Category Archives: Series Spotlight

Series Spotlight: Esther Diamond (audio) by Laura Resnick

Laura Resnick (author) and GraphicAudio have teamed up to create the Esther Diamond series audios, and it’s a fantastic pairing! If you like full-production audiobooks, you don’t want to miss this series!

I am so excited about the Esther Diamond series’ audiobooks being produced by GraphicAudio! They are fantastic. Try it out for yourself with this sample.

I’m gonna break this Series Spotlight down into two sections: one to talk about the series and one to talk about the audio production because they both deserve their own spotlight.

Series

Esther Diamond is a struggling New York actress. While working on an off-broadway play as a chorus nymph and understudy to the female lead, the lead actress disappears.

Enter Maximillian Zadok, a 350-year-old wizard, stationed in New York by the Magnum Collegium to fight mystical evil. Max implores Esther not to take up her understudy duties for fear she will go missing, too. Once Max convinces Esther that there is mystical evil afoot, Esther rushes to help Max find and stop the culprit before she becomes the next victim.

Meanwhile, the lead actress’s disappearance is also being investigated by Detective Connor Lopez, a sexy Latino with blue Irish eyes. Lopez finds Esther intriguing and would like to get to know her better. Unfortunately, Lopez doesn’t believe in mystical evil, even though Esther’s tried to tell him that it exists. While he is strongly drawn to Esther, he fears she’s unstable, dangerous, and possibly felonious. Their involvement complicates his life and jeopardizes his job, but he has trouble staying away.

During their adventures, Esther, Max, and a number of their friends encounter evil sorcerers, demons, voodoo loa, zombies, vampires, spirits, cursed objects, missing corpses, mob hit men, death omens, drag queens, entitled young adults, harried production assistants, and narcissistic actors. The mysteries are intriguing and well written, but I think it’s the main characters that really shine in the series. They are complex and layered, unique and intriguing, each with their own secrets that are slowly revealed over time.

This series has magic, mystery, and adventure, but it also has humor, friendship, and relationship tension (not everything is rosy in this romance) that builds with each book. It’s more glossy than gritty, on the lighter side of urban fantasy, but the protagonists have depth, and it’s easy to care about them. I highly recommend the series for a fun urban fantasy read.

If you’re not an audiobook fan, you can find the Esther Diamond series in digital and print formats at your favorite online retailer.

Audio Production

I’ve mentioned on this blog before how awesome I think GraphicAudio is. They make audiobooks into full-production masterpieces. They’re essentially radio-plays, for those of us who are old enough to have heard of those. There is a full cast of characters, so the voices are all different and the “he said” and “she said” of regular audiobooks aren’t needed. There’s music and sound effects in all the right places, which enhance the story greatly. As a big fan of audiobooks, I absolutely adore these productions. They are just so much fun!

Graphic Audio did a FANTASTIC job with the Esther Diamond series. I cannot imagine a better casting of voices, especially Colleen Delany as Esther Diamond, Thomas Keegan as Detective Connor Lopez, Bob Payne as Maximillian Zadok, and Tim Carlin as Lucky Battistuzzi. The voice  acting is fantastic and really conveys the character personalities and emotional content of the story. The GraphicAudio actors bring each character completely to life in a way that only the very best voice actors can in regular audiobooks.

The background music and sound effects add such depth and dimension to the story that you really do feel as if you are listening to a movie. It’s that much easier to feel the tension of being stalked when you can hear the footsteps behind you, or to visualize a street fight when you can hear the impact of fists, the grunts of the combatants, and the splash of blood on pavement.

I don’t think I’m capable of expressing just how emotionally involved I feel when listening to GraphicAudio productions. It is an amazing medium for some genres, and I really encourage authors, particularly indie sci-fi and fantasy authors, to consider GraphicAudio for their books before any other audiobook company. Your listeners will experience a much richer version of your creation than I think you’ll find elsewhere.

A rich creation is exactly how I’d describe the Esther Diamond series on GraphicAudio. Five stars for this superb production.

You might also like:

GraphicAudio boasts a number of sci-fi and fantasy series by well-known authors such as Piers Anthony, Stephen Blackmoore, Peter David, Alan Dean Foster, Simon R. Green, Charlaine Harris, Jim C. Hines, Cherie Priest, Stephen Lawhead, Kelly McCullough, Ari Marmell, Elizabeth Moon, Michael Moorcock, Lilith Saintcrow, R.A. Salvatore, Brandon Sanderson, Michael J. Sullivan, Brent Weeks, and Eileen Wilks. They also have a number of audio adaptations of both Marvel and DC comics.

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Series Spotlight: The Hollows by Kim Harrison

Enter the Hollows—a world where witches, demons, vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of the night come out to play no matter what time of day it is.

Hollows Series

This series is comprised of thirteen main books, starting with Dead Witch Walking and ending with The Witch With No Name. It also has two graphic novels based on the series, several novellas and short stories, and a companion book called The Hollows Insider.

Kat_Mandu_100From start to finish, the books are narrated by powerful and sometimes pretty silly, Rachel Morgan. In Dead Witch Walking, Rachel is a “runner” (aka bounty hunter) for Inderland Security, which helps keep the supernatural species in line – or at least attempts to. They’re rivaled by the FIB (a play on the FBI), which is a human-run organization that also tries to police both sides.

Other organizations come up throughout the series and pose both allied forces and threats to Rachel and her friends. Groups like the Council, a group of witches who deem Rachel a black-magic demon; the Elves/Dewar, who are trying to promote their species at any cost; HAPA, which is a hate group that kidnaps Rachel in order to make more of her kind; and the Demon Collective, a bunch of demons from the Ever After who share their powers and knowledge (but more often not) when Rachel needs it most.

Blood WorkThe series is set in the city of Cincinnati, across the river in a placed called The Hollows. Here it’s common for pixies to claim territory, werewolves to play soccer, and demons to drag your butt down streets. For the most part, there’s a lot of tension between the species. Vampires are assholes, especially the undead ones (and yes, there’s living and undead vamps); demons are… well, demons, and are getting people in trouble as often as they’re trying to be accepted into society; witches are found in all kinds of colors, from white to black to in-between, like Rachel; pixies are fierce, independent, and quite frequently dirty-minded, but also loyal to a fault; but there are many more – werewolves, banshees, goddesses, fairies, elves, leprechauns – a whole system of magical people living in the Hollows.

The history of this world is fascinating, too. There’s a virus that comes from a genetically-engineered tomato that destroys most of humanity, but also elves, witches, and other “mixed” species. So the Inderlanders (supernatural beings) have to step up and help save it. It’s called the Turn, and it’s basically when the population of night creatures step out into the light and turn the tides (I guess there’s a novel coming out here soon that’ll explain more, but for right now, that’s all we know). Also, there was a giant war between the Elves and demons that landed the demons in the Ever After permanently and sent the Elven population dwindling to nearly nothing.

Now, onto the characters at last.

Blood CrimeRachel Morgan starts off being an awkward, often klutzy girl who gets in way over her head by quitting the I.S. When she and living vampire, Ivy Tamwood, team up a second time to start their own business, the I.S. puts out a hit on Rachel and she’s gotta figure out how to survive. Luckily, as the series progresses, she begins to get a lot of allies. For one, Ivy, who’s a broken vampire afraid to love, but has a desperate need to protect her friends. And of course, Jenks, the smart-mouthed pixy with more kids than he can count, a great Peter Pan pose, and a good heart. Though more characters enter the scene, these three are the most consistent and therefore the “BFF’s for life” crowd.

Later, there are several characters who enter the scene as allies. Kisten, a living vampire who Rachel falls in love with, only to lose. Al, the demon who starts out trying to kill Rachel, only to mentor her and become a father figure in the end. Quen, a very powerful elven bodyguard who is also a great friend. Newt, a crazy female demon. Ceri, an elven princess with a temper and great power. Pierce, another lover of Rachel’s, who dies in the past, returns as a ghost, and then becomes real again in the present! And many others come along the way but I don’t want to list them all or we’d be here a while!

She also makes some enemies – Ku’Sox, a demon with immense power that all the other demons are afraid of; HAPA, the hate group that kidnaps and experiments on her; Nick, a former lover who turns against Rachel; and a couple of pretty bad undead masters like Piscary.

Hollows InsiderBut someone who starts out as the bad guy and becomes the good guy, and Rachel’s true love, is Trent Kalamack, one of the elves. He starts out as a genius, playboy, billionaire, philanthropist (hehe, sorry, couldn’t resist) who runs drug deals under the table and kills anyone he thinks might turn against him. As the series progresses, he presents a lot of problems for Rachel, kidnapping her in the first one and forcing her to fight as a rat against other rats; summoning Ku’Sox from the Ever After and causing trouble in Pale Demon; and then finally becoming a father to two children and trusted friend and lover of Rachel’s in the final three books. Their relationship starts out rough but becomes something very strong, as he is mostly present in all the books. Rachel even interrupts his marriage to whiny, manipulative Ellasbeth, and she enjoys it because she’s arresting him!

If you like friendships that last throughout thirteen books, funny one-liners, lots of magical action, and a great supporting cast, you’ll really appreciate this series. My favorites were Dead Witch Walking, For A Few Demons More, Pale Demon, and Witch With No Name. My favorite characters were Al, Jenks, and Newt. I also liked Nick, even if he was the bad guy for the most part.

I will admit, I often find myself liking early-on Rachel better than older, matured Rachel because she seemed less lovesick and more magicky than she does in the last couple books. I feel like the magic that’s so well described in books 1-7 kind of diminishes after book 8 when new magics are introduced. Also, I like that Rachel got herself into trouble and tried world-saving tactics a lot.

badge5v4Overall, I rate this series a five because I gave most of them five. I think I gave books three and eight four stars, and the Hollows Insider a three because it was just a guide book. But it’s an awesome series I’d recommend to all fans of urban fantasy and kick-ass heroines.

Invested_Ivana_100I, too, rate this series a 5. It is one of my very favorites because of the relationships between the characters. All the characters are flawed and dysfunctional, display both good and bad tendencies, and are just so real. They are full and rich and complex, and none of them ever give up on the others. They truly feel like friends to me.

The Hollows is one of the series I’ve “cast” on a Pinterest board.  Check it out!

There are several short stories in this series that you don’t want to miss. In fact, three of them are critical to understanding the next full novel: “Undead In the Garden of Good and Evil” in Dates from Hell, “Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel” in Holidays are Hell, and “Dirty Magic” in Hotter than Hell (or find them all in the anthology Into the Woods: Tales from the Hollows and Beyond) before you read Book 07, White Witch, Black Curse. In my opinion, Book 07 is very confusing if you don’t.

Into The WoodsThe audiobooks in this series read by Marguerite Gavin are fantastic. If you’re an audiobook fan, I recommend them highly. One book, The Outlaw Demon Wails, is read by a different narrator, and I don’t like it quite as well. The narrator changes the pronunciation of many of the names and doesn’t have the same range of voice Gavin has. I’d love it if they redid this audiobook with the original narrator like they did with Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story. Consistency really does matter in audiobooks.

Readers of later generations may not notice that the titles in this series are variations of movies or TV movies connected in some way to Clint Eastwood. That’s kind of fun. I’m not sure if the author intended this, but Rachel is definitely breaking new ground in her world as much as Clint Eastwood tackled the frontier in his cowboy movies. And neither of them tend to play by the rules if they can help it. 😉

Series Spotlight: Parasitology Trilogy by Mira Grant

Would you swallow a genetically modified tapeworm if it meant you would have good health and freedom from most diseases and even genetic disorders?  Would you get “updates” or new versions of it as time went on?  And how surprised would you be when it all goes wrong?

parasitology

Title:  Parasitology Trilogy
Author:  Mira Grant
Publish Date:  2013 – 2015
Genre:  Sci-Fi Thriller
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: From Parasite — A decade in the future, humanity thrives in the absence of sickness and disease.

We owe our good health to a humble parasite – a genetically engineered tapeworm developed by the pioneering SymboGen Corporation. When implanted, the tapeworm protects us from illness, boosts our immune system – even secretes designer drugs. It’s been successful beyond the scientists’ wildest dreams. Now, years on, almost every human being has a SymboGen tapeworm living within them.

But these parasites are getting restless. They want their own lives…and will do anything to get them.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Percy_Procrastinator_100Percy Procrastinator says…

Things that I liked: The story is 1st person perspective from Sal with chapter openers having notes from other character’s journals, and sections having first person perspective from other characters. This idea worked well for me. We get a bit of insight into the other characters, enough to see their perspective, but most of it from Sal, who is at the center of it all. I liked the science behind what was created and the ideas. I can really see people wanting a tapeworm, or some such thing, inside them if it meant a better life or freedom from taking medicines every day. I liked having three factions to follow, instead of the usual two, and how they shared some goals but not all and the differences those made.

Things that I didn’t like: I didn’t like the main character, Sal. She was not interesting to me because everything happened around her or to her but she barely did anything. Indeed, most of the time, she spends it in denial, of who she is and why it is all happening. Many times, she’s the ignorant one so that the science or events can be explained to the reader, but in doing so, it weakened her character so much. The only skill she seems to have are liking animals, which are no help to what is happening! Up until the very end of the final book, Sal is just along for the ride, pulled along as the plot demands it, and saved for the same reason.

Another thing I didn’t like was that the series was too long. I think it could have been done in two books. Doing that might have also forced the author to give Sal more usable skills and to have a better purpose. I also didn’t like that I don’t know how widespread this problem really was. The area where Sal is soon becomes isolated, no news or internet, and so at the end of the series, while I know other areas are affected, I have no idea on the extent. I bring this up because it does play an important part for one of the factions in that they are not given any reinforcements or support. That indicates it’s bad all over, yet it isn’t really stated how bad it was elsewhere. A quick epilogue would have helped with this and could have been done in a paragraph or two.

badge3v4I’m really torn on what to give this series. It’s a firm 3.5 to me but I have to pick whether or not to round up or down. As I think back on the series, the more it really feels like Sal isn’t needed as a character, except as a sounding board and to stand in as the reader. I think we are supposed to feel for her confusion as things change around her. In the end, though, Sal not doing much, other than surviving, doesn’t work for me as a satisfying main character of the story. So, I’m going to round down to a three.

If you like this book…

…you might try zombie or other apocalyptic things; Crichton’s science gone bad, Dan Brown’s early works on tech, maybe even early Clancy.

Series Spotlight: New Canon Star Wars

ANewHope1Tarkin1HeirtotheJedi1LordsoftheSith1Aftermath1

Vagabond_Vahn_100I need to nerd out for a moment here.  Not as the type of nerd who reads too much exactly the right amount, but the nerd who has read most of the novels in the extended Star Wars universe, played most of the video/tabletop games and is optimistic about the release of Star Wars Episode VII next month, but who first had to come to terms with an entirely new canon to replace the stories he’d become so familiar with over the past few decades.  If you’re not a fan of Star Wars, this is not the post you’re looking for…

I was stunned when Disney announced that the Extended Universe, ruled canon by Lucas and his company, would be no more.  It would stick around and be dubbed “Legends”, but it would no longer be the future past I knew.  This was Disney’s baby now, and they intended to raise it and shape it however they wanted.  That took me a little time to digest.  True, I didn’t love every entry in the extended universe.  Sometimes I didn’t like entire series arcs – but they often led to novels further down the road that I did enjoy.

In the end I had to recognize that Disney spent a boatload of money on Star Wars, has an awful lot to lose by not doing it right, and frankly has put out some fantastic movies lately.  I’ve decided to gamble, and put my trust in them.  In preparation for the upcoming Episode VII I’ve been reading the new canon novels.  So far, I’m both impressed and satisfied.  With one exception…

What is going to happen to the character of Kyle Katarn, first introduced to me through the PC game Dark Forces?  He is one of my favorite characters in the entirety of Star Wars, making appearances in multiple videogames and novels.  His role in the backstory of the movies and everything that came after in what we now know as Legends is incredibly important to the stability of that future history – or perhaps I’m just incredibly biased.  One of the two.

A New Dawn, Tarkin, Heir to the Jedi, Lords of the Sith and Aftermath have all been released.  I have had the pleasure of reading the first three, and will hopefully finish the last two before Episode VII hits theaters.

A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller introduces the characters in the new Disney animated series Star Wars: Rebels.  As such, I was expecting a very Young Adult feel.  It certainly does lean that way, but not detrimentally so.  The villain is very Star Wars, very reminiscent of Darth Vader.  So similar, in fact, I was worried at first – but I didn’t need to be, I still enjoyed it.   Then again, I enjoy the animated series as well…and lots of cartoons, because I’m incapable of growing up.  Ahem.

Tarkin was a pleasant surprise.  It was a bit more prolific in description than Darth Plagueis, both of which were written by author James Luceno.  Despite this, it really dug deep into Tarkin’s backstory in a way I hadn’t experienced before and made him the hero of the story – despite being the enemy in the original movie trilogy.  While I found myself skimming sections at times, I acknowledge it was necessary to spend the time building the foundation for the new canon moving forward.  The flashbacks of Tarkin’s teen years and the training he endured made that skimming worthwhile and turned Tarkin from a classic cookie-cutter villain into an intriguing, disciplined man with a brutal past to support his conviction and vision.

Heir to the Jedi has received a mixed response.  Let me first openly state that I entered this with a positive bias – I’m a huge fan of author Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles.  Obviously this will have played some role in my reaction.  That said, I enjoyed the novel, which takes place between Episodes IV and V.  Beyond Luke Skywalker, it is not focused on the other characters from the movies – rather, it introduces a few completely new companions for Luke to adventure with.  This works, as Disney needs to set up some of their own characters to play with moving forward.  Regardless, in the end this book does one important thing – it offers an explanation as to how Luke is able to use the force in The Empire Strikes Back to pull the lightsaber to him while hanging upside-down in the wampa’s cave, despite never learning how to do so in A New Hope.  That plot hole, albeit minor, always came to mind during that scene.

Here’s hoping Lords of the Sith and Aftermath keep up the momentum and solidify my faith in having a new Canon.  Can I just ask someone to bring Kyle Katarn back?  Please?

Note: There are other novels released or planned as New Canon that I did not mention here.  Most notable are Dark Disciple, released July 7th 2015 and Battlefront: Twilight Company coming November 3rd 2015.

Percy will be reviewing Star Wars: Aftermath next week, so stay tuned!

Series Spotlight: Maisie Dobbs Series by Jacqueline Winspear

In the Maisie Dobbs series, readers go on adventures with Maisie Dobbs, a psychological investigator living in London just after WWI.  The author, Jacqueline Winspear has written a wonderful, intriguing main character and introduces the reader to a very trying time in British history.

All

Maisie Dobbs has just returned to London after serving as a nurse in the trenches in France during WWI.  Upon her return, she takes up the art of investigation, like missing persons, stolen property and murder. Her particular focus is on the psychological ramifications of the case on the clients. This is part of the reason these books are so intriguing — you get really close to the emotional fragility of the characters in the stories.

Agent_Annie 100The author has stated that she has loosely based her character and some of the stories on her grandparent.  She has obviously done a lot of research on England during the time between the two world wars and the effects of war on England and France and in later books, Canada, India and Gibraltar.  The first book moves back and forth between Maisie’s contemporary life in post-war England and her childhood which tells the story of how she came from a poor class family to become a highly educated and connected women of means in London society. There are also scenes of what life was like in the field hospitals that supported the soldiers fighting in the trenches.

With WWII over-shadowing the earlier war, the most interesting part of this series is the description of what happened during and after WWI.  So much of my knowledge of history is based on WWII, and I was unfamiliar with things like trench warfare and the nurse’s role in the fields, the plight of the amputee or the sufferers of PTSD in those times.  There is also an aspect of how women who hold professional roles are treated by society in the 1930’s. This book brings all that to light in a well thought out and amazing world.  I was instantly hooked and wanted more.

badge5v4Lucky for us, the author has written eleven books so far and every one of them has been great.  These are books that you can read over again, because, knowing the “answer to the mystery” doesn’t detract from delving back into these characters lives. Each one of the eleven books develops Maisie, the supporting characters and her clients.  They introduce new people and situations in a way that makes the reader feel as if Maisie were a real person.

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