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.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Tincture-Ful 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!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Bedtime Tales: Stories For the Wayward and Churlish - It Worked, We Were Put To Sleep

  Bedtime Tales: Stories For the Wayward and Churlish (really, that's you title? Kind of long and over-cryptic, perchance?)  (BT) is a collection of short stories by Dar Qwynd, Narrated by Norman Chisolm III (again, really, eponymous for "Dark Wind", why not use that nom de plume directly, and why "III" what is the point of the over-embellishment?).  We listened, with one eyebrow raised skeptically the entire time, to the first short story, Blankie.  So completely underwhelmed were we that the WSRH axe fell immediately upon the alleged conclusion of the story.  Let us summarize the story for you.  A boy loves his blanket.  The blanket is made of the remains of a demon who died for unclear reasons (and we listened really hard to determine why it died).  That's it.  Cue the sound of crickets buzzing.  In this over-produced, dare we say maudlin, podcast, the intro's/outro's were sooooo long and stilted, gratuitously repetative and most off-putting.  Please see the discussion in the review immediately proceeding this one, of Every Picture Tells a Story for a detailed discussion of plot-elements.  Blankie violated so many plot elements that it was infuriating.  There was no plot, just a boy playing word-games with squirrels interrupted by a demon who died.  A completely unacceptable climax and no resolution.  People, please, if you write a story, make certain it has a point to make and that it does not just end, but has an ending!  'Nuf said 

Every Picture Tells a Story, Volume 4 - Underexposed Film

  Every Picture Tells a Story, Volume 4 is offered to us via the combined efforts of Katerina and Mick Bordet.  We assume, but have not read, that Volumes 1-3 are out there somewhere.  The Bordets apparently post a photo and have followers write a short story based on this image.  An intriguing concept, but as we quickly found out, a concept whose success depends wholly on the skill of the contributors.  We only listened to the first short story, titled Digby the Travelogue, and we were most unimpressed.  We reasoned that the lead story would be a strong one, so when it was unacceptable, WSRH.  Rash and over-reactive of us?  Perchance, but after we read a tale which is irritatingly bad, it leaves us feeling off.  The influence of a poor story is akin to how we feel after we've eaten WAY to much pizza an are over-full yet full of regrets for the over-consumption.  Yeah, lousy fiction has that effect.  So, while we could have listen to more, we literally did not wish to risk it.  What was wrong with Digby?  It violated a scared rule of story telling.  Remember from school, that a story consists of various elements.  One outline defines exposition (plot), rising action, conflict, climax, and then resolution?  Well, Digby lacks plot, climax, and resolution.  It just ... ends.  No tale is told, no moral learned, not episode cataloged.  It is not a short story, it is a short thought.  We smell in Digby one of the oldest failures a writer falls into, that of having a really cool idea, but no point to make with it and no ending to be found with it.  Listening to Digby emoted from us the expression, "Not in my house!"

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Phoenix Conspiricy - Falls Back Into Its Own Ashes

  Arg!  Darn, oh bother, and WTF!  Okay, we have vented our frustration, now we may proceed with an orderly review of The Phoenix Conspiracy (TPC) by Richard L. Sanders, narrated by Matthew Ebel [who has no middle name, we presuppose].  TPC received a very late WSRH.  We were into Episode 10 or 11 when the podcast took the torpedo a-midships and sank into the abyss of ignobility.  We were rather stunned when we found that Mr. L. Sanders made us reach-up and first hit the stop, and then the delete icon, so far into the book.  Why, good sir, did you so force our hand?

  Competent fiction writing involves but a few key elements.  The aspiring author must have a story to tell, a plot to carry that story passsably, credible characters, and an ending which does not suck.  Naturally, great fiction excels at all these components, but we're just talking about competent fiction here - the kind which would receive a C+ from the teacher.  It was one of these torpedoes which done-in TPC.  First, there was much to speak well for TPC, aspects which lead us into the bowels of the book.  We were, as implied, assuming we'd finish the book and were blind-sided by the fatal implosion.  On the plus side, Mr. Ebel proved to be a journeyman voice actor.  We were initially off-put but the hissy, high pitched quality of the production, but quickly learned to ignore this flaw.  Mr. Ebel has an unspectacular voice, but his characterizations were well thought out and very consistent.  Strong work, Mr. Ebel.  In TPC, we also loved the 1950's space-opera genre.  Very nostalgic, very inviting.  Though TPC was probably only going to score in the 40-50 range had the dreaded WSRH not fallen, TPC was entertaining and acceptably engineered.

  Okay, why the WSRH?  Mr. L. Sanders made one too many errors in the plot.  This is, unfortunately, not an uncommon flaw among authors who never quite make-the-grade.  Without revealing too many spoilers, should you choose to listen-in anyway, we will paint a picture of the death-giving gaffs.  First, a ship's captain commanding a ship-of-the-line in combat with an addiction issue?  Hum.  And this lunk-head never remembers to put his illegal narcotic away, perennially leaving in plain site?  Again, hum.  And the ship's doctor is his dealer?  Double hum.  But, we did not WSRH these soft-spots, we just groaned and bore-it.  Then, the same ship's captain ignores orders to discontinue his personal-interest driven investigation during a war-footing and commandeers his ship on a private quest?  Ah, wait, that's mutiny, treason, and desertion all rolled into one!  You know, the kind of nasty things they hang you for.  Really?  Ya think a military officer would risk brutal exicution to sate his curiosity?  Yet, still we read-on, daunted but not detered.

  The coup-de-grace concerned the "strong" female character, the ship's Executive Officer, or XO.  Mr L. Sanders went well out of his way to construct a hyper-rigid, by-the-book military officer in this XO.  She was stern and inflexible to an annoying and unrealistic extent, but, hey, L. Sanders is the author so there she was.  Then, when the XO decides (based on one episode) to topple the captain from command, she slips into something slinky and pseudo-seduces him?  She injects chloral hydrate into a full bottle of wine, fills her mouth with it, and literally forces it down the captain's throat while swallowing neigh a drop herself, and Cap passes out like a rag-doll dropped?  All this, again, on a war-footing in a combat zone?  Wow, we mean, wow!  There are so many things wrong with that scene!!  So many WTF's that...  WSRH

  Look, chloral hydrate, famous as a "mickey-fin", is used to knock someone out so you can shanghai or date-rape them - whatever.   If an adult takes 500 milligrams, they will fall asleep in about half an hour - longer if "stimulated" (as in, oh we don't know, say about to have sexual abandon with the most beautiful woman you've ever seen).  So, if she spit a mouthful, approximately 20 milliters into his mouth, the wine-solution would need to have 25 mg/ml of drug, minimum.  The XO would have had to inject 40 milliters into the 750 ml bottle.  That means the bottle was holding 790 mls, which it cannot, so, since she did not remove the cork, it is impossible.  Plus, no way she would not swallow some herself.  If she had mixed such a high concentration, even a small volume would lay her out too.  Plus, she's a hyper-rigid military officer.  Now, durning a war-time period, she willfully and knowingly commits assault, battery, unlawful imprisonment in the form of sedation, the dissabling of a superior and commanding officer on a combat mission, in effect mutany, and then either burglary after he passes out if she serches his quarters or entrapment if she turns him in for drunk and disorderly?  If the XO was very lucky, she'd only be stripped of her rank and imprisoned for twenty years, even if she proved the captain was an addict and insubordinate.  We picture the JAG investigator questioning the XO as  Cappie is haul-off in chains.  "SO, XO, how exactly was it that you were able to search the captains' quarters?  Were you romantically involved?"  "Ah, no, I mean, not as such."  So, if I may, how were you able to discover the drugs?"  "Well, I jumped to a quick conclusion, played slap-and-tickle just long enough to incapacitate him, then rifled his room."  With a smile, she proclaim, "It only took me a minute to crack his government issued safe, you know, where secret orders are stored.  Oh, and I found these girly magazines and these computer-inhanced photos of the women's locker room on Deck Five taken right after the girl's volleyball playoffs.  Look what that girl is doing in the shower!  She' next on my hit-list, the dirty slut!"

   Realistically, she'd be hanged.  Really really, this stick-up-the-butt duty-driven-by-the-book officer does all that on a hunch, on a whim... ever in the first place.  What a sloppy job of officer vetting they do in the future.  Two ship's captains and one XO all needing to be executed in such a brief moment in time.  Everyone in command or medically trained if morally bereft and in need of euthanasia.  The future, it seems to us, is not very bright.

WSRH, nuf said