SirFurboy's 75 books in 2020

Talk75 Books Challenge for 2020

Join LibraryThing to post.

SirFurboy's 75 books in 2020

1sirfurboy
Jan 1, 2020, 6:44am

I am Stephen, or Sir Furboy. I live in Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Mid Wales. My hobbies include walking, cycling, kayaking and surfing (obviously), although these days I mostly just surf in my kayak. I also like languages, and for a while now have been trying to learn one new language a year.

In 2017 I copied Lori's idea of a virtual walk, and my walking progress took me from Palermo, Sicily to just beyond Gibralter in Spain in 2017. I covered the same distance in 2018 and reached the west coast of France, and last year I upped the distance just a little to reach the end of the Long distance path on the border with Estonia and Russia. My map is here (click it to go to the actual google map):


European Long Distance Path Virtual Walk


This year I will be embarking on a new walk, probably picking up the Nordic route I bypassed on the above walk. However I have not decided for sure yet, and may choose something outside of Europe. The idea is that I flavour my reading based on where my walk takes me, although I read less than usual last year, and thus did not do enough of that (sorry).

Oh yes, some of my favourite genres are Young Adult, Sci Fi, Coming of Age, Fantasy and Historical. I also try to read some classics each year, some non fiction and other works out of those genres.

Anyway, I hope you will star my thread and stop by every now and again. Coffee is available and the sofa is comfy :)

2PaulCranswick
Jan 1, 2020, 7:27am



Another resolution is to keep up in 2020 with all my friends on LT. Happy New Year!

3calm
Jan 1, 2020, 7:30am

Happy New Year Stephen. I hope you have a great year of reading.

4EllaTim
Jan 1, 2020, 8:14am

Happy New Year, Stephen!

I'll be looking forward to your virtual walking tour anyway.

Some destinations are easier to find books for than others. I tried to find books for Estonia, last year, for my reading around the world challenge, but couldn't find anything available.

5FAMeulstee
Jan 1, 2020, 8:51am

Happy reading in 2020, Stephen!

6SandDune
Jan 1, 2020, 9:13am

Happy New Year Stephen!

7DianaNL
Jan 1, 2020, 10:16am

Best wishes for 2020!

8drneutron
Jan 1, 2020, 1:39pm

Welcome back!

9paulstalder
Jan 2, 2020, 10:37am

10lkernagh
Jan 2, 2020, 9:58pm

Wow! You have made amazing progress with your walking challenge (I pretty much missed most of 2019). Best wishes for walking and reading in 2020!

11SirThomas
Jan 3, 2020, 2:14am

Happy New Year and Happy New Thread, Stephen.
I look forward to your virtual journey and your reports.

12ronincats
Jan 3, 2020, 12:07pm



Happy New Year, Stephen!

13thornton37814
Jan 5, 2020, 9:25pm

Have a great reading year!

14souloftherose
Jan 11, 2020, 8:36am

Welcome back and happy new year Stephen!

15alcottacre
Jan 21, 2020, 12:28am

Sorry I am so late checking in here, Stephen. I hope 2020 is a fantastic reading year for you!

16paulstalder
Jan 21, 2020, 3:26am

Hej Stephen, I just made some coffee and sit reasonably comfortable at my desk :), I'd prefer your sofa for sure ...
I have a question about your google map up front: how did you manage to put that map in your thread? I made another google map with my book data on but I can't make it show in my thread. I can only put the link in there, but the map would not be seen as yours is. can you help me here? Any hint appreciated.

17sirfurboy
Jan 22, 2020, 6:09pm

>16 paulstalder: Hi Paul, Welcome :) I am afraid it is nothing more clever than taking a screenshot of the map and uploading the image to LibraryThing. Once there (or any other hosting service) you can include it with an image tag and then wrap the image in an HTML anchor tag to link it to the google map.

The code looks like this:

<a href="https://www.google.com/maps/d/view?hl=en&mid=1T82jRIDg2F9goS7S4uBoJgybqrg&ll=49.54217175334316%2C10.661225168288183&z=5"><img src="https://pics.librarything.com/picsizes/8a/a1/8aa16b55ef582a8636c53597477434b41716b42.jpg" width="600" /><br />European Long Distance Path Virtual Walk</a>

18sirfurboy
Jan 22, 2020, 6:10pm

Thanks everyone else for the welcome message. As happens each January, I have been a little busy and not had much time for LinraryThing. I am hoping to write some fuller updates soon.

19paulstalder
Jan 23, 2020, 3:52am

>17 sirfurboy: Thanks Stephen. That was a great help. I managed to put the map into my thread now.

20sirfurboy
Jan 28, 2020, 6:22am

1. Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari



This is a well written and ambitious book that covers the whole sweep of human origins and history, looking at interesting questions in an engaging manner. I enjoyed the subject matter very much, and the author draws together a large number of fields into a cohesive whole.

The book suffers from some problems though. One is the author's own biases, which are easy enough to spot. All authors have biases, of course, but in this case the text is presented in a manner that brooks no controversy concerning them. No doubt this is done to keep the book from ballooning out into an encylopaedia, but a reader might come away thinking a whole host of questions are more settled than they in fact are.

There is plenty of thought provoking material in the book, although it is firmly in the popular science category. There is nothing really new here, but the book brings together a lot of material and makes it readable in a cohesive whole.

In descriptions of areas I knew well, I felt the author was broadly right but not telling the whole story. I was left feeling he had spent time trying to understand the subject matter for the book, but that experts in the field would find areas to discuss and debate. Thus, when talking about Buddhism, a subject I knew much less about, I felt informed by the book, but with a caution that perhaps a Buddhist would also wish to debate his characterisation.

The more speculative material in the book is where things start to go wrong. Particularly at the end (although elsewhere too). The problem with speculative material is it is all highly debatable so the futurology was the least enlightening section, and I was not inspired to read the author's sequel that appears to be all about the futurology.

Despite those issues, however, this book gives plenty of interesting material bearing thought and reflection, and I did enjoy it.

21PaulCranswick
Jan 28, 2020, 6:31am

>20 sirfurboy: Good review, Stephen and it encapsulated pretty much my own thoughts on it too. I thought it very good and readable but certainly the author's prejudices are worn on his sleeve.

22sirfurboy
Jan 28, 2020, 6:44am

>21 PaulCranswick: Thanks Paul. Yes indeed.

23sirfurboy
Jan 29, 2020, 6:52am

2. The Sword Saint - C. F. Iggulden.



The third book of Conn Iggulden's fantasy series, "The Empire of Salt". The author is an accomplished and gifted writer, and he creates a wonderful cast of deep and interesting characters who battle to save the city of Darien from the onslaught of the armies of a new nation, forged in blood and darkness, that wants to swallow them up. This is a sword and sorcery adventure, but not a classic one. Iggulden brings a whole new slant on the genre that makes this an exciting and original series in a classic epic story.

24FAMeulstee
Jan 29, 2020, 9:19am

>20 sirfurboy: Nice review, Stephen, it is waiting somewhere on mount TBR.

>23 sirfurboy: Iggulden is a good writer, this series is translated but there is no copy at my library.

25sirfurboy
Jan 30, 2020, 12:39pm

3. The Charismatic Illusion - Peter Masters



I read the original version of this book years ago (then called The Charismatic Phenomenon) and I remember being quite irate at what I felt were mischaracterisations of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement and an overstating of the case it makes for Cessationism. Nevertheless I recalled some aspects of the book and quoted them from time to time, so I re-read it in the light of experience and with the hope that I would find I had leaped too quickly to judgement in the past.

Turns out I didn't. This revised and expanded book still manages to mischaracterise the Pentecostal movement and to overstate the Cessationist case.

But that does not mean it is terrible. It is a good book if you want a broad overview of cessationism, and the range of arguments put forward. They are all here, and written in a clear enough style that is logical and straightforward in its presentation.

What was lacking was any history of Cessationism to put it into a historical perspective. This is a post reformation doctrine, but reading this, you might think that Continuationism was the innovative position because it is largely conflated with Pentecostalism. Nevertheless the author does take to task those who are neither Cessationist nor Pentecostal, telling them why they really need to be Cessationist too.

There are too many mischaracterisations for me to deal with in one review. One example is the mention of David du Plessis, who the author criticises as a leading Pentecostal trying to create a single ecumenical church under the authority of the Pope. Du Plessis was an early charismatic leader who was indeed very involved in the ecumenical movement, but what was being said here was almost chilling in its heart-of-the-reformation polemic against Catholicism, and was clearly a misunderstanding or overstatement of du Plessis' opinion. Moreover, the suggestion that this was therefore indicative of all Pentecostalism and charismatic Christianity appeared to be deliberately obtuse.

Thus the final chapter on treating Pentecostals and Charismatics with love appeared to be largely at odds with the polemic of the book.

So all in all, an interesting summary of this post reformation doctrine, including good coverage for all the major arguments, but with not nearly enough history, and likely to annoy more than it will convince those who do not already broadly agree with what is written therein.

26sirfurboy
Jan 31, 2020, 10:11am

4. Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past - David Reich



An absolutely fascinating book that describes the revolution in anthropology and archaeology brought about by the study of ancient DNA. The author is at the forefront of this area of research, but cautions, rightly, that the field is moving so quickly at the moment that the book would be outdated in some respects even before it was published.

The science is described to an appropriate level of detail, explaining how DNA actually works, and how the repeated splicing of DNA in human reproduction can still leave tell tale identifiable chains with mutations that can be tracked across populations and through time using statistical techniques.

Then, with the science described, the author tells the fascinating story of human migration and mixture, and how the study of ancient DNA, recovered from ancient remains, can in many cases confirm long held theories of archaeologists and anthropologists, and in other cases overturn them.

For instance, linguistically we know that the pacific islanders hail from Taiwan originally, and the ancient DNA both confirms this but also throws up surprises showing that the story is more complicated than we thought.

We hear in these pages why European populations are more closely related to Native Americans than we expected, through an ancient population that no longer exists. And there are many other such revelations.

There is discussion at the end of the book about right wing bloggers and the like who pounce on DNA studies to support their theories, and why they are wrong to do so. The book also cautions against a knee-jerk denial of the possibility of genetic difference across populations too, but with the useful caveat that talking about populations is not really that helpful, when difference within a population is so enormous. The discussion is a timely reminder not to try to force science to fit preconceptions, but to let it speak for itself.

The book could be easily misunderstood by some, I expect. Yet if read carefully and without a desire to impose preconceptions upon it, it is very enlightening and just plain interesting.

27EllaTim
Feb 2, 2020, 8:00pm

>26 sirfurboy: Good review Stephen. The whole history of humanity is fascinating stuff of course, and DNA research can help to find out more.

And yes, to being careful about preconceptions.

28sirfurboy
Feb 5, 2020, 10:26am

>27 EllaTim: Thanks :)

29sirfurboy
Feb 5, 2020, 10:27am

5. Crispin: The Cross of Lead - Avi



This 2003 Newbery Medal winning novel is a great tale of an orphan who suddenly finds himself hunted and in fear for his life following the death of the lord of the estate he has grown up on. The peasant boy runs away, aided by a kindly priest, who is then murdered. Crispin finds a new mentor in a man called Bear, and they travel as itinerant performers, slowly unraveling the mystery of why people want Crispin dead (and what the lead cross he carries has to do with it).

This all leads to an exciting and satisfying finale, laced with plenty of historical detail for the medieval setting.

30paulstalder
Feb 5, 2020, 1:02pm

>25 sirfurboy: thanks for that review, Stephen. I wasn't aware that cessationism is so strong. The discussion here is not so strong anymore than it used to be 30-40 years ago; or I don't experience it anymore :).

A few years ago I heard a liberal professor from Basel speaking on the subject of the Pentecostal church. He had no idea of their history. He didn't know about the Berlin Declaration 1911 where the Lutheran and Reformed (free) churches in Germany and Switzerland signed a paper concerning that movement, and he seemed to ignore the difference between Pentecostals and Charismatics. He just didn't know about the Holy Spirit - he saw all these 'manifestations' as only human made show (which some sure are).

31sirfurboy
Feb 6, 2020, 11:17am

>30 paulstalder: Thanks Paul. I think cessationism is a minority viewpoint. It is strongly associated with the reformed tradition, so primarily Calvinists. They still argue it quite vehemently though.

Having people speak, from the outside, about something you know about can often be a painful experience. :) That was part of my caution about Sapiens above. The author was clearly speaking as an authority on subjects he was looking in on from the outside. My fear was that I was not getting the information as it would be imparted from someone on the inside.

I have edited some of the Pentecostal history pages on Wikipedia, including creating the page for Stanley Frodsham. The subject is huge though and would be wary of pretending to be any kind of authority on the subject.

32paulstalder
Feb 7, 2020, 4:06am

>31 sirfurboy: Do you know about a pentecostal archive in Nashville, or Tennessee at least? Ages ago I was at the theological library of Vanderbilt. I was able then to visit over a dozen different theological libraries/archives in Tennessee. Among them was an archive for pentecostal and charismatic issues. That was very interesting. Here in Switzerland there is no such institution would collect such material.

33sirfurboy
Feb 7, 2020, 7:10am

I didn't know about that one, but I do know about the Donald Gee archive:

https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/browse/a/A13531693

And the University of Southern California's excellent Pentecostal and Charismatic Research Archive:

http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/p15799coll14

That second one links to some others in Europe too. It also has a huge digitised collection of content including many hard to find books and magazines.

34paulstalder
Feb 16, 2020, 3:55pm


wish you a good new week

35sirfurboy
Feb 18, 2020, 6:11am

>34 paulstalder: Thanks Paul

36sirfurboy
Feb 18, 2020, 6:12am

6. Eleven - Tom Rogers



This is a cleverly written books for mid grade children about a day in the life of a boy who is turning 11, is mad about aircraft, passionately wants a dog for his birthday, and is troubled at school by some bullies. Oh, and he lives in New York and it is 11 September 2001.

The writer does a great job on focusing on the world view of the young protagonist in the middle of momentous events. He doesn't over sensationalise, but instead creates what seems like a perfectly normal day of mishaps and adventures in the middle of momentous world events. There is humour and emotion, with some cleverly written characters and it is all rather well done.

37sirfurboy
Feb 19, 2020, 10:07am

7. The Warning - T. Davis Bunn

No touchstone.



Someone recommended this author, so I tried this book of his.

Published in 1998, this is a book that posits a global financial collapse, and a reluctant prophet who, as for Joseph in the story in Genesis, receives a prophecy from God about the coming financial "famine" and knows how to solve it. Unashamedly Christian (of a Charismatic persuasion) in outlook, this plot seems to have a lot of potential, but unfortunately the execution is pretty terrible.

Some pluses first though. Firstly, the author clearly had some knowledge of financial markets and the global financial system. His description of derivative trading, for instance was not wrong, and nor was his analysis of the risks inherent in the financial system. This was written before the global financial collapse, and one might be tempted to say he correctly predicted it. That would be pushing it though. The collapse he describes is not the one that happened, and at the time the book was written he was one of very many people raising concerns about derivative trading. Best not let hindsight bias make us think the author was a prophet, but the risks he talked about in the book were very real nonetheless.

The collapse, when he wrote it, was implausible in many respects, but I did not find myself objecting strongly to the technical content of the book.

What really let this novel down was the really atrocious characterisation. The author had to dump lots of financial explanation, for instance, so he puts in a Wall Street Journal reporter who interviews Korda, the reluctant prophet. The reporter is basically clueless and has to be taught some basics about financial markets by Korda. This is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and it sounds like a conversation with the pizza delivery guy. So that was one minor character who seemed badly thought out. He was just a prop to which the author could attach dialogue, and he was not the only example of that.

Then there are all the Christians who hear Korda give his message and immediately just accept it, in some kind of miraculous way. At one point, Korda holds a meeting to tell people of his vision and he talks a bit and then says "is there a stockbroker here?" Sure enough there is. So Korda asks if the stockbroker will help all the people in the meeting to sell up their portfolios and invest all their money in Put Options. These options are not an investment, but a bet on a market fall. The description of them is again correct, and Korda warns the audience that no broker would suggest such risky investments to ordinary investors. So he asks the stockbroker whether he will help and the broker says yes because he acknowledges the truth of the message Korda has brought. Just like that, all the Christians sign up to gambling all their money, and no one stands up and says "wait! what?"

Now here is the thing: in fiction the author can posit that the prophet's message is true, and naysayers are wrong. That is okay. It is fiction. You can do that. What is not right is to have all the characters behaving in such an unnatural way. It stretches the bounds of credulity beyond breaking point that this message would just be accepted on face value, and that everyone would then just accept Koprda's solution: bet all your wealth on a stock market fall on a specific day. There was some opposition, but it was from evil money grabbing non Christians, who were heavily typecast and really not much of a threat. A nasty show down in a back alley was a total damp squib.

In the Bible story of Joseph, Joseph only needed to persuade Pharoah of the truth of his words and then Pharoah's authority oversaw the preparations for famine. In this book Korda manages to persuade pretty much everyone we come across that he is a genuine prophet, unlike all the other prophets that came along from time to time, and that they should all do exactly as he said. Nope, this just does not fly.

There was little human interest either. The author tried some but it was all a bit flat, and these characters were just boring. Attempts to give Korda some flaws seemed to be just for the sake of it. He was not quite a Mary Sue, but there was little interesting going on there.

So really, the book could have had so much more conflict. Instead it was just a count down with repeated descriptions of financial markets. The climax was described clinically, but I was just glad to get it over by that point.

Another point arises as to the overall polemic of the book. This is not really the story of Joseph in Egypt, preparing for famine. No, this is the story of a global financial collapse in which all the Christians who listen to the words of the modern day prophet get rich quick, and give half of all their profits to the church. They get rich quicjk by gambling. Sure, in this world it is not a gamble because God told them to do it, but to be honest this story is no better than one where God says "buy a lottery ticket, the numbers are x, y, z..." It is a get rich quick story for the people who do what the prophet tells them. And that looks like the prosperity gospel. The book is all about money and riches and making sure that American Christians (because Korda did not go on a world tour after all) get rich at the expense of everyone else who gets wiped out.

Wouldn't a better story be about one that calls people, Christians included, to repentance for their love of money?

Maybe the prosperity gospel aspect was unintentional, but it was also wholly inescapable.

So in summary: preposterous story, flat and boring characters, poor execution, some very dodgy theology. One to miss.

38sirfurboy
Feb 20, 2020, 6:23am

8. Mythos - Stephen Fry



Stephen Fry's retelling of Greek myth. It is not all of the myths - he admits even an immortal would not have time time read all of them - but he does a great job of collecting together all of the best known and most important myths (whilst deliberately not including the Trojan war and its aftermath). He then retells these in his inimitable engaging manner. His dry wit is much on display, and he rewrites the stories in a jocular contemporary narrative voice that somehow works, even though you know he is adapting the material.

And adapt he does, taking his cue from Ovid and others. He is not afraid to adapt the details to spin the narrative in a way that is really very interesting, and does not feel unfaithful to the original source material.

I chuckled at many points through the reading of this book. As an example, take a look at this wonderful piece of prose at the end of the story of Narcissus. The footnote was what had me laughing out loud:

"Narcissistic personality disorder and echolalia (the apparently mindless repetition of what is said) are both classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which medically and legally defines mental illnesses. Narcissistic personality disorder, much talked about these days, is marked by vanity, self-importance, a grandiose hunger for admiration, acclaim and applause, and above all an obsession with self-image. The feelings of others are railroaded and stampeded, while such considerations as honesty, truthfulness or integrity are blithely disregarded. Bragging, boasting and delusional exaggeration are common signs. Criticism or belittlement is intolerable and can provoke aggressive and explosively strange behaviour.*

"*No one we know, of course…"

So all in all a thoroughly recommended work, making Greek myth accessible, and more importantly, enjoyable to a wider audience.

39sirfurboy
Feb 21, 2020, 6:39am

9. The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket - John Boyne



Barnaby Brocket is born into a perfectly normal family, thank you very much. Which is why his parents are so irritated when the boy has the temerity to defy the law of gravity. Barnaby is not just an ordinary boy, you see. He floats.

And thus we follow through his early years as his family try to hide away their son's little difference, but eventually one thing leads to another and he must cope with abandonment which leads to a series of meetings with people who also have been shunned for being different.

This is a humorous and engaging book for children with an enduring message throughout that it is okay to be different. Some of the messages are subtler, and there is plenty being said in this tale, which nevertheless is not preachy, and should be enjoyed by children and appreciated by older readers too. Shades of Roald Dahl in this book, form an established and excellent writer.

40PaulCranswick
Feb 22, 2020, 9:46am

>39 sirfurboy: John Boyne really is a prolific writer isn't he? 17 novels in less than 20 years is a workrate some of his peers and contemporaries ought to strive for.

Have a great weekend, Sir F.

41sirfurboy
Feb 22, 2020, 6:48pm

>40 PaulCranswick: Yes, very true. And still plenty of good ideas.

Thanks, and you too.

42sirfurboy
Feb 22, 2020, 6:50pm

10. To the Wild Sky - Ivan Southall,



This is a classic adventure in the mould of Robinson Crusoe, Hatchet, and several other stories. A group of children and teens are on a plane when the pilot suddenly and unexpectedly dies. Their first trial is not crashing, and the trials soon follow when they find themselves offshore and alone. They must pull together and brave many hardships, but the writer still manages to make them behave like their age, with some excellent characterisations. A clever finish too.

43EllaTim
Feb 22, 2020, 8:14pm

>39 sirfurboy: Who wouldn't like to be able to float?

Have a nice weekend.

44SirThomas
Feb 23, 2020, 4:25am

Have a good Sunday, Stephen.
>39 sirfurboy: This one sounds intriguing - another book for the mount TBR.

45sirfurboy
Feb 24, 2020, 5:50am

>43 EllaTim: Yes, although I expect it would have its drawbacks! :) I hope your weekend was good.

>44 SirThomas: Thanks, and have a good week.

46sirfurboy
Feb 24, 2020, 6:02pm

11. Straw into Gold - Gary Schmidt



Gary Schmidt is an excellent writer and I have never read anything of his that I regretted. This is one of his older works, but it is still a deceptively rich tale, well written and with beautiful characterisations. A re-imagining of the story of Rumpelstiltskin, where the author asked himself "why did the little man want the baby boy so badly. What was special about him?"

The answer Schmidt finds is insightful, clever and makes for an excellent read. Two boys set out to solve a riddle, but they find something else entirely.

47sirfurboy
Feb 26, 2020, 7:12am

12. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck



I finally got round to reading this book on a train journey yesterday. The book is a classic, well studied and much discussed, so there is little I can add to what has already been said about it. On a personal level, it was an easy read, being quite short, and written in accessible style (despite the vernacular dialogue).

Two migrant workers - George Milton, and Lennie Small, are fleeing one town and looking for work elsewhere in the Great Depression. They are close, but Lennie is mentally disabled. He is a big man, who does not know his own strength, got in trouble in the past and does so again.

The book is a little disturbing, but it is well written, and from the start it paints a picture of its setting that works very well. Characters are well described, and we get a sense of all of their dreams and desires, and perhaps that is key to the message of the book too. It is not really my kind of story, but it was easy to see why it is a classic.

48sirfurboy
Feb 27, 2020, 12:43pm

13. Scythe - Neal Shusterman (others)



Scythe is a young adult sci-fi novel about a future where death and disease have been eradicated and world government has been achieved through a benevolent AI called the Thunderhead, which tirelessly works to improve the lot of humans, and tends the planet, allowing population growth without environmental destruction - but there is a problem. With death eliminated, not even the Thunderhead can allow for uncontrolled population growth, and so there must be some kind of cull or "gleaning" of the population. The AI recuses itself from this by having an organisation of Scythes - humans who carry out the gleaning and are completely separate from the Thunderhead and society, although respected and feared by it.

The scythes must be honourable, but power corrupts, and not everything is perfect. Into this world, a scythe selects two teens for apprentices. Both have shown themselves to be moral and decent people, who hate the idea of being a scythe - one of the most important qualifications for becoming a scythe. Yet they find themselves plunged into a world of corruption and intrigue.

Good writing, and a novel concept. This was a great read that would appeal to fans of The Hunger Games, although comparison with that series would be overdone. This book is very much its own story, and recommended.

Printz honor book in 2016.

49sirfurboy
Edited: Feb 28, 2020, 5:44pm

14. Orphans of the Tide - Struan Murray



This is a brilliant and original book, set in a world where the sea has risen and swallowed much of the land, but the city remains, built on a mountain that juts from the waves, surrounded by some smaller islands. The city has no name. Why name a city when there are no others? The community living there fear The Enemy, but otherwise have a thriving and richly described community.

Their lives are thrown in some confusion when they wake up one day to find a whale has beached itself on a rooftop. This improbable scenario becomes downright strange when young Ellie, orphaned daughter of the city's best inventor, notices a hand sticking out of the whale, rushes forward and cuts a boy free from it.

The oddness of this, the clearly magical underpinnings of the story and the humour running throughout had me thinking of Harry Potter, but nothing of the story resembles Harry Potter really. Perhaps there is closer affinity to "His Dark Materials," but what I really loved about this book is that it is not really like anything else. It is a beautifully imagined and perfectly executed work. The characters are just brilliant, and I really loved various descriptions of the smaller children in the orphanage and elsewhere. "Ellie, he's eating paint again..." I had many a wry chuckle at this book.

There were a series of nice plot twists too. The biggest one was one I saw coming - but not right away. The author did a great job of hiding it in plain sight.

This is a highly recommended work. Written for mid grade children, I think it is one of those stories that could be appreciated at any age.

50alcottacre
Edited: Feb 28, 2020, 4:43pm

>23 sirfurboy: I am going to have to see if my local library has any of the books in that series. It looks good!

>26 sirfurboy: >36 sirfurboy: >42 sirfurboy: >49 sirfurboy: Adding that one to the BlackHole!

>37 sirfurboy: I think I can safely give that one a pass.

>38 sirfurboy: I already have that one in the BlackHole or I would be adding it again.

>39 sirfurboy: My local library has a copy of that one, so hopefully I can get to it soon.

>48 sirfurboy: My daughter has that one, so I may borrow it.

51sirfurboy
Feb 29, 2020, 2:25pm

>50 alcottacre: Wow, looks like quote a few book bullets there. I hope you enjoy them. Yes, definitely borrow that last one from your daughter :)

Thanks for looking in.

52sirfurboy
Feb 29, 2020, 2:27pm

15. Wind and Flame - Donald Gee



Donald Gee wrote an excellent history of the Pentecostal Movement, and I read the 1949 version of this some years ago. It turns out that this is substantially the same book, just rebadged and updated. It is still an excellent history though. The emphasis is more from a European perspective, but attempts to be much wider than that.

53PaulCranswick
Mar 1, 2020, 9:59pm

>47 sirfurboy: One of the few books that I have read more than twice, Sir F.

>49 sirfurboy: That is one I will look for - what an excellent title!

54sirfurboy
Mar 2, 2020, 10:02am

>53 PaulCranswick: It helps that it is short :)

Thanks for the comments.

55sirfurboy
Mar 2, 2020, 10:05am

16. Trumpocracy - David Frum



The writer of this book presents an easy going and often humorous look at the corruption of American politics as epitomised in the election of Donald Trump, but without any silly notions that the problem is Trump alone. Instead the writer, speaking from a conservative perspective, takes aim at the Republican party too. He analyses problems with the voting system, has a chapter on the rigged system, lays into the "dead end" Republican party, and looks at other issues. Yet clearly there is a lot about trump, including the chilling effect of the man's attacks on free speech and all his other myriad faults. In this analysis there is probably nothing new. Pretty much the whole world can see the kind of nasty man that Trump is - it is just that some people like that nasty. That too is covered here.

The book is well done. It attacks the Democrats a little too, but it is mostly about Trump's America, the pursuit of isolationism, and thus its declining influence, as well as all the internal faults this administration has uncovered.

I doubt it will change many minds. Those who dislike Trump already know all this, and those who like him will probably not read this. Which is a pity.

56sirfurboy
Mar 3, 2020, 12:15pm

17. Thunderhead - Neal Shusterman



I enjoyed Scythe a lot, but I loved Thunderhead. This is first class science fiction. Technically it is young adult fiction, but that really should not put anyone off it. The story telling is perfectly executed, the characters are deeply imagined, the conflict is powerfully done, and the plot has become intricate and deeply involved. Underlyig this all there is also something deeper going on. This is a series that must surely become as well known as The Hunger Games, but based on this book, I think it is better than that one.

There is something superficially preposterous about the whole concept of Scythes, who must glean the human population to prevent uncontrolled population growth. Yet the problems are worthy of greater reflection, and really do not bear comparison with the plot problems of other YA fiction like Divergent or the Hunger Games. Let that one slide, and the rest of the world ifts together into a fully consistent whole.

Citra is now a junior scythe. Rowan has also become a scythe, of sorts - a rogue one who seeks justice and is hunted by the scythdom. Meanwhile we are introduced to a new character, Grayson, who is of vital importance to the AI, the Thunderhead - but his journey in this book is a difficult one. Meanwhile dark and nefarious plans are afoot. There is huge political intrigue, and an attempt for a new order to gain power by any means.

The Thunderhead gets much more treament in this book too, and you see the AI growing, developing and starting to change. Brought up on stories such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, I found myself looking for ways that the AI may suddenly turn evil - but of that is the author's plan, it is well hidden. I think this book is more subtle than that. The Thunderhead is just another richly imagined character.

The political intrigue was a real strength of the story, but also appeared to me to be a bit of a poke at real world politics. Never moreso than when the evil scythe who is trying to take power over all scythdom (promising the voters everything they want in a populist spree), comes out with the line: "make scythdom great again". Yep, no idea who the author had in his sights there.

There are many subtle messages to this book, but most of all it is a cracking good tale. Thoroughly recommended.

57sirfurboy
Mar 5, 2020, 11:35am

18. De reizen van de slimme man - Imme Dros



Imme Dros is an excellent writer who writes some quite deep books. This one is no exception. It is short, but does not fit into any obvious categories. Coming of age, perhaps. The story seems to be quite metaphorical, as does some of the language - which got away from me in places.

The book is about a boy, Niels who has grown up on tales of Greek heroes told to him by his neighbour, Mr. Frank. Then Niels moves to Wassenaar, on the South Holland coast. He moves to a large villa, and has rich neighbours, but he finds himself thinking more on those stories and he learns Latin so that he can read and understand them. In the end - well best not to say how it ends - but there is not a sense that a lot happened. The changes in this book are internal. There is no powerful conflict or narratibve which makes it a book to ponder, and not an easy one to understand when not read in your native language. But it is definitely an interesting, thoughtful and beautiful work.

58sirfurboy
Mar 6, 2020, 11:41am

19. Why Do Buses Come in Threes: The Hidden Mathematics of Everyday Life - Rob Eastaway



An excellent look at the mathematics all around us, written with interesting and engaging discussions, fun facts, snippets of history and some magic tricks. The subjects meander around a little because it is trying to show how interesting the subject is, rather than focusing on any one subject in depth.

Lives up to its title, and there is nothing off putting about the presentation either. An enjoyable read.

59FAMeulstee
Mar 7, 2020, 2:05pm

>57 sirfurboy: Glad you liked it, Stephen.
I think it is about stories, telling them and creating your own.

60SirThomas
Mar 8, 2020, 4:45am

>39 sirfurboy: I have read it by now and found it great.
I wish you a wonderful sunday, Stephen.

61sirfurboy
Mar 9, 2020, 6:02am

>59 FAMeulstee: Thanks Anita, yes, that makes sense. Thanks also for the recommendation. It took me a long time to read this one, but I got there in the end. Now for all the other recommendations I have picked up from you!

>60 SirThomas: Thank you! I am very glad you enjoyed the book. Have a good week.

62sirfurboy
Mar 9, 2020, 7:29am

20. The Toll - Neal Shusterman



This is the last book of this first rate science fiction trilogy set in a future where death has been conquered through medical advances, and the world population is controlled by scythes who are meant to impartially cull the population as necessary. Things have gone very wrong though, and the scythedom has become corrupt and increasingly despotic. Threads of resistance introduced in previous books weave together in this one to a climax that is very well done. The whole story is well thought through, the characters are a real strength, the action is exciting, and the book is filled with cultural references, humour, little digs and hidden (or not so hidden) meaning.

I very much enjoyed this series and would read more by this author, who really knows his stuff.

As before, there are some very apposite and none to subtle political digs. My favourite was when refugees were fleeing America for the "charter region" of Texas because of the despotic nature of the scythedom there, causing a refugee crisis. This led to this wonderful piece of dialogue:

"We're exploring the possibility of building a wall to stem the exodus."
"Don't be ridiculous," Goddard said. "Only idiots build walls."

But don't worry, this is not a thinly veiled political commentary. It is much more than that. A great story, highly recommended.

63sirfurboy
Mar 11, 2020, 10:10am

21. Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos



I first read this book as a child (I recall reading it while on holiday in Cornwall). At the time I worked my way through many Doctor Who books. I picked it up recently as a library ebook and decided to re-read it.

These books are not particularly well written, but they are not terrible either. It is a faithful reproduction of the plot, with just a touch of additional character development that would not have been possible in the TV series. The author does not really work very hard at character development though.

Classic Doctor Who, with aliens attempting to destroy the world and the Master adding to the mayhem.

Not really recommended to anyone who is not a Doctor Who fan.

64ronincats
Mar 12, 2020, 6:52pm

>62 sirfurboy: *sigh* Three book bullets for this series, alas! My library has 20 copies of the first book (1 available), but doesn't have the next two!! WTF? I've just made a strong suggestion that they purchase it, along with Orphans of the Tide.

65alcottacre
Mar 12, 2020, 7:04pm

>57 sirfurboy: I admit that I have never heard of Imme Dros. I will have to see if I can track down the book. Thanks for the recommendation!

66sirfurboy
Mar 26, 2020, 11:21am

>64 ronincats: You are welcome ;)

I do hope you like them as much as I did.

>65 alcottacre: I don't think her works are translated into English unfortunately.

Sorry for the slow updates here. For me, everything being up in the air is making me quite busy.

67sirfurboy
Mar 26, 2020, 11:22am

22. Newt's Emerald - Garth Nix



Garth Nix once again shows his incredible imagination and his ability to spin an enjoyable and interesting story. Set in the regency period of an alternative Britain in which magic is commonplace, Napoleon is a great magician who has been magically imprisoned in the rock of Gibralter, and Lady Truthful of the Newington-Lacy's has just turned 18 and is old enough to inherit the Newington emerald. Only someone else has designs on it and the emerald is stolen. Truthful vows to return it to her family, as her father becomes ill with the stress and heartbreak.

What follows are classic Nix adventures - enjoyable and colourful characters getting into various scrapes and difficulties, and slowly unraveling more mysteries than one. This should be a good young adult read, that can be appreciated much more widely.

68PaulCranswick
Mar 26, 2020, 10:51pm

Hope you are staying safe in West Wales, Sir F.

69EllaTim
Mar 27, 2020, 8:33am

>66 sirfurboy: Actually two of her books have been translated into English. I looked her up in WorldCat. But I think they might be quite hard to find. Here's a link for one of them on WorldCat.

https://www.worldcat.org/title/journeys-of-the-clever-man/oclc/59949360&refe...

I like looking things up there, was just curious.

>67Looks good to me!

Stay safe over there, Stephen.

70sirfurboy
Mar 27, 2020, 12:19pm

>69 EllaTim: Oh thanks for this Ella. Those books are definitely worth looking out for then. She is a really good writer.

Interesting I notice that an adaption of De brief voor de koning (The Letter for the King ) by Tonke Dragt has just been released on Netflix. I watched the first episode (in English, UK Netflix does not even have Dutch subtitles) and noticed it departed quite a lot from the book, but still interesting that this Dutch classic is making its way to greater notability in the English speaking world.

And I hope you stay safe too.

71sirfurboy
Mar 27, 2020, 12:30pm

23. A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles - J. L. Houlden



The Black's New Testament commentaries are a great series of commentaries that required their authors to produce their own translations of the passages, included in the text, as well as undertaking all the traditional work of the commentator in outlining the background, themes, issues and controversies for the text and then providing a verse by verse commentary too.

Houlden's commentary does not depart from that trusted formula, and the work is a good and scholarly one, but I was less impressed with this than I was with Barrett's or Kelly's commentaries. In places it felt like the commentator did not have the greatest of respect for the author of the material, and there were also some clear gaps. Part of that is down to the nature of John's writing. John does not have the tight theological argument of Paul, but despite this very different style, I felt the commentary could have drawn out more from the text than it actually did.

72FAMeulstee
Mar 27, 2020, 7:13pm

>71 sirfurboy: Yes, I heard about the series on Netflix, and that the series is only loosely based on the book. I don't have Netflix, so can't say anything useful about it.

73sirfurboy
Mar 29, 2020, 4:13pm

>72 FAMeulstee: Hi Anita, yes, it had some of the main details right but there was a lot added in the first episode that changed things around. I may well continue, although there seems to be plenty to watch these days, and currently I don't have any more time for watching. Thanks.

74sirfurboy
Mar 29, 2020, 4:15pm

24. Prison Ship - Paul Dowswell



Second book in the adventures of Sam Witchall. Sam takes part in the battle of Copenhagen, but in the voyage to the battle he overhears some nefarious plans, and consequently finds himself framed and defamed. He is transported to a penal colony in Australia, and once again gets into many adventures.

Powder Monkey was an excellent book, that I enjoyed very much. This book was just as good in historical detail, and the betrayal added a lot to the narrative, but I felt it lacked something. Maybe it was taking the sailor away from the sea that was the problem. I am not sure. Nothing wrong with this book though, which was excellent in many ways. I just did not enjoy it quite as much as the first one.

75sirfurboy
Mar 30, 2020, 5:45am

25. The Explorer



Katherine Rundell is an established and award winning writer. In this work she has turned to a classic of children's adventure. A group of children survive a plane crash deep in the Amazon jungle, and must survive against the odds, working together and overcoming hardship and hunger. But they discover they are not the first people to have been here.

Children should love this book, which is very well written and imagined.

76sirfurboy
Mar 30, 2020, 5:48am

26. Pobol i'w Hosgoi - Ruth Richards



Short stories in Welsh about various people to avoid. Pluses are the refreshing and brutally honest characterisations, and the way the author is able to make everything so relatable to real life. For me the only real minuses are that I am not a huge short story fan, and maybe I did not want to read about people to avoid! Yet that is my fault for picking up the book, which manages to be honest, refreshing, humorous and sometimes a touch dark.

77sirfurboy
Mar 31, 2020, 1:20pm

27. Fade-Out - Patrick Tilley



This is a 1980s novel by an accomplished and popular writer. It tells the story of what happens when mankind discovers we are not alone in the universe. A mysterious fade out of all electronic communications equipment at first brings the world to the edge of nuclear war, but then it becomes apparent that there is more going on than secret Russian space rocket tests. A space ship is found in orbit, and then it lands on earth.

As a book written in the height of the cold war, this book read very much as a product of its time. I don't think it was just the cold war tension either. There was a lot about the way this book was written that reminded me of 1980s sci-fi, which was curious. I had not realised the 80s had such a recognisavle thing going on.

The characters were many in this book, and I felt they lacked depth. One was much like another and they kind of had a TV feel to them. Sometimes they sat down to have deep and meaningful conversations, which were interesting, and yet also a little staged. Again, very 1980s.

It was not bad though. The plot was original (mostly - a few places had me wondering if I had read this before). It did not often drag, and there was an ongoing exploration of mystery. It was good enough but I don't feel inspired to read more 1980s sci-fi.

78sirfurboy
Mar 31, 2020, 1:28pm

28. Funny Fish - Roderick Hunt



I feel a bit cheeky adding this to my list. I downloaded it yesterday, read through it quickly on my Kindle, and then my Kindle kindly added it to my read books on Goddreads without asking! So I guess I should add it here for consistency.

The Oxford Reading Tree is great. I read this with my children years ago when they were learning to read. Amazon had this one available for free, so I downloaded it. It brought back some memories, although it is very short. Great series for teaching your children to read.

79PaulCranswick
Apr 5, 2020, 10:55pm

Hope you have had a lovely, peaceful, safe and healthy weekend, Sir F.

80sirfurboy
Apr 8, 2020, 7:36am

>79 PaulCranswick: Thanks Paul, you too.

81sirfurboy
Edited: Apr 8, 2020, 7:37am

29 My Dad is a Loser - Barry Loser



One of many books that Amazon released for free. This short work is probably meant for younger children going by the length and simplicity. The story is basically dad goes up to the attic and falls through the ceiling. That's about it really.

Read it almost by accident. I was just seeing what the kindle free content was like and before I knew it I was through this one.

82sirfurboy
Apr 8, 2020, 7:41am

30. Poco Loco - J.R. Krause, Maria Chua



Kindle free content that I read so quickly I did not notice, and that the kindle software then added to my list of finished books. This one is written in English with Spanish vocabulary, giving it a slight Dora the Explorer feel. A children's story for first readers.

83sirfurboy
Apr 8, 2020, 9:59am

31. The Story of Baden-Powell: 'The Wolf That Never Sleeps' - Harold Begbie



A biography written of Robert Baden-Powell while he was still alive. Victorian prose is flowery and interesting to read but the coverage is hardly neutral. The work covers Baden-Powell's military career that was illustrious, but does not mention more controversial aspects of that career. The work does not cover his creation of the scouting movement. Interesting as a contemporary account and for the wonderfully flowery language, it is nevertheless not great as a historical source. Not a primary source and insufficiently neutral to be a good secondary source.

84EllaTim
Apr 11, 2020, 8:41pm

Have a happy Easter, Stephen!

85PaulCranswick
Apr 12, 2020, 1:14am



I wanted my message this year to be fairly universal in a time we all should be pulling together, whatever our beliefs. Happy Celebration, Happy Sunday, Sir F.

86ronincats
Apr 13, 2020, 10:33pm

Hey, Stephen, I have started a reread of Changer by Jane Lindskold. Definitely strongly recommended!!

87sirfurboy
Apr 14, 2020, 6:03am

>84 EllaTim: Thanks Ella, and you too.

>85 PaulCranswick: Thanks Paul.

>86 ronincats: It is on my list now and I have been making some progress through my backlog (write ups to come soon) so hopefully I will get to Changer very soon. Thanks for the recommendation.

88sirfurboy
Edited: Apr 14, 2020, 6:04am

32. Sean Yeager and the DNA Thief - D M Jarrett



Good fun adventure allegedly for all ages, but really just the younger end of mid-grade readers. The write up billed it as being funny and adventurous but with deeper nuance for older readers. There was no nuance. There was humour, but it was all trying a bit too hard, and had me groaning in places.

Sean Yeager is special. For some reason someone wants to steal his DNA and others want to protect him (although curiously then allow him to put himself at risk attempting to solve the mystery). There are aliens here and secret agents and (for some reason) a brigadier and a secret international task force. And as the book was definitely clearly American, I was confused by the brigadier and thought the author had maybe been watching Doctor Who? And then the influences on this tale kind of leap out at you, making it all a bit derivative.

The plot is a little preposterous, but fast paced and with various challenges and mishaps. Characterisation is weak, and for some reason the POV switches around but never really settling much on the protagonist, leaving his character underdeveloped.

As a simple plot based action adventure, this will work fine for 7-11s, but there is no reason anyone much older than that would want to spend time on this book.

89sirfurboy
Edited: Apr 14, 2020, 6:31am

33. Thirteen - Tom Hoyle



Thirteen boys born at midnight of the year 2000 in London are marked for death by a mad and evil cult leader who calls himself Lord Coron. The belief is that if any of the boys survive, they will be a danger to Coron and his new kingdom. An exciting but hardly original premise here. If you think about it, there is a strong Potter influence there, and it also has traces of "I am Number Four" and other stories. Still, original or not, it makes for a good story.

Except in this case it sadly did not. I had to check that this was not self published as from the start the prose and especially the dialogue was somewhat stilted, and the novel has a major and quite basic fault with point of view, which jumps from head to head in a confusing manner, and is interspersed with omniscient point of view. Omniscient point of view is rare for a reason, and this novel shows why. The point of view should have been picked up by an editor, and I am unclear how this one got through editing unscathed.

Characterisation is poor, perhaps because of the use of omniscient point of view. The plot has some strengths though. It is somewhat gory and violent, and you see that up front with a couple of early deaths, but the action is good. Nevertheless the plot has holes. It is not clear why Lord Coron has the following he has, and especially how he suddenly goes from a following of the dispossessed to having people at the very highest levels doing his bidding. He is an under-developed and quite unbeleivable super villain. Also it is not explained what is special about London births, and (for the pedantic) what is special about the year 2,000 when the millennium starts the following year! Okay that last one is overly pedantic. Ignore that.

There are other plot holes too, and I could go on, but in summary, this is an exciting if unoriginal story idea that is poorly executed but could be forgiven by a young and forgiving tween readership in favour of some good action and adventure. Yet there are better books out there.

90sirfurboy
Apr 14, 2020, 6:46am

34. New KS2 Discover & Learn: History - Mayan Civilisation Study Book (CGP KS2 History)



A colourful presentation of Mayan history and culture for KS2 children, made free by Amazon for the lockdown period. I don't know much about the Mayans so learned plenty from this, and it will be an interesting and educational read for its target audience.

91sirfurboy
Apr 14, 2020, 2:02pm

35. The Sky Painter - Margarita Engle, Aliona Bereghici (illustrations)



The story of Louis Agassiz Fuertes who learned to draw birds in a whole new way. Written for children and richly illustrated, this book is a fine enough book, but I doubt it would be the most memorable book ever.

92sirfurboy
Edited: Apr 15, 2020, 10:00am

36. Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy - Karen Foxlee



This story is the classic "The Snow Queen" reimagined. Ophelia is a young girl of a thoroughly rational mindset. For her, science has all the answers and there is no place for magic. This mindset is severely tested on a visit to a quirky museum, when she discovers a door that leads her to the long imprisoned "Marvelous boy" of the title. She is then given the mission to rescue him and thus save the world from the Snow Queen's clutches. Along the way she must succeed in many challenges and overcome her aversion to magic.

A good retelling with much to commend it. Strong female lead in this story, and indeed the marvelous boy is very much a bit player. There is some humour, and lots of adventure. The world building is cleverly done, with Ophelia coming from the present in a world very similar to our own, although perhaps a little more quirky.

93sirfurboy
Edited: Apr 15, 2020, 10:02am

37. Hufen Afiach - Meilyr Sion



A delightfully silly romp in the Custard Valley (Cwm Cwstard), where we meet the likes of Wili Silibili, Poli Pesychu Pen-ol, Seimon Smwts and Sali Seimllyd. Names that are as daft (or dafter) in Welsh than they sound in English. Seimon Smwts, for instance is forever picking his nose. These four must face off against the terrible giant, Beli Bola mawr,who does indeed, as his name suggests, have a big belly (See the illustration on the front cover).

Nothing deep here, but a good fun read. The book is in Welsh, does not have any English translation that I know of, and would lose some of its humour in translation as the author plays with the Welsh language a bit.

Incidentally there was an actor called Meilyr Sion. No idea if this is the same person.

94sirfurboy
Apr 16, 2020, 5:08am

38. Blitzed - Robert Swindells



George is a 21st century boy, mad about World War II, and up to mischief with his friends. He is studying the war at school too, and goes on a school trip to a museum, but then the unthinkable happens and he experiences a timeslip, finding himself back in 1940s London during the blitz. Here he must make new friends and struggle to live through the horrors of the war as it actually was, and at the same time there is a mystery to unravel.

Robert Swindells is an excellent children's author and once again he pulls off a great and memorable book, with a good and satisfying ending.

Oh and memorable quote from this book:

"Emily gets the giggles. She’s seven, thinks trump’s the ultimate swearword."

Little did George know that one day Emily would probably be right.

95sirfurboy
Apr 16, 2020, 5:10am

39. Histoires à lire le soir 2 - Marc Thil



Short and easy stories for French learners. Each short story is just a few pages so it can give a real sense of progress, but I was not very taken with the stories.

96sirfurboy
Apr 17, 2020, 7:09am

40. The Lost Magician - Piers Torday



This book was well written by a writer who knows how to write, and as a story it had some strengths and could be enjoyed by many readers. Yet for me it was a failure. This is not a reflection on the skill of the writer. Torday did a great job of writing in the style of the day. The book is set in the 1940s, just after the war, and his characters do speak in the vernacular of the period, and he did such a good job of evoking this, that I thought I was reading Enid Blyton's Famous Five in places.

Yet all that effort and accomplishment fell flat for me because of the story. I have seen a write up calling this a homage to C S Lewis, but that does not come close to what this story is. This book is derivative of Lewis to the point of plagiarism.

And it is not just the way the writer has basically disassembled The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and then reassembled it for his story, that rankles. What rankles is that the only way he has differentiated the story is to remove all of Lewis' Christian theology from the story and to replace it with a new polemic, all about the importance of reading. And that too was derivative of books such as Michael Ende's Neverending Story and others. Except this was a terrible execution of that polemic. We had wars between readers of fiction and non fiction, and then the recognition of the real enemy: non readers.

This was too in-your-face and obvious, too indiscriminate and frankly not worth wasting a book on.

If you want to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, then read that. It is better done, and has way more depth than this book. If you want to read a book celebrating reading and imagination, there are many better books than this one. I am sure some people can enjoy this book, but I can't recommend it.

97sirfurboy
Apr 17, 2020, 7:30am

41. Just Call Me Spaghetti-Hoop Boy - Lara Williamson



This was a great book that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Adam is in year 6 (UK year 6 is 5th grade equivalent, last year of primary schooling) adopted and when the school start a project on family trees he decides to seek out an envelope that was being kept for him when he would turn 16, and which tells him who his real mother is. This sets of a chain of events, misunderstandings and chance encounters that lead to a wonderful and heartwarming climax.

The characters in this book are very well done, and there is plenty of humour, and more than one story thread to keep the reader interested. Clever writing and a great protagonist in Adam made this a standout book. It may not be an all time favourite of mine but I was very glad to read it. The ending was beautifully done, and very satisfying.

98SirThomas
Apr 18, 2020, 12:43pm

I wish you a wonderful sunday, Stephen.
And stay well!

99sirfurboy
Apr 20, 2020, 6:09am

>98 SirThomas: Thanks, and you too.

100sirfurboy
Apr 20, 2020, 6:10am

42. Anson's Way - Gary Schmidt



An early work by award winning writer, Gary Schmidt. It is a well written tale of a new recruit to the Staffordshire Fencibles, stationed in Dublin. Anson Staplyton is son of the colonel, and the last in a long line of Stapylton's to join the Fencibles (British army defensive forces). His honour and pride in the long tradition are put to the test, however, when thoughtless and hot headed men stir up trouble with the Irish population, and Anson sees another side to British imperial ambition. He must find a way to navigate the emerging situation with his honour intact.

As usual for this author, characterisation is a real strength here. It is perhaps not as well done as Schmidt's later works, and the story itself is less involved as later works by this author. There is a touch of humour, particularly around the state of Anson's leggings, and more than a few touches of sadness too. Despite being an early work of Schmidt's, this is still excellent. Well worth a read.

101sirfurboy
Apr 21, 2020, 5:46am

43. The Curse of the Gloamglozer - Paul Stewart



The Edge Chronicles are clearly popular so I picked this one up to get an understanding for the story and to discover why this is so. The answer to the popularity is clear from the obligatory maps and onwards. This is a fantastically imaginative series in a wonderful setting where people can live on (and in) floating rocks grown in rock gardens, and other such wonderful ideas.

On the downside, though, the story is good but not tremendously original, the writing is not particularly tight, the characters are well drawn but not amazing, there is humour, but it is not as funny as other books. All in all it was a good story that the target age group will love. It is just not one of those books that crosses the divide and sucks in adult readers too.

Good fun adventure. Recommended for younger readers, and not bad for older ones. But again, the imagination is first class.

102sirfurboy
Apr 22, 2020, 5:38am

44. L'intégrale Arkandias - Eric Boisset



A French language magical adventure for mid grade children telling the story of Théophile and his friend, Bonaventure. Théophile is bookish, and discovers an old forgotten notebook that turns out to be a magical grimoire. Together the friends hunt out some curious ingredients to make a magical potion that seems to fail, but just as they think they will give up on doing magic, they discover a diadem that gives the power of invisibility. Only magic is not without dangers and unexpected consequences and soon Théophile finds himself at terrible risk.

Add to this mix some villains, and some nice internal conflict for Théophile over his fear of water (linked to the death of his father), and this produces a wonderful tale.

103HanGerg
Apr 23, 2020, 5:37pm

Hi Stephen, returning your visit to my thread, and picking up a few BB's on the way! Most notably, Scythe sounds like completely my cup of tea and I will make efforts to track down a copy. I'm also very interested in the free Kindle books for beginner readers - that's about the level my son's at. He is quite intrigued by my Kindle so I thought it might be a good way to motivate some reading, but when I looked a few months ago I didn't have much luck finding anything useful. I shall have another dig around very soon!

104sirfurboy
Apr 24, 2020, 6:55am

>103 HanGerg: Welcome and I am glad you found some books you like the look of.

105PaulCranswick
Apr 25, 2020, 12:27am

The lock-down seems to have helped your reading, Sir F.

Have a relaxing weekend.

106sirfurboy
Apr 27, 2020, 6:13am

Thanks Paul. Yes, Easter week was a relaxing time with plenty of time to read, but then it was back to work so things may slow down again. I hope you had a good weekend.

107sirfurboy
Apr 27, 2020, 6:15am

45. Stepsister - Jennifer Donnelly



Billed as a dark retelling of the Cinderella story, I did not find this particularly dark, but it was interesting and cleverly done. This is a character based story, looking primarily at Isabella, the ugly sister who cut off her toes to fit Cindarella's crystal slipper. That is where the story comes in, and follows the classic fairy tale at this point. The evil plan to usurp Cindarella's place is foiled and the ugly sisters are left behind in Ella's fairy tale ending.

Instead of vanishing into infamy, though, this book explores the character of the sisters, their mother and everyone else, and it does so very well. Isabella becomes a much more interesting character, although her evil actions are not simply excused. The book clearly has a feminist side, and in particular it challenges the assumptions of a society that values feminine beauty but spurns intelligence, curiosity and other traits that Isabella has in abundance. The villain of the story is not, after all, Isabella, but the society she lives in.

There is plenty of humour in the telling of this story too, and a whole side story of a contest between chance and fate.

Definitely an interesting and worthwhile retelling of a classic story.

108sirfurboy
Apr 29, 2020, 10:16am

46. The Sin Eater - Gary Schmidt



Gary Schmidt is such a good author. I have read nearly all his books now, and went back to this early one of his, about a boy, Cole, who goes to live with his grandparents after the death of his mother. His father comes too but is suffering from depression. The grand parents live on a farm in rural New Hampshire, descended from the first settlers there.

We learn of the history of the "sin eater" and other of the early families at the time of the American civil war. Cole uncovers the story slowly through listening to stories and then through old family Bibles and other research sources. At the same time there is the human story of what is happening around him, told with the rich and compassionate narrative that have become Schmidt's hallmark.

Another hallmark of Schmidt is recycling of names, and intertwining of his stories, and it is clear that this habit of his goes all the way back to this book, with Pastor Hurd among others.

The ending of this book is emotionally powerful, and left me with the impression it was all very well done. It is perhaps not his best book, but it is still definitely an excellent one, and recommended.

109sirfurboy
Apr 30, 2020, 9:53am

47. Library of Alexandria - Open University



This book accompanies the OpenLearn course of the same name at the Open University. All course materials and readings are in this free ebook. Plenty of good information on the historical Great Library of Alexandria, what we know, what we don't know and what happened to it.

110sirfurboy
Apr 30, 2020, 11:00am

48. Information on the Web - Open University



A free ebook version of the now deleted OpenLearn course of the same name. Deleted, no doubt, because much of this information in here is old hat. Alta vista. Remember that? I ended up skimming much of this one. A better course would perhaps look at how to critically appraise information on the web.

111sirfurboy
May 1, 2020, 6:58am

49. Introduction to Complex Numbers - Open University



This is one of a series of books published free by the Open University to accompany their free Open Learn courses at their website. These courses are usually excellent, and the books are a useful resource too. In this case, however, I was rather unimpressed. The course contains a series of exercise book pages to read, and those pages are not even then included in this book, which is nothing more than a set of transcripts for videos that do not seem to exist. This one needs a lot more work to be useful. As it is, I would say skip this one.

112sirfurboy
May 4, 2020, 11:58am

50. Introduction to Law in Wales - Open University



An Open University free text book that accompanies their open learn course of the same name. This course covers the history of Welsh law making from Hywel Dda to the present (or maybe to 2012, when this seems to have last been updated). It looks at the National Assembly in particular and how the law making powers of the Assembly have been enhanced so that it now makes primary legislation in Wales. An excellent introduction to the subject.

113sirfurboy
Edited: May 5, 2020, 7:48am

51. Crater Lake



This is a good children's adventure about a class who go on a trip to an adventure retreat built into an old meteor crater in England (yes, there are in fact no such craters, but run with it!) Things take a dark turn quickly when they are met on the road with a badly injured worker, raving about the need to turn back.

The protagonist of the story, Lance, is cast as a problem student, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is more to it than that, and as the children find themselves trying to escape an alien parasitic invasion, they also learn a lot about each other. The one thing they must not do, however, is fall asleep.

This is good, solid adventure that will be of particular interest to primary school children. It has some nice suspense, some quite antagonistic characters, some subtle life lessons, and a good plot in much the same vein as a whole genre of body snatcher style movies and stories. It is not stunningly original, and older readers must engage a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief, but it is a good story for the intended audience.

114sirfurboy
May 6, 2020, 7:18am

52. The Poems And Verses Of Charles Dickens - Charles Dickens



Interesting to read Dickins' poetry in one compendium. Much of it can also be found scattered arfound his other works. Nevertheless I don't read a lot of poetry and did not find this as deep and profound as I probably ought. Someone would probably need to draw some lessons out from it. Also some formatting issues on this free Kindle ebook.

115sirfurboy
May 7, 2020, 11:18am

53. Interlinear Greek English New Testament



I went looking for a good interlinear bible and settled on this one for the Kindle. It is not exactly interlinear. Instead English words are placed after the Greek equivalent in round brackets. This takes a bit of getting used to, but is the best solution I have seen on the Kindle, and it works well enough.

Having said that, I don't use it now as much as I use the Olive Tree app which allows any two translations/versions to be read side by side, and scrolling through the one causes the other to scroll to match.

The Olive Tree version does require more knowledge of Greek though. You are basically reading a Greek version but with an English version side by side, so you need to know enough Greek to find the word you need to look up in that version. This Greek interlinear is better for the beginner as it requires very little knowledge of Greek. Words can be found right next to their translation, and the word ordering can usually be unraveled without difficulty. It makes it a good aid to learning Bible Greek too.

I did not read this cover to cover, but I have had it in my list long enough and read enough of it that I felt I could mark it as read. It will remain on my kindle as a reference resource though.

116PaulCranswick
May 24, 2020, 7:58pm

I am celebrating the end of Ramadan, Stephen, a time of thanks and forgiveness and I want to say my thanks to all my LT friends for helping keep me somewhat sane these last few years.

117sirfurboy
May 28, 2020, 5:36am

54. La Belle Sauvage - Philip Pullman



Philip Pullman returns to the world he created for "His Dark Materials", with a story about Lyra's infancy, when the great flood came and that eventually saw her father seek Scholastic Sanctuary for her. But this is not Lyra's story, so much as the story of 11 year old Malcolm Polstead, who lives at the Trout Inn, Oxford and who owns a canoe called La Belle Sauvage. Malcolm is a bright and observant boy who finds himself pulled into the netherworld of political intrigue and then becomes Lyra's protector.

Pullman is a fantastic author. His imagination is huge, his writing is accomplished, interesting and exciting. He makes good use of language and of a huge store of background information and wry observations to create a very readable work that is full of philosophical insight.

Two things rankled for me in this book, just enough not to give it five stars, but many others will forgive him for these: (1) he lets fly with the F word. Hardly a crime in literature these days, it nevertheless is something that prevents me describing this as a children's book - yet in every other respect it seems perfect for older children too. It just seemed a pity. (2) The anti Christian philosophy is, for me, too heavy handed, and when bad elements start to take over, he does not seem (to me) to manage the transition as convincingly as he ought.

Still, there is no disputing that Pullman is an excellent writer and this is a great story.

118sirfurboy
May 28, 2020, 5:36am

>117 sirfurboy: Thanks Paul. It is always good to hear from you.

119sirfurboy
May 29, 2020, 7:53am

55. The Secret Commonwealth - Philip Pullman



Second of this amazing new series by Philip Pullman. Book 1 went back to when Lyra from "His Dark Materials" was just a baby and introduced some new characters. This book now moves forward to 11 years after "His Dark Materials" and picks up life with Lyra who is now a student herself. The Magisterium has not gone away, and now dark schemes are afoot that are all wrapped up with Lyra, the alethiometer she owns, characters from the first book and lots of people with seperable demons.

Once again Pullman is an amazing writer who writes compelling tales in clever ways. His book works as a simple story but there are also deeper things going on here, and this is a really good story.

I absolutely loved one part of the story that takes a pop at Ayn Rand's Atlas shrugged, and absolutely skewers it. In this story we are presented with the must read novel that everyone is talking about, and that Pan (Lyra's demon) hates, called The Hyperchorasmians. Here is Pan's assessment of the book, delivered in an argument with Lyra:

"The characters are monstrously selfish and blind to every human feeling – they're either arrogant and dominating or cringing and deceitful, or else foppish and artistic and useless... There's only one value in his world, which is reason. The author's so rational he's insane. Nothing else has any importance at all. To him, the imagination is just meaningless and contemptible. The whole universe he describes, its just arid."

And if you still don't recognise that Pullman has Atlas Shrugged in his sights (despite it being a 900 page long epic), it becomes even more obvious when a scholar sniffily dismisses it as full of bad philosophy but insanely popular because it tells people they can feel good about being selfish.

And that is just one part of this story, which is brilliant for setting up ideas and then poking holes in them, and challenging readers to think more deeply. It is classed as young adult fiction, but it is deeper and a better story than most adult literature, and I think it is probably misclassified in that respect.

As for the last book, some niggles prevent me from giving this five stars, although less harsh reviewers will have no trouble doing so. These niggles are: (1) The F word is back - not unusual in young adult literature, but this also has some other strong themes. Actually this alone is not a reason to review the book poorly, but it deserves a warning. (2) Lyra and Pan can separate. Something that is incredibly rare. Except suddenly in this story everyone is doing it. It is key to the story, but still, it just seemed like everyone must have been very unobservant not to notice this was going on so much. (3) There is a power grab here, and I did not think it was well done. It seemed to transparent and too obvious - particularly the sudden new rules imposed with no dissent or resistance.

None of those niggles stops this from being highly recommended.

120ronincats
May 30, 2020, 10:40pm

Link is up for the Sector General summer group read--check it out!

https://www.librarything.com/topic/320907

121sirfurboy
Jun 1, 2020, 5:51am

>120 ronincats: Thanks Roni, on my way.

122sirfurboy
Jun 1, 2020, 5:53am

56. New KS2 Discover & Learn: History - Ancient Greeks Study Book



This was free on Amazon, one of a range of educational materials made available for free during the lockdown. A good introduction to the ancient Greeks aimed squarely at Key Stage 2 primary school children. Nicely illustrated, filled with interesting facts and a touch of humour.

123sirfurboy
Jun 2, 2020, 5:54am

57. A Darkness of Dragons



Patch Brightwater is a piper, a magical community who can work magic through music, but Patch is in disgrace, having abandoned his studies and broken the law. He gets himself in more trouble at the start of the book and is packed off to piper prison, but not before making friends. Meanwhile something dark is taking place regarding the also imprisoned Hamlyn Piper.

This story was okay. It is meant for mid grade children and that is firmly where the enthusiasm for it will come from. It does not have a great deal for older readers. There are a couple of twists, a touch of humour, but mostly it is feel good friends and adventure.

I was not gripped by the tale but read it through to the conclusion. Only there was not a lot of conclusion about the ending. This was not quite cut off before the ending as is the habit of lots of bad fiction these days in an attempt to force you to buy the next book. One major thread was wrapped up, but several more were left open for the inevitable sequel, and some of those threads really could have had more closure.

Characterisations were generally pretty shallow, and the plot was not really devious.

If I were rating for my own sake, I would give it two stars, but I am not the target audience, so I give it three. It will certainly be enjoyable to children. Everyone else, not so much.

124sirfurboy
Jun 3, 2020, 5:49am

58. IT: e-government - Openlearn



This is one of the better OpenLearn courses and associated course text that I have read/worked through. It looks at a range of ICT subjects from the e government perspective, from databases to accessible web design, and also identity management and verification.

The material is a little dated by describing the identity card scheme which the UK government (thankfully) abandoned. The material is balanced, showing the benefits, dangers and difficulties of such a system. Although a non issue now in the UK, the material and discussion does remain true and relevant.

The accompanying course for this text can be found at: https://www.open.edu/openlearn

125sirfurboy
Jun 4, 2020, 7:44am

59. The Roman Empire: Introducing some key terms - Open University



Another free Openlearn course with accompanying free ebook. This one has supplementary readings in the course that give the reader a grounding in the terms and complexities of studying the Romans through a series of essays.

126sirfurboy
Jun 5, 2020, 11:55am

60. The Letters of Charles Dickens Vol. 1, 1833-1856



An interesting collection of the letters of Dickens. I was initially dubious about reading them, feeling I would not understand their context, who was being addressed nor why that should matter. Fortunately the compilers foresaw this problem and began each year of letters with a narrative section explaining the missing context. This made them much more enjoyable, and Dickens' humour was often on display in these, especially in the indulgent letters to younger writers.

We discover a lot about Dickens, his likes and dislikes (for instance he did not like the Crystal Palace very much, and had an "invincible objection to the multiplication of his countenance in the shop-windows". All very interesting and no doubt invaluable to historians.

127sirfurboy
Jun 8, 2020, 7:42am

61. The Cambridge Old English Reader



An impressive collection of Old English readings with many useful glosses and explanations. There is a grammar included, making this a self contained introduction to the language (albeit not comprehensive). The Amazon ebook is considerably cheaper than the printed versions.

128sirfurboy
Jun 9, 2020, 9:49am

62. White Fang - Jack London



A book describing how a wolf cub (or half wolf cub - his mother was a sled dog) makes a long and painful journey from wild dog to a domesticated and tamed on. He goes three three masters - one neutral, one very bad and one very good, and has to fight and kill other dogs on occasion. He is bullied and mistreated, but slowly takes steps towards a better domesticated life.

Perhaps somewhat allegorical, this book has been much loved by very many people for a very long time since its writing over 100 years ago. The writing is interesting for using animal as well as human viewpoints, and the author made some effort to explore the animal viewpoint faithfully, without over anthropomorphising.

An interesting book, a classic, but the subject matter will not be one of my favourites.

129sirfurboy
Jun 10, 2020, 10:45am

63. Exploring the English Language



Another free ebook accompanying a free Open Learn course. These courses are great and very much recommended. Yet this one was a little brief in my opinion and could have said so much more. Having followed "The History of English" podcast for some time, there was nothing new here. Yet it would be a good introduction to someone who is new to the English language.

130m.belljackson
Jun 10, 2020, 12:11pm

Hi - just read in Peter Levi's Tennyson that Alfred (not yet, Lord) Tennyson
was godfather to one of Dickens' children...

...and that Dickens invited him to join a trip to Switzerland for company while he was writing Dombey..

Alfred declined, writing to a friend:

'if I went, I would be entreating him to dismiss his sentimentality,
and so we should quarrel and part, and never see one another any more.
It was better to decline - and I have declined.'

He later visited Dickens at Lausanne with Edward Moxon.

131sirfurboy
Edited: Jun 11, 2020, 2:49pm

>130 m.belljackson: Oh that is interesting. It is funny all these connections between Victorian writers and others.

Thanks for stopping by.

132sirfurboy
Jun 11, 2020, 4:36pm

64. Mark of the Thief - Jennifer Nielsen



This is an ahistorical narrative about a slave working in some mines in (apparently) third century Rome who is sent to a chamber to find Julius Caesar's magical bulla. He is wounded by a griffin and imbued with magical power. Meanwhile the evil General Radulf who wanted the treasure for himself will stop at nothing to steal the bulla from Nic, the slave.

Although using Roman names and speaking of a few Roman events as though they are history (such as the revolt of Spartacus), this work could really have been set in any fantasy world. It has a lot more to do with a Dungeons and Dragons universe than with ancient Rome. Still, what would you expect from a story with griffins, unicorns and magic? There is a nod to some of the Roman pantheon, and the occasional use of Latin words to attempt to give it a Roman feel. On that score it fails miserably. Nothing about this story feels remotely Roman.

If you read it just as a fantasy, it is better. Yet I will abandon this series at book 1 for the very good reason that book 1 just comes to a stop without any resolution. Books like this are designed to make you but the series - so I won't. Be warned that a passable story just
grinds to a halt with everything unresolved.

Not that this is going to worry me. One of the unresolved things - a missing "key" - that Nic apparently already has is just too obvious. Clearly meant as a late plot twist (so late it is not in book 1 at all), it is just obvious what that is all about. I shan't read on to see if I am right, but I am. :) Other plot twists were also easy to spot coming.

133sirfurboy
Jun 12, 2020, 11:12am

65. Somebody's Luggage - Charles Dickens et al.



A book of short stories by Dickens and friends. The narrative is wrapped in a story by Dickens of a waiter working in a hotel who chances upon some left luggage. He is allowed to open the luggage but finds no great treasure there - just a series of short stories, each of which is loosely associated with the concept of luggage (so, for instance, one is called "His Boots" and another is "His Hatbox" and so on). The waiter successfully gets these stories published. At the end of the story the owne ro fthe luggage returns, and it turns out he is delighted to have the stories published - as he had failed to do so and thought himself cursed. He had left the luggage in just such a hope of some such happy outcome.

Within this framing narrative are the short stories themselves. Some are by Dickens and others by other Victorian writers. A clever selection of tales including sentimental, comedic and ghost stories. Although the different writers have different styles, the collection hangs together very well.

134sirfurboy
Jun 12, 2020, 11:18am

66. Improving Aerobic Fitness



A good book about fitness linked to the OpenLearn course. Not the most extensive of these courses though. There was some good stuff about heart rate and biology and so forth, although FitBit and others publish similar information in a series of articles on their web pages.

135sirfurboy
Jun 15, 2020, 11:57am

67. Working with charts, graphs and tables? - Open University



An Openlearn introductory statistics course and accompanying free text book that looks particularly of the presentation of stats through graphs and tables. Nothing new for me in this one but it is a good intro for anyone new to the topic, and would make an interesting addition to school maths and numeracy courses too I expect. I did like the use of real world examples, picking apart what was wrong with the way stats were being presented in them. That was nicely done.

136richardderus
Jun 15, 2020, 6:38pm

>133 sirfurboy: I've seen that collection before, but was disinclined to pick it up because, well...Chucklesphobia kicks in. It does sound like a fun idea.

Nice to connect with you on Goodreads!

137sirfurboy
Jun 16, 2020, 5:22am

>136 richardderus: Thanks for accepting the friends request on Goodreads.

Chucklesphobia - nice name for it!

138sirfurboy
Jun 16, 2020, 5:38am

68. The Kid Who Came From Space - Ross Welford



An enjoyable alien abduction Caper. Ethan's twin sister, Tammie, is abducted by aliens and put in an alien zoo on another planet. However one alien on the planet does not think this is a good thing to do and sets off on an adventure to return the abductee to her world.

Many years ago, in primary school, I read a book called "Dragonfall 5 and the Empty Planet" and loved it. I think this book would engender much the same feeling, and like Dragonfall 5, there is little truly deep or memorable about this book. This despite a slightly didactic tone about the importance of imagination. I think children will like it, but it is not one of the children or young adult books that crosses age boundaries. Still it was a fun read and nicely done with some good humour and enjoyable characters.

Recommended for primary school children only.

139sirfurboy
Jun 17, 2020, 10:29am

69. Why Study Languages - Open University



An introductory OpenLearn course with accompanying free course book that looks at the benefits and reasons for studying languages, some of the challenges and the importance of understanding culture too. This is a very short course with most time and effort given to some writing exercises. A good taster but not so useful to any established language learners.

140sirfurboy
Jun 19, 2020, 10:47am

70. Play, learning and the brain - Open University



This is the free book accompanying a free Openlearn course from the Open University. This course was a fascinating look at early years development, the human brain and the importance of play. The free book has multiple hyperlinks to articles on the web. To get the most from this course and book, it is essential to follow the hyperlinks and read the linked material, so read on an e-reader/kindle with a web browser and network connection.

141PaulCranswick
Jun 20, 2020, 10:00am

>135 sirfurboy: I do like my statistics, Sir F, but I'm not sure I would enjoy a textbook on the subject any longer!

142sirfurboy
Jun 24, 2020, 7:33am

71. Angel Mage - Garth Nix



Liliath is a powerful angel mage who has slept away 100 years and returned to an alternative France to pursue her ambition and love for the angel Palleniel. She is cold in her ambition though, and has learned so much more about her craft than most of the angel mages. She pulls four descendants of her lost city into her service and so these four find themselves curiously drawn together.

Garth Nix's imagination is enormous, almost unbounded, and he shows that again in this book, creating a whole new alternative universe with angelic magic that conforms to its own internally consistent laws. This fantasy is very different from most other works out there, but you can tell it is Garth Nix's work from its intricacy. If the book is derivative of anything, it is Dumas' Three Musketeers works. This book self consciously is derivative of those, but not in a bad way.

The underlying plot is dark and complex but there were also delightful scenes of almost high comedy in this story, and it never felt incongruous. It was all very cleverly done.

Where the book perhaps lets itself down a bit is in the meandering progress of the plot. Yet that was important too. The book could not have been this rich without taking its time, yet it did mean it was a little harder to get into it.

I would still happily recommend this though. Garth Nix is a wonderful writer, and this is another example of that.

143sirfurboy
Edited: Jun 26, 2020, 7:22am

72. The Left-Handed Fate - Kate Milford



The Left-Handed Fate is a ship, a British privateer, of considerable renown and captained by the legendary Captain Bluecrowne and his crew. The time is 1812, and the story is set in the days after the USA went to war with Britain. However this is perhaps an alternative world, which has all the main characters of history but also some mystical and magical elements, including the mysterious device that Max Ault is seeking when he hires the Left-Handed Fate.

The story takes an unfortunate turn for the Bluecrowne's when the ship is taken by the Americans and a 12 year old Lieutenant Dexter is assigned as prize captain to sail the ship to an American port. Dexter is perturbed by all the ominous omens on the ill named ship.

What follows are some wonderful and often hilarious encounters and adventures, all wrapped around a kind of treasure hunt mystery with some magical elements too.

The book is well written and a good and enjoyable read. Definitely recommended.

144sirfurboy
Edited: Jun 26, 2020, 7:23am

73. Life of Pi - Yann Martel



I have avoided this book for a long time owing to the Man Booker Prize warning. However I finally gave in to having it pushed and recommended from all sides, and have now read it. I was surprised to find it was quite readable, and occasionally rather amusing.

The story concerns a young man called Piscine (named for a French swimming pool) who grows up the son of a zoo keeper and then finds himself stranded in a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger. He survives 227 days at sea to tell his story.

Strengths of the story are the quality of the writing (this is undoubtedly beautiful writing), and a captivating story idea (although this idea, it turns out, was plagiarised - although that word may be too strong. The idea was borrowed from another writer but Martel does something different with it). The humour also rescues it from dragging too much - although not entirely. It is hard to convey the unutterable monotony of 227 days in a lifeboat without having the story drag I suppose.

Much of the story is preposterous. By the time we got to the island, we were squarely in the world of fantasy here, but previous episodes had probably already taken us there. It was clear this was an example of an unreliable narrator, and as I read towards the end, I was wondering just how much of the whole account was unreliable, and whether there would be any answer to that. In fact there was an answer.

The conclusion of the book is then meant to set you thinking, and come back to the initial suggestion that this was a book to make you believe in God. Well maybe. I didn't get that from it though. Instead I was left with the feeling this was a clever tale, which cheated on one central point. At the end of the story Pi asks which is the better story of two options - a fantasy we just ready 300+ pages about or a truth that was given a couple of pages. That is not a fair question.

There are deep themes in the book that could be explored and drawn out, but I do not feel compelled to do so. It is a good story, worth reading, but very much overhyped.

On balance I quite enjoyed this book, but despite that, I think it deserves the Man Booker warning. It is clearly heavily overhyped, and if you go into it expecting half the good things people say about it, you will be disappointed. If you just read it as a story, and without such expectations, I think it is quite enjoyable.

145FAMeulstee
Jun 26, 2020, 8:13am

>73 sirfurboy: Good review, Stephen, I read it over ten years ago without much expectation and enjoyed the story. Although the ending was a bit disappointing.

146sirfurboy
Jun 26, 2020, 10:29am

>145 FAMeulstee: Yes, I agree about the ending. Thanks.

147ronincats
Jun 26, 2020, 11:41am

>142 sirfurboy: This library book is my next-up read so I'm glad to hear that it is worth the heft of it, Stephen!

148sirfurboy
Jun 29, 2020, 7:15am

>147 ronincats: Yep, you can't really go wrong with Garth Nix, I think. I hope all is well with you.

149sirfurboy
Jun 29, 2020, 7:26am

74. Black Beauty - Anne Sewell



The classic story of a horse in Victorian times, where life was herder, and horses used in many ways, many of which are experienced by Beauty. A first person narrative form the perspective of the horse makes this an endearing tale, if somewhat over anthropomorphised. There are scenes in here that brought about social pressure and change for the better. The author knew and loved horses and felt they were misunderstood and misused. The device of telling the story of a horse from the horse's mouth (as it were) allowed people to understand the animal's perspective and so this book became enormously influential.

As a story today it still has appeal as a historical narrative and a fine tale, albeit I felt Beauty's dialogue was a little too didactic in places and did not really think I was hearing the thoughts of a horse.

150sirfurboy
Jun 30, 2020, 11:06am

75. Trouble Gary Schmidt



Gary Schmidt writes wonderful tales, and this one is no different. Henry Smith lives in a sleepy Maine seaside town, far from trouble, but trouble comes calling when his older brother is knocked down in a car accident. The driver of the car is a young man who came to the USA as a refugee from Cambodia (this story being set in the 1970s). Local people are incensed and the book deals with issues of bigotry and racial tension, even as Henry Smith comes to discover there is more to any story than is apparent at first glance.

Beautifully plays on the emotions, like all of Schmidt's stories. The author loves New England and describes it very well, and he sets interesting characters into these rich settings in uplifting stories. There is good reason why this author has earner more than one major award for his books.

151sirfurboy
Jun 30, 2020, 11:06am

And with that I reach my 75 book challenge, after exactly 6 months. I will see if I can reach 150 by the end of the year.

152richardderus
Jun 30, 2020, 3:48pm

>150 sirfurboy: Congratulations, Stephen, I hope you reach your stretch goal!

153sirfurboy
Jun 30, 2020, 4:53pm

>152 richardderus: Thanks Richard :)

154FAMeulstee
Jun 30, 2020, 7:15pm

>150 sirfurboy: 1Congratulations on reaching 75, Stephen!

155ronincats
Jul 1, 2020, 12:05am

Congrats,Stephen! Great timing.

156sirfurboy
Jul 1, 2020, 9:24am

Thanks both. :)

157drneutron
Jul 1, 2020, 7:54pm

Congrats!

158SirThomas
Jul 3, 2020, 5:11am

Congratulations on reaching 75, Stephen!
And a wonderful start into the second half of the year.

159sirfurboy
Jul 3, 2020, 10:15am

>157 drneutron: and >158 SirThomas: - Thanks both.

160sirfurboy
Jul 3, 2020, 10:16am

76. Time Travel Diaries: Adventure in Athens - Caroline Lawrence



Another great adventure written by Caroline Lawrence, author of The Roman Mysteries. In this book Alex and his friend Dinu take another spin in the time machine created by billionaire Solomon Daisy. In the first novel of this series they went back to Roman London but in this adventure they go even further back to ancient Greece. They also accidentally travel with Dinu's sister, Crina, who adds a new voice to the mix.

Sent back to find Socrates, the trio manage to meet some other famous figures of antiquity, and I thought boy Plato was particularly well done.

Like all of this author's work, this is both enjoyable and highly educational. The characters are down to earth, believable and good fun. There are some funny moments, and plenty of adventure to be had. Very much recommended for mid grade children.

161PaulCranswick
Jul 5, 2020, 12:01pm

Congratulations for passing 75 already, Stephen.

162SandDune
Jul 5, 2020, 4:52pm

>129 sirfurboy: I enjoy The History of English podcast too, although I am way behind with it. Congratulations on reaching 75 - my own reading has been very slow this year.

163sirfurboy
Edited: Jul 6, 2020, 9:47am

>161 PaulCranswick: Thanks Paul

>162 SandDune: Thanks. Good taste in podcasts! :)

164sirfurboy
Jul 6, 2020, 9:48am

77. The Witch's Boy - Kelly Barnhill



A cute children's tale of a good witch who looks after a wild magic, and evil people who plot to take it for their own ends, and a spoilt king who wants to invade the peaceful kingdom. Ned and Tam are the witch's twin boys, but Tam dies at the start of this tale, leaving Ned alone and with challenges to face.

A good and well written story for younger to mid grade children. Nothing to deep in this, but the triumph of good over evil and perseverance in the face of adversity are two solid themes. This would be a four out of five star recommendation is for younger readers (the intended audience). Not so much for adult readers perhaps.

165sirfurboy
Jul 6, 2020, 10:22am

78. The Devil's Delusion



This book is a highly polemical look at the creed of the New Atheism, as well as a defence of intelligent design as a sound concept. It also takes aim at science in general, and the promise and tone of the book are summed up in this quote from it:

“Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close. Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough. Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough. Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close. Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough. Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even in the ball park. Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.”

Indeed it was hearing that quotation, attributed to an author with a science and mathematical background who is also a secular jew, that hooked me into reading this (although it took me a while to get to it).

Intelligent design as a concept has some rather unintelligent supporters, but Berlinski is not one of those. He makes a good and rational case, yet not one that could be said to be unassailable. In critiquing arguments against evolution of an eye, for instance, the author appears to be writing beyond his competence, and the argument is unlikely to be convincing. I expect Dawkins could come back on that argument easily enough (this being in Dawkins' field of expertise).

But, on the other hand, there are plenty of places where the reverse is true. Berlinski skewers Dawkins' arguments in several places where Dawkins speaks beyond his expertise, and the same is true for the arguments of Hitchins and others. When Dawkins does philosophy, he does it badly, and Berlinski pulls his arguments apart well enough.

Yet I did not really like this book. Keith Ward's "Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins" is an even better response to the clear problems with Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris et al., making many of the same arguments but without the hint of vitriol I detected in this book. Still, vitriolic or not, he does demolish the new atheism well enough.

The problem is that I was not convinced by the edifice he tried to build instead. He convinced me that his view was not unreasonable, but that was as far as it went. Keith Ward is again better on this.

Berlinski is intelligent, erudite, and capable of producing clear headed and reasoned argument. This was an interesting work, and he is at his best when pulling apart other people's arguments. His ground is not so firm elsewhere.

166sirfurboy
Jul 7, 2020, 5:24am

79. Shadowsmith



Kirby's first encounter with the mysterious Amelia Pigeon is when she shows up and asks him if he is brave. Kirby gives a thoughtful answer that satisfies her, which is good as she sucks him into a magical adventure fighting witches and forces of darkness. All the while Kirby's mother lies in a coma, and Kirby and his father are trying to cope.

This is a touching tale with age old themes of the importance of love, the triumph of good over evil, and what it means to truly be brave. Good adventure that should be perfect for mid grade children.

167thornton37814
Jul 7, 2020, 9:19am

Congrats on passing 75! I know I'm a little late to the game in wishing you well.

168sirfurboy
Jul 7, 2020, 4:36pm

>167 thornton37814: Thanks and no worries. I am very behind on visiting threads too. I will have to rectify that.

169sirfurboy
Jul 8, 2020, 5:08am

80. Approaching Prose Fiction - Steve Padley



This free ebook goes along with a free OpenLearn course from the Open University and uses a wide selection of extracts from prose fiction to discuss the elements that make up a fictional narrative such as plot, character, setting, etc.

Interesting stuff. Even though most people who read a lot for pleasure will be well aware of these elements, investigating how authors work within a range of texts from a variety of genres, both modern and classical, adds to the interest of this course and book.

For reasons of copyright, I expect, the texts are not included in the free ebook, but the book contains working hyperlinks to the pdf texts on the course website. Thus this is not quite what you would expect from a traditional book, but the information is all available.

170sirfurboy
Jul 8, 2020, 5:21am

81. Death in Pont-Aven



This is off genre for me. A classic murder mystery whodunnit, but set in Brittany. 91 year old hotel manager Pierre-Louis Pennec is found murdered, and Commissaire Georges Dupin is called in to investigate. Dupin has moved to Brittany from Paris, and is annoyed by the fact of a murder in the sleepy coastal commune, although he admits at once that he is the one with the expertise to investigate.

What follows are a series of false leads, twists and turns before Dupin can finally solve the mystery. In plot structure this greatly resembles all other whodunnits I know about, and which I don't generally choose to read. It is cleverly done, but usually my feeling about such books is on the lines of "meh".

I read this one because of the Brittany setting though, and Dupin's observations of the Breton people and the location are insightful and often amusing. He finds a difference between coastal and rural communities and describes all he sees as an outsider who has moved into the area.

The other thing that adds interest to the story is the somewhat disorderly and well developed character of Dupin himself. As such it made for an interesting tale. Hints of corruption at high levels also added a nice sense of outrage too.

This has not converted me to whodunnit stories, but it is just possible I might read more of Dupin in the future.

This was an LT recommendation from early last year when my virtual walk took me through Brittany. I forget who recommended it, but Paul perhaps? Whoever it was - thanks. Apologies that it is currently taking me over a year to get to recommendations on my TBR!

171sirfurboy
Jul 9, 2020, 7:21am

82. Global Warming - Open University



This free ebook goes with a free OpenLearn course from the Open University and is best read in conjunction with that course. It is a thoroughly interesting look at the causes of global warming, how we know about it, modelling etc. There are a large range of associated readings that are hyperlinked from the book. The book does not contain the extracts for copyright reasons, but they are freely available on the Open University web site and the hyperlinks from the book take you to them.

One of the better OpenLearn free courses.

172sirfurboy
Jul 10, 2020, 7:07am

83. Where the World Ends - Geraldine McCaughrean



Based on an actual historical event, this Carnegie medal winning story follows the lives of a group of men and boys who went to a sea stack off the coast of St Kilda, pretty much the most remote of the Scottish Western Isles. They went to collect eggs, birds and oil, but the boat never came to fetch them home. They survived 9 months on the sea stack before they were eventually rescued. The picture on the cover is an accurate representation of the stack (stac an Armin).

The reason the group were marooned was that smallpox broke out on St Kilda and all but one of the population died. The men and boys were forgotten for 9 months. Their survival is a remarkable story which nevertheless inspire almost no contemporary accounts beyond a basic accounting of those facts. In this information void, McCaughrean inserts her tales. She changes some of the facts too. In her account there is a death whereas in reality everyone survived. In her account there is also the inevitable twist of one of the boys actually being a girl (sorry - I say it is inevitable because that twist really does seem to happen a lot these days. Third time this year in my reading, and I can think of some other occasions now).

In the monotony of 9 months on a tiny sea stack, with nowhere much to go but up or down, the author adds in a sense of conflict between a nasty religious bigot and more enlightened and liberal minded boys. It works, I think, but it did not feel very true or likely in places. Still, a story needs conflict, and as long as we understand that this is just not how it really could have happened, then that is okay.

However the story had some other defects. Quillian was the principle protagonist, but you would not always know it. The author moved around the characters a lot, and I think the story might have been better if limited third person had been used or a first person account by Quillian. I mean, in such close confines, the usual problem of first person - not being able to see or know about the action - would have gone away. I am not sure why the author chose the POV she chose, but I think it caused the characterisation to suffer. A book that should have been a lot about the characters really was not. Instead we had a lot about birds.

I did not dislike the book, but I am surprised it won the Carnegie medal. I can't really imagine that many younger readers would wade through the (well done) scottish dialect and the rather long drawn out story without becoming bored. Some will, of course - just not many.

173EllaTim
Jul 10, 2020, 3:04pm

Congratulations on reaching 75 books read, Stephen.

>172 sirfurboy: It's a fascinating idea, of course. And more so because it really happened. But a pity that the story wasn't more convincing to you.

174sirfurboy
Jul 13, 2020, 6:16am

84. Scavengers - Darren Simpson



Landfill has lived his whole life in the sanctuary of Hinterland, always wary of the dangers that lurk beyond the wall. His protector is an old scavenger called Babagoo, and his friends are the animals of Hinterland. Yet can they remain hidden away from the evil outside forever?

Written in the style of a post apocalyptic story, the major twist in this tale was not unexpected by me. Nevertheless it had shades of the Jungle Book about it and was a nice enough tale. Meant for mid grade children, this one should set them thinking a bit.

175sirfurboy
Jul 13, 2020, 6:27am

>173 EllaTim: Thanks :)

Yes, it was not a bad book - just not as good as I was expecting.

176PaulCranswick
Aug 8, 2020, 6:09pm

You are quiet these days, Stephen. Your virtual walking has taken you into good old Russia yet?

177ronincats
Aug 17, 2020, 10:15pm

Hi, Stephen!

178sirfurboy
Aug 21, 2020, 5:27am

>176 PaulCranswick: and >177 ronincats:

Hi both, yes, sorry for being quiet. Part of my job is lecturing to students and this autumn I will have to deliver the lectures as videos. I have been spending a lot of time recording myself and playing with non linear movie editors to try to make things a little more interesting. The downside is that I have been doing less reading, and not been posting here. Apologies for that.

I decided to give the virtual walk a miss this year, partly because my walking is down anyway owing to Lockdowns and partly because I had finished one big one so it was a good time for a break. I will get back to that next year I hope.

Thanks for stopping by.

179ronincats
Aug 23, 2020, 6:58pm

>142 sirfurboy: Just finished this. Took me a long time to get into it, but agree it was well worth the effort.

180sirfurboy
Aug 25, 2020, 6:58am

>179 ronincats: Great to hear. Thanks Roni.

181sirfurboy
Aug 25, 2020, 7:00am

I am a bit behind on my updates but I will limit them to a max of one a day so as not to inundate the thread. So:

85. Greenglass House - Kate Milford



This book was a recommendation from a LibrayThing reader. I am afraid I forget which one, but I should thanks them. It was a great tale of Milo and his family who run Greenglass house, a hotel favoured by smugglers. It has maps and hidden treasure, an old legend, cat burglers and a nice little mystery.

The author writes engaging characters, and an interesting tale, with a familiar feel but that finds its own way to be new and novel.

This book is probably written for mid grade children primarily, and they will love it, but it is too good to keep to them alone. Older readers will enjoy this a lot too. A nice little twist or two makes this book stand out, and it is cleverly done.

182ronincats
Aug 25, 2020, 7:02pm

>181 sirfurboy: I know I liked it when I read it and reviewed it, but that was because several other LTers had it on their threads, so who knows? You do remind me that I've never gone on with the series and it sounds just about right for reading during the RNC convention this week.

183sirfurboy
Aug 26, 2020, 9:51am

>182 ronincats: Yep I have already made a start on the sequel. Having said that, I have started a lot of books... finishing them is the challenge :)

184sirfurboy
Aug 26, 2020, 9:52am

86. Burn - Patrick Ness



Patrick Ness is a great writer of innovative and interesting books for young adults. In this latest addition to his works he comes up with a tale of parallel worlds, some of which have dragons but are otherwise similar to our own. Sarah Dewhurst's father's farm is failing. It is 1956, America, and they enlist the help of a Russian blue dragon to clear the fields.

From this opening we have some love interest, a corrupt cop, a dangerous geo-political situation in the midst of the cold war, a prophecy and talk of a dragon goddess.

Some very typical Patrick Ness stuff in this work, but his typical work is so innovative and strange and surprising that this is no bad thing.

I was not blown away by this book but would happily recommend it as a good, solid, novel young adult read.

185SirThomas
Aug 26, 2020, 12:05pm

>181 sirfurboy: That sounds really fascinating, unfortunately my library does not have it in stock, they have only The Broken Lands.
So I will put this one is on my TBR list.
Best wishes and a lot of reading pleasure, Stephen!

186sirfurboy
Aug 27, 2020, 6:29am

>185 SirThomas: A pity about the lack of library copy, but I hope you enjoy it when you find it. Thanks for stopping by.

187sirfurboy
Aug 27, 2020, 6:30am

87. Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge



This was a topical work that also surprised me by being very carefully written, well researched and quite eye opening, despite the title that might have suggested it would be more preachy. I also was very pleased that this addressed the race question from the British perspective, rather than getting bogged down in the American situation - which is clearly very important too, but where the issues are subtly different.

My favourite part of the book was the history, which I felt was well researched and fairly presented. The point was made that this is not the history you get in schools, but it very clearly was British history. The author carefully analyses the situation and draws out perspectives and lessons from this.

I also found it quite eye opening when the author spoke about the feminist movement, which is so often a white feminist movement. I would worry that anyone reading that would use her words here to attack feminism - but they shouldn't. That would be a mis-reading. Rather, this is a call for feminism to be representative of all women.

Although I didn't agree with every bit of analysis, I think the author has been careful, fair minded, and persuasive, and that this book should be read widely for the lessons it imparts.

It is a tragedy that many times a book like this comes along and you know that the people who we feel would most benefit from reading it are the very people who won't. Perhaps not this time though. There is a message here for everyone.

188sirfurboy
Edited: Sep 7, 2020, 9:48am

88. The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories - Christopher Booker



The idea is well known that there are no new stories, and that plots are recycled to the point that they become immediately familiar in some cases (e.g. "Rags tor Riches"). This book advances the hypothesis that there are only seven such basic plots, and that all stories fit into one of these. The seven plots identified are:

Overcoming the Monster,
The Quest,
Rags to Riches,
Comedy,
Tragedy,
Rebirth, and
Voyage and Return.

This hypothesis is carefully demonstrated with a range of stories from the classics all the way through to modern movie scripts. And all this is great stuff, and cleverly demonstrates a link between classics and modern popular stories, but I had misgivings when the author said up front that in formulating his hypothesis there were a sweep of stories that seemed unrelated until he saw they were all "voyage and return". This makes that category appear like a catch all, and I think it is. There is no voyaging in many such stories, and it is hard to see how they all share a "plot".

Nevertheless this was good stuff, and his analysis of stories and what makes these genres is very good. I found it interesting, for instance, how he could define comedy in such a way that some very serious stories fit the genre - and the way he defines it, they do.

Also he shows the plot recycling very well. Beowulf and Jaws are the same plot? Oh... yes, I see that. (Overcoming the monster). He also shows a modern obsession with that particular genre.

I did not like the obsession with Jungian psychology. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, because he did not seem to be saying you had to believe Jung was right, but some of the types and archetypes discussion seemed to kind of assume it. Also his talk of the masculine and feminine qualities might be based on a historical perspective, but I felt he would have been better to speak about the qualities themselves rather than to assign them to genera.

When he criticised Ulysses, I wanted to agree with him. Yet I found I could not. He found fault with a number of books, classics and modern stories too. But if they did not fit his plot types perfectly, and if they were yet successful and even classics, I ended up feeling the fault may lie with his classification system, and not with the books.

Lord of the Rings is a story I found to meander (especially book 2 if read in a trilogy), but I was not ready to agree with this author that Tolkien's plot was so badly sundered that it would never be a grown up work of fiction. Nope.

So this book is worth reading, but I already believed there were certain well understood plots that worked well in stories, and were re-used over and over. So this book did not convince me that this was so. Neither did it convince me that the 7 classified here were entirely correct. Nor would I necessarily agree with which genre each book discussed is found in - especially as it was freely admitted that some books contained elements of more than one genre (Lord of the Rings apparently has elements of all 7).

Interesting but quite a debatable work.

189richardderus
Sep 2, 2020, 10:04pm

Delurking to say happy September to you, Stephen, and I am awed by your very consistent reading.

Hoping the week ends happily in your part of the UK.

190sirfurboy
Sep 7, 2020, 9:44am

Thanks Richard. :)

191EllaTim
Sep 7, 2020, 10:03am

Happy September Stephen. You are probably very busy right now that schools have started again?

192sirfurboy
Sep 8, 2020, 4:06am

>191 EllaTim: Oh yes, definitely so! Hoping it will settle down soon! Thanks for stopping by. :)

193sirfurboy
Sep 9, 2020, 6:38am

89. Ghosts of Greenglass House - Kate Milford

A year has passed since the events of Greenglass House, and it is Christmas again. Once again a collection of guests arrive unexpectedly at the house. Some we have seen before, others are new. Once again there is a story of lovable rogues up to no good, thefts, smuggling, and a legendary history mixed with some ghosts.

These are well written books that should be adored by mid grade children. There is plenty of adventure, some good characters, the return of old friends. Plenty for readers to get their teeth into. There are a few deeper messages too, but aimed again at mid grade children. Not the deepest work I have read, but a lovely adventure written in a readable and enjoyable style.

194SirThomas
Sep 19, 2020, 9:47am

Thank you for introducing me Kate Milford, Stephen.
I enjoyed The Broken Lands very much.
I wish you a wonderful weekend.

195sirfurboy
Sep 23, 2020, 12:09pm

>194 SirThomas: Oh I am very glad. Thanks for letting me know.

196sirfurboy
Edited: Sep 23, 2020, 12:11pm

90. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes - Suzanne Collins



A new Hunger Games book, going back to many years before the original series, looking at the genesis and development of the Hunger Games, and the character perspective of Coriolanus Snow, who would one day become the hated President Snow.

Of course the book has another Hunger Games to wade through. This formula messed up the original trilogy too, and it does not do much better here. The games were a bit "meh" for me. More interesting was the character development for Coriolanus Snow, and the questions being asked about the purpose of the games. There is a problem though. The games don't really have a deep and meaningful purpose that makes sense, so attempting to delve into that question just brings out some of the problems with the whole premise.

There were some good parts though, and in the end Coriolanus shows himself to be the anti hero because when the time comes for him to make the sacrifice that would make him a hero, he does not find the power within himself to do it. We know this (it is not a spoiler) because we know he becomes president Snow. Yet the book manages to present that dilemma well. For that reason this merits as an okay read.

197richardderus
Sep 23, 2020, 12:22pm

Happy Fall, Stephen! A healthy batch of reads since last I was here, I'm glad to see. (Okay gets my vote over "blechhh")

198sirfurboy
Sep 30, 2020, 10:48am

>197 richardderus: Thanks Richard. :)

199sirfurboy
Sep 30, 2020, 10:49am

91. The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair - Lara Williamson



Lara Williamson is a first rate children's writer, and this is another great book by her. Beckett and his brother Billy begin this story with a sudden move to a new home with their dad. They leave behind Pearl, Dad's girlfriend. Their natural mother died a few years before, and Beckett feels like he never got to say goodbye, and now they want Pearl back too. Beckett and Billy set to work on making that happen, and the results are hilarious.

Billy has a pet snail called Brian. Brian gets up to mischief, but Billy doesn't. I know you think that it is Billy getting up to mischief, and that Brian cannot even talk, but Brian told Billy you would say that.

Indeed Billy is adorable. A lot of the humour of this story comes from him. As with other stories by this author, this one plays with your emotions a bit, but it all comes right in the end.

Thoroughly recommended for mid grade readers and anyone who likes stories for mid grade children. This is a heartwarming tale that could entertain any age.

200PaulCranswick
Oct 9, 2020, 2:12am

Hope normalcy is reasserting itself Sir F.

201sirfurboy
Oct 13, 2020, 6:54am

>200 PaulCranswick: Thanks Paul. This time of year is always busy for me. This year doubly so as I am covering for someone who is off work with long COVID, and that is keeping me very busy! Still managing some reading though, and I hope I finally get a chance to catch up on everyone's threads soon.

202sirfurboy
Oct 13, 2020, 6:55am

92. Ancillary Sword - Ann Leckie



This is book 2 of a trilogy, the first book of which (Ancillary Justice) won a range of awards including the Hugo, nebula, Arthur C Clark and BSFA awards. Rightly so.

This is good science fiction. The world building is deeply thought through, with all the depth and complexity of the best sci fi novels. It is a story of galactic empires, humans, aliens, and AIs. There is a cleverly constructed political scenario, and the author has thought a lot about language too.

But all that would be of little use if the story were not up to scratch. Happily this story is good too. Characters are well thought through, and the characterisations are good. There is conflict and struggle and nuanced interactions that make this a cut above many works in the genre. It is no wonder the first of these novels won awards, and this second novel is at least as good as the first.

highly recommended.

203PaulCranswick
Oct 17, 2020, 11:33pm

Dropping by to wish you a peaceful Sunday, Sir F.

204sirfurboy
Oct 21, 2020, 7:17am

205sirfurboy
Oct 21, 2020, 7:18am

93. Ancillary Mercy - Anne Leckie



Third and final part of this first class sci-fi trilogy. I loved this book on many levels. It is good, solid science fiction, with none of the required "willing suspension of disbelief" one must employ with space operas like Star Trek. The story is deeply thought through, well plotted and the execution was brilliant. As for characterisations, these were all very well done, be it for humans, the AIs (love the benign but petulant space station), or aliens (Zeiat is an amazing character and the Presger never appear in person but are very carefully thought out, and definitely alien).

There are no laser swords in this book. If that is a problem for you, or if you don't like mention of tea, you may be disappointed. But otherwise you shouldn't be. The deep themes of the book make it a thoughtful work, and this will surely be a sci-fi classic.

206sirfurboy
Oct 22, 2020, 7:10am

94. Beginners’ German: Places and people - Open University



This is the free ebook for a free Open Learn course from the Open University. These are a fantastic free resource, providing information in a wide range of subjects.

I am taking an intermediate German course at the moment. This book is for beginners so it was revision only, but still interesting. The course is short. It is a subset of a longer module from the Open University, but it is all good practice. For best results, use the book with the online course which contains audio clips and exercises.

207EllaTim
Oct 22, 2020, 7:15am

>205 sirfurboy: Loved those as well.

How are you doing, Stephen? Are you having autumn holidays?

208LukeRich
Oct 22, 2020, 7:24am

This user has been removed as spam.

209sirfurboy
Oct 22, 2020, 9:51am

>207 EllaTim: Thanks Ella. :) I am doing well, and so glad to hear that Marc's scans were good. Apologies I have not been keeping up with your thread more. I keep promising I will do better!

But no, sadly no holidays just now. In fact I am a bit busier than usual, as someone I work with is off with long COVID, which means I am covering their work. I did notice I have accrued quite a lot of back leave though, so I am now planning what to do with it!

Thanks for stopping by.

210EllaTim
Oct 22, 2020, 6:15pm

>209 sirfurboy: I quite understand Stephen! No problem.

Good idea to make some plans for future holidays. Anticipation is nice as well.

211sirfurboy
Oct 23, 2020, 5:26am

95. The Loop - Ben Oliver



A young adult book set in a futuristic dystopian prison, the Loop, where young people are held on death row (there is another prison for over 18s). The prison harvests energy from the inmates. They can also buy into "delays" for their execution by submitting to cruel experiments and procedures that benefit a rich elite.

All the standard fayre of young adult dystopian fiction can be found here.There is an AI overlord called Happy, rich elites, huge social divisions, a coming war and happy zombies. It is not stunningly original but is readable enough and executes the plot nicely. Character development is not brilliant, but all in all I would have given this three stars (which would be a recommendation) but I give it two because of its use of a cliff hanger ending.

To be clear: many people call this the new Hunger Games, but it is not. The Hunger Games is a trilogy. A book with a cliff hanger ending is just half a book, and although this one has some good and even some scary stuff, it never evokes the raw passion of the first volume of the Hunger Games. I won't be reading on.

Young adults who love the Dystopian genre will forgive the author of this book and enjoy it anyway. For any other reader wanting to see the best of this genre, I think there would be better places to start.

212sirfurboy
Edited: Oct 23, 2020, 5:41am

96. Modelling First Order Differential Equations



The Open University make available many free courses through their OpenLearn website, and there are these free ebooks to accompany their courses. It is a wonderful resource, and I am very happy with most of them.

However I cannot in good conscience recommend this ebook despite the fact it is free. I think it detracts from their offering. Here is why:

The book itself consists of hyperlinks to course material that is no longer available - an external workbook, and external answer book and four external videos. All of these have been withdrawn by the Open University, but in any case were not part of this downloadable book. So the only material is a series of transcripts for the videos, but those transcripts make no sense without the course.

It may be that the OU has now withdrawn the ebook too - but even if the course were there, the information was never really in the ebook, which would make this of little use as a revision or text book.

213sirfurboy
Edited: Oct 26, 2020, 11:49am

97. Learning how to Learn - Open University



A free book that goes with a free OpenLearn course on the subject of strategies for learning. Good and important stuff, with plenty of ideas. For best results, use this alongside the Open University's free course.

214richardderus
Oct 26, 2020, 12:28pm

>213 sirfurboy: That is a supremely important topic, learning how to learn, and under-taught. Oh, the irony.

215sirfurboy
Oct 27, 2020, 6:18am

>214 richardderus: Oh yes, so true!

Thanks for stopping by.

216sirfurboy
Oct 27, 2020, 6:19am

98. When we were Warriors - Emma Carroll



This is a set of three short stories set in 1942. the stories are interconnected but also can stand alone. A nice historical narrative that would make them perfect for key stage 2 children studying the war, and they would be enjoyable stories for the age group.

I liked the stories, and think they were well written. Short stories are not my favourite form, although the interconnectedness was clever, providing an anchor. Good stuff - recommended to the age group.

217Isabel_Collier
Oct 27, 2020, 6:19am

This user has been removed as spam.

218sirfurboy
Oct 28, 2020, 6:02am

99. King - John K Kay



Only read this one because I know the author and was asked to. Part 3 of a trilogy re-telling the story of King David. Can't recommend it, but by book 3 the story telling had improved somewhat and is quite faithful to the original material, although lacking any real innovation. Plenty of issues in this that a good editor would pick up on. Self published with a kindle unlimited warning.

219sirfurboy
Oct 29, 2020, 8:25am

100. A Child's History of England



A surprisingly readable (considering its age) history of England - although in many places it is the history of Great Britain or the United Kingdom as it begins before England existed and talks about Wales and Scotland too.

There is plenty of interesting information in this work, and it includes references to issues that get scant attention in modern histories. Nevertheless it shows its age, in that it is clearly wrong on some points, as has now been demonstrated, and because Dickens is writing for children, he does not name his sources.

A case in point, the history begins with British prehistory and the druids. What he writes about the druids appears to mirror contemporary accounts such as "The Golden Bough", so we get details about what the druids wore and worshipped, which would be treated with some suspicion now.

he is also downright wrong to single out Kit's Coty House (a neolithic chambered tomb) as a work of the (iron age) druids. Stonehenge is debatable too. The druids did not build stone henge but they did re-arrange it, so we will give him that one. But most of what he says about prehistory is not very accurate.

As he then romps through the whole sweep of history up to James II, things settle down and it looks pretty accurate, but I worried about often interesting asides (such as popular feeling and protests against Mary, Queen of Scots) whether these things I had not heard about were accurate or not.

It is a very Victorian view of history, focussing on the rulers and elites - but you would expect that. The way some of the narrative is constructed is interesting - amusing even - but hardly likely to be authentic. But that's not a bad thing. You will read this book because it is Dickens, not because you want to know the history. For that reason (and the fact that he does not shy away from the gory bits), I think this is an interesting and worthwhile read.

220sirfurboy
Oct 30, 2020, 6:45am

101. Þa Halgan Godspel on Englisc



Made available through Google Books, this book has the four gospels written in Old English. Familiarity with the gospels in English will greatly assist the reader in understanding what is written, and it was amazing how much I could then read with a somewhat limited Old English vocabulary (but familiarity with Old English is also essential to reading this). The ability to read this, of course, is partly because it is from the late OE period.

It took me over a year to plough my way through the whole thing, but a serious student could read it much more quickly. An excellent Old English reader.

Also worth noting that the title "Godspel" demonstrates the etymology of the modern word "gospel" as "good story/good narrative/good news".

221SirThomas
Oct 30, 2020, 7:10am

Congratulation for reaching the triple digits, Stephen.
I wish you a wonderful weekend.

222sirfurboy
Nov 2, 2020, 9:46am

>221 SirThomas: Thanks so much. I hope your weekend was relaxing and full of stories :)

223sirfurboy
Nov 2, 2020, 9:47am

102. Dawn Wind - Rosemary Sutcliff



Owain is a Briton who fights the Saxons at the great battle of Aquae Sulis. His father and brother are killed and he is wounded but escapes. He heads for a new life in Brittany, accompanied by a dog called Dog, and later by a British girl. But they do not make it and 12 years pass under Saxon rule, in which the character of Owain grows and matures, and we get to see the famous battle of Wednesdbury as well as the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury among other historical events.

Rosemary Sutcliff's books are very well researched, and she had a real love for Roman and post Roman periods. This is a very fine example of her writing, presenting a story with a wealth of historical richness and some clever character development in a format that is accessible to children and up.

224FAMeulstee
Nov 2, 2020, 11:19am

>223 sirfurboy: Indeed a good book, Stephen. I learned a lot about early Brittish history from Rosemary Sutcliff's books.

225sirfurboy
Edited: Nov 4, 2020, 7:44am

103. Elizabeth's Legacy (Royal Institute of Magic, #1) - Viktor Kloss



This book is a rare thing - it is self published, with a "kindle unlimited" warning, but is actually a readable story, well presented, with some depth and some good ideas. The cover art is very professionally done.

To be clear, it is far from perfect. If a publisher had it, I think an editor would have asked the writer to review the dialogue, which is often a bit stiff. They would also have suggested other changes. Moreover the influence of Harry Potter, Tolkien and perhaps World of Warcraft and some others is quite plain in the book - yet the author still manages something a little different that would be particularly enjoyable to mid grade children.

Ben's parents have disappeared and are suspected of traitorous acts. Ben himself soon gets swept up into a magical world and a Royal Institute of Magic, set up by Queen Elizabeth (the first). There is a whole magical world living alongside ours (just like in Harry Potter, but with whole new countries too), and the interface of the worlds is nicely done. They even have a Starbucks and Santander bank.

Character building is not the strongest point of this book, and character naming was a definite weakness. Dark elves in particular, get some poorly chosen names (one straight out of Tolkien, another is "Aryan"). Other names came from World of Warcraft and such places. It was a distraction if you recognised the provenance of the names, but children probably won't notice.

The world building is probably the cleverest part. The book lacks the humour of Harry Potter, although attempts it in places.

despite quite a few niggles, I read this through to the end happily enough, but won't continue, because (1) the book manages not to resolve anything. Not quite a cliff hanger, but neither is it really a complete work. I might have continued, but (2) sadly the author has died and the series is incomplete, although there are more books in the series. This is definitely a loss - despite the flaws I mention above, this was a promising author with good ideas and we can only guess what we might have seen from him in the future.

226sirfurboy
Nov 3, 2020, 5:12am

>224 FAMeulstee: Yes indeed, Rosemary Sutcliff is a great writer.

227AidanThornton
Nov 3, 2020, 5:25am

This user has been removed as spam.

228richardderus
Nov 3, 2020, 2:35pm

>225 sirfurboy: I often wonder what means one can use to get the promising (and even unpromising) indie storyteller's work before an editor. There are so few positions for editors, and the skill-set appears to be withering; can't one of our reinventions of the work world post-COVID include some sort of scheme to finance editors' work and allow them to take on clients without having to demand prohibitive fees?

Anyway. Been thinking about that for ages. Don't imagine it will ever happen, sadly.

229sirfurboy
Nov 4, 2020, 7:50am

>228 richardderus: Yes, an interesting thought. Editors were, for many years, invisible players in the publishing industry, but self publishing shows clearly why they are needed. One might suggest that Amazon, as the major beneficiary of the self publishing phenomenon, ought to invest in some editorial support.

Imagine if there were a second tier of kindle unlimited where you could pay to only see books that had been through an editor. The fee could go towards the editor, or perhaps the editor would get a cut of the ebook income.

I know that I, for one, am unimpressed by Kindle unlimited, and would be strongly attracted to books that had been through a new model of "self publishing with additional publishing services".

All the same, for now I have a preference for books published by traditional publishers.

Thanks for the thoughts.

230sirfurboy
Nov 9, 2020, 5:16pm

104. No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference - Greta Thunberg



I would like to say I liked this book, but sadly it was spaghetti publishing. A series of speeches by Greta Thunberg have been collated and published in this work. It is probably a good thing to have the speeches in one place - a source book of sorts, but what it gains as a historical record it most certainly loses for its excessive repetition.

Noting I say should be seen as any reflection on the passion and power of the author's message. If you have not heard or read any speech by Greta Thunberg, then you really need to read at least one. Understanding what lies behind the term "climate emergency" is so very important. But having read one speech, you have pretty much read them all in this book.

We don't hear anything from the author beyond speech transcripts. We do not hear background, or anecdotes. We do not get discussion, debate, or all the extra information a good book should bring. We do not even get any clear answers - just a repeated call for us all to take the issue seriously (and especially decision makers and industrialists) so that young people no longer have to.

It is a powerful message, but this is not the place that puts it most powerfully.

So no sleight on Greta's vitally important message, but I don't recommend this book.

231ronincats
Nov 9, 2020, 8:00pm

Hi, Stephen. Trying to dip my toes back into the stream of threads here. Some self-published books stand out, although most show the faults you document. I just read an entire series of space opera by Nathan Lowell that I really enjoyed. Although nothing novel or outstanding, it's just good solid entertainment, and all on Kindle Unlimited.

232sirfurboy
Nov 13, 2020, 6:15am

>231 ronincats: Hi Roni, glad to see you here again.

I know there are good self published books out there, but they can be hard to find (or maybe I am just over-critical)! But there are a few, like the one above, where they are still a good read. With a good editor, perhaps they would be excellent.

Anyway I will keep reading such books from time to time. I treat "Kindle Unlimited" as a warning, but not a prohibition :)

233sirfurboy
Edited: Nov 13, 2020, 6:17am

105. Dunstan - Conn Iggulden



Conn Iggulden brings history to life. Any period, or any subject, he always manages to create an interesting and exciting read. He sticks reasonably close to historical sources, although is not afraid to make subtle changes for story purposes, and in so doing he makes the work more interesting, although perhaps not such a reliable source for narrative history.

Nevertheless in this work he will still bring a little known but important historical figure into much greater focus and that can only be a good thing. His end notes explain to the reader where he has plated with or re-arranged or even just ignored source material, so it is an honest work too.

Wikipedia tells us of Dunstan:

Dunstan (c. 909 – 19 May 988) was an English bishop. He was successively Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury, later canonised as a saint. His work restored monastic life in England and reformed the English Church. His 11th-century biographer Osbern, himself an artist and scribe, states that Dunstan was skilled in "making a picture and forming letters", as were other clergy of his age who reached senior rank. Dunstan served as an important minister of state to several English kings.

Iggulden's Dunstan walks us through that life, but not particularly reverently. The first person narrative describes a very human Dunstan, who was in many ways not particularly likeable. The clever characterisation, however, is revealing. He tells us he hated his horse, Scoundrel, or at least never liked him much. Yet it becomes evident this is not wholly true - so the narrator is unreliable to some extent, and it seems to me that the author made Dunstan to be his own greatest critic.

All the same there seemed to be something lacking. When Dunstan decides to reinstitute the Benedictine rules at Glastonbury, we see a fight that is venal, yet if Dunstan were willing to stoop to evil to enforce his will, why did he even wish to do so? What was the benefit to him of a greater devotion to God? The author may have an answer on that (perhaps it gave him more control over the monks' time) but this same thought kept popping up in other places. When Dunstan to great risks to do what was right by his faith, we never saw much expression of actual faith - yet neither were other motivations so telling.

So I was left with an impression of Dunstan as something of a politician, but not of a man of faith.

It makes a good story, but I think maybe the real Dunstan may well have had more spirituality.

Also, the author makes Dunstan younger than the Wikipedia entry suggests. He explains that choice in his end notes, but it means he became abbot as a teenager. Again it makes a good tale, but was a little unconvinced about that choice.

234sirfurboy
Edited: Nov 23, 2020, 10:57am

106. The Hiding Place - Corrie ten Boom



This is a wonderfully inspirational book about a family of watchmakers in Haarlem who offered shelter to Jews in the Second World War, and became part of the Dutch underground. Later they were discovered and sent to prison, culminating in a stay in the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.

The book is unapologetically Christian. The family were Christian and saw what they were doing in the light of their own Christian beliefs. They then tell of remarkable and even miraculous happenings, and find the love of God in everything.

I had a section of this book read to me as a child. It was the section where the author's sister tells her to thank God for the fleas (because the Bible tells them to thank God in all things). Corrie ten Boom finds it difficult to see any reason to thank God for fleas, until the time she overhears guards saying they will not enter the women's cell because of the flea infestation. This allows them to keep their precious vitamin bottle and Bible. It is a good passage!

Now scanning Goodreads ratings, I notice this is a book that can divide opinion. Most Christians give it 5 stars, but there are a good few poor ratings based on the overtly Christian message. I agree that Christians will find this inspirational, and there is nothing I can add in this review that has not already been said on that score.

But for a more general readership, I have gone with 4 stars, and would take issue with those 1 and 2 star reviews. Yes, the authors have an agenda, but so what? all authors have an agenda. If a reader is not inclined to believe tales of miraculous happenings, then the never ending vitamin bottle may seem far fetched - but what those readers are forgetting is that this is like *any* primary source. The author tells us her reflections on and memory of the actual events, and in so doing there is clearly truth and also a gloss on events. That makes it no less valid as a historical document.

The account of the work before their capture was compelling and interesting. All the way through the book, however, and particularly in the prison, Betise ten Boom is presented as all but flawless, a saintly figure who never succumbs to despair or hatred or malice. To me this was a very clear indication that she was not going to survive the imprisonment. Was Betsie as perfect as the author describes? Or was Corrie's love and gratitude for her sister colouring the recollection? It perhaps felt like the latter. Yet the book remains a powerful personal testimony. Moreover, even if the saintliness was overdone, it would appear that the author found much inspiration from her sister. It was not totally inaccurate either.

So a critical reading of this book should still recognise the power of the story, and the truths behind it.

This is a classic first hand account. Thoroughly recommended.

235sirfurboy
Edited: Nov 24, 2020, 6:18am

107. Rick - Alex Gino



Rick is going into middle school, and as people are growing up around him, he has questions. His best friend is a jerk, and he is just getting to know his grandpa.

This is a sensitively written book for middle graders exploring matters of inclusion and prejudice and trying to encourage a safe space for thinking about such things. It is done well, and should find a place in school libraries. Us older readers of such books won't find it incredibly deep or profound. It is meant for the middle graders and they will get the most from it.

236ronincats
Nov 24, 2020, 8:29pm

Checking in to see what you've been up to, Stephen!

237sirfurboy
Nov 25, 2020, 6:55am

>236 ronincats: Thanks for stopping by, Roni :)

238sirfurboy
Nov 25, 2020, 6:57am

108. Learn to code for data analysis - The Open University



This is the free text that goes with a free OpenLearn course run by the Open University, and this is probably the best such course I have ever worked through. Indeed, so good I went through it a second time.

The course is presented by Ruth Alexander of BBC Radio's excellent "More or Less" show that looks at numbers in the news and in life, with a critical and analytical eye. I very much recommend that show too, which can be downloaded as an iTunes podcast.

The course teaches how to conduct your own analysis of data, pointing to very many sources of open data on the way. It also teaches how to install and use Jupyter Notebooks, which are Python powered visual tools for carrying out data analysis with all the power of Excel, as well as the ability to dip int Python coding, making them much more powerful.

This was designed as an 8 week course. It is well structured, but is definitely one of the longer courses put out for free by the OU.

The use of Jupyter notebooks may be off putting to some. Why learn to use something else when we could use a spreadsheet? But the course answers those questions as you discover the power of using them. I use Jupyter Notebooks for a number of things, and they are just so much more flexible than Excel (although I do write them to access data I have in spreadsheets or on Google sheets).

Data analysis is a very important skill in this day and age, and both this free book and the free course are real gems in the offering from the Open University.

239drneutron
Nov 25, 2020, 9:02pm

My son the computer scientist turned me on to python programming, and I’ve used Jupyter notebooks for some of it. Reminded me of my days using Mathematica - the interface was similar. I still use Jupyter for a few hobby projects I’ve got going. Fun stuff!

240sirfurboy
Nov 26, 2020, 11:31am

>239 drneutron: Glad to hear you are using them too. They really are great stuff, which leads me to my next book:

109. Python for Data Analysis - Wes McKinney



The O'Reilly (animal) book that is the essential reference to pandas and numpy, as used in iPython and Jupyter notebooks. This book is a complete overview of the APIs and packages, hints and tips and some data sources for use with these first class data analysis tools.

Do you need this book? Maybe not. There is so much reference information on the web, I tend to just google it. Also it is not amazingly readable. The Open University course "Learn to code for data analysis" is a better introduction than this book. However, if you have some understanding of iPython or Jupyter and the pandas library, and if you have time to sit down and read it, this book is an excellent and comprehensive source.

241richardderus
Dec 2, 2020, 7:32pm

>233 sirfurboy: Book bulleted. Ow.

Hoping all's well, Stephen.

242sirfurboy
Dec 3, 2020, 10:09am

>241 richardderus: Thanks Richard. I hope you enjoy the book.

All is good here, if still a little busy. Likewise I hope all is well with you.

243sirfurboy
Dec 3, 2020, 10:10am

110. Beginners' German: Food and drink - Open University



A free book that goes with the free OpenLearn course. This is part of their German Language offering, and I have been working through the whole offering as I have been taking a German course lately. This one was a bit easy for me, being aimed at A1/A2 learners, but it was all good revision.

Best used as a course text alongside the web based free course from the open university, the free course has multimedia and interactive exercises to do, all adding to the learning experience.

The hardest part of learning a language from the Internet is speaking practice. This course doesn't help much with that but has good ideas on recording yourself and comparing the recordings with their materials or other German materials to practice pronunciation. It Does provide plenty of listening and reading practice and a little writing too.

244sirfurboy
Dec 4, 2020, 5:29am

111. What Children and Young People Say - Open University



Another OpenLearn course with a free accompanying book. This one is an interesting look at the whole concept of consulting with and listening to children and young people, how to do it right and wrong, and asking deep questions of what we are even trying to achieve when we do it. However this one is quite short. It has a long bibliography though, so a good starting point for further reading.

245PaulCranswick
Dec 4, 2020, 5:48am

>234 sirfurboy: I will look out for that one, Sir F. Looks wonderful.

246sirfurboy
Dec 7, 2020, 5:26am

>245 PaulCranswick: Great, I hope you enjoy it Paul.

247sirfurboy
Dec 7, 2020, 5:27am

112. The New World - Patrick Ness



This is a short novella that fills in back story for the character of Viola in the Chaos Walking trilogy, leading up to her arrival on the surface of New World. Some poignant moments, and the usual very distinctive and immediate writing of Patrick Ness. However it is really just for people who have already read the trilogy. I doubt it makes a whole lot of sense as a standalone, and also would appear to stop far too early if you did not already know what happened to her next.

248sirfurboy
Edited: Dec 8, 2020, 7:06am

113. The Irrational Ape - David Robert Grimes



I have read plenty of books on the subject of critical thinking, usually very good, and this is one of the best. The author takes a comprehensive look at the subject, dividing the book into six sections that look at different aspects of how we can and should reason correctly about the world, starting with logic but then moving onto other subjects such as statistics and the scientific method. The sections are not labelled in that way though. To make his work readable, the first section is headed "Without Reason" and the statistics section, of course, is "Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics".

The other way the author seeks to make this an enjoyable and readable work is to include many anecdotes illustrating his points. These are especially powerful when they are anecdotes based on his own experience. For instance, the section on anti vaccine activists and the HPV vaccine contains a very powerful and emotional story of Laura Brennan's fight against the anti-vaxers before she died last year - because she had not had the HPV vaccine.

There is a good caution at the end about how we should approach discussion too, and how "debates" so often entrench people in their positions rather than yield a change of mind that could occur through more reasonable and less polarised discussion. There is a message there for any reader.

Despite that, I think sometimes the author's biases popped up in the work. I wonder if, considering his excoriating description of Trump's duplicitous scrabble for power, whether this would put some readers off reading his summary (even though I think he was quite right about Trump).

Sometimes his anecdotes were perhaps too abbreviated. There were a few times when I thought more could be said than he did say (although no doubt he was aiming for brevity). This was particularly the case when he gives the number of Chernobyl caused deaths as 43. His point is quite right (the number of deaths is much lower than people think, and many more people die from pretty much every other means of generation), but he fails to mention the estimates that excess deaths caused by the disaster are expected to reach 4,000. Because these are cancer deaths, many of them have not happened yet, but as people get older, if they die of cancer it *may* be the result of Chernobyl, and although we cannot say for any one person if this was so, the expected number of excess deaths will probably be in the region of 4,000. Still much safer than coal based generation, and many other means of electrical generation - but not immaterial.

Elsewhere he gets some other things wrong, such as this passage:

"To take but one biblical example, we need only look at Timothy 3:16 which stats: 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.' This passage, stripped of its verbosity, could be readily rephrased without loss of generality as: the scripture is true because it is inspired by God because it is written in scripture.

He then criticises this because of the scriptural argument's evident circularity. Yet the problem with his argument can be found by a consideration of his earlier section. This is a straw man argument. Paul was not talking about this letter when he said the scripture was inspired by God. He was writing instruction to Timothy, but he was not saying this line was true because it was true. Rather he was making a statement about why he believed all the scripture as would be understood by his reader (Timothy) was profitable for those things. What Grimes asserts is simply poor exegesis. He has not understood the argument in context before he has leapt to the application, and there are plenty of books on doing Biblical exegesis that make that exact point.

Yet I should make a point I think is very important: if you can use the tools found in this book to pick holes with occasional arguments made in this self same book, then the book is doing exactly what it should be. A book such as this should equip us all to avoid straw man arguments, cults of personality and other such sloppy thinking. If you read this book and think it is great because the writer can do no wrong, and make no errors, then you have not understood the book yet.

This is a book about being critical of all arguments - particularly from people you largely agree with. Because, as he points out when talking about confirmation bias, we are all very good at being critical of the arguments of those we disagree with, but often accept poor reasoning from those we agree with.

So the author is not perfect. Nor should we expect that he would be. The book, however, is a very thorough look at the whole gamut of issues of critical thinking (well, except for exegesis!) and is as good a place to start as any other. Definitely recommended.

249FAMeulstee
Dec 8, 2020, 3:22pm

>248 sirfurboy: The Irrational Ape sounds good, Stephen, I hope for a Dutch translation.

250SirThomas
Dec 9, 2020, 2:46am

>248 sirfurboy: >249 FAMeulstee: ...and for a German one.
This book sounds very worth reading.

251richardderus
Dec 21, 2020, 2:52pm

Tachyon Publications, an SFF house, posted this on Twitter. Says it all, no?

252SirThomas
Dec 24, 2020, 3:30am


I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a peaceful time, remain healthy and full of hope.
I took this picture 2 years ago when we were on our pre-Christmas vacation.
Last year there was no snow, this year we were not allowed to go. Therefore, we revel in fond memories and look forward to next year.

253SandDune
Dec 24, 2020, 10:59am



Or in other words, Happy Christmas! And have a great New Year as well.

254lkernagh
Dec 24, 2020, 12:23pm

Hi Stephen. Wishing you peace, joy and happiness this holiday season and best wishes for a wonderful New Year!

255sirfurboy
Dec 24, 2020, 6:18pm

>251 richardderus:

Lol, yes it does.

>252 SirThomas:

Frohe Weihnachten, Sir Thomas. Lovely picture

>253 SandDune:

Nadolig llawen i ti hefyd. Diolch.

>254 lkernagh:

Thanks, and a happy Christmas to you too.

256PaulCranswick
Dec 25, 2020, 12:00pm



I hope you get some of those at least, Sir F, as we all look forward to a better 2021.