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.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

My Friends (Our Special World) by Liz Lennon #bookreview

Book review: My 6-year-old daughter has read this to me. She is an early reader who this book is aimed at and she was able to read this well. As we were going along there were questions on most pages giving her the chance to talk about her friends. This is a good way of touching on subjects with her, in an unobtrusive way, that you otherwise might not do.

The blurb on the back says these books are "non-fiction books for young children which helps them find out about diversity in the world around them, The books feature questions to promote speaking and listening skills and are perfect for early years learning."

There is a contents page at the beginning so she started off with a section about painting pictures together. I liked that there was a section called "Falling out" about how friends might fall out with each other, a good lesson for the young ones. Apparently, my daughter's best friend will walk away when she gets annoyed with her.

Each page also has big, colour photographs of children playing. This is where the diversity aspect of the blurb comes in as the text doesn't really pick up on it but there are images of children in wheelchairs and from different ethnicities.

Overall then it hit the mark.

Teletubbies: The Tubby Custard Ride #bookreview

Book review: I got this for my 2-year-old (plus 7-months) boy to enjoy. He saw me take it out of the package and said straight away, “Please can I have it?” He then took to it immediately saying, “Daddy look, Noo-Noo”, “Daddy look, Teletubbies” and “Daddy, what’s this, what’s this, daddy, what’s this?” as he flicked through the pages.

The cover contains a slide section and needless to say it is these bits in the book that he finds most interesting, the slide bits and the picture wheels.

It is a hard board book so he can easily turn the pages on his own (although he won’t always wait for you to read the text first before doing so). It is reasonably durable too, although he has managed to rip it a little when he thought there was a page inside a page (the problem of having a slide section in between making the pages thicker tricking him into thinking there is a page in-between).

Each page is bright, glossy and colourful and features the Teletubbies on them. The story he won’t let me read because he wants to turn the page, or play with the feature, but with Teletubbies the story doesn’t matter too much.

But the book is certainly keeping him happy at the moment as he sits with it in his hand watching TV, occasionally turning to it instead.