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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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A Fistful of Frost by Rebecca Chastain

In the few weeks, she’s been on the job, Madison Fox has faced imps, vervet, possessed hounds, cito, demons, and other dark creatures of Primordium. Now she must face her biggest challenge yet: a job performance review.

See below for information on a time-sensitive special deal and a giveaway from the author!

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Title: A Fistful of Frost
Author: Rebecca Chastain
Series: Madison Fox, Book #3
Publish Date: May 8, 2018
Genre: Urban fantasy
Cover: Yocla Designs
Source: Provided by the author

Publisher’s Description: Madison’s job—and soul—are on thin ice.

Madison Fox is determined to reform Jamie, her half-evil pooka, but the bond linking her to Jamie works both ways. Already, it has manipulated her into bending the rules. If she continues down this path, she could doom her soul. Since her judgment can’t be trusted, a high-ranking inspector now dictates Madison’s every interaction with Jamie, and each directive drives them further apart.

Unfortunately, Madison has bigger issues than the potential degradation of her soul. Winter has struck with a vengeance. Frost moths plague the entire state, reinforcing the artificially frigid temperature. Worse, cold-blooded, soul-stealing enemies are flocking into her region from the north—creatures Madison has little defense against.

With the inspector scrutinizing her every misstep, Madison is in for the battle of her life. If she hopes to survive, she must make an impossible choice: save herself and her region or save Jamie.

An imaginative urban fantasy filled with heart, humor, and plenty of butt-kicking action—A Fistful of Frost is a book you won’t want to miss!

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

Madison Fox had only been on the job for a couple of weeks before she bonded with a pooka and caused an upheaval in her region. Now, the Collaborative Illumination Alliance (CIA) wants to test her, fearing that her association with the pooka may have corrupted her soul. So Madison has to face an intense job evaluation while dealing with a close-lipped boss, inadequate on-the-job training, a self-aware and temperamental manual, a misbehaving pooka, resentful co-workers, and supernatural creatures she’s never encountered before. It’s enough to make anyone lose their mind!

Since she’s been thrust into the supernatural world—years later than any of her counterparts and lacking all the information she needs—Madison has been floundering through odd situations and uncovering plots and schemes just by being the outsider. She’s also been used as a pawn because of her ignorance and inexperience, and she’s gained the reputation of being unpredictable, hard to handle, and probably dangerous.

So In A Fistful of Frost, she’s trying very hard to follow the rules, take direction from people who have more experience, and do exactly as she’s told. But doing so drives a wedge between her and her pooka, Jamie, and makes the CIA and her co-workers even more suspicious of her motives.

Because of my own past job experiences, I identified almost too much with Madison’s frustrations about her job—poorly trained and with few resources, she’s trying to do her job while following all the rules and meeting all the expectations of people who may or may not even know what they’re talking about. It’s something everyone who’s ever had a job has experienced at one time and makes Madison’s situation very easy to relate to.

When Madison finally tells everyone to go to hell and does what she thinks is right, she goes from being a vulnerable novice to an empowered enforcer, which is what every frustrated employee wants. As a reader, I felt victorious along with Madison when she declared her independence from everyone else’s agendas. I think we’ll see a different Madison in future adventures; not a perfect one, but one operating under her own agency who casts a more skeptical eye toward other people’s rules.

I enjoy this series immensely, which is why the first two books earned a Standout Award from me in 2015. I’m thrilled we get to see a new chapter in Madison’s life and hope there will be another on the way soon. 5 stars.

Our reviews in this series…

Special Deal

In honor of the release of A Fistful of Frost on May 8, you can get the first book in the series, A Fistful of Evil, FREE in ebook form from May 1 to May 5. Look for A Fistful of Evil and all of Rebecca Chastain’s books on Amazon.

Giveaways

Pre-order Giveaway: Order your copy of A Fistful of Frost between now and the release date on May 8, and you can receive a copy of the Madison Fox novelette, A Fistful of Flirtation.

Madison finally gets her date with Dr. Love—and if they had picked any other restaurant, she might have had a chance to enjoy it, too . . . 

Receive your free gift with purchase here: https://www.rebeccachastain.com/current-giveaways/

Series Giveaway: From May 8 to May 30, enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card or the complete Madison Fox trilogy! https://www.rebeccachastain.com/current-giveaways/

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Myth Manifestation by Lisa Shearin

Lord Rake Danescu has his hands full.  Mythological creatures are attacking.  His hotel is hijacked.  People are dying. His magic is… not as it should be.  He does, however, have Mac and Ian and the whole SPI commando contingency working with him to figure out what in the fresh hell is going on.

Title: The Myth Manifestation
Author: Lisa Shearin
Series: SPI FIles #5
Publish Date: January 16, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction/Urban Fantasy
Narrator: Johanna Parker
Source: Purchased by reviewers

Publisher’s DescriptionThe agents of Supernatural Protection & Investigations (SPI) protect people from predatory supernaturals. This time, we’re the ones who need protection.

New York is one of the most popular convention destinations in the world—for humans and supernaturals. Every hundred years, rulers of the world’s supernatural races come together to negotiate and renew a peace treaty. Meeting in the same hotel are the governors of our world’s goblin and elf colonies. SPI is saddled with the security nightmare of keeping the living delegates alive and the undead delegates from becoming permanently deceased. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

I’m Makenna Fraser, seer for SPI. Our security nightmare becomes real when monsters from the delegates’ mythologies begin mysteriously appearing in the flesh to hunt delegates from every side of the debate. And when the hotel gets sucked into another dimension, there’s no escape.

We discover that we’re all pieces in an elaborate and deadly game. A game about to spill out into the real world. Failing to escape is game over and not an option. We have to save the world—but first, we have to save ourselves.

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel. In other words…spoilers.  *BEWARE*


Nervous Nellie says…

This book has no sex, no graphic blood and gore, no swearing since Mac edits it out of her ongoing dialog.  This has got a tiny little bit of romance that includes one very rich and charming goblin courting our protagonist.  SPI is made of a team of agents that will do their share of kicking asses and taking names while protecting the mundanes from learning about the supernatural.  There is a tiny cliffhanger, but it’s the overarching relationship stuff – not the story itself.  It’s easy to handle.  Don’t worry.

I love Mac and the gang.  I also love Mac and Rake’s relationship.  He’s under Mac’s skin and Mac has got Rake swooning.  Okay, maybe the other way around.  Anyway, there is a supernatural summit taking place and anywhere there are a bunch of supernaturals trapped together you know there will be trouble.

Goblins and Elves do NOT have a harmonious vibe going on.  All other attendees also have problems intermingling, so security for this event is beyond difficult.  It’s not enough that it’s all races and creeds of creatures attending this summit, it’s their political leaders that take the spotlight and create a ton of drama.  SPI is on high alert but all the special drills they could go through would never cover this problem.

This is a good old “Clue” episode.  Who did it in the ballroom or the bedroom or the beer keg with a big ol’ knife? Yeah, I said beer keg. You caught that, huh?  That’s what’s fun about the supernatural culture differences in this book.  There are so many variations between cultures that anything goes but one wrong step or a simple action or comment could be construed as offensive and then watch out!  With the caliber of individuals attending this convention, we have political fallout first and foremost to worry about. After that, then we could have not only an international incident but an interdimensional incident that could very well incite a war.  Tread carefully and walk on eggshells. But we still gotta figure out who’s killing whom and why.

You want details on the story?  Well, ok… I can give you this.  Rake’s impossibly above high class, ten-star hotel has been hijacked.  Yes, that’s right.  Hijacked.  At first, it looks like a security issue, but then it evolves.  Boy, does it evolve. It involves mythological creatures materializing out of nowhere.  And Rake has no answers.  Can you imagine? He’s got no “clue” as to what’s going on.

I can also give you a small detail on the romance between Mac and Rake.  It’s moving very, very slow. I like that Lisa Shearin is making their relationship a gradual thing.  It builds anticipation.  I love that a nice southern seer girl can capture the attention of a suave, sexy, interdimensional uber rich playboy.  Makenna is all sassy common sense if not skill. She is not Rake’s type, per se.  You’d expect him to be with fussy, glossy, supermodel bombshells in tight dresses with 4-inch heels and coifed hair.  Except… he’s choosing Mac.  She has her own style, no-nonsense woman that knows her limits and tries very hard to be an asset to the SPI crew.  She loves her job and I love her unique personality.

Johanna Parker is the narrator for this book as well as all the other SPI novels.  She gives the story that much more depth and complexity.  Another 5 star hit if you ask me.

Invested Ivana says…

Toward the end of negotiations for a massive treaty among outworld species and Earth, the delegates come together for a summit to celebrate and sign the treaty. Someone isn’t happy, though, and traps the delegates in their hotel with monsters … and a killer. Maybe more than one.

Though the Myth Manifestation has plenty of monsters — one of the signatures of this series — it’s primarily a political drama. Though the focus wasn’t on the monsters, this story was as much fun as any of the others in the series. Readers get to see old friends, such as the Vlad the vampire and the Norweigan SPI agents. And we learn a little more about other species, like dwarves, giants, and a race that makes love with their fingers, making waving and handshakes MUCH more exciting!

Fans of the Raine Benares series will see some familiar names and maybe faces. I did wonder if, had I been reading the Raine Benares series, I would have followed the politics between the elves and goblins a bit better. There is some massive political upheaval on their homeworld that, I’m guessing, is forefront in Raine’s series.

Regardless, I followed the story fine and really enjoyed it. As always, Johanna Parker does a fabulous job narrating. This is one of those series I much prefer to hear than read. She really brings Mac and all the other characters to life. 5 stars.

Our reviews in this series…

Switchback by Melissa F. Olson

The Chicago pod of the Bureau of Preternatural Investigations faces its next big challenge. But will all the members make it out unscathed?

Title: Switchback
Author: Melissa F. Olson
Series: Nightshades, Book 02
Publish Date: Dec 1, 2017 by Brilliance Audio
Genre: Paranormal thriller, urban fantasy
Narrator: Luke Daniels
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s DescriptionThe Bureau of Preternatural Investigations returns in the sequel to Melissa F. Olson’s Nightshades.

Three weeks after the events of Nightshades, things are finally beginning to settle for the Chicago branch of the BPI, but the brief respite from the horror of the previous few weeks was never destined to last.

The team gets a call from Switch Creek, WI, where a young man has been arrested on suspicion of being a shade. The suspect is held overnight, pending DNA testing, but seemingly escapes in a terrifying and bloody massacre. But is there more to the jailbreak than a simple quest for freedom?

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

Switchback is the second installment in the Nightshades series. I wasn’t aware the second book had come out and was pleasantly surprised to stumble across it on Audible, and to discover it is narrated by Luke Daniels, who is utterly brilliant! So I listened to Nightshades again before diving into Switchback.

The newly formed Chicago pod of the BPA is having its challenges, to say the least. The Special Agent in Charge is just returning from an extended time away, recovering from a disfiguring knife wound to the face and special hearings in Washington, when another major case hits their desk. The entire staff of a police station in a small Illinois town has been slaughtered, apparently by shades. The pod has to figure out what happened and why in order to stop the killers.

Fair warning to those who care—while the ending is not necessarily a cliffhanger, it made me sit up wide-eyed, cursing and loving Olson at the same time. It sure makes May 2018, the expected publication date of the next novel in the series, seem a LONG way away!

Switchback is another wonderfully entertaining story from Olson, whose previous series I have really enjoyed. Five stars.

Our reviews in this series…

Other recommendations…

Olson’s previous series feel more straight-up urban fantasy than the Nightshade series but are definitely worth checking out if you like UF. They all take place in the same Old World universe. If you’d rather read more paranormal thrillers, check out the Harmony Black series by Craig Schaefer, the Nathaniel Cade series by Christopher Farnsworth, or the Order of the Sanguines series by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell.

Black Spark by Al K. Line

Black Spark introduces us to Faz Pound—called “Spark” since he is the Black Spark—an enforcer for the Dark Council, an interspecies group that ensures practitioners and magic beings follow the rules, particularly the one about not letting the Regulars know that magic exists. Faz has just broken that rule, killing a Regular in public. Bystanders filmed it, and YouTubers are eating it up. But Faz wasn’t exactly himself when he murdered the Regular with magic. Now he has twenty-four hours to erase the incident from the collective memory and figure out why he made such a horrible, horrible mistake.

Title: Black Spark
Author: Al K. Line
Series: Dark Magic Enforcer, Book 01
Publish Date: February 7, 2017 by Tantor Media
Genre: Urban fantasy
Narrator: Gildart Jackson
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: I watched in horror as dark magic sprang from my hand faster than an imp after your socks. I didn’t know my name, let alone that I had such power. The man was dead. I panicked. I ran.

How was I to know I was a dark magic enforcer, tasked with keeping magic hidden from the world? Yeah, total noob move, I know.

But my memory is returning, and the Hidden have given me twenty-four hours to make amends. Cover it up. Finish the job I was given, or else. Failure isn’t an option. Well, it is, but I like me, and I like being alive.

Time is running out as I battle to make things right and exact revenge on those that took so much from me. Easier said than done as I deal with angry mages, bitey zombies, oversexed imps, creepy necromancers, and grumpy trolls—and those are just my friends!—all while trying to stop myself falling in love with my best friend, Kate, who just so happens to be a hot vampire.

I’m Faz Pound, a.k.a. Black Spark, Dark Magic Enforcer, and time is running out.

At least I have my looks. For now.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested Ivana says…

“The rain had stopped, making the new paving gleam like a polished crystal ball as the sun made a risky move. It dared to shine for a few brief moments, before a concerted attack by the Welsh cloud gang took back their territory. The victorious clouds celebrated with a downpour so sudden and fierce the street emptied in seconds.”

Black Spark delivers a fun urban fantasy adventure, interesting world-building that turns some of the normal tropes on their heads, a thoughtful system of magic, and some fun and lovable characters. Kate, Grandma, and the imp Intus, are probably my favorites. There are some jewels of writing, such as the “Welsh cloud gang” quote above, that really tickled my fancy. And I love that Gildart Jackson is the narrator. Jackson is also the narrator of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka, of which I am very fond. He does an excellent job.

The book is written as if Faz is talking directly to the reader. So the fourth wall gets broken a lot; the narrative switches between past and present tense, depending on whether Faz is describing something that Is (in his imaginary present state) or Was part of the story he’s telling; and the character’s voice is much closer to the informal way someone would talk rather than the more formal way someone would write. These appear to be deliberate choices by the author that make the book feel very chatty and fun, appropriate for an urban fantasy.

However, there are some less-polished aspects of the writing that I noticed, being a fiction editor myself. It often feels as if Faz is rambling. His sentences can get very long and go off in a multitude of directions. At times, the narrative tense changes from past to present when it probably shouldn’t. There are also parts of the narrative that feel a bit repetitive. None of these things really impacted my enjoyment of the story; I just happened to notice them.

I do have to say, though, that I’m very glad I chose to listen to the audio version. I happened to open the Kindle version, thinking I could get some reading done at a time when I couldn’t listen to the audio. Attempting to actually read the book was a very different experience because of a noticeable lack of editing or proofreading. I’m sure I’m more sensitive to issues of grammar and punctuation because of my job as a line editor, so not all readers may be as affected as I was by this lack. But I’m not sure I could have finished the book had I tried to read it. I have to give Gildart Jackson triple kudos for translating that raw text into a great performance.

That being said, I am not reviewing the text version of this book, but the audio. I give the audiobook four stars. I liked the characters and world-building, and I enjoyed the story. I’m sure I will pick up more audios in the series and check out Line’s other series as well. I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that, since Black Spark was published in 2016, Line has discovered the benefits of a good editor.

Other recommendations…

Gildart Jackson also narrates the Alex Verus series, which I adore. You might also check out James Hunter’s Yancy Lazarus series and anything by J.A. Cipriano.

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