Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island

I finally finished reading Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island this week. Phew! I feel like it took me years to read it. I hate when I don't have as much time to devote to reading as I would like, but hey, I have to set priorities and lesson plans and schoolwork must come first. Nonetheless, I finally did it!

I must start with a bit of a spoiler: this novels has an open ending! So, if you're one of those people who can't stand when there isn't a "real" resolution at the end of the story (be it a novel or movie), then don't even bother reading this book. It is somewhat thick and you will be disappointed. With that being said, let's start talking about the good things about it.

I picked it up while stuck in the JFK airport in NYC for 4 hours, having slept for only 6 hours in 2 days and needing to stay up so I wouldn't miss the plane. I needed to find something that would keep my interest up (I'm one of those people who won't fall asleep if I have a good book in hand). My options were tons of Nicholas Sparks' books, some other sappy stories, and this. I didn't even know that the movie that just came out with Leonardo DiCaprio was based on a book, and was pleasantly surprised.

The novels starts out a little confusing, the time and setting jump around a little and it's difficult to follow, but once you get past the first couple of pages, the story is a delight. It tells the story of 2 US Marshalls, Teddy and Chuck, who must go to an island off of the coast of Boston or somewhere in Rhode Island (I'm not sure where, it never really tells in the book, but it's around there). On this island operates a mental hospital, which houses only the most dangerous mental patients in the country. The reason why they were sent to such place is because a patient has apparently ran away and it is up to them to find her. All in all, no one can understand how someone ran away from that place, and Teddy starts to think this is a cover up. On top of everything, a hurricane is upon them. I can't say much more otherwise I'll reveal too much of the plot and totally ruin the book (or possibly the movie. I haven't seen it).

Lehane has some amazing metaphors and imagery. I was pleasantly surprised by them as I didn't think that this book was the kind of have language like that. It seemed as thought it would be more straight forward. His characters are also very round and believable. I hated the antagonist and cheered for Teddy every time he had a breakthrough on the investigation.

The only problem I had with it is that I wished he had more descriptions. Since everything happened in a mental hospital, visuals were important and I don't think that there was enough of those. Maybe the movie version will be easier to understand because of the visual ability.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I spent most of my spring break catching up on movies I wanted to see but haven't had time to. I would like to go ahead and spend time reviewing those as well, since movies are a form of storytelling as well.

This movie was stupendous in my opinion. But, I must say that I find it so because I enjoy apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies. This movie is not for the kind of people whom aren't fond of this kind of movie. Most of it is about the special effects. They are excellent, I must say. I am one of those people who prefers a good background story to a car blowing up, but the special effects are essential to this movie. Without them, the movie would not make as much sense as it does. The plot of this movie states the magma in the Earth's crust has soften, and because of that the tectonic plates are moving and the soil has become extremely unstable. Earthquakes are happening left and right, and tsunamis are following suit. So think of it as the perfect blend between Deep Impact and The Core. The one problem I had with this movie, and maybe I am overanalyzing it, is that the president is black. Yes, I know that Danny Glover is a terrific actor, but it almost made the movie look like a warning. Barack Obama will still be the president in 2012. Also, the scientist who is in charge of calculating how much time the US has to make provisions to save the world is black, and he messes up. Yes, I know that if he hadn't messed up there would not be any tension in the movie, but in fact all this makes it somewhat racist. And makes it seem like there is a warning, that because the US chose a black president, now the world will end.

Watch if you love CGI.

Law Abiding Citizen
This is one of the best cop thriller movies I have seen in a while. This one is with Gerard Butler and Jaime Foxx. Foxx is a criminal lawyer, and Butler is a man bent on revenge after his family's killer is let go from prison because of a deal Foxx made while on the case. I don't want to spoil this gem to anyone, so I won't talk any more about the plot. I was very surprised with the ending, it was different and intelligent. Only one warning, this is not for the faint of stomach. There are some quite brutal scenes, but they are essential setting the tone of the movie.

I thought this was going to be a scary thriller, and it turned out to be very political. Now it's no wonder to me to find out that it was based on an European movie, as those tend to be more concerned wth making people think than entertaining the masses, like American movies. The plot is about a marine officer who gets captured by terrorist group in Afghanistan. He left behind a wife wiht 2 young girls, parents who were extremely proud of him, and a brother who jsut recently left jail. He is tortured beyong belief, and made do things no one can even imagine. Everyone back home thinks he is dead, and the brother takes over as the male figure for the girls. He goes over, fixes little problems in the house, plays with them, everything is very innocent. About a year later, the officer is found and goes back home. He is very changed, and no one seems to be able to fit him in back home. Because his wife and brother gets along so well now, he started to suspect that they are having an affair, and turns very violent. I will not ruin the plot by writing the end here.

When I rented this movie I thought about a psychological thriller, but in fact, this movie was made to make people think about the horrors of war. The audience is supposed to think about everything he goes through, and then judge on their own if the war in Afghanistan, or even the one in Iraq are right or wrong. We are supposed to befriend the terrorists, who film the soldiers saying "we have no right to be here. This land belongs to the Afghan people", because that is true. But then, we loathe them again because of their acts, but still continue thinking that they are right, we shouldn't be there. We shouldn't make the soldiers go through what they do while there.

I recommend this for people who are not afraid of thinking.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

I figured I'd talk about a book with lighter theme and plot this time around: Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

As a high school teacher, I always read young adult literature books so I know what I can recommend to my students, or use as bait on the reluctant readers. Someone told me about this series in a class last semester, and since I am a big fan of Greek mythology, I decided to give it a try and bought the first installment.

The bases of the plot goes as follows: Percy is a clumsy 12 year old with dislexia and ADD who seems to always get into a heap of trouble at his schools, which usually ends with his expulsion. He has gone through so many schools that now his mother has resorted to boarding schools, despite her poverty. His dad left them when he was just a baby and he hates his stepdad, who treats his mom as if she were his maid.

At school, everyone hates him, except Grover, who is just as hated as he is. At the end of 6th grade, after being expelled one more time, things start to get very weird as monsters start to show up and try to kill them. That's when he finds out that Grover is actually a satyr who has come to protect him and that he must go to Camp Half-Blood.

There he finds out that the Greek gods are not only real, but still very much alive and powerful and that they still come down to Earth as humans and have demigod children. Percy is one of them. In fact, Percy is the son of Poseidon, one of the big 3, and a rarety.

Coincidentally, a lot of trouble starts to rise and it is up to Percy and his friends to try to fix it all and save humanity.

Riordan uses first person narrative in a brilliant way, making Percy a very believable character, even though we know (or think we know) that the ancient greek gods were nothing but myths and that demigods cannot exist. He sounds like a 12 year old should, with all the anger and the sarcasm that age comes.

Usually sequels do not live up to the original book, but the second installment is just as good as the first one. I feel like I'm reading Harry Potter all over again. These books make me not want to go to sleep, because I want to know what is coming up next. I even dream about the story when I do have to stop and go to sleep.

Unlike JK Rowling, Riordan uses characters that are very well-known, but puts them in a brand new twist: our own time, fighting teenagers, and being the owners of donut or garden statue shops, fighting off to stay alive just as humans are. This is exactly what makes the books as fenomenal as they are: Riordan's ability to bring forth into a new light stories that are so familiar and old as the greek myths. Stories most people know, but have forgotten. And also, this is a good reason why kids and teenagers (well, adults too) like them so much--it brings them back to when they were first learning about Greek myths and dreaming about being a hero, or a god.

Riordan also gives very human traits to the gods, flaws and all, just like they were described back then, but most people have seemed to forget about that. It makes the story even more believable. Out of all the gods introduced in the books I have read, Dyonisus is my favorite. He really seems to be just like the real one would be.

I have a couple of other books in my "to read" list, but as soon as those are read, I will definitely purchase the third installment to this series. I truly believe this is the best series after Harry Potter and a must read for anyone who wishes to escape boredom and embark in an adventure.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Welcome back to myself! I do apologize I spent such a long time away from here, but my life went topsy turvy for a while and I finally just got it back on track, though it seems that another loop or down is coming on this rollercoaster.

Back in July I talked about Dan Brown's four books: Deception Point, Digital Fortress, Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code. Today, I would like to talk about his last installment: The Lost Symbol.

I bought it as an unabridged audiobook because I do a lot of driving, and this helps me pass the time to and from work. I found myself taking the long way home and driving slower than I usually would just to buy time and finish listening to a crucial chapter.

This book is set in Washington, D.C. rather than in Europe as was the case with the two first Robert Langdon books, and I liked the change. I have never been to the country's capital, and I wanted to go very badly after I finished listening to it. I want to go to all those places Brown describes with a very precise accuracy which I infer from the accuracy he presented on Angels and Demons--the only one I can testify because I have been to Rome and could navigate through the streets he described and knew exactly where the characters were going. Now, I want to see the Library of Congress, the Capitol Building, etc.

As always, Robert Langdon is lovable and involved in a lot of trouble. All other characters are quite well developed, as if they could actually be real people. The villain is quite evil--probably my favorite villain of his so far. The final product, or better yet, the stuff Robert Langdon must risk his life to save, disappointed me a little, but such is life. Besides that, what really captured me in this book was the sickness of the villain's mind. He made Silas from the The Da Vinci Code seem like quite a nice guy. He is brutal, scrupulous, bent on revenge, thirsty for blood, completely demented and does not have a single drop of scrupulousity: the perfect recipe for a great villain. He is by far my favorite character, as much as I loathe him.

All in all, as long as Brown took to release this novel (around four years), I was expecting the next great American novel, and did not get it. I was somewhat disappointed, but not entirely. There is only so much you can make one character go through following the same basic plotline before it gets old. I think it is time to retire Landgon and go back to writing about more technological stuff. However, this book did capture my attention, and would have made me lose some nights of sleep had I acquired it in paper.

I highly recommend it for people who are die hard Dan Brown fans and for people who have never read any of his works before. If you have read some of his work and not fallen in love with it, you won't like it. Also, I recommend it for people who are taking long flights. You will not get bored with this book.