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In this short book, renowned psychologist Susie Orbach discusses how our bodies have become a commodity, something to be altered by surgery, weight loss, make up, etc. Social media has reinforced ideas of the perfect body, and anyone who doesn’t have one (i.e., most of us) is made to feel that it is our fault and that we need to change it to be accepted. Our body is no longer somewhere to live from, but a commodity to prove our worth in the world. In Scandinavia, women who think they are too tall are having their femur broken and reset to make them shorter; in China, people who think they are too short can have a metal rod inserted to make them taller; women are having plastic surgery to shrink their waist and enlarge their breasts, while men are having surgery to increase the length and girth of their penis. Something has gone very askew in the way we view our own bodies.

Orbach also examines extreme cases such as Andrew, a physically healthy man who felt that he could only be happy if he had his legs amputated, and she looks at the psychology behind such stories.

It’s a short book at 145 pages and is something of an introduction to the ideas contained within, rather than a full scale investigation, but it makes for fascinating reading, talking about how the dieting industry is based on failure and plays on people’s insecurities. This is a book to make you think, it’s a book to make you angry, and it’s a book that everyone should read. Fascinating and highly recommended.

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A disparate group of five students are given detention and only four of them walk out alive. Somebody killed Simon Kelleher while he was in the room and as the investigation gets underway, it turns out that each of the other students had something to hide…and Simon not only knew all of their secrets, but was planning to reveal them on his on his gossip app.

Although this book is marketed as Young Adult, I am certainly WAY past that category and I really enjoyed it. People like me who remember classic 80s movies may well remember The Breakfast Club, and it is difficult not to draw comparisons between the premise of that movie and the initial backdrop to this book. However, the story here is a lot darker – as all four students are investigated for the murder, it turns out that each of them had reason to want Simon dead.

I really enjoyed the story, and while I have no intention of revealing the ending, I will say that it came as a complete surprise and I certainly wouldn’t have guessed it.

If you like mysteries and dramas (this is more of a drama than a thriller), then I would recommend this book, no matter what your age.

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If you knew your future…would you want to change it?

Jess Mount logs onto Facebook one day, and is horrified to see tributes to her posted from 18 months in the future, suggesting that she has died. Is there some kind of magic at work? It is an evil prank, or is Jess losing her mind? As she falls into a whirlwind romance with a new boyfriend, she hurtles towards her seemingly unstoppable fate and wonders if she can do something to change it. But when her timeline shows her that she has a child and she falls in love with her future son, she wonders if she even wants to change the future…

I thought this book had a really interesting premise and started out well. I would definitely say that the writing flowed well and made it an easy read despite some of the subject matter. However, I started to get annoyed with Jess quite early on, especially as all the important plot points were so clearly signposted and there were so many obvious things she could have done, but didn’t even think about (if and when you read this book, that sentence will make so much more sense!) I’m not sure that we ever really got to know Jess or her new boyfriend Lee, which made it harder to empathise with her. The story is told mainly from Jess’s point of view, with the occasional chapter written from the point of view of Lee’s mom Angela (who I couldn’t stand). There were also the Facebook posts and private messages, which somehow didn’t work for me; it was clear that they were there to fill in details for the reader, which meant that people said things that simply did not ring true. Intermittently, there were chapters from 2008 – eight years before the book is set – which take place just after Jess’s mother passed away, and I’m not sure what these added to the plot or if they were even necessary.

Most annoying to me was the fact that the Facebook posts were never explained. This just felt like laziness on the part of the author, and the ending was so quick that it felt rushed out.

I wouldn’t say I hated this book – I’d probably try another book by the same author – but I don’t feel that it lived up to it’s early promise.

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In 2009, journalist Susan Mauhart came to the realisation that her three children – and herself – were over-consuming screen media (tv. computer games, and predominantly the internet). In fact they were positively inhaling it. Fed up of conversations with the backs of their heads, and not being able to do anything as a family because all they all wanted to do was get back to their screens, she imposed a six month moratorium on all screen related media. This book is a journal of those six months as well as studies and observations about the effect of media – particularly social networks – on individuals, and the knock-on effect on family.

The effect on the family are perhaps not unexpected. After the initial shock, the family began to spend more time together, enjoyed lingering family meals where they would talk – genuinely talk – about their day, and they took up new interests (or resurrected old ones). But despite being able to guess pretty much how the family dynamic would change, this book did make it’s point very well. And bear in mind this experiment was in 2009!! Facebook was big but only five years old – and MySpace was still hugely popular. Twitter was just three years old, and neither Instagram nor Pinterest had even been invented. So as obsessed as Susan’s three teenage children – Anni, Bill and Sussy – seemed to be, it was probably nothing compared to the kind of thing you see everywhere today – people of ALL ages walking round, head down, glued to the phone. People sitting in restaurants together, but both distracted by their own screens. Even the rate of people getting knocked over in traffic has risen year over year since 2013, because of what is known as the ‘head-down generation’ – people crossing the road while looking at their screens instead of traffic.

So this book does provide food for thought, taking into account the effect of too much screen time on babies and toddlers as well as older children and teenagers. I personally found Maushart’s writing style to be witty and engaging, and this made it an easy read. As she herself observes, when writing about social media, everything is out of date almost as soon as it’s printed, and this is writing about something that happened eight years ago, but the point it makes is still valid.

For anyone interested in the effect of social media, I would recommend this book.

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Leila is a lonely woman in her early 20s.  She is smart and resourceful, but when it comes to social skills, or any kind of a social life, she is sorely lacking.  Her mother has recently died due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis, and it is clear that she and Leila had a close, almost suffocating relationship.  Leila finds solace in an internet site called Red Pill – a forum for philosophical debate and discussion, run by Adrian Dervish.  Leila is flattered when Adrian contacts her directly and asks for her help in an unusual project.  He has a friend called Tess, who is desperate to commit suicide, but wants to spare her family and friends the pain of dealing with it, so the idea is that Leila will learn all about Tess’s life, history and relationships, and after Tess “checks out,” Leila will maintain an online presence as Tess (updating her Facebook, answering her emails etc.) to keep the truth of Tess’s death from those who know her.

The story is told in flashback, with Leila narrating.  Some time has passed since Project Tess (as Leila refers to it), and Leila is now at a commune in Spain, trying to work out what happened to Tess.  However, the main bulk of the story revolves around Project Tess, and I don’t want to say too much about the specifics, for fear of revealing spoilers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was really drawn into the story.  Naturally the idea behind Project Tess seemed ludicrous – how on earth was it going to work long-term?  Surely her family would want or expect to see Tess at some point?  However, as the story is told from Leila’s point of view, her own solutions for dealing with such problems are explained.

Leila was very well drawn, and I alternated from feeling sympathetic towards her, to being frustrated, and at times incredulous – not at the storyline, but at Leila herself.  She is a mass of contradictions – being so naive in some ways, but in other ways perfectly describing situations and people with cringe-inducing bluntness.  And she did make me wince, literally so in one particular scene in a bar in Shoreditch, in which I felt totally embarrassed for her.

The book does obviously touch on the subject of someone’s right to die, but is more detailed in its exploration of how people behave online.  Near the beginning of the story, Leila talks about how people she went to school with behave on Facebook, and many of things she notes are amusingly familiar.  The question of whether it is right to assist, either directly or indirectly, someone who wants to kill themselves, is an obvious theme, although Leila does not question herself with regard to her own beliefs.

I thought the book was beautifully written, and flowed easily.  As well as Leila, Tess was also a very believable character, and was brought to life (no pun intended) by both the author, and Leila, posing as Tess.  If you like psychological dramas, and don’t mind reading about a cast of largely unlikeable people, then I would definitely recommend this book.  It gets five stars from me for sheer enjoyment, and as this is Lottie Moggach’s debut novel, I look forward to reading more by her in future.

 

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