Wednesday 30 September 2015

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: The Watchers - Neil Spring

Release Date: 24/09/15
Publisher:  Quercus

SYNOPSIS:

A chilling tale based on true events from the bestselling author of The Ghost Hunters . . .

At the height of the Cold War, officials at the Ministry of Defence conducted a highly secret investigation into unusual events that occurred along a strip of rugged coastline within the Pembrokeshire National Park nicknamed 'The Broad Haven Triangle'. The events made national headlines: lights and objects hovering in the sky, ghostly figures peering into farmhouse windows, cowering animals, and poltergeists plaguing a terrified family of witnesses.Thirty years later, official files pertaining to these occurrences were finally released for public scrutiny at the National Archives. The disclosure prompted a new witness to come forward to speak of what he knew. His testimony rocked the very foundations of the British Government. This is his story.


REVIEW:

A book that surprises the reader with a quick right hook and one that really never gives the reader a chance to recover as the story blends a whole heap of genres into one and delivers a cracking arc that is a pure joy to read. The pace is stunning, the prose top notch and when you add dialogue that helps you not only grab onto the characters but care about what happens to them all round generates something that you really can’t put down.

I can’t wait to see what Neil returns with and look forward to another late night in his company. Cracking.



URBAN CRIME THRILLER: Dreamland - Robert L Anderson

Release Date: 24/09/15
Publisher:  Hodder

SYNOPSIS:

Dea Donahue has been able to travel through people's dreams since she was six years old. Her mother taught her the three rules of walking: Never interfere. Never be seen. Never walk the same person's dream more than once. Dea has never questioned her mother, not about the rules, not about the clocks or the mirrors, not about moving from place to place to be one step ahead of the unseen monsters that Dea's mother is certain are right behind them.

Then a mysterious new boy, Connor, comes to town and Dea finally starts to feel normal. As Connor breaks down the walls that she's had up for so long, he gets closer to learning her secret. For the first time she wonders if that's so bad. But when Dea breaks the rules, the boundary between worlds begins to deteriorate. How can she know what's real and what's not?


REVIEW:

This book was a strange one. Firstly I loved the premise and with that to give me a good start, I opened the first page and started reading.

What unfurled within was a story that had a good few parts to it, it had mystery, it had a thriller element and blended together with a solid principle character allowed the reader to embark upon a journey that took a good few twists and turns to keep you on your toes.

That said, I have to say that I did have a few problems with the title. Firstly I didn’t think it was very well written, I found the prose a little bit jumpy, rather than a smooth ride and whilst I thought the dialogue was OK, for me as a reader having so many chops and changes jarred the writing style so much for me that I had a hard time going from one scene to another. Don’t get me wrong its full of promise, it does have a great potential but at the end of the day it lacked a smoothness that I wanted and then finished a bit too quickly to allow a solid ending.

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Kenstibec 2: Steeple - Jon Wallace

Release Date: 18/09/15
Publisher:  Gollancz

SYNOPSIS:

Another high action SF dystopia perfect for fans of Richard Morgan and Alfred Bester alike. The follow-up to the acclaimed Barricade this another short, sharp and kinetic SF thriller

Kenstibec is a Ficial - a genetically engineered artificial life form; tough, skilled, hard to kill. Or at least he was. He's lost the nanotech that constantly repaired him. Life just got real. Just like it is for the few remaining humans in this blighted world - the Reals; locked in a fight over a ruined world with the Ficials they created to make Utopia.

And now Kenstibec must take a trip to the pinnicle of our failed civilisation. The Steeple is a one thousand storey tower that looms over the wreckage of London. It is worshipped, feared and haunted by attack droids and cannibals. And the location of a secret that just might save Kenstibec's life.The only way is up.


REVIEW:

A weird and wonderful book that blends a dark dystopian science fiction with cracking characters as well as top notch prose and dialogue. Add to this a quirky sense of humour alongside plotline that really keeps you engrossed all round allows you the chance to sit back and enjoy your free time in the company of an author who knows how to wave a magical story.

All round a pure joy to read and at the end of the day, whilst the second part of a series a tale that welcomes you in with open arms. I’ll be grabbing the original story at the first available opportunity. Cracking.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

VIDEO GAME REVIEW: Bloodbowl 2 - Focus Home Entertainment

Release Date: 22/09/15
Publisher:  Focus Home Entertainment

SYNOPSIS:

TOUCHDOWN! Blood Bowl 2 smashes Warhammer and American football together, in an explosive cocktail of turn-based strategy, humour and brutality, adapted from Games Workshop's famous boardgame. Blood Bowl 2's new graphics engine and high-flying realization makes for a faithful portrayal of the fury and intensity of classic Blood Bowl matches. The solo game mode will have you lead the famous Reikland Reavers. Former star team of Blood Bowl you are tasked with bringing them back to glory, following a full story campaign supported by the hilarious commentators Jim & Bob from Cabalvision. Each match of the campaign is unique, with unexpected and surprising events constantly renewing the experience! The multiplayer modes are bigger and richer than ever. In the persistent online mode, create and manage your own team comprised of one of eight races from the Warhammer world - Humans, Orcs, Dwarfs, Skaven, High Elves, Dark Elves, Chaos, and the Bretonnia newcomers. You will develop your team, gaining XP and unlocking new skills. But beware! On the pitch, all losses are permanent... Organize entirely customisable championships, from qualifications to finale, and use the new Transfer Market to buy and sell your players, and build your Blood Bowl dream-team! The next generation of Blood Bowl touches down today, will YOU be the champion?


REVIEW:

Lets play Bloodbowl!!!! And to be honest that’s what happened with me as Lady Eleanor descended with her Orcs to take on the speed and agility of my Skaven. Both sides lined up, both sides had their fans and to be honest whilst it wasn’t the highest scoring match (well touchdown wise.) It was a virtually bloodbath as we took it in turns to smash the hell out of the others team, utilising dirty tricks, bribing refs and of course listening to Jim and Bob commentate on the whole thing.

OK so the match was won 2-1 by me but counting up the casualties at match end both of us had about half our teams left on the pitch trying to counteract what the other had been up to. It was a whole load of fun, brought back fond memories for me (as I remember playing on the astro-turf with the figures) and at the end of the day, will give me countless pleasure as I take on other players (both AI and human) through the campaign or friendly online matches as I prepare for another local derby against Lady Eleanor as he levels her team up.

Great stuff all round..

CRIME THRILLER REVIEW: The Ghosts of Altona - Craig Russell


Release Date: 04/06/15
Publisher:  Quercus

SYNOPSIS:

Head of Hamburg's Murder Commission, Jan Fabel is used to the dead, but when a routine enquiry spirals out of control he finds himself on much closer terms with death - his own.

As he struggles to process this experience, his first case comes back to haunt him: Monika Krone's body is found at last, fifteen years after she disappeared. Monika - beautiful, intelligent, cruel - was the centre of a group obsessed with the gothic.

When men who knew Monika start turning up dead, the crime scenes full of gothic symbolism, Fabel realizes he is looking for a killer with both a hunger for vengeance and a terrifying taste for the macabre.

A true gothic demon is stalking the streets of Hamburg . . .


REVIEW:

Fabel is one of my favourite detectives since I originally read Craig’s first book, Blood Eagle. I love the way he brings European cities to life for me as well as giving me a crime thriller that not only jumps off the page but delivers cunning criminals alongside a detective team that works through the clues to find the answers.

The prose is sharp, the storyline gripping and when you add cracking pace alongside dialogue that endears the characters to the reader, all round gives you a whole series of books that won’t let you leave until that last page is turned. Magic.

Saturday 26 September 2015

CUISINE REVIEW: The Dumpling Sisters Cookbook - Amy and Julie Zhang

Release Date: 11/06/15
Publisher:  Weidenfeld and Nicolson

SYNOPSIS:

Amy and Julie Zhang have been entertaining and educating their thousands of followers on Youtube with their recipes for deliciously easy homemade Chinese food - now THE DUMPLING SISTERS CHINESE COOKBOOK brings you more of the recipes and advice that those fans have been clamouring for. Dedicated to and destined to be adored by every Chinese food lover, this book is full of Chinese-food favourites, impressive sharing dishes and even sweet treats that have been little acknowledged in a western understanding of Chinese food - until now. This is Chinese home cooking at its best. The recipes are structured as to give a gradual introduction to Chinese dishes, beginning with the simple; Best Ever Fried Rice, and working up to the more elaborate Cracking Five-Spice Roast Pork Belly, and are interspersed with the insider tips and tricks that the girls' Youtube fans adore. There is also a focus on Chinese culture and eating etiquette (for perfecting those chopstick skills), including sharing menu planner and a guide to shopping at the Chinese supermarket. Amy and Julie write with wit and gusto - they are the perfect cooks to take any food lover on a journey to discover real Chinese cooking.


REVIEW:

I love Chinese food but to be honest I’ve never been comfortable trying to cook anything other than egg fried rice as I’ve never been able to get the flavours balanced or had anything turn out as it should have done. What I really liked about this book from the Dumpling Sisters is that this book is easy to follow, uses ingredients that are easy to get hold of and gives you that flavour that you desire when you really want something different.

Whilst a lot of people go straight for a number of other recipes in the book, the best way I’ve found to try out a Chinese book is to go straight to a firm favourite, in my case Chicken and Sweetcorn soup. I love the stuff and when I’m ill, if I can get my hands on it, it’s the food that I like to go for to help make me feel better.

The recipe within is easy to follow, is easy to get everything for and at the end of the day tastes great for me. I love this and if the other recipes within are as easy to follow, then I’ll be having quite a few Chinese home cooked meals in the future.

VIDEO GAME REVIEW: Max Max - Warner Brothers Interactive

Release Date: 01/09/15
Publisher:  Warner Brothers Interactive

SYNOPSIS:

Be Mad Max - Become the iconic post-apocalyptic warrior, crafting and upgrading Max's equipment and weapons to survive by combining melee combat, gunplay and tactical techniques. Gamers must make difficult decisions as they work towards the goal of escaping The Wasteland.
Immersive Primal Wasteland - Explore the gritty, dynamic world while braving the treacherous landscapes, hostile weather patterns and deadly gangs of marauders.
Trash is Treasure - Every scrap that's scavenged is important and can be utilized to upgrade and enhance equipment, weapons and vehicles. Gamers raid enemy encampments to gain access to valuable resources.
Survive the Open-World Landscape - Staying alive isn't easy. Players clash with deadly factions and gangs through scores of dangerous side-missions and quests in the dynamic open-world full of exploration.
Intense Vehicular Combat - Engage in dynamic inter-vehicular combat, taking down enemy vehicles with a range of powerful weapons. Car combat is entirely physics-based, so no two battles are ever the same.
Build the Ultimate War Machine - Players design, customize and upgrade their ultimate combat vehicle-the Magnum Opus-choosing from different car bodies and a slew of upgrades including mounted weapons, armor and engines to survive another day.



REVIEW:

This is a game I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time and to be honest I have to say that I have put a good number of hours into it in order to make my car a thing of deathly beauty. The graphics are beautiful, the scenery working very well and when you throw into the mix sound that gives the reader the full on effect of a Mad Max film (although with no real plot), all round will appeal to Cult of Rockatansky.

That said however there are two area’s that will get players. Firstly you will spend quite a bit of time hunting round for scrap in order to make the improvements as well as carefully searching to make sure you get 100% completion for each area and whilst the scenery helps to cut the monotony of the grind, it is still something you’ll spend hours doing.

Secondly my other complaint about the game is my major one. I hate the controls. They’re not very intuitive, they’re slow to respond and when the damn thing does decide to do its job you’ll find that you’ve either over turned and then spend a few minutes correcting (often damaging the car in the process) or praying to the gods of metal that you have the time to repair it before an event kicks in.

All round it is a game that was OK but for me, with controls that were awful, it really ruined my playtime and had me furiously yelling at the controller due to trying to compensate for pretty shoddy controlling methods.

Friday 25 September 2015

VIDEO GAME NEWS: Assassins Creed Syndicate - Ubisoft


Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
We've been itching to get our mitts on the new Assassin's Creed Syndicate and having previously having had concerns with the fairly modern timeline we are happy to report that what Ubi is bringing to the table looks pretty sweet.

Firstly you get to play in Victoriana England with the chance to swing around old London Town, ride trains, hijack carriages alongside assaulting the Tower, we can't wait to see what else we're going to get.

Here's the latest trailer:


With a run down of the previous to keep you in one easy to access place:
The Announcement Trailer:


The E3 Cinematic Trailer:



The Frye Twins:




Evie Frye Trailer:


As you can see, there's a whole host of fun to be had within and one of the latest items to make a debut is the sword cane (as featured below with the full size prop replica.)



Assassins Creed Syndicate is releases on 23rd October 2015.

We'll see you in London,


Gareth and Lady Elanor

VIDEO GAME NEWS: Fallout 4 Friday Fiesta with Perk Chart and Character System VBlog - Betheda


Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Our friends at Bethesda have sent us a couple of tasty treats to help you get into the weekend spirit.  

Here's what they had to say:"At the heart of Fallout 4 is its character system. Our games are about making the kind of character you want, doing what you want, and having the game allow and reward whatever playstyle you chose. We also want to make those choices meaningful, and at the same time entertaining. To let you plan ahead, try different things, and to compare your choices against others who built different characters. 
 
The Fallout series makes this even better through the use of the seven SPECIAL stats and its Perks. We made it a goal of ours to have the choice of your SPECIALs be as meaningful as possible, and be the guide for how you built your character through the course of the game. 

The first choice you make, early in the game, is the starting value from 1 to 10 of your 7 SPECIALs: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. Each week we’re releasing videos that give you a look at what those skills do in the game (from Vault-Tec, of course). Fallout 4 – S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Video Series

When selecting your starting SPECIALs, you can assign 28 points. This makes it difficult to initially max out certain SPECIALs, but you can still start with a 10 if you choose to neglect others. Even though you pick your SPECIALS early before the bombs fall, we do let you change them when exiting the Vault into the Wasteland, after you’ve played for a little.

Levelling is experience point (XP) based like Fallout 3, not skill-based like Skyrim. But levelling speed is closer to Skyrim, and not as slow as Fallout 3. This means you’ll be getting more opportunities, especially early on, to level up and select a Perk. Additionally, whereas Fallout 3 had an initial level cap of 20, Fallout 4 has no level cap, and we’ve balanced the game to keep the content and challenge going for higher levels. 

When you level up, you select a Perk, from a Perk chart within the game. Here it is: 


As you can see, each SPECIAL has a Perk assigned for each rank of the SPECIAL, from 1 to 10. You can select any Perk up to the rank of your SPECIAL. If you have a 10 in Charisma, you can select the Intimidation Perk that lets you manipulate human enemies into doing your bidding. 

It was our goal that all the Perks be balanced amongst each other, regardless of if they required a 1 or a 10. The higher the SPECIAL requirement, the more focused or exotic the Perk was for that playstyle. Take for example the Agility 1 Perk Gunslinger (20% more damage with pistols), and the Agility 10 Perk Gun Fu (your 2nd target in V.A.T.S. takes 25% more damage regardless of weapon).
What’s important is that each of these Perks is actually a mini Perk tree*, with multiple ranks that also do new things. Gun Fu above allows even more damage the more targets you select, increasing to instant Critical Shots. Gunslinger has ranks that up the range of pistols, add a chance to disarm enemies, and even instant limb crippling shots. 



These additional ranks do require your character to be a higher level. This allows us to make some powerful Perk ranks that reward your investment in a certain SPECIAL as well as that individual Perk. It also allows us to fold Perks we liked from previous games into Perk ranks in this new system. For example, the Fallout 3 perk Paralyzing Palm (paralyze enemies through hand-to-hand), now becomes the Rank 5 Perk for Iron Fist. But you need to have chosen the previous 4 ranks of Iron Fist and be level 46. We also pushed old Perks to do new things at higher ranks. Strong Back doesn’t just up the amount you can carry; higher ranks of it allow you to fast-travel while encumbered or even run while encumbered at the cost of Action Points. 

With each SPECIAL having 10 Perks, there are 70 base Perks. With Perk ranks, it increases that number to over 270. That number also includes a top-level Training perk for each SPECIAL, so that you can essentially skip a regular Perk and raise a SPECIAL by 1. This gives you the benefit of the new SPECIAL value, and allows access to higher Perks in future levels. 

It may all sound complicated at first, and when you initially level up, the chart can be a little intimidating because you have so many options. But it’s incredibly elegant, and has allowed us to reward both investing early in a playstyle, as well as growing your character over the course of the game. 

If you’re a longtime Fallout fan, you’ll notice that the Skills seen in previous games have been folded into this system. The previous Skill system had some confusing parts and ended up spreading your choices too thin. Some of you had questions like: “What’s better, the Charisma SPECIAL, or the Speech Skill? Why are assault rifles in Small Guns?” Additionally many Perks simply raised associated Skills. The Gun Nut Perk in Fallout 3 increased two separate Skills. In Fallout 4, the ranks of Gun Nut act as gates for modifying and crafting weapons. Sneak was a skill in Fallout 3, and you simply increased its value. In Fallout 4 Sneak becomes a Perk that not only makes you harder to detect, but wraps in previous perks like Silent Running and Light Step into its ranks. By wrapping these systems together, it keeps the emphasis on your SPECIALs and the level-up choices more rewarding. 

And on top of all that, you also get separate Perks from the many in-game magazines you can find (there are over 100). Some of these grant an individual Perk, while others up the rank of a Perk associated with that magazine. For example, there’s a 10-issue run of Grognak the Barbarian comics that each give you an additional rank of the Barbarian Perk, which raises the critical damage of melee attacks.




Through the many years of Fallout 4 development, and the countless hours of playtesting, we think you’re going to love this system in action. We experimented with other systems, but found this one to be the most flexible and intuitive. Balancing all of the ranks, their individual efficacy, SPECIAL rank, and player level has been a huge task. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and share your character choices and playstyles with us once the game is out. We can’t wait for you to play. 

Bethesda Game Studios"

Also please remember that Fallout 4 has a special one price Season Pass that includes:

Regular Updates

We'll be doing regular free updates to the game, and like Skyrim, these will come with not just fixes, but new features. For Skyrim we added things like mounted combat, legendary mode, kill cams, visual enhancements and more. We’ll work with all of you to figure out what new things you’d love to see added to Fallout 4, whether they are small tweaks or new features. 

Mods & Creation Kit

The most important thing in our games is the freedom you have to create your own experience, and modding is a big part of that. Like all our previous games, we’ve made sure to keep Fallout 4 open and moddable at every step in development. Early next year we’ll release for free the new Creation Kit for the PC. This is the same tool we use in the studio. You'll be able to create your own mods and share them with others. We’re especially excited these same mods will then be coming to Xbox One, and then PlayStation 4. 

Downloadable Content

We've always done a lot of DLC for our games. We love making them and you always ask us for more. To reward our most loyal fans, this time we’ll be offering a Season Pass that will get you all of the Fallout 4 DLC we ever do for just $30. Since we’re still hard at work on the game, we don’t know what the actual DLC will be yet, but it will start coming early next year. Based on what we did for Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Skyrim, we know that it will be worth at least $40, and if we do more, you'll get it all with the Season Pass.
Thanks again to all of you! The support and excitement you’ve given Fallout 4 has blown us away. It’s energized us even more to do everything we can in these final months to make this our best game yet. We absolutely can't wait for you to play it, and share your adventures with us and each other."

We can't wait to see what will be coming to Fallout 4 from friends and other modders, and hopefully see you in the far future,


Gareth and Lady Eleanor

HISTORICAL URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Sorcerer Royal 1: Sorcerer to the Crown - Zen Cho

Release Date: 10/09/15
Publisher:  Pan Macmillan

SYNOPSIS:

THE FATE OF ENGLISH MAGIC LIES IN THEIR HANDS...

In Regency London, Zacharias Wythe is England's first African Sorcerer Royal. He leads the eminent Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, but a malicious faction seeks to remove him by fair means or foul. Meanwhile, the Society is failing its vital duty - to keep stable the levels of magic within His Majesty's lands. The Fairy Court is blocking its supply, straining England's dangerously declining magical stores. And now the government is demanding to use this scarce resource in its war with France.

Ambitious orphan Prunella Gentleman is desperate to escape the school where she's drudged all her life, and a visit by the beleaguered Sorcerer Royal seems the perfect opportunity. For Prunella has just stumbled upon English magic's greatest discovery in centuries - and she intends to make the most of it.

At his wits' end, the last thing Zachariah needs is a female magical prodigy! But together, they might just change the nature of sorcery, in Britain and beyond.


REVIEW:

This was a strange book for me as to be honest I had a hell of a time getting into it as it was a very slow burner, however don’t let that put you off as when it does pick up you are in for a hell of a ride, especially if you love Susanna Clarke or Gail Carriger. The setting works wonderfully well, has a divine Georgian (Regency) feel and when you have an author that utilises the language to further the arc really makes this something special.

Back this up with top notch characters that jump from the pages into your imagination, help keep you in the period with their thoughts as well as emotional aspects alongside throwing a good helping of the fae into the mix, all round made this a book that I was more than impressed with. Please stick with it and you’ll see the delights within also. Magic

HISTORICAL FICTION REVIEW: Master of Shadows - Neil Oliver

Release Date: 10/09/15
Publisher:  Orion

SYNOPSIS:

In fifteenth-century Constantinople, Prince Constantine saves the life of a broken-hearted girl. But the price of his valour is high.

John Grant is a young man on the edge of the world. His unique abilities carry him from his home in Scotland to the heart of the Byzantine Empire in search of a girl and the chance to fulfil a death-bed promise.

Lena has remained hidden from the men who have been searching for her for many years. When she's hunted down, at last she knows what she must do.

With an army amassing beyond the city's ancient walls, the fates of these three will intertwine. As the Siege of Constantinople reaches its climax, each must make a choice between head and heart, duty and destiny.


REVIEW:

Whilst I know of Neil as an historian I wasn’t sure if he would be able to make the journey from Factual writer to Historical Fiction author and whilst I did hope for the best, I was a little worried that the book would become bogged down with too much factual information rather than presenting something that I could sit down to enjoy.

What occurs within is a story that is well written and after having the scene set with a bit of background, the author jumps straight into the timeline bringing it to life with a cracking lead character that you feel that you can not only relate to but would want to spend time around. This for me is the key to any book and when you also throw in a solid storyline, good prose as well as dialogue, all round, I was a very happy reader. Will definitely read future HF by him.

Thursday 24 September 2015

FANTASY REVIEW: The Traitor - Seth Dickinson

Release Date: 24/09/15
Publisher:  Pan Macmillan/Tor

SYNOPSIS:

Baru Cormorant believes any price is worth paying to liberate her people - even her soul.

When the Empire of Masks conquers her island home, criminalizes her customs, and murders one of her Fathers, Baru vows to hide her hate, join the Empire's civil service, and claw her way up enough rungs of power to put a stop to the Emperor's influence and set her people free.

As a natural savant, she is sent as an imperial agent to distant Aurdwynn - a post she worries will never get her the position and power she craves. But Baru soon discovers Aurdwynn is a complex and secretive country, seemingly on the brink of rebellion. All it would need is a match to the tinder . . .

Drawn by the intriguing duchess Tain Hu into a circle of seditious aristocrats, Baru may be able to use her position to stoke a revolution that will threaten to bring the Empire to its knees.

As Baru maintains a precarious balance between the rebels and a shadowy cabal within the Empire, she orchestrates a do-or-die gambit with Aurdwynn's freedom as the prize. But winning the long game of saving her own people may be far more costly than Baru imagines.


REVIEW:

Another strange book and one that took quite a bit for me to get into as I really wasn’t sure how the world would develop as I wasn’t enamoured of the principle character. Yes I understood that she had to grow as the tale wound its way, but it felt quite clinical with a lot of the early beginnings rather than allowing the sedition that the character planned to evolve more naturally.

All round a book that I’m pleased I read and one that I felt had a lot of potential but for me, it’s a book that feels more like a political fantasy working more on brains as our principle heroine seeks to find a way to undermine the oppressors of her own land.


CRIME THRILLER REVIEW: Tennison - Lynda La Plante

Release Date: 24/09/15
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster

SYNOPSIS:

From the creator of the award-winning ITV series Prime Suspect, starring Helen Mirren, comes the fascinating back story of the iconic DCI Jane Tennison.
In 1972 Jane Tennison, aged 22, leaves the Metropolitan Police Training Academy to be placed on probationary exercise in Hackney where criminality thrives. We witness her struggle to cope in a male-dominated, chauvinistic environment, learning fast to deal with shocking situations with no help or sympathy from her superiors. Then comes her involvement in her first murder case.


REVIEW:

If you’re a fan of Prime Suspect then the chance to get a prequel tale set when Jane Tennison joined the force in 1972. Its full of drama, has cracking character development and we get to see Jane at a time when being a woman in the force was difficult. All round it’s a very well written book, has great prose and of course a plotline that doesn’t let up with top notch action as well as solid policing within.

A top notch book to read and all round for me, a real treat. Magic.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

VIDEO GAME NEWS: Fallout 4: What makes You SPECIAL 3: Endurance - Bethesda


Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Our friends at Bethesda have asked us to let you know about the third Fallout 4 feature which ask's why you're SPECIAL.  The trailer is a lot of fun and harks back to some of those cracking Looney Toons that you remember from years ago.  But don't just take our word for it have a look yourself.  Its an absolute corker.  More on these features as we get them, but here's Endurance:




Also please remember that Fallout 4 has a special one price Season Pass that includes:

Regular Updates

We'll be doing regular free updates to the game, and like Skyrim, these will come with not just fixes, but new features. For Skyrim we added things like mounted combat, legendary mode, kill cams, visual enhancements and more. We’ll work with all of you to figure out what new things you’d love to see added to Fallout 4, whether they are small tweaks or new features. 

Mods & Creation Kit

The most important thing in our games is the freedom you have to create your own experience, and modding is a big part of that. Like all our previous games, we’ve made sure to keep Fallout 4 open and moddable at every step in development. Early next year we’ll release for free the new Creation Kit for the PC. This is the same tool we use in the studio. You'll be able to create your own mods and share them with others. We’re especially excited these same mods will then be coming to Xbox One, and then PlayStation 4. 

Downloadable Content

We've always done a lot of DLC for our games. We love making them and you always ask us for more. To reward our most loyal fans, this time we’ll be offering a Season Pass that will get you all of the Fallout 4 DLC we ever do for just $30. Since we’re still hard at work on the game, we don’t know what the actual DLC will be yet, but it will start coming early next year. Based on what we did for Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Skyrim, we know that it will be worth at least $40, and if we do more, you'll get it all with the Season Pass.
Thanks again to all of you! The support and excitement you’ve given Fallout 4 has blown us away. It’s energized us even more to do everything we can in these final months to make this our best game yet. We absolutely can't wait for you to play it, and share your adventures with us and each other."

We can't wait to see what will be coming to Fallout 4 from friends and other modders, and hopefully see you in the far future,


Gareth and Lady Eleanor

VIDEO GAME NEWS: Rise of the Tomb Raider releases new Trailer - Microsoft

Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Our friends at Microsoft have let us know about the brand new trailer for the forthcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider that brings not only Lara into the modern era but really allows the gamer to play the world in any style that they like such as the sneaky assassin or if you want to go full tilt ammo fueled adrenaline action.

Here's the latest trailer for you:



Rise of the Tomb Raider will be out on 10th November 2015 on Xbox One, PS4

We can't wait to see what this latest outing has in store for our heroine.


Gareth and Lady Eleanor

FANTASY REVIEW: Shattered Kingdoms 2: Fortune's Blight - Evie Manieri

Release Date: 03/09/15
Publisher:  Jo Fletcher Books

SYNOPSIS:

Victory for the Shadari rebels has come at a terrible price. Hardship, superstition and a murderous cabal poison King Daryan's young regime, but help is nowhere to be found: the mercenary who led their rebellion has vanished, their Nomas allies have troubles of their own, and the Norlanders who returned home to plead - or fight - for the Shadari's independence have found themselves embroiled in the court politics of an empire about to implode.

As the foundations of the two far-flung countries begin to crack, an enigmatic figure watches from a tower room in Ravindal Castle. She is old, and a prisoner, but her reach is long, and her patience is about to be rewarded...


REVIEW:

Having loved Evie’s debut, Blood’s Pride I couldn’t wait to get back to her world to see how the story would continue and whether it would build upon the already complex storyline alongside allowing good character development without losing anything that had carefully been established in the original.

I needn’t have worried. What occurs within is more of the same but without a lot of the background that was required in the original to flavour the world. As expected it’s just as complex, the characters work wonderfully well and when you get to the meat of the story, the reader is in for one hell of a ride as a number of threads are tidied to create a stronger central plotline that not only moves but does so with aplomb. All round a cracking book and a title that keeps its strengths building up for a cracking third book.

CRIME THRILLER REVIEW: Cold Series 2: A Cold Silence - Alison Littlewoods

Release Date: 03/09/15
Publisher:  Jo Fletcher Books

SYNOPSIS:

Ben Cassidy has strict instructions from his mother, Cass, never to return to his childhood home of Darnshaw. But when an old friend dies, he returns to investigate a computer game she was playing named Acheron.

Acheron claims it will give you all that you ask for, something Gaila, Ben's sister, knows all too well. But there is a price, and hers is to get Ben to London.

As Ben and his friends delve ever deeper into the world of Acheron, good motivations and morality begin to slip, and they find themselves falling further into corruption. Ben and Gaila could save them all, but the price for doing so might just be too high to pay . . .


REVIEW:

I remember reading an Urban Fantasy by Alison a couple of years ago and what I recall was a story that was well written with a cracking crime element so when I noticed this Thriller coming out I couldn’t wait to embark upon another journey with her. As with the original book I read this one brings a lot of the elements that I fell in love with into this story. It had good pace, a solid storyline and when you throw into it a characters that I enjoyed spending time around really made this a book that I had a hard time putting down.


Tuesday 22 September 2015

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: The Blackthorn Series 1: The Blackthorn Key - Kevin Sands

Release Date: 08/09/15
Publisher:  Puffin

SYNOPSIS:

Follow the clues. Crack the code. Stay alive.

Potions, puzzles and the occasional explosion are all in a day's work for young apothecary Christopher Rowe. Murder is another matter.

It's a dangerous time to be the apprentice of Benedict Blackthorn. A wave of mysterious murders has sent shockwaves through London, and soon Christopher finds himself on the run. His only allies are his best friend, Tom, courageous Molly, and a loyal feathered friend, Bridget. His only clues are a coded message about his master's most dangerous project, and a cryptic warning - 'Tell no one!'

The race is on for Christopher: crack the code and uncover its secret, or become the next victim . . .

A brilliant, fast-paced adventure perfect for fans of Percy Jackson.


REVIEW:

I do tend to think that a lot of the time Children’s books can be harder to write than adult ones, firstly because of the language that can be used and secondly because of the attention span and how you have to keep it moving and exciting whilst also allowing for lulls in order to build up the pace again.

This book by Kevin Sands has it all, there’s great pace, wonderful prose and to be honest I have to say that I loved the puzzles that made you think your way through them. It’s well written and with a principle character that you love to spend time around made this a book that was a pure joy to read.

HISTORICAL URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Deadlands: Ghostwalkers - Jonathan Maberry

Release Date: 22/09/15
Publisher:  Tor

SYNOPSIS:

Welcome to the Deadlands, where steely-eyed gunfighters rub shoulders with mad scientists and dark, unnatural forces. Where the Great Quake of 1868 has shattered California into a labyrinth of sea-flooded caverns...and a mysterious substance called "ghost rock" fuels exotic steampunk inventions as well as plenty of bloodshed and flying bullets. In Ghostwalkers, a gun-for-hire, literally haunted by his bloody past, comes to the struggling town of Paradise Falls, where he becomes embroiled in a deadly conflict between the besieged community and a diabolically brilliant alchemist who is building terrible new weapons of mass destruction...and an army of the living dead!


REVIEW:

I played this roleplay game years ago (when it was originally released) and to be honest I remember a hell of a lot of fun, guns blowing up in hands, stormtrooper shooting and of course, the delight when something went right for the player. As such when I heard that they we were to receive a series of novels to enjoy, I couldn’t wait, especially when an author like Jonathan Maberry was involved.

What you get within the pages, is a tale that is full of top notch action, some invention and wen backed with characters straight from the old films that not only kick ass but also find a way to allow their past to colour their current actions, all round generates a story that won’t let you go. Back this up with a top notch arc, a really cool supporting cast as well as throwing in some truly delightful villains all round made this a book that you shouldn’t pass up. Cracking.

Monday 21 September 2015

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Xeelee: Endurance - Stephen Baxter

Release Date: 17/09/15
Publisher:  Gollancz

SYNOPSIS:

Return to the eon-spanning and universe-crossing conflict between humanity and the unknowable alien Xeelee in this selection of uncollected and unpublished stories, newly edited and placed in chronological reading order.

From tales charting the earliest days of man's adventure to the stars to stories of Old Earth, four billion years in the future, the range and startling imagination of Baxter is always on display. As humanity rises and falls, ebbs and flows, one thing is always needed - the ability to endure.

Contains eleven short stories and novellas.


REVIEW:

I love to dive into the future and Stephen Baxter is an author that really delivers for me as a reader. Here within this book the reader is treated to a whole host of short stories that add flavour and background to enrich Stephen’s Universe. As with his other books, its well written, delivers some great characters and of course a whole host of tales from different parts of his timeline in order to get a fuller picture.

All round a book that I had a lot of fun with and one that was a real treat to be able to dip into when I had spare time on journeys as well to help take me away from the real world during breaks. Magic.

CRIME THRILLER REVIEW: Devoted in Death - JD Robb

Release Date: 17/09/15
Publisher:  Piatkus

SYNOPSIS:

It's a new year in New York city, and two star-crossed lovers have just discovered an insatiable appetite...for murder.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas has witnessed some grisly crimes in her career and she knows just how dark things can get on the streets. But when a much-loved musician is found dead, Eve soon realises that his murder is part of a horrifying killing spree, stretching right across the country.

Now the killers have reached New York, and they've found themselves another victim. Eve knows she only has a couple of days to save a young girl's life, and to stop the killers before their sadistic games escalate. Eve's husband Roarke is ready to put his brains and his considerable resources behind the search. But even as the couple works closely together, time is running out...


REVIEW:

If you enjoy a crime story that concentrates on characters and plot rather than fully diving into the criminal aspect then JD Robb may well be the author for you as this, (her 41st book in this series) bring serial killing duo Ella-Loo and Daryll to the attention of Lieutenant Eve Dallas.

As the list of victims grows (due to the research of one of the clues), Eve has to track the duo down and when you throw her own personal partnership into the mix, it’s a tale that has high octane emotional context mixed with a cracking story. All round a great book and one that had me glued from start to finish as it concentrated more on character development which for me is the key to all books. Cracking.

Sunday 20 September 2015

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Star Wars: Aftermath - Chuck Wendig

Release Date: 10/09/15
Publisher:  Century

SYNOPSIS:

Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The second Death Star has been destroyed, the Emperor killed, and Darth Vader struck down. Devastating blows against the Empire, and major victories for the Rebel Alliance. But the battle for freedom is far from over.

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance―now a fledgling New Republic―presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world―war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is―or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit―to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies―her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector―who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.


REVIEW:

Chuck for me is an author that I either really get behind with a novel or one that leaves me feeling a little out in the cold and whilst I do tend to have a lot of fun reading the books that expand the universe, this one left me feeling a little cheated as it felt a little off kilter as (with it being the opener in a series) had to deal with a lot of issues of bringing the cast together alongside the greater universal effect of the fall of the Empire.

It’s a hard book to read and whilst I did make it through I did find that the overall effect of the novel was fairly muted not giving me a breakneck pace that I wanted. Yes there were moments of pulse thumping action but for me, these were few and far between leaving me trudging along a lot of the time. Here’s hoping that it picks up in the second book now that a lot of the background and hard work has been established in this one. However if there’s no real character development, I won’t be returning for the third.

FACTUAL SPORTS REVIEW: The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby - Tony Collins

Release Date: 27/08/15
Publisher:  Bloomsbury Sport

SYNOPSIS:

Rugby has always been a sport with as much drama off the field as on it. For every thrilling last-minute Jonny Wilkinson drop-goal to win the World Cup or Jonah Lomu rampage down the touchline for a try there has been a split, a feud, or a controversy.

The Oval World is the first full-length history of rugby on a world scale from its origins in the village-based football games of medieval times to the globalized sport of the twenty-first century, now played over a hundred countries. It tells the story of how a game played in an obscure English public school became the winter sport of the British Empire, spreading to France, Argentina, Japan, and the rest of the world, and commanding a global television audience of over four billion for the last World Cup final. It also explores how American football and other games, such as Australian, Canadian, and Gaelic football emerged from their English cousin.

Featuring the great moments in the game s history and its legendary names David Duckham, Serge Blanco, Billy Boston, and David Campese, alongside Rupert Brooke, King George V, Boris Karloff, Charles de Gaulle, and Nelson Mandela The Oval World investigates just what it is about rugby that enables it to thrive in countries with very different traditions and cultures. This is the definitive world history of a truly global rugby.


REVIEW:

As a grandson of a Rugby Fanatic I like to try my best to keep up with things and as such thought a book on the subject would not only give me snippets of factoids to throw at him but also help keep me up to speed with the sport. However whilst the book was full of information, one thing that really annoyed me was the fact that there were no images within. Yes you can describe things but as they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Whilst it is well written and easy to follow alongside lovingly researched by the author all round I have to say that I was disappointed with the book. I wanted a bit more passion within to allow readers to really get the feel for the sport and what keeps many glued to the matches rather than just a book that didn’t exude this key sporting emotion.



Saturday 19 September 2015

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Crystal Kingdom - Amanda Hocking

Release Date: 19/08/15
Publisher:  Pan Macmillan

SYNOPSIS:

In this stunning series of love, loss and the need to belong, Amanda Hocking returns to the world of her bestselling Trylle trilogy with the heart-stopping Crystal Kingdom.

With help from the Trylle clan, Bryn tries to clear her name and discover who was really responsible for the Kanin King's murder.

Then, while she's still trying to make sense of it all, Ridley tracks her down while she's on the run for a crime she didn't commit. He refuses to abandon her, so she finally decides that she wants to be with him. Together, they return to the Kanin capital and rally other trackers and the King's Guard to defend their kingdom from the villain within. But in the process, Bryn learns a startling truth about her former enemy. Brynn's loyalty is still to her kingdom, but will she be rewarded with a place in the royal guard - and who will ultimately win her heart?


REVIEW:

OK, I know a lot of people like Amanda’s writing but personally I don’t see what they see when I read her books. I don’t find the characters fully formed, I can’t get a hook into them and when you finally get to the meat of the tale I feel that it’s a pretty safe standard tested type of book.

All round, it is an OK book and middle of the road but for anyone thinking of picking this up on its own, it does tie in to Amanda’s earlier series and as such I would suggest that you start there perhaps borrowing a book from the local library first to see if its your cup of tea.

CRIME THRILLER REVIEW: The Cinderella Murder - Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke

Release Date: 13/08/15
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster

SYNOPSIS:

Television producer Laurie Moran is elated when the pilot for her reality drama Under Suspicion is a success. Even more, the program - a cold case series that revisits unsolved crimes by recreating them with those affected - is off to a fantastic start when it helps solve an infamous murder in the very first episode.

Now Laurie has the ideal case to feature in the next instalment of Under Suspicion: the Cinderella Murder. When Susan Dempsey, a beautiful and multi-talented UCLA student, was found dead, her murder left numerous questions. Why was her car parked miles from her body? Had she ever shown up for the acting audition she was due to attend at the home of an up-and-coming director? Why does Susan's boyfriend want to avoid questions about their relationship? And why was Susan missing one of her shoes when her body was discovered?

With the help of lawyer and Under Suspicion host Alex Buckley, Laurie knows the case will make a great program, especially when the former suspects include Hollywood's elite and tech billionaires. The suspense and drama are perfect for the silver screen - but is Cinderella's murderer ready for a close-up?


REVIEW:

There are times in my life when I want to break into something different and utilise my brain as I try and figure things out to use a lot of the late night bed energy and knowing Mary’s writing, its one that is challenging as well as something that has you asking questions as pieces are revealed.

Whilst this is a co-authored book I have to say that it was one that was OK and whilst not outstanding for me, it did fill the brief of what I wanted as the case is carefully unravelled before the readers eyes. The prose is OK, the pace a little slow in places and whilst there isn’t a huge amount of unnecessary information within the book felt like it was lacking something. Not necessarily the characters (as they’ve appeared in a previous title) but overall there wasn’t any growth for me which I tend to expect to help keep me interested.

As I’ve said it’s been an OK read but not anything that would make me recommend either to a specific reader leaving this as more of a middle of the road book than anything else.

Friday 18 September 2015

VIDEO GAME NEWS: Bloodbowl ready's for its second Season - Focus Home Entertainment

Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Lets play Bloodbowl.  The season is about to launch in a week, where you can gouge, mutilate and stomp your foes into submission.

Here at Falcata Times, Lady Eleanor and I have both been looking at our teams and figuring out who we feel we could take to the championship and whilst we know that the game has you taking the Human's (the Reikland Reivers) from bottom to top, we each have our own personal favourites.  I'm looking more at  the Skaven or Lizardmen and Lady Eleanor wants either the Orcs or Dark Elves.  

So whilst we're getting psyched up for our rivalry our friends at Cyanide, Games Workshop and Focus, have sent us the final trailer for the series.  Featuring the High Elves and Orcs:



We'll see you on the Astro-turf and remember its game on.


Gareth and Lady Eleanor

HISTORICAL FICTION REVIEW: Hereward 5: The Immortals - James Wilde

Release Date: 13/08/15
Publisher:  Bantam Press

SYNOPSIS:

1073 – under the merciless sun of the east, a dark force has risen - a Norman adventurer who could rival the feared King William for bloody ambition. He has conquered his land, he has built his fortress and he has amassed his army. And now he has taken Constantinople's ruler as his prisoner…

It falls to Hereward to rescue this precious captive. For this great English warrior-in-exile and his spear-brothers, it will mean mounting a raid that could prove the most dangerous and deadliest of their lives. Assisting them in their task will be an elite and legendary band of fighters, the Immortals – so-called because they believe they cannot die in battle. But it will not be enough - for enemies hide within the jewelled heart of Byzantium: vipers who spread their poison, who want to see the English dead at any cost and who are to transform a mission that was at best dangerous into an adventure that is now suicidal. . .

With this rousing adventure full of brutal sword play, treachery, camaraderie and honour, James Wilde continues his bestselling account of the action-packed life and times of England's great and now, thanks to his his fiction, perhaps not-so-forgotten hero - Hereward the Wake.


REVIEW:

Hereward is for me, the epitome of a superhero from old tales and here, in this carnation, he’s brought up to date by author James Wilde. As you’d expect there plenty of action sequences, good pace and of course prose that helps you see enough of the scene to get a picture without overly detailing it.

All round a cracking read and a series that I’ve had quite a bit of fun with especially when the author throws a few twists into the plot line alongside the odd piece of sleight of hand to keep it fresh.

HISTORICAL FICTION REVIEW: Salamis - Christian Cameron

Release Date: 13/08/15
Publisher:  Orion

SYNOPSIS:

Arimnestos of Plataea has already lived through several lifetimes' worth of adventure, from being a rich man's slave in Ephesus to winning glory at the battle of Marathon against the might of the Persian Empire. But the gods - and the Persians - aren't finished with him yet. As an experienced sea captain - his enemies might say pirate - he has a part to play in the final epic confrontation of the Long War between the Greeks and Persians, the Battle of Salamis. It is a battle where many debts of blood will be repaid, ancient grudges settled, fame won and treachery exposed, where the Greeks must finally bury their differences and fight as one - for against them Xerxes, the Great King, has assembled the greatest fleet the world has ever known, his sworn purpose to brutally extinguish the flame of freedom and make every Greek his slave.


REVIEW:

Ah the joys of Christian Cameron’s writing and whilst I do tend to love all his books, I really have a soft place in my heart for his continuing saga featuring Arimnestos of Plataea. I love being wrapped up in this time period since I read David Gemmell’s Lion of Macedon and any chance to journey to ancient days wins a place on my shelf.

What you get from Christian is a story that is full of blistering high octane action, breakneck pace and of course characters that fit in well into a world we can only hazard educated guesses at. The dialogue works well and all round generates a series that is so addictive, that you can’t resist a reread when the new one lands. Superb.

Thursday 17 September 2015

VIDEO GAME NEWS: For Honor: Samurai Warrior Spotlight - Ubisoft


Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Having seen the trailer at E3 for For Honor, we've been keeping a careful eye for additional information as we're fascinated with the idea of being able to defend as well as attack with using the sword positioning.  

Whilst its still some time off (and we're still in a quandry about which side we're taking (although we're leaning between Norse Warrior or Knight) its always helpful to watch the information about the various cultures you can play.  

Here is the first one, for the Samurai:


We can't wait to see what else they bring to the fore and with luck, you'll join us on the battlefield.


Gareth and Lady Eleanor

VIDEO GAME NEWS: Lego Dimensions Launch Trailer - Warner Brothers Interactive


Hail Mighty Readers and Followers of the Calloused Thumbs,
Our friends at Lego and Warner Brothers Interactive, with under two weeks to go for the release of Lego Dimensions, have let us know about the first in the series of launch trailers for the game: 





 


Launching September 29th 2015, LEGO Dimensions  will be available for Xbox One, the all-in one games and entertainment system from Microsoft and the Xbox 360 games and entertainment system from Microsoft, PlayStation®4 and PlayStation®3 computer entertainment systems and Nintendo´s Wii U™ system.  We can't wait to embark on adventures with all the Doctors, Doc Brown, Batman and a whole heap of others.



We'll see you in the digital world,


Gareth and Lady Eleanor