Monthly Archives: April 2013

30 Day Challenge: Day 24

24. Your favourite series

Well now, let me think… there was this series about a boy, and he had a mortal enemy who really didn’t want the boy to get through school and lots of people loved it and they made films and not as many people loved them and in the end…. well that would be telling. Can you guess what it is yet (oh dear referencing Rolf Harris makes me feel dirty, sorry about that)?

Yes, you’re right! It is of course –

Harry Potter!

Harry Potter!

by JK Rowling. But that’s a somewhat obvious choice isn’t it? And given my lamentable fail of a post yesterday I’m going to pick a few more.

5 books. Not 6.

5 books. Not 6.

2. Earth’s Children by Jean M. Auel. This series of 5 books (that’s 5 because we don’t talk about The Land of Painted Caves) is set around 30,000 years ago and follows a young girl, Ayla who loses her family in an earthquake and is taken in by a passing clan of Neanderthals. Growing up as a Homo sapiens among the Clan is difficult for Ayla as she can never quite account for the differences between her and her adopted family. Not to mention the dislike many of the Clan hold for her. But that’s only the first book! The successive publications saw Ayla set out in search of her own people and a place where she could truly belong.

It’s true that the later books became harder to read as the fascinating characters and customs of the people Ayla met gave way to endless descriptions of the flora and fauna of the last Ice Age but actually that could be interesting as well. I also didn’t much care for the romance between Ayla and Jondalar – one too many love triangles to keep me interested but overall this was an excellent series. Although I’m fascinated by ancient peoples so this may go some way to explaining my love of it.

An extensive series.

An extensive series.

3. The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne (and Todd) McCaffrey. I extolled the virtues of Anne McCaffrey in an earlier post and I was talking about Pern so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say that there was a period of my life when I very much wanted to go and live on Pern and find myself a fire lizard (I didn’t want a dragon, I had my fill of riding giant beasts when I fell of a horse at age 9) and be taken in by a Weyr or the Harperhold or somewhere exciting like that. The rural way of life seemed pretty appealing itself and all the people were just so nice. There are still several books in the series that I haven’t read including almost all of the later ones by Todd McCaffrey who began coauthoring books with his mother in 2003. So there’s still more of Pern to discover which I will get round to one day!

Hunger Games4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I was dubious about The Hunger Games at first but I got a copy of the first book and it was sitting on my desk when I picked it up to have a look at the first page one morning and it’s fair to say that I was late for work that morning. From the very first page I was absolutely gripped although I found it far too emotional to read on the tube and instead had to keep it in the privacy of my own bedroom where I could cry as much as I wanted (yes, I’m a crier, it can be deeply embarrassing sometimes as I’m very easily moved to tears). The later books weren’t so good and I found it a struggle to get through Mockingjay at times but overall I loved the word Collins created and although Katniss started to come across as a bit whiny in the third book, thinking about it she probably had every right to moan.

The Belgariad5. The Belgariad by David Eddings. So clearly I like my fantasy… I read The Belgariad years ago and its sequel The Mallorean both of which are 5-book series set in a fictional world full of wizardry, prophecy, epic quests and all-powerful Gods. I don’t remember the series well but I do remember that I enjoyed them so much that I refused to read the epilogue t the back of The Seeress of Kell as I didn’t want them to end.

So there you have it, a much more successful post than yesterday I’m sure you’ll agree!

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30 Day Challenge: Day 23

23. A book you once hated but now loved.

I’ve got nothing.

I’ve been trying really hard to come up with something but the thing is that if I don’t like something I’m not going to waste my time rereading it.

I supposed there are authors who I’ve changed my mind about, most obviously Charles Dickens as you will see if you read this. But other than that there’s not a single book I can think of.

Because you see, there’s not that many books that I’ve hated. Even in the list of 5 least favourite books I’d be hard pushed to say I hated any of them (except The Unconsoled; I really hated that one) but that doesn’t mean I’ll be reading any of them again.

So I hate to do this but I’m going to have to pass on this topic, I promise to do better tomorrow.

30 Day Challenge: Day 22

22. A book you once loved but now hate.

The Memory Keeper's DaughterFor this post I’m going to chose The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (Kim Edwards) which is the story of David, a doctor whose wife gives birth to twins one of whom has Down’s Syndrome. This book being set in  1964, attitudes were different from today and David decides to place his daughter in a home where nature can “take its course”. That decision has far-reaching consequences for all concerned; David, his wife (whom David tells the girl died), Paul (David’s son) and not least,Phoebe, the little girl and David’s nurse Caroline who doesn’t have the heart to leave the baby in the home and instead takes her home to raise her.

The stories of Phoebe and Paul (her brother) are told in parallel from the perspective of their various parents/guardians and later Paul also has a voice. The stories span 24 years and the moral message is very strong as Paul’s family falls apart as the result of his father’s lie whereas Phoebe’s family goes from strength to strength.

Without wanting to say too much, the first time I read the book I really related to some of the characters and found that they led me to look at my own life differently. I never liked Norah and found it extremely difficult to sympathise with her despite her horrible situation because she came across as incredibly selfish. The other characters however made a lot of sense to me and I found that I really cared about what happened to them. That was four years ago now but I found it was completely different when I reread it last year.

On the second reading  I found that all the characters got on my nerves, Paul’s family were all far too self-absorbed whereas Phoebe’s were just a bit too perfect.

I think the main thing that changed is my life, there were some things going on in my life when I first read it which had resolved by the time I reread it and which probably changed the way I looked at the characters and the situations they were in.

It’s a shame because I really liked it the first time and rereading it has spoilt that memory but I suppose it can’t be helped. I may try it again in another couple of years just to see if my view changes again.

30 Day Challenge: Day 21

An early post today because I’m off out for the day with my mummy who’s visiting for the weekend 🙂

21. The most disturbing book you’ve ever read.

Disturbing? Hmmm…. I don’t really read gory books or creepy books or real life drama books so it’s hard to choose one.

Love in the Time of CholeraLove in the Time of Cholera was somewhat disturbing in terms of the fat that no one seemed to bat an eyelid at Florentino Ariza’s affairs with prostitutes, elderly widows or the teenage niece of whom he is the guardian. Not to mention there is a somewhat blasé attitude towards rape. But it was told in such an offhand way that although I was outraged, it didn’t really disturb me.

Chinese CinderellaI think the book I’d really give this title to is Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah. This is the autobiography of a Chinese girl whose mother died while giving birth to her and as such was spurned by her family. The horrible taunts and tricks her family subjected her to were truly horrifying. I realise that there are more disturbing stories out there but I make a point of not reading them, I see it as a kind of voyeurism that sits rather uncomfortably with me. I first read this book when I was a teenager and “true life stories” were a rarer thing so perhaps I was more naïve but the fact that a family could do such things to their own child horrified me.

It’s a powerful story and is further in Falling Leaves, Adeline Yen Mah’s full life story, disturbing yet not totally bereft of happiness and hope so probably not entirely disturbing but as bad as I ever want to read.

30 Day Challenge: Day 20

20. The environment you most enjoy reading in.

Well this is easy. Look at the title of this blog.

Now look back at the question.

This post kinda writes itself huh?

London Underground!

Yeah, I love the tube! I love that while reading I can catch up on the gossip of complete strangers, make up my own stories about those around me and get lots of ideas for what to read next by looking over the shoulder of the person next to me.

I know that might sound like sarcasm but it’s not, I actually do love all those things. And there’s no internet or mobile signal to distract me and lure me into a conversation or making random discoveries on Wikipedia or the 101 other ways I find to waste time at any other point in the day.

Sure, reading at home on my comfy bed is lovely but I always feel like there’s something else I could be doing – the washing up or hoovering or (heaven forbid) making a start on my thesis – whereas below ground I’m incapable of doing any of those things so why worry?!

It may get hot and sticky and smelly and you may have to fight with the newspaper on the next seat for elbow room and people may be ignorant of how annoying the tinny music from their headphones is and there may be something about delays that cause people to turn into insensitive b*stards but hey, I really love it down there and it’s improved my library no end!

love-london-underground-sign

30 Day Challenge: Day 19

19. A book that you think is woefully underrated

19?! Already?! I’m going to miss this thing when it’s over 😦

Anyway back to the point and it’s quite a late post from me today for a very special reason. Well two actually:

1. I took a detour on my way home to nip into my (new) local library and pick up a membership card so I can properly participate in this project: http://booknotesproject.wordpress.com/

2. I wanted to wait and write my post when I’d finished reading the book I’m giving the title of “most underrated”: Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May.

I haven’t actually finished reading it yet but I’m getting very close, one more session before bed should do it.

Life! Death! Prizes!I first became aware of Life! Death! Prizes!  when it featured in The Underground Book Club which is a free magazine containing the first three chapters of new books. The idea is to promote books by new authors who don’t have the accolades of more established writers. Life! Death! Prizes! actually featured back in April last year but it isn’t until last week when I spied it in Oxfam that I remembered I wanted to read the full thing.

The story is told by Billy whose mum has just died leaving him effectively the sole guardian of his 6-year-old brother Oscar. Sure Oscar’s dad is still around but he’s been worse than useless for most of Oscar’s life and there’s Aunt Toni who wants custody of Oscar but Billy knows that he’s the best thing for his brother.

Billy has an incredibly cynical view of the world, like most teenagers but perhaps with more reason given that his mother was murdered and that in addition to all the problems this has caused in terms of childcare and finances, Billy’s being stalked by the kid who killed his mum.

I love this book because it’s bitter yet amusing, heartbreaking yet hopeful. The story is mostly of billy’s day-to-day life, nothing extraordinary just a cycle of work, home and the occasional trip to Oscar’s school or the local shop. But woven into this there are episodes from his childhood and the life of Aidan Jebb – the boy who killed Billy’s mum.

The characters are all people you or I probably encounter in our everyday lives and that’s the thing about the whole story, it could be about any of us. Much as I enjoy fantasy and often read to escape real life, I also greatly appreciate writers who can capture reality and show the strength and humour of everyday people and situations.

Life! Death! Prizes!  (so named because Billy reads a lot of the trashy magazines which feature dramatic stories of life and death while offering prizes on every other page, think Chat, OK!, Bella etc.) was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award but has failed to bring home any prizes home itself but I think May probably has a glittering future ahead of him (this was his second novel, I hope to find a copy of his first TAG soon) which is why I’m nominating Life! Death! Prizes! as “woefully underrated”.

30 Day Challenge: Day 18

18. A book you think is highly overrated.

Today’s topic is a real head-scratcher. I mean sure I could fall back on my usual stance of “Jane Austen is a bit dull” but frankly I’m bored of that myself at the moment. Besides as I mentioned the other day, although I don’t like her storylines I can’t say that she was a bad writer so to call her overrated seems unfair.

DuneI also mentioned the other day that I think Twilight and 50 Shades are massively overrated and make me worry about the state of modern literature but I don’t want to repeat myself so soon.

So what to put? I honestly don’t know but since I have to choose I’m going to go for Dune by Frank Herbert a review of which you can find here.

Nebula Award logoThe reason I’m choosing Dune is that it is on The List (number 39) and has won several awards including the Hugo Award in 1966 and the Nebula award for best novel in 1965 and I can’t help but feel that there are better novels out there.

I found Dune too long and complex, it wanders around tying itself in knots and completely lost me on several occasions. There were many plotlines, some good, some not so bad and although on the whole the book is good, I just feel that it doesn’t quite live up to the praise heaped on it.

Hugo Award logoAlthough I also realise that I haven’t read any other sci-fi novels from the 1960s so I could be taking it all a bit out of context.

So I’m not saying don’t read it, I’m just saying that personally I would take all the lauding with a pinch of salt. Please feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong.

That was really tough but tomorrow I get to tell you about a book I think is underrated which is guaranteed to be more fun!