Read: The God Squad

The God Squad is the remarkable true story of a survivor, told with an extraordinary lack of bitterness for one so shockingly and shamefully treated. In Paddy Doyle’s own words: ‘It is about a society’s abdication of responsibility to a child. The fact that I was that child, and that the book is about my life, is largely irrelevant. The probability is that there were, and still are, thousands of ‘me’s.’

While strolling through Blackrock Market a while back, my partner in crime picked this up for me. Highly readable and fascinating story of life in the industrial schools of Ireland, written in 1989 by Paddy Doyle. The casual cruelty meted out to a young child is terrible, yet it continued year after year, for decades. It reflects an Ireland that is both within living memory yet feels far away. Particularly worth reading in the context of the coming Papal visit, an organisation that continues to cover up it’s past and deny justice to it’s victims. The harm doesn’t cease when the laundries close, the schools shut, or the abuser dies – it can affect the next generation too.

Christopher Hitchens – “Mortality”

MortalityMortality by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate.”

An amazing book from Hitchens, well written and easily read, impossible to forget. It’s a short book, yet it benefits from a slow reading. There is plenty of food for thought on the process of dying, I’d strongly recommend this book. Carol, his wife, closes out the book with an incredibly sad final chapter.

Hitchens died before the end.

Don’t we all, I suppose.

“Death has this much to be said for it:
You don’t have to get out of bed for it.
Wherever you happen to be
They bring it to you – free.”
– Kinglsey Amis

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Finished: ‘Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914’ by Max Hastings

Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914 by Max Hastings
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having also read The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Munro Clark, I found ‘Catastrophe’ to be rather light on the lead up to war, particularly on the Serbian state and the personalities involved. Hastings excels once the war starts, his descriptions of the battles, full of colour and detail, are brilliant. He makes god use of first-hand accounts from the time, which really bring home the realities of not only trench life (and death), but the ‘home’ front as well. Most interesting are the descriptions of civil life in the occupied and fought-over areas, several of which evoke vivid impressions of the hellish experience of families caught in a warzone.
Well worth reading, but for a more in depth look at the causes and lead up to the declaration of war, I’d recommend pairing this with Clark’s Sleepwalkers.

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Velvet: The story from the unexplored perspective

Wired had a review a while back about Velvet by Ed Brubaker, which looks worth getting.

In the opening issue of the comic book Velvet, the secretary to the director of an elite British spy agency decides to go digging into the mysterious death of a secret agent. This, she learns, is a mistake, and soon enough she finds herself standing over a dead body, and framed for murder. “This is as bad as it gets, secretary,” says one of the armed men who bursts in to arrest her. “No,” she answers, “it isn’t.” Seconds later, every secret agent in the room is writhing on the floor, and she’s leaping out the window in a stealth suit.

Turns out this isn’t a story about Moneypenny, the secretary waiting for James Bond behind a desk at MI6. It’s a story that asks, what if a 40-something secretary was secretly James Bond all along?

I like this idea. It’s a bit different to the norm, and provides an interesting angle on the traditional spy story:

“I loved the idea of flipping the typical male-oriented spy story, and doing one about a woman who was also a mature, middle-aged woman,” says Brubaker. He saw the character’s age as fundamental to the story; it helped cement her as mature, seasoned rather than a vulnerable young woman-in-danger, and it allowed her to have a deeper, richer history as a spy. “In the espionage field, it totally makes sense that someone could have a secret history; they could have a job for 20 years that turns out to be a front, basically,” says Brubaker. “But it has to be someone who’s lived a real life.”

It seems there’s a lot of pushback for this kind of character, either because of her age or her sex or both:

When he started pitching the concept as a TV pilot, however, Velvet’s age turned out to be more controversial than expected. “The notes that we got from everybody were that she needed to be 25, and an agent-in-training learning from the cool male secret agent. I was just like ‘OK, this is… just appalling to me,’” Rather than a character that had lived a real life, they wanted a woman 20 years younger, stripped of Velvet’s expertise and maturity. “Imagine Taken, if Liam Neeson’s character were 30,” he adds. “It’s just not the same movie.”

I think I’ll give this a go next time I have any money to buy books.

New books!


I haven’t allowed myself a new book in a while, largely due to the small mountain of unread books I already have. Still, I had to get one one the first war, given the year that’s in it. ‘Speccy Nation’ just slipped in there for nostaglia. Of course, the real reason I was bookshopping was to get hold of ‘Daddy on the moon’ for my daughter. It’s her new fave.

Daddy on the Moon

Guess which one will be read first? 🙂

La Compagnie des Wagon Lits

I was browsing through some old books this evening and I came across these two lovely old posters for Cie. des Wagon-lits in a copy of ‘Supertrains’ by Aaron E. Klein, published 1985 (is that old? it’s almost 30!). The first looks very much of ‘La Belle Epoque’, the second is from the 1920/1930s((alas, there’s no caption in the book…)).

Wagon-lits Poster

Wagon-lits Poster