Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Vampire Diaries Season Three: Episode Eleven: Our Town

It seems that "our town," is made of teen angst, love triangles, serial murder and founders day worship, and this basically makes it just another day in Mystic Falls. It seems that the big plan is to drag out the opening of Klaus' family coffins.  To keep us interested however, we learned this episode that there is an extra coffin.  Seeing as how his brothers, sisters and father, are all accounted for, someone significant must be in the extra coffin, and Bonnie believes that whoever is in that coffin has the power to kill Klaus.  Since Klaus' mother is dead, I believe that the person in the extra coffin is the witch friend of Klaus' mother.  Who do you think it might be?

Alright straight into the angst shall we? The love triangle between Elena, Stefan and Damon is still running strong.  This week there was the suggestion that despite all of his bravado that Stefan might still have very strong feelings for Elena.  When Stefan threatens to kill Elena, by driving her off the same bridge that her parents died on, Klaus is resistant to believe that he will turn her into a vampire and says to Damon, "love like that never dies."  Okay people, say it with me, awwwww.  After Klaus capitulates in order to ensure that Elena will live, because she is the key to him making more hybrids, Stefan stops the car.  (Don't you wish they would just stop putting Elena in peril when there is zero chance that she will do us all a favor and disappear from the show?) Elena is visibly upset.  She later attacks Stefan and asks how he could do this to her, and he answers that he has lost everything, and that he knew when he left town that he had lost her for good.  When she asks him if he is trying to make her hate him, he says that he no longer cares what she thinks of him.  Nothing like lovers games: go away, come back, go away, come back, go away, come back.

Why or why is Elena even talking to Stefan?  He is supposed to be the so-called good vampire, and yet she has witnessed the corpses he has left behind, as well as seen the long list of his victims.  Just that night he threatened to kill her violently, and forced his blood down her throat (note: blood transfer this way is a metaphor for semen and rape), and yet she is still concerned with whether or not he might love her.  This absolutely disgusts me, and doubly so because this crap is aimed at young women.  Violence is not romantic, no matter how much the abuser claims to love you, and there is no doubt about it, Stefan is a violent, abusive murderer.

On the other side of the triangle, we have Damon, who seems to have turned into Elena's faithful pet.  At this point, I no longer recognize him.  On one hand he is in collusion with Stefan to bring about Klaus' death, and the other he has become Elena's night in shining armor, waiting patiently upon her to decide that he is worthy of her love. What happened to the vampire that showed up in season one, unafraid to kill for his own amusement? What happened to the dark and terrifying Damon? And on that note, why is Elena even considering Damon after he killed her brother in cold blood just last season?  The very same brother that she lied to in order to protect just last episode?  Yeah, yeah, I know, the senseless pretty teenage protagonist always comes with the magical ability to change the basic personality of her lovers simply be her power to be awe inspiringly dense at every opportunity, thus causing his protective mode to kick in.

Eternal Law, Season 1, Episode 2,

And time for another episode of Eternal law, where our whacky angelic lawyers adapt to the world and save people’s souls. And here we learn, among other things, that angels are not the most domestic of beings. Though they do appreciate the merits of a good cup of tea (as they should).

And here we have a divorce and a child custody battle, between mother and father. Our angelic lawyers are representing the father – but there’s a twist. Not only is our naughty fallen angel representing the mother but he has passed the case to one of his new lawyers – Hannah. Yes, Zak Gist’s ex, Hannah. Unfortunately, the presence of Hannah tends to make Zak all mushy.

As is very true to life, these hearings are not even remotely pleasant with 2 parents who both deeply care for their son who has had a very hard life already after being adopted from a very bad situation.
And, of course, as Zak brilliantly points out, there often isn’t a “goodie” and “badie” in these situations (“It’s a contested hearing, not an episode of Bonanza”). After that we get a very real depiction of just that – the unpleasantness of a custody hearing. I could go into detail of the back and forth, but it would be more a transcript – but it is well done, emotional and well acted.

I have to say that it’s not something I enjoyed, I want to see angels and magic and good & evil – this rather bleak and rather real battle over a child may be a great legal drama, but it’s not what I consider fun viewing – especially after the fluffiness of the first episode.

Of course as an extra complication it seems Mr. Mountjoy doesn’t want them to intervene in a custody battle – he wants them to get the feuding couple back together. And maybe, just maybe, Zak will be bending those little rules a little more – in particular to convince Anna, a woman who used to work in the adoption agency, to speak up in favour of the father –or produce a letter he wrote to her on behalf of them both. But Anna is burned out – tired of human misery of seeing families in pain and suffering, she doesn’t want to be involved, she just wants to be left alone.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: Double Cross by Carolyn Crane, Book 2 of the Disillusionist Triology

Justine, the hypochondriac disillusionist who can channel her fear into others, is faced with growing moral quandaries in this book.

She loves Otto and wants to please him – but is unsure how she can fit in his so rigid black and white view of the world or live up to the high faith he puts in her. At the same time Packard remains compelling – Packard with his shades of grey and his dubious means always justified by the ends.

And she has to continue to disillusion the highcap criminals that Otto has imprisoned – not doing so could lead to Otto imprisoning Packard – and dying from the stress of holding all the forcefields in place. But Ez, her latest target, doesn’t seem guilty – and when Justine’s already finding it hard to justify the disillusionment of the guilty, it’s even harder to deal with disillusioning someone who may be innocent. But this highcap can control dreams and control people through dreams – in the past she was thought to force people to become cannibal sleep walkers. And she’s in Packard and her heads – does she dare not disillusion her, even if she is innocent?

And worse, there are the Dunces. A trio of serial killers stalking Midcity who are targeting highcaps – and are immune to highcap powers.

This book has a very strong theme of moral questioning. Of black and white thinking over shades of grey. Of whether ends justify the means. Of choosing between what’s right and self-preservation. Of survival vs freedom, of freedom vs morality , of the unintended consequences of well intended actions. There are a dozen well examined and deep issues all along these lines – from Justine trying to be free from Parker, to Otto’s very rigid view of the world, to J’s discomfort about disillusioning anyone and exacerbated by the idea of disillusioning an innocent person. There’s the battle to be free from parker and the consequences of that when it causes Parker to be unable to fulfil his deal with Otto. There are Parker’s lies and whether they are justified for the sake of his freedom and what he has endured. There’s a debate on Parker’s past and whether he was judged too harshly. There’s – well, there are dozens of these deeply fascinating and complicated debates that really mke you think

Syfy Lost Girl Q&A With Anna Silk, Zoie Palmer and Kris Holden-Ried

This week, we had the opportunity to participate in a phone conference with Anna Silk, Zoie Palmer and Kris Holden-Ried.  Unfortunately, the entire transcript is extremely long and so we are only able to share a few highlights with you.

Gary Morgenstein: Welcome everyone to the "Lost Girl" conference call. We're delighted to have the stars, Anna Silk, Kris Holden-Ried, and Zoie Palmer, who form a very interesting romantic triangle in this series, which has been a huge hit in Canada and premiers on SyFy Monday, January 16th at 10:00 right after the second season premier of "Being Human."

Zoie Palmer: Hello. Thank you.

Anna Silk: Thank you, yes.

Kris Holden-Ried:  Let's rock and roll.

(Renee Martin): Hello everyone. Thanks for talking with us today. As a Canadian, I have watched every single episode and every Monday morning I get the (Team Docubus) emails. So I have to ask Kris a question, I probably would be banned from (Tim Horton's) at this point if I didn't.  So my question is to Kris. What - Dyson is a very restrained character. There's always something about him that is just simmering underneath it all. And so, do you find this a challenge as an actor, because it has to come through with your body language rather than the lines that you're given to say, and also, I have to ask it, how much did you love getting the chance to pretend to be Kenzi?  We loved it.

Anna Silk: That's a big spoiler alert, just so you know.

(Renee Martin): I couldn't help it. I'm sorry. I had to do it.
Anna Silk: Of course. No, of course.

Kris Holden-Ried: Yeah, that was great. I mean we're talking about something in season two here. And yeah, season two is being a bit of a tough, tough pull for Dyson, and to get to play a different character for one episode was fantastic and especially Kenzi, who Ksenia Solo played so well, and who I'm lucky to have such a great relationship with, and she helped me out tremendously. We really teamed up to help each other out. And it was a great experience.

As far as your first question about the restraint, I think it's become something that's really inherent in Dyson, and part of it came out of a necessity of the way we shot first season, which was completely out of chronological sequence, so a lot of times we didn't know what we were going to have to do in the (preselect), we choose episode nine, and then episode three, and so sometimes we didn't know what we were going to have to react to. So you sometimes have to play this ambiguous sort of line.

Zoie Palmer: Yeah.

Kris Holden-Ried:  But also in my style of acting, I tend to internalize things more than externalize them, and that's just - and I think people pick up on stuff that - I mean we're such sensitive creatures that even if you internalize things, people pick up on them. And what I like about after my - the way I like to act is that I find if people are using their own imagination to put onto your character what it's feeling then often more authentic than me trying to demonstrate something, you know.

(Renee Martin): Thank you very much.

Anna Silk: Yeah, and there's been such an outpouring of support for the show. I mean people that follow us on Twitter and various things, they really are big fans of the show and really care about each character and each relationship.

And whenever I tweet, there's one girl in particular who always writes back within, usually a minute. Now if she doesn't I start to get worried about her. I think she's in France, and I was like, where is she? She hasn't written back. I start to get worried, because the response is so quick. It's really great.

Zoie Palmer: Anna (unintelligible) talking to fans is pretty much what she's doing.

Kris Holden-Ried: But what I also found, which is real interesting is not just of the characters but the fans through these media outlets really get in touch with the person who's playing the role...

Zoie Palmer: Yeah.

Kris Holden-Ried:  ...and can build quite the - I'm amazed at the power of a relationship that you can - 255 characters or however many Twitter allows you to write. I think it's something like that, because you know, about six months I've actually just like Anna said, I've gotten to know these people. I know exactly who's talking about it. And yeah, I told her I was worried about her too.

Zoie Palmer: (Smelly Cat), if you're out there, we love you.

Anna Silk: Yes, (Smelly Cat), we love you.

Reg Seeton: Can you each talk about the appeal of Bo and what you guys love about the triangle relationship as the season evolves?

Anna Silk: Did you say the appeal of Bo? The appeal of Bo, I mean since I play Bo, I don't know. I think that the appeal of Bo for me when I read the initial pilot was just how - I think she's - even though she's a succubus and she's not human and she's going to be thrown into this crazy world, she's really relatable. She's a very relatable character. She's intensely vulnerable and also has to sort of grow and find her way, and there's a lot of growth for her in the series.

And I think that that's sort of what, you know, having just talked to fans and just even myself, that's what I related to in her and that's what I found appealing was that she's strong and sexy and all of those things, but she's scared a lot of the times and vulnerable and has to figure out things as she goes.

And then the love triangle that unfolds that the (INs) gets introduced to in season one is pretty, pretty interesting. Anyone care to comment?

Zoie Palmer: You led us right up to the love triangle and dropped us off. The love triangle is, yeah, I mean it's just that, isn't it? I think that everyone who meets Bo, including Dyson and Lauren are sort of taken with her, for reasons that I don't know that - well, I mean I think Lauren is taken with her for reasons that I don't know that she can explain entirely. And she's obviously beautiful. You're beautiful, Anna.

Anna Silk: Thank you.

Zoie Palmer: But there's something about her, I think that brings - draws people into her, and I think that that's what sort of Lauren finds right away. And I think almost - I think it's a surprise that she feels that way, that that happens. I think she works for the Light Fae and she does her job and she's a scientist and then along comes this sort of creature, this person, this woman who does something to her, and I don't know that's she kind of sure what that something is, certainly from Lauren's side, anyway. Kris?

Kris Holden-Ried:  I think with Dyson it's pretty simple, you know, he introduces - got these - got this incredible cleavage - and no. Sorry.

Zoie Palmer: And end right in the cleavage.

Kris Holden-Ried: I think for Dyson, with the mythology behind Dyson's character has a lot to do with he's a protector. The wolf was - its entire job in existence was protecting its liege or its king, whoever it was assigned, and in Bo he sees an innocent but beautiful and vulnerable woman that he finds one, beautiful and fascinating, but also those instincts out in him.

And there's also some historical stuff behind Trick and Bo and Dyson that the audience will find out about that also sort of plays into this as well, but I think it's really kind of a deep sort of seated instinct in Dyson's want to protect Bo, and in doing so, he gets feelings for her.

Self-Publishing: Sometimes the only Gate that's Open

'Lock The Gate Master Brand' photo (c) 2011, Lock The Gate - license:

The review blog All Things Urban Fantasy recently published a piece regarding their refusal to do reviews of self published books.  The author of the post said that she has had negative experiences with authors who have reacted unprofessionally to critique.  She further went on to cite amateurish covers, as well as grammatical and spelling mistakes in the books. Obviously, we believe that the owner of each blog should have autonomy over their own spaces, and so we respect the right of the owners of All Things Urban Fantasy to place limitations on which books they will cover however, in our space, our policy is quite different.

At Fangs for the Fantasy, we accept all books with the only requirement being that they fit our specified genre (and we have been known to bend that - albeit not often).  If the book has a protagonist of colour, a GLBT protagonist, a disabled protagonist or a strong female character, it is more likely to end up on the top of our to read list.  Together, we negotiate a number of marginalisations and as such we want to see ourselves reflected in what we read.  We further recognise how important it is to children who come from historically marginalised communities to see positive representations of themselves.

Publishing companies, just like any social organisations, have inbuilt biases. This means that privileged people are far more likely to get publishing deals and books that support a narrative in which historically marginalised people are either erased, or subject to negative portrayals are more likely to be published. The idea that traditionally published books are simply a marker of professionalism is missing the fact that agents and publishers act as gate keepers and, like all gate keepers, their role is to support the active oppression and silencing of historically marginalised people. As reviewers, contributing to the attention a book receives, our reviewing policy can risk enabling the gate keepers or becoming gate keepers ourselves if we ignore the built in biases.

Rachel Manija Brown, author of All the Fishes Come Home to Roost, and Sherwood Smith, author of Crown Duel and a great many other novels for adults and young adults published a piece Publisher’s Weekly this past September about the suggestion that they should remove a gay character from a book that they had written.

An agent from a major agency, one which represents a bestselling YA novel in the same genre as ours, called us.

The agent offered to sign us on the condition that we make the gay character straight, or else remove his viewpoint and all references to his sexual orientation.

Rachel replied, “Making a gay character straight is a line in the sand which I will not cross. That is a moral issue. I work with teenagers, and some of them are gay. They never get to read fantasy novels where people like them are the heroes, and that’s not right.”

The agent suggested that perhaps, if the book was very popular and sequels were demanded, Yuki could be revealed to be gay in later books, when readers were already invested in the series. (source)

This is an example of gatekeeping in action. You’ll note that the agent's issue was not with elements of the story, but simply the fact that the authors dared to have a gay teen and one whose relationships matched that of their heterosexual counterparts. I know that there are those who will argue that there is already some gay representation in the genre (though erasure is far more likely to be the norm), but to that I must point out that the addition of a gay character, does not necessarily mean that the role is affirmative in any way.  What we tend to see are the gay best friends, or gay uncles, who are usually celibate and fulfill every trope associated with gay men.  These men love to shop, they sashay, are limp wristed  and catty, all while practically farting unicorns and fairy dust.

The closer the representation comes to being affirming, the less likely publishers will want to publish it. There is a very solid belief that books that involve gay characters belong in the m/m genre where they can be appropriately fetishised by straight women. Mainstream representations of gay characters is few and far between and in the urban fantasy genre trans people are downright invisible.  

The GLBT community is not the only historically marginalized people that are subjected to erasure within the urban fantasy genre. I cannot tell you how many books I have read that have been set in major urban areas only to find that there isn’t a single person of colour in the story. Let’s consider for the moment the struggle that Australian author Justine Larbalestier had when Bloomsbury Children's Books decided to publish the American release of her book Liar with a young White girl with long hair on the cover of her book, despite the fact that the protagonist, Micah, is a Black girl with short hair. After much online discussion, Larbalestier took to her blog to write the following:

Liar is a book about a compulsive (possibly pathological) liar who is determined to stop lying but finds it much harder than she supposed. I worked very hard to make sure that the fundamentals of who Micah is were believable: that she’s a girl, that she’s a teenager, that she’s black, that she’s USian. One of the most upsetting impacts of the cover is that it’s led readers to question everything about Micah: If she doesn’t look anything like the girl on the cover maybe nothing she says is true. At which point the entire book, and all my hard work, crumbles.

Every year at every publishing house, intentionally and unintentionally, there are white-washed covers. Since I’ve told publishing friends how upset I am with my Liar cover, I have been hearing anecdotes from every single house about how hard it is to push through covers with people of colour on them. (source)

As with erasure in books with GLBT characters, white washing characters is hardly an isolated experience.

In short, marginalised work faces constant suppression. From Amazon delisting, to book shop shelving in the “niche” section, to publishers, agents and editors demanding protagonists, covers, even significant bit characters be as privileged as possible so as not to “alienate” readers. There is a constant battle from mainstream publishing - and beyond - to push marginalised characters out of our books and marginalised authors off our shelves.

It is an effort to avoid the gatekeeping activities of traditional publishing houses that minority authors have taken to independent publication. It has meant a lack of support in terms of editing, book covers and publicity; however, the flip side is real characters that accurately reflect the experiences of historically marginalised people. The very idea that authors resort to self publishing because they lack skill, ignores the very real roadblocks that marginalised people face.

To be honest, it smacks of snobbery. You’re  self-pubbed? Oh you’re not a REAL author. Your work is lesser and not worth my time. Now go find this publishing house full of cis, straight, white, able-bodied men to tell you you’re a real author and your work is worth my attention, then get back to me. In other words, books are only considered books once they’ve passed through a filter controlled by the privileged.

To refuse to review these works is to participate in the maintenance of a system that has proven itself repeatedly to be biased. Of course, such a decision is always backed up with the claim that self published books aren’t polished or that the authors are not professional, but I can tell you that after reading countless books in this genre, there are plenty of books which are filled with spelling and grammar mistakes - to say nothing of dubious stories, weak characterisations and plot holes you could sail a tanker through. And we have had run ins with authors who are displeased with the reviews that we have posted in this space, who have made us aware in no uncertain terms that our decision to consider the role of isms in their work is unfair. No one wants to be called a bigot, however, because we live in a White supremacist, ableist, sexist, homophobic state, the very idea that any work can be free of isms is ridiculous. We don’t live in a Utopia but somehow recognition of one's failure is supposedly more difficult to deal with than the historically marginalised people who have to live with consequences of having this bigotry become the ground work of our discourse. Traditional publishers are certainly no guarantee of quality or professionalism.

Whether or not reviewers are consciously aware or not, a refusal to branch out and consider the work of independently published books is based in a desire to conform and maintain a status quo that in some way benefits them. I think it would be fair to say that as marginalised reviewers, we have a responsibility to consider the work of self pubs, simply because they are some of the best opportunities to see good positive representation, without the influence of those who seek to erase us from an entire genre, furthermore our support evidences that there is a market for the work of marginalised people despite claims to the contrary.

If it’s drek, we may snark it - but never for just being a self-pub.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review of Cold Fire by Kate Elliot Book Two of the Spiritwalker Trilogy

Cold Fire continues the story of  Catherine Bell Barahal, right where Cold Magic ended. One would assume that because Cold Magic included such massive amounts of world building that Cold Fire would delve right into the story, but that is not the case.  For a good 130 pages, the book just droned on.  I am starting to wonder what Elliott has against the beginning of her novels. I once again considered giving the novel a DNF, and it is only because I remembered that Cold Fire was extremely slow to start that I continued on. Once again, Elliot ignored the adage of show, not tell. 

Cat is taken the spirit world and emerges in the Antilles. This shifts the story from Europa to the West Indies.  I really liked that Elliot went out of her way to be authentic in both speech patterns and the food that they consumed, but I will say the amount of rum did seem excessive at times.  This was a wonderful shift because far too often, these stories are set in Europe and have a very Eurocentric perspective or the cultures of colour are thin and show an obvious lack of resource. 

As with Cold Magic, there is a class struggle going on.  The poor want the right to have a say in their government and as to be expected, the ruling classes wish to continue to have their rule unchallenged.  The rule of law is not evenly applied, and those with power are able to avoid things like imprisonment on salt island. In the north, cold mages who work in houses control the government, but in the south, fire mages are the main elemental power.  It is illegal to be an unregistered mage and because they have been so restricted, many are unaware of their capabilities. Into this word enters Andevai a cold mage from the north and Cats husband through an arranged marriage.  There is also the issue of general Camjiata who is attempting to rebuild his army to invade Europa.  Unfortunately for Cat and Bee, they play a large roll in his plans.

Seize the Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Book 5 of the Dark Hunters Series

Valerius is a Dark Hunter from ancient Rome who has been reviled all his life.  First by his family who despised his compassion and later by his fellow Dark Hunters who loathe him for the actions of his kin – and the actions of ancient Rome. He’s a man with little sense of his own worth, only a dedication to decorum and his duty that keeps him going.

Tabitha isn’t very dedicated to decorum, but she does know duty. An empath driven to save others in pain, she has hunted Daimon since before her sisters even realised they existed. Energetic and passionate, she refuses to be bound by convention and burns energy at a rate that is exhausting for anyone watching

Together, she and Valerius make an odd couple, not least because her family revile him so completely; but Tabitha rarely lets someone else’s opinions confine her.

And they do have other things to worry about. The Spathi, the elite, immortal fighters of the Daimons are attacking in droves. Outright war has come to New Orleans and the casualties are mounting – and Tabitha’s own family is targeted. Things only get worse as an old enemy is resurrected and hunts Marrissa, Tabitha’s niece

With new dark hunters made, Acheron revealing more of his power and the ancient Atlantean goddess of destruction rising – the very city seems under threat.

Storywise we have what is now becoming a usual block for me when it comes to this series. We started maybe half the book with a riomance that I don’t find particularly realistic, it’s fast tracked, comes with protestations of love far too early, has levels of sexual obsession that don’t seem healthy and is usually sprinkled with a very large amount of angst. It’s usually as we’re reaching the end of this that I’m rolling my eyes, wondering why I bothered with this story and why do I like this series when we spend so much time on a rather convoluted romance and then…

Then the plot happens. And I’m reminded that we have a rich and wonderful world here, that we have epic conflicts between Atlantean and Greek gods. That we have legendary heroes and miraculous abilities, that we have a story that holds precious gems of epic and wonder. And we have a sotry that is exciting and fast paced and character driven and laden with power and fear and tension – and people can actually die! And happily ever after in this eternal war isn’t always possible, there is loss and grief and more battles and mystery and development.

In fact, in some ways the mystery is getting too much. I’m ready for some answers. I want to have some more holes filled while at the same time I want to see the world widen. I’m sad that we’ve only seen snapshots of a very few Greek gods, I’m sad we’re not seeing more gods from other pantheons and I want to know exactly who Acheron is and how he fits into all this, and what about Katra? There’s such a lot here and so much has only been hinted at – my curiosity has been roused and wants more to sink my teeth into.

Cover Snark: When we Wish we Could Judge the Book on its Cover

This week on cover snark we’re going to take a little twist from what we do usually. As you can see above, there is nothing wrong with this cover. It’s beautiful. It is evocative of darkness and power and fear and heart breaking grief. It’s one of the most beautiful and emotional covers I’ve ever seen in the genre. And it’s a cover for Fallen. A book about an angsty teenager, a love triangle and lots of teen moping with a brief flare of supernatural action going on in the closing chapters. The contrast is jarring. I feel inclined to sue for false advertising.

 Single White Vampire by Lynsay Sands falls under the category of paranormal romance and some would even say paranormal comedy.  As you can see from the cover, it is light and fluffy. It clearly sets the scene for a romantic dinner for two.  From the cover you are led to expect something different, from the usual angsting that goes on in paranormal romance but what you cannot assume that difference and romance is based in an onslaught of homophobia. In a way it’s almost false advertising.



And then we get this. Bullet by Laurell K Hamilton. And Narcissus in Chains. Both are books from the infamous Anita Blake series; a series so full of pointless sex that the covers should surely be covered in brown paper and suspicious stains? How do so many great stories have disembodied women on the cover, or twisted spines to show unnecessary T&A, yet the borderline porn of Anita Blake - of Narcissus in Chains, of all books! - gets these intriguing, restrained and slightly spooky covers?

We need a special kind of snark for severely troubling books behind amazing covers. They raise so much wonderful expectation - and then it all comes plummeting down. It just goes to show that, no matter how professional and impressive the book cover is - it's no indication of the quality of its content. Not least of which because the author usually has so little control over the cover of their book

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An Interview with author-Kelley Armstrong

BR: Please tell our members as little bit about yourself and ONE thing (about yourself) that none of your fans would know about! There is not a lot of ‘accurate’ information about Kelley Armstrong on the web.

KA: I’m the author of the "Women of the Otherworld" paranormal suspense series and "Darkest Powers/Darkness Rising" young adult urban fantasy series, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series. I grew up in Southwestern Ontario, where I still live with my family. I’m a former computer programmer, but I have escaped my corporate cubicle and hope never to return.

As for something about myself that my readers don’t know, by this point, that’d be really tough, mostly because I’ve had similar questions asked often enough that everything of mild interest is already out there J So I’d need to resort to the random and mundane, like “My favourite vegetable is asparagus.”

BR: You are probably asked this question, with every interview, but the answer is always of interest to our members. How and why did you become a writer? Who or what was your inspiration into the field of writing?

KA: I've been writing since childhood. I was an early reader and very quickly wanted to tell my own stories. In my twenties I started working on novels, and would sporadically send out query letters and sample chapters, but never got anything more than a form letter rejection. So I gave up and concentrated on improving. In 1999, I sold Bitten, which became my first published novel, but wasn’t my first novel.

I think what inspired me was the opportunity to tell my own stories. As a child, I started writing because I loved reading, and writing meant I could make up the stories I wanted to hear. Part of that still holds true today...although I'm no longer the only one reading them!

BR: Describe a ‘typical day’ for Kelley Armstrong. Do you have a routine that you follow? Are there specific things that you do to get the creative juices flowing?

KA: A typical writing day starts at about 5:30. I work until I get my kids up, then send them off on the bus at 7:30. I usually write most of the morning and into the early afternoon, then spend the rest of the afternoon doing business stuff. I stop when the kids return…or try to, if my schedule allows.

If I’m not travelling I do most of my writing in my office, which is comfortable, but not too comfortable. For me it has to be an efficient work environment where I can work without distractions. So it’s in the basement, where it’s quiet and there isn’t a window or anything to drag my attention out of the story.

Read the rest of the interview here

Review: Kitty and the Silver Bullet by Carrie Vaughn. Book 4 of the Kitty Norville Series

After a long time away, Kitty finds herself drawn back to Denver. First it was Rick, a vampire friend trying to drag her into vampire politics, but then it was something far more personal – her mother has cancer.

Refusing to abandon her family, Kitty is forced to return to Denver where she was previously banished – instantly setting her against her old alphas, Carl and Meg. And also dragging her, against her wishes, into deep vampire politics, not just to help Rick against Arturo, the master of Denver, but also enmeshing her in even deeper webs as a new vampire visits the city and agrees to an interview.

Kitty has to decide whether to flee or stand her ground so she can be there for her family – and she has to continue to navigate her new relationship and new pack with Ben – a pack that is growing. And she has to decide who tom protect and who to risk – especially when her staying at all puts all of her human family at risk.

Kitty just wants to lead her own life – but she can’t abandon her family at this worst time, she can’t abandon people who come to her for help, cannot – and will not – abandon her work and will not run any more.

I think the thing I like most about this book is how it took many of the issues I had with Kitty and the Midnight Hour and fixed them. Carl is expressly labelled as abusive and a complete arsehole. His being a werewolf is adamantly rejected as an excuse or justification. He’s an abuser and treated as such. His victims are victims and treated as such (even if the rescue doesn’t go to plan) and, ultimately he gets his most glorious comeuppance. 

Seeing Kitty come back, so much stronger, so much tougher, seeing things so much clearer than she once did was one of those wonderful literature moments; she left a victim and came back and refused to be controlled.

Despite that, Kitty doesn’t come back seeking revenge or seeking to take control. She hasn’t stepped outside of herself. She is, ultimately, still the same person who is conflict averse and ultimately wants to live her own life without disturbance but is dragged into these conflicts, ultimately, to both preserve her autonomy AND to protect the vulnerable. She has evolved and grown as a character without completely transforming into someone unrecognisable. She’s not perfect, she’s not fearless, but she is real, she is alpha and she is strong

Wednesday Reboot: Under World Evolution

Underworld Evolution was released in 2006 and stars Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman and Bill Nighy

The movie opens with a little Vampire/Lycan history. 

Legend tells that the war began with two brothers, the immortal son of Alexander Corvinus.

Markus, Bitten by bat, became the blood leader of the vampires.

William, Bitten by wolf, became the first and most powerful Lycan. 

In 1202AD William is out of control and killing at will.  Viktor wants him brought to heel quickly, but Markus reminds him that he is not to be harmed. In a battle that pits brother against brother, Viktor sends Markus away in fear that if he dies that they will all die. Fearing his brothers life, Markus returns to the battle before they can kill William and demands that he be placed in his charge.  Viktor attempts to threaten Markus saying that he must learn his place but Markus reminds him that if he dies, that they all die. Viktor demands that Markus be imprisoned for all time far from William.

At this point, I am fairly certain that director Len Wiseman, has no idea what he wants to do with this franchise.What we have here is a morose Shakespearean tragedy attempting to be an action flick.  We have royal bloodlines, twin brothers separated by a curse and a father unwilling to deal with it all.  In the middle of that are Selene and Michael who are attempting to unravel centuries of vampire/lycan rage.  If that were not enough we have Michael the first ever lycan/vampire hybrid who seems unable to adjust to the idea of what he is and that he will need blood to survive.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Once Upon a Time, Season 1, Episode 8: Desperate Souls

So after the long holiday hiatus, we’re coming back to the series in the deep end - the story of Rumplestiltskin

And we start in fairy land with teenagers being taken away and drafted into the army to fight the Ogre wars. Rumplestiltskin’s own son is soon to be among the drafted. In desperation he flees with his son but is caught on the road where we learn that Rumplestilskin fled in a past war. He is humiliated to protect his child – he has no money, no power, no position or title. He has nothing to offer and has to submit to abject humiliation to protect his family.

And then begins Rumplestiltskin’s path to power – stealing a dagger to control the Dark One, a powerful magic user – to protect his family he plans to steal the dagger and get the magic word. He uses the dagger to kill the Dark One – but he has been tricked. The beggar who convinced him to steal the dagger is actually the Dark One and by killing him, Rumplestiltskin becomes the new Dark One – all because he didn’t read the fine print of the contract. A lesson he no doubt learns.

With the new power, he humiliates and kills those who once humiliated him

In the real world, Gold (Rumplestiltskin) is showing surprising humanity by letting Emma take some of Graham’s things to remember him by. And we see how he values children – a side to him we’d not have guessed with his bargaining for children before.

And Henry has lost faith in fighting the curse – Graham’s death at the magical hands of Madam Mayor has shaken his confidence and he doesn’t want to see more people die. He believes good loses against evil – because good must play fair.

Review of Vicious Grace by M.L.N. Hanover

I suppose the best way to describe this book is to say that it is about the loss of  Jayné's innocence.  With Y.A. you get young protagonists and if the author is good, over a series of books you get to see the protagonist mature to someone who is less angst ridden and sure of themselves.  When we first met Jayné she was a college drop out who discovered that her uncle had left her as the sole heir to his fortune.  Jayné spent the last year with her associates traveling the globe trying to unravel Eric's secrets. So much of her life plan was absolutely dependent on completely Eric's work that when it became clear that Eric may not have been the man she thought.

It all began with a call from Kim, the ex wife of Jayné's current lover Aubrey.  Buried under the hospital that Kim currently works at, a creature is trying desperately to escape. Jayné must decide between freeing the creature as her uncle Eric wanted, or entombing it again.  Jayné is at a complete loss because it becomes clear that the end of the mission will mean the end of the comfortable little family that she has embraced for the past year and all good faith in Eric. 

Honestly, I found the entire thing to be angst ridden.  We have Jayné struggling to defeat an uber demon, but falling apart over the revelation that Eric caused the end of Kim and Aubrey's marriage, as well as raping Kim and nearly destroying her career in the process.  She is racked with guilt for actions that she did not commit, and at the same time worried about losing Aubrey. When she should be focusing on the task ahead, she focuses her attention on Aubrey.  I will however through in that I was glad that M.L.N. Hanover did make a point of saying repeatedly that Kim was raped, because she did not consent to what Eric did to her.  That was a pleasing surprise, because woo woo is often used to over look acts of violence against women in this genre.

For all that is going on, Jayné is still working on her masters degree in spunky agency.  I think what irritates me the most is that this time it is explained by the possibility that she might lose Aubrey.  Wrapping a reason around it does not lessen the fact that it is spunky agency.  I also think that it's worth noting that in the previous books, no logical reason was given for Jayné running head first into danger.  This is her modus operandi despite the broken heart schtick that  Hanover employed this time.  Part of having a character squarely inside of the Y.A. genre is that they are supposed to grow over a series of books. The following is from pg 34:

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fangs for the Fantasy podcast, episode 47: Back off hiatus!

We're back after the holiday hiatus! This week we discuss:

The Hunger Games! It's a Hunger Games special discussing the full triology and all the many wonderful themes that run through these books

We also look at Secret Circle, Vampire Diaries and Once Upon a Time

Review of Season One of Sanctuary

I know that Sanctuary technically falls into the category of science fiction but I recently had the occasion to watch the first season and became incredibly captivated.  The fact that it's a Canadian show and I am Canadian has nothing to do with it, so just hush.
The Sanctuary is a building that contains a sample of the worlds monsters and mythical creatures.  There you can find anything from elementals, mermaids, to lizard type creatures. Its basic purpose is to protect unnatural animals and humans from the world, and the world from them.  It is run by Dr. Helen Magnus played by Amanda Tapping.  Her protege Dr. Will Zimmerman, a former agent in the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI, joins the Sanctuary when he is approached by Magnus to help her deal with creatures and people that have emotional problems.  He is attracted to this position because all of his life he has been on cusp of the unseen world and working to at the sanctuary will provide him with all of the answers to questions.  Also at the sanctuary are Ashley Magnus, Helen's daughter, Henry Foss the resident computer geek who maintains the sanctuary's defenses, and Bigfoot whom Helen saved and now works as her butler, chauffeur, and body guard.

Helen Magnus is one member of a group of scientists from the Victorian era known as "the five."  Somehow Magnus managed to find a pure sample of vampire blood which she turned into some sort of serum which each member injected with different results.  Magnus had her aging slowed with no sign of this ever disappearing, Nigel Griffin became the infamous invisible man, Dr. James Watson, the man on who Sherlock Homes was based on had his intellect increased, Nikola Tesla became a vampire, and John Druitt, her lover and father of Ashley developed the ability to teleport between time and space. Druitt's change made him unstable and he became Jack the Ripper. 

The cabal is a group of scientists who see these creatures as a threat to humanity.  They do experiments on them with the hope of creating a weapon that will destroy them for all time.   Magnus is seen as a direct threat to their operations when she frees the morrigan and attempts to teach these young women what freedom truly is.  Once the Sanctuary is on the radar of the Cabal they will stop at nothing to and even create a weapon that makes abnormal extremely violent, in an effort to encourage humanity to become aware of their existence and rise up and destroy them.  All that stands between the cabal and their goal is the sanctuary and the members of the five.

Review: Monster Hunter Alpha by Larry Correia, Book 3 of the Monster Hunter Nation series

Unlike the previous books, this book follows Harbinger. Harbinger is the de-facto leader of Monster Hunter International – and has been for 100 years. He has been hunting monsters for all that time – for his company, for his country and when various powers that be hold a dagger over his head.

Because he’s a werewolf. One of the few monsters in the US that is exempt from the bounties – and he’s earned that by being a weapon for war used and abused by the US for a century. But these battles have left him with old ghosts and old enemies – and when he finds out that a Soviet werewolf he’s fought in the past has come to the US, he feels driven to hunt him down. Of course, he doesn’t want to drag Monster Hunter International into his personal business, so takes a long overdue holiday.

It isn’t the most restful holiday ever. Upon arriving in northern Michigan he finds that Nikolai is the least of his problems – old magic has risen, there are new werewolves everywhere, werewolves that aren’t following the rules, zombies, giant monsters of the old ones and an entire town on the brink of destruction.

A winter storm has blown in, the electricity is cut off, all communication with the outside world has become impossible and people are dying in droves. Harbinger is facing a rising body count, a rising monster count, a brand new werewolf ally, his old Soviet enemy, a major new power, a corrupt member of the Monster Control Bureau and an amateur hunting organisation looking for bounties and not shy about how they get it. And just when he needs his strength the most, it fails him.
And, of course, the very future of the world hangs in the balance.


Yes, that one word. This book is epic. Epic and exciting in a “stayed up all night couldn’t stop reading on the edge of my seat” kind of exciting. I couldn’t put this book down, I resented every second I spent not reading this book and following this action packed story.

And it has some truly epic scenes. Fighting the alpha in the mine shaft. The horde of zombies being fed into an ice-cutter. The anti-tank gun. This book is like an action movie with awesome fights and amazing explosions and I’ve never seen a book do it better. And I don’t even generally like action films, but the scenes are so well done that I’m drawn in to the glorious battles. It would be an insult to this book to call it an action novel because there’s so much more – but the battle for survival is truly epic and wonderful to read. 

Also, unlike most action books, it's not linear. We have a variety of actors, each with their own goals and twists to make Harbinger's job that much harder. Nikolai has his own aims, there's Brightwood, the new, amateur hunting organisation lead by an extremely unpleasant man and his crew of ex-conns looking to pick up some PUFF money. There's Agent Stark, the MCB bureaucrat, burnt out, a coward and generally in it for himself and his idealistic hero partner. There's the big bad that is behind it all - and, of course, there's Heather, deputy for the local police and most unwilling to have her town destroyed by werewolves. Each of these stories is compelling in their own way. At one point I thought they'd be distractions from the main plot of Habringer vs Nikolai, but no, they add to the plot and they go together extremely well.

We’re also seeing a lot of wonderful world building and meta happening here. There is something big and dark coming, the old gods, event on event. It’s not just monsters each book, there’s an overarching plot that is growing. And the world is growing – we have a full rich history for werewolves, they’re not just woo-woo manbeasts, we have a full story and backstory behind them

And the characters – I do so love the characters. I was surprised that this book followed Harbinger and not Owen – I actually thought it would ruin the mystery. But harbinger is such an excellent character, very human, with a full history and well presented without infodumps no less) a super hero without being corny, powerful without being invincible and impossibly good, good without being flawless. The only thing that makes him not the best character in this book is Heather

Face Off: Tessa Vs Katniss

Face Off is a new weekly feature which will appear on Mondays. We intend to compare and contrast two characters. Sometimes, these characters will be examples of how not to do it and how to do it right. Sometimes, they’ll both examples of how very wrong you can be. Occasionally, they’ll both be awesome -  sometimes they’ve been randomly linked elsewhere.

This week, we’re looking at Katniss from the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins vs Tessa from the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare, which have been linked in the Heroine Torment. It's worth mentioning that when you have a count down clock for the next book in the infernal devices series, whatever competition you are running can hardly be said to be unbiased.

One of the advantages of this Face Off, is that the site itself presents the strengths of each character.

Personally, one thing I’m not going to rate is the relative combat abilities of each character. One trope I think literature in general and Urban Fantasy in particular needs to realize, is that a strong female character isn’t defined by the number of martial arts she has mastered, the heat of the fireballs she can throw out of her ass, or the size of the gun she can shoot.  The very fact that we have to equate strength with the ability to be violent is extremely limiting, simply because it is one dimensional.   A truly great protagonist is one that is complex and examines the world around her, rather than letting events simply happen to her and then reacting. So, though Katniss could certainly kill Tessa several times over, we will put it aside.

So let’s look at who these characters are.

Katniss is born to extreme adversity, having to risk her life to feed her family from a young age and living in severe poverty and oppression. She volunteered to participate in the Hunger Games to replace her younger sister, where she fought desperately to survive and then to keep Peeta alive as well. Despite having so little hope, she defied the capital and ensured both she and Peeta lived. Her act of defiance became iconic and she became the symbol of resistance, through all of the oppressed districts and  integral in the propaganda war against the Capital. Despite this, she recognised the oppression of her captors, kept her humanity, kept her ideal on moral lines that must not be crossed and, in the end, having lost nearly everything, she put an arrow through her own leader’s heart. I think it is important to note that for Katniss not becoming the oppressor even as she fought for freedom was absolutely imperative.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Eternal Law, Season 1, Episode 1,

Eternal Law, a programme about angelic lawyers, I had to check this out. And yes, get your lawyer jokes out of your system now – c’mon, I know you want to. You’ll feel better for it.

It’s also based in York which intrigues me. It’s nice to see some Urban fantasy on British television that isn’t sucked into London all the time. And they do show York well, extremely well (perhaps a little too well. Yes it’s a beautiful city, but there are trapped filled, cursed labyrinths that are easier to navigate than York). Which means we have a series set in the north that isn’t wall to wall freaking GRIM all the time! Now there’s a nice bonus.

Tom Greening  a new angel for the firm joins Zak Gist, the more experienced, much more cynical angel lawyer in their role to protect the innocent. Tom is wonderfully blissed being on Earth, oh how beautiful and wonderful it all is! Cynical Zak is neither amused nor happy. I think I’m going to find the cynical vs optimism amusing to the hilt.

And, of course, Tom’s optimism gets dented, the world isn’t so shiny, the rules are a little harder than expected and it’s not all wonderful and joyous. And while Zac is a cynic, the job and the calling still matters to him

I really like Tom’s joy over the world, it’s nicely done. Everything is new and shiny and wonderful and isn’t it all amazing? And he’s a chorister – which means random singing. And over all that joy there’s Zac’s lovely, grumpiness. They have a brief – they can advise, guide, comfort and help humans but they can’t intervene directly with that free will and all – and no getting emotionally involved. Or so is explained my Mrs. Sherringham who is there to help, guide and info-dump. I think she’s a housekeeper/oracle.

Now on to the plot – Zac sees Hannah, a woman who is apparently a lost love (naughty angel, no emotional attachments) which is even more difficult because Zac has a new body now. And Hannah wanted to get a job working for their chambers. Oh and she’s a useful witness for the main event - a wedding being interrupted by a sniper (how rude), getting many civilians shot, including Hannah and the groom. Tom runs up the building and smacks the sniper – is this direct intervention?

Oh and for funsies – guess who gets to be the sniper’s defence council? Yep, the angels, defending Sean Yearling. And Tom is introduced to that annoying fact every lawyer must face – representing a client who is less than pleasant. And Mr. Mountjoy (who seems to be how they refer to god) believes even the most desolate dying warthog deserves salvation, apparently. I do quite like their little rueful references to Mr. Mountjoy. And Zac has a wonderful little point there – while Tom is protesting that Sean shot at people, Zac simply says “so he needs our help more than a saint” which, really, is so very true. I hope we get more powerful little one liners like that. Oh and recognising Terry in the stained glass window of an angel – yes, I laughed

Unfortunately, the prosecution, Richard, is a fallen angel. And there’s the question of just how far you can push those free will rules – and the Fallen Angel doing a little extra to dent Tom’s joyful naivety.
It doesn’t exactly have a happily ever after by any stretch but the demon got thwarted.

So general thoughts?

The Secret Circle, Season 1, Episode 10: Darkness

So after the long hiatus, The Secret Circle is back with us. Let me remind you where we left off. Cassie has powerful dark magic because of her ancestry, the witch hunters want to use her to help hunt witches (after all, Jake bought into the plan) and there are so many love triangles that plotting them all in pretty colours could be sold in the Tate Modern as art. Evil!Parents are trying to get back their powers that were stripped by the elder circle and they killed Henry, one of the Elder Cirle, stole Cassie’s grandmother’s memories (another member of the Elder Circle) and in doing so – causing her to exhibit early dementia-like symptoms. Faye is still a Mean Girl, Adam is a Wet Lettuce, Diane is still control freak Chief Scooby, Jake is Sexy Bad Boy and Melissa is Pointless Token Racial Inclusion. I think that pretty much covers everything

So, on with the show.

Cassie isn naturally somewhat perturbed about having dark magic in her blood and is having a disturbing dream about killing Jake, the Sexy Bad Boy. Frankly, I’m disturbed as well. She had Jake in her dreams and wastes this quality fantasy time with killing him. Very disappointing. I think the stage is being set for lots of Cassie!Angst about how terrible it is to have super powers.

And yes, that may sound cynical, but I am so so so so tired of this trope. Take teenager, give them PHENOMINAL COSMIC POWER (with no living space consequences) and inevitably they will turn round and start crying about how abnormal having super powers is.

Adam soggily arrives to puppy dog eyes all over Cassie and assure her that her special super powers may have nothing to do with her black magic and may just be because she’s a super special good person. Not particularly willing to put on Adam’s Care Bear glasses, Cassie wants him to keep it all a secret (because absolutely no-one else in the circle is questioning why Cassie can do magic?). Adam’s ability to keep a secret lasts all of 2 seconds before he spills to Chief Scooby. Cassie is understandably upset and magically strangles Adam – don’t feel bad Cassie, I’m sure we’ve all dreamed of strangling him at some time or other. Her secret out they have a Scooby meeting (well, without Melissa. She doesn’t count, again. Seriously, repeatedly involving FAYE of all people in your big plans but not Melissa is ludicrous) about her black magic which gets all awkward so Cassie does what Cassie always does in these situations – leaves. Honestly, this is getting ridiculous. No-one can have a serious conversation with Cassie because she’s constantly fleeing.

Meanwhile we get a new character – Kate, Chief Scooby Diane’s grandmother and Evil!Parent#2’ Charles’ mother. Also, presumably a member of the Elder Circle and user of super-magical Olay products. Olay Elder is also here to help Chief Scooby Diane with her broken heart after breaking up with Wet Lettuce Adam (though since she instigated the break up and kept trying to force Adam and Cassie together, I have to raise my eyebrows at this). Kate follows up by visiting Evil!Parent#1, Dawn and to talk about Henry’s death – and gives Dawn some quality stink-eye and make it clear she knows something’s going on and she is not happy about it.

Dawn demands a meeting with Charles – and wants rid of Kate. Actually, she wants to kill Olay Elder. Unsurprisingly, Charles isn’t overly thrilled at the idea of offing his mother (or going on a killing spree of the whole Elder Circle). This continued attempt at matricide puts a rift between Charles and Dawn while Dawn tries to find a way to say “let’s kill your mum” that actually sounds good. It’s a tough sell.

Meanwhile, Mean Girl Faye is being her usual respectful self towards Melissa’s pain and trying to manipulate her into getting their magic back. Stay classy Faye. Melissa manages to maintain her independence for all of 2 minutes before settling back in as Faye’s sidekick, using a page stolen from Cassie’s Book of Shadows to use Voodoo (oh dear) to get their un-circled magic back which leads them to a voodoo practitioner (a white voodoo practitioner no less) who, after much wrangling, is going to work with Faye to get her powers uncircled. I have a feeling this storyline is going to be tiresome. One good thing that comes out of this pointless little storyline is Melissa pausing in her following Faye around long enough to announce she won’t be Faye’s little servant any more. I’d praise this but I suspect it will lead to Melissa getting even less screen time than she already does