The Best & Worst of 2016

2016 is finally over! It was a tough year for me, even right up to the end where I caught a nasty holiday bug. I did read a lot of great books last year. According to my Goodreads profile, I read 208 books, nearly 100 less than the year before. I blame my new found love of Netflix bingewatching for that. Here are my favorite 11 books of the year, in no particular order (no counting rereads).

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ClineReadyPlayerOne

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

ButcherSkinGame

Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave

Tofu will help me hide the bodies.
Tofu will help me hide the bodies.

Anne Manx on Amazonia by Larry Weiner

WeinerAnneManxOnAmazonia

Chapelwood by Cherie Priest

PriestChapelwood

The Green Children by Domino Finn

FinnTheGreenChildren

Dragon Gate by Gary Jonas (Jonathan Shade #3)

JonasDragonGate

Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword by Kiera Gillett

GillettZariaFierceAndTheEnchantedDrakelandSword

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Chupa being weird.
Chupa being weird.

Cthulhu Armageddon by C. T. Phipps

PhippsCthulhuArmageddon

I did some rereads this past year – The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (yep, from the beginning), Terre D’Ange Cycle by Jacqueline Carey (I’ve been reading with a great group of on-line friends and we’re up to Book 7 now), Dune by Frank Herbert (just because it’s awesome), Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delaney (I read this in paperback some years ago but now it’s available as an audiobook and it is incredibly well done).

Here are the top 3 books that didn’t do it for me:

Lover Eternal by J. R. Ward

WardLoverEternal

A Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole

ColeAHungerLikeNoOther

Hair Power by Piers Anthony

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I also joined a romance book club. I’ve never really enjoyed romance novels. I don’t mind if a book has romance in it but the main plot has to be something more than finding true love or getting laid for me to really enjoy it. So, I thought perhaps I was wrong in binning romance books all together and pretty much ignoring them. With that in mind, I joined this lovely group of people and gave the romance genre a real shot at winning my heart. We read several paranormal and urban fantasy romances, a few contemporary romances (some with suspense and one with BDSM), and 1 historical fiction romance. In general, I was underwhelmed. Some of the books did exceed my expectations and for romance novels they were good, but none of them made it into my top 50. Let me slightly amend that. I had the opportunity to host twice, which means I picked the book we read. Both times I picked books I had not previously read and one of them was Darkness Haunts by Susan Ilene. There is no romance in this novel. There’s a spattering of flirting, but that is all. While several people enjoyed it (including me), it does not count as a romance novel. Obviously, I’m not a good host for a romance book club but the group was great about it.

Also here are some of my notable firsts for 2016:

My first Stephen King novel – 11-22-63

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My first Star Wars novel – Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne

Guess which side of the Force Chupacabr is on?
Guess which side of the Force Chupacabra is on?

My first Podiobooks audiobook – Marker Stone by Paul J. Joseph

JosephMarkerStone

My first Kurt Vonnegut novel – Cat’s Cradle

VonnegutCatsCradleTofu

As 2016 ends, I am looking forward to a better year in 2017. I spent all of 2016 sick and most of it on bed rest. It took quite some time and many doctors to get diagnosed. I now know that I have CTEPH and in February I will be in San Diego having PTE surgery to hopefully correct the issue. It’s a major surgery and I could be in the hospital recovering for up to 20 days. So if Dab of Darkness goes dark between Ground Hog’s Day and Valentine’s Day, it’s just me laid up in a hospital recovering. Life should get better after that surgery and I’m just really looking forward to being on the other side of it. 24/7 supplemental oxygen makes life rather boring, as I can now attest to.

Anne Manx on Amazonia by Larry Weiner

WeinerAnneManxOnAmazoniaWhere I Got It: Review copy

Narrators: Claudia Christian, Patricia Tallman, Barbara Harris, and you can see the complete cast list HERE.

Publisher: Radio Repertory Co. of America (2005)

Original Orchestral Score: Angelo Panetta

Length: 1 hour 59 minutes

Series: Book 4 Anne Manx

Author’s Page

Note: Even though this is Book 4 in the series, it works just fine as a standalone.

 

I return once again to the world of Anne Manx! This time, the rightful heir to the Amazonian throne seeks her aid. The planet of Amazonia has been peacefully ruled for generations by the Queen, who raises up a clone of herself as heir to the throne every several decades. However, the current Queen’s first clone was imperfect and she was discarded. A second clone has been raised to take the Queen’s place when the time comes. Meanwhile the first clone was adopted by a poor woman who named her Spunky. Now Spunky Brandburn seeks out the diamonds that are needed to run the cloning machine, the only machine that might fix her imperfections.

Jean Richmond returns to the series! I first met Jean Richmond in an off-shoot story, Jean Richmond Smokes a Joint, and then again in the early Anne Manx books. I have a bit of a girl crush on her. I know, she’s the evil one but I can’t help enjoying her character so much! Now she’s here causing havoc and entertaining me. Her presence does bring up the memory of loss for our hero Anne Manx and Anne wants her incarcerated or dead, understandably so. I really enjoy the dynamic between these two ladies.

Spunky Brandburn was an amusing character most of the time. Sometimes her personality was just a touch too much. She had some great lines though. Spunky is borderline mentally deficient, so her character gets to say some odd things that come across as amusing instead of as offensive. Spunky is a kind-hearted soul that has trouble seeing evil in anyone and I couldn’t help but root for her.

The heart of this story is good overthrowing evil but because of the cloned royal family thing going on, it’s a bit more complicated. Then there’s the stolen diamonds to deal with, even if they were stolen for a decent cause. This book had a few twists I wasn’t expecting and I loved that one of the main characters was handicapped. Science fiction in general could use more such diversity.

The trademark humor of this series is on full display. Double entendres had me chuckling through my hot tea (poor computer keyboard!). A chunk of the humor is definitely intended for adult audiences though there’s no descriptive sex or such. I think teens would be fine with it and this book would probably give them a good example of what witty adult humor looks like.

I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Narration: Once again, the performances all around were excellent. Claudia Christian will forever be the voice of Anne Manx in my head. Patricia Tallman’s enjoyment in the role as Jean Richmond comes through clearly. Barbara Harris pulled double duty as both Spunky and the Queen of Amazonia. It’s amazing how different the two characters were and Harris performed both quite well. There’s a slew of other voice actors picking up the smaller roles and it was great to have such different character voices. The music and sound effects were put to good use, adding drama and tension, yet never drowning out the dialogue.

What I Liked: Jean Richmond returns!; Anne Manx is always a favorite; Spunky has a handicap but does well nonetheless; great cover art; excellent narration and sound track; a few unexpected twists. 

What I Disliked: Nothing – I really enjoyed this book.

What Others Think:

SFF Audio

Interview & Giveaway: Angelo Panetta & Larry Weiner, Creators of the Anne Manx series

WeinerAnneManxBloodChaseFolks, I am very excited to have both Larry Weiner and Angelo Panetta on the blog today. They are the masterminds of the keenly funny space opera series Anne Manx. I have enjoyed 4 RRCA titles so far (Anne Manx and the Blood Chase, Anne Manx in Lives of the Cat, Anne Manx and the Ring of Minotour, & Richmond Smokes a Joint) and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. In fact, I think others should enjoy the works of these masterminds.

Giveaway! So I will be giving away 1 Audible US download of any RRCA title available of Audible US. Enter the Rafflecopter widget below. Or tell me why you like radio dramas in the comments for a quick entry.

1) Will you tell us a little bit about how Radio Repertory Co. of American (RRCA) came into being? 

Larry: RRCA actually came into being in 1989, when I got together with an announcer friend, Bob Arsena (still the voice of RRCA), and another announcer, Mike Moran, to write and produce radio commercials for advertising agencies.  That was nominally successful, but an article in my local newspaper in 1995 sent me into the direction of audio drama.  It was a piece about National Public Radio’s “NPR Playhouse.”  Somewhere in the article, program chief, Andy Trudeau mentioned he was always on the lookout for good original audio drama.  I put the paper down and said to myself, “I can do that.”  I had actually been fooling around with audio since I was a kid, and Trudeau’s comment gave me all the justification I needed to actually sit down as an adult and write something.  Of course, I needed a studio to record the piece, and my partner, Bob Arsena, mentioned he’d been recording material at Angelo Panetta’s studio and was impressed by his ability.  I approached Angelo with the idea, and he was just as gung ho as I was, and that was the birth of our relationship.

WeinerAnneManxAndTheEmpressBlairProject2) If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

Angelo: Not sure I’d be interested in experiencing any for the 1st time again, but I can tell you some of my current favorites. I am really enjoying The Americans and just finished Mad Men. I’m also a Marvel TV and movie fan. Saw Ex Machina 3x’s, it’s my favorite movie of the summer so far. Book: Invent It, Sell It, Bank It! by Lori Greiner from Shark Tank.

Larry: My storytelling background is film (I was actually the story developer behind the muppet movie, “Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas”), so I think film even when I’m writing for audio.  Every time I see the film noir classic, “Laura,” it’s always like watching it for the first time.  Then, I’d have to list the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup,” and then “The Searchers.”  Anything written by O’Henry is something I can appreciate as a ‘first time’ experience.  Finally, the film “The Searchers,” is so good, I study it every time I see it from a film structure and cinematography perspective.  As to TV series, I’d have to list “Mash,” and “Seinfeld” as shows I can watch over and over.

WeinerAnneManxOnAmazonia3) RRCA titles have music & sound effects incorporated with the story. For those of us who have no clue how those are seamlessly melded into the story, can you give a quick run down? 

Angelo: We produce our audio like we were going to make an animated film, except we never draw the pictures. It’s important for us to make sure our actors put all the effort into their performance, like on a stage or movie. That way, when we add the sound fx, we can match the energy of the performance. Then we layer the sound effect and music. Early on we decided we would not use narration, so all of the action is told through dialog and sound. That is a challenge. The mix is what puts it over the top and makes the action clear to the listener.

WeinerAnneManxInLivesOfTheCat4) In this age of publishing, self-promotion is really necessary for the author/publisher. What do you enjoy most about advertising yourself and your works? What do you find most challenging?

Larry: Well, Angelo runs the daily marketing effort, but in a global sense, the Internet has allowed us much more control and flexibility over the marketing of our own material.  The downside is that you have to be much more active and involved in that, so I think successful creators today also need to be savvy marketers.  And, we’re learning all the time.  The most challenging part is trying to pin down a target audience, especially in today’s visual world.  We think it’s a 35+ audience, but we’re still not sure about the size of that market.  Also, we don’t really know if there’s a way to appeal to a younger audience, so we’re still playing around with ebooks, shorter form audio, etc.

Angelo: I don’t enjoy anything about the promotion process. It is very necessary, and we are learning a lot about facebook and social media. We have our own online store where you can order CD’s and download mp3 and High Definition Wav files. We are very thankful for the modern age of self publishing.  It’s important to entertain your audience through social media just as you would with your product.

WeinerAnneManxAndTheRingOfMinotour5) Many a scifi TV aficionado will recognize a few of the voice actors in RRCA titles. What is it like to work with such a cast? 

Angelo: Getting to work with our talent is one of the most rewarding things about RRCA. Listen to this out take with Claudia Christian. We have so much fun when we record.

Claudia Chrstian and Pat Tallman are very supportive of the Anne Manx Series.

Larry: It’s all pretty incredible, but I have to say the cast that really blew me away was one of our non-Anne Manx titles.  In “The Songbird,” I got to work with two absolute legends — Shirley Jones and Ed Asner — and a legend in the making, Broadway mega star Kelli O’Hara (now the star of “The King and I”).  I actually got to write lyrics for two of the greatest legitimate voices of our time.  I still shake my head over that.  Working with Nala (Moira Kelly) from “The Lion King” was another incredible thrill.  And, of course, every Anne Manx title has the unparalleled Claudia Christian, a truly great actor who has become an absolute friend.

WeinerAnneManxAndTheTroubleOnChromius6) What is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

Larry: To me, it’s always the question, is your stuff really science fiction or is it fantasy?  I like to confound people by saying it’s neither.  I’m simply writing character driven pieces that are set in the future.  So, when people ask to categorize my work, I say, “It’s comedy, character driven stories, set in a science fiction motif.”  Also, I tell people even though we’re writing audio material, I still follow a three act movie format.

Angelo: Anything to do with time travel.

WeinerRichmondSmokesAJoint7) Side characters can make or break a story. What side characters in your own work have caught more attention than you expected?

Angelo: All of our side characters are wonderful. I enjoy Larry’s writing very much. The interesting thing about Larry’s writing is that it’s written to be spoken, and casting is what brings these characters to life. We recently had the pleasure of having Jerry Robbins from the Colonial Radio Theater act in both Richmond Smokes a Joint and Anne Manx and the Blood Chase. His portrayal of Chief Arum and Herm make those characters memorable.

WeinerGarsonKrebsPrivateEyeLarry: In our first series, “Garson Krebs: Private Eye,” I had written an episode about two evil elder women, the Brook Sisters.  They were so hilarious in the episode, I spun off an entire second series about them.  They’re probably the best example of your question.  The only time we did that with an Anne Manx episode, we spun off the Wendy McCloud from “Chromius,” which was played by Paris Jefferson.  I thought it was an interesting character so I wrote a spin off with the Wendy character was the protagonist, and we cast Traci Lords in the part.   Also from “Anne Manx and the Trouble on Chromius,” the side character Archie Lewis, played by the late Andy Hallet from the “Angel” series was probably the best side character of our series.  His part was absolutely hilarious!

WeinerTheAdventuresOfRedCloud8) RRCA has some beautiful cover art. Will you tell us a bit about the artist(s)? 

Angelo: Doug Shuler is an amazing artist. We were introduced to him through Holly Evan, Claudia Christian’s assistant at the time.

WeinerSongBird9) Finally, what upcoming events and works would you like to share with the readers?

Larry: This is an exclusive, but I’ve begun work on a seventh episode of Anne Manx.  My challenge is always trying to outdo my most recent Anne Manx, so maybe the next one will actually win the Audie award.

Places to Find Larry & Angelo

Radio Repertory Co. of America (RRCA)

Panetta Studios

On Audible

Radio Repertory’s YouTube Channel

Giveaway!

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