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

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Review: Orphan's Triumph by Robert Buettner

Title: Orphan's Triumph
Author: Robert Buettner
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Orbit Books
ISBN: 0316001759

Notes: 5th book in the Jason Wander series


Everybody Was Somebody Else Before the War - 5 stars - a book review
"Though Father of the great victory, I was laid upon the battlefield of Mantinea, bleeding from my wounds. I commanded my soldiers to lift me up, that I might see my orphans triumph, and I bade them make a lasting peace. But I died too soon to see these things, as all soldiers do."

-Epaminondas' Lament, attributed to Xenophon, ca. 364 BC (an excerpt from the opening of Orphan's Triumph.

True to form, Robert Buettner delivers in the finale of the Jason Wander series. Picking up at the conclusion of ORPHAN'S ALLIANCE, the United Human forces are ready to launch the ultimate counter stroke in the battle against the slugs that has raged on for four decades. At the heart of the novel is Jason Wander, the orphan who has stumbled his way to the position of Lieutenant General, much to the dismay of everyone. Wander was the first to encounter a slug and is determined to be the last one to see them alive. Along the way, through the entire series, he has sacrificed much, and lost even more.

ORPHAN'S TRIUMPH explores the price of command and the price of a life long service to the military as Wander comes to terms with what is necessary to win at all costs. As expected, the personal commentary by Wander in this first person account is raw and genuine. The voice is unmatched and deeply personal. As in ORPHAN'S ALLIANCE, there were times of true emotional responses from me while reading some of the passages, which proves the depth of this military science fiction installment.

The cast of characters includes those that readers of the series have come to appreciate (and love) including Ord, Mimi, Jude, Howard Hibble and his merry band of "Spooks," and Aud. Forty years of war has certainly had an effect on these people and as the end of the Slugs or the end of Humanity looms they will have to reconcile with each other and show the worth of their friendship/relationship. Buettner excels in casting his believable characters in situations that are, at times, excruciating and elegant to read, all at the same time.

ORPHAN'S TRIUMPH, as well as the entire series, is not to be missed. In the spirit of Robert Heinlein, ORPHAN'S TRIUMPH is today's commentary on war, exploration, and personal sacrifice.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wheel of Time Cover Art

Recently, Brandon Sanderson posted the release of the official THE GATHERING STORM cover art, painted by Darrell K. Sweet. THE WHEEL OF TIME cover art (and fantasy cover art in general) has often been the heart of a lot of debate and criticism, and THE GATHERING STORM is no exception. To the disappointment of many fans, Tor books has said that they will be sticking with Sweet as the artist for the remaining two WOT books (three including THE GATHERING STORM).

I feel obligated to say that while I certainly don't approve of THE GATHERING STORM's cover art (and several of the WOT covers), I am pleased to hear that Sweet will be finishing off the series. After the conclusion of the last volume being published in November of 2011, Tor will be repackaging the entire series with new art. I am a man that prefers standardization. While I don't particularly prefer the cover art for WOT, I do like that consistency in the paintings; and, many of the paintings are beautiful when you look at both the front and back covers as one sweeping epic moment in the WHEEL OF TIME saga.

To further add to this point, I was angered beyond belief when George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series, THE SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, was given a new cover look after the third book. I was furious. I loved the first three covers, and I despise the new look. For you visual learners out there, take a look at these (the editions available when I started reading the series minus the A FEAST FOR CROWS cover, because it was never released with that cover):

Compared to:

Now obviously my complete set will never look like a complete set, because I have the first three covers under the old publication art, and every remaining book under the new publication art (unless Bantam decides to change the art once again).

Anyways, I digress. Back to THE WHEEL OF TIME cover art. In light of the cover art release of THE GATHERING STORM, I went back to look at all the old covers again and see which I loved, liked, appreciated, and despised. I think one of the reasons I am sometimes disappointed with Sweet's artwork is the close up images of the characters, most specifically the faces. I wish I could find the full paintings of the cover art including both the front and the back, because as I mentioned, sometimes the best art is not on the front, or for full appreciation of the epic scope of the painting requires the full painting (if you know where I can find the full images, please let me know. If I come across them I will post them later).

My all time favorite WHEEL OF TIME cover goes to CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT. The full image shows an army of characters weaving through the woods approaching what appears to be some battle. The colors of the woods and the actions of the characters is beautifully illustrated and executed. Sweet does have a knack for painting landscape, as the woods in this cover demonstrates.

The second best cover, in my opinion, goes to A PATH OF DAGGERS (and a very close second to the best). A wonderful painting of an army heading to battle. The characters are done extremely well and look believable. This cover does an excellent job of providing the casual reader in the bookstore with the knowledge of the epic nature of the book.

My third favorite cover is A CROWN OF SWORDS. Again, the overall colors and dark nature of the image are incredibly well done. There is not a lot going on in the front cover image, but the back cover image displays more (small) characters and some of the villainous Trollocs. This particular cover does a nice job of illustrating Rand in the ruined city of Shadar Logoth. A beauty of balance in composition and colors.

Next, THE DRAGON REBORN. This cover paints the characters as youthful and inexperienced, yet fully realizing the epic nature of the quest before them as Rand reaches for the sword that is not a sword. On the back cover are some interesting looking characters that only the astute reader of the first two books (or the re-reader) would recognize, hinting at something bigger going on in the book.

Other notable covers include THE EYE OF THE WORLD, NEW SPRING, and THE GREAT HUNT. The first two portraying the exact image of a group setting out on an epic quest. THE EYE OF THE WORLD being the first book in the main sequence introduces a motley crew of young, naive boys and some huge characters who obviously know what they are up against. If all fantasy sagas are deep down just a coming of age and self realization story then THE EYE OF THE WORLD cover paints this image perfectly.

And the worst of the worst going to LORD OF CHAOS, WINTER'S HEART, and THE GATHERING STORM. Nothing paints epic fantasy worse than a sweeping cover with an image straight off of a sappy romance novel (especially when the main character has shoulders as broad as his torso is tall. Despite this terrible depiction of Rand, the back cover has some beautiful imagery of desolate landscape. WINTER'S HEART is another great traveling image, except for the horrible facial expressions on the main characters. And, THE GATHERING STORM... The house seems to be leaning (which I suppose whatever caused the huge burnt hole in the house could have destroyed the structural integrity of the house; but I prefer not to have to think that much with a cover) and I can't comprehend how Rand is standing the way he is. I love the commentary by Rob B at SFFWORLD when he said:
Is that the Bates Motel plopped into Little House on the Prairie?
I couldn't agree more.

Anyways, fantasy covers (in general) leave a lot to be desired; but standardizationally speaking, they do hold a dear place in my heart. I can see how it might be difficult for a new reader to be psyched about picking up these books, but once in, it is difficult to imagine it any other way.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review: Wicked Prey by John Sandford

Title: Wicked Prey
Author: John Sandford
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Putnam
ISBN: 0399155678

Notes: 19th Prey Novel


One of the Best Lucas Davenport Books So Far - 5 stars - a book review

In his nineteenth edition to the Lucas Davenport Prey series, John Sandford proves beyond a reasonable doubt that somethings will never grow old or tired. The hero, Lucas Davenport, is up to his neck in problems in WICKED PREY. WICKED PREY has three different crimes running at the same time that seem to weave in and out of each other, all the while the Republican Nomination Convention sets the stage for limited resources and manpower in the background.

On the forefront there is a gang of armored car robbers looking for a big score, a man with a rifle looking for weaponry for a 750 yard shot, and Randy Witcomb (from previous Prey installments) looking to settle the score with Davenport.

Sandford excels in painting the life of a law enforcement official, from the slow times of walking the beat to the climatic shootouts, and WICKED PREY is no exception. The writing style is so elegant in the portrayal of the life looking for criminals, hoping for breaks, and running around in the thick of chaos. As he has proven time and time again, nobody writes a better criminal apprehension story than John Sandford, and WICKED PREY is no exception.

WICKED PREY is fantastic. It just might be one of my top three Lucas Davenport stories, coming in a close second or third behind BROKEN PREY and SECRET PREY. Don't miss this one; it's WICKED!

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Review: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

Title: Warbreaker
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Copyright: 2009
Publisher: Tor Books
ISBN: 0765320304

Notes: A SciFi essential book


Who Says Epic Standalone Fantasy Doesn't Exist?
- 5 stars - a book review

WARBREAKER, by Brandon Sanderson, is a story about unseen and unknown forces at work. The novel follows a host of unique and interesting characters: the unnoticed princess sent (unprepared) to marry the God King of a rival kingdom; the sister who was supposed to marry the God King instead, an unsatisfied God of a kingdom, rebel faction leaders, a mysterious and powerful fighter, and the God King himself. Alternating between these main viewpoints (and a host of smaller characters), Sanderson has crafted a truly epic in scope standalone fantasy novel.

The overall plot of WARBREAKER is quite simple; but the tale is told in a complex and dramatic way. Two kingdoms fear that war is inevitable. The main characters and the political factions of these kingdoms are in engaged in a constant struggle to either shift the balance either in favor of war or against it. What makes WARBREAKER epic in a fantasy context is the method in which the environment, history, and characters are developed. In one single book, Sanderson has managed to successfully build a believable world and magic system using alternative methods to those typically employed in fantasy books. The world of WARBREAKER is a world of Biochromatic Breath, where people use this magic to bring objects to life and use fundamentally simplistic magic. The kingdom histories of Idris and Hallandren is revealed through the politics of the realm, while the councils of Gods and Goddesses meet to influence the course of a kingdom.

WARBREAKER was a wonderful experience and is filled with detailed and colorful descriptions that truly make the world come to life. Sanderson has accomplished in one book what some fantasy authors struggle to do in ten books: build a world that is believable and create a conclusive fantasy experience. This book should not be missed for any fantasy lover.

Good reading,

Plants and Books

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review: Orphan's Alliance by Robert Buettner

Title: Orphan's Alliance
Author: Robert Buettner
Copyright: 2008
Publisher: Orbit Books
ISBN: 0316001740

Notes: Fourth book in the Jason Wander series


The Price of War, The Price of Humanity - 5 stars - a book review

"Nearby Waterloo, I saw a Sergeant of Artillery seated upon his caisson, which the rains had mired in the road ditch. His eye had been shot out, and one of his mean, whoes leg was off, wept beside him. The Sergeant complained that Prussian cavalry had bypassed them. He said, with some heat, "Our own allied abandoned us like orphans!" I told him straight, "in this hell, better an orphans' alliance than no alliance at all."

-Remarks at the annual Waterloo Dinner of 1812, attributed to the Duke of Wellington (an excerpt from the beginning of Orphan's Alliance)
After establishing an uneasy alliance with other human colonies on earth like wars in the previous installment (ORPHAN'S JOURNEY), Jason Wander finds himself playing the role of diplomat and warrior, a balance the Wander has had difficulty (and great success) doing in the past. Using interstellar travel methods similar to wormholes, Wander planet hops to build strengthen Earth's alliance against the never ending confrontation with the Slug armada that always seems to be knocking at the doorstep, leading to a beautifully thought out and wonderfully executed battle.

Robert Buettner has created a world that is believable and has explored a new aspect of humanity in each installment of the Jason Wander series. In ORPHAN'S ALLIANCE he tackles the price of war and the alliances of humans with personal interests with a war that hinges loosely on one more battle.

Buettner brings the cast of characters back that readers have grown fond of including Ord, Jude, Munchkin, and Howard. ORPHAN'S ALLIANCE brings a whole new element to his series with some true feeling, hard hitting emotions to the characters and their actions. As in every war, death strikes close to home and the emotional responses are touching to say the least. There are few books that I have had a true emotional response to, and Buettner achieved this with me not once, but twice toward the end of the book. Negating the rest of the other profound achievements in this book, these two moments alone are worth the time invested in reading this book.

Highly recommended.

Good reading,

Plants and Books
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