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.


Reviews, Darned Reviews, and Statistics

A friend recently pointed me toward an article entitled, “Users who post ‘fake’ Amazon reviews could end up in court.” I’ve known for a long time that some authors do pay to get positive reviews for their books posted. In fact, some authors stoop to paying for negative reviews of competing works as well. Even though the actual technique used for cheating on reviews has changed, falsifying reviews is an age old problem. As the Romans might have said, caveat lector (let the reader beware). If there is a way to cheat at something, someone will most certainly find it and use it to gain a competitive advantage. Amazon and other online stores are quite probably fighting a losing battle, much as RIAA has in trying to get people to actually purchase their music (see Odd Fallout of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for a discussion of the ramifications of IP theft). The point is that some of those reviews you’ve been reading are written by people who are paid to provide either a glowing review of the owner’s product or lambaste a competitor’s product.

Of course, it’s important to understand the reasoning behind the publication of false reviews. The obvious reason is to gain endorsements that will likely result in better sales. However, that reason is actually too simple. At the bottom of everything is the use of statistics for all sorts of purposes today, including the ordering of items on sales sites. In many cases, the art of selling comes down to being the first seller on the list and having a price low enough that it’s not worth looking at the competitors. Consequently, sales often hinge on getting good statistics, rather than producing a good product. False reviews help achieve that goal.

I’ve spent a good deal of time emphasizing the true role of reviews in making a purchase. A review, any review you read, even mine, is someone’s opinion. When someone’s opinion tends to match your own, then reading the review could help you make a good buying decision. Likewise, if you know that someone’s opinion tends to run counter to your own, then a product they didn’t like may be just what you want. Reviews are useful decision making tools when viewed in the proper light. It’s important not to let a review blind you to what the reviewer is saying or to the benefits and costs of obtaining particular products.

Ferreting out false reviews can be hard, but it’s possible to weed out many of them. Reviews that seem too good or too dire to be true, probably are fakes. Few products get everything right. Likewise, even fewer products get everything wrong. Someone produces a product in the hope of making sales, so creating one that is so horrid as to be completely useless is rare (it does happen though and there are legal measures in place to deal with these incidences).

Looking for details in the review, as well as information that is likely false is also important. Some people will write a review without ever having actually used the product. You can’t review a product that you haven’t tried. When you read a review here, you can be sure that I’ve tried out every feature (unless otherwise noted). Of course, I’m also not running a test lab, so my opinion is based on my product usage—you might use the product in a different manner or in a different environment (always read the review thoroughly).

As you look for potential products to buy online, remember to take those reviews with a grain of salt. Look for reviews that are obviously false and ignore them. Make up your own mind based on experiences you’ve had with the vendor in the past or with similar products. Reviews don’t reduce your need to remain diligent in making smart purchases. Remember those Romans of old, caveat lector!


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!


Update on Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm

A number of months ago I posted Review of Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm. Since that time, I’ve had a number of reader queries for additional information. Many people want to know what sort of environment I’m using the Guardline Wireless Driveway Alarm in. I live in a rural setting in a cold weather climate. Yes, I do have to deal with some amount of traffic, but nothing like a busy street in the city. However, my road does see a fair number of trucks, along with tractors and even Amish buggies. As far as I know, none of the animals in this area seem to be attracted to the sensor and there isn’t any evidence of attack on them.

I can’t really tell you how long the batteries last in the sensors yet. I’m still waiting for the first set of batteries to fail. So, the batteries will last at least seven months. If the batteries are still good in July, I plan to replace them anyway, just to keep trouble at bay. Replacing the batteries in summer seems like it would be easier than in the frigid winter. Let’s just say that the batteries last a long time if you use good batteries. I used Duracell batteries in my setup—your battery life will likely differ from mine.

About the only maintenance issue I’ve had so far is that the sensor near the road requires adjustment from time-to-time. I’m not sure whether the wind, the traffic, or some combination of both is to blame, but the sensor does require occasional adjustment. So far, I’ve needed to adjust the sensor twice, so it’s not all that often. The sensor mounted near my house hasn’t ever required adjustment. If you start noticing a number of false alarms, the problem could rest solely with a needed sensor adjustment.

I do get an occasional false alarm. Sometimes birds will fly just right and trip the sensor. A deer once stood at the right spot to trip the sensor. The snow plow has tripped the sensor once or twice. I’m still seeing just one or two false alarms per week. Some weeks go by and I don’t receive any false alarms at all. It all seems dependent on just what’s in the area and the weather conditions at the time. Higher winds seem to make it more likely that I’ll get a false alarm.

This product still seems to work better than any unit I tried in the past. Even with the degradation that will occur over time, I imagine I’ll get a long lifespan from it and plan to buy additional sensors at some point. I still stand by the statements that I mad in my earlier product review. Thank you so much for the input you’ve provided to date!


Create Your Own Solar System!

Educational games can be fun and addicting, and still teach you something. Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) has presented a new game called Super Planet Crash. The game is interesting because it’s a lot harder than you might think to create a planetary system that will actually last 500 years. Considering that some planetary systems last a whole lot longer than that, you gain an appreciation for the delicate balance that is being maintained by the various gravitational bodies. So far, the longest my solar system has lasted is 312 years. Let’s hope no one is counting on me to create something lasting!

The game is actually quite simple. You select a gravitational body from the list and put it in place in the solar system. The body then starts to rotate using all the laws of physics we now know. If it doesn’t manage to crash into anything, you have a lasting solar system. The game awards extra points for things like planets in habitable zones. The reason the game is so addicting is that there are infinite possibilities and only a few of them really will last the full 500 years. Trying out the various combinations helps you understand planetary physics better, but it’s just fun seeing the various bodies rotate around their sun as well.

I’m sure that more than a few adults will play the game given that APOD is frequented by people with a need to know about the solar system. However, I can see kids getting quite addicted to the game and that’s really a good thing. The more we can interest kids in science, the better the outcome for education and our society as a whole. After all, many of the people who excel in science today were motivated by writers, artists, and dreamers of the past. Getting kids interested in science is essential for the future health of our society as a whole and I see games like Super Planet Crash as one way to do it.

Whether you like the game because it’s fun or educational, you’ll have to admit that it’s quite addicting. If you need a quick fix for the midday boredom that seems to overtake us all, check this game out.


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.