About Oliver H.

I enjoy Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Pikmin, reading books and playing piano.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Murder at the Vicarage is Agatha Christie’s first mystery novel featuring the character of Miss Marple. The story is narrated by a local reverend named Leonard Clement in the seemingly quiet village of St. Mary Mead, England. This novel involves the mysterious death of Colonel Protheroe. The Colonel was generally hated by the local residents, so it was not surprising when it was discovered that he had been shot to death. However, the murderer’s identity remained a mystery. The police are baffled by the case until an elderly resident of the village decides to assist them. This unlikely detective is an elderly spinster named Jane Marple.

Miss Marple makes for an interesting character. She seems more like an observant neighborhood gossip than an actual detective. While Agatha Christie’s novels featuring Hercule Poirot may be more well-known, her Miss Marple books are almost as good, in my opinion. Miss Marple’s personality certainly differs from Poirot’s in many ways.  Hercule Poirot has a ridiculous moustache and is amusingly pompous. He is a professional detective who has achieved widespread fame for his work. Miss Marple is just an amateur detective. She is more elderly than Poirot and seems more like a nosy neighbor who happens to solve mysteries. However, she is just about as shrewd and intelligent as Poirot.

This book was certainly baffling and had me guessing at every turn. Various suspects confessed to the murder at different points in the novel, making it very difficult to guess the murderer. I enjoyed the relatively quaint setting of the story. Everything takes place in a small village, so the characters are well developed by the end of the story. Miss Marple turns out to be a very charming character, and she is surprisingly astute and perceptive. I would highly recommend this novel, as well as the other books by Agatha Christie featuring Miss Marple.

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie is available to download for free from Libby.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The Thirty-Nine Steps is an adventure novel by John Buchan. The story is set in Great Britain, just before World War I. A man named Richard Hannay has just returned to London and feels exceptionally bored. He is tired of the sights and activities of the city. One evening, he receives a visit from a mysterious man named Franklin Scudder. Scudder claims to be a spy investigating a secret group of Germans who are attempting to steal Britain’s naval defense plans. He possesses an encoded notebook that references “the thirty-nine steps.” Hannay questions the veracity of Scudder’s claims, but he permits Scudder to hide out in his apartment. Hannay leaves for a few hours, and upon his return he is shocked to discover that Scudder has been murdered. Convinced that the murderers pose an international threat, Hannay takes Scudder’s notebook and sets out to foil their sinister plot.

This book is a classic adventure story. It could be considered a thriller, because it combines international intrigue with elements of suspense and detective work. The plot contains many twists and surprises, even though the book is quite short. I was impressed by the patriotism of the main character Hannay, who risked his own life to defend his country against a dangerous threat to its security. He is just an ordinary person, but he manages to escape an expert spy ring on many occasions. This book is fast-paced and exciting, and I was enthralled as I read it. I would recommend it to everyone. I would also recommend Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation. Even though it deviates a great deal from the book, the movie is highly entertaining and suspenseful.

Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

Right Ho, Jeeves, is the second full-length novel in the Jeeves series of books by P. G. Wodehouse.  This book is narrated by a young gentleman named Bertie Wooster.  The story is set in England during the early 1900s.  Bertie is wealthy, but naive.  Jeeves, of course, is Bertie’s personal valet.  Bertie is met by an old friend named Augustus Fink-Nottle, known by friends as “Gussie.”  Gussie is trying to work up the courage to propose marriage to a young woman.  He wants Jeeves to help, but Bertie insists on helping Gussie himself.  Bertie soon forgets all about it, until he receives a telegram the next day from his Aunt Dahlia.  She needs Bertie to visit her right away, because she needs his help to give away prizes at a school event.  Bertie suddenly remembers about Gussie.  In Bertie’s mind, this could be an opportunity for Gussie to boost his confidence.  This is also a way for Bertie to avoid helping his aunt.  So, he sends Gussie to do the job.

As usual, things do not go according to Bertie’s plan.  Bertie ends up visiting Aunt Dhalia and Gussie anyway, and they encounter all kinds of challenges.  Bertie only makes things worse as he tries to solve problems.  His failed attempts to help other people are entertaining as always.  Bertie has good intentions, but his plans always seem to go awry.

One of my favorite chapters is when Gussie becomes intoxicated just before the time arrives to give away prizes at the school.  He slurs and stumbles as he tries to share advice and anecdotes with the school children.  He gets everything mixed up and begins ranting about supposed cheating at the school.  He makes disparaging remarks about Bertie and others.  This is one of the most entertaining parts of the book.

This novel is absurd in many ways, but extremely humorous.  Wodehouse is an excellent writer, and very witty.  This book is light-hearted but well-written.  I have read it multiple times now because it is so entertaining.  Wodehouse is one of my favorite authors.  I would highly recommend this book, as well as all of the stories about Bertie and Jeeves.

Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

1776 by David McCullough

1776 is a non-fiction book by the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, David McCullough. It recounts the dramatic conflicts between the Americans and the English during the year 1776. The book draws from numerous documents and sources from the time of the Revolutionary War. It focuses mainly on the early stages of the war. McCullough describes these tumultuous events with meticulous detail. The Americans faced overwhelming odds with a small army that seemed no match for the powerful British military. Our forefathers faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles and suffered miserable conditions before they could achieve freedom.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. McCullough clearly devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort to research these historical events. This book is very informative and factual, but also presented in a highly dramatic way that makes it extremely captivating. It provides deep insight into the lives and personalities of key historical figures that makes this era feel alive to me. This book is thrilling to read, especially knowing that the events occurred in real life.

I consider this to be one of the top ten books that I have read so far. This book is extremely gripping and compelling. I was not previously aware of the intense drama and critical decision-making that occurred during the Revolutionary War. I now have much greater admiration for the courageous people who have fought for our nation’s freedom. I would highly recommend this book to everyone.

1776 by David McCullough is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.

Murder in Retrospect by Agatha Christie

Murder in Retrospect, published as Five Little Pigs in the United Kingdom, is a mystery novel by Agatha Christie.  This book features Hercule Poirot, the celebrated detective.  Poirot is visited by a young woman named Carla Lemarchant.  Carla asks Poirot to investigate the murder of her father, which was committed sixteen years earlier.  Carla’s father, Amyas Crale, had been killed by poison.  His wife, Caroline Crale, was tried and convicted of the murder.  However, Carla is convinced that her mother is innocent.  Poirot is intrigued by this curious case, and he agrees to investigate.

On the day of the murder, five other people had been in contact with Amyas Crale.  Poirot compares these five suspects to the “five little pigs” of the nursery rhyme, because each has a unique background and personality.  He interviews each suspect, but finds no obvious culprit.  Solving a murder that occurred sixteen years ago is no easy task, but Poirot is up to the challenge.

As I read this novel, I was very puzzled about who could have committed the murder.  The ending was quite surprising.  As usual, Poirot discovers an ingenious way to solve the case.  This book is unusual for a murder mystery, because the murder took place many years before, and the main suspect was already convicted.  This made for an interesting story.  The characters are compelling and the story flows well.  I found this book extremely entertaining, and I consider it one of Agatha Christie’s best novels.  I would highly recommend it.

Murder in Retrospect  by Agatha Christie is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library.

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.