The Guise of Another: A gripping thriller with a dark soul – #fiction #bookreview



The Guise of Another

Allen Eskens

Seventh Street Books – paperback, Kindle, Audio Book

This engrossing, exciting new detective thriller by Minnesota novelist Allen Eskens has many startling twists and turns. It also has a dark soul.

Under suspicion of corruption, Minneapolis police detective Alexander “Festus” Rupert has been reassigned to the Frauds Unit–definitely a demotion for a Medal of Valor winner who has solved murders and saved lives. To add to his humiliation, he has been cast into a basement office in City Hall. Essentially, he now has nowhere to go except up. Or possibly to jail.

When he starts investigating the false identity of someone who died in a car crash, he finds himself edging into a much bigger case, one that may help him resurrect his shattered law-enforcement career.

The case soon becomes even bigger than he imagined. And Rupert gets on the trail of people who can be both deceitful and deadly while hardly blinking an eye.

Allen Eskens’ first novel, The Life We Bury , won numerous awards and accolades in 2014 and early 2015. In The Guise of Another, Eskens and Seventh Street Books have another well-written winner on their hands.

Si Dunn


Agile Metrics in Action: A good how-to guide to getting better performance measurements – #programming #bookreview

Agile Metrics in Action

Christopher W. H. Davis


In the rapidly changing world of software development, metrics “represent the data you can get from your application lifecycle as it applies to the performance of software development teams,” Christopher W. H. Davis writes in his well-written, well-structured new book, Agile Metrics in Action.

“A metric can come from a single data source or it can be a combination of data from multiple data sources. Any data point that you track eventually becomes a metric that you can use to measure your team’s performance.”

The goals of agile metrics include collecting and analyzing data from almost every useful and accessible point in the software development life cycle, so team and individual performances can be measured and improved, and processes can be streamlined.

A key aspect of the data collection and analysis process is distributing the resulting information “across the organization in such a way that everyone can get the data they care about at a glance,” Davis says. He explains how and highlights some “traps” that teams can “fall into when they start publishing metrics,” such as “[s]ending all the data to all stakeholders,” many of whom won’t know what to do with most of it.

Metrics remain a controversial topic for many software developers, Davis emphasizes. So any business leader planning to rush his or her company into adopting agile metrics will need to proceed cautiously, instead. It is vital to get buy-in first from developers and their managers, he says.

“There will likely be people in your group who want nothing to do with measuring their work,” he explains. “Usually this stems from the fear of the unknown, fear of Big Brother, or a lack of control. The whole point here is that teams should measure themselves, not have some external person or system tell them what’s good and bad. And who doesn’t want to get better? No one is perfect—we all have a lot to learn and we can always improve.”

The concept of continuous development is a key topic in this book. “In today’s digital world consumers expect the software they interact with every day to continuously improve,” Davis states. “Mobile devices and web interfaces are ubiquitous and are evolving so rapidly that the average consumer of data expects interfaces to continually be updated and improved. To be able to provide your consumers the most competitive products, the development world has adapted by designing deployment systems that continuously integrate, test, and deploy changes. When used to their full potential, continuous practices allow development teams to hone their consumer’s experience multiple times per day.”

Of course, continuous development produces continuous data to measure and manage, as well, using agile metrics techniques.

Many different topics are addressed effectively in this book. And the practices the author presents are organized to work with any development process or tool stack. However, the software tools Davis favors for this book’s code-based examples include Grails, Groovy and MongoDB.

Agile Metrics in Action is structured and written to serve as a how-to book for virtually anyone associated with a software development team that relies on agile metrics. You may not understand all of the text. But if you take your time with this well-illustrated book, you can at least gain a better comprehension of what agile metrics means, how the process works, and why it is important to your employer, your group and your paycheck.

Si Dunn

‘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