‘First Locked Room Mystery!

Score: 5/5

Israel Zangwill
£2.57

Before Death In Paradise, before Jonathan Creek, there was this - the first ever ‘locked room’ mystery.

I do like a good puzzle, and something about this particular kind of puzzle appeals to me. SWMBO knows this, so bought me a copy of The Big Bow Mystery for Christmas. It’s out of copyright now, so it’s quite cheap to buy but you can also just legally download it from Project Gutenberg.

The setting could take a bit of getting used to - it’s set, naturally enough, in the 1890s since that’s when it was written. If you’ve read enough Sherlock Holmes (also available free on Project Gutenberg...) you’ll be familiar enough with the language and idioms though.

Did I figure out whodunnit? Nah. By the close of the book I had a few scenarios in my head and one of them was right, but I hadn’t spotted enough clues and discarded enough red herrings to narrow it down. The art of the whodunnit seems to be to give just enough clues to allow things to be figured out in hindsight, while adding a whole heap of misdirection so that the reader can’t sort out what’s important and what isn’t. There’s plenty of misdirecting fun here.

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‘Diversity In Science Fiction’

Score: 5/5

Nnedi Okorafor
£7.99

This is a short book - I didn’t know it was a novella when I ordered it so I was surprised when it turned up at less than 100 pages. £7.99 for a novella? I must be getting old.

Anyway, I enjoyed the story. I think at its core it's about diversity and alienation, and it captures those problems well. The writing does a good job showing the effects of being in the ‘out group’. The science fiction aspects are maybe a little ropier, the politics and organisations more simplistic, but that still took a back seat and I was still cheering for the main character through it all.

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‘Rationality And Cognitive Biases’

Score: 5/5

Daniel Kahneman
£7.69

I finally finished this book! It took me a long time.

I started this before we went to New Zealand in 2015. I decided not to bring it on holiday there, and that pause made it difficult to get back into it. I still picked it up every now and then, but it never really grabbed me.

That’s a shame because it really is a good book. Evidence-backed descriptions of irrationality and biases in common patterns of thinking, detailed by the man who won a Nobel prize for the research.

It’s been a few years since publication though, and it turns out there are a few problems with the book contents. It’s still a remarkable book, and worth reading. Just don’t take as long over it as I took.

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‘Forecasting Seems Hard Work’

Score: 4/5

Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner
£6.99

There’s a lot to like in this book. It shows how some folks who have disproportionately good results when forecasting actually go about creating their forecasts.

A lot of it focuses on a similar theme to Thinking, Fast And Slow, a book I started over a year before I started this book but I still managed to finish this one first. Maybe that says something about their relative readability. Or my ability to stick with things.

Anyway, this book also discusses rationality and biases, and how particular people in particular circumstances have ways to overcome those biases. It provides the basis of a toolbox for the reader to follow along and learn to overcome their own forecasting biases.

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‘Series Finds Its Stride’

Score: 5/5

Ben Aaronovitch
£4.99

This is the fourth in the series and I think it’s found its stride now. This was well-paced, had a nice plot of its own, but also carried the series forward.

More like this please!

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‘Nice, But Occasional Wankery’

Score: 3/5

Douglas Lain
£10.99

There’s a nice enough story in here, but the occasional descents into meta-fictional wankery is annoying. It doesn’t seem to add to the experience, it just looks like it’s there to show us how clever the author is.

Maybe I’m just not smart enough to be impressed.

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‘More Fun, Charming Adventures’

Score: 5/5

Dana Simpson
£6.99

This is the fourth book in the Phoebe And Her Unicorn series, and I've loved them all. They certainly do have charm and character, and if you like Calvin and Hobbes and haven’t yet checked them out, you can see the strips online.

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‘More London Magic Fun’

Score: 5/5

Ben Aaronovitch
£7.99

I enjoyed this more than the previous book in the series, Moon Over Soho. I’m not entirely sure why - whether it’s down to pacing, character, plot, or what. Probably a combination of everything. I don’t particularly want to analyse it all, so I’ll just go with the enjoyment factor.

It’s the same setting as before, many of the same characters, the same arc, but as usual with an individual story of its own. There’s not a great deal of character development going on in this one, but maybe that’ll pick up in the next.

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‘Wonderfully Wacky Adult Commentary’

Score: 4/5

Jason Hazeley, Joel Morris
£3.49

This was a lovely Christmas Day surprise from SWMBO. I hadn’t even heard of these books, but apparently there’s an entire series.

The basic idea, I think, is that someone went through the back-catalogue of pictures in children’s Ladybird books and added new captions or commentary for certain themes.

It’s a lovely idea. It’d have been even better if the book was a bit longer - it felt very short when I read it in one short sitting on Christmas Day.

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‘Bit Out Of Date’

Score: 2/5

Johnny Long, Bill Gardner, Justin Brown
£32.99

This book is a bit out of date, which is a shame. It's a 2016 edition (Third Edition, copyrighted 2016 although Amazon says ‘9 Dec 2015') but some of the content expired years ago. There are also plenty of instances of referring to something in the images that isn't there now, as if the images were updated and the text not, or maybe the other way around.

To give the most blatant example, the first chapter talks about Google keywords and says to use a '+' in front of a search term to make it mandatory. I remember the debacle when Google stopped using the '+' sign so they could use it for Google+ usernames. In 2011.

That's not to say the book is worthless. There's some interesting stuff in there, and many of the mistakes in the book could be cleared up by better proofreading and a revalidation of all the images/figures with their respective captions and mentions.

None of this is the authors' fault, of course. This all happens after they've done their work, and they could be unhappy with how their work has been treated too. Still, publishing this as a '2016' edition with so little effort put in to making a well-edited 2016 edition left a bad taste in my mouth so I won't be rushing to buy a Syngress-published book again.

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