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Just Read…

…Early Riser

Jasper Fforde really pushes out the SciFi / Fantasy / Dystopia genre with this one. An alternative UK where nothing is quite as it seems and extreme winters that mean that humans hibernate.
This new environment means that everyone has to gain weight to survive the winter, and being to thin is seen as very socially undesirable. I should fit right in! I’m not so sure about the comparatively lo-tech alternative though. Early Riser almost has a Terry Pratchett Discworld feel to it and keeps you guessing to the end with lots of questions raised that are wrapped up neatly. This is somewhat disappointing as it leaves no room for a sequel to this stand-alone masterpiece of story-telling, but it is rather refreshing in this age of a trilogy is not enough novel series.Early Riser Cover

There is one quote that I wanted to pull out, that calls itself out as being paraphrased from someone else but I can’t find a source with my meagre Google-Fu:

“If you can’t have change without injustice, then there should be no change”

…The Stone Gods

Wow, Jeanette Winterson takes us on a roller coaster ride with The Stone Gods. Three interlinked stories that left me wanting just a little bit more, and keeps us guessing.

Winterson The Stone Gods

Dystopian sci-fi at it’s best, written in 2007, there is a fair amount of foreshadowing of our current detached political environment. There is also a stark warning of the effects of ignoring the environment.

“Human beings aren’t just in a mess, we are a mess. We have made every mistake, justified ourselves, and made the same mistakes again and again. It’s as though we are doomed to repetition.”

Sure there are awkward passages, and the transition between the three sections is a little difficult but the final tie-up makes it all worthwhile.

…Tuesdays with Morrie

These brief reviews never seem to happen as often as they could. But then along comes a stand-out like Mich Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie is one of those books. I must admit that I approached the novel with some trepidation as I had seen and enjoyed the movie quite some time ago, and was not sure if this could match that experience.

As it happens, I should not have worried. This could easily have been a depressing downward spiral as Morrie gradually loses control of his body to Lou Gehrig’s disease [^], a form of motor neurone disease. Instead this is a celebration of a life and if anything a tale of defiant survival. This comes through a series of lessons taught by Morrie and reminiscences by Mitch that we can all learn from, told against a background of the OJ Simpson murder trial.

“In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right? … But here’s the secret: in between, we need others as well.”

Thankfully the novel more than lived-up to my expectations, and it will stay in my book collection. There are so many pearls of wisdom packed into such a small volume, and it is so easy to just pick-up and read.

Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom - Affiliate Link

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

A few weeks ago I said that this is going to be the next book that I read; and I have just finished it. It was something that I had put off for a long time, and I don’t know why. I found the whole book engrossing; even knowing what happens in the end.

anne frank coverIt is amazing that a group of eight people could survive two years in such cramped captivity. This is especially so when you consider the personalities that Anne so vividly portrays. Anne takes us through the cycles of optimism, depression and fear that the group experience and not always at the same time. It’s hard not to get caught up in all the emotion.

The thing that I found most telling was the fact that these captives were well aware of their fate if they were found in hiding, and the likely fate of their “free” friends. Imagine having to live with that thought everyday for two years, and still try to carry on as normal a life as possible!

In my earlier post I said that this is a story that needs to be told. Well, it is told and well told. But, telling isn’t enough; as Rui said [^] this is a story that matters. This is a story that needs to be heard, explained, understood and discussed. Anne’s story chronicles a dark period in mankind’s history. But it is not a time that we can afford to forget, no matter how distressing the subject matter. As George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, and no-one would want to see a repeat of the holocaust.

Anne says in her diary that she doesn’t want an ordinary life once the war is over:

“I need to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to! I don’t want want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I have never met. I want to go on living even after my death! …When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that’s a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?” 
The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank, 5th April 1944.

In some ways that wish has come true. Anne you have written something great and brought more enjoyment and suspense to more than you could have imagined. What a great gift to the world this girl’s diary has been.

There is one thing that this leaves me wanting, and that is to find out what life was like for the Miep Gies, Bep and the others hiding the Franks, van Daans and Dussel. If you know of any books please let me know in the comments.

…"All in a Day’s Work: Life on the GWR": Tim Bryan


It has been said that Time heals all wound.  With that in mind, it is easy to look back on the events of past with a certain degree of nostalgia or romanticism.  The Great Western Railway (GWR) was an organisation that demanded staff loyalty, and for the most part earned the grudging respect of their servants. 

Tim Bryan manages to avoid romanticism in this survey of some the jobs people were employed in by the company.  The diversity of the roles in the various operational areas of the Great Western are truly amazing – from manufacturing to clearance diving.  These were the days when occupational health and safety were in their infancy; death or permanent disability at work was a very real possibility.  It wasn’t without reason that the Railway’s Workshops at Swindon was one of the best prosthetic makers in the country.

"All in a Day’s Work" doesn’t just concentrate on the glamour of the footplate, the place that every young boy wanted to work, and possibly the highest status blue collar job of the time.  Being an engine driver may have been a top job, but it came after a hell of an apprenticeship – at least five years as an cleaner and a minimum of ten years working as a fireman.  Once a fireman had made it on the "Top Link" it was back to the shunting links as driver.

I can’t say that this is no-hold’s barred view, but it does give us some idea of the day-to-day pressures of life on the GWR.