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Corn, Cotton and Chocolate: How the Maya Changed the World

Corn, Cotton and Chocolate: How the Maya Changed the World by James O’Kon PE

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Stainer

Stainer: A Novel of the ‘Me Decade’ by Iolanthe Woulff

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No Surrender: Faith, Family and Finding Your Way by Patrick Bisher with Jon Land

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Timeless Travels

Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor, and Enchantment by Joseph Rotenberg

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Mock My Words

Mock My Words by Chandra Shekhar

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Corn, Cotton and Chocolate: How the Maya Changed the World by James O’Kon PE

Reviewed by Ray Palen

Corn, Cotton and ChocolateNo civilization in the history of our planet existed longer than the ancient Mayans. The historic period that they were at the forefront of lasted for 3500 years. This is an unheard of figure and, arguably, one which will never be beat. This civilization reigned from roughly 2500 B.C. to 900 A.D. However, most of what they achieved went all but unnoticed. There was no written or oral news to traverse the globe to describe their exploits and the impact they had on the planet and the rest of mankind. In essence, they were the ‘phantoms of history’.

CORN, COTTON AND CHOCOLATE: HOW THE MAYA CHANGED THE WORLD looks like a textbook, something you might have to purchase for your Social Studies class. It could also be a highly quoted text to aid in your term paper or thesis research. Sounds like some pretty dry stuff, huh? I am happy to say that in the hands of author James O’Kon, this eye-opening work was never short on surprises and could gladly hold the interest of any intelligent person seeking to learn more about perhaps the most influential civilization of all-time.

Rather than a straight chapter by chapter review I thought I would make things more interesting.

10 Things The World Can Thank The Mayans For

1. The Mayans were Cosmic Philosophers. They always considered themselves sky watchers and this need to understand the universe above and around us made them the earliest known astronomers. They were able to gain an uncanny knowledge of the harmonious composition of the cosmos. Yes, well before Carl Sagan!

2. They were the greatest agronomists in word history. They made famous the term cultivar. Not just an assemblage of plants or flowers but a natural process honed through careful cultivation. They can thank Columbus for spreading the word around his global journeys about the original ‘flower power’ people.

3. The invention of the number zero. This is nothing to laugh at (no pun intended). Mathematicians have proclaimed that one of the singular accomplishments of the human era, and the greatest intellectual feat of the Maya, was the number zero. This was a culture that was so introspective and intelligent that they were actually able to grasp the concept of something having no value — but still making it the starting point for numerical sequences!

4. Maize. Long thought to be a Native American find, Maize or as we more commonly refer to it — corn — was brought about due to sophisticated cultivation of high yielding grain. Some have called it the Maya’s greatest invention. They were eons ahead of the trend of genetic manipulation in creating food products — particularly, one in which people today cannot go to the movies without enjoying the ‘hot air-popped’ version of Maize.

5. The avocado. The fruit botanically known as Persea americana has grown in popularity in recent years due to its’ health benefits. This tropical delight is the central ingredient in the beloved Guacamole Dip. The Mayans cultivated Avocado trees whose origins may stretch back to the Cenozoic Era.

6. The Cassava and how it changed the way the world is fed. Cassava root was also mass cultivated by the Mayans and the ‘bread of the tropics’ took off in many different cultures throughout the world. This great source of carbohydrates stands behind only sugarcane and sugar beets in that category.

7. Bubble Gum. O’Kon talks about the mass-produced sticks of hard gum that used to accompany every package of baseball cards (long before collectors scoffed at the practice as lowering their value). We can thank the Mayans who took Chicle or the sap of the sapodilla tree and turned it into a substance to be chewed and enjoyed. Not sure if they actually blew bubbles with it or not…

8. Chocolate/Cocoa. Many of us, particularly the ladies, have a very personal relationship with chocolate. Can you imagine Valentine’s Day or Easter without it? It was the Mayans love affair with chocolate and cocoa in general, four millennia ago, that made this the treat of choice. Yes, they even made a warm, frothy beverage from it!

9. Cotton. This has long been attributed to the great cotton plantations of the southern United States. However, it was once again the expert cultivation of the wild cotton plant that turned this into the world’s most valuable and productive vegetable fiber. It also makes for some really smooth and breathable fabric for clothing.

10. Tobacco. Cigarette and cigar smoking, along with the second-hand smoke they produce, may be taboo in recent years due to the adverse health conditions they can cause. That being said, it is impossible to not recognize how every civilization has been touched by tobacco — from Native American peace pipes to the Marlboro Man. Again, the Mayans cultivation of Nicotiana paved the way for a vice that has been enjoyed by every civilization that followed them.

This just scratches the surface on all the terrific research James O’Kon applied to this text. A fun and interesting read. More importantly, you can feel O’Kon’s enthusiasm for the subject in every paragraph and that also elevates it far above your average textbook.

Stainer: A Novel of the ‘Me Decade’ by Iolanthe Woulff

Reviewed by Chris Phillips

StainerHow many friends can a freshly 21-year old Jewish man make in a few days or at least in a few months? Benjamin Steiner is just such a person. He has just turned twenty-one, and he is a junior at Columbia. He lives in a Jewish hostel-type building with several others. The building, Rabbi Yitzhak Teller Memorial Residence Hall, is a converted abandoned building that houses Jewish scholars from Columbia. It is known as Beit Yitzhak or “B.” This is the focal point for much of the action here, but don’t believe for a minute that young Ben, embarking on his 21st birthday celebration, is going to be hampered by old traditions. Tonight is the time to get experience that has been denied him so far in life.

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The story begins as Ben journeys to the “B” for the party that comes at the end of finals week. It is the highlight of the “B’s” season and one where Ben hopes to at least meet an attractive girl before the end of this birthday evening.
In a strangely prescient encounter, Ben meets a street evangelist with a sign, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap, Galatians 6:7.” This night is going to be one of Ben’s most memorable.

So comes the party. Ben is an active participant and anxious to see what new people might show up. This fateful night, Ben meets two very particular people. Rebecca Glaser is the girl of his dreams that comes to the party and eventually moves into the “B.” P.T. Deighland is the friend of a younger brother of a resident at the “B.” This explains the major thrust of the story.
The tale starts slowly but actually builds through the slowness into an in-depth analysis of a young man messing up his life in celebrating his 21st birthday.

Things keep getting worse and worse. There are times when Ben looks like he is destined to become another statistic but always a redeeming factor brings him back.

No Surrender: Faith, Family and Finding Your Way by Patrick Bisher with Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

No SurrenderAfter 40+ books, writing about heroes is nothing new for Jon Land. What is new for him is writing about an actual warrior, instead of a fictional one, which is exactly the point of No Surrender and then some. This wondrously written tale, chronicling the improbable route Navy SEAL Patrick Bisher followed in becoming a true American hero, rings true as an inspirational catharsis of rare depth and pathos.

No Surrender is subtitled Faith, Family and Finding Your Way for a reason: Because that’s exactly what Patrick discovered were the true keys to surmounting obstacles life kept throwing in his way. He was only nine when doctors told him he’d likely never walk again due to a congenital hip condition, but you wouldn’t know that from his performance through Navy SEAL BUD/S training. Nor would you know that his decorated service in Iraq was performed with an artificial hip made necessary when a parachuting accident threatened to waylay Patrick’s dream yet again.

Those BUD/S chapters are among the finest I’ve ever encountered as a backdrop to military training, but this is no standard military tome, despite a sequence set amid Patrick’s deployment to Iraq. It’s a memoir rooted in Patrick finding his faith when he’d lost everything else and how that faith, along with God, carried him from the darkness of despair to the light of hope.

Mock My Words by Chandra Shekhar

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Mock My WordsMock My Words is comprised of three storylines. Each one of them is interconnected with a plot that involves a renowned author by the name of David Tan, who left China to live in the United States. The main storyline not only revolves around David’s struggles and challenges as a new teacher at John Steinbeck University in Northern California, but also portrays the stress and anxiety that David experiences while trying to survive a rough patch in his marriage. The secondary storylines involve David’s wife, Laura, and Melissa, a student at the university.

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David is worried and nervous about whether or not the students in his writing course will accept and respect him. This dilemma is due to the disconnect between his writing and his speaking. Although David writes beautiful prose, he speaks English very poorly, which makes it difficult to communicate with people. Even though he wants to share his love of classical literature with his students, they are ill-mannered and rude towards him. It does not get any easier for him when some of his colleagues rebuff him. In addition to work issues, whenever David is at home, he always feels that he has to tread carefully around his wife’s feelings in order not to upset her and possibly ruin any chances at intimacy.

Timeless Travels: Tales of Mystery, Intrigue, Humor, and Enchantment by Joseph Rotenberg


Timeless TravelsWho is today’s American Jew? Joseph Rotenberg styles himself as a modern-day maggid (traditional Jewish storyteller), weaving tales from the everyday to the fantastic, each one bringing the reader a slice of the American Jewish experience. Just as Sholem Aleichem did more than a hundred years ago in his famous stories describing Russian Jewish life, these tales inform and entertain by uncovering little-known events and personalities that have impacted the American Jewish world. In the 1950s, the late Harry Golden, in his popular collections Only in America and For Two Cents Plain, introduced Jewish culture to many non-Jewish Americans. Joseph Rotenberg’s work updates that vision to depict the contemporary, modern American Jew who is today increasingly as much at home in the halls of the Ivy League, the corridors of power in Washington, the corporate boardroom, and the theater as he is in the beit midrash and the synagogue. You’ll laugh, cry, and wonder as you travel through Joseph Rotenberg’s incisive and at times laugh-outloud funny collection of tales.

Timeless Travels is a fascinating and thought-provoking account of the experiences and travels of Jewish people throughout history, by the talented author, Joseph Rotenberg. Timeless Travels will appeal to readers of all ages. I highly recommend this page-turning collection of short stories.”

Douglas R. Cobb – Reviewer for Bestsellersworld.com

Without Fear or Favor: A Novel (A Butch Karp-Marlene Ciampi Thriller Book 29) by Robert K. Tanenbaum

Reviewed by Teri Davis

Without Fear or FavorThe black community vs. the police is not a new idea in today’s social environment.

Tony Cippio is an ideal New York Police Officer who attempts to create positive relationships between the community and law enforcement. This white policeman enjoys playing basketball with neighborhood teens.

Tyrone Greene is a thirteen-year-old with basketball skills that surpass the officer’s successful high school and community college recognition. Tony sees the possibilities for this talented youngster with dreams of playing professional ball. Considering how well Tyrone could play with an old over-inflated ball, the teen was thrilled with the gift of a new ball.

The Quiet Child: A Novel by John Burley

Reviewed by Vickie Dailey

The Quiet ChildThis is most likely the hardest review I’ve ever done. The story has elements of mystery yet a thriller like atmosphere to what appears to be a quiet town. The story starts out normal enough – a 1950’s family with Dad Michael, Mom Kate and their two sons Sean and Danny. You soon learn that Kate is ill and son Danny has never spoken a word. On a seemingly innocent trip to the store for ice cream (no spoilers) their happy (or not) family is torn apart.

Without Mercy: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass

Reviewed by Jud Hanson

Without MercyDr. Brockton is called to a murder scene that shocks him like no other one ever has: a body found in a rural Tennessee county, chained to a tree and badly mutilated. There are clues that would lead one to believe this murder to be a hate crime but the anthropological evidence says otherwise. As Brockton works with the local and state authorities to try and solve the case, he receives some unsettling news: Nick Satterfield, a savage serial killer with a grudge against Brockton, has escaped from federal prison and appears to be on a quest for revenge against him. As the investigation progresses, Brockton begins to wonder if the murder case he’s working on is the work of Satterfield and realizes he must find a way to both solve the case and protect his family.

Golden Prey (Lucas Davenport Mysteries) by John Sandford

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Golden PreyLucas Davenport, the former officer of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is now a U.S. Marshal. This all came about because of his great work helping the former governor of Minnesota who is now a presidential candidate. For Lucas it is a great career move because he is not only a loner but thanks to a few breaks early on he is also quite wealthy and really doesn’t need to work. But he loves law enforcement and lives for catching the really bad guys.

The Falcon at the Portal: An Amelia Peabody Mystery by Elizabeth Peters

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The Falcon at the PortalBecause Joan Hess was contracted to finish a manuscript left upon Elizabeth Peters’ death, some of the earlier books are being released. The Falcon at the Portal is the eleventh book in the series and just past the midpoint of the books completed by Peters. For faithful readers, it is a good book to reread to sort of jump back in with the extended Peabody clan. That said, of all the books in the series, it happens to be the one I enjoyed the least.

The Force: A Novel by Don Winslow

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

The ForceDenny Malone is a hero in many people’s eyes. He and his crew tagged “the force” have made one of the biggest heroin busts in the history of the NYPD. Malone and his crew’s rise to stardom was fast in coming. His elite unit was given pretty much free reign to do whatever it took to keep Manhattan North safe for the good people living and working in the area. But time and again, history has shown unchecked power leads to abuse. So while many herald Malone as invincible and untouchable, rumors start to surface, because not only does unlimited power lead to corruption, it also leads to jealousy and bad blood. Winslow’s The Force is the story of Malone and his crew’s fall from grace.

Fallen: A Novel (Will Trent) by Karin Slaughter

Reviewed by Allen Hott

FallenThis is a slightly older book (2011) but somehow I missed it. And now that I have read it I would like others to take the opportunity. Karin Slaughter can write and she really does in Fallen. It is quite a story about Faith Mitchell and her partner Will Trent. Slaughter has written several books about these two Georgia Bureau of Investigation police officers but this one really gets deep into their private lives. In doing so the reader gets to see how being a cop can often get a person’s private life mixed in with their daily jobs. Very interesting tale that keeps a reader’s interest all the way to the end even though there many, many, characters and many, many happenings.

You’ll Never Know Dear: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron

Reviewed by Caryn St. Clair

You'll Never Know DearLissie and Janey Woodham were playing house with their dolls in their yard when a puppy showed up. Lissie who desperately wanted a puppy followed the dog into the woods trying to catch it hoping she would be allowed to keep it. When she gave up the chase and returned to the yard, she assumed Janey had tired of waiting for her and gone inside. By the time the family realized Janey was missing, valuable time had been lost and Janey was gone. Because the girls were playing with their custom made portrait dolls and Janey’s doll went missing with her, her mom, known to all as Miss Sorrel placed an ad in the paper each year for a reward leading to the return of the doll.

Fast forward forty years when Maggie Richards answers the ad with a doll that although in very bad condition might be Janey’s. From there the plot moves in a predictable direction. The woman panics and runs off leaving the doll behind, Lessie and her daughter Vanessa track down the woman and discover her mother, Jenny, could possibly be the long lost Janey. Not wanting Miss Sorrel to get her hopes up Vanessa tries to nail down Jenny’s past. There are the expected family secrets that eventually come out as well.

There are some twists along the way. An explosion damages the Sorrel house, causing both Lessie and Miss Sorrel to be hospitalized. A break in leads to the loss of the most valuable of Miss Sorrel’s doll collection including all of the remaining portrait dolls she and her neighbor Evelyn had made. Vannessa’s research on nightmares figures into the plot as well.

The characters were well developed and for the most part likable. The pace of the book is just right giving readers enough to keep them turning the pages to see what the next revelation would be and how it would fit into the puzzle. The subplot on Vanessa’s research on nightmares was quite interesting. I just wish that Ephron would have spent a little more time working on hiding the solution to the long ago crime. For me at least the “who did it” was pretty obvious fairly early in the book.

In spite of its not too well concealed solution, readers who enjoy a suspense filled book with a few interesting side plots should enjoy You’ll Never Know, Dear.

Before the Poison: A Novel by Peter Robinson

Reviewed by Jud Hanson

Before the PoisonWhen soundtrack composer Chris Lowndes buys an old house in Yorkshire Dales, he has no idea of the history of the house. He soon learns it is the former home of a prominent doctor and his wife and child during and after WW II. Grace Fox was hanged for poisoning her husband in the 1950s. The story intrigues Lowndes and he strives to learn more from local citizens who lived in Yorkshire Dales during the trial and visits to the local library. A surprise encounter with the former owner of the house who happens the be the granddaughter of Grace Fox reveals even more evidence leading Chris to conclude that perhaps Grace was innocent after all. All while trying to determine the truth about Grace, the death of Lowndes’ wife haunts him and forces him to examine his real motives for wanting to know once and for all if Grace deserved what she got.