Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Amazing Avatar

If you haven't seen Avatar yet, I don't even want to know you. I took off work Friday morning and went and saw it with my wife. We went to the 3D version; but not the IMAX version. My wife tends to feel a little sick at certain movies with a lot of camera movement (i.e. Terminator Salvation) so went to the 3D version only. I'll probably go back someday (soon) and check out the IMAX on my own.

Needless to say, Avatar was an amazing experience. It almost lived up to the epic trailer; and, had the trailer been only slightly less epic the movie would have exceeded my expectations. As it stands, Avatar met my expectations in every single way.

The Colonel was classic in his warmongering ways and his dialogue was priceless. He was easily my favorite character. The main characters associated with the Avatar program were all believable and well done. The world building was nothing short of incredible.

If you haven't seen Avatar yet, you are doing yourself an injustice. My wife loved it and she typically is not a fan of the science fiction/fantasy genres. After the movie ended I started thinking about the entire world of Pandora and the wealth of storytelling that could occur. There could easily be a great, long running science fiction/fantasy fiction series with the world and the cultures. I wish it was...

Good viewing,

Plants and Books

Friday, November 27, 2009

Most Epic Movie Ever?

If, somehow, the upcoming movie Avatar bombs in the box office, it will still have had the most epic movie trailer... ever.

Good viewing,

Plants and Books

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: A History of Violence by John Wagner

Title: A History of Violence
Writer: John Wagner
Illustrator: Vince Locke
Copyright: 2004
Publisher: Vertigo
ISBN: 1563893673


Some of the Best Illustrations and a Great Story Line - 4 stars - a book review

A History of Violence is one of the most provocative graphic novels I have read recently. Vince Locke's illustrations are edgy, raw, and unrefined; which adds to the overall feel of the story. It is a gritty story and the hard black and white ink reinforces the chaos and unpredictability of the characters. Some of the shining moments are the large panels simply looking out over the town or a horizon with looming darkness spreading.

The storyline is perfectly articulated, starting with the murder of two people in the opening page. From this first page the reader can tell that all bets are off and anything goes. As the main characters (Tom McKenna) past comes out it becomes more and more obvious that the ending will only come after much bloodshed and violence. A History of Violence reads like an excellent crime book, with supplementary pictures that enhance the experience.

A History of Violence is one of those gems in the graphic novel medium that can almost be told without the commentary and text; the illustrations, while basic black and white, are that good.

The only drawback of A History of Violence is the fact that the story, while excellent, could have been even bigger and better. The resolution comes way too soon and with the capability to convey such an excellent chain of events through words and graphics it is almost squandered. I would have loved to have had twice as much story. Make no mistake, A History of Violence is not to be missed.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Plants and Books in Print?!

I had an interesting conversation with one of the students at the university I work for today. She was telling me about how she was talking to some guy she knows that reviews movies for a newspaper (I'm not sure which) and that they were looking for someone to review books for the paper. The student mentioned my name and give him my email address; so she told me I should be expecting an email in the near future. It was pretty exciting, but I wonder if my reading interests will jive with what the paper is looking to review; since, shamefully, fantasy/science fiction isn't as mainstream as we all know it should be.

On a side note, I think I just broke the 20,000 page mark for total pages read since January 1. A few stats:
  • 59 books read (or are in the process of reading);
  • Average book size: 355 pages;
  • Average duration of time to complete a book: 5.95 days;
  • Average pages read per day: 69.45; and,
  • Percentage of reviews requested (either by Amazon Vine or publisher/author request): 44.07%
Maybe I'll see you in the papers!

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Riding Again on the Winds of Time

So the twelfth volume of Robert Jordan's epic fantasy masterpiece was released this past Tuesday, with the previous installment having been released four years ago, and the first volume published in 1990. I am about a third of the way through the book, and I already have to say that it is everything I dreamed and more.

I went to the bookstore on Tuesday over the lunch hour (I almost forgot that it came out that day!) and walking in greeted by a huge display case of The Gathering Storm books and other associated Wheel of Time books put me grinning like a child on Christmas. I decided not to take the afternoon off of work to pound through the book and opted to just enjoy the book like any other, taking it at a pace that was satisfying; although there have been times I haven't wanted to put it down.

I got home and opened The Gathering Storm and saw the familiar font... I haven't felt that great in a long time. Although portions of the book were written by Brandon Sanderson it is hard to see where the author voice changes. The style is very similar to Robert Jordan's and the story pacing so far is miraculous. I can already tell that this volume will be one of the best in recent times and many of the plot lines that had slowed in the past few books are definitely coming to an end (or at least making dramatic progress). The Dark One is definitely getting a stronger hold on reality as his prison weakens.

I'm hoping that there is some serious ta'veren weaving and pulling that occurs in this book, bringing characters together for events that seem to happen just by happenstance; something the first several books had all the time, creating scenes that were near magical. I have not read any Mat Cauthon chapters yet, and I hope that one of my most anticipated plot lines gets some progress; that being the Aelfinn and Eelfinn and Moraine. However, due to the fact that the next book is tentatively called Towers of Midnight I assume the the Tower of Genji and the White Tower plot lines will be resolved in that book.

Anyways... Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Will it be "the one book to rule them all"? It just might be, but I'm thinking the next one is going to be even better.

Stay tuned for the review; I image I will finish by the end of the weekend at the latest.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Monday, October 26, 2009

Amazon Stocks Through the Roof

For those of you have been following this blog, you'll remember back in January when I suggested to invest in Amazon stock (this was right around the time that Amazon was making a big announcement, which many correctly assumed would be about the Kindle 2.0). At the time, Amazon stock (AMZ) was trading at $48.40 per share. For the past month or two the price has been hovering around the high eighties/low nineties. I checked today, and Amazon stock is trading for $124.63!

That means my hypothetical investment of $4,840 would now be worth $12,463! I net gain of $7,626... Getting close to twice my initial(hypothetical) investment. I can only imagine that it will continue to go up with the holiday seasons coming up. However, the recent announcement of the Barnes and Noble Nook (the B&N electronic reader) it will be interesting to follow along the success/shortcomings of each business venture.

Good investing,

Plants and Books

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review: The Man Who Laughs (Batman) by Ed Brubaker

Title: The Man Who Laughs
Author: Ed Brubaker
Illustrator: Doug Mahnke
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: DC Comics
ISBN: 1401216226


An Unbalanced Collection of Two Batman Stories - 3 stars - a book review

I still cannot imagine for the life of me why DC Comics published these two Batman stories together in one volume, let alone why the volume was name The Man Who Laughs (other than the title story sharing the same name). I can only wager a guess that when it was published The Dark Knight (the movie) was looming on the horizon and DC Comics wanted to get as much Joker/Batman as they could on the shelves. The two stories contained in this graphic novel include Batman: The Man Who Laughs and Batman: Made of Wood.

Batman: The Man Who Laughs introduces (again) the Joker, Batman's number one villain and a fan favorite from the beginning. While the story is familiar to most (especially those outside the comic world who have seen the original Batman movie), it is portrayed in an excellent, very straightforward fashion. There is not a lot of depth to the story; but the visuals and characterizations are what make this story strong.

Batman: Made of Wood was originally a three part story in Detective Comics, revolving around an unsolved mystery. Not only does the Joker not appear in this arc, but the Green Lantern makes an appearance. The story itself is a typical murder mystery with a retired Jim Gordon playing a major role as well. The depiction of Jim Gordon is perfect, in my opinion. In a collection titled The Man Who Laughs, one would expect the Joker to be a central figure in both stories; however, no mention of the Joker is made in Made of Wood.

Both stories are well told and wonderfully illustrated, making the stories real and full of life; but the seemingly polar opposites of the stories make this an awkward collection. With so many great Joker stories out there, and trying to capitalize on the Batman/Joker mania with the upcoming (at the time of publication) The Dark Knight film, could there not have been a better collection? Especially considering that Batman: Made of Wood was longer than Batman: The Man Who Laughs.

Fans of Batman will be sure to enjoy this one; but fans of the Joker will surely be disappointed.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills - Seven Days to Go

I had a conversation with my wife several weeks ago, and by now it is sort of a wash of a memory, but I certainly remember the context and the outcome. She was telling me about waiting for some book to be published and how hard it was with the anticipation, given the level of success and public interest in the previous installments (it might have been the Twilight books, and I hesitate to even mention that series on this blog). She had the audacity to say to me:
"You just don't know what it is like to wait for something like that."
At this point I said something along the lines of:
"EXCUSE ME?! I don't know what it is like to wait?! I've been anxiously (and more patiently than a lot of fans, I might add) awaiting the conclusion to the epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time for over a decade! If anyone in this world knows what waiting for something is like, it is Wheel of Time fans, and nobody else.
Then I started in on the nature of the fantasy genre and specifically The Wheel of Time and epic volumes of high fantasy. Of course, while not factually correct, my statement does resonate the sentiment felt by many of us fantasy nuts who have been in a torrid love affair with a 10,000 page story for the better part of our lives. In any other context, and with the publishing of A Gathering Storm only months away (at the time), I would have certainly included George R.R. Martin fans; but I was already pushing my luck with the allowed time of fanatically speaking about fantasy literature for one car ride to the grocery store.

What's the point, you may ask? Well, in seven days the next installment of one of the all time bestselling fantasy series is being published. On October 27, A Gathering Storm, book 12 of The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson will hit the shelves, just under four years after the previous volume. The light at the end of the tunnel is coming quickly, with a speculated publishing dates of November 2010 and November 2011 for the concluding two volumes of this fantasy work (tentatively titled Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light, respectively).

After this conversation (or rather my outburst of total lack of respect for the fantasy readers' dedication and patience) I started thinking some more. I honestly can't even really remember life without the knowledge that there is another Wheel of Time volume on the way. What's going to happen in November 2011 once I finish the last word on the last page? The end?

If images like these don't make you wish you lived in a
different world, there is no hope for you.

I can't remember exactly when I started reading The Wheel of Time. I do know that my love for The Wheel of Time has transcended anything else that has been a constant in my life (in terms of duration); I've had three different cars, seven or eight different jobs, I've earned both a Bachelor's Degree and a Master's Degree, overseen the planning and construction of an 18-million dollar building, been directly involved in close to a thousand college students' lives, I started dating and married the love of my life, and have celebrated four anniversaries with her (clearly the most important of those things were the last two).

Talk about young boys becoming men.
Grow out your beard, Wolfbrother.

I love reading. It is one of my favorite things to do. I love escaping into fantasy environments and reading coming of age, epic quests. For these reasons alone, I am eternally in debt to Robert Jordan, since before I picked up The Eye of the World you could not get me to read anything. I actually remember a field trip in junior high when I was sitting next to a guy from my class (who I would later become pretty good friends with) and he was reading one of the first couple of books from The Wheel of Time. I don't remember which one, but I do remember the classic Darrell K. Sweet artwork. He started telling me about the book and I simply said I wasn't interested. He asked me why not and said it is great. I responded:
"I don't like to read."
GASP! I now want to scream anytime I hear someone say that and I always think of this moment. Several years late he and I, along with several other friends, would be debating the weaving's of the Wheel and speculating on a number of pertinent issues on the roof of his house. Moments like those can never be emulated, nor would I want them to be.

As I mentioned previously, reading epic fantasy is truly a torrid love affair (or at least what I assume a love affair would be like). It has been an up and down roller coaster of excitement, disappointment, waiting, late nights, and waiting. I will not even begin to get into the quality of the last few books, as many fans have been rather disappointed. I will mention that sometime after I finished Crossroads of Twilight and after I started reviewing books at Amazon I drank a little too much and started reading reviews on Amazon, so in my passionate state of mind (read: drunken stupor) I pumped out a "review" basically calling anyone that didn't like the book a pseudo-WOT fan and saying they didn't appreciate the magnitude, and blah blah blah. It was great; I remember feeling like people were going to read my "review" and be like, "wait a second, he's on to something here..." I was going to start the revolution of bringing the viewpoints of fantasy fans back to this beloved series. For God's sake, The Wheel of Time is why I read these days! Such blasphemous things should never cross anybody's mind; but of course, it was mostly stupid ramblings and incoherent drivel. I never deleted that "review" because I have fun reading it sometimes. It is fun remembering those moments of passion. Actually, five people thought it was helpful (out of 23), which is still surprising. Some of the finer quotes from my Crossroads of Twilight "review":
Okay, here's the deal: A lot of so called WOT fans have been complaining about the last few books (mainly books seven and on) because they are boring and not as interesting as the first six. I will call these people pseudo-WOT fans because it is clear that they do not appreciate "The Wheel of Time" for it's entire worth, because they only appreciate specific scenes and incredible moments from the first six books (including all of "The Great Hunt," Domani's Wells, the battle with Rahvin, etc.).
I admit, I thought book ten was going to be "The One" book to rule them all. I was disappointed because not much really happens.
So, honestly, as a TRUE fan of "The Wheel of Time," I am telling you that if you truly appreciate the Wheel of Time world and the characters involved, you will appreciate "Crossroads of Twilight." It may not be the best book you've ever read, and you may get a little upset with it, but those are the times you need to step away and think about what is actually going on in the series. These pseudo-WOT fans obviously do not understand anything that is going on, because they are to preoccupied with looking for one good reason for this being "the last Robert Jordan book they ever read," which is exactly what they've been saying for the last three books. And yet, the pseudo-WOT fans will still pick up book eleven, and when it is "the One" book to rule them all, will say, "I LOVE ROBERT JORDAN, I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A FAN OF HIS WORK!!!"

At that point, we will all look back at their one star reviews and say, "well actually, you wern't.... Sorry sucka!"

I cannot believe how stupid I was. The second quote is probably my favorite with regard to my fanaticism. I should also note, for the record, that this was prior to receiving both a Bachelor's Degree and a Master's Degree, as mentioned above.

The last thing that I will mention is that The Gathering Storm is partially written by Brandon Sanderson, from Robert Jordan's notes. Sanderson is a phenomenal writer himself, but it will be different reading the story written by someone other than the visionary.

So, seven days from today I will have the next step in this decade old journey ahead of me. Like Rand al'Thor's coming of age story, I feel that in some ways my own coming of age story has been transpiring in the background (at least I hope so; but we'll see if people start trashing A Gathering Storm and I have a few too many beers one night - be on the lookout for Amazon reviews!). The next biggest decision is going to be power through the book in one sitting or try and savor it? I already know the answer, and have always known the answer since ten years ago. I just need to remember to request Tuesday off of work.

This image is where it all began. Possibly one of the
most celebrated covers in fantasy history.

If any of my fantasy friends out there are reading this, I'll be ready to grab a six pack and head up to the roof and enjoy the night in a way that Robert Jordan would have appreciated.

Ten years. Has it been worth the wait? Absolutely. So as they say, let the Dragon ride again on the Winds of Time.

Good waiting,

Plants and Books

Review: Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson


Title: Hero of Ages
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765356147

Notes: The concluding volume to the Mistborn trilogy


The Epic Conclusion to a fully Realized Fantasy World - 5 stars - a book review

Let me just say this before I begin: if you even consider yourself halfway interested in fantasy and you have not read the Mistborn trilogy, you are doing yourself a disservice everyday that passes without experiencing this epic masterpiece.
At the conclusion of The Well of Ascension Vin had been tricked into releasing Ruin, one of the Gods responsible for the creation of the world, and the one given the promise of destroying it. Vin, Elend, and the rest of their gang have their work cut out for them not only fighting an unknown force, the increased ash falls, and larger mists blocking the sun; but also uniting the Dominances and uncovering the secrets left behind by the Lord Ruler.

Hero of Ages
brings the trilogy full circle, enlightening readers to things throughout the previous two volumes. The world of the Final Empire is epic in scope and fully realized in this volume. In each installment has unveiled a little bit more of the Final Empire, gradually increasing knowledge of Sanderson's world.

The characters all have their personal conflicts and ethical dilemmas they each have to deal with. They are believable and engaging. Some of the lesser characters in the original Kelsier gang take on more prominent roles, leading the charge on undermining local city governments and completing difficult tasks for Vin and/or Elend. Additionally, the Kandra, the Koloss, and the Inquisitors play a larger role as well, and the history of their species is rich and lush; providing a lot of background information about the land of the Final Empire and the Lord Ruler himself.

My main concern (and it is minor) with The Final Empire is with the character Sazed, the Terrisman scholar. He had previously been one of my favorite minor characters, but in this book he was so preachy about how he couldn't prove any of the hundreds of religions he knew were true; this is understandable since he was having a personal conflict after the loss of his recently found love at the end of The Well of Ascension. However, the nature of his internal dialogue is well executed, and although annoying at first, it does become more meaningful and thoughtful as the book continues.

Per usual, the allomancer battles are exciting and interesting. That magic system devised by Sanderson rivals anything in recent memory in terms of creativity and believability. He executes his Allomantic Pushes and Pulls with grace and ease.

Sanderson's world is enthralling and impossible to resist. I wouldn't recommend reading anything else until you've finished this trilogy. If you are a fantasy fan, you have been kidding yourself for far too long by not reading this.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: Joker by Brian Azzarello

Title: Joker
Author: Brian Azzarello
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: DC Comics
ISBN: 1401215815


The Joker?! Released from Arkham?! Talk about Insanity! - 4 stars - a book review

The premise of Joker is nearly unbelievable; however, given that premise, the story is believable beyond a shadow of doubt. Joker, in Joker, is in prime form, after being released from Arkham Asylum (for reasons never told, much like the vague and contradicting answers given in The Dark Knight about Joker's scars) and is starting from scratch, with nothing; no money, no help, and he considers "his city" in the toilet due to the negligence and greedy of his former associates. Anyone who thought they had the last laugh when Joker went away is in for the surprise of his life.

Joker's story is top notch; the reader is escorted through a journey with Joker as he tries to reinsert himself into the bowels of Gotham City through the vantage point of a henchman named Jonny Frost, Joker's newest loyal member, and the only guy who picks Joker up from Arkham. Joker starts calling in his old boys to deliver a message: the Joker that they all feared (and readers love) is back. The cast of characters include The Penguin, Killer Croc (in a more human rendition), Two-Face, Harley Quinn, the Riddler, and Batman.

The portrayal of Joker in this graphic novel is the side of Joker that I have always loved more than the others. As you can see, the imagery is strikingly similar to the Heath Ledger portrayal in The Dark Knight, with the ratty faded purple suit and makeup/scars. This is not the bright purple outfit, smiling, wise cracking jester (although Joker does have some great funny moments, although they are most likely only funny to Joker and the reader, as it should be). This Joker is out for blood and no joke will satisfy. The story is gruesome in parts but completely within the realm of plausibility, considering the subject matter.

For the most part, the illustrations are absolutely stunning, and do an excellent job of making the Joker, his associates, and Gotham come to life. This is a back alley story with only a couple of scenes in "higher society," and Lee Bermejo makes the setting a place you don't want to be, night or day. The only (minor) problem I have with the art is that the style switches from panel to panel during some of the story. At times, it is 100% illustration (and well done) and then the next panel will appear almost like a real picture or computer generated image (smudged for grits sake). While I appreciate both styles, I am a person that prefers consistency from panel to panel, from beginning to end.

The only other drawback of Joker is the fact that it is so short. Joker definitely should have been serialized since there is enough material here for several books of the same size. Many times, Joker does something where the plot would have benefited from a little more background (or visualization during the moment, since many times Joker just does stuff with no explanation). Although an excellent story, it almost left me unsatisfied since I felt it could have been a lot deeper, less rushed, and more impactful than it was; however, given the length, it does pack quite a punch.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Review: Slammer by Allan Guthrie

Title: Slammer
Author: Allan Guthrie
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 0151012954


Definitely Not A "Slammer" Dunk - 2 stars - a book review

I can see the appeal of this book and I can see how some people would like it; however, I hardly enjoyed it at all. The premise is solid, but underdeveloped. The terrorizing from the inmates to the guard could have been so much greater and the story would have been more of a "throat grabber" had there been more favors, more threats, and... well... more terrorizing. The main character, Glass, is only put in two situations before his life spirals out of control (and the story spirals out of control, I might add). There are parts of the story that are grotesque, but I felt it was more for shock value and could not really buy into those actions.

On top of all that, there seems to be random flashbacks that did not seem to fit in the story for any reason, providing seemingly insignificant details about the characters. Maybe they were significant; but if so, it was poorly executed. The ending was also so unsatisfying and disappointing.

My other concerns with Slammer is that there is no writing in the book above a sixth grade reading level. The writing was pretty juvenile and the dialogue was equally juvenile. It is hard to take a dark and gritty story seriously if there are no words over two syllables.

Overall, I say if the premise of the story strikes your fancy, go for it. Given that it is such an easy and quick read it won't take too much time, and you might enjoy it. In my opinion, there are far better books in this category that are executed better and ten times as engaging, with stronger characters; like Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and each of the books in the Caught Stealing trilogy by Charlie Huston.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Title: The Well of Ascension
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Copyright: 2007
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765316889

Notes: Second book in the Mistborn series.


Sanderson is a Master of his Craft in this Second Volume - 5 stars - a book review

With The Final Empire (Mistborn book one) being one of the best fantasy novels I have read in the past five years, my hopes were high for the continued success of this fantasy world. Needless to say, I was not disappointed, and if Sanderson continues to pump out books at this pace (almost one a year) and this quality (magnificent) he could be hailed in the upper echelons of greats fantasy writers of the decade.

In The Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson not only builds upon the unique world and intriguing characters introduced in The Final Empire, but he also shows off his marvelous writing skills by expanding his storytelling repertoire into areas that were not explored previously. While The Final Empire was heavy world building, character introduction, coming of age story with enough magic and wizard battles to satisfy any fantasy junkie for the coming year, The Well of Ascension starts to explore another facet of fantasy fiction: political intrigue. The book starts one year after the conclusion of The Final Empire: Elende Venture is now the king in his experimental idealistic governmental setup imagined around beers with his friends in the previous installment. Since large portions of the book are focused on the political manuevering, The Well of Ascension starts significantly slower the any other Brandon Sanderson book I have read; however, once settled into the different style of book the pacing ramps up quickly and effectively making the overall reading experience beyond satisfying.

Alongside the political nature of The Well of Ascension, there is still the coming of age story of the heroine from The Final Empire, Vin. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Mistborn trilogy (so far) is the stereotypical fantasy coming of age story told in such a way that is original and engaging, making it nearly impossible to compare to the timeless tale of a boy gaining powers and saving the world. Vin has not only gained significant powers and is still struggling to find her powerful place in the world, but she is also struggling with problems that are far above her maturity level including falling in love, a sense of honor and duty, and the price each of these play on her own mortality.

Finally, what would a good fantasy story be without magic and fighting? As luck would have it, as true to form, there is no need to worry with The Well of Ascension. There is plenty of Pushing and Pulling and allomancer battles to feast upon. As Vin grows more powerful so does the epic-ness of the battles. The fight scenes are beautiful realized and exceptionally original; I could read the epic 700 page tomes of the Mistborn trilogy for the fight scenes alone. I started reading fantasy for the escapism from the real world and found magical worlds where my imagination could run wild. What I really look for in a fantasy book is something that leaves me with visual images that stick with me and that I can fully realize with very little effort. The tales and descriptions in the Mistborn books provide some of the most fully realized, enjoyable, engaging, and believable memories in modern fantasy.

All in all, The Well of Ascension, while starting a little slowly, is a tour de force of fantasy imagery, worldbuilding, and storytelling. If Sanderson is not already at the top his game with his first few books in his career (Elantris and Mistborn) I can’t even begin to imagine what is in store for fantasy in the next decade; of course, with Sanderson at the helm, I won’t have to do much imagining on my own and will be able to sit back and enjoy the ride.

My only minor complaint about this publication is the fact that there is a quote on the back of the mass market paperback comparing Brandon Sanderson to Terry Goodkind...

I’m still mad at myself that I let these books sit on my shelf for years waiting to be read.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Title: Gardens of the Moon
Author: Steven Erikson
Copyright: 2004
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765310015

Notes: First book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series.


Epic Worldbuilding; Mediocre Storytelling - 3 stars - a book review

First of all, for all the Malazan fanboys out there, let me say this: I get it; I really do. I recognize that many (if not most) of the Malazan cult followers will say that Gardens of the Moon is the weakest of the bunch, and the storytelling gets better and it all starts to come together after the second or third books. I get that. In fact, I am truly glad to hear it. I look forward to those moments as I fully intend to read on and most likely finish the series. In all honesty, I can see myself getting sucked into the Malazan world quite easily, becoming a fanboy who posts in the Malazan forums and awaits the next installments like Armageddon is on the horizon. That is what I do with fantasy series; especially series with fully realized worlds, which the Malazan world clearly is.

The truth of the matter is that despite needing two or three books to “get it,” Gardens of the Moon (and the Malazan Empire world) is not for everyone. Two or three books is a lot to swallow for the casual fantasy reader, given that the first two books clock in at 1400 to 1500 pages combined. That is a lot to swallow, especially if it is tough going for the first 300 to 500 pages. And in all honesty, it is tough going; that being said, one of the virtues of Gardens of the Moon is the fact that the world of the Malazan Empire is epic in magnitude and scope while fully realized in every aspect. The world exists and has lore and history galore; it is truly almost unbelievable. The Malazan Empire is the penultimate Dungeons and Dragons world crafted by the most obsessed Dungeon Master, and then written about in all of its glory. The problem with this incredible feat of worldbuilding is the simple girth of the world and the fact that the reader is literally dropped into the middle of it. I am actually hesitant to call it worldbuilding, since the world already exists and the reader almost awakens in the middle of a war.

Added on to that is the mediocre storytelling. There are countless plot lines at the beginning with no real (apparent) connection until much later in the book. Characters are introduced quickly and left behind abruptly, to only come around later on. There are also some fairly interesting plot devices that were almost a total turnoff for me; and I mean close the book and saying “who is kidding who?”

I can see the Malazan Empire in all its glory and I can see the war ravaged country sides, the battle hardened armies, and the towns that barely survived the individual Cleansings. The city of Darujhistan is unbelievable. However, the beauty and magnitude of these people and this world is interrupted, almost detrimentally by the previously mentioned plot devices. No matter how hard I tried, I could not picture in my head, nor believe that a marionette puppet was running around the countryside such as he was. I could not get past it and it ruined the beauty of the scenes that had been developing.

The overarching plot really comes together about halfway through and makes the book tough to put down. As a freshman work of fantasy fiction, I can already see the improvements from the beginning of the book to the end in the storytelling department. With all that in mind, Gardens of the Moon was certainly a chore to read; but it also introduced me to one of the most remarkable and engaging fantasy worlds. Unfortunately, the story told in this world was weak; but as it has been said, this is not a theme of the entire series. And remember fanboys, I will most likely be joining your ranks in another month or so.

I guess my point is that with a fully realized world (such as the one presented in Gardens of the Moon), anything is possible; and I fully expect Erikson to deliver in future installments.

At least at this time, I can honestly only recommend Gardens of the Moon for the most dedicated epic fantasy junkies.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Case Studies in Critical Controversy) by Mark Twain

Title: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Case Studies in Critical Controversy)
Author: Mark Twain, edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan
Copyright: 2003
Publisher: Bedford/St. Martin's
ISBN: 0312400292


Not the Perfect Story; but Certainly the Perfect Edition - 5 stars - a book review

I've always said if a book has been banned and I haven't read it, I must be doing something wrong. Luckily enough, I had read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn before, and for the life of me I couldn't remember what the big deal was (outside of the obvious) (I was in Junior High at the time, some 12 years ago). I was taking an English class for fun at the university I work for and this was the first text on the reading list. The theme of the class is "racism in American culture and American literature." The reason I mention this is not because of the content of the story The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn but rather the "bonus features," such as they are, that are included.

The "Case Studies in Critical Controversy" edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes the following (in addition to the original 1885 text):
  • A wonderful introduction about the importance of studying controversies;
  • A portfolio of the original illustrations included with the 1885 edition;
  • Twenty essays "representing major critical and cultural controversies surrounding the work" (from the back cover) over three subject matters: the controversy over the ending; the controversy over racism; and, the controversy over gender and sexuality. These essays include:
    • Lionel Trilling, "A Certain Formal Aptness";
    • T.S. Eliot, "The Boy and the River: Without Beginning or End";
    • Toni Morrison, "Jim's Africanist Presence in Huckleberry Finn" (New to this edition);
    • Jane Smiley, "Say It Ain't So, Huck: Second Thoughts on Mark Twain's "Masterpiece"";
    • Seymour Chwast, "Selling Huck Finn Down the River: A Response to Jane Smiley";
    • Leslie Fiedler, "Come back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!";
    • Christopher Looby, "'Innocent Homosexuality': The Fiedler Thesis in Retrospect"; and,
    • Several other essays, many of which have been reproduced in other editions of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

With this edition clocking in at 550 pages, nearly 60% of the text is additional material regarding controversy in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As my instructor said on the first day, "Everyone has their own opinions; but, leave them at the door. All I want to hear are facts." This edition has plenty of well research and comprehensive information for all sides of each controversy. Many of the essays are linked, being responses to each other. I believe oftentimes we, as a culture, forget that sometimes the discussion about the controversy is more important than the actual controversy. Reading this text is an important educational lesson, and if parents, teachers, and school children read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the context of this edition it certainly would not be banned and I think we would all be more proud of our children for the level of discourse and behavior when engaging in controversial debate.

Granted, this is the only edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn I have read (since I was 15 years old); but, I can't ever imagine myself recommending any other edition for any other reason.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Scholastic Press
ISBN: 0439023491

Notes: Second book in The Hunger Games Series


Everyday is a Revolution - 4 stars - a book review

Catching Fire continues right where The Hunger Games ends, with the victory of Katniss and Peeta in the defiance of the powerful Capital. It seems their win has started some of the Districts to think that there may be a better way to live other than the complete control that The Capital has for them. Without giving away too much, there is plenty of the good stuff that readers enjoyed from The Hunger Games and more character development of the characters that made The Hunger Games so memorable.

Returning home from The Hunger Games is only the beginning, and as victors, Katniss and Peeta travel to all twelve districts and get a feeling that there is the beginning of a revolution. However, their lives will never be the same as The Capital pulls another fast one, putting them in another situation that they just may not be ready to deal with yet.

As mentioned, everything that was enjoyable about the first volume is back: compelling characters, sticky situations, a vicious enemy, and of course, blood thirsty killing. The beginning of the book starts a little slow, but ramps up in the intensity at about the halfway point and I wish there would have been more detail in the final setting. Although Catching Fire is not near as good as The Hunger Games, it is a worthy sequel and should be read by fans of the first book.

Good reading,

Plants and Books.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: Top Producer by Norb Vonnegut

Title: Top Producer
Author: Norb Vonnegut
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Minotaur Books
ISBN: 0312384610


Good Financial Mystery - 4 stars - a book review

Although I do not consider it a thriller, Top Producer was an enjoyable experience. The opening chapters set the stage as Grove O'Rourke and 500 other people watch as Charlie Keleman is gruesomely killed by sharks in an aquarium. Obviously Charlie was not as well loved as everyone seemed to believe.

Vonnegut displays his knowledge of Wall Street with skill, and against all odds, paints an exciting and interesting picture of high finance and a world where money is king. Traversing Charlie's accounts becomes a tiresome and mind boggling task for O'Rourke as he helps Charlie's wife reclaim the money that has been invested. Along the way, O'Rourke has to deal with the police and friends/associates whose business it is to not share secrets. However, the secrets do come out, and the mystery of Charlie's death becomes as tangled as a politicians income tax returns.

The characters in Top Producer are top notch. They are completely believable and well depicted as everyone has an agenda and keeping their jobs and making money is the might be more important than solving the mystery of who killed Charlie Keleman. Although Top Producer is filled with financial jargon and countless explanations of the business, Vonnegut writes it in such a way that it flows nicely with the story and provides the reader with exactly what is needed to know without going over the top. Not only is Top Producer a good mystery; but also a nice education lesson in accounting, investment, and Ponzi schemes.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Review: Bloodroot by Bill Loehfelm

Title: Bloodroot
Author: Bill Loehfelm
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Putnam Adult
ISBN: 0399155929


Couldn't Put it Down - 5 stars - a book review

I just adopted a puppy, so my reading time has been significantly less (read: none). However, Bloodroot really got me back in the fold and I could not stop reading it. For those of you who know how time consuming a puppy is this should mean a lot.

Bloodroot examines the idea of brotherhood and what people would go through in order to save those closest to us. Bloodroot follows Kevin who has recently come back in contact with his recovering heroin addicted brother, Danny. All seems well until Kevin gets involved in some of Danny's "business ventures" which begin to unravel the past to the harrowing end. How far will Kevin go to help his brother and his family? Does he have it in him to do what is necessary, no matter how right or how wrong it seems to him?

Bill Loehfelm has crafted a magnificent tale of family and brotherhood, with darkness around every corner. The plot may seem to some to move slowly at times, but in these moments are the most significant in terms of character development and personal insight. Following Kevin and Danny is a journey into the heart of family values, brotherhood, and sacrifice with stops in the darkest corners of their souls. The way Loehfelm unravels these characters is nothing short of perfect, weaving a tale that is impossible to resist.

If you liked Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley then you will most certainly enjoy Bloodroot.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Mistborn: The Final Empire
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Copyright: 2007
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765350386

Notes: First book in the Mistborn series


Nearly Perfect. The New Standard To Which Fantasy Should Be Held - 5 stars - a book review

Just when you think epic fantasy is beyond tired, someone like Brandon Sanderson comes along and re-imagines the timeless coming of age quest adventure in a way that is so unique, so memorable, so engaging, and more importantly, so refreshing. The review title says it all. Mistborn (The Final Empire) is nearly perfect. The Final Empire has everything that grand fantasy should: a well developed world, a unique and intriguing magic system, an evil that transcends humanity, and a coming of age story.

The premise of The Final Empire is irresistible: a band of lower class people planning the ultimate caper to defeat the evil and oppressive Lord Ruler and the ruling class of nobles all vying for power and money at the expense of the slave-like Skaa. The main characters are all individuals with a unique skillset that helps the party with their objective of destroying the Lord Ruler's grasp on the Mistborn realm. Even better, their unique attributes also help worldbuild and educate the reader on the history and happenings of the last one thousand years.

As mentioned, the magic system is intriguing, to say the least. By ingesting metals, Allomancers can "burn" each metal to perform different magical acts, such as Pushing or Pulling themselves towards metal and "flying" through the air or locating metals, making themselves stronger or faster, and an introduction to fabled metals that are so rare and even unknown. This magic system makes for interesting and exciting battles and help turn the tide for parties with Allomancers.

Sanderson is an incredibly talented writer. He is a tour-de-force in the fantasy genre and should not be missed. I'm not sure that I want to trust anyone that likes fantasy but did not enjoy Mistborn. The only problem I had with The Final Empire is that it took me two years to finally read it.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Getting Famous?

For the few of you that follow my blog, you may have noticed that I have been on a little hiatus recently. My wife and I adopted a dog about a month ago and instead of reading I have been monitoring his every move. Regardless, because of this cool blog statistic/tracking site, GetClicky, I just checked to see how many people are checking in on my blog (not many) and how they are finding my site (search engines or links from other sites). I found some neat things.

First, Brent Weeks has linked my site on his website with blurbs from my reviews of his NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY:
Plants and Books says “THE WAY OF SHADOWS is one of the best recent fantasy books I have read, if not one of the best fantasy books I have ever read. There are many strengths to this engaging book; but, one of the strongest is definitely the characters and their moral/ethical dilemmas. THE WAY OF SHADOWS is an emotional ride of vengeance, mercy, justice, terror, and humor.”
Plants and Books posted, “It has been a long time since I have read a book that has so easily charged me emotionally, which if for no other reason, is a reason to read SHADOW’S EDGE.”
In an otherwise tepid review, Plants and Books says “THE NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY is one of the best additions to the fantasy genre in recent times.”
I had to laugh a little at the last comment on his review page because I did not realize that my review was so "luke warm" since I absolutely loved the book and the entire series.

I was also linked on an eBay listing for the entire Brent Weeks THE NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY. Since eBay listings come and go, here is a picture:


I was also linked from some blog that you need to be invited to be view, so I have no idea what it is. Maybe if I link the blog here, he or she will see my link and send me an invite. Maybe this person thinks my blog sucks, or maybe this person thinks I'm an idiot. Maybe this person thinks I am the most amazing blogger since the internet was conceived... Obviously there must have been something worthwhile since he linked to me. I NEED TO KNOW!!

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review: Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan

Title: Bad Things Happen
Author: Harry Dolan
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Penguin Group
ISBN: 9780399155635


Elegant Writing With Exceptional Characters - 4 stars - a book review

Every once in a while there is a story that is written in such a unique manner it is hard to explain and impossible to deny. BAD THINGS HAPPEN is such a story. The writing style is not unusual, but has an aura of "classical-ness" to it that makes the story an almost instant classic. Whatever it is that I am trying to describe reminds me of the writing style of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL. That being said, BAD THINGS HAPPEN is not without faults.

BAD THINGS HAPPEN is unique in the sense that the plot revolves around a group of writers and editors. This premise sets up some great dialogue and postulations by the characters as they scramble to figure out who killed the founder of the murder mystery magazine, Gray Streets. Every single time the phrase, "if this was a story in Gray Streets, such and such would happen" followed by, "But this isn't a story in Gray Streets..." The dialogue is almost unreal in this sense, and nearly makes it impossible to believe, but with each unbelievable moment the story becomes that much more unforgettable.

The problems with BAD THINGS HAPPENS is that as more is uncovered about the murders, the less interested I became in who the actual killer (or killers) was. The story became extremely convoluted with the motives of characters that were insignificant previously and they had motives that were not that interesting to me. Of course, me not being a writer might have something to do with the inability to relate.

Overall, BAD THINGS HAPPENS was a worthwhile read. While not without faults, the dialogue and characters are what drive this story. If you like Charlie Huston's writing, then you will enjoy this book and vice versa.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Progress Report - 6/1/09

It has been a couple of months since I last posted my reading progress, so I suppose it is time.

Books Read: 33
Pages Read: 11,990
Average Pages/Day: 76.37
Average Days/Book: 4.32

Books Reviewed: 32/33 (96.96%)
Average Review Ratings: 3.97 stars



Until next time, good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: The Doomsday Key by James Rollins

Title: The Doomsday Key
Author: James Rollins
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: William Morrow
ISBN: 0061231401

Notes: A Novel of the Sigma Force


A Good Summer Read - 4 stars - a book review

I've only read a small number of James Rollins' books; but, from my understanding, THE DOOMSDAY KEY is exactly what fans of his will expect and love. It has an easy to read and enjoyable plot involving multiple murders, biotechnology, chemical agents, history, and lore. THE DOOMSDAY KEY is truly an adventure, taking readers from Africa to locations all over Europe, to the Arctic.

I am not familiar with the characters, but I believe they have made appearances in previous Rollins books. Rollins excels in painting these people in precarious situations with real responses. They are believable and their actions are reasonable (for the most part). There were a couple of moments when I was truly impressed with their thought processes, and Rollins did a nice job of showing the internal moral struggles during these moments.

What else is there? Tons and tons of action. The only times when there is no action is when the characters are learning about the history of the artifact they seek, thus having dialogues and research sessions to fill themselves (and the reader) in on what they are trying to achieve. The action is almost over the top, and at times recklessly unbelievable. Rollins has no shame in destroying national monuments and tearing down anything and everything. This caviler attitude almost turned me off because there is no follow up on events that would seem impossible to get away with, and little discussion of the ramifications of such actions. However, it is a story, and these events were fun to read and created an enjoyable experience.

The plot revolving around the Doomsday Key and the Doomsday Book was interesting and moderately well researched, providing the lore with some semblance of believability. Although these artifacts were interesting, it was not breathtaking and "grab you by the throat." For some, the story could be a little too much action and not enough substance; but like any summer action movie: sometimes that is what we prefer.

Overall, THE DOOMSDAY KEY is a good summer read. If you are looking for a book that is easy to read, fast paced, doesn't involve a lot of thinking, and filled with action, I recommend picking it up. If you are looking for something with a little more substance or something with "a little more to it," you might consider passing on THE DOOMSDAY KEY.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Friday, June 5, 2009

Amazon Stock Soaring

Over the past couple of months I have not been checking the Amazon stock (AMZ) too often. Between those interludes, the stock was hovering around $73.00, with a couple of spikes and a couple of declines. My hypothetical investment on January 27, 2009 of 100 shares (at $48.40/share) would have cost me a whopping total of $4,840.

Fast forward to today, where Amazon stock is at $85.52... That's a net profit of $3,712! Not bad for six months work.

Six months of ups and downs... but mostly ups.

What's next? Time will tell. I would be halfway tempted to cash out now, wait for a big dip which is sure to come, and then reinvest.

Good investing,

Plants and Books

Monday, May 25, 2009

Review: North From Calcutta by Duane Evans

The Spy From the Other Side - 5 stars - a book review

Duane Evans has created an equally interesting and engaging story with his novel, NORTH FROM CALCUTTA. In a world of Islamic terrorism and Pakastani intelligence, this book reads like an espionage thriller on the other side of the world.

The main character, Tarek Durrani, is a believable, if not a troubled person in his own right. Fighting his own demons along the way to ensuring that India and Pakistan do not end up destroying each other (and the rest of the world) in nuclear war over Kashmir. Evans has a talent for painting a remarkably bleak picture with a hint of sunlight in the corner, and realizing this light in NORTH FROM CALCUTTA is as engaging as it gets.

One of the best features of NORTH FROM CALCUTTA is the pace at which the story is told. The story is engaging and builds chapter by chapter to an explosive conclusion that will be hard to forget. Every chapter is equally fulfilling and their is no down chapters or lagging that sometimes exists to move the plot along. The plot moves perfectly.

If you like espionage thrillers and you are looking for a change in venue for spy exploits, you should take a good look at NORTH FROM CALCUTTA. If you liked THE INCREMENT by David Ignatius you will enjoy NORTH FROM CALCUTTA and vice versa.

Good reading,

Plants and Books.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review: Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks

Title: Beyond the Shadows
Author: Brent Weeks
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: Orbit Books
ISBN: 0316033669

Notes: Final book in the Night Angel Trilogy


A Satisfying Conclusion to a Refreshing Fantasy Series - 4 stars - a book review

Brent Weeks certainly made a grand entrance into the fantasy world with his NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY. The entire trilogy is refreshing to read, real and emotional, and completely believable. I absolutely loved THE WAY OF SHADOWS and it was one of the best fantasy books I have read in a long time. The stage was set for a grand tale (and it was); but I was slightly disappointed with the execution, at least by comparison to the previous two installments.

After killing the Godking, Kylar Stern takes more of a journey and adventure of self discovery, learning about the Ka'kari and his role as the Night Angel. Old friendships are rekindled and rediscovered, to great success in terms of character development. One area that Weeks has always succeeded with is his character development and personal interactions. This book explores the bond of brotherhood and friendship to great depths, and the sacrifices necessary to save people. In the previous installments, Kylar's love interest, Elene, was a very one dimensional character. In BEYOND THE SHADOWS, she grows so much, and becomes a character that I was now interested in. Furthermore, many characters from the previous two books are featured in a much more prominent light, setting the stage across multiple countries building to a epic battle.

My one disappointment with BEYOND THE SHADOWS was how the format of the book was drastically different from the other two. BEYOND THE SHADOWS has so many more characters and there is so much more going on in their stories that it almost detracted from my favorite aspects of the series: that being Kylar and his growth as a Wetboy and his struggles balancing the life and his destiny. Because of this, there is so much worldbuilding that would have been better introduced previously because there are times of great exposition through dialogues between characters about the history of the realm. BEYOND THE SHADOWS further explores the entire realm, but almost too much for my comfort. I would have liked to have had more of this worldbuilding in the first two books.

Regardless, BEYOND THE SHADOWS is a solid book. THE NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY is one of the best additions to the fantasy genre in recent times. Weeks excels is painting the tragic lives and choices of the characters and their actions are nothing short of believable.

If you like fantasy, you certainly do not want to miss this one.

Good reading,

Plants and Books
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