Tag Archives: 30-day challenge

Day 21 – Book you tell people you’ve read, but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)

Take the book away and put me out of my misery

Take the book away and put me out of my misery

Short post from me tonight, partly because it’s been a long day and partly because even just writing about this book makes me feel tired and grumpy.

Let me introduce Ulysses by James Joyce, as my DNF book that I let people think I’ve read in full. In my defence I read a good chunk of it, erm, just not all of it. I even answered an exam question in my degree on the parts of the book I had read! Let’s just say, it was a good job I got on with the American Modernists better than Mister Joyce when it came to passing that course.

So, why didn’t I get through this? *shakes head and shrugs* I kind of just hated it. Stream of conscious writing I got on OK with: To the Lighthouse was fine and I actually would rate As I Lay Dying as one of my favourite ‘classic’ novels. Some of it was the subject matter – I really didn’t care for any of the characters much, so putting you inside their heads, to view their innermost thoughts first hand was never going to improve things. And it was a long slog, of people I didn’t like, not doing much and in some sections, very little punctuation.

All in all, I can appreciate what Joyce was trying to do and in he did achieve a realism in the writing – it was just realism to the point I really didn’t want to read it.

Day 17 – Author I wish people would read more

Not sure how this actually fits with the post - I just like Baby Brains :)

Not sure how this actually fits with the post – I just like Baby Brains 🙂

Just sneaking a post in at the end of the day – this book challenge is like a second job at the moment 🙂

For this topic, I couldn’t pinpoint a single author, but what I really do wish is that more people would give indie authors a chance. I know that there are books out there from indies which haven’t been edited well or are several drafts off being publishable – but you get previews in e-readers now, which give you a pretty good taste of that person’s writing and the story to give you an idea whether it will be for you or not. I still use these previews with traditional authors, to see if I really want to read the book (sorry Fifty Shades I couldn’t even get through the free preview!)

In the last couple of years, since I became an indie author, I’ve been lucky enough to meet and read several great indie authors, writing in a range of fiction genres. Several of them will be appearing in the Indie Author Event we run in May on my other blog, Aside from Writingtoday I thought I would tell you about some of my favourite ones so far:

Amy Martin’s In Your Dreams books are really well written, exciting stories about Zara ‘Zip’ McKee and her blossoming romance with the new boy in school who suffers from narcolepsy. Or is it…? Once the truth about his condition begins to come out, you get a whole other story instead. I’ve just read the second book in the series and need to write my review (maybe once this challenge has ended, if I still have fingers!)

Marie Landry is a lovely author and blogger from Canada, I’ve been lucky enough to feature with her a few times in the past and she’ll be appearing in Indie Month again with us this year. Her romantic tales have been really good, my favourite being Blue Sky Days about a young couple dealing with their relationship around the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Fancy something with a little action?

Tony Talbot’s Eight Mile Island is a fantastic action-mystery, which will have you questioning the narrator as well as your perception of reality in the book. I’m just in the middle of reading Tony’s latest book, Medusa, a futuristic tale, set in a water-filled world – so far, it’s been great!

Jade Varden’s brilliant Deck of Lies series kept me hooked for eighteen months, waiting to find out what was coming next in this contemporary YA murder-mystery. It was as good as any traditionally published series I could pick up! Jade blogs on all things writing on her own blog – if you have an interest in writing you should certainly check out her Writing 101 section. Jade Varden – Blogspot

If you like your action with a little history Michael Cargill’s wartime short story in the Shades of Grey collection is good and I believe a full length follow up in a similar vein is due soon. Hazel B West’s books all have an historical setting, On A Foreign Field follows an English knight into William Wallace’s camp, giving a unique perspective on what might have been there. The research and detail of Hazel’s writing is as good as any historical fiction I’ve read. (My review for Aside from Writing is here).

These are just a few of the indie authors I’ve read, enjoyed and would heartily recommend. A quick glance through my Goodreads book list includes even more still, ranging from children’s books by Sara Zaske and Nicola Palmer, Lynda Meyer’s gritty Letters from the Ledge, Zombie with a brain from Stephen Herfst…vampires with human brothers in Patricia Lynne’s Being Human…Pride and Prejudice retold as US teens in Fall for You by Cecelia Gray.

The list just goes on and on, and I have enjoyed these indie books just as much as I do anything else I’ve come across from traditional publishers. I won’t deny there are indie books I’ve been sent to read that have not been a great standard, but I’ve just chosen not to read them, just like I’ve chosen not to read other books. All I would say is treat every book on it’s own merit – if you’ve never read an indie, find someone you like the look of, check out the free excerpt and if you like it, read it. If you don’t – move on to the next one, there’s lots to choose from 🙂

Day 26 – Book that makes you laugh out loud

Bryson This was easy: pretty much anything written by Bill Bryson will have me chuckling to myself at some point.

I originally picked up his books about travels in America about ten years ago and have gone on to read quite a few of his others, including the recent Shakespeare and Short History of Nearly Everything – which are actually nicely digestible, non-fiction books, which bring together a huge range of theories and ideas, but which don’t feel a chore to read.

“Tune your television to any channel it doesn’t receive and about 1 percent of the dancing static you see is accounted for by this ancient remnant of the Big Bang. The next time you complain that there is nothing on, remember that you can always watch the birth of the universe.”
―  A Short History of Nearly Everything

His travel writings are comprehensive, but with some great ‘personal’ touches: he examines small-town America in the wider abstract, but also goes back to visit family/friends who still inhabit that world, giving an added depth to the other side of his travels. His books also always have a nice touch of sarcasm (or realism) depending on how you look at life: “We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls.” His writing is so descriptive and absorbing, you can feel like you’ve taken the road trip with him. At the same time, he has a fantastic klutzy, calamity aspect to him, that there will always be interesting escapades along the way, or original images that have you laughing out loud.

Bryson Oz

“Australians are very unfair in this way. They spend half of any conversation insisting that the country’s dangers are vastly overrated and that there’s nothing to worry about, and the other half telling you how six months ago their Uncle Bob was driving to Mudgee when a tiger snake slid out from under the dashboard and bit him on the groin, but that it’s okay now because he’s off the life support machine and they’ve discovered he can communicate with eye blinks.” ― In a Sunburned Country

My favourite travel books of his are the American ones; although the Australian trip I think was the funniest – he just sees things in such a straight-forward way that the humour is dead on.

“Dogs don’t like me. It is a simple law of the universe, like gravity. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never passed a dog that didn’t act as if it thought I was about to take its Alpo. Dogs that have not moved from the sofa in years will, at the sniff of me passing outside, rise in fury and hurl themselves at shut windows. I have seen tiny dogs, no bigger than a fluffy slipper, jerk little old ladies off their feet and drag them over open ground in a quest to get at my blood and sinew. Every dog on the face of the earth wants me dead.” In a Sunburned Country

I’ve travelled a little since I started reading Bryson’s books – nowhere near as extensively as him, but I find I travel in a similar manner: a bit haphazard and prone to random escapades in the most innocuous of locations – Calamity Mel, if you like. Perhaps this is why Bryson’s books make me laugh – he goes off at tangents, is full of random facts, but makes the most of everywhere he goes – surely that’s what travel should be about 🙂

Day 4 – Book turned into a movie and completely desecrated

I had to think quite hard on this one as nothing immediately sprang to mind. In general, because I love film AND books, I tend to look for the benefits each medium brings to the tale it’s telling, rather than focus on where one is better than the other. Like many people, I tend to find books more explicit and detailed than the film counterparts, but that’s not always a bad thing.

‘Completely desecrated’ is a pretty harsh label as well. At first I thought of film adaptations I’d been disappointed with, but nothing matched this. So then I started going through the ‘bad’ films and that was when I remembered The Good German. Oh yes, that was a film that desecrated the book! The film on its own is simply appalling – all style over substance, very little relevant from the book remains and so the shocks of the murder-mystery are completely lost. If I had not read the book, I would have struggled to see what the film was actually supposed to be about. And when you look at the line up: Clooney, Blanchett – you certainly expect more.

What made this worse for me was that there are some pivotal moments, explaining the abhorrent behaviour of some main characters and what motivated them to act in the way they did during the war, such as the Jewish girl who sold out her own people, in order to protect the illegitimate child she had with a senior SS man. These are real ‘Sophie’s Choice’ moments – examining the very core of human behaviour and love: the unthinkable things you might do to strangers, in order to protect your own. In the film, they are thrown off with such a blase shrug, I remember being more angry at the end of viewing the film, rather than disappointed (hence the ‘desecrated’). How can you change the fundamental motivation of a character so much and then just dismiss it as if it were not important? All it does is create a completely abominable character and therefore destroy any way you could accept a romantic story for them – you want them tossed in jail and the key thrown away!

You can’t change key motivations for a character in translating it from book to film – you still need them to have things make sense: would Harry Potter have been the same person if his parents had survived? No, he’d probably have been somewhere between Ron and Neville…Would Bella Swan have been so intrigued by Edward, if he had not been so troubled with her? Probably not – he would have left school, she would have traipsed around, facebooked a bit and done well in her exams before heading off to school in somewhere a little sunnier than Forks. If you had changed these elements in taking the story from page to screen, I can’t see how the story would have worked. Unfortunately, that is exactly what The Good German did – and that is why it ruined the book.

Good German - film

By contrast to the film, the narrative of the book is all subtleties and hints – you feel as if you are sneaking around Berlin with the protagonist, spying through the cracks to see a number of threads that pull together into an amazing web of intrigue and lies. The book immerses you in the atmosphere of the Berlin of the early post-war months, an era I’d never read about before. It is July 1945, the time of the Potsdam Conference. The author leads you through the city, bringing to life the ruinous aftermath of war: bombed out houses, ever-present soldiers of various nationalities, roads blocked by rubble, empty spaces where, before, Berliners had lived.

The protagonist is an American journalist, Jake Geismar, who returns to cover the Potsdam Conference, but finds himself walking familiar streets from his pre-war life and meeting up with his former lover.

Interlaced with this personal quest story is a really intriguing murder mystery, that begins with an American soldier’s body washing up at the conference, sodden money filling his pockets. So many elements drift through this book, eventually finding traction and taking the story to a fantastic climax, it feels natural and believable. If someone had told me at the end of the book that it had been based on a true story, I could have completely believed it.

If you’ve never come across this book and fancy something a little noir-ish, set in one of the most interesting cities/times of the modern age, then I would heartily recommend it. If you’re considering watching the film, I would recommend you boil your head instead – probably less painful.

Synopsis With World War II finally ending, Jake Geismar, former Berlin correspondent for CBS, has wangled one of the coveted press slots for the Potsdam Conference. His assignment: a series of articles on the Allied occupation. His personal agenda: to find Lena, the German mistress he left behind at the outbreak of the war.

When Jake stumbles on a murder — an American soldier washes up on the conference grounds — he thinks he has found the key that will unlock his Berlin story. What Jake finds instead is a larger story of corruption and intrigue reaching deep into the heart of the occupation. Berlin in July 1945 is like nowhere else — a tragedy, and a feverish party after the end of the world.

As Jake searches the ruins for Lena, he discovers that years of war have led to unimaginable displacement and degradation. As he hunts for the soldier’s killer, he learns that Berlin has become a city of secrets, a lunar landscape that seethes with social and political tension. When the two searches become entangled, Jake comes to understand that the American Military Government is already fighting a new enemy in the east, busily identifying the “good Germans” who can help win the next war. And hanging over everything is the larger crime, a crime so huge that it seems — the worst irony — beyond punishment.

At once a murder mystery, a moving love story, and a riveting portrait of a unique time and place, The Good German is a historical thriller of the first rank.

Day 24 – Book You’re Most Embarrassed to Say You Like/Liked

Ooh – how many there could be… A while ago, I would probably have had a few to roll out, but there was something I realised after I’d released Hope’s Daughter and started getting reviews back. No one loves every book – there will be a whole mix of people from out-and-out fans, through to the people who believe you wrote your book purely to torture them, and then there are a band in the middle, mildly ambivalent. Reading reviews of my own work has made me look at how I review and perhaps even read books now – I focus on the bits I like and down play those I don’t (very different to how I read for my literature courses). There will still be some that you DNF because they are just not for you – others that you read over and over again. And so now I live with that – whether you enjoy a book or detest it – it’s as much down to you as reader, as the book itself.

Sweet Valley

But, there are some books I imagine people would think I should be embarrassed for liking 🙂 How about as a pre-teen having stacks of Sweet Valley High books? Conscientiously lining them up in number order on my book shelves (oh yes, there were loads of them and of course formulaic and cheesy – what more could I ask for) and longing for the ones to fill the gaps in my collection, scouring Christmas Fairs at school for the missing ones, or taking my WHSmith voucher from my birthday and – could it be? – buying one at the full price! I found one a short while ago, and to be honest, I’d struggle to read it now – but it has to say something that the only way I remember how American dress sizes convert to UK is that the twins were described in every book as being ‘a perfect size six’ – which I worked out was an 8 – and still think of it each time I make the conversion. Yes – I know – that’s a bit bonkers.

The Lifeguard

 

I’d always read a lot as a child, but in the years between Mallory Towers, Roald Dahl and Joan Aitken, Sweet Valley High dropped in to the gap. Point Horror books also came out when I was 10 / 11 and they were another series of teen-aimed thrillers and horror stories – and I moved on to them. It’s probably where my enthusiasm for twists and turns in stories came from 🙂 I still remember being floored when the ‘baddie’ in The Lifeguard turned out to be the fanciable, kind lifeguard and not his creepier, brooding brother – who would have thought it? In my defence, they were both lifeguards, so I wasn’t that dumb.

I think some of the Point Horror series still float around now – I found one on a bookshelf in a B&B a couple of years ago, and on giving it a whirl found myself caught between dropping into my giddy-teen self, who still hides somewhere deep inside me and (being a bit of a snob) tossing it back on the shelf. I opted for the first and had a nice escapist read – before heading back to my favourite Chaucer (erm, or not).

Any other book-skeletons in the closet?

Twilight will come high on many people’s lists. I’ll come clean – I’ve read them all, and can say that if you gave me the first book to read again, I would still enjoy it for the clutzy relationship bits – the rest of the series less so, because I like a bit of action and surprises, two things SM doesn’t do so well. I also wasn’t keen on some of the later ‘quirks’ of the myths – like imprinting – and quickly grew tired of the love triangle. Don’t set up such a perfect irrevocable love in book 1, to try and make space for someone else in book 2, whilst also having the wise ole vampire make such an arbitrary decision in the first place… Hmmm, was I looking for something realistic in a book about teen vampires – maybe I was barking up the wrong tree, just like poor wee Jacob 🙂

TwilightI think I enjoyed Midnight Sun for the same reason I liked Twilight (yes, that’s right, I liked Edward that much, I took the time to go to her website to read his story). It’s the new relationship, most teen-reaslistic bits, that were the best part of the series and I imagine what caught people’s attention so much – the rest of the story was incidental to the romance bit. (I can say that I really lost the will to live with Breaking Dawn and was not a fan of the Host – I think that is more problematic in terms of negative m/f relationships… If you tell me that you love(d) those – I’ll try not to make you feel embarrassed 😉

I don’t think anyone should ever really be ashamed of a book they’ve enjoyed – I also think books like Twilight are ‘of an age’ – like my Sweet Valley High books – and I can see how for people at certain ages (or points in their life) with a shared love of a book, film, etc. can become a mini-obsession – hell, there’s a bit of Bella in everyone. Too much of anything is a wee bit unhealthy, and I think that’s what people see more when they look at the Twilight books now, instead of just reading it for what it is – who hasn’t been self-concious, stuck someone on a pedestal, obsessed a bit and done something stupid? Bella takes it to extremes, but I think part of this is down to the first person narration – there’s no other filter to how Bella sees the world and makes her decisions – no one comes off well if you see everything about them from the inside out. (Try American Psycho if you think Bella’s self-obsessed!) There’s also the element – if you agree with the brain boffins – that we’re pre-disposed to erratic, dangerous behaviour in our teens, as well as focusing in (or obsessing) on certain things, as our brains go through the most rapid period of development since you were a toddler – spend some time with both groups and see if you think it’s true.

Sometimes it’s the hype that makes you feel guilty for liking something – especially when the hype goes bad, as it did for Twilight when people in the wider world really started taking notice of it. I try to ignore the hype now, and go with what I want – I missed the first few years of Harry Potter because the hype around the films and comparison to LotR irritated me. That was a #fail. With Fifty Shades fever, I wasn’t too high-brow to not give it a try – but thank the lord for the preview on Kindle – four pages in and I knew that no matter what lay in store, I couldn’t stomach a book full of that writing style. Alas, I’ll never know Mr Gray.

Sometimes just reading something, whether it’s fluff and fun or high-brow and literary doesn’t matter – if you enjoy it, you enjoy it – end of story. I also think that initial first feeling you get from reading a book – perhaps something like Twilight – is the genuine one: without any second-guessing, psychoanlysis of the characters and in-depth reviews about misogyny in contemporary teen literature – you can leave that to your literature essays and just take away whether it made you feel something and put a smile on your face (or even a frown – at least it did something!)

Soooo…am I now embarrassed to say I liked a book? Not really. I think because I can quantify what I like, whilst seeing why someone else might not – that’s enough for me. I think I’ll be giving a Mills and Boon book a go now, then maybe an Andy McNab…Can’t knock it till you’ve tried it 😉

Day 14 – Book that made you cry

BeautyBeauty LionGenerally, I cry more at films than I do books – and when I was younger I always cried at films. You name it: BambiDumboBeauty and the Beast – yep, Disney got me every time – they bump off a lot of cute animals and nice characters in those films – it’s pretty harsh! As I got older, I graduated to crying at things like Titanic – yep, pretty much from when they went into the water, to when Rose unstuck their frozen hands and let Jack float away. I cried so much in the cinema watching that for the first time, that my then boyf refused to walk out into the lights with me – I’m cool, eh?

Anyway, I’ve obviously gotten tougher as I’ve grown up – sit me in front of a Disney film these days, and I’ll only sniffle as the little old lady passes away in Up, or when Flynn/Eugene buys the farm in Tangled.

The thing is, when you cry when you’re reading, you can’t actually read – that becomes a problem, whereas a film continues unrelenting, as you blub into your popcorn. But, that said, there are some books that have made me cry:

Mocking Jay – *spoiler* This possibly seems an odd one, and perhaps it’s not the part you think of immediately (Prim). The bit that got me was when Peeta is rescued and they find he has been conditioned against Katniss – their first meeting is such as shock and twists your expectations – it definitely raised a sniffle from me, as did some of the ‘real or not real’ conversations afterwards. Not necessarily full-blown bawling, but I found my heart clenching a little, every time one of those moments happened.

Noughts and Crosses – *another spoiler* It’s the ending that got me, because like every cheesy romantic, I wanted love to win the day and make things better. When it doesn’t, it’s realistic, almost expected – but it broke my heart a little for the characters and the hope that I’d had for them. This has stayed with me still, so that I’ve not managed to continue reading the series, despite them being sat on my bookshelf. I really liked this book for the ideas it raises, and the author’s style – it’s just hard to go back into that world, when a character I loved isn’t there anymore.

MarleyHands down, the book that made me cry so much I had to stop reading (multiple times) was Marley and Me. If you’ve watched the film, but not read the book, you might think I’m mad (the film didn’t get to me btw, because it’s very different from the book and focuses on the comedy, rather than some of the deeper, emotional aspects of being a dog owner).

Bonnie

Bonnie

In the book, towards the end, you see the gradual deterioration of Marley’s health and the ongoing emotional struggle of the owner as he goes back and forth to the vets. Marley’s life had, until that point, rolled alongside theirs: as they grew together as a couple, matured and had children of their own – he was part of those changes and their relationship in a way that nothing else but a dog could be. One of the most touching parts of the book is where the wife has to spend several months in bed, during a pregnancy to avoid going into early labour – through that whole time Marley spends his days lying on the floor beside her. He’s a difficult dog, that’s for sure, but he also loves his owners and when it comes to the end of his life, these are the parts that stick with them: the changes in their lives, the good and the bad, that Marley was with them for. A dog is for life, in every possible way.

And so that’s why Marley and Me made me cry, more than any other book ever has. As a dog owner myself, it made me realise what I had to come, when that part of your world goes away. It’s even tougher than it seems when you read it in a book.

Day 5 – Your ‘Comfort’ Book

This is my walk to the bookshelf, first choice pick every time, when I want to read something I don’t have to think about. When I just want to be transported off to somewhere else entirely, without really having to think about it.

I wonder if you’ve already guessed, given some of the earlier posts? ‘Tis Harry Potter – again!

Prisoner of AzkabanMy favourite of the series is The Prisoner of Azkaban – it has the mystery and fun of the ‘young’ Harry books, but because we’ve been there twice already, I think the development of the wizarding world is more encompassing in this book. I love the twist that comes with Lupin and Padfoot – And Scabbers? I don’t believe it!

This is also the last book I felt that school is still quite fun and, possibly, innocent for Harry. Even with dementors at the gates and a crazed killer on the loose, getting to Hogsmeade and Honeydukes sweet shop is still pretty high up on Harry’s to-do list. Perhaps because I felt like this about the book, I disliked the film on first viewing: it’s a lot darker than I felt it needed to be – we knew things were going to go down hill, but it was a bit more of a ‘sunset’ book than the shadowy world the film gave. On subsequent viewings, I’ll admit it has grown on me: I like the school banter and Malfoy’s manly screams when he’s attacked by Buckbeak – the classes do seem more like that official ‘first teenage year’ age group than I gave them credit for on first viewing. It was just too short – skipping over some of my favourite bits from the book (I love the Marauders Map) and the first run-through of the twists was too quick – blink and you miss-it moments for anyone not familiar with the story.

I actually watched the film of this over the weekend and now, after writing this, I feel like going over to the bookshelf and taking it down to read. Again.

Love it :) Crazy muggles

Love it 🙂 Crazy muggles