Scattered Thoughts Summary of Reviews for October 2013

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October 2013 Summary of Book Reviews

It was a terrific month for books.  Sarah Black came out with her sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord titled The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari.  In my opinion it is the best book she has written to date, wide in scope with subtly nuanced characters that stay with you long after you have finished the story.  Also the Pulp Friction group of authors, (Lee Brazil, Havan Fellows, Laura Harner and T.A. Webb) start to bring their interconnected series to a close with 4 outstanding stories to equal the memorable characters to be found within. S.A. McAuley also brought us the second novel in The Borders War series, Dominant Predator.  I love those men, and need more of their history and complicated relationship.  Sue Brown gave us The Isle of Wishes, second in the Isle of Wight series, plus Ariel Tachna’s Lang Downs series (one of my favorite) expanded to five with Conquer The Flames, a “must read” book for all.

Well, I will let this list speak for itself.  So many great books here that there is sure to be something for everyone.  Grab up your notepad, IPad or paper, and write down the titles for those stories you might have missed.  I have linked my reviews to each book.  Happy readings!

Lady Reading Book in Chair 50 style    


5 Star Rating:

Conquer The Flames (Lang Downs #4) by Ariel Tachna, contemporary
Chance In Hell (Chances Are #5) by Lee Brazil, contemporary
Darkest Knight (City Knight #5) by T.A. Webb
Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2) by S.A. McAuley
Duplicity (Triple Threat #5) by Laura Harner
Knights Out (City Knight #4) by T.A. Webb
The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black (contemporary, military)
Wicked Truths (Wicked’s Way #5) by Havan Fellows, contemporary
Wild Onions by Sarah Black (supernatural)

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

Enigma by Lloyd A. Meeker (4.25)(contemporary, paranormal)
Goblins, Book 1 by Melanie Tushmore (4.5 )(fantasy)
Home Team by Jameson Dash (4)(contemporary)
Isle of Wishes (Isle of Wight #2) by Sue Brown (contemporary)
Knightmare (City Knight #2) by T.A. Webb (4.75)(contemporary)
Northern Star by Ethan Day (4.25)(contemporary)
Playing Ball Anthology (4.75)(contemporary, historical)
Starry Knight (City Knight #3) by T.A. Webb (4.75)(contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Burning Now by A.R. Moler (3)(fantasy, supernatural)
Fool For Love by Cassandra Gold (3)(contemporary)
Strange Angels by Andrea Speed (3.75)(supernatural)
The Night Visitor by Ewan Creed (3 stars)(contemporary, supernatural)
Wireless by L.A. Witt (3.5)(science fiction)

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

Justice (Leopard Spots #10) by Bailey Bradford (2)(shifters, supernatural)
The Unwanted, the Complete Collection by Westbrooke Jameson (2.5)(science fiction)

1 to 1.75 Star Rating:

None this month

Other Blogs:
Author Spotlight: Havan Fellows on Wicked’s Way Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Lee Brazil on Chances Are Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: T.A. Webb on City Knight Series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Laura Harner on Triple Threat series and Pulp Friction
Author Spotlight: Sarah Black on Wild Onions
Author Spotlight: Sarah Black on Writing Old Men and the second General release

Winner

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Good morning all.  Thank you, Sarah Black, for your wonderful posts on Wild Onions and The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2).  It was great having you here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words. The General and the Elephant Clock cover

The winner of the eBook of The General and  the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari is Andrea M.  Andrea M, I will be passing your name on to Sarah and she will contact you  about your book.

Thanks to all who participated and visit here next week where the Pulp Friction authors will be offering up free reads and copies of their books from their series all week long, each day a different book and contest.

 

Review: The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2) by Sarah Black

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The General and the Elephant Clock coverGeneral John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez have finally begun to settle into their new lives as an couple and outwardly gay men when an old colleague calls with a request for help.  General David Painter, now CEO of a private security outfit, has two of his men, former Rangers, who have been captured and imprisoned in Tunisia. And they are being held in one of the most notorious prisons in the Middle East.  Painter wants John and Gabriel to get them out and safely home.

With problems on the home front with Kim, Abdullah, and Billy all involved in their own personal challenges, John and Gabriel knows its a tough time to leave but the alternative, leaving those boys to rot in prison or worse, is unthinkable.  The Arab Uprising has left the government unstable and the political climate rife for rebellion in Tunisia.  But liberating the men in only part of the mission, the other is to leave the country with every one involved safe and alive. An old enemy thwarts their every move, puting John and Gabriel in a dangerous position.  As the obstacles mount against them, John finds that one of the men’s obsession with the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari might not only be their ticket home but a way to heal some deep wounds as they go.

The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari is just spectacular!  I think it is the best book Sarah Black has written to date, a great book among many wonderful ones.  This book, the second in The General series, marks a departure from the original in so many ways. While that book, The General and the Horse-Lord, looked inward and focused on John and Gabriel as former Army officers now adjusting to civilian life and their status as out gay men and partners, this book takes all those elements (their  extended family, career adjustments, love for the Army and country,etc) and expands that view while placing the men back in their comfort zone of military action,hostiles, and hostage negotiations.  Its a brilliant move on the author’s part because now we get to see General John Mitchel (and Gabriel) in their element,. It is  here that we see their personalities, thoughts and actions shine and the depth of their partnership and love emerge to support their actions and the group they assemble.

This book is remarkable in that every aspect of this story is well constructed and beautifully implemented.  It has action scenes that will make you hold your breath in white knuckle anxiety yet scream in fear for those involved.  It has pathos and angst, especially in the form of Eli, the young, brilliant ex Ranger captured and abused.  It has the breadth of knowledge and admiration for a ancient rich culture and society now on the brink of meltdown while showing a sorrow for a people caught in the religious crossfires of zealotry and hatred. Black comments on the Arab uprising while bringing its reality to the reader in the scared visages and chaos that is every day life in Carthage and Tunisia.  There is scholarly references to Ibn Battuta’s Rihla, Al-Jazari’s book, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices”as well as contemporary references to Star Wars, Spongebob Squarepants, and the lyrics of “Take It Easy” by the Eagles and Jackson Browne.   This book is bursting at the seams in an explosion of history, culture, pop society milestones and great characterizations that will cement themselves in your heart never to leave.

Existing on the same superior level as the action and plot are the characters created for this series.  Starting with John Mitchel, Gabriel Sanchez, Kim, Abdullah, Billy and even Juan, Gabriel’s confused and angry son, each and every one is a solid, believable, and often endearing personality that the reader will connect to easily.  John Mitchel, the warrior philosopher, is easily the strongest and probably most magnetic, along with Gabriel.  John is having the hardest time adjusting to civilian life, finding it boring and lacking the mental stimulation that he is used to.  He is also finding it hard to relinquish his role as the commander who sees to everyones safety and directing their safe passage through life.  Gabriel is also finding his new life harder than he thought it would be, with different demands as an ex husband and divorced family man whose kids are unhappy and angry over the destruction of their family unit to a law firm disintegrating under the load of needy cases and lack of revenue.  The pain and confusion of divorce and its effects upon a family are not glossed over but folded in as a matter of fact part of life that the men and Gabriel’s children and ex-wife must deal with.  It’s realistic, and recognizable in this day and age of multiple connected families.  I love these men and their relationship, a work still in progress throughout the story although their love is never to be doubted.

Swimming in the sea of John and Gabriel’s love and support is their wonderful extended family of Kim, John’s brilliant Korean nephew, Abdullah, his godson, and Billy, a young man recovering from a brutal attack on campus.  Now added to the fray are the men  and woman who make up the rescue unit in Carthage.  Eli and Daniel, Jen Painter, Sam Brightman, Wylie and Jackson, all memorable, each a living, breathing human being that will bring you to laughter and tears.  Eli and Jen have to be two of my favorites, Eli one of the young men captured and Jen, the resilient and courageous young woman fighting to empower the embattled women of Tunisia.  And then there is  the director of the Bardo Museum, Ibrahim ibn Saeed ibn Ahmad al-Aziz, old and wise, encapsulating the best combination of humanity, learning and wisdom.  There is a large cast here but each is necessary to the plot and to the group dynamic. You will fall in love with each and every one.  Here is an excerpt.  John is calling  home from Carthage and is met with the usual chaos of multiple voices before talking to Billy:

So how are you, son? I was craving some of your tea today, that one with the blood oranges and rose hips and hibiscus. I can’t believe I’m starting to like it.”

“That’s my favorite, too. I was thinking we could plant some blackberry and raspberry vines in the back yard, make some fresh teas. You think they would grow here?”

“Maybe. If we built them a deep planter that we sunk in the ground. I’ve heard there were some traditional ways to plant up in northern New Mexico where they dug shallow pits, lined them with rocks, and planted trees in them.”

“I read something about the Hopi, how they planted—I was thinking about waffles, or a grid? I can’t remember. I’ll have to look it up.”

“Billy, do you know anything about the museums in Carthage?”

“Not really. Want me to look them up?”

“I would. Just write me a brief and send it to me, okay? That would be a big help.”

“I looked up some pictures of Carthage. It looks so beautiful, with the Mediterranean right there, and the sky so blue. Sad, though. Like that poem, how does it go? Two vast and trunkless legs of stone….”

John concentrated hard, trying to remember. “Ozymandias, and it was Shelley, I think, or Keats. I used to know it. “I met a traveller from an antique land who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read…. I can’t remember the rest. But you’re right, Billy. That poem looks like Carthage. I miss you, kiddo.”

“I miss you, too.”

Just look at the number of references in that short excerpt, from Hopi planting methods to Shelley’s Ozymandias overlaid with a man longing for home and the respect with which he treats the people who live under his roof. Black also demonstrates her knowledge and love of the military here.  Whether it is the Flying Stallions and the primal sound of the “rhythmic thump, then, the sound of a big helicopter’s rotors” to the pain and sorrow of a young injured soldier unable to fathom his doctor’s distant attitude, you will feel as though you have walked a short ways in a soldier’s shoes.

From vivid descriptions of far away places to the characters and the ever present love of the Army and its mission, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, is a must read for 2013 or any year.   Make sure you find a place for it on your bookshelf, digital or otherwise, with space for additional stories to come.  This is a universe that begs for more stories with its wealth of characters and various challenges ahead that each face.  I know at least one more is in the works, lets hope for an abundance.

This is how the story begins:

JOHN studied the candy-colored sky, raspberry pink edging to smudgy purple, the color of a grape lollipop. The colors reminded him of Turkish delight, a candy he’d been offered once in a Bedouin’s tent. He’d been there to negotiate passage for troops and troop trucks over the old man’s lands. It was rumored that the Bedouin was somehow involved in the nasty little conflict that had disrupted the flow of food aid to the region. John had been sent in to stomp on the sparks before civilian casualties escalated.

The old man’s grandson had filled two cups with mint tea so sweet John could smell the sugar over the dust and sun-warmed canvas of the tent. Then he’d offered the plate of Turkish delight with a flourish and a bow. The boy had black liquid eyes, long, thick lashes, and John had felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Eyes that beautiful and dark should have been filled with warmth, but the boy was young and didn’t know how to hide what was in his heart. John had watched the boy slide his hand down his leg, clutch the bronze dagger in the top of his boot and pull it free.

Then Gabriel was there, quiet as smoke, his rifle cradled in his arms, and the boy froze. John set his teacup down, refusing the Bedouin’s hospitality. It was an insult, a hard line drawn in the sand, nearly as hard a line as the one drawn when your grandson cut someone’s throat over a plateful of Turkish delight. The old man had eyes like the boy, a raptor’s eyes, cold and wet and black. John stood up, backed out of the tent without a word, and Gabriel spread his arms, the rifle in one big hand. No one could mistake the gesture. It said, No one touches him. You come through me to get to him.

SThe Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari 

Book Details:

ebook, 244 pages
Expected publication: October 25th 2013
ISBN13 9781627982085
edition language English
series The General

Book Contest and Sarah Black Guest Blog for The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari

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Good morning! Today Scattered Thoughts is welcoming Sarah Black back to talk about her latest release The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari (The General #2).  Although my review won’t come until tomorrow, I will say that this book is on Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best of 2013 list.  Trust me, it is one of those books that you will want to read over and over again.  So with that in mind, we are giving away one eBook copy of The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari to one person who leaves a comment on any of the posts from 10/23 to 10/26.  A Winner will be announced on Saturday.

This is Why I Love Those Old Men by Sarah Black

My stories are full of old men, and I think anyone reading can tell I love them. In Lawless I wrote Manuel, and in The Legend of the Apache Kid I wrote Johnny’s old man and Raine’s daddy; in Marathon Cowboys we had The Original Jesse Clayton. In the new book, The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, I wrote another old man, the director of the Bardo Museum, who steps in and helps the young men realize their dreams.

That’s what old men do, right? Step in and stand watch while the young men strap on their wings and prepare to leap off the ledge. They listen when we talk. They’re quiet when we just need their company. They watch over us, and when we’re about to screw up, they put up a hand and say, “hold up now. Better think about that.”

My grandfather is the model for all those old men in all my stories. He was quiet and strong and steadfast. A hurricane couldn’t blow him over. No rain would ever touch my head if I was standing next to him. He was as big as a mountain and as strong as an oak. That’s what I remember. He died when I was three, and he was fifty, of a heart attack.

Just before he died, my grandmother sent him out to buy me a pair of shoes. She told him to get something sturdy that could be washed. He carried me back into the house two hours later and I was wearing pretty little black patent Mary Janes. The women had a fit. “Earl, what’s she going to play in?”

And he laughed and pulled a tiny pair of red sneakers out of his pocket.  I’ve adored red shoes from that day, and I adored my big, handsome grandfather. He never said three words when one would do, and he preferred action over words, anyway. He could fix anything, a broken toy or a car that wouldn’t run or a skinned knee. And I have been pretty sure all my life that he was up in heaven keeping an eye on me. Never a judgmental eye, either. Just keeping me safe, keeping me company. Pure love has no room for judgment.

I’ve wondered sometimes if I was writing the same story over and over. I guess writers have things to say, and we say them through fiction. I always try to be clear in my mind what I’m trying to say. This new book, I was really ambitious. I wanted to say something big, something with meaning. Plant my flag and say, this is how I see the world. But with this book, and every book, now and forever, my handsome strong grandfather will make an appearance, and he’ll be watching over me.
SB Grandfather

Here’s a link to the new book: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=4277The General and the Elephant Clock cover

Dreamspinner Blurb:

Fresh out of the closet, General John Mitchel and Gabriel Sanchez are settling into their new life together when an old army colleague taps them for a rescue mission to Tunisia. Eli and Daniel, two former Rangers working security, have been arrested in Carthage, charged with blasphemy and thrown into prison.

With rampant unrest in the ancient city and an old enemy targeting them, John gathers a team to liberate the two captive men. When he discovers Eli’s boyhood obsession with Al-Jazari’s Elephant Clock, the rescue becomes complicated and strangely beautiful, and John and Gabriel have to risk what they love the most to bring their team home.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, with my new old man:

The Director was a very old man, with a cane and a long white beard, sharp dark eyes under heavy, greying eyebrows. He was formally dressed in a dark suit and tie, and he greeted Gabriel with a handshake. He had a young woman with him, holding a portfolio. Wylie opened the portfolio, looked inside, then patted it down.

John moved forward, greeted him in Arabic, then he introduced Eli and Daniel. He didn’t remember the old man, but they’d all changed so much in thirty years. Kim was holding his camera, one of the big professional models, and the Director seemed charmed by his Arabic greeting and pretty smile. “Eli, Daniel, why don’t you sit down with the Director? Sir, have you met Abdullah al-Salim? I know you will recognize him. The first time I saw him, I thought his father was standing before me.”

The old man greeted Abdullah with cries of delight and three kisses, the traditional Arabic way. Abdullah held a hand out to Kim. “Kim is General Mitchel’s nephew. He’s my best friend.”

Kim was kissed now, then they all sat down on the couch. John counted. Five men, with plenty of room, just like Kim had said, and the U shape meant people on either end could see each other to talk. Even better, he could, if he wanted to, perch on the leather polka dot ottoman like a frog sitting on a lily pad. God, he hated that couch. Kim looked at him, gave him a weak smile. Kim was reading his mind again.

Gabriel took Sam and Wylie, and they moved over to the table and pulled up chairs. Kim held up his camera. “Director, I thought I would take a picture of you with these men. It will be a good memory for them when they are back home, to remember your kindness.”
Abdullah translated, and the Director gave Kim a hesitant nod. Then the old man turned to Eli and Daniel, offered them each a hand. Abdullah translated his words. “I have come to tell you of the admiration of the Tunisian people for your courage. It gives great heart to the people when we see your love for Carthage. I also brought something for you to see. I found this in the archives.” The young women with him handed over the portfolio, then retreated to stand with Jen. Jen reached out to her, and John could hear the quiet murmur of their voices in the background.

The Director pulled out a plastic sleeve. Inside was a brown manuscript page, painted in colors still vibrant and beautiful more than eight hundred years after they had first been painted. The old man put the page down on the ottoman, and the boys leaned forward to look at it. It was an original page from The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices and showed Al-Jazari’s wondrous elephant clock. Eli caught his breath, reached out and touched the edge of the parchment through the plastic. “This is really… it’s the real….” He sounded like he was having trouble catching his breath.

Kim stood up and moved around the other side of the couch and lifted the camera. Eli looked up at the Director, and something in his battered face must have touched the old man. His eyes were tender, and he reached out, put his hand on Eli’s cheek. Then he reached out with his other hand, held Daniel’s. “My sons, will you come and see the Bardo? The museum will be open tomorrow for the children. It’s the day we have a festival for them. I would like you to come, to see something of our history and our culture.”
Eli looked down at the page again. “The kids, they’ll go crazy over this! Can you believe it? Is this wild, or what? Do you see it?”
He looked up at John, his green eyes like jewels, his black hair sticking up in the front in little tufts. John nodded at him, smiling. “I do see it. Is it as good as you thought it would be?”

“Better,” Eli said. “Can we go, General? To the Bardo?”

John looked at Gabriel, then back to Eli. “Yes, I think we can. We’ll be safe in a group.” Daniel stood up, let John take his place next to the old man. “Thank you for your kindness. Are you sure it will not be too much trouble? I understood you were closed for renovations.”

The Director shook his head. “Once a year we have a children’s day. We had planned to have the parts of the museum not under construction open tomorrow. It is like a festival, very important to me. I believe there will be camels and balloons and too many sweets, and my staff will have video projectors set up because the children like to watch movies. In your honor I will add a stage for the elephant clock, a video so the children can see. Like this young man,” he put his hand on Eli’s shoulder, “love of scholarship starts when a child is very young. I believe you will be safe. Let us open our heart to you, show you the true face of Tunisia. The true face of Islam.”
Eli leaned forward. “What is the true face of Islam?”

The old man put his hand on Eli’s cheek again. “Just like with your people, my son, the true face of Islam is love.”