Houston, TX, United States | Member Since 2008
I read the first series of the Paks books when they came out and was thoroughly taken with them. Looking back, the facet of the books which really delighted me was Moon's facility for describing military life in a pikes, shields and swords setting, both the action sequences and the forging of a unit of warriors who depended upon one another at a completely visceral level for survival. She created a richly detailed and textured martial world which was completely believable and gave it to us from the intimate viewpoint of a new recruit.
Also, Paks' rise to glory in those books was always rooted in the mud, blood and sheep manure from which she sprang, and that was really unique and very interesting, Especially since Moon also has an insightful voice when it comes to human motivations and ambiguities. Even the magic was gritty with a common touch. Holy Gird's roots were earthy and had as much to do with sweat as holy water.
I found this extension of the original story a good deal less interesting or compelling. Moon still writes characters I can believe, and they still rise from humble beginnings, but those origins are so far in their past now as to generate little vitality. In addition, there is a lot more politics than action in this book, all nicely constructed from the viewpoint of plot, but not much of it was unusual or gripping, at least for me. Perhaps the fact that the book is split between the stories of two different rising stars and never unites the two threads, or the fact that it all ends very much in the middle of things and leaves the rest for another installment, kept it from being as satisfying as the earlier books.
In any event, while I was never ready to put the story aside, it failed to captivate me as did The Deed of Paksenarrion. I'll still try the next book in the series, however. Moon is much too good a writer to dismiss
On the afternoon of October 5, 1957, I was a paperboy picking up my daily issues to deliver. There on the front page was the news in a stark, black headline. The Russians had launched an earth satellite. Even a kid in small-town Connecticut could feel the shock waves and experience the excitement and wonder at this dawning of a new age. But how could they have done it before us?
The extraordinary story which was NOT in the Bridgeport Post that evening is here, fully revealed, rich in detail and personality, seen from both sides of the Iron Curtain in a way I never expected to read it ever. Politics, science, engineering, cutthroat struggles for leadership are all present in a very nicely balanced account which moves along with a momentum appropriate to the story of the highly charged "Space Race." That contest, of course, had very little to do with space and a great deal more to do with image, influence and the military calculus of a nuclear age still in its infancy. Brzezinski brings all of that into sharp focus.
The narration is charged with energy and consequence without becoming uncomfortably overwrought. A coldly detached presentation of this material would, to some degree, fall short of putting us in touch with the spirit of the times. Tension, risk, soaring innovation and sometimes crushing failure come with emotional baggage. The twelve year-old paper boy in me is glad that that fact is tastefully reflected in this reading. A quick listen to the sample will allow you to judge for yourself, however.
The book was one of those rare pieces which are transformed as they develop so that everything which seems humdrum and uninspired as you listen to the first half suddenly becomes electric and exquisitely meaningful as the author shifts your perspective. It began for me as a two or three star listen and soared to five stars searching for a sixth as it engaged my heart and my head in the sudden truth it reveals. I now want to go back and listen to the first half with open eyes.
The reading is flat out masterful by both of the actresses. Perfect evocation of character; a low key delivery which heightens the impact of the most wrenching moments. And emotion which is unaffected and completely rooted in the truth of the narrative.
This is not an action packed adventure story. It develops slowly and requires some patience from the reader, although the character detail and the development of the relationship between the two women is charming, often funny and very rewarding. In the end, it is deeply satisfying and moving. One of my absolute favorite listens during the past year. I hope this review will lead to some of you having the same experience I had with it.
The publisher's notes suggest that in this book you can find the truth behind the classic Japanese story of the 47 Ronin (masterless samurai). That is only true if they were referring to the prologue which draws a clear line between the actual events and the fictionalized account presented by the author. This sets up an interesting tension which is clearly troubling for some people. The Ronin and their single minded leader are tainted by the clarifications in the prologue, so that there is a persistent "but" stalking the entire narrative of the book.
Nonetheless, the story is fascinating, deeply rooted in a culture which is profoundly alien for a Western reader in many ways. It develops slowly but very steadily, as successful revenge plots almost always do, and provides a pretty respectable emotional punch. I found more than enough tension along the way to keep me engaged, and the well drawn details of the daily life of the characters successfully drew me into that distant time and place in a very satisfying way. This is NOT an action adventure, however. Its appeal is in the gradual, carefully contained progress toward an explosive and appropriate ending. And, for me at least, in the nagging tension between the popular story and the uncomfortable facts which lie behind it. As a result, this is not a book for someone looking for authentic history, nor will it satisfy the listener who wants to be left breathless at the end of each chapter. If, on the other hand, you want to read it purely for the beauty of the classic story, I suggest you simply skip the prologue.
I had no problem with David Shih's narration, but other reviewers did. I suggest you check the sample reading before you invest a credit. It is taken from the prologue, but it is representative of the style and quality of the vocal work.
Jason Matthews is a very competent story teller, maintaining tension and interest throughout this very contemporary treatment of the nearly century old Russo/American espionage tango. He very effectively ushers us into the world of spying trade craft and introduces us to the grey scale palette of motivation and ethical rationalization which goes with it. I had no problem relaxing and letting his developing plot carry me along for eighteen hours. I believed the story; I liked the characters I was supposed to like and I detested those I was meant to despise. All very neat and effective.
Still, when I reached the end, I realized that I had never been either surprised or intensely engaged. Nor was I ever challenged or unsettled in the way I have come to expect from Greene or le Carre. This is story telling as diversion, and even though it spends a lot of effort explaining the emotional turmoil of the protagonists, it never really managed to bring me closer than arms length to the characters. This in spite of consistently expert reading by Jeremy Bobb.
I suspect we will be hearing more from these characters, and I will probably read the next installment if there is one. There are not that many espionage authors out there who write with this level of command, and this is a beginning. Who knows where it may lead.
I am old enough that I should be able to relate to this novel quite easily. It is clear that a lot of people do. It is about the unreliability of memory and how that intersects with an accumulating sense of responsibility for actions which now lie partially obscured by our inexact recollections of the distant past.
The book begins with a good deal of discussion of the nature of history, but what is never said is that, after participants in events have had their shot at justifying or condemning their own actions, the real work of evaluating is done by people who have some useful distance from which to observe. Memoirs are not history whether they condemn or exonerate. They are only useful as raw material for later evaluation. And I can think of few activities more useless and self indulgent than picking apart one's own memories in search of untapped resources of guilt. Dealing with the readily apparent lapses is quite enough to keep most of us occupied. Besides, it seems to me that living as well as one can in the present is the real moral and ethical imperative and is quite enough to keep one busy and challenged as long as breath lasts.
That said, Julian Barnes, with his gorgeous prose and seductive way with the nagging mysteries of common life, comes close to making the tedious, ad infinitum self-examination palatable. And Richard Morant's voice and pace brought the obtuse Tony to convincing life (though he did not provide a voice for any of the other characters). Nonetheless, when I finished listening to the last, perfectly turned phrase, I breathed a sigh of relief.
I hope this review is transparent enough to allow listeners who love a bit of very stylish wallowing in self-reproach to recognize that this is a book which will delight on every level. I think this is one of those works which will please or disappoint based on temperament rather than taste.
Perhaps Joe Abercrombie is a little weary of seeing the word "gritty" attached to his name in every other review, however accurate it may be. But formulaic is not an alternative to gritty; it's just...formulaic. Most of this book you have read before. Admittedly Abercrombie does it at least as well and mostly better than others, but it is impossible not to sigh and wonder why he decided to attend the party without his best clothes on. Still, reweaving old threads into a costume which is perhaps somewhat more stylish than the original demonstrates skill, albeit little inspiration. Less wise was his impulse to rework a peerless piece of stitching (a scene from Hamlet) and leave it hanging tattered on the rack. The advice comics give to their peers, "If you are going to steal, steal from the best," is not necessarily good counsel for writers.
All that being said, this is still Abercrombie, and his second or third best work is well worth reading. The ending, in particular, is very well crafted (will we have to wait until a sequel or two have come and gone before we can get you fully back, Joe?), and I was never really bored or confused. I certainly do not regret the credit, though I was also never astonished, never shocked, never terrified, never convulsed with laughter, never deeply moved, never transfixed by an image. Much more tender, much less muddy. But oh how the mighty have fallen. An extra star off for the descent from the heights, I'm afraid.
John Keating does a perfectly creditable job with the narration. Stephen Pacey or Michael Page, as much as I admire them both, would have been poor choices for this wide-eyed, coming of age story. Keating uses a variety of Scots, Irish and English dialects to set and identify the characters, and he only occasionally misses a meaningful inflection. It is strange hearing him read Abercrombie only because this is not the JA we are all used to.
The setting and central character of C. Johnson's Longmire series invite comparison with James Lee Burke's recent books set in Montana. Both authors evoke landscape and local culture with deft brush strokes which contribute not only vivid visual images but also a sometimes haunting sense of milieu which actively drives the story. Both law officers are Vietnam era vets who have evolved into men who possess tremendous charisma rooted in a wisdom and gentleness born of tragedy, loss and recovery. Both are surrounded by an engaging cast of characters who become more interesting and "real" with each book. Both mine rich veins of mysticism at times in ways which challenge our comfortable assumptions about the limits of reality.
That said, there is something much more comfortable, approachable and less visceral (not to mention bloody) in Sheriff Longmire and his adventures. If you seek antagonists who are personifications of evil, you will be disappointed here. Johnson's plots rise most often from the everyday and the prosaic while Burke's almost celebrate the existence of a kind of intrusive malevolence beyond understanding. As a result, instead of the high voltage exhilaration derived from defeating Dave Robicheaux's typically diabolical adversaries, Walt Longmire leaves us with satisfaction at a job well done and a nagging awareness of how most evil springs from roots which are very familiar to all of us.
I love both series, but I was less taken by "Crow" than by the previous Longmire novels. The victim never quite mattered enough for me, and it seemed that the investigation took a back seat to the introduction and development of a new character (a very promising one). These books are always driven by character, but the balance seemed a trifle off this time to the point that the climax of the investigation left me wanting more. Still well worth the credit, however, and I have already downloaded the next book in the series.
I loved the early books in this series, but I am slightly disappointed with this one.
Iggulden is a superb storyteller, no less here than in the previous Mongol works. He never allows my interest to flag; he creates complex and fascinating characters and is able to engage us emotionally; he writes battlefield descriptions to a fair-thee-well and builds suspense with remarkable skill. Plus, he is writing about some of the most amazing personalities in all of human history.
Unfortunately, while the author made a real effort to stay close to the historical narrative in the first few books and was in the habit of setting the record straight in an informative "Afterword" about instances where he had strayed or invented extensively, this time his story often bears only a passing resemblance to the facts, and he never acknowledges the discrepancies. Interestingly, there were a few times in the narrative where I had a little trouble believing the story or where it got particularly thin. Checking the history subsequently, I found some congruence between these weak points and the major departures from the factual record.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book a great deal, and Richard Ferrone does a terrific job with the narration. If you approach the story as fiction with some familiar names, you will probably have a fine time listening.
I would have to listen several more times to Hazen's very clear explanations of the details of the scientific evidence for our understanding of the history of the planet before much of it would remain in my sieve-like memory for more than a few days. What WILL persist, however, is a deep respect for the painstaking and ingenious scientific process which has yielded so much concrete understanding of events in the unimaginably distant past. The book also provides a broadly brush-stroked sequence for the Earth's development, often featuring vivid descriptions of the landscape and dynamic processes which bring the scientific findings to life in panoramas which will remain in my memory. (The image of our moon, a mere 12,000 miles away and gigantic in the sky, hurtling by overhead every few hours sporting visible volcanic fracturing, for instance.) What's more, I never would have guessed that rocks and minerals would become so fascinating and central to my understanding of the rise of life.
Hazen's narrative is replete with details of change. Two kinds of change: that which has driven the history of the planet through constant and extraordinary formation, destruction and reformation with only occasional periods of stasis, and that which has marked the development of our scientific understanding of our own particular niche in the universe. The result is a picture of mixed certitude and conjecture, and he is quite clear about the difference between the two. This is a fascinating listen, very well read. If you can deal with a good deal of clear but fairly detailed technical explanation, I recommend it to you highly.
This is not a particularly enlightening book, but with its moment by moment recital of the events in and around the White House at that wrenching moment in history, it does make clear how all the political skirmishing and hostility of the preceding months suddenly became inconsequential in the face of the Pearl Harbor debacle. FDR's ability to read the American will correctly at that moment and his decision to deliver a simple address informing the country of the seriousness of the attack and expressing the nation's resolve seems like the obvious choice now, but Gillon makes it clear that the President's advisers pressed for the kind of extended historical diatribe which would have diminished the clarity and power of the speech. We are left with an image of a president perfectly attuned to the task of leading a unified nation into the conflict.
There is little else of significance in Gillon's account. The biographical material about FDR's struggle with polio and the unraveling of his marriage does little to shed light on his initial response to the crisis in the Pacific, and notes about the scramble to establish a new security environment for the White House do not add much to our understanding of the crucial events of the day. As I listened I found myself waiting for more momentous revelations, but they never came.
John Pruden's narration is competent and unremarkable.
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