Category: Uncategorized


The Secret History

 by Donna Tartt
 
I read this for 30. A book with characters who are twins. And by read I mean listened to.
 
This book went on and on, and bloody on.
I got bored at least twice, and got irritated by the author. And then the story would get engaging again and I’d be happily listening once more. Had I been actually reading I am not sure I would have got past the first third of the book.
 
That being said, once the story played out, I was glad to have stuck with it. It just felt like it was so swathed in unnecessary detail and what felt like Tartt showing off her knowledge or research skills, the actual story and the flashes of wonderful writing were lost to me.
 
So yeah, I’m a bit mixed when it comes to this book. I won’t be dashing off to read another Tartt just yet, but maybe in the future. Seems unfair to judge an author on their first novel when they have gone on the write so many more.
 
Or maybe she’s just not for me.
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Hacked

 by Fiona Snyckers
 
This is my read for book 34. A book that’s published in 2018.
 
In this, the first of a series of books to be produced with the same protagonists, we are introduced to Eulalie Park, her friends and family, her home, and, most importantly, the way she works.
 
In this single book there are three crimes she deals with and helps to solve all while establishing a relationship with the police, balancing her past and her present, and possibly even quite fancying a rather delicious, if slightly odd sounding, man. Throw in a sex club, a slightly interfering granny and some mad skillz, and you have Eulalie in Hacked.
 
All of this activity makes this book easy and enjoyable to read. It is not cluttered, but it is full. In this story Eulalie investigates the murder of a prominent businessman in order to clear her best friend of suspicion. This investigation takes her to some interesting places, often by rather unique methods. The crime and its solving are very plausible. I do hate it when authors throw in some random thing at the end the reader had no way of knowing in order to make the ending unexpected. Snyckers does not patronise her reader in this way. I had worked out what had probably happened about midway through the book, but there were enough other things going on for it not to matter. Also, the reading was so enjoyable I wanted to finish the book anyway. The solving of the crime was only part of the enjoyment of this book.
 
Besides the action and crime, I so respected the obvious research done by Snyckers. If a community is to be used in a work of fiction, I think it essential that it be portrayed accurately and with integrity. And Snyckers does this with the B&D community she involves. It shows an authenticity the reader has to respect.
 
Eulalie is a likeable character and I am certainly interested enough in her complexities to be looking forward to the next book. Because this is a complete book (no cliffhangers here!) I am hoping that as the series progresses so do the characters and the readers knowledge of their pasts. It feels a bit like I have met someone I quite like and am looking forward to getting to know her better.
 
And I know that the getting to know Eulalie is going to involve some fun adventures.
 
What a wonderful thing to be looking forward to. Get writing Ms Snycker – I really want to hang out with Eulalie again.

By C.S. Lewis

This is my book for Book 26. A book with an animal in the title

I read it because, although I know the book and get references to it and could probably con even myself I have read it, I don’t think I ever did. I seem to have missed a chunk of children’s book in my youth – I think I jumped from Famous Five to adult books because that’s the gap I have.

This book has been reviewed so often it makes little sense to talk about what its about in this note. We all know the story, even those of us who hadn’t actually read the book. And we all know the Christianity allegory etc etc.

What I found interesting to notice, and really mind, is the sexism in this book. I know it is not unusual for its time, but it is a clear indicator that we need more modern kid’s books for the children of today. The boys are Magnificent and Just while the girls grow up to be Gentle and Valiant; the boys go to battle and the girls administer cure-all drops to the injured men-folk, the girls cry over dead Aslan because, I assume, boy tears wouldn’t mean the same in terms of empathy.

The only strong female character is of course, evil.

What were we telling children in their bedtime stories in the 50s and beyond? I wish that this was some kind of weird historical example of what books used to be like, but sadly its not. These are the messages we continue to read to children. And then wonder why boys grow up entitled and girls grow up apologetic.

It really is time for more kid’s books that empower girls and tell boys it is okay to feel emotions. Everyone wins when we get there.

by Cynthia Owen

This was my book for Book 2: True Crime

Harrowing
How people survive what Cynthia did is beyond me. And then they become valuable, kind, caring human beings.
It’s amazing

That people do this kind of things to each other, to children, to their own children just floors me.

I am speechless

by Kenneth de Kok

This is one of many books I will read that will fill the requirement for Book 20. A book by a local author. I plan to read lots of South African and African authors this year.

This little book certainly took me right back to my childhood and dropped me, barefoot, dusty faced and sun burnt into South Africa’s past.

Behind the memory land of a simpler time (for white South Africans) always must lie the knowledge of what was really going on.

de Kok speaks of the undercurrent as observed by a child. The danger when reading this book is to wax lyrical about how wonderful life was then, when for so many of the sub-characters in this book, it was truly monstrous. The reader can see, if she looks carefully between the lines, the things that so many of us, when looking back at our childhoods in South Africa, now view with squinted eyes and a sense of ‘how did we not realise’. Like de Kok, I too remember news reports that spoke to so many dead people, and five blacks. I too remember domestic workers seemingly up all the time, ready to meet the family’s needs. And like de Kok, I didn’t know what it all meant when I was 8 or 9, but certainly do now.

I think that hidden within this memoir, this recalling of a childhood written after a father’s death, is a much larger story de Kok is leaving for the South African white reader of a similar age to remember and create.

The reader can decide if this is commentary or a gentle memoir of a dusty childhood.

By: Alfred Lansing

Narrated by: Simon Prebble

Wow! Just wow. This book is the reason I do these challenges. At first I thought it was about walking to the South Pole and thought I could count it as my book about sport, but I soon realised that that was not what it was about. And I didn’t care. I was so caught up in the story  I just kept listening.

The story written by Lansing is gripping and human and amazing, and Prebble narrates it perfectly.

I felt like someone was telling me an amazing story as opposed to reading one to me.

I caught myself holding my breath and making soothing or shocked noises as the story unfolded. Seldom as an adult have I been so caught up in a tale. I may even have put an extra layer of clothing on because the description of the cold the men was feeling literally made me chilly.

The story is about how Shackleton and his crew survived for over a year on ice, with almost no supplies, wet sleeping bags, broken or missing equipment and no real reason to even believe they’d survive.

Just crazy stuff these men survived. Incredible.

Well worth a listen , and I am sure, a read too.

I am counting it as Book 25. A book set at sea.

by Aldous Huxley

I have been meaning to read this book for years so it is Book 37. A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to.

I audiobooked this book and I am not sure that was the best idea.
I drifted between being really enthralled by Huxley’s ideas and loving his satirical poke at the cost of a ‘perfect’ society, and thinking it was really rather tedious and pointless. Maybe had I been reading rather listening this would not have happened. But I have tried to read it a few times and drifted off to other books so maybe its just not a good match – this book and I.

However, when I was enjoying the book, I really enjoyed it. I think the world Huxley created in the 30s is interesting and not completely implausible now. I really liked the revelation of the Director’s attitude towards the islands of banishment – showing, perhaps, that no one in society actually believes in the rules and mores of society, but rather choses to follow them for ease of life.

Even in a perfectly created world, in one where humans are designed and drugged and controlled – even then individual thoughts will occur. The human spirit will out.

That’s what I got from this book.

by Agatha Christie

I read this as the book set in the decade I was born – Book 36.

I have never read a Christie and this is not a typical one. No whodunit, no Miss Marple and no Poirot.

Instead a chilling, cold, calculated thriller with a twist I did no see coming, despite expecting one.

The story is about a poor man who marries a rich woman and they build their dream house. This goes wonky eventually but explaining what and how would be a terrible spoiler.

But what the book is really about is greed and love, murder and betrayal. Christie takes you down a not unfamiliar path – until she turns you around and you are not where you thought you were.

Most of the book is spent creating the world in which the actual story takes place at the end.

I will say no more – just go and read this

That is was published in 1967 is evident only in how much £300 is considered, in how woman are thought to need looking after and the now unacceptable way of referring to travelling people as gypsies in derogatory and stereotypical ways.

Beyond that, the themes, passions and events of the story are as relevant today as they were then. I felt occasionally that I could be reading a Barbara Vine or any other author creating twisted tales of undesirable human nature.

Well worth the time it took to read this 300 page book.

I really did like it.

So, I’ve been a vegan for a week and it doesn’t feel like a decision I had to make or a lifestyle I now have to follow, but rather just what and how I am supposed to be. But that may be because I am in the honeymoon phase and all these replacement/additional/delicious meal options are exciting, shiny and new.

In a week/month/year I may be gagging for bacon, desperate for a chop or dreaming about biltong. (This is what happened when I did the vegetarian thing for a year previously.)

If that happens, I will deal with it then. It certainly doesn’t mean that my feeling of rightness now is any less valuable or real.

 

But why? I am asked. In the name off all red and meaty (and delicious) WHY?

 

Well, there is a MEAL of reasons.

 

Me

I don’t want to consume all of the antibiotics and other bits and pieces injected and fed into animals bred for slaughter.

I think there is a correlation between many cancers and eating animals.

My body does not like vast amounts of meat and other flesh – my stomach rebels, I feel sluggish and tired, I am always hungry.

When I tried banting, which is animal eating in the extreme, I got eczema and gastritis. I know I don’t need to eat that much meat and animal products, but the fact that this was my body’s response made me question wanting to put any of it in my body at all.

 

Earth

The carbon footprint of animal products for eating is just ridiculously massive.

Grass fed, organic-style animals have a bigger footprint that feedlot ones. So, so much for that being the response to me not wanting antibiotics etc.

The Earth cannot sustain us – there are too many of us consuming too much. Eating plantbased meals simply and easily reduces my carbon footprint.

 

Animal Lives

This is the actual, real, final reason I just couldn’t eat flesh and other animal products any more. (Because let’s not pretend animals bred for products other than meat are treated any better than those slaughters to eat.)

 

It’s a story so settle down – no gruesome crying piglet images, I promise (except the one I just put in your head).

 

In April 2016 I made a series of decisions which resulted in my beautiful dog Pippa being hit and killed by a car. I didn’t do it on purpose but as the human in the relationship, it was my fault. I let her do something which directly and specifically resulting in her being hit by the car. So yes, it was my fault.

And her death agonises me still. I dream about her, I miss her, I feel so guilty that I made decisions which resulted in her death.

 

And yet I was happy to get up and chose to eat bacon for breakfast and not even think about the animal I was killing with that decisions. I’d buy wors and chops and steak for a braai and never even consider the farmyard I was sending to their death. Eggs, milk, cream and cheese – yum yum and screw the animals kept in captivity, treated like crap, separated from their mothers when still needing her milk, slaughtered at birth if male, and finally, possibly mercifully, killed

 

Why do we think some animals are worth loving and protecting while others are commodities to be treated appallingly and then destroyed?

 

We don’t need animal products to be healthy; in fact, we may well be healthier without them.

 

So, yeah, that’s why I am just not going to consume anything an animal suffered to produce.

Cos those random cows, lambs, sheep, chicken and even fish deserve life as much as Pippa did.

 

Also – I watched Food Choices on Netflix which actually consolidated all of these thoughts.

Watch it – it’s not even gruesome, just eye-opening

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What an amazing collection of stories from a truly incredible author. Adichie shows the reader, through these 12 stories, so many of the stories of Nigeria and Nigerians. From women living in America, separate from their Big Man husbands to students hiding in empty shop front to escape from a riot these stories tell a multitude of vibrant, real and often heart-breaking realties.

Africa is so present in all the stories, possibly especially those of Africans in America. Adichie tells it as it is, no sugar-coating or misty-eyed out of focus view. She addresses the fear and loneliness of immigrants as well as the pride and strength they have. She looks at the connections between loved ones and those lost, and makes the protagonist, and therefore also the reader, examine preconceptions and opinions.

These stories will grab you and suck you in; make you want to know more and wish that each were part of a full novel about the characters. Each story is complete, but they did leave me yearning to know more of the people. I wanted their past and future – I wanted to demand to know more, dammit!

Adichie is all she is cracked up to be – I feel so lucky to be an aware, developing feminist reader at the time she is producing.

A note: when I first started reading this book I didn’t realise it was a series of stories. So I read the first few stories as though they were chapters in a book, storylines that would join up eventually. As soon as I did work out that this was not the case it was worth going back and rereading the first few stories as complete pieces. And I realised how differently short stories require the reader read.

1 million stars out of 10