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William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's The Empire Striketh Back (William Shakespeare's Star Wars, #2)Premise: The Rebellion seems to be gaining strength ever since Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star, but the base on Hoth is discovered by the Empire, so they must find refuge elsewhere. The rebels scatter and the Empire continues their pursuit of crushing the opposition. Luke seeks one of the last living Jedi in order to take up the mantle himself. It is in a remote swamp that Luke begins his Jedi training with the Jedi master Yoda.

Han, Leia, and crew go to Han’s scoundrel friend Lando for protection, but the Empire’s reach is long and they are found in the Cloud City and captured. Han is given over to the bounty hunter Boba Fett and the rest are held as bait for Luke to rescue. Will Luke come to the rescue or will new revelations destroy any hope the Rebellion had for victory?

Themes: In The Empire Striketh Back, we begin to see the feelings between Leia and Han blossom through their tumultuous interactions. The romance builds as their feelings are laid bare for the reader but held close to themselves until they can no longer contain their feelings. But it isn’t until Han’s life is forfeit that Leia expresses her true feelings to him.

People can change, including the biggest scoundrels, but sometimes they fall into their old ways. When Han Solo falls in with the Rebellion, he does his best to put his past life as a rogue and a smuggler behind him. It manages to catch up to him when he trusts Lando Calrissian to protect him and his friends. Lando’s betrayal only enforces Han’s lifestyle choices, but perhaps at that point it is too late.

Temptation and confronting fears play a large role in The Empire Striketh Back. Luke faces his fears first in the swamps of Dagobah when tested by Yoda in becoming a Jedi. Luke learns the dangers of giving in to the dark side, but he learns the true temptation of the dark side when confronted by Darth Vader with the truth of his father.

Pros: Doescher continues showing his fine grasp of Shakespearean language in The Empire Striketh Back while making some interesting character choices through their dialogue. The choices that stand out are with making Boba Fett speak in prose instead of iambic pentameter to show his lower class and with Yoda speaking in haiku to show his different speaking style. Doescher infuses more emotion into Empire than he did with Star Wars, done so with a lot of monologue asides that aren’t really in the movie but I felt actually added to the story. This is especially true for Leia and Han but includes other characters like Lando of which we don’t get as much character development. The author also makes sure to include important lines, like Han’s famous response to Leia professing her love for him: “I know.”

Cons: I did catch a handful of times where the meter dropped or added an extra beat, which isn’t necessarily unheard of in Shakespeare’s work. Probably the most famous instance of this is “to be or not to be, that is the question” with its extra beat. My Shakespeare isn’t nearly as refined as it probably should be, but I know that he used this to express extra emphasis and emotion. Whether or not Doescher did this for the same reason, I’m unsure. I do know that it made my reading of Empire more difficult. While I appreciate the need to give each character their own representation, I didn’t think giving the Wampa a voice was entirely necessary. I also liked the space battle sequence in Verily, A New Hope better than how the battle was executed on Hoth. It felt more epic while keeping within the restraints of a play. Also, making the AT-ATs into characters just seemed silly.

Recommendations: One of the things I like most about The Empire Striketh Back is that Doescher manages to continue with the humor necessary to make something like this work while capturing the more tragic ending of the movie with Han being frozen in carbonite. Doescher makes more artistic choices in The Empire Striketh Back than he did with Star Wars, and they mostly pay off except for a couple I didn’t care for (see Wampa and AT-ATs). Still, The Empire Striketh Back continues the Star Wars trilogy in strong fashion, and in some ways mirrors the movies by being superior to Verily, A New Hope in that it is infused with more emotion, more peril, and more humanity. If you liked William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, don’t stop there or else you’ll miss out. While you can appreciate the book wearing a scholarly Shakespeare hat, keep in mind that these are supposed to be fun.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on June 16, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction

 

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The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

The Burning DarkPremise: Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is a war hero ready to retire. For his last assignment he has been sent to the remote U-Star Coast City, a space station being dismantled for decommission. It rests near the strange star known as Shadow, with eerie purple light that has incalculable effects on those who look at it. The remaining crew aboard the Coast City are less than friendly, and skeptical of the Fleet Medal Cleveland wears, especially once he discovers the mission where he saved an entire planet from being destroyed by spiders has been wiped from existence in the database.

Shadow causes all sorts of electrical malfunctions and interference with communication, but its light also causes the crew to hear and see things that may or may not really be there. When Cleveland picks up radio communications on the banned subspace channels, he discovers a message from far away and long ago. With creeping shadows and malfunctioning electronics, he and the rest of the crew begin to think they are seeing ghosts. Or perhaps it’s just the negative effects from the looming purple star.

Themes: Ida Cleveland does all he can to uphold honor and respect, especially with records of his heroics being wiped from all knowledge. Nobody on board the station believes he actually earned the prestigious Fleet Medal, and because of this he feels he must prove his own valor to the rest of the crew. As a retired captain, the other soldiers don’t pay him the same respect as if he were still an officer.

Friends are hard to come by in the remote space station, especially when Cleveland is new to the crew. He befriends a medic named Izanami, but sees her only occasionally on the large station. The established crew already have their allegiances, and nobody wants to give Cleveland a chance especially with there being no record of him earning his medal. Lacking any true friends, he spends most of his time alone in his cabin listening on his piecemeal radio.

Pros: The Burning Dark is creepy, and it gets progressively creepier. Christopher made some intense characters in The Burning Dark, with the space station and the nearby star gaining personalities of their own. Everything is suspect when it comes to trusting senses or how characters perceive their surroundings, including interactions with other people aboard the Coast City. I like that there are multiple dangers all around for everybody in the enemy spiders, churning shadows, and the ever-present star Shadow and its odd purple light, all within the vacuum of space.

Cons: Without giving a spoiler, I think it was about halfway through the book (before the author gives away one important secret) that I actually figured out one of the main secrets happening on this secluded station. It doesn’t make the story less creepy or intense, but it’s the angle the story later takes that I felt could have been left more ambiguous. Thankfully, I didn’t think it went off the rails at the end, but it left me with the feeling of being set up for another book.

Recommendations: I’ve read a couple other books from Adam Christopher that I’ve really enjoyed, but I’ll say this is probably my favorite of his I’ve read to date. In The Burning Dark, he’s done a thoughtful crossover between science fiction and horror that sits firmly in either genre. The story takes an unexpected turn at the end, but manages to keep the reader on their toes. While The Burning Dark stands on its own as a story, I would gladly read another set in this universe of cyborg insects and subspace ghosts. Read at your own risk. You might find yourself jumping at shadows and hearing voices in radio static.

Adam Christopher’s website
The Burning Dark on Goodreads
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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Horror, Science Fiction

 

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Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

Tin StarPremise: Tula Bane is on her way to colonize the planet Beta Granade with the rest of the Children of Earth when she is beaten and left for dead by the group’s leader, Brother Blue, on the Yertina Feray space station. Here she is the only Human, considered a Minor Species in the galaxy. It is on this remote station where Tula makes her life scrounging and trading favors since word of her ship, the Prairie Rose, did not make it to its destination. She must learn the ways of other beings in order to survive.

When news comes that Brother Blue is still alive, she uses all the favors available to her to plot and plan for finding him and exacting her revenge. The station’s security chief, Captain Tournour, is there every step of the way keeping the peace and making sure nothing illegal goes unpunished. It is the unlikeliest of alien friendships that keeps her going daily.

But then a ship carrying three more Humans crashes on the station causing her to rethink her alliances. Through her relationships with these aliens and Humans, Tula learns all about love and friendship, and she has to decide what is really important for love and survival.

Themes: Friendship comes to the forefront, especially in Tula’s dealings with the alien Heckleck. They become best friends as the only person she trusts is the alien with no emotions. Tula’s connection with other Humans makes her question if they should be friends because of their close affinity or because she actually trusts them.

Tula’s experiences with death and loss, with her family continuing to the settlement without her, leave her open to failure. When she learns that the ship didn’t make it to its destination, her hope is crushed by her family’s death. And when she loses more people in her life Tula could very easily fall into despair, but there are others there to support her and lift her up.

When more Humans step into her life, Tula has ample opportunities for love to grow. She even toys with the thoughts of romantic relationships and tests them, with mixed results. But the biggest surprise comes at the most important crossroads of her life when everything is at stake.

Pros: Cecil Castellucci does some things very well in Tin Star, like making you care about the friendship between a sixteen-year-old girl and a bug-like alien. The characters have an interesting interplay in the setting on the space station, leaving me feeling the claustrophobia of being stuck together in a place and not being able to go anywhere. There are some great emotional moments in the book, one right at the beginning, one in the middle, and another at the end. It’s almost like Castellucci spaced them out evenly on purpose.

Cons: Even with the good character development, I felt like from the moment they step onto the page each Human is not to be trusted, which made it difficult to care about any of them. My biggest gripe is the abrupt ending to a book that seemed to rocket by me, and now I have to wait for the second half of the story.

Recommendations: Tin Star has its ups and downs, but there’s a lot packed into this fast-paced book. I would have preferred a 400 page full combined version with the second book so I didn’t have to wait for the rest of the story, but also because of the chopped off feeling at the end. I still think it’s a good commentary on love and loss, especially for people who live a solitary life. Tin Star will make you think about the people around you in a different light, but maybe only because some people are stranger than the aliens in the book.

Cecil Castellucci’s website
Tin Star on Goodreads
Buy Tin Star on Amazon
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I received a copy from the author to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2014 in Science Fiction, Young Adult

 

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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope by Ian Doescher

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New HopePremise: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a civil war happening between rebel fighters desperately trying to overthrow the reign of the evil galactic empire. Plans for the magnificent and terrible Death Star have been stolen with the hopes of getting them into the hands of the rebel leaders to destroy this menacing weapon.

Wielding the power of the Force, Darth Vader shows his immense power to destroy while Obi-Wan Kenobi is summoned to find the next Jedi knight. That knight might just be in the form of the boy Luke Skywalker.

The fighting comes to a head as opposing forces strike against each other in a battle for control. And all of this is done…in iambic pentameter.

Themes: Politics reign supreme in Star Wars as each player pushes and pulls others to engage the outcome they each desire. Whether it is subtle like the workings of R2D2 or overt like the powerful Darth Vader, each has their wishes and their part in this story.

Luke has a huge desire for adventure as he wishes to travel, see the galaxy, and to escape the drudgery of his uncle’s moisture farm. Meeting Old Ben Kenobi and two droids changes his life and gives him exactly what he wishes for, but at a great cost.

Pros: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars definitely reads like a Shakespearean play, down to the monologue asides and narrative descriptions of space battles. Everything is written expertly in iambic pentameter, lending to the feel of being written by Shakespeare himself. Star Wars reads humorously, especially the dialogue between C3PO and R2D2. Star Wars buffs should enjoy Doescher’s interpretation, especially since he does such a good job of telling the entire story in such short order without missing a beat. The cheeky illustrations also helped get me into the feel of the story.

Cons: Some readers might find the rhythm hard to capture, to which I might suggest reading aloud. Others might simply feel the iambic pentameter tiresome and get bored too quickly, especially if they’re not exactly fans of Shakespeare. The one thing I found difficult was reading R2D2’s beeps and boops in rhythm. The space battles aren’t exactly easy to do without on screen special effects, so forcing readers to use their imagination could be a stretch for some. My guess is most reading a book like this won’t have that problem.

Recommendations: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars can be appreciated at different levels, whether you’re a beginner or expert of all things Star Wars or Shakespeare. Doescher does such a good job telling the story it actually helped me catch a couple things I missed in my years of watching Star Wars. Reading this book also makes me want to pick up my complete volume of Shakespeare’s plays and read a few with a new appreciation for the art. Go get a copy whether you want something light to read or want to better appreciate the worlds of Star Wars or Shakespeare or both…verily.

Ian Doescher’s website
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope on Goodreads
Buy William Shakespeare’s Star Wars on Amazon
Download William Shakespeare’s Star Wars for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Humor, Science Fiction

 

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The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's BladesPremise: The kingdom of Annur is thrown into chaos when emperor Sanlitun is murdered, but his children will soon discover that it is a much deeper conspiracy than the normal power struggle. Sanlitun’s sons Kaden and Valyn have both been gone for eight years while the princess Adare has been with her father up until the day he is killed.

Valyn has been training with the elite fighting force known as the Kettral, training to fly one of their namesake giant birds to protect the kingdom from the worst of enemies. As several attempts are made on his life during the training, Valyn begins to suspect there is more danger around him than the normal training everyone else is experiencing. Valyn learns of his father’s death and is determined to reach his brother to warn him before it’s too late. Adare has been raised to Minister of Finance by her father’s decree, but with the kingdom in turmoil she is battling a religious sect who might be the ones responsible for Salitun’s death. And Kaden, the heir to the throne, has been secluded with monks dedicated to the Blank God. It is there that Kaden must learn the vaniate, an ancient ritual used to protect the kingdom from ancient enemies.

With the kingdom at stake and the Malkeenian line threatened, Adare, Valyn, and Kaden must uncover the conspiracy against their lives to protect Annur from foes from every side. There could even be a bigger threat thought long extinct that could have greater consequences than just their lives, but also the lives of everyone in Annur and beyond.

Themes: Family and legacy are at stake as Sanlitun is murdered and the lives of his children are threatened. With his children gone, there would be no heir to the throne of Annur and the kingdom could fall into chaos with no apparent leader to take control.

With many gods and religions in this world, there are many angles taken at religions in The Emperor’s Blades. Faith and devotion are seen at different levels between different religions and even between followers of the same religion.

The Emperor’s Blades also manages to examine what it means to inherit wealth and power compared to those who are born outside of it. It shares a glimpse of what it means to hold power responsibly and of those who would be less responsible with it. It also shows the machinations behind the scenes of people in power and others who would attempt to overthrow them.

Pros: The Emperor’s Blades has some incredible characters. When you don’t care about the characters and one of them dies, you won’t care about them dying. But when you care about all the characters, you want the protagonists to win and it is gut-wrenching when they lose. And those terrible characters become that much more insidious when they do those terrible things to the people you care about. All of this is to say: The Emperor’s Blades has great characters. At first I thought the magic system was too slowly revealed, until I realized I hadn’t even begun to learn what magic there really was in this story.

Cons: Because there are some mean people in The Emperor’s Blades, there is some intense stuff in it. There are some scenes that were hard to handle, containing gore and torture that caused me to put the book down a couple times. It has some sexual talk and innuendo you might find in war stories. And The Emperor’s Blades is full of profanity, although much of it is fantastical swearing using made up words or phrases to the gods in this world, such as “‘Kent-kissing” and “‘Shael take it.”

Recommendations: The Emperor’s Blades felt like it started slow, but as it picked up steam and never let up all the way through the end I realized just how big of a story was being told. In fact, I never wanted it to end, and as soon as it did I was ready for the next book to begin. With action, adventure, politics, religion, assassins, and fantasy elements that felt like they could even exist in this world, Brian Staveley is a name to watch in fantasy. With The Emperor’s Blades, he knows just what buttons to push with his characters and when to push them, but he’ll leave you wanting more. If you like fantasy, The Emperor’s Blades is not one to miss.

Brian Staveley’s website
The Emperor’s Blades on Goodreads
Buy The Emperor’s Blades on Amazon
Download The Emperor’s Blades for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2014 in Fantasy

 

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Quotes Every Man Should Know by Nick Mamatas (editor)

Quotes Every Man Should KnowPremise: Have you ever been at a party with nothing to add to the conversation? Or perhaps you have been engaged in debate and at a loss for a witty retort. Quotes Every Man Should Know is a collection of quotes that allows you to insert a bit of wisdom or humor into just about any setting. Just don’t be that guy who obviously memorized a book of quotes to randomly throw them into every conversation to make himself appear smarter than he actually is.

Themes: Quotes Every Man Should Know covers topics ranging from politics, religion, philosophy, humor, and even quotes about quotes. With the intent to provide quips for an array of situations, the content can be geared for many occasions.

Pros: There is certainly a good assortment of quotes in this collection. The topics are separated out into chapters and delineated clearly into these groups for easy access. Nick Mamatas even takes the time to point out quotes inaccurately attributed to people on the internet and clarify their true or probable origins. The dueling quotes at the end show us that wisdom can seemingly be found to support any argument, especially on controversial topics. Mamatas does a good job summarizing and providing some commentary in each section.

Cons: Quotes Every Man Should know is in no way a comprehensive selection of quotes, nor is every quote in the book necessarily useful. I point specifically the somewhat sparse and random selection of quotes from the Bible picked from Proverbs, but also include the useless quotes from people such as U.S. presidential candidate Vermin Supreme and comedian Sarah Silverman. There were some places where I felt Mamatas’ commentary was unnecessary, or in the case of some of the competing quotes added his personal bias toward one of the two.

Recommendations: As a gift for a birthday, bar mitzvah, or recent graduation, Quotes Every Man Should know is a fun way to encourage a boy growing into a man to seek wisdom by providing tidbits from others to guide him. Don’t attempt to use it to find wisdom for every situation, but merely as a way in add spice into conversations. As Mamatas points out, the internet is a source of endless inaccurately attributed quotations, so make sure your sources are correct when doing so to avoid putting words into Abraham Lincoln’s mouth.

Nick Mamatas’ LiveJournal
Quotes Every Man Should Know on Goodreads
Buy Quotes Every Man Should Know on Amazon
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2013 in Nonfiction, Philosophy

 

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The Deep Zone by James M. Tabor

The Deep Zone (Hallie Leland, #1)Premise: A deadly bacterial strain is introduced into a military hospital in Afghanistan, and it is from there that it makes its way back to the United States. Common antibiotics aren’t working on this mutation, and the only hope comes from a “moonmilk” from the deepest cave in Mexico that has the ability to fight off the most powerful of pathogens. And the person who discovered the moonmilk must go back in to get more samples, even though she was fired from her position for unexplainable reasons.

Hallie Leland is an expert diver, caver, and microbiologist, and she is just the person for the job to find the one thing that can potentially save the lives of millions. Hallie has been added to an elite team of hand-picked people with very specific specializations of diving, caving, and cultural experience to go deep into the cave to obtain more of the moonmilk while doctors in the U.S. fight off the quickly spreading infection with available means. The doctors themselves risk exposure to the infection, while their last hope goes on an incredibly dangerous recovery mission.

With the burden for salvation solely on Hallie’s shoulders to obtain the moonmilk and bring it back to synthesize a cure for the deadly ACE bacteria, the real source of the outbreak comes to light with players working every angle to achieve their own goals. Some shady dealings with foreign governments and private corporations reveal the real threats to the country and the world.

Themes: Trust becomes a problem as those who Hallie could depend on before lose their credibility, while others regain trust that was broken when she was let go from her previous position. Trusting the government to make wise decisions and to handle this outbreak effectively becomes essential for this team going on the moonmilk recovery mission.

One major theme in The Deep Zone centers around the governmental and private response of a major epidemic. Turnaround times for vaccines and treatments must be factored against the time it takes for such an epidemic to spread. And individual officials working for their own benefit threaten the fabric of the governments they work for.

Romance develops, especially toward the end, as Hallie begins to care about a member of her team. The imminent danger helps to fuel the feelings that are growing, with the chance of loss of the other person at any moment.

Pros: James M. Tabor obviously knows his stuff and has taken the time to do proper research into many facets of the story, especially when it comes to certain details. Different types of gear for diving, climbing, weapons, medical technology, and caving are all over The Deep Zone. The terminology is accurate for all these aspects, making sure not to dumb down anything for the reader’s sake. The action is pretty solid for most of the story and you get a real sense of danger, becoming especially perilous for any and all characters at key points throughout the story.

Cons: There are simply way too many descriptions in The Deep Zone. We get details into the types of military gear being used, the types of climbing gear, even the types of medical gear. The author might know a lot about the subject and have done his research, but I just stopped caring about these things halfway through the book. And the romance between the protagonist and a not quite main character seemed forced. I got the sense she didn’t care for him at first and at some point that seemed to change inexplicably. There is some deus ex machina stuff going on at the end that isn’t quite explained very well. The book could have probably been cut down another one hundred pages and had a better clip than it does without losing much in the way of its tone.

Recommendations: The Deep Zone is a serious adventure novel that includes political and military intrigue suitable for anyone looking for a lengthy intelligent read. The characters are fine, if not somewhat taking on characterizations of various personality traits. The most consistent part of the book are where the author takes the time to share the details of his knowledge and research of every aspect of the story, some of which makes the book drag at times. The Deep Zone has a serious tone that is consistent throughout, with language and terminology that lends to a more mature and intelligent audience. With all that said, The Deep Zone has a lot of everything, including some decent action, adventure, political intrigue, and even a little romance thrown in. It would have been even better if it were a shorter book.

James M. Tabor’s website
The Deep Zone on Goodreads
Buy The Deep Zone on Amazon
Download The Deep Zone for your Kindle
I received a copy from Goodreads to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Fiction

 

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