Book Review: The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

Hi all!

It’s been a while since I was motivated by a new author to read an entire book in the space of only a few hours over a couple of days. But it’s always an unexpected joy when it happens. The magic of being transported not only to new places or times, but new ways of thinking, is impossible to ignore.

Let me start at the beginning, but from a different direction than you might expect. Thankfully I was born into a family that not only appreciates music, but likes to play and sing together or apart. My mother played piano before her hands were twisted by rheumatoid arthritis. My father still plays guitar – a twelve-string Fender acoustic – with an ability to pick rich melodies from those taut skinny wires. And my sister and I played saxophones, guitars, and piano (she more than I). Between the occasional rag on piano, jazz or concert band practice, and a million folk songs on guitar, there was live music at my house pretty much every day.

That childhood of music has served me well long into my adult years and I still play my guitar occasionally and sing with my daughters, my wife, and the rest of my family at the occasional gathering. More than that, I’m always listening to music new and old. And over time I’ve gained a perpetual soundtrack running through my head with a mix of tunes from musicals, bluegrass melodies, folks songs, rock bands, a cappella voices, jazz licks, movie soundtracks, and much much more.

Why the long reveal about my musical childhood? The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe shows an appreciation for a life of music I’ve rarely seen in fiction, let alone urban fantasy from a new author. And Bledsoe’s tale weaves the magic of ancient songs and lyrics seamlessly into a world both touched and untouched by modern sensibilities and dangers. Most of those involved in the story are from a group of folks known as “The Tufa” – a secretive group living in the Appalachians. Though the question “Who are the Tufa?” is asked multiple times and eventually answered, how the reader gets to the answer is more important than the destination…

The story is about Private Bronwyn Hyatt, her immediate family, and their extended relatives in Needsville, Tennessee. Bronwyn returns from Iraq after surviving a horrific attack and heroic rescue, but her wounds need healing both outside and in. And as she returns to some sense of normal as muscle and flesh knit in the home she grew up in, she realizes there’s more going on she’s going to have to deal with. Can she figure out what the “haint” (ghost) wants her to do so she can avoid its ill portents of a death in her family? Can she find her song and learn to play her mandolin again so she can learn her mother’s song? Can she rediscover herself in the context of Tufa ways?

And tied into all of this are other characters. Craig Chess, a Methodist preacher, is trying to make inroads into Bronwyn’s community instead finding a solid resistance to outsiders. Dwayne Glitterman, Bronwyn’s former flame and bad-boy on a path to ruin. And newspaper reporter Don Swayback, asked to get an interview with Bronwyn the war hero, who starts to discover deep personal connections to the people of the town of Needsville he never knew existed…

Alex Bledsoe’s rich, nearly poetic prose in The Hum and the Shiver captured me at page one and didn’t let me go to the end. If you are a fan of urban fantasy, this is a book you need to add to your list today. There are secrets ancient and wild waiting for you to discover, and I enjoyed every moment.

The Hum and the Shiver hits shelves September 27, 2011, and I can hardly wait to see what’s next in the series from Bledsoe. For more about Bledsoe, check out his website.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org. here.

–Fitz

Enhanced by Zemanta

Book Review: Hounded by Kevin Hearne

Hi again!

Page turners. Bubblegum. Brain candy. However you categorize fun, creative fiction with a flair for sarcasm and humor, there’s always a need for it.

In recent years, that need has been filled by Jim Butcher‘s “Dresden Files” series. Harry Dresden is a wizard-for-hire and he gets tapped to do the craziest things. From fighting vampires and creatures from the faerie worlds to dealing with friendly fae with a love of pizza or playing D&D with a group of college-aged werewolves, Harry does it all with sarcasm, self-deprecating humor, and a lot of style.

Now I have a new author to add to that category of bubblegum fiction in urban fantasy – Atticus O’Sullivan, the last Druid in the world, living peacefully in Arizona. Atticus exists in a similar world to Dresden, but writer Kevin Hearne managed to create something new out of a seemingly mismatched collection of gods from different pantheons, witches, vampires, werewolves, and the Tuatha de Dannan from Irish myth and legend. This druid does his best to live a normal life and runs an occult bookstore near ASU in Tempe, helping the locals with various herbal teas to sooth what ails them and selling the occasional book of hokum to those seeking the magical path. He’s lived 2,000 years, knows how to adapt to changing times, and has a unique view of the world. And did I mention that Atticus has a pet Irish wolfhound that’s almost as funny as he is?

Hounded is the first book in the “Iron Druid Chronicles” from Hearne and I’ve already ordered the next two books in the series – Hexed and Hammered. At just over 300 pages, Hounded was a quick, fun read and I want to know more.

Atticus has had a few quiet years in Tempe, but apparently there’s an angry love god from the old country who really wants a sword he thinks Atticus stole from him way back when. But Atticus isn’t alone. He has a law firm to protect him whose two main partners are a vampire and a werewolf, each of which has a grudge with Thor. He has a few other Celtic gods who are either trying to help or hinder depending on when you ask – Morrigan, the Irish goddess of war and death, and Flidais, a Celtic goddess of the hunt. And his companion Oberon, the Irish wolfhound, is always at his side helping protect him.

Though I love how Hearne has worked in the whole faerie/gods/supernatural angle as well as vampires, werewolves, and witches (yes, witches!), it’s the humor and sarcasm that really stole the show for me. Oberon has both an amazing sense of humor and a unique way of the world. For instance, when Atticus and Oberon are talking about Genghis Khan at one point, Oberon decides he needs his own harem – of French Poodles. It’s that kind of juxtaposition of practicality and amusement that made me literally laugh out loud while reading portions of the book.

My only regret is that I hadn’t picked up the series months ago when my best friend recommended it!

If you are a fan of urban fantasy with a sense of humor like “The Dresden Files” then you ought to find Hounded to be right up your alley. It’s out in paperback, so it’s great for a little light reading if you need a bit!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

Enhanced by Zemanta

Book Review: A Devil in the Details by K.A. Stewart

Hey there…

These days I’m always on the hunt for good urban fantasy. The gold standard for urban fantasy for me is The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. Magic and sarcasm make a heady mix for Harry Dresden, wizard-for-hire, and it’s a tough combination to beat.

That doesn’t stop me from looking however. And a few months ago I saw a review of K.A. Stewart’s A Devil in the Details on the Fantasy Book Critic blog. I immediately ordered a copy and threw it into my “read when I get a chance” pile.

Thankfully I had a chance to read it a couple of weeks ago and it was both a quick read and a lot of fun. Jesse James Dawson has an interesting worldview and a unique set of skills that come in handy when you act as a proxy in a deal with a demon. Demons don’t look too kindly on breaking contracts it seems and it tends to get messy. That’s when Dawson’s katana comes out to play…

Dawson is a member of a loose network of Champions around the globe focused on helping people get out of their contracts with demons. And he won’t just take on anybody. If you’ve made a deal with a demon, you knew what you were doing even if you didn’t think through all the consequences. You really have to have reformed in some serious ways if you expect Dawson to take your case. Yes, he gets paid well by the people he helps, but that’s just so that his wife and daughter are taken care of in the event that he dies on the job. He knows eventually his luck will run out and his family must be safe and secure in his absence.

What is this job exactly? He intercedes on behalf of people who have sold their souls to a demon for something. It can be something as giving as asking for a cure for your dying child or as selfish as wanting a few more years in the limelight before you fade away for good. In this story, it’s a famous old baseball pitcher who approaches Dawson to help him out. He wasn’t getting any playing time as younger players were pitching better than he was and he wanted to go out on top… Well, he paid for the sudden turnaround with his soul. And now he wants out of the deal.

Once Dawson is involved, he discovers that other things are afoot and that some of his fellow Champions have gone missing. Is it all related? Can he keep his family safe and still fulfill his obligations to the pitcher? You’ll have to read it and find out, but A Devil in the Details sets the groundwork for a great new realm in urban fantasy I look forward to exploring further.

Though this is the first book in a series and Stewart’s debut, it really doesn’t feel like one. Her writing style was fluid enough that Dawson’s quests never felt forced or rushed. When a character was introduced, it was there for a reason and that reason was resolved by the end. And though all the loose ends were neatly tied up, this story left me wanting to know more about Dawson and his network of Champions in the next book.

Be sure to check out A Devil in the Details from K.A. Stewart at your favorite bookseller and check out her blog at Literary Intent.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the book from Barnes & Noble below:

Enhanced by Zemanta