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Stewart M (Victoria, Australia)

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Goodbye to All That (Penguin Modern Classics)
Goodbye to All That (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Robert Graves
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Straightforward, horrific and honest, 25 Sep 2014
This is a book with a slow beginning, a somewhat draw out conclusion and an absolutely riveting core.

Written in wonderfully straightforward prose this is an account (mainly) of Robert Graves’s experience of the First World War. I say ‘mainly” because it is only the core of the book that deals with the war. The first part of the book deals with the authors background, and in many ways helps inform the core, but this section never as arresting as the account of life at the front.

The conclusion of the book also seems to lack the urgency of the middle section – this is hardly a surprise given the intensity of the experiences of combat.

As a result this slightly uneven book seems to take a while to become the classic it is thought to be, and then eventually winds down to a slightly unremarkable finish.

But there is not question that this book is worth reading for the better middle section alone. There is the meeting of well known names – Sassoon, Owen, Rivers – that make many of these accounts (factual and fictional) feel strangely overlapping.

Straightforward, stunning in its portrayal of the damage done, this is an honest account of life and death at the front. (Just don’t be put off by the slow start)

Highly recommended.

Heads and Straights: The Circle Line (Penguin Underground Lines)
Heads and Straights: The Circle Line (Penguin Underground Lines)
by Lucy Wadham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Needs Two reviews really, 22 Sep 2014
This is a book that needs two separate reviews – the first being a review of the book itself, and the second being a review of the book as part of a series about London Circle Line.

The book itself is a wonderfully honest account of growing up the (almost) youngest child in a family. Elder sisters have all kinds of adventures, many of which were neither legal nor healthy. The book is set in the 1980’s of Punk and Thatcher, and although this is a point of embarrassment, in Chelsea.

The ‘back story’ of the family is explored and it’s clear that a certain kind of rebellion is not unique to this period of history. The past illuminates and informs the present. The past moves through Africa, Wales and Australia.

Its worth reading this (short) book just for this story alone – and if I read this book as a ‘stand alone’ rather than as a part of series I would recommend it highly.

But the book is part of a series – and this brings on the second part of the review.

As a book in a series about the numerous different underground lines of London the book is a disappointment. Apart from being set partly in Chelsea, which is served by the Circle Line, the underground is almost absent from this book. I have read a number of books in the series and they are most definitely not all factual accounts of this line or that line. They manage to weave all kinds of histories around the rail line in a way that this book almost completely fails to do.

So, the story itself is 4 stars. The book as part of the series is only really worth two stars.

by John Gardner
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Earth rim walker seeks his meals……, 10 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Grendel (Hardcover)
Earth rim walker seeks his meals……

At first glance, a book that casts the monster from Beowulf, Grendel, as the central character may look like just another “revisionist” tale, or even one of the current crop of modern day / classic mash-ups.

But this book is far more than that.

Here Grendel is cast as a thinking monster, reacting to the myths spun by a harper – The Shaper – about him and the nature of the world.

The duality of fate and free will is what drives Grendel to do the things he does – violent things, terrible things, things The Shaper expects him to do. And while this happens, Heorot (the main target of Grendel’s rage) slays and slaughters his way to power. Here, again the duality of violence comes to the fore.

Now, if this sounds all a little too serious, the tone of the book is often (deliberately) punctured by Grendel’s turn of phrase, where he cynically comments on the world of men.

This is a splendid book, looking as it does at the power of myth and persuasion, and how these can impact on our view of the world.

Highly recommended.

The World of Birds
The World of Birds
by Jonathan Elphick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great addition to any birders library., 8 Sep 2014
This review is from: The World of Birds (Hardcover)
This is a truly splendid book, which is probably the best single introduction to the general biology of birds I have seen. I can’t claim to have read it from cover – its not that kind of book. But I have read the sections about my favourite groups of birds and dipped into many to the other parts in passing.

The book comes in three unequally sized parts – the first eight chapters are about broad aspects of bird biology, the 9th chapter is about “Birds and Humans” and the 10th chapter is an account of the bird families of the world. This final chapter makes up about ½ of the book.

If chapter nine – ie the interactions between humans are birds is you key interest you may be batter off looking at Birds and People by Mark Cocker.

However, the rest of the book is superb. Sure, a few of the pictures may be rather small, and they do need to be looked at in good light due to their size, but that’s a minor point. Equally, the book is rather too big to read in bed – although I tried – but (again) I don’t really think it’s that kind of book.

I would recommend this book very highly, especially to birders who are more interested in the birds themselves rather than the length of lists.

The 32 Stops: The Central Line (Penguin Underground Lines)
The 32 Stops: The Central Line (Penguin Underground Lines)
by Danny Dorling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars From West to East., 26 Aug 2014
This book examines how a whole range of “social indicators” – such as life expectancy and GCSE results – vary as you travel along London’s central line.

This is a rail line that runs in an arc from West to East through London. Taken as a (presumably mythical) journey over a single day, the aspects of life that vary along the line – and often between stops are looked at in two ways!

Firstly they are illustrated by dialogues between people who live in the area of the relevant tube station and secondly by brief reference to actual statistics.

I had a small problem with both of these – in the dialogues I did loose track a couple of times (no pun intended!) and felt like I was just ploughing on to find out what was going on.

The issue with the statistics is that the author admits that a few random events can alter the average of some of these values significantly for one year – in other words the stark differences between one place and another could actually be due to chance – but then never seems to tell us what time periods the statistics represent. If the statistics are long-term averages, they probably represent real difference – but the way they are presented leaves this open to question.

Now, I am not some form of stats geek – but I do know my way around a graph and I have to say I found this element of the book disappointing.

Equally, this is not to say that I did not enjoy reading the book – but I just kept having a little nagging question popping up at the back of my mind!

Recommended (just).

Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story
Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story
by Rob Dinnis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Living through the past, 19 Aug 2014
This is a really rather good book that lays out the current thinking about the history of human habitation in the UK.

This is really a story of repeated colonisation, retreat and re-colonisation in the face of changing climate.

One million years is an unimaginable sweep of time and it is remarkable to think that people have been walking the land that would become Britain for that length of time.

The story of humans in Britain is laid out clearly and concisely, but by virtue of its brevity this book can never been more than an introduction to the subject.

An aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the way in which our changing understanding of human evolution and expansion is clearly linked to an evolving and expanding evidence base. Knowledge changes with the acquisition of evidence, and this story is a decent enough case study of that idea.

I am not entirely sure this book stands on its own, without the need to visit the exhibition as well (hence the 4 stars), but if it does not, it comes very, very close.

I recommended both the book and the exhibition at the Natural History Museum.

Ice Station (The Scarecrow Series)
Ice Station (The Scarecrow Series)
by Matthew Reilly
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Ludicrous, but it dulled the pain of flying!, 13 Aug 2014
Right from the start I want it to be clear why I bought this book – it was to pass the time, in a reasonably entertaining, brain-light kind of a way, on a flight from Australia to the UK.

In that regard the book was a success. There were no periods of introspection from the characters, there was very little character development from the author, and there was an almost never-ending supply of action. In my opinion this is near perfect aeroplane fodder.

On almost any other level the plot of the book is ludicrous.

The central character is a Capt. Indestructible US Marine, sent on a mission that is uncertain and rapidly compromised. Once the mission goes pear shaped it’s an almost endless firefight.

The most interesting part of the book – those about the less than honest relationship on a strategic level between the USA and her allies – is never really explored. I assume that could because of the lack of gun-play in diplomatic meetings!

If you are prepared to forgive some rather silly plot develops and some even sillier “science” then this is a fast paced read that neatly ties up all of the loose ends and does not deal with anything vaguely ambiguous.

On a different note, I was struck by the apparent similarity between the plot of the opening section of the book and the film “Aliens” – and I would interested to find out if anybody noticed this.

Having said all this – the truth of the matter is I may well buy another of the books in the series the next time I have a long flight, as it did the job I bought it for.

World War One: History in an Hour
World War One: History in an Hour
by Rupert Colley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.40

4.0 out of 5 stars Short, but relevant, 10 Aug 2014
As would be expected from the title, this book is a simple and straightforward account of the history of World War One.

Any historical account that renders years of complex conflict into one hour of reading is, by definition, going to have to take a few short cuts and render the complicated simple.

But is this a problem?

In this case I think not. The aim of this book seems to be to provide a simple narrative that allows the reader to grasp the way in which the events of the war developed, without have to wade through pages of fine print analysis.

In my opinion, this book would be an excellent “first read” about WW1, giving the reader enough of a framework to move on to move complex studies. If you are like me, I much prefer to know (vaguely) where I am going when I read history – and I wish I had read this book before I had ventured into some of the longer ones I have read.

In summary, a simple introduction, which given the current memorial events deserves to be widely read.

The Blue Riband: The Piccadilly Line (Penguin Underground Lines)
The Blue Riband: The Piccadilly Line (Penguin Underground Lines)
by Peter York
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Round and Round and Round the Piccadilly Line, 23 Jun 2014
This book is about the Piccadilly Line, or more accurately, the type of houses and people who live in the areas of London served by this line.

It’s pointed out that there is more premium real estate along this line –residential, commercial and tourist – than any other on London. And then that point is made again. And again. And again.

The ebbs and flows of who lives where, what job they do, what country they come from and how rich they are is explained. And then explained again. And again. And then, just once more for luck.

As you may have gathered I found this book a little repetitive. And I have to say I also found the authors habit of littering his sentences with italics annoying as well!

While the book may have some interest to those who wish to chart the more recent changes in the demographics of London, I would suggest that more widely focused readers might wonder why they keep turning the pages.

The whole tone was a little too snug, a little too self referential and just too repetitive.

I have enjoyed a number of the other books in this series, but would suggest you start elsewhere on your journey through this collection of tube books.

Waterlight: Selected Poems
Waterlight: Selected Poems
by Kathleen Jamie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.60

5.0 out of 5 stars Could turn me from prose to poetry, 20 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am not a natural reader of poetry. I came to this book through the wonderful prose books of the author.

Her prose is marked by a remarkable ability to see and render detail in clear and precise language.

If anything, the poems take this ability even further.

As the book progressed the poems became longer and more complex and I missed the simple, but accurate word picture painting of the shorter verses.

Maybe I was not ready for multi-page poems, but the early pages of the book are filled with remarkable images and turns of phrase.

If ever a book was to direct me towards more poetry, I think it could be this one.

Highly recommended.

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