28 January 2010

“Kirkus-style” review

The Thief of Always... written by Clive Barker... published by HarperCollins... 1992.

The Thief of Always is the first book by Clive Barker to be aimed at a younger audience (he has since published two titles in the Abarat series). Barker has previously been known as mainly a writer of horror fiction. He burst onto the scene with his "Books of Blood" short-story collections in the early 1980's, which earned a quote from Stephen King ("I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.") that has followed him throughout the years.

In this book, however, Barker has lightend the tone somewhat, and headed into new territory by writing a book for older children/young adults. The story is still a bit on the dark side (though no darker than something like the "Harry Potter" books), and still retains Barker's penchant for the fantastique. It begins with young Harvey Swick feeling bored and nullified by the "great gray beast February." That soon bordom soon lifts as he has a visitor who pops in his window (not unlike in the story of Peter Pan) who claims that he can take Harvey to a place where he can do anything he pleases, have all the fun he likes, and never be bored again! Harvey is reluctant, but eventually follows... through his hometown, and through a wall of clouds to a place that is quite unlike his dreary neighborhood. He goes up to a great house and is greeted by a kindly woman, Mrs. Griffin, who offers him and food he likes.

Harvey meets a couple of other children in the house. The girl takes to herself, but Harvey goes out to play with the boy on the bright summer-like day. Soon enough, it becomes evening... and Halloween! ...which later becomes Thanksgiving, and then Christmas (with snow!) later that night! Harvey has found himself at Mr. Hood's Holiday House! All seems well, with Harvey and his friends having a year's worth of fun in each day! ...but is all as it seems? ...and what is wrong with the fish in the pond behind the house? Harvey begins to question... but questions are not always well-met!

All in all, this is a wonderful book for younger readers and adults alike! There is great fantasy adventure, with just enough chills to delight readers. Harvey does learn a life-lesson in the end, but Barker manages to not make it preachy. This book is definitely recommended for young readers who can handle something on the darker side of things, and also for adults who would like to revisit something of this sort.

Shutter Island (Annotation 1)

Shutter Island... written by Dennis Lehane... published by HarperCollins... 2003.

Shutter Island is the first book that I've read by Dennis Lehane, but it will probably not be the last (that alone is a pretty good compliment). The copious quotes, and ads for his other books, let the reader know that Lehane is mainly an author of suspense/thriller novels. They are cinematic, and indeed, films have been made based on his books. In point of fact, the filmed version of Shutter Island comes out 19 February... directed by none other than Martin Scorsese.

Lehane's writing style is a bit different from what I normally read. The descriptions of the general scene, landscape, etc. seemed to be a bit thin... In some ways, that made it more like a screenplay (which usually gives the director, director of photography, etc. more room to play). There were a few spots in the book that it actually took me a minute to realise that there had been a scene change, because of the lack of descriptors. Also, secondary characters were also sometimes thinly described, but as I have found, that is apparently typical of the genre. The protagonist was described pretty well, and the reader learns more about him as the story progresses... especially in the latter part of the book.

I really don't want to give away too much of the story, as there is something of a mystery here... and I'm sure anyone who wants to read this book, or see the movie, would not appreciate me spoiling the surprises.

It begins in 1954 with U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels going to the titular island to investigate the disappearance of a patient/prisoner at a hospital for the criminally insane. It seems that one Rachel Saldano turned up missing one night... out of a locked room, which was still locked. They tell the Marshall that it was as if she "evaporated from the room." Teddy and his partner, Chuck, meet with the head doctor of the facility and then begin their investigations. They begin their questions and find that one of the doctors has just left that morning, and suspect that he was involved, but he cannot be reached. They continue by questioning each patient in the building, individually. They then question the staff... everyone is essentially telling the same story (Teddy thinks the stories are too similar). They discover a lighthouse that they are told is for septic processing... The thing is, however, the lighthouse is heavily guarded. Finding out what is really happening in the lighthouse becomes a large part of the "quest."

One of the Marshalls' first stops is the room from which the patient vanished. There has been a note left behind; a rather cryptic note. Teddy sees that it is some kind of code (he did a bit of intel' work in WWII). Teddy soon breaks the code, and clues begin to fall into place. This is certainly a bright spot of the book; Lehane devised a complex and brilliant code, and the reader is entranced with the way it plays out. The code is a large part of the story and comes in and out as called for.

Unfortunately for Teddy, he suffers from migraines. He has already been untrusting of the main doctor (Cawley), but he has a migraine "attack" in the doctor's office. Cawley offers him some pills, and Teddy finally gives in and takes them. Teddy later thinks this may have been a mistake. He does not sleep well, and is beginning to lose touch. This is understandable, after being surrounded by the criminally insane, on an island... and to make matters worse, a hurricane hits the island.

About half-way through, Lehane throws a wrench into the story (or puts on the brakes)... there's a... well "something" happens, but Teddy things it is all too convenient. He and Chuck continue to look, especially trying to find out what's happening inside the lighthouse.

I really don't want to give away anymore, but as with most stories of this kind, there is a "twist" at the end... which was cool, and it was a great twist at that... but then Lehane gives the story another slight twist... and I'm not so sure on that one... perhaps it would have been better without that final "tweak." I'll leave that for you to decide after you read the book, or watch the film (that is if the film stays true to the book).

24 January 2010

Interesting quotes...

...feel free to comment with additions...

"Life isn't divided into genres. It's a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, scifi, cowboy, detective novel."
--Alan Moore

...and I don't feel like sifting through thousands of pages to find the exact quote, but in Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series, Roland (the main character) says to another: "Does everyone in your world want only one flavor in their stories?"

...sensing a theme? ;) I love cross-genre stuff... There's no reason writers or readers should limit themselves. Also... never underestimate your audience.

13 January 2010


Hello... My name is Joseph Skeen... most people call me Joe, and that's fine... Joseph is cool too...

I graduated last year from Ball State University with Majors in Classical Culture and Latin, and minors in Ancient Studies and Medieval & Renaissance Studies. This is my second full semester in the MLS program at IUPUI.

As an undergraduate at Ball State, I worked in Bracken Library at the Circulation desk... I also did some time in the stacks, shelving books and such. I enjoyed working in the library, working with students, and I really enjoy the university atmosphere... so, I thought this would be a decent career for me to pursue.

Personally, I am very invested in the arts... mostly music and film, but I love all forms of art. I have played in rock bands in the past, but more recently I have been involved with the Muncie Civic Theatre. I began acting there in 2004... I have acted in 17 shows, and helped out in other ways for a few more... I recently returned from a vacation in Austin, Texas! ...great arts scenes happening there... music everywhere... art everywhere... and great food everywhere! ...loved it!

Working in some sort of art or theatre library would probably be ideal for me... otherwise, I'd like to be in an academic library... again, to be involved in the university atmosphere.

I haven't actually had a lot of time for pleasure reading for several years now... I've been very busy with school and things... I generally prefer Horror, Science-Fiction, and Fantasy... but I'm open to other genres. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I decided to dig on some Stephen King, as I had never read any of his stuff... I began with "The Gunslinger", and then couldn't stop until I had finished the entire seven book run of "The Dark Tower"! ...great books! ...great mix of genres! King often gets criticised by academics, but perhaps they are afraid to try new things? King is not. I gravitate toward things that are a bit different... "normal" stories are bland... and the real world, the everyday world can be bland enough (especially in Indiana) without reading about more bland situations. ;)

Being involved with theatre, I do enjoy reading some plays... Shakespeare, of course... though, even there, I prefer the more fantastical, or magical plays... My three favorites are "A Midsommer Night's Dreame", "Macbeth", and "The Tempest"... I also enjoy some of the "classics" (we, of course, could argue about what should be tagged with that term)... such as "Beowulf" on up through things like "The Scarlett Letter"...

I'm sure this class (along with my other two classes) will keep me busy, but I think it will be interesting!

...whatever you have, make it a good one! ;)

R. Joseph Skeen, Esq.