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Quippe

Quippe

Joined August 2016

Longer reviews can be found at I Read, Therefore I Blog here: ireadthereforeiblog.wordpress.com
review
Quippe
Halo Moon | Sharon Cohen
Mehso-so

Sharon Cohen‘s standalone fantasy novel for children aged 9+ does well at showing the tensions in young friendship through the jealousy Jade has for Halo due to her friendship with Pedro and features a largely positive depiction of a modern Ethiopian child (albeit at times it strays towards the “Magical Negro” trope) and I liked Halo‘s interest in astronomy but the story itself is quite pedestrian and never caught fire for me.

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Mehso-so

Judy Apps is a communications expert and personal coach. In this book she sets out techniques and suggestions for improving your communications skills to form genuine connections with people by encouraging you to move away from controlled conversational norms and rely on your intuition. The spiritual and new age techniques won‘t be for everyone (and some weren‘t for me) but I did get some good ideas, which I‘ve put into practice.

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Places in the Darkness | Chris Brookmyre
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Chris Brookmyre‘s standalone novel is a clever mix of SF and hard boiled noir with a setting akin to the Western frontier and strong pacing. The world building is great, bringing in tech, politics, economics and social commentary and I liked the different factions at play with their respective agendas but Freeman and Blake felt a bit stock at times and some of the emotional revelations in the final quarter weren‘t earned.

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Mike Berners-Lee is Professor at Lancaster University‘s Institute for Social Futures and in this informative, thought-provoking but depressing book (that at times gets too caught up in the numbers and analogies), he sets out some of the facts and figures relating to climate change (which he expands to look at food supply, biodiversity and plastic use) to give the reader ideas for how to reduce the damage they do to the planet.

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The Land of Roar | Jenny McLachlan
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Acclaimed YA author Jenny McLachlan‘s debut middle grade fantasy novel (gorgeously illustrated by Ben Mantle and the first of a duology) is a stunningly good read - moving, funny and with a lot to say about facing your fears, embracing the power of imagination and the destructive need to be cool with the ‘in crowd‘ it tips its hat at the Narnia and Peter Pan tradition, while updating it for a more tech savvy and less gender stereotyped readership.

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Michael A. Roberto is Director of the Center for Program Innovation at Bryant University. In this thought-provoking book that will appeal to anyone who has worked at a large organisation, he sets out the 6 organisational mindsets that can block creativity within the workplace and offers ways of countering them, drawing on numerous business, technological and creative case studies and social psychology experiments to help make his case.

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A Strange Kind of Brave | Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Mehso-so

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald‘s YA thriller is a peculiar, forced affair, more suitable for Tweens than older teens. I enjoyed the theme of the damage done by loan-sharking and the importance of standing up to bullies, but the twists in this are pretty predictable and I was left wondering why adults were so taken in given some of the absurdities of a big reveal and the McCormack narrated sections are pretty hammy in their villainy.

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Mehso-so

Massimiliano Di Ventra is Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. In this book (illustrated by Matteo Di Ventra) he aims to provide readers with an understanding of scientific methodology and its limitations so that readers can evaluate scientific claims. However, while it‘s intended as an easy read, you need some scientific knowledge to follow everything and while I got the overall gist, at times I was left confused.

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The Alice Encounter | John Gribbin
Mehso-so

John Gribbin‘s science fiction novella is a sequel to DOUBLE PLANET and REUNION but while I hadn‘t read those books, he gives enough information to be able to follow the plot. I found the writing a little workmanlike and the science was, for me, quite difficult to follow, but the ideas are interesting, as are the situations that the characters find themselves in - especially the terraforming of Mars - such that it‘s definitely worth a look.

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Jonathan Portes is Professor of Economics and Public Policy at King‘s College London and in this book he looks at the economics of immigration, from its causes and impact to how the economic facts could influence policy in a post-Brexit world. Unfortunately, the Brexit section is the weakest - mainly because events have moved since it was written - but it‘s a must-read for the economic facts if you‘re looking to inform yourself on this subject.

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The Aunt Who Wouldn't Die | Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay
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Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay‘s literary horror novel (published in India in 1993 but translated into English from Bengali for the first time by Arunava Sinha) is a domestic drama pitting the genuinely malevolent Pishima against the virtuous, obedient Somlata and I liked the alternating sections following her daughter, Boshon, a restless teenager who has forsaken love but the open ending is very frustrating and may alienate some readers.

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Serhii Plokhy is Professor of History at Harvard University and a specialist in Eastern Europe. In this by turns horrifying, moving and meticulously researched book (winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize in 2018 for non-fiction), he depicts the events surrounding the explosion of the No 4 reactor at Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 and the cover up and clear up that followed and explains how it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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Charles Conn is a former partner of McKinsey & Company and former CEO of the Rhodes Trust. Rob McLean is Director Emeritus of McKinsey & Company and a former Dean of the Australian Graduate School of Management. This book aims to set out a 7-step programme for complex problem solving but while there‘s some useful information here it presupposes a familiarity with some of the logic tree techniques, which makes it difficult to use for beginners.

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C. J. Tudor‘s second novel is a tightly plotted horror tale that gives more than a nod to Stephen King‘s PET SEMETARY but which nevertheless has a distinctly British feel. The amoral and desperate Joe makes for an interesting protagonist and I liked Tudor‘s depiction of a broken pit village while the supernatural elements are generally creepy. All in all, this is a great Halloween chiller and I will definitely check out THE CHALK MAN.

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Afropean | Johny Pitts
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Johny Pitts is a writer, photographer and broadcaster who founded the online journal Afropean.com. In this insightful, compassionate and thought-provoking book that‘s part anthropology, part memoir, part travelogue and part rumination on the black experience within Europe, he seeks to “honestly reveal the secret pleasures and prejudices of others as well as myself” and make sense of what it means to be a black citizen in Europe.

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Swimming Against the Storm | Jess Butterworth
Mehso-so

Jess Butterworth‘s contemporary ecological thriller for children aged 9+ does a great job of evoking the strange beauty of the Louisiana bayou and how it‘s at risk from climate change while Eliza and Avery‘s relationship captures the frustrations and rivalry of having a sibling. However the plot relies on a series of foolish decisions that I didn‘t believe of two swamp kids while I thought the corporate skulduggery plot was resolved too neatly.

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C. A. Fletcher‘s debut novel is an engrossing SF post-apocalyptic story that‘s low on complicated plot and which telegraphs its twists and punches with some heavy-handed foreshadowing but is rich in atmosphere - specifically Fletcher‘s vision of a decaying Britain returning to nature - and I liked Griz with his curiosity, determination and love of his dog and cared about what happens to him.

4 likes1 stack add
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Mehso-so

Stephen Smith is Professor of African Studies at Duke University and spent 30 years as a journalist in Africa. His book is strong on the human geography of Africa, particularly the problems of its youthful population, the tensions with gerocentric political structures and the levers encouraging migration to Europe and America but is weak on how to address this and at times he offers up literary tangents that give colour but no facts.

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Sir David Cannadine is Dodge Professor of History at Princeton University and in this informative and easy to understand book he aims to set out a political history of Britain within an interlinked and international context but what makes it fascinating are the parallels with modern Britain (notably the Brexit issue with Ireland), which left me with an overriding impression that the more things change, the more they stay the same ...

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Isadora Moon Puts On a Show | Harriet Muncaster
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The 10th in Harriet Muncaster‘s self-illustrated fantasy series for children aged 6+ is another charming and thoughtful affair that focuses on self-confidence and how to deal with situations that make you nervous. It‘s another very girly book but I especially liked how Muncaster sets up the expectations of her dad, who is slightly too worried about what the vampires will like rather than what Isadora will enjoy, which adds to her nerves.

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Gill Hasson is a personal development trainer and writer, focusing on confidence, self-esteem, communication, assertiveness and resilience. In this handy book, which combines practical tips with common sense, she provides a guide for improving productivity by prioritising goals and managing time with a view to helping readers to work smarter rather than harder.

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The second in Steve Cole and Aleksei Bitskoff‘s humorous illustrated series for children aged 6+ is another zany and silly tale filled with bad puns, some funny toilet jokes and a megalomaniac pug intent on world domination. I liked the switch in focus to Ziggy and AD‘s friendship and Bitskoff‘s illustrations add energy to the text but the story here is remarkably similar to the first book, so it did feel a little repetitive.

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Mary Mellor is Emeritus Professor in Social Sciences at Northumbria University. In this informative, easy-to-follow book she examines and debunks many of the myths surrounding money as a concept. However while I found her convincing on myths surrounding the origins, development and functions of money, she was less so on money as a public resource and democratic right as she doesn‘t acknowledge the downsides of that theory, e.g. hyperinflation.

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Step Into Your Power | Jamia Wilson
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Jamia Wilson is a writer and feminist activist and Andrea Pippins is a writer and illustrator. In this thought-provoking, empathic and inspirational book aimed at girls aged 9+ (although there‘s a lot here that boys would benefit from too) they set out 23 lessons for children to feel more powerful, from learning self-care techniques to standing up for themselves and facing down their fears, which a lot of adults would benefit from learning too.

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In this peculiar self-help book based on Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a brand, Marilyn Easton frames aspects of Ginsburg‘s life and experience as a motivational tool for the reader. It‘s a very US-centric book and I found it both patronising and shallow without ever doing Ginsburg or her career justice but if you‘re absolutely desperate for a self-help gift for the feminist or lawyer in your life, then it may be worth a shot.

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he: A Novel | John Connolly
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John Connolly‘s fictionalised look at the life of Stan Laurel is an absorbing and fascinating read with Connolly clearly having done his research on the man‘s life. The literary conceit of never mentioning Stan by his name mostly works and he gets the rhythms of the Laurel and Hardy dialogue right together with the peculiar nature of their relationship, but Laurel the man remains a mystery as Connolly never quite gets what made him tick.

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Mehso-so

Babita Sharma is a journalist and presenter who grew up with her family above a corner shop in Reading that her parents owned. In this entertaining read she combines memoir with a brief account of immigration to Britain between the 60s and 90s but there isn‘t much depth here, I was largely aware of many of the facts presented here (although the personal angle is interesting) and a mistake about when the EU was formed was jarring.

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Adrian Pabst is a Reader in Politics at the University of Kent and a leading thinker in the ‘Blue Labour‘ movement. In this disappointing polemic that relies on straw man arguments, generalisations and doesn‘t define what he means by “liberal democracy”, he parrots the known arguments about the rise of populism and the disconnect between voters and politicians and offers a “solution” of return to grassroots mutualism that no one is asking for.

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Roger Seip is a personal development trainer and Robb Zbierski is a public speaker and personal coach. In this so-so book that aims to help improve productivity by helping the reader learn to slow down and refocus your effort on what actually matters, they combine some woo-woo cod science and psychology with some interesting practical tips but, as ever, there isn‘t much new here and you will only take from it what you think is relevant to you.

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Rose, Interrupted | Patrice Lawrence
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Patrice Lawrence‘s contemporary YA novel is a subtle look at the pressures of modern teen life that examines sexism, different means of coercion and control and the meaning of freedom. Lawrence is particularly good in her sly critique of toxic Christianity and in the double standards that women are held to in comparison to men and although the pace did drag slightly in places, I cared a great deal about the characters and what happens to them.

4 likes1 stack add
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C. G. Drews‘s YA contemporary novel is a beautifully written story about homelessness, desperation, violence and the need to belong. I completely believed in Sam as a confused boy desperate not to be like his father but unable to find another way to help Avery and the romance between him and Moxie is sweetly depicted, but I did have some concerns about autism sometimes being portrayed as a burden for Sam to bear.

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The Boxer | Nikesh Shukla
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Nikesh Shukla‘s contemporary YA novel is an interesting look at racism and how boxing can give a person discipline, confidence and self-respect but while it‘s interesting to have a book look at white extremist radicalisation, Keir‘s character and motivation is underdeveloped as is his friendship with Sunny and I never bought into why Sunny wanted to save him, which is a shame because there‘s a lot that‘s good about this book and it‘s worth a look.

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Muhammad H. Zaman is Professor of Biomedical Engineering and International Health at Boston University and in this timely book he examines the problems in tackling drug counterfeiting from science and technology, political, regulatory, and business viewpoints but while he does well at highlighting the complexity of the issues involved, there‘s a lot of repetition, the writing is quite dry and the last chapter on ivory left me bewildered.

1 like1 stack add
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Cross Purpose | Claire MacLeary
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Claire MacLeary‘s crime novel (the first in a series) is a disjointed affair whose plot skips about with little tension or connection, plot strands end in an unsatisfying way while the partnership between the two women is underdeveloped. I liked MacLeary‘s use of Scots dialect, which gives authenticity but the writing is technically lacking (including head-hopping between characters within scenes) such that I‘m not interested in reading on.

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The fourth in Laura Ellen Anderson‘s AMELIA FANG SERIES for children aged 7+ is another charming, self-illustrated Gothic fantasy read about friendship and lost love, which is surprisingly moving and has some funny moments (particularly the slug queen mistaken for a sofa). For me, Squashy and Pumpy the pumpkins are the out-and-out stars but I keep wishing that there was more for Florence and Grimaldi to do as they fade into the background.

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Speak Up! | Laura Coryton
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Laura Coryton‘s campaign against the ‘Tampon Tax‘ in May 2014 resulted in a change to EU law and inspired international groups to carry out equivalent campaigns in other countries. This book seeks to inspire teenage girls to organise their own campaigns while empowering them to speak up for themselves but I found the tone too breathy and her approach to facts breezy, while also underplaying the complexities of some of the issues discussed.

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Ross Welford‘s delightful SF book for children aged 9+ revisits the idea of time travel that he first wrote about in the excellent TIME TRAVELLING WITH A HAMSTER but this time takes a dog-mad protagonist to a grim future. The world building is great, Welford makes some excellent points about privilege and refugees courtesy of the ever optimistic Ramzy and Dr Pretorius is an interesting morally ambivalent character. This book is worth your time.

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Paul Luna is Emeritus Professor of Typography & Graphic Communication at Reading University and former Head of Corporate Design at Oxford University Press. In this interesting, although quite technical book, whic, ironically, is hampered by a small typeface that makes it difficult to read, he sets out ideas about the development of typography, how to organise typographic material and the differences between printed and electronic typography.

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George Hawley is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Alabama and in this concise, comprehensive (for an ever-developing movement) book that‘s a must-read for anyone interested in the subject, he sets out what the Alt-Right is, how it‘s comprised, how it developed, how it ties in with mainstream conservatism and (in what I found to be the least successful part of the book) how to challenge it.

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Peter Swanson‘s psychological thriller plays with the reliability of characters and how their psychological disorders can be used against them and how people choose not to see what‘s in front of them. However, the book suffers from making its key reveal too early and by making the twist in the ending too obvious so that overall, it just doesn‘t rise above its parts to become a satisfying read.

5 likes1 stack add
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Although Pradeep, Appel and Sthanunathan‘s all have strong credentials in AI, ML and marketing and product innovation, I found this a really difficult book to follow because the early sections concentrate on the maths underpinning what AI and ML can do and it doesn‘t really show you how AI and ML can make a difference to marketing and product strategy. If you‘re already proficient in the subject, it may offer you more than it does to a beginner.

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Hope for the Best | Jodi Taylor
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The 10th in Jodi Taylor‘s THE CHRONICLES OF ST MARY‘S SERIES is a fast-paced, cosy SF novel with lots of no-nonsense Britishness, plenty of time travel and intrigue and laced with wry humour and while I hadn‘t read the previous 9 books, I had little difficulty in following this and will check out the earlier books.

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Heartstream | Tom Pollock
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Tom Pollock‘s YA tech thriller is a needle sharp study in obsession that cleverly examines the benefits and disadvantages of social media and celebrity and which builds up a great sense of tension. His observations about fandom are spot on and, as always, he‘s sensitive in depicting anxiety and mental health and although some of the plot points are a little soapy and the antagonists slightly under baked, it‘s a strong read that‘s worth a look.

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Teen Pioneers | Ben Hubbard
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In this inspirational YA book, Ben Hubbard compiles mini biographies on 21 people who were all teenagers when they acted to try and change the world. Some you may have heard of, e.g. Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and the Hong Kong activist, Joshua Wong, and others you will hear more of in the future. It‘s the perfect book to wave at any grown-up who dares to complain about young people lacking motivation and seeking to take all the time.

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Svend Brinkmann is professor of psychology at Aalborg University and in this readable book (translated from Danish by Tam McTurk) he examines the values of self-restraint and moderation to combat the Fear Of Missing Out lifestyle. However, while Brinkmann makes strong psychological and philosophical arguments for why moderation is good for you, he doesn‘t give any guidance on how to practice it and so it feels a little half-done as a subject.

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The 7th in Robin Stevens‘s MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE SERIES for children aged 9+ is another well-plotted mystery filled with some devilish twists and great character development for Daisy and Hazel. I especially liked a key revelation about Daisy and her sexuality (which Stevens does well to contextualise in the time) but Hazel also gains a lot of confidence and self-awareness and I welcomed seeing Alexander and George again.

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Ben Clanton‘s charming self-illustrated picture book for children aged 5+ (the first in a series) is a cute story about friendship, envy and imagination and includes some cool facts about narwhals and jellyfish such that both adults and kids will get a kick out of it.

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Astroturf | Matthew Sperling
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Matthew Sperling‘s debut novel is a flat-footed, predictable satire that plays out as the ultimate nerd fantasy of an underachiever finally achieving his goals and getting the girls when he uses illegal steroids to up his testosterone. The humour is limp, characterisation thin (especially the women) and Ned a dull and unpleasant protagonist such that while it moves as a fair clip, I am not motivated to check out Sperling‘s next book.

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Thomas Lennon‘s fantasy novel for children aged 9+ (the first in a series and illustrated by John Hendrix) relies heavily on Oirish stereotypes and the world building never really gels (particularly the link between the fantasy and real world elements) and feels intended for an older audience. There are some laughs from the dialogue but the pacing is uneven and the cliff hanger ending didn‘t interest me enough to want to read the sequel.

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The 6th in Mick Herron‘s JACKSON LAMB SERIES is slow to start and there is a sense of Herron snipping old plot strands in order to move players and events into place for the end game. However there‘s a lot of good character development – particularly Lamb – the plot, when it gets going, moves at a good pace, there are 3 character deaths (one‘s very sad) and the mysterious ending makes me desperate to find out what awaits Slough House next.