Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Book Reviews

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
Sean Williams
Titan Books

Available Now – £17.99 (Hardback), £25.93 (Unabridged Audio CD) & £31.51 (Unabridged Audio Download)
Review by Brad Harmer

As ruthless apprentice to Darth Vader, Starkiller was mercilessly schooled in the ways of the dark side, commanded to exterminate the last of the purged Jedi Order, and groomed for the ultimate Sith power play: assassination of the Emperor. He served without question, killed without remorse, and lost his heart without warning to beautiful Imperial fighter pilot Juno Eclipse, never suspecting that he was just a tool in the schemes of his masters - until it was too late to escape their lethal betrayal.

Juno mourned Starkiller as dead...but now he is back, purged of all memories and programmed to kill. And as fate brings Juno and Starkiller closer to reuniting, with Darth Vader determined not to lose his assassin a second time, they will both have to make a stand. The prize is freedom. The punishment for failing will be eternal enslavement to the dark side of the Force...

The main problem I had with the original The Force Unleashed novel was that it really felt like you were just watching someone play a video game. You could even spot which were cut-scenes, which were levels, and which parts were supposed to be the End of Level Bosses. This sequel manages to rectify that problem, for the most part...but at what cost?

The action sequences in this are simply great. They’re very easy to visualise, very imaginative, and you really feel like you’re watching one of the movies. The large space battles can feel a little vague, but this may have been intentional – the firearm/melee combat is spectacular.

There are also plenty of original trilogy characters making appearances in this (and some early EU characters, too! Garm bel Iblis FTW.), but they never feel shoehorned in. Boba Fett is spectacularly awesome in this one. I’m not a Fett fanboy by a long stretch, but when the Mandalorian kicks arse, he kicks arse.

Unfortunately, The Force Unleashed II is way too short, and way too devoid of substance. There’s no real bite to any of it, and it all too often feels as though Williams is just going through the motions. It’s a real shame, too, as all of the elements are there, but just lacking something in the execution. Star Wars is action, yes. It’s high-octane adventure, yes. Star Wars also needs a lot of heart, too, and this is what The Force Unleashed II lacks. If you’re into your Star Wars Expanded Universe, then you’ll enjoy what’s on offer here, but the more casual Star Wars fan will probably be better off sticking with the video game.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Frequent gore, lightsaber combat, gunfire, explosions, Force Lightning and other forms of Star Wars awesomeness.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some Kriffs.
Summary: The action sequences are goof, but this is pretty flimsy, otherwise. Easy to read, but too short, too insubstantial and with an inconclusive ending. 6/10
The Haunting of James Hastings
Christopher Ransom
Sphere

Available Now - £6.99 (Paperback) & £7.99 (Digital Download)
Review by Brad Harmer

James Hastings' wife is dead - her life snuffed out in a horrific accident that leaves her husband shattered. Dizzy with grief and guilt, James withdraws into his sprawling mansion, losing himself in liquor ...and memories of Stacey. Until the day two women enter his life. One is Annette, a gorgeous stranger with a dark past.

The other is not a stranger, and her past is all too familiar.

First her voice echoes through the phone lines, and from behind the ballroom doors ...Then her shoes reappear, streaked with mud and grime, as though unearthed from the grave ...And soon Annette begins saying things only Stacey could know, enveloping James in a spiral of terror and violence that threatens to destroy his home, his sanity, and his soul. For death is only the beginning of his nightmare. And the haunting of James Hastings might just be the end of him.

The Haunting of James Hastings is scary stuff right of the bat. When the scares are scary they’re cocking petrifying, and I found myself all tensed up, despite reading it in the middle of the day! The horror plays off of some of the best elements of J-Horror, and is all the scarier for it. The romantic side is spectacularly well-written, too: realistic and never crow-barred in.

The novel does hit a slump about half-way through, and it’s hard not to worry that it’s lost its way – but bear with it...it does get better. A lot better. The only really annoying this is the character of Ghost – a white rapper who is so transparently supposed to be Eminem that it makes you wonder why the hell he didn’t just call him Eminem. It’s not enough to ruin anything, but it does get annoying.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Fights, shootings, torture, lyrical depictions of gangland violence, traffic collisions.
Sex/Nudity: Several explicit sex scenes, Christopher Ransom has his tongue up Eminem’s backside throughout the novel.
Swearing: Frequent and strong.
Summary: By turns terrifying, thrilling and heart-warmingly emotional, this is a great book. Ransom is making great ghost stories without simply knocking off M.R. James. One to watch out for. 8/10
Water Bound
Christine Feehan
Little, Brown

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Charlotte Barnes

For Lev Prakenskii, the last thing he remembers is being lost in the swirling currents of the ocean and sucked deeper into the nothingness of a freezing black eddy off the coastal town of Sea Haven. Just as quickly, just as miraculously, he was saved - pulled ashore by a beautiful stranger - but Lev has no memory of who he was - or why he seems to possess the violent instincts of a trained killer. All he knows is that he fears for his life, and the life of his unexpected saviour.

Her name is Rikki, a sea-urchin diver in the small town of Sea Haven. She always felt an affinity for the ocean and the seductive pull of the tides - and now, for the enigmatic man she rescued. But soon they will be bound by something even stronger - each other's tantalising secrets that will engulf them both in a whirlpool of dizzying passion and inescapable danger.

Although the premise of this book is interesting and is a twist on the common tale of woman meets mysterious with a dark and dangerous path only to fall in love and live happily ever after, I still feel like Christine Feehan was not trying very hard when she wrote this novel...the whole thing just stinks of laziness.

There are two distinct stories within this novel the first being the relationship that develops between Lev and Rikki the second is the stalker that is obsessed with Rikki killing both her parents and her fiancĂ© by setting their homes on fire. I believe that neither story get the chance to develop and flourish in their own right. The relationship between Rikki and Lev develops at a really fast pace, but because of Lev’s old lifestyle he has to be careful about who knows his true identity. Rikki is an autistic water element who needs to have a routine and be near water. How does a severely autistic person who needs routine, order, lacks human understanding and hates to be touched fall in love so quickly and so easily? How does a Russian government trained and indoctrinated assassin fall in love so easily?

By adding in the fire stalker there is just too much plot to deal with in one book. The relationship, although fast and furious, just skips over so many issues and Feehan never really develops the stalker’s character which would have given that aspect of the story some much needed depth.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some.
Sex/Nudity: Plenty of rumpy pumpy.
Swearing: Some.
Summary: A book that you would borrow from your friend or the library; this is defiantly not one of Feehan’s best. 5/10
The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance 2
Various
Constable and Robinson

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Charlotte Barnes

If love transcends all boundaries, paranormal romance is its natural conclusion. This title features over twenty tales from some of the hottest names in romantic fiction to transport you to fantastical worlds in which mythical beasts, magical creatures of all shapes and sizes, heart-stoppingly handsome ghosts, angels and mortals with extra-sensory powers live out extraordinary desires. It includes stories from Lara Adrian, Ava Gray, Sharon Shinn, Robin D. Owens, Karen Chance and many more.

Out of my own choice and not because I had to review it for this wonderful blog, I decided to read The Mammoth Book of Paranormal Romance 1 and that was all right. Very typical of a compilation book, it had a few really good stories, some average and some crap ones. So when I was given the second book to review I was expecting a similar mixed bag of stories. Oh I was so very wrong...this book is the biggest pile of shit I have ever read, it is not even worthy enough to be sitting on a shelf in a book shop. Only buy this book for someone if you hate them, otherwise it is just cruel punishment for someone who doesn’t deserve it.

Granted the term "paranormal" should not be exclusive to werewolves, vampires and witches and should be more inclusive to allow for psychics, gods, mermaids etc. But surely the word romance should imply at some point in the story there should at least be some kind of romantic interest? In a couple of the stories the two main characters don’t even hold hands for fuck’s sake.

Don’t even get me started on the gay alpha werewolf story where he falls in love with a merman...I have no issue with homosexuality, I do however have an issue with werewolves being depicted as soft and prancey...they should be beastly, headstrong and passionate! It is like they were describing Mika, I mean can you imagine Mika as a werewolf?!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some.
Sex/Nudity: Sometimes, in general that is the best bit of this horrendous book.
Swearing: Some.
Summary: This book makes me want to vomit! If for some unfortunate reason you have to read this book…immediately follow with a Kelley Armstrong novel to make yourself feel better. 2/10
Zombiewood: The Hollywood Undead Exposed
Rob Sacchetto
Ulysses Press

Available Now - £9.99 (Paperback)
Review by Blake Harmer

From the creator of last year’s The Zombie Handbook: How to Identify the Living Dead and Survive the Coming Apocalypse comes Zombiewood Weekly, a mock celebrity gossip magazine filled with pictures of celebrities as zombies with stories of what their cadavers have been up to.

As you may have guessed, this work of parody, whilst accurately recreating the stories seen in magazines like Heat and Hello and giving them a zombie-like twist only really has a limited level of humour...if you can call it that. With this becoming tiring quite early on, the book only really has its art to go on, which sadly ranges from average to just plain awful. All the celebrities look like they have been crudely photoshopped green with a couple of wounds or limbs missing to make them look like the living dead. In some cases this looks okay as at least you can tell who the celebrity is, but after being zombied up some of the original photos look nothing like the celebrity they’re supposed to be. Which means you have to rely purely on the wording next to the picture to find out who it is meant to be.

There are a couple of mildly funny bits throughout the book that fans of zombie related humour may enjoy, but at the end of the day, there just isn’t enough here to recommend it, and at the price £9.99, it’s even too expensive to be recommended as a Christmas stocking filler for a zombie fan or even a joke Halloween present. In a word, avoid.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some references to body parts being eaten and some pictures of mutilated celebrities as zombies, but it’s all played for laughs.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A nice idea for a parody, but the essence of the joke is already done on the front cover. A lack of humour in the articles and below average artwork throughout spoils what little enjoyment there is to be had by this. 3/10


THE SOUNDS OF STAR WARS GIVEAWAY!

In 1977, when Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope hit theatres, moviegoers were blown away by a cinematic experience unlike anything they had seen - or heard - before. A young man named Ben Burtt was behind the revolutionary sound design, which used "found sounds" along with electronic manipulation to give the film an authentic and many-layered effect. Burtt went on to develop the sound design for all of the Star Wars live-action films, creating a vault of genre-defining effects that are as fascinating in their origins as they are entertaining in their execution: Aunt Beru's Food Processor is a series of slowed-down beeps that come from a short-wave radio belonging to Burtt's grandfather. The beeps were originally recorded in the attic of Burtt's Ohio home.

The Millennium Falcon is the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy. To create the unique sound of its fly-bys, Burtt went to the National Air Races in the Mojave desert and recorded World War II-era racing planes flying directly overhead. The occasional thunderclap or lion's roar was also mixed in during the moment the Falcon passed by the camera.

Burtt based the Jawa language on Zulu, then accelerated and raised the pitch of the actors' performances. The memorable Jawa call of "Utinni!" comes from recordings made by Burtt and his friend Rick Victor in a canyon just outside of Los Angeles, yelling to one another from among the rocks until they were hoarse.

An "insanely aggressive" dachshund owned by Burtt's neighbours provided the sounds that became the murderous roar of the massive Rancor beast.

With more than 250 sound effects, and based on exclusive interviews with Ben Burtt, The Sounds of Star Wars celebrates the Star Wars galaxy like no other book. From the first films through the Prequel Trilogy and the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, this is the ultimate behind-the-scenes book for Star Wars fans of every generation.

Thanks to our friends at Simon and Schuster, we've got three copies of The Sounds of Star Wars to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to soundsofstarwarsgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Tuesday 26th October. The first three names out of the hat will win a copy each!

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