Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

My first Agatha Christie novel.

The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 274 pages.
Read from April 10, 2017, to April 26, 2017.

I’ll admit, I always thought that Agatha Christie novels were meant for little old ladies and the biggest reason I picked up one of her novels is that there are 2 books of hers that consistently show up on some of the best to-read book lists.  Having learned a little bit about this interesting woman, I can see however, that she was a complete badass.

Did you know that he first husband was cheating on her and that when she found out she disappeared for 11 days? As a best-selling novelist her disappearance made a lot of waves and sparked a massive manhunt. The police obviously had to interrogate her husband, meaning he would have to spill the beans on his affair, making it so that he was the one who was disgraced, not her. Well, that is just speculation. No one really knows what happened as she showed up completely fine at a hotel after her 11 day stint with no clues to as to her disappearance.

Also, did you know that Agatha Christie has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling novelist of all-time? The Bible and Shakespeare are the only other publications to out do her. Her works have sold over 2 billion copies and has been reportedly translated into 103 different languages.  Agatha Christie is the original in “who done it” stories and her legacy is a testament to her skill.

Hercule Poirot is a famous detective who is on a train for business. While he was expecting a quiet trip the train ends up being shockingly full with a mismatch of interesting characters. Unfortunately for all of the passengers and snow storm has stranded the train from reaching its destination. During the stall one of the passengers is murdered in their bed, a seemingly impossible feat if the passengers are being truthful. Hercule must solve the diabolical situation before the train moves and reaches its destination.

While admittedly I thought I had solved aspects of the mystery I could not have imagined the depth of the truth of the real crime. The ending was admirable and satisfying as well.
I did find this book intriguing but it was too methodical for my liking. Most of the story was a just a recounting of the passengers whereabouts during the murder and then how Hercule would use this information to move to the next step. As in it was literally, if A, then B, if B than C or if A and B than C etc.  However, the book did not put me off reading further books by Agatha and story was still a good mystery.

If you are a mystery buff and have not read this book yet make sure to throw it on your list. Agatha Christie inspired generations of mystery writers and this one is said to be one of her best. There is also a movie coming out soon starring a plethora of stars. Check out the trailer here.

Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami

The first two books that Murakami ever had published. The start of his remarkable writing career.

There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 234 pages.
Read on February 15, 2017 to February 18, 2017.

I am going to review these two novels at the time same as they really are the same story. I imagine had these novels not been Murakami’s very first he would have put them together into one, though technically there are two more books in this loose series, though I have yet to read them.

In the first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, an unnamed male student is visiting home during the summer break. Like many youth, he spends his days at a local bar called J’s drinking and smoking. It is here that he likes to converse with his friend, the Rat, until the early hours of the morning. Rat appears tough and impermeable but there is a lingering tension about his latest love interest. The narrator becomes involved with a young woman who happens to be missing one of her fingers.

In the second novel, Pinball1973 the same unnamed protagonist, having finished school, has started up a successful translation company. His life is uneventful until he randomly meets a set of twins who abruptly move in with him, in which an intriguing affair begins. The protagonist has not seen the Rat in a long time and has not been to J’s bar as he becomes obsessed with tracking down a particular pinball machine that he use to play. Meanwhile, the Rat is spiraling into depression and on the brink of falling apart.

As with many Murakami novels, loneliness and isolation are the most prevalent themes. In Hear the Wind Sing, the two male character’s nightly chats are emphasizing their loneliness and search for love that alludes them with their sexual conquests. The nine fingered lover suffers from isolation after having an abortion. The narrator’s quest for the nostalgic pinball machine is a way for him to alleviate his loneliness and relive what he remembers of love, happiness and friendship. In Pinball, 1973, the narrator and the Rat do not meet, further stressing this theme.

It was clear that these were Murakami’s first books as his style is not yet fully developed, making both of the story’s less ubiquitous than his more popular novels. It was relieving to hear that even Murakami is not a fan of these first few novels. Murakami was actually opposed to having them translated into English even though he admits they played an important part in building his career as a writer.

As a Murakami fan, I am glad that I read these novels, as it has allowed me to see how his writing career and style developed. As a reader though, I did not take a lot of pleasure from either of them, especially Pinball, 1973Neither novel was very concise and while the themes were present the stories felt dull and lacking. The characters felt underdeveloped and I was left wanting to know more.

While I would still encourage Murakami fans to read these books, I would not however recommend either of these books for first time Murakami readers.  For first time Murakami readers I would recommend: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrimageThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore or Norwegian Wood

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

The historical scenes in this book are outstanding.

3/5 stars.
ebook, 432 pages.
Read from January 1, 2017 to February 8, 2017.

This should have been published yesterday, my apologies. This novel showed up on my radar as it has recently won the Giller Prize and was also nominated for the Booker Prize. Once I read the premise, I was excited to see what this historical-fiction would hold.

Marie (Li-Ling) is a first generation Canadian who is unfolding the story of two different generations of her family.  Her family, originally from China, lived through the Mao Cultural Revolutions and the following generation was there for the Tiananmen Square protests. When her estranged older cousin Ai-Ming comes to live with after escaping the aftermath of the protests in China, Marie starts to learn more about her father, Kai, and her Uncle Sparrow who is Ai-Ming’s father, through a series of notebooks. Sparrow and Kai were both accomplished musicians, with Sparrow being genius composer.  The two of them shared an immensely close bond. Kai moved to Canada and started a family while Sparrow remained in China and gave up composing. In secret, Kai went to visit his friend and never returned after taking his own life. The notebook also details countless other family members and their tragic stories in China during these tumultuous times in history.

If the description of this novel seems convoluted, it’s because the plot line is too. The storyline jumps around a lot and it is hard to keep track of the numerous family members in the story.  There are also extensive conversations about music and composers, which I imagine would be great if you were familiar with them, but as I am not, I found parts of this novel to be extremely dry.  I felt very frustrated with this novel. On one part, the historical aspects and scenes of this story are outstanding. Thein creates some phenomenal imagery and at times I felt as I deeply immersed in the story. There are also some very memorable characters and relationships in the book but you had to wade through a family tree to get to ones that mattered. I do not feel that this story was told as well as it could have been. The notebook concept was not delivered very well and at times I felt confused and bored by what I was reading, which is a reflection of how long this novel too me. The story and concept of this novel are award-winning however, the writing is not.

I can say that there were times I considered putting this book down, however there are some golden scenes in this book that made up for it, the ending especially. This book is still worth reading and I would recommend it to history buffs or historical fiction fans.