Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Bourne Legacy, by Eric Van Lustbader

The Bourne Legacy, by Eric Van Lustbader

I loved the original trilogy by Ludlum, so when I saw this I picked it up. While not as bad as the books that were released after he died, it wasn’t fantastic either. When a author scripts someone else’s characters, comparisons are always invited. Van Lustbader neatly avoids this by either killing off or sending into hiding the regulars we’ve met in the preceding books except for Jason Bourne himself. While understandable, it was a bummer—I liked many of those guys.

A central theme of all the Bourne books has been mistaken or missing identity, and this one follows suit. A bit clichéd here, though; Bourne is framed for murders he didn’t commit and then encounters another assassin who claims to be his son. There was no mystery or surprise about the filial revelation which took a lot of the fun out of it. Other minor identity questions pop up throughout as well; Bourne meets a couple of different people that he recognizes but due to his fragmented memory doesn’t know why. Of course, all is eventually explained and every mystery is tied up with a bow.

The plot was interesting, but had holes through which you could drive a truck. For instance, at one point Bourne had narrowly escaped detection and his pursuers were leaving the apartment building where he’d been hiding. Instead of waiting five minutes for them to drive off, he roars out of the garage on a motorcycle, is spotted, and the chase is on. This from someone that is usually smarter than everyone else on the planet? Hmmm. All in all, this read more like an action movie than a novel. It didn’t suck, but is wasn’t up to par with the other Bourne books.

First Sentence:
David Webb, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, was buried beneath a stack of ungraded term papers.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Ruffians, by Tim Green

Ruffians: A Novel, by Tim Green

This book tells of a highly drafted rookie that discovers virtually his entire NFL team is on steroids and is threatened with being blackballed if he doesn’t start shooting himself up as well. The steroid is explained away as being untraceable and therefore random drug testing wouldn’t uncover it, which seems far fetched at best. The steroid-crazy team went on to hurt opposing players badly enough so they had to leave the field multiple times every week. There is no way the NFL would ever stand for this, much less the players on the other side of the ball. Yeah, people get seriously hurt in football, but a defense that was unabashedly and purposefully trying to injure other teams on a regular basis would get suspended so fast your head would spin. I’m sure I’d be surprised at the actual level of violent intent in the pros, but this seemed way over the top.

The plot being as silly as it was, I was surprised to find that the main character, Clay Blackwell, was reasonably deep. I heard somewhere that Tim Green based Clay on himself which might explain that, especially as all the other inhabitants are one-dimensional. Clay is shown to have deep feelings for his college girlfriend yet still unable to resist the temptations of easy sex that comes so easy to a professional athlete. He has a complicated relationship with his father, yet is still able to find father figures in others. While clearly upset and morally offended at the idea of steroids, he doesn’t blow the whistle on his teammates and flip-flops on the thought of taking them himself. While Clay is not anywhere near as complex a character as Prince Hamlet, he is far from the wooden caricature I’d expected from a novel by an ex-jock.

First Sentence:
The concrete was cold and made Clay’s bare feet clammy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

One Heartbeat II, by Mack Brown and Bill Little

One Heartbeat II: The Road To The National Championship, by Mack Brown and Bill Little

From the title I knew this was a follow-up to One Heartbeat, but I expected more of a sequel rather than a rehash. The first two-thirds of One Heartbeat II are identical to the previous volume; the remaining chapters tell the story of the Texas Longhorn’s 2005 National Championship season. While this is a fascinating and exciting story, I admit I was hoping for more. That said, being a Longhorn Foundation member and football season ticket holder for over 15 years, I loved reading about how the team battled through the season and won the crystal football! If you haven’t read the first book, read this one instead. If you have read the first one, read this one anyway!

First Sentence (from the Prologue):
It was twilight at the house on Waters Edge, and the gentle breezes coming off the lake left only a muted memory of the sweltering sun that had begun the day.

One Heartbeat, by Mack Brown and Bill Little

One Heartbeat: A Philosophy of Teamwork, Life, and Leadership, by Mack Brown and Bill Little

I read this well over a year ago and could have sworn I wrote about it then. Apparently I didn’t, though, as it isn’t anywhere to be found. It seems unlikely that Blogger lost a post, so I’m going to assume I simply forgot. I certainly prefer that to the idea that I’m randomly losing my posts!

This was a fascinating read—part-biography and part-psychology. It is largely a collection of anecdotes that demonstrates the lessons Mack Brown tries to impart to his athletes, but with a healthy dose of the career path Mack has taken thrown in. I found the story of how and why he left North Carolina for Texas quite interesting. About this time every year we see the coaching carousel fire up and often we hear coaches claim loyalty one day only to leave the next. We get the inside story of what happened when Mack changed jobs. Recruiting, teamwork, dealing with adversity, attitude, and honesty are some of the other topics tackled here. One of my favorite lessons applies to parenting as much as it does coaching: “It is all about training people ... when there is nobody else around, to make the right choice.” One Heartbeat will appeal to many people: coaches and managers looking for ways to lead others, fans of college football, and of course, anyone with Longhorn pride!

First Sentence:
To the farmer, it is a prayer for rain even when meteorologists say it won’t.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dirty Jokes and Beer, by Drew Carey

Dirty Jokes and Beer: Stories of the Unrefined, by Drew Carey

A good friend recommended this to me a year or two ago, but I just now got around to reading it. While it isn’t exactly The Divine Comedy, it is pretty damn funny. Each chapter opens with a joke, most of which I can’t tell my kids but still made me laugh out loud. The book is divided into three broad sections: one semi-biographical, one about The Drew Carey Show, and one containing loosely connected short stories. A few random entries as well; one entire chapter deals with big dick jokes (“My dick is so big, it lives next door.” “My dick is so big, it has cable.” “My dick is so big, Las Vegas casinos fly it into town for free.”) that I’ve have killed to have in my repertoire when I was in fifth grade. Good stuff! The humor is coarse and it is clear Carey didn’t use a ghostwriter, but I still enjoyed this. If you are looking for a fast read and a smile, give this a try!

First Sentence:
A woman is at a bar, drinking and depressed.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Management by Baseball, by Jeff Angus

Management by Baseball: The Official Rules for Winning in Any Field, by Jeff Angus

How are business management and baseball linked? “Baseball is the perfect simple lab to test management theories. If you can’t do more with less in baseball, you’d better have a perfecto [sic] explanation about why it works elsewhere.” I expected the baseball metaphor to be a gimmick, but I found the lessons here are surprisingly relevant. The book is organized into (surprise!) four parts, one for each base. First base is about the basics elements of management: time, decisions, and people. Second base discusses managing a staff, and third base is about managing yourself. Home plate is about understanding change, responding to it, and initiating it.

Notice that well over half the book is about the human element, which I find fitting. As the author says, “people are the irreplaceable ingredient in valuable work.” After all, the players are the product, both in baseball and the corporate world. Two quotes I want to share that I found compelling:

  • “Only 15 percent of people holding a job aren’t in need of significant improvement.”
  • “When talent that can’t contribute to winning a pennant clogs your limited roster, it’s critical to move people along. And while it’s less obvious, doing a good job of executing the cuts is critical for your competitiveness, morale, and the reputation of your organization.”

These held meaning for me not only for how I should work with my team, but how I should guide my self-improvement. Management is not only something you use to guide others, but yourself as well.

While I found this book very thought provoking, there are a couple of nits that really irritated me. One is the use of the word rôle instead of role. Being a book on management (especially one with a focus on personnel), that is a very common word and for some reason seeing the circumflex every few pages really bugged me. The other problem I have is with the accompanying website. Multiple times the reader is directed to www.managementbybaseball.com with promises of further reading and tools. One in which I was especially interested is a template for regular one-on-one staff meetings. Unfortunately, when visiting the site (and after being forced to register) I find that the promised material doesn’t exist. Quite disappointing.

Update: Apparently this entry popped up in a search engine and the author noticed it. He emailed me and attached the doc I couldn’t find on the site. It looks fairly effective, too—I’m looking forward to taking a closer look. Taking the time to respond to a fairly random review like mine (my readership isn’t exactly making Digg take notice) gives a large credibility bump to the author. Angus also mentioned he is an Eric Johnson fan, which is another plus in the positive column!

The baseball anecdotes that pepper the book made it that much more fun to read for me. I’ve always liked hearing about the strategy behind the moves: why a pitching change is made, why a steal or bunt is called, why the outfield is shifted, that sort of thing. This book is full of such descriptions that cover the last 100+ years of the sport. While I don’t think you need to be a fan of the diamond to enjoy this book, if you are one it will take on a whole other level.

First Sentence:
Winning at managing in organizations is much like winning baseball games.

Fantasy Gone Wrong, edited by Greenberg and Koren

Fantasy Gone Wrong, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Brittiany A.Koren

This was a really funny group of short stories. Everything related here is a twist on the iconic fantasy and fairy tales with which we all grew up. For instance, Goblin Lullaby by Jim C. Hines tells of a classic battle between villainous goblins and heroic elves, but from the goblin point-of-view. Dragonslayer by Jana Paniccia is a knight versus a witch and dragon with a hilarious twist at the end. The Murder of Mr. Wolf by Josepha Sherman was the most clever, telling how the detective agency of Beau Peep and Marie Gobeur (gobeur is French for sheep) solved the murder of Mr. Wolf. Michael Jasper’s Meet the Madfeet was the funniest of the bunch, set in a thinly-disguised Middle-earth and focusing on a wizard known as “Greybeard’s replacement” that keeps complaining about the little fur-feet. This is a fun-filled collection that skewers the fantasy genre in very inventive ways. Good stuff.

First Sentence (from the Introduction):
Late one evening, my husband and I were talking, bouncing ideas off one another about our future and looking back to see if our lives had turned out to be the way we had tried to plan it.

Spring in Action, by Walls and Breidenbach

Spring in Action, by Walls and Breidenbach

This book irritated me so much it took me months to work up the desire to blog about it. I picked it up several months ago because I wanted to become more familiar with Spring, the development framework we are using at work. The general concepts s presented are fine, but as it turns out, nothing the (fairly good) doc on the Spring website didn’t cover. The reason I disliked this was that the examples were wrong. Not typo-wrong, but not-even-close wrong. I was so confused that I asked a co-worker that is very comfortable with Spring, and he was confused as well. Few books in this genre are error-free, but this was egregious. I’ve read most of Tapestry in Action as well (I didn’t finish it so I didn’t blog about it) and was fairly unimpressed with it as well. I don’t see myself picking up many more ... in Action books in the future.

First Sentence:
It all started with a bean.

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