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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Bomb Maker

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“The Bomb Maker” is the first novel I read from Thomas Perry. Without much expectation, it surprised me. The novel reminded me about movies like “The Hurt Locker” and Andy Lau’s “Shock Wave” (Hong Kong). There were a number of intense moments in disarming the bombs. The book itself can easily be adapted as a Hollywood movie.

After half of the bomb squad members were killed in a bomb trap set up by the bomb maker, the retired captain Dick Stahl was called back to lead the team. It seemed only Dick could read the bomb maker’s mind and defused his bombs one by one successfully. Dick soon developed a relationship with a female bomb squad member – Diane Hines.

As Diane had blocked one of the bomb maker’s attacks, he planted a bomb at her home. Diane was seriously injured and the bomb maker then threw a fake party and tried to blow up the hospital and kill more squad members – I think it was quite smart. At the same time, the relationship between Dick and Diane was revealed. As this violated the department regulations, Dick was forced to resign.

Another story line is about the bomb maker. Other than placing bombs around the city, he teamed up with a group of terrorists. There were a few chapters about the bomb maker visiting gun shows and purchasing guns for the terrorists – I feel they are unnecessary and just simply there for making up the pages. In turn, the terrorists tried to use the guns they got to kill Dick and Diane. But they failed and that’s how they were exposed.

Unlike the book title, Dick Stahl is our hero, not the bomb maker. The bomb maker does not even have a name, there was only a vague description about his life and no explanation about how he became a bomb maker. Worst, the confrontation between Dick and the bomb maker that I was looking forward didn’t happen. Similar to the terrorists, we don’t know who they were and where they came from. And they were far too easy to destroy at the end.

Although the story seemed running out of steam and ended abruptly, the novel is well-researched and includes in-depth technical details in bomb making. Midway through the book, I was fascinated with the idea that what a surprise it would be if Dick Stahl was the bomb maker at the end. Despite the dissatisfied ending and lack of character development, I will definitely check out Thomas Perry’s other novels.

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The Woman in the Window

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From A.J. Finn’s thriller – “The Woman in the Window”, I learned about agoraphobia – a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped. You fear an actual or anticipated situation, such as using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line, or being in a crowd. Most people who have agoraphobia develop it after having one or more panic attacks, causing them to worry about having another attack and avoid the places where it may happen again. People with agoraphobia often have a hard time feeling safe in any public place. The fear can be so overwhelming that you may feel unable to leave your home.

The story of “The Woman in the Window” is similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”.  Anna was a child psychologist. She was agoraphobic and had not left home for a year but she still gave consultation to her patients online. She watched classic movies, the novel is filled with lots of movie dialogue which I feel confusing sometimes. She claimed she was separated from her husband and daughter, but I might read too many thrillers, I know they were dead from the beginning. Those small talks were just her imagination. Anna drank a lot, mostly merlot, and she also liked to spy on her neighbors. One day, a new family – the Russells (husband, wife and their teenager son), moved in.

Anna spied the Russells through her binoculars and witnessed the wife being killed by someone. She reported to the police but another woman showed up and identified herself as the real wife. With no one believed her, Anna started the investigation herself. Again, I might read too many thrillers, it’s not hard to figure out the logic. Warning: spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph. If the woman being murdered was not the wife, she was someone else related to the Russells family. Anna found the woman’s earring in her tenant’s room (Anna had a tenant who lived in her basement), then she was the girl who had a relationship with her tenant and she was in Anna’s house most of the time. In order to build up the suspense, A.J. Finn tried too hard to make the readers think the killer is either the husband, the real wife or Anna’s tenant. But it’s quite obvious who the killer is if you exclude all these characters.

If you like “The Girl on the Train”, you will probably like “The Woman in the Window”. But to me, it’s not a present read. I was struggled to follow a depressed agoraphobic woman who was stuck in her house, took her medication with alcohol and wandered between dream and reality most of the time. A few times Anna forced herself to go outside and developed the symptoms of agoraphobia, I just sighed … oh no. The story line is not new and it can’t offer me the surprises at the end. But it’s just my opinion, if you want to spend time with a reasonable novel, “The Woman in the Window” may be a good pick among the thrillers in 2018. By the way, its movie rights were already acquired and the film will be released next year.

The Paradox of Choice

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When I was young, the telephone with the dial at home served no other purpose than simply making calls, and that did us just fine. In contrast, if you enter a cell-phone store today, you will be flattened by an avalanche of brands, models and contract options. Selection is the yardstick of progress. Although abundance makes us giddy, there is a limit. When it is exceeded, a surfeit of choices destroys the quality of life.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz describes in his book “The Paradox of Choice” why this is so. First, a large selection leads to inner paralysis. To test this, a supermarket set up a stand where customers could sample 24 varieties of jelly. They could try as many as they liked and then buy them at a discount. The next day, the owners carried out the same experiment with only 6 flavors. The result? They sold 10 times more jelly on day two. Why? With such a wide range, customers could not come to a decision, so they bought nothing. The experiment was repeated several times with different products. The results were always the same.

Second, a broader selection leads to poorer decisions. If you ask young people what is important in a life partner, they reel off all the usual qualities: intelligence, good manners, warmth, the ability to listen, a sense of humor, and physical attractiveness. But do they actually take these criteria into account when choosing someone? Nowadays, in the era of online dating, millions of potential partners are at our disposal. It has been proven that the stress caused by this mind-boggling variety is so large that the male brain reduces the decision to one single criterion: physical attractiveness.

Finally, large selection leads to discontent. How can you be sure you are making the right choice when 200 options surround and confound you? The answer is: You cannot. The more choice you have, the more unsure and therefore dissatisfied you are afterward.

So think carefully about what you want before you inspect existing offers and stick to your criteria. Also, realize that you can never make a perfect decision. Aiming for this is, given the flood of possibilities, a form of irrational perfectionism. Instead, learn to love a “good” choice. Yes, even in terms of life partners. Only the best will do? In this age of unlimited variety, rather the opposite is true: “Good enough” is the new optimum.

Camino Island

John Grisham’s “Camino Island” surprised me – it’s not a legal thriller. No courtrooms and lawyers in the novel, instead, it introduced us to the world of writers and rare-book industry. It began with the heist of 5 priceless manuscripts in the Firestone Library at Princeton. Then a young novelist Mercer who was struggling with the topic of her next book, was recruited by an insurance company. The task was to locate those manuscripts by approaching a book dealer in Camino Island – Bruce, who was the prime suspect in buying the stolen manuscripts.

Mercer then entered Bruce’s life circle and mixed with his gang of writers. At some point, the story felt like Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution”, a mole developed a relationship with the target. Bruce and Mercer fell for each other, although Bruce had a wife, but his wife also got a boyfriend in France, so there was no ethical issue according to the novel. Bruce even showed Mercer the manuscripts in his basement vault. So the insurance company and FBI  kept Bruce’s bookshop under surveillance, planned to arrest him and recover the manuscripts. At the same time, the thieves who stole the manuscripts in the first place also arrived Camino Island, seeking further benefits from Bruce and the manuscripts.

Camino Island is not a real place, but Grisham simply wrote the novel during his vacation. The plot is slack and it’s definitely not a page turner. Every one in the story is relaxed and doesn’t mind to waste their time in the little resort-town. And the characters are not likable, the readers can’t care less about their fate. Grisham also spent a fair amount of time introducing those rare-books that Bruce collected, be honest, I never heard of them due to my lack of knowledge in this area. When the book reached its required length, everything just ended abruptly – the thieves unexpectedly got caught, the insurance company and FBI messed up, the bad guy got away, and our heroine was actually being played from the beginning. Despite all the flaws, the book provides a fun leisurely read, just because of Grisham’s story-telling skill.

Origin

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“Origin” is Dan Brown’s 7th novel, the 5th starring Robert Langdon. Sometimes I feel it will be more refreshing if Dan Brown can introduce a new character to his stories. In “Origin”, Robert’s friend Edmond was making an announcement in Spain which would answer the two basic questions: Where did we come from? Where are we going? It was promised to threaten people’s faith in religions. But Edmond was assassinated shortly after the presentation had started. Then the rest of the story was about how Robert solved all the puzzles and revealed Edmond’s findings to the public.

Like other Dan Brown’s novels, Robert Langdon had a time critical mission to achieve in “Origin” – to reveal a 47-character password to unlock Edmond’s presentation, accompanied by Ambrae, the curator of Guggenheim Museum where Edmond’s event was held. Ambrae was also the fiancee of the prince of Spain – the future queen. The relationship between Robert and Ambrae could be further expanded but the book just let it pass plainly. A surprise is Edmond’s A.I. assistant, Winston, who kept feeding information to Robert and helping him to navigate Barcelona.

As compared to Dan Brown’s other novels, “Origin” does not have that many symbols and secrets to uncover. You may simply view it as a thriller, but with a 45-minute TED Talk at the end. As usual, Dan tried to set up the suspense in his own style – an expected text message in the mobile, a surprised email in the computer, a voice of someone unbelievable was heard from the other end of the phone … But all these become bluffs without details and readers just can’t join the dots together. However, with only a few characters in the story, it’s not hard to guess who was behind all the drama.

The main problem of “Origin” is the over-promise of Edmond’s discovery to the answers of the two basic questions. But is it such a big deal whether human are created by God or by Nature? I think most of us will still live as normal no matter what the answers are. Worse, the final truth revealed was based on an existing theory and not a new concept. It will be more controversial if human were seeded on earth by aliens. And for the “where are we going” part, I really don’t think a hybrid of human and technology can be regarded as a new species.

There are a few unrelated sections in the book that are simply for making up the number of pages – those updates in ConspiracyNet.com, the subplot about the the king and prince of Spain. And it’s far too simple and easy to manipulate the killer for the assassination. As a whole, “Origin” is a good read in your spare time, but don’t expect it to be the same level as Dan Brown’s earlier books – “The DeVici Code” and “Angel and Demon.”

Don’t You Cry

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After the book reviews of “Gone Girl” and “Girl on the Train“, good things come in threes – here is the review of “Don’t You Cry” that has the same narrative style as the other 2 books. From the previous reviews, you’ll find that I personally dislike this story-telling style – each character describes a series of events from his/her own perspective. I feel that this is a lazy approach to create the suspense as readers are locked in the mindset of the characters without getting the big picture.

“Don’t You Cry” is a novel by Mary Kubica. The whole story is narrated through the first person view of 2 characters – a girl Quinn and a boy Alex. At the beginning, a young lady Esther disappeared in downtown Chicago. When her roommate Quinn tried to figure out her whereabouts, secrets about Esther were revealed: a haunting letter addressed to “My Dearest”, a large amount of money was withdrawn from her bank account, the death of her previous roommate.

As Quinn was searching for answers, in a small town outside Chicago, a mysterious lady Pearl appeared in a coffee shop where Alex worked. Alex was immediately attracted by the beauty of Pearl. By coincidence, he found her stayed in the abandon house next to his home that night. Then they did odd things: wandering in the middle of the night and digging someone’s grave. The book tried really hard to convince readers that Pearl is Esther, but it just made the setup so obvious.

The story went out of steam at some point and tried to make it exciting: Quinn encountered the insane guy in the bus and thought that Esther was planning to kill her. But this is unnecessary and just wasting time. Sometimes you know the book will not be satisfied but you continue to read and see whether it can be saved by the ending. The ending of “Don’t You Cry” – it doesn’t make sense. The whole story becomes so pointless and it’s simply about the revenge of a psycho. Due to the constraint of narration from 2 characters, a number of questions were unanswered. In short, don’t expect “Don’t You Cry” can live up to the level of “Gone Girl”, its storyline is even weaker than “Girl on the Train”.

Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die

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1. Be True To Yourself
How do we really live true to ourselves? The secret is to live with intention, to consistently and regularly ask 3 critical life questions: (1) Am I following my heart and being true to my self? (2) Is my life focused on the things that really matter to me? (3) Am I being the person I want to be in the world? One will learn from the old people that wisdom means reflecting more, asking again and again whether your life is going in the right direction, and making constant adjustments to move closer to the life you deserve to live. What separates those who live well and die happy from most of us is that they continually asked themselves whether they were living the life they wanted to live and following their heart toward the answer. The first secret is to be true to yourself and live with intention.

2. Leave No Regrets
Regret is possibly the one thing we all fear the most; that we might look back on our lives and wish we had done things differently. When we have lived life fully and done what we hoped to do, we can accept death with grace. What we fear most is not having lived to the fullest extent possible, to come to the end of our life with our final words being “I wish I had.” To leave no regrets, we must live with courage, moving toward what we want rather than away from what we fear. To leave no regrets we must overcome the inevitable disappointments that life hands us.

3. Become Loved
It is necessary to make a distinction between the emotion of love and the choice to love. Love is commonly perceived as only an emotion. The secret to a happy and purposeful life was to choose to be a loving person, to become loved. We live out this secret in 3 ways: (1) Love your self. Unless we fundamentally choose to see ourselves as worthy, we cannot find happiness. The love of self is fundamental to being a spiritually human being. (2) Make love a priority. Choose to act with love toward those closest to us and to make loving relationships a priority in our lives. (3) Choosing to see others with kindness. The most important thing to be discovered about this secret, to become loved, is that when we choose to become loved in all the encounters of our lives, when we choose love and kindness as our way in the world, happiness finds us. When we give love away it comes back to us in the form of happiness.

4. Live The Moment
If life goes by quickly, then one of the secrets to happiness is to get more out of the time we have, to find a way that each moment and each day become great gifts. Thoreau called this “improving the nick of time.” At its simplest, live the moment means to be fully in every moment of our lives, to not judge our lives but to live fully. It means that we must not focus on the past or the future but experience each moment with gratitude and purpose. We have the power in each moment to choose contentment and happiness. See each day as a great gift. We have no power over the past or the future. The past has already occurred and is behind us. Whatever happened, we have no power to change it. Any regrets we had, and any joys, are forever frozen in time. Focusing on the past, especially on regret, can only robs the present moment of its happiness.

5. Give More Than You Take
Happy people are always givers not takers. They may not have been as selfless as Mother Teresa or Gandhi, but they discovered that the more we give, the more we find happiness. One of the reasons that giving more that we take is one of the secrets to happiness and purpose is because we have a great deal of control over what we give. Each day, we have the power to give without limit. We can choose kindness, to serve, to love, to be generous, and to leave the world better in some way. When we give more than we take we connect ourselves to a story bigger than our selves. And in the act of doing so, happiness finds us.

Source: The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die by John Izzo, Ph.D.