Challenge 7 – Most Underrated Book

Hi everyone

Hope you have all had a good Christmas! I have been so busy this last week that I’ve got a bit behind with my daily challenges.  I didn’t want to rush out a response for each day and not put any thought into it so instead I put the blog on hold and waited until I had time to do it justice.  I’ll try to catch up this week though so there should (hopefully) be a few more posts in the next few days.

As I keep saying, these questions are getting harder and they are also making me feel a bit inadequate about the amount of books that I’ve read.  In my head I have read a lot of books, but when it comes to thinking of responses to these challenges I have started to doubt that assumption.  I am beginning to think that I have in fact read some books quite a few times and then forgotten half of the rest of the books I have read.  Which leaves me with limited resources to draw upon for this challenge.  However I do feel inspired to carry on my top 100 books challenge in the new year, as the whole point of starting it was to read a more varied collection of books and to also read some of the books that I have always wanted to read but haven’t quite managed to yet.

Now for today’s challenge of most underrated book I didn’t wanted to revisit a book I had already reviewed for my book challenge or write about a book that I will be rereading in the future for that challenge so instead I had to choose a book from what was left.  In the end I chose this book as when the book first came out the reviews weren’t very kind, although anything that was to be published by this author was going to come under heavy scrutiny, and I feel that in the main the reviews were unjust and this publicity would have affected a lot of people’s opinions of this book.  So it may have had a vast amount of publicity and most of the reading public would have heard of this book but it still may not have been picked up on many people’s radars due to the bad press it had received.  Hence the most underrated book accolade.

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy – J K Rowling

As you may already know, The Casual Vacancy is probably as far as you can get from the world of Harry Potter in terms of content.  It is set in what seems to be a sleepy, rural town and is essentially a piece of social commentary looking at all walks of life from the large houses with the picturesque views to the run down council estate encroaching on the way of life the more conservative residents of Pagford are trying to cling to.  Obviously everything in the book is fiction, but reading it I felt that a lot of the characters and the lives that they live could be found in any town.  However the characters weren’t necessarily clichéd, or at least on the surface they may have been but as the story moves forward and the story lines for each character unravel and intertwine, you see more of each character and they become more 3D and more real.  It is through their actions that you begin to see who they really are: their opinions and how they treat their fellow neighbours allow the reader to judge them.  But that is one of the themes of this book, judging people on face value, and you soon learn that you as a reader may have judged a character too soon as the plot twists unfold.

Now I do have a very large confession to make, I am cheating slightly on today’s challenge as I have not actually finished this book (yet).  I’m just over halfway through, the book is set in parts so I am at the beginning of part three.  I can see where some of the reviews were coming from; the book is not necessarily gripping: it flits between several different characters and it is sometimes hard to remember where you left off with one character by the time you make your way back to them again, but in my opinion it doesn’t mean that it is not a good book.  As you would expect from J K Rowling, the writing is easy to read but still high quality, her characters as I’ve already said are brought to life one page at a time, and she is so descriptive with the town itself that I really feel I can imagine it fully.  Reading this book so far I could just imagine a televised series shot in a documentary style way, following each character just like the book does.  Maybe this should have been a script instead of a book, but then I feel that J K Rowling’s writing talents would have been wasted if she had done that – we would have had the tv producer’s opinions and views and not hers which would have been a big shame.

I would recommend this book as a slice of what English life is probably like for most people.  It is not the streets of London or Manchester in the latest gritty, British drama about drug dealers, it is not the quintessential England you see on Midsomer Murders or the latest Agatha Christie adaptation, or even the flashy, over-the-top characters on one of the many reality tv shows.  It is a mix of the rich and the poor, the well offs and the down and outs, those with a good upbringing and those who are having to bring themselves up, and about how they associate with and live their lives next door to each other without perhaps seeing life from the other’s point of view.

Jennie

Challenge 6 – A Book That Makes You Sad

Hi everyone

Today’s post is the flip side of the previous one and I found it just as hard to think of an answer.  I’m not a fan of reading books where the content is difficult to digest, especially if it is harrowing or heart-wrenching, so I have not necessarily read a lot of sad or depressing books.  I actually had to Google lists of depressing books for inspiration and so many of the ones that came up I have seen the film adaptations but have never read the book so I could not post about them, but I would definitely agree that they would all be books that would make you sad.  The only thing that came to my mind when staring at the title for this post was not necessarily one book in particular but an author so out of ideas I have stuck with that.  This author’s work is notorious for being a tear-jerker every time and his books don’t always have a happy ending as such.  So I have dedicated this post to this author, but I have chosen one book in particular as the stand out “book that makes me sadder than the rest of his work that I have read”.

The Lucky OneThe Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

You may never have read any of Nicholas Sparks’ books but most people would have seen, or at least heard of, one of the many film adaptations of his work.  I would also expect that quite a few people wouldn’t really rate his work that highly purely based on the fan base the films attract, but after reading a few of his books I would say they are well written and cover different types of relationships and the characters are people from all walks of life: these books are not just a boy meets girl type of story.

I have chosen this book in particular because unlike some of Nicholas Sparks’ books where you don’t start crying until near the end, this one gets you from the very beginning.  This book is about loss, finding yourself, repaying a debt you wish you had never taken and the burden of survivor’s guilt, whatever form it takes.  It is about forgiveness and accepting what life has given you so that you can move forward.  It is about new horizons and trusting your instincts, and letting fate guide your path.  There is a spiritual presence throughout this book but it is not at all preachy or religious, more that the thread of fate brings the characters together but they are still free to make their own choices and change their fate at the same time.  Of course, this would not be a Nicholas Sparks book without a love story and also without a few obstacles in their way, but that only gives the book focus to explore all of the concepts that I feel are portrayed here.  And the bit that makes Nicholas Sparks’ work stand out against the other romance novelists I have read is that you are never guaranteed a happy ending; in fact you can pretty much bank on it being more bitter-sweet, which makes for a more interesting story.

If you enjoy your romance fiction but have never stumbled upon any of Nicholas Sparks’ work then I would recommend you read any of his books, although a few of the books are sequels so you might not want to read them out of sequence.  I would also recommend though that you don’t read too many of his books in quick succession as then the story lines start to blend in together and it will all seem a bit repetitive.  One or two of his books a year would be the dosage I would prescribe, and they are particularly good for a relaxing holiday where the exotic surroundings will counteract any melancholy the book might engender.

Jennie

Challenge 5 – A Book That Makes You Happy

Hi everyone

I’m a bit late in writing/publishing this post, I should have done it yesterday but due to some wine at my work’s Christmas party and the need to buy every item of food for sale at the supermarket before they sold out meant I was unable to satisfactorily write this yesterday.  I can see how the supermarkets do run out of food this time of year as I have bought so much more food than I could ever possibly eat in one week.  I’m sure I’ll manage to stuff it all in some how!

I really struggled with this particular challenge, although the subjects do seem to be getting harder as I work my way through them and this one and the next one were quite tough.  I can think of quite a few books that have enjoyable moments or memorable scenes but trying to think of a book that evokes pure happiness above all other emotions was hard.  I find books funny or thought-provoking or sometimes just plain confusing, but I found I had to regress to my childhood when emotions came in simpler forms to find a book that fitted the criteria.

MatildaMatilda by Roald Dahl

I can’t remember when I first read this book but I’m pretty sure I was old enough to read it myself rather than be read to, but I may be wrong.  I think I had already read Fantastic Mr Fox, The Twits and Danny, Champion of the World, so as a young child I was familiar with Roald Dahl’s work, however this book stood out for me in my childhood.  I always struggle to remember much detail about my childhood, especially the tv shows I watched or the books I read, but I can remember the story line for this book pretty well even after all these years.  For anyone who hasn’t read this book, please find a family member under the age of ten and read this to them; you will both be completely captivated with the magic of this book.  There is something about this book that has stayed with me over the years and it is just such a fantastic display of Roald Dahl’s imagination and also Quentin Blake’s illustrations bring the story to life.  Others can say what they like about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I believe this is by far Roald Dahl’s best work.  I don’t want to talk too much about the story line as I have the pleasure of reading this book again for my Top 100 books challenge so instead I will tell you why I chose this as a book that makes me happy.

There is no other way to put it: Matilda is just a delight to read.  For a children’s book it actually has a proper story line as well, it isn’t just one story as such then it finishes with a moral learnt, there are plot twists and new characters introduced as the book goes on.  You would think that a book where the protagonist is a little girl who is extremely intelligent for her age might be hard for a child to relate to or a hard character to love. but the way Matilda is presented in the first few chapters of the book I can’t help but fall under her spell.  You would also think that a book about child neglect would be sad and difficult for a child to read but the comedy element in this book is just so; the balance is perfect between portraying the realities of Matilda’s life and lightening the tone with humour or a funny anecdote.  It helps that Matilda’s intelligence allows the reader to feel that she always has the upper hand, no matter how badly she is treated at home and the fact that there are adults outside of her family that care for Matilda means that the reader would never feel sorry for her for long.  I only have to read one chapter of this book, just at random, and it would lighten my mood instantly.  This book is definitely a cure for any bad mood, from melancholy to a childish sulk, and that is why I have crowned it the ultimate book to make you ridiculously happy, no matter how old you are.

Jennie

Challenge 4 – A Guilty Pleasure Book

Hi everyone

I’ve been debating for a few days about which of the authors that I read should win this accolade. I’ve finally settled on this one as I think that the themes in the book could only be described as a guilty pleasure. You won’t learn anything from reading these books: this is an urban fantasy series based in a fictional town and most of the characters have many flaws, even the protagonist. So it is purely for pleasure that I read these books.

Dead Until DarkDead Until Dark – Charlaine Harris

This is the first book in a 13 book series about a small town in northern Louisiana where Sookie Stackhouse lives and works. You can imagine that you have the usual array of characters that would pepper any novel about small town America and the deep south but Sookie’s world is also filled with vampires that have come “out of the closet” after synthetic blood was created. The idea sounds ludicrous, but it actually makes for some fantastic story lines and has also spurned the hit HBO series True Blood. The tv series is a bit different to the books, which I think in a way is quite good; the writers don’t have to try to do the books justice because they are creating their own characters and story lines. Also, as a fan of the books and the tv series, the tv series hasn’t been spoilt by reading the books; I get to enjoy both equally.

Out of the series I have chosen this book in particular partly because it is the first book and also because it’s the book where you meet some of the best characters and where they make their first impressions on you. Sookie is still naive at this point about the world of vampires and one of the various love triangles in the series starts to form in this book (you thought twilight over did the love triangle, you thought wrong!). It’s a bit naughty in places, the language is definitely adult and overall it’s just fun to read. Each book is actually a mystery that somehow Sookie gets embroiled in, usually involving murder but then like a soap opera there are continuing story lines as well. When I first read the series I read the first eight books in ten days so you can see how easy to read and addictive these books are. As the series has drawn towards its conclusion it has started to lose its spark and also there are so many continuity errors throughout the series that it drives me crazy. To this day I still don’t know when one of the key events, the great revelation (when vampires revealed themselves), actually happened as the timescale keeps changing in each book. There are spelling errors throughout and characters called by other people’s names and that’s the tip of the iceberg. For example, in one book, a character called Claudine was also referred to as her dead sister Claudette and also Claudia. But then what would a guilty pleasure be without its flaws?

I wouldn’t say these books are for everyone, especially if you think every book should have a bit of substance, but if you are bored with your wishy-washy rom coms and fancy something with a bit more bite, give this book a try. It captured the imagination of Alan Ball, the writer of American Beauty, so at least one person agrees with me.

Jennie

Challenge 3 – Your Favourite Series

Hi everyone

Now on my bookshelf at home there are quite a few series of books, all of which I’ve read several times.  I think people who know me might make their own assumptions as to which one of these series wins this accolade, and I’m not sure many of them would perhaps guess right.  I think that is because this series is so close to my heart, so special to me, that I don’t really talk about it that much.  Also, none of my friends really share my love for these books and as the final book of the series has been published and the final film released, there isn’t really much to say about the books in passing conversation.  However I think this story will stay with me for the rest of my life and it is definitely a series that I would recommend to anyone to read, no matter what their preconceptions are; I can’t imagine anyone not finding something in these books that they enjoy.

Harry Potter

Harry Potter Series by J K Rowling

Even if you haven’t read the books or even seen the films, I doubt there’s anyone who doesn’t know a bit about what happens in these books so I don’t see the point in giving you all a synopsis for the series.  So instead I will tell the story of how I fell in love with the world J K Rowling has created.

I have a brother who is 8 years my junior and so was the perfect age to read these books when they were first published.  My mum, in my opinion, was too old to be reading these books that I deemed only suitable for children, and I thought she was mad staying up until the early hours of the morning reading the latest book after my brother had gone to sleep.  I couldn’t understand the appeal and she must not have been able to get through to my teenage self how great these books are.  When the first film came out, many of the older women I worked with who had children or grandchildren were getting excited about the film as they had also stolen the books off their owners when they had gone to sleep and were all big fans of the series.  I realised that my mum was one of many mad people reading children’s books and being someone who doesn’t like to jump on the bandwagon, I still didn’t read the books, even though they were in easy reach in the bedroom next door.  As a fan of film I did watch the first film, and I enjoyed it, but in the same way I enjoy a Disney film, it still didn’t lure me to read the books.

A few years later after I had moved out of my mother’s house, I would go and stay with her and my brother and whilst there, I would read whatever I could lay my hands on.  Once I had re-read my entire Roald Dahl collection that had been passed onto my brother, I had a choice: Artemis Fowl or Harry Potter?  I decided to finally give it a go and after devouring The Philosophers Stone, I smuggled the next four back in my bag and my love (some might say obsession) with these books began.  I’ve always said that I’m glad, in a way, that I waited so long to read them as I don’t think I would have been able to patiently wait two years between The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix, so I’m glad I started just after the release of the fifth book.  Some of my most vivid memories are of the two days that I picked up The Half Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows from my local bookstore (I couldn’t trust the Royal Mail to deliver it from Amazon!).  I spent the rest of the day reading the latest installment, tears pouring down my face at certain points making it hard to carry on reading, reaching the back cover and then turning back to the front and starting again.  I sometimes think that I would pay good money to relive that feeling, of reading for the first time something that you love so much, because no matter how many times I read these books (or listen to the amazing Stephen Fry), I can never recreate the feeling of that first time.

If there is anyone reading this that has not read the books then the biggest gift you can give yourself this Christmas is the experience of reading these books.  Even if you have seen the films, even if you are not a fan of the films, I urge you to give this book series a go, I’m sure you will not be disappointed.

Jennie

Challenge 2 – A Book That You’ve Read More Than 3 Times… This Year

Hi everyone

Day 2 of the challenge and a new book themed question to answer.  I have altered this question slightly as I am renowned for reading a book I like and then constantly re-reading it when I’m bored.  Some people think I’m a bit weird (and not just regarding this!), but I liken it to having a favourite film that you enjoy to watch again and again and revel in the familiarity of it and reliving the same emotions, usually euphoric, that you felt the first time.  I have the same experience with books, usually the ones that are easy to read, have a good flow but also enough storyline that I don’t feel bored when re-reading them.  Sometimes I will just pick one up and read a few chapters when I can’t get to sleep but usually I will get drawn back in to whatever I found captivating the first time around and keep on going.  They are usually the books that I read in one sitting as I couldn’t put them down and therefore can’t wait to pick back up again.  So the original question for today, a book that you’ve read more than 3 times, would have several options, so I have changed it to the only book I have read this year more than 3 times.  I think it might be a first for me to read a book four, well three and a half times, in one year.  I first read this book in February or March and then kept borrowing it from the library to read it again, until I finally gave in and bought it in November.  I’m currently re-reading it again before lending it to my mum at Christmas and with only a few more chapters to go I think I will succeed in finishing it before then.  I love this book so much that I actually chose to read it again before reading the newly published third and final book in the series, although I think I’m trying to delay the ending of this series as in some ways I don’t want it to end.  This should have perhaps been the answer to yesterday’s challenge, the best book I have read this year, but I didn’t want to blog about it twice and I would still rate Neverwhere very highly and as one of the best books I have read this year.

Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I doubt many people have heard of this dystopian teen fiction series but come next April when the film adaptation of the first book, Divergent, is released I’m sure the media will be abuzz with the usual comparisons with other teen fantasy books, particularly Twilight.  It is a shame in a way that they will try to make comparisons with books and films that don’t have many similarities but I’m sure the main interest will be the box office ratings and that is what they are really comparing.

Beatrice is a 16 year old teenage girl living in Chicago some time in the future.  In her world, society is split into five groups, or factions, all based on personality traits that the faction admires above all others.  For Beatrice being in her 16th year means that she will now have to choose the faction she will join and stay with for the rest of her life and it is this decision that affects the chain of events in this series.  I am actually getting a bit goosebumpy (is that a word?) describing this to you, that is how much I enjoyed this book.  The storyline is not only interesting, but exciting, and full of adrenaline and danger.  Although I would class this book as dystopian, Veronica Roth’s world does not seem oppressive or frightening on first impression.  But after you scratch the surface you start to see the truth, or lack of it, and perhaps can see the danger Beatrice is facing before she fully realises it.  Even though it is a teen fiction novel, I feel it would appeal to adults as well as Beatrice is not a silly teenage girl and as the story progresses she becomes less naive and more wise to the world around her.  The second book in the series, Insurgent, is also good but this is the stand out book out of the two.  As I said above, I have not yet read Allegiant, the third and final book, but it has big feet to fill if it wants to beat Divergent in my estimations.

Jennie

It Never Rains, It Pours

Hi everyone

As the title suggests, get ready for a deluge of posts from me over the next few weeks. I have already written a few of my “Challenge” posts, although I’m finding it hard to think of books for some of the days at the moment, all I keep thinking about is films! I might have to just start another blog to cover the 30 Day Film Challenge, although my lack of writing on this blog this year would not bode well for a new one. One reason I’m finding this 30 Day Challenge hard is that I don’t want to keep going on about the same books for each answer, this would be boring for you guys to read and it would hardly make it a challenge for me. Also I do intend to eventually finish my 100 books challenge and so I would like to avoid as much as possible any books that I have read that I will be reading again so as not to repeat myself, or worse, contradict myself on what I have previously praised the book for. However I can’t completely avoid the list so I will try to be succinct as possible for any of these books for this challenge so that I will still have something to say at a later date. Anyway, hope you all enjoy my forthcoming posts 🙂

Jennie

Challenge 1 – Best Book You’ve Read This Year

Hi everyone

So this is the first blog of the 30 Day Book Challenge.  Before I answer the question above I just wanted to state that although this blog is about me expanding my literary horizons and reading a broader range of books on a variety of subjects, I am going to answer the questions on this challenge honestly (even if I might not want to admit to reading these books!) but I’m also going to try not to repeat myself i.e. Harry Potter will only be mentioned once even if it could be the answer to half the questions, I don’t want to bore you with my love of these books!

It’s taken me a while to think about what books I have read this year – there haven’t been that many – and in the end I have settled on this book for the first challenge.  Coincidentally it is also the book chosen by The Other Watson, the blog that I have borrowed the 30 Day Book Challenge idea from.  Or it might not be so coincidentally as it was on his recommendation that I read this book in the first place.

NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman

This is an author I had heard of, but I wasn’t sure where from.  I had seen the odd review of his graphic novel, The Sandman, and even though he came highly praised, I didn’t think he would be an author I would enjoy.  In my ignorance I hadn’t realised that he was the author of the book which was adapted for one of my most beloved films, Stardust, and it was only when I read the review by The Other Watson last year that I was inspired to read some of his back catalogue, including this book.  It was also after reading the review that I realised that he appeared on my Top 100 Books list as well.

Neverwhere, like Neil Gaiman’s other books, is a fantasy novel with a large dollop of realism thrown in just to disturb you a little and make you wonder if such a place may actually exist.  This is where the magic starts with this book, set in the world as we know it but then the other, magical world, starts to seep into the life of our protagonist, Richard Mayhew.  He is surrounded by characters who are as dirty and conniving on the inside as they first appear on the outside, but as Richard becomes mores involved in London below these motley crew of allies start to seem normal and it is the inhabitants of London above that seem strange and untrustworthy to both Richard and the reader.  Neil Gaiman captivates you with his imagination and the world he has created on the pages of this book.  The pace is perfect as it cuts back and forth from different characters and the plot unravels at speed as the story winds it way through the sewers and forgotten underground stations of London.  The story line on paper is simple, in brief it is a quest with a slightly unwilling hero who is finding himself, but yet it is so intriguing you can’t put it down with the various plot twists keeping you guessing right until the end.  I would recommend anyone with an unfettered imagination to read this book and I would rate it above Stardust, the only other book I have read of his.  Perfect for anyone who wants to while away a lazy day this winter by being transported to another world.

Jennie

30 Day Book Challenge

Hi everyone!

I hope you are all geared up for Christmas and aren’t feeling too bah humbug.  One of my favourite blogs, The Other Watson, has decided to blog each day for the next 30 days covering a range of literary based questions and I thought that this was such a good idea that I would give it a go as well.  Like me, he is also nearing his two year anniversary for his blog and is celebrating by completing his 30 day book challenge again.  With nearly 10,000 views to my blog in the last two years I thought I should actually blog a bit more as do enjoy it when I’m not forcing myself to read Russian books.  Speaking of which, Anna Karenina still hasn’t been returned to the library and I am determined to read it by the end of the year.  I have quite a bit of time off over Christmas and with not much else to do I am going to persevere and finish my review (once I have finished the book!).  So hopefully you should all have a bit more to read in the next few weeks.

Merry Christmas

Jennie

Procrastination strikes again

Hi everyone

So I finally went to the library yesterday and collected Anna Karenina. It only took me a week and a half to drive the short distance to my local library; I get the feeling I’m already dragging my heels with it. A friend of mine has lent me The Horse Whisperer as well, and I was just thinking that maybe I should read that first as I don’t want to hold onto her copy for ages when I realised that I have started procrastinating about this book again. I procrastinate about everything so it’s not a surprise but I hadn’t realised that I had already lost my renewed determination for finishing this book. So I need to set myself a time limit. Looking through the book I think I need to start from about page 740, which means I have just over 200 hundred pages to go. It doesn’t sound like much but I think it will feel just as long as the first 700 pages. So to counteract my procrastinating I have promised myself that I won’t let this hang over me anymore and that by this time next I will have published my review. Hopefully I will succeed in this, my first challenge since returning to this book list. Wish me luck!

P.s. I promise to stop going on about this book as well (it’s part of the procrastinating)!