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SET Enterprises Quiddler
SET Enterprises Quiddler
Price: £9.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Epitome of Family Fun in a Small Box, 24 Oct 2011
= Durability:2.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:4.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: SET Enterprises Quiddler (Toy)
This is a Rummy variant. Its particular characteristics being that all one's melds have to be declared together, and every player's declarations must occur in the course of one round.

Naturally, melds are defined as words. Their scores depend on a set of values assigned to individual letter cards. These are based on English usage, but there is no reason not to play in any other language using roughly the same Roman alphabet - with a few cards consequentially having lopsided worth. Un-melded cards attract penalties.

Since every card results in a positive or negative score, the swing is doubled. Thus, strategy revolves around maintaining maximal melding capabilities (especially for high values) while steadily increasing the total score of one's hand and selecting the best moment to declare in order to catch other players with difficult-to-meld cards. This hand-management dominates over simple size of vocabulary (though the latter does help a bit) so that the game is extremely accessible to all family members.

Different hand sizes mean that different strategies for high-valued cards are needed throughout the game, which significantly promotes its variety.

There are a few digraphs that appear arbitrarily chosen. Their relative values also seem a tad high, and obviously they are a great help in chasing the long-word bonus. Hence, I feel these cards are a slightly fussy addition that serves only to increase the luck factor of individual rounds. Not necessarily bad, nor good, - it simply depends how you like your games.

Long-word and number-of-words bonuses claim to mitigate against players with superior vocabularies. They add an idiosyncratic twist to the game, but I'm not convinced they work quite as intended! Scrabble aficionados with knowledge of melds like HM, SH, KO, NY, QI, XU, TAJ, QAT, HOX, VAV, LEVIRATE, ERUMPENT, PTYALIZE, WARIMENT, and KISTVAEN are still going to be best placed to capture either bonus. But combination and timing are fortunately more important. (Interestingly, WITHOUT the bonus, the last three words score no better than PITY & LAZE, TRAM & WINE, and KNIT & SAVE!!). Moreover, as melds are declared in play order, later declarers are better placed to capture the bonuses. In the long run, they actually favour players lucky enough to follow someone who is ultra-conservative in declaring first, or who play just before someone who habitually declares sooner than is wise.

As other reviewers have already said, the game is quick and enormously enjoyable.

The cards are attractively printed with modern-style illuminated letters. Card-stock is good quality but, I fear, somewhat thin to withstand lots of repeated use. Quiddler is a tad expensive when compared with similar products from companies like Abacus Spiel, Amigo, Ravensburger, Z-Man, or Rio Grande; but not extravagantly so. Having said which, its value for money is indubitable.

Highly recommended for everybody.


Cycling in Sussex: Off Road Trails and Quiet Lanes
Cycling in Sussex: Off Road Trails and Quiet Lanes
by Deirdre Huston
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A touch quirky, yet better than it looks..., 29 Aug 2011
Definitely a family-friendly mix. If this description makes you pause, then leaving this book alone is probably wise. The two longest routes are 14.5 and 17 miles. Some are exclusively off-road, while others are mostly on country lanes. Their common factor: being roughly within a 15-miles radius of Cuckfield.

Layout lacks the polish and functional clarity of more prolific publishers like the AA and Reader's Digest. It's not helped by silly typefaces for many of the headings; seemingly the publisher's attempt to impress their own identity. But all you need to know is certainly there. Readily comprehensible too, despite the slightly DTP feel.

The most important information is a definite plus. Route directions are well presented; the maps are not only extremely clear, but attractive in their own right.

The photos are all in keeping. Some are quite lovely.

The author adopts a distinctly chatty style. There are even ocassional hints of a repressed indulgent grandiloquence! Such informality could easily become tedious in a larger book, yet feel welcoming in a smaller volume. You might perhaps think it inappropriate.

So, for the target audience, a very nice little publication. Possibly appealing less outside this audience.


Introduction to Algebra
Introduction to Algebra
by Peter J. Cameron
Edition: Paperback
Price: £31.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When should you judge a book by its cover?, 28 Aug 2011
Other reviewers, the Product Description, and Amazon's 'LookInside' feature all contribute to a good precis. So I'll avoid repetition, and just say that I concur. Content-wise, this is a brilliant book.

My copy is a 2008 2nd edition. It is typeset in India and printed in the USA. For potential buyers whom it might concern: the end-boards are covered in stiff paper whose gloss surface is fracturing along the hinges. And the paper is low-density, coarse-fibre, and matt. I surmise, therefore, that it may be less robust than some other publications. Not a real problem; I'm happy to look after my books, and actually find the lighter tome easier to handle! However, if you feel it to be an issue, I suggest four stars rather than five. Note that I refer specifically to the materials. Printing and assembly are both excellent.

The 2nd edition Preface claims significantly-expanded basic material, plus new material on the Axiom of Choice, p-Groups and local Rings. There are also web-based solutions to the exercises. I can't comment on any of these.

To avoid purchasing disappointment, I think there are two important observations.

It's essentially a book about algebraic structures. Not algebraic applications. Buy it if you wish primarily to 'understand' algebra. If you wish to 'do' algebra, it might not be what you're after.

Be aware that the author writes very much from an abstract perspective. Structures are all founded on, decomposed, or analysed in terms of their fundamental algebraic properties, not by analogy to exemplary models. The book contains numerous 'Examples' of various algebraic entities. But I'd call most of them 'instances'. In a few, where attempt is made to map the algebra to something more tangible, the explanation seems to confuse rather than illuminate. I prefer the wholly abstract arguments.

Lots of unobtrusive exercises throughout are really good. If tackled, they should increase any reader's appreciation.

Thus, a very fine introduction to understanding the fundamentals of abstract algebra. With one caveat: if you truly learn better by generalising from concrete instantiations rather than by direct abstract reasoning, then you could find it a tantalising read. Otherwise, definitely recommended.


Traffic-free Cycle Trails: More Than 400 Traffic-free Cycling Routes Around Britain
Traffic-free Cycle Trails: More Than 400 Traffic-free Cycling Routes Around Britain
by Nick Cotton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.69

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy compendium, yet slightly disappointing, 25 Aug 2011
A difficult volume to review. Personal satisfaction warrants about two and a half stars. But objectively it is well worth four. Lots of folk might find aspects to cavil at. Purchased with no illusions, however, it should prove an excellent buy.

My objective rationale: after significant web-browsing and searching numerous bike shops, I've yet to discover anything better - or even as good; some concerns are not the book's fault; and it really is fantastic value for money.

Packed with concise information and a surprising number of vignette photos that capture the spirit of various rides. It is well-structured and easy to read/consult. The rides cover mainland UK as well as could be expected in a single tome. Anglesey, Arran, Mull and the IOW too, but not Northern Ireland.

Most rides are genuinely traffic-free. There are nice potted histories or locale descriptions, TIC contacts, brief route directions, and refreshment stops. Plus the occasional useful warning - busy main roads to cross, or challenging climbs (like NCN2: 550ft ascending the cliffs at Folkestone).

What could possibly disappoint?

I did wish for more details, book size notwithstanding. This was especially true for the Forestry Commission holdings; though, in fairness, many are not trails per se but general track networks open to off-road cyclists.

Maps. There aren't any. Plenty of map references, other cycling publications, and web-sites are given throughout. Some readers may prefer a stand-alone guide. Having said which, waymarked trails and linear canal towpaths should hardly be an orienteering challenge! And these account for a lot of the book.

Lastly, a personal thing. A little research could perhaps have extended several rides to something more meaty. But traffic-free seems to be the sacred cow. Fair enough, and it's hardly the author's fault if UK Powers-that-Be make such paltry provision for cyclists!

Some random examples:- Kennet & Avon Canal (9 miles each way), Ashridge Estate (5 mile circuit), Clumber Park (various routes between 5 & 10 miles), Rendlesham Forest (6 or 10 miles), Carnforth to Lancaster (11 miles each way), Whitby Railway Path (20 miles each way), Usk Reservoir (6 mile circuit). Is this a reasonable representation of what you're hoping to cycle? Would you augment it with your own research?

Ergo, in summary: a fine compact compendium; not necessarily everyone's cup-of-tea.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 18, 2013 7:25 PM BST


Classic Traction Engines
Classic Traction Engines
by Paul Stratford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.10

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A super book - if you like Steam-Scene photos, that is!, 23 Aug 2011
Six stars really. But do heed the Product Description that calls it a pictorial album. It is. A quite sumptuous one too. Though something to slaver over, not to learn from.

If you've seen any Halsgrove publication before, then you'll already be expecting a lavish, top-quality, book with superb images. Classic Traction Engines should disappoint no-one.

It has virtually no content except gorgeous photos. Each photo is captioned with a short, factual, paragraph - sometimes just one sentence. And each features one engine or artefact.

Their settings are breath-taking. If I mention a few - Ipswitch Old Customs House, Cotswolds: Lower Slaughter, Walcott Hall, RAF Kemble, East Anglian Railway Museum, South Wheal Towan copper mine, Eastnor Castle, Lew church, Hungerford Park, Castletown water mill, Grantham Canal - I suspect you'll get the picture. Sorry about the pun!

There are a few atmospheric night and event images. Most, however, are straightforward unpretentious portraits. Nicely composed, pin-sharp and reproduced excellently.

Generally, they show engines per se. One or two depict lanterns, valve gear, builder's plates, etc. Some others accessories like living vans, frame saws, rack sawbenches, cultivators, balance ploughs, fairground 'steam yachts' and threshing machines.

Similarly, most of the engines can commonly be seen at steam fairs countrywide; makes like Burrell, Fowler, Garrett, Aveling & Porter, Marshall, and Clayton & Shuttleworth. Plus Foden, Sentinel and "The Iron Maiden". A few images are more intriguing. For example: the 1868 Brown & May Portable Engine, the Savage General Purpose Engine (1889), the vertical-boiler Marshall Roller, the 1919 Garrett Steam Tractor, the Trotter one-ton Roller, and the Locomobile steam-engine Bread Van (replica).

Classic Traction Engines is loosely organised into 'chapters' - "Engines", "Rally Scene", "On the Road", "Out and About", "Engines at Work", "Great Dorset Steam Fair" and "Bits and Pieces". I would have liked an index.

I'm really no fan of self-congratulatory hyperbole. In this particular case, however, when the dust cover claims "in more than 140 superlative images [...] Paul Stratford captures the essence of these magnificent machines", I confess I do agree. As a photographic treasure, very highly recommended.


Plants for the Wildlife Garden (Plants at Your Fingertips)
Plants for the Wildlife Garden (Plants at Your Fingertips)
by Peter Thurman
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Small, but perfectly formed..., 1 Oct 2010
This is a delightful little book.

But it really is small. With so many native-wildlife tv programmes etc., there's a danger nowadays that much of the contents may be familiar. And numerous more-recent publications contain significantly more material.

Notwithstanding which, for someone who doesn't want to be overloaded with information (say: a less-than-confident novice wildlife gardener; a horticultural friend you wish to tempt into better practices; or, a child), then this book might be an excellent place to begin.

A range of horticultural, as well as native, species are featured. Their selection leans towards creating an attractive garden rather than an ecological niche. So there's no worry about sacrificing aesthetics for function.

With the aforementioned caveats: recommended.


Collins Complete British Mushrooms and Toadstools: The essential photograph guide to Britain's fungi (Collins Complete Guides)
Collins Complete British Mushrooms and Toadstools: The essential photograph guide to Britain's fungi (Collins Complete Guides)
by Paul Sterry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A top-class compromise, 29 Sep 2010
An excellent book; probably a first-choice recommendation for any amateur naturalist with no particular specialism who wants one fungus book to satisfy all their requirements. 360 pages are densely packed with a lot of information. There are wonderfully clear photographs of every species, together with concise and salient descriptions.

The three identification aids (Fungal Features and Shapes; Main Fungal Genera and Groups; and the notes on different habitats) are very welcome inclusions. I expect they'll be the most useful and used portions of the entire book. Perhaps a shame that - at a few pages each - they are not more expansive.

Now the down-sides: it's a field guide - so long as you have a ruck-sack! If you're a rambler who just wants a fighting chance of putting a name to the most-common of fungi, then any of the available truly-pocket guides might be a happier choice.

Also, since there are a lot of very similar fungi, this book isn't trivial to read (not a criticism, just inescapable fact).

No fungus book is actually going to be 'complete'. The Collins Complete Guide will certainly narrow your identification to a small number of species. But it contains neither a comprehensive-enough description, nor sufficient photos of important identification aspects like gill structure, interior flesh characteristics, and variation with ageing, to be wholly confident of any diagnosis. It appears equally light on diagnostic tests like spore prints, weeping, and bruising.

For serious mycological pursuit, a good encyclopaedia will be essential. Either (or both) of The Encyclopedia of Fungi of Britain and Europe and Mushrooms would be excellent choices, and better than the Collins. Neither is specially convenient for field use, though!

To summarise: with fungi, it's simply not possible for one book to be all things. If you must compromise, then this Collins guide is well worth 4 stars, going-on 5.


Cycle Rides: London and the South Coast (AA Cycle Rides)
Cycle Rides: London and the South Coast (AA Cycle Rides)
by AA Publishing
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quite nice; but difficult to pinpoint a real niche, 21 Sep 2010
AA books are typically well-produced, well-structured, informative and easy-to-read. This is no exception. Information on facilities, refreshments, local attractions and cycle hire are all well done. I've a few reservations about the maps, where some of the non-road portions appear lacking in detail.

However, as the routes are based on the NCN, perhaps navigation 'on-the-ground' is sufficiently easy that my reservations are unfounded. As yet, I've not tried any of the routes - though I'm vaguely familiar with several of the locations.

I doubt I will as such! My aim is to use the guide as the basis for devising more challenging rides with the aid of similar books and larger maps. But not every reader will want to do this.

The routes are between 2.5 and 15 miles long. One suggests allowing 1.5 hours for a Thames-side ride of 4 miles. Without sight-seeing, I'd walk this! Most of the routes are primarily on good, non-metalled, tracks (shared with pedestrians) or quiet back-streets. A few involve distinct off-road sections, and these therefore feel a bit out-of-place.

I doubt many road-bike riders will find much of interest; likewise mountain-bikers. Hence, think effectively: hybrid-bike users - of all ages - getting on their cycles as a new and stimulating experience. But how many such people will want to travel to South Sussex/Hampshire for a 7-mile ride?

Alternatively, perhaps: holiday-makers looking to hire two wheels for a few hours. In which case, why spread them so thinly (Ringwood to Rye)? And are Wimbledon Common and Hackney Marshes really in keeping?

In conclusion, the suggested routes do seem a rather curious mixture. Maybe the best option is to buy 25 Cycle Rides London & South Coast (Aa 25 Cycle Rides Boxed Set) instead, and share the cards out as appropriate!


The A-Z of Garden Plants (Gardening)
The A-Z of Garden Plants (Gardening)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nearly as good as www, and much easier to read!, 21 Sep 2010
My favourite 'one-stop' plant book.

Amazon's Product Description sounds like blatant hyperbole. And, at face value, it is (e.g. there are certainly not 4500 photos; probably less than half this number!). Nevertheless, its spirit really does capture this excellent tome.

It is an encyclopaedia of plant families (not specific species). One can hardly expect 100% coverage. But most of what anyone will find in their local nurseries or show gardens is represented. The scope is global, and my 'hit rate' is well over 90%.

Each entry comprises four subsections: a general description and horticultural uses of the family in question; general growing advice; climate requirements; and a list of the species most usually found in cultivation. The last is augmented with additional descriptions and propagation tips for selected species.

There is a preponderance of ornamental plants, but many trees, herbs and vegetables are also included.

The book couldn't be easier to use. Most families occur under their botanical names, but text entries like Eggplant, Jackfruit and Peanut are there too. In the index you'll locate things like 'handkerchief tree', 'snapdragon' and 'fairy fishing rod'.

A challenge to find more information packed into 1000 handy-sized pages! Highly recommended.


Real Gardening
Real Gardening
by Stephen Lacey
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So that's what real gardening is!, 20 Sep 2010
This review is from: Real Gardening (Hardcover)
A pity about the rather uninformative - though catchy - title. In fact, this is a garden-design or planting-scheme book. And a super one too! A better designation might have been something like "Painting with Plants".

Think all those atmospheric NGS or National Trust gardens, scaled down to fit a typical plot, and with a less-than-one-gardener's work-load. Well, here are some ideas to achieve it.

As mentioned by another reviewer, the author imparts a few strong opinions that not everyone will agree with. But this doesn't detract from the book; if any readers are encouraged to analyse their own views more critically, it should only be beneficial for their own garden designs.

The text is effectively an informal discourse, and very readable. It's good to dip into too! It addresses an impressive range of garden situations, conditions, requirements and styles. It does not deal with garden constructions, only plants - a good thing, in my opinion.

I'm no lover of the sort of modernistic, modified-building-site, edifices that pass as gardens at places like Chelsea! Maybe neither is Stephen Lacey. Certainly, Real Gardening only exudes his unaffected enthusiasm for growing attractive flora...

There is nothing culinary. Nor does it explicitly cover practicalities like care and propagation. But little nuggets of useful information for many of the suggested plants are provided.

In summary, for a comprehensive, non-prescriptive, guide to artistically planning (or enhancing) your garden, I can't think of a better starting place than Real Gardening.


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