Review of Dodging Satan

Often, the best humor is found in tales with a real world basis, which is what you find in Dodging Satan by Kathleen Zamboni McCormick. Even though I’m not Catholic, I did attend a Lutheran school for much of my childhood and some of the events in the school scenes in the book rang all too true. (The scene where Bridget is given a guilt complex over eating too slow really did ring a bell.) Of course, school isn’t the focus of the book, Bridget is. Dodging Satan is a fictionalized autobiography that follows Bridget from about age 5 to about age 14. The book doesn’t follow a strict chronological flow, but uses short stories to tell Bridget’s tale (a format I really liked). Many of the stories started in the real world, but the author has changed names, embroidered the information a bit, and added the pizzazz that makes this book such a good read. Some things, like a time traveling St. Mary, really were part of the author’s life, but she tells the tale with humor, slightly askew of the real world events.

I’ve read many treatise on what makes for a good childhood—everything from upbringing to environment to recognizing a child’s gifts. However, Dodging Satan possibly brings up the most important element of all—a child’s imagination (although I doubt that it’s the author’s main goal to create a tale of child raising either). The book is funny because Bridget sees the world from a perspective that only a child who is trying to make sense of all of the conflicting inputs she’s receiving could possibly have. Trying to figure out how riding a bicycle can make one pregnant is just one of many conundrums that Bridget faces. There were times when I had tears rolling down my cheeks, such as when Bridget discovers the holy in the holy water. As you read the book, you see Bridget pondering various elements of Catholicism and I felt for her because I pondered at least a few of those same things as a Lutheran. (A fear that Satan was going to reach out and grab me was just one commonality.) It’s interesting to find that children commonly use all sorts of sources (religion in this case), often distorted, to explain the unexplained events in their lives.

The book does touch on a number of issues that were most definitely not talked about during my childhood, including abuse of various sorts and sexuality that we’re only now coming to grips with (for one thing, two of the aunts turned out to be lesbians). Some of these sections will most definitely make people uncomfortable, despite being told a bit tongue-in-cheek and with an eye toward a skewed version of the truth. It won’t surprise many people who grew up in poorer neighborhoods that abuse was, and still is, rampant. Bridget ends up coming to terms with these negatives in her life by inventing views that make them all seem plausible, if not entirely appropriate. The child view of these things is expertly written—in fact, this bit of writing is possibly the most fascinating part of the book because it really does present a significantly different perspective of events that shapes individuals and our country as a whole during the 60s and 70s (the book does avoid the use of dates because many of these issues are still taking place now). Bridget shows herself to be an amazing young lady because she does accept her lesbian aunts and comes to realize that they have a significant role to play in helping her come to terms with her own blossoming sexuality (not that Bridget becomes a lesbian, but I don’t want to give away the plot of the book either).

Is this a good book? Yes, I’m really glad I read it, but unlike many book covers, this one undersells the content. You will laugh, but you’ll also cry with Bridget a little and you’ll find yourself thinking about the odd events in your own childhood. In order to really get anything out of this book, you must be willing to step back and think about Bridget’s musings from an adult perspective. You see yourself when you were young from the perspective of having learned that the world really doesn’t involve things like time travel and no amount of imagination will make some things right. In short, if you’re looking for a good laugh and nothing else, then you probably won’t enjoy this book, but if you’re willing to give things a bit of thought, you’ll probably end up with more than you expected. Dodging Satan promises to be one of those books that will change you in ways you’ll never forget.

 

Review of Lost Hero of Cape Cod

The Lost Hero of Cape Cod by Vincent Miles revolves around the life of Asa Eldridge and, to a lesser extent, his bothers John and Oliver. The story takes place in that magic period when the age of sail is ending and the age of steam is beginning. The book is written in a narrative style is that really easy to read and understand. Yes, it includes dates, just as any historical book would contain, but the dates often come with relevant back stories that make them seem a lot easier to remember (or at least more interesting to learn about).

Unlike a lot of non-fiction books on history, this one is packed with all sorts of interesting graphics. You do find lots of pictures of ships, which goes without saying. However, the author thoughtfully includes all sorts of other graphics, such as newspaper clippings, pictures of the various characters, pictures of towns,  and even a series of log entries. The result is one of seeing as well as hearing the history the history that took place.

This is a book of fact, not trumped up fiction adorning itself as fact. The list of notes, bibliography, and illustration credits attest to the author’s diligence in learning as much as is possible about events at the time. Even so, the author makes it clear when the sources used are a bit dubious or incomplete. The facts, however, aren’t dry—they’re quite interesting. For example, I had never realized that anyone in their right mind would try shipping ice to India, yet it happened and this book tells you all about it. The manner in which the facts are presented provide a certain intrigue and excitement. You can actually feel the various groups vying for supremacy of the Atlantic and sneering at those who fail.

Most of the material revolves around the Atlantic and focuses on the established route between New York or Boston and Liverpool. However, you’re also treated to the round the world tour made by Cornelius Vanderbilt and his family (captained by Asa Eldridge, no less). Lost Hero of Cape Cod makes ample use of relatively long quotes to let the characters tell you what happened in their own words. Unfortunately, the quoted sections use a slightly smaller and lighter type that can make them a bit harder to read. Even so, you’ll want to read each quote because they’re all important.

About the only complaint that one could make about this outstanding book is that the author tends toward some repetition, especially near the end of the book. Part of the reason for repetition is that the book is topical, rather than chronological in nature. The repetition is easy to forgive, however, because the book is otherwise expertly written.

I’ve purposely left out some important facts that the book presents because I truly don’t want to ruin your reading experience. Let’s just say that Asa Eldridge is far more important as a historical character than you might initially think, yet he’s all but forgotten from the history books. Vincent Miles wants to overcome that oversight with this detailed account of Asa’s life that you’ll find completely immersive. If, like me, you like nautical history, then you really must get this book.

 

Review of Shields of PHLEGM

Everyone likes a good laugh and Shields of PHLEGM provides plenty of them. I’m a sucker for a good pun and this book uses them without letup or apology. The author, G. Ernest Smith, also uses satire to effectively poke fun at many of our societies woes without actually addressing any of them directly. No, what you’re left with is a good mystery that takes place sometime in the future when the earth is surrounded by satellites (so there is a science fiction element too). The book isn’t clear on the technology and it doesn’t need to be. The goal is to have a great time and it excels in this area. I actually had to set it down after the first couple of chapters because I ended up with stomach ache (be warned not to read this in a place where you don’t want others to hear you guffaw).

The plot does seem to meander a bit, but really, I didn’t mind. I came to enjoy the character parodies so much that the plot almost became secondary (it does have a good plot, by the way). A few of the jokes became a little old, but not terribly so. The fashion police made nearly constant appearances, which is how they’d probably act, so the behavior wasn’t annoying—it just got a little old. The odd clothing combinations the author came up with really are amazing though and it’s hard to imagine anyone actually dressing that way. Then again, when I see the attire worn by some individuals in public and on television, I must admit the book really isn’t that far off.

I absolutely loved the insulting tone of the smartass phones that made an appearance in the book and have to wonder when such a phone might make a real appearance. Given the things that people are willing to put up with now, I would imagine that this type of smartphone could become a fad at some point—who knows for certain? The fact is that nothing is out of bounds. It sort of reminds me of Blazing Saddles—the author makes fun of everything and everyone with equal punniness.

Some people could possibly take exception to a few bits of language in the book. There isn’t any actual swearing or off color material—at least, it isn’t spelled correctly. That said, you probably don’t want to share this book with anyone underage (not that it was meant for them anyway). This is the sort of book that an adult will enjoy greatly and it truly is adult material.

Is this a good book? Yes, if you like your comedy a bit on the unsophisticated side and really do want a good laugh, then you’ll enjoy this book immensely. Unlike many bits of comedy today, the author doesn’t have to rely on anything unsavory or employ potty humor to get your attention. This book does it the old fashioned way, by viewing the world from a slightly skewed perspective and employing visualizations that really do have you laughing because it’s funny—not because you’re embarrassed. That said, I think the use of a quad ram to act as law enforcement in training was truly inspired. I really do hope this author writes more because I plan to read it. The only real negative about this book is that it was too short—I don’t know that I’ve actually ever said that before.

 

Review of The Last Great Halloween

Nostalgia in all its forms presents us with a colored view of the past that is both wonderful and comforting. The Last Great Halloween is a Trudy McFarlan novel by Rootie Simms that reminds the reader of what it was like to be young in the 60s and 70s. Although the book seems to be written for youngsters, anyone who reads it knows that it’s really meant to let adults remember their childhoods once again. In fact, the idea is actually presented in the book in a manner that I found quite gracious—that Halloween parties for adults let them become children again for just a little while. I’d be surprised if the adults reading the books to their children didn’t end up spending an interesting afternoon or two reminiscing in a way that children actually find attractive. The book is about building bridges, even though it hides its goal in the clothing of historical fiction.

The writing style flows quite well and I quickly found myself caring about the characters—not just Trudy, but all of the children in the story because they all had a distinct role to play. The characters are quite believable, not by today’s standards, but by the standards of children from that time. The cares, concerns, activities, ventures, and prejudices are all firmly rooted in the time. It’s the issue of prejudice that some readers might find a bit off putting, but I found it quite true of the time. There weren’t any societies of the politically correct at the time—people tended to say and act upon what they really believed, right, wrong, or indifferent. For this reason alone, the book truly is more than good fiction, it’s also good history.

A good book entertains, a great book educates—this one does both. However, I found the discussion of sex education as it was presented in the past a little out of place during my first read. I still think the author could have potentially covered some other topic because the sex education incident never appears again and doesn’t actually add anything to the plot of the book. However, the girl’s view of sex education—a ham handed attempt that usually failed to meet its objective, worked well with the boy’s view that I remember from my school days. The incident does serve to remind those of us who grew up then that education of the time wasn’t everything we keep making it out to be. Even then, some things just weren’t covered very well (and sometimes not at all).

Other than the sex education scene (which you can easily skip if you’re easily offended), the book focuses on Trudy’s party. It doesn’t seem at first that a child’s party would make good fodder for a book, but Trudy is at that age where she’s not quite a child anymore and yet, not quite a teenager either—a tween by today’s reckoning. In addition, her friends add some interesting plot twists and the adults chime in to make matters even more complicated. The book is an incredibly interesting read and I can truly say that I didn’t put it down. I can’t often say that I get quite so immersed in a book. (It also helps that this book is a relatively short read.)

By the end of the book, everything is as it should be—Trudy’s party is an amazing success. Of course, you know that before you even turn the first page. It’s the journey that makes the difference in this book. Everything from collecting and turning pop bottles in to get a little extra cash, to the kinds of puzzles that kids gave away during the time are authentic. It’s a happy book. I finished it in a truly good mood.

Is this a good book or a great book? I feel it’s a great book because it does educate as well as entertain. The author has really done her homework about issues of the time—the political forces and upheaval that people faced during the time that we’d find incomprehensible today, all viewed from the perspective of an eleven year old who isn’t sure whether she really wants a party after all. The book does have a few flaws, but they’re easy to overlook because of the entertainment value the book provides. You do need to read the book with an open mind. This is historical fiction so the characters are products of their time. You can’t judge them by today’s standards.

 

Review of Jamie Collins’ Mystical Adventures: Ninelands

There aren’t as many gentle books today as young readers really need. Most of the books out there today seem determined to teach the young reader about all of the ills of life. In doing so, they often rob the child of his or her childhood. Jamie Collins’ Mystical Adventures: Ninelands (Volume 1) is a gentle story, meant to nourish the young reader’s creativity and provide good entertainment. It’s a delightful story that ties together many childhood characters: Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy. The idea is that all of these characters are elves and somehow associated with Ninelands. Santa actually appears twice in the book and the latter mention adds to the Santa Claus saga. It’s the kind of story that builds a little on what the reader already knows and then adds to it.

The book is theoretically targeted toward the middle school reader and probably hits the mark from a reading grade level. However, this really isn’t the sort of story a middle school reader would enjoy reading—it isn’t a Harry Potter type story (except that both stories involve the use of magic). For example, the protagonists never really go on any sort of adventure or do anything of note except to explore (with help the help of their mentor) this new place. Yes, there is an attack, but the Alvar patrol (the equivalent of the Ninelands military) thwarts the attack, so the characters really aren’t in any danger. Ninelands will appeal more to a younger, early grade school, reader. The manner in which the book is written, the topics discussed, and the overall tone will make a younger reader feel an almost parental comfort during the reading of the story. It’s a story that offers security—throughout the story the author describes the various security measures in place to keep the characters safe.

This is a fanciful book and exceptionally creative. Characters travel around on spoons and within beams of light. They have snake guardians and magic crystals for communication and other needs. Even though the descriptive text lags terribly for the first quarter of the book, the remainder of the book more than makes up for any deficit. A reader is immersed in a world of wonder—of plants that play games and cats that talk. The one glaring omission is a good description of the main character, Jamie. The book never tells the reader what Jamie looks like to any real degree, so it’s hard to draw a mental image of him.

There are also mentions of things that don’t really get used in the book. The problem is that they’re more distracting than helpful in moving the story along. For example, Jamie plays with a dough boy, but the dough boy is never explained and the reader is left wondering precisely how the dough boy comes into play. The dough boy simply is there, probably a product of magic, but the book never says that this is the case, even at the end when the dough boy makes another appearance. Introducing an object, such as the dough boy, should help move the story along in some way.

The children do make a couple of decisions on their own, such as exploring the attic. Still, everything is immersed in an authoritarian environment. Children are constantly reminded of the rules and they always agree to follow them. Little goes on of an adventurous sort and the well behaved children never really do anything on their own. It’s a world that a younger child would enjoy, but an older child would find constraining to an extreme. Even the clown-like mentor, Minkel, takes on an authoritarian air for much of the book (despite spending a considerable amount of time dancing, which also makes him hard to take seriously).

Believability is stretched a little when Mike and Abby, Jamie’s friends, are told they’ll perform a subordinate role to their friend and they simply accept it without so much as a groan. In fact, they seem quite delighted to help their friend. Younger children love to exist in this sort of world, where there is no selfishness and everyone agrees with everyone else. It’s a supportive kind of view that doesn’t exist in the real world. A book for a middle school reader would be more realistic—Mike and Abby would complain, at least a little, and Jamie would complain a bit more about having to allow his little sister, Megan, help.

Some elements of the book do become annoying. The children spend so much time giving high fives and thumbs up in some areas of the book that it’s hard to believe they get anything accomplished. There is nary a frown mentioned in the book, but people are constantly grinning, smiling, and laughing. It is an exceptionally supportive kind of a book, but in some regards, the author goes too far and it’s easy for the reader to become distracted. In some respects, the book needs to feel a little more natural—a little more like the real world—in order to be believable.

There are some areas of the book where there is also a lot of repetition. The plot slows down to a crawl and sometimes stops altogether. The children stop to gawk at some new attraction and Minkel tells them about it, even if the children haven’t asked anything yet. Then come the rules, more rules, and still more rules beyond that. The children always agree to follow the rules, even if they’ve heard the same rules for the tenth time. Again, it’s the sort of environment that a younger child would enjoy, but I can hear a middle school reader screaming in frustration at some points in the book.

Is Ninelands a good book? Actually, it’s a really good book if you’re in the lower grades of grade school and have someone to read it to you. The fanciful world is quite appealing and I can see younger children getting quite caught up in it. After the first quarter of the book, the level of description really is quite good and I can see it helping the younger reader create mental images of what this wonderful world must be like. I really like the fact that this book doesn’t repeat the same tired vistas found in many other books—there are surprises and new things to explore. It’s the sort of book that a younger child will want read more than once because you really can’t get everything out of the text with just one reading. If you have a younger reader, you really do want to explore Ninelands because it’s fascinating place to visit.

 

Review of Mastering VBA

A lot of people have asked about the next book to read after reading VBA for Dummies. Yes, the current 5th edition of VBA for Dummies still works fine as a starting point, even with issues such as dealing with the Ribbon to consider. In fact, you can find some great updates to VBA for Dummies on my blog. However, the fact of the matter is that readers have been asking for more, which is where Mastering VBA by Richard Mansfield comes into play. This is the next book you should get if you want to move on from what VBA for Dummies shows you to writing applications with greater functionality. For example, a lot of you have requested more information about creating forms and Chapters 13 through 15 will help you in this regard. Richard has done an outstanding job of moving you to the next step of creating the complex forms required for robust applications.

Another common request that Mastering VBA addresses is the need for security. While VBA for Dummies helps you understand the need for basic security, Mastering VBA takes the process several steps further and could help prevent breaches given the modern computing environment (one that didn’t exist when I wrote VBA for Dummies). Chapter 18 begins the process by emphasizing the need to build well-behaved code. After all, if your code doesn’t behave, there isn’t any set of security measures that will protect it from harm. Chapter 19 goes on to help you understand the essentials of good security, especially with all the modern threats that cause problems for developers today.

At 924 pages (versus 412 for VBA for Dummies), Richard is also able cover some topics in detail that would have been nice to have in my own book. Readers have complained about having to go online to view object model details for the various Office applications in my book. Mastering VBA provides coverage of the object model as part of the book so you can work through it without having to go anywhere else. It’s a convenience issue—readers really shouldn’t have to look for essentials like the object model online, but every author has to face space limitations when putting a book together. The object model material is spread out across the book, but there really isn’t any way to organize it so that it all appears together. This is one time when you’ll need to actually use the table of contents and index to find the material you need.

As with all the books in the Mastering series, this one has questions at the end of each chapter. These questions are designed to help you master the skills learned in the chapter. You find the answers for each of the questions in the back of the book. This makes Mastering VBA an excellent option for the classroom. More importantly, it gives you another way to learn the material in the book. The longer I write books, the more I come to realize that one or two methods of learning simply won’t do the job. This book usually provides three or four ways to learn each task, which means that you have a higher probability of actually mastering the material (as defined by the title).

For all of you who have been asking for the next book after VBA for Dummies, Mastering VBA is the one that gets my recommendation. Until I actually have time to write a book that specifically addresses the concerns in the reader e-mails I’ve received, this book is your best option. No, it doesn’t address every e-mail request that I’ve received, especially with regard to form creation, but it does answer a considerable number of them. Of course, I’ll look forward to your continued interest in my book and I hope you keep those e-mails coming my way!

 

Review of C# 5.0 Programmer’s Reference

A number of readers have asked me about the next book to get after reading one of my C# books, such as Start Here! Learn Microsoft Visual C# 2010 or C# Design and Development. Of course, it’s hard to recommend a next book unless you know where the reader is headed. After all, many of my books offer a starting point or deal with a specific area of interest. Based on the feedback I’ve received, in most cases, what the reader really wants is a compendium such as C# 5.0 Programmer’s Reference by Rod Stephens. This 918 page book is truly huge and contains a great deal of information within the pages between the covers.

The beginning of the book offers a different (and updated) perspective of what my books offer. It’s a starting point for your adventure in programming. Rod and I have complimentary writing styles, so if you didn’t quite pick up a concept in my book, Rod’s explanation will almost certainly make the difference for you. Most importantly, Rod’s book offers that latest updates for C# developers that my books can’t offer because they’ve been out for a while.

By the time you get to Part IV of the book, you’re moving away from the material that I offer into some more advanced programming topics. For example, I don’t really talk much about printing in my books. All of these topics are treated in greater depth than the material in my books—generally because I’m covering the topic at a level and in a manner that the less experienced developer will understand. So it’s essential not to skip these topics even if you’ve read about them before.

Part V is where this book really excels. I was especially taken with the chapter on parallel programming. Just about every machine on the planet provides multiple processors today, yet applications don’t use them nearly as often as they should, which results in wasted processing cycles and poor performance. Rod also provides an outstanding discussion of cryptography. If you’ve read the trade press recently, you know that securing data is becoming harder and harder, yet more important all the time.

Every chapter ends with a set of exercises. This makes the book invaluable in the classroom. An instructor can assign the book a bit at a time and have exercises ready to check the student’s comprehension of the material. Appendix A contains the answers for the exercises, so the answers are easy to check. It could be possible to create a student version of the book that lacks Appendix A so the instructor can check the student’s answers without worry about peeking.

What makes this book a compendium, a reference book, is the appendices in the back of the book. There is an appendix for nearly everything you can imagine. Do you need a quick refresher on data types? Well, you can find it in Appendix B. Appendix J will give you the quick scoop about Language INtegrated Query (LINQ). Look in Appendix T when you need to know more about regular expressions. The point is that the appendices make it easy to perform quick lookups when you’re in a hurry.

The bottom line is that if you need a book that will do more than just sit on your shelf, this is the one to get. You could easily use this book to get a great refresher on C# usage, an update on the new features provided by C# 5.0, a great classroom experience, and that reference book that you need later when you need to rediscover something under pressure.

 

Review of Essential Algorithms

Working in computer science means knowing how to work with computer languages, but it also means knowing how to use math to obtain the results you want. Some math is relatively straightforward, but some becomes so complicated that you really do need some type of process or procedure for working with it. Essential Algorithms by Rod Stephens, “defines steps for performing a task in a certain way.” The first chapter begins by defining what an algorithm is and moves on from there to show you how they can help improve your ability to write complex applications.

The examples are written in a pseudocode that the author explains in Chapter 1. In fact, the explanation is accompanied by some examples of how to turn the pseudocode into an actual programming language. I’m almost positive some readers will take exception to the use of pseudocode because it doesn’t relate the example in their specific programming language, which would make implementation of the code as easy as possible for the reader. In this case, the use of pseudocode is impossible to avoid because the book would be far less useful without it.

This text could easily be used in a college. Each chapter ends with exercises that help the reader understand the concepts better (or at least determine whether any of the material actually sunk in). The answers to the examples appear in an appendix at the end of the book. However, in a college setting it might be possible to create a student version of the book without the appendix and a teacher version that includes the answers. The author also uses many of the same examples that I used when I was a student in college, but with an emphasis on diagrams to pictorially show how the examples work. The addition of graphics makes the examples considerably easier to understand.

The early chapters discuss specific kinds of algorithms that are used in every programming language that exists. For example, the author tackles the topic of randomizing data and ensuring that the randomizing process is fair. Of course, getting truly random data on a computer is impossible, but it’s possible to create random sequences of such complexity that the average human would never notice they aren’t random. This book discusses the topic at a length that I wish the text I had used in college would have provided.

Don’t get the idea that Essential Algorithms is light on the computer science aspects of using algorithms. For example, you’ll find coverage of all the basic structures used by most languages: linked lists, arrays, stacks, and queues. I could have wished for coverage of dequeues because many languages modify dequeues to create stacks and queues. Understanding how this essential structure works would have been great.

There are separate chapters for sorting and searching. These two tasks are performed so often by applications that an in depth knowledge really is a necessity for any computer scientist. All the common sorts are covered in sufficient detail that the reader should understand them with relative ease: insertion, selection, bubble, heap, quick, and merge. In addition, you find the counting and bucket sorts (two types of sorts that are completely missing my my college text—I took the time to check). The list of searches are likewise complete: linear, binary, and interpolation.

The opening chapters are finished with chapters on hash tables and recursion. I thought the chapter on hash tables was a bit light and their use as dictionaries in languages such as Python is only mentioned in passing. The chapter on recursion was far better done. I found the material on the various kinds of curves: Koch, Hilbert, and Sierpinski, exceptional.

The middle of the book (starting with Chapter 10) is taken up with trees, networks, and strings. There should be enough material here for anyone who really wants to learn the information. The author seems to hit his stride in these chapters—they’re both interesting and well written.

The end of the book starts with cryptography in Chapter 16. It’s the part of the book that just about anyone will find helpful and it’s also the part that separates this book from being a mere college text and more of a reference book. The chapter on complexity theory is exceptionally nice. Even if you’re already an expert in other areas of this book, it’s likely that you’ll find some new ideas in this part of the book—enough ideas to make it well worth the purchase price.

Overall, Essential Algorithms is the text I wish I had when studying the topic in college and it’ll make a fine addition to my bookshelf. I’ll likely use it as a reference book when trying to understand how various programming languages are implementing a practical need, such as determining how to work with structures such as stacks. I don’t delve deeply into security issues very often, but I’m sure that material will see use as well. There are some holes in the book, but I wouldn’t consider them deal killers and could provide great fodder for the author in the form of articles and blog posts. This is a great book and one that you need on your shelf.

 

Getting Ready for the Crafting Months

I’m not quite ready to kick back and enjoy the wood stove yet, but I may be getting there. The wood pile is starting to look mighty nice and the cool evenings are definitely inviting. In a week or two, I imagine that we’ll need to start having evening fires and that’s when the crafting will begin. Of course, I participate in a number of crafts, but this winter I plan to focus on making some socks. Warm socks are a must have item during the cold winter months.

In Knitting for the Gentleman Farmer you see a pair of socks I made using my Knifty Knitter, but I’d like to do more. The socks I’ve made so far are more akin to slippers, than something you’d put on your feet before your shoes. So, I recently purchased Loom Knitting Socks: A Beginner’s Guide to Knitting Socks on a Loom with Over 50 Fun Projects (No-Needle Knits), which is a book designed for us who like to avoid needles because they’re a tad hard to handle. This book tells you quite a lot about making socks in just a few pages. For example, you discover how to size your socks properly so they don’t slide around on the wearer’s feet (as mine are prone to do).

The book uses looms of various sorts, one of which is the Knifty Knitter. I may end up getting a few other loom types, which wouldn’t bother me at all. It would be nice to create socks that I could wear anywhere with shoes and that simply isn’t possible using the Knifty Knitter. I’ll also have to get used to working with thinner yarn and possibly add a bit more light so I can actually see what I’m doing.

What I like best about this book is that the author takes time to demonstrate how you can create an amazing array of patterns using a loom. The Knifty Knitter instructions only show how to create a straight knit—nothing very fancy at all. I’ll be able to use the techniques I learn in this book to create nicer looking hats, blankets, and scarves as well (generally, I don’t make other items, even though I certainly could).

Unlike a lot of books on the market, this one provides realistic levels for each of the patterns. In addition, there is a nice mix of models (young, old, male, and female). It gets tiring to see books that feature all of the patterns being worn by a young woman. Seeing a guy wear some of the items is a nice change for me and will make me feel more comfortable giving those particular sock patterns to my male friends.

Now all I need is a full tea kettle and some of Rebecca’s amazing herbal teas. With the fire started, tea in hand, and some music playing, my Knifty Knitter (and other looms yet to be purchased) will see a lot of use this winter. I’ll provide updates on some of the other looms I try later in the winter.

 

Review of Math for the Zombie Apocalypse

Making learning fun is something every author struggles with and few authors achieve. Math for the Zombie Apocalypse is one of the few books out there that actually make a mundane topic like mathematics fun. The essential content of this book is the same as the content for any beginning math book you have ever read. There is no way to get around the requirement of having to learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. However, this book accomplishes its task with panache.

The reader is instantly engaged in a favorite topic of children today, avoiding zombies. Of course, it’s one thing to say that you want to avoid zombies, but it’s quite another to actually accomplish the task. Throughout the book, the reader is asked how he or she would prove their mettle against hoards of zombies roaming the land. The answer is to use math to figure out how to stay alive while less skilled acquaintances become zombies themselves.

Of course, the book is meant entirely in fun. The humor is grand and of the sort that children will enjoy immensely. However, the result of reading the book is that a child sees a useful purpose in learning math—even though this purpose is quite fictional in nature. Most math books out there are dry, humorless tomes filled with mind numbing repetition that will lull the most stalwart child to sleep. There is no reason that a child can’t learn new skills in a fun-filled environment. Before the reader realizes it, he or she has learned new and useful skills.

Fortunately, this isn’t the only book the author intends to write. You’ll want to wait to see the new additions to the for the Apocalypse series, but for now, make sure you check out Math for the Zombie Apocalypse, especially if you have a child that is having a hard time learning the basics. This is the sort of book that I wish had been available when I was growing up and one that I hope others see as being a valuable way to get kids interested in an essential topic. The press, teachers, parents, and even a few students complain about the low scores children achieve in basic math today, but this book does something about the problem.