Friday, January 4, 2013

Review: Demon Mistress (Otherworld Series #6) by Yasmine Galenorn

 Menolly steps back up as protagonist in this book as the sisters come across an old potential crime while burrowing through the storerooms of the Wayfarer. Tracking down a missing elf from years ago isn’t easy, but is complicated by a missing vampire, a posse of undead, a friendly neighbourhood necromancer and his wandering ghouls, a demonic frat house who get exactly what they deserve and a whole new force of demons who fight on the astral plane

It’s a lot to juggle and, of course, behind it all is the politics from Otherworld and the eternal threat of Shadow Wing and his demons.

Menolly also has relationships to balance – Nerissa is finding her time taxed with the puma council demanding she assume a political role; while Vanzir and Rozuriel both pursue Menolly, their demonic natures fitting powerfully well with Menolly’s vampirism.

One of the main problems I’ve had with this series in the past is that it brings in a lot of extraneous issues, lots of side plots and lots of distractions that bogs down a very epic story – which is further exacerbated by the over-description, unnecessary recapping and constant talking everything through.

So I was really happy that this book managed to avoid a lot of that. I think part of it is that the world is so huge now there’s a limit to how much recapping and reiteration you can actually do. Similarly most of the storylines and elements were pretty much relevant to the plot without too much in the way of distraction. The writing was more concise, there was no need to reiterate the battle order every time they fought, less random anecdotes from Iris, less putting the end of the world on hold so they could have a meal – it was tighter. There was still some side references that made things longer than they needed to be, but they were relevant side references to things like the fae queens or Iris’s personal life. The story was much more contained and moved at a much brisker pace with a far greater sense of both the urgency and the epic consequences they face.

I wasn’t especially happy with how the story started, however. I can understand going after the astral demons since Delilah was targeted and people were dying. It was a nice reminder that, while Shadow Wing must be the priority, he’s not the only threat out there and they can’t focus on him when there are bodies on the ground. I can also understand Chase asking for information on the missing vampire from Menolly since she’s his vampire contact and it’s only a matter of asking questions. What I don’t understand is, with the ominous threat of Shadow Wing looming over them, they decided that it’d be great to search for an elf who may or may not have gone missing several years ago. Where’s the triage? Where’s the sense of priorities? I’m actually a little put out that it did all end up being related to Shadow Wing. Maybe it’s supposed to be a sense of how wide spread his power and influence is, but I felt it was a little “hey we got another spirit seal!” “How?” “Uh… we kind of stumbled over it, to be honest.”  The story itself was great – fun, well written, well paced – but the beginning and end were shaky.

I also think the friendly neighbourhood necromancer is really unnecessary in a cast that already has a rather large cast of characters. This is a wonderfully huge world with a massive, multi-layers epic storyline with so many factors and sides and forces that it always stands on the edge of becoming bloated.

Of course, it’s that world and epic story that keeps me coming back to this series. The fae, the devas, the different realms of fae, the demons and their factions, humans, shapeshifters, vampires – I don’t think there are many worlds I’ve come across that are as rich as this series. And it’s not just the sheer number of supernaturals that are present, it’s how all these forces are relevant to the plot line. All of them have an influence and all of them have a stake – they’re not just mentioned in passing, they are integral parts of the story

American Horror Story, Season 2, Episode 10: The Name Game

 Hiatus is over, American Horror Story is back, hold on to your hats and your turkey because the whacky and weird and often awful has returned.

Much to everyone’s shock, Arden actually does try to bring Kit back from the dead. Kit is dazed from his harrowing experience and Arden is callously clinical. He tells Kit that the aliens didn’t come – even while the flashbacks show us what a liar he is.

Arden has Grace and marvels over the aliens healing of her bullet wound and wants to do more testing. Which is where Alien!Pepper steps in, Grace’s Guardian. Arden mocks her, just because she can speak doesn’t make her intelligent he claims and she counters by mocking his primitive experiments and how he thinks that even remotely puts him on the alien’s level. He steps it up by threatening to cut Grace open and his scalpel is ripped from his hand by an invisible force. Pepper then proceeds to lay on an awesome smack down, telling him how she, as a Microcephallic person, as a “freak” was often blamed and used as a scapegoat – how her own sister murdered her baby and then blamed Pepper – and the judge took one look at Pepper and condemned her.  She threatens Arden with the aliens’ “stirring his brain with a fork” so he can see how people treat people like her.

Pepper also does scary quite quite well.

Monsignor Timothy has been pulled down from his cross – and isn’t dead. When Scathach came to see him on his cross it wasn’t to take his soul, it was to give him a job, to exorcise Sister Demon Lettuce. She reminds him that his rosary is his shield against Sister Demon Lettuce

Which is probably why he’s a little perturbed that Sister Demon Lettuce is his caregiver while he recovers and why he clutches his rosary.

In the common room, blessedly free of that damned singing nun, the destruction of which is mentioned snarkily by Sister Demon Lettuce to Jude’s truly awesome “like I give a shit” demeanour. Sister Demon Lettuce has brought in a Juke Box, just perfect to torment Jude and her hatred of worldly ways. Even Lana seems to be impressed by Jude (as she should be)

But Lana’s quicker still to go to Kit to tell him Threadson’s loose – something he already knows as Dr. Oliver Threadson walks into the room and sits down for a nice chat with them both – after  moving the heavy glass ashtray out of Lana’s easy reach, anyway. He’s not going to kill them because she’s carrying his kid and he has Threadson’s taped confession. But it was Sister Demon Lettuce who rescued him – and Sister Demon lettuce who gave him a job at Briarcliff – so he will be treating them.

That night there’s a room search and Lana takes the chance to confront Sister Demon Lettuce – which gets her carted off to hydrotherapy. Sister Demon Lettuce moves on to try and shame Jude for masturbating with a marrow – but Jude’s not having that and throws even more epic “like I give a shit” in Sister Demon Lettuce’s direction. Shaming failed – Demon Lettuce sets Jude up for electroshock – an extra strong dose. I’d feel more sympathy for Jude if a) she hadn’t done this to Lana and b) I didn’t suspect that electricity would only make her stronger.

Back to Monsignor Tim who tries his hand at a bit of exorcism. It does not go well, but Sister Demon Lettuce has some nifty limericks. Oh and telekinesis.  Which starts out fun – but this is American Horror Story and quickly turns into yet another rape – this time Sister Demon Lettuce raping Monsignor Tim while he begs her to stop and talks of his vows. And Arden walks in to see them at it

Jude staggers into the common room, disorientated from the electroshock, witnessed by Lana who comments to Kit that she doesn’t feel any better seeing Jude hurting. Defiant to the end, Jude staggers to the juke box and tries to unplug it. Lana goes to her and helps her up and comforts her – and asks her name. To which Jude hallucinates a song and dance number, with all the inmates, with Lana and Kit as main dancers, to The Name Game.

American Horror Story sets new records of weirdness every week. I’m almost in awe. I thought the aliens were weird. She comes back to reality with Lana reminding her of her name.

It’s feeding time for the monsters and Arden is being pouty with Sister Demon Lettuce after seeing her rape the monsignor (he’s still invested in Mary Eunice’s “purity”). He then shoots and kills all of his monsters that have arrived to eat – the experiment is over. Demon Lettuce comments on his tantrum and he says it’s a farce and puts a gun to his head (I guess Pepper’s words hit home) but can’t pull the trigger, he collapses in tears instead. He clutches her and tells her she has no idea what it’s like to have lost her – she pushes him aside contemptuously.

More Romance Tropes We'd Like to See Buried

'Winston Axilas' photo (c) 2007, Ray - license:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that we have a problem with a lot of traditional romance tropes which appear in Urban Fantasy and, most certainly, in Paranormal Romance.  Indeed, we’ve spoken before on the Paranormal Romance: Engorged, Throbbing and Fainting, Oh My! and the more serious Abuse as True Love in Paranormal Romance.

But there are simply so many that we simply have to have another bite at this; Romance Tropes we can’t stand - it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Love at First Sight/I’ll die for you... uh what’s your name again?

It’s that age-old trope, eyes meet through a crowded room, she suddenly sees this awesome, hot, gorgeous, wonderful etc etc etc (usually the books will have several paragraphs of superlatives at this point) man ever and love is formed. Before they know the slightest thing about each other... before they even know each other’s names, it’s now True Love Forever.

Sometimes there’s a woo-woo reason for it - imprinting, bonding, the
ardeur, fated magical destiny of One True Boning - but these 2 perfect strangers are now totally and utterly in love. We have endearments before they can barely even know each other’s actual names. Literally in Turned, when she’s already sad that her deep, abiding true love isn’t returned within... 2 hours of meeting? Maybe less? Aside from the conflation of lust and love that these stories inevitably bring, they also carry with them that fraught message of “love justifies anything.” And that applies doubly for sacrifice.

Abandoning their homes? Their families? Their principles? Their humanity? All for a guy they just met - that’s ok, it’s True Love! Not some very very silly person (nearly inevitably the heroine) throwing everything aside, giving up everything, even risking their lives for a man they have barely bet. The majority of the women in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series throw their entire lives away for men they’ve just met (of course, they have little in the way of lives before their menfolk arrive), the Psy women in Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series leave their entire society to live as outcasts. Sherrilyn Kenyon has the Dark Hunters’ love interests endure torture to free them from Artemis and has one Dream Hunter’s love interest risk losing her soul in Hades for the sake of a man she hadn’t even known for 2 weeks (if that). And how long did Bella know Edward in Twilight before she was willing to risk her life around him, despite his warnings? But the prize goes to Turned, Caitlin abandons her family and Caleb actually gives up millennia of loyalty and tradition for her. They haven’t even known each other for a day! 

At worst, this sends a truly awful message about recklessness and the value of these people's (usually women's) lives before their love interest arrives. At best it's simply sloppy writing, the author desperately trying to move the story forward and using the hook of "true love", no matter how fresh forged, to drag the plot onwards when any sensible protagonist would slam things into reverse. Love is used as an excuse for common sense to take a holiday; the heart turns on, the brain turns off.

‘Tis a Pity He’s an Arsehole

So, our heroine (and it’s nearly always the heroine putting up with a hero’s arseholery and of course it’s an opposite sex couple - yay heteronormativity) sees the object of her desire, with his sculpted muscles, his piercing eyes, his mouth set into an appropriately brooding pout - until he opens his mouth and speaks! Alas, he’s an arsehole and treats her like dirt. Ah well, hon, plenty of fish in the sea - go find a guy who can keep a civil tongue in his head. Right?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: Cerulean Sins by Laurell K Hamilton, Book 11 of the Anita Blake Series

 Musette, the representative of Belle Morte, her vessel, is in town as an ambassador. And she’s three months early.

Normally such an unexpected, uninvited visit would be met with hostility and a quick boot outside the territory. But Belle Morte is their Soudre de Sang the head of Jean-Claude’s line, he owes her fealty and loyalty. It’s a tricky maze of vampire politics to navigate, especially since Belle is bitter about Jean-Claude and Asher leaving her and her embassy is determined to be as difficult and provocative as possible.

Anita also has a police case, a brutal serial killer is stalking St. Louis. But investigation is stymied by Dolph who is increasingly losing himself in his hatred of vampires – and anything not entirely human, including Anita herself.

The international terrorists looking to recruit Anita don’t exactly simplify matters.

And behind them all is something bigger and darker. The Mother of All Darkness, the founder of the vampires, their council, their laws, the oldest and greatest of them is waking up. And she has noticed Anita.

There is quite simply too much going on in this book. Too many threads, too many fragments of storylines that don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything which leave the actual 3 storylines: the serial killer, Belle Morte’s visit and the Mother of All Darkness raising her ugly head.

And they were completely lost by the endless mini-storylines, exposition, excessively long descriptions, unnecessary elements and navel gazing.

Take the plot fragments – I’m actually going to cheat here since this is a catch up review and I’ve already read all the books to Book 21 so I’m also going to say which plot fragments never become relevant.

Stephen and Gregory’s abusive father is in town. Relevance? None.  As far as I know he’s still hanging around in book 21, kicking his heels. It doesn’t even develop characters because these 2 increasingly fall off the radar.

International terrorists want to recruit Anita for nefarious schemes. Relevance? None. No, really. Set up this massively juicy plot point, bring in her FBI guy and all and it’s used in a short story later. That’s it. There are entire chapters devoted to tracking these guys!

Valentina and Bartolomé have their back stories explained (at length) and are then hang around forever more. Role the play in future books? A brief, irrelevant guest appearance by Valentina!

Another major distraction was people losing their shit, then everyone having to shovel it afterwards. Anita goes to the crime scenes?

ARRGLE RAARGLE! Dolph loses his shit! RAAAWWWRR!!!

Anita having sex?

AARGLE RAARGLE! Asher loses his shit! RAAAWWWRR!!!

Confronting the big bad guys in a scene that could mean the difference between Belle taking over the city and crushing them under her thumb?

AARGLE RAARGLE! Richard loses his shit! RAAAWWWRR!!!

Guys, triage. Seriously. If you can’t deal with your ridiculous shit at least learn to put your shit on hold until after the big bad has left town. This isn’t even comic. Richard actually confronted the big bad and asked her to wait until he’d finished his relationship drama.  They had a whole damn argument while Musette/Belle stood and watched.

Terra Nova: Season 1, Episode 11: Within

 Taylor and Jim are examining the portal exist – before the 4th Pilgrimage when the exit arrived, the portals used to open in a fairy wide area – including a pilgrimage opening in the middle of a lake. The portal opening fixes the exit in place. And the 11th pilgrimage is due very soon, and Taylor wants the spy. Which involves questioning more of the women in the infirmary – including Skye, the spy – and she makes playing chess with Josh her alibi.

Back at the Shannon household sibling annoyances continue and Maddy’s little hand-held tablet thing breaks. Alas, until the 11th Pilgrimage arrives, it’s going to be ahrd for her to get a replacement part and there’s a colony wide shortage (yes, these little machines that everyone uses needs parts they can’t produce and have a shortage of. This is because Terra Nova is run by people who are as capable of organising this colony as I am of setting up a moon base).  Josh has advice on where she may be able to get a new chip (possibly illicitly) before leaving to his new apprenticeship. On the way he meets up with Skye who wants him to lie for her. While he’s originally reluctant, she manages to talk him into it.

That night, Skye leaves Terra Nova, goes to an outpost where she picks up a gun and goes to see the Sixers with further intel. She goes to see her mother, bringing food – and Lucas Taylor is there waiting for her. He has a job for her (and is being suitably menacing about it), he needs his equations to be finished, he could do it by hand in months or in Terra Nova’s futurewiki in an hour. And if Skye doesn’t co-operate, her mother dies.

Jim is walking around ordering Washington how to secure the perimeter (yes, it’s official, Jim is well and truly above Washington on the ladder) and checks Skye’s alibi with Josh – Josh lies for Skye. And Skye goes and does Lucas’s coding in the Eye and returns with it to him – he’s happy and dismisses her, nice guy.

But, after weeks of Skye going out to visit her mother/illicit still/just for shits and giggles, Washington and Jim have finally decided to check for quiet ways in and out and have footage of Skye sneaking out through a drainage ditch. Jim realises that Josh has been lying and goes to confront him about it and he admits he lied.

Jim takes the new to Taylor – who has been raising Skye as his ward almost since her parents died (as far as he knew, since her mother is still alive and with the Sixers)  with lots of proof of her leaving, her faked alibis, her stories not adding up, the patches in her times. Taylor is shocked and wants Jim to check it with Connor – his man in the Sixer camp (assuming Connor did actually become his mole and not just join the Sixers…) because when it’s someone Taylor likes he needs overwhelming, beyond any doubt at all, reasonable or otherwise proof – not just a vague suspicion  which is normally all it takes for the Supreme Leader to pass sentence.

Taylor plays chess with Skye with lots of totally-not-subtle “I didn’t see that one coming” and “your move” significant references while also discussing a convoy he intends to lead. He goes off on the convoy and Skye leaves Terra Nova quickly. Jim and Taylor set up to ambush them (yes, Jim’s even leading military operations now) but nothing happens. The Sixers don’t attack. Taylor can’t understand why Skye didn’t tell them and Jim realises that none of their really important patrols of military manoeuvres have been attacked (really? Because I seem to recall once or twice when they were) and makes the leap that Skye is working under duress and only giving the Sixers unimportant information

Switch to Skye trying to bring food for her mother and Mira threatening her with the bad intel she’s been giving the Sixers – especially since the Sixers saw the convoy and Skye didn’t report on it. She also gets to see the increasingly creepy and disturbing Lucas who is very excited about his calculations being finished. He warns her that she shouldn’t go back to Terra Nova because his employers are going to come through the portal and flatten the place because “to control the past is to control the future.” He also doubles up his daddy issues and is gleeful that he gets to beat his father, something he’s wanted to do since he was 14.

Skye goes to her mother and confesses and cries because the bad people she gives information to are going to do bad things. Her mother tells her to stop being a spy and if she had known she would have stopped it long ago – she tells her to go see Taylor and tell him everything.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Acheron by Sherrilyn Kenyon, Book 9 of the Dark Hunter Series

After seeing many Dark Hunter’s stories, we finally get to see the history behind Acheron, their leader, the oldest of them and a man who we’ve slowly seen reveal more and more of his secrets and his true identity.

From his birth 11,000 years ago, we see the abuse he endured and how that left scars on him – until the present day when he meets Tory, an archaeologist who has unearthed the site of Atlantis, including artefacts that could expose his true history to the world.

The information Tory has found cannot be made public – but it’s in high demand, Acheron’s enemies, Artemis’s enemies, even Apollo’s enemies all have a stake in finding the information she possesses and they – and Artemis – will do whatever they can to get their hands on it.

Before I start on this book, I think I need to refer to the series they’re from and the books I’ve read to reach this point. This is now the 15th book I’ve read in the Dark Hunter’s world (which contains 4 inter-twined series) and all of these books were, on some level a romance. No, that’s wrong – these books were the romance. I say “the” because the same formula was repeated every single time:

We start with a man with a terrible tortured past. Often they’ve been tortured to death, scarred, mutilated, betrayed by cruel and evil parents or loved ones, ran over by the waaaahbulance, or otherwise deeply hurting on an epic scale. In comes a woman who may hesitate because, of course, the deeply wounded man is nasty and mean because he’s hurting! But she will persevere, enduring his spite and comforting his pain and, after a long arduous process of, maybe, 3 days her love, compassion, and magical healing vagina will have cured him of his issues and centuries (if not millennia) or pain and turned him into a new man.

As you can probably guess, I’m not a fan – and not just because we’ve seen the same story repeated 15 times in a row. I don’t like tragic pasts being used as rough drama, I don’t like severe trauma being cured with a good shag, I don’t like people falling madly in love when they barely even know each other’s names, I hate the idea that if someone rejects you you just need to be persistent and I hate the idea that if you put up with bad behaviour long enough eventually it will turn to love. All of these are romance tropes that I really don’t like – both for being repetitive and because they feel the very opposite of romantic – and certainly the opposite of a healthy relationship.

I continue to follow the series because in between this very formulaic romance, there is actually a fascinating world here, some really good epic stories about saving the world, fighting demons, daimons and more and the Greek gods doing what mythology tells us they always did – screwing things up for shits and giggles (other pantheons have prominent trickster deities. That would be rather redundant with the Olympians).

Now, all that said – to Acheron. Which, yes, does follow the same formulaic romance plot. But it does it over more than 800 pages. That’s a long book. That’s a very long book indeed. Especially since the first 400 or so pages of that are devoted entirely to Acheron’s oh-so-tortured past. And it’s a doozey, it’s like as the leader of the Dark Hunters Acheron needs to be the most tortured of them all. His rape, abuse, starvation, torture, mutilation, familial rejection, betrayal by his beloved, soul crushing angst and broken self-esteem are described in vast, vivid detail – pretty much the first 400 pages of the book are entirely dedicated to Acheron’s torturous past. 400 pages – that’s longer than most of the books we’ve read and it’s an awful long time to spend on setting up the tortured hurt for the standard hurt/comfort story. To be honest, it almost feels like 400 pages of torture porn.

Not only did this make the first 400 pages a difficult, gratuitous and unpleasant read, it made the inevitable “I’ve found true love after a week’s loose acquaintance overcame all my issues!” seem even more outrageous. He has faced torture and abuse all his young life and every love has hurt and betrayed him – Artemis continuing to do so for 11,000 years. But less than a week – a week! – in Tory’s company and he’s able to set that aside?

The plot, once we got past Acheron’s backstory, wasn’t too original either, though it had its moments. The human, female love interest (Tory) is threatened and the magical man (Acheron) has to protect and help her – this is a plot that has played out time and again in the Dark Hunter series. And she’s threatened because she is trying to excavate Atlantis which the Atlantean and Greek gods want to keep secret; again, there are unique elements, but we’ve done that plot already in Dream Hunter. We also have moments of seeing just how wonderful Acheron is with his building houses with Habitat for Humanity after Katrina and playing basketball with a disabled child (also, can we not use disabled people as a characterless cut out to show just how wonderful an able bodied person is to spend time with them?) which I just roll my eyes at with it being a) almost ridiculously twee, b) glaringly avoids the fact that, with his powers, Acheron can pretty much manifest houses and have that kid walking and c) every other book has had Acheron ridiculously overtasked and busy – yet he can take time out trying to save the world and killing monsters to play online games with sad children? It doesn’t fit.

And if we were going to go through this whole "look what a wonderful person Acheron is" you'd think we'd spend a second with his newly discovered daughter.

And, because we've spent so very much time on Acheron's past, Tory ends up feeling hollow. Yes, there's an impressive amount of characterisation in a relatively short period of time but compared to the epic 400 pages of doom & gloom, Tory felt like an after thought. Also, she threw a hammer at Acheron's head. He publicly embarrassed her so she felt it was fine to throw a hammer at his head while believing he was human. They make jokes about her attempted murder from that point, like it's some cute, endearing feature.

Terra Nova, Season 1, Episode 10: Now You See Me

 Taylor is talking to Skye – hey, remember her? The anniversary of her parent’s death is approaching and Taylor is trying to raise her spirits. Taylor is heading off outside the gate (and, to my brief amusement, one of the soldiers even dares to apply the rules of Terra Nova to the Supreme Leader! Silly boy.) While he’s away, he reminds Jim to find the spy and that he’s the only person Taylor fully trusts (not like Washington who has been his second in command, friend and colleague since before coming to Terra Nova). At least Jim’s only in charge because Washington is out with a survey team (wow, Jim leaped that chain of command, didn’t he?)

Taylor goes rambling through the wilderness, alone, until he finds more of the equations that his son, Lucas has left. As he is scanning them, he’s surprised by Mira pointing a gun at him. She takes him prisoner and they begin the trek back to her camp, snarling and snarking at each other all the way. Taylor manages to secret a sharp object in his bound hands and Mira mentions that the Sixer project was supposed to take 6 months and if it weren’t for Taylor she’d be back in the future with her daughter. She smacks Taylor for judging her – she was living on the street and her daughter had a disease and she couldn’t afford to get her medical treatment. Of course she’s going to take the chance for a better life for her daughter.

Holding Taylor isn’t easy and when Mira is distracted (almost mesmerised) but a pterosaur he manages to turn the tables and she’s the one captured. More snarling follows including some hint of a rift between Taylor and Lucas that began in Somalia and Mira revealing that Lucas is the one in charge of the Sixers, not her. Right before they hear dinosaurs rustling in the bushes.

Something is watching them – and they notice even when they begin to melt a little and Taylor asks after Mira’s daughter and Mira tells him Lucas looks ok. They sweetness and light is interrupted by 2 dinosaurs leaping at them and chasing them (why why why are dinosaurs immune to the guns they have?). They run until they reach a large cliff and waterfall – with nowhere else to go, Taylor cuts the rope tying Mira’s hands and they jump over the falls. At the bottom they’ve avoided the Slashers -adolescents claiming their territory making them more aggressive since they’re not just hunting prey. Which means they’ll be back, and Taylor lost the gun over the falls. They only have knives and it’ll be dark before they can get to Mira’s transport. They plan to stand and fight the Slashers.

Taylor makes a bow and Mira prepares a flammable coating for the arrows. Taylor claims superior experience since he arrived on Terra Nova first and spent a 100 days alone there, but Mira points out she’s spent about a thousand since the Sixers left Terra Nova and were forced to learn how to survive. She also worked security for a group called the “secessionists” in the future- and when they lost that’s how she got a criminal record and was prevented from working again. They drive the dinosaurs back with fire and bows rather dramatically – and then bond over a meal of grubs, both wishing they could be allies.

At the camp Jim quickly starts throwing his weight around, irritating Malcolm with his new security protocols. Reynolds, who is a little creepy with his 1950s-ish behaviour is extra nervous with his girlfriend’s father now being Acting Supreme Leader. He’s called out by flashing lights in the wilderness which look like Sixer signals – turning to Terra Nova they see more flashing lights used to responds (after the insect last episode, the Sixers are looking for a new way to communicate with their spy).

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Year in Review

'Happy New Year 2013' photo (c) 2012, Mark Kens - license:


What were you Top 3 series/books you read this year?

This year I discovered Jim Hines and I absolutely fell in love with Libriomancer.  The story itself isn’t epic but the concept is absolutely brilliant.  The idea of reading being a power in and of itself fascinated me. I am now going to be terribly predictable and say that my favourite books this year were by Kim Harrison, Kevin Hearne and of course Diana Rowland.  Readers of our blog will recognise these names because these are the authors that we have a history of fanpoodling; however, when something is this good, it simply cannot be denied.

What book(s) pleasantly surprised you?

I think the series that surprised me the most was Shawntelle Madison’s Coveted series.  I found it on Netgalley and it was characterized as a romance.  In terms of disability treatment, it is the best that I found in the genre.  Having a werewolf who hoards and is OCD and in psychiatric treatment was totally unexpected.  I loved this series from start to finish and cannot wait to see where it is going.  

What was this year’s guilty pleasure? Which book/series are you embarrassed to admit you liked?

I guess I would have to say that it would have to be the Sabina Kane series by Jaye Well.  It’s treatment of GLBT characters was beyond problematic and it’s fat phobic as hell, but how could I say no to a demon, who shifted into a bald cat, who had needs that simply needed to be fulfilled?

What was your favourite Television series this year?

My favourite television series this year is without a doubt The Games of Thrones. I know that the show has plenty of problematic elements like sexism for instance, but it is still some of the most compelling television in the genre.  I liked the series so much that season two inspired me to read the books to get to know the characters better.  

What was your favourite indie published book?

My favourite indie published book was Dark Dates Tracy Sinclair.  Firsts off, it has vampires, fallen angels and shifters - that’s winning combination.  I loved that the protagonist Cassandra was sexually confident and refused to be a victim who waited around to be saved, yet she wasn’t one of the typical ass kicking protagonist that we have become accustomed to in the genre.  Cassandra has no real physical fighting skills and so like the average person, when in danger, she uses whatever is at hand, even it’s just her purse.   

What really sold me on this book however is the continual pop culture references and the fact that it is laugh out loud funny.  Dark Dates is the first indie book that we have read for Fangs for the Fantasy, which received a five fang rating and it deserved every bit of it to be honest. I cannot wait to see where Sinclair is taking this series and I cannot recommend it enough.

What was the worst thing you read this year?

I think the worst thing that I read this year was Victoria Foyt’s Save the Pearls.  It is without doubt, the most racist book I have ever read in the genre.  It has all of the usual racist tropes and told oppression through the eyes of a White woman, who was supposedly a lesser being because of race.  You’ll note that White people are called “pearls” which is semi precious material, while Blacks are called “Coals.”  The entire book is a reverse racism lalapooloza, which culumates with the Black male protagonist being turned into a beast.  How subtle is that?

What television series did you enjoy the least?

We watched a lot of shows in the genre and to be honest there were tons of series that were extremely problematic.  Shows like True Blood, which I generally enjoy, seemed to be existing on vapors and have no idea of where it was going.  I think for me, the worst show had to be Continuum.  The writing was just plain bad and week after week it bored me.  It has an interesting concept but was so badly executed, I found myself rooting for the supposed terrorists.  

What are you looking forward to being released in 2013?

I really am looking forward to seeing World War Z starring Brad Pitt. I suppose it was to be expected that with the success of The Walking Dead we would see a few movies hoping to cash in on the latest thing, but this one actually looks compelling. I love that the zombies move fast enough to be a real threat.  Also on the topic of zombies, I am really looking forward to the next five installations of The Walking Dead video game.  I am not a video game person per say but after playing the first five episodes, I am truly hooked.  Though the game was really hard to play, it really gives the player a sense of what it might be like to be caught in the series itself.

Were your expectations for 2012 met?

First, I have to say that I am truly excited that we have come to the end of the Twilight saga.  I cannot tell you how excited I don’t have to watch another emo sparkling vampire movie.  I don’t know that I went into 2012 with a lot of expectations though. I was also a little let down with the Hunger Games.  I absolutely love this series and don’t feel like the movie did the book justice at all.  I was further disgusted that fans turned the series into a competition between Gale and Peta and of course the uproar over a Black rue.  Talk about letting your bigotry show and missing the entire point of the series.  In terms of genre, I suppose I am never going to be happy with the amount of epic that happens because for me, there can never be enough.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Review: El Mosaico: Scarred Souls, by Michael Panush

Clayton Cane was not born, he was created. During the American Civil War, in a plantation house a scientist used the darkest of arts to try and create a new source of soldiers for the beleaguered south by stitching together and animating the corpses of the fallen. He was destroyed before he could produce more than one – but Clayton Cane, with the memories of dozens, if not hundreds, of soldiers, was born.

He is now a bounty hunter. Reviled by most because of his heavily scarred appearance, he is exceptionally good at his job, hunting and killing people and monsters no matter what arcane arts they practice

But he is more than just a hunter and more than a monster, as we follow Caine through his adventures that take him across the United States and far beyond, there is definitely more man than monster to him. A man that can be moved by compassion, a man that won’t tolerate the victimisation of the innocent – and a man who is becoming tired of the trials of his life.

I really like Clayton Cane as a protagonist. His monstrosity of both creation and appearance often separates him from humanity. A separation that is only increased by his job – bounty hunter, killer for hire – and his extreme skill at it. And he is good at his job and works to be this cold hearted, ruthless gun-for-hire. Yet he is human, he has a heart of cold, a conscience and a powerful sense of compassion that constantly drives him to help those who deserve it. His ruthlessly efficient dispatching of the guilty instantly melts when facing the innocent. Together it not only creates an awesomely complex character but also a character with a lot of pain, especially in the later stories where Cane is, more clearly, feeling the burden of living the life he does.  Just by showing these conflicting sides and the constant rejection he faces, we have a far greater sense of his pain than we would have got from pages and pages of angsty whining.

The setting was also intriguing because it was so wide. We have the character and we have the time period – in the 19th century. But Cane can be called not only across the United States and Mexico, but to London and Egypt as well – he roams to follow his work ensuring a great diversity of settings

I have said it before and I’ll, no doubt, say it again – I don’t like short stories. I find they’re usually very badly rushed to cram everything in, contain info-dumping, have little character development and either needed to be part of a greater story or didn’t need to exist at all. Which is why I was quite pleased to read this book because all the short stories in it did it right. Each story carefully contained, there were no loose threads and they were clearly more than prologues for a greater series or novel. They didn’t contain any irrelevant information, they didn’t pad and they didn’t rush. They’re wonderful little stories and they all stand on their own – with stories like these I could grow to like the short story format.

The problem is that I am nearly sure that each of these stories did stand on their own in separate publications. In these separate books, they would have been excellent. But they don’t work nearly so well in one book.

Firstly there is a lot of recapping of Cane’s creation. Every short story has it, sometimes in a rather convoluted manner, and by the 5th story it’s starting to look a little ridiculous. The stories all had a similar structure as well: Cane is hired to face a threat. He does some minimal investigating (usually he’s pointed straight at the enemy), then he faces a horde of monsters – cultists, undead, jotun, whatever – then he wins. This isn’t a vague summary of one of these eight short stories, this is a summary of all of them. While there were certainly different elements to each story, I still felt vaguely like I was reading the same story 8 times. Even the writing in the fight scenes is very similar. The book just felt very repetitive.

We also had some repetition of powerful themes – the most common of which being the humanity of Cane compared to the monstrosity of the people he was facing. From the first story with Cane, Alligator men and Loup-Garou all being more human than the rich, racist plantation owner to Dead Man’s Band and Monster Men of Malachite Flats where Cane refuses to accept being a novelty to people who will offer him pretend respect in exchange for his service.  They’re excellent themes of humanity and judging based on appearance.

Similarly Red Blades in Whitechapel, Ghost Dances and Tomb of Kings say a lot about not trusting those in power just because they’re in power – and “civilised” authority doesn’t necessarily mean good or decent people. We have themes of heroism in Monster Men of Malachite Flats, Tarantula and Valiant Dead with both the cost and burden of it – as well as the rewards.

I love all of these themes and I think they are done excellently well conveying messages without being preachy and truly fleshing them out with some great characters. But, again, we have the repetition, the same message told repeatedly because these short stories were never intended to be together.

Inclusionwise, these short stories have 3 women in it – but 2 are capable, handle themselves better than any of the other side characters in a crisis. They are more than just weapons, having ties –or severed ties – to family that matter to them. They’re not perfect or amazing – they’re human and competent and they’re not damsels to protect. The third is a victim to protect – a pregnant Black woman giving birth who is being hunted, I did rather feel the protection and value of her applied as much or more to the child than she herself.

We have a number of POC who are dismissed with slurs and contempt of the time – but that is repeatedly challenged. The Arabic and Black “savages” in Tomb of Kings are far more informed and sensible than the white British lord. The Lakota man in Ghost Dance is far more human and morale than the brutal, evil cavalry trying to hunt him down. These are just some of many instances where were have the bigotry against POC – but the bigots are evil, cruel, savage and callous while the POC are good, human, honourable and kind.

There are no GBLT people in these stories.

In the end, I liked this book. It was interesting, had some great stories, a really intriguing protagonist, some excellent themes and was generally really well written, well paced and a whole lot of fun. But the repetitiveness means that towards the end of the book I was rapidly beginning to lose interest.

 A copy of this book was provided by Netgalley

Terra Nova: Season 1, Episode 9: Vs

 We open with an odd twist – it seems Mira, head of the Sixers, is using giant dragon flies to spy on Terra Nova.

Boylan, the naughty barman, is being held by Taylor and questioned about what he did for the Sixers, Boylan insisted that it was just trade – medical supplies, never information. He continues to claim ignorance about everything else – Taylor’s son, how Mira communicates with the future etc. Taylor leaves the prison – and turns on a siren, preventing Boylan from sleeping. He’s torturing him with sleep deprivation.

In a pleasant domestic scene, Elizabeth, Josh (who hasn’t been eaten), Maddie and Zoe are preparing for the harvest festival – the day they use to celebrate Taylor coming through the portal. They even have a Harvest Play in which Zoe has won the leading role as Taylor himself (almost like kids playing a nativity – yeaaa).

Josh, in a move that makes me not want to kill him for once, asks his dad to check on Boylan, since no-one has seen him since Taylor took him for interrogation (loyal lackey Jim disapproves of not using the Supreme Leader’s full title and further objects to the word “interrogate” don’t be silly, he’s just being questioned! Alone, without any oversight. That’s fiiiiine! Someone better start challenging this dictatorship, I’m running out of sarcasm). Jim agrees after making it clear that rule breaking just isn’t allowed (well, except by him. He’s special).

Taylor takes Jim to see Boylan where we find him not only sleep deprived but also zonked by the drugs Taylor gave him (Jim is concerned that Taylor may have given him a little too much – not the drugging, just the EXCESS drugging, you understand). Jim points out that Boylan did actually save Taylor’s life once – but Taylor thinks it’s all good, after all, even if he isn’t the spy he may give the real spy false confidence by holding Boylan. And he doesn’t need any silly grounds to hold people! Drugged and confused, Boylan babbles something about a secret buried under the pilgrim tree, something that will make it “all over for Taylor.”

The Pilgrim’s Tree is apparently the tree that Supreme Leader Taylor lived in when he first arrived (as such gets a special revered name – which is totally not creepy and not trying to form his own cult, honest). Jim, being the only person allowed to question the Supreme Leader, decides to go to this tree (apparently at night and beyond the fence, which are big no-nos) and, laughably start digging. This tree is huge – as in Redwood huge – and Jim just takes a spade and starts digging at some random point around its trunk. He gets lucky (surprise surprise) and unearths… a skull! (Dramatic music time!)

Jim takes the full skeleton back to Elizabeth to examine who says it’s a middle aged man with an arm missing at the elbow (though she doesn’t know if it was done before or after death or whether it was animal activity. It has to be said, she’s not the most insightful of pathologists). She thinks he’s been dead for 4-6 years and he may have been shot – there’s a hole in one rib. He asks Elizabeth to do more investigating – without telling Taylor.

Jim tries to get more out of Boylan but Taylor hovering around makes it difficult and Jim has to make excuses. And at the Worship-the-Supreme-Leader play with the kids, one of the soldiers smacks Mira’s spy-dragonfly and Maddy notices it has a microchip on its leg. Taking the chip to Malcolm and Taylor they realise the Sixers and their spy are using the dragon fly as a kind of carrier pigeon.

 Meanwhile a Terra Nova patrol is ambushed by Mira and the Sixers. They injured soldiers return to upset Taylor, especially as Washington points out that she put together the team after Taylor locked up Boylan – he can’t have leaked the information but Mira clearly knew all the details of the patrol. Taylor agrees to let Boylan go (don’t mind the torture and drugging, bygones!)

Elizabeth continues her investigate the dead man and pulls up a mystery – not only is his DNA not logged in any pilgrimage, but the special molecular imprinting time travel causes shows he arrived between the second and third pilgrimages – when pilgrimages are supposed to be the only way to travel back in time.