Monday, 26 September 2011

The Secret Circle: The Initiation

This is book one of the Secret Circle books by L.J. Smith, an author you might know for writing The Vampire Diaries. If you've read my reviews for that series you know that I found the books left something to be desired, so why would I pick up another series by Smith. Simply, I love The Vampire Diaries television show and saw that Kevin Williamson was also making a television version of The Secret Circle.

"Sixteen year old Cassie Blake leaves her home in California to vacation in Massachusetts with her mother. While there she falls in love with a mysterious boy she meets on the beach. As the Summer vacation draws to an end, Cassie's mother decides instead of going home they were going move to the town of New Salem so her mother can care for her own estranged mother.

Shorty after starting high school in her new town, Cassie finds out that an elite group of students, called The Club, are the most popular and powerful students in the school. Leading the group is the beautiful and popular Diana, who takes Cassie under her wing, but not before Cassie is tormented by the equally powerful and popular Faye.

After becoming friends with Diana the other members of the Club start to accept Cassie, eventually asking her to join them, after it is revealed that the members of this Club are witches and that have been ruling New Salem for three-hundred years. Cassie gets initiated into the Circle, and soon discovers that her mystery man is Adam, another member of the coven and Diana's boyfriend."

I can't help comparing The Secret Circle to Smiths other, more popular series, the Vampire Diaries. I have spent many hours reading those books, and comparison is unavoidable. That being said, the main character in the secret circle, Cassie is far more like-able than Elena of the Vampire Diaries, where Elena is the stunningly beautiful queen of the school, Cassie is the shy new girl just looking to get by. I found myself actually caring for Cassie and getting invested in the story.

Ive noticed something about the love story both in this book as well as in the vampire diaries, it almost as if smith isn't giving her intended audience enough credit. The teen-aged "romance" is so rushed, boy meets girl, once for about 10 minutes, barely any conversation occurs. The next time they speak they're confessing their undying love. Really?? I understand the concept of "love at first sight" and all that but it's seeming like Smith thinks teenagers are either incapable of a realistic relationship, or she's incapable of writing one. That being said, I can get past that for a compelling enough story. And this one was just interesting enough for me to forgive the insult to teens everywhere. And really, there are plenty of young adult novels where the falling in love part of the story is rushed. I guess it's part of that "Love at first sight" fairytale we've been deluding girls about for generations, but don't get me started on that.

On a more positive note, unlike The Vampire Diaries, the love story really isn't the focus of the story. It's more about friendship and a young girl adjusting to a new town and new friends and a lineage she didn't know she had. This is all interesting and kept me turning the pages. The characters all seemed to have definite "life" to them.

Bottom Line: It's not perfect. It's a simple, young adult novel, and it's interesting. And I wanted to read the second book after I finished this one. That warrants a B.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Hounded by Kevin Hearne

As the only member of the Supernatural Book Club born with a penis, I have been nominated to write the review for this month's book: Hounded. Now, you're probably asking yourself, "Self, what does being born with a penis have to do with writing a review for Hounded?" The answer is simple; Hounded is an urban fantasy book written by a man for men, so it only makes sense that the man of the Club writes the review.

Yes, Hounded is an urban fantasy book for men; an oxymoron by today's literary standards. You won't find any blubbering vaginas named Edward, nor any dimwitted snobs named Bella in this book, there's also a marked lack of brooding, moaning, groaning, whining, pouting, pondering and bitching. I'll wait right here until you're done jumping up and down and cheering with unbridled joy...

Hounded tells the story of a two thousand year old Celtic Druid named Atticus O’Sullivan, the usurper of your run-of-the-mill tall, dark, teary-eyed and handsome supernatural male protagonist. Atticus, the red-headed, pasty-white, heavily-tattooed, bicycle-riding, bookstore-owning, tea-brewing, dog-whispering, earth-communing, mythical sword-wielding, giant-slaying, witch-slapping, goddess-sexing, bad-ass, “Iron Druid” breaks a fleet of urban fantasy norms by simply being a MAN. Atticus doesn’t sit around pondering which shade of eye-liner to wear on his next date; no, he spends his time decapitating ageless Celtic gods on suburban Arizona streets for sport and honor.

I really liked Atticus for is straightforward, no nonsense approach to stressful and dangerous situations. When Atticus is faced with a problem, he briskly assesses his options, formulates a plan, and executes it; with 2,100 years of life-experience at his disposal, there’s no need for pontification. However, several members of the Club felt that there wasn’t enough internal dialogue and self-reflection to really get to know Atticus, especially given the books first person narrative. They felt that Atticus’s quick action and decisiveness detracted from his character, and created a void between him and the reader.

Whether or not we individually connected with Atticus, there was one thing the Club all agree on, Hounded was action packed. From the first otherworldly skirmish on page 4, to the culminating confrontation 250 pages later, Hearne lays out a fast-paced tale that charges forward and never lets up. What propels the plot forward is the onslaught of Aenghus Og’s minions (giants and faeries and witches…oh my!) which Atticus must dispatch with the help of his trusty Irish wolfhound Oberon. The pacing and sense of urgency is further aided by the fact that Hearne’s prose is tight, clean, and easily consumable; he doesn’t burden the reader with a heavy-handed writing style.

To keep things light, Hearne throws in a few laughs as well. The catalyst for most of the humor in Hounded is found Atticus’s allies. From his team of lawyers which is comprised of a vampire and a pack of werewolves, to his crass neighbor the widow MacDonagh, the supporting cast of characters does a keen job of lightening the mood even in the face of murder and mayhem.

All in all I enjoyed Hounded and will likely read the follow-ups Hexed and Hammered. I felt that Hounded created a strong foundation for a compelling urban fantasy series based on a lead character that separates himself from the crowd by being a supernatural man’s man. Although the world-building was admittedly thin in the debut novel, I think Hearne has the pieces in place to take the Iron Druid Chronicles to the next level in books two and three. It’s rare to find a supernatural book that keeps my interest like Hounded did, and for that reason and all those detailed above, I give Hounded a solid B+.