Archive for October 2019

The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger


"True authority and true leadership come from knowing who you are and not pretending to be anything else.

Robert Iger, Bob as everyone calls him, is the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world. As the head of the Walt Disney Company, he has the unenviable task of honoring the legacy of the famed company's founder while keeping it relevant and profitable in modern times. The way in which entertainment is created and consumed is drastically different from dear old Walt's days. In his book The Ride of a Lifetime, Iger writes about his journey from starting at the bottom of ABC to becoming the head of the Disney company at a time when it was in a state of turmoil.

Iger presents his managerial advice through a chronological look back at his remarkable career. He started as a studio grunt at ABC nearly 45 years ago. His undying curiosity combined with a willful work ethic to help him start to climb the ranks of the company. Iger credits the mentorship of his bosses during that time for not only teaching him aspects of the business but showing him the qualities needed to be a leader. After cutting his teeth in the sports section of the network, bosses took a chance on him and thrust him into the role of head of prime time. Thrust into a role he really didn't know about, Iger learned to admit what he didn't know and be gracious to the people who could teach him.

It seems that those early years really prepared Iger for taking on the job of running Disney. At the time he took over, Michael Eisner's tenure was coming to a tumultuous close. The company was floundering creatively and suffering financially because of it. Most alarming, Walt Disney Animation the once bright spot on which the company was grown, was completely out of touch with what made it special. Iger turned to an unlikely partnership with Steve Job's Pixar to reinvigorate the culture of creativity at the company. In an unprecedented move, Disney purchased Pixar and brought in their leadership to help rebuild Walt Disney Animation. This move not only breathed new life into the company, but foreshadowed the bold move of acquiring Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Fox.

In The Ride of a Lifetime, Bob Iger reflects back on his remarkable professional triumphs and challenges with refreshing candor that really draws you in. Yes, he runs one of the largest media conglomerates in the world, but he seems so genuine and down to earth in how he deals with his people. I especially related to the way he owns what he knows and doesn't know, never "bossing" the people who are more knowledgeable than he is.  The book works as both a practical managerial thesis and a compelling memoir, the kind of read that will reveal different layers to different readers. I highly recommend it to those in leadership positions and casual Disney fans alike. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 35)

Bloody Genius by John Sandford


Its that time of year again. No, I'm not talking about fall this time. Time for the latest Virgil Flowers novel, of course! For over a decade now, I've read and enjoyed every Virgil Flowers novel written by John Sandford. Each fall, a new installment is released, and I spend the next few days glued to the book. For the past couple of years, I've been fortunate to receive a copy of the latest Flowers novel from Sandford's publisher, and this year I was happy to accept Bloody Genius to review. Once again, Sandford proves why Virgil Flowers is one of the most endearing heroes in modern crime fiction.

A prominent doctor/professor at the University of Minnesota is bludgeoned to death in the school library.  There are immediately more questions than answers. He wasn't in the library when it closed the night before, so how did he get in and why was he in there? The professor wasn't well-liked by his colleagues, professional rivals, or even his family, so there's no shortage of potential suspects. A man with three ex-wives who is a complete jerk to everyone he encounters isn't exactly getting the key to the city anytime soon. Still, a brazen murder on a busy college campus can't be ignored.

Enter Virgil Flowers, the quirky but effective investigator for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Flowers's rough edges have started to smooth out since he began dating Frankie, a former suspect turned lover. The couple is expecting twins soon, and Flowers is struggling to balance his personal and professional responsibilities. He reluctantly begins investigating the murder, much to the chagrin of the local authorities and a female detective who has no trouble matching Virgil's dry wit. When all the potential suspects begin presenting solid alibis, Virgil is forced to dig deep and use his trademark unorthodox approach to bring justice and peace to the community.

At this point, Virgil Flowers may have actually eclipsed James Patterson's Alex Cross as my favorite detective in a crime series. With Bloody Genius, John Sandford continues to evolve his character in a way that is both natural and fun to read. Sandford bucks formula by placing his familiar character into new mysteries with different narrative paths in each book. Sometimes, the killer is known by the reader from the start, and the fun is in seeing Virgil discover what we already know. This time, we are in the dark with our hero, only discovering the murder when Virgil does. I truly did not see the ending coming! This is the twelfth novel in the series. While you don't have to read the previous books to understand this one, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by skipping ahead. Go ahead and start with the first book. If you're anything like me, you'll race through the series and be eagerly waiting for the next one.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 34)

The Mansion by Ezekiel Boone


Although it has officially been fall for a couple of weeks now, it seems that Texas has missed the memo. Sure, we flirted with a few cooler mornings, but the average temperatures have stayed in the high 80's to low 90's.  Needless to say, it has been difficult to get into the spirit of the season. In an attempt to "fall" into the season any way that I can, I turned to another seasonal mainstay, spooky stories.  The Mansion by Ezekiel Boone seemed like just what the doctor ordered.  After all, iced pumpkin spiced lattes can only take you so far!

Years ago, Shawn and Billy did the impossible. Fueled by a combination of youthful zeal and thirst to push the limits of technology, they jointly developed Eagle Logic. The pair secluded themselves in a shack on Shawn's family property. The dilapidated mansion lingered over their meager dwellings as they worked sleepless nights to realize their dream. While they had to settle a bit to conform with the realities of what was technologically feasible, Eagle Logic was still a huge success. Their system quickly became the most profitable in the world.

Years later, Billy is surprised to hear from Shawn. The pair had a falling out over the woman who soon became Billy's wife. Billy chose love, and Shawn chose the company. Shawn is the billionaire CEO of the largest tech company in the world. Billy is a recovering alcoholic with maxed out credit cards and chronic depression. Shawn will never admit to screwing Billy out of a large fortune and stake in the company, but he has to admit that Billy is the only person who can help him take his company to the next level. For Billy, the opportunity is too great to pass up, even if it means confronting the darkness of their shared past.

In The Mansion, Ezekiel Boone brings modernity and technology to a classic haunted house story. I've deliberately refrained from giving away too much plot because the book works better if you go in blind. I almost stopped reading this one at first. Boone takes a very long time to establish his characters and set up the main premise. To be fair, the characters are very well developed, and they have a rich history that adds to the believability of the story. Still, the book really doesn't get going until the second half. Once the Boone places his literary foot on the gas, he doesn't release it until the novel comes to a shocking end.  However flawed it may be, The Mansion is an adequate beginning to the spooky season.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 33)

Target: Alex Cross by James Patterson


It can be fun to look back on your past and see what things about you have changed. Beyond the obvious things (age, weight, career come to mind) I find it really fascinating to see how my taste in books has evolved. By reviewing and posting a review of every book I've read for the past eight years, I've got a pretty thorough record of how my reading habits have transformed. There are some trends that have remained strong. I can't help but get hooked into a solid mystery/thriller novel, for example. New trends, such as a newfound appreciation for a well-written memoir, have also emerged.

On the other hand, a change in taste has seen me turn away from the kinds of things I used to love to read. One noticeable casualty of this shift in preference has been the novels by James Patterson. In the past, I would treat each new Patterson novel as a "must-read" event.  His books have always been some of the most readable in terms of pacing, so I could turn to him as a reliable escape from my daily life. Whether it was the dwindling quality in Patterson's massive output, or simply an evolution of my personal taste in reading material, I now only routinely read his Alex Cross series. For years now, my mother has gifted me a copy of the latest Cross novel. In keeping with tradition, I've finally gotten around to reading Target: Alex Cross.

This one starts out with a plot that seemed like something more at home in a Vince Flynn novel than a Patterson one. A sniper has shot down a prominent U.S. Senator in the heart of D.C. Alex Cross is quickly thrust into the scene, and the evidence is alarming. It seems like the perpetrator is plotting to enact more violence against elected officials. A coup of sorts has begun and constitutional crisis is imminent. This goes far beyond the usual murder cases, the entire fate of the country is resting in Alex Cross solving this case. He must work quickly before he becomes the next target!

Here's the thing. The plot to Target: Alex Cross, like many James Patterson novels, is a bit ridiculous. That being said, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't completely glued to the pages of the book from start to finish. When Patterson novels work, they really work, and this one does just that. Looking back on my reviews for previous novels in the series (this is number 26), I usually comment on how the key piece to making the Cross story work is the investment we have to Alex and his surrounding family. Patterson strikes the perfect balance here between plot-driving action and developing the Cross family. Even if the story gets a little too unbelievable for my ever-evolving taste, I still had a good time with Target: Alex Cross. Bring on book 27, Mr. Patterson!

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 32)

Akin by Emma Donoghue


"Weren't all of us bridges for each other, one way or another?"

I've been a fan of Emma Donoghue's writing from the moment I first encountered her novel Room. I breezed through that book in a day, and I've eagerly awaited each of her works since. The thing I love most about opening a Donoghue novel is that I never quite know what to expect. She seems to be one of the few authors writing today who has no problem bouncing from genre to genre. No matter where her imagination takes her, Donoghue always satisfies with deeply drawn characters, elegant prose, and a keen sense of reality that makes each book a wonder to behold. Based purely upon my enjoyment of her previous works, I happily accepted a copy of her latest novel Akin to review on behalf of her publisher.

As he approaches his eightieth birthday, Noah Selvaggio has much to be proud of. Both Noah and his late wife were acclaimed chemists and professors for years. He still resides in the couples West Side apartment in New York. Though the couple never started a family of their own, they took pride in their work and the young minds they were able to influence. In preparation for his milestone birthday, Noah has decided to take a trip to the place of his birth Nice, France. He hasn't visited the city since he fled the war at the young age of four. Armed with a collection of photos that belonged to his mother, he hopes to revisit the town of his youth and piece together the puzzle that is his family history.

Just when it seems like Noah's quest to rediscover his family's past is all set, a situation with his current family intervenes. With the passing of his sister, there is no one to look after Noah's great-nephew Michael. Michael's mother is currently incarcerated, and it looks like the only thing standing between Michael and foster care is Noah. But surely Noah can't be responsible for a child. Overcome with a sense of familial duty, Noah agrees to take temporary guardianship of the boy. The odd couple of eleven-year-old and soon to be octogenarian must find common ground as they embark on a globetrotting trip to reconnect with their shared roots.

With Akin, Donoghue finds magic in the small moments between adult and child. She perfectly captures the voices of the two drastically different generations and finds humor, emotion, and understanding through the juxtaposition of the two. I was instantly taken by the internal thoughts of Noah. For a man who has prided himself on being one of the most knowledgable people in the room, his struggle to understand the mind of a child is a unique and unfamiliar challenge. Donoghue sprinkles in some mystery surrounding the photos left to Noah by his mother that adds an extra layer of depth to the family history and gives the book just enough momentum to move it beyond just the relationship between the two characters. Superbly written and emotionally satisfying, Akin is another indisputable win from Donoghue.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 31)

The Warehouse by Rob Hart


"Remember, freedom is yours until you give it up"

If ever there was a book that perfectly captured the predicaments of our modern times, it would be The Warehouse by Rob Hart. We face a time of massive technological advancement, political divisiveness, and the ever-mounting threat of a global climate crisis. With the reality of huge economic and social challenges looming over us, it seems as if we have turned inward to the technology that has become an essential piece of our day to day lives. In The Warehouse, Rob Hart imagines a not-too-distant future in which the above-mentioned instances have come to fruition.

A group of people is on a bus headed to one of the massive campuses that house Cloud. Cloud is the giant corporate conglomerate that has innovated its way to becoming the single largest means of commerce in the world. Think Amazon but on a much larger scale. At this point in history, Cloud is the singular provider of all consumer goods and most of the world's employment. Drones fill the sky delivering everything from bandaids to groceries. Each cloud campus has become a city of its own, housing all of the company's employees. If you work at could, you work, eat, and sleep on campus. Each person on this bus hopes to become part of Cloud's extensive ecosystem.

Two of the hopeful new recruits are Zennia and Patton. Patton has reluctantly decided to apply for a job with Cloud after his own small business was overtaken by the company. If you can't beat them, you might as well join them. Patton hopes to earn enough working for the company to eventually file for a new patent and become his own boss again. With the all-encompassing nature of Cloud, this will be extremely difficult to achieve. Zennia is much more reserved than Patton. She reluctantly reveals that she was a teacher before packing up her life to pursue a career at Cloud. Little does Patton know that Zennia is on a much more nefarious mission, the kind that could get them both killed.

When the publisher offered me a copy of The Warehouse to review, I was immediately drawn by the premise. Echoes of Eggers's The Circle and Orwell's 1984 ring through Hart's book. Hart roots his speculative fiction into a thriller that gives the narrative a momentum that helped to keep me engaged in the world he was building. Alternating perspectives between the two main characters give the reader insights into their motivations and makes the back and forth between the two all the more riveting. Interspersed between the main chapters are journal entries of Cloud's founder and CEO. With these, Hart illustrates the precarious balance between the well-intentions of large companies and the darker reality of what actually happens within them. The Warehouse is one of the most compelling books that I've read this year, a cautionary tale for our times that is an essential read for everyone.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 30)

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