Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hounded

Hounded
Author: Kevin Hearne
Del Rey, 2011
320 pages

I'm smiling as I write this review because I feel like I'm one of the first people who's just discovered something really great, although there are already 121 reviews (as of today) of this book on Amazon.com. Hounded is the first of three books (so far!) known as The Iron Druid Chronicles. It was released in May and quickly followed by books two and three, Hexed and Hammered, released in June and July. I predict that I will be reading them soon.
Atticus O'Sullivan appears to be a young Irish immigrant of twenty-one years. He runs a New Age-y bookstore within walking distance of the university in Tempe, Arizona, rides his bike, and hangs with Oberon, his Irish Wolfhound. On the surface, he seems to be a very normal young man with lots of tattoos. In fact he's twenty-one hundred years old, and he's the last of the Druids. Of course, the fact that he doesn't age requires him to move around every so often, but he's found that he really likes Arizona, and he feels safe in his desert haven after centuries of running from an old enemy. You see, a long, long time ago he came into possession of a special sword that Aenghus Óg - Celtic god of love - believes is his. Atticus believed he was safe in the desert. But now Aenghus's Fir Bolg henchmen have found him, and it appears that Aenghus will do anything to get the sword back - including enlisting a coven of local witches, possessing 'innocent' police officers, even getting Oberon into trouble. Hold on, 'cuz you're about to go for a very exciting ride.

Hounded is a mix of urban fantasy and mythology with a dash of history, and at times it's laugh-out-loud funny. There's one scene in particular with Atticus's neighbor (an elderly, whisky-drinking Irish widow) that still makes me laugh when I think of it. She's a hoot, and I hope there will be more of her in future books. Then there's Oberon, the Irish Wolfhound. Atticus can communicate with Oberon telepathically, and the interplay between them is nothing short of brilliant. Oberon may just be the coolest character of all. 

The author's knowledge of Celtic mythology is impressive, but Hounded isn't just about the Celts -- there are Nordic, Vedic, and Native American characters and mythology woven throughout the book. After reading Hounded, I want to know more. I've been reading Wikipedia articles about the Tuatha Dé Danann to try to give myself a better understanding. When a work of fiction leads me down the path of constructivist learning, I say that's a good thing. :-)

I liked Hounded so much that I told my 20-year-old nephew about it on Friday night. (If you read my most recent review of Game of Thones, you'll know that he's a major fantasy fiction fan.) He immediately ordered Hounded for his Nook, stayed up all night Friday night reading, and finished it several hours before I did. He's now well into the second book, Hexed. My guess is, he'll have all three books read by Monday night. Since he doesn't blog, I'll just add his review to mine: "Read this series. It's awesome. You'll love it."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones
Author: George R. R. Martin
Bantam, 2011 (reprint)
694 pages

It seems as if everyone I know is either reading this book or has watched the HBO series upon which it's based -- or both. Truth is, although I'd heard of the Song of Ice and Fire series (A Game of Thrones is the first book) long before the captivating TV series, I'd never read any of the books. And I didn't plan to, until my nephew (aged 20 and serious fantasy fan) read the verrrrrry long A Game of Thrones in two days and told me I just had to read it.
Thing is, I so loved the TV series, that I really wasn't sure I wanted to read the book -- but I did, for my nephew. I quickly found that the book is indeed much like the series in terms of both plot and characters. You would think this would have made it easy for me to read, right? Wrong. For some reason I plodded through the first 50 pages or so. Fortunately, things picked up thereabouts, and I decided to fully commit to the book.

And I'm glad I did, because the book is helping me to understand the complexities of the TV series and its characters. I'm no longer stomping mad that [a certain character whose name I won't reveal] was killed because I now see that it had to happen for the storyline to move forward. I have increased respect for at least three of the characters (Tyrion, Jon Snow, and Daenerys) and a greater dislike of others. In fact, I may just have to watch Season 1 again on On Demand because I think I may view it differently after having read the book.

Here's the basic storyline. In a fictional land that often (hmm) resembles the island of Britain, in a time that for some reason reminds me of a blend of Arthurian and 13th/14th centuries C.E., several families joust (sometimes literally) for power. Currently Robert is king, but about ten years ago, he and his buddy Ned Stark, along with several other key characters, overthrew the previous king. That king and his son were assassinated; the next generation (children at the time) were taken to exile. Those children have now grown up and want their kingdom back, and are plotting from foreign lands. In the meantime, the current queen has secrets that she'll keep at all costs - and she'll do anything (and I do mean anything) to see her son ascend to the throne.

If that's not enough drama, to the north of this land there is a wall (hmm, Hadrian's wall?) that separates 'civilization' from a place of legendary, scary creatures (e.g., skinwalkers) that seem to be most active in cold weather. In this land no one can predict how long the seasons will last. Winter can last for decades. The older folk remember winter as a horrible time when people starve and freeze and die all sorts of gruesome deaths, but the kids just don't understand. It's late summer in A Game of Thrones, and. . . well, um, Winter is coming.

The question now is, do I read A Clash of Kings (the next book in the series) before or after next season of Game of Thrones (TV version)? That's a tough one. I'm glad I don't have to decide today.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Trace of Smoke

A Trace of Smoke
Author: Rebecca Cantrell
Forge, 2009
292 pages

It's 1931 in Berlin, Germany, and crime reporter Hannah Vogel is just trying to live her life and make a living. As a single woman in her early thirties, she has her share of challenges. As a Socialist living in a Nazi world (the Nazis are just coming to power), she has other challenges. One of them is her younger brother, Ernst -- a cross-dressing entertainer in one of Berlin's most notorious gay bars. Hannah has been one of the few people in Ernst's life who accepted him for who he was, despite an increasing Nazi enforcement of the (then) German law known as Paragraph 175.

In the opening chapter, Hannah learns that Ernst has been murdered when she spots his photo on display in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead at the police station, where she's researching an article for her newspaper. Without letting anyone else know about Ernst's fate or that she knows he is dead, she sets out to find out who killed her brother, and why. Hannah soon finds that Ernst had more secrets than she could have ever dreamed possible.

When a young boy named Anton shows up on Hannah's doorstep in the middle of the night, things get even more complicated. Anton claims to be her son, although she has never had children. Now Hannah has another mystery to solve: who are Anton's real parents, and why don't they want him? She quickly grows to love the boy as her maternal instincts kick in, and soon she finds herself doing all sorts of things to protect him. (He is adorable.)

This book is an exciting blend of history, mystery, and thriller. It's got an admirable heroine, scary Nazis, and a seedy underworld. It covers an aspect of the time and history that I hadn't read about previously, which for me, is always a plus. A Trace of Smoke ends with a cliffhanger that makes you want to keep reading. Fortunately, there are at least two more novels featuring Hannah Vogel. The next one is called A Night of Long Knives, and I hope to read it soon.

Monday, July 4, 2011

From Dead To Worse

From Dead To Worse
Author: Charlaine Harris
Ace, 2008
303 pages

Season 4 of HBO's True Blood started last week, which put me in the mood for another Sookie Stackhouse book. This one's the eighth in the series. I haven't read eight books in a series since I was a kid reading Nancy Drew. So I see this as some kind of milestone.

To those who haven't read the books and don't watch the show, I apologize for the lack of a thorough recap. Feel free to click the links below -- preferably in order -- to get an idea of the series plot and characters.

This time around, Sookie's dealing with the revelation of her fairy/faery/fae heritage. With the help of vampire Eric Northman, Sookie has a secret meeting with her great-grandfather, who happens to be a Fairy Prince. In the meantime, werewolf Alcide's new girlfriend has been murdered, someone is trying to kill Sookie, and the vampire hierarchy in Louisiana is under fire, too. All signs point to war, but the question is, who's fighting whom? After all, things aren't always what they seem in supernatural Louisiana and Mississippi.

Sookie's friend (and roommate . . . and witch) Amelia has a pretty heavy role in this one, and new character Ophelia (older, powerful witch) is introduced. Quinn (Sookie's boyfriend in Book 7) returns, along with some major drama. For some reason, I never really warmed up to the Quinn character. I keep hoping that somehow Sookie and Bill will get back together, but I have to say, Eric is becoming more appealing as time goes by.

I'm glad I read From Dead To Worse now because it's helping me to understand the whole fairy thing, which apparently is going to be a continuing theme in the TV series. It's also helping me stay caught up with the changing vampire politics, but I suppose I'll need to keep reading if I want to fully get it. Like the other Sookie books, this one's an easy read. It took me a while, though, because I've had a LOT of personal stuff going on over the last week. Oh, well. On to the next book!

Previous books in the series that I've reviewed:
Book 1 - Dead Until Dark
Book 2 - Living Dead In Dallas
Book 3 - Club Dead
Book 4 - Dead To The World
Book 5 - Dead As A Doornail
Book 6 - Definitely Dead
Book 7 - All Together Dead