Category: Books

Mini review: “One Deadly Summer” by Sebastien Japrisot


This is a book that I first read as part of my French classes at school  – it is a translation of Japrisot’s “L’été meurtrier” – and I’d wanted to read it again for a while, so I took it on holiday last summer to Spain where some days it was blisteringly hot. Perfect reading conditions for this book.

A young woman is out to avenge a vicious attack on her mother many years ago.  The impact on all those pulled into her path is life-changing.

The story is told from the differing vantage points of some of the main characters and you are given a lot of information – especially dates – which allows you to build up a fuller picture of what is going on.  Towards the end of the book you need to keep reading as you know there is very little time left to bring the story to a close.  You really do have to read to the very last word to know how things come together.  It is very well done, leaving you to reflect on all that you have learnt so far.  I was left with a sense of horror at the end.

A little word of warning: the writing style might not be to everyone’s taste as this is a translation of a 1970’s French book.  As with Japrisot’s earlier book “Trap for Cinderella” the translation leaves something to be desired.  Some phrases are translated too literally, but to be fair, the author does play about with the language of the young woman especially when she refers to herself in the third person and exaggerates periods of time that have passed.  Still, don’t let this put you off –  it reflects aspects of the character’s personality and you get used to it.

If you’re a fan of crime books and fancy a break from all the Scandinavian noir I highly recommend this Gallic story of deception, consequences and revenge served cold.





Mini review: “Troublemakers: How a Generation of Silicon Valley Upstarts Invented The Future” by Leslie Berlin


This unconventional, informative and entertaining book looks at the history of Silicon Valley between 1969 and 1984 by interweaving the personal stories of seven people who are not necessarily widely known.

I was drawn to the book by the fact that Bob Taylor featured, who I knew played an important role at Xerox PARC and at the beginnings of the ARPANET, which would go on to form the basis of the internet. I had recently read about him in an article in Rolling Stone magazine from 1972 and wanted to find out more. Mike Markkula was also a name that rang a bell but I did not know about his story. It was really interesting to find out the essential role he played in the early days of Apple Computer – I follow Apple news closely so I was surprised how little I knew about him.

It was also good to have a couple of women amongst the men – this book takes a good look at their particular battles against the attitudes of the time. Having said that, it is not the only reason they have been included. All the stories – regardless of gender – highlight the skills, hard work and dedication needed to succeed, and also how they dealt with setback or failure.

What was occurring in Silicon Valley at that time really was remarkable, even if it did not always seem that way to the people there at the time, and even if the magic of that moment was not to last.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Silicon Valley, especially if they work in the field of IT – a bit of insight into how we got to where we are today would be valuable, and this is an easy, likeable read.


• Spare Cycles: Article: “The Tinkerings of Robert Noyce” by Tom Wolfe (an excellent article if you want to go back to the very earliest days of the Valley, from the 1950’s to the 1970’s).

Mini review: The End of Money (New Scientist Instant Expert series)


This is an excellent introduction to bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and the blockchain, intelligently covering the subject in 200 pages.

My favourite sections examine the blockchain, delving into subjects such as public key cryptography, proof of work and its relation to bitcoin. It doesn’t get overly technical but explains step-by-step how things work. Despite bitcoin being better known, it is clear that the blockchain – the foundational technology behind the currency – is more likely to revolutionise the economy. The problems facing bitcoin are not widely covered but are mentioned here.

Apart from breaking up the text, the pictures in the book serve absolutely no purpose and most add nothing to the narrative whatsoever. I’m impressed – it must take some effort to be so bad. Conversely the graphs and timelines are well done, clearly showing trends and imparting a lot of information in a concise way.

The glossary is handy and the last section called “fifty ideas” is an excellent resource if you want to read further.

One thing that perplexes me is the title of the book. Cryptocurrencies will not be “the end of money” – this is the conclusion the book itself comes to in the section called “Is bitcoin really money?”. So maybe the tile should have been “The End of Money?”. Not a big deal but it struck me as strange.

Still, if the other books in the Instant Expert series are as good as this, I will be reading more.

Mini review: “Dodgers” by Bill Beverly


I came across this by chance and just could not resist given the reviews and the awards it won last year.

It is the story of a group of young black guys from a rough part of Los Angeles who are sent on a road trip across America to kill a judge when their narcotics operation is busted by the police.

Its pared-back tone belies the book’s emotional impact. This is more than a journey in a van for the main character – it is a rite of passage. I read through the second half of the book in one sitting one evening and found myself thinking about it all the next morning.

Somehow I managed to miss the fact that there was an audiobook version (it sounds good too…), so I went with the paper version.

Given that the book clocks in at only 300 pages there is a lot of story and character development built in.  A number of twists happen out of the blue and without fanfare that mess with the boys’ mission.

I wondered about the plausibility of such young characters being able to do what the plot asks of them but it becomes clear as the story progresses that it wouldn’t be difficult for people to disappear through the cracks of society and never be found. If anybody actually cares enough to look for them in the first place.

Take care if you are sensitive to sometimes harsh language. These are young guys gassing amongst themselves in a confined space. Reflect on this and decide accordingly.

I’m very pleased that I chose to hitch a ride on this particular literary adventure and would highly recommend it.

Wouldn’t fancy doing it for real though.

Mini review: “The Final Empire (Mistborn Book 1)” by Brandon Sanderson (audiobook version)


A while back I was in the mood for reading some fantasy (not something that happens very often) and I considered starting Game of Thrones but that seemed like the start of something far too big to be practical – there’s so much of it and ultimately it is unfinished.  I had checked out the first chapter of the audiobook and couldn’t imagine myself listening to the whole book.

So I looked elsewhere and having seen this recommended online I gave it a try.  It is the first book in the “Mistborn” series.

The story involves a plot to bring down the Lord Ruler, the ultimate evil power controlling the Final Empire, thought by many to be an immortal god.  The environment has been ruined, with ash coming down from the sky and mists coming at night.

I think that this is a story aimed at a young adult audience but is a good read for everyone – I certainly enjoyed it.   This is a story that could appeal to people who don’t want their fantasy too violent or graphic (Game of Thrones?) or too filled with dwarves and elves (Lord of the Rings).  Spoiler: there are no dragons.

The author has come up with some good ideas – principally that there is a race of people who have the ability to ingest and “burn” metals to give themselves enhanced physical abilities.  I always think these things sound a bit strange when discussed outside of the world that has been created but the “magic system” is plausible and works well – the details can be found here but don’t rush to read it if you are interested in reading the book.  It won’t spoil anything but the book does a good job of explaining things.

A note on the narration of the audiobook: I had never heard of the narrator (Michael Kramer) before but he does a brilliant, flawless job.  It was a pleasure to listen to. He is a professional audiobook narrator and it shows.  I’m very impressed.  I’ll be looking out for his name in the future.

This is a long book – nearly 25 hours for the audiobook – but the story never lags or seems padded out.  There are another two books after this one (and that is just the first trilogy of the “Mistborn” series) but there does seem to be a lot more story to tell.  I’m sure I’ll return to the series at some point but the next books are even longer than this one so they will have to wait.

Still, this is a slice of fantasy I can recommend.


Mini review: “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe


This is the story of the early (American) pioneers of supersonic flight (breaking the sound barrier) and the space race. And it is astounding.

Early on the book tries to nail what it was in the personalities of the men – test pilots from the Navy and Air Force – who risked their lives to go faster or higher than the others, to prove to the world that they were one of the special few at the top of their game. They had the skills, the ego, the guts… the right stuff.

As the book progresses it changes from expressing the concepts and ideas as to what constitutes the Right Stuff to a very character-driven history, and it definitely gets better as it goes along.  The first few chapters are written very much in the Tom Wolfe style – with lots of exclamation! – and quite a lot of repetition.  The repetition used for stylistic effect works well.  The repetition to ram an idea down your throat, not so much.

But then the story starts to blossom, the forcefulness of the writing style fades into the background and you get enveloped in the feel of the events.  It is like you are being given privileged access to a special time and place; you are invited to participate in the thrill of being on the cutting edge.  You are getting insight into achievements that will change history and the way that people look at the world.

The narrative focuses very much on the people involved but undeniably the two stars are ace pilot Chuck Yeager and the astronaut John Glenn.  It was amazing how little I knew about the rest of the people, in particular the other 6 astronauts chosen to take part in the early space missions.  I kept myself away from Wikipedia so that their stories were new to me, but these are names that have faded in the collective memory. How?

By the end of the book I was enthralled, and when I finished I had to spend a little time just thinking about the scale of the achievements involved and the sheer joyous ride I had been on.  I’m sure there are several excellent and more conventional histories of the space race, but Tom Wolfe has pulled off something very special here.  He has managed to bring out the emotion and the pure magic of the events.



Mini review: “Spy Games” by Adam Brookes (audiobook version)


This is the second book featuring a British journalist getting mixed up with the UK secret service.  I was not a big fan of the first (audio)book, Night Heron, mainly as a result of a rather bland reading by the narrator.

This is much better, with a story that covers a lot of ground – China, Ethiopia, Thailand.  A bitter rivalry between two influential Chinese families has international consequences.

The plot starts off broad, introducing a number of characters, but gradually becomes more focused until the core of the story reveals itself.  The pressure is kept up all the way through the book and the story is well paced.  You do not have to have read the first book.

In relation to the audiobook in particular, there is a different narrator this time and he does a really good job.  He handles accents well, so that each character is an individual and he puts over the tension and emotion of the story.

This is a very good book.  You want to keep reading – it’s addictive stuff.  If you like spy stories this comes highly recommended.