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“Darkly Different African Drama”
Score: 4/5

Kwei Quartey
£8.75

Confession time – I have no idea who recommended this book. (If it was you – thanks!) I bought it in 2011 and it finally made it near enough the top of the to-read pile for me to grab it.

It’s a lovely story. It’s a police mystery/thriller, but what makes it more compelling is the setting (Ghana) and the different textures surrounding everyday life there. There are inevitable comparisons to The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, but this is quite different in tone as well as setting.

I have no idea how realistic a depiction this really is, but I don’t think I’d be averse to reading some more of the Darko Dawson series.



Posted by 'geoff' on Saturday, 19 July 2014. No comments.


‘The Culture, Only Nasty’
Score: 3/5

Ann Leckie
£7.03

An interesting take on the notion of ships-as-people, or what could happen when we have pervasive AIs and pervasive monitoring.

I still miss Iain M. Banks and his Culture novels though.



Posted by 'geoff' on Wednesday, 02 July 2014. No comments.


‘Not Worth The Effort’
Score: 2/5

Christopher Priest
£6.20

You know when you get a book and you struggle through it and you reach the end and it’s so satisfying that you don’t mind the struggle, it was all worthwhile in the end?

This is not that book.

I struggled through the chapters, the different settings, the different voices, the same-scene-but-differents, and really, it just wasn’t worth it.

Others will probably rave about this book. I just didn’t like it at all.



Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 22 June 2014. No comments.


‘Imaginative Setting, Compelling Story’
Score: 5/5

Max Barry
£5.51

OK, this is a science fiction book, but that setting is secondary – it’s primarily a thriller. It’s nicely done, with things being revealed at appropriate moments rather than it all being spelled out in advance.

The flashbacks do make it hard (towards the end) to keep track of what is happening when though – I don’t know if this is deliberate or not, but sometimes I was left guessing ‘did this happen before X or after it?’

Still, that’s a fairly minor point about what is overall a lovely book. The story is interesting, the setting imaginative, and the characters interesting. Excellent.



Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 15 June 2014. No comments.


‘As Others See Us’
Score: 4/5

Matt Haig
£3.59

I’m not usually a big fan of Sci Fi books that try to view humans from an alien perspective. Maybe it’s because I just haven’t seen it done well. Usually there are some trite ‘silly humans do this’, and ‘believe it or not humans do that’ observations but no real insight, and no real empathy.

This book has plenty of observations and while some of them may be trite they are at least combined with some empathy. This was a nice book, a humorous book, and easy to read.



Posted by 'geoff' on Sunday, 15 June 2014. No comments.


‘Lovely, With Casual Slurs’
Score: 4/5

Chuck Palahniuk
£4.82

I'm not going to dwell on this one, but it's another nice Palahniuk novel where you're never entirely sure of the undercurrents or what's actually going on. Lovely! The author also seemed to have a lot of fun coming up with casual slur names like Snarky McSnark.



Posted by 'geoff' on Saturday, 14 June 2014. No comments.


‘New Take On Genre’
Score: 4/5

M. R. Carey
£5.51

If I'd known what this book was about before I read it I probably wouldn't have started it, even though it came with SWMBO's recommendation.

But start it I did, and I found it captivating. I did like the way things were gradually revealed, the way the reader had to figure out rather than having details endlessly explained. The way things are gradually shown to the reader make me wonder how this could be done in a movie (I've no idea if there are plans for a movie of this book or not).

I think it could be tricky to do as a movie. But as a book it's stunning.



Posted by 'geoff' on Saturday, 14 June 2014. No comments.


‘StarWars Does Ocean’s Eleven’
Score: 3/5

Timothy Zahn
£6.39

I really liked Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy so I was hopeful when I saw he had a more recent StarWars book out. I think I’d expected something more StarWars-y though - this book is set in the StarWars universe but there’s nothing about it that couldn’t just be in a general science fiction book. There’s not much use of StarWars here.

This book feels like a heist thriller, an Ocean’s Eleven story (there are even eleven in the gang here) that just happens to be a bit sci-fi. The tools are fancier, the defences to be broken are scarier, but the story is familiar.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but choosing to make this a StarWars book with Han Solo in a starring role, just doesn’t seem to gel. The Han Solo here isn’t the Han Solo who shot first, but a more decent, more honourable one. And it doesn’t ring true.



Posted by 'geoff' on Monday, 26 May 2014. No comments.


I've been experimenting with the hyperlocal newsletter I mentioned. The results so far aren't promising.

Here's a screenshot of the latest version:

Screenshot of the current newsletter

(It’s a bit worrying that the Small Print takes up so much of the newsletter…)

Some stuff I'd like to put on the newsletter just isn't online. Local events like schools or churches having jumble sales or something. They're handled by leaflets to parents or the congregation, but they're rarely posted online.

Other stuff I'd like to put in is available online, but not in a format that can be automatically processed. (This normally means XML or JSON - I'm not going to do any screen-scraping because if they haven't deliberately chosen to syndicate their content I'm not going to use it.) Things that aren't available in a syndication format include Carrickfergus Borough Council's blog/news feed (seriously) or the several sources for "What's On" events.

Some stuff is sortof-online, like Carrickfergus Times' feed of events. Some events are indeed here, in XML, but there's no easy way to derive the date of the event. Sometimes it's there in the title as 'May 10', other times it's explained to be 'May Day Bank Holiday', other times it's not mentioned at all.

One feed that actually got the date concept right was the Parades Commission feed. I'm not even going to try and explain the reason we have a Parades Commission in the first place, but the feed used a separate <dc:date> tag to show the date of the event. Nice! Except the feed is now just returning a 404 after some site changes. So the one nice, useful event feed has disappeared.

Other stuff that's sortof-online is local planning applications that are up for approval or whatever happens with such things. They're online, but there's no fixed URL for them, and anyway they're only available as PDFs...

Then there's the stuff that is available online, and is in a suitable syndication format, but some utter fuckwit intervenes and makes it impossible to process. I'm still annoyed at the way the police make crime data available - there's no actual link you can go to to download the latest data, or download any particular data set. You have to go to a web page and click to generate the data set which then gives you a new, unique URL for the data set. You can't do this automatically, it all needs to be done through a web browser.

Then there's the bad XML which makes the whole file un-parseable. I may take a look at the parser I'm calling to see if I can make it more tolerant, but is XML-encoding < and > so hard?

Finally there's the data that's online, in a syndication format that I'm not allowed to use. I'm doing this as part of my company, so this is (potentially) a commercial venture. Some sites (like the Met Office) say their feeds are for personal use only. Some (like Google News) say if you want to use them for commercial purposes you should contact them - but then neglect to provide any actual way of contacting them!

Only a few things have been straightforward. OpenWeatherMap was nice to call, and available to use, but the weather forecasts for Carrickfergus just didn't seem to match the actual weather at all, so I'm trying Weather Underground and it seems nice (they do mandate the look of the credit notice, which may start to get ugly quickly if a few more start mandating different looks).



Posted by 'geoff' on Monday, 05 May 2014. No comments.


‘Plethora Of Colour Names’
Score: 4/5

Jasper Fforde
£6.29

I have to say, this one is imaginative! (Also, it's nothing to do with Fifty Shades Of Grey - I thought the title was a deliberate play on the title of the smutty book, but this book was published before the smutty one.)

This book feels a bit like Adrian Mole is the narrator. Only it's not, it's... Well, it's like an annoying version of Adrian Mole. That can be a little hard to take.

That's the downside. The ideas behind the book are fun, and as usual with Fforde books there's an incredible amount of wordplay going on.

I'm intrigued enough to wonder where this series is going...



Posted by 'geoff' on Monday, 05 May 2014. No comments.

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