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.

Podcast Review #112: Compensating Controls

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published December 19, 2011

Title: Compensating Controls
Author: James Keeling
Genre: Action Thriller
Released: completed 17 December 2011
Located: PodiobooksiTunes, Author’s Site
Formats Available: podcast only
Rating: R for violence and adult language

I have no idea how long I’ve followed Mr. Keeling on Twitter (@synapticjam), but it has been quite a while. I don’t listen to every story that I know the author of. Not even close. However, I usually read the synopsis, and if the story looks like it might interest me, I’ll give it a try. Having a background in technology, and as a network administrator, Compensating Controls piqued my interest.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: Nicholas Edgwood rides a wave of good karma–a job he excels at, a new girlfriend, and a bright future. When he gets framed for a cyber-crime he did not commit, he must run for his life while his entire world crumbles around him.

Betrayal and murder replace peace and hope as he finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He may not be the biggest and baddest guy out there, but he has skills, the kind garnered from a career steeped in computers and code. Now he must leverage these skills to their fullest to stay above ground and breathing. It will take all of his talent, and courage he may not have, just to survive. (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: I subscribed to Compensating Controls through Mr. Keeling’s own site. I do this quite often because I am not a patient person, and when an author posts to their own site, it often goes up more quickly. That being said, I know that when I subscribe through an author’s site, I might get a bit of chatter or other things that I might or might not want. This is definitely true with Mr. Keeling’s site. I didn’t mind the chatter, but it is definitely there.

Of much more notice is the change around episode seven or eight where Mr. Keeling begins using sound effects to a much greater extent. Truthfully, I don’t remember them at all before Pons makes .. well, that would be a spoiler, but when you hear what I’m talking about, believe me you’ll know. I would recommend all authors try to decide whether they will be using sound effects or not before they begin a podcast. I appreciate consistency.

That being said, Mr. Keeling does a nice job of constructing his episodes, and overall I think most listeners would feel the soundtrack enhanced the story.

*possible spoiler – However, there are several scenes of brutality that I really could have done with fewer effects.

Grade: B-

Cast: Compensating Controls is done as a self read, and Mr. Keeling does a decent job with it. All of the characters were given unique voices and characteristics and Mr. Keeling did a good job in keeping each one unique.

Grade: B+

Story: Compensating Controls is a geek story written for an audience needing a minimal (to no) geek background. The characters were pretty believable and the plot, well, I’m afraid things like this happen much to often. And no, I’m not a conspiracy theorist.

Grade: B

Verdict: I enjoyed Compensating Controls. I think Mr. Keeling did an excellent job for his first podcast and, I believe, first novel. Would a solid external editor improve it? Of course. Will you receive many hours of enjoyable entertainment the way it is? I did.

Disclosure: As I mentioned previously, I do following Mr. Keeling on Twitter and count him one of the “good guys” out there. However, I was not paid, bribed, or prodded to provide this review.

Podcast Review #111: Harmonics – Rise of the Magician

•16 January, 2020 • Leave a Comment

originally published December 12, 2011

Title: Harmonics – Rise of the Magician
Author: Collin Earl and Chris Snelgrove
Genre: Science Fiction
Released: 7 September 2011 – 25 September 2011
Located: Podiobooks, iTunes
Formats Available: podcast and print
Rating: R for violence and adult language

A while back I reviewed House of Grey by Colon Earl. As much as I liked it, I couldn’t recommend it, because I felt it didn’t end. So, when I saw that Mr. Earl had completed a new story, this time with co-author Chris Snelgrove, I admit I was a bit elated, but also a bit cautious. Which emotion did I retain at the end?

On to the review.

Synopsis: They built what could not be constructed. A weapon lightyears ahead of its time. A weapon so superior it defied the known laws of physics.

Seven years ago, they were on the verge of unleashing its power. Then… they lost it.

Now they are on a desperate hunt to reclaim what they stole.

Following the trail of unexplainable deaths, they frantically search for what may become their ultimate demise.

But what if the project doesn’t want to be reclaimed?

Join their hunt wading through political power-plays, corporate corruption, domestic terrorism, and the greatest enigma of their time- the infamous assassin known only as: The Magician. (Stolen from Podiobooks.com)

Production: With the sole exception of the exception of the opening music being dramatically louder than the rest of the content, the production of Harmonics is very solid. I don’t recall hearing more than one or two repeated lines in the entire story and all other audio was within appropriate levels.

Grade: B+

Cast: Harmonics was read by Chris Snelgrove. He once again does a commendable job of voice inflection and personalization of each voice. If you choose to listen, you’ll have very little trouble differentiating the characters.

Grade: A-

Story: After having listened, I have to say the synopsis is one of the poorest I’ve read in setting up the story for the listener. In reality, the majority of the episodes follows the story of a teenager, Samantha, who finds a small metal box and has her life changed in dramatic fashion.

Grade: B

Verdict: I had several problems with Harmonics. The first, I alluded to above. Samantha is, for all intents and purposes, the driving character in this story. However, her character is enough of an enigma, that although we’re told she’s gone through dramatic changes during the course of the story, we’d likely be unaware of these facts if the authors had t literally pointed them out to us. Samantha also, although I can’t explain exactly how, didn’t end up fitting the character profile I felt the authors had initially developed for her which left me a bit confused in my reactions towards her.

Harmonics is also billed as the worlds first audio manga. To be honest, it didn’t feel any different than any other future sci fi adventure I’ve heard. This isn’t a bad thing, I’m just unsure, even with the description in the first ep, of how an audio manga should have been different.

Finally, there’s the ending. Harmonics is another story built around the idea of seasons. I don’t have a problem with stories doing this, though I prefer a more traditional “book one” title. Regardless, call it a book or a season or whatever you want, I feel like after having listened to 19 episodes there should have been some elements of the story tied up before you end the first season. As I complained with House of Grey the story didn’t set a cliffhanger so much as it just quit in the middle of the story. No plot threads were brought to a logical conclusion. No explanations were given about what’s really going on. On the contrary, I was left wondering why the authors decided to end the first volume at the point where they did. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely does cliffhanger you, it just does so without any carrots that finishing a season usually provides.

So, do I recommend Harmonics? After much consideration, yes. I do. I enjoyed the story up to the part where it quit very much. Mr. Earl and Mr. Snelgrove make a very effective storytelling team. However, I also remind the listener there are precious few answers in this first season and after 19 episodes you might be questioning what is really the true synopsis for the story you’ve just heard.

Disclosure: I do follow Mr. Earl on twitter. I haven’t tweeted with him more than a handful of times and nothing was offered or accepted in return for this review.