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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category



“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, 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


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


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.

Inferno – The Novel


I watched the movie trailer of “Inferno” and remember I didn’t write a book review about it after I finished reading the novel back in 2013. So maybe it’s time to do it. “Inferno” is the fifth novel from Dan Brown. After his last disappointing novel, “The Lost Symbol”, I really hope that he can get back in shape and come up with a book like “Angels and Daemons” or “De Vinci Code”. However, the outcome is even more disappointing.

“Inferno” did have an interesting start: Harvard professor Robert Langdon woke up in the hospital and lost his memory of the past few days. An assassin came and tried to kill him, with the help of a female doctor, Robert escaped. He found a hi-tech projector in his jacket that displayed a modified version of Botticelli’s Map of Hell, which was based on Dante’s Inferno. From the hints in the image, Robert retraced his steps in the past few days and regained his memory. He found that he had stolen Dante’s death mask in Palazzo Vecchio museum that linked to a geneticist, Bertrand Zobrist. Zobrist developed a biological plague that would kill a large portion of people to solve the overpopulation issue. The plague was hidden somewhere and would be released at a certain time. The problem was Zobrist was committed suicide the week before. So it’s a time game again for Robert to prevent the plague to be released.

“Inferno” has the similar storytelling pattern as Dan Brown’s previous novels – a time critical mission with a killer chasing in the background and a number of historical artifacts and buildings were involved in the process. No matter how unbelievable the previous missions were, they were achieved successfully at the end. But the mission in “Inferno” was a failure from the beginning, I think this leads to most of the disappointment to the book. The movie script may need to have a minor update to the story; otherwise the audiences will feel the same disappointment.

As always, Dan tried to create a number of twists – enemies are not enemies, friends are not friends, villain is not a villain, but it seems that he overdid it this time. For example, there was a person who developed a plague symptom – a large bruise on his chest. He was actually an actor who disguised as a doctor in an earlier hospital scene. His chest bruise was caused by the misfire of squib that used to simulate him being shot by the assassin. In another case, the assassin pointed the gun to Robert only wanted to show him that the gun was faked. Dan, you can do better than this, right?

The overall flow of the story is slow; a quarter of the contents can be trimmed off to make a faster pace. I am impatient and feel frustrated each time when Robert paused in the middle of a life-or-death circumstance to admire the building around him and describe its historical details. If you read all other Dan Brown’s novels, you will get nothing new from “Inferno”. “Inferno” probably has the least myths, secrets and symbols for Robert Langdon to resolve. Dan surely did his research on Florence, but the story should come first before the tour details, and the novel has the other way round.

The Girl On The Train


After the success of “Gone Girl”, a number of novels follow its narrative style – each character describes a series of events from his/her own view. In the end, all the dots are joined together and the truth is unexpected. I mentioned in my previous book review that “Gone Girl” is overpraised. But what people like is hard to predict, even “Fifty Shades of Grey” can be the best seller, what can I say? (No offense if you like the book, it’s just not my type.)

I finished reading “The Girl On The Train” earlier this year. I’m surprised to find the movie which based on the novel will be released this year. I wonder how the weak storyline can be adapted into a full length movie. “The Girl On The Train” is written by Paula Hawkins. It is referred as “the next Gone Girl”. Is it better than “Gone Girl”? Don’t think so, but only more annoying.

A tiding of magpies: One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told.

Rachel was divorced and she passed her old house near the train track when she commuted to London everyday. The house was now occupied by her ex-husband Tom, his new wife Anna and their new-born daughter. Other than watching her old house, Rachel also paid attention to a young couple – Megan and Scott, who lived in a house close by. One morning, when Rachel took her usual trip, she was stunned to see Megan kissing another man other than her husband. Then Megan went missing. And that’s all the annoying bits began.

Rachel by chance went to find Tom on the day Megan disappeared and found herself injured the following day. The problem is Rachel was an alcoholic and was heavily drunk that day. She had a blackout and could not remember what had happened. But she dragged herself into the mystery again and again – reporting to the police that Megan had an affair, contacting Scott and pretending she was Megan’s friend, investigating who was Megan’s secret lover, trying to recall her lost memory and find out why she was injured. There were flashbacks, dreams, imaginations, mind games and even total unrelated strangers to distract you. But it’s not difficult to guess who is the killer. Did I say someone died? If not, yes, Megan’s body was found at some stage.

Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mold yourself through the gaps.

You probably will hate all the characters in “The Girl on the Train”, they are all selfish and only care about themselves. They lied and cheated throughout the story. Especially Rachel, she forgot what she had done while she was drunk but she kept drinking and messing things up. It doesn’t make sense from the first place why she got herself so involved in the missing of another woman who she never met. I think it will be a better development that Rachel found the hints or recalled her memory during her rehab, then solved the mystery and bounced back from a hopeless alcoholic to a heroine in town. But readers nowadays may prefer characters who have a dark side.

Life is not a paragraph, and death is no parenthesis.

Gone Girl


This is my first book review in the blog.

Marketing gimmicks work sometimes. With “the addictive No. 1 best seller that everyone is talking about” and its film adaptation with David Fincher as director, “Gone Girl” sure raises my interest. With high expectation and the feeling after reading the book … a horror marriage story of a psycho couple that is not as good as it should be.

The couple is Nick and Amy. “Gone Girl” is divided into 3 parts in consecutive chapters written in first person from Nick and Amy respectively. In Part 1 “Boy Loses Girl”, it started from Amy’s disappearance in their fifth wedding anniversary. As police investigation went on, all the evidences pointed to Nick as the killer of his wife. Trying to understand the recent life of his wife, Nick followed Amy’s hints for a treasure hunt – a tradition for their wedding anniversary. But soon, we learned that he was having an affair. In parallel, Amy’s diary from 2005 to 2012 was presented. The diary recorded how she and Nick met, dated, married and how their love fell apart. Part 1 is actually not an enjoyable read. The odd narrative and frequent jump between the past and present made me worried about the following parts.

Fortunately, Part 2 “Boy Meets Girl” provided a twist to the story. Amy was alive and she hid in a motel. She actually was the alpha female – she framed Nick for her death in revenge for his unfaithful. However things didn’t go as planned. She was robbed and lost all her money. With no other options, she contacted her ex-boyfriend Desi. As her long-term admirer, Desi let Amy to stay in his mansion. Soon Amy felt trapped and she had another thought. On the other hand, Nick also figured out Amy’s plan. The hints for the treasure hunt actually brought him to places where he and his lover met. When more secrets were exposed, he faced more pressure from the public.

When Nick was desperate and prepared for the worse, Amy returned in Part 3 “Boy Gets Girl Back (Or Vice Versa)”. Amy killed Desi and blamed him for kidnapping her. Although her story was suspected by the police, she was viewed as a hero. So would Nick reveal the true identity of Amy in the end? A disappointed answer: No. And don’t ask why, that’s it.

There are goods and bads of “Gone Girl”. It’s clever and creative, but it’s also slow and faulty. To me, “Gone Girl” is overpraised. I kept thinking during my read: “Why am I not enjoying it when it is so highly praised by everyone?” If I need to give it a rating: 3 out of 5.

“I was told love should be unconditional. That’s the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever? If I know I am loved no matter what, where is the challenge? I am supposed to love Nick despite all his shortcomings. And Nick is supposed to love me despite my quirks. But clearly, neither of us does. It makes me think that everyone is very wrong, that love should have many conditions. Love should require both partners to be their very best at all times.”
– Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl