Book Review: No Middle Name, Lee Child

This is a collection of short stories featuring Jack Reacher. Despite reading a few negative reviews, I found this book pretty good. I’m sure a lot of Jack Reacher fans will be interested to read about Reacher’s childhood – but I can imagine it would have been hard to explore that in a complete novel.

“Second Son” is set when Reacher is 13 and newly arrived at a military base. Whilst his upbringing is mentioned in other books, the relocation from one base to another is shown to be a big part of his life. He has to find his feet pretty quickly when surrounded by openly hostile kids – and his loathing for running means that in a fight-or-flight situation, the choice is already made.

“High Heat” is set a few years later – Reacher goes to the city at 16, purely to look around before visiting his brother. As a man, we see that he gets involved whenever he witnesses an injustice – as a young man, he was already inserting himself into adult conflicts, and somehow coming out on top despite tough odds.

“James Penney’s new Identity” stands out because Jack Reacher is really incidental to the main plot – I don’t think Lee Child has written many books without Reacher (any?), but this shows that he has more than enough ideas if he wanted to invent another character. But Reacher is so popular, you can’t blame him for giving the public what they want.

The best stories are at the start – the last few are shorter too, but by then I’d had a great time reading the book anyway.
Four stars

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Rambling: Great Gable, Lake District


This walk starts from Seathwaite in the Lake District. My Pathfinder Guide advertised that the village has a cafe, but there was no sign of it. Wikipedia mentions that Seathwaite is the wettest inhabited place in England – luckily for me, the weather was glorious. A local farmer provides car parking in a field for a small fee.

As you look up from the car park, the peaks look pretty daunting and the walk starts with a tough climb straight up the valley side. Actually, most of this walk involves climbing or descending – the book wasn’t kidding when it wrote “you need to be reasonably fit to tackle it”. The first peak is Green Gable, offering spectacular views of Scafell Pike and Buttermere. After a steep descent and a scramble back up, you then reach Great Gable itself (site of a memorial to members of the National Trust who died in World War 1). The long descent down to Styhead Tarn is arduous, then the sensible choice is to take the path back via Stockley Bridge. I took the more difficult route to see the waterfalls at Taylorgill – the path is ill-defined and tracks the areas of peat bog, so not recommended.

The walk was booked at 6 miles and my phone recorded 25000 steps and 231 floors climbed.

Green Gable Summit

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Book Review: The Lost Fleet – Dauntless, Jack Campbell

This is the first book in the “Lost Fleet” series, featuring Captain Jack Geary. I read “Guardian”, a book from later in the series earlier this year, and was hoping that this book would describe the moment that Jack Geary’s survival capsule was found in space. However, this book goes back to a period just a few weeks after he has thawed out (!) and is adjusting to life in the future. It’s 100 years after he’d famously escaped his last stand in a battle against the Syndicate Worlds, but he has no recollection of the passing of a century. Moreover, he was promoted to Captain upon his supposed death, and soon finds himself running the entire fleet due to his length of service and the ensuing legends that have built over the years.

The book covers a number of space battles, as well as describing the difficulty Geary faces in retraining his team in the lost arts of combat at near light speed. He faces opposition in the boardroom too – not everyone is happy to be shown the error of their methods. It’s an enjoyable read and highly similar to Guardian – it will be interesting to read a third from the series to see if the author follows the same template throughout.
Four stars

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Rambling: Ullswater, Lake District


Ullswater is one of my favourite spots in the Lake District. This was a low-level walk from the Pathfinder Short Walks series, with a minor embellishment to take in Silver Crag – we were blessed with good weather and lovely views across the lake.

The walk was booked at 5 miles from the car park in Patterdale (mind you, the book said that parking would cost £1 and it has gone up to £4.50 in the 10 years since I bought the book!). My technology recorded it as 23000 steps and 62 floors climbed.

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IET Meetup: Artificial Intelligence Marketing, Lisa de Bonis & Gary Jobe

Lisa de Bonis and Gary Jobe work for Havas, a communications and marketing firm who aim to demystify technology and find commercial/strategic applications for their customers. They frequently use cognitive systems like IBM Watson to understand imagery, language and unstructured data – enabling them to reason, learn and interact with the data.

Lisa demonstrated the power of today’s AI via Google Quick Draw, which can recognise pretty basic hand-drawn pictures, based on millions of examples of drawings of the same subject by other people.

Perhaps the most compelling example was Lisa/Havas’s involvement in EagleAI – a commission by ITV News during the recent US Elections. Given that news organisations all had access to the same polls, ITV News wanted a different angle. Havas had just 4 weeks to put together a system that could analyse speeches, tweets, blog posts, debates from the election campaign. The aim was to use AI to determine the main motivators for the electorate and provide insight. Whilst traditional pollsters predicted a Clinton win, EagleAI predicted a Trump win, and found he was in the lead throughout (being more in touch with the motivations of the voters).

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Book Review: Memory Man, David Baldacci

Memory Man is the first book by David Baldacci to introduce Amos Decker. As a professional American footballer, Decker suffered a massive trauma to the head, changing his mental state forever – he now has hyperthymesia, he never forgets anything. Indeed, he can review any events from his life in full colour, even from before the injury. This, of course, is massively useful for someone whose job is analytical – Decker uses his new skills, becoming a gifted detective in the local police force.

Scroll forwards, and Decker’s life is interrupted by another shocking event – his wife and young daughter are brutally murdered in his home (as well as the wife’s brother – this was glossed over in the book and the plot didn’t seem to require the additional murder). After that, his life goes quickly downhill – he loses his home and job, living out on the streets. Only belatedly, he finds the resolve to get some Private Investigator work to pay for temporary accommodation.

So much for the back story. The plot for this book is that a serial killer is on the loose, massacring students and teachers at a high school and then proceeding to kill an FBI agent assigned to the case. The killer leaves personal messages to Decker, but ironically he cannot remember anything connected to this case that would help to identify the culprit.

I gather there is going to be a series of thrillers featuring Amos Decker and he’s a much more complex and sympathetic character than, say, Agent John Puller in another of Baldacci’s series. If the others are as readable as this one, then they’ll be worth following.
Four stars

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Rambling: Cat Bells and Derwent Water, Lake District


This visit to the fabulous Lake District National Park was greeted by sunshine and fine views – a rarity in this part of the country. Cat Bells is deceptive, from a distance it doesn’t look much of a challenge, yet it is steep and strenuous from the very beginning. The initial climb is followed by a scramble up to a peak that makes you think you’ve arrived. In reality, there’s another peak to go, followed (on this occasion) by beautiful views across Derwent Water. I chose a route that took us down the other side of the hill and back along the wooded shores of the lake.

This walk from the Lake District Pathfinder Guide was booked at 4.5 miles (but you could add on a mile to allow for parking some distance from the hill). My phone recorded 25000 steps and 118 floors climbed.

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