Archive for January 2020

Disney's Land by Richard Snow


"To all who come to this happy place: Welcome."

I'll never forget my first trip to Disneyland in California. I was fifteen years old and was visiting the park on a trip with my high school band. Because we were performing in the park, our bus went through a security checkpoint that dropped us off in the backstage area located in the back of the property. My first views were not of the historic walk down Main Street USA leading to Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Instead, I exited the utilitarian buildings of the backstage portion into the stylized Toontown section of the park. I was instantly obsessed, amazed at the stark contrast between the idyllic world inside the park and the industrialized outside.

In Disney's Land, author Richard Snow chronicles the journey of bringing Disney's dream to life. There are countless stories about what inspired Walt to create the park. Snow points to truths on several fronts. Partly disillusioned by the state of the animation business, partly inspired to create a place where children and parents could play together, and perhaps mostly looking for a new outlet for creative development, the germ of the idea that would become Disneyland started as a miniature train set in Disney's back yard. For months, craftsmen in Disney's studio machine shop labored to make a working scale version of a steam locomotive. Walt obsessed over each detail, painstakingly ensuring all the materials were correct, and even buying a new home with the perfect backyard to set the tracks. This not only foreshadowed the strict adherence to quality that would define Disney's park but created relationships that would be vital to bringing the park to life.

At a time when the bright lights of amusement parks were thought more of in terms of decaying glory, Walt sought to build a new type of park. Everyone who heard of his plans told him he was crazy. It would cost too much money. No one was going to travel all the way to the small orchard town of Anaheim. He was throwing good money after bad. Whatever objections were raised, Walt quietly moved past them to achieve his dream.

Disney's Land combines weaves many historical excerpts into a stunning tale of one man's willful ambition to achieve his ultimate dream. As an avid Disney Parks fan, there was little new information gleaned from this book, but Snow imparts his writing with the small human details that make the events jump from the page. I was struck by just how much new ground was being covered by Walt and the men and women he employed. It is difficult to imagine a time where Disneyland did not exist. The famed attractions have become engrained into the very being of American culture. But before Walt dreamed it, there was no precedent for the kind of place he created. As an adult, I visit a Disney Park each year and continue to be transported to new worlds that allow me to escape from everyday life. Disney's Land by Richard Snow expertly tells the tale of how the place that so many find magic in came to be.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2020, 3)

Deep State by Chris Hauty


"Let's go. Not enough hours in the day to save the country."

Haley Chill is no stranger to adversity. A small-town girl at heart, she bucked the odds and escaped the life of her town to join the military. Once in the service, Haley quietly rose to become one of the first women permitted to the infantry. On the side, she became a knockout success in the boxing ring. Through sheer persistence and will, Haley even beat out a future olympian in the final round of what should have been a runaway win. No matter what she is put against, Haley Chill is determined to find a way to win.

Now Haley is facing a new kind of challenge. She has traded in her military uniform for the business attire of a newly minted White House intern. As she enters the West Wing for the first time, Haley can't help but be excited at the chance to serve her beloved country in a new way. Yes, she's older than the other interns, her office is more akin to a crowded janitor closet with poor wifi, and she has some personal disagreements with the controversial new president's policies, but this truly seems like a new chance to make her mark in service to the nation that has given her so much.

Just as Haley has started to settle into the routine of her new position, things get complicated. She retrieves the morning security briefing and takes it to the house of her boss, White House Chief of Staff Peter Hall. Hall rises early each morning at likes to read the briefing before he gets to the office. Haley rings the doorbell and the seconds begin to pass. Already Haley knows something is not right. She walks around the side of the house and peers into the kitchen window. Inside, she can just make out the body of Hall lying motionless on the floor. As Haley rushes to call paramedics to the house, she spots a freshly left boot mark in the still falling snow. Immediately, she fears the worst. It will soon be up to her to stop the already moving pieces of a Deep State conspiracy from falling into place.

With Deep State, his debut novel, author and screenwriter Chris Hauty gives readers the first great thriller of the year. The prologue of the novel quickly endeared me to Haley as a character without hinting at any of the non-stop action to come. By engaging readers first with his character, Hauty imbues the novel with a depth and emotional connection that many thrillers brush over. Let's be clear, there is plenty of plot and twits to burn through and keep the pages rapidly turning, but it is the thoughtful development of the main character that truly drives the story.

As with any good political thriller, Deep State doesn't shy away from reflections on current politics. The president in this novel was a surprise winner from outside the political bubble who draws controversy from his "against the norm" approach to governing. Sound familiar? I was fearful that Hauty would use these similarities to preach his own political viewpoints. Fortunately, this is not the case. Instead, Hauty uses Haley to be the voice of unity in these divisive political times. Haley is not driven by the motivations of a single political perspective. Rather, she is solely focused on protecting the institution of government as a whole. Timely, character-driven, and full of action, Deep State by Chris Hauytty is pretty much everything you could hope from a modern thriller.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2020, 2)

Just Watch Me by Jeff Lindsay


Jeff Lindsay has the unique authorial ability to make you root for the bad guy. He relishes in making you cheer and hope for the kind of things you know you shouldn't be cheering for. In fact, Lindsay is so adept at entrancing readers with his vile characters and their nefarious deeds that he sustained an eight novel series about a serial killer. His Dexter novels became bestsellers and launched a hit television series. When it comes to Lindsay's characters, sometimes bad is actually good. When I first learned of a new novel by the author, I was immediately intrigued. Dexter is the kind of once in a lifetime, lightning in a bottle phenomenon characters that most authors can only dream of creating. I wasn't sure Lindsay would be able to capture that kind of magic again, but I certainly wouldn't miss the chance at reading his attempt.

Who is Riley Wolfe? To most, his is merely a shadow. He's the kind of person you may have heard whispers about, but you're not certain that he actually exists. He is more myth than a living, breathing person. In reality, Wolfe is the mastermind behind some of the most daring a lucrative heists the world has ever seen. He alters is appearance and mannerism with ease, blending seamlessly into his surroundings and evading detection from even the most careful of foes. He is an enigma of sorts, and he is at the absolute top of his game.

Riley Wolfe has spent years taking on the most impossible heists and building his personal wealth to staggering heights. Despite all of his accomplishments, Wolfe has succumbed to the kind of affliction that threatens to derail his entire life. Riley Wolfe is bored. Sure, he is unmatched as a thief, but nothing seems to challenge him. When stealing a brand new statue via helicopter becomes just another day at the office, it is time to find something more. Something more appears in the form of a new exhibition at a private museum in New York. A rare jewel from the middle east will be on display and under the guard of two government security details. Stealing this jewel is impossible. Naturally, Wolfe decides he can steal it.

I was gifted a copy of Just Watch Me from Jeff Lindsay's publisher, and I'm happy to report that it was everything I wanted in a new novel from the famed author. Riley Wolfe is a liar, cheater, thief, and murderer, the kind of character that Jeff Lindsay excels at writing. He has less redeemable qualities than Lindsay's Dexter (which is certainly saying something), but I still couldn't help but enjoy his escapades. Written as a pretty straightforward heist thriller, Just Watch Me is easily Lindsays best-plotted book in years. The pages flew as I devoured this novel over the course of a few evenings. Like a cross between Oceans Eleven and Lindsays own Dexter novels, Just Watch Me proves that Jeff Lindsay is still the master at making readers fall in love with the bad guy.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2020, 1)

The Institute by Stephen King


The year 2019 has come and gone, and we are left with the promise of a new decade. The latter half of the year saw tremendous professional growth for me, but my blog suffered because of it. I just didn't have time to get my reviews written and posted. To both make up for the lost time and to start 2020 off in a productive light, I've decided to start the year off with a review that didn't get posted last year. I'll probably intersperse reviews of books I read last year amongst the books I'm reading now and mark them with the appropriate corresponding year at the bottom of each post. Here are my thoughts on Stephen King's latest book The Institute. 

It started on a whim. Tim was aboard his flight to New York when the airline began offering cash and free flights to bump someone from the flight. As the price grew, Tim became more and more eager to accept the offer. Finally, he did. He stumbled into a small town and took a job as a night knocker. And just like that, the story shifted to something completely different.

Young Luke is starting to face the fact that he isn't like his classmates. Not only is he the "smart kid", but he might actually be a genius. As his parents prepare to move him to the kind of school that will foster and challenge his unique intellect, Luke is excited about what the future holds. Everything changes when he is awakened in the night by several intruders. He is captured and taken to the Institute. His room there is a poor facsimile of his own room at home, the kind of place that gets all the details correct except for the ones that truly matter. Devoid of the love and support of his family, Luke turns to the other children in the place. They too have been stripped of their lives and are subjected to strange tests of both physical and mental ability.

At this point, I read a Stephen King novel based purely on him being the author. Over the years, he has earned the status of "must-read" based upon his ability to mix complex characters with engaging plots that challenge me as a reader. Much like Luke, I went into The Institute with no idea what I was getting into. King bookends Luke's story with that of Tim, a structural device that surprised me at first. I was so engrossed in Luke's journey that I had all but forgotten about Tim. Rest assured, both narrative threads come together in a way that is both satisfying and fresh. There's a layer of the supernatural to the story that is classic King. He grounds the fantasy to reality through a cast of characters that I instantly connected to. The past couple of years have been a kind of Stephen King renaissance with countless movie adaptations, TV series, and new books from the author. With The Insitute, King proves he has plenty more to offer his voracious readers.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2019, 36)

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