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Brigands M.C.

Brigands M.C.

28th January 2018

Book 11 in the Cherub series kicks off with an introduction to a new character, Dante Scott, who we meet as a young child when his family are murdered by a gang of bikers. This sentence should be sufficient to make it clear this book is intended to be read by an audience who are capable of processing this sort of scene.

I was very pleased by how Muchamore structured this novel - the introduction giving little away as to where the book would go later on, and I was very impressed by one particular narrative device which occurred surprisingly far into the story.

It’s another good adventure for the Cherubs, painting a fairly realistic picture of the world and inserting teenage secret agents into the mix. There are strong indications that the series is preparing to wrap up, and one thing I did find disappointing about this story was its conclusion, which didn’t quite satisfy what I wanted from the end of the plot.

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Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards!

21st January 2018

The first of the City Watch stories in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series introduces readers to Ankh-Morpork's police force led by Captain Vimes. This is the first time that I've re-read a Discworld novel, and so I wasn’t sure how I'd feel. My memories of the early Watch stories are patchy, mainly because of when in my life I first read them, so I couldn't remember in any great detail what was going to happen.

The plot focusses on an obscure cult that's arisen in the city, with a number of motivations, who are plotting to overthrow the Patrician with a fairly complex plan that relies on tradition, magic and a fair amount of obfuscation. Meanwhile Carrot, a human raised by dwarves, has arrived in the city to join what he thinks of as the honourable profession of watchman.

As with all Discworld novels, it's full of cultural references and humorous moments that poke fun, but it definitively has the feeling of one of the earlier Discworld novels - a lot of the lore that later books rely on has yet to be in place, and some of the characterisations don't quite match with what we see in the later watch novels. The humour relies a lot on a satirical approach to the genre rather than being in the storytelling, and feels much more likely to elicit a knowing nod than a laugh out loud.

I enjoyed re-reading this and certainly expect to remember more of the plot in another ten years than I did this time, but I suspect I will enjoy the later Watch novels more when I return to re-read those.

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Fortune of War

Fortune of War

20th January 2018

After a two year gap, this new stand-alone Star Trek: Titan novel follows the crew as they investigate some recently discovered Husnock technology which is in great demand from a number of different civilisations in the alpha quadrant.

It's a great little story that has a lot of twists and turns, as the plot rolls onward in an episodic fashion and we move from one hurdle in the plans of both the Starfleet crew and their antagonists. Mack has constructed quite an elaborate narrative that keeps the reader surprised and entertained.

A good stand-alone adventure by one of the best Star Trek authors.

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The Essential Drucker

The Essential Drucker

20th January 2018

The Essential Drucker is a heavily edited version of the highlights from all of Drucker's works. Peter Drucker is described in the opening 'appreciation' as the inventor of management, and seems to have spent a career ranging from the 1920s to the 1990s studying management and providing advice. This book was created by editing together all his books into one central repository of all his best output - first by a Japanese editor into three volumes, then again by an American editor into a single volume.

The book is structured in three major sections - management as a concept, the individual as a manager, and society.

There is a wealth of good advice contained within these pages which I feel could be beneficially applied by managers today in the late 2010s. Drucker begins by attempting to define business and management, and the roles of management. He advises that the top focus of senior management should be to define 'what should our business be' and to set objectives in a number of areas of the business, none of which should mention profit, in order to give clear direction to everyone working in that business.

He talks about making it clear what roles have what responsibilities - the division of power between CEO and board - and wanders into talking about the role of business in society, a theme which runs through the book. Then from chapter six the advice becomes increasingly practical.

People need to understand the organisation structure, it needs to be clear who makes decisions, and that nobody should have two masters, which would create a conflict of interest. Managers need good information, particularly to understand the costs of what they are doing end-to-end through their entire supply chain, which means data from outside the direct business as well.

Drucker advises again about how important objectives are, and that management by 'drives' or 'crises' is bad. He proposes a methodology for creating objectives and ensuring they are understood between senior and junior managers, and advises self-control and the importance of ensuring managers have the data they need to self-manage.

He gives advice about recruitment and building a team, particularly about knowing when a role is wrong rather than the people being put in it. He talks about innovation and entrepreneurship, and suggests some approaches to ensuring innovation is continuous. And then he gives advice on how to set up a new venture, and to ensure you are focussing clearly on the market, rather than your own preconceptions of your product.

For the individual manager, he gives advice about how to be effective, which he views as the key element to management, and spends a number of chapters teaching how to approach this. The first key is to know oneself, focussing on one's strengths and forgetting about improving other areas, understanding how one works best and structuring your work to maximise that methodology, and ensuring one works somewhere with values compatible with one's own.

He spends a long time talking about time management, and gives some fairly brutal advice on how to best do this. First by understanding how you currently use your time, then by brutally attacking it. Grouping common tasks to avoid context switching, not rushing 1:1s, and not bothering to do anything that wouldn't be missed. He advises turning recurring crises into routine, argues that spending more than 10% of your time on staffing means you have too many staff, recommends no more than 25% of time in meetings (meetings mean you are trying to gain consensus, which implies responsibility is too diffuse and should be consolidated down), and speedier access to information.

The big recommendation he makes is to consolidate discretionary time - so pushing everything that takes you away from your desk together so you can have solid long blocks of time to focus.

He explains his approach to decision making and how to communicate. And then he advises about life, and what to do with the second half of your life, which is fascinating as it's something I'd been thinking about. He says to plan ahead earlier with what you want to do next, likely outside of your main career.

The final society section seems limited in it's advice and feels more like rumination about history and the future.

However, along with all the good advice, Drucker really falls down in his presentation in a number of ways.

The book opens with an 'appreciation' - it's a gushing hero-worshiping opening which does nothing to make me like the author, and coupled with the introduction begins the thread of capitalism, small government-loving, sexist, racist, America-Centric, closed-minded and old-fashioned writing which runs through the entire book.

It feel so unnecessary to make a book about advising managers so political, taking every opportunity to denounce unions, Marxism, Liberal Arts, the left-wing, Ralph Nader, jazz, the working class, non-white people, the welfare state and socialism.

There are some very strange choices of language as well, invoking the Christian god in some places that seemed incredibly out of place, and strangely idiomatic for a book that claims to have been translated into Japanese and back.

Every chapter seems to drip with sexism - referring to managers as 'he, and increasingly she', mentioning housewives, and talking about meetings which are 'three men and a secretary'. There are a number of praising case studies around the Girl Scouts of America, but against the backdrop of sexism it feels like these have been chosen out of surprise that an organisation run by women on a voluntary basis can actually be a positive example of good business practice. Some of the sexism doesn't even seem like it's a product of the time the book was written, but just dropped in with no justification at all.

The peak has to be in chapter 22, when Drucker actually compares feminists to Hitler. It's not a good chapter and attempts to set up the 'intellectual' as the nemesis of the manager. It's written from a very manager-centric viewpoint despite claims it wants balance, and contains a massive explicit assumption that the ways of Western-society are best and will dominate forever.

So overall, the book contains good advice, but bad language and a bad world-view. I can't in good conscience recommend reading it - it was hard work, took up too much of my time, and in places made me angry.

Given another edit to bring it up to date, remove many of the unnecessary word/phrase choices, and to add more recent case studies, I could see it being a useful read.

In the meantime I suggest finding a summary of the good advice and just following that.

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A Question of Blood

A Question of Blood

20th January 2018

Deep into the Rebus series, we see the eponymous detective face a novel crime - two schoolboys murdered and another wounded - which hits close to home when he discovers one of the victims is a long lost relative.

It's quite a complex plot with a lot of different strands weaving through, and writing this a few weeks after reading it, I'm not entirely clear in the end quite how it was all wrapped up. Some of the threads are serial ones though rather than specific to this book, and I think it's fascinating how this series has evolved into something that can have continuing plot lines mixed in with the crime of the week.

The Rebus stories are currently my favourite in the crime genre, with characters that are surprisingly likeable and plots that suggest a great understanding of the realities of police work, without feeling like they’ve been particularly livened up for the purposes of telling a story, like some of the more thriller-esque crime novels that I’ve been reading.

A solid novel in a solid series that I really enjoy reading.

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Buy book: UK
I, The Constable

I, The Constable


2nd January 2018

A third e-novella from veteran Trek experts Block & Erdmann, continuing the Ferengi theme, as Quark returns to Ferenginar following the news that his uncle has died - but when he fails to return Odo follows to investigate.

It’s a fun little story, with the interesting setup that Odo has been reading 20th century crime novels, and the book follows that structure, with Odo dropping in the odd reference now and then.

A good fun little story that I enjoyed reading. I hope the publishers can continue this e-novella mini-series going as they are beautiful little tales that really show the depth of the authors’ knowledge of and love for the series.

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The Way of Kings (part two)

The Way of Kings (part two)

2nd January 2018

The second half of The Way of Kings, the opening book of Brandon Sanderson’s epic series, feels very much like the second half of a book (which of course it is). This means that it's fast-paced, with a lot going on, and next to no introduction. It's like getting to the unputdownable part of a book from page one.

It continues the stories of three main characters, interwoven as their civilisation takes part in a massive war. One is the warlord, another a slave, and the third a con artist, but none of them quite fit into the roles that life has cast them in.

The book over both volumes is split into five sections, and different sections focus on different selections of the main characters. This is a tad frustrating in places because the reader is left for a considerable number of chapters to find out what’s happening to one of your favourites. But that’s hardly a terrible thing.

I absolutely adored this half of the book and am desperate to pick up the next one in the series.

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The Rogue

Reading soon

  1. The Hanging Tree
  2. The Core
  3. S. N. U. F. F.
  4. The Crossing Places
  5. A Foreign Country
  6. Tao Zero
  7. Solitude Creek
  8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane
  9. Proxmia
  10. Sleeping Late On Judgment Day
  11. Holy Cow
  12. Prince of Thorns
  13. Fire With Fire
  14. The Rooster Bar
  15. Places in the Darkness
  16. The Midnight Line
  17. Found
  18. A is for Alibi
  19. Dèjá Dead
  20. The Name of the Wind
  21. Fearless
  22. Dissolution
  23. Postmortem
  24. Girl Missing
  25. The Last Don
  26. Divergent
  27. Labyrinth
  28. The Left Hand of God
  29. The Murder Bag
  30. Death is Forever
  31. The Maze Runner
  32. Research
  33. The Whole Truth
  34. The Disappearing Spoon
  35. Oh Dear Silvia
  36. Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
  37. Surely You're Joking Mr Feynman
  38. The Listerdale Mystery
  39. The Wheel of Time Companion
  40. Seven Up
  41. Jeeves and the Wedding Bells
  42. Gallows View
  43. The House of Silk
  44. The Road to Mars
  45. Staked
  46. The Atrocity Archives