Wednesday, January 30, 2013

'When Baldwin Loved Brenda' by Electa Rome Parks

When I posted on FaceBook that I was reading this book, Electa commented that "she hoped I was enjoying her first romance novel.”  Erp! Scooby says what?  I was like "why did she say that?  Now I'm going to have to burn this damn book". (Just kidding). Maybe. Romance novels have about as much place in my reading library as vegetarian cookbooks have in my kitchen.  But I went ahead and read it because... well it's my girl Electa.

I do not think this book is romance though. So if you're a guy like me who avoids romance novels like Dr. Phil's fake therapy sessions, you'll be OK reading this. As usual Electa brings us a relatively short novel that is full with story. Four (very tight) college friends reunite after the death of one of their own. It's been ten years since they spent time together and coupling that with losing a dear friend too soon, this makes for some pretty dramatic storytelling.  But along with the storytelling there is a puzzle that Electa lays out.

How did these friends, who were so tight in college, lose touch?  WHY did they lose touch?  What is Bria's secret?  Does Christopher really want give up his very successful bachelorhood?  As the novel goes on we see the puzzle start to form. There are a couple shockers in this book as well and the last one will really get you.  Although I will say that last one felt a little... "weird".  Almost like it could have been left out and the story would have been just fine. My honest-to-God reaction when I read that was, "What?  Why put that in there now?"  I'd like to know what you think about it. Electa's books are always great for book clubs and I would love to find one and discuss the ending to this book.  

This book was also very emotional from time to time.  The very beginning of this book has an opening that will pull you back to reread after you’ve finish this book. The scene at the church?  Oh good lord, are you kidding me?  “Kleenex for $200 Alex”.  And while I did enjoy this book I will say that this isn’t one of her better ones.  If you’re a fan of Electa’s then yes read it.  If this is your first jaunt with this author then might I recommend any of her earlier work.  And I do many any of them.  In my opinion this is the only “hiccup” she’s had.  Not a bad read, but not up to the standard that she shown in her previous works.  


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

'Ironhorse' by Robert B. Parker and Robert Knott

I'm lucky, I work in a bookstore. Very few new releases slip by me, especially if its from someone whom I've enjoyed reading. I don't know if the universe was playing a joke on me or what but I completely missed this book! I was putting books away on our new release table on Tuesday morning and I just froze. Disbelief turned to shock, shock turned to excitement, excitement turned to reality, and reality turned into a very vocal "WHAT" that cause the customers in the bookstore to look at me like I had lost my damn mind.

I impulse buy books like you wouldn't believe and this one was a no brainier. If the book I was reading at the time ('Hannibal' by Ben Kane) hadn't been so incredibly good I would have stopped reading it and start this one. I'm probably one of the few people who have read Parker only for his Westerns. They are just so incredibly good. The obvious question is "will this one be as good"? In case you don't know, Parker unfortunately passed away and we weren't sure if there would be another Western by him. The gentlemen who co-wrote the screenplay for 'Appaloosa' is the one who does this book.

Now, back to the question of "was this one as good"? The fair thing to say would be yes and no. Yes, because it held my interest and I was so happy to read about Hitch and Cole again. No, because it lacked the magic that Parker had. I fully understand that it's not fair to compare a first time novelist to a honest to God legend. But hey if life was fair I'd be dating Gabrielle Union while living in Australia, driving a Jeep Rubicon to an all you can eat crab boil, before having an all glass four-story library dedicated to me by Zoe Saldana. But since that world doesn't exist (dammit) back to reality...

Much of this story takes place in and around trains and I think that is where it was lost for me. When Hitch and Cole were in their element dealing with bad guys and killing bad guys, this story was good. When I had to head about the trains and how they worked and stuff like that... the story slowed for me. Might be personal preference, might be... but I think I'm pretty good with distinguishing personal preference vs. good/bad story. 'Ironhorse' had a lot of ups and downs that made for some uneven storytelling. The beautiful language banter between Hitch and Cole is very accented in this volume and I enjoyed that as I always do. The human interactions between Cole and... well... anyone is a treat for anybody who loves that in a book. How even just the stare of Virgil Cole is cause enough to give a man the stomach quivers. Or instant loyalty unto death.

In this book our two boys are tasked with escorting two Mexican prisoners back to Mexico. Unfortunately some bad seed, some very bad seed from Virgil's past rears his ugly bloody head. So in their very simplistic way they take care of it. There is a gunfight on a train (no spoilers) that I can only describe as "surgery with a .45”. With anyone else this might seem utterly and pathetically fantastic, with these two you just smile and wish that you could be there to see it first hand. One thing I think that Mr. Knott did very well was the very, very slight romantic tension between Hitch and one of the daughters. He then gives us one hell of a BAM in the last few pages. Actually, the more I think about it I REALLY liked how he did that.

If you've been a fan of this duo since 'Appaloosa' then I think you'll do well to complete this series. But know going in that it won't be exactly like want you got from Mr. Parker. Will you enjoy it? Yes. Will you enjoy it a lot? Maaaaybe. I certainly hope this isn't the last Western from Parker/Knott/and company, and judging by how many 'Spencer' novels have come out since, it probably won't be. And that's a good thing.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

AT&T screws up. Again.

Dear AT&T,

My name is Jason Frost and I just want to voice my displeasure at your recent decisions.  I have been a customer of yours for over fifteen years and despite a few headaches, I’ve been pretty happy. Recently (in the past year or so) you have made some decisions that have caused me to look at other carriers.  I am one of your “grandfathered” iPhone users and it seems that instead of being appreciated for my loyalty to your company, I find myself being penalized.  

Throttling, restrictions, and recently denial to FaceTime over 3G have caused me, for the first time since I’ve gotten a cell phone, to look at other companies.  It would seem by your actions that you feel new customers, who will stay with you for a minimum for two years, are more valuable than a customer that has been with you for over fifteen.  


It seems like you are steering your most loyal customers off the unlimited data plan toward a tiered plan, but what you’re doing instead is pushing them toward other carriers.  If a company that I’ve been giving money to for the past fifteen years doesn’t value my loyalty then I see no reason to stay.  I sincerely hope you reconsider your decisions toward your most loyal customers or your most loyal customers will reconsider their decision toward you.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

'Arena: Challenger' by Simon Scarrow

'Arena: Challenger' is the second book in Simon Scarrow's Arena' series. It quickly picks up where the first one left off: in the sweaty, bloody, death stained, home of the damned, gladiator arena. Macro is surly, which is to say he's normal, and in the middle of a discussion with Greek scum. This particular scum goes by the name of Murena. While reading this story I couldn't help but think of something.  As humans we naturally reminisce about everything; high school glory days, old flames, music, our favorite hide-a-way. Politics is no different. All too often we think of the (brutal) Romans as being honorable and fiercely loyal. That may be true in some cases... but not in this damn series.

'Arena: Challenger' deals more with the politics than its predecessor, but it is still very exciting. It’s a very fast read that will make your blood boil as you witness Macro and Pavo used as helpless pawns for the whims of Emperor Claudius and his Greek toga-lifters. Against all odds Pavo has won his first gladiatorial bout... but he shouldn't have. And that is the meat for this story.

Emperor Claudius is weak, and this weakling is led by cowards. His Greek "advisors" kept me fuming throughout this entire short story because these fools have a skill for manipulation that would impress a Washington politician. Anyway, since Pavo was selfish and decided to skewer his last opponent, the Emperor's royal Greek thespians have decided to cook up another impossible task for our two reluctant players.

I jest but situations don't get more dangerous than this. Pavo must survive in the ludus surrounded gladiators who don't like his past nor his former station. The fights are brutal, unfair, and severely painful. Macro must survive alongside a former drunken gladiator. And train him. Just like he trained Pavo. Oh the tangled web Simon weaves!  With all this going on life still has a way of wanting to be noticed, so look for other small troubles to rise up and pester our favorite poor little rich-until-his-father-turned-traitor-on-the-empire-and-now-he-must-fight-till-the-death-on-every-occasion boy. (Breathe).

I know I'm only two short stories in but I'm truly enjoying this series by Mr. Scarrow. And this is coming from someone who will go out and buy an item after I've ordered it online because I HATE to wait. Luckily it looks like these eBooks will be coming out roughly every two months. In case you want to know, here is the rundown on the future releases:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

'Battle for Empire' by Sam Barone

I found out about Sam Barone in back in 2006 when I read ‘Dawn of Empire’.  Seven years later I’m still devouring his books like a supermodel who could give a sh*t!  Since I read this story on my iPad I had no idea how thick this book was but I knew that it had heft.  This is what I expect from Sam and what I appreciate from Sam.  I simply hate for his books to end.  Most people look at the little progress icon at the bottom of their eReader to see how far they have to go before the book is over. 

When I read Sam’s books I look at it and lament how much of the book has passed. 

‘Battle for Empire’ is the 5th book in the Eskkar saga and this one brings the series current.  This book opens with a prologue that throws in one hell of a shock.  To say that it will alter the course of this tale is a tragic understatement.  But that’s where the story starts… or rather… where it grabs you and holds you until you forsake everything else.

The city of Akkad is strong, rich, and protected.  They have fought wars and have come out on top; but not without sacrifice.  Blood has been spilt, women have been raped, torture has been meted out, and alliances have been forged.  Despite all that, Akkad is doing well and has unfortunately attracted the attention of another king looking for war, woman, and spoils.  Eskkar finds out about the threat (you’ll never guess from whom) and Trella, his extremely gorgeous and all seeing wife, make plans to deal with them.

HOW-ever… before that, they must deal with other issues and that is where the epicness (yes that is a word) of this story comes in.  Sargon, the son of Eskkar and Trella is a… let’s just be honest, he’s an ass.  A complete and total spoiled ass; which is weird because you wouldn’t expect Eskkar and Trella to produce such a tool.  Because of this Eskkar has little choice but to do what a father must.  So Sargon ventures out and like Eskkar, he must have the luck of the gods because his disrespectful tongue nearly gets cut out more than a few times.  He must learn some hard lessons in order to become a man.  But Sargon is bitter and very angry.  Will his feelings interfere with him learning the necessary skills to survive in a harsh and bloody world?  Maybe.  (Maybe not).

Whatever his problems may be, this world will not wait around for him to figure them out.  Like I mentioned earlier, there are men to kill, women to ravage, and children to be made slaves.  Teen angst can wait… there is still the threat of the invaders.  Can Eskkar’s warriors fight one battle while they plan for another?  Can the Ur Nammu forgive the Alur Meriki for decades of violence, theft, and murder?  Can the defeated and humiliated Alur Meriki partner with their conqueror Eskkar and the city of Akkad?  Will Sargon ever come around and become heir to the throne?  Personally I don’t know about that last one.  Sargon really grated my damn nerves!  

Sam creates for us a world that is bathed in violence and bloodlust but a world in which I wouldn’t mind living.  I can’t explain how that makes sense to me but it does.  In a brutal world there is still room for honor.  Loyalty is forged with blood and the loins of a good woman will make you forget it all.  

I really, really, really liked this book!  About two weeks ago I posted my blog for my ‘Top Books of 2012’.  I started this book never thinking that I would finish before the end of 2012.  I did.  And for the first time ever I will be adding a book AFTER I have posted my list.  Sam can write.  I enjoy author’s who keep me coming back to their books even though I may have other important things I need to be doing.  So Sam, I thank you and curse you in the same breath.  Bravo!