“The murderer is with us—on the train now. . . .”
I haven’t read Agatha Christie in years, and with the re-make of Murder on the Orient Express, I decided to read the book before seeing the movie. (I still haven’t seen the movie, and I’m skeptical, because David Suchet will always be the best Hercule Poirot.) Murder on the Orient Express is the ninth book in the Poirot series (you do not have to read them in order). If you’re not familiar with them, Hercule Poirot is a Belgian detective with an excellent mustache and even better deductive skills. This book reminded me why I love Christie, and my 2018 book goals will definitely include reading more.
As you can probably guess, the entire story takes place on a train, the Orient Express. Just after midnight, the train runs into a snowdrift and stops, stuck on the tracks. Within a few hours, one of the passengers is dead, stabbed multiple times inside his locked room. Poirot is called on to figure out who among the remaining passengers is the killer, and what their connection to the victim is.
Agatha Christie isn’t know as the Queen of Crime for nothing. The format of this book is so simple-it is set up in sections: the setting, the crime, the evidence, the resolution-but so effective. The reader gets to go through the entire crime-solving process right alongside Poirot, watching “the little grey cells of the mind” at work. It’s an incredibly satisfying way to read a mystery. It’s straightforward, with little twists and turns throughout, but not enough to become frustrating. (I also love seeing how Poirot’s counterparts, in this case M. Bouc, become exasperated by how fast Poirot’s mind works, and how he de-bunks every theory they have.) The story itself is so well written, and while some of the language is a little outdated, I think it still stands up to any modern day mystery.
If you’re looking for a suspenseful cozy mystery or a quick winter read, I highly recommend Murder on the Orient Express. And if you haven’t watched any Hercule Poirot movies, look for the ones with David Suchet. He’s the only person I picture when I read the books!
Well, it’s definitely winter in Texas-we’ve had REAL snow, cold weather (in addition to 80-degree days), and we’ve started reading Christmas books at night! This week my kids have been reading some new-to-them chapter books, and we read one of my favorite Christmas books ever together. Tell me what you and your kids have been reading this week!
A New Class: Star Wars: Jedi Academy 4
Our elementary school had their book fair this week, and even though we own the entire Jedi Academy series, my 6-year-old wanted “his OWN copy” of this one. He’s finally starting to read chapter books on his own, so I’m just happy he found a series he loves. My kids love this series. They are part chapter books, part graphic novel, and full of adventure and plenty of elementary/middle school drama. This book is about a younger brother joining his embarrassed sister at Jedi school and the hijinks they get into while there. Yoda is in this one, so if you have Star Wars fans they’ll love this!
This series is new to me, and I don’t let my kids play Minecraft very much, but they still love it. There are a ton of books in the unofficial Minecraft book world, and The Creeper Diaries are about a Creeper (please don’t ask me to explain what that is, because I can’t) named Gerald who is a pacifist in a war-happy Minecraft school. It’s definitely in the graphic novel category, and full of adventure, magic, and good versus evil. Any kid who is a fan of Minecraft or wild adventure books will probably love this series.
What We’re Reading Together
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
I mentioned this in last week’s post, so I won’t go on and on about it, but we finished reading this book this week, and my kids loved it! The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is the story of the 6 Herdman kids and how they come to understand the Christmas story, and manage to touch the hearts of an entire congregation of people who previously despised them. There are funny moments, touching scenes, and plenty of Biblical history thrown in. This isn’t a religious book, but it does focus on a Christmas pageant, but even if you aren’t religious, I think there’s plenty to enjoy. My kids loved hearing the shocking things the Herdmans got up to, and I loved re-reading one of my childhood favorites to them. (And I even teared up at the end at Gladys’s last, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”[Top]
I was born here but I’ve never gotten used to it; Helsingborg and I will never find peace. Maybe everyone feels that way about their hometown: the place we’re from never apologizes, never admits that it was wrong about us.
Fredrik Backman is one of my favorite writers, and a true wordsmith. I fell in love with A Man Called Ove (My review of that book is HERE.), and I’ve fallen head over heels for his new Christmas novella The Deal of a Lifetime.
The story begins with a father writing a letter to his son on Christmas Eve. Instead of a typical feel-good letter, the father is writing to tell his son that he has taken a life. Throughout the course of the novella, we meet a 5-year-old girl with cancer, a mysterious woman who drifts in and out of the picture, and find out why the narrator feels he failed as a parent. When he is given the opportunity to commit a selfless act and save the little girl, he has to see what his life was really worth before he can make the deal. Thus, he writes a letter to his son, examining his entire life.
This book yanked at my heartstrings right from the introduction. I was hooked before the book had even begun. Backman gets the feelings of a man trying to do right, and the strange feelings that accompany returning to a hometown that you might never have felt at home in, exactly right. This novella is only 65 pages long, but I smiled, I laughed, and I definitely cried.
The book is so short, and I don’t want to give the entire plot away, so just know that it is the story of a man desperate to fix things in the past, and the deal a parent is willing to make to achieve those changes. The Deal of a Lifetime is a beautiful, warm, and emotional story, and if you really want to feel something, with a little holiday thrown in, I beg you to pick up this book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
Maybe all people have that feeling deep down, that your hometown is something you can never really escape, but can never really go home to, either. Because it’s not home anymore. We’re not trying to make peace with it. Not with the streets and bricks of it. Just with the person we were back then. And maybe forgive ourselves for everything we thought we would become and didn’t.[Top]
In honor of the start of December (And the official start of the Christmas season-our elf arrives today), I thought I would show you all some of the books in our overflowing Christmas book basket! This isn’t even half the books, and I won’t list them all because, well, it would take too long to read! I’m going to list a few of our favorites, and try to highlight a few more throughout this month.
Tell me what Christmas or holiday books you read with your kids!
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
I mentioned this book on Instagram, and I was so happy to see that a lot of you also read this as a kid! I loved this book growing up (and I got to be in the play version and loved every minute of it) and my kids are loving it as well. It’s a short book, and is great for reading out loud together (6 and up) or for an older kid to read on their own (8ish and up). The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is about how a family of 6 ill-mannered kids, the Herdmans, end up attending Sunday school at a very traditional church. They go for the snacks, and end up staying and volunteering to be in the Christmas pageant. No one argues with them, because if you argue with a Herdman you might end up with a black eye. The Herdmans have no idea what the Christmas story is, and as they learn throughout the book, the kids and parents who thought they already knew everything end up learning a few things themselves. This is a great book that really highlights the importance of understanding and tolerance, even for the “worst” kids. And I have to say, the Herdman kids ask some interesting questions about the history of the Christmas story that started some great discussions between my own kids!
The Night Before Christmas
This is the classic Christmas book, and I’m sure everyone has a copy of it. We have the Mary Engelbreit illustrated version of it, and I just love it. The pictures are beautiful and keep a somewhat outdated story interesting for my kids. We read this every Christmas Eve right before bed!
Llama Llama Holiday Drama
We love the Llama Llama book series, and I was heartbroken when Anna Dewdney passed away in 2016. Even though this is a board book and probably too young for my kids, we still read it! (I think there’s something about Christmas books-no matter how old kids get, they’re never too old for favorite books.) It’s all about how tiring the holidays can be, and how hard it is to wait until Christmas. Llama Llama throws a tantrum, of course, and his mama explains that while holidays and gifts are fun, the real gift we have is each other. I think that’s a great message, delivered in a simple format, that’s wonderful for any age.
The Spirit of Christmas
The illustrations in this book are absolutely gorgeous, and the story is very sweet. (If you’re like me, you’ll tear up at the end.) It is told in rhyme, similar to The Night Before Christmas, and tells the story of the spirit of Christmas entering a family’s home and decorating it every which way to get ready for the holiday. But the narrator keeps thinking something is missing-ornaments, bells, cookies. At the end, the narrator realizes that Christmas isn’t Christmas without love and children, and I’m already tearing up just thinking about reading this to my kids again this year! It’s truly a wonderful book.
Little Critter: Merry Christmas Mom and Dad
I loved Little Critter as a kid, and I still love him! This is two books in one: Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad and Just for You. In Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad, Little Critter tries to make cookies, decorate the tree, and wrap presents in his own, messy way. In the classic Mercer Mayer style, Little Critter doesn’t always pay close attention to what he’s doing, but his heart is in the right place, and he just wants to please his parents. Just for You isn’t a Christmas story, but it is a sweet story of Little Critter trying to help his mom any way he can. (Even if that means it makes more work for his mom in the end!)
Little Blue Truck’s Christmas
Do your kids read the Little Blue Truck books? Mine loved these so much that I had them memorized for a good couple of years. In this cute Christmas story, Little Blue Truck is delivering Christmas trees to all of his friends. The illustrations are super cute, as usual, and there is a light-up element at the end of the book that any kid will love.
Elf Alternative–North Pole Ninjas: MISSION: Christmas!
Do you have an Elf on the Shelf? We do, and it’s fun, but last year I wanted something a little different. (In addition to the elf, because my kids definitely did not forget about Elfie coming.) We tried the North Pole Ninjas, and it’s awesome! The set comes with a book, a stuffed elf ninja/sensei, and a bunch of good deed cards. This is sort of like the Elf on the Shelf in that you can move the ninja around every day, but instead of focusing on behavior, this is meant to focus on doing good deeds throughout the month of December. The book tells how there are special ninja elves at the north pole who perform top secret missions, and now that you have the sensei, you can also be a secret ninja and help them perform all their good deeds. There are 50 cards with suggestions on them, but you can always make up your own as well. The goal is to pick a card or two a day and carry out secret missions (good deeds) throughout the month, with the sensei guiding you. My kids love ninjas, and they really do like doing nice things for other people. We all need a little encouragement in this area sometimes, and this is a fun way to encourage it in kids.[Top]
Thank you to the Kid Lit Exchange for the review copy of this book! All opinions are my own!
It’s tough being a kid sometimes, and it’s even harder to be a bit different from the crowd as a kid. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker addresses this predicament in a sweet, creative way. If I had read this book as a kid, I know I would have loved it and found a kindred spirit in Beatrice.
Beatrice Zinker does her best thinking upside down. Her family is perfectly normal, but she doesn’t let that change who she is. When she and her best friend, Lenny, decide to dress as ninjas for the first day of school, she knows third grade is going to be the best year. But when third grade starts and Lenny shows up in a trendy outfit with a new friend, Beatrice has to figure out how to get her friend back and make both of their personalities work together.
In a world of in-crowds and cliques, it’s so refreshing to see an upside down thinker like Beatrice. She isn’t afraid to think outside the box, and while she’s willing to compromise, she’s not willing to change who she is for anyone. In order to fix her friendship with Lenny, she has to give a little too (even though she wishes Lenny would dress like a ninja and go back to the old ways of their friendship), and it shows that even in friendship compromise is important. Friendships grow and change, but differences don’t mean they have to end.
Another reason I loved Beatrice so much is that she reminds me of my beloved Ramona books. She’s precocious, and tends to get into trouble without really meaning to, but she has a heart of gold.
This is great for ages 7 and up, and perfect for readers looking for easy chapter books. The subject matter is entertaining enough for more advanced readers who want a quick book to read, and Beatrice has something to teach us all about remaining true to ourselves, and the importance of upside down thinking. I am SO glad there are more Beatrice books coming in the next couple of years!