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Alex (UK)

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Making Haye: The Authorised David Haye Story
Making Haye: The Authorised David Haye Story
by David Haye
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

2.0 out of 5 stars Laddish, sexist, and without real insight, 8 Dec 2013
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It started as a 1.5 star read and ended up being a 2 star. The writing is weak, but does get better after about the 50% mark. That first half is a study in in awful and badly-used metaphors, however. I get the sense the book was put together from old writing and the author became a much better, less hackneyed writer somewhere in the middle.

Ideally, biographies should enlighten character, but I don't think there were any insights into Haye you wouldn't have got from simply watching him fight or interact with the media. He's a slick operator and a talented boxer, but I don't think he can be counted among the "greats" by any stretch. I got a lot more out of reading the Tyson biography that left me with a strange liking for Tyson - based mostly on "getting" him and his "Iron Mike" persona.

If anything, after reading this I know a lot more about the author than about Haye, and large stretches felt like waffling to me. It didn't help that the book contained a lot of bad writing, pointless navel-gazing, hero worship, jealousy, and hyperbole. I wasn't engaged at any time. Actually, I walked away rooting for Haye's opponents, starting with Thompson, over Valuev (who seems like a genuinely nice human being) and the Klitschkos (same). There's a huge gap between Tyson's ferocious self-belief, discipline (and accomplishments) and Haye's woefully short career and haphazard approach to training (essentially only showing up when he felt like it).

It also contains quite a bit of sexism (ironically, Tyson's "bitches and coke" narrative seemed more balanced - he certainly had a more diverse female cast, with female friends and allies).

Sum total: It's very laddish, mostly boring, and I got the sense the biographer uses his subject as a projection - living vicariously through Haye. I've learned a lot more about boxing after reading "Dark Trade", and I think I'll re-read that.

I'm kind of shocked that Quercus didn't do a better job with the editing, though. Maybe some people think that all boxing fans are too thick to care about good writing, I don't know.

First Floor Room 16: Hilarious confessions of a male escort in London. A real story.
First Floor Room 16: Hilarious confessions of a male escort in London. A real story.
by Maximo Kovak
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.11

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Badly written, badly edited, with little insight, 10 Oct 2013
The problem with most self-published books is the lack of editing, or even a lack of awareness that editing is what happens to words you try to sell. So I'm imagining this author dressing up nicely for a client and being aware of "first impressions" and how important they are, but failing to apply the same principles of preparation and "packaging" to his text.

It's short, the writing is fairly weak ("show don't tell" also applies to memoirs), and the text itself is riddled with mistakes and eccentric punctuation. Some bits about escorting I found interesting, yet I've read several such books and nothing the author wrote was really news. Some episodes were more weird than funny (such as the turkey-basting gig), and while the author tries hard to be funny, he doesn't seem to know how to. It's not the worst self-published book I've read, but I can't recommend it.

Band Of Brothers
Band Of Brothers
Price: £3.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting anecdotes, poor analysis, lots of propaganda, 7 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Band Of Brothers (Kindle Edition)
I'm shocked to learn that Ambroses taught history. The military history/analysis is pretty poor to appalling. He's good when he talks about Easy Company and relates stories. (Though he states that the book is "very much a group effort" with the men from E Company, so how much of that credit goes to them is anybody's guess, and some events were anonymised and possibly left out to protect people.)

Whenever he attempts military analysis of the actual way/battles, his thoughtless "MURRIKA!" propaganda grates like hell. His core thesis appears to be that "democratic soldiers" (what he terms "citizen soldiers") necessarily outfight those under fascist/totalitarian systems - which obviously flies in the face of the fact that it was the Red Army that broke Nazi Germany's back - not exactly a democratic system to be found anywhere. Not a hint of irony or awareness in his thesis. I guess it would wrinkle his propaganda too much.

What I found interesting was the amount of looting and casual violence in Germany, which gels with other sources I've read. What I found even more interesting is how Ambrose condemns Germany's mistreatment of people, but totally excuses similar behaviour from his subjects (looting as sport and entertainment, shooting of unarmed POWs, etc). Not a hint of applying the same critical measurement to all sides.

Ambrose nicely feathers his wooden, lacklustre account with liberal quotes from a number of decent to good military historians who are far more insightful than he is (such as Keegan).

Overall, the show does a great job putting all this on the screen, so you can skip the book. What the show left out it usually left out for good reasons. I read this book for any gems that were left by the wayside, but it's not worth it, in my opinion.

The book has another big flaw that rankles me especially. All the German is wrong/misspelled. If you can't be bothered to get it right, just leave it out. Parading around badly-spelled, agrammatical German is doing nobody any favours.

I'm giving further books of his a pass.

Kubik Edge II 8GB Touchscreen MP3 and Video Player
Kubik Edge II 8GB Touchscreen MP3 and Video Player

2.0 out of 5 stars Battery is a joke, 1 Sep 2013
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I bought this when my iPod breathed its last, hopeful that I could stop being an iSlave (because I hate iTunes).

I tried working with it for a few days, then gave up and went back to the iPod. It seems to me that just about everybody has given up trying to make MP3 players that can compete with Apple's offering (sadly! Hear me, Samsung?). I'd love to find something that can hold up to even a basic, cheap iPod, but this isn't such a product. Since I've only dealt with it for three days, here's a couple notes:

- Sound quality, once you plug in a decent pair of headphones, is pretty good.

- It feels plasticky and cheap. Looks it, too. The screen is fuzzy, and it comes with some kind of touchscreen pen - but there's NO place on the item to put it (why not create a place to slide it in?)

- The screen isn't very responsive. The small icons and area to touch means that if you have normal-sized hands, it's a bit of a battle to get what you want

- Biggest minus: the battery doesn't hold the charge. I had it fully charged, then didn't use it for a day and the battery was flat. Giant pain in the neck.

- Considerable minus: I tried to put my music on it, which seemed to work, then I added a new album I'd just bought, and when I tried listening to my music, the old music was gone and only the last album remained. At that point, I decided it wasn't worth the hassle for me, never mind the battery life.

So, nice try, but not recommended.

Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock HF3510/01 with Sunrise Simulation - 3 Sounds and Radio Function
Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock HF3510/01 with Sunrise Simulation - 3 Sounds and Radio Function
Price: £90.00

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best one I've ever owned, 1 Sep 2013
I bought this about ten months ago, and since then, it has made getting up and waking up a lot easier. (And less traumatic.) I might have SAD (if so, it's not officially diagnosed), so have trouble getting out of bed and winter makes me hibernate. The slowly increasing light means I often wake up before the birds (in the alarm clock) start singing, so it's a "gentle" way to wake up that feels largely natural most days.

It's also less intrusive for my partner, who's on a different schedule, than a traditional RRRRRING-RRRRING BLEEP-BLEEP alarm. So far, neither of us had any desire to smash it - which is a first in this household.

Regarding instructions - I figured the display out in about five minutes without consulting the booklet.

It's expensive compared to others, but I found it well worth the money.

Full Metal Jousting [DVD]
Full Metal Jousting [DVD]
Offered by specialinterests
Price: £6.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Jousting goes "Big Brother" = guilty pleasure, 12 Jun 2013
This review is from: Full Metal Jousting [DVD] (DVD)
I bought this to gain some insight into medieval jousting, so this was essentially research for me. It's pretty interesting in that they show training and techniques which should be useful for my purposes.

That said, the set-up is: a couple trainers pick their teams (the reds versus the blacks), every episode shows some training montages (I say montage because they are pretty repetitive - clearly cut in a way to maximise advertising when it was broadcast on TV, so you keep getting repetitions), and then two guys get chosen, there's some background about their personalities and some soundbites and then they do an 8-round joust, with points allocated to every outcome (1pt = hit of the target area; 5pts = lance breaking; 10 pts = unhorsing). The loser hangs around in case he's needed as a replacement, but doesn't compete anymore for the $100k prize money.

There's some blood and gore (it didn't take more than three epsodes for a contestant to crush a molar), and the focus is very much on rah-rah machismo, relentlessly repeating just how HARDCORE, MANLY, TESTOSTERONE-DRIVEN and OMG DANGEROUS the sport is (including the near-comical "don't try this at home" warning at the start of each episode - gee, yeah, let me just quickly saddle my 2,000-pound medieval charger. *eyeroll*).

Quite apart from the sensationalist voiceover/commentary, the teams feel almost like "Big Brother" contestants - we see them training and interacting in the house they share, and the focus is also on intra-team dynamics, with egos flaring and people being unpleasant or nice to each other, which feels really quite pointless unless you like that kind of reality-show voyeurism (I don't).

In a way, this is "Jousting Goes Big Brother for Dummies and with added TEAM DRAMAZ". It makes me cringe a bit and feels very much like a guilty pleasure. In essence, none of those competitors are people I want to spend time with, but I am enjoying the jousting part. Too bad that wasn't the only focus.

Syria (Bradt Travel Guides)
Syria (Bradt Travel Guides)
by Diana Darke
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Using Dan Brown as an authority on the Templars?, 10 Jun 2013
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I bought this guide as research material for a book I'm currently writing, so the fact that it's outdated (and fawning over the dictator Assad, who is currently [June 2013] in the process of murdering his own people) didn't dissuade me.

I'm not disputing that Darke knows her way around Syria. I am disputing that she has the foggiest idea about the medieval part of that country's history or the Crusades. What made me laugh with disbelief was Darke's assertion on page 200:

"[The Templar's] ... leanings towards obscure oriental practices and heresies have been revealed now though through Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, and at the time lent them enormous recruiting appeal."

Really, Mrs Darke?

This is such laughably bad history that I would recommend ignoring whatever she says about the Crusades or the knightly orders (a heretic order wouldn't have been protected/endorsed by the Pope, and calling upon Dan Brown as any type of authority just makes me cringe). Dan Brown has very little "to reveal". Anyway, I'm not getting too far carried away. The book did the job I needed it for. As a door-opener to Syria's vast and rich history, it's dubious at best. Bradt can do much better.

Valeria's Cross
Valeria's Cross
Price: £9.02

2.0 out of 5 stars Clean, uninspired inspirational, 13 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Valeria's Cross (Kindle Edition)
My first inspirational, and my last. The research is extraordinarily choppy (some stuff sounds like it's copied and pasted from history books, but there are plenty of historical howlers in this one). The authors run the characters like puppets, as most of them have changes of heart/attitude that make no sense at all ("I hate him, oh, actually, he's not so bad. I'm scared of him, but wow, he's great in bed and "fulfills my womanly passions"). The "spoiled princess" is 90% motivated by "I want babies", "I want that dude I don't even really know, but he's hot," and any issue is addressed with "let's pray together so God helps us" (spoiler: he never does - everybody dies.) I'm amazed how an author (or two) can run such an interesting premise so completely into the ground. Also, France (or girls with the name "Colette") didn't really exist in 200-300 AD.

NOT recommended as a historical, and overall not recommended unless you need a Christian fix full of mistakes and people praying for each other. A Lot. There was no character I cared about, the research was iffy, so as a historical and as a novel, it's a car crash. On a positive note, it's cleanly formatted and edited. (Though it could have used a good developmental editor.)

Tell, Don't Show!
Tell, Don't Show!
Price: £0.91

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting concept, 28 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Tell, Don't Show! (Kindle Edition)
I guess I'm exactly the kind of writer that Mr Lofquist has written this little text for - I tend to get stuck in trying to be brilliant. I have two main ways to break through my self-imposed pressure. Firstly, I tell myself I'm "just playing", which immediately shuts down the critical voice that says I'm an impostor and a fake (hey, even fakes and impostors are allowed to "just play" right?). Secondly, I get a co-writer involved who'll simply whip me through a shared draft.

These two solutions aren't always practical, though. With this (small) book, I should be able to acquire a third version of getting through a draft, which is essentially writing a "told" draft (or a list of bullet points) as the basis for the book. In short, one way to approach the dreaded "outline". I haven't tried the method yet, so I can't say whether it's a game-changer to me, but it seems practical, the text is well-written, well-edited and has a decent cover, so a nice snack to read on the commute and kickstart that process again, or re-examine how you work.

Writing a book?
Writing a book?
Price: £0.77

2.0 out of 5 stars Not actually useful, 28 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Writing a book? (Kindle Edition)
I bought this while it was free, but even so, the book only offered platitudes and was very short, and the author's tenuous grasp on commas makes it hard to read, especially considering his clunky style. It's a nice pep talk ("You, too, can write a book and be rich!"), but for the practical writer, there are much better books out there.

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