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by Ben Elton

I read this as Book 49. A book about a problem facing society today.

In Blind Faith Elton deals with so many of the issues facing society and humanity – lack of online privacy, over-sharing, status chasing, anti-vaccination nonsense, global warming and the threat of rising sea-levels, religion and….blind faith.

Trafford Sewell lives, like everyone else in this awful future world, in a sludge of slow moving sheep, slogging from one place to another in a mass of semi-naked humanity. Society insists that everything is blessed and wonderful and to be celebrated, all human behaviour is glorious and to be shared. So public eating in encouraged, whispered conversations are suspect, and the streaming of sex tapes and recordings of every moment of everyone’s lives is available online, all the time. And all Trafford wants is a little privacy.

But wanting a little of what is not allowed is bound to lead to all sorts of other desires and complications. Trafford’s life becomes so much more interesting and so much more dangerous as soon as he even vaguely admits his desire for more – or is that less?

I thought this an interesting satirical look at a possible world. At times it is very funny and at others, rather chilling. Like all good dystopia fiction it seems to sail very close to what seemed inconceivable moments ago and now seems not entirely unlikely. A measles epidemic killing scores of kids – surely not. Ten years ago, impossible. Now – many people would think it is inevitable in the not-to-distant future.

Elton manages to send society forward on a path not entirely unlikely.

You may laugh, you may be annoyed, you may even grimace. But what you will surely do is think. And possibly be a little afraid next time you see a celebrity over share and be fawned over by a multitude of fans for doing so.

In Elton’s book, there go all of us eventually.

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by Erika Swyler

I listened to the audio book of this title for Book 39. A book that involves a bookstore or library.

I really liked this book. I had read reviews in which readers said they could not connect to or relate to the protagonists, especially Simon, but I found him very relatable, and very human.

Simon is a librarian living in a slowly crumbling house and a parallel life, in many ways. He receives a book from a stranger and begins to read and unravel the mysteries within.

The book he is sent is a wonderfully old tome, a history of a travelling fair, or probably a fayre actually.

The Book of Speculation is a telling both of Simon’s experience of the book he is sent, and the story within that book.

It is also about family and how we define that word, of connections made and lost, and of love in myriad forms and expressions.

Simon’s family is formed, reformed, broken down and reconstructed in this emotionally honest story.

This book is also very well-constructed and kept me engaged throughout. I was equally fascinated by the story in the book, and the story in the book in the book. Each time the narrative changed I felt like I was returning to friends I had missed ever so slightly, much as I had enjoyed the ones I was with.

The end gallops forward and I listened breathlessly, hands in soapy water, staring out of the kitchen window, task at hand forgotten.

A thoroughly enjoyable audio book which I am completely sure would be just as delightful to read.

by Mike McClelland

This is the book I read for Book 12. A book with an LGBTQ+ protagonist.

This book is a collection of short stories which range from space to Mombasa, from sweaty bars in South America to elegant country estates. In all the stories, the protagonists are searching for something – love, connection, status, or social standing. And they all happen to be gay.

The humanity of each character and story is what McClelland creates so perfectly. Each story and situation is completely real as you read it. He manages not only to tell unique stories, but to tell each of them in a suitable and appropriate way. His language use changes, his sentence structure shortens or lengthens, his very style matches the story perfectly. This kind of skill and attention to detail adds a dimension to these stories you may not notice until you realise how deeply each crawls into you.

The love and human connection each character seeks, or rejects, links the writer, the characters and the reader – the very humanness of us all is so evident it is palpable.

Loved these stories.

by Seth Grahame-Smith

This is my book for Book 47. A book by an author with the same first or last name as you. Zadie Smith was to easy a choice so I decided to go outside of my predictable set of authors.

And I am so glad I did.

I loved this book. It’s fun and silly and it’s not about vampire that sparkle in the daylight and want to have sex with inappropriately young people. So that was a nice change.

As I went along I googled a lot of the characters and events and it would seem this book is pretty historically sound, minus the vampire bit (probably!).

It did interest me enough to want to know more about Lincoln so I may even read a non-vampire including biography at some stage. I have seen a lot of rather annoyed reactions from Americans saying it is not cool to mess with the memory of so great a man. I say calm down. It’s just a creative, irreverent bit of fun vaguely at the expense of Lincoln but nothing that could possibly be taken seriously enough to tarnish his reputation.

It’s vampires for goodness sake!

East fun read that will make you smile and may even pique your interest in the great man.

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 Maxine Case

This is my choice for Book 45: A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title.

I LOVED this book. It spans decades and tells the stories of a Dutch settler in the Cape in the 18th Century, and one of his slaves, Lena.

Geert Baardwijk is a rich man living the relatively easy life the Dutch had in the Cape. Lena is a young woman, sold into slavery by the chief of her village in Madagascar. We are led to their interactions through the telling of their individual stories.  I loved this part of the book because so few of us are aware of the lives slaves and indentured workers had before they became someone’s property. It is important that we remember and remain aware of the facts of this part of South African history.

South Africa did not start on 1652 as so many of us learnt at school. The Dutch did not sail in to rescue this land and its people from a lack of civilisation. And they only succeeded in creating a settlement through the hard work of people who hardly benefited at all.

All of this is in this book, but then so is love and guilt, emotional conflict and confusion. The characters are multi-dimensional and even ‘bad’ acts can be seen in the light of the times. Weak people do not go against society regardless of how they feel. And strong people will always survive.

This book also looks at love and betrayal, expectation and ownership. It is just full of wonderful themes and in the middle of all of that, delivers an interesting history lesson too.

As a South African I think this book is so important. While Case acknowledges that she could find record of Baardwijk quite easily, there is no record of Lena. This in itself is so telling.

As a result, Lena’s story is not the story of a specific slave but the story of so many. Lena is a character in Case’s family history but the journey she took to land up where she did was a journey similar to that forced upon so many people.

Every South African should read books like this to realise the depths of the system we are trying to move past. When white South Africans say it’s been 25 years, get over it – I wish they remembered that 300 years ago one set of our ancestors was buying and selling the ancestors of other members of the population.

A wonderful book on so many levels. Just beautiful.

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.

by John Green and David Levithan

This is my book for one written by two authors – Book 18

What a wonderful book that left me grinning and feeling fabulous. It’s a YA book I guess, in that the characters are teenagers, but I don’t read much YA so I am not sure if that’s the criterion.

Anyway, the titular Will Graysons are two teenager boys with the same name who tell their own stories, each written by a different author.

Each chapter is a different boy’s story and the reader sees their lives rolling out until they collide. And when they do it is simply marvellous.

The supporting cast of characters are wonderful and the kind of people you wanted to know as a teenager. Their lives are messy and complicated but ultimately positive, like those of most teenagers.

The characters were believable as teenagers even as they dealt with some pretty grown up stuff – mental health, sexuality, loneliness, love, friendship, betrayal and musicals!

This book is about love and friendship, and song and forgiveness. It’s an absolute delight that I read over two days, ignoring all my chores and other responsibilities.

5 stars all the way!

by Bret Easton Ellis

This is my anti-hero book for the book challenge – Book 9

And boy is Bateman ever an anti-hero.

So much has been written about this book I think the only valuable comment I could make is my emotional reaction to it

It made me sad. Really really sad. Mostly for Bateman but also for all the invisible interchangeable people in the society.

I did the expected and predictable eeeeuw and shudder when reading some of the scenes, and I really was bothered by the casual abuse of animals but still, my over-riding emotion was not disgust or horror, but sadness.

All Bateman wanted to do was connect, to be seen and to see. And of course he was off his bloody rocker in a very real and scary way – but the vulnerability under his violence is what continues to haunt me, rather than his violence.

Even his obsession with what people wore waned towards the end of the book, growing less detailed.

The scene in the Hamptons made me want to weep for him – he says he tried so hard to be normal, to do normal things like play tennis and hike – and then ate scavenged sea life in the middle of the night. No one doing that is having fun – that’s a horrible internal torture.

What happens to a little boy that he turns into Patrick Bateman?
And how does a society exist in which people like him get lost in the mass of humanity? No one listened to him – and he told everyone over and over again.

It’s not fantasy to have people fall so completely through the cracks of society – it happens all the time. How much do we not listen to the cries of help from others because it may interfere with our lives?

Is one madman to blame or are we all, as members of society?

This book has really disturbed me but not for the reasons and in the way I expected from reading other reviews and comments. I am sad and ashamed of society for all the real Batemans who never are seen or helped until their lives spiral out of control and into deaths.

A most profound book.