review: trapped

Trapped by Kevin Hearne (2012)

Trapped is the fifth book in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles.  It features Atticus O’Sullivan, a 2,000-year-old druid, his faithful (and talking) hound, Oberon and his apprentice, Granuaile. The series is set in a world exactly like ours, except magic and supernatural creatures and gods exist within it.  At the end of the fourth book, Tricked, Atticus and Granuaile faked their deaths, and its ending marked the start of the twelve-year period of Granuaile’s training to become a Druid. So Trapped takes place approximately twelve years after the end of Tricked.  Hearne has written three short stories that give a glimpse into events that took place during the time jump. “Two Ravens and One Crow” is a must read because it sets up some of the events that take place in Trapped.  The other two stories–“The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” and “The Chapel Perilous”–are fun but not necessarily essential, though they are fun reads and I recommend them.  The Iron Druid Chronicles is one of my favorite urban fantasy series and I highly recommend it.  Start with the first book, Hounded, which I have reviewed here.

The story begins with Atticus and Granuaile searching for a place to start the process of binding Granuaile to the earth, the culmination of the twelve year period of her training to become a Druid.  Before they can choose a location, one of Brighid’s heralds demands an audience with Atticus and his appearance at the court of the Tuatha de Danann. This news means that Brighid knows that Atticus is alive and he has to wonder who else might know that he faked his death.  Practically at the same time, Perun–a god of thunder and an old friend we met in Hammered–appears with news of death and chaos in his realm caused by Loki, the Norse trickster god who has been awakened and escaped from imprisonment.  Loki’s escape is to mark the beginning of Ragnarok, and because of the promise Atticus made to Odin in “Two Ravens and One Crow” this event also puts trouble on the horizon.  Atticus, Granuaile, Oberon and Perun shift to the plane of the Tuatha de Danann and appear before Brighid, and there they learn that indeed, lots of other people know that Atticus is alive, including Bacchus, the Roman god with whom Atticus did battle in a previous book.  Of course, Bacchus wants to see Atticus dead, so now there is a three-pronged set of challenges for the story line of the book–the battle with Bacchus, the necessity of dealing with Loki’s rising and the signal of the beginning of Ragnarok, and completing the ritual of binding Granuaile to the earth. For good measure, Hearne throws in a fourth problem in the form of Theophilus, the oldest vampire alive who happens to spend part of his time in Greece, which is the place to which Atticus and Granuaile are driven to complete building.  Hijinks and shenanigans ensue throughout the book, and the story is fast-paced and builds to a climactic finish while also setting the stage for the next books in the series.  This book also has an epilogue that is of vital importance because it sends Atticus, Granuaile and Oberon running (literally) across the Continent in a mad dash to relative safety in the British Isles.  I can’t help writing about the epilogue here because it starts off with a fuzzy warm feeling and then ends with our characters being in mortal peril, and by the end you kind of feel off-balance and you look up from the last word from the sentence and want to cry, “What just happened?”

I have read that this is going to be a nine-book series, so Trapped is basically the halfway point of the larger story arc, and it definitely feels that way.  A lot happens in this book, and several characters from previous books return and give a sense of how they will be important for the remainder of the series.  Although the Morrigan is still on Atticus’ side, there are the new threats of the Svartalfar and an unknown enemy within the realm of the Tuatha de Danann that is plotting against Atticus.  The most important development in the book, though, is the development of Granuaile into a strong character.  Hearne does not hesitate to put her in the position of saving Atticus’ life more than once in the book and showing that she has the skills and strength to take care of herself.  Thankfully, she is not characterized as the lesser female sidekick but rather she is powerful in her own right.  Though the book is told from Atticus’ first person point of view, this thread of the story is very much her story, or at least focused upon her coming into her own as a Druid.  There are multiple times when Atticus could have made completing the ritual the last priority, but it is always the main priority until it is complete, and this shows how important Granuaile is, to the story, to Atticus and on a larger scale within the story world. It’s also interesting to read it from the standpoint of Atticus effectively doubling the number of Druids in the world. He doesn’t achieve this through procreation but through a mentor-student relationship.

I know you must get tired of reading this but I don’t tire of typing it–this is a fantastic series and highly recommend it.  The dialogue is witty and snappy, and now that Granuaile is a Druid she can hear and speak to Oberon, and that just makes the exchanges between hound and humans even more entertaining and an excellent source of comic relief.  None of the books has let me down and each one keeps me invested and looking forward to reading the next one.

 

 

 

review: hard limit

Note: This is the fourth book in Meredith Wild’s Hacker series.  The first book in the series is Hardwired. If you haven’t read the first three books, there will inevitably be spoilers below.

Hard Limit by Meredith Wild (2014)

I have to be honest.  I had a really difficult time putting this book down and read it in two sittings.  I think it’s because beneath all the trappings and conventions of this genre, I just like following Erica and Blake’s story.  I like them as characters and though everything that happens to them is completely melodramatic and over the top, I remain willing to suspend my disbelief and go along for the wild and crazy ride.  Kind of like Olivia and Fitz, but let me not digress.  If you have read the first three books in this series (Hardwired, Hardpressed, and Hardline) I’m sure you’ll like the fourth installment. It may be the best one of the series so far.

The book starts wonderfully–with a prologue that is told from Blake’s point-of-view and that involves events that happen two weeks after where chapter one begins.  As far as I can remember, this is the first and only look we’ve had at him and his relationship with Erica from his own point-of-view.  I wanted more, but at the same time I appreciate that Wild only gives us this brief tease and immediately and firmly returns to telling the story from Erica’s first-person point-of-view. Once the first chapter starts, the action, the tension and the conflict don’t stop.  Maybe that’s why I couldn’t put the book down.  It’s tightly plotted, nothing to distract away from what’s happening, and there is a lot happening in this book.  Erica and Blake are planning to be married soon.  The partnership Erica made with Alex Huntington in the previous installment is set to take a few twists and turns. Sophia returns and another aspect of Blake’s past–both with her and in the aftermath of their breakup–are revealed and it is this part of the plot that generates continued tension and conflict between Erica and Blake. Daniel also comes back, and the sort-of cliffhanger ending of third installment where we learn about who has revealed the relationship between Erica and Daniel to the media comes to fruition and gets tied up by the end of the book.  Though the story is told from Erica’s point-of-view, Blake continues to be drawn and developed more deeply as a character–which is to say that unlike other series within this genre, he’s not a cardboard character without depth and whose arc seems artificial and contrived at best.  I like him, and he’s one of the reasons I have remained invested in this series.  To lesser degrees, the same can be said of other members of the supporting cast, particularly Marie (Erica’s surrogate mother) and Daniel.  A lot of this story revolves around the question of family, how families function or are dysfunctional, and the ties that bind families together.  The story also flirts with the ideas of betrayal and loyalty and how we come to realize who we can and cannot trust.  I know what you’re thinking–quite philosophical words about a romance novel, but I’m just calling it as I see it.  I’ve read a lot of copycats that weren’t worth the time I spent reading them, and in my opinion it’s hard to write this kind of romance with elements of suspense and do it well and in a way that isn’t just about how how the sex scenes are. Which, if you’re wondering, the sex scenes are really hot (and explicit, so if you don’t want that in your fiction, this series isn’t going to be for you).

The end of the book sets up the final novel in the series, Hard Love. While some subplots within the series as a whole have been resolved, there’s still the issue of Trevor–Blake’s hacker nemesis–to be resolved, and I won’t be surprised to see a final showdown involving Sophia.  The final chapter of the Hard Limit finds Erica and Blake flying away from Boston to their honeymoon destination. I’m looking forward to the final book but I’ll also be sad when I’ve gotten to the end because then it’ll be over.  Still, I’ve enjoyed every single book in this series and definitely recommend it if you like your romance with a little edge, a little suspense, and well-developed characters.

 

 

 

 

review: the dead play on

The Dead Play On by Heather Graham (2015)

This is the third book in Heather Graham’s paranormal suspense series set in New Orleans and featuring Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn.  Danni and Quinn, with the help of police detective Jake Larue and the rest of the supporting cast, work on cases that involve objects embued with evil or that have some sort of paranormal power and capturing those individuals who would use the objects for murder, mayhem and terror. In that way it reminds of my Warehouse 13 on Syfy.  Although the first two books in this series had definite paranormal elements, The Dead Play On is more rooted in the everyday world, and while there is still an object that is the focal point of the mystery and the murderer, readers who aren’t big fans of paranormal stories would find pleasure in this particular story.

Like the first two books, part of the story arc involves a quest for the object of power.  In The Dead Play On, that object is a saxophone that was played by Arnie Watson, a veteran returned home to New Orleans who was working as a musician in the city’s music scene.  The music scene within the city makes up much of the backdrop of the book, and the city’s musicians make up the group of suspects and victims.  The murderer wants the saxophone because Arnie had always called it his “special sax” and the murderer believes it has magic, a magic that makes the person playing the instrument a great musician.  This is what motivates the murderer–he wants the saxophone so that he can be a great musician and so that others will actually “see” him.  Because Graham has chosen a third-person narrative style for these books, readers are able to get a glimpse of the murder’s mind every now and then, and we learn that one of the things that drives the murderer is his sense of feeling invisible.  If only he can find Arnie’s “special sax” he won’t have to be invisible anymore, and he’s willing to do anything–including kill–to obtain the instrument.

In order to capture the murderer, Danni and Quinn immerse themselves in the music scene.  Quinn plays the guitar and begins sitting in with the band, and Danni sings backup vocals.  The device helps them to interview potential suspects and victims and learn more about Arnie Watson and his special sax, which everyone who knew him had heard him play and talk about.  Danni and Quinn are a couple, and one of the arcs in the story is the internal struggle Quinn wages with himself between protecting Danni and trusting in her ability to take care of herself.  With the third-person narrative, Graham switches between Danni’s and Quinn’s points-of-view, and this book seems to spend more time telling the story from Quinn’s perspective.  He’s definitely more the main character in this book, but this was something I enjoyed, being able to learn more about him and seeing his character developed and fleshed out a little more. While talking about characters, the supporting cast for this series is also further developed and you learn a little bit more about most of them, particularly Billie, whose experience with the bagpipes allows him to be able to play the saxophone.  At times, there are a lot of characters to keep up.  Between the usual supporting cast and the cadre of musicians there are a lot of people to keep up with, but Graham succeeds in giving most of them distinct enough personalities that you can keep them straight in your mind as you read along.

The revelation of the murderer was no surprise for me.  I had figured out the murderer’s identity about halfway through the book, though I can’t say anything in particular gave it away, maybe just experience reading detective fiction.  Even with this knowledge, though, the story is nicely paced and once it does finally reach the points of crisis and showdown, Graham doesn’t rush unwinding these pivotal points in the story. The final denouement where the remaining loose ends get tied up once again happens with the all of the characters gathered together in the style of Hercule Poirot.  It’s a satisfying conclusion to the book and at the end I was more invested in the characters and want to see more of them.  This is definitely a point in this series’ favor, since recently I have started a lot of series and not found a whole lot to like for one reason or another.

If you like suspense I would say give this series a try.  The first book is Let the Dead Sleep followed by Waking the Dead (which I think is my favorite of three books so far), and though I would recommend reading them in order, Graham does a good job of hinting at the previous cases while not spoiling anything about them.

 

review: dead ever after

Note: This is the final novel in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series.  If you’re not a fan of spoilers or haven’t read all of the books in this series, you might want to look away.

Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris (2013)

I am only just now realizing that I didn’t write any other reviews of the books in this series, which is surprising on one hand and not so much on the other.  When I first started reading this series at the end of 2013, I blew through the first eight (of thirteen) books in less than thirty days. At that pace there wasn’t much time to sit and reflect on what I’d read (or rather, inhaled). It took a while for me to finally get to Dead Ever After, and I didn’t download it onto my kindle until January 2015, and while I started it soon after, I only got about ninety pages in, and I put the book down for nearly the whole year before picking it back up again.  Wanting to complete some books I’d started but not finished was one of the motivating reasons for going back to the book, as was my motivation to finally complete or catch up on some series that I have been reading for a while.  The thing about Dead Ever After is that it bugs me and I think that’s why I have this need to write about it here.  But where to start?

This is the final novel of a 13-book series.  As I started reading the book, I had high expectations for the last book to be epic, to deliver a sense of dramatic finality, to be filled with a high level of tension and conflict as this world of Bon Temps, Louisiana was bid adieu by its author. Instead, the story starts out incredibly slow, so much so that I had no trouble putting it down for nearly a year and when I finally did decide to pick it back up, I had no real interest in re-reading the pages I had already covered. Though it does start to pick up, the plot and story felt like it was plodding along rather than building or even racing to a dramatic conclusion.  Let me say again, this is the final book in a series–I was expecting Harris to pull out all of the stops, to weave a story that made me not want to get to the last page because I absolutely did not want and couldn’t imagine having to say goodbye to these characters I’d spent so time with and in whom I’d become totally invested.  But the whole book was just lacking in the intensity I thought I was going to get.  I can’t help but remember the way that I felt when I was reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  There was a point in that book where I was so overwrought with emotion and really, really didn’t want the story to end that I actually put the book down and walked away for a couple of hours because I wanted to prolong and savor the epic finale. I needed to take a breath and just gather myself to get through the final 100 pages, the epic showdown that the whole series had been moving toward and the revelation of the aftermath. I had no such feeling as I moved through Dead Ever After.  So much of this world has been built upon Sookie’s relationship with the supernaturals, particularly the vampires Bill and Eric and even Pam as well as the werewolves, most notably represented by Alcide.  Those characters are basically non-existent in Dead Ever After and are in no way pivotal to the story. Instead they are more like afterthoughts, and maybe this is because Harris wanted to keep the focus squarely on Sookie and all the ways she has changed since the first book and all that she has lost or given up. When this is considered in light of the fact that Harris brings back other characters who throughout the series can only be considered minor characters and attempted to make them the primary antagonists only further frustrated me because these characters weren’t ones that I really cared about.  Am I wrong in wanting the final book in a series to focus on the characters that have been the most important ones throughout rather than marginalizing them and pushing them into the background?

Which brings me to the next thing about this book that bothered me. All of the books before this one are told strictly from the first-person point of view of Sookie.  Yet Harris breaks this pattern in the last book.  Why? I have no idea.  I hated it when Stephenie Meyer did the same in Breaking Dawn, and I hate it just as much in Dead Ever After.  The reason why she breaks away from the first-person narrative style is clear–she wants to be able to fill in some of the holes of what is going on within the story that Sookie’s first-person narrative can’t reveal because she’s not privy to those events.  It was jarring the first time it happened, and it continued to happen throughout the story.  If the change in narrative point-of-view wasn’t enough, the crisis point of the novel wasn’t so much a crisis but rather just another problem for Sookie to find her way out of, and even that didn’t take that long to happen.  The last few pages of the novel give a glimpse of what life (and ever after) might look like for Sookie Stackhouse but again the denouement was all too brief and completely disappointing.

In fact, the whole book itself was disappointing, which is unfortunate because I have really liked several of the other books in this series.  I think that if you’ve gotten through the first twelve books, reading Dead Ever After will give you closure in that you can say you’ve read the series from start to finish, but in my mind the finish wasn’t all that satisfying.