Monday, 5 June 2017

The Man in the Middle by Howard Webb #bookreview

Book Review: I gave my wife instructions for Christmas that she could buy me a football book, any football book. She bought me a book about a referee. I was not enthused. She said it was so I can see what the ref's viewpoint is. 

With lines like the following I thought it would be boring and self-indulgent:
  • "Transferring all the theory of my refereeing exams on to the pitch was tough."
  • "I soon transferred through to the Whitbread-sponsored Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League, before being promoted on to the assistant referees list of the semi-professional Northern Counties East League."
  • "My fellow referees line up to offer their congratulations, the likes of Viktor Kassai from Hungary, Ravshan Irmatov from Uzbekistan and Frank de Bleeckere from Belgium."

But I actually liked this. The book helps inform you as to what refs go through and how they arrive at decisions, how they feel when they have got it wrong, how they feel when they have had a good game and so on. And there are funny anecdotes too like how he struggled with CS spray in his policing days, how he graffiti-ed customers complementary diaries while working at the bank, how he swore at a player then explained it after by saying he had told the player he was a "foot off". There's an emotional moment too as he tells the tale of reffing in the Fabrice Muamba match. 

And since reading this I have taken more interest in what the ref has been doing in matches, maybe even feeling a bit more sympathy for the "man in the middle".

I would say this book is ideal for aspiring refs, but it's okay for general football fans too.

Future reviews: I will no longer be posting my book reviews on this blog. From now on they will be on Amazon UK and Goodreads only.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Pete's Magic Pants - Pirate Peril by Paddy Kempshall & Chris Chatterton

"In a wobbly old wardrobe, in the attic of Crooked Carrot farm, a special suitcase lay hidden for many years." And so begins the story of Pete's Magic Pants - Pirate Peril. Hero Pete puts on the pirate style pants from the suitcase and goes on a pirate adventure helping the crew of the Flying Fowl to find Long John Silverside's secret cave in an attempt to retrieve their treasure that has been stolen. The story then ends back in the attic, like the whole adventure could have been a dream.

This is a nice picture book with nice colourful and clear pictures. First thing I noticed is that is doesn't rhyme like a lot of picture books similar to this do. The author does put a lot of alliteration into it though. And the idea may not be original, putting on magic clothing taking you on an adventure associated with it, but it gives the opportunity for a whole load of "Pete's Magic Pants" stories to be written. 

There are also some stickers which are more pirate-related than pants-related thankfully, although there are still some pants stickers that you'll have to explain away to visitors who notice them on your walls. 

Overall then, the book is decent enough.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Little One by Jo Weaver #bookreview

Book review: First impressions of this are great. It is a big, wide book (27cm by 27cm) with the title on the cover being in gold, whilst the rest of the book is black and white with the same charcoal art used as on the cover throughout. Flicking through there are little details to add to the luxury, like the airborne dandelion seeds on the inside covers. 

I read this with my 6-year-old daughter. The story follows the first year in the life of "Little One" through all four seasons. It makes a comforting bedtime story for little ones as mother bear is always with Little One every step of the way, and they snuggle up to each other at the end, as the cold descends. My daughter says the book is "good and they go on an adventure".

Perhaps if I was being critical I would say it is short, but I like the art and the story and the feel of the book. 

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Bad Choices: How Algorithms Can Help You Think Smarter and Live Happier by Ali Almossawi #bookreview

Book review: 

This book isn’t a self-help book. Your life isn’t going to be made more efficient as you spend the absolute minimum amount of time on whatever tasks it is that you have to do thus saving you hours every week to spend on your passion of flower arranging, say. This book is actually a computer science book, but the computer science concepts are thrown into real-life situations (which are made extreme for the purposes of interest and humour) so that they are more relatable to the common man.

The book has 12 extreme examples for you to read through with illustrations along the way. The illustrations do help the book immensely. They help set the tone, but also along with the funny pictures, there are diagrams helping to aid understanding. Without the illustrations, the book would be dryer and less appealing.

There is also an introduction and a closing chapter. All-in-all it took me about 2-hours to read and I found it retained my interest to the end with me being able to follow most of it.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Marvel Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Shopping Mall by Tom Angleberger

Book review: I loved this book because it was fast-paced, had plenty of humour – including lots of surreal stuff such as toilets that try to eat you and a talking tape dispenser – and the layout was great too.

Prior to getting the book, I had not seen the film from which Rocket and Groot come from, but I still got into this book right from the off. Originally I got the book because of the Marvel logo on the front cover. That meant I expected it to be more of a comic book format than it is in but the format here works equally as well.

The book is the transcript of a recording (or an audio-log) of Rocket and Groot’s adventures after they find themselves stranded with "no ship, no guns, no money, no food and no water" on a planet that is totally covered by one big shopping mall where the shops are manned by robots (maybe a vision of Earth’s future?). The recording is done by a tape dispenser (with a recording facility) hence the tape dispenser is often referred to through the book as the “totally awesome tape dispenser”.

Pretty much the whole book is dialogue, just with descriptions of sounds in between, e.g. “sound of moment of silence”, “sound of 5.5 feet of tape dispensing”, “sound of large tree man wrapping a small woodland creature’s head with 5.5 feet of tape”. The tape dispenser also has a touchscreen so that Rocket can doodle their adventures too, these doodles being dotted throughout, as well as one doodle by Groot too.

The dialogue format works because Rocket uses the tape dispenser’s recorder to deliver captain’s logs which allows the story to be told, in parts, as a monologue. This is a similar approach that was taken in ‘Allo ‘Allo episodes where RenĂ© Artois would start the episode by addressing the camera as to the plot so far.

Also, in this book, every character’s dialogue is in a different format so it is obvious who is talking at each moment. For example Groot’s text looks wooden (and he only says “I am Groot” anyway), the sound effects are in text which appears over a soundwave graphic, the tape dispenser’s speech is on tape and always starts with (Bing) and so on.

This is aimed at 8-12 year-olds. For that age group, the book works well and should appeal even to reluctant readers with its readable format, pictures and humour. But 36-year-olds can, and do, enjoy it too. Now I will share it with my 10-year-old daughter.

Available on AMAZON HERE for just £4.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Above Head Height: A Five-a-Side Life by James Brown #bookreview

Book review: This book is "the autobiography of an amateur footballer, but it's not so much [his] story as our story." It contains tales from the author's life (related to five-a-side) but also assorted anecdotes from others (also related to five-a-side). And given the author was the founder of loaded magazine it is in the style of that. "The world of five-a-side can be as much about what happens off the pitch with your mates as on."

Originally I didn't see why he was making such a big deal over the distinction between five-a-side and normal football but the stats are presented in here (although not right at the beginning - this is not an academic paper) suggesting there is a movement from mainstream football to five-a-side. "Sport England have stated that since 2010 eleven-a-side games have been decreasing significantly, while between 2010 and 2013 alone organized leagues declined by 3,000 teams. At the same time small-sided games have been increasing significantly as the organized leagues and branded five-a-side centres have expanded into full-blown, trusted brands."

Indeed he delved into the history of five-a-side centres in the UK (with some proper journalism to go with the rest of the book) and found out that despite centres being quite commonplace now the first astroturf style centres only started appearing in the late-80s, with organized leagues starting in the 70s in sports halls. 

Other than that though the book is quite autobiographical detailing his love of football, his love of five-a-side, his detest of the rules such as above head height (because it denied him a brilliant volley of a goal but also because it causes disputes that eat up his playing time), his struggle with his fitness... But also he writes more generally how the players all delude themselves as they think they are Cruyff or whoever. And there is plenty of humour too, like his telling of an ex-coach whose catchphrase was "we're cooking with gas now" which gave the opposition plenty of laughs.

The book was also inspired somewhat by the organizer of his regular five-a-side gatherings who sadly passed away, James Kyllo. "The Sunday after he died, we gathered around the centre circle and stood for what seemed like five minutes silence."

So a decent read for football fans, with plenty to relate to.

Available on AMAZON UK HERE

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

All the Countries We've Ever Invaded (and the few we've never got round to) by Stuart Laycock #bookreview

Book review: This book could have been called, "A short history of British invasion", but not in chronological order, not in geographical order, but alphabetically by country, including the countries we didn't invade. This approach means that there are repeated parts (where wars have crossed boundaries) and that no sooner are you getting into the flow of something than you're moved onto something else. The intro does make this clear, though. "This [book] isn't supposed to be an account of our invasions, rather it's intended to whet the readers' appetites to go in search of more information." This is also repeated throughout the book so the author recognises this failing. Perhaps a "suggested further reading" section should have been added to aid this?

Also, the book could have been made better with maps for each country alongside their text detailing the main places discussed, as not everyone's world knowledge is extensive. But there are world maps at the back at least, although not all countries are labeled on here, and some that are labeled are labeled wrongly, e.g. Malta is not Sicily, Zaire is the old name of DR Congo. These maps also would work better if they were interactive but this is a book.

The book does make you realise that the history Great Britain has is not normal and is perhaps something that we take for granted. "We've invaded, had some control over or fought conflicts in the territory of something like 171 out of 193 UN members... Sometimes, because we're used to it, we forget quite how unique out story is."

It has humour in it to help make the facts more digestible, which I appreciated, e.g. the Great Game - "They called it a game, but it was the kind of game where people ended up dead in large numbers rather than just, for instance, being given a stern word by the referee or getting sent off." But some of the humour is repeated with lots of references to amusing ship names used and how wars end up with multiple names.

Still, I am a bit of a history novice so perhaps I need more detailed books than this to get into the subject compared to others, and I read this cover-to-cover when it is probably best dipped into or done by areas (e.g. Africa), and indeed it does lend itself pretty well to that approach with its format. But overall it is ok for what it is doing and has given me an intro to the history of Britain's marauding past.