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A First Course in Coding Theory (Oxford Applied Mathematics and Computing Science Series)
A First Course in Coding Theory (Oxford Applied Mathematics and Computing Science Series)
by Raymond Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: 35.96

5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic introduction to coding theory, 2 Aug 2014
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A really good book covering the mathematics behind coding theory - how to send data efficiently using mathematical algorithms. It's very well written and really interesting. This was a set text for a module I studied and I really enjoyed the course. Worth reading!


An Officer and a Spy
An Officer and a Spy
by Robert Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.19

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent historical fiction thriller, 2 Aug 2014
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
I had previously read Harris' Fatherland - so had high hopes for his latest book - and I wasn't disappointed. It's a cracking read - a very skillful blend of fact with a fictional first person narrative. I remembered the basic outline of the events (from doing history A-level many years ago!), but this didn't in any way spoil the enjoyment of the story. It's got a great cast of characters and what sets it apart from many other page turners is the character depth portrayed - these are not 2 dimensional "good guys" and "bad guys", but developed in far more detail. The protagonist has failings - indeed he admits to antisemitism early in the book, and Dreyfus when we finally hear from him in court has a withdrawn and not especially engaging character. All of this makes it a really engaging and thought provoking novel.

Definitely recommended!


I Am Pilgrim
I Am Pilgrim
by Terry Hayes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.19

21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Half of a good book - In need of a good editor!, 8 July 2014
This review is from: I Am Pilgrim (Paperback)
The first half of this book races along pretty well - it's a pretty typical thriller with the all-American good guy willing to kill anyone, anywhere in the world on behalf of his super-secret government organisation. There is then notice of a apocalyptic jihad plan on mainland America - and although our all-American hero has long since retired, who better to lead the operation against this terrorist threat. Our all-American hero is re-recruited and back in the game.

And that's all pretty decent - and takes you about 500 pages into the paperback version. And then.....a real fizzle with monumental plot holes. [spoiler alert]. Despite this being a monumentally dangerous plot, which could be unleashed at any time, the decision is made to have only our all-American hero following the sole lead. Off he goes to Turkey despite not speaking Turkish, with no support team and no back up, and single-handedly is tasked with finding the identity of a caller to a phone box. And then, despite the utter, incredible urgency of this mission, he gets sidetracked into investigating what (at the time) is a completely unrelated murder investigation. The reason that he needs to "keep up appearances" for his cover story is pretty absurd - he gets so sidetracked he even has time for a quick jaunt to Italy to test a little pet theory on this murder. All the time you're thinking, hang on, the fate of hundreds of millions of people are in your hands, and you felt like a trip to Italy?

When he uncovers some evidence on a USB stick he has to post it by Fedex to America for the government to analyse - for the most serious terrorist threat to America imaginable, and no-one thinks that it might be useful to have someone able to do that in Turkey with him? Once he finds out the name of the woman he decides the only way to transmit this to America is to make a 1400 round trip to Bulgaria by car (really!) in order to do nothing more than buy a mobile phone from which he can call from. Again pretty absurd.

And then the co-incidences through which he tracks down the woman are pretty unbelievable. He meets and speaks to one woman in the whole of Turkey - and it just so happens that this is the woman he was looking for. As for the plot for jihad itself - the terrorist is able to travel at will (jetting off to Germany, Afghanistan, Syria) on a clean passport. Surely it would have been far easier to simply go to America himself rather than the convoluted method he chooses?

Anyway, all of this would be forgivable if the second half of the book had the pace and interest of the first half - but really, nothing much of interest happens. It feels more like the script for a Hollywood movie - an action sequence in scene 1, now an action sequence in scene 2 etc.

There's a good book in here somewhere - but this is just average. If you like straight up Hollywood-script thrillers then there are plenty of good page turners out there. If you like intelligent and believable spy-thrillers then buy some Le Carre or Forsyth. This tries to be both and falls somewhere inbetween.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2014 1:39 PM BST


The Kill List
The Kill List
by Frederick Forsyth
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.85

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Way Below Par for Frederick Forsyth, 24 May 2014
This review is from: The Kill List (Paperback)
This is a very average book from a fantastic author. It's so much more mundane than his best books, you wonder how much effort actually went into this one - it feels like it was phoned-in for the cash. It's a linear story - very little character depth, very few plot turns, very predictable and very 2 dimensional. Despite the obvious research (as always) it does feel as though the basic plot is too contrived (the "Tracker" tasked with finding the "Preacher" just happens to have his dad killed by a jihadist whilst he's already on the case - "now it's personal!") There's also some rather big plot holes - we have an autistic teenager able to hack into any system in the world, and the way in which the Tracker discovers the real name of the Preacher is a real stretch - an Afghan villager happens to recognise the voice of the preacher speaking in English - 10 years after he last heard the man speaking in Pashto - and even though he doesn't speak English and doesn't see his face he "knows" it's the same person, really?

The plot itself is very formulaic - Good Man (the Tracker) tries to find the Bad Guy (the Preacher) - and apart from a brief diversion with a subplot about Somali pirates, that's pretty much it. They find him, follow him then kill him. No twists, nothing unexpected.

Obviously lots of people on Amazon disagree judging by the 4 and 5 star reviews - I guess all I can say is that if you think this is good you'll be absolutely blown away by his better books (Day of the Jackal, Odessia, Fist of God etc) which are so, so much better than this.

Overall a big disappointment.


Mathematics Higher Level for the IB Diploma Option Topic 9 Calculus
Mathematics Higher Level for the IB Diploma Option Topic 9 Calculus
by Paul Fannon
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good - but no worked answers to exercise questions, 5 Nov 2013
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This is a well written and thoughtfully put together book which covers the new Calculus option syllabus for IB. There are a lot of worked examples, pictures, graded questions and past paper practice. The only thing that lets it down is the lack of worked solutions to the set exercises - 7 mark questions requiring several lines of working and several minutes of time are afforded only the final numerical solution (say) to a limit problem - without any help as to how to actually achieve it. The old H&H options book did contain far more support in going through set questions, and the Oxford Core text has full worked examples to all questions available as a pdf online. As such this book is definitely a useful supplement for studying this course - but probably in conjunction with another text.


1Q84: Book 3
1Q84: Book 3
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Letdown After Books 1 & 2., 27 Nov 2011
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This review is from: 1Q84: Book 3 (Hardcover)
Firstly, I really enjoyed 1Q84 books 1&2 - interesting premise, engaging characters and when it finished, it left a lot of avenues to develop in the third part. Unfortunately I don't think that the third book really achieved this. The 2-person symmetry of alternating protagonists by chapter is broken with the introduction of Ushikawa as a main character - who never seems to rise above a 2D caricature. The story doesn't really develop from the first books - it simply meanders along the same route.

I suppose if you see the whole of 1Q84 as just a single book separated into two for the purposes of marketing, then you might accept this, but if you are going to package the third part as a distinct book, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that it offers something extra or new - and this doesn't. It's also very repetitive - you could have edited 100 pages out of book 3 without any impact on the story - and I found myself flicking through a couple of the chapters a couple of hundred pages in faced with yet another "Tengo/Aomame sits around and does nothing much chapter." There is a good story buried here - but it is in serious need of editing. Given that a book with much potential but in desperate need of a good editor (Air Chrysalis) is the central theme of 1Q84, that's a little ironic...who knows, maybe this is part of Murakami's meta-symbolism.

The ending seemed pretty hurried - Eri and her granddad just fizzle into the background, Ushikawa's character never really offers anything of interest, Sakigate is never really explored, and the central themes of the plot (ie the Little People, Maza/dohtas etc) are pretty much just left unresolved.

I think I'd recommend people read 1Q84 books 1 & 2 - but then not to bother with book 3. It's not a bad book - it just doesn't offer anything extra. Maybe Murakami is planning to write another book where he takes these themes further - and that this is the explanation for the somewhat unsatisfactory ending. Well when he does write that book I'd be keen to read it - but this isn't it.


Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence Inside MI5 and MI6
Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence Inside MI5 and MI6
by Gordon Thomas
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A difficult read, 14 Aug 2011
This has to be the most poorly edited book I've ever read. It's structure is all over the place - jumping around, introducing endless lists of names who appear and then disappear never to be mentioned again, spanning continents decades and different agencies all within a few pages. It also has large chunks of the book devoted to topics nothing to do with the history of MI5 or MI6 - there's chapters worth of material on the CIA, sometimes with tenuous links to the UK, and often with no obvious reason for inclusion.

The IRA mainland bombing campaign (surely a main area of MI5 operation?) are largely passed over. The 7-7 bombings are afforded half a sentence - despite being arguably the most significant attack on mainland Britain since the war, and involving both MI5 and MI6 to a great extent. There is also no mention of extra-ordinary rendition and secret service complicity in torture. There is however an entire chapter focused on 9-11 and another on the US embassy bombings - which gives the impression (pervasive throughout the book) that this has been written by an expert on US intelligence, and everything has to be seen through the prism of America and relations to the CIA.

There is also a ridiculous level of detail at times - we learn that spy chief Rimington changed her contraceptive in the 1970s because she was suffering from blotchy skin - and are reassured that this problem then cleared up. This is not linked to anything else, it's just dropped in their for no reason. Who cares? And yet this is afforded more analysis than the 7-7 bombings!

It's quite an achievement to take a fascinating subject, with fascinating stories and create such a poor book. I've given it 3 stars because buried amongst the dross are some really interesting tales and insights - it's simply that you have to work hard to find them.


Sunnyside
Sunnyside
by Glen David Gold
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastically ambitious book, 10 April 2011
This review is from: Sunnyside (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book - it's a hugely ambitious project - spanning both early 20th century Hollywood and WWI with a cast of dozens of characters and different narrative strands. The prose is excellent, you empathise with the characters and the story is an interesting one. What's not to like? Well, it doesn't quite hit the same heady heights as Carter Beats the Devil - and is a more sprawling project than his first novel, so I guess that might explain a couple of the negative reviews here. But really, this is still one of the best books I've read in the past few years - the way the characters are woven into and out of the story is almost Dickensesque. A book that really absorbs you in the plot and the life to an extent where you really regret having to close it for the last time.

Give it a chance and you'll love this book!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 7, 2012 11:13 PM GMT


Thai for Beginners
Thai for Beginners
by Benjawan Poomsan Becker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 18 Feb 2010
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This review is from: Thai for Beginners (Paperback)
I've had to learn a couple of languages before, and i've found this book to be one of best for a beginner's guide. It starts off from scratch but moves quite quickly covering vocabulary, basic grammar and the writing system. By the end of the book you can read Thai and have a vocab of about 1000 words - pretty accelerated for a beginner's book. And I would definitely recommend buying the accompanying CD - unless you have a Thai friend to practise pronunciation on!


Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History
Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History
by David Aaronovitch
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but frustrating, 20 Dec 2009
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The first part of this book was really enjoyable - a pretty detailed look at the anti-Semitic conspiracy Protocols, a fascinating account of the anti-Trotsky faction trials in Russia, some in-depth insight into Mccarthyism and its origins.....

then it goes somewhat downhill. The JFK/Marilyn Monroe stuff, fair enough, but to have an entire chapter devoted to the death of Hilda Murrell? How does this conspiracy in any way "shape modern history"? It's passed largely into obscurity. A chapter on the associated Da Vinci code conspiracies? It's just shooting not very interesting or important fish in a barrel. The chapter on 9-11 conspiracies would probably be of interest to people who haven't previously read of this in detail (though i expect many have). Ditto the Diana conspiracies - but i can't believe there are many people left in Britain not already sick to death of that one....

It's frustrating because the book never really delivers what it promises - evidence of how conspiracies have actually shaped modern history. And yet with less of a British focus there was some fantastic source material to be used - the Russian apartment bombings used as the pretext for the Chechen war. They warrant a genuinely interesting discussion of the facts. Ditto the poisoning of Litvinyenko or the poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko.
Or the "HIV does not cause AIDS" conspiracy and associated beliefs that it was all a western imperialist conspracy. This led to SA president Mbeki dismissing the use of retro-virals and to the unnecessary deaths of tens (if not hundreds) of thousands. Or keeping with the British theme, a discussion on Lockerbie, probably the most interesting British conspiracy (in terms of political intrigue) of the last few decades. All in all I couldn't help thinking that this was a missed opportunity to create something special.

I've given the book 4 stars because i did enjoy it, but it could have been an exceptional book given the source material available. As it is it is a readable though slightly disappointingly flawed work....


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