Thursday, February 16, 2012

Worth Dying For - by Lee Child

This is the 15th novel in the Jack Reacher series.  In this installment, our favorite ex-MP drifter is just passing through an out-of-the-way rural Nebraska community on his way to Virginia.  He gets involved in a domestic violence situation and confronts a family that seems to have all of the locals intimidated.  Just as many before them, they can't let it go.  Although the word should be out by now that you don't mess with Reacher, they try to put this stranger in his place -- a costly misstep.  By taking him on, their secrets, both current and past, and the intimidating grip that they have on their neighbors are no longer safe.

I like Reacher novels.  He can't steer clear of trouble, but he rarely finds himself in a situation that he doesn't know how to handle.  He is a large and powerful man with invaluable military training and experience.  He is part McGyver, carrying nothing with him but the shirt on his back and his portable toothbrush, but always knowing how to use the limited resources available to him to achieve the desired outcome.  He sees things as right or wrong and has no regrets for anything he does for the right reason.  His police training makes him highly observant. He is very intelligent and shares most of his reasoning in detail with the reader.  In spite of this, however, he never comes off as perfect.  His lack of lasting attachment to anything, anyone, or any place makes him very interesting.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kill Me If You Can - by James Patterson & Marshall Karp

This book opens with expert assassin "The Ghost" skillfully executing a hit at Grand Central Station and then disappearing in the chaos he creates, like he had never been there in the first place.  Art student Matthew Bannon is also there, and, on his way out of the train station, runs across Walter Zelvas, and his stashed bag of diamonds, as he is dying from a gunshot inflicted by "The Ghost."  His choice to take the diamonds puts him, and his art professor girlfriend Katherine in serious danger, with the ruthless international Diamond Syndicate on his trail and willing to do what it takes to get them back and make those responsible pay.

The novel is fast paced and has a lot of interesting plot twists, including a rather surprising revelation about midway through the book.  I found the book hard to put down.  Matthew Bannon is very likable and it would not surprise me to see him re-appear in a sequel.  If you enjoy a good suspense-thriller, I would recommend giving this one a try.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Making It All Work - by David Allen

Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life is productivity guru David Allen's follow-up to his best-selling productivity bible Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.  It's stated intention is to "take the Getting Things Done (GTD) concepts to a whole new level" and to "dive deeper into the models for control and perspective."

GTD promotes a very practical methodology for capturing everything that has your attention and concern, defining the related next steps, and organizing them into contextual lists that you can reliably access and know what things you can choose to do in that situation to move your projects forward.  He presents an approach for getting things off of your mind and into a trusted system as the "art of stress-free productivity."  This book focuses more on how GTD approach fits into the larger context of life.

In Making It All Work, Allen spends a considerable amount of time expanding on his philosophy that the keys to getting “in the zone” are control and perspective.  Control refers to the ability to choose between different options at any given moment – you don’thave to do any specific thing, but you have a lot of options at your disposal.  The productivity toolbox presented in GTD focuses principally on this. Perspective refers to the ability to discern which of those options is the best one to choose at the moment. For Allen, the clarity that comes of working from a trusted system rather than in our heads frees us up to more effectively trust our intuitions about what we should be working on in the heat of the moment.  As one of the largest criticisms of GTD is its seeming lack of attention to prioritization, he spends a lot of time explaining how perspective addresses these concerns.

This book defines a hierarchy of perspective. At the runway we manage next actions. At the 10,000 foot level, projects are collections of discrete actions that produce an outcome and can be completed within a year.  At 20,000 feet, we must evaluate areas of focus and responsibility.  When we understand what areas of focus are most important to us, prioritization of our projects and task should become easier and more automatic.  Bigger picture concepts such as goals and objectives, vision, and purpose and principles fall out at the 30,000 feet, 40,000 feet, and 50,000 feet respectively.

For those who appreciate stories that illustrate, this book includes an anecdote about a person who inherits a small business called Gracie's Gardens an takes control of the situation by using the principles outlined in the book.

In summary, if you are looking for a re-hash or re-spin of GTD, this book includes presentation of the basic concepts.  In my mind, though, this book is more about why you put in all the effort to organize and manage projects and actions, as well as how those day-to-day activities are part of a larger picture that we must also reflect upon, understand, and review.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Turnaround Kid - Steve Miller

The Wall Street Journal has dubbed Steve Miller to be "U.S. Industry's Mr. Fix It." This book is his own story about how he salvaged a variety of U.S. companies that lost their way. He explains how he started his career with automotive giant Ford and how that led to his position as a key member of Lee Iaccoca's team that rescued Chrysler. From there, he built a reputation for fixing corporations facing major problems in industries as varied as steel, construction, and health care. Chairman and CEO of the bankrupt automotive parts manufacturer Delphi Corporation is his most recent position covered in this book. Since then, he joined the board of bailed-out insurer AIG, in 2009, and just last week, Hawker Beechcraft Inc., the jet maker partly owned by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. named him their CEO as they seek to rework terms of a revolving credit line and address problems resulting from reduced demand in the business aircraft market.

In Miller's telling of his own story, he is outspoken and doesn't shy away from topics such as his differences with Iaccoca.  He does admit that he isn't perfect and points out some of his self-proclaimed biggest mistakes.  He includes a view of his personal life, including stories about his father, the rewards and challenges of his marriage, and the tragic loss of his wife, Maggie, to brain cancer.  Nonetheless, the viewpoint is his alone and the story and experiences are told within the framework of his beliefs.  If you are a student of business, I believe that there is plenty to learn from this book.  It is not, however, a recipe or list of business formulas for the pursuit of business success.  Instead, it is a glimpse into world of a successful corporate executive, some of the personal and business challenges that he faced, and his philosophy of business and life.

Cross Fire - by James Patterson

This installment, the sixteenth book in Patterson's Alex Cross series, features the return of Kyle Craig.  For those who don't know the story, Kyle is an ex-FBI agent, who a long time ago was Detective Cross's good friend and colleague whose other identity was "The Mastermind," a brilliant serial killer.  Alex was the one who brought him to justice and incarceration at a supermax prison in Colorado.  Kyle has escaped, however, and is in Washington, D.C., to exact his revenge.

Alex and his girlfriend, fellow crime-fighter Bree, are ready to get married, but a string of assassinations of crooked politicians puts their plans on hold.  Alex figures out that there is a lot of inside knowledge behind the killings and pursues the truth about and behind them.  FBI Agent Max Siegel joins the case and complicates the situation.

If you're a true Patterson and Alex Cross fan, I'm sure you've already read this book.  If you're not, but enjoy a well-paced criminal thriller, I encourage you to give this book and/or this series a look.

The Survivors Club - by Ben Sherwood

This book tries to investigate why, in times of crisis, some people survive and some do not and what enables some to defy the odds. It presents a number of real-life stories about those who have survived near fatal experiences ranging from a knitting needle in the heart to a mountain lion attack to plane crashes to a Holocaust concentration camp. It investigates factors from genetic make-up to religious belief to just plain luck.

While it seemed to be marketed as somewhat of a self-help manual to boost your survival chances in a future life-threatening event, that was not really my perspective and interest when reading it. Sure, I learned a few things, like drinking a sugary beverage better combats hypothermia than a hot one and the "Rule of 3" for survival, which states that in any extreme situation you cannot survive for more than 3 seconds without will and spirit, 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food, and 3 months without companionship.  It was the amazing stories that held my interest.  For example, Sherwood tells about a man who survived ejection from a plane at supersonic speeds, a jumper from the Golden Gate Bridge who changed his mind about suicide on the way down and survived, and a woman whose life was saved by a knitting needle in her heart.  I love trivia and this book had some interesting factoids about survival.  For instance, it is not unheard of to survive falls from very high heights (even airplanes), lefties have statistically shorter lives than righties, and the best place to have a heart attack is a Las Vegas casino.

This book is not really a step-by-step survival manual.  It does, however, strive to improve your "Survivor IQ."  For the most part, I found the book interesting and engaging.  Although it certainly made me think about and evaluate my own tendencies in and preparation for a life threatening emergency, I might have been a little disappointed if I was expecting lots of practical detailed survival knowledge.  If this subject interests you, your own enjoyment and perceived value may vary.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Scarecrow - Michael Connelly

If you ever read Michael Connelly's 1994 novel The Poet, you may remember reporter Jack McEvoy.  This 2009 novel again features him as the protagonist.  It opens with Jack, the seasoned reporter, being let go by the Los Angeles Times due to the financial crisis impacting the newspaper industry.  With only two weeks left on the job, he undertakes his last story, based on a young drug dealer's arrest for the brutal rape and murder of a woman. He expects to write a Pulitzer winning article on the societal factors that created a 16-year-old killer, but he (and the young reporter he is training as his replacement) uncover discrepancies in the confession and evidence behind the case against him. Jack enlists the help of FBI Agent Rachel Walling, again, to go after the real killer, who has worked completely below the radar up to this point.  Further, their investigation inadvertently sets off a digital tripwire, providing the killer knowledge of their moves against. him.

This is Connelly's 21'st published book.  He is, therefore, quite an accomplished crime fiction author and his work includes Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller (Lincoln Lawyer) novels.  I am a fan and found this book to be on par with other Michael Connelly works that I have read.  If you enjoy the crime thriller genre, in my opinion, this one is worth the read.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Don't Look Twice - by Andrew Gross

Don't Look Twice is the second novel in Andrew Gross's Ty Hauck series. I actually haven't read the first yet -- bestselling The Dark Tide -- but I enjoyed this book enough to add both it, and the most recent installment -- Reckless -- to my list.

This story begins with a drive-by shooting that is not what it seems. Ty, however, after experiencing the violence first-hand with his daughter, relentlessly follows a trail that includes a federal prosecutor executed in the shooting, a local restaurateur and inadvertent witness that he becomes involved with, a casino, wealthy and powerful people, and even his own brother.

In my opinion, on your next visit to the library or bookstore, Don't Look Twice is worth a second look.