Monday, December 29, 2008

Those Left Unfinished - 2008

As the year comes to a close, I have discovered a few books lying around my apartment that have, for one reason or another, been left unfinished. Some of these I recognize why I never read the entire book, while others I am surprised at the lack of completion. I have a terrible habit of reading several books at once, and oftentimes not completing the first book I started for several months. As the "to read" pile grows larger, taking one of the top of the stack is sometimes easier (or more convenient) than finding a book that is half read and possibly forgotten. Here are a few that I know I have not finished this year:
  • A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin;
  • Gardens of the Moon by Stephen Erikson;
  • Armor by John Steakley;
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (short stories section left unread); and,
  • Other books I cannot recall or have yet to "refind."
I have picked up Armor again, and will probably finish it before the end of the year, depending on the arrival of some new Amazon Vine books currently being shipped. I have tried reading Gardens of the Moon two times now, and am ultimately (and unfortunately) easily distracted from completing this book. This is one of those cases that I am confident that I will enjoy this book (and ultimately the entire series) once I have finished it since I am a huge fan of epic fantasy series.

Will these books be finished this year or next? Only time will tell. Until then,

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Review: Replay by Ken Grimwood (5 stars)

The Finest Speculation. REPLAY Has it All

REPLAY, by Ken Grimwood, is a miraculous journey through time and the human spirit. Grimwood wonderfully exposes the possible outcomes of having advanced knowledge while leading life. What happens when you live the same thirty years over, and over, and over? What makes a life worthwhile? Is it a lifetime of money, fame, or positive interactions with others? What does anything matter if at the end of the "replay" everything just gets erased, except in your memory?

REPLAY is at times an emotional ride of personal reflection while still maintaining a level of intrigue and curiosity that awaits the protagonist. While only science fiction on a basic level (time traveling), there is a incredible amount of speculation about human motivations, given the frame of reference for the characters. This speculation is what truly makes REPLAY a gem.

There is something for everyone in this book. REPLAY is one of those rare books that captures the imagination, the mind, and the spirit of humanity.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston (5 stars)

A Worthy Conclusion to a Worthy Trilogy

For those of you that have read CAUGHT STEALING and SIX BAD THINGS, it should be a no brainer to pick up this concluding volume. For those of you who have not read any of this series, I highly suggest you read the previously mentioned books immediately. This trilogy is one of the freshest and most well written set of books I have read in a significant amount of time. I keep kicking myself that I have just now discovered Charlie Huston. Anyways, I digress.

In A DANGEROUS MAN, our antihero has hit rock bottom. The resulting book comes from the depressed outlook and drug induced reference of keeping his parents alive by living a "dangerous lifestyle," doing the dirty work of a Russian mobster. Ultimately, the frame of reference of this book is much darker than its predecessors, but it does an exceptional job of portraying accurate and believable feelings and emotions.

As always, Huston introduces a barrage of new characters, some of which are beyond likable, including the young hot shot baseball player, Miguel, which Henry has been given the charge of "taking care of" in his old stomping grounds of New York City. Obviously chaos ensues, and it is enjoyable every step of the way.

I have not read a book recently with such penetrating and believable characters. The characters (and the situations they are put in) are above and beyond the driving force of these books. A DANGEROUS MAN is an exceptional conclusion to the series, and should be considered a "must read" book.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Friday, December 26, 2008

Review: Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston (4 stars)

If It Wasn't For Bad Luck, I'd Have No Luck At All

SIX BAD THINGS is a worthy sequel to the phenomenal. It was another hard core ride into non stop running, hiding, terror, and the worst of luck.

The antihero, Henry Thompson, has been living safely in Mexico for several years when he is discovered by the nephew of the Russian mob. What happens next? More of the same as happens in CAUGHT STEALING, only with a whole new cast of characters.

Charlie Huston has continued his wonderful trademark noir, cast with grit, dirt, swearing, and non-stop, grip you by the throat action. While not as good as CAUGHT STEALING, it is certainly a worthy followup and a great transition into the final volume of this trilogy, A DANGEROUS MAN.

This book is a must read for Noir fans and Charlie Huston readers. While the first book could be a stand alone book, this one catapults it into a must read set of three books. You should not miss this one, if you have already.

Good Reading,

Plants and Books

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Review: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max (2 stars)

You Had to be There

Tucker Max's account of his life reads more like all those jokes and stories you hear that are shortly followed by "you had to be there" or "it would be funnier if you had been there." The various stories seem more like well described inside jokes.

I thought I would really enjoy this book, but unfortunately I was ultimately disappointed. While outrageous, his stories were really not that engaging or interesting. The first half of the book was truly juvenile with not a lot of substance or worthwhile stories. I love stories about jerks and unworldly encounters, but Max's presentation or lack of organization in his delivery is unsettling.

The stories improve in the last half of the book. However, there is only so many stories about how drunk someone got, how many women someone slept with, etc. I can stand in 300 pages. This book seems like it could be written by someone in high school who likes talking about how wasted he got over the weekend (which I suppose is ultimately the point).

Do not get me wrong, there are some great moments of recollected dialogue and verbal exchanges; but, ultimately, they are too few and far between to enjoy this book. If you like reading outrageous stories about booze and women, I recommend this book to you. Otherwise, it is not worth it.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Books I've Read: 2005

This list was started in the summer of 2005 and therefore does not contain every book I read that year. You can definitely track the types of books or authors I was reading during each of these yearly updates. I am going to link to my Amazon reviews for each book until I post those reviews here.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (4/5 stars)
Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler (4/5 stars)
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (4/5 stars)
On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt (5/5 stars)
Shadow Prey by John Sandford (4/5 stars)
Eyes of Prey by John Sandford (5/5 stars)
Silent Prey by John Sandford (3/5 stars)
Winter Prey by John Sandford (4/5 stars)
Night Prey by John Sandford (4/5 stars)
Mind Prey by John Sandford (3/5 stars)
The Giver by Lois Lowry (5/5 stars)
Master of Chains by Jess Lebow (4/5 stars)
Evaluation in Organizations by Darlene Russ-Eft and Hallie Preskill (5/5 stars)
The Man Who Grew Young by Daniel Quinn (5/5 stars)
Sudden Prey by John Sandford (5/5 stars)
Secret Prey by John Sandford (5/5 stars)
Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan (4/5 stars)
Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich (4/5 stars)
Whisper of Waves by Philip Athans (4/5 stars)
Farthest Reach by Richard Baker (5/5 stars)
The Baseball Fan's Companion by Nick Bakalar (5/5 stars)
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (3/5 stars)

Total Read: 7196 pages
Total Reviewed: 22 (100%)

5 Stars:
9 books
4 Stars: 10 books
3 Stars: 3 books
2 Stars: 0 books
1 Stars: 0 books

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Yearly Update Coming Soon

I have been keeping track of every book (almost) that I have read since the summer of 2005. I started doing this as a way to keep track of what I had read throughout the year, total the number of pages I read in a particular year, and track my book reviews on my Amazon profile. Several years ago I made a goal to read 50,000 pages in a year. To achieve this goal I would have to read approximately 140 pages a day. Each year since I have fallen staggeringly short.

I was surprised to learn that despite moving a couple times and using different computers I still had my records since 2005. Come January, I will make a post listing every book I read this year. I am also going to post all the books I've read since summer of 2005. Obviously, these list may not be comprehensive and I may have missed a book or two. Nobody is perfect, right? Additionally, I sometimes include books that some may not consider literature or real books, like Graphic Novels and Comic Book collections. However, I consider these to be important literary mediums and convey just as much (if not more sometimes) of a story as traditional books.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston (5 stars)

When Doing the Right Thing Becomes Increasingly Impossible

CAUGHT STEALING was a fantastic novel from the beginning to the very end. I started reading this book and literally (and figuratively) did not put it down until it was over, several hours later.

There is an all star cast of characters that it is impossible not desire to learn about their motivations and anticipate their next moves. They are so unique it is almost laughable... almost. The pacing of the story is extremely fast and furious and the dialogue is sharp. I could not help but be compassionate to some of the characters.

The plot is gritty, dark, and mildly disturbing in some parts. This is one of those books that sucked me in from the first page and took me for the ride of a lifetime with two hands clinching my throat. The situations posed in the book test the characters in every sense. The main character is especially real, and I truly felt for each painstaking decision he had to make while his life spiraled out of control. I loved how just when I thought his life could not get any worse, it did... by leaps and bounds. This book was a tour de force. I highly recommend this book for noir buffs, action junkies, and really... anyone.

I cannot say enough how glad I am I discovered this author. I anticipate finishing SIX BAD THINGS tonight and A DANGEROUS MAN the following night, because the story was that compelling.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (5 stars)

Engaging from Beginning to End

THE HUNGER GAMES is one of those books that is impossible to resist and you do not want to put down. The premise is irresistible, one of those guilty pleasures, and reminiscent of BATTLE ROYALE. There can be many comparisons drawn between these two books; but, most would fall staggeringly short as the only thing these books really have in common is young children placed in an area where they will kill each other.

What makes THE HUNGER GAMES a force to be read is the beauty in which the "fantasy world" is built. There is a lot of history in this near post-apocalyptic world, and it is revealed in small doses in perfect increments. The story is woven between the history of the children, the history of the government and ruling class, and the history of the games. Strung throughout the book are engaging characters, intriguing situations, with the common denominator being the wonderfully paced prose.

This was not a book that I could not put down; but, it was a book that I did not want to put down. Finding a book with good pacing is difficult these days. The entire book is not just a buildup to an unexpected and unstoppable climax, but rather chapter after chapter of climax.

Back on the comparison of BATTLE ROYALE, this book does not get bogged down with irrelevant details and countless flashbacks that break up the story. I loved BATTLE ROYLE and I loved THE HUNGER GAMES. As I said, they really cannot be compared other than the fundamental premise. However, if you liked one, I recommend the other.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: The Night of the Gun by David Carr (3 Stars)

Good in Theory, Poor in Practice

For the most part, I thoroughly enjoy stories and memoirs about addiction and climbing out of the deepest holes. The author, David Carr, made a journalistic memoir about his past in drugs and alcohol, which became this book. There are some interesting stories but there was little emotion in this book. I understand that this was more a unbiased look at addiction through the retelling of stories forgotten or misremembered; but, the entire time I was reading this book I never felt like anything that was happening was that big of a deal (even though it was). There was hardly any emotion in this book, which made it much more difficult to empathize with those Carr surrounded himself with and the terrible acts he engaged in.

With no perceived personal attachment to anything in the book, I found it increasingly more difficult to want to here more. There were so many missed opportunities for personal reflection I was left increasingly frustrated at the end of each chapter. I understand that that may not have been the goal of the book and that even when Carr didn't remember anything and was being told what he did in particular instances, there was no reflection (or very little) about how he felt learning about himself after the fact, looking back.

The format of the book was a good idea. It just did not follow through on engaging me in his recovery and the harrowing life he lived. It is unfortunate that the back of the book was overly sensationalized compared to the under sensationalized content. The brief synopses on the back were not accurate at all, at least in presentation.

Overall, this was a decent book, but was left so much unfulfilled potential.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Review: Peacemaker by Dan Ronco (5 stars)

A Breath of Fresh Air

I finished this book within 24-hours. I almost finished it in one sitting. I was captivated by the interesting and fast paced nature of the plot. The storyline was simple enough, but believable enough to be scary. I am a "hard" science fiction junkie, and I liked how this novel had an element of "hardness" to it, but was not overly complicated with details and really focused on moving the plot forward and creating complicated situations for the compelling characters.

I found the characters to be likable, but obviously flawed. The female characters simply oozed sexuality at every encounter. With the background and preliminary story developed for each character in the opening chapters, it was easy to follow and believe in each move they made and their motivations were expected and not randomly generated.

This book met, and exceeded, my expectations for a first novel. It was short, easy to read, captivating, and unique (which is probably the most important). It was not only unique in the idea of the computer software virus, but unique in the direction that the story heads afterward. It's one thing to create a world shattering event, but it is another thing to take that story in a direction that will become more interesting, both of which Ronco excels in doing. Using the analogy of a post apocalyptic book, I would not want the apocalypse to be the most interesting part of a book. You want the characters reactions and the story of their survival to be the most compelling, which PEACEMAKER achieves in its own right. The "PeaceMaker" virus is just the tip of the iceberg. It is everything else that makes this book worth reading.

I look forward to the rest of this series (I think I read it will be a trilogy) and more to come from Dan Ronco. I'm glad I got in early in his writing career.

Highly recommended. This book was a breath of fresh air compared to the massive numbers of like-minded, similar stories that are churned out each week.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear (4 stars)

Great Bio-Science Fiction. Incredible Look at Humanistic Behavior as Well

Note: Review originally posted at Amazon on July 30, 2006. I am back posting a couple of reviews to see how the "tags" and sorting works.

Greg Bear explores an area of science fiction that is not often written about - biology. There is a significant amount of science revolving around evolution, genetics, virology, and mutation. Bear crafts a magnificent story about these subjects as they apply to the mass population and how we as humans might react to biological issues. What would humans do if the homo sapien species was threatened? What kind of politics would unfold in the local and national level? These are some of the most important issues that Bear addresses and chronicles. It is interesting to read about the hard-science behind the genetics and "viruses" but some of the most facinating parts of the story are the human interactions and watching the loyalties shift and change.

However, there are some suspect parts of this book. One thing that truly bothered me about DARWIN'S RADIO has to do with the writing style. Bear attempts to create cliff-hangers and suspenseful moments that are immediately interrupted with chapter breaks, and then we usually learn about the climax of each incident from a past perspective. I found it difficult to regain the excitement that was built around some particular incidents after a chapter ended only to read about how the incident unfolded five pages later from a character listening to the news or talking to someone who heard about the incident. I wanted Bear to actually write about these parts and not to "recollect" these parts.

There were also some strange scenes (and unnecessary characters) that I could have done without simply because they did not add anything to the content of the book or the development of the characters.

Overall, this is a wonderful work of science fiction. I did have a difficult time getting into the story simply because of some of the extraneous characters (i.e. Saul). However, soon thereafter the biology picked up and the science paved the way to the humanistic encounters and the societal developments.

I certainly recommend this book for science fiction fans and biologists.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: When March Went Mad by Seth Davis (4 stars)

Bird and Magic... You Can't Go Wrong

It might just be impossible to have a book with two better characters: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Two of the greatest, if not the two greatest basketball players of all time. This book does a truly remarkable job of chronicling the 1979 season of the Indiana State Sycamores and the Michigan State Spartans. A lot of attention is paid to the teams, the coaches, the teammates, and the communities that were directly (and sometimes indirectly) affected by their respective teams.

There is not a lot to say about this book other than if you are a basketball junkie, a Bird or Magic fan, or someone who calls in to work to watch NCAA games, then this book is for you. It has wonderful accounts with direct quotes and accounts of fans, media personalities, coaches, and community members.

My only disappointment is that, despite the title, there is not a lot of depth regarding the rise of the NCAA and "March Madness." The author does a nice job in talking about TV ratings, contract rights, and other relevant topics; but, there just was not enough depth. I left the book realizing that the 1979 season impacted college basketball in the eyes of the nation; but, I did not realize exactly how dramatic this effect was and the details of the growth and interest.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

A Blog About Plants and Books

I've toyed with the idea of creating a blog for some time now. I've always considered it, but felt I had neither the time nor the energy to focus on the continuous upkeep of such an endeavor. As I have learned, web pages are only as good if regularly updated. I believe this is exponentially more true of blogs, since the driving force behind a blog is the continuous updates of whatever information the blogger chooses to share. In the information age, information is only as good if relevant and new.

Regardless, I have decided to see if I have what it takes. I could talk about a lot of things, but at this time, I am choosing to focus on two things I do not often get to talk about in the regular day: Plants and Books. I am an avid reader and have an ongoing affair with exotic plants (and the occasional tirade about humanistic behavior). I can see down the road expanding to other topics as my interests in other things wax and wane; but, at this time this blog will mostly consist of plant related posts (pictures, cultivation techniques, how-to's, etc.) and book reviews and discussions.

In full disclosure, part of the driving force of this blog is the fact that I have buried the hatchet with the Amazon Customer Review Program and have started reviewing books again. I see this being the primary focus while I become more familiar with this world of blogging, consolidating book reviews that can be sorted by genre, author, or any other "tag." This blog will rarely contain posts of a personal nature.

Until then, good growing and good reading,

Plants and Books
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