Review: CyberStorm

CyberStorm by Matthew Mather
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A 4.5 star read that I couldn’t put down when I started.

The book gets off to a slow start as the author builds up the characters and you get to know a little about their backgrounds. Stay with the book as the pace gradually picks up and I found myself wanting to know what happens next.

The story starts with the gradual failure of key computer systems and the author skilfully builds this up and expands the situation the characters face, and you find yourself sharing their plight. What makes the story more scary is that it is totally believable and as you read it you find yourself wondering could this really happen?

As with other sci-fi stories with an internet slant, there is a slight stretching of credibility and the obligatory use of a mesh network. However the people (lead characters and the others in the story) are the main focus of the story to which the technology plays an ancillary role. As with all apocalyptic disaster stories there are good friendly people and then there are the people who aren’t so nice. This story has both aplenty from the lovable Russian elderly neighbours who survived terrible events in their past to the thieves who steal food from other characters when it is in short supply.

As I got towards the end of the book I found myself wanting to see how the book would finish, as the story is brought to its conclusion and we find out who was behind the cyberstorm. I like the way the author spent a little time at the end telling us how the story finished and didn’t just leave it with hope in sight (like Hollywood blockbusters do!). Something else that impressed me was finding out that the author self-publishes, I didn’t realise this when I bought the book and wouldn’t have realised at the end had the author not said.

I really enjoyed reading this story and I hope that we don’t find ourselves in this situation in real life…

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Review: Little Brother

Little Brother
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A book intended for young adults and that becomes apparent from the writing style. It shows that the author had some good ideas, Cory wrote this before the Edward Snowden revelations and in the current climate this book becomes even more believable.

Some of the technology is a bit iffy, and this was a frothy story without the depth and substance I would have liked. I did burn through it in a short time, but although I enjoyed it I don’t feel justified in giving it four stars (it just wasn’t that good).

A good reminder to young adults everywhere why online (and offline) privacy is worth fighting for. If you have children you could do worse than encouraging them to read it too.

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Review: Freedom (TM)

Freedom (TM)
Freedom (TM) by Daniel Suarez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really wanted to give this book 3.5 stars but had to choose 4. The sequel or continuation of his daemon novel, this book picks up where the previous one left, so it wouldn’t be worth reading (in my opinion) without reading the first!

As this book went on I found myself changing sides and seeing the daemon as force for positive change rather than the destructive virus left behind by a computer programming genius. Of course the book is still a little far fetched in places, and there are a few scenes (as the first book) that contain some quite graphic violence.

I found that whilst I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the first, I had to keep reading to see where it ended. For that reason I’d recommend this book to my friends.

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Review: Daemon

Daemon by Daniel Suarez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like the last book review I wrote for Daniel Suarez (Influx) this book is quite believable (at least at the start) and quickly draws you in with an action packed start. There is lots of action and the plot is fast paced with several strong characters who stay with us throughout the book (although Daniel isn’t afraid to build a character up and then write them off with the flick of a pen!)

This is a book of two halves and the first is much better than the second. It wasn’t until I got close to the end of the book that I realised that the story wasn’t going to be concluded in this volume. If you don’t like unfinished stories (I don’t!) then you’ll need to read the sequel.

I enjoyed this story, and I recommend it to computer literate friends. You’ll never look at the internet the same way again!

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Review: Influx

Influx by Daniel Suarez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to say that this book is one of the best I have read (well technically listened to) in ages. It is science fiction but deeply rooted in fact, and so believable that you start to ask yourself if this could account for the lack of technological leaps forward over the last decade or two!

I tend not to pay a lot of attention to books before I buy them and didn’t know what to expect. The action starts almost straight away, but the narrative draws you in from the opening paragraph. There are goodies and baddies in this story, and better still lots of technology (even artificial intelligences!) There are plot turns and twists and you never see which way the plot is going to turn.

Other reviewers have said that parts of this book are a little far fetched and that might be the case but they don’t detract from an excellent story. The plot is very well conceived and extremely well told. The hallmark of a good book is that you reflect on it when you aren’t reading it, and I certainly gave this one a lot of thought.

Would I recommend this book? Without hesitation. If you like science fiction or thrillers then you are likely to enjoy this book. I will be looking at the other titles by the same author – I enjoyed the book that much 🙂

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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book not knowing what to expect. The interpretation of what happens is left largely to the reader and that is one of the strengths of this book. Those with a belief in magic could see the characters as magical whereas those of us with a more scientific background might see them as aliens. What they are doesn’t affect the story but it is a clever way to write a book.

The characters in this book are likeable although not particularly deep, but that isn’t a criticism of the book and it still works well. There are some real feel good moments and I read the book quite quickly as a result.

Other reviews on here will talk about the plot, I would recommend just getting your hands on the book and giving it a go.

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Review: A Dog’s Purpose

A Dog's Purpose
A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I bought this book – it was a Kindle Daily Deal and I saw it was about a dog… The story revolves around a dog, who is born as a feral dog and is taken in by a kind human. He learns to trust humans and so marks the start of his journey.

Unfortunately it isn’t a journey in the style of “The Littlest Hobo” (You have to be of a certain age to get that reference!) but rather a journey of reincarnation from one life to another. If you suspend disbelief in the notion of being born again (and this is fiction after all…) then the story isn’t that bad.

We follow our dog getting wiser and wiser as he tries to work out what his purpose is. I started to enjoy the book more about half way through but it is one of those books that I could only read in small doses. The style of writing was a little off-putting and I nearly didn’t get through the first 10% of the book. If you’ve owned dogs before you’ll recognise the sorrow of the owners as they have to say goodbye to their beloved pet, but this part of the story (like so many others) lacks depth and was a wasted opportunity to find out more about the characters and their feelings.

Unfortunately when I got to the end I found out there are numerous sequels (no doubt the reason for the promotional price) but I won’t be following the exploits of our clever dog any further.

More candyfloss I’m afraid, ok in small doses but a bit sickly if you have too much!

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Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book – part of the enjoyment could have been due to the fact I listened to the story on Audible rather than reading it. That said I came to look forward to my 50 minute commutes so I could catch the next slice of the story.

Was this a perfect story – no, and it probably wasn’t one of Stephen King’s best pieces of work but that’s not to say it isn’t good. I loved the idea of the villains, ‘the true knot’ who have a range of shining like talents, but feed like vampires on the children who have the shining. I found myself drawn to the baddies because whilst you don’t like how they survive (and their contempt for normal people), you do get to know some of them quite well and I felt a certain envy of their carefree lifestyle.

Whilst the story is a sequel to the Shining, it has been many years since I read that book and I don’t think this detracted from the story. Many of the important aspects of the story are recapped in this book, enough to jog your memory if you’ve read it before.

The start of the book was a little confusing (perhaps I wasn’t paying full attention) but the book jumps through the life of the main character so twenty years pass in the blink of an eye. I found myself trying to work out what was happening because I hadn’t kept pace. The book is set over many years and not all of them are relevant to the story, hence the jumps.

Whilst there are lots of unanswered questions in my head (I have to keep telling myself it is only a piece of fiction!) I really enjoyed the premise of this book, the characters and the story telling. As with all King books the ending wasn’t fantastic but it still held a few surprises and twists. Recommended!

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Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods

The Universe Versus Alex Woods
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book not really knowing what to expect. The book is really a story of a boy who was hit by a meteorite and has some traits of autism/poor social skills as a result. The book tells the tale of his childhood and how he came to make friends with an old man who lived alone. The book opens with Alex being caught at customs with the ashes of the old man so telling you he dies isn’t a spoiler, but the story tells how they came to be friends, good friends.

Whilst this book isn’t action packed and doesn’t build to a climactic finish, it introduces some lively and believable characters that you come to know and love. I really enjoyed this book and found myself reading it whenever I could.

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Review: Outstanding Lessons

Outstanding Lessons
Outstanding Lessons by Ross Morrison McGill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Before I talk about the book I wanted to give a little background about myself that might put the review into perspective. I like reading and I read a lot of books, but nearly all fiction. I find non-fiction and research material tedious and slow going. I’ve had a number of books about assessment in schools sat on my shelf waiting for me to start reading them – and I’ve never got more than a chapter or two in. This could have influenced my view of the book, as could the fact that there are lots of ideas in the book that I either use already or can’t use in my setting.

Anyhow on to the book. I decided to order a copy of this book because my twitter stream was full of people who had purchased the book. Others were saying how they had used some of the ideas from the book and had good observation feedback as a result. I decided to part with my cash – opting for a paper copy rather than buying for my Kindle (I think reference material is better on paper).

The book arrived and the first thing that struck me is the size – it’s a compact paperback with small print. The pages aren’t full of text but instead the main text flows down the centre of the page in paragraphs with ‘tips’ and the odd hashtag (yes – hashtags in a paper book!) down the sides.

My initial feeling when flicking through the book was one of disappointment – I didn’t think the book lived up to the ‘hype’ on Twitter, although you can’t fault the book for that. When I go on CPD I always look for things packaged up that I can take away with me and slot straight into my own teaching. I did like some of the ideas in this book but the majority of the book left me feeling distinctly unimpressed.

If you follow lots of teachers on Twitter (like I do) then you come to pigeon hole some of the more prolific posters into certain stereotypes. Reading this book made me think of the ‘trendy’ teacher, using ideas and terminology that is in fashion. That might just be my opinion (I am getting a little long in the tooth now and my teaching styles are starting to look a little old school) but a review is an expression of one’s opinion. The title also made me think that the book would be 100 teaching ideas but instead some the ideas relate to the culture you build that leads to outstanding learning – an important but subtle difference.

Some of the chapters were of little use to me – for example the chapter 23 is called #bananas. After a page full of text we learn that it might be useful to use your marking to inform planning (perhaps next a chapter about teaching your granny to suck eggs?). Another chapter talks about the gherkin in a burger. I read this expecting some tangy tasty tip I could throw into my lesson – but the chapter concludes with a short list suggested by tweeting teachers about lesson planning.

Other chapters that I didn’t find useful referred to strategies and ideas that I already use like mini-whiteboards (these are hardly new, they appeared with the National Strategies). A chapter is devoted to Bloom’s taxonomy which all staff at our school use when planning (we starting to move out of special measures). Another chapter refers to Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce (which Dylan Wiliam explains well on YouTube) which I’ve run training on in my own school.

I’m painting rather a negative picture of this book and that doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful to others (and Twitter will bear witness to this). My setting (special education) means that some of the ideas in the book aren’t relevant to my teaching, and the nature of my students means we do a lot of hands-on practical activities.

If you are the type of teacher who needs to be told how to use a TA (perhaps by involving them in planning…) then this could be the book for you. I’ve tried returning to this book several times in case my opinion changed and unfortunately it hasn’t. I have several teachers and school leaders in my family and when we were catching up over Christmas the topic of this book came up. I wasn’t sure if to be relieved or disappointed that we shared the same opinion of it.

Don’t let this review put you off – I’m in a different position to lots of teachers having accessed and run CPD for teachers, ASTs and school leaders I doubt I fitted into the target audience for this book. I will continue to flick through this book and share it with my colleagues at work who might find it more useful than I did.

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