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 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 🙂

DAY 23 – Book you tell people you’ve read but haven’t (or haven’t actually finished)


Now I don’t usually go around claiming to read books I haven’t even touched. But there is one book I’m not exactly forthcoming about not reading: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus

There was this one time when, while discussing the Gothic classics with someone, I casually threw the famous novel into the conversation. In case you didn’t know, I like to read non-fiction books concerning the horror genre too, so I know enough about Frankenstein (like the fact that it’s not the name of the monster (who’s nameless), but the name of the Doctor/creator) to come across as having read the book.

I do have my reasons however for not reading it as yet.

I was always under the impression that Frankenstein is science fiction, a genre I’m not too keen on. It was mainly due to this fact that I tended to ignore it whenever I came across it in the library or the bookstore.
In an ironic twist, my brother bought me a book a long time ago called the Frankenstein Omnibus, compiled by that king of Horror Anthologies-Peter Haining. My brother no doubt assumed I read Shelley’s novel (I didn’t bother to inform him otherwise!) when buying this book for me. It is a collection of short stories based on or influenced by Frankenstein in some way. I read a few of the stories and to be honest, it was not my cup of tea. Maybe I need to read Frankenstein to appreciate these stories more, I’m not sure. Anyways, this book also contributed to my lack of interest in the famous novel.

Recently however, I’ve met many people (bloggers included) who claim that Frankenstein is a brilliant book. Some of them are not even fans of horror or sci-fi but enjoyed it nevertheless. So I made up my mind to add this to my reading list. Finally!

The days of reading about Frankenstein are over. It’s time to read the classic itself.

NM 🙂

DAY 22 – Book you plan to read next


There are so many books I want to read at the moment but I haven’t a clue where to begin once I finish the ones I’m currently busy with. I compiled a list although I’m not sure which of the following I should read first.

How about this? Take a lookie at the list below and YOU decide which book I should read next, that way you provide the answer for today’s topic. I can read up to three books at a time but unfortunately not eight!
Let me know in the comments below…

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – I heard this is really funny and set during one of the World Wars.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – watched 2 movie versions (one with Winona Ryder and the other Katharine Hepburn) of this book and absolutely loved the story.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – Look out for my next post.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell – I seem to be on a Gaskell high at the moment. Having loved North And South and currently reading Cranford, she has definitely won me over. Fellow blogger Louise highly recommends W&D but my local book store doesn’t have it which means I have to order it. Arghh!

Spud – Learning to fly by John van de Ruit – The last in the series. How can I resist this?

Salaambo by Gustave Flaubert – I have no idea what this story is about but apparently it’s set in Carthage-the ancient city I happen to have a certain obsession with. It’s enough to make me want to hunt down this book.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – I already have this book in my possession. I started reading it a long time ago but then I got bored and threw it aside. Then I found out that there was a ghost or vampire in it and now I’m eager to read it again.

??? by Charles Dickens – I’m in the mood for Dickens again. It’s been a long time since I read anything by him. Except for Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Two Cities, Great Expectations and Bleak House, what other book would you recommend?

🙂

DAY 21 – Favourite picture book from childhood


When they say “Picture Book”, do they mean those books you picked up when you first started reading-the ones with only one or two lines of writing on each page? If that’s the case, I don’t think I have a favourite. Instead I’ll talk about two books both of which, although have plenty of words, are not short on pictures either.

I am very disappointed with myself. I searched everywhere for my Ladybird copy of Dracula but can’t seem to find it. I know its somewhere in my house but knowing Murphy’s Law I’ll probably only find it when I don’t need it or least expect it. I really wanted to show off the little book that made such an impression on me when I was a child. The illustrations especially are beautiful and very vivid.
Luckily, while searching the net, I found an image of the cover (exactly the same as mine)-you can see it on the side.
The story itself is off course, a much shorter version and told in the 3rd person. It’s beautifully written however and still manages to capture the eerie mood of the novel.

I talk about Dracula so much I thought I’d mention another children’s book I absolutely loved (and still do). Witch Stories for Bedtime by various authors is a collection of 7 stories about, yes you guessed it, witches. I read these stories over and over again when I was a kid and I’m not embarrassed to say it, but I think read them well into my teens too!

Along with the gorgeous illustrations by Jane Launchbury these stories are just awesome, and while perusing them now, I can still remember each one.
There is one story (written by Elizabeth Waugh) about the good and kindly Thomasina and her magical island where everything is made of some type of confectionary- from seashells made of bubblegum, to toffee trees and streams of lemonade.
Another tale called “Rachel and the Magic stone” (by Deborah Tyler) is about two witch sisters who keep quarreling over a magic stone given to them.
Then there was a funny one (by Sue Seddon) about a witch who hates cats and is forced to keep one by the Chief Witch. She tries to get rid of the cat but the little feline seems more powerful than her!
There were also some scary and unsettling tales too. Two of the stories seemed to be Hansel and Gretel-inspired while one called “Grumblog” (by Jane Garrett) is about a witch who messes with Mother Nature and then gets her comeuppance in the end.

The Magic Island by Elizabeth Waugh

My favourite story however was entitled “The Witches who Came To Stay” (written by Philip Steele), about 3 sisters who are shipwrecked on an island and impose themselves on a solitary fisherman-the only inhabitant on the island. He’s pissed off, off course, but he’s attracted to the youngest sister who’s quite feisty and verbally abuses him. The women make themselves at home (and a nuisance) and demand that the fisherman have their breakfast ready on time the following morning. They threaten to turn him into all sorts of creatures if he disobeys any of their requests. From this one story I learnt what a porpoise and an archaeopteryx (it’s a type of dinosaur) are. The plucky fisherman steals one of their spellbooks while they’re asleep and starts preparing pies for breakfasts. He adds a special potion to each pie. One sister turns into a fish and he throws her out to sea; the other turns into a seagull and then flies away. The youngest consumes a love potion prepared by the fisherman. She falls in love with him and they live happily ever after. You gotta love it!!

Here are a couple more pics from the book…

The Witch Who Didn't Have A Cat by Sue Seddon

The Witches Who Came To Stay by Philip Steele

With my brain filled with witches and vampires, I must have been one strange kid…

NM 🙂

DAY 20 – Book you have read the most number of times


I sort of have an idea but it’s not like I keep a tally or something. If I really like a book, I do have a tendency to read it again after some time has passed. Therefore there are quite a few books out there that I’ve read at least twice.

Except for the Deathly Hallows, I read all of the Harry Potter books at least twice (I’ve read Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Azkaban 3 times).
Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian only got boring for me after my third go.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sign of the Four and Study in Scarlet were both read twice although I think I also attempted Sign of the Four for the third time but eventually got bored with it half-way through.
Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers was also read twice though I’m not sure why I read it again-it’s not one of my favourites.

The book I have borrowed the most times from the library is the Complete Jack The Ripper by Donald Rumbelow, which is a non-fiction book. This might be due partly to the fact that at one time I was writing a Victorian murder story (I thought it was crap, so it lies unfinished) and was using this book as a reference. It’s still a great book anyway and I wouldn’t mind reading it again.

This leaves us with the two books that keep popping up in this Book Challenge.
I read Hound Of the Baskervilles either 3 or 4 times, I can’t remember. My Penguin Classic version of Dracula I read only once but I have read (as I mentioned in another post) a couple of other editions before and my Ladybird Childrens’ version I’ve gone through like a hundred times (although I know that one doesn’t count! ).

So who is the winner here? I’ll let Sherlock and the Count fight it out…

NM 🙂

DAY 19 – Book that turned you on


My biggest fear here is that I may come across as a prude. I have never read any Mills and Boon (a fact that I’m proud to admit), Danielle Steel or any other famous romance novel for that matter.

I once attempted to read one of those ‘penny-dreadful’ (my own term) erotic novels only to descend, 5 minutes later, into fits of laughter. Hardly a turn-on.
I’m of the firm belief that when it comes to sex in any art-form, less is more. The less graphic it is, the more exciting it tends to be. The power of suggestion and the power of the imagination are completely underrated, which is why gratuitous scenes in books, debase themselves to farcical proportions with its aim lost to the reader. Unless the reader has no brains or imagination off course.

Written in 1872, Carmilla predates Dracula by 25+ years and is described as the first lesbian vampire story.

Getting back to the topic…

My choice here is based on a memory going back more than 10 years. When I picked up Carmilla, I was very young and this choice is influenced by my initial reaction to reading this novella. I don’t remember the exact details of the story but I do know the gist of it and recollect these two very important facts:
1) I recall admiring Le Fanu’s style of writing and 2) I remember giggling like a virginal school girl who has yet to be given the ‘Birds and Bees’ talk.

As a juvenile-minded young teenager I found certain passages to be highly suggestive. Suggestively lesbian that is. Yes, Carmilla is a vampire whose only victims are young pretty girls. I’m sure Sappho would have loved this book.
Because I read this book so long ago, I wondered if my reaction now as an adult would be the same as back then. Would it still be so hot? Or would it be as erotic as a picture of a puppy?
Unfortunately because I had borrowed this book from the library, I don’t have a copy of my own. Thankfully we have the internet. Searching the net I found this passage:

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses…

I can hear a few men screaming “More! More!” Sorry boys that was it.

Okay, so not exactly PG18 material, but it’s still hot in its own way. Or is it? What do you think? Was I being young and naïve back then? Or is this enough to make a straight gal question her sexuality?
Hmmm I wonder……

NM 😀