‘Hollow Man’: Mark Pryor’s new psychological thriller exposes our inner sociopath – #fiction #bookreview

 

Hollow Man

Mark Pryor

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle

By day, Dominic is a tough prosecutor working in a Texas district attorney’s office. That means he can carry a badge and a gun when he’s not in court getting convictions. By night, he is guitar player and singer with a British accent who is trying to make it big in the highly competitive live-music scene in Austin, Texas. Day and night, however, Dominic is something else entirely: a hidden sociopath who wants to commit a crime.

In Hollow Man, driven in part by several sudden and upsetting changes in his life, Dominic finally decides to take that plunge, setting up what he thinks will be a simple heist that will net a lot of cash. But first, for practice, he needs to break into a pub.

“I wanted to practice,” he says in the book. “I couldn’t do a run-through of the theft itself. It had too many moving parts and also was a matter of planning, not practice. No, I wanted to test myself so I’d know how it felt to be a criminal. After so many years of resisting that very temptation, I needed to break the seal, give up my virginity, phrase it how you will.”

But the break-in goes awry, and so does the supposedly well-planned heist. Indeed, it turns into capital murder. And what happens next becomes a chilling, engrossing journey into the mind of a man whose “fear response is almost zero. If someone close to me is in danger, or even if I am, it’s as stressful as a game of chess.”

In Mark Pryor’s new standalone psychological thriller, the danger and tension just keep rising. And Hollow Man‘s ending is both a masterful and shocking surprise.

Si Dunn

 

Unity in Action: A top-notch how-to guide for game developers – #gamedev #programming

Unity in Action

Joseph Hocking

Manning – paperback

Unity, the cross-platform game development environment, is easy to download and get running. But it definitely is not easy to learn without some help.

Fortunately, Joe Hocking’s Unity in Action makes it reasonably straightforward to learn how to develop games in 3D, as well as with Unity’s new 2D capabilities. The book takes the reader from “Hello, World” all the way to “Putting the parts together into a complete game” and then “Deploying your game to players’ devices.”

Even with this fine book, however, game development can be hard and complicated work. There are many different elements to consider, such as “Adding enemies and projectiles to the 3D game”, “Developing graphics for your game”, “Adding interactive devices and items within the game,” and putting sound effects and music into your game. Hocking’s book does a good job of showing how to handle these tasks, plus many more.

You may have heard Unity described as a game development environment where you don’t have to know how to program. Yes, you might be able to create some games without programming skills. But, “to produce commercial titles” using Unity, you definitely need some programming experience, Hocking emphasizes. In this case, you should have some knowledge of C#, but a background in some other object-oriented (OO) programming language will be helpful if you are new to C#, he adds.

Hocking’s book has many examples, illustrations, headings and subheadings. But step-by-step listings are sparse. Therefore, be prepared to read the text closely and, if necessary, develop lists of steps yourself. There is nothing wrong with this approach, and it is not really a criticism of the book. Game development, after all, is not something that you can, nor should, just dive into and speed through, step by step. It requires a lot of careful planning and thought before you start.

Unity in Action wastes no time. It gets right to the essential stuff you need to know. And it can get you into action reasonably fast as a game developer. But “reasonably fast” in this case must be defined by how quickly you personally can learn to handle Unity, plus the myriad tasks of planning, creating, testing, revising and distributing a game.

Si Dunn

 

R IN ACTION: Data Analysis and Graphics with R, 2nd Edition – #bookreview

R in Action

Data Analysis and Graphics with R

Robert I. Kabacoff

Manning – paperback

Whether data analysis is your field, your current major or your next career-change ambition, you likely should get this book. Free and open source  R is one of the world’s most popular languages for data analysis and visualization. And Robert I. Kabacoff’s updated new edition is, in my opinion, one of the top books out there for getting a handle on R. (I have used and previously reviewed several R how-to books.)

R is relatively easy to install on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux machines. But it is generally considered difficult to learn. Much of that is because of its rich abundance of features and packages, as well as its ability to create many types of graphs. “The base installation,” Kabacoff writes, “provides hundreds of data-management, statistical, and graphical functions out of the box. But some of its most powerful features come from the thousands of extensions (packages) provided by contributing authors.”

Kabacoff concedes: “It can be hard for new users to get a handle on what R is and what it can do.” And: “Even the most experienced R user is surprised to learn about features they were unaware of.”

R in Action, Second Edition, contains more than 200 pages of new material. And it is nicely structured to meet the needs of R beginners, as well as those of us who have some experience and want to gain more.

The book (579 pages in print format) is divided into five major parts. The first part, “Getting Started,” takes the beginner from an installing and trying R to creating data sets, working with graphs, and managing data. Part 2, “Basic Methods,”focuses on graphical and statistical techniques for obtaining basic information about data.”

Part 3, “Intermediate Methods,” moves the reader well beyond “describing the relationship between two variables.” It introduces  regression, analysis of variance, power analysis, intermediate graphs, and resampling statistics and bootstrapping. Part 4 presents “Advanced Methods,” including generalized linear models, principal components and factor analysis, time series, cluster analysis, classification, and advanced methods for missing data.

Part 5, meanwhile, offers how-to information for “Expanding Your Skills.” The topics include: advanced graphics with ggplot2, advanced programming, creating a package, creating dynamic reports, and developing advanced graphics with the lattice program.

A key strength of R in Action, Second Edition is Kabacoff’s use of generally short code examples to illustrate many of the ways that data can be entered, manipulated, analyzed and displayed in graphical form.

The first thing I did, however, was start at the very back of the book, Appendix G, and upgrade my existing version of R to 3.2.1, “World-Famous Astronaut.” The upgrade instructions could have been a little bit clearer, but after hitting a couple of unmentioned prompts and changing a couple of wrong choices, the process turned out to be quick and smooth.

Then I started reading chapters and keying in some of the code examples. I had not used R much recently, so it was fun again to enter some commands and numbers and have nicely formatted graphs suddenly pop open on the screen.

Even better, it is nice to have a LOT of new things to learn, with a well-written, well-illustrated guidebook in hand.

Si Dunn

 

‘Little Pretty Things’: An engrossing new mystery from Lori Rader-Day – #bookreview

 

 

Little Pretty Things

Lori Rader-Day

(Seventh Street – paperback, Kindle)

Lori Rader-Day already has proven she can write a good mystery. Her debut book, The Black Hour, won the 2015 Lovey Award for best first novel.

In Little Pretty Things, her forthcoming second novel, the Chicago writer gives us a most unusual investigator: a cart-pushing housekeeper and occasional desk clerk at a rundown cheap motel, the Mid-Night Inn. Juliet Townsend dropped out of college in her first year and went to work at the motel after her father suddenly died and her family’s finances quickly evaporated.

The author sets the scene quickly, with just enough seedy and telling detail. And she gets Juliet Townsend into trouble with the police fairly fast, as well. The housekeeper-desk clerk becomes the chief suspect in the death of a guest who could have easily afforded to stay in a fancier place, but wanted to see Juliet again just before their 10th high school reunion.

Madeline Bell and Juliet had been friends of sorts. Yet Maddy also had been Juliet’s main rival on the Midway, Indiana, high school track team. Maddy always ran faster and won the first-place trophies, while Juliet consistently finished second.

To prove her innocence and find Maddy’s killer, Juliet must somehow get ahead of someone else from her high school class, Courtney Howard, now a police officer who dislikes Juliet and seems determined to nail her for murder.

Available July 7, 2015, Little Pretty Things is an intriguing, entertaining mystery. It is rich with atmosphere, rich with some of the tense realities that people caught in deadend, low-wage jobs often have to face, and rich with desperate determination as Juliet begins her own investigation.

Si Dunn

The Obelisk and the Englishman: The Pioneering Discoveries of Egyptologist William Bankes – #biography #bookreview

 

The Obelisk and the Englishman: The Pioneering Discoveries of Egyptologist William Bankes

 

The Obelisk and the Englishman

The Pioneering Discoveries of Egyptologist William Bankes

Dorothy U. Seyler

Prometheus Books – hardback, Kindle

 

Early in the 19th century, a young Englishman repeatedly risked death and overcame numerous dangers as he sailed along the Nile River and journeyed into deserts, discovering and documenting important details about ancient Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

William John Bankes and his various crews dug away tons of sand from ruins, giant statues, and other artifacts of ancient cultures. Photography was still several decades in the future, so Bankes used the best available technologies of his time, including drawings and paintings, to create images of ruins, shrines, temple floor plans, and hieroglyphs found on walls and in pyramids. He sometimes dangled dangerously from ropes, as well, as he worked in high places to document details he could not decipher, yet knew were important.  On occasion, he even hired teams of artists to travel with him so he could record as many images as possible.

Once he returned to Great Britain after a few years of travels, he entered politics as his father had desired. He was elected twice to the House of Commons, and he maintained a friendship–and possibly more–with the poet Lord Byron, whom he had known since school days.

But Bankes soon found himself again facing death, this time at the hands of the English justice system. Homosexuality was punishable by imprisonment and execution in early 19th-century England, and Bankes was arrested twice on “unnatural behavior” charges that could have gotten him hanged. In his first trial, he was acquitted, thanks in part to testimony in his favor by the Duke of Wellington. Bankes’s second arrest, however, left him little choice but to flee England and go to France and then Italy, where he would pass away in 1855 at age 68.

Despite his great Egyptian discoveries, Bankes essentially died an outlaw from English justice. Yet, through an odd quirk in English law in force at the time, he had been able to return to England occasionally, as long as he was there only on a Sunday. Both from Italian exile and on quick trips back to his family home, Kingston Lacy, Bankes managed to add one more fascinating chapter to his life. He had become an expert on Italian art, and he began helping rework and remodel his English home in the style of an Italian villa, complete with many paintings and some works of sculpture. The home eventually was given to the National Trust in 1982 and, after “[s]ignificant conservation efforts,” was opened to the public.

Whether you know much about ancient Egypt or not, The Obelisk and the Englishman is a fascinating book about a fascinating explorer. It details his exploration methods and the lasting significance of the numerous discoveries and illustrations he made in the Nile region. And it takes readers inside his troubled life as he tried to find personal happiness within the very narrow confines of 19th-century British society.

“William lives on through his archeological work in both Egypt and Syria,” Dorothy U. Seyler writes in this well-researched, well-written biography of Bankes. “Of special value to Egyptologists are his drawings and notes on temples south of Aswan, since many of these temples were lost under the sand or the Nile waters. His discovery of the Abydos King List and his copies of the hieroglyphs contributed to the decoding of Egypt’s sacred language.”

Si Dunn

D3.js in Action: A good book packed with data visualization how-to info – #javascript #programming

D3.js in Action

Elijah Meeks

Manning – paperback

 

The D3.js library is very powerful, and it is full of useful choices and possibilities. But, you should not try to tackle Elijah Meeks’s new book if you are a JavaScript newcomer and not also comfortable with HTML, CSS and JSON.

It likewise helps to understand how CSVs (Comma Separated Values) can be used. And you should know how to set up and run local web servers on your computer. Prior knowledge of D3.js and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is not necessary, however.

Some reviewers have remarked on the amount of how-to and technical information packed into DS3.js in Action. It is indeed impressive. And, yes, it really can seem like concepts, details and examples are being squirted at you from a fire hose, particularly if you are attempting to race through the text. As Elijah Meeks writes, “[T]he focus of this book is on a more exhaustive explanation of key principles of the library.”

So plan to take your time. Tackle D3.js in small bites, using the d3js.org website and this text. I am pretty new to learning data visualization, and I definitely had never heard of visualizations such as Voronoi diagrams, nor tools such as TopoJSON, until I started working my way through this book. And those are just a few of the available possibilities.

I have not yet tried all of the code examples. But the ones I have tested have worked very well, and they have gotten me thinking about how I can adapt them to use in some of my work.

I am a bit disappointed that the book takes 40 pages to get to the requisite “Hello, world” examples. And once you arrive, the explanations likely will seem a bit murky and incomplete to some readers.

However, that is a minor complaint. D3.js in Action will get frequent use as I dig deeper into data visualization. D3.js and Elijah Meeks’s new book are keepers for the long-term in the big world of JavaScript.

Si Dunn

A new mystery from Terry Shames: ‘A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge’ – #bookreview #mystery

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge

Terry Shames

(Seventh Street – paperback, Kindle)

The title may be a bit too folksy and over the top for a few hard-core mystery lovers. But the Samuel Craddock investigative series by Terry Shames does an excellent job of capturing the sights, sounds, speech patterns, customs, mannerisms and values of many people in contemporary East Texas, an area of the state that identifies more closely with the Deep South than with the Wild West. And her central character, Samuel Craddock, is both a retired small-town police chief and someone people still quickly turn to for help when there’s trouble.

Even in bucolic East Texas, trouble is always brewing somewhere nearby. And, despite his age and a bad knee, Samuel Craddock can be counted on to try to help, whether it’s defusing bad-blood tensions between two people or two families or, central to each book, tracking down a killer. He knows many people and knows something of their histories. But he is frequently surprised by what happens within the undercurrents that flow through seemingly tranquil small towns and their surrounding countryside.

A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge is the fourth novel in Ms. Shames’s fast-expanding series. Her previous Samuel Craddock mystery,  Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, was published just six months ago (October, 2014). And it saw Craddock coming out of retirement to take over again, temporarily, as Jarrett Creek’s police chief.

In Deadly Affair, Craddock is still on the job from which he previously retired. And now he is having to go out of his jurisdiction to investigate a complicated case involving a death and a very close friend who isn’t telling him the whole truth about her background.

Terry Shames grew up in East Texas and knows how to make her fictionalized settings and characters come alive.  If you are looking for a new, different and engrossing investigator to follow, slow down, relax a bit and mosey along with Samuel Craddock as he sets out to solve yet another mysterious death.

Si Dunn