Friday, October 2, 2015

#15in31: Reading Challenge October 2015

Allie at A Literary Odyssey posted an interesting challenge for which she'd signed up: to read 15 books in 31 days! In September, I had a stellar reading month, completing 14 books (though to be fair, I'd actually started Wilkie Collins' No Name in August; However, it's a really long book, so I'm counting it anyway.) I'm pretty sure I could get close to 15 books in October if I try. I have some airplane travel coming up, plus a lot of books left on the TBR shelves I'd like to complete. Even if I don't finish the challenge, I'll have made some progress -- I'd love to knock at least 10 books off my owned-and-unread list!

I tried to choose as many as possible from my own shelves. There's no way I'll be able to blog about every single book I read in October, but here are my potential reads:


Tea by the Nursery Fire by Noel Streatfeild. I'm on an online group and it's part of a bi-monthly book exchange -- I need to read it and send it off to the next person by November 1. It looks like a charming memoir, just my type of book.

Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell -- I've already started this one, which was randomly selected as Classics Club Spin Pick #10. I'll hopefully be posting a review on October 23. Might be a slow read, because everyone speaks in dialect, but it's pretty good so far.

Letters From Hawaii by Mark Twain. One of the last books for my TBR Pile Challenge 2015.

The Black Moon by Winston Graham -- the fifth book in the Poldark series. My library only owns one copy and there are holds on it, so I have to read it in the next week or so.

The Four Swans by Winston Graham (not pictured, as it's waiting on the hold shelf for me at the library). Again, only one copy, and holds on it. I'm trying to stretch them out, but I don't want to miss my turn to read it.

Potential books, in no particular order (and a few extras, just in case):

Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope. I haven't read any Trollope in months, and I'm starting to miss him. This one is super short, and I've always found the title amusing.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. One of the shortest books on my Classics Club list. I've tried to read it twice but couldn't get into it. Again, time to read it, or give it away.

Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark -- another library sale find, a novella.

Tea with Mr. Rochester -- I have to include at least one Persephone from the TBR shelves! Short stories are always a good choice, and it's a tiny slim volume.

Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather. One of her early works, and it's been on my TBR shelf since I bought it at the Borders clearance. Plus it's really short.

The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge. Purchased about eight years ago after I saw it on a list of the best English-language books of all time. I need to read it, or get rid of it.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. I'm down to 14 more books on my Classics Club list, and this fits in nicely with RIP X.

The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer. I have a weakness for NYRB Classics. Plus, it has "pumpkin" in the title, and it's October, so that's as good an excuse as any, right?

The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns. From my pile of Virago Modern Classics. I just read Our Spoons Came From Woolworth's and loved it, so I want to read more books by Comyns.

The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford. I don't read a lot of Jane Austen fan fiction, but the author was a speaker at the Jane Austen AGM a couple of years ago, and it sounded interesting. Also a good choice for RIP X.

An Academic Question by Barbara Pym. Pym's never disappointed me! I haven't read any of her books in over a year, so it's high time for another.

Ha'penny by Jo Walton. Sequel to Farthing which I read last week, and loved.

Still Glides the Stream by D. E. Stevenson. In case I need a quick, easy read. Stevenson's books are fun, light mid-century fiction. I picked this one up at the library sale a few years ago for $1.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. I finally got around to reading The Secret History and tore through it, so I should have no trouble finishing this one, if I don't decide to put it off for a few months -- it's the only one of her books I haven't read, and it'll probably be another eight years until she publishes another, so I might want to stretch it out a little.

So -- any recommendations?  Which books should I push to the top of the pile? I highly doubt I'll get all these finished, but it sounds like a fun challenge! Sign up at Estella's Revenge if you're interested. I'll be sure and post about how it turned out, and which books I actually finished.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

RIP X: Farthing by Jo Walton

It seems like my book choices, consciously or unconsciously, seem to follow themes. I'll read several adventures stories back to back, or biographies, and so on. Recently, I read three or four novels with WWII connections in a row -- Rowan Farm, The End of the Affair, and Farthing by Jo Walton (and I'm currently listening to an audiobook of When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning.

Farthing was a book that had been on my radar for a long time, and now I can't even remember why I finally got around to checking it out from the library. It languished on the library TBR pile for weeks until I threw it in my book bag on a whim -- I'm notoriously bad about checking books out over and over and not reading them, so I started flipping through this last week on my lunch break. I was completely hooked and read the whole thing in two days -- I would have read it faster except I had to actually go to work  - so annoying how work cuts into my reading time!

Anyway. Set in the late 1940s, this starts out as a standard mid-century English house party murder mystery (a tiny bit like Gosford Park), though it's told in two viewpoints, alternating by chapter. The first chapter is told in the first person by Lucy, the grown daughter of the owners of the eponymous Farthing estate; and in the third person by Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard. The great twist of this novel, however, is that it's told as an alternate history, as if peace between England and the Nazis had been brokered in 1941, and the Nazis had won WWII on the Continent. (Apparently, the Americans never really got involved, and the Nazis are still fighting the Communists over Russia).

The novel starts out at a weekend house party, which Lucy is attending with her husband David, and the behest of her parents. Their estate, Farthing, is the center of the "Farthing Set" that helped broker the peace accords with Hitler, and the murder victim is Sir James Thirkie, the influential young MP who was instrumental in the talks. Things get ugly when it's implied that there is an anarchist/Jewish connection.  Lucy's husband David Kahn, a Jew, is a suspect in the murder, despite the sympathies of Detective Carmichael.

I read this book thinking it was a standard murder mystery, but it quickly became apparent that it's much more than that. Really, it's a chilling account of what could have happened -- and what could still happen -- when Fascists come to power. Jews are still wearing yellow stars on the Continent and anti-Semitism is rampant in England, especially among the upper classes, which apparently was quite common during WWII. (Diana Mitford's husband Oswald Moseley, a notorious Fascist, is mentioned, and Edward VIII was rumored to be a Nazi sympathizer as well). This being the mid-century, homosexuality is still illegal and there are also some closeted gay characters in peril. The whole thing is quite terrifying and I found myself on the edge of my seat towards the end -- I kept having to take breaks and put it down because I was very nervous about how everything would end up.

This book is categorized as Science Fiction in my library, I suppose since it's an alternate history, but I really think it would be better off cataloged as a mystery or just literary fiction. It has less than 3,000 ratings on Goodreads and I think it's tragically overlooked -- it was just a great story and I'm dying to know what happens to the characters. Farthing is the first book in Walton's Small Change trilogy, and I'm anxiously awaiting the sequel, Ha'penny, to see what happens next. I know Inspector Carmichael is in the second book but I'm not exactly sure what happened to Lucy and David. Farthing just a great read and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tasting Pleasure: Confessions of a Wine Lover by Jancis Robinson

Of all the books on my TBR Pile Challenge, this is the one I was dreading most, because I've owned it for so long. It was published in 1999 and I think I've owned it since about that time, so, seriously, SIXTEEN YEARS. That means I've packed and unpacked this book at least six times as I've moved from house to house and state to state (I don't think this book made it overseas to Japan; I'm pretty sure I left it in storage). So I was kind of worried that this would be a complete dud and I'd been schlepping it around unnecessarily for the last 16 years or so. 

Years ago, when I was a professional restaurant cook (technically, I've never been a chef, just a cook, since I was never in charge) I also got really interested in wine, though I never had the time or resources to really pursue it. This was also around the time that The Food Network got started. At the beginning, some of the shows were extremely low-budget. One of my favorite shows was called Grape Expectations, starring wine experts Jancis Robinson and Frank Prial. They would sit around with a black backdrop discussing wines with a couple of guest reviewers. (There was also a young blonde woman who'd present the bottle of wine; she looked either terrified or absolutely stoned. I wish I could find a video of this on YouTube!)

However, a couple of years later I left the restaurant industry after my husband joined the military and we started a family; it's pretty hard to cook and appreciate a good meal and a nice bottle of wine with a small child, a tight budget, and a husband that has to be up every morning at 5 a.m. Anyway, I must have remembered Jancis Robinson's show when I bought the book, which I then put on the shelf and promptly ignored it for the next sixteen years.

Anyway, I finally got the nerve to take it off the TBR shelf, and I read it in bits and pieces over the last week. Basically, it's a memoir about how Robinson got started as a wine journalist, and some of her career highlights (well, up to the late 1990s, when it was published.) It's really not a book one can tear through, since it's chock-full of names of wines, famous wineries, and wine bigwigs. I find some non-fiction to be very slow reads, if they're packed full of facts and not much dialogue.

I did find this book to be mostly interesting, especially the parts about her breaking into journalism and how she just kind of fell into wine writing. However, there is so much information packed into this book, it's almost like she's name-dropping famous vintages, people and places into the narrative. There's a lot of stuff crammed into this book. I actually wish she had given more details about less events -- there's about thirty years of career packed into 330 pages of text. I really feel like some parts were just skimmed over. For example, Robinson is explaining how she and her husband bought a house in the south of France and they'd really needed a rest after making a film about the famous food writer Elizabeth David -- but that's basically it, not another word about the film, though David's name pops up here and there later in the book. What about the film? Why was it so stressful? Clearly, Robinson has a lot of great anecdotes, but it seems like she's rushing through everything. Also, I did find her writing a bit pretentious at times, and there are a lot of really long sentences.  

However, I was quite amazed that I remembered as much as I did about various wines and regions. I'm not a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know the difference between a Burgundy and a Bordeaux, and I recognized many of the names of the most famous wines and labels (though I will probably never taste most of them). I mostly read it over my lunch hours at work when I was eating some really pathetic Chinese food or leftovers, and it was rather sad, really, reading about fabulous wine tastings at which people are sipping incredibly rare and valuable vintages; meanwhile, I was probably drinking a Diet Coke and eating a tuna sandwich. Oh well -- one can hardly sip vintage wine while on one's lunch break at the library; the administration does tend to frown on intoxication at work. 

The best parts for me were when Robinson writes in detail about one particular event, like near the end of the book when she describes eating dinner at director Francis Ford Coppola's winery in Napa Valley. It's more anecdotal and less name-dropping of famous vintages. She also mentioned Grape Expectations, which I found terribly amusing -- she didn't like the TV hostess either! (It was a network decision). 

It was really quite interesting and kind of revived my interest in wines -- I've already placed an inter-library loan for a DVD of her most recent wine series, though I'm mostly interested it it as a travelogue.  If I ever have time, I would love to visit the wine regions in California and Europe that Robinson writes about.And I'm very pleased that I finally finished one of the books I've owned the longest. 

Bloggers, which books have been on your TBR shelves the longest? Do they mostly turn out to be duds, or hidden treasures? And how is everyone doing on the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge? I only have three books left to go!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

I am not fond of the radio in my town, so though my commute to work is only 15 minutes each way, I nearly always have at least one audiobook in the car. (Sometimes more, if I'm ready to start something new and can't decide what it will be). Frequently, I use the audiobooks for some required reading for my library book group, but I also love having at least one classic on hand. I spent a couple of months this summer with The Count of Monte Cristo (36 discs!) which took a good long while.

The other day, I saw that my library now owns an audiobook version of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair narrated by Colin Firth. Like many women, I have had a huge crush on Colin Firth since the first time I saw the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but basically, Colin is good in almost everything. This was no exception. (And yes, we are a on a first-name basis, if only in my imagination).

This is only the second book by Graham Greene I've ever read -- years ago, I read Travels with My Aunt, which I found hilarious, I saw the movie version of The End of the Affair several years ago, and I thought it was good, but not so good that I had any overwhelming desire to read the book. But simply put, this book is just brilliant.

Basically, this is the story of Maurice Bendrix. The story begins in 1946, and Bendrix (who rarely uses his first name) has just run into an acquaintance, Henry Miles, a rather dull civil servant. During the war, Bendrix, an author, struck up a friendship with Miles' wife, Sarah, in order to glean information for a character in the book he was writing. The friendship quickly turned into a torrid affair that lasted nearly the entire war, until Sarah broke it off suddenly. Bendrix was devastated and never got over it. He uses the meeting to pump Henry for information about Sarah, but things don't turn out as planned -- in fact, the results are devastating.

This book was just beautifully written, completely heartbreaking. The characters were so real, I would not be surprised if they were based on real people and experiences. The narrator, Bendrix, is really not a nice person. First of all, he's having an affair with another man's wife, and he's also selfish, self-centered, and jealously obsessed -- so much so that it's ruining what could be the happiest time of his life. Indeed, the story of a man obsessed with his former lover is really quite disturbing. Yet the writing in this book is so eloquent, so profound, that I found myself sitting in the driveway of my car just so I could listen a little longer every day. The audiobook is only six discs, which one could easily get through in a few days or a week (depending on your commute) and I couldn't decide if I should stretch it out or finish it as quickly as possible. Firth's narration is just wonderful. I don't know if he's narrated any more audiobooks but I would probably listen to anything he was reading. 

Ralph Fiennes as Bendrix in the movie version. 
I had a couple of tiny quibbles with the book, but overall, I loved it. First, the story includes long journal entries which included detailed conversations -- that always bugs me. Who remembers this sort of thing verbatim? I understand that it's a literary device, but it always annoys me. Also there's a lot religious philosophy. Without spoiling anything, one of the characters is having a huge religious/existential crisis, and after awhile the debates about religion got a little tedious. Greene was a Catholic and several of his other novels have religion prominently features, which may not be to everyone's taste.

I'm really beginning to like mid-Century novels, and I hope to read more by Graham Greene (including a reread of Travels with My Aunt, as it's been years). I've heard Our Man in Havana is also quite funny, and I'm intrigued by Orient Express -- I'm sure it's nothing like Agatha Christie's novel but I do love books set on trains. Bloggers, what other novels by Graham Greene do you recommend?

I'm counting this book as my 20th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge. Only one left to go and I'm finished!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

No Name by Wilkie Collins

When I posted my list for the recent Classics Club spin, I got more comments recommending No Name by Wilkie Collins than any other book on my list. It got me really excited about reading it, so I've put off my Spin Selection (which turned out to be Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I'm also excited about) and last week I dove right into No Name. I was traveling last weekend so a big fat Victorian sensation novel was just the thing. 

Set in the 1840s, No Name is the story of two sisters, Magdalen and Norah Vanstone, and how they are cruelly robbed of their inheritance due to a terrible quirk of fate. Bereft after the death of their father, and shocked to learn they will inherit nothing, everyone expects the two sisters to live in genteel poverty as governesses. But the younger sister, Magdalen, isn't about to take this misfortune lying down. Her appeals to an estranged uncle are fruitless, so she decides to take matters into her own hands and use her acting talents to make her own fortune and leaves her family. Meanwhile, Magdalen has chance encounter with scoundrelly relative, Captain Wragge. She decides to turn the tables and use his dubious talents to her advantage. She's determined to extract revenge and restore her fortune. 

I think I loved this book even more than my two previous reads by Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone and The Woman in White, which are by far his best-known works. No Name is more than 600 pages, but I zoomed through it in on a few days (of course I did spend quite a bit of time in airport and airplanes). Nevertheless, this book really kept my attention.  Although it was full of amazing coincidences and melodrama (it is a Victorian sensation novel, after all), I loved how the relationship of Magdalen and Captain Wragge developed, and the book had tons of great plot twists. I could have finished it sooner but I couldn't stay up all night reading it after I returned from my trip. It is so annoying how work cuts into one's reading time!

This was a great, fun read and I'm really looking forward to Armadale which is the last Wilkie Collins novel on my Classics Club list. I think I'll also have to add Basil to my next Classics Club list which I'm mentally preparing as I only have 15 books left!

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Don't you love the button? The artwork is by Abigail Larson

Perfect timing! I'm nearly finished with Wilkie Collins' No Name and it's already time for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) X! Hosted by the Estella Society, participants read mysteries, thrillers, and suspense, gothic, dark fantasy, and supernatural works of literature during September and October.

Looking over my TBR shelves (and in particular my Classics Club list), here are my potential reads:

The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen by Lindsay Ashford
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
Tales of Mystery and the Macabre by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
Drood by Dan Simmons

And these are books I might possibly check out from the library:

A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott
Armadale by Wilkie Collins
Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I'm signing up for Peril the Second, which is two books. I may also read some short stories, either by M. R. James or E. F. Benson.

Anyone else signing up for RIP X?  What are you reading?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft by Thor Heyerdahl

I always like to include at least one classic on my book group's potential reading list, and last year, the group voted to include Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft as one of our 2015 reads. I thought an adventure story would be a fun summer read, but as August got closer, I began to worry that no one would show up to the book discussion. How many people want to discuss a book that's been around forever but hardly anyone reads anymore? 

Well, to my surprise and delight, I had a full house for the book group discussion -- seven people showed up! Nearly everyone had read the book except one member who watched the documentary. I myself put off reading the book off until a week before the discussion, and I was actually worried that I wouldn't finish it in time. Two days before the meeting, I still had 120 pages to go. However, the final three chapters were so riveting I read it all in one sitting. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself. For those who don't know the story, Kon-Tiki is the true story of six men (five Norwegians and a Swede) who test author Heyerdahl's theory: that it's possible that hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago, people from South America traveled across the Pacific Ocean as far as Polynesia, more than 4000 miles away. Heyerdahl first made the connection before WWII, while visiting French Polynesia, when he was struck by the likeness of the tiki god statues to South American carvings. After the war, he was in New York City and began planning the journey and found five men to accompany him on what sounds like an insane voyage in 1947. With private donations and some help from the American and Peruvian governments, Heyerdahl and the five other men built the raft from balsa wood had it towed out of the way of shipping lanes, and hoped for the best. 

Over the next three months, the men sailed across the Pacific on the Humboldt current, facing storms, sharks, and whales, with nothing to steer the raft, and mostly basic equipment, though they did have a radio. Most people doubted they would ever reach their destination. I'm fascinated by the romance of sailing, but the thought of floating in the middle of the ocean, thousands of feet above the ocean floor scares me silly. And they did this willingly! But the story is really interesting, especially the encounters with marine life like whale sharks, and what they ate and what they saw every day. 

Whale sharks can get up to 40 feet long, almost as long as the Kon-Tiki raft.
I was surprised at what a fascinating, quick read this book was. I liked most of it though there was a part in the middle where Heyerdahl explains the history of Easter Island which I found a little dry and mostly skimmed. I also wish the book had gone into a little more detail about life on the boat -- how did everyone get along for 101 days, stuck on a boat in the middle of nowhere -- literally?

I did a little research afterward, and this book has sold more than 20 million copies and has been translated into many different languages.   My book group mostly liked it, though we did wonder why it was such a huge publishing phenomenon. My guess was that it really captured the public imagination -- it's a pretty amazing feat. It was also made into an award-winning documentary film, and in 2012, made into a fiction version of the film which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. I haven't seen either of the film versions yet but the library owns both so I hope to watch one or both of them soon.

Overall, an excellent read, and I'm counting it as my Non-fiction Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Classics Spin #10

Nothing like a Classics Spin to get me out of a blogging slump -- I'm down to only sixteen books on my Classics Club list! This made signing up for the latest Classics Spin really easy. Next Monday, I'll be assigned a book from this list based on a random number assigned by the Classics Club. Here's my list:

1. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
2.  The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
3. Armadale by Wilkie Collins
4. New Grub Street by George Gissing
5. Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell
6. The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
7. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
8. The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason
9. No Name by Wilkie Collins
10. Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
11. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
12. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
13. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
14. One of Ours by Willa Cather
15. A Dance to the Music of Time (First Movement) by Anthony Powell
16. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

And to make it an even 20, I'm repeating four books: 

17. The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason
18. New Grub Street by George Gissing
19. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
20. No Name by Wilkie Collins

I'm really hoping for Hardy, Collins, or maybe Anthony Powell. New Grub Street sounds interesting too. Which books should I be dreading? And is anyone else signing up for the next Classics Spin? What books are you hoping for?

Updated: My lucky spin number was 5, so I'll be reading Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell! Very happy with my spin pick!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Austen in August: Guest Post and Giveaway at Roof Beam Reader

Welcome to Austen in August! Today I have the honor of a guest post at Roof Beam Reader! Please click on the link and take a look as I'm reviewing John Mullan's What Matters in Jane Austen: Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved -- and I'm giving away a copy! 

Update: The winner of the giveaway is . . . AUSTIN!!  Please contact me at karenlibrarian13 [at] yahoo [dot] com with a good mailing address so I can mail your prize! Congratulations!

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo is one of those really long classics that's been on my to-read list forever. I'd always been intimidated by the sheer length of it -- it's more than 1200 pages long! Originally, I had planned to read something by Zola for Paris in July, but then a couple of months ago I started listening to an audiobook called The Black Count by Tom Reiss, a biography of Alexandre Dumas' father, Alex Dumas. That story is pretty amazing. Alex Dumas was born the illegitimate son of a nobleman and a Caribbean slave yet became a General in the French Army. Dumas's father inspired his swashbuckling tales, and I couldn't help wishing I'd actually gotten around to read The Count of Monte Cristo and was worried about spoilers. So, I stopped listening to the audio and checked out Monte Cristo instead -- all 37 discs of the audiobook! It took me more than a month, but I finally finished it and I'm counting it as my Classic in Translation for the Back to the Classics Challenge

I'm sure most people already know the set-up of the story, so here's the short version: young Edmond Dantes, a French sailor, spends fourteen years imprisoned in the infamous Chateau d'If after being unjustly accused of treason. His three anonymous accusers are jealous of him for various reasons, and unfortunately, the prosecutor covers up the truth to hide his dirty little secret. Poor Edmond is the victim and they essentially lock him up and throw away the key. Naturally, he is despondent, and after four years of solitary confinement, he's ready to end his own life when he receives an unexpected visitor -- another prisoner accidentally tunnels into Edmond's cell.  

This mysterious prisoner is Abbe Faria, an Italian priest who becomes Edmond's friend, mentor, and father figure. Over the next ten years, he teaches Edmond languages and sciences and gives Edmond hope. He also gives Edmond the means to plot the perfect revenge on the four men who have ruined Edmond's life. It takes years, but Edmond eventually gets justice. 

This book is one of those great epic tales -- it has daring escapes, murders, duels, daring escapes, romance, villains, buried treasure, vengeance, and more. There are a lot of characters (which I sometimes confused -- why are two of the main characters named Morrel and Morcerf? Maybe I missed something in translation). I was really impressed by how Dumas kept my interest in such a long and complicated story. I had a few quibbles with some of the amazing coincidences, but that's really just a product of its time. I was also a little bothered at the end with some of the fallout from Edmond's vengeance. Yes, he deserved justice, but at what price? 

The Count of Monte Cristo has been adapted and abridged many times, but it's really worth taking the time to read (or listen to) the original version. I listened to a lot of it on audio but also read parts of it in the excellent Penguin translation. The audiobook was good -- I will listen to pretty much anything narrated by John Lee. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this and I definitely want to read more books by Dumas. The Man in the Iron Mask is still on my Classics Club list, and I think I might also have the courage now to tackle another whopping French epic, Les Miserables, though I think I'll put it off for next summer.