Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane

April 18th, 2008

Shutter Island by Dennis LehaneSummer, 1954.

U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Along with his partner, Chuck Aule, he sets out to find an escaped patient, a murderess named Rachel Solando, as a hurricane bears down upon them.

But nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems.

And neither is Teddy Daniels.

Is he there to find a missing patient? Or has he been sent to look into rumors of Ashecliffe's radical approach to psychiatry? An approach that may include drug experimentation, hideous surgical trials, and lethal countermoves in the shadow war against Soviet brainwashing...

Or is there another, more personal reason why he has come there?

As the investigation deepens, the questions only mount:

How has a barefoot woman escaped the island from a locked room?
Who is leaving clues in the form of cryptic codes?
Why is there no record of a patient committed there just one year before?
What really goes on in Ward C?
Why is an empty lighthouse surrounded by an electrified fence and armed guards?

The closer Teddy and Chuck get to the truth, the more elusive it becomes, and the more they begin to believe that they may never leave Shutter Island.

Because someone is trying to drive them insane...

Shutter Island's only inhabitants are the patients in a mental institution and the instution's employees, and Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels was sent to the island to investigate the highly unlikely disappearance of a patient. While on the island Teddy cannot tell if the puzzles he encounters are clues to solving the case or if they are all an elaborate setup to keep him from ever leaving.

For a long time I read nothing but mystery/suspense novels because it was only within their pages that...well it was only these books that could challenge me. Some authors in the genre are so good that the books become almost interactive. As the main character tries to sift through the case, I am a puppet on a string. There is nothing better than a good thriller that makes you sit up in bed and talk to yourself while you read. This was that type of book.

Dennis Lehane's Mystic River was a pretty good book, but I would not really compare the two. Shutter Island was much more intense and in my humble opinion, a much better book.

The book is short and a lightning fast read and my recommendation to you is to read it in as few sittings as possible. Lehane weaves a web of intricate and minute details and fewer sittings will hopefully allow you to enjoy seeing how each detail is important. If you have to, or even prefer to, read the book more slowly, the overall thrill of the book should not be lost on you at all. I really liked this book and I hope someone out there has some suggestions of books like it for me to read.

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April 16th, 2008
Charles Baxter - The Feast of Love - 204Because it's the midwest, no one really glitters because no one has to, it's more a dull shine, like frequently used silverware. We were all presentable enough, but almost no one was making any kind of statement. Out here in Michigan, the real style is too difficult to maintain; the styles are all convenient and secondhand. We're all hand-me-down personalities. But that's liberating: it frees you up for other matters of greater importance, the great themes, the sordid passions.

The Broken Window

March 27th, 2008

The Broken Window by Jeffery DeaverData mining is the industry of the 21st century. Commercial companies collect information about us from thousands of sources—credit cards, loyalty programs, hidden radio tags in products, medical histories, employment and banking records, government filings, and many more—then analyze and sell the data to anyone willing to pay the going rate. Some people approve, citing economic benefits; others worry about the erosion of privacy.

But no one has been prepared for a new twist: A psychotic killer with access to the country's biggest data miner—Strategic Systems Datacorp—is using detailed information to work his way into the lives of victims, rape, rob and kill them and then blame unsuspecting innocents for the crimes. The killer's voluminous knowledge of the victims and his ability to plant damning evidence mean that even the most vocal protests of innocence go ignored by the police and juries.

The perp has, in short, found a perfect means to literally get away with murder—until one of his fall guys turns out to be Lincoln Rhyme's cousin, Arthur, who is facing certain conviction for first-degree murder. Though the two Rhymes haven't had any contact for years, Lincoln agrees to look into the case. In the process he unravels a spider web of crime that the killer, known only as Unknown Subject 522, has woven.

Rhyme, Amelia Sachs and the cast of the previous Rhyme books find themselves up against their most insidious villain, a man obsessed with collecting—from junk on the street to intimate details about our lives to the ultimate trophy: human lives themselves, which he sees as mere streams of data. This is a man proficient with razors and guns, but whose most dangerous weapon is information, which he wields with ruthless precision against those he targets on whim . . . and against those who try to stop him.

"How," Rhyme says, "can you defend yourself against the man who knows everything?"

As the invisible 522 attacks his pursuers through identity theft and outright torture and murder, the stymied police have to turn to the likely source of the data the killer uses—the eerie and monolithic Strategic Systems Datacorp, headed by the legendary data mining pioneer, Andrew Sterling, whose "mission" is the creation of a global empire based not on politics or money but on information.

"Knowledge is power," Sterling continually reminds.

And for Lincoln Rhyme, the case has an added dimension: Arthur's reemergence draws him back to his childhood and teen years and forces the criminalist to grapple with a tragedy from his past he has avoided for decades.

The Broken Window is classic Deaver fare: Taking place over three frantic days, the novel features dozens of twists and turns, fascinating, highly researched details—about identity theft, data mining and threats to privacy, as well as forensic science—and, of course, offers the typical multiple surprise endings the author is known for crafting.

The Broken Window will be released in hardcover in the USA and Canada on June 3, 2008, and in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand on July 24, 2008.

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March 26th, 2008
Philip Pullman - The Golden Compass - 32

"That's the duty of the old," said the Librarian, "to be anxious on behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old."

They sat for a while longer, and then parted, for it was late, and they were old and anxious.

Book of the Month - April, 2008

March 20th, 2008

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson

Out Stealing Horses by Per PettersonWe were going out stealing horses. That was what he said, standing at the door to the cabin where I was spending the summer with my father. I was fifteen. It was 1948 and one of the first days of July.

Trond's friend Jon often appeared at his doorstep with an adventure in mind for the two of them.

But this morning was different. What began as a joy ride on "borrowed" horses ends with Jon falling into a strange trance of grief. Trond soon learns what befell Jon earlier that day -- an incident that marks the beginning of a series of vital losses for both boys.

At age sixty-seven, Trond has settled into a rustic cabin in an isolated part of eastern Norway to live the rest of his life with a quiet deliberation. A meeting with his only neighbor, however, forces him to reflect on that fateful summer.

Petterson's subtle prose and profound vision make Out Stealing Horses and unforgettable novel -- an achingly good read.

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March 19th, 2008
Charles Baxter - The Feast of Love - 31Loving him was particularly tricky because he was inaccessible in a sort of wacky way. Like so many of these twenty-something guys he was a perpetual traveler in outer space. What are you guys looking for out there? Trysts with aliens? I don't get it. Never have. He was one of those men who could talk articulately about anything -- food or movies or music or current events -- but you could discern in the middle of his conversation that he had commenced to brood about something else that was not making its way into the mix. Right at the table he'd disappear on you and you couldn't get him back.

The Feast of Love - Charles Baxter

March 11th, 2008

The Feast of Love: A Novel by Charles BaxterLate one night, Charlie Baxter wakes with a start from a bad dream and decides to take a walk through his Ann Arbor neighborhood. After catching sight of two lovers entangled together on the fifty-yard line of the football field, he comes upon Bradley W. Smith, a friend and fellow insomniac, who convinces Charlie to listen to the first of many tales that will become a luminous narrative of love in its sublime, agonizing, and eternal complexity.

We meet Kathryn, Bradley's first wife, who leaves her husband for another woman, and Diana, Bradley's second wife, whose cold, secretive nature makes her more suitable as a mistress than as a spouse. We meet Chloe and Oscar, whose dreams for their future together are more traditional than their multiple body piercings and wild public displays of affection might suggest. We meet Esther and Harry Ginsberg, Bradley's neighbors, whose love for their lost son persists despite his hatred of them. And we follow Bradley, ex-husband, employer, and friend, on his journey toward conjugal happiness. The community of souls found in The Feast of Love is unforgettable -- as is the perfect symphony their harmonized voices create.

An author takes a walk one night to combat his insomnia and he bumps into a neighbor who becomes his muse for a new book. This neighbor promises new perspective on the oft discussed topic of love. Many stories follow that cover various contexts for the often illusive thing; there is husband-wife love, wife-lover love, boy-girl love, parent-child love, boss-employee love, lonely man-mysterious girl love and more.

I will admit that I let my expectations get the better of me as I began to read. I allowed myself to (I feel) be lead to believe that the two men who could not sleep would share and discuss a selection of anecdotes on the subject. There would be third-person retelling of a story about love and two men, romantic or skeptic, would give it depth.

In place of that the book was first-person retelling of the stories from characters who were too ordinary to be entertaining. The Feast of Love was very Jerry Seinfeld, very quick to emphasize themes that occur in almost all of our lives. I have never developed an appreciation for this.

Charles Baxter was a surprisingly talented writer. He sprinkled the book with some wonderful literary gems, but the story as a whole lacked in substance. I think that anyone who reads The Feast of Love would highlight/underline/jot down/post on the web many snippets, or gems, and no two people would necessarily be moved by the same ones. From that angle, I liked that there was a broad mix.

Without the occasional silver-lining excerpt, The Feast of Love was an unremarkable book. The story was intended to be full of ordinary people, but I'm not sure they were supposed to seem so...plain. Admittedly I thought the book was headed in a different direction and my disappointment and bias is on record. I liked parts of The Feast of Love, but not the book in its entirety.

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March 5th, 2008
Homer Hickam - Rocket Boys - 329...and all of a sudden I realized how much he meant to me. I found myself wanting to say that I hoped Roy Lee would always be my friend, and that I could be his, no matter what happened to us or where we went or how far apart we were. I settled for hitting him on the shoulder and then letting him hit me back, a good balled fist to the shoulder that hurt. That said everything I wanted to say without letting the words get in the way of it, anyway.

Rocket Boys - Homer Hickam

February 26th, 2008

Rockey Boys by Homer HickamWith the grace of a natural storyteller, NASA engineer Homer Hickam paints a warm, vivid portrait of the harsh West Virginia mining town of his youth, evoking a time of innocence and promise, when anything was possible, even in a company town that swallowed its men alive. A story of romance and loss, of growing up and getting out, Homer Hickam's lush, lyrical memoir is a chronicle of triumph--at once exquisitely written and marvelously entertaining.

A number-one New York Times bestseller in mass market, brought to the screen in the acclaimed film October Sky, Homer Hickam's memoir, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, comes to trade paperback with an all-new photo insert.

One of the most beloved bestsellers in recent years, ROCKET BOYS is a uniquely American memoir. A powerful, luminous story of coming of age at the end of the 1950s, it is the story of a mother's love and a father's fears, of growing up and getting out. With the grace of a natural storyteller, Homer Hickam looks back after a distinguished NASA career to tell his own true story of growing up in a dying coal town and of how, against the odds, he made his dreams of launching rockets into outer space come true.

A story of romance and loss and a keen portrait of life at an extraordinary point in American history, ROCKET BOYS is a chronicle of triumph.

Children in West Virginia mining towns became coal miners. They did not become rocket scientists. But it did not matter how well-known this was, for Homer "Sonny" Hickam, Jr. there was only one way out. He was the right age and had the right amount of ambition when the United States and Russia became entangled in the Space Race and as far as he was concerned, his fate was sealed.

Hickam's writing carried the comfort of conversation with an old friend. It was remarkable how easily I became nostalgic for neither a time nor a place that I had ever known. The story drips with the passion of a man who if he had to do it all over again, probably wouldn't change a thing. He understood and appreciated the importance of everything that happened to him and helped him on his way.

One thing that I found particularly fascinating was how closely this book resembled the old proverb that It takes a whole village to raise a child. And I mean no disrespect to Mr. Hickam when I point out how amazing his circumstance was in that he could not have done it alone. The stars seemingly aligned perfectly so that one boy from West Virginia could capture the hearts of so many people that he would be able to get such invaluable assistance. There was probably no way anyone else could have done what he did. And that is to his credit. (The way his path was guided by fate, or something like it, reminded me of how Ruth Reichl became a food critic in Tender at the Bone.)

I loved this book for Hickam's ability to transport me from my favorite reading chair to a West Virginia high school in the late 50s. I found myself hanging on every word wondering what would happen next. There is something special about an intelligently written story about a successful man who takes no credit for himself, but rather gives it to each person who helped him make his dreams come true. Rocket Boys may now find itself among the short list of my favorite books.

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February 25th, 2008
Paulo Coelho - The Alchemist - 44He realized: If I can learn to understand this language without words, I can learn to understand the world.