Star Wars: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig

Star Wars: Empire’s End by Chuck WendigAftermath: Empire's End (Star Wars: Aftermath, #3) by Chuck Wendig
Published by Del Rey Books on February 21st 2017
Genres: Sci-Fi
Pages: 423
Goodreads
four-stars

Following "Star Wars: Aftermath" and "Star Wars: Life Debt," Chuck Wendig delivers the exhilarating conclusion to the "New York Times" bestselling trilogy set in the years between "Return of the Jedi" and "The Force Awakens."

I’m not going to lie, this book left me wanting more. And not always in a good way either. Empire’s End is the third book in a sort of literary game of join the dots by Chuck Wendig which seeks to explain some of the events which took place between the end of Return of the Jedi, and the start of the new canon with The Force Awakens. The problem is that the span of time between those two movies is far too long to bridge in a single trilogy of books, but Empire’s End does a reasonable job of setting up some of the plot hooks and situations which pay off in the seventh movie.

As I think anyone who has seen the newest Star Wars movie will know, the Empire doesn’t really end, per se. It adapts and evolves into something else – the First Order – which serve as the antagonists for the next trilogy of movies. Which left me wondering about the story of how the galactic empire went from ruling most of the known galaxy – which in retrospect seems a little ludicrous when you think about it – to almost nothing in short order. (no pun intended)

This is a story about the crumbling of the last remnants of an organised empire, who are fighting over their little kingdoms, or over the ship they control. With the loss of the central power, in the form of the Emperor, there is a few left with any kind of real power, and they all want to become the new Emperor. Some are more open in their ambitions, while others work behind the scenes to bring about their plans. And I will be honest, I was intrigued to see their sides of the story as much as I was the good guys points of view. I was reminded in parts of Claudia Gray’s book Lost Stars, which was told from an imperial perspective, and while most of the characters are pretty unsympathetic, you can definitely feel the sense of loss and uncertainty in the power vacuum.

One of my problems with this trilogy is that I feel there is a certain inescapable analogy to some of the politics which are happening in the real world, which I honestly could have done without. But I am really enjoying this new, grittier look at the Star Wars universe, and I really hope they are going to release more books which fill in the 20 year gap between the movies. As I said at the outset, this book helps to join the dots, in terms of the concepts, but there is still this huge gap which needs to be filled with action and excitement. The politics of Star Wars has always been a bit sketchy for me, and I don’t really want more long-winded explanations of Old Republic or trade politics, or comedies of manners.

I want action, excitement, an emotional connection with old favourite characters, and the occasional stupid catch phrase. And this book delivers on all of those things, tedious politics included. I enjoyed this book more than the previous two, and felt more of a connection to the characters I had been on an adventure with.

Fans of Star Wars will enjoy this, particularly those who were looking for answers after the seventh movie. Empire’s End is well-written, and provides an albeit tentative step into the vast distance between episode VI and episode VII.

four-stars
Rating Report
Plot
four-stars
Characters
four-half-stars
Writing
four-stars
Pacing
four-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: four-stars

The Fallen Gatekeepers by C R Fladmark

The Fallen Gatekeepers by C R FladmarkThe Fallen Gatekeepers by C.R. Fladmark
Published by Shokunin Publishing Company on February 15th 2017
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
two-stars

Being a modern teenager is complicated. Family expectations. Japanese teenage-girl warriors. Shape shifting lizard-men. Alternate worlds. All a day in the life of Junya Thompson. It’s been months since sixteen-year-old Junya survived his savage battle with the Evil Ones, but now that he’s back in San Francisco he's still feeling the effects. His limp is slow to heal, his shoulder aches from the bite that should have killed him, and black poison lingers in his blood, tainting his life energy. The Gatekeepers of Izumo Oyashiro, land of the gods, fear he’s been permanently affected and are reluctant to allow him to return to their realm.

The Fallen Gatekeepers seems like a relatively standard portal fantasy, with people from Earth with special powers being able to travel between worlds as and when it’s convenient for them, and people from a very tightly controlled society in an alternate dimension which sounds suspiciously like Japan who travel to our dimension. It has magic, lizard people who can take on the appearance of human beings, with the inventive name of “the evil ones”…

And that’s what I don’t get about this book – it’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer at times, and spends way too hard on creating some sort of allegory, without taking the time to focus on telling a decent story. Part of my problem was that the book is told in first person perspective, and I never felt like I could connect with the main character. I thought the author was trying just a bit too hard to sell the message of the corrupting outside influence on an otherwise closed society of Totally-Not-Japan. And although I’m an adult, and do not consider myself prudish, I thought the fact that the Japanese Schoolgirls’ magic was powered by sex was a bit too much for me. That is before I even mention the fact that one of the teenaged protagonists is basically gifted a Porsche sportscar when they don’t even know how to drive.

I think when you’re writing in a genre that is crowded with competitors, you really have to do something to stand out from the pack. I really felt this was just… generic… with ham-fisted plotting and world-building. While this book may well be of interest to a younger audience, but there are some definite themes involved that make me wonder just what audience this is intended for. I suspect that most adult readers would find it overly simplistic, and the characters too childish.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

It might be someone’s idea of a fantasy, but I won’t be going back.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

two-stars
Rating Report
Plot
three-stars
Characters
one-half-stars
Writing
two-stars
Pacing
two-half-stars
Cover
three-half-stars
Overall: two-half-stars

Linebacker by Karl Eshmann

Linebacker: The Untold Story of the Air Raids over North Vietnam by Karl J. Eschmann
Published by Endeavour Press on January 15, 2017
Genres: History
Format: Ebook
Goodreads
three-half-stars

In late 1972, the Vietnam peace talks were stalled, with the war at perhaps its most crucial point.

The United States was searching for a way to strangle North Vietnam’s war-waging capabilities by shutting down its supply pipelines in order to force it back to the negotiating table.

The solution: Linebacker II, a massive, intricately coordinated twelve-day assault by over 700 combat aircraft against vital targets around Hanoi and Haiphong, enemy cities heavily guarded by MiGs, SAM missiles, and radar-guided antiaircraft.

The Vietnam War – for me at least – is one of the least understood wars in modern history, and consequently I am always interested in reading books which look at some of the micro aspects of the world which dominated the lives of so many people in the 60s and 70s. The Operations Linebacker were a vicious air war that was as much a political war, as it was one fought over the skies of North Vietnam.

I found this book was an interesting look from the perspective of the air crews who were flying the missions against the North Vietnamese. While there are some bigger picture moments here, it is primarily concerned with the people who were doing the fighting and the dying on the ground and in the air. It was an engaging read from a personal perspective, that managed to break down a lot of the technical and military jargon, to tell the real stories.

If there is one failing, it is difficult to get an overall picture of the objectives and outcomes from the operations, and maybe that isn’t the point here. The author manages to paint an interesting picture of the evolving strategic landscape, as well as the forces on both sides, and while the focus is very much on the American forces, there is a certain amount of grudging respect for the opposition.

There is a lot more I would have liked to have seen from this book, but for what it was, I found it interesting and very readable, which is about all you can really ask from a nonfiction book. This book was originally published in the 1980s, and has been re-released through Endeavour Press.

three-half-stars
Rating Report
Writing
four-stars
Pacing
three-half-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: four-stars

Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig (Star Wars)

Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig (Star Wars)Aftermath: Life Debt (Star Wars: Aftermath, #2) by Chuck Wendig
Published by Del Rey on July 19th 2016
Pages: 430
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Set between the events of "Return of the Jedi" and "The Force Awakens, "the never-before-told story that began with "Star Wars: Aftermath" continues in this thrilling novel, the second book of Chuck Wendig s "New York Times" bestselling trilogy. "It is a dark time for the Empire. . . ." The Emperor is dead, and the remnants of his former Empire are in retreat. As the New Republic fights to restore a lasting peace to the galaxy, some dare to imagine new beginnings and new destinies. For Han Solo, that means settling his last outstanding debt, by helping Chewbacca liberate the Wookiee s homeworld of Kashyyyk. Meanwhile, Norra Wexley and her band of Imperial hunters pursue Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and the Empire s remaining leadership across the galaxy. Even as more and more officers are brought to justice, Sloane continues to elude the New Republic, and Norra fears Sloane may be searching for a means to save the crumbling Empire from oblivion. But the hunt for Sloane is cut short when Norra receives an urgent request from Princess Leia Organa. The attempt to liberate Kashyyyk has carried Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a band of smugglers into an ambush resulting in Chewie s capture and Han s disappearance. Breaking away from their official mission and racing toward the "Millennium Falcon" s last known location, Norra and her crew prepare for any challenge that stands between them and their missing comrades. But they can t anticipate the true depth of the danger that awaits them or the ruthlessness of the enemy drawing them into his crosshairs. Praise for Chuck Wendig s "Aftermath" "Star Wars: Aftermath "[reveals] what happened "after" the events of 1983 s "Return of the Jedi." It turns out, there s more than just the Empire for the good guys to worry about. "The Hollywood Reporter" The Force is strong with "Star Wars: Aftermath." " Alternative Nation" "" The "Star Wars" universe is fresh and new again, and just as rich and mysterious as it always was. "Den of Geek""

I have mixed feelings about this book – it is a more realistic look at the aftermath of the death of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, and it has some personal moments of action and adventure. On the other hand, so much of the novel is bound up in talking about political issues, both as they are occurring in the Star Wars universe, and serving as analogies of what is happening in the real world. I did enjoy the first book in this trilogy, which I reviewed several years ago, but like the first book, I felt Life Debt left something to be desired when it came to the action-packed Star Wars adventures that I had come to love in the ‘Legends’ series.

The main protagonists from the first book return, and are well-realised, with the psychotic killer droid being a particular highlight. Leia and Han play more of a role in this novel, with the impending birth of their son providing tension and the basic inciting incident, as Han attempts to find and free his Wookiee co-pilot, and in the process free the Wookiee race from under the Empire’s thumb.

I did like that this book continued filling in the blanks between the events of the original movie trilogy and the new trilogy, and in that respect it fills a very necessary function. But there was a whole lot of teenage angst, and family drama that made it hard to wade through at times. Politics is probably not Star Wars strongest suit, and oftentimes conversations in this book get bogged down in the relative values of a bunch of planets I have never heard or, nor particularly care about. However, I can see that this is an important step in setting up the separation of the New Republic and the insurgency which are mentioned in Episode VII.

Overall I think this book will appeal to people looking for more information about what happened between the events of the original trilogy, and the current crop of movies. New readers to the Star Wars universe, or people looking for a bit more action in their Star Wars books, may struggle.

 

three-half-stars
Rating Report
Plot
three-stars
Characters
three-half-stars
Writing
three-stars
Pacing
two-half-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: three-stars

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg CoxThe Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase (The Librarians, #2) by Greg Cox
Published by Tor Books on April 25 2017
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

For millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.
Stories can be powerful. In 1719, Elizabeth Goose of Boston Massachusetts published a collection of rhyming spells as a children's book, creating a spellbook of terrifying power. The Librarian of that age managed to dispose of all copies of the book except one, which remained in the possession of Elizabeth Goose and her family, temporarily averting any potential disaster.
However, strange things are happening, A window washer in San Diego who was blown off his elevated perch by a freak gust of wind, but miraculously survived by landing on a canopy over the building entrance. A woman in rural Pennsylvania who was attacked by mutant rodents without any eyes. And, a college professor in England who somehow found herself trapped inside a prize pumpkin at a local farmer’s market. Baird and her team of Librarians suspect that the magic of Mother Goose is again loose in the world, and with Fynn Carson AWOL once again, it is up to Cassandra, Ezekiel, and Stone to track down the missing spellbook before the true power of the rhymes can be unleashed.

I was not familiar with the television show The Librarians before reading this book, although I don’t think it left me at a disadvantage, because I pretty quickly bought into the idea behind the series, as it reminded me of another television series I very much enjoyed called Warehouse 13, which was in a similar vein. While I thought this was an interesting idea, where The Mother Goose Chase went with it rubbed me the wrong way. I am not a big fan of the retold fairytale trend that is going on at the moment, but I’m willing to give anything a go once.

The book involves a small team of experts in the supernaturalish trying to recover the three parts of a mysterious spellbook, hidden by the heirs of Mother Goose. They are competing with dastardly enemies, and their deadly and unique minions. And if that was it, I would be right on board with that, but unfortunately the author had created a rod for their own back by setting up the gimmick of nursery rhymes as magic spells, which made some parts of the book much more complicated or contrived than needed.

While I enjoyed the characters and the interplay between them, and their interactions with the various villains who are littered throughout the story was playful and interesting, and they definitely kept me reading where I otherwise might have stopped for other reasons.

I found it difficult to decide where the book is pitched  – the ideas seem aimed at a YA audience, but some of the language and ideas are a bit more adult. I think the book will appeal to fans of the show, as well as people with more of an interest in the retold fairytale style of book.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

three-half-stars
Rating Report
Plot
three-stars
Characters
four-half-stars
Writing
three-half-stars
Pacing
four-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: four-stars

Buller’s Dreadnought by Richard Hough

Buller's Dreadnought by Richard Hough
Published by Endeavour Press on April 19th 2017 by Endeavour Press (first published April 1st 1982)
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 255
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
two-half-stars

Buller’s Dreadnought is a tale of romance, romance, politics, romance and the dawn of the age of dreadnoughts at the start of the 20th Century, and the race to develop the biggest baddest fighting ships… but mostly about dreadnoughts.

The main character is a wandering genius in grand tradition of non-specific heroes in historical novels, whose job it is to travel the world and spy on other countries to keep up with the latest in naval technology, while ensuring that Britain stays ahead of the curve. Mostly this involves him acting like a randy cad with various persons of interest

This novel is mostly about politics, and the politics of war, and while there are several decently described battle scenes, which make a sturdy effort at capturing the feel of a modern battle, it really wasn’t what I had hoped for in this type of book.

There were some interesting, quasi-non fictiony bits about the various competing ideas about the future of naval warfare. For the most part however, as discussed above the focus was elsewhere, which left me feeling bored most of the time, and I skimmed through some sections.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

two-half-stars
Rating Report
Plot
two-half-stars
Characters
two-stars
Writing
two-half-stars
Pacing
two-stars
Cover
three-stars
Overall: two-stars

Attack on Nantucket by Thad Dupper

Attack on Nantucket by Thad DupperAttack on Nantucket by Thad Dupper
Published by Thad Dupper on March 17th 2017
Genres: Thriller
Format: Audiobook, Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

Top Gun meets the West Wing in this fast-paced thriller set on the beautiful island of Nantucket.
Andrew Russell, the 46th president of the United States, along with his wife and two young children have brought back a Kennedy-era feeling of Camelot to the White House. President Russell and his family are spending another vacation on the beautiful island of Nantucket.
After three years of planning, the Islamic Front has embedded terrorist cells on the island in preparation for the arrival of President Russell and his family.
With the resources of the US Navy at the ready -- the President, an ex-naval aviator, responds to the attack on his family with the focus, determination and aggressiveness that made him one of the best fighter pilots in the Fleet.
The people of Nantucket, descendants of hardy New England stock, along with the combined military and intelligence assets of the US Government are about to be challenged by the events unleashed on the tiny picturesque island.
Nantucket serves as the backdrop for this larger-than-life techno-thriller.
The book will be available on March 17, 2017 — reserve your copy today.

Attack on Nantucket is a military thriller set predominantly in the island community of Nantucket, and involves a well-coordinated attack on the family of the President of the United States. The attack is carried out by some extremely well-funded and organised generic brand terrorists, who seem to be sponsored by the Apple company.

There are a lot of players in this novel, and a lot of different moving parts between the various groups of terrorists, as well as the American military forces who are working to uncover the plots, and recover the first family. For the most part the big players behind the scenes are more fleshed out than those on the ground, which makes it slightly difficult to be interested in the generic bad guys.

I think that the author has done a good job of plotting the novel, and the action scenes are well-written, although the novel does descend into rather unbelievable silliness by the end. Which I won’t spoil, but I felt it let down an otherwise-well crafted military thriller. Not every POTUS has to be a Jack Ryan, and that should be okay.

The action in this book takes place in the air, on the ground, as well as on and under the ocean, and the author does a fair job of authentically capturing the feel of these different environments. I felt like it was for the most part, an enjoyable thriller that is above average, given some others I have read, but – for the reason stated above regarding the ending – falls slightly short of the top tier of military thrillers out there, and there is a lot of competition.

Attack on Nantucket is a pretty good, contemporary thriller that would probably suit younger readers, who may not be as hung up on accuracy and are willing to indulge a little silliness now and then. I did enjoy the book, although I wish it had ended sooner.

I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

four-stars
Rating Report
Plot
four-stars
Characters
three-half-stars
Writing
four-stars
Pacing
four-stars
Cover
three-half-stars
Overall: four-stars

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith

Zodiac by Robert GraysmithZodiac by Robert Graysmith
Published by Berkley on April 1st 1987
Genres: History, True Crime
Pages: 337
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Who was Zodiac? A serial killer who claimed 37 dead. A sexual sadist who taunted police with anonymous notes. A madman who was never apprehended. This is the first, complete account of Zodiac's reign of terror. Is he still out there?

Zodiac is the story of one man’s search to identify the infamous Zodiac killer who haunted the lives of the people of San Francisco and Northern California starting in the 1960s. The author was an editorial cartoonist, who worked alongside, and apart from the police officers who were investigating the horrific murders and assault, ever haunted by the mysterious notes with which the killer liked to taunt his pursuers.

The book collates the authors memories, previously-unpublished material, and interviews with various officers and figures who played a role in the investigation, to explore this puzzling serial killer, who as of today’s date, as gone uncaught. I was interested in the story of this infamous serial killer, hoping that this book might shed some new light on who the man behind the murders might really be. The author has his own theories, and leads the reader through a series of red herrings that gives one a sense of the frustration those involved must have felt.

I suppose that if one picks up this book expecting answers to the many questions which surround the mystery of the Zodiac, then you are going to be ultimately disappointed, as the author really only has more suspicions and suppositions to offer, mostly about people who are already suspected of, but unable to be proven as, being the Zodiac killer. One is left to make up your own mind about who or who might not be the killer.

If you are interested in real crime stories, or have an interested in the Zodiac killer particularly, you will probably find information in this book which will add to your knowledge, or to the mystery. Ultimately I found the book somewhat unsatisfying, given that it doesn’t really provide any real answers, just the memoirs of someone who was there during the height of the investigation.

three-half-stars
Rating Report
Writing
three-half-stars
Pacing
three-half-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: three-half-stars

China Strike by Matt Rees

China Strike by Matt ReesChina Strike by Matt Rees
Published by Crooked Lane Books on July 11th 2017
Genres: Technology, Thriller
Pages: 320
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
two-stars

On an ordinary summer day, chaos erupts across the globe when thousands of cars simultaneously speed out of control in the United States and Europe. The death toll is enormous, and there is only one thing connecting the crashes--every single car is the same model.
Amidst the bewilderment of the tragedy, ICE Special Agent Dominic Verrazzano is called to the Brooklyn Detention Center, where Tom Frisch, recently arrested for attempting to assassinate a U.N. President, claims to have knowledge about the mastermind behind the crashes. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and an even bigger catastrophe, involving many more motor companies, is already in the works.
Verrazzano has no choice but to take Frisch with him as he tracks down an enemy that both men know far too well--their old Special Forces commander and father figure. Following leads that take them from New York to Detroit and on to Europe, Verrazzano finally lands in a confrontation that unravels a secret even more sinister than he could have expected.

Thank god for the synopsis provided by the publisher, because I really had no idea what was going on in this book from beginning to end. China Strike is a pseudo-techno military detective thriller sort of thing, involving international conspiracies, computer hacking, and some ICE agents who don’t really seem to know their actual job description.

The author keeps up a fairly relentless pace, which is okay for this genre, but he does it to the detriment of actually allowing the reader to stick their head up and have a look around at what is going on in the broader world outside of the protagonists viewpoints. Several significant – or what I would consider significant – events occur in the book, but as they are dealt with so swiftly it felt like they were not important at all. There is also a bewildering array of names, pseudonyms, and english-versions-of-names bandied about that made it difficult to follow who was who, and I really did not care for any of the main characters because I just didn’t get a connection with them.

I have not read the first book in this series, and perhaps that is a downfall on my part, but based on the second book I really don’t think I will be going back to the first. I like to have a good grounding in reality with my military thrillers, and this just felt a bit too wild and woolly. There were some interesting ideas there, with the hacking of cars’ onboard computers, but ultimately the stakes were not established for me, and so I didn’t know why it mattered.

I thought China Strike had some interesting ideas, but they were poorly executed, and was too busy trying to be a thrill-a-minute without asking me to come along for the ride.

I received a copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

two-stars
Rating Report
Plot
two-stars
Characters
one-half-stars
Writing
two-half-stars
Pacing
two-half-stars
Cover
three-stars
Overall: two-stars

Hardcore History: Blueprint for Armageddon (podcast)

Hardcore History: Blueprint for Armageddon (podcast)I don’t normally review podcasts, they aren’t really my thing, however given that ANZAC day was yesterday, and I had been recommended this podcast (Hardcore History) previously I thought I would give it a whirl. Blueprint for Armageddon is a six part series which totals about 22 hours or so worth of content, and covers... Read More »