Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cover Review: 23rd February to 27th February

Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega #4) by Patricia Briggs

One thing I’ve always liked about Anna, and, in some ways, why I prefer this series to the Mercy Thompson Series, is that she’s a character whose woo-woo is almost the anti-woo-woo. She’s the least werewolf-y werewolf there is; and that defines her. She’s not constantly worried about control or anger, she’s not always stalking around dominance games or hierarchy or hatred of witches or any such supernatural issues. She’s often effective simply because she comes in and dumps very-human normality over everything and forces her fellows wolves to do the same

Which is why I can’t even begin to agree with a cover which makes her look all feral and ominous. Charles, yes - walking slab of angsty sexy wolfy muscle, certainly. But I feel this cover kind of misses the entire point of who and what Anna is.

Change Anna’s clothes and her facial expression and I think it would work - the wolf, the lack of white-washing Charles, it would have been a lot better

Armageddon Rules (Grimm Agency #2) by J.C. Nelson

Ok… what… is happening here? Is it just me, or is that her butt and BACK below the breasts and then her chest above? Because that exposed “stomach” looks like a back. Her hips definite have her arse facing us. But she’s definitely facing us from the chest upwards. Is this the most extreme spine twist we’ve ever seen? Was the artist drunk? Is it an attempt to snark at spine twisty covers? Am I just hallucinating? Perhaps I am drunk? Perhaps I should be?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Night Shift Anthology

Secrets at Midnight by Nalini Singh

This is a classic romance from the Psy/Changeling world of Nalini Singh. Which has both good and bad points. On the good side we have a lot of racial diversity, the fascinating world playing a backdrop, some pretty awesome side characters and a romance that was generally very sweet

On the minus side, it was so classic that it was faintly predictable. Bastien meets Kirby and ZOMG SHE SMELLS OF WIFEY! And lo, the romance is now written in stone as soon as he human brain catches up with Bastien’s relationship planning wereleopard nose. To be fair to the story, while Bastien is very eager to be with Kirby (because of the WIFEY SMELL!) he is also very careful not to pressure her – even refusing to have sex with her when she instigates it because he recognises what vast changes have suddenly rocked her life and he’s very conscious about not taking advantage of her. He is very respectful of her agency and, if you must have the “I smell true love with this complete stranger we are destined to be together” storyline then this is one of the best you will read out there. I’m still not a fan, but this was one of the best I’d read. Especially since, while Bastien had all the classic “MAH WIFEY!” possessiveness, he also kept that to the internal monologue.

There’s also some clear story beyond the “I SMELL WIFEY TWU LUB!” storyline with nice appearances from Bastien’s family and Kirby’s past.

Magic Steals by Ilona Andrews

It’s Jim and Dali’s story! For a long time fan of this world, this is perfect and I couldn’t wait. But beyond my love of these two characters, this story is awesome as well because of how Dali grows in it. Jim has always been confident, powerful and a leader of his people; he’s the chief enforcer and security head of the Pack, he’s the head of Clan Cat, made up of some of the most dangerous and powerful and independent of the shapeshifters. He has always, from the very beginning of the book, been an immense power and worthy of respect. Dali, on the other hand, has always been plagued by insecurities which is clear here – she considers herself scrawny, she has very poor eyesight, she’s a vegetarian, she’s not dangerous and generally considers herself inept – and has no idea why Jim wants to be with her. Her lack of self-worth is painful to see

But through this book Dali really shows off her own strength – and not through Jim holding her hand and convincing her she’s special (though he is instrumental in pointing out that it doesn’t matter how limited her vision or averse to blood she is, she’s still a massive White Tiger and the biggest werecat in the city not to mention absolutely awe inspiring in appearance), but through her going through her life as someone who defeats evil magic in her Indonesian community. We see a side to her life we’ve never seen before – which Jim has never seen before – in which she is casually competent and incredibly, awesomely powerful – and Jim is willing to support her in that, play second to her and let her guide the action because this is her territory and her expertise. We get to see Dali in all her amazing glory and the immensely powerful Jim continues to show his strength AND isn’t lessened by allowing Dali to take point.

Throw in Dali being Indonesian, Jim being Black and a whole lot of racially diverse side cast and this was awesome all through. There’s also a wonderful sense of Indonesian culture – I can’t say I’m an expert but there was some clear research involved from cuisine, to mythology. There’s also some definite sharp commentary on the habit of fetishising Asian women. And Dali’s family is hilarious.

Lucky Charms by Lisa Shearin

I don’t know if it’s because I am not familiar with this world – but this felt like a lot was packed into a small space. On the plus side, that lot was wonderfully zany and excellent whacky fun and I’d definitely want to pick up the whole series attached to it – but it definitely felt like a small part of a whole rather than a story that could stand on its own. But, then, since it left me wanting to find the rest of that whole, then I think that’s a definite result.

The world is incredibly diverse with a lot of interesting political machinations between the different mystical factions which just makes me want to delve through it all. I also like the snarky mundanity brought in – like the supernatural loving our world because of indoor plumbing. Makenna is an interesting character – she has a useful ability without being superwoman, she seems pretty alert and fun and capable and generally will be a decent protagonist to follow around and definitely one I’d like to see more of – she also has a sense of needing employment, but not seeming to be drowning in devotional loyalty to an employer because of that – which will be interesting to see develop. There is a budding romance but thankfully they resist the urge to pursue it. Some of the humour about the male leprechauns shifting into female strippers to humiliate male agents borders on the transphobic and homophobic, though

The Beast of Blackmoor by Milla Vane

Why is this story even here? There’s a Grimdark High Fantasy story clinging to the end of an Urban Fantasy anthology? It feels so very out of place compared to the other three stories in the book

And why, when going for a Grimdark setting, do we really need to have wall-to-wall rape? A tyrannical dictator enslaving his populace who are starving because of demonic tainted water is already pretty grim, we don’t need the man who was raped in the stocks and the hero who was gang raped as a teenager and the king who wants to enslave him for more rape in the future to extra grimmify everything. Nor do we really need all the angry sex between Kavik and Mala, the woman he thinks is going to enslave him and return him to a life of being raped. I equally dislike that Kavik and Mala saw each other and it’s twu lub forever, each of them willing to sacrifice everything for the other. Which sounds kind of romantic – until you remember that they’re both heirs to separate thrones on which much of the hope of their people’s rest.

Once we move past the rape and the fastforward romance, we actually have a great story and world here. The pantheon seems rich and researched, the world is so well described you can almost see the landscape. The politics has layers and has clearly been well put together and I’m sure all of these lands have a lot of research in the author’s notes and head. The action scenes are gloriously written and I can see the chainmail and the flying blood. The story has all the epic fantasy elements and if I were ever to get back into high fantasy I would have considered this author and this series because it ticks a lot of boxes – but not the pointless grimdark rape or the falling in love while still reeking of the entrails of the monsters they just slew.

It’s an anthology with a lot more ups than down, a lot of excellent stories, some brilliant characters and, in at least 2 of the stories, some good racial diversity and development. The first two stories are the strongest but all of them have strong elements in their favour.

The Last Man on Earth, Season 1, Episode 1: Alive in Tucson & Episode 2: The Elephant in the Room

Year 2020: 1 year after the virus

Our protagonist, Phil, drives around in a bus with a megaphone on it, crossing through state to state trying to find another human being. He doesn’t have much luck, crossing off all 50 states.

He decides to enter Tucson and paint the signs to say there’s a living person there. Hey, if everyone’s dead from the virus at least there’s a considerable lack of corpses!

Time to set up home – of course the most expensive one around, who wouldn’t? Which he then redecorates with all the National Treasures he’s looted from across the country (again, who wouldn’t?)

He reflects on his situation through prayer and that inevitably turns to begging god for a woman.

On to him doing all the things he can because he’s the last person on Earth – causing random chaos, walking around in his underwear and leaving a small amount of destruction in his wake and loading up on junk food, porn and booze.

And gets weirdly fixated on a female mannekin. We get it, he’s desperate for sex.

More antics until his sad and lonely birthday and sad memories. And more ranting about god for being alone.

5 months later

His continued antics have reduced the entire house, and its treasures, to a rubbish dump. Those antics involve more and more booze. I don’t even want to think of his toilet arrangements

He continues to be obsessed with women. And contrary to his ranting at the TV he is reduced to talking to balls with faces painted on them. More obsessing about women, kissing a manikin and more booze.

He finally contemplates suicide by ramming his truck into a boulder but stops just before impact – because he sees smoke.

He hurries there and finds a camp site and, far more meaningful to him, women’s underwear. He faints when he hears a woman cough when she catches him fondling her underwear.

He wakes and they’re both overjoyed to see another human being; well in his dream anyway. When he actually wakes up the woman is less perfectly made up and she thought he was dying (and wetting himself). It’s a lot less dreamy. And when he gets close to her she, wisely, points a gun at him and, for some reason, critiques his grammar.

Eventually she puts her gun away and introduces herself as Carol, last woman on Earth.

Episode 2 The Elephant in the Room

Awkward conversation, Carol’s annoying habit of correcting grammar badly and Phil realising being all alone may actually be preferable. She also would rather he follow traffic laws – like stop signs. Honestly, last person on Earth looks preferable now.

He also takes her to the cess pool he lives in and she has reservations about him stealing priceless art. She’s also not keen on his extensive porn collection. He takes her back to her camp site while she announces her intention to put his life back together

Which involves cleaning (just move into a different house), shopping and following rules like disabled parking which don’t really apply when there’s no other humans around.  They continue to annoy each other until she moves in next door

And brings up the elephant in the room – repopulating the planet. Both make it clear that they would really really really rather not; but she’s determined to fix him until it becomes tolerable. She tries to seduce him with fresh vegetables to encourage him to help.

He steals tomatoes instead and, given the paucity of suspects and his tomato stained clothes, is obviously the culprit. She calls him a terrorist. She continues to ineffectually try and obtain running water.

After a long time trying Carol seems to give up and become as much as a slob as Phil having realised she’s pretty ineffective.

Guilt makes Phil try to get running water instead (he’s not much more effective) but he does succeed in getting water to Carol’s tomato patch. Reconciliation is in the air and he is utterly graceless about it. Oh but she also wants to get married before they have sex.

Dear gods.

I’m not going to poke at how neat and clean everything is for a world destroyed by a virus because this clearly isn’t the kind of show that expects you to look to closely nor does it care if you find the holes. The setting is a backdrop for shenangians, to poke it would be like going to the theatre and complaining that the buildings in the background aren’t real.

But I can’t say I’m a fan of the foreground. Does this make people laugh? Guy breaks stuff and obsesses about women… ok… and… funny? Ok the bowling balls and the fishtanks amused me. But that’s about it. Honestly I didn’t crack a smile the whole time.

And I can’t say I can even think “hey I’d do that”, maybe collect the art but randomly break stuff because? I don’t see the appeal.

Followed up with the slob-man-nagging-woman mind numbingly dull and repeated trope – this one dystopian style and taken to the umpteenth degree, and I’m not a fan.

I’m going to have to say this whole show is about as appealing to me as root canal surgery without anaesthetic and with very shaky hands-  but I rather think I’m not remotely the target audience.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Poisoned by Deceit (The One Rises #4) by Anna Wolfe

Silas receives a message – a summons even – from the witches of San Francisco demanding his help. Witches are going missing, young witches, and one of them is very close to Edie’s ex-husband and ex-mother-in-law.

As they head to San Francisco they have to uncover a plot that risks the Covenant and save young lives before they get in too deep. But just as frightening, Edie has to confront the shadows of her past, people she hurt long ago and an extremely powerful witch who has every reason to hate her.

As is common with this series, this book is far more about the characters than the story. The book is split into multiple point of view sections – Edie, Mark, Silas and Callie and, again, it does it really well. I know I’ve said it every book, but I don’t think I should stop praising it just because I expect it – it really does work. Usually this would be jarring but seeing it from several viewpoints really helps see every character to their fullest. Without this insight into everyone’s head, Edie would seem quite emotionless and cold, Silas would seem uncaring and distant, Callie withdrawn and impulsive and Mark just an arsehole. Because we see inside their heads we see far more of the motives behind each character and it makes for both excellent development and complexity – especially when two characters are at odds and you can see both sides have a point.

One good example of this is the trust issues that permeate this book. Because of various woo-woo Silas has secrets that he simply cannot share with the others. Not doesn’t want to, but absolutely cannot. But at the same time the very nature of his training means he requires complete and unflinching trust from the others, without a shred of thought for privacy. This makes for some excellent development and conflict as Callie repeatedly holds back and even Edie has reservations, tempered by her much longer association with Silas.

There’s a lot of complexities and motives among the group with no-one really wrong because everyone has a point and a good reason for thinking what they think and doing what they do.

This book and series continues to be a wonderful subversion of many annoying elements of Urban Fantasy – especially in relation to feeding and control. The bitten in this world hunger, they need to feed. What they feed on differs from bitten to bitten, but common examples are pain, sex, fear, blood, anger – even devotion. Usually if they can feed on it, they have powers relating to it – and a hunger or drive towards causing it

In any other Urban Fantasy, this would be the cue for lots and lots of sexy times as the sex hunger-ers had lots and lots of sex with very little consent and excused it all with woo-woo, lots of guilt or guilt and woo-woo. They may occasionally complain about it, but generally a wonderful time is had by all

Once Upon a Time, Season 4, Episode 13: Darkness on the Edge of Town

The Forbidden Fortress, Many years ago

Wait, we have a Forbidden Fortress? And am I the only one who finds ominous castles with names like that really unimpressive? It’s the very definition of trying too hard, dare I say, overcompensating for something?

Ursula enters Maleficent castle (taking down a guard - or, as Not!Pam says “knocked out, strangled or tried to impregnate” since she doesn’t know what the tentacles are for) and Maleficent objects to this. Someone invited Ursula and it wasn’t Maleficent (which is just rude). They’re interrupted by two large dogs which Cruella seems to control with her halitosis.  She was also invited. Maleficent is also not impressed.

Rumplestiltskin, the one who invited them all, arrives before they start fighting. He’s pitching his plan of the villains getting the happy endings. Time for his pitch (in which he reveals he knows what they all secretly want), they need a Dark Curse that will get them all their Happily Ever After.

This involves going through a series of traps each tailored to a villain’s talent to gain the curse. Of course, Rumple double crosses them and leaves them to die at the hands of the Chernobog, a demon that feeds on evil (actually a Slavic god as I recall). That leaves the 3 villains to fight it – and co-operate (it goes for the most evil which is apparently Maleficent).

To the present and Storybrooke and everything is idyllic (and yes, that includes Regina, now mayor again, burning Mary Margaret’s sappy artwork cluttering up her gloriously stylish office).

But there is something sinister underneath – the Blue Fairy and all her Fairy-Nuns are still missing (thanks to Rumple) and Killian and Belle are working on trying to release them, which means investigation. Which isn’t going to go well if Killian remains contemptuous of computers (and, Killian, that computer is way too out dated to be a magic box). Of course Killian is tortured by the guilt weasels because any attractive man who looks good in black leather and eyeliner simply has to have some darkly tortured angst to go with it. It’s a  rule. Bella has similar guilt weasels but softer – Rumple tricked them both, it happens. Belle is also sad because she did love Rumple, despite how it ended between them.

In New York, Rumple is living a far less idyllic life with the aquarium loving Ursula – both of them without magic outside of Storybrooke. And there is something deeply disturbing watching Rumple microwave ramen. Ursula’s also getting tired of him freeloading on her. But Rumple has plans

Plans which lead them to a fancy house in Long Island where Cruella lives – only her stuff is being repossessed and her husband just got arrested. He launches his recruitment pitch though she doubts both his lack of magic and his physical infirmity (Rumple walks with a cane). They’re off to track down the storybook’s author who is responsible for all their misfortune (as opposed to, as Cruella puts it, “bad judgement and gin.”) And they go for drive through

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dark Debt (Chicagoland Vampires #11) by Chloe Neill

Ethan and Merit have been on edge waiting for Balthasar, Ethan’s creator, to show himself. Finally the ancient vampire makes an appearance – and he’s as terrifying and powerful as they feared; he also feels entitled to his progeny’s achievements, including his house

But it’s not the only threat looking. The problems besetting Navarre house have finally been revealed as two of their vampires become attempted assassins in a very public attack. While Navarre has never been a friend to Cadogan, Ethan and Merit can’t stand aside while the vampire house is acting so strangely and has to investigate, even with Balthasar stalking them.

This is one of those hard reviews to write. It’s hard because I find myself with a feeling of, well, vaguely positive indifference towards the book. I didn’t dislike it, there were few things about it that I had issue with (though there are some which I’ll get to). The writing was well paced, the action seems nicely described. The two main plots were nicely interwoven, related and each got sufficient time and attention to be properly developed and come to a natural conclusion.

Merit continues to be a relatively fun character, active and in control without being overwhelming and eclipsing everyone else. There was also more presence from the other women around her, the other female guards, Helen who runs the house, Margot the cook, Mallory her best friend. They’re not present in huge amounts but this is a very Ethan and Merit focused book. I also like that Mallory is finally coming from beneath the shadow of her past misdeeds to be a less controversial and dubious presence in the book always haunted by her own guilt

I also appreciated that Merit managed to be intelligent and insightful in this book without the need for everyone else to suddenly lose half of their brain cells. It has been an unfortunate habit of the series to make Merit seem extremely intelligent by making everyone else… somewhat limited in their comprehension.

I love Merit’s adoration of all things edible and unhealthy and she almost makes me hungry reading
the book (or, in her case, hangry – her hungry anger has no caused emergency lunches to be ready at all times) though there’s a dubious element of this unhealthy eating without any side issues.

We had some touching on the Sorcerers with Catcher and Mallory’s upcoming wedding – and a lot of interest debate around it. I loved how they chewed over the idea that even with someone you love, getting married for “practical purposes” rather takes the wind out of things. But equally there’s the counter debate that people grow up, what they once dreamed of isn’t what they want and love and practicality can mean that a big romantic moment is less important – it’s a nice back and forth with the added good input from Ethan that her friends are adults who don’t need Merit to police their relationship.

Fangs for the Fantasy Book of the Week

It's another Monday and usually time for another episode of the Fangs for the Fantasy Podcast

Sadly, because we've been hit with the dreaded moose plague, we're not up to doing the podcast this week. However, we will continue our books of the week for the Monday review ans because we do intend to talk about them when we're back on the air and the mooses (meese?) have been banished

We will be covering everything when we come back!

9th February - 16th February: Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop
16th February - 23rd February: Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
23rd February - 2nd March: Dark Debt by Chloe Neil
2nd March - 9th March: Fury’s Kiss by Karen Chance
9th March - 16th March: Ash by Malinda Lo
16th March - 23rd March: Grave Visions by Kalayna Price
23rd March - 30th March: Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger
30th March - 6th April: The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich
6th April – 13th April: Vengeance of the Demon by Diana Rowland

If you have missed any of our previous shows, all our archives can be found here

Bitten: Season 2, Episode 4: Dead Meat

Elena is strapped to a gurney with random people silently taking samples from her (90% of the POC on this show are sinister agents of Alistair’s, I’d like to point out) while a woman assures the drugged Elena that everything will be fine, they’re just examining her. Oh well that’s perfectly acceptable! They also strip her down to her bra for Reasons.

There’s lots of sinister sample jars all around her. Alistair arrives to declare her blood is the answer to allow them to achieve the “undoing”

I’m going to take a wild guess and assume we don’t want him to achieve the undoing. The undoing sounds like a bad thing.

He touches her and burns his symbol into her neck with the palm of his hand.

Next time she wakes up, she’s in a cell. After looking all around for a route of escape she manages to tear a small hole in the wall, but it’s braced with metal and there’s no way she could fit through it. But it does allow her to speak to Savannah in the next cell. Before they can have a conversation, guards with tasers and a catch pole come to collect her.

Back at Stonehaven, Jeremy, Clay, Ruth and Paige are all looking for Elena and Savannah (and, hope, reflecting on their terrible performance last episode). They manage to get in touch with Savannah through Paige and trying to convince Savannah that Alistair is a bad guy. Despite the kidnapping and being put in a cell, Savannah is having trouble remembering this. They also learn that Elena is there

Back to Elena and the female doctor trying to be all friendly and enthusiastic about her experiments. Elena tries to reason with her but she’s all gung ho for the undoing as well

Savannah has another chit chat with Alistair in which he uses his “I am the lock,” “I am the key” mantra to bring her back into acquiescence when she refuses to go along with the idea that the witches just want to control her and how being locked up is a totally good thing. He’s also using his faked hypnotically induced rage to try and focus Savannah’s growing magic

Alistair considers this good news and tells the sinister doctor lady who doesn’t understand why he doesn’t just brand her and bring her to the “inside mind” whatever that means. Woo-woo means this is a bad idea, apparently. Also the blood tests the doctor’s doing haven’t don’t what they want them to. They haven’t used Elena’s blood because she hasn’t turned yet – all the ways they used to turn the other wolves  haven’t worked on Elena –which the doctor takes to mean Elena is super special. The doctor, Sonja, gets super duper excited by all the potential of experimentation but Alistair gets all sinister – they need Elena’s wolf blood, science isn’t his goal. Sonja professes her devotion.