Monday, December 1, 2014

Introducing Charlie Hood

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Five out of five stars

In this excellent introduction to his Charlie Hood series, T. Jefferson Parker creates two very memorable and intriguing characters. The first is the protagonist, Charlie Hood, a veteran of the war in Iraq who is now an L.A. County Sheriff's deputy. The second is Allison Murrieta, who claims to directly descended from the famous California outlaw, Joaquin Murrieta, who was shot and beheaded in 1853. The original Murrieta was famous, or infamous, enough that his head was preserved in a jar of alcohol and sent on tour.

No one knows exactly what might have become of this gruesome token; some say it was lost in the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, but Allison claims to have it hidden in her barn, along with some other keepsakes of Joaquin's. More important, Allison has now picked up Joaquin's mantle, and in a wig and mask has set out on a crime spree that involves boosting cars (Allison is a real gearhead) and robbing fast food joints.

Allison donates a fair share of her proceeds to various local charities, including one run by the L.A.P.D. The cops are not amused, but in this media-besotted age, Allison becomes a folk hero and a local celebrity. Then she tumbles to a score in which a local diamond dealer is planning to pay off a loan to some gangsters with $450,000 worth of diamonds. The street value would be around forty-five grand and so Allison sets up to take off the dealer. But she arrives late to the scene and finds ten men dead in the building where the exchange was to be made.

She also finds the diamonds, gathers them up and is screaming away from the scene in a yellow Corvette Z06-505, when Deputy Charlie Hood pulls her over. By now, Allison has ditched her disguise and the diamonds are out of sight. Hood demands to see her license which reveals Allison to be Suzanne Jones, a mild-mannered eighth-grade history teacher. Suzanne comes up clean on the computer and claims to have been in the area visiting a relative and so Hood lets her go. But as he does, a very bad man named Luperico, who is also looking for the diamonds, drives by and gets a very good look at Allison/Suzanne.

And with that, the story is off and running. Suzanne is drop-dead gorgeous, very smart and a woman who's not about to let anyone stand in the way of what she wants. Hood is smitten immediately, and the attraction is mutual. But when Hood discovers the ten bodies almost immediately after he lets Suzanne go on her way, he can't help but wonder if she might have been involved in the shoot-out.

Because he discovered the bodies, Hood is temporarily promoted to the Homicide team that is investigating the killings and he and Suzanne begin a delicate dance as Hood becomes increasingly suspicious and begins to put two and two together. In the meantime, Luperico is hot on Suzanne's trail and seems to be almost clairvoyant in knowing where she's going to be at any given time. He's determined not to stop until he recovers the diamonds, no matter how much blood might be shed along the way.

All in all, it's a great ride. T. Jefferson Parker has written any number of outstanding books and this perhaps his best since Silent Joe, which was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. It's fast-paced, deftly plotted, both funny and bittersweet, and populated with a great cast of characters. It's a winner all the way around.

Revel In This Violent Early 1800s Soap Opera

Sharpe's Eagle (Sharpe, #8)Sharpe's Eagle by Bernard Cornwell
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The quintessential Richard Sharpe novel.

Sharpe's Eagle is where so many of the familiar faces that recur throughout the series originally crop up. Most notably Sir Henry Simmerson...

(Simmerson as so aptly played by actor Michael Cochrane in the tv series.)

He's the snobbish, ineffectual British officer everyone loves to hate. With him arrives the utterly inexperienced South Essex regiment, which Sharpe is forced to batter into something like fighting shape or otherwise inevitably perish with them in the upcoming Battle of Talavera, an important conflict in Wellington's campaign against Napoleon. Simmerson brings with him a couple of shitty lieutenants, who become lethally entangled with Sharpe. (Another TV side note: One of the two lieutenants was played by actor Daniel Craig in one of his earlier roles. He plays a real prick here.)

However, it's Simmerson who will, in future books, become one of the biggest, continuous thorns in Sharpe's side. Seriously, you'll read this and think, "What a dick!"

In Sharpe's Eagle Bernard Cornwell is at his best. He puts his talents to good use, crafting an exciting, action-packed adventure set in a nicely detailed historical fiction that allows his rough and tumble character to flex his might and motivation as he fights his way through the ranks, battling not only Napoleon's forces, but also the worst knaves of the British army. It's all very heroic stuff that is surely over-the-top macho at times with ubiquitous love affairs per book so improbable as to be laughable. But hey, it's a rollicking good time nonetheless!

Read the books and go watch the tv's got Ned Stark Sean Bean as Sharpe!

description ...sooooo dreeeeamy.

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Poker? I Barely Know Her!

Poker Face: A Girlhood Among GamblersPoker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers by Katy Lederer
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

These are the books that get written and read just after a wave has crested. In this case, that wave was the Texas Hold 'Em poker craze.

Everybody was doing it! It was 2004 and an absolute unknown player, Chris Moneymaker, had just won the most highly coveted World Series of Poker championship. This caused an incredible stir of interest in poker, almost a rebirth. It brought instant world-wide recognition to the game of Texas Hold 'Em, a variant on the five card stud standard known and played by every Tom, Dick and Harry since the day when guys were actually named Tom, Dick and Harry. It seemed like overnight everyone was playing it. Poker pros and so-called experts came out with how-to books. Movies were being made. ESPN was flogging the hell out of recorded tournaments and soon even the Travel Channel would be showing their own show on poker.

Inevitably everyone remotely related to poker would attempt to cash in on the craze. Enter Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers.

Its author, Katy Lederer, is the sister of poker great Howard "The Professor" Lederer, a sort of old man whizz-kid who takes a scientific approach to playing the game, as well as Annie Duke, widely considered the best female player of all time. As one would imagine, lil' sis Katy grew up surrounded by game. Perhaps inundated is the word I'm looking for.

Poker Face is the sort of book one reads because they are not only interested in poker, but also the people behind the game. The Lederers rub elbows on a personal level with all the big names, so a book like this should give the reader at least a little insight to what these people are like away from the table. Book's like this can shed light on the human side, or perhaps in-human side, of those who are fully wrapped up within this multi-million dollar industry. But don't get too excited. Poker Face does do a little of that, but much of it is about Katy's experiences growing up with poker as the main backdrop. This is about Katy...Katy! Katy! Katy!

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