How to Be Dull: Standing Out Next to Genius by Mr Basil Morley Esq.

How To Be Dull Cover

Damn this book for making me spend a lunch time learning and bob and wheel poetry only to learn that I didn’t understand strophes. I think this book was quite possibly the single largest piece of sarcasm outside the comments section of my dissertation. A chapter later I found myself on a website reading Prick Of Conscience (way too old for copyright worries and always will be unless Disney pay more money than exists).

A tedious and dull thing I learned in this book was that when the author used the word osculating in reference to Prick I thought it was a joke to do with curves and tangents. It turned out to be much simpler and meant kissing. Oh how we laughed at the club about that. Perhaps the dullest and most frustrating thing about this book is the constant mention of the author’s agent. I know it was deliberate to wind me up but damn it worked well.


I did feel at times some of the frustrations of a Professor having marked countless papers came through a little too clearly. Having worked with academics for over twenty years this gave me a sadistic pleasure.

The use of “impactful” as a word is one of my pet hates so it was nice to see it being addressed clearly and correctly here. The section talking about meetings was pure genius and had me giggling until I realize that wasn’t a very dull thing to do. One of my favourite lines in this book that summed up our modern society quite nicely and goes as follows “people love to buy things and imagine they have consumed them and thus bettered themselves somehow”.

I read Mending Wall by Robert Frost because of this book and I am now re-evaluating my entire outlook on life as I clearly have much work to do before I can be considered truly dull. There were plenty of quotes and anecdotes in this book that I could bookmark to repeat ad nauseum towards anybody at work and social gatherings both.

This book has lifted me to the nirvana of dullness and I am at peace.


Neil Adams MBE: A Game Of Throws

Neil Adams MBE: A Game Of Throw Cover

This book was a first for me. Never before have I heard about a book and basically begged the publisher to let me be one of the first to read it. Like a lot of people I did Judo when I was young. Neil Adams was one of those god like sports stars on the TV. I loved the spirit and power that came through.

I have often been disappointed by biographies. Not because they were not interesting but because there often seemed to be a lack of honesty. Either a white-washed perfect life or a deliberate bad-boy image there just to enhance a reputation. Happily this was not the case here. This book reminded me of a book called Snowboard To Nirvana that I read years ago. Although there was no religious language in this book there was a clear message about learning lessons to reach a better place. What was that place?

It wasn’t necessarily as a world beating Judoka, I  thought there would be more Judo in this book. Don’t leave just yet, hear me out. This book had more to do with Neil Adams as a person than as a Judoka. It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I realized what it was about for me. This book was all about learning, how to play better by being a better person. Then I thought some more and realized it wasn’t actually about Judo players as much as it was about transitioning from one phase to another. In this case from Judoka to coach. The lessons in this book could help a lot of young martial artists but more importantly I think most of us could benefit from taking a step back and looking at where we are, how we got here and how we can improve ourselves and those around us. It was also interesting to hear such an honest portrayal about how family dynamics can affect so much about a person and how they approach their work.

I know that sounded rather like a review for a self-help book, and at times I did think of this book in that way. There was more to it though. There was a passion that effused every page and the section about Chris (no spoilers from me) had me in tears at my desk during a lunch time reading session. Not exactly a cool thing for a middle-aged man but unavoidable when reading something that raw and emotive.

There were a couple of things that were repeated. One of which was in this book at least three times. At first I thought it was lazy writing but then I realized it was a teaching aide. Repetition of an important lesson, not just for the sake of competition but for life in general. It was a simple one too, smile. That’s it. When the brown stuff hits the fan smile and do your best to deal with it.

I loved this book and it took me back to all those great martial arts lessons and why I enjoyed them. Go play was something I heard a lot and sparring with that in mind always resulted in some of the most fun I ever had getting bruised and beaten. Smiling and bowing off the mat before laughing and joking with friends was always my favourite part of martial arts and I still miss that feeling.

Neil Adams – More than a Judoka, Sensai, coach and media personality. A person with all the struggles that entails.

Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man by Tom Cox

Under The Paw: Confessions Of A Cat Man by Tom Cox

First I’ve got to start by saying that until about twelve years ago I was firmly a dog person. Cats were OK but my family were and mostly still are dog people. After some traumatic family events I decided that we needed something positive to focus on. A dog was out of the question as we both worked full time and could not commit to the amount of time and effort it would take. To cut a long story short we ended up getting two kittens (we only went for one but they were too cute spooning) that changed our lives. The kittens had an amazing impact on our lives. They made us laugh and helped placate us in less happy times. Our cat overlords can be a pain in the backside but we love them to bits.

Yes I am a cat man now. I’ll stop in the street and try to fuss cats that are clearly upset that I am not one of their nominated feeders. I’d like to say that’s why I read this book but it isn’t. When I’m playing games in the lounge late at night I normally hear very little in the way of noise. A few weeks ago I kept hearing giggling coming from our bedroom. My wife is not a particularly giggly person so I put down my controller and went to investigate. I couldn’t really ignore a recommendation like that so I decided to give it a go.

My wife was right. This book was hilarious and scary at the same time. I have now determined for sure that I am now a crazy cat man. I’m no longer in denial. Most of the things that I could not directly relate to I could easily pick out in several of my friends. If you want to understand cat people (as opposed to cat-people which are completely different) then this book will give you an interesting insight in to the peculiar affliction that is a cat obsession. If you have a cat yourself then you will probably spend most of the book giggling to yourself about one behaviour or another that you thought was yours alone.

This book is funny and insightful. I whole-heartedly recommend it.

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test by Jon RonsonI don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction books. When I do it is usually by an intelligent, insightful and witty journalist. This author hits the mark on all counts. I bought this book after attending a talk by the author. He is a funny and engaging man that manages to come across as humble and approachable. Even the way he sat on the table as he signed books afterwards invited us to chat and not just sign and run. I liked that.

This book is unsurprisingly about psychopaths. How to spot them and more important what it means for our society. Until I read this book the words psychopath and sociopath were words heard only on the screen or banter. A psycho kills means. That’s it. If thought that if you were a psychopath you murdered people. I was wrong. In an unscientific way I went through the PCL-R checklist on people I know. I was surprised to find that some people I know would have in my opinion scored highly. Oh crap!

Not all psychopaths are stone cold killers. It turns out that at the upper levels of corporate management there are a higher percentage of psychopaths than in maximum security mental health wards. I was blown away. My brain is still trying to process what a psychopath is and what the presence of them in my daily life means. That is the genius of Jon Ronson. After reading this book I will never look at people in the same way again. I have found myself looking up some of the references in the back of the book to find out more.

This book is a dark yet funny read that will make you think about yourself and everybody you know.


Beyond 2.0 The Future of Music by Steve Collins & Sherman Young

Beyond 2.0 by Steve Collins & Sherman Young

Beyond 2.0 by Steve Collins & Sherman Young

I’ve never done this before in a book review but I’m going to link to a soundcloud user. You’ll understand why a little later but for now enjoy the music.

This book was on my wishlist labelled as high priority. That may sound odd but Steve Collins is a childhood friend of mine and a person I am immensely proud of. To be honest I was expecting this to be a dull and peanut dry book that I’d struggle to read or thing of anything to write about. I was pleasantly surprised.

I can remember the first Audio CDs and the rise of Napster. I found this book a fascinating insight in to how technical and societal factors came together to push music creation and distribution in new directions. I had never thought about the origins of the mp3 format that completely changed the way I personally listened to music.

This book was more than a history lesson though. The simplified (thankfully) look at the murky world that is the world of media rights was enlightening and to a layman like myself. I said enlightening but what I really meant was convoluted and more likely to cause a brain freeze than a large slushy. That didn’t make it less interesting to read, if anything it made me think more about the byzantine clauses lobbyists and large companies have manipulated to their benefit and usually to the detriment of the artist.

Money should always flow towards the content creator. There will always be intermediaries. The morality and scruples of any individual or company will always have an impact on our imperfect society. Are content creators better off today than fifty years ago? In my opinion based not just on reading this book but other thing – probably. This book will make you think and explain explain some basic principle of the copyright quagmire that surrounds the media industry.

I said above I’d get to the soundcloud link a bit later, it is how one of the authors releases their work in to the wild. There is a section about soundcloud in this book and this account was referenced for sensible reasons. You’ll have to read the book to find out more.


You Are The Hero by Jonathan Green

You Are The Hero by Jonathan Green

As soon as I heard about the Kickstarter project to create this book I was on-board instantly. For me this is a validation of my youth. A way to explain how I became the person I am today. I imagine my face was a little like those of the first monks to see a Gutenberg bible. I’ve seen one and regardless of what you think about the content they are amazing.

This book was supposed to be a paperback. Having received my stunning hardback I can’t imagine it having been printed any other way. The quality of this book started with the cover and continued throughout. I love the cover and how it took me back to my childhood grabbing the latest book from the library. Before reading this book I took half an hour or so just flicking through the pictures. OK so I have done the same thing two or three times since then.

The importance of the Fighting Fantasy series has been underplayed for a long while. Reading this book made me consider not just the impact they had on me but on the entertainment industry. When I was young and reading these books I was also a gamer. Back then whether it was a book or a game everything was linear. Every single story led game had one clear route. Then came Fighting Fantasy. Other kids like me (but more talented) took their experiences and love of choices to make games with multiple routes and a split narrative. Would we have had games like Fable 3 without Fighting Fantasy? Maybe but in my opinion it would probably have been a few years later. For me these books were an important part of my self-discovery and will always hold a special place in my heart.

I have always had trouble explaining the books to people that have never played them. Now though I can lend them my weighty tome so that they can learn for themselves. I hadn’t realized how much I didn’t know about the series until I read this. I might have to see if I can get hold of some to go through with my youngest.

This book was obviously a labour of love and Jonathan Green’s efforts have resulted in an outstanding book. It may not be cheap but it is worth every penny.

Horror 101: The Way Forward edited by Joe Mynhardt

Horror 101

Horror 101

I love the cover art for this book. It couldn’t be much clearer that it is about learning as a horror writer. This isn’t just a book about the technical side of writing though. Some of the articles in this book pay attention to how you should conduct yourself. It basically boils down to not being a douche. This advice has very little to do with writing and everything to do with being a human being that anybody would want to be in a room with. This couldn’t be made more clear than by Theresa Derwin in her contribution about women in horror. I’ve exchanged emails with Theresa and she has sent me books to review in the past. She’s always come across as professional and I’ve never considered her gender before. I haven’t needed to. That is the point. I didn’t reply to her emails asking for naked pictures or by asking inappropriate questions, and I certainly didn’t try to belittle her because of her gender. Neither should you to her or anybody else! I’ll get off my soapbox now but please remember to treat everybody well. It is good manners and you never know who will be in what position in the future. As one of the authors in this book says ‘DO NOT BURN BRIDGES’.

On to the more technical aspects of this book. There are a lot of contributors in this book and they all have something different and useful to say. A lot of it is just as applicable to me as a reviewer and office worker as it is to a working author. There are some really good pieces of advice in here that are very specific about what makes good horror. Even as a horror reader they made me think about books I’ve read.

Most importantly for me I finished this book and already had a list of some books and authors that I need to check out. The article by Simon Marshall-Jones resonated so much that I stopped reading  this book and bought a Spectral Press book there and then.

This is a really interesting book that is useful to anybody with an interest in the Horror genre. With a price of £0.77 it is cheaper than a packet of crisps. With four hundred pages packed with advice it is not only a good read but a reference book to come back to when you are struggling.

The Hairy Dieters Eat For Life by Si King and Dave Myers

I bought and read The Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight but was not impressed. I wasn’t at all inspired and cooked a total of two recipes from it. I was therefore a little nonplussed to receive the follow-up in my Christmas stocking.

This book starts out with a a typical fluffy look at the authors and how well they have done to lose weight. One difference in this one though is that it is clear that they will be indulging and have no plans to become stick insects. In short it gives a more realistic view on life. Lowering calories is only part of the battle. Exercise is another, but isn’t covered other than a vague mention at the back of the book (I’ll get to that). The first section is on breakfast and brunch. Most of them are sensible but I can’t see myself ever making Kedgeree or having salmon for breakfast. That’s just me though. I like the idea of breakfast muffins and eggs are always a good choice. There is also a whole page on oats to prevent boredom. There are then several different sections of main courses which had me salivating. I have eight post-it notes already in place for recipes I will be cooking. Some like the Goulash I plan to eat next week. I’ll have some in a tub for lunch the next day too. This is what I need in a cookery book. The inspiration to cook. This is even more important in a healthy eating guide. There is a really good tip in this section. Half-fat creme fraiche or coconut milk have little impact on the flavour compared to getting better quality spices. For me this means visiting the local market to see the lovely lady and her collection of spices to have a wonderful curry without too many calories.

If you are a vegetarian this is not the book for you. It does have a few recipes and in a couple of instances Quorn could be substituted but not enough to justify missing out on large swathes of this book. Towards the rear of this book are some really useful pages for some very simple basics. Four simple pasta/rice/mash/jacket spud ideas to ensure you have a few basic sides to go with your dishes. Then there is a page containing a list of what quantities of food equate to about a hundred calories. This makes it easy to roughly total your food intake. At the very end there is a page about the Hairy Biker Diet Club. I thought this sounded like a great idea as it looks to have exercise advice as well as additional recipes. Unfortunately it costs money so I can’t give any more details than that.

This is a definite improvement on the first diet book by the authors and has lots of interesting food to stave off that diet food depression. It is well worth a read.

End Of Year Review 2013

First things first. There is no best of from me this year. No lists of particular books you should buy. This year I’m going to write about people. Those amazing people that have inspired me to pick up a book and sink in to another world. It is not a complete list and is based solely on those people that have impacted me personally.

First off I’m going to start with Colin F. Barnes. One particularly bad day at work I typed in to Amazon “Killing My Boss”. I didn’t really expect to find anything. What I got was the most cathartic book I have ever read. I posted my review and I got a thank you from the author. I didn’t know it at the time but Colin recently told me that was the first review he’d ever had (excluding all those beta readers and editors of course). Since then I’ve been lucky enough to receive quite a few advance copies of his work. I’m a huge fan. I would like to see a follow-up to Killing My Boss called Killing My Ex though. That would be awesome. I don’t know if I prefer Colin’s cyberpunk or horror stories. At the moment I’d probably say his Techxorcist series, but he does have a new horror story called Dead Five’s Pass being published by Darkfuse soon.

Next I’m going to talk about Ian Sales. In twenty or thirty years people are going to look back and wonder why people were more interested in sparkly vampires than thoughtful and well written science fiction. When they do I’m pretty sure he will be one of the authors being lauded. I regularly read his blog and am constantly amazed by both the depth and breadth of his reading and literary knowledge. I have also been really impressed with his reaction to SF Masterworks. It was really eye-opening to read the sfmistressworks site and see just how many little known high quality female science fiction authors there are out there. Ian’s Apollo quartet is well worth reading and I for one am eagerly awaiting the fourth part.

After praising Ian Sales and his drive towards gender equality I am going to mention a woman next. Not an author this time though. Adele Wearing is the owner and driving force behind Fox Spirit. I’ve met Adele and I can confirm she is just as lovely as she seems online.  There is a certain enthusiasm and excitement to everything she does and that is reflected in the books she produces. I particularly like the idea of the Fox Pocket anthologies. These are the perfect size to fit in a pair of cargo pants or a handbag (man bag in my case).  The covers are fantastically vibrant and easy to spot in a pile too. If you are looking for quirky speculative fiction by excellent and often little known authors you really should check them out.

The final person I’m going to mention is David Cranmer from Beat To A Pulp (BTAP). I owe a lot to David. He changed my reading habits more than anybody has for many years. I barely had a clue what crime noir was let alone hardboiled before I started reading BTAP. Without David I would not have enjoyed reading amazing stories by authors such as Patricia Abbott and Thomas Pluck. Probably the biggest surprise for me though was how much I have enjoyed reading stories set in the old west. Westerns are dead in modern fiction, right? It turns out that I was wrong. From David’s Marshal Cash Larmie to Heath Lowrence’s dark and weird western fiction there is a wealth of great stories out there. It was because of this that I decided that every so often I’ll read something completely out of my comfort zone. Which is why I read an erotic fiction story by K.A.Laity called Chastity Flame. I literally blushed whilst reading it.

As you can probably see I like it when I’m made to think about different things on occasion and all of the above do that. In my mind great art should be beautiful but also challenge the audience. Each of the people mentioned above are worth spending a few hours and a couple of quid on (more than that but you get my gist). There are plenty more people I could have mentioned but these are the ones who have impacted on my way of thinking the most this year.

I am already looking forward to reading loads more emotive and insightful stories next year.

Have fun one and all.

THE ‘LOST’ SECOND BOOK OF NICOLETTO GIGANTI (1608) by Piermarco Terminiello and Joshua Pendragon

This is an unusual book for me to review. I’ve spent a total of about eight hours fencing in my entire life. I have however dabbled in various martial arts for the best part of two decades (reading this has made my palms start to itch). It should be clear that I know next to nothing about the specifics of European sword play. I have done a bit of Japanese sword work and one thing is clear. The body moves in certain ways and across the world different systems used similar theories to take advantage of the inherent weaknesses of various attacks. This treatise is useful regardless of the art you study as it seems very precise and practical (much more than I’d expected).

The best piece of advice I can give you for this book is to start at the back. The glossary is an essential first read. You may well know what a mandritti is but it never hurts to step back and start from the basics. Make sure you understand the terms as they apply to this work. For instance the word measure. You have probably heard the phrase getting the measure of somebody. That is an old fencing term. The distance or spacing between combatants is an essential part of determining what your opponent’s level of knowledge and style of fighting is likely to be. Pay attention to it. Giganti shows has practical side several times by urging people to fight people of different styles as well as those with none. You can defend what you know a lot better than that which you can’t. Bloody sensible advice if you ask me. This is the kind of usable advice that is often missing from even modern writing on fighting arts.

I assumed at first that the concise nature of this book was due to the excellent translation work but I’m assured by Piermarco Terminiello that Giganti was an unusually concise and accurate writer for that time which made the job of translation a lot easier than most. It is good to see the translators did not try and flower the language up to be more like the works of his contemporaries. This book really works and I’ll be getting the Nerf swords out with my 6yr old later.

There is a section in this book about the Targa shield. I was unaware that it was a Greek weapon. I knew about the Norse and Scottish Targe which is similar so it was interesting to see the parallels. There is also an interesting section near the end about fighting with a dagger and how every gentleman should know how to fight with just a knife for when that is all they are allowed to carry. As somebody who’s had a knife pulled on them several times (stabbed twice) I can vouch the the benefits of knowing how to control the distance and the weapon against a knife wielder. An old instructor of mine used to tell us that in a knife fight everybody gets cut. Again this section illustrates the practical use of this treatise.

If you have any interest in historical swordplay or European martial arts this book really is a must have. It looks good and all the descriptions are concise and usable. I know I’ll be reading this book again and thinking about it even longer. Damn I’m going to have to try that HEMA class after all.