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The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. - Jane Austen

100 Book Challenge? – It Definitely Was!

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Well I set my self a lofty total of 100 books in 2012, which turned out to be a little too high. I made it to 67, but I’m still quite happy with that. I started off the year with the best intentions and I managed to keep up until about June. And then Cameron moved back from Huddersfield and I was round at his house or going out more often, and the books kind of stopped flowing (I only read one book in July). I managed to pick it up again a bit later in the year but it wasn’t enough.

I’ve really enjoyed it though, I’ve tried a lot of books this year that I would never have thought to read thanks to recommendations from awesome people, sci-fi and fantasy are two genres that I’ve never really read before but will definitely be trying again.

I saw this ‘Best of Books 2012’ survey on one of the book blogs I read, so I’ve pinched it for my challenge review.

Best Book You Read In 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want)
I think this comes down to two. For pure magicallity and captivation, I’d pick The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It was completely different to anything I’d ever read, but the story of little Faina was both mesmerizing and heartbreaking at the same time. In terms of hard-hitting plots and something that stuck in my head for long after I finished reading, I’d pick When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. The plot wasn’t easy to read, but extremely well written and brilliantly thought provoking.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen would definitely qualify for this. It was the first book I read this year and didn’t really set the tone right for the other 99 books I planned to read. Since I’ve read it I’ve heard a lot about Franzen and how good he is supposed to be, but I found this book way too long and I just couldn’t get any connection to the characters. I’d had high hopes for the book but it left me feeling very disappointed.

Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?
This would definitely be Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds. I was leant this book with the assurance that it was really good, but I’d never read any sci-fi before and I had no idea what to expect. But it was amazing, fast paced and full of nail biting moments that kept me gripped until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more Reynolds this year.

Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
This would probably be The Hunger Games (I, II and III). I loved it when I read it and a few people I know have also read it and enjoyed it too, including my dad who usually reads sci-fi and crime books, but loved how easy to read the trilogy was.

Best series you discovered in 2012?
This would probably be The Hunger Games too. I loved it when I read it, and the only other series I have read this year were by Charlaine Harris (Lily Bard and Aurora Teagarden), which were less enthralling that I expected.

Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
I’ve discovered so many new authors this year that it’s hard to pick just a few, but I would probably say Kristin Cashore, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, S.J. Watson and Hillary Jordan.

Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
There’s two books that I would pick for this. Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds and Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Both new genres, but both completely amazing and left me definitely wanting to read more sci-fi and fantasy.

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
This was definitely When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. The plot was so shocking and so different from what I’ve read before, but also so heart-wrenching that I just couldn’t put it down once I’d started reading.

Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year
Considering the length of my ‘to-be-read’ list, I don’t think I’ll be re-reading any books next year. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’ve got so many more books waiting for me!

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?
If we’re talking about favourite appearance of a book, I’d say either The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, with it’s lovely black-edged pages and beautiful artwork, or When She Woke by Hillary Jordan with it’s striking picture of a girl staring at you, combined with the bright red-edged pages.

Most memorable character in 2012?
This would have to be Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit, although this is probably combined with the fact that the film has just come out too. But I loved that I got to know the character before I saw the film, whereas I’ve already got a fairly good picture of The Lord of the Rings, so when I read it earlier it won’t be my own creation.

Most beautifully written book read in 2012?
Definitely The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, absolutely enchanting.

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?
This is a hard one. I’d say it was probably The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. It made me think a lot about the impact you can have on other people with even the smallest actions.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?
Definitely A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I’ve really got no idea why I’ve never read this before but it was great to finally read it.

Favourite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012?
This would definitely be from The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom: “Learn this from me. Holding anger is a poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.

Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?
The Longest books was Century Rain by Alistair Reynolds at 640 pages. The shortest was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens at 104 pages.

Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?
Not much really springs to mind for this question, but I did have to talk to my friend straight away at the end of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, because it didn’t end how I expected it to!

Favourite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).
This would definitely be the relationship between Victoria and Grant in The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

Favourite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously
Definitely Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris – one of my favourite authors and the latest book in the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) series did not disappoint.

Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else?
Two books: Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds and The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.

So that’s my 2012 reading challenge over, not quite as successfully as I hoped but I’ve discovered some amazing new authors and tried books that I never would have dreamed of trying. Next year, I’m not going to aim for a specific number, but I do have in mind a lot of books that I want to read. Some longer ones that I couldn’t read this year (like LOTR and Anna Karenina), and some classics that I want to try, like Little Women etc. I’ve got a list of the top 200 books as voted by BBC readers. The list was voted in 2003, but it contains a lot of books that I do want to try, so my aim is to fill up this list a bit. I’ve read 49 from the list so far, so lets see how far I can get!

If you had a reading challenge last year, or you’ve set yourself one this year, let me know in the comments below!

Review: Hillary Jordan – When She Woke

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hillary-jordan-when-she-wokeI know I’ve probably said this before a million times, but I am a sucker for a nice looking book. When I was walking around the Waterstones in Kendal (yes, I did drive all the way to the Lake District and end up in a book shop), this book jumped out at me straight away because of the red edges on the pages and the girl staring out at me from the front of the book.

A quick read of the back of the book convinced me that it would probably be pretty interesting, so I decided I might as well give it a try.

“Hannah Payne is a Red.
Her crime: Murder.
And her victim, says the state of Texas
Was her unborn child.”

The book is set in Texas, but a very different from the Texas that we know now. In this Texas, they had a problem with massive overcrowding of the prisons, and they realised that it would be much easier (and cheaper) to let the criminals back into society. With one catch: melachroming. This means that, depending on the severity of the crime that you committed, your skin is be turned a different colour for the length of your sentence – making you a ‘Chrome’. Among others, yellow is for misdemeanor crimes, blue is for paedophiles and red is for murderers. Hannah, being convicted of abortion (illegal in this version of Texas) is sentenced to 16 years living as a ‘Red’. We learn that the reason for Hannah’s abortion is an affair with her married Pastor, and she went ahead with the procedure without telling him. No matter how much he tries to help her avoid the sentence, there’s nothing he can do.

After her release from the 30 days in jail while she becomes accustomed to the melachroming, she is released back into society and during a non too successful stint in a rehab ‘church’, she ends up frightened and alone with only her new friend Kayla (also a Red) for company. Life for a chrome is not easy, especially for a Red. Everyone knows the crime that you commited, and not all places are as tolerant as others. Chromes are tracked by the government so they are not allowed to leave the state. Any attempt to run away would result in ‘fragging’, caused when the melachroming starts to run out and will lead to eventual death. The only way to stop the ‘fragging’ is to return to be re-melachromed.

Just as Hannah and Kayla are about to be attacked by an extreme Christian organisation called The Fist, she is hurried into the back of a van by 3 strangers. They call themselves The Novembrists and they are a ‘feminist’ group determined to help women who have had abortions escape from the life of chroming. They are reluctant to include Kayla in their plans, as she was convicted of attempted murder and not for abortion, but they are persuaded by Hannah to keep her alive. Shielded from the view of the government by the Novembrists, they are now highly wanted by police and their only option is to escape to Canada where they can have the melachroming reversed and live a life of seclusion away from the authorities, never to see their friends and family again.

It is on this journey to Canada via members of the Novembrists group that things go wrong and Hannah and Kayla find themselves separated. Hannah has to find hidden strengths within herself, and she becomes a lot more like the person she always thought she could be, rather than the uber-conservative dummy that her parents had raised her to be. It’s a hair raising experience for Hannah as she battles to make it north to Canada, healing her demons along the way.

There were a few surprises that I didn’t expect from this storyline, and a few times I found myself having to cover the opposite page to stop my eyes from inadvertently wandering across in advance to the next page because the plot was unravelling so thick and fast that I just couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.

The book was very well written, and certainly had a lot thought put into it about the sensitive issue of abortion, and also the more general issue of crime and punishment. Melachroming seems like a cruel and unusual punishment now, but then again the death penalty is still in place in many states in America, and which is really worse?

I really would recommend this book, the subject matter was not an easy read, but the author did a very good job of making it all fit together and keep you wanting more. A definite 5/5.5-5