha Christie and one Sherlock Holmes mystery. We had a heck of a lot of fun and we will definitely do it again at some point!

Synopsis

Though endlessly reinterpreted, reinvented, and imitated, the Sherlock Holmes stories have never been surpassed. Sporting his signature billowing coat and pipe in hand, the genius investigator Holmes captivates readers with his alluring melancholy and superhuman intuition, while his partner, Dr. Watson, remains ever the perfect foil, a classic Victorian gentleman with brilliant intellect. Set in the seductive world of Victorian London, the stories of Holmes and Watson live on, as immediate and original in our time as in their own.

Review

When the Modern Readers decided to embark on a Magical Mystery Tour of a summer, we thought that we’d be ending the summer with what would be our favorite of the lot. We all loved the Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr. movies, we were a 50/50 split on the Cumberbatch mini series, but we figured that the source material would have to be great to inspire so many revisits and retellings.

But it wasn’t. And we all agreed that it wasn’t what we anticipated, it didn’t live up to our lofty expectations for it. We concluded that a good mystery lets you hypothesize, come to your own conclusion before the “big reveal!” Mystery writing, for all its nuances, really is formulaic – and it needs to be for a reader to fully engage in what they’re reading. Sir Arthur’s Sherlock doesn’t even attempt to let you try to solve the mystery with him. You’re given all the facts, not potential suspects, and then an extremely complicated backstory that even the great and wonderful Sherlock should never have been able to deduce as a means of explaining why the perpetrator did what they did.

There was no following along, no reasonable ability to follow Sherlock’s thought pattern. While this is understandably Sherlock’s MO, which we all knew going in as somewhat respectable Sherlockian aficionados, but in film and television, it’s easier to suspend believability and reality.

Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $9.00 • 9780140439083 • 192 pages • originally published in 1886, this edition published October 2001 by Penguin Books • average Goodreads rating 4.15 out of 5 • read in August 2016

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Sherlock Holmes

 

Contemporary, Fiction

Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

As with my review of Royally Screwed, I’ve admitted that I am an unapologetic royalist. When I was in middle school, the movie of The Princess Diaries came out and I loved it – I was mildly obsessed with the idea of finding out I was a long lost princess. When I discovered there was a book series, I immediately went out and got the first three books. While they are nothing like the movie, I did enjoy the series. So naturally, when Royal Wedding, the unbelievable 11th book in the Princess Diaries series came out in 2015 shortly after I got engaged, I figured it was high time I caught back up with Princess Mia and Michael.

Synopsis

For Princess Mia, the past five years since college graduation have been a whirlwind of activity: living in New York City, running her new teen community center, being madly in love, and attending royal engagements. And speaking of engagements. Mia’s gorgeous longtime boyfriend, Michael, managed to clear both their schedules just long enough for an exotic (and very private) Caribbean island interlude where he popped the question! Of course, Mia didn’t need to consult her diary to know that her answer was a royal oui.

But now Mia has a scandal of majestic proportions to contend with: her grandmother has leaked “false” wedding plans to the press that could cause even normally calm Michael to become a runaway groom. Worse, a scheming politico is trying to force Mia’s father from the throne, all because of a royal secret that could leave Genovia without a monarch. Can Mia prove to everyone – especially herself – that she’s not only ready to wed, but ready to rule as well?

Review

Oh Mia. Royal Wedding is the first “adult” installment in the Princess Diaries series and to be honest, it doesn’t feel like Mia’s grown up as much as I would have liked. In fact, none of the characters seem to have grown, up or otherwise, very much. Grandmere is still a shrew, Mia’s father is still making poor decisions in regards to the press, and Michael is still dutifully sticking to Mia’s side.

The Princess Diaries is a series I grew up with – pretty much year for year with Princess Mia – and it is only in the process of growing up that I’ve realized how unrealistic her story is. And I don’t mean the long-lost-princess bit. But the way she goes through life and interacting with other people. She doesn’t feel like she’s evolved as a character at all in the 15+ years that I’ve been reading about her adventures and escapades. Mia and Michael are still together, and while I’m not knocking first love and high school sweetheart relationships, the relationship between Mia and Michael doesn’t seem to make any sense outside of the high school halls. I find myself constantly confused about why they’re together. Yes they love each other, yes Michael is willing to put up with all the craziness, but why? Why?

The whole time I was reading, I just kept asking myself that question. Why should I care? Why are they behaving the way they are? Why, why, why do the characters keep making the same mistakes over and over again? Why is this book about marriage and babies when Mia could be doing so much more? SOOOOO much more with her life as princess and heir apparent of Genovia? This book was written when the idea of a princess is being re-imagined – we have Kate Middleton, we have Disney movies with princesses who are not obsessed with finding princes, we have fierce female leaders standing up for what they believe in, and Mia’s forced away from her one community passion project?

I have enjoyed so many of Meg Cabot’s books over the years, I probably have 15 of them on my shelves. I love her writing, and I thoroughly expected to love Royal Wedding. But in this day and age, Mia is not the princess character we need. Royal Wedding is not the princess narrative our world needs.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $14.99 • 9780062379085 • 448 pages • published June 2015 by William Morrow & Company • average Goodreads rating 3.93 out of 5 • read in November 2016

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Fiction, New Adult

Royally Screwed by Emma Chase

I’ve always been an American Royalist, since I was a young girl and first learned about two real live princes actually existing in England and not just in Disney movies, I’ve been one of those people who follows there every move. My mother’s own love of Princess Diana certainly didn’t hurt my love for the royal family, and I was one of the people who woke up at 4am on Saturday, April 29, 2011 to watch the Royal Wedding. One of my favorite books of 2015 was The Royal We (review to come in the near future) and since then, I’ve been reading every piece of glorified royalist fan fiction that I can get my hands on!

Synopsis

Nicholas Arthur Frederick Edward Pembrook, Crowned Princes of Wessco, aka “His Royal Hotness,” is a charming, devastatingly handsome, and unabashedly arrogant – hard not to be when subjects are constantly bowing down to you.

Then, one snowy night in Manhattan, the prince meets a dark haired beauty who doesn’t bow down. Instead, she throws a pie in his face. Nicholas wants to find out if she tastes as good as her pie, and the heir apparent is used to getting what he wants.

Dating a prince isn’t exactly what waitress Olivia Hammond ever imagined it would be. There’s a disapproving Queen, a wildly inappropriate spare heir, relentless paparazzi, and brutal public scrutiny. While they’ve traded in horse drawn carriages for Rolls Royce’s and haven’t chopped anyone’s heads off lately – the royals are far from accepting of this commoner. But to Olivia – Nicholas is worth it.

Nicholas grew up with the whole world watching, and now Marriage Watch is out in full force. In the end, Nicholas has to decide who he is, and more importantly, who he wants to be: a king… or the man who gets to love Olivia forever.

Review

My sister first described Royally Screwed as a rip-off of a rip-off. Even the fictional prince’s name is the same here as it is in The Royal We. While intentional or not, it means that I find myself frequently defending my enjoyment of this book to my sister, my friends, and just about everyone I’ve allowed to see my reading it, or see it on my shelves. They’re my guilty pleasure, new adult romances. I am finally admitting it here for the first time – I do occasionally (about once a year) enjoy curling up with a dirty romance and Emma Chase writes them well.

Are the characters spectacular? Not really. But they are well rounded with thoughtful backstories and logical actions and reactions based on what the reader learns about them. Are they role models? Not really. But they are real (well, other than the prince/commoner romance bit), and they have problems that are relatable and impulses that  can sometimes lead them to leave their better judgment behind. They are human, and they are flawed and they don’t at any point feel forced or mechanical.

Is the plot spectacular? Not really. It’s pretty predictable from start to finish – but sometimes the best escapist fiction is. It’s a perfect plane, train or road trip book – compelling enough to hold even my attention and I have an admittedly very short attention span – I’m not much better than the 6th graders I used to teach in that regard, but lighthearted and, yes, predictable. Are there things I would change about the characters/plot? Absolutely, but Emma Chase didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel and it is romance – which does have a prescribed formula for plot that ensures a happy outcome. Am I going to read the rest of the series? Absolutely.

* recommended for ages 17+ *

Rating: 8 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $16.99 • 9781682307755 • 276 pages • published October 2016 by Everafter Romance • average Goodreads rating 4.12 out of 5 • read in December 2016

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