Jun 11

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 28-30

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So this is the end of the Challenge and I’m finishing it a day late. What can I say, it’s been a busy month and I got a bit frustrated at the last few Days because the order doesn’t really work and the choices are a bit dull.

I wish I’d spotted that earlier in the month and done a bit of creative re-writing of the list – where’s the Day for book that makes you fear for the future? Or the book that you wish to give your worst enemy? The book you think would help your best friend?

The book you think should be compulsory reading at school? The book that every bride should read and every groom should fear? The book that mothers should be given a copy of by the NHS at their first midwife appointment and the book your partner should hold open as you try to feed your baby for the first time? The book that will stop your child’s tantrums and the book that they will choose a university from?

The book you want to press into the hands of strangers on the train? The book with the “chick-lit pink” cover that makes me grind my teeth? The book that’s left on a table in the pub because no one wants to be lumbered taking it home? Or the badly written twee-fest book that book club makes us draw lots for from Mrs Jess’s cleavage?

I’ve completed the 30-Day Challenge below but I’d love to know which Days you think are missing? What book do you need to tell all about?

Day 28 – Last book you read

I’ve already covered this – See Day 22

Day 29 – Book you’re currently reading

This is a real treat – a new Lord Peter Wimsey tale, The Attenbury Emeralds.  But of course Sayers died in 1957 so this one is by Jill Paton Walsh, and is her third Wimsey novel. I was very nervous on opening her first attempt at continuing where Sayers laid off – Thrones, Dominations - but she stayed true to the characters and the writing. Her second – A Presumption of Death - was even more enjoyable, expanding on the post-marriage Wimsey family life that Sayers had only briefly touched on.

I have the greatest admiration for Walsh because Sayers set a very high standard to follow, peppering her novels and short stories with classical and literary quotes and references. There can’t be many authors willing to pick up such beloved characters and risk the wrath of generations of devoted readers.

Day 30 – Favourite coffee table book

We don’t keep books on the coffee table – Rhys believes the coffee table is for sitting on to watch TV and Meredith thinks pretty books and magazines are a tasty snack. Instead, our books are lined up on book shelves, peek out from under the foot stool, lurk in bags, sit next to the loo, hide under our beds, prop up my desk, get shoved at visitors…

If the Challenge writers mean an aspirational picture book to display to visitors so they know you have a secret passion for something intellectual, then I’m not sure if my choice is an anti-establishment revolt or mundane middle-class-mother-tries-too-hard.

I love Banksy’s Wall and Piece . It has a photo of the”Hitchhiker to nowhere” that reminds me of my time in London. I passed the Hitchhiker in Archway everyday for years but rarely actually saw the image because  of its position; it was always a smile moment when I walked down Highgate Hill and spotted the figure lurking at the bottom.

It also reminds me of my first time abroad when we hitchhiked to Paris as part of a University of St Andrews charity fundraiser stunt. Stopping a mad illegal immigrant Estonian, driving – in the loosest sense of the word – an ancient Volvo and a prehistoric caravan, from reversing back onto the autoroute to avoid paying a toll is about as wild as my life has got.

Jun 5

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 25-27

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Day 25 – Favourite book you read in school

This has to be To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. A book that leaves a very deep impression on most of its readers, I would think. It is a perfect story, making difficult subjects accessible to young readers without patronising or protecting.

It is just as good as an adult read – I was shocked that Matt was never made to read this at school and after much badgering, he picked up my copy. “It’s quite good, isn’t it?” he said, surprised. Yes, dear, it is.

Day 26 – Favourite nonfiction book

Tricky – there are lots of books I like to read that aren’t fiction – cook books by Leon, Nigella or Nigel, or text books (I’ve got a fondness for my old Ritter, Rang and Dale Pharmacology text book).

I’ve chosen this book as it’s nice to have something contemplative around and because it’s a book that I associate with good people I know both personally and as the progressive movement that has shaped British society.  Quaker Faith and Practice is a religious book written for the Society of Friends by members of the Society of Friends.

The red book covers the procedures and practices of British Quakers, how Meetings are organised and so on, which is a bit dull if you’re not a Friend or at least a regular attender. So unless you have a particular interest in these things, I recommend heading to the chapter entitled Advices and Queries. It gives a strong insight into what drives Quakers individually and as a religious organisation.

I also like the chapter Faithful Lives which gives testament regarding Society members over the years and others that discuss caring for one another, relationships and so on. Anyway, if your curiosity has been pricked and you’d like some thought provoking reading, much of the book is available free online.

Day 27 – Favourite fiction book

This is the same as Day 1. Odd that.

Jun 5

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 22-24

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And back to books…

Day 22 – Book you plan to read next

My friend Natalie bought me three books by Laurie R King for Christmas and they are divine, quite the nicest new author discovery I’ve had for a good few years. I was even more delighted when I realised there’s actually more than three of them, they are such a treat to read.

The basic premise of the first book in the series, The Bee Keeper’s Apprentice, seems so unlikely – that after Sherlock Holmes retired to Sussex, he meets an orphaned teenager called Mary Russell and trains her as a consulting detective. Later they marry and continue their detective work as a partnership.

Somehow King brings it off beautifully. Because the style is very different from Conan Doyle’s stories and time has passed on to the Georgian era, you don’t find yourself comparing the writers; you just enjoy having the characters expanded and embellished in intriguing plots.

The next book on my reading pile is the last of my Christmas books from Natalie and is  The Book . If it’s half as good as the first few by King, it’ll be brilliant.

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

Without a doubt, that’s Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I know it’s a classic, I can see why. I own it, I’ve tried several times to finish it and no, I can’t get to the end of it. I do admit this though, no deception here.

Day 24 – Book that contains your favorite scene

Back to Day 1 and The Crow Road. Iain Banks opening scene in this novel is just delicious. Macabre, funny, tragic, it sets the tone for the rest of the novel. I’m saying nowt more, just go and read it yourself.

Jun 4

June 2011 and the Mission continues

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I was berating myself for not tackling more items on the Mission list and then ticked off a few in a go.

Firstly, the new issue of the Woodmancote News arrived on the doorstep while we were on holiday. I’ll be delivering it with Rhys on Monday. It has a special article all about being a considerate neighbour regarding bonfires that I wrote while having a strop.

Not our immediate neighbours, thankfully, but we have endless summer days and evenings spoilt by having to shut all windows and doors due to thick smoke. I don’t mean transient bbq smoke but horrid smelly stuff that lingers and sets off Matt’s rhinitis.

The article makes me sound like a NIMBY but hey, it means I’ve crossed off no. 93 in the Mission. I hope to submit a few more pieces of writing in the future. It’s a sweet little magazine, it’s nice to be part of the community.

On our way home from Aberdeen we stopped overnight at Carlisle.  Being cooped up in a room with two sleeping children was a bit grim but hey, with a few bottles of ale, Killer Bunnies and some new extension packs of Carcassonne we managed to pass time quite nicely. And crossed off no. 28 for this month. We’ve been a bit slack on this challenge; Matt has just ordered some new two-person games and hopefully that will set us off gaming again.

Finally, Matt is on the case re. no. 12. The family tree is so long and convoluted it’s going to be a good bit of work for him to design the website but hopefully we’ll have a new family website up and running soon. We have to go through the photos from the Family Party for 2011 but I’ll post them up soon.

Jun 3

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 19-21

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And I keep going…

Day 19 – A book that turned you on

Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus is sitting at the end of the book shelf so I guess that is the obvious choice. It’s a classic, innit?

Day 20 – Book you’ve read the most number of times

I’ve not kept a spreadsheet on this either but it’s a toss between Dororthy L Sayer’s Busman’s Honeymoon or perhaps Gaudy Night and Iain Banks Crow Road. Sorry for the repetition but it’s not exactly surprising that my favourite books and characters are the ones I revisit regularly.

Day 21 – Favourite picture book from childhood

Webfoot by Jim Slater and Christoper Slater.

There was a trend in the 1980s for publishing children’s stories that were written and illustrated by children, resulting in series such as the Garden Gang and the Munch Bunch. The drawings were done with crayons or felt tips and the stories tended to be rather worthy and well, dull.

The A. Mazing Monster series by the father and son Slater team were in this line, and if a little preachy (keep your possessions or they’ll get eaten up!), the monsters are certainly more interesting than vegetables.

Webfoot was one of my favourite books as a child – I loved the silly tale of a benign monster that could disguise itself as anything it wanted, recognisable only by its ever-present webfoot. The book is still on my parents’ bookshelf and I’ve loved introducing it to Rhys every time we visit Aberdeen. The illustrations are dated but the appeal remains.

Webfoot was the only book I had in the A. Mazing Monster series but I remember looking longingly on the back of the book at all the other titles. So I was absolutely thrilled when my mum found the box set was now available for the whole series. If you’ve not met Mr A. Mazing, monster hunter extraordinaire, I suggest you introduce him and his monster zoo to some children near you asap.

Jun 3

30-Day Book Challenge – Days 16-18

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Been on holiday so catching up again and then hopefully I’ll stick to one a day for the rest of the challenge!

Day 16 – Longest book you’ve read

I’ve not a clue – I mean, I don’t know how many pages each book has. I think the biggest book I’ve ploughed through is possibly Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders though. Of which I can find little to actually say anything about except I’d recommend that anyone new to his Jack Ryan tales should stick to his earlier writing.

The thickest book I’ve had to read was either Alberts or Darnell - both of them are tombstones of text books on molecular and cellular biology that I scoured while studying at St Andrews. I still have one of them on my book shelf, just in case I ever need to remind myself how chromosomes are wound up or some such titbit….

Day 17 – Shortest book I’ve read

Again, I don’t have a spreadsheet of page numbers but the one that comes to mind is Daphne De Maurier’s The Birds. It’s a short story – the basis for Hitchcock horror film – so of course it’s sinister and it is one of my favourite examples of her writing. She is a pleasure to read, a champion yarn spinner.

Day 18 – Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like

Honestly, I don’t think I am ashamed to admit I like any book – I’m quite happy to read trashy stuff when my brain is overloaded or in a pre- or post-birth hormonal fug. There’s a lot of snobbery about vampire fiction though and I’ll happily admit to saying I enjoyed the Stephanie Meyer Twilight series.

It’s fun, it’s easy to read, it’s got some strong characters, a few twists from the standard vampire mythology and it’s easy to pick up the follow-up books from charity shops. What’s not to like?

I also like the Sookie Stackhouse  True Blood books by Charlaine Harris. The first is Dead Until Dark and again it’s fun, it’s got great characters, fab locations. Fun to read. It’s not Tolstoy but then I don’t actually like reading Tolstoy and I don’t have enough time for reading to waste it on things I don’t enjoy.

Interestingly, Matt loves the True Blood TV series too but so far has refused to watch the Twilight films so I’m awaiting that pleasure still. I’m putting this discrepancy down to the inspired casting of Anna Paquin as Sookie. I did wonder why he was suddenly so interested in watching vampires….