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Duffbert's Random Musings is a blog where I talk about whatever happens to be running through my head at any given moment... I'm Thomas Duff, and you can find out more about me here...

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Co-author of the book IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User's Guide

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Book Review - Host by Robin Cook

Category Book Review - Host by Robin Cook
A picture named M2

I don't know why I do this to myself... I read a Robin Cook novel, thinking I'll like the story (I enjoy medical thrillers). But as I get deeper into it, I find myself disliking the book as it's nothing more than a skeleton to push some medical injustice or soapbox that Cook has picked out. I swear I won't read another one... until the "another one" comes out and I try again...

... and I end up with Host.

The storyline isn't bad. Actually, it's the only thing that kept me reading. Healthy younger guy goes into the hospital for a relatively minor surgery (knee repair). Something goes horribly wrong, and he ends up in a coma. Two medical students (one of which is his lover) decide that they need to dig into his case to see how something could go so wrong. What they uncover is a conspiracy that links the hospital and a pharmaceutical firm in a scheme that is unthinkable (and of course, highly illegal).

There's some soapboxing here about the evils of drug companies, the amounts they charge, and the way they spend their money. I'm used to that, and I'll forgive a bit of it. What really turned me off was the characters and dialogue. The two students, best friends, are extremely smart and top of their class. They are fourth year med students, so I'd expect them to know a lot. But it seems like basic medical conditions and terms seem to be beyond them (causing lots of late-night research). I got *very* annoyed with the dialogue, as it was stereotyped and completely unrealistic. Michael is a large black guy, and his "hip and cool" phrasing goes completely overboard. Even if they are friends, I can't imagine people talking like that. Lynn isn't much better, though. She's attacked later in the story, and she's telling Michael what happened. Saying things like "We've stumbled onto a hornets' nest, and my tete-a-tete with the goon got worse." Really? You've just escaped getting raped, and you're saying stuff like that? Couple the dialogue with a large number of situations where you have to suspend belief beyond what is normal, and it was just too much.  

I might be a bit more forgiving with a first-time author trying to get it right and find their style. Cook should do far better at this point. I think I'll likely stay away from future Cook novels... just like I've said in the past.

Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed


Review: The Mental Game of Poker by Barry Carter and Jared Tendler

Although you may not feel that way on nights when you have lost all your money at a real-life or online casino such as www.gamingclub.com/au, the title The Mental Game of Poker does not refer to the lunacy of those who play this casino favourite. Rather it is another of those books that promises to be able to make you a better player – something any poker fan will know there is no shortage of. So do Barry Carter and Jared Tendler have a full house of poker performance secrets, or are they bluffing?

Well despite the order of the names, Tendler is really the main man here. He is a former golfer who specialised in coaching players mentally for that sport, before shifting his focus to poker in 2007. Therefore he clearly does have some background and success in psychological coaching, making the book’s promise of ‘proven strategies for improving tilt control, confidence, motivation, coping with variance and more’ seem like more than just empty bluster. The book is certainly impressively detailed in terms of the case studies and theories. It is also structured in such a way that you can read the opening chapter and then focus on the areas that you feel you need help in – rather than having to read it from cover to cover.

This is handy, as it lets you get straight to the most relevant parts for you – and there is also a questionnaire designed to help you work out where your poker game needs help, should you be unsure. The mix of theory and case study is a good idea, because it allows the reader to see each theory applied in a practical game scenario, before they actually hit their favourite online casino, or local land-based one, to try it themselves.
The Mental Game of Poker is perhaps not a book suited to casual poker players, but those dedicated to improving their game will probably find it one of the more useful books on the market.


Book Review - People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges by Jen Mann

Category Book Review Jen Mann People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters Drop-Off Despots and Other Suburban Scourges
A picture named M2

Yes, this is warped, but in a funny way... People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges by Jen Mann. I read most of this while out walking around a track, and it helped me to keep smiling when my legs were not.

Jen Mann runs a blog (same name as the title of the book) where she shares stories about her life. Quite often they revolve around living in suburbia when you don't really fit the mold of all the over-achievers. Many of the stories revolve around her kids, their schooling, and the people (mostly mothers) who she runs into as part of that school scene. Think of it as "slice of life" observations in blog form. This book takes a number of those entries and compiles them for reading in one place.

I hadn't heard of her prior to seeing this book, but I'm definitely a reader now. Her sarcasm is great, and I think most people could relate to at least a couple of the situations she talks about. It's a mix between sad and funny that the people she interacts with are like they are. But you know there are mothers who *are* driven to make sure their child is the best at everything.

One thing to remember when reading the stories. They do sound over-the-top at times, and they are probably not 100% accurate or "as they really happened". As she states in the author's note up front: "All of the names and identifying characteristics of the people who appear in this book have been changed to protect the good, the bad, and the ugly. So if you think you see yourself in the pages, please be assured that you are almost certainly wrong. These are my stories and this is how I remember them." Just consider that there is probably a great deal of "artistic license" taken here.

I enjoyed the read, but I'm not sure it'd be to everyone's liking. I would suggest going to her blog and read a few of her entries. If you like those, you'll like the book.

People I Want To Punch in the Throat - A Short List; You've Got Mail!; Take Your Mother's Sandwich and Shove It; The Hubs or the Cleaning Lady - Don't Make Me Choose; God Bless America (and Thongs); Just Some of the Many Reasons the Neighbors Always Hate Us; Screw Your Playgroup, I Didn't Want to Join Anyway; Gomer Might Be a Racist; Jeez, Lady, I Just Wanted A Cup Of Coffee, Not Your Kidney; Hello Mother, Hello Father, Signing Up for Camp Sucks; Ooh, Sorry to Hear You Got Agnes in Your Class, but I Hear Her Mother Is Lovely; Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Sweet-Ass Ride; Am I Supposed to Believe a Five-Year-Old Made That?; Carpool Lines and Bunny Pajamas Go Together Like... Nothing. They Don't Go Together at All; The Husband Inquisition; Who Needs Dr. Phil When We Have Adolpha?; Do You Ever Invite Me Over When You're Not Trying to Sell Me Something?; Sleepover Is Not a Party Theme! And Other Stupid Things Suburban Moms Complain About; It's Free Bowling, Lady, Not the Junior Olympics; I Thought Mother's Little Helper Was a Babysitter. I was Wrong - It's Drugs; Motherhood - The Toughest Competition You'll Ever Judge; Watch It, That Room Mom'll Cut You; Would You Take Less than a Quarter for This Swarovski Vase?; Moms' Night Out at the Gun Range;

Obtained From: Netgalley
Payment: Free


Book Review - Resistant by Michael Palmer

Category Book Review Michael Palmer Resistant
A picture named M2

I'm sad that Resistant by Michael Palmer is the last episode of Dr. Lou Welcome that I'll ever have the pleasure of reading. Palmer passed away as the book was being finished, so this will serve as his final work. I read that his family worked to finish it up and get it published, and I wonder if that's responsible for a few of the nagging issues I had with the story.

The overall story line involves the emergence of a bacteria that is resistant to all antibiotics that doctors have available. Patients who end up with the Doomsday Germ start out with a small infection that rapidly turns toxic, leading to amputations and usually death. The question is where did it come from? The answer lies in a shadow terrorist group known as One Hundred Neighbors, a group that has tentacles throughout government and industry. They have an agenda, and they are willing to use germ warfare to accomplish their aims. Dr. Welcome gets involved when his best friend and AA sponsor seriously injures his leg in a trail run. Welcome is able to get him to a hospital in time, but when Cap gets the Doomsday infection, Welcome shifts into overdrive to try and find a way to keep his friend from dying. Unfortunately, there are a number of people who are just as committed to making sure he doesn't.

I picked up the book yesterday at the library, and finished it early this morning. I haven't done that in a while with a library book. For me, the main driver was the characters that Palmer created. Dr. Welcome is a fun blend of sarcasm and loyalty, willing to do anything he can to help and protect those he cares about. One of the other major characters is also unique, as he has severe cerebral palsy, Palmer handles that with a lot of respect for the person under the disease.

Where I had some issues is with the One Hundred Neighbors plot driver. On one hand, having a "powerful mystery group" allows you a lot of leeway in where you can go with the story. It also allowed Palmer to keep the reader guessing as to who was the good guy vs. the bad guy when dealing with various organizations. But the agenda portion of the group almost seemed to be a soapbox for the author (although I hope he wasn't really that far right-wing). He also didn't do much in terms of detailing much about how the group was holding the government hostage to accomplish their goals. Other than "we've done this and been responsible for that, and if you don't do this next thing, we'll do this other thing", it was all sort of vague.

I'm also OK with some level of "suspension of belief", but a few items in the story pushed that a little too far. For instance, if someone took a bullet to the head, would they *really* be allowed to leave the hospital after only a couple of days *and* be allowed to resume work immediately? I'm guessing... no. But even with those problems, I still enjoyed the book (and "couldn't put it down").

Mr. Palmer, thanks for the many hours of reading enjoyment you're given us. You'll be missed.

Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed


Book Review - So Now You're a Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead by John Austin

Category Book Review John Austin So Now You're a Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead
A picture named M2

I didn't go to the library to get this, but it happened to be on display as a "recommended read"... So Now You're a Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead by John Austin. I thought it might be a fun read and twist from the normal zombie reading material I've looked at. With it's tongue-in-cheek approach to zombie "survival", it was entertaining.

Introduction - The Road to Brainville: Zombie Assessment; Safety Precautions; Zeds' Disclaimer
What the Hell Am I?: Screw Responsibility!; Zombie History; Not in the Family
Your Zombie Body: Body Parts of Importance; Use Your Head!; Body Language; What's Your Body Type?; Post-life Expectancy; Body Q&A
Know Your Enemy: Human Needs; Humans Will Make Mistakes; How to Kill a Human
Hunting for Brains: Lunch, Dinner, or Midnight Snack?; Tracking; Hunting Techniques; Waiting for Food; Human Structures; Obstacles You Will Face; Terrain Types; I See a Human - What Should I Do?
Transportation: How to Stop a Vehicle; Human Extraction; How to Hitch a Ride; Rides to Avoid; One-Brain Vehicles
Attacking: Holding Techniques; Use Your Body as a Weapon; Zed Melee Weapon; Defensive Strategies; Avoiding the Bullet; The Flame; Hand-to-Mouth Combat; Combat Quiz
Human Buffet: The Preferable Flesh; Feeding Etiquette; Absorption; Ordering Off the Menu; Other Foods to Avoid
Infecting: Administering an Infection; Stages of Zombification; Worldwide Infection; Infecting Animals
In the End: Never Give Up!; Escaping Captivity; Zombicide
Appendix: The Zombie Code
Final World: A Message for the Living

OK... Just to acknowledge the elephant in the room for those who don't do humor very well... Yes, I know you could not read this book if you were a zombie, nor could you plan or execute some of the techniques outlined in the book. Just get over it, OK? This isn't meant to be real-life.

I enjoyed looking at zombies from the perspective of what a zombie would have to know to "survive". Everyone (and every book, movie, and TV series) has their own angle on how zombies act and what they need to survive. It was interesting to see how some of those different views were blended into the material. For instance, I flashed back to episodes of The Walking Dead more than once when I was reading.

If you like the zombie genre, you'll probably like this for what it is... an entertaining look on what it takes to make it as a walker. Who knows? If a zombie outbreak ever *does* occur, maybe you'll remember enough of this to make your next life a bit more successful. :)

Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed


Book Review - The Unforgivable Fix by T. E. Woods

Category Book Review T. E. Woods The Unforgivable Fix
A picture named M2

I recently finished The Unforgivable Fix by T. E. Woods, which is the third book in the Fixer series. I had read the second one, and was a bit confused about the characters and background (I still need to read the first one). But with the knowledge of The Red Hot Fix in hand, this one made much more sense and I really enjoyed it. I like the secret lives that many of the characters are hiding, and Lydia (the Fixer) is excellent in her role.

In this installment, Mort Grant has decided to sell his house after his wife's death and daughter's departure for places unknown. He hopes to start a new life and put it all behind him, but life has a way of messing with your plans. His daughter Allie, thought to be a mistress to a major international drug lord, shows up unexpectedly and Mort has to stash her someplace before the police or rival gangs find her. He chooses to impose on Lydia, who he knows from "previous investigations". Lydia's not fond of this invasion of her privacy and her need to restart her life ("it's complicated"). Allie's not as dumb as she might seem, and quickly figures out the details of Lydia's past life, her relationship with Mort, and what it might mean if she tells all this to the police. Lydia has to figure out whether more killings are necessary (both in Allie's case and in a different case where she's a therapist), or whether she needs to disappear yet again and establish a new life elsewhere.

Everyone hides secrets in The Unforgivable Fix. Mort is hiding what he knows about Lydia from the police and everyone else. Lydia is hiding her past life as a "fixer" so as to remain a free woman. Allie is hiding her role in the drug empire of her lover, also to stay out of jail and alive. These situations all mix well and drive the overall plot of the novel, as well as the subplot of Lydia trying to re-establish her counseling practice to bring back a level of normalcy to her life... but good luck with that.

I wouldn't hop into the series at this book, as you'd likely miss a lot of back story which helps to understand the motivations of the characters. It'd be best to go back to the first one the series (which I still need to do) and work your way here. I think if you like the mix of characters in the first two, you should like this installment.

Obtained From: Netgalley
Payment: Free


Book Review - Lethal Code by Thomas Waite

Category Book Review Thomas Waite Lethal Code
A picture named M2

I went through Lethal Code by Thomas Waite while on vacation a couple weeks back. I had some plane and bus rides to get from point A to point B, and the book did a good job in passing the time. While I liked the cyber-thriller angle of the story, there was a fair amount of "suspension of belief" that was necessary to buy into the plot. There are definitely vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers, but not at the level you see here...

The story line revolves around a cyber-attack on the US that cripples nearly everything... power grids, control systems, nuclear facilities, etc. The terrorists make their initial show of force by turning off the power across the entire country for a 24-hour period, and tens of thousands die in various accidents and fires. But that's just the beginning, as they are not content to stop there. The plan is to eventually annihilate the country with their own nuclear missiles, and it looks like there is little that can be done to stop them.

But that wouldn't be much of a story if that was it. A small (and unlikely) team of security and intelligence experts (and one person who was originally fingered as the mastermind of the attacks) are put together to head to the Middle East to infiltrate the suspected organization that is running the hacking operation. They have to do what no one else has been able to pull off... find the site of the hacking attacks and stop them before America becomes a heap of radioactive rubble.

I liked the characters and the pacing of the story. I had no problems with feeling like things were dragging or that I didn't care what happened. I had more issues with the technical aspects of the story. Everything was just too perfect in terms of what the hackers could do. Things were done at a massive level with pinpoint precision, but many of the systems that were affected wouldn't have been accessible from the outside to begin with. While it might be possible to plant viruses in missile systems and such, there's no way that you could control them from an external site over the 'net. Also, knowing the technical state (or lack thereof) of many critical systems, the thought of being able to hack and control all of them at once is... non-existent.

Having said all that, it was still a fun read. Techies might get overly hung up on the details, and as such would have a hard time enjoying it for what it is. But if you're willing to let that go and "go with the flow", it's good.

Obtained From: Amazon
Payment: Purchase


Book Review - I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

Category Book Review Terry Hayes I Am Pilgrim
I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller

I received the book I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes as part of a Klout promotion a while back. I hadn't heard much about it, but a free thriller is always good. When I started reading and noted the font size and the number of pages (600+), I wondered if I was getting myself hooked into a long read that might not be worth it. Add to that the fact it's Hayes first novel, and warning signals were going off all over the place...

... but I ended up pleasantly surprised. Hayes did an excellent job in building complex characters in an interesting story. Although he goes into detail frequently when it comes to various scenes, the pace doesn't suffer as a result. And as the story works towards the climax, it's really hard to put down.

The story revolves around an intelligence agent who is pretty much done with his career. He inherited a large amount of money from his step-father, and his primary goal now is to keep his past life hidden from others who would like to even scores. But that quiet life comes to an end when a New York cop uncovers his history and figures out he's the author of a book that is sort of the bible of crime investigation. Their tenuous relationship jumps to a new level when he's called back into service to help find a terrorist who, if not stopped, could take the lives of millions and devastate the United States (if not the entire globe).

One of the elements I liked about Pilgrim is that some of the situations feel like they were pulled from today's headlines. It's not hard to understand the motivations of the characters as Hayes builds their backgrounds, and it made me wonder just how often these situations are actually playing out right now (and will haunt us down the road).

I Am Pilgrim is not a fast read, but it's worth the time. I hope Hayes follows up and turns this into a series, and it would turn into a "must-read" for me.

Obtained From: Promotion
Payment: Free


Book Review - The Girl in 6E by A. R. Torre

Category Book Review A. R. Torre The Girl in 6E
The Girl in 6E

I just finished The Girl in 6E by A. R. Torre, and it turned into one of those "can't put it down" reads. It's a very dark and twisted story, and one that won't be comfortable for a number of readers. But it drew me in quickly, slowly revealing the plot as it went along...

The main character (Jessica Manchild - formerly Deanna Martin) is a single woman living on her own in a run-down apartment, one that she never leaves... never. She has everything delivered to her via mail-order, and all the deliveries are left outside her door. She does this to protect others from some very dark urges that involve death and violence. If she allowed herself around other people, there would be bloodshed.

She supports herself via camming. She's a hot commodity in the pay-for-virtual-play market, and she's turned her apartment into a studio that accommodates her clients and makes her a lot of money. Normally all the encounters are anonymous, but one of her clients triggers all sorts of alarms in her head. She wants to block him, but she's not sure if that will help or harm someone that might otherwise be the target of his fantasies. She has to decide whether putting herself at risk is worth the cost of potentially saving someone else who may or may not be real.

Torre researched her topic and the people in it extensively for the story, and she doesn't shy away from raw and explicit details of that world. The voice and tone of the story is very personal (told in first person from Jessica's view), and the direction of where things are going is a bit of a mystery at first. But the style and storytelling made it hard to put down, and once it started down the path of the main plot, I had to keep reading instead of packing for a trip like I should have been doing. :)

Those who are sensitive to vivid imagery of a violent or erotic nature might not care to read this, as there is plenty of both. But if that's not a show-stopper for you, then The Girl in 6E is a great story with interesting characters and situations.

Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed


Book Review - Field of Prey by John Sandford

Category Book Review John Sandford Field of Prey
Field of Prey (A Lucas Davenport Novel Book 24)

I burned out a bit (a lot?) on the John Sandford Prey series a while back. The stories started to lack that "something" that kept me looking forward to the next one. I recently picked up Field of Prey to see if Lucas Davenport and company had regained their mojo, and I was pleasantly surprised. Field of Prey started off strong and kept up the pace right up to the finish.

Davenport's back to a more hands-on crime-solving approach in this novel. He's called into a serial killer case that is rather gruesome. Two kids fooling around in a field ran across a buried cistern, but it wasn't used for water any longer. Over twenty female bodies were dumped there over a period of many years, and the Minnesota police forces go into high gear to try and determine who the bodies belong to and who put them there. Of course, the media is having a field day with the story, and the pressure is high to solve the crimes quickly before someone loses their job. The killer decides to toy around with the police, and it becomes clear that the murders are not yet over. He might even be targeting people very close to Davenport if Lucas can't figure things out before he strikes again.

Sandford reveals the killer early on in the story, so the plot weaves between the attempts to solve the case and the killer's fixation on certain people who are involved. Part of the mystery that drives the story is that certain investigators apparently had leads to who the killer was, but they met an untimely demise before reporting in to Davenport and others. I enjoyed how Davenport kept getting shut down in all his attempts to narrow down the killer's identity, as it maintained a "how is he going to figure this out in time" feeling running throughout the story. There are also a couple of wicked plot twists at the end that I didn't see coming, and they change the whole tone of everything that happened prior...

I hope Field of Prey signals the return of Lucas Davenport of old. If so, the Prey series will head back to the "must read immediately" list.

Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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