Archive for book review

夢幻花 [Dream flower]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by xi'an

Another Japanese mystery novel by Higashino Keigo, which I read in French under the title La fleur de l´illusion [on a sunny Sunday afternoon, under my fig tree] and enjoyed both for its original, convoluted (and mostly convincing) plot and for the well-rendered interaction between the young protagonists. And also for having a few connections with my recent trip, from one protagonist studying nuclear physics at the University of Osaka to a visit to the back country of Katsuura. (The author himself graduated from Osaka Prefecture University with a Bachelor of Engineering degree.) Spoiler warning: the only annoying part of the plot was the resolution of the mystery via a secret society run by a few families of civil servants, which as always sounds to me like a rather cheap way out. But not enough to ruin the entire novel.


the secret Commonwealth [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2020 by xi'an

Now that I have read The secret Commonwealth over the X break, I cannot but wait eagerly for the third volume! The book is indeed quite good, much in the spirit of the first ones in His dark materials than of the previous La belle sauvage. When La belle sauvage was at its core an oniric and symbolic tale floating on the Thames, with some events on the side, The secret Commonwealth on the opposite is much more centred on adventures and quests and a real story (or rather make it three!) and a growing threat, with side philosophical musings. Quite the opposite of the first book, in short. Even the time localisation is reverted. While La belle sauvage was taking place ten years before His dark materials, making Lyra a very young baby, this book takes place ten years later with Lyra a young adult, growing very quickly in maturity through the pages of the book. The two are so incredibly different that they could have almost be written by different authors… The secret Commonwealth is also much more cosmopolitan than its older sibling as both Lyra and Pan leave Oxford, then England to travel through Europe and Middle East towards a most dangerous destination. The central theme of the book is whether or not Reason or Rationalism should guide one’s life. Given the magical realism of the novel, where the soul of each character is expressed as a companion expressed as a particular animal, a marten called Pan (short for Pantalaimon) for Lyra, it is somewhat an easy (easier than in our own World!) plot line to dismiss rationalist thinkers pretending they do no exist. And to paint the philosophers following this route as either shallow and more interested in rethorics (than philosophy) or fake and deluded. Since Lyra reading these authors is the reason for a widening split between her and Pan, I did not find this part the best in the plot, even though it seemed inevitable. But the resulting quest and the “chance” meetings of both central characters are gripping and well-written, as well as deeply poignant. All characters build some depth, esp. compared with La belle sauvage where they were mostly caricatures. As it is very rare that the second volume in a series brings so much pleasure and improvements, I strongly recommend it (even as a start, skipping La belle sauvage !)

empire of grass [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2019 by xi'an

It took me quite a while but I eventually went over reading this second volume in the Last King of Osten Ard trilogy. One reason for taking so long is the obvious reason that the book is looong (600+ pages) and heavy and hence not easy to carry during trips. Another reason is that the pace is somewhat slow, most of the book, and complex, with at least nine central characters followed and analysed in their own story. With sometimes a lack of appeal for the level of description adopted by Tad Williams… In particular, some characters are quite irritating in their constant and immature whining, most of all the old king Simon and his grandson Morgan. This was already the case in the first volume, so it feels heavier now, although the grandson seems to improve through his catastrophic journey. In several ways, I actually preferred this second volume since the story starts to bring out a clearer framework. (Even though the lazy choice of absolute evil for the Norn elves does  clash with the description of individuals within this group makes them much more human and balanced.) Albeit rare, there were some humorous lines that struck me, like the two trees fighting for a dog (apparently not an original line from the author). The multiple threads in this book do not help with the junction with the next volume, as the ensuing rich tapestry will become quite dusty by the time it appears. Which is not discussed at this stage. Hopefully it will not join the George Martin’s and Patrick Rothfuss‘ unended series club! And not split again as in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn

Prague fatale [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2019 by xi'an

Another Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther novel I order after reading [and taking place after] Prussian Blue, again with a double entendre title and plenty of smart lines representative of berliner Witz and Schnauze. But much darker than Prussian Blue, as the main character, Bernie Gunther, is getting more morally ambivalent, as a member of the SS, having participated in the mass murders of the Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front before his return to Berlin as a member of the intelligence branch of the SS. Under direct orders of Reinhard Heydrich, whose role in the novel is almost as central as Gunther’s. It is thus harder to relate to this anti-hero, and his constant disparagement of Nazis, when he is at the same time a significant if minor part of the Nazi State. It is also unplesant that most characters in the novel are mass murderers, to end up being executed after the war, as described in a post-note. Still, the story has strength in both the murder inquiry itself (until it fizzles out) and the immersion in 1942 Germany and Tchecoslovakia, a strength served by the historical assassination of Heydrich in May 1942. An immersion I do not wish to repeat in a near future, though…

As a side story, I bought this used book for £0.05 on Amazon and received a copy that looked as if it has been stolen from a library from East Renfrewshire, south of Glasgow, as it still had a plastic cover, the barcodes and the list of dates it had been borrowed. I thus called the central offices of the East Renfrewshire libraries to enquire whether or not the book had been stolen, and was told this was not the case, the book being part of a bulk sale of used books by the library to second hand sellers. And that I could enjoy reading the book at my own pace! (As a second order side story, East Renfrewshire is the place in Scotland where Rudolph Hess landed when trying to negociate on his own a peace treaty with Great-Britain in 1942.)

ravencry [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2019 by xi'an

After enjoying Ed McDonald’s Blackwing this summer, I ordered the second volume, Ravencry, which I read in a couple of days between Warwick and Edinburgh.

“Valya had marked all of the impact sites, then numbered them according to the night they had struck. The first night was more widely distributed, the second slightly more clustered. As the nights passed, the clusters drew together with fewer and fewer outliers.”

Since this is a sequel, the fantasy universe in which the story takes place has not changed much, but gains in consistence and depth. Especially the wastelands created by the wizard controlling the central character. The characters are mostly the same, with the same limited ethics for the surviving ones!, albeit with unexpected twists (no spoiler!), with the perils of a second volume, namely the sudden occurrence of a completely new and obviously deadly threat to the entire world, mostly avoided by connecting quite closely with the first volume. Even the arch-exploited theme of a new religious cult fits rather nicely the new plot. Despite of the urgency of the menace (as usual) to their world, the core characters do not do much in the first part of the book, engaged in a kind of detective work that is rather unusual for fantasy books, but the second part sees a lot of both action and explanation, which is why it became a page-turner for me. And while there are much less allusions to magical mathematics in this volume, a John Snow moment occurs near the above quote.

perspectives on Deborah Mayo’s Statistics Wars

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , on October 23, 2019 by xi'an

A few months ago, Andrew Gelman collated and commented the reviews of Deborah Mayo’s book by himself, Brian Haig, Christian Hennig, Art B. Owen, Robert Cousins, Stan Young, Corey Yanofsky, E.J. Wagenmakers, Ron Kenett, Daniel Lakeland, and myself. The collection did not make it through the review process of the Harvard Data Science Review! it is however available on-line for perusal…

holy sister [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on October 13, 2019 by xi'an

Third and last volume in Mark Lawrence’s series, this book did not disappoint me, as often conclusions do. Maybe because I was in a particularly serene mind after my month in Japan! The characters were the same, obviously, but had grown in depth and maturity, including the senior nuns that were before somewhat caricatures of themselves, the superposition of two time lines was helping with the story tension, as was the imminent destruction of the spatial apparatus keeping the planet from freezing, with some time spent under the Ice (although the notion of permanent tunnels there was rather unrealistic!) and the petty fantasy boarding school stories had all but vanished (or remained with a purpose). But also unpredictable twists and a whole new scale for the magical abilities of the characters, some sad deaths and happy survivals. While Lawrence somehow specializes in anti-heroes, the central character is very much redeemed of the blackness that could have been attached with her, especially when [no-spoiler!] occurs! The book is also so well-connected with the previous two volumes that this would almost make re-reading these compulsory. If anything, this last volume could have benefited from being thicker!