Game of Thrones – George RR Martin

This book has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read since the TV series was announced but I’ve never quite summonsed the enthusiasm to actually read until now! It wasn’t helped by a) not being able to see the TV series as it was released because we don’t have the requisite Sky box or whatever and b) being bought the box set of the first series and being bored by mid-way through episode 2!

Anyway, I was looking for a book to read on the bus on the way into work, randomly selected one and started to read.

I would describe this book as a good, brainless page-turner. It’s a book to read when you don’t want to have to think after a busy day at work or when you’re stretched out on the beach or by the pool on holiday.

It is, loosely, a tale of dynastic ambition in a fantasy world akin to the European Middle Ages. Friendships, vows and oaths are made and broken and lots of horrible things happen to the nice-ish people as well as the horrible ones. The horribleness all got a bit boring. Couldn’t one person have a nice time or a nice life?

If I can borrow them or pick them up cheaply I will probably read the rest of the series – I really don’t like not finishing a book or a series – but I won’t be rushing to do so.

Das Reich: the march of the 2nd SS Panzer Division through France, June 1944 – Max Hastings

This book is most definitely a military history and, I think, assumes that most readers will be reasonably familiar with tank regiments, their equipment and the way they function. Whilst I’m interested in WW2 and the progress of the various fronts I’m not particularly interested the equipment more in the people. It made this book a bit of a challenge although there is a lot about people in it too.

Hastings describes the movements of Das Reich as it moved from the Eastern Front via Vichy France to the Falaise and onto the Normandy battles. There is plenty of information about the terrible state of the Das Reich’s equipment and the challenges of having the travel by road because there were not enough trains to move them from place to place.

The most interesting bits for me were about the key players in Das Reich, in the various parts of the French resistance who came up against them and some of the SOE and SAS people who were parachuted in to support the resistance.

I enjoyed finding out more about what was happening in other parts of France in the run up to and during the D-Day landings. It isn’t something I know much about and this book filled a few of the gaps in my knowledge.

It was also interesting to know more about the French resistance. I knew, from various other sources, about the lack of cooperation between the various factions within the resistance but I hadn’t realised just how animosity there was between them. Or how much SOE and SAS fooled themselves over what could be achieved by them behind the German lines in support of the D-Day landings.

The most harrowing parts of the book deal with the reprisals meted out by Das Reich towards the civilian population for actions carried out by the resistance. There is a lot of detail about the atrocities carried out in Oradour and Tulle.

If I’d properly read the blurb on the back cover of this book I would probably never have bought it or read it. It has added to my knowledge of WW2 and also confirmed to me that I’m not really interested in the history of military action or weaponry.

N.B. The picture at the top of this review is of Oradour sur Glane, which has been preserved as a monument to what happened there.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

I’ve been meaning to read this book since I first spotted it on the shelf in Waterstones, just not enough to actually buy it!

In the end I had two offers to lend me the book within 2 days of each other. One from a friend who I know enjoys reading and the other, unexpectedly, from the guy who was washing my hair at the hairdressers. It was a surprise to him that he’d enjoyed reading the book and he was telling everyone about it.

I read it in just over a day. It’s an easy to follow story about a Slovakian Jewish man who is deported to Auschwitz and, by chance, ends up in a job that gives him a privileged position that enables him to survive.

My problem with this book is twofold.

Firstly, it feels like a very sanitised version of Lale’s story. I can understand why; there is the distance of time between the events and Lale relating them to Morris. I can also understand that having achieved that distance and survived it would have been painful to reopen some of the suppressed reality of living in a concentration camp.

Secondly, and linked to my first concern, it worries me that if this is the only book people have read about life in a concentration camp they will not understand just how horrendous it was for the majority of the people who lived and died there. The book makes it sound relatively easy for people to get extra rations, easier jobs and out of bad work details. It feels almost like an insult to the millions who were worked to death or murdered in not just Auschwitz but all concentration camps.

Would I recommend this book? Possibly, but only if followed up by reading Primo Levi’s If This Is A Man.

Click here to find out more about If This Is A Man

Click here to find out more about Primo Levi

Paper View by AA Gill

I picked up a signed copy of this book for £1, whilst browsing in a charity show and it’s probably the best £1 I’ve spent this year.

I always enjoyed reading AA Gill’s newspaper columns, whether TV reviews, restaurant reviews or more serious topics. He had a great dexterity with words and even when you didn’t agree with his opinions you could enjoy the writing.

This book is a gathering of his TV reviews from the early 2000s up to 2008. I can’t remember half of the programmes reviewed but that didn’t stop me laughing out loud at the reviews.

The articles are generally pithy, witty and scathing about people who either work in or are sniffy about television.

The subjects covered include cop shows, costume drama, the Waltons, sport, reality TV and Trooping the Colour. Whether you religiously watch these genres, tolerate them or avoid them completely you will identify with some of Gill’s opinions and be outraged by others.

You are also likely to become an annoying companion as you laugh out loud, just at a key moment during a programme your partner or family are watching.

I’m sad that there will be no more new AA Gill columns to read but the sadness is tempered by knowing there are books like this one to be discovered in forgotten corners of bookshelves.