The End of the Challenge

You may have noticed that my 30-day challenge ended abruptly towards the end of March. I’d been doing pretty well and managed to post most days once I got into the swing of things, but then one day passed, and then another – now here we are, nearly thirty days later and I’ve not finished the full challenge – there are a grand total of ten topics I’ve not posted on. They are all topics that I struggled to come up with an answer for and so after surprising myself with some answers on the earlier days, I’ve really found myself stumped with these (and odd couple are ones that are quite similar to other days in the challenge as well, so all I could come up with were duplicates of those).

Overall, I really enjoyed doing the parts of the challenge I managed. When you spend your free time (which is limited to begin with) balancing your personal writing with reading for enjoyment, it doesn’t leave much space for blogging on the reading you’ve enjoyed…for once it was nice to think about books completely as a reader, putting the writer in a corner with a cup of tea. I’ve also read three books in the last few weeks, which tells me that going through the challenge gave me back a bit of my reading mojo.

If you’re at all interested in the topics I didn’t cover, you can check them out below, with my shorthand answers…

DAY 2. - Favorite side character – This is probably Hermione, there weren’t many characters that jumped right out at me when I tried to come up with something for this post.

DAY 9. - Most overrated book – I wasn’t sure I could answer this, as I haven’t actually read the whole book when I’ve not enjoyed them (e.g. Catch 22, Fifty Shades – although the first could probably do with a second try). Other ‘overrated’ books I’ve covered elsewhere, such as Catcher in the Rye and Ulysses. I suppose Lady Chatterly’s Lover might fit into this category – I was expecting something really fantastic and maybe even romantic when I read it. By the end of it, my overwhelming feeling was…meh (Although – I still find it difficult when I meet anyone called John Thomas).

DAY 10. - A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving – This was a tough one for me. I suppose maybe The Kite Runner was one I was unsure of when I started it, but only very loosely. In general if I think I won’t like something, I don’t bother reading it.

DAY 15. - A character who you can relate to the most – I find relating to characters hard. I might pick out odd bits and pieces, but a whole character that feels like me in lots of ways…I’m not so sure. If anything, it would be the characters I’ve written myself, because they must have some parts of me in them.

DAY 19. - A favourite author – we’d covered lots of authors I love in different posts in the challenge already: Khaled Hosseini, J K Rowling, Roald Dahl, Michael Crichton…don’t you always find it really hard to pick one author whenever you’re asked these questions?

DAY 20. - Favorite childhood book – This would be the Matilda answer for me probably, which I’d already covered on another post. I had a dog-eared copy of Beatrix Potter’s Two Bad Mice, which I read over and over again – it was one of the only Potter books I had, whereas now, you can get them all cheaply and easily, that you wouldn’t necessarily go over and over the same book. There was a Joan Aitken book which sticks out in my memory, that I remember reading and then scouring the library for over and over again, but never finding it after that first time – but that would be a ‘favourite’ more for my memory of me wanting to read it again, rather than remembering what the story was about. In the end, my answer would be: “anything by Roald Dahl,” especially Charlie, George and the revolting rhymes.

DAY 22. - Least favourite plot device employed by way too many books you actually
 enjoyed otherwise – Maybe I don’t read enough to come across the same thing over and over again. Love triangles have been ‘popular’ of late, but as I’ve only read a few of the series containing them, it’s not been too bad. Negative b/g relationships have also run through quite a few YA series I’ve come across – not particularly worried about those either, not enough to ruin the book at any rate. My pet hate tends to be illogical decisions and unrealistic behaviour (usually from bland heroines) - The Goddess Test was one that I didn’t enjoy for these reasons. (Review here).

DAY 25. - The most surprising plot twist or ending – maybe The Good German, I remember that making me go ‘ooh’ at the end, when everything came out. Or the one in Mocking Jay which made me cry, I definitely was not expecting that (it must be the closet romantic in me that hoped for a happy ever after, following Peeta’s resuce).

DAY 29. - A book you hated – I’d already covered the ones I really don’t like in other posts, but to be able to talk about ‘hating’ a book…I’m not sure I feel that strongly about anything I’ve read. I don’t like reviews where people go on about being ‘tortured’ by a book – we’re not forced to read anything, if it’s not for you, close it up and move on, it’s not like there’s nothing else to read.

DAY 30. - Book you couldn’t put down - The Hunger Games would fit this: I remember staying up until a ridiculous hour to get through to the end. There was also Easy, by Tamara Webber, which I read in a single sitting, a rare thing for me these days – it was a straight-forward, engaging book with great characters and a fast-paced plot. The last HP book – Deathly Hallows – was another I read non-stop for a couple of days – cooking whilst trying to read a big, heavy hardback is not to be recommended (if you’re a muggle).

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Day 1 – A book series you wish had gone on longer OR a book series you wish would just end already

billvampireteethlolOh, Charlaine, why did you have to do this? It would have been nice to see Sookie, Eric and co. disappear off into the sunset, really not long after the ‘vampire conference’ disaster at the hotel, I suppose. I think it was somewhere around Book 9 I really began to lose interest in reading the series – I’ve actually enjoyed the TV adaptation better in some ways, as they blend the plots from the books together faster, so they have more pace (the books can sometimes be slow) and you get much better character development in the TV series, as you’re not stuck with a single character point of view – let’s face it, after a while Sookie sucks, and not in a cool vampire way.

SookieUnfortunately, it did not stop at Book 9, number 10 came and then Dead Reckoning as number 11. Oh dear. *shakes head*

The things I liked best about the Sookie Stackhouse books were the setting and the original view of bringing vampires out into the world: I loved synthetic blood and people trying to get their hands on vampire blood for themselves (reversing the tradition), the idea of trying to integrate another species into society and all of the issues it creates. At the beginning it was quite interesting.

Dead Reckoning destroyed any hope I had for the series – I rated it 2*, following a steady decline from 4* to 3*. Here’s my review – short and (not so) sweet:

“I really enjoyed the Sookie Stackhouse books and read most of the series back-to-back having received the 10 book set for Christmas. By book 9 / 10 I was beginning to lose my appetite for them a little: the characters stopped doing some of the more significant things they had early in the series and it felt like there wasn’t much for them to do now. If that was the case with Book 10 – this was so much worse. I was just disappointed with the bland plot, slightly boring characters and was glad to be finished at the end. Pam was probably the only redeeming feature, and she was a shadow of her former self. I think Sookie is done :(  “

Cookie is MineOnce great characters were sucked dry (not literally, if they had been it might have bucked things up a bit) and formed a bland cast in a plot that rambled from one mediocre situation to another. I’ve just seen now that a further two books have been released since I read this one, but I can honestly say, I’ve finished with the books. It’s a shame that good books get dragged out longer than they should; although I still like Sookie’s world and the TV series, just knowing the naff stuff that came after leaves a bit of a shadow over them.

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Day 7 – The ‘Guilty Pleasure’ Book

There are a few I could have chosen for this – after all, who doesn’t have things that they just enjoy – without them being intellectual or worthy or even universally liked. You already know I enjoyed Twilight when I first read it, and I’ve read it several times since and still like it – I’m (pretty) sure it’s not a crime :)

There are books I’ve read in the past, that I appreciate for their artistry or the authors skill, but didn’t necessarily enjoy – and they’ve often won the big awards like Pulitzers and Nobel prizes – I make the effort to read them, but I don’t close the book at the end with a big grin on my face. Does that mean they’re not a good book? Or does simply enjoying a book make it less worthy…?

I suppose for a long time, I had a ‘guilty pleasure’ author – he was my go-to author when I bought books at the airport to read on holiday, and I always enjoyed his writing, no matter what the subject matter: Michael Crichton. I’ve spent days beside the pool or cramped up on an endless plane journey lost in worlds of dinosaur theme parks, hi-tech time travel, big business sex scandals and conspiracy theory plane crashes. One of the most interesting things in his books was always the research – he normally listed the journals, textbooks, professors and universities at the back of each book who had helped him to understand the theories and science that he fictionalised in his books.

The Da Vinci Code

One of my biggest guilty pleasure books – that comes to mind – is The Da Vinci Code. It is one of those books that you notice the cheesy dialogue and convenient romantic relationships as you read (very James Bond-esque a la Roger Moore) – but you don’t care, because you’re caught up in the plot and are more interested in that, rather than whether Robert Langdon is throwing out cheddar-filled chat-up lines. As book, I prefer  Angels and Demons and in general, it feels less cheesy and a little more gritty – with various unpleasant deaths. On that basis – although I prefer the other, I don’t think it fits the ‘guilty pleasure’ category, as well as Da Vinci does. When you notice the cheese and just don’t care, surely that is the bit you feel guilty about? :)

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Day 27 – Book that has been on your “to read” list the longest

HitchTo answer this challenge, my Goodreads TBR list was no use – it’s only a couple of years old and although there are books languishing on there that I added in late 2011, they’ve not been waiting as long as some of the ones gathering dust on my bookshelf.

There are some ‘Book People’ bargains, like the collection of short Oxford histories on just about everything from Romans to FDR and travel writing from Shackleton to Chekov – but those I recall buying around 2008, and I have read a few out of each series.

I have two ‘to read’ books which I’ve had since my late teens and just never got around to reading: the final two books of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (i.e. books 4 and 5 of the five part trilogy). At the point I started reading the series, it was only four books long, and Mostly Harmless came out when I was reading about planets with cows that look like mattresses (at least, that’s what I think they were – it’s been a long time), so I bought it, intending to finish the lot.

The problem now is that it’s been around twenty years since I read the first three books and so I’m pretty fuzzy on anything other than the main details: 42, Arthur Dent, Zaphod and Ford… So, for me to read So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, I will actually have to re-read three books before I can start it, and my TBR list is already bulging at the seams.

So, re-reading the series and finally finishing may be something I save for retirement or if I win the lottery – currently twenty years waiting to be read, I suppose another decade or so isn’t going to harm anything. Oh, unless the Earth actually does get blown up to make way for an intergalactic super-highway, in which case, I’ll never know how things ended.

 

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Day 23 – Best book you’ve read in the last 12 months

Cress As you’ve seen, I’ve been doing the challenge out of sequence and so I’m getting to some of the topics I didn’t have an immediate answer for now, not that I’m a natural procrastinator or anything *cough*. Last night I was trawling through Amazon trying to find something and saw that Cress, the latest book in the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer was out – and as I tapped the button to ‘Buy’, I realised that I had the answer to this question. 

I didn’t read as many books last year as I did in 2012 – less than half the seventy odd I’d done the year before. Partly because my work life was quite busy, and partly because I was trying to get my own writing done, which funnily enough you can’t do both things at the same time.

But, when I was reading the last few pages of Scarlet, the second book in the series I knew that I would be buying the next as soon as my grubby little cyber mitts could get it for the Kindle!


CinderI enjoyed Cinder, when I read it in 2012 – and the artwork for the cover was the best of them so far – perfectly blending the sci-fi with the fairytale it was adapted from. The premise of Cinder was great and I really enjoyed it (4* review), but for me it really came to life in the second half of the book. After this ending, Scarlet was high on my to-read list and when I got to it last year I was really impressed with the next ‘fairytale’ in the series, which stepped a good distance away from the first book and showed you other parts of the world Meyer set up in Cinder, without focusing on those characters. Scarlet and Wolf were a great combo and I suppose if Cinder showed you the upper circles in society of the Earth of the future, Scarlett took us to a different country and showed us what life was like for the majority of people. Then throw in a dash of dystopia with the oppressed, ordered people of Lunarapparently planning to take over Earth and the stage is set for something big – I hope!

Scarlet So, with a 5* review and a very eager Mel waiting to read what happens next in Cress I would have to say that Scarlett was my favourite book from last year. It was quirky, well-detailed, action-packed, well-written with fantastic characters – it blends a familiar few details from fairytale, but twists them to such a degree that it is completely its own story. Scarlet is as feisty as you would want her to be: more in the vein of Roald Dahl’s girl who ‘whips a pistol from her knickers’ than the wee girlie who needs rescuing by a woodcutter. Best of all, it’s another series where the ladies are taking centre stage, in all the best ways: Cinder, Scarlet and I expect ‘Rapunzel’ – Cress – the super-hacker, stuck on a satellite since she was a child, are all forces to be reckoned with. They are strong ladies, who rely on their brains more than a handsome face…expect a review soon – I don’t think it will take me long to read this one! :)

 

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Day 11 – Favorite classic book

Is your favourite classic the one that sticks with you, years after you first read it – or is it the one that you like to read over and over again? I’m not so sure on this one – so I’m going with the first thought.

BraveYou’ll know from one of my earlier posts that I had a summer ‘blitzing’ classics I’d not read before, after my first year at uni. After reading 1984, I moved straight into Brave New World, recommended by my Dad.

In some ways, I think BNW was what I expected 1984 to be. I suppose it’s a little more ‘sci-fi’ and fitted more with a ‘future world’ that I pictured in my head, whereas 1984 felt a little dated in some ways – yes, I know I was reading 1984 in 2000! Where 1984 had politics and surveillance states, it felt quite cold war - BNW, with it’s chemically induced happiness, behaviour conditioning and designer baby development threw up more complicated questions for me, about what is ethical, how far science can go as a society control, how you might feel coming into this ‘perfect’ world from the outside, and whether it really is the utopia it’s promised to be.

The ideas from BNW have definitely stayed with me: ten years later, when my own dystopian world was forming inside my head for Hope’s Daughter and The Rainbow Maker’s Tale, I found myself being drawn to science and the opportunities it offered for changing our futures. You might also find some little nods towards the classic dystopians in my books: 1984 surveillance and suspicion of ‘the system’; BNW, chemically controlling our behaviours, designer breeding, choosing people’s destiny…maybe touching on what is ethical, and how far you can go before it becomes unethical…

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Day 8 – Most underrated book

Are some of the biggest books of all time, also some of the most underrated?

When I first saw this post title books like The Da Vinci Code and Twilight immediately sprang to mind – I wouldn’t necessarily say they are always underrated, but I feel that they are sometimes just…dismissed. Dismissed because of hype, dismissed because of publicity, dismissed for being popular…?  Also, I wondered if it naturally followed that a book people enjoyed reading and that found itself being ‘popular’ would have to well rated too?

If I compare the books I’ve read from the list below, there are several I read and enjoyed, but know others regularly dismiss them. There are others I am guilty of dismissing myself (I didn’t rate the preview of Fifty Shades so never even bothered reading further), but others will rave about.

How many Pulitzer and Nobel prize winners do you see on the list below? Of the ones I’ve read myself that are well-rated among literary circles, I probably wouldn’t list them among my favourite books and I certainly don’t see many here.

I don’t think a book should be dismissed for being popular, but perhaps that sometimes makes it easier to do so. Why does that particular book warrant that level of attention? I think it begins to make people look for things to take away from it, to try and show it shouldn’t hold the position it does.

Who’s to say that The Da Vinci Code shouldn’t hold a top spot? I’ve read it and enjoyed the twists and turns, bringing together a range of familiar things in a way that was new and unusual for me. Did I cringe at some of the cheese-ball dialogue? Absolutely! Didn’t stop me enjoying it though – and by the looks of it, a few other million people thought the same thing.

Aside from Harry Potter, which is its own world in every way, the first books on this list I would really see having literary chops are probably The Lovely Bones and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime - both voiced by unusual narrators, giving new twists to what could be considered otherwise straight-forward murder mystery books. Do these get underrated? Goodreads says 3.81 for the ‘Dog’ and 3.7 for ‘Bones’ (Da Vinci gets 3.7 too at the moment).

Of the books in this list, the Potter books all come in the mid-to-high 4s on Goodreads – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the only others in top twenty to get over 4. Perhaps the mid-ground is the key? Not the most perfect, amazing book ever, but something that a wide range of people will generally read and enjoy?

Hmmmm. I have no answer to this now, just more questions. Although, I do think people underestimate the little brown mouse in The Gruffalo - he is one smart critter ;)

Top 100 best selling books of all time

UK sales only. Click heading to sort table (taken from The Guardian’s recent list – here)

Rank
Title
Author
Volume Sales
Publisher
Genre
1 Da Vinci Code,The Brown, Dan 5,094,805 Transworld Crime, Thriller & Adventure
2 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Rowling, J.K. 4,475,152 Bloomsbury Children’s Fiction
3 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Rowling, J.K. 4,200,654 Bloomsbury Children’s Fiction
4 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Rowling, J.K. 4,179,479 Bloomsbury Children’s Fiction
5 Fifty Shades of Grey James, E. L. 3,758,936 Random House Romance & Sagas
6 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Rowling, J.K. 3,583,215 Bloomsbury Children’s Fiction
7 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Rowling, J.K. 3,484,047 Bloomsbury Children’s Fiction
8 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Rowling, J.K. 3,377,906 Bloomsbury Children’s Fiction
9 Angels and Demons Brown, Dan 3,193,946 Transworld Crime, Thriller & Adventure
10 Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince:Children’s Edition Rowling, J.K. 2,950,264 Bloomsbury Children’s Fiction
11 Fifty Shades Darker James, E. L. 2,479,784 Random House Romance & Sagas
12 Twilight Meyer, Stephenie 2,315,405 Little, Brown Book Young Adult Fiction
13 Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,The:Millennium Trilogy Larsson, Stieg 2,233,570 Quercus Crime, Thriller & Adventure
14 Fifty Shades Freed James, E. L. 2,193,928 Random House Romance & Sagas
15 Lost Symbol,The Brown, Dan 2,183,031 Transworld Crime, Thriller & Adventure
16 New Moon Meyer, Stephenie 2,152,737 Little, Brown Book Young Adult Fiction
17 Deception Point Brown, Dan 2,062,145 Transworld Crime, Thriller & Adventure
18 Eclipse Meyer, Stephenie 2,052,876 Little, Brown Book Young Adult Fiction
19 Lovely Bones,The Sebold, Alice 2,005,598 Pan Macmillan General & Literary Fiction
20 Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time,The Haddon, Mark 1,979,552 Random House General & Literary Fiction
21 Digital Fortress Brown, Dan 1,928,900 Transworld Crime, Thriller & Adventure
22 Short History of Nearly Everything,A Bryson, Bill 1,852,919 Transworld Popular Science
23 Girl Who Played with Fire,The:Millennium Trilogy Larsson, Stieg 1,814,784 Quercus Crime, Thriller & Adventure
24 Breaking Dawn Meyer, Stephenie 1,787,118 Little, Brown Book Young Adult Fiction
25 Very Hungry Caterpillar,The:The Very Hungry Caterpillar Carle, Eric 1,783,535 Penguin Picture Books
26 Gruffalo,The Donaldson, Julia 1,781,269 Pan Macmillan Picture Books
27 Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals Oliver, Jamie 1,743,266 Penguin Food & Drink: General
28 Kite Runner,The Hosseini, Khaled 1,629,119 Bloomsbury General & Literary Fiction
29 One Day Nicholls, David 1,616,068 Hodder & Stoughton General & Literary Fiction
30 Thousand Splendid Suns,A Hosseini, Khaled 1,583,992 Bloomsbury General & Literary Fiction
31 Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,The:Millennium Trilogy Larsson, Stieg 1,555,135 Quercus Crime, Thriller & Adventure
32 Time Traveler’s Wife,The Niffenegger, Audrey 1,546,886 Random House General & Literary Fiction
33 Atonement McEwan, Ian 1,539,428 Random House General & Literary Fiction
34 Bridget Jones’s Diary:A Novel Fielding, Helen 1,508,205 Pan Macmillan General & Literary Fiction
35 World According to Clarkson,The Clarkson, Jeremy 1,489,403 Penguin Humour: Collections & General

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