Reflections on the 30-day Book Challenge


After embarking on any sort of endeavour, no matter how great or small, it’s good to reflect on what we have learnt afterwards. If we learnt anything at all.

So what did I learn from the 30-day Book challenge?
That I have a sucky memory when put on the spot (God forbid I ever end up in an interrogation room), that I seriously need to read more books and that it really is a schlep to blog every day. I also learnt that I’m not too skilled when it comes to book reviews. I never know how much to reveal lest someone wants to read the book. This issue was a constant thorn in my side during the entire Book Challenge.

On the positive side of things, I did manage to finish the challenge. I skipped a total of 6 days which is not bad given my lack of discipline. I found writing about some of the topics quite enjoyable- it’s good to reminisce although I did tend to repeat myself a lot.

Given my love for short stories, I did wish there was more emphasis on them (some of my favourite books happen to be short story collections). But the whole Book Challenge was good fun nevertheless and it did drive away idle moments and save me the trouble of looking for something to write about.

For the past two months I put many of my own personal ideas for blog posts on hold as well as the Versatile Blogger Award I received last month. Can’t believe it’s been two months! Where did the time go?

There is indeed life after any challenge, so let’s get cracking!
Wait, let me enjoy my weekend first, see you next week!

NM 🙂

DAY 30 – Favourite coffee table book


Ah, I can’t believe the final day of the 30-day Book Challenge is finally here!! Woo hoo! And a great way to end it too, well personally for me anyway.

For those of you whose parents were members/subscribers to Readers’ Digest (or maybe you’re one yourself) you will probably remember, not only those tiny magazines, but also those wonderful hardback collectors’ item books designed especially for the adornment of your coffee table.

Ironically, even if I had my own coffee table, I would never dream of leaving these precious books lying out in the open. I might sound completely selfish here but the very thought of some careless relative perusing my Great Mysteries of the Past with their grubby fingers is enough to make my skin crawl.
This book combines two loves of mine- History and mystery. In school, all the ideas and information for my English speeches came from this book. And it wasn’t exactly useless when I consulted it for my History essays either.

Great Mysteries of the Past dissects every major mysterious incident in history (prior to 1990) – from Jack the Ripper to the sinking of the Titanic to the murder of JFK.
It also has articles discussing famous legends and the possible truths behind them, like King Arthur, Robin Hood, William Tell and Lady Godiva. As I said in a previous post, sometimes the best mysteries, are real-life ones.
Not surprisingly, the spine of the book has detached itself somewhat (due to excessive use) and the book itself is valiantly holding on to the hard black cover.

Did I stress how much I love this book? Yes I seriously do. I was actually considering it for DAY 26-Favourite non-fiction book but thought it better to save it for the last topic.

So, the 30-day Book Challenge finally comes to an end. My blogging life returns to normal…

NM 😀

DAY 29 – Book you are currently reading


The two books I’m currently reading are Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford and O. Henry’s 100 Selected Stories.

I have to confess that I haven’t done much reading in the past couple of weeks, so even though Cranford is a tiny book, I’m taking longer than is necessary to finish it.

This should not be a reflection on the book however. It’s a delightful little novel and surprisingly modern for a book written in 1851. Well it’s not exactly a typical novel. Instead of a linear storyline centered on one main plot, the book is actually a collection of anecdotes about the English town of Cranford and its inhabitants.
I love Gaskell’s quirky sense of humour and her subtle dig at the attitudes and snobbery of the Cranford elite. I’m also very fascinated by the narrator-who remains unnamed, and who provides an objective and refreshing viewpoint on the events that take place in Cranford. Her viewpoints would not seem out of place in the 21st century. Given the nature of how this book is written, I’m interested to see how it ends and if there is actually a hidden storyline waiting to unfold.

There is no doubt that O. Henry (real name William Sydney Porter) is a very gifted short story writer. The stories in this collection are set in the United States with particular focus on the American family and its domicile. O. Henry lived during the turn of the 20th century so his stories are reflective of that period.

I must admit that I find it strange to read this book. I’m so used to reading M.R James, Saki, Edgar Allan Poe and Guy de Maupassant that to read a collection of tales that contains absolutely NO supernatural elements is unfamiliar territory to me.
I am enjoying it however and it’s giving me plenty of food for thought. I feel tempted now to write a non-horror short story just for the sake of it. I don’t hold much hope for it though, only because I don’t trust myself. I might just sneak a succubus into the story when no-one’s looking!

DAY 28 of 30-day Book Challenge – Last book you read


The last book I finished was the second novel in the Spud series – The Madness Continues. I mentioned the first book on Day 3 and Day 4.

I thoroughly enjoyed Spud number 2, although I must admit that it was not as funny as the first one. John Milton (Spud) returns (along with Mad Dog, Rambo, Vern, Boggo, Simon and Fatty) for his 2nd year at the private boarding school. The absence of Gecko, who died in the first book, is duly noted.
We are introduced to a new set of first years (nicknamed the Normal 7) and apart from them there are hardly any new pivotal characters in the sequel. In the classroom and on the cricket pitch and rugby field the usual shenanigans ensue.
The highlight of the book ironically, is Spud’s trip to England with his family. Wombat is in top form once again, and if you thought that she’s one of a kind, you’ll be disturbed to learn that she has a sister – Dingbat, who’s clearly cut from the same cloth. We only get to meet Dingbat briefly however but we are still kept entertained by crazy Wombat and her imperialist tendencies and anecdotes.

I’m happy to report that nobody dies at the end of the Madness Continues. But there is a tragedy that takes the form of an expulsion (I won’t say who gets expelled), and the consequences of Rambo’s affair with Eve, finally come to fruition.

Sequels tend to have a bad reputation for not being as good as their predecessors. I don’t want to write off Spud the second as less brilliant but I’m beginning to understand why it wasn’t as exciting as the first.

In the first book, everything is new and we begin to suss out all the main players and decide who we like or who we don’t like. By the second book, we already know everybody; we already know the ins and outs of the school and what life at home with the Miltons is like. In spite of this, it’s still an enjoyable read, thanks largely to Wombat!
Let’s hope the movie version of The Madness Continues, when it eventually comes out (van de Ruit has apparently withheld the rights to the movie because he wants more people to read the book first!), includes more of her antics. That would do the title some justice.

NM 🙂

DAY 26 and 27 – Favourite fiction and non-fiction book


Favourite Fiction Book

I’m including 2 days in one again because I find Day 27’s favourite fiction book obsolete. If your favourite book ever, happens to be a novel like Hound of the Baskervilles, then it stands to reason that it would also be your favourite fiction book.

DAY 26 – Favourite Non-fiction book

Now here’s something you might not know about me. There was a stage in my life when I barely read any fictional novels. It wasn’t out of choice, I just seemed to be drawn to non-fiction books. Any book dealing with unsolved mysteries, history and legends was my weakness. I still have this inclination but it’s only in the last 3 years, ever since I started writing, that I rediscovered the joys of fiction books. I still prowl the history and esoteric sections of the library and bookstores however, so therefore choosing a favourite work of non-fiction is a bit of a challenge for me.

Holy Blood and Holy Grail by Baigent, Lincoln and Leigh is a book I quite enjoyed but it is somewhat erudite and tedious and I sometimes found it difficult to follow the authors’ arguments. I absolutely loved The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. It’s about the cholera epidemic in London in 1854 and is a very exciting and well-written book.
There are many others I enjoyed, including all those Reader’s Digest’s coffee table-type books- Facts and Fallacies, Great Mysteries of the Past etc. But if I am absolutely forced to choose a winner here, then I’m going with The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. I base my choice on my belief that it is the book with the least flaws in terms of dispensing of information.

The Complete Jack the Ripper is by far the best book ever written on the Ripper mystery-I should know, I’ve read a lot of them!

It seems pretty evident that nobody knows more about the famous murders than Rumbelow. Every single person ever considered as a suspect (and there were many of them) is mentioned in his book and each suspect’s case is carefully considered and argued brilliantly. Ironically the one problem with Rumbelow’s work happens to be the one thing that also sets it apart from the other Ripper books. He makes no real effort to provide his take on the mystery whereas all the other books always seem in favour of at least one suspect. He keeps absolutely mum about his own suspicions which can be a difficult thing to do for a non-fiction writer. He lays out the suspects before you as if in a line-up (he does however place slightly more emphasis on the more popular candidates) and traces each one’s movements during the time of each killing.

Rumbelow’s aim is clearly for you to make up your own mind but in the end you are left more confused as to the Ripper’s identity than ever before. Maybe the brilliance of this book lies in this fact, which is probably why I love it so much. Too often you find the thoughts and opinions of an author filtering through what is supposed to be an objective piece of work.

There is another reason I love this book. If you’re a fan of Victorian Literature like me (especially Dickens), you will find Rumbelow’s mouthwatering depiction of London in 1888 to die for! Trust me, if you read it, you’ll be tempted to write a Victorian murder mystery. Sometimes the best stories for inspiration really are the true life ones!

NM 🙂

DAY 25 – Favourite book you read in school


The one book that definitely made the biggest impression on me in school was To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
It has the distinction of being the first book ever to have such an emotional impact on me. I was fuming at the incidences of racism; I felt genuine sympathy for Atticus Finch; I think I cried a little when he shot that dog and I wanted to scream in protest at Mayella Ewell and beat her with a crowbar!

As a South African teenager the issues of racism really hit home and I marveled at the irony of reading an American setbook in school, whose major themes mirrored the very issues we were dealing with in our then fledgling democracy.
To Sir, With Love was another great setbook that also dealt with racism in society and in relationships yet Mockingbird seemed all the more impressive in terms of its messages and its characters.

Set in the American South in 1930’s, Atticus is a literary hero who cannot be easily forgotten. The decision to tell the story from his daughter Scout’s point of view was an excellent one on Lee’s part. She’s such an endearing character, and her innocent but blunt point of view made all the injustices in the book seem greater.

Even the most cynical and stony-hearted person will be moved by this story. I recently picked up Mockingbird to read it for a second time. Being the sensitive little softie that I am, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not because I would find it boring the second time around, but because I could still remember the storyline very clearly and all the emotions it stirred up within me the first time I read it. Only a true classic can accomplish this.

I feel every person on the planet should read To Kill a Mockingbird at least once in their life, so if you haven’t yet, do yourself a favour and get a copy of this book.

DAY 24 – Book that contained your favourite scene


Yes, I know I’ve been incommunicado for this entire week, and therefore ruined my perfect track record for the 30-day Book challenge. I’m nearly towards the end though so I’ll just get cracking with No. 24- book that contains my favourite scene…

Oh dear. I already spoke about this on DAY 8. I don’t really want to talk about Dracula again so instead I’m changing today’s topic a bit. I decided to compile a Top 5 list of bombshell scenes. Scenes were I slapped myself on the forehead and thought, “Shit! I didn’t see that coming!”

I have to admit that sometimes I marvel at how slow my brain actually is. I’m a sucker for revelations. Whereas many people yawn and claim that a particular movie or book was predictable and they knew or had a feeling all along that so-and-so was the killer, I nearly am always surprised at the twists in the end. This probably explains why I love the mystery genre so much. Even a bad mystery will not disappoint me. Well I never claim to be the sharpest tool in the shed. So here goes…

    NM’s Top 5 Most Surprising Bombshell Book Scenes

*NB. GIVEN THE NATURE OF THIS LIST, THE FOLLOWING DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS!

1. Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling – Harry’s trip into Snape’s past reveals the Potion master’s love for Lily Potter. I was left dumbstruck for a few minutes after reading that scene.

2. Hound of the Baskervilles by AC Doyle – I mentioned my favourite scene from this book on DAY 1. The Man on the Tor was none other than the genius himself.

Why on earth would you put a picture of the killer with the murder weapon on the cover of a mystery novel?

3. Company of Liars by Karen Maitland – I nearly fell of my chair towards the end. I never would have guessed that the narrator was in fact, a woman.

4. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – Is that nice British man Lea Teabing the villainous mastermind behind all the chaos? No way dude!

5. Murders on the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe – This was one of those disappointing revelations but still the degree of surprise (or shock) was still very high. I mean, come on, even a genius would not have suspected a big, orange monkey as the killer!

NM 🙂