About Oliver H.

I enjoy Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Shovel Knight, books and Korean food.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie

The Big Four is a novel by Agatha Christie featuring her well-known character, Hercule Poirot.  Poirot has gained fame as one of the world’s greatest detectives.  In this story, he has become weary of investigating cases.  He plans a trip to South America, hoping to find peace and relaxation.  Just before his planned departure, a mysterious man suddenly appears in Poirot’s home.  The man is covered in dust and mud, and his body is thin and emaciated.  Just before the man dies, he tells Poirot of an international secret society made up of four individuals known as the “Big Four.”  Poirot decides to cancel his vacation, so that he can investigate this mystery.  Along with his faithful companion, Captain Hastings, Poirot embarks on an adventure to discover the secret of the Big Four.

This book is unlike other Poirot books.  Most of Agatha Christie’s books about Poirot are mystery novels.  This book includes elements of mystery, but it ends up becoming more like spy fiction.  The story has more to do with international espionage than with solving mysteries.  The structure of this book is broken up into several short stories that are loosely connected to each other.  It appears that the stories were written separately and then combined together to make this book.  Unfortunately, this causes the book to seem somewhat lacking in continuity.  An unusually large number of characters seem to lack depth, and the story does not come together as well as most Agatha Christie stories.  Most books featuring Poirot contain gripping mystery and intrigue, but this book falls short of my expectations.

To be fair, I do not think that The Big Four is a bad book.  It has exciting parts, especially as Poirot and members of the Big Four attempt to thwart each other by setting traps as the story progresses.  However, even these elements of the story become repetitious, and I began to lose interest as I read this book.  In my opinion, this novel does not quite live up to the quality of Agatha Christie’s other Poirot books.  I would still recommend this book to fans of Christie’s novels, but I would not recommend this book to someone who is reading about Poirot for the first time.  For a first-time reader of Christie’s Poirot novels, I would recommend something like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or Murder on the Orient Express, both of which I enjoyed very much.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a novel by Zora Neale Hurston.  The story is set in Florida around the turn of the twentieth century.  The main character is a woman named Janie Crawford.  Janie had a difficult background.  She was raised by her grandmother, who had been a slave for much of her life.  Janie also endured many trials.  She marries three men over the course of her life.  Her first husband is very controlling and does not treat her well.  Her second husband is very ambitious, and is also controlling.  Her third husband is different.  He shows more love and respect toward Janie and she feels much happier with him than during her previous marriages.

I was impressed by the main character.  She demonstrates great courage and endurance despite many difficult trials.  As a young woman she struggled to find love and happiness, but over time she developed strength and confidence that helped her to overcome challenging circumstances.  She was constantly under pressure from people around her to behave in a certain way, but she learned to bravely assert herself when necessary against people who tried to mistreat her.  She handled tragic events in her life with grace and courage, and became stronger as a result.

This book is considered one of the great classics of the Harlem Renaissance.  The author skillfully incorporates Southern vernacular with standard English.  I found this book to be a very insightful perspective on the culture and lifestyle in the South after the Civil War.  I appreciated its lessons about the harmful effects of spousal abuse and the power of love and respect.  This book is tragic in many ways but also inspiring.  I would highly recommend it.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Yearling is a Pulitzer-winning novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  The book is set in a remote area in the southern United States in the late 1800s.  A boy named Jody Baxter lives with his parents on a small farm.  He and his family live a relatively simple and primitive life.  Jody’s life changes when he discovers a baby deer.  He takes the fawn home and tries to raise it.  Jody develops a strong attachment to the fawn as he cares for it.  Later, Jody is forced to make difficult decisions as he tries to protect the animal from danger.

This is a classic story about boyhood and about maturing.  Jody grows up alongside his yearling, and he gradually learns to deal with the challenges of life.  Jody’s relationship with his family develops throughout the story.  I especially enjoyed reading about the development of his relationship with his father.  The dialogue in this book is immersive and captures the feeling of life in the South at that time.  The book is also highly descriptive.  I learned about plants and animals and a way of life that was almost totally unfamiliar to me beforehand.  The author seems to paint pictures with words to describe the sweeping landscapes and terrain of the southern backwoods.

I believe this is one of the best books I have read.  The story is deeply moving and seems to capture the essence of growing up in a dangerous and challenging world.  This book is considered a masterpiece, and I find it well-deserving of the Pulitzer Prize.  I highly recommend it.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Warlords of Nin by Stephen R. Lawhead

The Warlords of Nin is the second book of The Dragon King Trilogy, by Stephen R. Lawhead.  The main character of this series is a young man named Quentin.  Peace has been returned to the kingdom for several years, following Quentin’s perilous adventures in the first book.  However, trouble is lurking from a distant land.  A group of warlords is led by a deified leader known as Nin the Destroyer.  This evil threat is on a rampage of destruction and conquest.  Quentin is once again destined to restore peace to the kingdom.

Most of the characters are interesting, and their personalities are unique.  However, this book does not provide much of a backstory for the antagonists.  The warlords seem to be nothing more than stock characters.  They are supposed to be villains, but their personalities lack depth.  As a result, the conflict in the story seems inadequate.  However, the development of some of the other characters improved as the story progressed.  The story was gripping enough to keep me engaged through the end of the book, even though the warlords themselves were not very interesting.

Overall, I would say that this book is enjoyable.  I do not consider this to be the best fantasy book that I have come across, but I still consider it worthwhile to read.  If nothing else, this provides a good transition to the third and final book in the series.  I would recommend this book, but not as a stand-alone novel.  I would recommend reading this along with the other books in the trilogy.

The Warlords of Nin by Stephen R. Lawhead is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

A Damsel in Distress by P. G. Wodehouse

A Damsel in Distress is a humorous novel by P. G. Wodehouse.  The book appears to be set around the time of the publication date, which was 1919.  A young American composer named George Bevan feels empty and discontent with his life.  While visiting London from his native New York, he is thrust into a tumultuous chain of events when a young woman by the name of Maud Marsh enters into his life.  This mysterious lady appears one day and asks George to hide her from her brother Percy.  George falls in love with Maud, and he tries to find out where she lives.  However, the girl’s aristocratic relatives disapprove of George, and prevent her from leaving their castle.

I found this novel to be extremely entertaining.  I have always enjoyed stories like this, with a relatively small cast of characters.  This allows the author to focus on character development.  I consider P. G. Wodehouse to be one of the best at doing this.  He is very skillful at developing funny and interesting characters.  All of the characters are humorous in their own way, and the dialogue between them is very enjoyable to read.  For example, Percy Marsh is quite pompous and self-important, but his inept schemes against George always fail miserably.  Reginald (“Reggie”) Byng always seems to be upbeat and cheerful, even though he often gets pushed around by his overbearing relatives.

This novel was an amusing read from start to finish.  P. G. Wodehouse has great command of the English language, and his characters express themselves in ways that are delightful to read.  The story takes many funny twists and turns, but eventually arrives at a satisfying conclusion.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone in the mood for a fun and lighthearted story.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Brothers Karamazov was the last novel written by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  The story is set in 19th-century Russia, and it revolves around a wicked old man named Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three adult sons.  From oldest to youngest, the brothers are named Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha.  Dmitri is similar to his father in that he is impulsive and immoral.  Ivan is more of a thoughtful and intellectual person.  Alyosha is kind-hearted and religious.  He has joined a local monastery, and he strives to maintain peace in his family amid growing tensions between his father and his brothers.

As the story unfolds, a terrible crime is committed, and one of the Karamazov brothers is the primary suspect.  This leads to a dramatic series of events, with many surprising outcomes.  Overall, this novel is quite dark, as it explores the thoughts and behavior of various evil and immoral people.  At the same time, characters such as Alyosha strive to maintain virtue and goodness.

This novel was extremely well-written.  I read an English translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, which flowed very well, even though this novel was originally written in Russian.  Each character seems to have a unique voice, which makes the story feel very realistic.  I was deeply impressed by the interactions between the father and the three Karamazov brothers.  The ending of the story was particularly satisfying.

This is a gripping novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is no wonder that Fyodor Dostoevsky is considered one of the greatest authors in history.  The characters have so much depth, and the storytelling is so realistic, that I almost found it hard to believe this was fictional.  I consider this one of the greatest novels I have ever read, and it deserves to be considered one of the great masterpieces of literature.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is available to checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray is an influential novel written by Oscar Wilde.  The story revolves around the eponymous character, Dorian Gray.  Early in the story, Dorian is an impressionable young man.  His friend, an artist named Basil Hallward, has painted a portrait of Dorian.  Basil is almost worshipful of Dorian’s innocence and natural beauty.  Lord Henry Wotton, known as Harry, is an associate of Basil.  Harry persuades Basil to introduce him to Dorian.  Immediately, and against Basil’s wishes, Harry begins to exert an evil influence on Dorian.  Dorian becomes preoccupied with his own youthful appearance.  He develops an intense desire to remain youthful forever.  Dorian wishes that his portrait would grow old, while he remains young.  In a mysterious way, Dorian’s wish is granted.

I consider this book to be a cautionary tale about the consequences of selfishness, conceit and other sinful behaviors.  Dorian’s descent into a life of evil was saddening to me.  I felt disappointed that he would fall prey to Harry’s false and immoral philosophies.  The manner in which Harry influences Dorian is very cunning, and seems to be a very accurate portrayal of the manner in which one might be deceived by hedonistic philosophies.

The tone of this novel is rather dark and gothic, so I am not sure that everyone would enjoy reading it.  I personally found it to be quite intriguing and instructive, even though it seemed eerie at times, especially at the end.  This could be considered a very tragic story, but I think Oscar Wilde teaches some valuable lessons in this book.  I would recommend the book to most people, although some people may find it to be a bit creepy.

-Oliver H.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.

In the Hall of the Dragon King by Stephen R. Lawhead

In the Hall of the Dragon King is the first book of The Dragon King Trilogy, by Stephen R. Lawhead.  This is a fantasy novel set in a medieval era.  The story revolves around a young religious acolyte named Quentin.  Quentin resides with elder priests in a temple.  One day, the priests are alarmed by the unexpected appearance of a knight who appears to be mortally wounded.  The mysterious man informs the priests that he is carrying an urgent message for the queen.  The elder priests had made sacred vows never to leave the temple, so Quentin volunteers to deliver the message.

Quentin had spent most of his life inside the walls of the temple, so he was not accustomed to the outside world.  He encounters many dangers as he attempts to deliver the sealed message to the queen.  Unbeknownst to Quentin, evil and mystical forces are conspiring against the king.  Quentin will need great courage to accomplish his perilous task.

This book is filled with action and adventure.  Quentin faces dark magic and dangerous creatures in this ancient world.  Many intriguing characters are introduced along the way during this epic quest, including a powerful necromancer.  Quentin demonstrates bravery and heroism as the story unfolds, and as he struggles to overcome evil.

I enjoyed this book very much.  The characters are well-developed, and the story is rich with imagery.  I was impressed by the imaginative world created by the author, and I was excited to read the other two books in the trilogy.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy adventure novels.

-Oliver H.

In the Hall of the Dragon King by Stephen R. Lawhead is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois

The Twenty-One Balloons is a Newbery Award-winning novel by William Pène du Bois.  A professor named William Waterman Sherman has been found floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  At the time of his rescue, he is surrounded by the wreckage of twenty deflated balloons.  He had departed three weeks earlier from his home in San Francisco, using a giant gas balloon to fly over the Pacific Ocean.  Somehow, he ended up in the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by twenty balloons.  When he finally arrives home, the people are anxious to learn what had happened to him.  They could not imagine how he could have circled the globe in only three weeks, and why he ended up with twenty balloons rather than the one balloon with which he began his journey.  So, the professor gives a speech to recount his amazing adventure. 

Professor Sherman explains that he had wanted to get away from the world, just so that he could relax for a time.  He decided to drift on a balloon over the Pacific Ocean.  Unfortunately, he crashed on the volcanic island of Krakatoa.  He was greeted there by a man in a white suit and bowler hat.  The man is part of a hidden community in the middle of the island.  As the professor was introduced to the community, he came to realize that this was a highly-sophisticated civilization.

I enjoyed reading about the inhabitants of Krakatoa, and about the professor’s adventures on the island and around the world.  His journey is interesting and exciting.  There were many whimsical and amusing elements to this story as well.  In a way this novel feels like a blend of truth and fiction.  The author seems to include some social commentary about the aristocrats living in Krakatoa, but for the most part this book is simply a playful children’s story.  It was a quick read but very enjoyable.  I can certainly see why this was awarded the Newbery Medal, and I would definitely recommend this book.

-Oliver H.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Wringer by Jerry Spinelli

Wringer is a Newberry Honor book by Jerry Spinelli.  The story focuses on a young boy named Palmer who becomes part of a “gang” on his ninth birthday.  At first, he enjoys the feeling of being accepted.  But soon he discovers that his feeling of loyalty to the gang will lead to difficult decisions.

Palmer lives in a town that hosts an annual Pigeon Day.  The festivities include typical entertainment such as barbeques and amusement rides, but the highlight of the event is a pigeon shooting contest.  Thousands of pigeons are released into the air, for contest participants to shoot down with their shotguns.  The participant who shoots the most pigeons wins the coveted Sharpshooter’s trophy.

Pigeons that are wounded and fall to the ground during the contest are collected by “wringer boys.”  These boys are tasked with breaking the pigeons’ necks, to ensure death.  All dead pigeons are then placed into plastic bags.  A boy can become a “wringer” once he reaches the age of ten.  The other members of Palmer’s gang all want to become wringers, but Palmer secretly dreads the idea of breaking pigeons’ necks.

The story becomes suspenseful as Palmer struggles with his loyalty to the gang and his innate desire to avoid harming the pigeons.  Palmer finds himself in a difficult position because the killing of pigeons is widely accepted and even celebrated by his community.  He feels pressure to become a wringer, even from his own father.  This creates a challenging moral dilemma for Palmer.

I found this book to be very compelling.  It was hard to put it down once I started reading it.  The characters are well-developed and the ending is quite poignant.  The book conveys a thoughtful message about the killing of animals.  Overall, I would say that this novel was quite deserving of the Newberry Honor award.  I highly recommend it.

-Oliver H.

Wringer by Jerry Spinelli is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.