Friday, August 17, 2012

Completed Challenge: 2012 Mystery & Suspense Reading Challenge

And another challenge down!  Yea!

Thank you to the lovely Ryan of Wordsmithonia who introduced me to Mary Roberts Rinehart and thus helped me complete the majority of the challenge!  :)

1.  The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart
2.  The Window at the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart
3.  The Silent Speaker by Rex Stout
4.  The Mountain Cat Murders by Rex Stout
5.  The Red Lamp by Mary Roberts Rinehart
6.  Monsieur Pamplemousse by Michael Bond
7.  If Death Ever Slept by Rex Stout
8.  The Yellow Room by Mary Roberts Rinehart
9.  The Album by Mary Roberts Rinehart
10.  Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout
11.  The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
12.  The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Completed Challenge: 2012 Cruisin' Thru the Cozies Challenge

I have officially completed the 2012 Cruisin' Thru the Cozies Challenge!!  Yea!

Here are the books I read:

1.  Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
2.  As the Pig Turns by M.C. Beaton
3.  Abby Cooper, Psychic Eye by Victoria Laurie
4.  Mrs. Malory's Shortest Journey by Hazel Holt
5.  Sprinkle with Murder by Jenn McKinlay
6.  Mrs. Malory and the Festival Murder by Hazel Holt
7.  Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn
8.  The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn
9.  Requiem for a Mezzo by Carola Dunn
10.  Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola Dunn
11.  Mrs. Malory:  Detective in Residence by Hazel Holt
12.  Chihuahua of the Baskervilles by Esri Allbritten
13.  Classified as Murder by Miranda James

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Featured Book: The China Oil Plot by Chuck Van Soye

About the book:

After 20 years working for the U.S. Army Research Center, Bret Lee, a 44-year-old chemical engineer retires to look for work in private industry, only to learn that in the tough 2010 economy, he’s unable to find a job. But thanks to a quasi-government contact from his past, he’s offered high-paying employment at a Venezuelan fertilizer plant just outside Caracas. There’s only one catch; he has to become a spy. Bret and his Chinese wife, Chu-Lin, accept the challenge, and both become enmeshed in the military, political and diplomatic aspects of life within the most dangerous city of the world. With help from the local CIA, Lee uncovers an international plot that could throw Latin America into turmoil, and that could strangle strategic oil shipments to the U.S. Life gets even more intense when he finds himself locked up by SEBIN, the intelligence arm of the Venezuelan government. In the 21st century ‘poker’ game of international petroleum supply, China puts big money and a lot more on the game table to ensure that it will be the ultimate winner of Venezuela’s oil production. But the Lees have an “ace in the hole,” and their hand trumps China’s plans. The China Oil Plot skillfully blends real-world tensions with a thrilling plot that will keep you enthralled.

About the author:

Chuck Van Soye’s career has ranged from Army officer to chemical engineer to sales and writing/editing. He has worked extensively as a writer and editor for McGraw-Hill’s Chemical Engineering magazine. Chuck relaxes with fishing and wordsmithing. His other books include Pondering Life’s Imponderables, and Confessions and Misadventures of Charlie the Fisherman.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner

Suppose there were 12-year-old twins, a boy and girl named John and Abigail Templeton. Let's say John was pragmatic and played the drums, and Abigail was theoretical and solved cryptic crosswords. Now suppose their father was a brilliant, if sometimes confused, inventor. And suppose that another set of twins—adults—named Dean D. Dean and Dan D. Dean, kidnapped the Templeton twins and their ridiculous dog in order to get their father to turn over one of his genius (sort of) inventions. Yes, I said kidnapped. Wouldn't it be fun to read about that? Oh please. It would so. Luckily for you, this is just the first in a series perfect for boys and girls who are smart, clever, and funny (just like the twins), and enjoy reading adventurous stories (who doesn't?!).

E-galley received for review.

I really liked the idea of this and was excited to receive it for review but the execution left much to be desired.  Granted, I did receive it in e-galley form which I read on my iPad, but various unfinished artwork and such does not affect the story itself and the story was sadly lacking.

I wasn't particularly impressed with the characters, who were rather bland, or the "narrator" who was actually more than a bit annoying rather than amusing which was what the author was going for.  It felt like it was trying too hard to provide the energy,humor, and pace of a Lemony Snicket and it frankly just fell short.  Very, very short.

What the story sadly lacked was somewhat compensated for but the lovely illustrations by Jeremy Holmes. but overall I'd have to recommend a pass on this one unless you are really desperate for something new and have literally nothing else to read.

☆☆= Just Okay

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Review: The Lost Secrets of Maya Technology by James A. O'Kon PE

The Maya have been an enigma since their discovery in the mid- 19th century. Maya science developed an elegant mathematic system, an incredibly accurate astronomy, and one of the world's five original written languages. This technology was more advanced than similar European technology by more than a thousand years.

In this book, you'll see how James O'Kon, a professional engineer, synergistically applied field exploration, research, forensic engineering, and 3-D virtual reconstruction of Maya projects to discover lost Maya technological achievements. These lost principles of technology enabled Maya engineers to construct grand cities that towered above the rainforest, water systems with underground reservoirs for water storage, miles of all-weather paved roads tracking through the jungle, and the longest bridge in the ancient world.

Maya engineers developed structural mechanics for multi-story buildings that were not exceeded in height until the first "skyscraper" built in Chicago in 1885, invented the blast furnace 2,000 years before it was patented in England, and developed the vulcanization of rubber more than 2,600 years before Charles Goodyear. Discover a host of unknown wonders in The Lost Secrets of Maya Technology.

Received for review.

You know I'm a big ancient history fan so this was right up my alley.  With the whole Mayan end of the world thing this is an intriguing entry in the library of Maya information that has been published lately.  Some of the terminology could be a bit heavy at times but it was well worth the brain power investment since the material is genuinely interesting.  And, while the text is on the small side and rather tightly packed, there are simply dozens of supporting illustrations and photographs as well.

This comprehensive book is ideal for anyone interested in the Mayan culture but not looking for an outright "The world is ending in December" option.  I certainly highly recommend this.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

Friday, August 10, 2012

Featured Book: Paraskavedekatriaphobia by James Driscoll

About the book:

"Paraskavedekatriaphobia: A Collection of Short Stories" takes you to surprising places - unexpected places. In this collection of short tales, author James Driscoll spins riveting short stories that revolve around shocking inciting incidents, each one wending its way to unanticipated conclusions: an innocent man trapped in a murder investigation by a cunning criminal; a domineering wife and a husband who turns up dead; an elderly woman bent on revenge; two career outlaws in a deadly clash; a heartbroken man driven to suicide. Like literary optical illusions, Driscoll's tales trick the mind's eye with clever plot twists and focus shifts, ones the reader will savor in new ways with each reading. Go along for the ride, but brace yourself. Your destination may shock you.

About the author:

James Driscoll is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts, and retired in 2003 after 27 years in security. Originally from Boston, he moved to Quincy, MA, in 1981. He is currently working on other books for publication.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: The Lost Worlds of Ancient America edited by Frank Joseph

While digging out a new basement near Los Angeles, homeowners accidentally unearth a 3,000-year-old Phoenician altar.

A treasure-hunter in Ohio finds more than he expected, when his metal detector locates an Eastern Mediterranean pendant from 1000 bc.

Two caches of coins minted in Imperial Rome surface along the Ohio River.

A Smithsonian Institution archaeologist excavating a Native American burial mound in Tennessee removes a stone emblazoned with a second century Hebrew inscription.

These are just a few of the dramatic finds described in The Lost Worlds of Ancient America. They confirm that our continent was visited and influenced by visitors from Europe and the Near East hundreds, even thousands of years before its "official" discovery in 1492. As such, this startling, fresh proof of their powerful impact on the pre-Columbian New World offers us a different view of American origins that threatens to re-write mainstream textbooks.

More than two dozen noted academics, researchers, and writers have contributed to this myth-shattering volume, including:
  • Scott Wolter, a university-trained geologist, construction analysis company president, and author of The Hooked X, showcased on The History Channel;
  • Dr. John J. White, editor emeritus of the Midwestern Epigraphic Society's quarterly Journal;
  • J.M. Allen, a former air-photo interpreter for Britain's Royal Air Force;
  • Bruce Scofield, PhD, a world-class authority on Aztec astrology;
  • Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr., a registered professional engineer with a 40-year career at White Sands Missile Range, AT&T Bell Labs, and the White House Science Office;
  • Wayne May, founder and publisher of Ancient American magazine.

Received for review.

This collection of essays by a variety of authors was right up my alley as I'm quite the fan of "alternative" history (as is evidenced by my collection of Graham Hancock books!).  Some of the essays were better than others, but as a whole they were well written, well researched, quite informative, and even eye-opening.

The stories that particularly struck me were:
  • Ice Mummy in the Andes
  • Ancient Egyptians Sailed to America for Corn
  • The Mystery in the Sphere
Some of the language could be rather technical and reminiscent of an archaeological journal for those not familiar with the terminology but it is not overwhelming.

This is a must read for anyone interested in non-traditional archaeology.  The essays cover a variety of topics from Ancient Egyptians to Vikings so every reader should find at least a few intriguing and be drawn in from there.

★★★★ = Really Liked It

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Featured Book: 1803 by Robert Burgett

About the book:

In this fascinating examination of the Twelfth Amendment and Article II of the Constitution, historian Robert Burgett demonstrates the powerful forces at work that forced the rise of competing national parties, and how the Twelfth Amendment was designed to combat this destructive trend. Burgett takes the reader back to a time when the Union was not yet truly united, by drawing parallels with a hypothetical future North-South American Union. Quoting source material from drafters of the Constitution, and using electoral results and statements of belief from prominent statesmen such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, Burgett shows us how geographical divides influenced party politics, and how the role of the vice president has been distorted in comparison to how it was originally conceived. Allowing his thesis to rise naturally from the facts, rather than cherrypicking facts to fit a preconceived thesis, Burgett presents a powerful case for Article II of the Constitution forcing the rise of competing national parties, and the Twelfth Amendment as a much-needed alteration to ensure inappropriate geo-political control over the federal government. 1803 is as gripping a narrative as it is educational, giving the reader food for thought, and a much better understanding of a widely misunderstood issue.

About the author:

Robert Burgett is an Independent Historian whose specialties include legal research and analysis.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Review: The Real Rules of Life by Ken Druck, Ph.D.

We are brought up to believe a certain set of rules: The early bird gets the worm. Slow and steady wins the race. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Good things happen to good people. Keep your faith, work hard, and all your dreams will come true.

But then we grow up. We learn that life isn’t really fair. There are no fairy godmothers, and not everything works out in the end, no matter how good we have been or how hard we’ve tried.

Why, then, are these myths perpetuated? Because clich├ęs and over-simple recipes for living provide a soothing way to manage our daily lives without confronting the harsh reality that some parts of our lives are out of our control.

For several decades, Ken Druck has been willing to stand up and write about what we have hidden from ourselves for so long: we need to confront life as it is, not as we want it to be. We cannot magically wish things into reality. We cannot expect happiness or success to manifest from daily affirmations. By embracing the real rules of life, we discover life’s terms and learn to balance them with our own, preventing costly psychological debts and developing the life skills, underlying wisdom, and emotional freedom essential for fuller, richer lives.

This book will resonate with what readers know to be true about how life really is. Readers will discover themselves in vibrant teaching stories from the front lines of Dr. Druck’s pioneering work with individuals, families, communities, leaders, and cutting-edge organizations. They will push the refresh button on long-held myths and limitations, turning them into empower truths, redirecting their lives in much more effective and purposeful ways, and reinvigorating the pursuit of their dream.

Received for review.

I wanted to like this, I really did, but it just left me vaguely dissatisfied.  From the author's tale of his daughter Jenna's death through to his "rules" you could feel the author's desire to help people and that made the reading more enjoyable, however I didn't particularly agree with the author's "rules" and his conclusions about them.

If you're looking for a perhaps darker, or less positive, self-improvement book this would be perfect for you, but if you' prefer a more uplifting book you may want to give this one a pass.

☆☆= Just Okay

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: The Innovator's Manifesto by Michael E. Raynor

In this compelling new book, Michael E. Raynor, coauthor of the national bestseller The Innovator’s Solution, shows that Disruption, Clayton M. Christensen’s landmark theory that explains how fringe ideas come to redefine entire markets, not only explains why new businesses emerge and mature companies fall – it actually helps to predict the future success of new ventures more accurately. Raynor’s groundbreaking research, and deeper understanding of the mechanisms and drivers of Disruption make this approach to innovation more powerful and more useful than ever.

Despite the groaning shelves of books offering advice on innovation, most managers continue to struggle to create the profitable growth their companies need. The reason? The vast majority of management theories base their prescriptions on explanations of the past. When it comes to predicting successful innovation, a willingness to apply the empirical and theoretical rigor of the scientific method to prove what will work in the real world has been notable by its absence.

Until now.

In the Innovator’s Manifesto, Michael E. Raynor, a director at Deloitte Consulting, LLP., coauthor of The Innovator’s Solution, and author of The Strategy Paradox, shows how Disruption theory can help managers more accurately predict which businesses will survive – and which will die. In fact, Raynor argues that Disruption theory is the only theory which has been statistically proven to be an effective predictive tool.

The book draws on the research of the New Business Initiatives (NBI) group at Intel, analyzing forty-eight new ventures that NBI researched, scrutinized, and ultimately funded. The group’s success rate was comparable to venture capitalists throughout the industry – roughly 10 percent. However, when the principles of Disruption theory were applied to these forty-eight funded ventures in controlled experiments, the subjects’ accuracy rates improved significantly – by almost 40 percent. Raynor replicated these experiments with over 300 MBA students at schools in the United States and Canada, including Harvard, with even more impressive results: systematic improvements in predictive accuracy of up to 50 percent. In other words, not only is disruption effective, it can be readily and successfully taught and applied.

The Innovator’s Manifesto is the most significant advance in our understanding of the mechanisms and implications of Disruption theory since Christensen’s seminal 1997 work, The Innovator’s Dilemma. For the first time disruption theory has been shown to give managers and investors effective tools they can use in their efforts to create the success they seek.

Received for review.

This was unfortunately published with a rather small text and even smaller margins which made for a rather uncomfortable reading experience which did not bode well.  I normally actually enjoy reading business books but the prologue felt a bit dry and the book didn't improve from there.  While the material itself was informative, the presentation and preponderance of graphs and charts unfavorably reminded me of a textbook and left me yawning.

Here's a sample yawn-inducing sentence so you get the idea:

The prevalence of this sort of approach is an understandable consequence of the reliance of popular management research into innovation on post hoc case-study evidence to support its claims.

I actually just started yawning while typing that!

So, while the information is valuable, prepare to read this with an espresso (or twelve) nearby.  This is not light reading and certainly not for the casual reader.  However, if you are looking for a resource such as this then you will find all the information you need within.

☆☆= Just Okay

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Featured Book: The Exchange by Dennis P. Busche

About the book:

If given a second chance at life in a different body would you take it? To right the wrongs, erase regret, take advantage of missed opportunities, change careers, study something different in school. How would your next life or the world change if you kept all the memories, knowledge, and experiences of your previous lives? Frank Freiberg experiences all the above feelings as he navigates the world after being exchanged into multiple bodies. The world as we know it is exponentially evolving according to Moore’s law. Some believe “Singularity” or “Intelligence Explosion” could occur as early as 2045. Humans as a species have not had to attempt to understand themselves as much as we will be forced to in a few short years. An evolution of the concept of self could take place within the span of one generation or possibly even sooner. Humans will be compelled to make new moral and ethical decisions about what constitutes the meaning of life. What are the moral implications of living multiple lives in different bodies? Would you live your life differently if you had several different lifetimes? We could no longer assume someone’s age by looking at their bodies biological age. As humans our entire lives are compartmentalized by eras, delineated by expectations of age. The government seeks to regulate its constituents. How would they control the right and freedom to exchange, who would be allowed access to a new technology? How could corruption and greed be stopped, and individuals protected from those who seek to manipulate technology for personal gain? The Exchange is the first of a three part trilogy.

About the author:

Mr. Busche has academic degrees in Strategic Intelligence, Criminal Justice, Electronics Technology, and is working toward a Doctorate in Strategic Security. His professional career path has been quite diverse, beginning as a 911 dispatcher, then enlisting in the USAF as an Electronics technician on bomber and cargo aircraft. After the military, Mr. Busche returned to law enforcement as a police officer specializing in traffic accident investigation. After several years in policing, he left to start his own forensic traffic accident reconstruction consulting business. He currently works as a pilot for a major airline and flies routes all around the world. After 9/11 he volunteered and became a Federal Flight Deck Officer with the Department of Homeland Security. He holds a private investigator’s license, and held a teaching credential in Police Science, with the state of California. Flying, law enforcement, and writing have always been his passions. He grew up in rural Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his family raised and showed horses. Mountain View, California is where he now lives with his children.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Review: Oxford Messed Uo by Andrea Kayne Kaufman

Oxford Messed Up is a unique literary love story that transports readers on a meaningful and emotional journey where the academic world of Oxford, the music of Van Morrison, and an old claw-foot bathtub serve as a backdrop for learning, self-discovery, and transcendent love. Rhodes Scholar Gloria Zimmerman is an academic superstar who has come to Oxford University to study feminist poetry. Yet the rigors of the academy pale in comparison to her untreated Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, fueled by her overachieving parents and manifested in a deathly aversion to germs and human contact. Her next-door neighbor (who is also, to her mortification, her loomate) is Henry Young, the appealing but underachieving musician son of an overbearing and disapproving Oxford don. Still mourning the death of his supportive mother while enduring the mockery of his disapproving and merciless father, Henry is haunted by the unexpectedly serious ramifications of a reckless and tragic youth. Gloria and Henry's relationship evolves from a shared obsession with Van Morrison's music into a desire on the part of each to fill in the gaps in the life of the other. Yet the constraints of a debilitating illness and the looming revelation of a catastrophic secret conspire to throw their worlds into upheaval and threaten the possibilities of their unlikely yet redemptive love.

Received for review.

I wanted to like this, I really did, but it just did nothing for me.  The premise sounded intriguing and the characters certainly out of the ordinary but I just wasn't feeling it. It was well written but it was so darn long with characters I could not connect with that I quickly wearied of it.

If you're looking for something completely different this may be for you.

☆☆= Just Okay

Friday, August 3, 2012

Featured Book: Drawing for All It's Worth by Charles Staats, Jr.

About the book:

Through these pages, you will see the world of form with expanded vision. Step by step, through detailed exercises, you will come to understand lines, shapes, contours, composition, and texture, becoming familiar with the tools of your craft.

You will go beyond-to explore the influences that have shaped art through the years-when art was painted to express written ideas to the birth of "unconscious" art. Along the way you will learn about photography in art, and how copying produces false art, or art without awareness.

You will also discover the powerful personal qualities that allow an artist to progress and the vices that keep your creative roadblocks in place, and the way drawing shapes the brain. Most of all you will explore your senses and open your eyes to the synthesis that true art creates.

About the author:

Charles Staats Jr has been a professor for many years and has won numerous awards for his work. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University and a Master of Fine Arts from Boston University. Today, Staats and his wife live in Charleston, South Carolina, with their beloved pets. He has a son and 2 daughters of whom he is very proud.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Featured Book: Shadows of the Past by E.A. Jensen

About the book:

For five years, Kirsa Heinrich has tried to leave her past behind. Yet in a blink of an eye it all comes back to haunt her. A call from her old boss informs her that a series of heinous murders has occurred in her hometown. Each victim is protected under the Paranormal Laws, each one killed in a different manner. At each scene a cryptic message is left for Kirsa. Now Kirsa has to face her own past in order to solve the crimes. Ayden O’Brian is a member of an elite group of Vampires that work for the Vampire Council. He has been handed a case that hints at a traitor in their midst, one who is giving secrets to their biggest enemy. When the information that is being leaked pertains to Kirsa and her family’s connection to council, Ayden is sent to New Jersey to help Kirsa solve the case. Together they will unlock a long hidden secret about Kirsa’s family and an old war between vampires. For within the past, they will discover the secret to the traitor and the person responsible for the killings.

About the author:

E. A. Jensen lives in New Jersey with her husband and young son.