What's The Blog About, Alfie?

We are avid fans of literature, good literature. We prefer great writing, we'll settle for very good work, but we cannot abide anything less. We will stop reading a book if the author demonstrates mediocrity, writes incompetently, or, worse yet, simply loses our interest. That said, we will always give you our honest opinions about the books we've listened to on Podiobooks.com. We'll tell you why the great ones are great, and why the forgettable ones should be avoided.

We hope, when we've reviewed enough, you will come to this blog to see if a particular book is worthy of your time. We plan to be frank. You have come here to elicit our opinion and we shall not disappoint. Additionally, we hope this blog becomes a resource for PB.com authors to read honest and objective reviews of their efforts; no smoke blown-up the butt at any time. We have observed over time that reviews left on an author's site or iTunes are basically of two types. The first is the pie-eyed-hyperbolic-praise version of a review by a real fan. While excellent for the ego of said author, this form of assessment aids neither the potential listener nor the writer's development. The second type is the snarky-hit-and-run-slap-in-the-face negative review which may contain the kernel of an insight, but is actually significantly less valuable than the first type. Ours will be decidedly neither polar extreme. We will be as fair and complete as possible. An unavoidable off-shoot, indeed a desirable off-shoot, the clever reader will quickly appreciate is that we will undoubtably be squewering a few sacred-cows. If that happens, please keep in mind the fable of The Emporer's New Clothes and the fact that we would not review them in a less-than-stellar manner if they did not deserve it.

Our reviews are not placed on PB.com, iTunes, or any other public site. We do not wish to embarrass or ridicule any particular authors. Many of the authors are our friends, or at least were up till they read our review. We dearly appreciate that each PB.com author has poured their creative guts out for all to see with very little chance of monetary reward. This is not easy. We will not generally say anything but positives on public sites as we, in our alter ego, want the authors, even the poor ones, to have their moment in the bright-shiny sun. At the very least we want them to be happy little fish in their little ponds.

Finally a term defined, a dreaded term, one you wish never to see, one which strikes despair in the heart of any author - WSRH. This is short for "We Stopped Reading Here". Background. Our less than sainted father was a college English professor. When grading essays and term papers, especially freshman courses, we observed him many a cruel time to slash across the page with his red pen. Just below the horrific line, he would write, "I stopped reading here... F." Clearly, papa was a professor, not an editor, so he was an I while we are, well, a we. Hence, ISRH transforms into WSRH. However you begin it, it is not a good thing. Avoid writing something which earns WSRH, you will not be happy with yourself.

Your comments on our comments are most welcome. You may be as frank as we are. Contrary opinions, supported by rational argument not finger-wagging, will help the prospective PB.com readers find the books which are right for them. Bottom line: our comments plus your comments, along with author rebuttals, will in the end benefit us all, and help PB.com listeners choose wisely.

Based on the success of this blog, we have started a Forum where you can share your insights and reviews. The more information and discussion, the better informed we will all be.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Well, We Were Trying To Help. WSRHs For Planet Secrets and Hidden Harbor

Well, our intentions were pure.  We elected to go to PB.com, select a few works, and review them for you, in spite of any trepidation we might have hade based on the podcast's teasers.
No good deed, it would appear to confirm, goes unpunished.  From the "new release section we downloaded Hidden Hrbor (HH) and Planet Secrets (PS).
As our close and personal friend George Takei would say, oh myyyy!  Both got very early WSRHs.  If the reader will recall, a WSRH is a signal that we bailed on a podcast based on what we heard up to that point.  The remainder of the podcast might be nothing short of brilliant, but we, and we suspect a large portion of the listening public, will never know.  In any creative writing class, the teacher stresses over and over one important point.  Hook the audience.  Make them buy in and want to turn the page.  If the author does not, they will lose reader's atention, and their purchases.  And so it is with audiobooks.
To the heart of it.  HH, by Jay Smith, held our deer-in-the-headlight attention for maybe five minutes.  The flaws it suffered were, to our ear, too legion to justify continued listening.  First, HH started with the scene where the young Bruce Wayne is leaving the threater late at night with his parents.  They stray into a seedy part of town, fishes out of water.  Mayhem promised to ensue. Ah, Mr. Smith, that's the start of Batman, and the first Batman movie.  We mean, it is rather blatently the start of Batman, both in print and on screen.  Furthermore, the lack of judgment displayed by the father in HH is significantly worse than that of the senior Mr. Wayne.  No one is that dumb.  Period.  So, based on a derivative and hard to buy into plot, we had to redline this one early.
PS, by Trisha Wilson, was actually not quite as appealing as HH.  The narrative mainly did PS in.  Colby Trax (who ever that is) must have been paid to produce PS.  If so, Colby would not only be the name of a tasteless cheese, but the name of a professional production house.  A professional production house should know better than to produce such an unacceptable narration.  The male voice speaks exclusively in a harsh, penetrating whisper.  Who speaks for pages on end in a harsh whisper?  No one.  As to content in PS, there was not possible to buy into.  The hook was that the narrator wanted to stay in college for free, forever.  Not a good hook.  There was no BFF factor.  Further, in the short portion we could bear, there was zero build-up, or escalating storyline.  No advancing action.  We suggest Ms. Wilson join a local writer's group and hone her writing in that venue.  Please recall Hemingway's cynical snark that a writer's first million words are shit.  After that, hopelly, Papa would conceed that excellent writing could occur.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

We Are Still Here - And Waiting...

It is not that we have evaporated, or anything vaguely similar.  No, we are waiting for something on PB.com worth commenting upon.  We would love to reveal a diamond in the rough, and we would - as you know - love even more to lambaste something.  But... nothing.  We'll keep checking.  *headdesk*

Sunday, December 14, 2014

As Time Goes By

  We have to post that we are not perished from this earth!  Over the last year we, hungry always for a good tale (mind out of gutter - we refer to a story, you libidinous fool), have checked out PB.com often.  We even started a few podcasts.  Alas, they were too poor to even post as WSRH's (The Box, oh that boring boring Box, for example).  We have found no winners for quite some time.   As we have been following PB.com for many years - almost from its inception - we began to wonder where the good stories were.  Had the spring of gifted podcasts indeed dried-up?
  We came to the conclusion that yes, indeed, the top-notch people who used to contribute along with any excellent new blood are missing.  What we see in the PB.com titles now, judging from the blurbs which promise pathetic payoff, are, oh let us be kind and call them "second-level talents."  Acutally, many offerings seem void of talent - the rantings of some loner held-up in their room narrating off the top of their empty head.
  The reasons for this shift from the likes of Lowell, Robertson, Bartlett, and Sigler is actually fairly straight forward.  Up until many four-five years ago, formats such as PB.com was one of the few outlets for indie authors to be heard.  Traditional publishing networks were closed to them as tightly as the gates of Fort Knox.  Now, authors who would have had to resort to PB.com are available on Kindle Unlimited and have trade paperbacks from CreatSpace.  Potential podcasters are now self-publishing and self-promoting and they are rockin' and a rollin'!
  We can state with some certainty that no PB.com author ever made enough money to justify the effort they went to.  One author we know personally has over 20,000 total downloads of his combined works.  Yet, in spite of all that love, he cannot recall his last royalty payment and has probably raned less than ten dollars ever.  So, if an author is going to put-forth great effort, why not do so on Amazon, where the payoffs are real, as opposed to providing quality work for freeloaders? Hence, the talent is going elsewhere and the void is filled by the aformentioned "second-tier" of creators.
  Is this good?  Is there justice served?  Who is to blame?  None of the above.  Times change - it's a story as old as time itself.  As the hyper-evolution in technology sweeps us forward and as our entertainment choices morph, somethings fall to Darwin's axe.  Will PB.com suffer the fate of wagon wheel makers and door-to-door salesmen?  Who is to say.  It will be up to PB.com to determine if adequate change on their part is either possible or worth their effort.  But, unless quality people are compensated for their efforts, they will fade away.  Those with choices will leave and those - the "second-tier - without options will remain.
  It's a story as old as time itself.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Tincture-Full of Love

As the wise, magnanimous individual we are, we wish to spur you-on into downloading Tincture and it's sequel.  People, this is the real thing!  Subscribe, listen, and be in awe of Tincture.  There, we're placed you on notice and we feel marvelous...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Welcome To Night Vale - Now Leave IMMEDIATELY!

We take a rare stab into meat which is not PB.com raised.  As unluck would have it, we were surfing iTunes to find some audio worthy of our ears.  Ranked rather high in a "Medicine" search was Welcome to Night Vale (WTNV).  Not certain how weird fiction ended-up in that search, but we pined, perchance it was fair Providence directing our weary heart to transcendent fiction.  We were, it turns out, merely the butt of a joke played on us by Puck and Kokopelli.  Never a WSRH has violated our heads more so than WTNV!  We listened as far as we could into Episode One and were crest-fallen by way of impression.  Let us put it this way:  You know how you simply love the mystic and mystery of Tincture or How To Disappear Completely?  That clever turn of a phrase or the wonder of an unearthly twist, you know the stuff ya just love?  Yeah...  we do too.  It is painfully apparent the author of WTNV was attempting a similarly cutting-edge, surrealistic journey for the listener.  But, like a five-year old attempting to play in the NBA, the author came up real short.  What was meant to be creepy was simply dumb and what was meant to be irony was lame.  We couldn't keep from thinking how the poor fellow (or fella) who wrote the text must have dreamed such lofty dreams.  Alas, mon cheri, it is not to be.  We advise our readers herein to save themselves the frustration of sampling this annoying effort in dark humor.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

This Paper World - Thinner than That

  Oh bother, bother, bother!  We listened with such anticipation to This Paper World (TPW) by Jeff Lane.  We, as you know, love a good story and have been so, unsupported of late.  Did we mention oh bother?  We listened to one episode of TPW before unconditionally and most deservedly lowering a WSRH.  As we append often, we are not here to dash the hopes of aspiring authors, but we will speak freely.  Oh bother.

TPW (we never did find the paper, by the by) is a very very stock tale.  I have super powers and am good and I fight - literally - the powers of evil.  I have guns - really big guns, and those evil-fellows are ever-so-evil.  They have super powers too.  So, since good super powers always defeat evil super powers (this is what, a rule or a guide-line?) I win and they lose.  Okay, if you cannot be original, maybe you will be impactful, innovative, unconventional, TPW.  Not so much.  Just off-the-shelf here.  The real turn-off was the torture-the-little-girl convention.  Yes, well, what good story does not necessitate the cruel torture of innocent young girls?  Torture little boys?  What a silly thought.  It is little girls who get inhumanely tortured, right?  What, torture yucky snakes and spiders?  Boy, are you out of touch!

  Did we mention that we guessed that Jeff Lane was a male?  So, novels where little girls are tortured written by men = way too many.  Novel where little girls are tortured written by females = none we know of.  Let us re-cap:  Men like to fantasize about torturing little girls too often, and women dream of tortured girls never.  Could there be a subliminal message males are missing in these statistics?

  The real incongruity is that the torturing of said little girls is completely extranious to the story as it needs to be told.  The evil dudes need to extract mojo from those who have it.  Okay, lame plot, but okay.  But why not A) simple murder the mojo-owner; B) Draw by magic the mojo from the victim; C) ask to borrow the mojo if they pay it back with mojo-interest in 90 days?  There are so many ways evil dudes can obtain mojo which do not involve the toture of little girls that we wonder (yet again) why this theme is so... attractive, so alluring, so_____------______------REVOLTING!

  There, we said it.  PEOPLE, stop glamorizing little-girl torture.  Do not write of it, do not speak it, do not even think it.  If you need to tell us your take on little girl torture, please...  please.... no we won't go there... please... go FRESHEN yourself.  Yes, clean your minds and hearts and souls and write a story which is not based on...  no, we won't stoop that low either.  Okay, PB.COM Review Rule One: Don't write shit.

  We're done now

  Please do not listen to this awful story.  How ever good it might have gotten (doubtful but within the realm of possibility), it is absolutely void of redeeming grace.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tales Of The Left Hand - Both Our Hands Are Clapping

Cover for 'Tales of the Left Hand, Book One'

 Lately we have been jumping on new PB.com releases, hope as at Christmas to unwrap a wondrous surprise.  Our luck day arrived in the form of Tales Of The Left Hand, Book One (TOTLH), by John Meagher.  At the time of this review, TOTLH Book Two is already out, so Mr. Meagher promises to be prolific as well as entertaining.  This, our friends, is a welcome and novel combination.  There are a few hyper-productive authors on PB.com and, to an author, their offerings are weak, weird, and worthless.  Not so with Mr Meagher and for this our hat is off to him!  Here is the author's blurb:

Tesca is the Left Hand, a spy and assassin serving the Duke of Kohaya, ruler of one of the independent realms within the Frees. Kayrla is a sailor and sometime pirate with a few magical tricks up her sleeve. While fleeing the wrath of her former captain, Kayrla collides with Tesca, who’s on a mission of his own, and her captain, assuming them to be partners, sics his crew on both of them. Cutting their way free of the pirates' wrath, the pair come to realize that they make a very effective team, but will their combined talents be enough to stop an assassin seeking the Duke’s life, and who appears to be more than a match for either Tesca’s blades or Kayrla’s magic?

NARRATION:  A surprisingly good job of it here.  We specifically were caught off-guard because the narration seemed at first to be run-of-the-mill.  Mr. Meager's natural speaking voice is, while pleasant and clear, rather bland school-boyish.  By the end of TOTLH we were, however, most impressed with the range and consistency Mr. Meagher displayed.  Both women and men were credible and expertly reproduced.  Having done a good deal of podcasting ourselves, we can attest to the non-triviality of such a gift.  There was, to our ears, however, a negative with TOTLH's read.  Mr. Meagher chose rather inflexible and stereotypical characterizations for many players.  The sailors all spoke Pirate, the 'very dark skinned' race sounded Nigerian, and the boorish assassin-renters sounded awfully Teutonic.  To precognate, we shall site a few more examples from Book Two (We know, unfair you cry, this is a review of Book One - no fair precognating!  Well, get over it - this is our blog.  Our tongue is stuck out at all neigh-sayers, but at none of our true friends).  The French captain slurps his wine and the 'light skinned dark fellow' has dreadlocks and sound remarkably Jamaican.  Hum.  The problem here is what, in biology, is termed convergent evolution.  This is the process by which widely differing creature separated by great distances adopt the same trait.  So here, on this mystical far-off world, everybody just happens to speak with Earther intonations.  Hum.  So, while Mr. Meagher might have gotten a 15-18 for narration, we will ding him to a 14 for his annoying predilection.  In fact, dare we ever think it, we were reminded of that retched movie The Phantom Menace more than once!  Saints in Heaven, protect us against such drivel!  Nota bene:  When TOTLH was written The Frees was fine, but when narrated, it is identical to The Freeze.  We wondered for half the story how all those tropical plants could live at the North Pole.

EDITING/TECHNICAL:  This aspect, especially give that this is Mr. Meagher's first PB.com effort, was flawless.  Even the larger names on PB.com have a few fumbled splices or stammers.  Flawless is not, however, spectacular.  Nowadays, the bar for this category is way-high.  Several authors have posted remarkably complex and professional-quality material.  All students of physics are not Einsteins, but we must insert this caveat.  Intros/outros were blessedly short, which was especially since Mr. Meagher elected to chop his opus into relatively short episodes.  All-in-all, we shall grant 16 for technicalities.

ORIGINALITY OF STORY:  For our money this is a very important element of a good book (okay, the podcast is free, so none of our money is actually at risk, but, please, allow us metaphoric range).  We are reluctant to be overly negative, but we think TOTLH is, at a heart & soul level, not all that original.  That does not mean it is not entertaining, but it added no novel insight, no remarkable twist to our collective experience. We have a mean pirate captain, a good-of-heart pirate elf (never understood how good-at hearts could spend some of their lives murdering and stealing, but, then again, we are probably just quit provincial), a civic-minded assassin, a benevolent duke, et cetera, et cetera.  Swords, bad-guys, a lust for gold, a predictable ending - you know the story.  Were there new quirks, unexpected elements?  Sorry, we cannot recall any.  Again, that does not mean TOTLH is not worthy, it just ain't fresh.  A middling 10 here.

QUALITY OF WRITING:  As with Best Movie of the Year at The Oscars this is the really quintessential consideration - the Big Kahuna (a term from a 1959 Gidget movie, of all things).  After all, these are podcast novel, n'est pas?  Linear and 'round-the-camp-fire are adjectives which spring to mind.  A tale told 'round the fire at night is off-the-cuff, unprepossessing, and uncomplicated.  By linear, we would signal a plot-line which goes from A to B to C, ending in Z.  There are no real detours, twists, or convolutions.  If you have read any quantity of our reviews, you will recall that a good many PB.com podcasts are similarly - simple.  The best example we can site is a work we never reviewed because it stands as one of the most popular.  Nathan Lowell's Solar Clipper series is 'round-the-camp-fire and is enjoyed by a multitude of paying fans.  No sin here, no condemnation to readership hell, but, needless to say, not very Bradbury-like.  In fact, until the introduction of the unstoppable assassin character, we were drifting toward a WSRH due to lack of interest.  Everybody was so darn happy and nice, unless they were evil and hence unhappy.  TOTLH told of a world where you literally bump-into a trained killer on a mission and he not only aids you but becomes your BFF inside of - well - no time at all.  Such a happy place!  Pity Sidney Carlton from Tale Of Two Cities or Cosette from Les Miserable were not similarly fortunate.  A final note.  The Kayrla character was painted too-simply.  She was naive, trusting, and altogether rather dimensionless.  We would have liked a bit more edge, insight, and maturity mixed-in with her persona.  Not to bash, but to discuss Mr. Meagher's style, we will say no more.  A 12  for writing.  How, you query, could we award that high a score to a work so humble?  Simple.  You try to write a cohesive novel and make it entertaining and get it published and podcast and then ask us that question again.  Yeah, that's why.

WOW FACTOR:  There is, in TOTLH, some real wow.  The aforementioned excellent voice acting of wowful.  Sympathetic characters, that's nice.  A tale told well, that's good.  Being thoroughly entertained while listening, that's great.  So, we allow 8 wow-points.

TOTAL:  60.  We were quite entertained by TOTLH and recommend it to fantasy listeners without reservation.  In spite of what might be interpreted to be harsh criticism above, know this - we liked TOTLH.  It was fun.  Yes, that's the best way to sum TOTLH in a word - FUN!