Saturday, November 30, 2013

2013 IN REVIEW: Best new author discoveries of the year

I read. A lot.

Because of that, it's only normal that I would "discover" a decent number of new authors in any given year.

This year was particularly interesting for me, and not just because I discovered a bevy of new literature series to fall in love with -- but also because I finally wiped my hands of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and MaryJanice Davidson's Queen Betsy series, among a few others that have just gone on too long. I feel a certain sense of relief over dropping the dead weight to make room for some fresh faces (like those below).

To be fair, I discovered J.D. Robb's In Death series -- more than 30 books in total -- late in the year and I've been obsessed with getting through that series for the past month, too. Still, though, I've found that -- thanks to the indie publishing revolution -- I have found a great deal of new authors to embrace.

I want to point out that not all of these books were published this year. I only discovered them this year. That doesn't mean they don't deserve a little love, though.

So, in no particular order:

Dusk Gate Chronicles -- This was a summer find. The books (five full novels, one short story)
revolve around teenager Quinn, who finds herself following the school outcast -- William -- one afternoon when he practically disappears in front of her eyes. Quinn is understandably curious, so she follows William over the "gate" one day, and finds herself in a whole new world. The idea of traveling through an invisible gate and discovering a new world isn't a new idea. What author Breeana Putroff has done here, though, is to develop a rich mystery that is equal parts fun and dire straits. The mythology she has created for this world is nothing short of fantastic. Putroff not only gives her heroine, Quinn, a strong history but a bright future -- and I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series. That being said, I do have one quibble with the series. I'm not a big fan of the whole teenagers getting married thing. Sometimes, it's okay for teenagers to have sex without getting married. This anchoring teenagers to forever thing that happens in books today -- and I'm not blaming Putroff, because it happens in a lot of series -- just seems like a way to take away future choices for teenage girls. It's a very minor quibble, though. These are well-written books with a great foundation. Click here for the series, which ranges in price from free to $7.99 (entire series so far).

Witch Avenue Series -- This four-episode series also has a young adult theme, but I like that author Karice Bolton isn't scared to let teenagers have sex. Of course, she eventually falls into the teenagers marrying trap -- but it's refreshing to wade through the four books until she does. This series opens up with a teenage Triss hanging out on the beach with her mother. In short order, her mother disappears and Triss realizes that the past she thought she knew isn't exactly the truth. No  young adult title is complete without a hunky paramour, and Bolton introduces Logan to fill that bill in these books. I like this series because it embraces the paranormal, but not in a way that makes the reader feel like they're going to have to accept a lot of plot contrivances to explore the world. Triss is a strong heroine, and Logan is a dashing hero -- even if he does have a tendency to talk down to Triss like she's a small child at times. I'm especially impressed with Bolton's ability to contain the story instead of trying to pad it out in an attempt to fleece money from readers. That takes a lot of guts. It helps that Bolton's world is so visceral and visual. The entire series is available for $7.99. Click here to buy it.

Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc.: It's rare for a cozy mystery book to actually enlighten the reader on
mythology, religion and the venom of politics. That's the weird dichotomy that Angela Roquet has managed to not only explore but master, as well, in her Lana Harvey series. Lana Harvey is a reaper. That means low pay and high risk as she constantly ferries spirits to their rightful destination -- and that could be a bevy of different places given the number of world religions there are to consider. Roquet has created a world that manages to explore religion -- and politics, quite frankly -- without being preachy or telling the reader which religion is right. That's quite a feat when you're talking about the hereafter -- and where souls go when they die. There are three books in the series so far -- but I'm looking forward to continuing the series the minute it picks up again. Lana herself if the key to the books' success. Lana is a plucky heroine with a kind heart and a cadre of colorful characters surrounding her (including a hilariously drunk archangel). She also knows that something isn't quite right in the world she's living in -- and she's willing to risk her life to make sure that the fates stay balanced, so to speak. The first book in the series is free, or you can get all three books for $4.99. Click here to check out Roquet's unbelievable work.

Witch Central: Author Debora Geary has created an extensive -- and I do mean extensive -- world here. If you're a fan of the genre, then you really have a lot to choose from. Witch Central is a group of witches with different powers -- earth, water, fire, net, etc. Most of these witches are from the same family, with matriarch Nell at the center of it. Nell and her husband created an online game called Realm -- and there are a lot of coding references in the books. Why the series works, though, is not just the masterful blending of old world witchcraft and modern technology. It's the heart of the family. Sure, the characters are a little white-washed and the kids are allowed to be fairly rude to adults on a regular basis, but the true heart of the series dwells in the family interactions. The books have managed to expand and include more outsiders into the family -- Lauren and Lizard being my personal favorites -- while still allowing the reader to get a sense of family, no matter what book they're reading. Since the books occur in two different places (primarily), readers also get to enjoy the old world charm of Nova Scotia and the more bustling feeling of Los Angeles whenever they want. So, if there is a dud of a book you don't like -- and there was one in the series that kind of turned me off -- you can just wait for the next book to be sucked back in. This really is a great series and Geary should be applauded for her hard work. Click here to meet Debora Geary.

Dead, But Not For Long: It's hard to find new and original zombie fiction out there right now. Most of it is pretty much the same stuff: A group of survivors trying to decide if the scarier thing is the zombies or the humans left behind. In Dead, But Not For Long, Matthew Kinney and Lesa Anders have managed to straddle an interesting line. While zombie apocalypses are terrible things -- and should be treated thusly -- there is also room for humor in the genre. That's why this book works. It's serious, with serious characters and dire situations -- but it's also surreal and funny thanks to a borderline sociopath named Eric Wapowski.
I'm not joking. If you've ever wanted to see a fast-food run in a zombie apocalypse, this is the book for you. I was initially drawn to this story because it's set in Michigan, but I stayed for the entirety of the story because of the richly drawn characters and the surprising shifts in genre tone. There isn't a lot not to love here. There are serious moments and there are funny moments. This obviously isn't a book for everyone, but it had everything I love about a book. I really can't say enough about it. The authors are currently finishing up the sequel, and I will be snapping that up the minute it comes out. The first book is available for $2.99 -- and there is a short side story available, too. Click here to buy Dead, But Not For Long.

Easy Bake Coven: I bought the first book in this series because of the title. I thought it was a cozy mystery about witches. Not quite. I finished the book because the story put forth was both engaging and also heart-stopping, at times. This is not a book about witches. This is actually a book about alternate realms and elvish kingdoms. Yeah, I know, you would never know it from the title. It's a great series, though. There's a rich mythology here. I'm not going to lie, the book titles are misleading. These are well-written books, though, and the universe they're set in is simply fantastic. Schulte has created an engaging heroine that has unlikable qualities. That takes a lot of guts, so when an author does it, I think she should be lauded for it. I don't have any complaints about these books other than the titles -- which seem to get more and more painful with each subsequent entry in the series. I think Schulte could be missing out on her core audience -- because her core audience has no way to recognize these books for what they really are: fantasies, not cozy witch mysteries. Click here to check out Liz Schulte's work, because it's definitely worth it. Just don't let the covers (or titles) mislead you.

The Darcy Walker Series: This is another young adult series I discovered this summer when I was
sitting in my pool and fell in love with it. Darcy Walker is a tomboy heroine that doesn't care if she fits in or not. As created by AJ Lape, Darcy lives with her strict father and sister, but she spends most of her time with her (conveniently) hot best friend Dylan. Of course, Dylan obviously wants to be more than friends with Darcy -- and Darcy wants it, too -- but she has low self-esteem so she doesn't think it's possible. While all the romantic shenanigans are going on, Darcy also keeps getting caught up in area mysteries. I'm a big fan of this series, and I enjoy the mysteries and Darcy, for the most part. I'm not thrilled with the faux low self-esteem, though. I like a heroine that realizes her self worth, and Darcy gets a little pathetic in that area a lot of the time. My only complaint with this series is the dialogue. Some of Darcy and Dylan's interactions are so sickly sweet, you wonder if a delusional 12-year-old girl thought them up. You know that's not possible, though, because of all the 1980s references from a teenage girl in today's society. Yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense in that regard. You can tell this is a young adult series written by someone that grew up in the 1980s -- but that is the only complaint I have about these books. Otherwise, they're fabulous -- and often very self-empowering for  young girls. Click here to check out the Darcy Walker series.

The Dollhouse Series: I stumbled across this one on a fluke. I was looking for a new horror series to read, and the description of the first book in this series sounded right up my alley. And it was.  The series, penned by Anya Allyn follows teenage Cassie, as she goes looking for a missing friend in the Australian wilderness. What she finds is a horrific underground trap that houses death and terror around every corner. The first book in the series is not only bone-chilling, but marvelously poignant as it explores the angst of teenage love and the bitter resolve that accompanies it. The second book in the series completely turns everything you learn in the first book on its head. That's good in some aspects and bad in others. Unfortunately, sometimes it reminded me of The Following television show -- and not in a good way. The third book in the series completely shakes things up again. At its heart, the Dollhouse series has a solid mythology. There are just a lot of sudden swings for readers to wrap their minds around. The first book in the series is so stellar, though, that it's worth reading all by itself. I'll have to wait until the fourth (and final) book is released before I review the series as a whole. As it stands now, I'm still intrigued about how all of this is going to wrap up. Check out Allyn's work here.

Eochaidh: While I gave up on Terri Reid's Mary O'Reilly series this year, I also discovered a
mythology heavy new book by the prolific author that takes readers to an old world -- but gives it a new twist. Reid introduces readers to Morganna,   an ancient sorceress with the ability to move through time, and the heroes that are trying to stop her. We get introduced to old favorite Merlin and the Legend of the Horseman, a story that manages to transcend time thanks to Reid's competent hand. This story is not only well-written, but it's set in a universe I don't think readers see enough of these days. This is a richly drawn new series that lets readers turn on their imagination "chip" and hop on the literary train for an enjoyable ride. I know this is just the first entry in a new series, but it really is some of Reid's best work. The prose is strong and crisp, and the story is a nice change of pace. I love a new series that takes readers out of this world and transports them to another -- and that's exactly what Reid does here. Click here for Eochaidh.

What do you think? What new authors did you discover this year?

GENERAL HOSPITAL: Which characters are being written "wrong"?

I see a lot of complaints on message boards about the General Hospital writers not penning the characters to act “in character.”

At first, I kind of waved it off.

This is a soap, after all, and sometimes characters have to act out of character to propel the story along. I’m not one of those fans that doesn’t understand that – sometimes – there are some contrivances where soaps are concerned.

Still, though, when the end of Wednesday’s episode hit (and fans were faced with four long days to wait for Robin to reunite with her family) I finally understood something of what the complainers were saying.

I agree with fans that say that there’s no way Robin would “hide in the corner” and listen to her husband marry another woman. This is Robin. She’s been separated from her daughter for almost two years. Why would she possibly wait another second?

In general, Robin is a selfless character. We’ve seen her give up her own happiness for other
characters numerous times. That doesn’t mean Robin is a shrinking violet, though, and it certainly doesn’t mean that Robin would just sit there and give up her husband to the babysitter.

Granted, I understand that Robin doesn’t know that just before his new marriage, Patrick was looking for her. That Patrick had to be pushed into this marriage by everyone and their brother as a way to prop Sabrina. Robin does not know that.

Still, though, Robin is not a character that is going to just sit back and give her husband and daughter to someone else. It’s not in her nature.

I know that Robin’s sudden hiding act at the end of Wednesday’s episode was just a way to prolong the story and revelation – and I have no doubt that Robin and Patrick will reunite, but enough is enough with the Sabrina propping. I cannot take any more of it. It makes me sick.

If the characters are to be written in character, Robin would make a broad announcement to reclaim her family and Sabrina would bravely step aside to let Patrick reunite with the love of his life and Emma. I mean, that is the Sabrina we’ve been shown. The selfless angel that only gives of herself. Let her give Patrick his freedom and find a rock to hide under. Please!

The other character being assassinated by the writing right now now is Carly (although, Bobbie
seems to be getting short shrift, too – like she would really let Jerry just go after all he’s done). Carly is a character that holds a grudge like nobody’s business. Carly still blames Robin for telling AJ the truth about Michael – even though it was the right thing to do (and Robin almost died, several times, to save people she loves since).

So, if Carly is the bitter shrew we all know her to be, why would she forgive Franco again? I know a rewrite is in play here, but Carly would never fall into bed with the man that got her son raped in prison and terrorized her best friend. It’s not plausible or believable.

While we’re talking about contrived actions, if RC even tries to make Patrick “conflicted” over Sabrina and Robin, I will reach into that television and wring his neck.

Robin and Patrick were together for seven years. They overcame everything to be together. They had a child together, for crying out loud. Patrick is still mourning her death. While I have no doubt he’ll feel bad for hurting the babysitter, if the writers show Patrick even considering throwing Robin over for Sabrina – I will officially be done.

What do you think? Which characters are being written true to form and which ones aren’t?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Coming to Downtown Abbey on the late train

There are certain benefits in coming to a show late.

For example, when there’s a big death – you miss all the hoopla because you weren’t paying attention to the spoilers when it was relevant.

What am I babbling about?

I finally jumped on the Downton Abbey brigade this week and not only did I start watching the show, but I finished it as well. How did I watch the fourth season before it hit American airwaves? Yeah, I went and bought it on Blu-Ray – that’s how much of a slave to (quality) television I am.

Binge-watching has its benefits, let me tell you. As a viewer that managed to watch all four seasons in several days, I didn’t have to sit and lament the long breaks between television seasons. As a viewer, I jumped right from Matthew and Mary’s Christmas engagement to their wedding planning. There was none of that pesky eight months of nailbiting to hold me back.

Since I came to the show so late, I think I probably have a view of the show that is unique (or less mainstream might be more apt).  In other words, no one could bend my opinion because I plowed through the show on my own and didn’t let them.

First off, I’m not going to lie, while I love the show there seems to be an obvious drop off in the
quality of writing between the second and third seasons. Yeah, I said it.

British television shows are different from American television shows. British shows usually sign actors to three-year deals – compared to the seven-year deals American television shows boast. Because of this, there are a lot of British television shows that only last three  years (or less) and even more that have high turnover rates in their casts because of this fact.

That’s why the main cast of the British Being Human, for example, had a complete cast turnover before the end of the show.

So, when the third season of Downton Abbey hits, it becomes fairly obvious early on that Jessica Brown Findlay was obviously being set up to be written out as Lady Sybil. While her death is heartbreaking (she was my favorite of the three sisters), it’s not all that surprising.

More surprising – but not shocking, I guess – was the death of Matthew Crawley, one of the main characters on the show. Dan Stevens was clearly one of the breakout stars, much like Aidan Turner was on Being Human. The fact that Stevens would try to turn his success on Downton Abbey into a film career isn’t exactly shocking.
What I find most interesting about Downton Abbey is that everyone I know (yes, pretty much
everyone) says it’s one of the best shows they’ve ever watched.

The show is entertaining, don’t get me wrong. It has a certain magic attached to it. You get to see how both sides of the economic coin live in a period time piece, while interacting with each other. It’s fairly entertaining.

At its heart, though, Downtown Abbey is a soap opera. It’s just like General Hospital – only with believable accents.

Sure, no one has come back from the dead yet (well, Matthew kind of did in the second season, but not quite) but we’ve had a breast cancer scare, prostitution, lying about sex, almost affairs, actual affairs, young women marrying older men, women marrying men their fathers don’t approve of, dramatic death by childbirth, men being locked up for crimes they didn’t commit, rape, etc.

I can hear it right now. People are going to start emailing me and telling me that Downtown Abbey is much better than any soap opera. True, the acting is better than most soap operas, that doesn’t mean it’s still not a high class soap opera.

I guess it’s a good thing that I like soap operas.

The truth is, I think I watched the entire run of Downton Abbey at the same time the show will start
its inevitable downturn.

The quality of the writing in a show  usually goes first – and we definitely saw that in season three. Then some of the cast starts to defect. We’ve seen that, too. Now some of the storylines will get more and more ridiculous – season four is all over the place, quite frankly – and then the show will suddenly be barely recognizable.

Still, Downton Abbey is unique in the fact that it’s a simple tale that caught on at a time when it had no business being popular. For that reason alone, I was prepared to like the show.

The first two seasons of it, though, were so well done that I fell in love with it. That’s enough for me to ignore (most of) the foibles of the third and fourth seasons. Let’s hope the show let’s go before it needs to be put out of its misery, though.

What do you think? Am I crazy to equate Downton Abbey to a soap opera?

THE WALKING DEAD: Is the Governor's time (finally) up?

The mid-season finale of The Walking Dead is upon us – and I think the only thing anyone can agree on is that it’s going to get bloody.

This season of The Walking Dead has been pretty hit or miss, but I understand what they were doing – tying everything up in a nice Christmas bow for us to unwrap before the holiday season hits.

Sunday, fans of the show are going to get the long awaited showdown between the Governor and Rick. The question is, will both men walk away from it?

I’m going to do some theorizing – and let me stress that this is theorizing, on my part – and say that the Governor isn’t going to survive this encounter.


First off, it just feels like time. They can’t reinvent the character and somehow make him a hero. I was worried about that when we saw the road he took after torching Woodbury – but fans were quickly assuaged of the worry that the writers would try to rehabilitate the Governor when he started building a lake farm of zombies last week.

Second off, the Governor’s death in the comics looks a lot like the previews for this week’s episode. Turn around if you don’t want to know how the Governor dies in the comics – and do it right now.

Essentially, and this is being simplistic,  a character named Lily shoots Lori while she’s carrying
Judith in the comic books, killing them both. This happens when the Governor is launching an assault on the prison with a tank. Distraught over what’s she’s done, Lily then turns on the Governor.

Now, interestingly enough, the Governor has been making smooching noises with a woman named Lily. He’s also managed to acquire a tank. Now, while Lori is already dead, I’ve been wondering how they were going to handle this baby Judith situation for a while.

Obviously, the prison isn’t going to remain safe forever – and I think the second half of the season after the winter break is going to be dealing with those cult people – or whoever they are – that Daryl heard on the radio a few weeks ago. I think that’s where the group is going to run across Carol again – but that’s a long way in the future.

Back to Judith, though. Once the group goes on the run, I don’t see how they’re going to haul a baby around. For production purposes alone, it sounds like a logistical nightmare. Since Beth is Judith’s caretaker these days, I’m think she might be the one that dies with the baby – if they actually go there. Of course, I could just be hoping for that because I can’t stand Beth – and she’s had fodder written all over her since she was introduced.

I can then see Lily realizing that “Brian” is not a hero but a monster – and turning on him and killing him. It would be poetic justice.

Of course, this could all be my imagination – and the Governor could live to kill another day.

What do you think? Is the Governor’s time almost up?

Friday, November 22, 2013

GENERAL HOSPITAL: Anyone else ready to get off the roller-coaster?

General Hospital has been a nonstop series of peaks and valleys for the past two months.

Peak: Robin is alive.

Valley: Morgan is sleeping with his wife’s mom.

Peak: Robert wakes up from his coma.

Valley: Sonny is writing off one of his children (and throwing bar ware and innocent walls -- again).

Peak: Sam and Silas are doing some cute flirting.

Valley: Sabrina’s Disney princess schtick just gets worse and worse.

Peak: Britt and Nik have off-the-wall chemistry.

Valley: Lulu and Maxie are tearing each other apart in court.

What am I saying?

I’m not saying I’m not enjoying the ride – but parts of it are starting to make me queasy.

The ratings are up on GH, and we should all be celebrating it. That doesn’t mean everything is perfect, though.

What are my top five concerns:

Franco and Carly’s Blahmance: Am I seriously supposed to believe that Carly – a woman that has
held grudges for much less (much, much less) – is over Franco threatening Jason and Sam, stealing Aidan, having Michael raped in prison (I don’t care how you retcon it) and terrorizing her daughter? Because if you want me to believe that, I’m also going to have to believe that she’s had a brain transplant. The Carly we all know and love (or loathe, doesn’t matter) would never give Franco the time of day. The only time she would grace him with her presence is to douse him with gasoline and start him on fire. Sure, I love Roger Howarth. That doesn’t mean, no matter how you try to spin it, that I’m going to tolerate Franco. I’m never going to embrace the character. I don’t care what the writers do or say. He’s the devil – and not in a fun way like Jerry or Faison.

Shrewlu and her constant wail: Lulu used to be my favorite heroine. Then, when Julie Marie Berman left, so did my love of Lulu. I have nothing against Emme Rylan. She’s a fine actress and a fine person. She is not Lulu, though. She doesn’t have Lulu’s spark. That twinkle in the eye that she always had. That fiery passion with Dante. This Lulu is not Lulu – and a lot of the fault lies with the writing. Somewhere along the way, Ron Carlivati decided to sacrifice Lulu to try and make what Maxie was doing palatable. That doesn’t exactly seem fair to the character – but what’s done is done. I cannot stand what happened last week in that courtroom. Blaming Maxie for Robin’s death was unbelievable. On the flip side, Maxie outing Lulu on the Logan front was just as unforgiveable. I know we’re supposed to be drawn in by the drama – but I’m just turned off by it.

AJ and his rippers: The AJ story has been handled so poorly, I’m not sure it can be saved anymore.
AJ and Liz have a cute chemistry, but it’s all but fizzled out because AJ has been missing for months and he’s being served up as the main course on the Sonny altar. Again. I think that just about everyone suspected that Ava Jerome was the AJ Connie wrote in blood as she was dying since the day it happened. To just be addressing this now is lazy. I love to hate Ava – but her dalliance with Morgan creeps me out (he's imagining her daughter -- that's just gross) and I’m more than ready to bid the character adieu so we can see more of AJ.

Julian’s grand reveal and then  . . . nothing: Plotting on this show is so off that I could do an entire blog (and then some) on it but, come on. Julian’s revelation was set up as a big story. We got it and then . . . nothing. No more interaction with Alexis and Sam. No more plotting against Sonny. No big revelation about Lucas. Nothing. Can the writers please trim the cast – and by that, I mean cut the dead weight (not more vets) and plot this show a little better. Robin’s return has been lagging – this is on the heels of the AJ court case – and now we’re going to have Julian’s story start lagging. Buy a clue and get rid of the characters everyone hates. It’s not that hard.

Sabrina’s princess propping: It’s no surprise I hate this character. I do. I loathe her. The thing I’m
looking most forward to is Robin going all Dwayne Wayne on that wedding and Sabrina being left at the altar in tears while Robin reclaims her family. I just know it won’t end there. Sabrina is one of the biggest story hogs on this show, and I’m beyond being able to stomach it. Patrick has been poked and prodded by every character on the show to walk down the aisle with Sabrina – which makes me hate Sabrina. Between her constantly whining “Carrrrrrrrrrrrlos” and her constantly looking at Patrick with dreamy eyes and no self-awareness, I’m about ready to explode. If I do, I hope I take this grating character with me.

What do you think? What’s got you most worried on GH right now?