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The ones that got away…

I just can’t bring myself to let the 30 day book challenge go yet without one final post.

I have spent the last month enjoying a trip down memory lane, thinking about all of the books and authors that I love and trying to narrow these down to one or two per post.  But there are a lot of strong contenders which didn’t get a mention, some of which I have only thought about after the original posts went live.

So to round off the 30 day book challenge, I’m going to do a summary of those answers to which I could say “close but no cigar”.

DAY 1 – A book series you wish would just end already OR one that you wish would go on longer

His Dark Materials should go on – the ending was heart breaking and I have always wanted to see what happened next.

DAY 2. – Favorite side character

Ygritte from Game of Thrones – for being a wild northern woman and for making Jon Snow more interesting.

DAY 3. – The longest book you’ve read

Game of Thrones – all of them are hefty books, but books 3 and 5 are so enormous they had to split them into two volumes.

DAY 4. – Book turned into a movie and completely desecrated

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – my favourite Potter book of them all.  The movie was the biggest disappointment of them all.

DAY 5. –  Your “comfort” book

The Time Traveller’s Wife – one of my all time favourites and I know that I can pick it up and will love it more each time.

DAY 6. – Book you’ve read the most number of times

Who Killed Peggy Sue – a real favourite of my teenage years – my copy of this book is literally falling apart at the seams.

DAY 7. – A guilty pleasure book

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.  I live with a scientist who would be appalled if he knew just how much I secretly enjoy this book with all of it’s bad science!

DAY 8. – Most underrated book

Katherine by Anya Seton – originally published in 1954, she is a forerunner to Philippa Gregory and has produced an excellent book about someone I had never heard of but whose offspring went on to found the Tudor line.

DAY 9. – Most overrated book

The Great Gatsby – my sister is obsessed with this book.   I thought it was just okay.

DAY 10. – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Room by Emma Donoghue – I read it to find out what the hype was about really and didn’t really think it would be my cup of tea, but it was un-putdownable – disturbing at times but such great writing, and she never faltered in maintaining the voice of the child narrator.

DAY 11. – Favorite classic book

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – quite an obvious answer but Jane Eyre is a woman before her time, and for a classic it is an easy read.

DAY 12. – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t

Grimm fairy tales – I finally have a copy and it is on my to read pile!

DAY 13. – A book that disappointed you

Dissolution, C J Samson – this medieval murder mystery sounded right up my street, but it fell flat for me.

DAY 14. –  Book that made you cry

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne – the horrifying events that we understand as adult readers but which are not understood by the child narrator gets me every time.

DAY 15. – A character who you can relate to the most

Robb Stark from Game of Thrones – also a strong contender for favourite side character, he really brings out the rebellious northerner in me.

DAY 16. – Most thought-provoking book

Incendiary by Chris Cleeve – a scarily realistic account of a terrorist attack on London which really makes you think about how far we should we should compromise the values that we are supposed to be fighting for,

DAY 17. – Author I wish people would read more

Chris Cleeve – some people may be put off by the lack of blurb, but give him a go – you will not be disappointed.

DAY 18. – A book you wish you could live in

The Faraway tree by Enid Blyton – as a child I was obsessed with this tree where the different lands rotated in the high branches and the children discovered a new adventure in the tree every time.

DAY 19. – A favourite author

Chimanadna Ngozi Adiche – her stories about Nigeria, and in particular the food, are so evocative that they make me want to visit the country for myself.

DAY 20. – Favorite childhood book

Sweet Valley High – I adored this series of books, I devoured them as a child and used to imagine that one day I would find a long lost twin and we would be just like Jessica and Elizabeth!

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

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – this was a Christmas gift last year and I’m still working my way through it.  I would probably say if asked that I had read it, but it is still a work in progress.

DAY 22. – Least favourite plot device employed by way too many books you actually enjoyed otherwise

Coincidence – totally unbelieveable most of the time and should be used very sparingly in my opinion.

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

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – I thought Philippa Gregory had done the Tudors for me, but then I read this.  Truly excellent writing and a different perspective on a well known story.

DAY 24. – Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like/liked

PS I Love You by Cecilia Ahearn – I usually avoid chick lit like the plague.  This is one exception, but I don’t like to admit to it!

DAY 25. – The most surprising plot twist or ending

Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – I didn’t like the majority of this book, but I thought the final chapter was sublime and more than made up for the rest of the book.

DAY 26. – Book that makes you laugh out loud

The Fiend books by Sheila Lavelle – these belonged to my younger sister and I pinched them and read them when I was probably too old for them, but they made me laugh and so I didn’t care.

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

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I have been putting off reading this one after being underwhelmed by The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night.

DAY 28. – Favourite quote from a book

“You’re a wizard Harry” – classic.

DAY 29. – A book you hated

December by Elizabeth Winthrop – hate is a strong word for this one but this book did nothing for me and I couldn’t stand the end.

DAY 30. – Book you couldn’t put down 

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff – another one I completed in one sitting – I loved reading about their foraging seeing Daisy adapt and grow in very difficult circumstances.

I really am done now.  I will now start posting fresh content in which the words “30 day book challenge” will not appear!  It has been hard work at times but I have genuinely loved every minute of it.

I’m always on the lookout for new books/authors to try, so if you would like to share any of your own answers to the above questions, then please leave a comment!

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30 day book challenge – day 19 – A favourite author.

Oh, this is going to be a long one.  How can I choose just one author?  It would be like someone to choose between their children.  I have so many authors that I love, and I’m discovering new ones all the time.

Here are my favourites:-

Daphne Du Maurier

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to find Daphne Du Maurier’s name on this list.  You can read why she is one of my favourites here and here.

Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveller’s Wife is one of my all time favourite books, and although her follow up, Her Fearful Symmetry, did not capture me in the same way, it is still an excellent read.  Her ideas are really original and well executed, and her prose is wonderfully lyrical.  Her books to me are works of art.

Edith Wharton

She makes the list for her complex and empathetic characters, her brilliant portrayal of New York society and her emotional endings.  The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence are two of my favourite classics.  I definitely plan to read more Edith Wharton.

Philippa Gregory

I have read all of the Tudor series and most of the Cousin’s War series.  I love her books for bringing these eras so vividly to life and for her focus on the female characters – history can so easily overlook the influence behind the scenes of powerful women and Philippa Gregory brings them back to the forefront.

Mark Haddon

For making me laugh.  I have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Spot of Bother.  I have The Red House on my bookshelves waiting to be read.  He deals with some serious issues with real humour.  He also created a very memorable character in the Curious Incident, and maintained a very authentic voice throughout.

Lionel Shriver

Every time I open a book by Lionel Shriver it blows me away.  Her writing is so powerful and so full of honesty in every word.  The Post Birthday World is one of my favourite books, and I will be talking about this more in a later post.  So Much For That is a very long book dealing with terminal illness.  It should be a slog and it should be depressing.  But in Lionel Shriver’s hands, the pages fly over and it manages to remain so uplifting and full of humour.  She is a really special writer.  We Need to Talk About Kevin is the most famous one, but her other work that I have read is every bit as good.

Chris Cleeve

Chris Cleeve has a thing going on where there is no blurb and no clues as to what the book is actually about.  This intrigued me with The Other Hand so I decided on a whim just to buy it and give it a go.  I loved every single word, and so now, I have bought into the myth.  I don’t need to know anything about the subject matter of the book or the characters – if it is by Chris Cleeve, I will read it because I know it will be good.

J K Rowling

Harry Potter is a series that I absolutely treasure.  We fell in love with Harry, went through some very dark times with him and she absolutely provided the ending that he deserved.  I’m now really looking forward to reading her adult fiction – a copy of The Casual Vacancy is the latest addition to my bookshelves.  Although crime fiction is not really my thing, I am also going to read Cuckoo Calling when it is in paperback.  There is no pressure and no expectation from me – I don’t think that J K Rowling has anything to prove after bringing us something as wonderful as Harry Potter.

Maggie O’Farrell

She is quite a new discovery for me and I’m really enjoying working my way through her books.  I love the intensity of her characters and the relationships between them.  She is one of those writers that pull you right into the story so you feel as if you are living and breathing with the characters through every moment  of their journey.  This means that her books are very memorable and I have loved everything that I have read by Maggie O’Farrell so far.

Sebastian Faulks

Again, he is quite new for me.  I started off reading A Week in December and I have since read Birdsong and Charlotte Gray.  His writing is absolutely flawless and incredibly frank at times.   It is his attention to detail that really makes him stand out for me – he obviously knows his characters absolutely inside out and this makes them well rounded and utterly believable, as he is able to drop in the little details that make people real.

The Brontes – all of them

It is so tragic that so little has been published by the Bronte sisters, though it just makes what has been published that much more special.  Emily and Charlotte’s work is the most well known, but I have a real soft spot for Anne and I think she is quite underrated.  The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an excellent read and is right up there with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.  For any other Bronte lovers, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the Bronte Museum in Haworth.  This is the parsonage in which the Brontes grew up and it is an incredible experience to walk in their footsteps and look out the window to see the view of the moors which inspired Wuthering Heights.

What about you?

I am always on the lookout for new authors to try whose work I haven’t read before, so who are your favourite authors?  Is there anyone not on my list that would be on yours?

Opening lines – the most important?

I love opening lines.  I love reading opening lines.  I love writing opening lines.  I love being given an opening line and freewriting from there.  It is the rest of the story after the opening lines that causes me problems!

When I browse for books in bookshops, I not only read the blurb at the back but I always read the first sentence.  If I want a book from the blurb, I will probably not reject it if the opening sentence doesn’t grab me.  But for anything I am 50/50 about, it comes down to that opening sentence – if it grabs me, I will buy it, if it doesn’t, it goes back on the shelf.

The first exercise in my writing challenge deals with beginnings which aim to make the reader feel that they are plunged right into the story.  The opening sentences that I have written are not related to any characters or stories that I already have in my head or my notebooks.  Some are semi-inspired by real life, some are from little kernels of ideas that I haven’t yet thought out how to develop, some are completely random.  However, my aim with all of them is to start in the middle of the action (even if I’m not quite sure what that action is yet!)

Here they are:-

  1. The only reason I had anything to do with Ray is because the library had flooded one Monday in June.
  2. The wave smashed into my stomach, knocking me over.  I was dragged under, eyes wide open, watching the shingle roll away from the shore.
  3. The last time I really knew myself was when we went for lunch with the little white dogs.
  4. I knew it was bad news as soon as he opened the door.
  5. The election was over and I failed to get a single vote.  I didn’t even vote for myself.
  6. My mind went blank as the curtains rose.
  7. It was only a week ago that Ellie and I liberated the turtle from the old man’s garden and already we’ve added a goldfish and a cat to our collection.
  8. My mother always said I would be ruined by my handbags in the end.
  9. In the prison, we were known as “Nelson’s ladies”.
  10. I didn’t think I was famous until the day that the photographer was waiting outside my Uncle’s house to capture a picture of me in my uniform.

Reading back over these, I think that 2 and 4 probably achieve the objective of starting right in the middle of the action the best, but out of the list, I am most interested in seeing where number 5 will go.

So that is my effort.  Here are some of my favourite first sentences from my bookshelves:-

Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl” (The Other Hand, Chris Cleeve)

My grandfather, the knife fighter, killed two Germans before he was eighteen” (City of Thieves, David Benioff)

My name was Salmon, like the fish; Susie first.  I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973” (The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold)

Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the etagere” (Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche)

Any one of my favourite ever openings, on the strength of which I bought a book that I previously had no desire to read:-

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born,  and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents ere occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kiind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” (The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger)

I was sold when I read that first sentence, just for the directness of it and the authenticity of the character’s voice.  After reading all of these opening lines, I knew that I was in good hands for the rest of the book.

The opening lines are the writer’s first chance to introduce the character and to create something engaging to make the reader want to read on.  To leave the reader with questions to which they need to find the answers.  To make the reader want to know the character better.  A story can’t rely on it’s opening line alone – the rest of the story needs to deliver what the opening line promises.  If the writer is able to achieve this, then as readers, we are in for a treat.