Like a phoenix reborn…

•16 January, 2020 • 2 Comments

As the ashes of  the previous View from Valhalla blog come to a rest around my ankles, I can only hope that a phoenix is about to be reborn.

I’ve moved over most of my old reviews from the days when I covered podcast fiction, and I remember how much fun it was waiting for the next episode of some of my favorite stories to drop.

Well, as they say, all good things are likely to come to an end, and the era of podcast fiction looks to have died. Not saying there isn’t some still out there (Scott Sigler immediately comes to mind), but the community that I was once a part of does not exist as it once did.

Why did the age of the free fiction podcast end? Who knows. Maybe it was the surging popularity of Audible and professionally produced audiobooks. Maybe it was Podiobooks changing it’s format to Scribl. Maybe a majority of the authors figured out that the free model didn’t work for them and didn’t bring the contracts they were hoping for. Maybe the call of Patreon was too hard to resist. I personally believe it was Nathan Lowell’s decision to focus on writing so he could actual make a living and provide for his family, and in doing so would no longer be able to spend time recording his own work. I could be wrong. But as Randy Newman would harmonize.. but I don’t think so. (Say it with me, Monk post.)

Regardless of the reason for the end of podcast fiction, I would like to take a few minutes talking about it heir apparent. The audiobook.

Yes, audiobook’s have been around forever. I remember as a kid shelving Books on Tape where I worked at the local library. Later, I saw the CD version when I would go buy paperbacks at Barnes and Noble. But it wasn’t until they started becoming available as a download that I saw the market explode around me. (I have done no research on this, and I am being purely anecdotal. Your mileage may vary.) Audible changed the game.

For almost everyone but me.

I have been an avid reader since 1st grade. That aforementioned job at the library? Yeah.. I’d been looking for a job all over town. One day I was in the library and the head librarian came up to me and said, “You’re here all the time, would you like a job.” (Seriously) I love to read. I also love to hear stories when I drive. But the problem for me is, I cannot justify the cost of a subscription where I can buy several books for the price of one audiobook. I tried Audible’s trial period, and even played the game and got several months severely discounted, but being somewhat frugal (read that as extremely cheap), I just couldn’t pay the full price.

So I started listening to many “regular” podcasts. Nathan’s TOMMW, Crime Junkies, have considered Office Ladies. But nothing has filled the whole left by the books I loved to listen to as I drive.

And then BookBub sent me an email about Chirp.

Chirp is a non-subscription based audiobook seller that has a much smaller catalog than audible, but it is still fairly robust. The great thing about Chirp is that they have a constantly rotating section of books that are severely discounted. Some as low as 99¢. Yes, they are in a proprietary format and you do need their player (available for both iOS and android), but to be honest, it would surprise me more if you didn’t.

I have purchased quite a few books over the last six months or so. Everything from The Bad Seed by March (99¢) to Long Road to Mercy by Baldacci ($4.99).

I’ve also paid attention and Apple’s Books has a good selection of audiobooks at decent prices (tho you have to look for them).

So, with a plethora of stories at my back, I am going to try to get back to the reviewing game. I hope to focus on many independent authors. Currently I am completing Lindsay Buroker’s Agent of the Crown Series and will likely start with them.

I will state now, as previously, that if you are a content creator and want an honest review, let me know. If you can provide me with a copy of what you want reviewed, I will give you my honest opinion. The backlog of my podcast reviews should be a fair example of what you might expect. I will not promise review dates, but will promise anything submitted. Audiobooks will likely be reviewed well before ebooks.

Outside of creator provided material, I’ll be reviewing whatever I’m currently listening to, and probably more rarely, whatever I’m reading. I hope you’ll join me for the ride!

odin

Podcast Review #121: Borrowed Time

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published February 27, 2012

Title: Borrowed Time
Author: Keith Hughes
Genre: Time Travel Science Ficiton
Released: 15 July 2009 – 9 September 2009
Located: iTunesPodiobooks
Formats Available: podcast, ebook
Rating: R for violence

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, I would think by simply reading (or listening) to these reviews you would know that I’m a big Twitter junkie. I follow a great bunch of people. Creative people. Talented people. Little did I know that some of them must be shy. @edgizmo, otherwise known as Keith Hughes, has been in my stream for a while and yet I had to find out on my own that he had released a science fiction time travel story well over two years ago. If you have a work of podiofiction and you read these reviews, please make sure I am aware of it.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: Ness Relevant is living on borrowed time. Molecular implosion, cellular degeneration, and dangerous men are but a few of the perils faced by the friendly and unassuming forensic photographer. His quiet bachelorhood is interrupted when he receives an innocent looking device in the mail from a friend and former college professor. Ness unexpectedly finds himself embroiled in events driven by his friend’s success. This device is the focal point of a struggle that could overturn the whole world should Ness or his friend’s invention fall prey to greedy men. Before his time runs out Ness must travel back to an uncomfortable past to prevent an unthinkable future. (Stolen from iTunes)

Production: Mr. Hughes did a fine job on the production of Borrowed Time. A single piece of music was to open and close each ep. There weren’t a lot of production elements in between. The audio was not quite what I would call “crisp and clear” all the way through. I am not sure what software Mr. Hughes used to produce his book, but the sound is just a bit distorted, as if the noise filter was set a bit too high allowing distortion around the edges. However, this was at a level that I did not find distracting and was easily able to forget about it during the listening of the episodes.

Grade: B

Cast: Mr. Hughes does quite a nice self read on Borrowed Time. He does a few accents and intones each character in a unique manner. Each character lives on its own merit and Mr. Hughes does an equally commendable job on the narrated passages.

Grade: A-

Story: Borrowed Time uses the premise that time travel is possible but limited and must adhere to certain principals that I had not heard in previous time travel scenarios. Our hero, Ness, must not only accept the challenging position he has been thrust into, but master time travel in order to make these principals work in his favor.

Grade: B+

Verdict: I enjoyed Borrowed Time very much. Mr. Hughes stayed away from the obvious overplayed tropes in most places and made me think about what possibilities his protagonist had to work with within the constraints he placed upon him. Any story that makes me think about the possible outcomes instead of just taking me along for the ride has done an admirable job. Mr. Hughes did exactly that with Borrowed Time.

Disclaimer: As I stated at the top of this review, I follow Mr. Hughes on Twitter (@edgizmo). He is a pleasant person to have in your stream. As I stated however, he never even Borrowed Time to me, let alone offer me anything in return for a review.

Podcast Review #120: Karl’s Last Flight

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Title: Karl’s Last Flight
Author: Basil Sands
Genre: Military Action
Released: 2 July 2007 – 14 July 2007
Located: iTunesPodiobooks
Formats Available: podcast, ebook, audiobook at Audible
Rating: R for violence

Back in Review 109, I discovered Basil Sands when I reviewed his story, 65 Below. Or, at least, I thought that is when I discovered him. Turns out, I had started one of his podcasts way back in 2007, and didn’t get through it. I enjoyed 65 Below so much that I searched for any other works when by Mr. Sands. I was a bit surprised when Karl’s Last Flight showed up, but knew I had to give it another chance.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: Karl Alexander had been an adrenaline junky for twenty five years. Whether flying Harriers in the Marines, piloting the shuttle for NASA, or as the chief astronaut for StrataCorp Space Flight his happiness was only found when he hit five Gs. But when a series of minor mishaps sends his ship crashing into the desert of an unknown country, Karl finds a new kind of adrenaline rush as he is swept into a raging torrent of the world at the edge of war. Spies, insurgents, secret police, and an infamous Saudi millionaire terrorist all threaten to make his next flight, his last.

Come and get your fix of hardcore, adrenaline laced action that’ll make your heart race and your muscles tense. Basil Sands brings you the podcast novel that started it all.

When you listen, be sure to put your tray table in the upright and locked position and fasten your safety belt… it’s going to be a wild ride. (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: Regular readers of this blog, or listeners of the podcast, might remember that I gave Mr. Sands an A for production on 65 Below. I stated during the review that it was rare to find a story that had consistent high quality production throughout. Unfortunately, Mr. Sands proved my point with Karl’s Last Stand.

By necessity, I listen to all works of podiofiction through my earbuds (and if you’re looking for a very good earbud, I recommend any of the earbuds manufactured by the House of Marley.) It is the only way I feel I can provide a consistent listening environment needed to give a baseline for these reviews. The first several eps of Karl’s Last Flight made me regret this necessity.

The clarity and superb cleanliness of my earlier experience with Mr. Sands’ work left me a bit perplexed initially, but a quick check showed me that I had listened to the stories in reverse order to the way they had been produced. Karl’s Last Flight was Mr. Sands first foray into podcasting, and you can hear his learning curve throughout the story.

During the first 1/2 of the story, there is a number of pops and clicks whenever Mr. Sands enunciated with gusto. I don’t know if he changed equipment, added a pop filter or simply developed his mic technique during the period he produced this podcast, but by the end, the sound was much much nicer than when he began.

Grade: C+

Cast: Mr. Sands is a remarkable voice talent. He does a very nice self read. I truly hope that he never decides to do a full voice production, because I enjoy his style of reading so much. All of his characters are voiced uniquely. Again, I cannot say there are many self reads I’d put up against Mr. Sands.

Grade: A

Story: Karl’s Last Flight is a military action novel whose central character is rather a reluctant warrior. Karl Alexander, private astronaut, had no intentions of ending up on the ground in Iran. But that  is what happened, and now he must get out. Once again, Mr. Sands uses a here again, there again approach to providing us with Karl’s history while also telling us about what is happening “currently”. I greatly enjoyed both story lines and knowing more of the characters backstory made the story more interesting to me than it probably would have been with only the current storyline.

Grade: B+

Verdict: I enjoyed Karl’s Last Flight and listened to it very quickly, finding excuses to plug in those earbuds and get just a bit more heard whenever I could. That being said, I can’t say I enjoyed it quite as much as 65 Below. It was good, but to me, it was just a notch or two below Mr. Sands later book.

That being said, I still prefer a sequential story and would love to have the earlier storyline told in one flashback near the beginning and then focus on the current storyline. I know I’m probably one of the few, but that is indeed my preference.

Karl’s Last Flight wil provide any military action junky with hours well spent, and I do indeed recommend it highly.

I feel I need to explain why I didn’t finish this podcast back in 2007. At the time, I was looking for a science fiction story. I loved the first ep with our hero and his annoying passenger realizing that they had a drastic problem. However, upon landing on Earth, I realized this was not a science fiction story. Though this is true, don’t let that fact of genre stop you from subscribing. If you like a story that is well told and decently produced, you’ll enjoy Karl’s Last Flight.

Disclaimer: Mr. Sands tweets occasionally under the name @alaskabasil and seems to be a “good joe”. I have spoken to him a few times and he provided time to be interviewed in the podcast version of my review of 65 Below. However, he has not sent me a moose or anything else in return for this review. (mmmmmm…. moose….. )

Podcast Review #119: Heku

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published February 13, 2012

Title: Heku
Author: T.M. Nielsen
Genre: vampire love story
Released: 28 July 2011
Located: Podiobooks, iTunes
Formats Available: podcast and free ebook available through all the regular channels
Rating: R for violence and adult content

Occasionally, I get a query from someone on my Twitter stream from a friend asking if I’ve listened to a particular story they’re trying to decide whether to listen or not. This is exactly the case with Heku. I was asked about it by Micahel Simpkins. I thought I do him a favor and give it a listen.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: Chevalier has never been told no. For thousands of years he’s sat on the Equites Council, ruling body of his heku faction, and for thousands of years his every order has been followed immediately and without question, until now.

One of the most important rules of the heku, is that no one is to feed from unwilling donors. Following a tip that a young mortal woman is being brutally attacked by his own kind, he seeks her out and immediately begins to experience unnatural feelings for the woman.

Emily, a beautiful rancher from Montana, has spent her entire life being violently attacked by beings she assumed were vampires. It isn’t until she meets Chevalier that she learns of her startling family history, a history that immediately throws her into the volatile world of the heku.

In a bid to protect her, Chevalier moves Emily into his isolated coven, which marks her as a prime target for the Valle and the Encala, enemy factions of the heku. Emily fights to fit into the militaristic world of the heku as her head-strong personality and independent ways turn their perfectly balanced world on end. She immediately befriends Kyle, a heku from Chevalier’s coven, and together they find Emily a niche among the immortal.

Emily’s violent past interferes with Chevalier’s plans, and he must first undo what her abusive ex-husband did before he can convince her how much he cares about her, and how much she’s worth to his faction. Chevalier’s growing feelings for Emily are unnatural to his kind, and must be hidden from the rest of the Equites Faction if he’s to remain a formidable part of their Council.

His jealous tendencies rage as Emily gets closer to Kyle, and both heku struggle to make her realize how important she is to the faction and how endangered she now is. (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: The production of Heku is nothing special, but it isn’t terrible either. It is simply the story, without any layering or added effects. On the positive side, there are no environmental noises or repeated lines. Nothing to get in the way of, or add to the story. Each episode opens and closes with a sampling of a song that the author credits in each ep.

Grade: B/B-

Cast: Heku is a self read by the author. The author does an adequate job of voicing her characters. I have no idea of the age of the Ms. Nielsen, though she sounds relatively young. This is to her advantage as her heroine is in her early 20’s and all the rest of the characters are ageless.

Grade: B

Story: Emily is a young woman who has many wonderful qualities. She is breathtakingly beautiful with red hair and green eyes. She is slender and athletic and an accomplished equestrian and animal lover. She is also vampire bait. Her blood draws vampires. The sweetness of it is intoxicating. She believes this is normal and everyone experiences much the same. She believes her abusive husband can turn them to ash, when in reality she does this herself. Yes. She is indeed special.

Grade: F or a charitable D-

Verdict: If you’re a fan of Twilight (yes, Mae.. you ,^) ) you might as well download this now. Ms. Nielsen either met that perfect storm of ideas with Ms. Meyer in isolation, or she was greatly inspired by her. Seriously, Twilight fans, download this one now. If you don’t like Heku it will probably be because you feel Ms. Nielsen ripped off your favorite series. However, Twilight fans, you might as well quit reading this review now.

For everyone else, this is the most miserable story I’ve ever heard in podiobook form. The characters are derivative. They are ridiculously and unashamedly hedonistic to the extent that they manipulate and abuse the ones they reportedly love.

There are no werewolves here, but that didn’t stop Ms. Nielsen from throwing in an (entirely unneeded) third person into the romantic tension she tried to create. I say tried, because it didn’t work for me. I truly hated all the characters and found myself yelling at the audio in my ears “DIE YOU IDIOTS DIE”. Yes, to the heroes. Blessedly, the story is relatively short at only 16 episodes. That is 8 hours of my life (at least) that I would have rather spent at the dentist.

Emily is content to be manipulated and believes her abuse to be her fault. Wait. Maybe that isn’t her fault. Maybe her idiot of a husband Keith beat that belief into her. Well then, it would be the duty of the new love interest and boss Heku to help her discover her own worth. Well, he doesn’t. He commits further acts of abuse on her person in several situations where she displeases him. She is weak. She has no value except what he gives her. If Bella made you angry, Emily is going to piss you off.

And yes, I do realize the Heku aren’t truly vampires. They’re just immortals that were once human (well, most anyway), live on human blood, dislike sunlight, and possess super human speed (though they can’t outrun a horse). Obviously, not truly vampires at all. What was I thinking?

Heku is the first of eight (yes, really) books in the Heku series. All of them can be found on Amazon.com. I see the second is also released as a podiobook.

Mike, as penance you should listen to both of them. With your daughter. I expect an in depth character analysis of each.

The rest of you non-Twilight fans, remember to stay away from this one.

If you loved Heku tell me why. Warning though, I will debate this one on anything other than personal preference. And of course, that is primarily why I hated it.

Disclosure: I’ve never had any contact with Ms. Nielsen. Nothing was received in return for this review.

Podcast Review #118: Babcock

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published February 6, 2012

Title: Babcock
Author: Joe Cottonwood
Genre: non genre young adult fiction
Released: 26 August 2009 – 27 September 2009
Located: Podiobooks, iTunes
Formats Available: podcast (and a very expensive paperback at Amazon)
Rating: PG-13 for Young Adult content matter

Quite a while back I reviewed Joe Cottonwood’s Clearheart. I enjoyed it, though it has none of the elements of speculative fiction that I normally find myself gravitating towards. Recently, I wanted something light, not too long and perhaps a bit mellow. I found Babcock on the Staff Picks section of Podiobooks and decided to give it a try.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: A fat boy with the blues. A skinny girl who runs marathons. And a con man on the lam. If you liked Clear Heart, or if you liked Boone Barnaby, you’ll like this one, too. The themes are a bit more grown up than Boone Barnaby, but it’s still family-friendly for reading. For any age it’s my brand of writing: humane, down to earth, good-natured, sometimes funny and sometimes sad.

Babcock plays electric guitar. He’s writing songs – and trying to figure out the true meaning of rock and roll – but he keeps coming up with the blues. Babcock is trying to start a friendship with a girl, Kirsten, who is as different as can be: Kirsten is skinny; she hates insects. And she’s white. Babcock is fat; he speaks to dragonflies. And he’s black.

In some ways Kirsten is like a dragonfly: quick and bright. She never walks; she runs everywhere. Her family has money. Her mother thinks Babcock is a little too “rough.” Opposites attract. But can they make music?

Babcock’s family is struggling for money. Then Babcock’s Uncle Earl moves in – and he moves into Babcock’s bedroom with Babcock’s menagerie of animals (including Martin Luther Kingsnake.). Uncle Earl is a con man on the lam. Uncle Earl used to play drums for Chuck Berry. Babcock wants to be Chuck Berry. Uncle Earl wants to coach a Little League baseball team – as a “business venture.” Babcock hates baseball. Babcock wants to learn “charm” from Uncle Earl. Uncle Earl wants to learn how to live a normal life and marry a normal woman – who happens to be Babcock’s schoolteacher. Maybe Babcock and Uncle Earl have something to teach each other.

Babcock’s father runs a car repair shop. At night, in the kitchen, he draws cartoons. Some day he wants to quit repairing cars and sell his cartoons. But nobody’s buying.

Kirsten is hotheaded. Sometimes she needs protection – from herself. Her mother tries to protect her – from Babcock. For help with his problems Babcock goes to an unlikely source: his Uncle Earl, the man with good charm and bad behavior. But the biggest lessons from Uncle Earl – and, perhaps, from rock and roll – are not what anyone expected.

In short, it’s about character. About making music. About family, hard work, about love and loss. Sometimes there’s laughter. Sometimes the lights are off in the kitchen; papa’s got blues. But always life is rich and deeply moving… (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: The production of both of the books I’ve listened to by Mr. Cottonwood are bare on frills, but high on value. There isn’t a lot of extras going on here, but what there is, is good quality recordings and an interesting premise where characters in the book are writing songs and you will hear parts of those songs sung between chapters. I enjoyed this approach and found it worked very well for this story.

Grade: B+

Cast: The author is joined by a small cast of voices in making Babcock come to life. Listeners of Clearheart will recognize at least one female voice although there may be more that were in both. My favorite character voice was the actress voicing Kirsten. Yes, the name was stated. No, I don’t remember her name. If you know, let me know and I’ll update the review. All the voices were done separately, or at least it sounds that way, but most of them sound pretty good none the less.

Grade: B

Story: Babcock is the story of all of us at one or another point in our life. It happened to us, or someone we knew. Perhaps we just heard about it happening to someone else. It is a slice of everyday life with all the anger, bitterness, humor and love that we have all experienced. In this case, it happens to a 13 year old boy named Babcock that lives in the town of San Puerco (Saint Pig? If there really is a San Puerco is CA, someday, I’m moving there). But it could have happened in my hometown, or maybe yours.

Grade: A+

Verdict: It has been a long time since I’ve heard a non speculative fiction story that I have enjoyed as much as I enjoyed this one. Throw into the mix that it is a young adult title that I could share with my eldest child and I can only say, listen. Especially if you have a young awkward teen around the house. Listen. Even if you don’t. Listen.

Disclosure: I don’t believe Mr. Cottonwood is on Twitter. If he is, I’ve never seen a mention or a tweet from him. I wasn’t offered anything, not even a broken down MG given “as is”, in return for this review.

Podcast Review #117: Spirit Blade

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published January 30, 2012

Title: Spirit Blade: The Novel
Author: Peter Frandsen
Genre: Christian Mythos Fantasy
Released: 7 June 2011
Located: PodiobooksiTunes
Formats Available: podcast only
Rating: PG for violence and inventive scifi language

So, what happens when you go on your initial impressions of a cover and the fact that the  story is listed under Podiobooks “Staff Picks”? You’re about to find out.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: In a future where the government mandates the spiritual beliefs of its citizens, only a few rebellious “Seekers of Truth” remain to free the world from deception.

On his quest for meaning, Merikk follows a path that leads him across our world, and into another. Against his will he is thrown into action alongside members of the Underground Liberation, standing face to face against forces human, alien and demonic. Science fiction and the supernatural collide in a genre-bending adventure! Open your mind and then brace for impact as you discover the power of the Spirit Blade!  (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: The production of Spirit Blade is quite good. The sound is layered to good affect. Between the pretty much constant soundtrack, the sound effects and the audio tract your ears won’t be bored. Even better? They actually add to (and don’t get in the way of) the story. Spirit Blade is billed as an enhanced audiobook, and I can go with that.

Grade: A

Cast: The author, Peter Frandsen, does Spirit Blade as a self read. He does an excellent job with just the right amount of personality and voice acting thrown into the mix to keep all the characters separate and interesting. I suspect Mr. Frandsen has a background in either audio or acting. Perhaps both.

Grade: A

Story: Spirit Blade is a fantasy. A religious fantasy. I admit, I’ve always enjoyed stories based on religious mythos. I’ve read and listened to many stories based on Greek, Roman, Norse, Indian, Native American and numerous others. Surprisingly, one of the mythos explored the least is Christian. Spirit Blade is precisely exactly that. The world has changed. The Bible has been outlawed, and surprisingly this has worked (okay, yeah.. it’s a fantasy) making the story, in a nutshell, a quest for a complete Bible.

Grade: B-

Verdict: When stories are written based on Christian mythology, many Christians seem to become easily irritated or over obsequious. As I do subscribe to the Christian belief system myself, I find this interesting. Especially since I find myself in about the reverse opinion on most of these stories. Take Dan Brown’s stuff. I don’t like it, but not because of the subject matter. I just don’t find them to be well written or interesting. However, you take something like Frank Peretti’s stuff and Christian bookstores can’t stock their shelves quickly enough. Why does this surprise me? Because most of the latter author’s are taking at least as many liberties with the core teachings as the former. The only difference is they’re doing it in a complimentary fashion. I like to call it Christian magic.

So, anyway, back to the story at hand. Spirit Blade is definitely full of Christian magic. It is also full of rather straightforward preaching of the Christian Gospel. If either of these things bother you, steer clear. However, if you don’t mind this type of story, you could do much worse than Spirit Blade.

Disclosure: I don’t follow Mr. Frandsen on Twitter. I had never heard his name before subscribing to this podiobook. Nothing was offered in return for this review, so obviously nothing could have been accepted.

Podcast Review #116: One Among the Sleepless

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published January 23, 2012

Title: One Among the Sleepless
Author: Mike Bennett
Genre: urban psychological horror
Released: 5 December 2006 – 25 June 2007
Located: Podiobooks, iTunes, Author’s site
Formats Available: podcast only
Rating: strong R for heavy violence, language and explicit sexual content

Subscribers to this blog might find the name Mike Bennett familiar. I would hope so anyway, because it was only two weeks ago that I reviewed Mr. Bennett’s superlative vampire novel (or at least part one of it) Underwood and Flinch. That story was so good, and so fun, that I decided to check out Mr. Bennett’s only other long form audio project out. Mr. Bennett has been podcasting for some time. As you can see from above, he started this podcast way back in the early days of podcast fiction. How does the story hold up?

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: “One Among The Sleepless” is a contemporary fiction novel set in Brighton, England about sex, death and noisy neighbors: a thriller with a rich vein of dark humor that flows from both the narrative and the dialogue of the characters. It’s a largely character-driven story; the people and their various shifting relationships compel the plot forward through sometimes subtle, sometimes brutal plot twists towards the final, nail-gnawing climax. (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: While not as slick as Underwood and Flinch, Mr. Bennett again does quite a commendable job with One Among the Sleepless. All audio levels are pretty much stationary and the listener is able to get hooked on the rhythm of the voice work (more below). It seems Mr. Bennett doesn’t really know how to write a short book, and One Among the Sleepless clocks in at over 30 large eps. The production isn’t perfect. Occasionally, Mr. Bennett will repeat a line (this happens rarely, but it was noticed at least once). Of more irksome notice was the stereo balancing in the last episode especially. I quite often listen to podcasts at home using a single earbud. This allows me to listen to not safe for children content while still be an attentive parent. In the last episode, Mr. Bennett added panning to the mix and effectively limited me to half of several conversations before I figured out what was going on. Also, there was a small lack of consistency. Sometimes there was a TSSF, sometimes there wasn’t. Sometimes there was an excess of metadata after the story, sometimes it simply ended. These things did throw me from time to time.

Grade: B

Cast: Mr. Bennett is an amazing voice actor. He’s so good in fact I’ve wondered on more than one occasion if he ends up doing voices around the house or gets into “narrator voice” at the day job. I can’t imagine how he couldn’t, he seems to have so much fun being “on”.

That doesn’t mean he does every voice perfectly. In fact, there are a threesome of guys in this book that sound like British dopplegangers of Beevis and Butthead. Yeah, I could have done without that, but really, that isn’t much to complain about, and really is just my own personal preference.

Grade: A

Story: One Among the Sleepless is one of those stories, like Love Actually (which I adored) or Crash (which I detested) that have a series of separate story threads going on that you have no idea how they’ll play together, and yet somehow by the end, they weave a single seamless story.

In One Among the Sleepless, Mr. Bennett follows several characters around and you’re never really sure who the story is really about. By the end, all I can say is, I was glad the ones that made it out alive, did. And no, I don’t count that as a spoiler.

Grade: B+

Verdict: One Among the Sleepless might quite possibly be the most adult oriented podcast I’ve ever listened to. The content and language are very much at the upper end of what I’ll put up with for the sake of a good story. I did enjoy One Among the Sleepless, and I will recommend it to those of you that aren’t easily offended by adult content. As I listened to this podcast it struck me how very like a screenplay this story was. There are threads that, while complete, didn’t get woven into the final tapestry as tightly as I would have liked, and we’re still unclear of the motivations behind one of the major characters. This is forgivable though in the context in which it was presented.

Disclosure: Nothing has really changed in the two weeks since I last wrote about Mr. Bennett’s and my relationship. It is still nonexistent. The check must still be in the mail. Nothing was offered or accepted in return for this review.

Podcast Review #115: In Broad Daylight

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published January 16, 2012

Title: In Broad Daylight
Author: Seth Harwood
Genre: Detective Crime
Released: 20 September 2011 – 27 December 2011
Located: PodiobooksiTunesAuthor’s site
Formats Available: podcast only
Rating: R for violence, language and adult content

When I first started listening to podiofiction, my listening appetites were quite voracious. I listened to a bunch of stuff. Good stuff. Bad stuff. Stuff we will not talk about. Ever. One of the things I listened to (and reviewed back in podcast review 44) was Seth Harwood’s Jack Wakes Up, and I counted it as one of the good ones. While I wasn’t as thrilled with the sequel’s I enjoyed it enough that when I heard Mr. Harwood had recently completed a new podcast novel, I decided to give it a listen.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: FBI Agent Jess Harding always gets her man… or woman.

In this thriller, Harding returns to the scene of her first years as an FBI agent to track the still-at-large killer from her first case. Back in 2006, as a young, inexperienced agent, Harding chased leads across Alaska for a full summer without catching up with this killer. Now, after 5 years of honing her skills, she’s back and ready to try again.

But when she starts to see that the killer knows a little something about her, the heat turns up and Harding realizes she may not be the only one getting chased. (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: As I mentioned in the intro, it has been a long time since I listened to Mr. Harwood’s first novel. In the years since, I don’t know if I’ve become more picky or if Mr. Harwood’s production quality has suffered. Regardless, I did have a few issues with the production quality of In Broad Daylight. There are multiple examples of atmospheric noises making there way into the background of the audio. You will also notice the static. When it disappears. What I mean is, in almost every podcast there is some amount of “static” in the background. Noise we automatically filter out because it is consistent. The only issue is when it isn’t consistent. When someone creates a gap in the editing process and creates a true silence, the static becomes much more noticeable. This happens often in In Broad Daylight. Also, while not overly abundant, the listener will also notice a few repeated lines. Finally, while I won’t count off for this, it has been quite a while since anyone has included a “The Story So Far” in any story I’ve listened to. I have not missed this. At all.

Grade: C-

Cast: Mr. Harwood reads In Broad Daylight as a self read. He does a fine job. Some listeners might feel Mr. Harwood is a bit enthusiastic in his reading, but I feel it adds to the story. If an author can’t get excited about his characters, who can?

Grade: B+

Story: Mr. Harwood writes crime stories. I could easily see Jess Harding as a female Alex Cross. The story is set in Alaska and San Francisco. Whether Mr. Harwood has visited Alaska or not, he does make the reader feel like his descriptions are genuine. The characters all have flaws. Most are believable. I won’t say I like all the characters, but that is fine as long as they live and breath. For the most part, the characters in In Broad Daylight, do just that.

Grade: B+

Verdict: The story wasn’t perfect and definitely felt like a beta version. However, even as a beta, In Broad Daylight, should give any crime action junkie a good fix. In Broad Daylight proceeds at a good pace and was able to hold my attention the entire distance. I anticipate more Jess Harding stories, and if they are as good as this one, I think Mr. Harwood will continue to build his fan base.

Disclosure: I’ve never met or tweeted with Mr. Harwood. I do not follow him and he doesn’t follow me. I wasn’t offered anything in return for this interview.

Podcast Review #14: Underwood and Flinch (season 1)

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published January 9, 2011

Title: Underwood and Flinch
Author: Mike Bennet
Genre: Vampire Horror
Released: 18 January 2009 – 27 November 2009
Located: PodiobooksiTunes, Author’s site
Formats Available: podcast only
Rating: R for violence, language and adult content

Back in October of 2009, before I began reviewing podcast fiction, I had stumbled upon Mike Bennet’s Hall of Mirrors Podcast. Hall of Mirrors is similar to one of the old time television horror magazines. It much reminded me of Night Gallery (for those of you that remember that far back). I enjoyed most of the few eps I had a chance to listen to, but with the beginning of these reviews, I found I had little time to listen to anything that wasn’t a novel, so Hall of Mirrors fell off my listen to list. Recently I discovered Mr. Bennet had been working on a vampire novel and part one was complete.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: All David Flinch ever wanted was a normal life.

But when you’re a member of the Flinch family, normal has never been easy.

For hundreds of years, the eldest male Flinch has been servant and guardian to the Lord Underwood. While the Flinches have changed through the generations, Underwood, a vampire, has been eternal. David had hoped to be spared the horror of serving his family’s lord and master, but when he is summoned to the Flinch home in Spain by his dying older brother, he knows his luck has run out. Underwood must be resurrected from the grave in a ritual of human sacrifice, and David must be the man to do it. Because if he doesn’t, an even greater evil than Underwood will rise: the evil that is David’s sister.

Underwood and Flinch is an epic horror-thriller that spans the centuries. From the teeming slums of 17th Century London to an ex-pat community in modern-day Spain, this is the new novel from Mike Bennett, author of ‘One Among the Sleepless’ and ‘Hall of Mirrors’. (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: Mr. Bennet does a fine job with the production of Underwood and Flinch. There isn’t any atmospheric noises to jar the listener out of the story. There is also no use of sound affects other than the occasional bit of music which I found to add atmosphere and authenticity. Overall, I enjoyed the production very much.

Grade: A-

Cast: Mr. Bennet does Underwood and Flinch as a self read, and he does it very well. His grandiose, at times, over the top narration is perfect for the story he is telling. This is one of those cases where I truly believe there is no one that could read the story like the author. You truly get the feeling this is what it sounded like in his own head when he wrote it.

Grade: A+

Story: Underwood and Flinch is a vampire story. A vampire story built on the mythos of Dracula and other vampire stories from my youth. You know the kind. The vampire is unrepentant of his need for blood. He is not good, or gentle, or sparkly. He eats people. He takes what he wants. It is also the story of David Flinch. His caretaker. This is the sympathetic character and he does a good job even if he wallows a bit in his own pain.

Grade: A

Verdict: Once again I find myself the victim of not reading closely enough. Underwood and Flinch is “in progress”. When I first subscribed, I just assumed it was complete as it hadn’t been updated for a couple of weeks and had 40 episodes. Rather long episodes at times. I wish it had been complete because I greatly enjoyed it and want to know how the story ends. However, the first season (or part) is complete and tells the tale of David Flinch and his familial obligation to serve the Lord Underwood and help in his resurrection after a long dormant hibernation. One thing I truly liked about this story is that it truly DID end some elements of the story by the end of season one. This has become a pet peeve of mine lately. If a podcast is going to claim “seasons” then it has the right to leave storylines open, and even to cliffhanger me. However, I truly believe that it must end some elements of the story rather than just “quit”. Mike Bennet made sure Underwood and Flinch ended season one at a natural point, but it will definitely leave you wanting more.

Disclosure: I”ve never met or tweeted with Mr. Bennet. I don’t even know if he’s on Twitter (though I remember hearing something about that on the podcast). I was offered nothing in return for this review.

Podcast Review #113: The Emperor’s Edge

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published January 2, 2012

Title: The Emperor’s Edge
Author: Lindsay Buroker
Genre: Fantasy with Steampunk elements
Released: 28 August 2011 – 27 December 2011
Located: PodiobooksiTunes
Formats Available: podcast, ebook, paperback
Rating: PG – 13 for violence

I’ve been a fan of Starla Huchton since l listened (and reviewed) her novel, The Dreamer’s Thread. In August of this year, I learned through Twitter that Ms. Huchton had been providing voice work for a book called The Emperor’s Edge. I immediately ran over to iTunes to see if it was there, and it was. 22 episodes later, I share with you my thoughts.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: Imperial law enforcer Amaranthe Lokdon is good at her job: she can deter thieves and pacify thugs, if not with a blade, then by toppling an eight-foot pile of coffee canisters onto their heads.

But when ravaged bodies show up on the waterfront, an arson covers up human sacrifices, and a powerful business coalition plots to kill the emperor, she feels a tad overwhelmed.

Worse, Sicarius, the empire’s most notorious assassin, is in town. He’s tied in with the chaos somehow, but Amaranthe would be a fool to cross his path. Unfortunately, her superiors order her to hunt him down.

Either they have an unprecedented belief in her skills… or someone wants her dead.
(Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: The Emperor’s Edge is produced by Darkfire Productions. I have done no research at all on this organization and have no idea if it is comprised of a single 12 year sitting in his mothers basement or if it is comprised of a dozen highly paid audio professionals sitting in an ivory tower. Although, if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say it is more likely more closely related to the former than the latter. Regardless, Darkfire does a great job. A seriously great job. I will admit that when I carefully listen to the background, there is more than whitenoise is some places. I don’t know if this is due to atmospheric noises captured during recording or something else.

Grade: A-

Cast: As noted previously, this book was brought to my attention by the discovery of Ms. Huchton’s involvement. As I previously stated, I believe this be a very good thing. Ms. Huchton again does a stellar job with a single read. I am quite impressed with the reading of this story and I believe Ms. Huchton could do well with most material she is provided with.

Grade: A

Story: The Emperor’s Edge doesn’t claim to be steampunk. In fact it claims to be high fantasy in a world of steam. I can understand the High Fantasy part, it is the steam part that confuses me. Don’t get me wrong, This fantasy is a well done take on many of the traditional concepts with the addition of certain “steampunkish” elements. This story just doesn’t seem like it needs the steam

Grade: A-

Verdict: I enjoyed The Emperor’s Edge. Immensley. I intend to track down more of Ms. Buroker’s works. This story engaged me with humor, intelligence and action. I do believe that if you give it a chance, you’ll be craving more too.

Disclosure: I’ve never met Ms. Buroker. I’ve never even heard of her before giving this podcast a listen. I was offered nothing in return for this review.