Category: "Sponsored Book Review"

Fool's Assassin - Robin Hobb

July 10th, 2014

FitzChivalry -- royal bastard and former king's assassin -- has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock and married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, Fitz now leads the quiet life of a country squire.

Still, he remains haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become. But such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life -- until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz's past...and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one...

Robin Hobb introduced us to FitzChivalry Farseer and the Fool nearly 20 years ago and they've been through a lot since then. If you haven't read the Farseer trilogy, where we first meet Fitz and the Fool, or the Tawny Man trilogy where their journey continues, you MAY start with this book; there is enough recap to bring you up to speed. If you have read any or all of the earlier 6 books, you are nostalgic for books read long ago and maybe a little grateful for the review since it has been so long.

I read the Farseer trilogy years ago and enjoyed the story and its characters. I have not yet read the Tawny Man trilogy, though I own it and plan to read it. Of another Hobb series, I made it through two books of her Rainwilds Chronicles. I neither enjoyed the story nor the characters. I commented after book 2 of that series that Robin Hobb is capable of so much more than this. And now she has proved me right.

Unabashedly, I loved this book. In nearly 700 pages, not much happens here, but I savored every word Ms. Hobb wrote. The details were subtle and deliberate and the book was beautifully written.

The elephant in the room is how obvious the book's big plot twist was to the readers, yet Fitz, uncharacteristically, was blind to it. It earned an emphatic, "Well, duh!" from me, but did not disrupt my overall enjoyment of the book.

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I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review of it. I am under no obligation to provide a favorable review and any praise is deserved. I am honest in all of my reviews and will not compromise myself for a free product.

One Big Thing - Phil Cooke

August 30th, 2012

One Big Thing by Phil CookeWithout a clear sense of identity, vision, and purpose, all of us tend to wander aimlessly from plan to plan, from project to project, from hopeful beginning to unfulfilled promise.

It need not be so. You hold in your hands a roadmap for a different, better path. From start to finish. One Big Thing will guide you with:

Practical strategies to help you find your true purpose -- and share it with the world

Keys to discovering the difference between a mere job and a passion-fueled dream

Tools for cultivating the focus necessary to rise above scattershot mediocrity and excel at your true calling

Up-to-date parallels and deftly mined case studies from the field of branding

Ideas for deflecting "what if?" questions that threaten to derail your destiny

Insights for connecting your calling to a cause bigger than yourself

Reassurance that pursuing a single-minded dream makes perfect sense -- despite how crazy it might look to everyone else

Intuitively, we know that faking it won't work; we must discover our unique, highest-and-nest pursuit. And it must be linked to who we are and what we value most.

Phil Cooke invites you to encounter the wisdom that he has shared with major organizations and the hundres of thousands that follow him through his blog at philcooke.com. His aim? To ignite the creative spark that can become a flame when you grasp the core of who you were meant to be...your one big thing.

Phil Cooke breaks down the now-cliché book about career freedom into more manageable pieces. Find out what you're good at, exploit those strengths and outsource your weakness. Brainstorm what you like and even what you don't like to help narrow the field. Other books focus on pushing you to start once you have the idea. This book helps you look inside yourself to find the idea.

I read One Big Thing after I had already read The $100 Startup and The 4 Hour Work Week (both books that I recommend reading). One Big Thing arguably should be first on your list chronologically because it encourages you to find your path and makes it feel more attainable. Worry about starting your business and then cutting back on your hours later.

Cooke seemingly humanizes this process whereas some other books make it seem like something that only happens to other, super people. He has great insight and shares it on many other topics as well. This is a quick read, which will benefit you over time as you plan to read it over and over.

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The Columbus Affair - Steve Berry

August 24th, 2012

The Columbus Affair by Steve BerryHe was called by many names—Columb, Colom, Colón—but we know him as Christopher Columbus. Many questions about him exist: Where was he born, raised, and educated? Where did he die? How did he discover the New World?

None have ever been properly answered.

And then there is the greatest secret of all.


From Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author, comes an exciting new adventure—one that challenges everything we thought we knew about the discovery of America.

Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Tom Sagan has written hard-hitting articles from hot spots around the world. But when a controversial report from a war-torn region is exposed as a fraud, his professional reputation crashes and burns. Now he lives in virtual exile—haunted by bad decisions and the shocking truth he can never prove: that his downfall was a deliberate act of sabotage by an unknown enemy. But before Sagan can end his torment with the squeeze of a trigger, fate intervenes in the form of an enigmatic stranger with a request that cannot be ignored.

Zachariah Simon has the look of a scholar, the soul of a scoundrel, and the zeal of a fanatic. He also has Tom Sagan’s estranged daughter at his mercy. Simon desperately wants something only Sagan can supply: the key to a 500-year-old mystery, a treasure with explosive political significance in the modern world. For both Simon and Sagan the stakes are high, the goal intensely personal, the consequences of opposing either man potentially catastrophic. On a perilous quest from Florida to Vienna to Prague and finally to the mountains of Jamaica, the two men square off in a dangerous game. Along the way, both of their lives will be altered—and everything we know about Christopher Columbus will change.

Eight years ago, Tom Sagan's career as an investigative journalist came to an abrupt end around allegations of fraud.  He knows that the allegations are false, but despite his talent for uncovering the truth, he was never able find any evidence to prove his own innocence.  When he cannot take his ruined existence any longer (literally has gun in hand), a well-timed knock at the door disrupts Tom's plans.  Zachariah Simon, the man-who-knocked, is a very powerful man who believes that something he needs can be found only if he has Tom's help.  Zachariah turns out to be a very dangerous man who will stop at nothing to locate a treasure that has been lost for centuries and, if it is found, would have incredible political and historical impact.  What was that secret cargo that sailed with Christopher Columbus?  And will Zachariah Simon's blackmail attempt be enough to get Tom Sagan to help him find it?  

For a man (arguably) worthy of an eponymous holiday, there are many mysteries that still surround Christopher Columbus.  Author Steve Berry chose to take advantage of how little is actually known about Columbus with this novel.  Berry typically writes historical fiction and is well-known for his serial character Cotton Malone.  The Columbus Affair is not a Cotton Malone book.  

I have read other books by Steve Berry, though only a few.  I liked his other work, but The Columbus Affair was a little flat.  I found that too much of the history (the actual history combined with the fictional history created by the author) was simply repeated over and over.  The story moved slowly because every time it was set to progress, the same details were hashed out yet again.  The characters were all pitiable and despicable for their own reasons, but none was likable.  It is always hard to really enjoy a book when you don't have someone you like.  Berry is talented enough to have still made this book entertaining at times, its just not his best work.  

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Sacré Bleu - Christopher Moore

February 28th, 2012

Sacré Bleu by Christopher MooreIt is the color of the Virgin Mary's cloak, a dazzling pigment desired by artists, an exquisite hue infused with danger, adventure, and perhaps even the supernatural. It is . . .

Sacré Bleu

In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life . . . and then walk a mile to a doctor's house for help? Who was the crooked little "color man" Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue?

These are just a few of the questions confronting Vincent's friends—baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec—who vow to discover the truth about van Gogh's untimely death. Their quest will lead them on a surreal odyssey and brothel-crawl deep into the art world of late nineteenth-century Paris.

Oh là là, quelle surprise, and zut alors! A delectable confection of intrigue, passion, and art history—with cancan girls, baguettes, and fine French cognac thrown in for good measure—Sacré Bleu is another masterpiece of wit and wonder from the one, the only, Christopher Moore.

European painters and the rest of the art world sent the 19th century to a close in style. So many great painters made so many great paintings and Christopher Moore explores the potential that maybe there was more to their combined genius than meets the eye. In Sacré Bleu Moore weaves a satirical web of the super natural and the inspired, tracing the artists and their work back to the "color man."

I am very familiar with the distinctive cover artwork of his previous work, but this was the first book by Mr. Moore that I've read. I thought that setting this story in 1790s Paris and incorporating all of the great painters who worked in that time was an enticing offering.

I can now tell you that it is my opinion that if you like Christopher Moore, you will like books by Tom Robbins and vice versa. I found the styles of the two authors to be very similar. And Sacré Bleu is Tom Robbins meets art history, consider it five parts Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates and one part The Da Vinci Code.

I am such a big fan of when a writer is able to work a substantial amount of fact into a work of fiction. I appreciate the work that went into Chris Moore building this work of art around so many other works of art.

Moore is known for his humor and I did not find this book to be particularly funny, but I am a tough critic on humor. There were definitely some parts that made smirk, if not chuckle, but I don't think you should expect to laugh out loud while you read Sacré Bleu.

Overall, I think this book was just ok. I liked the art history lesson, but the writing style that Moore and Tom Robbins share is not one to which I am drawn. If you like that, you will probably get more out of this than I did.

Amazon

Touchstone - Melanie Rawn

February 21st, 2012

Touchstone by Melanie RawnCayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, part human Wizard -- and all rebel. His aristocratic mother would have him follow his father to the Royal Court, to make a high-society living off the scraps of kings. But Cade lives and breathes for the theater, and his troupe is something very special.

The four of them intend to enter the highest reaches of society and power, but not the way Cade's mother thinks they should. They'll be the greatest players of all time, or die trying.

Come experience the magic of Touchstone: wholly charming characters in a remarkably original fantasy world. You'll never want to leave.

Cayden and two of his childhood buddies are looking for the missing piece to their theater troupe when a charming, though difficult-to-tolerate, elf asks for a tryout. Fortuoutously for them all, he is just what they need. Together, the four young males seek to become the greatest performers the kingdom has ever seen.

This book fell short for me. The story begins without laying any foundation; Touchstone is the first book in a new series, but it starts off like it is the continuation of some other story and no recap is given. The plot is shallow at best and the author writes descriptively about things she should skip and skips things about which she should be descriptive. The story jumps ahead whimsically and is difficult to follow.

At the beginning there were a few pieces of wisdom from Cade's old teacher. I thought they were beautifully written and poignant. There were three of them in the first few chapters. I was excited that there would be more. No dice.

I wanted to like this book, but I did not.

Amazon

The Official Joomla! Book

November 23rd, 2011

The Official Joomla! BookThe Official Joomla! Book is the authoritative, and comprehensive Joomla! reference for every administrator, developer, designer, and content manager. Distilling the unsurpassed experience of two long-time Joomla! contributors, it teaches exactly what you need to know, through practical example sites and crystal-clear explanations.

If you're new to Joomla!, you'll learn how to make your sites more flexible, feature-rich, visually attractive, and useful. And whether new or experienced, you'll learn how Joomla! really works, so you can fully leverage its power whenever you're ready. You'll also get to know the Joomla! community by hearing from twelve community members through in-depth interviews, and you'll learn how to participate in the Joomla! project in ways that make sense to you.

The Official Joomla! Book covers everything from installation to usability, templates to extensions. The authors explain each key concept conversationally, helping you learn to help yourself and confidently gain control over Joomla! and the sites you build with it. they also present chapter-length application case studies for business, non-profits, and education. You'll learn to

  • Plan sites effectively before you start building them
  • Create production sites quickly while avoiding common mistakes
  • Install and configure Joomla! for maximum efficiency
  • Create and edit content for your Joomla! site
  • Customize and work with Joomla! templates
  • Work with extensions: components, modules, plugins, and languages
  • Efficiently administer Joomla! sites
  • Participate in the Joomla! community as a user and contributor

Joomla! is one of the most popular open-source CMS (content management system) packages available, and it is powerful. The selling point for these CMS tools is that you can run a fully professional website without needing to know how to actually code the site yourself; you do not need to know html, php, java, etc. as Joomla! does that all for you. You do, however, have to know how to use your CMS and they are pretty involved, so that is why you buy the official guide.

This book takes you all the way from when your idea to start a site is born through installing the package to running it like a professional. The key for readers will be repetition. You will have to keep this book by your side as a reference guide while you build your site and probably as you generate your first few weeks or months worth of content.

In all honesty, I felt that the book was a little too advanced for me, at times. There were terms and acronyms used that I could either try to figure out in context or look up online. This did not happen often, so still think that this book is helpful and a valuable resource.

I believe that Joomla! is a very good CMS package, and one that I want to know how to use better. And this, The Official Joomla! Book is a very good guide to help me.

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The Jefferson Key - Steve Berry

May 16th, 2011

The Jefferson Key by Steve BerryFour United States presidents have been assassinated—in 1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963—each murder seemingly unrelated and separated by time.

But what if those presidents were all killed for the same reason: a clause in the United States Constitution—contained within Article 1, Section 8—that would shock Americans?

This question is what faces former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone in his latest adventure. When a bold assassination attempt is made against President Danny Daniels in the heart of Manhattan, Malone risks his life to foil the killing—only to find himself at dangerous odds with the Commonwealth, a secret society of pirates first assembled during the American Revolution. In their most perilous exploit yet, Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt race across the nation and take to the high seas. Along the way they break a secret cipher originally possessed by Thomas Jefferson, unravel a mystery concocted by Andrew Jackson, and unearth a centuries-old document forged by the Founding Fathers themselves, one powerful enough—thanks to that clause in the Constitution—to make the Commonwealth unstoppable.

Intelligence operative, and Berry's cash-cow and serial hero, Cotton Malone has to match wits with Jonathan Wyatt while attempting to solve a conspiracy that has roots as deep as the US Constitution. (Wyatt is first introduced in Berry's e-book The Devil's Gold; a 40-page teaser that is not required reading, but still worth your time.)

This is not my first Steve Berry, but it is my first Cotton Malone. I normally pass on this type of character because this guy can literally do anything...think action-hero Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons (yes I'm still bitter about that). But I was drawn in by the intriguing concept of the Commonwealth; I am a BIG fan of conspiracy theory.

The Jefferson Key avoided that "action hero" story line...for the most part. And I greatly appreciated it. The suspense in this book was intense. I would provide an audible "dun dun dunnnnn!" at the end of a large number of chapters. Though I will admit that there were almost too many cliff-hanger chapter endings if you can imagine a suspense author's version of crying wolf.

I thought that Mr. Berry did a commendable job of balancing history with fiction. He wove an intricate web and it made for a great read. I liked this book and have been recommending it to others like I recommend it to you.

Amazon.

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

April 14th, 2011

The White Tiger by Aravind AdigaBalram Halwai is a complicated man. Servant. Philosopher. Entrepreneur. Murderer. Over the course of seven nights, Balram tells us the horrible and transfixing story of how he came to be a success in life -- having nothing but his own wits to help him along. Along with a charisma as undeniable as it is unexpected, Balram teaches us that religion doesn't create virtue, and money doesn't solve every problem -- but decency can still be found in a corrupt world, and you can get what you want out of life if you eavesdrop on the right conversations.

Amoral, irrelevant, deeply endearing, and utterly contemporary, this novel is an international sensation -- and a startling, provocative debut.

In a book-length correspondence to the head of the Chinese government, Balram writes his views on the changing landscape of the global economy and the personal experiences on which his thoughts are based. His ideas are progressive and it must be his upbringing within the world of organized crime in India that has given him his unique perspective. He uses his experiences as evidence to bolster his credibility.

Aravind Adiga won the Man Booker Prize in 2008 for The White Tiger. I use the Man Booker Prize nominees list every year as a great source for my to-read pile. Sometimes I agree with the chosen winner, sometimes I do not. I have not read each book that was nominated in 2008 yet, but I was not disappointed with the Prize going to The White Tiger. I have never read a book like this before and I thought it to be very creative. This was a departure from what I normally read and that was as refreshing as it was frustrating. But I was pleased to see an author write in such a way to better display the main character's personality. I think all of this speaks to why Adiga was only the fourth author awarded the Booker Prize for a debut novel.

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Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life - Kim Severson

April 7th, 2011

Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by Kim SeversonSomewhere between the lessons her mother taught her and the ones she is now teaching her own daughter. Kim Severson stumbled. She lost sight of what mattered, of how she wanted to live her life. It took a series of encounters with famous cooks to show her the life lessons she forgot and some she had never learned in the first place. Some were as small as a spoonful, and others were so big they saved her life. But always, the best lessons were delivered in the kitchen.

Marion Cunningham taught her that, in food and in life, it is fine to start over. Alice Waters taught her to preserve and be patient. Ruth Reichl taught her to compete only with herself. Marcella Hazan taught her to accept what comes her way. Together with Rachael Ray, Edna Lewis, Leah Chase, and Kim's mother, Anne Zappa Severson, these women offered her crucial wisdom just when she needed it most.

Kim Severson bares her soul in this memoir that chronicles how she found comfort and acceptance through and around food (with a little help from sobriety). She details many problems she had making friends, meeting her parents' approval and finding love. And the book was good, but it would not have taken much to make it better.

I am going to be a little tough on this book. The subtitle of "How Eight Cooks Saved My Life" sounds good and certainly looks good on paper, but the chronology of the book suggests otherwise. While the author candidly describes her problems, *my* interpretation was that her life was "saved" before she even met the large majority of these eight cooks. Let's call this book Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Changed My Life. It is certainly less dramatic, but I would still read that book.

The constant drive to compare her own life to Ruth Reichl was a distraction. I appreciate that Ms. Severson was up front and honest and admits that she has somewhat of a complex about Reichl. Reichl was a prominent (maybe the single most prominent) food critic. Severson becomes a food critic. Reichl wrote a memoir (followed by others) about how she developed into a foodie in Tender at the Bone. Severson writes this memoir. I am oversimplifying. If you read the book you will see it. It boils down to a seemingly compulsive need to best Reichl at a game where the cards are stacked in Reichl's favor. If Ruth Reichl jumped off a bridge, someone keep an eye on Kim Severson.

This book could stand apart from Ruth Reichl and I almost feel that the author does not truly understand that. The eight stories she shares in this memoir are inspiring for anyone who aspires to better appreciate food. To foodies, and more specifically food bloggers, Kim Severson's experiences are epic and the book offers some valuable insight into food and how to write about it.

This book just needs to be given to a good friend who could go through it and clean it up a little before it went to print. Overall I am more positive than negative on this book. I think food memoirs are interesting and Spoon Fed offers perspective that I had not read before.

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Sea of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh

March 28th, 2011

Sea of Poppies by Amitav GhoshAt the heart of this vibrant saga is an immense ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its purpose to fight China's vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts.

In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-spirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship brothers. An unlikely destiny is born, which will span continents, races, and generations.

The vast sweep of this historical adventure embraces the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the crowded backstreets of Canton. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, that makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive -- a masterpiece from one of the world's finest novelist.

I consider The Man Booker Prize to be a great source from which to grow my "to-read" pile and it is where I first learned of Sea of Poppies. The book was shortlisted (basically it was a semi-finalist for the award) in 2008, losing to Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, which fueled my desire; not only was it nominated for the award, it nearly won. I can understand the praise this book has received in its layers of complexity and the artful strokes the author used. However, this book lost me along the way with...just how artful the author was...and just how complex this story really became. Much of this book is not written in English, with its uneducated, slang dialogue between low-caste characters in India. Often the words were used in such a context that you can understand roughly what the author is saying, but it disrupted the flow of the book for me. I also found that the paradox of how complex the story was contrasted with how little was actually happening made this a long and drawn-out read.

I love watching professional hockey for its fast-paced action. This book was like watching a professional baseball double header, where you feel they should bring out the landscaping crew to trim down all of the grass you just watched grow.

I appreciate the author's craftsmanship, like I appreciate some paintings in a museum, but that doesn't mean I would hang them in my house. Admittedly, Amitav Ghosh sculpted Sea of Poppies in such a way that it was simply over my head. And I am a relatively well-read man, pushing 30, who just finished a post-graduate degree. If you have an eye for fine art, and the patience for major league baseball, you may well love this book. The dots poppy seeds are there, but I couldn't connect them.

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