Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Progress Report - 3/31/09

In one of my first posts, I discussed an ambitious goal of reading 50,000 pages in a calendar year, sometime in my life. Since I started tracking the number of pages I read each year, I have come nowhere near that close (I think the closest I've come so far has been 15,000).

If I keep reading the way I have been the first three months of this year, I may get three fifths of the way to my goal. I've currently read 7,103 pages (only counting books I have completed - I have several that I have started but they won't be included until after completion because of the way I have built my tracking spreadsheet). At this rate, I will hit 28,412 pages by the end of the year. Not too shabby.

The "box score" for completed books so far this year is as follows:

Books Read:
Pages Read: 7,103
Average Pages/Day: 78.92
Average Days/Book: 3.73

Books Reviewed: 21/22 (95%)
Average Review Ratings: 3.90 stars

Something interesting I noticed was that 59.09% of the text that I have read so far has been requested material; either through the Amazon Vine Program or books that have been sent to my by publishers or authors. I think that might have something to do with the massive increase in pages read. I have added a couple of things to the side of this blog; first being a slide show to show what I am currently reading and the second a slide show that displays all the books I have received that were requested of me to review.

Anyways, for you visual learners out there, here are the graphs (I have added one that compares monthly reading habits):



Until next time, good reading,

Plants and Books

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Review: Deadlock by Iris Johansen

Title: Deadlock
Author: Iris Johansen
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 0312368119


Meh... Where Are We Going and When Will We Get There? - 2 stars - a book review

Brief Synopsis:
When Emily Hudson, an expert in artifacts for the United Nations, gets abducted it sets off a around the world chase fueled by revenge and greed. Introduced throughout the escapades are a host of characters with unique skill sets that all are focused on determining the significance of an artifact called Zelov's Hammer.

Overall Impressions:
DEADLOCK was not a terrible book; but it missed the mark in a lot of areas. The entire time I was reading it I had no direction to where the author, Johansen, was taking me. There is no reference to the significance of the artifact and the motivations of the characters. Ergo, the reader is taken on a 'round the world balloon trip with no real destination in mind. It may be like receiving a treasure map with no "X" on it and not knowing what the treasure might actually be. The only motivation is to hopefully get to the end, which is ultimately unsatisfying.

On the other hand, sometimes books can be a solid read based on the characters and their development alone. I had an extremely difficult time relating to any of the characters. The "romance" in the book is so bizarre and difficult to comprehend, and whatever gains might be expected from a romantic involvement is negated by the sheer implausibility of the entire situation.

Overall, this book goes back and forth, jet setting from one country to another without any significant details that one might wonder about when considering bypassing airport security other than the typical explanation in DEADLOCK: "So and so character is very good at what he does." There are a handful of conversations that are retold over and over, and over again.

DEADLOCK just does not deliver. This is my first Iris Johansen book, so I cannot comment regarding the comparison of her previous books; but, I can imagine that fans of hers may enjoy this book since there is a certain writing style that others may appreciate.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: Carbon Copy: Alpha Man by Gary Turcotte

Must... Suspend... All... Belief... - 2 stars - a book review

I did not enjoy reading CARBON COPY: ALPHA MAN. When reading science fiction I do not mind suspending belief as long as it is reinforced with solid ideas and some level of plausibility. Unfortunately, CARBON COPY: ALPHA MAN forces the reading to suspend all possible belief with absolutely no level plausibility. The science is rudimentary and impossible to "buy into."

The characters are introduced haphazardly with no real background and explanation for their "elite skill set." For example, the opening sentence:
"Call me Derek 008. I'm a former secret agent of a major world power. I'm being pursued by teams of secret agent hunters. Most of the Nations want me alive. Some Nations want me dead. After this book is published, I will be hunted like a snake by a mongoose."
This is just a small example of the author pumping up the "excitement" without any real explanation or background to develop the character.

The storyline of CARBON COPY: ALPHA MAN is so far out of left field it is unbelievable. I do not mind stories that fit that description, as long as they are executed well; which unfortunately, this book is not. The story introduces so many varied plot lines of equally outstanding and fantastic nature. The story is all over the place and difficult to manage as a reader.

The reason I gave this book two stars (instead of one) is because I could see myself recommending CARBON COPY: ALPHA MAN to a mature young reader to possibly peak his or her interest in the science fiction genre. There is some vulgar language but nothing unmanageable for a mature reader.

Your best bet? Pass on this book.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Inventions by Glenn Murphy

Title: Inventions
Author: Glenn Murphy
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing
ISBN: 1416938656

An Insiders book


Reinventing the Way We Learn and the Way We Teach - 5 stars - a book review

INVENTIONS was the complete package. It is a beautifully illustrated book with just enough information about various life changing inventions to let the reader understand the basic principles and how the inventions are utilized by humanity. Each invention featured was not overly discussed and analyzed with minutia that could have lost some readers (especially younger readers) but therein lay the true beauty of this book: it inspired me to want to learn more about each invention.

This is the perfect book for anyone of any age with an interest in science or a curiosity of how things work. It is the perfect gift for young children because it speaks on a level of which anyone can relate.

Reading this book reminded me of one of my favorite books in grade school: THE WAY THINGS WORK simply because of the graphical concept, ease of reading, the feeling of empowerment to know something special, and the desire to learn more. Is that not something that should be on every child's bookshelf? If you are looking to stimulate the mind of your child or are looking for a way to spend quality time in an educational setting with your child, this is a perfect tool for initiating those moments and those conversations.

My only reservation about this book is that I felt adding to the introduction a brief overview of simple machines (i.e. lever, pulley, wheel, etc.) was necessary and would have been a great way to explain how machinery works on the fundamental level. Throughout INVENTIONS the author makes note of simple machines, but not in a way that transpires the individual invention on that page.

Inventions covered in this book include: the wheel, sail, clock, windmill, printing press, telescope, engine, camera, train, music player, power station, telephone, submarine, automobile, airship, airplane, radio and TV, computer, rockets, surgery, locks and keys, bionics, and the internet.

This book should be on every child's bookshelf for the pure educational and entertainment functions it serves. The only book I have read that is better in these areas is THE WAY THINGS WORK, by David Macaulay.

Good reading and learning,

Plants and Books

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Don't Look Twice by Andrew Gross

Title: Don't Look Twice
Author: Andrew Gross
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: William Morrow
ISBN: 0061143448

Second Book with the character Ty Hauck


Good Story; but Nothing Groundbreaking - 3 stars - a book review

Brief Synopsis:
Lieutenant Ty Hauck was with his daughter at a gas station when a drive by shooting occurred. What first appears to be revenge by a local gang is slowly uncovered as a deeper conspiracy. Lt. Hauck is told to back off and let it be; but Lt. Hauck cannot accept that and digs deeper and deeper as the book unfolds.

Overall Impressions:
DON'T LOOK TWICE is a fairly standard murder mystery thriller. At times, the plot is all over the place, with details coming out that further implicate others. The characters are somewhat memorable and interesting, but their interactions are somewhat forced and unnatural at times. The plot is convoluted in a mess of a conspiracy that unfolds back and forth; however, it makes for an interesting story and is enjoyable to read. I was disappointed at the ending as it was somewhat anti-climatic.

Overall, I enjoyed reading DON'T LOOK TWICE; but, it was pretty standard murder thriller material these days and offered nothing groundbreaking. There are certainly better stories out there and there are certainly worse stories, too.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review: Orphan's Destiny by Robert Buettner

Title: Orphan's Destiny
Author: Robert Buettner
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: Orbit Books
ISBN: 0316019135

Second Book in the Jason Wander series


Different Plot. Different Location. Different Mission. Same Jason Wander. - 4 stars - a book review

"A Confederate sharpshooter's ball slew our drummer today, as he took breakfast on a fair July morning. The lad joined up when his parents died, and had not passed fourteen. They say it is a soldier's lot to die young and unexpectedly. Or to live and forever question God why he was spared. For me, should I live, I shall ask what cruel God makes death an orphan's destiny."

-True Occurrences During the Great Battle at Gettysburg; Recountings of a Soldier of the Sixty-first Ohio Infantry (excerpt from the opening of Orphan's Destiny).

Brief Synopsis:
After eradicating the slug force on Jupiter's moon, Ganymede, Jason Wander returns to an earth on the brink of economic collapse. The leaders of earth are declaring that the slugs have been completely annihilated and pose no additional threat; thereby transitioning to a post-war economy of reconstruction. Needless to say, Jason Wander is a General out of his comfort zone (if he ever had one). Then, the slugs come back with an armada for a full scale assault on the planet earth. The problem? Earth is not ready to fight another war and has only limited resources and no options to possibly win. Sounds like the odds Wander is used to.

Overall Impressions:
ORPHAN'S DESTINY is drastically different from its predecessor, ORPHANAGE. This addition to the series focuses a bulk of the prose toward politicking and the things that Jason has staunchly stated he cares nothing about; however, duty is duty. The final act focuses on what ORPHANAGE was all about: the infantry men doing whatever it takes to get the job done. While the plot elements may be different, the voice of the story is largely commentary on military issues and personnel. It is refreshing that despite the change in locale and mission, the story remains relatively comfortable in the tradition of military science.

While the reader must suspend some belief at the areas of science and realism, there is a wonderful tale woven on earth and in space. Some areas of science (especially in space travel and engine capacities) were only glossed over and not given proper face time, it is forgiven as I wouldn't expect such from a purely militaristic science fiction story. This book is not about science or space travel or futuristic technologies; it is about the personnel that harness these abilities; and for that alone, Buettner exceeds expectations.

Wander is one of the most interesting characters, and his development (along with the development of characters introduced in ORPHANAGE and a host of new characters) is remarkable. At every turn Wander reinforces his ideology while still learning and growing every step of the way. Obviously reading ORPHANAGE will prove to provide a better reading experience, but this book is one that shouldn't be missed.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: Shadow's Edge by Brent Weeks

Title: Shadow's Edge
Author: Brent Weeks
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: Orbit Books
ISBN: 0316033650

Second Book in The Night Angel Trilogy


Good Continuation of a Great Series - 4 stars - a book review

Brief Synopsis:
With the fall of his home, Cenaria, to the Godking, Kylar Stern has left the wetboy (assassin) life behind. He, his "wife," and his adopted "daughter" are looking to settle elsewhere, but the nature of his skills and passions proves difficult to abandon. Meanwhile, the King of Cenaria is living in the dungeon of the castle making allies and enemies with the wretched criminals. Events transpire that force Kylar to return to his home, his former allies, and his previous lifestyle.

Overall Impressions:
SHADOW'S EDGE was a nice follow-up to THE WAY OF SHADOWS. It does not surpass by any means, but it picks up nicely and continues the intriguing character development of some of the most memorable characters in recent fantasy literature.

SHADOW'S EDGE takes place in a multitude of locales and the travel in between. This technique allows for Weeks to do some more world building for his fantasy world, which is well executed. The reader should have a greater appreciation for Weeks' creation after reading this book.

By far one of the strongest aspects of Weeks' The Night Angel Trilogy is the characters. They are interesting, compelling, and believable. Logan and Kylar are extremely fascinating and reading about their exploits incites emotions that range from love to hatred, empathy to disgust, and everything in between. 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.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Kind Words from an American Gladiator

In response to a recent review of GLADIATOR, by Dan "Nitro" Clark, I received the following email:
Thanks for the kind words about the book. You totally got it.

Peace be with you,
Dan Nitro Clark

It's always nice to receive appreciation, especially saying "you totally got it" from an author regarding his or her book. You can learn more about Mr. Clark and his book at his website.

Good appreciating,

Plants and Books

It's Not A Gamble if it's a Lock!

Sometimes I feel like Cassandra in The Odyssey, cursed such that no one would believe her when she predicted the future.

Recall my hypothetical investment in Amazon stock (AMZN). If I had actually purchased 100 shares of Amazon stock on January 27, 2009, I would currently be up $2,155; which is 44.5% of my initial (hypothetical) investment.

Good investing,

Plants and Books

2009 Hugo Nominations Announced

The 2009 Hugo Award nominations were announced on March 19, and once again, I have read or seen few of them; although many of the writing nominees are on my TBR pile. Personal notables include:
  • Anthem by Neil Stephenson - Best Novel - this has been on my TBR pile since it was published;
  • Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi - Best Novel - I have read the first entry in this "series," Old Man's War; but don't know if I will followup with the other entries;
  • The Dark Knight - Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form - a shoo-in in my opinion, since it is one of the best movies I have ever seen;
  • WALL-E - Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form - a wonderful, visually stimulating story that tells a compelling tale;
For more information and category links check out the Hugo Awards Wikipedia entry. I typically read several of the previous winners and nominees each year. I frequently view the comprehensive list of Novel entries for both the Hugo Award for Best Novel and the Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Thursday, March 12, 2009

American Gladiators

I just finished reading GLADIATOR, by Dan Clark (also known to you people of the nineties as Nitro from American Gladiators) and it was a very compelling read. While reading about his twenty year struggle with steroids I was still able to remember with fond nostalgia one of the greatest television shows ever created: American Gladiators.

To further this walk down memory lane I stumbled across some classic American Gladiator moments, with some narration by Dan Clark himself.

This first clip is of Nitro pushing a guy off the block after a joust match. It has become especially memorable because it is discussed during GLADIATOR, and should always relate to the divisive character struggling with steroids. Nitro wasn't mad about losing the match; he was mad because the Contender kept on swinging after Nitro had lost.

Who can deny the "It's always personal."

I remember watching this Eliminator on TV. One of the most exciting moments on national television during the nineties.

I love how the Gladiators look angry that either of the Contenders won.

Finally, the return of Nitro. He briefly discusses the reasons why he and several other gladiators left the show (they wanted a standard cut of all the merchandising and were basically told to show up under the current agreement or you're fired). In GLADIATOR, Dan Clark discusses in an emotional moment visiting several kids in the hospital and this small, weak child telling him that he is the biggest American Gladiator fan; and how he was sad that Nitro was no longer on the show. The kid told him that when Nitro ran, he ran. When Nitro jumped, he jumped.

There are some great clips out there. All of these came from the American Gladiators website, but I also watched several episodes on YouTube. I watched the very first episode, and by today's standards, the quality is almost laughable; but, the idea and the charisma is absolutely timeless.

Good reminiscing,

Plants and Books

Review: Gladiator by Dan Clark

Title: Gladiator
Author: Dan Clark
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 1416597328


Heroes Get Remember; but Legends Never Die (5 stars) - a book review

We all remember the early nineties for various reasons. One reason could be one of the finest television shows ever syndicated: American Gladiators. One of the biggest stars of the show, Nitro (or Dan Clark), has finally written a memoir on his life, which chronicles his public rise and his personal fall, leaving nothing untouched including the bad and the ugly, and then the road to redemption.

This not a book about American Gladiators. This is a book about a single American Gladiator: Dan Clark. He tells a compelling story of a divided family and the loss of his brother in a tragic accident. From there out the story is laid out, one tragedy after another; most of which are self induced by an obsession with image and success; but mostly with steroids.

Twenty years of rampid steroid abuse is chronicled through GLADIATOR. Clark tells his story in such a wonderful way. It is not overly dark and disgusting, but close enough to get an appreciative understanding of the terrible consequences and side effects of steroids. Clark weaves together the account of his life as a high school football player, Italian Superbowl champion, pro football player (four games, I think), struggling actor, and of course, an American Gladiator. Throughout his struggles, the one constant thing in his life void of positive emotion is steroids. Clark glosses over stories of 'roid rage with friends, surgeries, smuggling steroids, death, sexual escapades, and other relevant topics that were present throughout his twenty year binge on steroids. While the language is rough at times, the story is told in a manner that is not over the top; yet completely engaging.

Nitro was every one's hero during the prime time days of American Gladiators; but maybe for all the wrong reasons. After reading this book, Nitro should be a legend for honestly telling his story about steroid abuse.

Other recommendations about steroids:
Good reading,

Plants and Books

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

Title: Starvation Lake
Author: Bryan Gruley
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Touchstone
ISBN: 1416563628

Notes: Debut Novel


Exceptional Debut. One of the "Must Reads" of 2009.

Brief Synopsis:
The small town of Starvation Lake has had better days. Due to Coach Blackburn raising up a bunch of kids from the town into a competitor for the state hockey title, Starvation Lake become a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, the team lost their one chance at the title and Coach Blackburn died in a snowmobile accident several years later.

Enter the main character, Gus Carpenter, in which the story is told in his first person narrative. Carpenter was the player who is blamed for losing the State title since he was the goalie for the team that year. He is fleeing from Detroit under mysterious circumstances at the Detroit Times and is now works at the local newspaper, The Pilot. What happens next baffles the town, as Coach Blackburn's snowmobile resurfaces in the wrong lake.

Carpenter quickly picks up some of the loose ends and starts to uncover the dark past of Starvation Lake and some of her residents.

Overall Impressions:
STARVATION LAKE is a phenomenal tour-de-force. It is a compelling story with several interesting characters, each with fundamental flaws. As Carpenter starts to unravel the mysteries of Coach Blackburn and his associates/friends things start to become more and more clear. The character development is crafted to perfection, as each character becomes more and more human and as the story progresses.

Interwoven between the clues and plot lines are some wonderful recollections of hockey games and memories of the glorious past of Starvation Lake. These memories add to the realism of the town and the overall story and the accountability of the characters involved. Finding the truth surrounding Coach Blackburn's death is only the tip of the iceberg, and the reader is taken hold of and not let go until the concluding chapters.

I would not miss this book when it is released. It is probably the best book I have read so far this year. Definitely a "must read."

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Review: Prescription for Murder by Andrea Bartlett

Good Debut Character Study (4 stars) - a book review

PRESCRIPTION FOR MURDER was an exceptionally quick read. I started and finished on a flight from Denver to Seattle. The reader follows the main character, Jill, as she hard noses her way through the cops and lawyers while her new boyfriend's son is being investigated for the murder of his girlfriend.

PRESCRIPTION FOR MURDER was not necessarily a mystery or thriller, but more of a character study for the three main characters (Jill, her pharmacist boyfriend, and his son). It was a good tale that wove in and out of their lives, all the while fighting against some hard nosed cops that simply love to further their own careers at the cost of sexist jokes, hiding evidence, and other shenanigans.

My only disappointment with this book was the information dump at the end. Everything is pulled together nicely and a lot is revealed in the final chapters; some of which I would have liked to have read (or been alluded to) throughout the book.

All in all, a very nice debut novel. I will certainly pick up the next book published by Andrea Bartlett.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Monday, March 9, 2009

Progress Report - 3/8/09

My reading has leveled off in the past couple of weeks since I got back from vacation. I have only read two books (one of which was only 100 pages) since I got home. Regardless, I thought it might be time for another progress report of my reading data tracking.

You can tell when I was on vacation because of the massive jump over the course of a week. Here is a quick summary; or, the "box score," if you will:

Books Read: 14
Pages Read: 5110
Average Pages/Day: 76.27
Average Days/Book: 4.29

Books Reviewed: 11/14
Average Review Ratings: 4.09 stars

I've got several reviews to write before I fall too far behind; and, I've got an book debt (books that need to be read for either publishers or reviewing programs) that is fairly sizable...


Good reading,

Plants and Books
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