School of Deaths

The first book in The Scythe Wielder’s Secret series, School of Deaths is the spiritual successor of young adult fantasy books like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter. At the same time, the book is also its own thing, subverting the tropes you’ve come to expect in YA fiction and fantasy as a whole.

School of Deaths starts off strong in the normal world. Far better than most fantasies which begin in everyday normal life. There’s an instant connection with Susan Sarnio that doesn’t involve making us feel sorry for her. While the similarities to Harry Potter are immense, the reader isn’t bombarded with how bad the main character’s life is right off the bat. One of the ways this tries to separate itself from tropes is by giving Suzie Sarnio a relatively good life. Once we enter the magical world of the deaths, things start to slow down a bit too much. Honestly these chapters blended together.

It’s after the reader learns about Lovethar that the comparisons to Harry Potter continue full force. That being said, this is not a carbon copy of Rowling’s famous boy wizard. Unlike Harry Potter, Susan is hated in the magical world of the deaths. She is by no means the girl who lived or anyone famous. In fact, most people would call her infamous due to gender constraints.

The apparent and sometimes over-the-top sexism from the characters makes Susan that much more compelling as she has to literally start from the bottom because of the deaths’ biases against woman. That being said, the thing which doesn’t make sense is why almost all the students at the college hate Susan. Professors are understandable as they have the knowledge of the world, but most of these children are from the world of the living. Did they suddenly become more sexist because they were taken to the land of the deaths? It’s one of those things that doesn’t bother you in the moment, but upon closer inspection, yanks you out of the story.

All in all, School of Deaths is a great start to a YA fantasy. While some parts in the middle sagged a bit and Harry Potter comparisons were aplenty, the fact that this story stands on its own ground and subverts many of the tropes found in YA fantasy novels is a plus in its favor.

4.5/5 Stars

Gallowtree Season One

Gallowtree Radio details strange events from a town somewhere in England. These events range from literal identity theft to “homeless zombie scum” taking over the world… so predictable, huh? This is very much a story-driven podcast.

Listener’s should be aware that Gallowtree’s concept is noticeably similar to Night Vale, so if you like that podcast, odds are you will like this one. Basically, it’s as if Night Vale was set in a British horrorshow that’s being run by a mentally disturbed anarchist. Although the setting might turn some listeners off, Gallowtree has high production value and good voice acting.

Despire the limited voice cast, I felt that the narrator had a vivid personality and a very loud, creepy voice that suited the tone wonderfully – in particular, the tone and atmosphere. It does wonder for the tone and atmosphere. The writing is a little fast-paced if one is not paying attention. They could easily miss some really good social commentary and important details into a 1984-esque world.

The show has good pacing and good writing, often making references to problems in contemporary society, such as religion, police brutality, politics, and numerous other topics. The 22-minute format reminds me more of a science fiction TV show on the SyFy network than a podcast.

The background noises are so detailed and precise that it only makes you more involved in the insane world it presents. Small things like the echoing background noises sound more like a disgusting sewer than anything else, with rats scuttling across the floor and vault doors slamming  shut so politicians and zombies can’t get in.

This is obviously a labor of love, as it was made by only a few dedicated people who so obviously love the impact Night Vale had on podcasting and audio storytelling. Anyone who is a fan of creative, creepy stories and excellent social commentary should take a ponder at the British craziness that is Gallowtree.

4/5 Stars

200th Review Results and a New Reviewer?

The results of who would win the spot for 200th review on the site have been determined. Actually they have been for a while. There was a great turnout, a lot more people than I expected showed their support for these great audio productions. I guess that’s the power of social media for you.

I bought the production on audible almost two years ago, after finishing the show’s second season. It’s now time to reopen pandora’s box and resume the zombie apocalypse.

That’s right, We’re Alive – Season 3 is the winner of the 200th review determination poll The review will go live on January 29, 2017.

The next announcement to share is that Audio Drama Reviews has a new critic. In addition to myself, Michael Bergonzi, Zane Sexton has signed on to be a critic both of and for audio dramas. Like me, he started off as a fan. In some ways he’s harsher than I am, but I’ll let you judge that for yourself when his first review on the site goes live this Sunday (July 31, 2016).

Take care everyone.

RED SUN: Hajima

At first glance, this sounds like a cool idea and upon closer inspection it had the potential to be a kick ass modern-day take on Samurai. Most of the problems lie within the short length of each episode and the odd, almost forced characterization of the main character.

Miles Moto is supposed to be an Asian American Bruce Wayne. He certainly has the skills, but they border on the unbelievable. For example, there’s no real sense of how hard he trained. This is an origin story and its hard to suspend disbelief on a guy who suffers from a haunted past in the military. The way the fight scenes were handled certainly didn’t help, but again the setup wasn’t there to make you believe he could do all those things and do them so well. On top of that, his desire to become part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic is a bit forced on the page, but comes across as not all that important until the end. The opening narration for each episode, explaining who Miles Moto is and what his passions are, go a bit too in-depth with his character. It adds some depth, sure, but what’s the point aside from making him forcibly more complex.

The length of the episodes is almost too short for what it’s trying to accomplish in this five-part origin story arc and the fact you have to purchase them individually is also a pain. The shortest episode is around ten minute long, including the credits. Considering the money you put in, the investment is barely worth it–Quality not withstanding. An extra five minutes for each episode or ten minutes across all the episodes would have given a lot more context on the characters. As it stands now, I really didn’t care about any of them.

There were a number of awesome story hooks that never got utilized to their full potential. On top of that, it just wasn’t that memorable. Nothing got you excited about going out and purchasing the next episode, let alone listening to it.

The acting is without a doubt the best part and the production value is at least on par with many audio drama podcasts, if not better.

4/5 Stars

What do Edict Zero, We’re Alive, and The Beam all have in common?

They’re all contenders for the 200th review spot on the site. After looking at the stats for the five plus years we’ve been active, we noticed that the top three productions were as follows:

Rather than picking one of these titans of audio productions that span the spectrum of audio entertainment, we decided to let you choose. Let these creators know you love their work by voting on your favorite. We’re huge fans of all three, making the decision near impossible. Hopefully democracy will have better luck.

Eventually we’ll review all of them, but it felt right to do this for the 200th review. This is not the super awesome special surprise I mentioned on twitter a few weeks ago.

So look forward to that.

Cast your vote on Twitter.

Archer and Armstrong 1-4

Pendant Production’s audio drama adaptation of Valiant Comics’ series, Archer and Armstrong is both for the fans and a wild ride in general for everyone else. The four episode arc titled “The Michelangelo Code” is filled with humorous gags such as ninja nuns and a secret order of nazis with a ridiculous name. If you’re getting a Dixie Stenberg vibe, you’re not alone.

If you’re fan of the comic, you’ll no doubt enjoy this. If you have no idea who Archer and Armstrong are, you’re at a slight disadvantage. It’s like watching Avengers: Age of Ultron and not seeing the phase two films leading up to it. You’ll understand the main plot, but almost half of the characters will be unknown. Even more so if you haven’t read or know about the source material. Archer and Armstrong lies somewhere in between the DC Extended Universe and the Marvel Cinematic one, but much closer to Marvel in terms of tone.

The creativity and attention to detail in the production and sound scape alone were incredible. The moments where Archer is explaining the fighting style he’s about to use on someone were pure gold and felt right out of a comic book. Its execution played out like the first fight scene in the 2008 Sherlock Holmes film, starring Robert Downey Jr., making the listener go wow that was fun and cool. Something which is lacking in entertainment these days.

4.5/5 Stars

Archer and Armstrong is available for purchase on Amazon/Audible and iTunes.

Interview: Cristal Duhaime and Mira Burt-Wintonick of Love Me

What made you want to start a Podcast about relationships? Were shows like Serial and other podcasts, based on anecdotes, inspirational to you?

MBW: I’m always curious to hear about what’s going on in other people’s relationships. I’m a bit of a snoop. I wanted to create a show that would give me an excuse to talk to people about their private lives. And after WireTap ended, Cristal and I wanted somewhere to feature all the radio fictions we planned to write, and we figured starting our own show might be the best way to achieve that.

CD: Yeah, we were interested in having a venue in which we could explore both documentary and fiction. And relationship struggles seemed like a natural fit for a topic since it’s such a universal problem and there’s just so much to explore there. But we also wanted to make sure we were covering all kinds of interactions–not just romantic ones.

Tell us about Wiretap and its relationship to Love Me and the CBC?

MBW: Working on WireTap was an incredibly formative experience. I spent 10 years working on that show, which is pretty much my entire career. We always felt pretty lucky in that the CBC let us do our own thing for the most part so we were free to experiment and try new things. After spending so many years mixing WireTap, the aesthetic inhabits you a bit, so Love Me is definitely a continuation of that aesthetic in certain ways. But we also wanted to try to make it sound distinct so we enlisted a few musicians to help create Love Me’s sonic space with a new theme song and some scoring music.

CD: Listeners who are familiar with WireTap will definitely recognize a similar production style–for example the use of music and creative sound design to complement our stories, which can sometimes contribute to a surreal atmosphere… But it’s also a departure in that WireTap obviously very much centered on Jonathan Goldstein as the host and personality of the show and all the elements were filtered through him. Love Me instead focuses on the individual stories week to week. While we do have a host, the wonderful Lu Olkowski, she plays a somewhat non-traditional role in that we only hear from her off the top and she doesn’t interact with the pieces in the show.

How did you come across the stories for your first couple of episodes. Is there a way for people to submit their own to Love Me?

MBW: Our story ideas are a mix of us imagining things that would be fun to hear and then seeking those out in the real world or writing a fiction inspired by that idea, but then we also reached out to storytellers and asked them to pitch us stuff. We’re no longer accepting submissions for Season 1 of Love Me, but if we do a second season we’d love for people to get in touch if they have a story they want to share. They can do so through our website or at loveme@cbc.ca

CD: Yeah, when we did the call-out for season 1, we weren’t sure exactly what we were looking for… But now we have more of a sense of things and we hope listeners will as well and come to us!

What was the hardest part about creating the show, in terms of production? What was the easiest?

MBW: One of the hardest parts was selecting the stories we wanted to feature. We got flooded with story submissions and it was tricky to decide which ones to focus on and which to devote our energy to. Once we figured that out it was a little easier to wrap our heads around everything, but then of course the challenge of structuring each piece begins, which is no easy feat. Each piece went through many many drafts during the editing process before we felt satisfied with the story arc. The easiest part was probably mixing because once you get into the right flow things start to come together nicely and you have all the elements in front of you so you’re no longer digging through tape and re-arranging things. You’re just trying out different songs and sounds and seeing what resonates best.

CD: There was also a lot of heavy-lifting in figuring out the basic elements of the show, for instance the theme song and scoring music, the host’s role, the show’s logo, etc. Those elements are instrumental in creating the identity of a show and once they’re put in place there’s no going back. So that seemed to require a lot more thought and debate than with just producing individual stories. If we were to do a 2nd season of the show, I think we would have an easier time of it as that foundation will already have been worked out. We were also perhaps a little ambitious with some of our pieces which made production rather intensive–one of the toughest things we decided to do was a short drama with 12 characters. The casting alone was incredibly time-consuming, let alone the editing and mixing!  

What can listeners expect in future episodes? Anything you can reveal?

MBW: We have a great story by the ABC’s Sophie Townsend that we’re really excited about. She’s one of our favourites radio producers. And a few more personal stories that made us cry all through the editing and mixing process. But it’s not all tears! There’s some fun stuff, too!

CD: The short drama with 12 characters I mentioned before is coming up in episode 5, “Family Portrait”. It features a well-meaning family man who tries to get one decent group photo. And of course, things go horribly awry. I’m also excited about the story of a woman in her 60s who seeks out the man who confessed his feelings for her back when they were in their teens. She finds out he joined the priesthood shortly after she turned him down all those years ago…

Where can people learn more about Love Me and other works you’re involved with?

MBW: People can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or visit cbc.ca/loveme for extra content, like photos associated with each episode or a great animation about untranslatable words of love. We’re also starting production on a new fiction series for Howl.fm that will be released sometime in the fall.

New Audible Studios Production: Oedipus the Audio Drama

From the business insider: the classic Greek tragedy has gotten the audible studios treatment. It stars Hayley Attwell (Peggy Carter from the Marvel Studios films) and is performed by a full cast, including Game of Thrones actor, Julian Glover and Downton Abbey’s Samantha Bond.

The cast also stars Emma Thompson, Jesse Eisenberg, James Franco and Kate Winslet as well as Rosamund Pike, Tim Robbins and Dan Stevens.

It’s available now on audible.

Coquettes & Cougars|Brimble Banks Brothers Episode 10

A charming and humorous blend of oral storytelling and drama for the ear. The tenth episode of the Brimble Banks Brothers is a self-contained unit and at the same time a continuation of previous episodes. Coquettes and Cougars is the story of a family in Atlanta and their daughter’s planned marriage to someone of aristocratic heritage and wealth.

Honestly, the frame story of the brothers was far more interesting than the one of southern sensibilities and random cougar attacks. The frame narrative uses classic fourth wall breaking to constantly throw you in and out of the story. At times this is exhausting as you aren’t sure if you’re listening to the story about cougars in the southern United States or back in the real world with two bickering brothers who can’t seem to agree on what the story is about.

The overall narrative is all over the place and incorporates characters from previous episodes into the story. Yes, it’s that kind of story. No holds barred and out there in terms of pacing and plot. In this story, anything goes, including the kitchen sink. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy the stories type of humor.

The biggest problem with this is the lack of attention to detail at some points. Not from a story stand point, but a production aspect. The volume goes up significantly at random places throughout the 50 minute long episode. It’s doubtful it was intentional and it’s not something you hear every day in the audio drama community, no matter if it’s free or for purchase.

Without having listened to earlier episodes, it’s hard to give thoughts on the overarching series with the two brothers. That being said, it sits on my feed, waiting for when I have free time.

4/5 Stars