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Brian R. Martin (London, UK)
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Forefront Cases Leather Case Cover/Stand with Magnetic Auto Sleep Wake Function for Apple iPad Mini - Black
Forefront Cases Leather Case Cover/Stand with Magnetic Auto Sleep Wake Function for Apple iPad Mini - Black
Offered by Forefront Cases
Price: £39.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 'intelligent' cover, 20 July 2015
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An excellent 'intelligent' cover - puts the iPad into sleep mode when closed - that protects both the front and the back of the iPad Mini. Very easy to fit - just snaps on. Fits snuggly, and accurately cut so that all ports etc are exposed precisely. Has the look and feel of real leather, although of course it is not. Long hinges for front cover that look as if they will last a long time. Front cover has two folds that allows it to be configured as a useful stand. Earlier complaints that this function does not work seem to have been addressed - at least mine works fine. At the RRP of £39.99 it would have been far too expensive, but at the Amazon price of £7.85 and free postage it's a steal.


The Mission Song
The Mission Song
by John Le Carré
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Corruption and betrayal in Africa, 15 July 2015
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This review is from: The Mission Song (Paperback)
When the Cold War ended, le Carré, the master of spy thrillers, turned to writing stories set in the third world, continuing the themes about which he clearly feels very strongly – corruption and betrayal. This one is set largely in an anonymous northern island, and is told in the first person by Bruno Salvador, a British citizen (or at least so he believes) who is sent to translate at a conference between a collection of conflicting Congolese tribal leaders/war lords and a shadowy organisation of nameless individuals called the Syndicate. An unnamed British government department has selected him because his background (an Irish Missionary father and a Congolese mother) means that he has acquired fluency in English, French, Swahili and a range of minor African languages. Bruno is initially pleased to help because of his empathy with the people of his homeland. The meeting is ostensibly about organizing a coup prior to planned elections, so that the ‘real’ democratic forces can seize control and the Syndicate can exploit the rich minerals for the benefit not only of themselves, but also of the Congolese people, who will receive the “People’s Portion”. Needless to say, all is not as it seems.

Bruno’s naïvity (and how can one so intelligent be so naïve?) is quickly stripped away as the relations between the Congolese delegates and the representatives of the Syndicate become clearer, and he becomes privy to an entirely different agenda. He is torn between his ethical principles and his professional duty as an impartial interpreter. When he chooses the former, and returns to London at the close of the conference he carries with him evidence of the coup. But remarkably he is still naïve enough to trust people in authority and so more betrayals occur. He is forced to go into hiding with a politically active Congolese nurse with whom he formed an instant romantic attachment after earlier having met her by chance while interpreting for a dying man in a London hospital. This part of the plot stretches credulity too far for me. In the end morality wins and Bruno, with help, does manage to stop the coup, but with serious consequences for him and his new girlfriend. At least they are alive; in real life I suspect they would have ‘disappeared’.

Overall the book is well-written and most of the characters are believable in terms of their dialogue and speech patterns, but the plot, which bears some resemblance to the notorious botched 2004 attempt to organize a coup in Equatorial Guinea that involved Mark Thatcher, is rather turgid and little more than a polemic against the wickedness of Western influence in Africa, even though most of the Congolese characters are just as venal. Reviewers have pointed out a number of weak plot features, which I agree with. For example: how is it that one of the Congolese ‘war lords’ is brutally tortured by agents of the Syndicate, but within a few hours appears at the conference table full of life and none the worse for his ordeal; why doesn’t Bruno copy his stolen material while on the run; and why was he not searched when he left the island at the end of the conference?

Le Carré has written many marvellous spy novels and some of his later efforts after the Cold War era are almost as good, but this is not one of them.


A Certain Justice (Inspector Adam Dalgliesh Mystery)
A Certain Justice (Inspector Adam Dalgliesh Mystery)
by P. D. James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Very good traditional thriller, 3 July 2015
What a pleasure it is to read a complex, carefully constructed, and well-written ‘traditional’ thriller with a total absence of serial killers massacring their victims in ever more bizarre and repellant ways, with blood oozing from every page. There are of course murders in this book, two in fact, but the first only appears on page 120, a quarter of the way through the book, and the second much later, at the start of the final quarter. Those 120 pages are used to build up a detailed picture of the first victim, Venetia Aldridge, a very successful divorced QC. She is arrogant and disliked by many people, including her work colleagues and her troubled daughter Octavia, who lives in a basement flat in her house. Relations between them get worse when Octavia becomes romantically involved with an amoral, odious young man called Ashe, who Venetia has just very recently successfully defended on a charge of murdering his aunt. The author uses these pages to explore Venetia’s relations with her friends and acquaintances and to ‘plant’ a number of plausible potential suspects for the murder when it later happens.

It is at this point that the author’s famous detective, Commander Adam Dalgliesh, enters, accompanied as usual by DI Kate Miskin. But this time the third member of the team is DI Piers Tarrant, a rather laid back character with a degree in theology, and Kate has to adjust to a new relationship. The investigation proceeds methodically, but slowly, until a second murder occurs, that of a cleaner in the chambers where Venetia worked. The challenge is then to uncover the relationship between the two crimes. When it is revealed, it leads to the killer of the cleaner, and indirectly to the killer of Venetia, although in this case the outcome is very unexpected.

There have been some negative comments in other reviews. For example, although Kate’s humble and troubled background is mentioned from time to time, the personal lives of none of the three detectives are explored in any depth. This is in contrast to the other characters in the book, where we learn more about their reactions to the daily challenges of life, which makes them more real. Also it has been commented that a policeman of the rank of Commander would not be carrying out a murder investigation ‘on the ground’, and the ending is too abrupt. While these criticisms are true, I think they are minor, and I greatly enjoyed the book.


The Killing Lessons
The Killing Lessons
by Saul Black
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Killing Lessons - good, but not great, 15 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: The Killing Lessons (Hardcover)
This book opens with the sadistic killing of a mother and her son, living in a remote location, by two men, armed with guns and the all-important fish-gutting knife. The psychopathic leader Xander is driven by demons from childhood abuse and has the compulsion to leave specific items in the bodies of his victims. Moreover this has to be done according to an alphabetic ritual, dating back to his childhood. His partner Paulie is a weak character, in awe of Xander and afraid of him. The interaction between these two individuals, both highly disturbed but in different ways, is well described. The other occupant of the house is the 10-year-old daughter Nell who escapes the carnage. Paulie chases her into the woods, but fails to catch her, a fact that has dramatic consequences for both Xander and Paulie at the end of the book.

Then a new case emerges involving the snatching of a young women off the street and Valerie Hart, a police officer who has been examining similar cases that have occurred all over Western America for the past three years, moves centre stage. As a character, Valerie is a bit of a stereotype: obsessed with the cases, depressed after a failed love affair with a fellow officer and borderline alcoholic as a result. She is assisted by FBI agent Carla York, who hates her, the reason for which is not disclosed until the final pages, although it was easy to guess. I didn’t see the point of this very minor subplot, as it added nothing much to the story. Valerie pursues the case with ferocious intensity and through intense police work, aided by a series of remarkable pieces of good luck, identifies the main killer and tracks him to his home. The pace of the investigation and the resulting tension is well conveyed, but from this point, the level of unbelievability increases. Crucially, would an experienced homicide detective, knowing the nature of Xander, attempt to confront him and Paulie before backup arrived?

There are several other brutal deaths and mutilations, some deserved, some not, before the finale, where Nell reappears in the story. The final scenes are a series of long detailed descriptions told from the standpoint of the various characters, but they are too drawn out and do little to conceal the all-too-obvious ending.

Why are thriller writers obsessed with serial killers, preferably the more bizarre the better? There must be more books about them there are actual killers. This one had some original features, but unlike most reviewers I did not find it better than many others of the genre.


The City of Falling Angels
The City of Falling Angels
by John Berendt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not the real Venetians, 11 Jun. 2015
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This books starts well with excellent eyewitness descriptions of the fire that destroyed the famous Fenice opera house in January 1996, and this is followed up later by accounts of the long drawn-out investigation of the causes of the fire, with its oscillating conclusions, and the labyrinthine bureaucracy that surrounded reconstruction, and which contributed to long delay of seven years before the opera house was reopened. Both stories tell you much about what is wrong with Venice. These accounts do partly conform to the author's stated aim: to write a book not primarily about the art and architecture of Venice, but instead to tell the story of its inhabitants. But elsewhere this is far from true. Venetians do appear, but they are either a few eccentric characters, or the elite of the city, and they are outnumbered by foreigners, mainly expatriate American, again of a certain class. Thus, for example, much space is given over to the machinations surrounding the papers of Ezra Pound, and the intrigues and squabbles within the rich patrons of the Save Venice movement. These are subjects that are undoubtedly interesting, at least to some, but are remote to the lives of ordinary Venetians. Much of the book resembles material from Hello! magazine: who attended what party in what palace etc. It quickly becomes repetitive and boring and I found that I had little interest in what these people did or thought.


A Beautiful Mind
A Beautiful Mind
by Sylvia Nasar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars A flawed genius, 4 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: A Beautiful Mind (Paperback)
John Nash, who died in May 2015, was in many ways the archetypal genius of fiction, obsessive, eccentric, and with a deeply flawed personality. Even as a young man he was anti-social, arrogant and convinced of his abilities. He had little real social interaction with his peers, although he did have a few short-lived half-hearted attempts at homosexual relationships when young. When he fathered an illegitimate son, he didn't marry the mother and his obsession with money surfaced by refusing to support either her or the child. Despite his many flaws, his supreme mathematical abilities were soon recognised, and he moved to Princeton, a mecca for American mathematicians. He was only 22 when he did fundamental work in game theory, that many years later in 1994 earned him a Nobel Prize in Economics, but only after an unprecedented bitter struggle within the Nobel nomination committee, the details of which are, remarkably, given in this book. This led directly to a radical restructuring of the way Nobel Prizes in economics are decided, although the ultra-secretive Nobel Foundation still deny that anything unusual happened.

By the age of 30 Nash was seriously ill with mental problems, usually diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. These plagued him for more than 20 years, during which he did no work. During these `wilderness' years he was in and out of mental hospitals and was subjected to whatever treatments were in fashion at the time. None really helped him as much as the continued support of his wife Alicia, but even she eventually divorced him when his behaviour became extreme. Against all expectations, after 1970 Nash began to slowly recover and he returned to academic work in the mid 1980s, although of course never at his previous level. He and Alicia were eventually reconciled and he even reunited with his illegitimate son and another son by Alicia, both confusingly called John. The latter tragically also developed serious mental health problems and at the close of the book, Nash is devoting much of his time supporting his son.

This is a long book, based on very detailed research and discussions with many people who knew and worked with Nash, including family members and of course Nash himself. It is primarily about the personality of Nash and his interactions with the people around him, and makes little detailed attempt to explain his mathematical achievements. It has been criticised for this, but I have some sympathy with the author, because Nash's work in pure maths, which many regard as more important than his work in game theory, is undoubtedly highly technical and difficult for a layman to understand. However, the author could have explained in relatively simple terms the significance of the work that led to the Nobel Prize, and this was a missed opportunity to give the reader at least a flavour of his originality. Nevertheless, this is an absorbing story, told with great sympathy for its subject, while not glossing over his undoubted faults.


The Fry Chronicles
The Fry Chronicles
by Stephen Fry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2.0 out of 5 stars The rarified world of Stephen Fry, 24 May 2015
This review is from: The Fry Chronicles (Paperback)
Stephen Fry, an excellent performer and anointed `National Treasure', is in love with words. This can often produce memorable phrases, and sentences of astonishing fluidity, but sometimes one has the feeling that the choice of words is more to show the reader how clever the writer is, rather than to impart knowledge, or tell a story. Some of the words casually dropped into a sentence are extraordinary, and are not even known to the online Oxford Dictionary of English (I've checked). Do they even exist? After a while, their appearance is very irritating, as are the occasional crude `sniggering schoolboy' sexual asides.

Stephen Fry is equally obsessed with himself, and much of this autobiography (calling it a `Chronicle' says much about the author) is devoted to a public analysis of his personal problems - self doubt, insecurity etc. - hardly unique to him. For someone who makes a very substantial living doing exactly what he wants to do, and enjoys the fame and luxury this brings (Aston Martin in the drive etc.) this is pure self-indulgence. The book is mainly a list of plays he has been in, stuff he has written, and remarks about his fellow actors and collaborators, from his school day onwards. Fine, what more would one expect in an autobiography? The problem here is that Fry frankly says he is not going to say anything critical about anyone, so what we get is a very bland account of his life at University, in the theatre, and in the media, full of `luvvie' comments, where no-one stabs you in the back, or even has a bad word to say about anyone else. The result is over-long and rather boring.

Stephen Fry is capable of writing much better books than this (`Moab is my Washpot' was excellent). Read those and don't waste your time with this.


The Longest Night: The Bombing of London on May 10, 1941
The Longest Night: The Bombing of London on May 10, 1941
by Gavin Mortimer
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars The most destructive air raid on London, 19 May 2015
I was born in East London during the first blitz in September 1940. My father was working on munitions production during the day and was an air raid warden during part of the night. Many years later I recall playing in the brick-built air raid shelter he had constructed in our garden. I also remember hearing friends and relatives occasionally (but not often) talking about their wartime experiences, so this book reinforces and `fleshes out' those distant memories.

The book is an account of the most destructive air raid on London, which occurred somewhat later, on 10-11th of May 1941. It involved 515 aircraft dropping a variety of bombs, from numerous incendiaries, very small in weight but deadly in effect, up to 1000kg monsters. They caused massive damage to both iconic buildings such as The House of Commons and Lambeth Palace, as well as vast numbers of more ordinary dwellings; the death toll was 1486 with 1800 more seriously injured. But large as these numbers are, reading the accounts retold by the author of the devastation and battles against the raging flames, often inside unstable buildings, it is surprising they were not much higher. The descriptions are based on contemporary accounts of firemen, rescue works and others who were in the thick of the action. A criticism is that these accounts are woven together by interpolations that cannot possibly have been verified by the author, and as a result the story sometimes reads more like a novel than actual historical fact. There have also be adverse comments about some of the data cited by the author, particularly the number of losses suffered by the RAF. I have no way of knowing the truth, but they do seem unsustainably high, and there are no sources quoted to support the numbers quoted about this or anything else. This is a pity, because it sows the seeds of doubt about other `statements of fact' in the book.

A good feature is the book's balance. For example, it is often said that after Buckingham Palace suffered minor bomb damage, the attitude to the Royal Family changed in a positive way, but this is not evident from the voices of those suffering the most. Neither is the widespread looting ignored; examples of thieving by gangs of rescue workers are mentioned, and even stealing from the dead as they lay on the ground. The writing is good and the descriptions of the action are clear and give at least a partial feeling for what it must have been like to have been there. Perhaps at times there are too many descriptions, and without any maps it would be difficult for non-Londoners to orientate themselves. Overall, a book well worth reading, but not as strict history.


Building the H Bomb :A Personal History
Building the H Bomb :A Personal History
Price: £8.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The H-Bomb: the personal history of a participant., 12 May 2015
There are many books about `atomic' weapons based on nuclear fission, covering just about everything from initial theoretical speculations to their realization at Los Alamos during WW2. But the literature on thermonuclear weapons based on nuclear fusion is smaller, and what exists is often encyclopedic and technical, so not very suitable for the general reader. This short book by Kenneth Ford is therefore to be welcomed.

The author, now 89, is a distinguished physicist, still actively involved in writing and commenting on current issues. At the start of the period he describes, he was a young man, just 24, who interrupted his PhD studies to spend 1950-52 with his supervisor John Wheeler at Los Alamos as part of the H-Bomb design team. He later continued this work at Princeton University, after Wheeler persuaded the authorities to establish Project Matterhorn there to study nuclear fusion for both weapons and for power production. Although `only' a junior in the team, he was at the centre of bomb design and worked on a daily basis with the leaders in the field, including Teller, Ulam and of course Wheeler, and interacted with distinguish consultants, such as Bethe and Fermi.

Teller had long pressed for a major programme of research on fusion bombs. His insistence was a significant factor in his later break with Oppenheimer, which eventually led to Teller being ostracized by much of the physics community. But after the end of WW2, even Oppenheimer accepted the need for an H-bomb programme and teams were set up at Los Alamos, although not under the overall leadership of Teller, much to his displeasure. The outcome of this programme was the successful testing, both above and below ground, of a large number of fusion weapons, in America and elsewhere. (Strictly they should be called fission/fusion weapons, because the greater part of the explosive energy is still produced by the fission stages.)

Ford tells the personal story of his time at Los Alamos and Princeton, and an interesting story it is. Interwoven with technical information, both of basic nuclear physics and bomb design/construction (all clearly explained) and his role in the latter, are personal observations of the scientists (and to a lesser extent their families) and their interactions. The central problem was how to confine the fusion fuel at a sufficient temperature for a long enough time for fusion to take place. Many ideas had been put forward, but none worked until Teller and Ulam proposed the method that bears their names, although both later claimed `ownership `of the idea. The history is fascinating, and among the things I learnt was that Teller and Fuchs (latter convicted of spying for the Russians) had earlier proposed a not-unrelated scheme, but without the crucial ingredient of using radiation pressure in the Teller-Ulam method. It is extraordinary what was achieved, long before modern high-speed computers, where complex calculations were often made using simple electronic desk calculators at best, or later with computers with less power than a mobile phone.

Ford's book is a pleasure to read and full of interesting facts and observations. A minor criticism is that there is not much about whether the participants considered the ethics of what they were doing. There are some brief remarks about the loyalty oath that was introduced at Los Alamos and elsewhere at the time of the McCarthy Committee's activities, a little about embryonic committees of concerned scientists, and Ford himself renounced working on weapons much later in 1968 following the Vietnam War, but that is all. Teller was well known to be vehemently ant-communist, but the position of others would have been interesting to know, although to be fair this is called a `Personal History'.


Love, Etc
Love, Etc
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Love triangle revisted, 6 May 2015
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This review is from: Love, Etc (Paperback)
This book is a sequel to the earlier volume `Talking it Over', and to understand `Love etc.' it is almost essential to have read the former. There we are introduced to the three main characters, Oliver, Stuart and Gillian, and how their lives interact over a period of years. At the end of `Talking it Over', Gillian, formerly married to Stuart, is now married to Oliver, and after a brief time living in France has return to England with her husband and their two children. In the interval, Stuart relocated to New York and started a new life.

Ten year have now past and Stuart, divorced from his American wife, has returned to England. He is no longer a rather weak, colourless individual, but is more decisive and now runs his own successful organic food distribution company. His love for Gillian is unabated and he contacts her again to `rescue' her from what he sees as a mistaken marriage to Oliver. He insinuates himself into their lives, letting them rent the former marital home, and even gives Oliver a job. Although Gillian is initially resistant to these events she comes to accept them, particularly as she is the sole breadwinner with her picture restoration work. Oliver slowly sinks into a deep depression as he realises that Stuart is not going to financially support his unrealistic `projects', and his suspicions about Stuart's motives and Gillian's loyalty deepens.

The format is the same as used successfully in `Talking it Over': a series of monologues by the main characters spoken to the reader, supplemented by ones from supporting characters, such as Gillian's mother and her art restoration assistant. These soliloquies are utterly realistic. Through them we again see how each interprets their past and present lives often in very different ways. It is almost inevitable that things will not end well. Indeed they do not, although Gillian and Stuart present the interpretation of the event that provokes this in starkly contrasting ways. There is no absolute truth. At the end we are left to make up our own minds about the nature and importance of love, and the wisdom or not of trying to rekindle a former love after so long.


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