Death on the Nile

I love rainy nights.

Nights when the wind is up, when I can listen to the thunder and smell the rain and watch the sky light up on the horizon. Colorado is, unfortunately, not known for its thunderstorms, but we do have them.

Once or twice a year.

Or every other year.

I’m thinking about moving. Any suggestions for a house in the woods, smack in the middle of the country, where thunderstorms come through regularly?

Let me know.

When we do have a rainy night, my favorite thing to do is to wrap up in a cozy blanket on my couch, brew a cup of tea, and cuddle with my kitty while I read. And what better book to have on hand for that sort of night than an Agatha Christie novel?

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I will admit right now, I have avoided anything written by Agatha Christie for years. I bought a few of her books some years back, and they gathered dust on my shelves. I’d seen one or two shows based on her Hercule Poirot novels, hadn’t found them particularly interesting and decided that whatever kind of books she’d written, they weren’t for me.

Then, last year, I read And Then There Were None.

Instantly, I was hooked.

The simple style, the almost breathtaking suspense, and, of course, the mystery in her books captured my attention immediately, and I began to devour as many of them as I could find. Including Death on the Nile.

Right off the bat, I loved reading this book. The exotic surroundings and vibrant characters made it a fascinating—and quick—read. I very quickly fell in love with Hercule Poirot and his eccentric style. As a detective, he is brilliant, subtle, and wonderfully full of himself. As a person, he is quirky and compassionate, an interesting combination for the type of work he is in.

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And yet, it really is the characters that revolve around him that made the story. The lovely heiress, Linnet Doyle, her simple and handsome husband, Simon, his former lover, and a myriad of others created a whirl of suspicion and intrigue for what was supposed to be a relaxing cruise down the Nile.

My favorite thing about Agatha Christie is the wealth of fascinating characters she has at her fingertips. Not one of her books is comprised of cardboard cutouts stuffed into the pages, but I think that the men and women in Death on the Nile may be her most brilliant set. They are charming, conniving, each with their own stories, their own issues, their own secrets. Reading this book was a pleasure, as once again I found myself almost unable to set it down. If you are a fan of mysteries—and some romance, for what is Hercule Poirot but a romantic—than I would definitely suggest you pick this book up the next time you are at a library or bookshop.

“My dear Monsieur Poirot—how can I put it? It’s like the moon when the sun comes out. You don’t know it’s there anymore. When once I’d met Linnet—Jackie didn’t exist.”

Silver Crown

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The night wind stirs the curtains. I can hear the sounds of revelry below, the guards enjoying their night of freedom. Tomorrow they bind themselves to a new mistress, one they are sure will be less harsh, less exacting than their old master. No wonder they sound so festive.

I lean against the window frame, looking out over the city. My city. Tomorrow I swear an oath, take a crown, that will wed us together. An unmarried queen and a city tired of blood. To the people, to the guards and the soldiers, to the slaves in the marketplace and the nobles in their marble halls, my father was a tyrant, a murderer, and a vindictive god. Only I—his eldest daughter—saw him for what he was.

A pawn.

The tool of better men than he, men who charmed with silver tongues and ruled through his stupidity, his weakness. They murdered him in his bed in favor of his weak-willed daughter, a woman they were sure would be easier to manipulate than he was. Tomorrow they set a silver crown on my hair, place his signet ring on my hand, and with these chains in place, call for all men to bow their heads to me, their stupid puppet queen.

But I have no tolerance for chains and whispered threats. When they bow their heads, my men—the men I have amassed, the men who swear fealty and love to me, the men I have spent years collecting in secret—will slit their throats. And the puppet queen will hold her own strings.

Jane Eyre

My favorite part of reading is coming across a character who lives and breathes, one who mirrors my soul and teaches me about the way I think and feel, a character who shows me myself.

As an INFJ, it is not very easy to find a character like myself. More often, I find characters who I can admire and love, but not relate to in the same way.

Jane Eyre is one of the few books I’ve read with a main character who I feel is a mirror of my own heart.

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This gorgeous classic is the story of Jane Eyre, a young woman of 19th century England. The book begins with her childhood, her poor treatment at the hands of her cruel and selfish aunt, her transfer to a charity school in Lowood, and the death of her childhood friend.

 

At eighteen, now an accomplished teacher, she advertises as a governess and is accepted to a post at Thornfield Hall, tutoring a young French girl who dotes on her, prattles ceaselessly about nothing in particular, and cares more for her pretty gowns than her books. The other servants in the house, an old housekeeper, a married couple, and a common, rough sort of woman living in the attic, offer very little in the way of company or companionship. So Jane is left to herself, to explore the grounds and contemplate whether or not to stay on in a place so lonely and cut off from the rest of the world.

Then, the master of Thornfield hall returns. Mr. Rochester brings with him a whirl of gaiety, of fine guests, and of dark mystery. His frequent bouts of moodiness, of dark thoughts, and impulsive departures and returns bring something of excitement to the old mansion, albeit of an almost arcane sort. Thornfield houses a black secret that its master has spent many years avoiding, but Jane’s fresh presence in the estate draws him back again and incites a chain of events that soon has her fleeing its dark walls.

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Jane Eyre does not have the lighthearted romance that Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility offer. It is a darker, more mysterious kind of book, with macabre secrets, jealousies, and passions that run wilder than your average romance. This book fascinated me when I first read it at twelve or thirteen, and it is still one of my absolute favorites. Charlotte Brontë has created in Jane Eyre a woman that I can see in myself, with desires, thoughts, and habits that run very near my own. It is a book that I return to again and again and happily recommend to anyone looking for a new novel to pick up.

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.

Orchard

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We wait until Mother’s car is out of sight around the bend before we slip out of the house. Maisie wants to go down to the creeks and go fishing, but I’ve been wanting to go to the old orchard ever since I started smelling autumn in the breeze and listening to the geese calling as they flew over our farm. We can go to the creek anytime, or at least anytime Mother isn’t around to catch us.

But the apples are only ripe once a year, and they’ll be picked and stored in another few days.

We take the long way around, by the front gate and the road, to reach the orchard. When we were younger, we’d run across the fields and climb the fence, but my chair won’t get through the rough ground, so we take the long way. Maisie climbs the trees for me now, and I catch the apples she drops down. Even if I can’t climb, it’s nice just to be outside, to smell the wind and see the blue skies. Mother doesn’t let me outside unless she’s taking me into town to see the doctor. She’d be furious if she caught us out here, especially alone, but apples taste better in the orchard.

Besides, she won’t be home until dark, and Maisie won’t tell. We’re closer than siblings now that I’m stuck in my chair, closer than most boys are with their baby sisters. Sometimes I forget that she’s all of eight years younger than I am. She climbs the trees for me, and I teach her how to tie a hook and bobber and whittle a willow whistle. If Mother knew half the things we got up to together, she’d lock Maisie out of my room for good.

But she won’t be home until dark. So we’ve got time.

Make Your Bed

On May 17th, 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven gave a Commencement speech to the graduating class of the University of Texas. The speech was inspiring, instructive, and highly motivating, so much so that Admiral McRaven later wrote a book based on that speech, called Make Your Bed.

I picked this book up a few days ago and read it in less than an hour. That night, I went home and ordered the book on Amazon. Not something I do very often, considering my budget for new books is restricted by boring things like paying rent and having enough food in my little house. The books I buy are usually second-hand, and very rarely will I splurge on a new copy. When I do, it usually isn’t for a personal copy of a random library book that I picked up on a whim.

Something about this book struck a chord with me.

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Admiral William H. McRaven is a retired Navy Seal with thirty-seven years of service behind him. This book is a cumulation of his experience in one of the toughest branches of the military. The ten lessons imbedded in roughly one hundred pages stem from his experiences in training, in combat oversees, and in serving his country stateside. In ten chapters, he inspired me to change my outlook on life, to try harder, and most importantly, not to give up on a project that I have been working on for roughly six years.

In short, this book was fantastic.

There are only ten chapters in this book. They are titled as follows:

Start Your Day With a Task Completed

You Can’t Go it Alone

Only the Size of Your Heart Matters

Life’s Not Fair

Failure Can Make You Stronger

You Must Dare Greatly

Stand Up to the Bullies

Rise to the Occasion

Give People Hope

Never, Ever Quit

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His solid good sense is spread through every page, teaching the principles behind something as simple as making your bed in the morning, as well as going into the roughest, darkest parts of life, when the only option seems to be failure. He explains the value of risk, of perseverance, of keeping your head up, and of believing in yourself, even when no one else does. His advice is not flowery, it doesn’t promise an easy path, or ten steps to success, or a winner every time. As a Navy Seal, he understands very well the necessity of going through the hard things, but also that the roughest seas make the strongest sailors.

This book changed my outlook on my life and will be one that I go back to again and again. I would highly recommend it to anyone going through a rough patch, or to anyone looking to change their life and the lives around them.

“But let me tell you something,” he said. “If you quit, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Quitting never makes anything easier.”

Skylight

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When I wake, there’s snow on the skylight.

The air is cold. I push off my blankets and find the sweater I dropped on the floor before bed last night. It isn’t often cold in the bunkers. Even when the wind howls outside and the ice climbs up over the skylight, blocking our view of the sun, we’re generally warm.

Living underground has a few advantages.

The snow dulls the light filtering through the glass. Snow is a rarity, a treasure, and I wake a few of the other girls in my dorm and climb onto one of the beds to get a better look. A hundred and fifty people live below ground with us, but we only have three skylights, one in each of the rooms. The light isn’t good, especially on days when sand blows across the reinforced glass. Or it snows. But we have our candles, a few lanterns, and a fire in each of the rooms. We’ve gotten used to dim lights.

One of the youngest girls can’t get close enough to see. I lift her up, letting her place her hand against the glass and giggle at the cold seeping through. None of the younger ones have been outside. They used to send foraging parties into the burned-out cities, the blackened buildings, but they don’t anymore. Outside, the wind is burnt, the sky is ash and dust, and the ground is scorched. Even in the cities, there’s nothing left to find.

By now, even the snow is better enjoyed from underneath it.

Shadow Spinner

When I was twelve, I had so much more time for reading than I do now.

I suppose that goes without saying, doesn’t it? No job, no books waiting to be written, no insurance bills, no house to clean or meals to cook. Now my evenings are spent frantically making freezer meals and quiche for my way-too-early mornings when I must eat but am too groggy to cook.

Adulthood is so much fun.

Back in the day, when I had more time to read and browsed through all the shelves I could find to discover new things to read, I came across several stories set in ancient Persia.

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They fascinated me. The depth of culture, the exotic surroundings, and the clever, sometimes magical characters all captured my heart and sparked my imagination. They were brilliant, detailed stories with characters that made me want to be braver, to be smarter, and possibly to live in ancient Persia where I could wear beautiful silky trousers and go barefoot on tiled floors and whisper secrets to a dark Arabian night.

Ahem.

One of these magical stories was Shadow Spinner, by Susan Fletcher. I really don’t understand why this book isn’t more popular than it is. I’ve never found it in a library, and only just managed to snag a secondhand copy in a thrift store. When I found it, I was whisked right back to twelve years old again, reading this brilliant book with the starry-eyed wonder of a child.

The story is a retelling of the Arabian tale, A Thousand and One Nights. It’s a story of deception, compassion, danger, and healing. And in the Shadow Spinner, all of it is woven around one girl.

Marjan.

Marjan is a poor peasant girl, a cripple with a painful past and a talent for storytelling. She is brought to the harem of the Sultan Shahryar by Shahrazad, a woman whose life hangs by a single thread.

The thread of a story.

Shahrazad is the wife of the Sultan, a wife he took during the years when he was killing a new wife every night. The night he married her, she told him a story, but didn’t finish it. He let her live to finish the story, and so her life continues on—for a thousand and one nights, with a thousand and one stories.

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By the time Marjan appears, Shahrazad is running out of stories. Marjan is able to tell her a story that she has not heard before, an impressive feat, but the story is not finished when Marjan reaches the last words, and the rush to find the rest of it puts them both in grave danger.

This story is one of the most beautiful Arabian tales that I have ever come across. The gorgeous, detailed descriptions of life in the harem, the suspense that at times had me holding my breath, the characters that made me laugh and cry and love them, combined to create a tale that is truly a treasure. The strength and compassion of Shahrazad, the ingenuity of her continued existence, and the depth of the stories she wove together to teach and bring healing to a man who’d been deeply scarred took my breath away. I would highly, highly recommend this book for any young girl looking for a heroine to model herself after.

“I have told him stories of good women and bad women, strong women and weak women, shy women and bold women, stupid women and wise women, honest women and women who betray. I’m hoping that, by living inside their skins while he hears their stories, he’ll understand over time that women are not all this way or that way. I’m hoping he’ll look at women as he does at men—that you must judge each of us on her own merits, and not condemn us or exalt us only because we belong to a particular sex.”