Checkmate: Queen’s Gambit Readalikes

Did you catch chess fever when The Queen’s Gambit came out on Netflix? If you did, you’re not alone! If not, it’s never too late to start! Here’s a few ways you can discover more of the amazing world of chess through books.

First up, read The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis to see where it all began. In this page-to-screen story, an orphaned girl finds skill and passion when she learns how to play chess. She enters tournaments and becomes a rising star in the game… but is the pressure too much?

Next, check out a few real-life versions of the story with All The Wrong Moves by Sasha Chapin and The Queen of Katwe by Tim Crothers. Sasha Chapin’s memoir takes you behind the scenes of ultra-competitive chess matches all around the world, by turns highlighting his humiliating defeats and celebrating a beautiful game. In another famous page-to-screen story, The Queen of Katwe tells the story of a young girl from Uganda who, through the support of her community, becomes determined to follow her skill and become an international chess champion.

Then, try How To Become A Candidate Master by Alex Dunne to build your own skills. Based on real games, this book will help amateur chess players gradually build their skills through a series of matches, with the goal of eventually achieving master status. If you’re not yet looking to become a master, you could read How To Beat Your Kids At Chess, a guide specifically for adult beginners, or try a Great Course on How To Play Chess, good for players of all levels.

Finally, get philosophical with The Moves That Matter by Jonathan Rowson. In this case, a real-life grandmaster demonstrates how the complexities and strategies of the game also contain lessons for living life, including about sustaining focus, making hard decisions, overcoming failure, and much more. Using chess, Rowson shows how to gain a new perspective and appreciate the meaning and beauty in life.

Whatever kind of chess fan you may be, rest assured there’s a book out there for you!

The Roads to Rebecca

Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is a classic novel for very good reason — the suspenseful tone, the clever writing style, and compelling characters all make it a story for the ages. The original novel was published in 1938, and was turned into first a play in 1939, a film in 1940, and most recently a Netflix film released this year. If you’re not already aware (and let’s be honest, obsessed) with this story, here are some details about it and some different ways to experience it.

First, the basics: a young woman falls in love with an older man, Maxim De Winter, while working as a companion to a rich American woman in Monte Carlo. After a whirlwind romance, they marry and return to his estate, Manderley. Once they arrive, the young woman discovers the house is a monument to her husband’s deceased first wife, the Rebecca from the title. The house’s habits, decoration, and staff all bear her stamp, including a sinister housekeeper who undermines our insecure narrator at every turn, bullying her with stories of the glamorous Rebecca. In mounting distress, the narrator struggles both to escape Rebecca’s shadow and to uncover the dark secrets her husband is keeping from her about his past. Eventually, he confides in her, but that may only cause them more problems…

What I love about this book is how the writing style underscores the plot — the narrator is given no name other than Mrs. De Winter, while her predecessor Rebecca is not only named but is the book’s title. The narrator’s identity is literally erased, insignificant compared to Rebecca. Also, the story is told as a flashback, giving the reader enigmatic hints of the book’s ending long before it arrives – much as the narrator learns about Rebecca in mysterious bits and pieces.

Intrigued? Check out the book or the film version (or any one of the several available) from the library. But wait, there’s more!

Also released this year was a YA novel which retells the Rebecca story in a modern setting, to chilling effect. I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick echoes Du Maurier’s twisty plot full of drama, chills, and unexpected revelations. In this case, the story is about Anna, who comes to the Hamptons to spend the summer working as a nanny. She’s hoping for a fresh start but finds herself instead overshadowed by Zoe Spanos, a local girl who recently went missing, and who looks a LOT like Anna… Slowly, the mystery of Zoe Spanos takes over Anna’s life until she’s sure they’re linked by a dark connection. But did Anna really kill her? And how can she find the truth?

This is far from the only retelling of or companion to this iconic story, of course. There’s also Rebecca’s Tale, The Winters, Mrs. De Winter, In Her Shadow, and more. If you like atmospheric mysteries, thrillers, or marriage stories, check out any of these titles from the Rebeccaverse.

Enola Holmes: Page and Screen

If watching Stranger Things made you a fan of  Millie Bobby Brown, if you love rebellious female heroines, or if you devour all things Sherlock Holmes, then Enola Holmes may be the character for you. A film adaptation centered on Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes’ younger sister is now available on Netflix, so there’s no better time to discover the mystery book series by Nancy Springer.

The series is six books in all, starting with The Case of the Missing Marquess, first published in 2006. As in the recent film, the book’s action starts when Enola discovers her mother is missing. It’s up to her to travel to London and find her, while solving a few other mysteries and avoiding her older brothers at the same time.

I am excited about this series and its film adaptation for a number of reasons. Nancy Springer wrote some of my most favorite books when I was younger, full of fascinating, sympathetic characters, plenty of action and humor, and covering a wide range of genres and situations. Secondly, I am a self-confessed Anglophile, and I love the Sherlock Holmes character and universe. Throw in a spunky, clever, determined heroine, and I am 100% on board. The fact that the Enola character is played in the film by Millie Bobby Brown, whom I love in Stranger Things, is just a bonus. If you like mysteries, historical fiction, and comparing books to their film adaptations, I definitely recommend you check out the Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer.

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Mystery fans, rejoice! Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, first published in 1937, is getting a new film version this October. The film acts as a companion film to the 2017 film Murder on the Orient Express, directed by Kenneth Branagh (also based on a book of the same name). Like its predecessor, this Death on the Nile film will feature a star-studded cast and promises a thrilling interpretation of Christie’s original book.

In the original story, the famous detective Hercule Poirot is on vacation in Egypt when he is approached by heiress Linnet Doyle, who’s being plagued by a stalker. Troubled by the depth of the stalker’s hatred, Poirot finds himself onboard a cruise ship with the stalker, her victim, and the other troubled passengers, none of whom are telling the whole truth. As they journey up the Nile River, the danger mounts and Poirot races against time to discover which of the passengers’ secrets leads to murder.

I’m very excited about this movie, being a lover of mystery books as a genre and Agatha Christie in particular. I saw Murder on the Orient Express when it came out a few years ago, and it was enjoyable. However, Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot doesn’t always work for me. While I always read him as mostly dainty and intellectual, Branagh plays Poirot as a dynamic and dramatic character with a troubled past. In the case of Death on the Nile, though, tangled morality and stormy emotions take center stage, so this version of Poirot might actually be more effective.

Whether you’re brand-new to Agatha Christie and her most famous character, or a devoted fan, this is a great opportunity to experience a great mystery story AND think about how storytelling changes when books are turned into movies. You can even compare the new film to an older film version, released in 2004, for the full experience. That’s what I’ll be doing – so stay tuned for my review!