[REVIEW] – ‘BRICKSY’ ; LEGO meets Banksy street art

51J1G8qbqZLThe folks at Skyhorse Publishing have sent along another pretty great LEGO book – especially if you’re a fan of the anonymous street artist Banksy. ‘Bricksy: Unauthorized Underground Brick Street Art‘ ($14.99 direct) brings you LEGOized versions of some of Banksy’s most famous works of vandalism – err, art.

The book itself is done up quite nicely with a vividly colored dust jacket wrapping around a good solid hardcover mirroring the art on the jacket (missing only the information on the inside jacket sleeves). The pages are laid out very nicely with some of photos spreading across facing pages. What I really liked about the book was the inclusion of the original Banksy artwork with each photo.

For the most part, author and photographer Jeff Friesen did a fabulous job recreating Banksy’s poignant whimsy. But, LEGO can only go so far when imitating life – and sometimes even less when imitating certain works of art. There are several photos where Friesen takes liberties in recreating the original version but usually the changes reflect his canvas – the world of LEGO.

See the original Banksy in the lower left corner.

See the original Banksy in the lower left corner. (Image courtesy of Amazon)

I’d suggest reading the short introduction from Friesen as he briefly dives into the pairing the worlds of street art and LEGO, and how they compliment each other.

Accompanying the pictures, aside from any prophetic words from Banksy himself, are some short quips reminiscent of my own type of LEGO photography – of which I owe my comic hero Gary Larson.

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As you can see, Friesen has done a fantastic job building complete worlds for each of Banksy’s ideas to live. Not to mention he’s made us of many of the new LEGO Collector’s Series minifigs which is just fun to see. Each shot is fully expanded to include the original art and built upon it – to possibly show might have been had Banksy used a more traditional canvas, and not the sides of buildings. But some are future imaginings or replies to Banksy’s original piece.

The book is rounded out with a short but insightful FAQ answering most of the questions you’re probably thinking of right now – and an index of all the original Banksy art photos (who took them, where they came from, etc). A nice, more colorful, way to dish out photo credits.

Overall Bricksy is a great little book that will appeal to fans who enjoy both subjects. However I’m not sure someone without an appreciation for Banksy art would get as much out of this – but that seems obvious.

Bricksy: Unauthorized, Underground Brick Street Art: [A]
Skyhorse Publishing
Available now. 

[Review] LEGO Architecture: The Visual Guide

9781465422866HThe folks at DK Publishing were kind enough to send me one of their latest LEGO themed titles last week. As usual, it’s great. It’s been around since September so you may have already seen it in bookstores. If you haven’t, then here’s a sneak peek.

The LEGO Architecture Visual Guide follows in the footsteps of many of DK’s previous LEGO endeavors by taking sets fans know and love, and giving us the dirty details behind them. This time around we’re taking a look at the Architecture sets LEGO has been releasing since 2008 (I know that because there is a handy timeline right at the front of the book) (also because I am smart and awesome). Much like the Visual Dictionaries for LEGO Star Wars, Harry Potter, (or the majority of DK’s books), this Guide gives readers a multi-page in depth look at each model in the Architecture theme. It may be a little too in-depth for the youngsters to fully enjoy, there are also plenty of fun pictures to look at as well.IMG_0379

Before diving into the contents, let’s take a look at the book itself. The cover photo at the top of this post is actually the cover of the thick hard case slip cover. I mention its thickness because it’s pretty heavy duty, offering excellent protection for the book. The spine of the slipcase is nicely labeled and the rest of it is nicely decorated making it stand out on a coffee table or easily blend seamlessly among other books on a shelf.
IMG_0387As you can see, the core book itself is also adorned with a pretty thick hardcover. The pages themselves are a heavy gloss finish, making the colors and text pop out easily. Overall, the production quality of the book is high and can be felt in its weight. This is no light book.

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Ok, so let’s go inside.

Each model has 10 dedicated pages, all spread across facing pages so things are large and laid out in a way that makes taking in all the info easy and pleasant. The progression of the information is the same for each model, giving readers plenty of background information, and detailed breakdowns of the pieces.

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Readers are first greeted by a very minimally artistic, but striking title page for the model.  I wasn’t able to capture it well enough with my phone’s camera, so to the left you can see only the right facing page of the Leaning Tower of Pisa model. The left side just has the title of the building, so you’re not missing much. The LEGO version of the model is featured on every right facing page.

Turning the page, you’ll find a picture of the model juxtaposed with real thing – a reader’s first look at the contrast between our little plastic versions and the large as life buildings themselves. The text shares thoughts from the model’s designer/builder and some of the challenges faced with attempting to recreate some incredibly complex architecture with limiting brick shapes. Information about the real building such as the original architect, style, square footage, and the year it was built are found in the captions beneath the photo. Dedicated builders will enjoy reading how the designers worked around the confines of the LEGO shapes to create a believable replica.

Next, we have a few pages dedicated to just showcasing the model from a few different angles. The smaller paragraph of text points out how some certain aspects of the original building are represented in LEGO form. Interesting parts of the build are labeled with details, and the top right corner shows the production details of the set, like designer, release date, and number of bricks, to name a few. (see below)
610olI7Y4uLThe next few pages probably offer the most interesting part of the book – breaking the buildings apart, exposing the LEGO construction. The “In Focus” section literally pulls the model apart almost layer by layer, and points out what some of the LEGO pieces represent and why they were particularly chosen for the model. It should be noted not all the models have these pages simply because of the way the model is built isn’t conducive to a pull-apart. Among those are the Sydney Opera House (because it’s mostly flat), and UN Headquarters (because the tower is just simplistic bricks). But the majority of the models have it.
51ZEgu2Q-OLYes, these pages are sideways and will require you to rotate the book into portrait mode to properly view.

Lastly, read about the real thing on “The Original” pages.
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If you haven’t traveled the world and visited these majestic versions of architecture, then these pages are the next best thing. While there aren’t a litany of photos, the few provided give readers an excellent vantage point of what makes these buildings architecturally unique. A few paragraphs of text share some details and history of the building. This is especially interesting for some of the older buildings. I was especially tickled by the one for the Empire State Building where the owner of the land it was to be built on asked the architect “How tall can you make it without it falling down?”

Noteworthy also is the introduction to the book. Readers will find profiles of the various artists behind these architectural marvels, and a fun glossary of pieces most used and referred to in the models. What I found most fascinating were the few pages showing the Falling Waters house in development. It shows several iterations and designs being tested, some quite large. But ultimately all the models have found a certain, consistent look that captures their originality.

I’ll confess, I don’t own any of these – when they began being released I was heavily obsessed with the LEGO City theme (and still am), I thought these were kind of dumb. But, having read through this book and seeing all the models that have been released kind of makes me regret feeling like that. I think these would make a great collection. So, if you’re a fan of these, then this book is a must have companion.

Rating
LEGO Architecture: The Visual GuideA

[ Movie Review ] The Giver

-e275c57b-49c1-49cb-bc0a-d87bfa624a12If you’re roughly the same age as I am, and went to high school in the mid-to-late 90’s, you probably read The Giver, by Lois Lowry, in school – and loved it. In fact, you’re anything like me – it was the only book you were forced to read that you actually liked. Yup, before there were Maze Runners, Hunger Games, and Divergent-y young adult dystopian novels, there was The Giver. And it was fantastic.

I won’t regale you with a review of the novel or its plot. Those interested should read it. Unfortunately, in today’s dystopian-flooded market, new readers probably won’t think much of it because it’s a much different book than those listed above. Nevertheless, it will always hold a place in my list of favorite books – as I’m sure it does for most folks my age.

But this review is about the movie and we all know how often adaptions of novels usually don’t get things quite right (i.e.: Ender’s Game). After seeing the first few trailers months ago I was already worried. It kind-of looked like it should but there were these extra things that didn’t belong. I was nervous. Still excited though.

I wasn’t able to see it the opening weekend, but one of my best friends did. We share a passion for the book. When I finally was able to see it this past weekend I took his advice and went in trying to distance myself from the book, knowing it wasn’t going to live up to it, and things were going to be different and to just view the movie as a singular entity based on the premise of the novel. In the end it was a toss up. I liked it. I didn’t like it.

First a little background; Jeff Bridges has been trying to get this movie made for the better part of two decades, and wanted to be a part of it. In fact he wanted his father, Lloyd Bridges, to play the eponymous character. Of course, when Lloyd died in 1998 that idea fell by the wayside. Of course I don’t know what goes on behind the closed doors of Hollywood’s decision makers but I’m going to assume Jeff finally found some traction getting the project going because of the success of the recent batch of books and movies (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc). It seems like fate that Jeff Bridges was now able to play the key character in the book/movie.

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So the premise of the book/movie is pretty straight forward: after some unknown world-changing event, this group of people have formed a community where everyone conforms to this idea of “sameness.” There are no emotions or feelings, no lying, no memories of the past, everyone is assigned jobs based on their strengths, and for the most part people don’t know any better. The movie begins in black & white – as it should. Because it’s not until you’re well into the book you discover the book started in black & white too – the members of the community do not see any color. Because color = emotions = not sameness!

Enter: Jonas. (Oh, did I mention they don’t have last names, either?) And of course we all know how the formula goes – you can almost hear the movie trailer voice-over guy; “one man, one world, one decision will change everything…” blah blah blah. Anyway, when all the boys & girls come of age they go to a big fun ceremony where they get assigned their jobs. By the way I should also mention that much like the Ender’s Game, and Percy Jackson adaptations, Jonas has been up-aged from his book equivalent to be a hormonal teenager. Because apparently the movie going public cannot suspend disbelief enough to agree that younger characters are capable of, you know, anything. So Jonas gets the honor of becoming The Receiver of Memory. He’s all like, WTF? His friends got to be nurses, and baby mommas, and drone pilots. Wait, drones in The Giver? Ugh, thanks Obama. The Receiver of Memory does pretty much what it sounds like: receives memories. But it’s more than just memories. It’s emotions. Fears. Colors. Ideas. The past. Bridges’ character, whom does not actually have a name aside from The Giver, is the only person in the community having any knowledge of the past and, well, anything and everything. And his job is to pass those memories, the wisdom, on to the next Receiver so that he or she may advise the Elders in matters. Of course, Jonas cannot tell his friends, or family, or anyone, any of this. He must keep it secret. Of course once Jonas learns how all of life’s best things are being repressed there must be a revolution. Naturally. That’s the basic plot of the movie. I’ll leave further details to be watched.

I found the pace of the film rushed. While the book is barely a couple hundred pages, the movie clocks in at about an hour and a half. It didn’t need to be a 2 and THE GIVERa 1/2 hour epic or anything, but there was definitely something missing in the middle. The best part of the book is the interactions between The Giver and Jonas. These were few in the movie. I’ll again draw a comparison to Ender’s Game – where nearly 2/3 of the book takes place in the Battle School, and is the bulk of the plot and pretty much the entire point of the book – but the movie fast forwards through it.

The novel is not a whizz-bang action romp. It’s a quiet, thoughtful story with a lot of exposition and internal dialogue. But that’s also what makes it so interesting. It’s Jonas’ slow exploration of what he is being given, how it unravels in front of him and he begins to discover and understand the world around him and what is missing. That is what makes The Giver such a great book. I think it also is much more poignant with a character of 12 years old, and not a good looking teenage boy who wouldn’t have a problem channeling a whiny Luke Skywalker. But here in the movie Jonas is learning a lot – very quickly. Yes, it’s alluded to that time is passing and it’s more than just a few days, but time skips ahead in huge leaps leaving out the interactions with The Giver. And then of course once Jonas makes the realization he alone must change the way things have been for generations. Yeah! Meryl Streep is a bad, bad lady and she must be stopped! You get the idea.

As far as building the world of the novel, and portraying the rest of the society, I thought this was done well. Yeah the bikes were stupid but the overall look and feel of the world, and the mannerisms of its inhabitants were well done. SPOILER: the whole barrier thing was…well…wtf.

THE GIVERNone of the actors stood out as amazing, everyone did an equally good job. It should be noted however that Katie Holmes plays a stone cold bitch like a champ. Yikes. I thought Bridges did well with what he was given but there should have been so much more of him. So much more. He does such a good job portraying what probably a lot of us envision The Giver to be that it’s disappointing we don’t hear him impart some wisdom of his own to Jonas. Not to mention watching Bridges get that voice out of the awkward movement of his mouth was a spectacle all on its own. Oh, and Taylor Swift is in it and plays a piano. Weird.

Overall it was enjoyable, but even though I attempted to distance myself from the book – I couldn’t, fully. It’s a book that’s too important to my childhood and I couldn’t help but draw the comparisons. Despite the flaws I found the movie adequate.

The biggest hurdle for the movie I see is the current crop of Hunger Games loving YA readers not understanding the point of the movie, and leaving the theater with the impression it was mostly boring. Either way, I hope Bridges is happy with the result. I am…mostly. Go see it if you haven’t already. It’s worth seeing. But please, read the book. It’s so much more.

The Giver C+

Just Finished / Now Reading…

Contact_SaganI’ve always said I read strictly for entertainment, never looking beyond the words for meaning, symbolism, or any of other literary mumbo-jumbo your English teachers try to force you to think is happening. I haven’t read ‘the classics’ and don’t plan to because frankly I’d be bored to tears. We can debate the merits of old-timey books in a later posting if you like.

Contact, however, was different. I’m honestly ashamed it took me until now to read it. However, in a way I’m glad because I feel like I was able to understand and appreciate it in a far greater way than if I had read it when I was younger. Sagan published Contact in 1985, but everything about the story holds up incredibly well. The story is set at the turn of the century (1999-2000) which at the time of the book’s release was ostensibly the future. The story is as much about science-fiction as it is about science-fact. Sagan told the story about what millions of us dream about – receiving a signal from extraterrestrials. Since he was an accomplished scientist and astronomer all the science was based in reality or widely accepted theories. However at its core, Contact is about faith. Sagan was a proclaimed agnostic, but he puts the reader in the position to contemplate different aspects of faith; faith in a God, faith in the truth of science, and faith in humanity. On the scale between agnostic and atheism I tend more toward the atheist side but despite my personal beliefs the combination of all of this is why I think I found the book so profound.

It makes you stop and think about the most poignant and awesome questions of existence. Are we alone? Who or what else is outsagan_vla there? How did we get here? The point Sagan is making is that he doesn’t know. The aliens don’t know. We don’t know. It’s the most awe inspiring and infuriating part of the entire story. Here we have a highly advanced race of aliens that send us a signal laced with blueprints to build a machine with one purpose: to transport humans to meet them. But when we get there, we find out that millions of years before we launched our first shuttle into space, there were aliens trolling about the galaxy contemplating existence themselves, and after all that time, they still didn’t know either. In fact, it turns out that transportation network of wormholes and black holes used by the machine was there long before the aliens stumbled across it. What’s worse; it turns out there is a secret message hidden in pi, and even the aliens do not understand its meaning. Because pi isn’t a construct of any human or alien mathematical system, but a universal constant, its implications are unfathomable.

I was happy to learn Sagan also worked on the movie before dying in 1996. Humorously enough, Contact actually started out as a movie treatment written by Sagan, but was stalled in early production, so he decided to make it into a book instead. Then 12 years later, in 1997, the movie based on his novel is released. Interesting cycle of event, huh? Carl Sagan is one of my personal heroes, so I’m happy that Sagan was able to take part in the making of the film, finally, and despite his death occurring before it opened in theaters, I like to think he would have been very proud of the result. Many of the differences between the novel and the film have no real effect on the story. It’s easy to see why they made the changes they did to fit the medium of film.

Contact is a must read for everyone, whatever your beliefs may be. It’s very grounded, so readers who aren’t fans of hardcore sci-fi 41EQ3LzZg-Lneeded worry, this isn’t some lame Star Trek novel. This is a story about science and personal beliefs.

I gave Contact by Carl Sagan 5/5 stars on Goodreads.

Now, back to reading strictly for the fun of it!
I’m currently reading The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s another older book (1971) about a man who has dreams that end up affecting reality. It’s a pretty short book, but it sounded very intriguing so I’m excited to get into it.

Just finished / Now reading…

mr_penumbras_24_hour_bookstoreIf you’re a fan of secret societies, intrigue, and good old fashioned hidden cryptic puzzles, then Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore might be for you. It’s a quick, fun read, and is relatively brainless so you don’t need to worry about getting caught up in an insurmountable jumble of confusion. If you’re like me and you do a lot of reading before bed and you’re apt to forget half the stuff you read the previous night then you’re in luck.

I won’t give plot details away, but suffice to say the journey to solve the puzzle was a lot of fun. Unfortunately the payoff at the end is a little anti-climatic. I was expecting so much more. However like my friend said, it’s about the journey. He’s also the friend who suggested the book to me. Even though I’m a little disappointed with how it turned out, he’s right.

Author Robin Sloan tries to flesh out some of his characters but doesn’t get very far and most stay pretty one-dimensional. The title character, Mr. Penumbra, isn’t truly the main character which is fine but of everyone he is the one I wish Sloan was able to give me more details about. There are plenty of hints throughout the story, including one major chance at the end to delve into arguably the most interesting character, but he never does. If the characters existed in real life they’d be the kind of one-dimensional people you’d end up hating because their so shallow. But in the interest of a fun read, just look past it.

The part of the story I found most annoying was it’s basically a 280-page advertisement for Google. So much of the story’s plot is tied to characters working at the company or using their technology to help solve the story’s main puzzle. In addition the extensive use of current social media platforms and other modern website jargon may keep readers unfamiliar with today’s technology a little on the outside. So the book is definitely intended for those riding the internet waves these days. Lastly, Sloan’s writing is a little childish and he tries to make the first-person narrator funny, but sometimes it’s just awkward.

In the end, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is fun puzzle story with an interesting twist. It didn’t deliver amazing closure for me but it may for you. Despite the gripes posted above I’d still recommend giving it a go. You’ll fly through it so fast it won’t have wasted much of your time if you end up hating it. But you won’t.

I gave Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore 3/5 stars on GoodReads.

Next up is Carl Sagan’s Contact. I’ve never read it and of course love the movie. I’ve always been a little disappointed I was tooContact_Sagan young to truly appreciate Sagan before his death. As a science teacher and a science lover – especially of all things Universe related, he’s kind of been an idol for me. I was able to find a first edition hardcover from 1985, in excellent condition, at our used bookstore in Knoxville – with the dust jacket intact. I paid 25¢ for it. How friggin’ awesome is that. I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for the better part of a year but had a few other books in line ahead of it to read. I’m excited.

Extreme Bricks: Spectacular, Record Breaking, & Astounding LEGO Projects From Around The World

As the rather wordy title above suggests, Extreme Bricks [available direct; $24.95] is a chronicle of taking LEGO to the extreme. It echoes another book I reviewed in October, Beautiful LEGO, but is a much more complete work. Full of photos, it also goes behind the scenes with the builders and their stories; the whys, the hows, etc.

The book itself is a solid, hefty hardcover with a dust jacket mirroring the coverart printed on the book itself. It’s pages are thick, heavy, with excellent color. However like many other books of this variety it suffers from “old picture plague,” which is a term I just made up. This happens when a book includes pictures obtained from outside sources like you and me, or other 3rd parties. The photos aren’t properly white balanced or edited, giving them a dim, dingy, dirty look that looks really terrible set against the nice new white book pages. But this sometimes can’t be helped – though in the digital era I’d hope any actual photos could be scanned to digital then run through some editing software, but I’m not a publisher so I don’t know how it all works. Don’t worry though, these poor quality photos are the exception, not the rule in Extreme Bricks.

Clocking in at over 240 pages, Extreme Bricks brings a ton of fascinating stories about Adult LEGO fans and builders, and their creations. There is a lot to read here, it is not just a picture look like so many LEGO showcases are. Author Sarah Herman has compiled not only a long list of builders and models, but all the facts behind them.

The entries run pretty similar throughout the book – featuring a “What is it?” section explaining what the model represents and where it’s HUM_2inspiration came from, a “Project” section detailing the trials and tribulations of the actual building phases, and a “Factfile” detailing how long it took, how many bricks, when it was completed and where it’s located. Some entries have a few other sections depending on the material. Put together it makes a great handful of pages.

The book also goes beyond highlighting a few individuals massive builds. It also delves into the beginning of the giant statues at LEGOLand, enormous mosaics of LEGO, and other giant large-scale models around the world. Of course there are also some pages dedicated to some of the more recognizable landmarks like the Grand Palace of Thailand, The Sphinx, Mt. Rushmore, skyscrapers from the US, and even a stegosaurus. There is a lot for people of all ages to enjoy. Young readers can admire the photos while adults will be engrossed in the prose.

This is a pretty short review but don’t take that as a negative, there just isn’t much to go on and on about. That also sounds negative. That’s not what I mean. Extreme Bricks is great, and full of the kinds of things LEGO enthusiasts want to see and more importantly, read about. All kinds of spectacular, record-breaking, and astounding LEGO projects from around the world.

Extreme Bricks […]:  A

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Just Finished / Now Starting…

Salman Rushdie’s Haroun & the Sea of Stories is probably in my top five favorite books ever. I’ve read it to my 5th graders for the past three years and they too have thoroughly loved it. It’s a story filled with so much imagination you can’t help but smile. It’s also heavy on figurative language, and imagery – perfect for young readers learning how to read and write. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Luka & the Fire of Life at the used book store we frequent – it’s a follow up book to Haroun. I wouldn’t call it a sequel -more of a continuation. My wife and I both loved Haroun so much we were immediately excited to dive into Luka. I was currently reading one of the Game of Thrones tomes so my wife had first crack at it. She said it was not particularly good. Now that I’ve had a chance to read it I’m sad to say I agree. In fact, it was hard for me to finish. I thought it was an embarrassingly inferior follow-up to Haroun & the Sea of Stories.

I’m usually quite easy to please. I read strictly for entertainment. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a complete textbook in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a book I’ve chosen to read on my own. But this book was difficult. I think Salman Rushdie is a fabulous author, and I have three or four more of his books on my to-read shelf, and I’m looking forward to them. But I found Luka & the Fire of Life fails to keep the wonder and joy of Haroun. It takes place almost in the same magical world but this time instead of the world being a delight for the reader to discover it’s instead quite lame. The surprise connections between the real world and the magical world of Stories in Haroun were fabulous to stumble upon. In Luka, however, Rushdie has created many incredibly silly (not silly in the funny way) worlds and characters. So many it’s hard to keep track of. And the worst part? The characters are entirely forgettable, which was not so in the previous novel. To this day I find myself randomly talking about Iff the Water Genie, or Butt the Hoopoe. Finally, the conflict/problem in the story was very weak, and the resolution unfulfilling. It really seems like Rushdie phoned this one in to fulfill some contract because he is a much better writer than this. In the end, I felt like I was reading a combination of an embarrassing imitation of Haroun & the Sea of Stories, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and a Rick Riordan Percy Jackson novel.

Also, minus 1,000,000 points for the use of the Wingdings font in the book. Just inexcusable.

I gave Luka & the Fire of Life 2/5 stars on Goodreads.

If you’ve not read Haroun & the Sea of Storiesread it. Now. It will be the most fun you’ve had reading a book in a long time. And it’ll make you feel good because that’s the kind of book it is.

I’ve already started my next book: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. It was recommended by a friend who has steered me toward some excellent books in the past. I’m already about 25 pages into it and already very intrigued. Definitely excited to keep going. I’ll report back when I’m done!