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L. Beall

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A fascinating look at religion and storytelling.

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-30-18

Andrew Klavan has had a wild career; first as a novelist, and later on as a right wing radio host in recent years. This book was recommended to me, and I was instantly captivated by the conceit: the story of how a man went from faith to faith before landing on the thing he believed to be true.

The first surprise was that this book has almost no mention of politics; there is a strong chapter on racism, antisemitism, and the role the church played in Nazi Germany, but otherwise, there's very little politics.

The second surprise, and the biggest surprise, was how much of the book wasn't explicitly about religion. The Great Good Thing is about a storyteller in crisis, with Judaism and Christianity as the bookends. Matters of religion are still a pressing issue throughout the book; at one point, Klavan attempts to write a Last Temptation of Christ-style novel, only to throw away the manuscript and publish an inferior version. For Klavan, religion and storytelling are intertwined, and as he grows and changes throughout, so does what he believes and his skills as a storyteller. And in the end, The Great Good Thing is a fascinating case study, a look at a life that will keep you thinking about the book for hours after it's over.

This is the sound of the gavel... *Hohoq*

Overall
3 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-21-18

This was the first audiobook I ever purchased on Audible. Since that time a few years ago, I’ve started it on and off, never quite finishing the first chapter. This book was recommended to me, and the stuff it gets right is quite good. John Hodgman is a great satirist, and his style of humor is complimented by Jonathan Coulton. The chapters on Hobos and the 51 United States are really solid, and you could quite honestly do an entire TV adaptation with the material provided.

Where The Areas of My Expertise falls flat for me is... everywhere else. This is Hodgman at his most stale, and certainly not the accomplished satirist we hear on his podcast. The first half of the book winds up being little more than a game of Mad Libs: real historic facts are contorted, and the details replaced with new nouns and verbs like “furry lobster,” which is a funny name, but Hodgman doesn’t go very far with it. This starts to change later on in the book, but by then the shtick hasn’t made you laugh much and you’re left a bit underwhelmed. Again, it’s weird, because I like John’s work and the best parts of the book are really great. But the weakest parts unfortunately don’t overcome.

And for the record: I listened to ALL 700 Hobo names. Joey Stinkeye Smiles would be proud.

Prose, Tennessee is back in fine form!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-16

Superheroes in Prose, Volume Two picks up right where Volume One left off, dealing with the aftermath of Gabe's run in with Liberty and the revealing of his powers to Reagan. Volume Two spends most of its time developing the characters of Reagan and M. Reagan's conflicted feelings about her own existence and place in the world take center stage, and a sizable backstory is given to M over the course of the story.

In many ways, this installment serves as a bridge. It encounters some of the second episode slump issues that a lot of serialized stories deal with, but overall it sets up future events without coming across in a "been there, done that" manner.

Narration wise, Bryan Reid vocal work is in top form. He goes back and forth between character voices with relative ease, and his Southern accent jumps from comical to charming while still being respectful. In fact, after two Volumes, I don't think I ever want to experience this story outside the audiobooks.

On the whole, Superheroes in Prose, Volume Two experiences the second episode slump, and a few jokes don't quite land. But the ending leaves things in a good spot for future development, and Bryan Reid's narration work elevates the story to another level.

4 out of 5 stars.

The Michelangelo Code concludes in epic fashion!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-16

The fourth installment of The Michelangelo Code concludes in epic fashion. Once again the casting choices shine brightly. And Archer & Armstrong's character arcs come full circle in a way that just works.

The sound mix did some very interesting things this time around, and I enjoyed the concept of a character who communicates with everyone without speech. On occasion some of the more vivid imagery gets lost in translation, but overall the mix accomplishes the job.

This installment certainly leaves me wanting even more audio adventures from these two. But when considering the episode as a season finale, it isn't super satisfying. Future plot threads are sown, laying the groundwork for further installments, which the production treats as a beginning rather than an ending. While I do appreciate that approach to an extent, as a listener with no clue when or if another installment will drop, I would have preferred just a little more closure in this episode.

On the whole, episode #4 wasn't as thematically strong as the previous installments. But what it lacks in thematics, it makes up for by bringing things full circle and opening the Valiant Universe at large up for further storytelling in the audio realm.

To say I'm excited for the future Valiant audio dramas would be an understatement.

4 out of 5 stars.

A&A's third audio outing is nunja fightin' fun!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-16

Part three kicks the adventure into overdrive by pitting multiple characters against each other and throwing more challenges in Archer & Armstrong's way. The bond between Armstrong and Sister Tommy is a strong one, and I especially enjoyed hearing actors Barbra Dillon and Pete Milan play off each other. Melissa Autumn Hearne really sold Mary-Maria's conflicted relationship with Archer, and Paul Brueggemann once again nailed Archer's internal conflict.

The religious elements of this episode were handled extremely well by writer Fred Van Lente. More than any episode thus far, Episode #3 really delves into what faith and religion means to these characters. Sister Tommy's Christianity bounces off of Armstrong's Atheism in a way that I wish the story had a lot more time to develop. It's a complete story in and of itself, and that relationship between them is partly why Sister Tommy made such an impact on me in her short run. Mary-Maria also has a moment of conflicted faith in this episode that plants the seeds for things down the line. And as events unfolded, it was great to see how much Archer has grown as a character in just three episodes.

Also of note is how downright hilarious this installment is. When Mary-Maria and Armstrong meet, I thought I was going to loose it laughing. Their entire scene together is, in a word, AMAZING.

Stepping in for Anna Rodriguez, Director Dave Morgan does a great job honoring the sound design of the previous episodes in a way that sounds like it's cut from the same cloth.

All in all, Episode #3 of Archer & Armstrong is tons of fun from beginning to end. I couldn't be more excited for the grand finale in Episode #4.

5 out of 5 stars.

The adventure keeps rolling along!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 05-06-16

Archer & Armstrong #2 serves a good follow up to to the series debut. Fred Van Lente delves deeper into the plots of The Sect and the inner character conflicts facing Archer and Armstrong, making this episode more of a bridge into the "Michelangelo Code" plot the Arc title alludes to.

Once again, the actor performances brought down the house. And Anna Rodriguez's meticulous direction gave this installment just the touch it needed to not feel like stale.

One spot that didn't work for me were the scenes that were adapted verbatim from the original comic book. Some scenes that work in books don't always work in audio, and there were one or two here where I had to rewind and get my bearings to understand what was happening. Luckily, the commentary track clarifies the things I didn't quite catch, so I didn't feel left behind even if I wished it had been a little more straightforward.

But on the whole, this installment came together quite well, and it leaves me pumped once again for the next installment!

4 out of 5 stars.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

So Cold. So Quirky. And definitely scary!

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-23-16

Putting my thoughts on Phantom Canyon into words is a tough task. For starters, it’s unlike any audio drama I've heard before. Secondly, it’s “western horror.” Or to put it more bluntly, it alternates between the two genres throughout, starting off as a full blown western and concluding as an eerie horror story. Fortunately for listeners, the changes between the two genres are seamless, adding to the overall enjoyment.

I have to start out by applauding the writers and actors for their amazing work. Specifically, the characters were very well crafted, and the actors did an amazing job bringing them to life. Pete Milan and Barbra Dillon in particular get huge points from me for their roles as Sam and Clara respectively. Joe Stofko’s Mr. David is both as authoritative and humble as he is threatening. And Dave Morgan’s Billy is another shining example of how skillful he is at making the smallest of roles some of the most memorable.

On the story front, while I’m not normally a fan of horror stories, Phantom Canyon hits all of the high notes and then some. And more than once, it masterfully breaks established horror tropes and flips them on their head. The directors also did a great job creating a strong western vibe that sucks you in and makes you want to keep on listening.

Of course, that said, Phantom Canyon is not without its occasional faults. But its strengths far outweigh them.

All in all, Phantom Canyon was a highly worthwhile listen: an example of Pendant Productions at their finest. And it’s easily the best thing I’ve bought for less than $10 bucks in a very long time, which is probably the highest praise I could ever give any work. Am I right, or am I right?

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Archer & Armstrong #1 audiobook cover art

Top notch drama from the #PendantValiantDreamTeam!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 03-18-16

Archer & Armstrong #1 was truly special. Fred Van Lente's story was well written, the adaptation was brilliant with the humor it added, and the audio mix does a really great job of immersing you in the story without any visual cues.

The performances were also great, with Pete Milan's Armstrong, Melissa Autumn Hearne's Mary-Maria, and Jack Calk's Ivar being very faithful to the characters. For me though, the biggest standout was Paul Brueggemann's Obadiah Archer. As a religious person, I fully sympathized with the realization that he's been bamboozled by a dominion theology cult all his life. The pain and betrayal of that makes for a very strong character turn that really has me excited to hear where things go in the next episode.

Overall, this installment was fantastic stuff and I can't wait for more!

5 out of 5 stars.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

Like a Comic Book in Your Head

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 07-08-14

Going into this I had few expectations, but I came away quite impressed.

Aside from the slow first half, the story was excellent and came across exactly like a comic book in... well, prose. It was light, fun, and had a "stellar" ending.

One of the biggest surprises was the setting of the story (basically Chattanooga in all but name). As someone who lives in East Tennessee, I felt like the author had a good grasp on the setting and conveyed it rather well. I'm still trying to process that the area has the largest concentration of superheroes in the world, but maybe the author explains why in further installments.

The performance itself was also excellent. Bryan Reid has a good grasp on the way he tackles characters like M, and handles the various character interactions with grace.

In conclusion: fun story, great performance, and Tennessee awesomesauce. I'll definitely checking out the next installment.

4.5 out of 5 stars

1 of 1 people found this review helpful