Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Battle of the Monkey and the Crab” and “Goblin Spider.”

The fifth track of Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated album is the story of a kerfuffle between a monkey and a crab. Seems pretty straight forward, but the ending is not what you’d expect from a fairy tale. At least not a western one. Even still, the outcome of the battle is brief, grim, and slightly gruesome. It’s essentially: “He was so ugly that everyone died. The end.” Brief climax and a even shorter denouement will make you go “what?” Not even a sentence passes between the two phases of a story.

The rest of the tale is more or less what you’d expect, if you’ve listened to the tracks before. The combination of narrative summary and dialogue make for a more engaging tale. Interesting is something else entirely.

Skipping to the last track, “Goblin Spider” is a tale of lone warrior on a quest to defeat a goblin. Like Game of Thrones, you think he’s the main character, but when he dies from a goblin spider masquerading as a religious man, you realize there’s more to the story. And then the tale ends with the warrior’s men taking the creature out the next morning, giving a surprising yet inevitable plot twist that feels rushed. This is the fault of the storyteller and not the narrator. At the same time, it’s a difference in cultures and what we expect from stories.

Both tales have similar themes of battle and war. Some are more obvious than others, but both are short, to the point, and perhaps a little too brief.

The full collection is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com.

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Wonderful Tea Kettle.”

Like Shippeitaro, this tale is confusing because of its non-western roots. Unlike the classic Japanese Fairy tale reviewed two weeks ago, the story “The Wonderful Tea Kettle” jumps around a lot. At first it sounds like a genie, trapped in a magical lamp trope. Before that you get a hint of no one but a certain man can see the creature and everyone thinks he’s crazy.

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Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “Shippeitaro.”

Shippeitaro is a confusing tale, not because of the plot, but because the promises it makes to the listener aren’t what western audiences expect. It’s not that it’s bad, but the cultural norms are different in Japan than they are in the the states, even back when the story was first told/written.

By the end I was left wanting more, but not in a good way, feeling like I missed a good chunk of the story. There was a lot of information in a little over eight minutes in length, and only the surface was scratched. The complexity of the story, however, did not merit a second listen-through. Shows like Edict Zero FIS which have layers upon layers of intrigue warrant a second play through, because you know you missed a lot. Shippeitaro is just plain confusing. Perhaps that says more about me and western culture than the story itself.

I will give the narrator credit for keeping my interest at least mildly engaged and the howling cats scene creeped me out due to the sound effects, audio filters applied to the cats, and narration.

Shippeitaro is supposedly a classic in Japanese fairy tales, with many renditions out there, but in terms of the listener’s ability follow–it will vary greatly. For me, it was meh.

The full collection is available on Amazon, iTunes, and CDbaby.com.

Japanese Fairy Tales Unrated: “The Old Man and The Devils” and “The Cub’s Triumph.”

The first two stories in a collection of Japanese fairy tales, this audio adaption is a great introduction to non-western folklore. It’s not too foreign that the western world won’t understand the plot, but the meaning may be lost on some.

In terms of the adaptation, the audio for the first tale: “The Old Man and the Devils” isn’t as fluid as the second one: “The Cub’s Triumph.” There are millisecond lingerings or strange artifacts which throw you out of the story. That being said, it’ more of a nitpick than anything. After hearing such great pieces over the years, it’s hard to not compare.

The first story started off alright, got interesting by the middle, and made me scratch my head in the end over a small continuity issue. Story number two had the same reaction structure as the first, though the beginning was a little better.

There will not be a star rating until I reach the final episode. You can find this production on iTunes, AmazonMp3, and CDbaby.com.

Blood Ties: The Bonds are Permanent

Book one of the Magnolia series is a thrill ride that doesn’t know how to sit still. The story changes focus throughout and does so at points where the story begins to drag. This makes interest in the text a foregone conclusion. It never decreases.

As for the characters, there are two main ones. The protagonist and her mother. All the other characters are side. You could make the argument that the male viewpoint of one of the subplots is a main character, but how that particular thing wrapped up felt more like a sidequest than an integral part of the plot.

The protagonist–Karina Summers–is a character with the same internal conflict Katniss Everdeen has in the Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part 1. The general consensus is that if she’s supposed to be a strong female lead, why is she pining over someone. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, logically.

Thankfully once the inevitable sex scene happens between her and the younger boy Beau, the story takes a turn for the better. The plot points from the different viewpoints begin to weave themselves together. But by the end, all the tension is gone and you’re waiting for the book to end.

All in all, the story starts off strong, loses some steam in the middle, and any hope of an awesome climax is gone after Karina and her mother find out who’s behind everything.

The narrator does a fantastic job of keeping interest in the story, even if the content itself is borderline predictable. For that I’d give this a perfect score, but you don’t see a movie based on a reviewers opinion of the special effects.

4/5 Stars

The American Fathers, Episode One: Swept Away

This audio book read by several narrators fails to deliver the promises of the beginning. And by the end, you wonder whether or not the series will be about politics and conspiracies in the government or straight-up erotica.

The first part is great. There are parts that could’ve been researched better. In particular one comment which didn’t make sense. At least when it comes it to business of television news and talkshows.

The protagonist is a female, but also a lesbian. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. In fact I applaud the writer for having diversity in their story. The problem comes in when the first part focuses so much on one thing and then the second part is all about her inner conflicts. It’s not badly written, but as someone who doesn’t read erotica, I can’t say for sure how good it is by comparison to other well known erotica titles. The description of sex is evocative, but it felt flat when read by the main narrator.

It should be noted that there’s a bit of a quality issue. Every time the narrator stops, there’s an awkward pause between the end of the prose and the beginning of the dialogue. It happens repeatedly in the first part, but doesn’t show up in the second. Or at the very least it’s not as noticeable.

The first of episode of this series shows promise, especially in the first part. Overall, the second part left a bad taste in my mouth and unfortunately brought this down half a star.

3.5/5 Stars

Mistborn: The Hero of Ages (Parts 1-3)

Graphic Audio’s three part adaptation of the third Mistborn Novel aims high and succeeds, but the source material is unfortunately lacking in the ending department. Everything else about the story is great. All the loose threads that are tied up by the end are numerous and the way they form the proverbial bow is tied up is interesting and you don’t see it coming, That being said, as an ending for a trilogy, it falls short. Taken on its own, the book is on par with the Well of Ascension’s ending in terms of the wow factor.

The people over at Graphic audio did a tremendous job as always and this was the first mistborn book I didn’t already read at least a part of before diving into this audio adaptation. The experience was exhilarating. I doubt I would’ve enjoyed it as much.

The Final Empire is still the best in the series, aside from how they defeat the Lord Ruler–although it’s grown on me these past few years. The Well of Ascension, looking back, had the trouble of a slow middle, but a fantastic beginning and end. The Hero of Ages is the culmination of the first two books as you would expect. It’s the last book in a trilogy of trilogies. The ending is just meh. Wish I could give more details, but I don’t want to spoil anything. The one thing that disappointed me was that we never know much about the Eleventh Metal aside from what is explained in the first book. It wasn’t important to the plot of this book or the second for that matter, but it was a dangling thread I wish was tied up in someway by the end of the third book.

User Submitted Review: Casino Royale Audiobook

Review by Richard Welsh

In Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s most successful franchise gets rebooted, establishing a new timeline and narrative that are not meant to precede or follow any previous Bond film. That’s why Casino Royale features a Bond that is less experienced and more vulnerable to enemy traps and conspiracies. It is also in this film where Bond gets his title as Agent 007, meaning the start of his license to kill.

In this Bond audiobook that is narrated by Dan Stevens, Agent 007 is dispatched to a French Casino in Royale-les-Eaux, and his mission is to defeat a deadly Russian Agent named Le Chiffre at the Baccarat tables. Baccarat has always been “a game that is associated with the elite class,” according to international casino gaming provider InterCasino, and perhaps it is this particular reason why the film used it instead of Pai Gow or Craps. Le Chiffre has been a high-profile target of the British Secret Service for years, and he would be terminated by his bosses in Moscow if Bond can bankrupt him. Le Chiffre is as shrewd as a snake and Bond must never lose this chance or else M16 would have to wait for years for another opportunity.

Of course, Baccarat is a game of luck and Bond isn’t exactly an expert who participates in the World Series of Baccarat. After his first round against Le Chiffre, Bond finds himself evading assassins, escaping brutal tortures, and surviving poisoned drinks. He also finds himself in a pinch after the lovely treasury agent that was sent to provide the money he needs to get a seat at the Baccarat tournament, Vesper Lynd, got abducted by the enemy.

Intense, action-packed, but effortlessly trendy, James Bond’s Casino Royale has all the traits that made Ian Fleming’s most popular novel a benchmark for all the books under the spy genre.

The audio version of Casino Royale is available at Amazon for $15.57.

Disclaimer: This is a user-submitted review. The contents of the following review are not my own, but I think you’ll enjoy regardless. If you’d like to submit your own review or article for consideration, you can contact me at MichaelBergonzi@AudioDramaReviews.com. Simply use “USR Submission” in the subject line.

Tales of the Otori: Across the Nightingale Floor

A historical Japanese fantasy set in the feudal period of the nation. The setting isn’t so much important as the places may or may not be real. It walks that line between “secondary world” and our “world, but with magic” well in some areas, but not in others. Overall, it doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the story, so its not worth going into further.

This story was highly influential—both subconsciously and perhaps consciously—in the writing of my book: Moon and Star. Not going to go into depth, except to say it’s available on Amazon for $2.99.

Moving right along, the way the first Tales of the Otori book handles multiple POV’s is wonderful. There are only two, but each one is handled in such a simple, yet brilliant way. The male protagonist scenes used first=person, where the female lead utilized third-person. It wasn’t until halfway through the audiobook that I realized the author was doing this. That speaks volumes on the immersive-nature of the story. The narrators certainly helped too.

The story centers around a young boy who watched his entire village destroyed by Iida and the Tohan. By fate, the boy is saved by a man who then goes out of his way to adopt him. The boy develops an attachment to the man, who later on reveals his true motive for being in the right place at the right time.

The twists and turns this story makes are most of the time predictable, but the way the overall arc unfolds is entertaining to the say the least. Unfortunately the ending kind of fizzles out after a the antagonist is defeated—in a non-satsifying, yet unexpected way. Aside from the slow burn out after the lackluster climax, this story is worth the time you spend listening.

4/5 Stars

The Beam Season 1

The first season of “The Beam” posits a future that isn’t too far fetched. The narrators do a fantastic job creating three-dimensional characters which jump off the page, and the technology created is both cool and scary at the same time.

At the heart of the story, “The Beam” is a cautionary tale about humanities tendency to overuse technology. One thing to keep in mind is that it isn’t your typical cyberpunk genre trope where all technology is evil. Rather it adds depth to the trope, making it part of the world rather than a construct of it. In fact most of the people in the story have become Beam addicts, as it were.

The Beam is basically the internet on steroids. If there was one complaint to give, it would be that The Beam is too powerful, acting as a “get out of jail free” card for when characters find themselves in difficult situations, instead of serving the story. It doesn’t quite reach deus ex machina territory, but there were more than a few times where the convenience of the beam did not go unnoticed.

Perhaps the strongest selling point is how much thought and creativity went into building this world; especially the politics, which take something as familiar as the democratic and republican parties and extrapolate it to a point that is cynical, but believable.

Despite the one complaint mentioned above, this story is really worth checking out. Especially for one of its endings and the political intrigue of the season. Keep in mind, this is a serialized story, which means a cliffhanger is inevitable. That being said, the story does have a moment of closure for one of the storylines. It’s that the new information revealed near the end makes you want to pick up season 2, rather than forces you with cheap gimmicks.

4.5/5 Stars