Tuesday 2 November 2010

Book Reviews

Asterix & Obelix’s Birthday
René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo
Orion Books
Available Now - £7.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

This novel celebrates the 50th anniversary of the two Gaulish characters we’ve come to know and love, Asterix and Obelix. With an intro written as a letter from Asterix to the readers, followed by an introduction by Anne Goscinny, the daughter of René, the book starts on a very sombre sentimental tone. What follows is a series of 12 short stories, with a generally humorous mood, showing some of the ways that the Gaulish village can pay tribute to the two men. From a look at what their lives as pensioners could involve (which is swiftly knocked on the head, so to speak) to a fictional travel guide all the way to a discussion by some of the local women as to what kind of woman the boys will end up marrying. There are plenty of ideas here, no doubt.

The format is classic Asterix, with plenty of over-the-top violence and the same colourful cast of characters that we’ve come to expect from the series. If you’re a fan, there’s plenty of stuff here, and it’s all new. If you’re a fan of the series, the lure of new stuff should be quite tempting, as in that regard there is a lot to offer for this book.

The problem is that for all the ideas, there just isn’t enough depth here. At a price of £7.99, this is just too short. None of the stories are given adequate time to develop, and the transition is often so swift that you can’t be sure that anything has actually changed. Ultimately, if you’ve bought every volume up until now, you’ve probably paid similar money in terms of page volume, but as a collection there really should be more here for that price.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: The usual Asterix brand of over the top punching and so forth.
Sex/Nudity: Obelix’s modesty is covered by a fig leaf at one point.
Swearing: None.
Summary: As a celebration of the dynamic duo, this volume could be much more than it is. What it couldn’t be is more overpriced, regrettably, as although the story is of the quality we all know and love, the value is just not there. 5/10
Winter’s Knight
Richard Argent
Little, Brown Book Group/Atom Books
Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

As a boy, Andrew was touched by the otherworld when the ghost of a dead murderer sought out his village, showing him his fate. And though his father is just a blacksmith, nothing will keep Andrew from riding to the Crusades to seek the honours he has been promised. He lives battles of the imagination, seeing harsh midday sun glint off sword and armour, where he rides his horse into war in a riot of colour and noise. But dead men keep secrets, and much of the future has been kept from him. Andrew may find the glory of the Crusades and skirmish with Saladin's most powerful warriors. Or he may become entangled in Templar politics and wander in the desert haunted by jinn and demons. What is certain is that Andrew will face tests of blade and spirit. And his dreams will be measured in blood before he sees home again.

This is a strange one. As a historical novel, it’s too far into the fantastic with warlocks and witches introduced from the very beginning of the story. Besides which, the obvious ghosts and stuff like that is fairly indicative that realism isn’t entirely the order of the day where this novel is concerned. However, if you’re looking for a novel about all sorts of magical things, this novel isn’t really for you either, as most of the story is nothing to do with those fantasy elements. The story itself is reasonably entertaining, detailing the coming of age of a young man ordained as a Templar by the ghost of a murderer (because we all know how trustworthy they are, right?) where previously he had been bullied by the local children due to his mysterious upbringing.

Ultimately, the novel isn’t badly written in terms of storyline and characters, as you generally find that you want the hero to succeed and get what he wants, which I suppose is the point. However, the pacing in this story could certainly be called inconsistent, and that’s if you’re feeling generous and don’t want to personify it by using a less politically correct term. The story will often jump quite rapidly from a long-winded journey to a battle with little or no warning, and half the time (one specific incident involving a giant springing to mind) the action scene itself just passes with little in the way of set pieces.

All things considered, this book is probably good for those interested in a historical account with a bit of creative license, but there are better out there for anyone else who doesn’t fall into that demographic.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence: A fair few sword fights. Are you surprised? Really?
Sex/Nudity: If there was, it was fucking subtle.
Swearing: Nothing that would offend your grandmother.
Summary: As novels of that time period go, it’s not bad, but suffers from some agonisingly slow pacing at times. 6/10
Death Most Definite
Trent Jamieson

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Kelly Prior

In Steven de Selby’s world, reaping isn’t a fantasy made up to scare little kids. It’s real, and it’s just his job. Steven is a necromancer working for the family firm, which happens to deal in the business of ferrying souls to the other side. It’s a curious job, and not a very common one, but Steven just gets on with it, until one day a girl turns up who changes everything. A dead girl.

The current Death’s job is at stake when someone tries to take over, meaning he has to kill of Death’s current staff. Along with his friends and family, Steven is now in danger and literally running for his life. When everyone else has fallen, it is down to Steve and his attractive dead friend Lissa to make a stand and save the day and save the world.

This novel is a superb piece of teen fiction. It is fast paced and makes you read with a sense of urgency. It jumps straight into the action, without being too confusing or ambiguous. There’s good character development here, and Steven is an excellent protagonist. Flawed and fallible, he is the traditional “unreliable narrator”. This makes him human and an honest character. We genuinely care about his heart break and his constant struggles within himself throughout the book.

The concept at the forefront of this book is genius. Reapers are business men, going to work is crisp, clean suits and carrying briefcases. It’s like death is one big contract that everyone wants to get their hands on. The iconic image of the business man as the dishonest and unemotional character is fitting for this novel, and it was a really great idea of Jamieson’s to utilise this preconception. The narration is witty and modern, and makes for a really fluid and accessible reading experience. Its an interesting story with some great characters.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Guns, death, though not very graphic
Sex/Nudity: Nothing note worthy. Steve has the hots for Lissa.
Swearing: None
Summary: This is a good book for teens to early adult, and will probably satisfy adults too. It certainly isn’t just for kids. It’s short, which is either a good thing or a criticism, depending on what you are looking for. A good, average read. 5/10
Murder on the Robot City Express
Paul Collicutt
Templar Publishing
Available Now - £5.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

As the world-famous Robot City Express sets off to break the cross-country speed record amid cheers and celebrations, little do the passengers know that murder is on the menu! Can Harrison, the lowly conductor, find the crook before the train reaches its final destination?...

For those of you wondering “I wonder what Sherlock Holmes would be like if he was a robot, and Doctor Watson was a train”, look no further. This is the book for you. For those of you who just pissed yourself laughing at this concept, I’m not joking. That is the premise of this comic. There is a murder, and the conductor is a robot and is helped by a train to solve crimes. I suppose if you’re willing to suspend disbelief that robots can be famous actors or sports personalities, the idea that a train can communicate with doctors and police remotely is not that much of a leap.

This is a fun comic for younger readers, without doubt. It’s colourful, the drawings are good and the setting is exciting enough to keep them engaged for the duration. However, for the older reader, this comic isn’t as attractive. Although the story is still fun enough to keep you going as a fun re-telling of a classic murder mystery story, at £5.99 the comic is particularly low value for money as it is particularly short. The pacing, too, is ridiculous, as the story jumps in leaps and bounds towards the end of the story, with almost no explanation as to how the conductor has deduced certain things, with the aforementioned remote distress call serving as a convenient device.

Oh, and part of the title is misleading. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which bit it could be. Either way, it’s a massive deal.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: A sort of sword-fighty thing, plus the obvious murder.
Sex/Nudity: It probably won’t surprise you that in this children’s comic book, there are none.
Swearing: None.
Summary: Enjoyable enough for the younger reader, but comic enthusiasts will probably not enjoy this so much. 6/10
The Indestructible Metal Men
Paul Collicutt
Templar Publishing
Available Now - £5.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

In the leafy, exclusive Vineyards neighbourhood of Robot City, the evil Mr Furniss is up to no good. He has kidnapped one of Greenwood’s Indestructible Metal Men – a super-strong robot more than a hundred years old. Can Sarah Cross, a feisty young scientist, rescue the Metal Men and defeat the villain before Furniss carries out his master plan?

Another from Paul Collicutt’s Robot City series, The Indestructible Metal Men opens with a boat sinking, with the three Metal Men aboard. Though they try and save the boat from sinking, ultimately they sink with it, and are consigned to the bottom of the ocean save for one who begins a perilous sixty-year journey back to what is now known as Robot City. Despite their best efforts, scientists are unable to revive him and so he sits in the museum. That is, until Furniss captures another of the three under the ocean where the boat originally went down.

One thing I can say about these books is that the Robot City franchise is very, very cool. I wish they’d had this sort of thing when I was a kid, I’d have been engrossed. The story, if you’re a younger reader, is funny and has robots in: what more could someone ask for? If you take it as an older reader, this book actually holds up much better than others in the series. The story is interesting, perhaps because compared to Murder on the Robot City Express, the story is more original as it isn’t a re-telling of anything.

If you’re an older reader, there are some good gags here to keep you amused, but as before the RRP on this novel is just too high. If they had combined all the volumes into one big one and released it for £9.99, I’d say it was a stonking buy. As it is, £5.99 is just too much for such a short volume.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: One kung-fu fight.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A really good trade for the younger reader, not as good for the older but still worth picking up once the price drops. 7/10
The Book of Bastards: 101 Worst Scoundrels and Scandals from the World of Politics and Power
Brian Thornton
Adams Media

Available Now - £9.36 (Digital Download) and £9.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Promising 101 bastards, this book reveals all the dirtiest little secrets readers never learned in history class. From illegitimate children and illicit trysts to turncoats and traitors, readers discover all the dirt worth dishing since the founding of Jamestown.

The Book of Bastards deserves a higher mark than I’m actually giving it on one condition: that you leave in the United States of America (or possibly that other one...Canada, that’s it). If you don’t, then you haven’t got a hope in hell of understanding who the buggery any of these people are supposed to be. There are some, granted, that you’ll have a pop culture level of awareness of (I know Lincoln abolished slavery, Washington was the first President and Benedict Arnold was some sort of baddie), but familiar names are way too few and far between here.

If you are American, or have a strong interest in American political history, then you’ll probably get more than a few chuckles out of this – sardonic ones, mostly. If you’ve never heard of Warren G. Harding or Grover Cleveland, then you’re best off leaving this on the shelf.

Great book, guys, but the wrong market.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some second-hand, historic accounts of battles, beatings, lynchings and murder.
Sex/Nudity: Some references.
Swearing: Frequent use of the word “bastard”, but nothing else.
Summary: Entertaining enough, but I fear this will be wasted on a British audience. 6/10
Creepiosity: A Hilarious Guide to the Unintentionally Creepy
David Bickel
Andrews McMeel

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback) & £9.38 (Digital Download)
Review by Blake Harmer

From writer and producer David Bickel, who is mostly known for working for nine years on The King of Queens, comes Creepiosity: A Hilarious Guide to the Unintentionally Creepy. Here Bickel takes out parts of modern society that we take for granted and points out just how creepy these things really are. From hairless cats to grown men in boy scout uniforms, this book has it all and gives each of them it’s own Creepiosity rating.

The book is has some funny comments about the stuff it covers, and due to its easy to pick up and read style, it also benefits from being a book that you can dip in and out of with ease. Also, this book is quite cheap, so you can pick it up quite easily as a stocking filler or joke present for someone for the upcoming holidays.

However, as you might have been able to tell from my description at the beginning of this review, there isn’t really a lot of substance to this, and there is little here worth re-reading once you’ve finished it. I also found some of the things covered here a little too American for British tastes, which means that the jokes sadly fall flat as we simply don’t know what Bickel is talking about.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
None, really.
Sex/Nudity: None, which is a really good thing seeing that the book does cover old ladies at one point.
Swearing: Pretty mild and infrequent, especially as this book is aimed towards a more family orientated level of humour.
Summary: A mildly enjoyable curio of a book that wil happily pass for a couple of hours worth of enjoyment but not much else. However, if you’re looking for a cheap stocking filler or joke present for someone, then this can be an enjoyable read, albeit a very limited one. 5/10


Step onto the stage!

Heavy Metal. The very name itself drips with power, testosterone and hairspray. Warriors on the stage of history, wielding their axes and mics as they do battle for glory!

Trusts are forged and betrayed, mighty empires rise and fall. Ultimately, the only truth worth living for is Metal.

Long of hair and tight of pants, you join the ranks of Metal in your quest for babes, booze and glory. Try to Make It Big and hunt down an elusive record contract.

These are the heroes of an age.

This is their story.

Umläut: Game of Metal is a collaborative storytelling game which gives each player the chance to create and control their own Heavy Metal band. Simple mechanics let you chart their career as they rehearse, play gigs, fight among themselves and pull crazy publicity stunts.

Will you make it big, or are your records destined to languish in the discount bin of obscurity? Can you hold your band together when the going is rough, or will you self destrut in a drug-fuelled clash of egos?

Find out, in Umläut: Game of Metal.

Thanks to our friends at Cubicle 7, we've got a copy of Umläut: Game of Metal to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to umlautgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Tuesday 9th November. The first name pulled out of the electronic hat will win this free copy!

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