Review: “No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin …” By Molly Knight Raskin

Via NetGalley, I received a copy of this galley from Perseus Books Group / Da Capo Press. While I received it at no cost to myself, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

That said, I loved loved loved this book.

I imagine that most people outside of computer geekdom are probably not familiar with Danny Lewin or Akamai Technologies. But if you enjoy quick-loading websites with video streaming that doesn’t constantly lag, or if you are able to hit CNN and get regular updates when a huge breaking story hits, then you have Lewin to thank.

The story starts with Lewin as a gifted teenager, raised in a Jewish family. While he is in high school, Lewin’s family moves to Israel, where Lewin finishes his secondary education. Following high school, he tries out and qualifies for the most elite group in the Israeli special forces. The experiences he gains serves him well throughout his life, especially in the tenacity, determination and endurance necessary to excel.

Eventually Lewin takes a leave from the military to follow his educational dream: a post-graduate stint at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There Lewin finds an advisor and mentor in Tom Leighton, one of his instructors at MIT. Lewin is quickly identified as someone who has a lot of potential and ability, and people begin expecting great things from Lewin.

The roots of Akamai Technologies began when Lewin wanted to enter a contest at MIT for startup business ideas, primarily because he and his family desperately needed the cash prize to survive. Lewin’s concept was to tackle a huge issue on the Internet at that time: speed of delivery for content. When something became suddenly popular or breaking news hit the web, servers often buckled and crashed under the load. Lewin’s idea was simple in concept: devise a set of algorithms to distribute the load to cached copies of popular websites located on servers spread out over the country and, eventually, the world.

There begins the majority of the story, talking about how Akamai came to be, their meteoric rise and eventual leveling out with the crash on NASDAQ.

The book also covers Lewin’s eventual death, likely as the first victim of 9/11. Based on reports from flight attendants during the initial part of the hijacking of the first plane, Lewin was killed trying to stop one of the hijackers.

Which of course, leads to one of the big questions in the book: Can Akamai handle the huge media crush during and following 9/11, especially when they are still coming to grips with the loss of one of their founders?

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was even more enjoyable because I’m not only a math geek, I’ve been involved in computers since I was nine (more than 35 years). But even if that wasn’t the case, it was still a great story about a young man who who driven from his teenage years to make a difference, which he certainly did in his 31 years.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Food & Wine Best Of The Best For 2012” By Food & Wine Magazine

I always feel a little guilty reviewing a cookbook produced by the same folks who produce a magazine I subscribe to, in this case, Food & Wine. After all, if I like the subscription enough to continue it, the odds are pretty good I’ll like a cookbook produced by the same publisher.

However, this is a little bit different, and it makes all the difference in the world. This cookbook is a collection of recipes from what Food & Wine determined to be the 25 best cookbooks of 2012. Not only does this give me some outstanding recipes, I get a free glimpse into 25 cookbooks to see if they are of interest to me.

Certainly, not all the cookbooks included here are down my alley, but the vast majority are, perhaps 20 of them. Those 20 have definitely been added to my To-Read list, and I hope to be able to track them down and add them to my collection.

Alright, on to the review of the book itself. It’s essentially ordered in a way that each included cookbook has a title page giving some details about the cookbook and its author(s). This is followed by several recipes from that cookbook. Each group is peppered with several high quality photos showing what the completed dish should look like. For amateur cooks like myself, this is essential. While my finished product may not be five-star restaurant worthy, at least it should resemble the picture in the book. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.

Needless to say, this collection contains recipes from across the menu: appetizers, drinks, entrées, desserts, etc. There are also many cuisines represented, which is wonderful for me since I love all cuisines I’ve tried. Certainly I have favorites, but I have found something of interest in all I’ve tried.

So what recipes are represented? Try some of these on for size:

  • Chicken Paillards With Pancetta & Sage
  • Shrimp Curry
  • Salt-Massaged Cucumber With Miso & Sesame
  • Spareribs With Italian Plum Glaze
  • Grapefruit Tea Cake
  • Tomato & Almond Tarts
  • Jicama Sticks With Chile & Lime
  • Banana Buckwheat Bundt Cake

And those are just the ones that really caught my immediate interest. There are many other wonderful recipes I hope to try and, of course, eventually get the cookbooks from which they originated.  Hungry yet?

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Outside The Pale: Architecture Of Fay Jones” By Department Of Arkansas Heritage

In the midst of the review copies I’ve agreed to read, I have to throw in the occasional “want to” book. This is one such book.

I became fascinated by the architecture of Fay Jones following my wedding in the Mildred B. Cooper Chapel in Bella Vista, Arkansas. Later, I learned of the Thorncrown Chapel near Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and many other projects of Jones’s.

This book is a fascinating collection of pictures and drawings from not just the chapels above, but other buildings, both public and private, which were created by Fay Jones. There is also a fair amount of history behind Jones and how he got started in architecture.

Overall, it was a light, fun read with lots of pictures, which makes it sound like a children’s book 🙂 But in reality, it shows the creativity and genius Jones has displayed through many of his creations. I’m not sure people fully appreciate the works he has created.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Abominable Science!” By Daniel Loxton & Donald R. Prothero

I received a copy of this book from Columbia University Press via NetGalley. While it was provided at no expense to myself, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

First and foremost, if you are looking for a book that is going to verify your beliefs in all things cryptozoology, you are going to be disappointed.

This book actually takes the opposite tack. It takes scientific principles and applies them to the study of and hunt for various cryptids. The authors basically alternate chapters, each doing their part to tackle the specific topic at hand.

They do spend a lot of time at the very beginning talking about what is and isn’t good science and who is and isn’t qualified to be an expert in subjects related to cryptozoology. Just because someone has a PhD in science doesn’t mean they’re qualified, especially if the specialization is in chemistry, not zoology, etc.

But their biggest argument seems to be the strongest one: Show Me The Body. Surely, in our ever expanding world, where the population is increasing and places where these famous cryptids can hide are diminishing, surely someone would have found proof of Bigfoot, Yeti, Nessie, etc. Add in advanced scientific understanding and technology, and it seems even more likely.

Once the authors tackle the foundation of research, they go into details with several famous crytpids, talking about various claims throughout the years and debunking them via scientific principles. That was actually more interesting to me than the introductory chapters, as I learned more about the legends behind these famous mythical creatures.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, although it was pretty dry in places. There was also a general overtone of superiority over those who believe in cryptids, which got to be a little overbearing at times, but I understand that was the point of the book.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: “The New Way To Cook Light” By Cooking Light Magazine

As a subscriber to Cooking Light Magazine, I will admit I’m probably predisposed to liking this book. But at the same time, I have an expectation of standards that needed to be met. That said, this book will be a wonderful addition to my collection.

One of the things I have always liked about the magazine is the creativity applied to the recipes. You aren’t stuck with just vegetarian recipes that have no flavor or oomph to them. That creativity certainly applies to this collection of recipes.

I didn’t dig through the issues I have on hand, but several of the recipes seemed familiar. While that might be an issue for some, I certainly don’t mind. I’m all for trying to consolidate the best recipes into a single location.

Like many cookbooks, this one is broken down into sections based on the type of recipe: appetizers, meats, poultry, pasta and pizza, desserts, etc. However, check out some of the recipes:

  • Thai Chicken Salad With Peanut Dressing
  • Cajun Steak Frites With Kale
  • Slow-Cooker Char Siu Pork Roast
  • Walnut And Rosemary Oven Fried Chicken
  • Cauliflower With Garlicky Panko
  • Chicken Parmesan Burgers
  • Crab Bisque
  • Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake
  • Bourbon-Caramel Truffles

Yeah, you get the idea. Not your average Good For You recipes for sure.

Bottom line is, if you’re familiar with the magazine, this book will seem very familiar to you. If not, it will still become a valuable addition to your culinary library. Who knows, it might even lead you to a subscription to the magazine. I know mine has been well worth the cost.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Murder In Room 103” By Harriet Ryan

Woo hoo! Two non-review request reads in a row! 🙂

Considering this book was published in 2006 and covers a murder committed in 2001, why did I pick it up? Several reasons, really.

First and foremost, my study of taekwond-do has led to have a great appreciation for Korean culture. This book, being the story of an American exchange student killed in South Korea, was perfect for feeding the knowledge horse.

Second, I have always loved true crime books. They are very fascinating to me, especially since I’ve long been interested in abnormal psychology (serial killers too, although that’s unrelated to this book).

Finally, it was cheap on AbeBooks. So. Why not? 🙂

OK, on to the review, finally.

Early in the morning following St. Patrick’s Day 2001, Jamie Penich, an exchange student from Derry, Pennsylvania, who was studying in South Korea, was brutally murdered. Based on the evidence, Penich was stomped to death by someone wearing boots. Although she was found naked, no sexual assault was suspected.

In the United States, the discovery of such a scene would have seen a bevy of specialists descend on the isolated and uncompromised crime scene. They would catalog in individual sealed baggies or specimens, every hair, fiber, blood splatter, etc. Photos would be made of the entire scene before anything was so much as touched or moved.

Anyone involved or suspected would have been quarantined, their clothes gathered up and likewise cataloged so they could be analyzed. Statements would have been taken from all of them, and their movements would have been limited until the police were sure someone was or was not a suspect.

Not so for South Korea in 2001. Although they have made great strides since then, their process at the time was lacking. All clothing was thrown into a single bag. Penich’s body was moved in an attempt to identify her based on a tattoo on her back, before her body position had even been photographed. In order to study the crime scene, her body was wrapped in a sheet and moved to another room, basically preventing some spit on Penich’s chest from ever undergoing DNA analysis. Their methods of basing so much on blood type rather than DNA analysis, caused the destruction of several blood samples as the process of typing the blood destroys the sample. Blood type alone, as opposed to DNA evidence, isn’t enough to convincingly identify a perpetrator. They even had policemen tracking blood throughout the scene, contaminating what might have been a perpetrator’s footprints with their own.

With that as the backdrop, the story continues as investigators make their way through American soldiers at a local base, the other exchange students in the group, and other suspects. Eye witnesses are unreliable and inconsistent. The investigation just basically blindly plods along with lack of hard evidence being their biggest shortcoming.

So the investigation falters until Kenzi Snider, a friend of Penich’s for the brief two weeks they were both exchange students in South Korea, is charged with the crime over 18 months later, while she’s a student at Marshall University in West Virginia.

However, charging her with the crime isn’t a slam dunk conviction, as those involved eventually learn. If you’re not familiar with the case, you’ll just have to read the book to see where it goes from there.

One of the things I really liked about this book is Ryan’s delving into the principles’ pasts, presents, and what led them to be who and where they were at the time of the crime. It’s very humanized, very personal. You can feel the pain the Penich’s suffered following the loss of their daughter. You can feel the struggles of the investigative team. You can feel the anguish and uncertainty felt by Snider’s family as they go through the accusations and legal processes.

It also highlights the strong cultural differences between South Korea and the United States. While it’s easy enough to point at the trial process for Snider following her extradition to South Korea and say it’s wrong, Ryan does a good job of explaining why those differences exist. I even learned something new about how prisoners have color-coded tags and jumpsuits so you can tell at a glance if they’ve been convicted or are merely accused and awaiting trial, as well as be able to tell what type of crime (assault, extortion, murder, etc.) the prisoner is accused of.

I really enjoyed the book, without a doubt. Very in-depth and balanced, it doesn’t try to paint the author’s perspective of what she believes really happened.

As a homework assignment for those of you who complete the book, make a note to do some Googling to see what happened legally since the book’s publication. Where this book ends is hardly the end of the story.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “124 NICU Days: A Preemie Tale Of Love, Loss, And Healing” By Ryan Rhodes

For those of y’all who follow my blog regularly, I don’t always post reviews of books I received from authors or publishers. While I don’t offer to review anything that I wouldn’t want to purchase or read in the first place, it’s not my sole source of reading material. Occasionally I do get to work through a book that is of interest to me, something I purchased from Amazon the old-fashioned way.

Such is this wonderful memoir, written loosely in journal format. Ryan Rhodes and his wife (does he ever give her name? I only remember her being referred to as “my wife”) have a long struggle in front of them when their twins are taken by C-section at only 23 weeks gestation. Thus begins a long journey in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), which sees the death of their infant son Finn at only three days old as well as the challenges facing Finn’s surviving womb-mate, Zoey.

Rhodes, who happens to be a freelance writer, handles the story in a very loose, informal, relaxed manner. As I noted, it’s in journal format, so there are times it’s very detailed and other times it’s more sleep deprivation-induced stream of consciousness. But through it all, Rhodes remains honest about himself, his wife, what’s going on with Zoey, and even their struggles to keep life with their toddler Aiden as normal as possible.

Zoey’s 124 days in NICU are, as expected, up and down. Each day is spent wondering what else could possibly go wrong, while celebrating the most minute advances. Rhodes does an outstanding job of giving the details as they occur, when he remembers or is able to write, while putting a humorous spin on much of his observations. At the core, though, is a very honest and heartfelt look at life in NICU from a father’s perspective, which is unfortunately all too uncommon.

As the father of a son (now twenty) who spent a couple weeks in NICU, so much of this book was very familiar. The emotions, the struggles, the setbacks, the celebrations, it all touched an emotional nerve. And because of that, I know it’s true and from the heart. Kudos, Mr. Rhodes.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)