Shepherdstown, WV, United States
Professor Dorsey Armstrong is obviously a real Arthur geek, as well as a serious medieval scholar. Her enthusiasm for all things Arthur - past and present - make this a well-rounded look at the Arthur of the 5th century all the way up to the Arthur of contemporary books, films and advertising (King Arthur flour!).
So we get a look at what evidence exists for a historical Arthur. Whatever that long ago, charismatic and valiant figure may have accomplished, none can argue with the power and scope of the legends and ideals he inspired. Professor Armstrong considers the legacy in literature of the Western world and in fine art ranging from ancient tapestry to the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites to films and musicals.
Her emphasis is on the idealistic and romantic qualities which spread the legend, expanded it so much, and have kept it alive through the centuries. For me, a middling Arthur fan, there was quite a bit of new and very interesting information here.
I quite like the Professor's rather casual tone and her eagerness to include modern pop references. In this course, thankfully, there is none of the distracting "Great Courses" applause, although you may find yourself looking around for the source of the music that wafts in at the end of each lecture. My one qualification is that Armstrong does repeat herself more than necessary - and with the exact same words she previously used. For teachers in the classroom this may be a necessary and helpful tactic, but it's out of place in an Audible recording.
On the whole, I'd say this is an admirable quest.
The Great Courses offers several lecture series by Bart Ehrman and I have enjoyed each one I've encountered. He has great command of the subjects of early Christianity, and his approach is clear and understandable.
Ehrman begins the course with an explanation of his purpose. Not a religious interpretation, this is an attempt to explore the historical realities and the context in which early Christians lived, told their stories, and advanced their faith.
So the controversies include not only the questions Ehrman confronts about the historical probabilities of the Christian Bible and beliefs, but also about how listeners will react to the approach itself. As a scholar, the Professor challenges areas which most of us have encountered only in a religious context. If the listener's mind is not open to different ways of looking at Christianity, he/she will most likely not appreciate this course.
Anyone willing to listen will learn a lot.
I'm a big fan of Brunetti and Donna Leon, but this book did not seem to me to be at all inspired. The first of Leon's Venetian mysteries was set at La Fenice opera house, and this one is a return of both the location and one of the main characters of that book.
Unfortunately, that is about the only appeal of "Falling in Love." Venice, usually the star of this series, seems a bit tired and not nearly as 'present' as in previous volumes. Brunetti and his family and work colleagues also lack the vitality and wit we're used to.
The plot is slow to develop and not all that interesting. In short, "Falling in Love" is a pale, weakened addition to this series, and I, at least, hope Donna Leon will either find her Venetian muse again or move on to a new, fresher series.
Like so many reviewers, I have loved Maisie Dobbs! And it seems Jacqueline Winspear knew just how much we all wanted her to find happiness and James. But Ms. Winspear apparently has a more - at least to her - important view of Maisie as a seeker of Nirvana, that place of complete inner peace through ultimate detachment.
So we got what we wanted; then she swept it all aside and set Maisie back where she started. A good outcome? This listener is not so sure. An attempt to reboot the series? Or is this a finale? Whichever, this is certainly not a very satisfying chapter.
"A Dangerous Place" (really good title, by the way) is sad and slow with a mystery that goes nowhere and a Maisie wallowing in her sorrow while the people she should love (and who love her) wring their hands and wail and wonder what the heck she's up to. She's lost a lot of people she cared about, so it seems she's willfully setting out to lose more. I think our old Maisie would not have left her dear father and her friends in such pain. To say nothing of her readers!
The syrupy, oh so sweet and sleepy narration of Orlagh Cassidy just tops it all off as a real disappointment for those of us who have followed Maisie Dobbs faithfully and truly wanted to really like this book.
If you haven't read this series, please don't let this be your introduction to and lasting impression of Maisie Dobbs! The first 6-or-so books are really gems.
A long course, this is absolutely worth every moment spent. In fact, the variety and amount of content warrant a second listen to the entire 18 hours or so.
The first two-thirds of the sessions contain a real wealth of detail and analysis of the backgrounds and theories of conservative leaders, writers and philosophers in the English and American traditions. These lectures are a very valuable and, it seems to me, objective education.
It's hard to listen to the last third of the lectures without some sort of bias, whatever your political persuasion, as most of the content here is too recent for real historical perspective. It certainly is enlightening, however, for any listener who has lived through, studied, or heard about the Thatcher and Reagan years, the religious right and/or the neo-conservatives. So much becomes a lot clearer.
It amazes me that I came out of this, as I went in, with no really good guess about the political leaning of Professor Patrick N. Allitt! He deserves great credit for that, and for his exhaustive command of and enthusiasm for the subject. Next, I'd like to hear his 18 hours on Liberalism!
Another complete winner from The Great Courses.
Mary Balogh has been writing historical romances for many years - some of them quite good. So I saw this on sale and took a chance. And was very disappointed.
Our hero is one of a tediously saintly group of Napoleon War survivors - admirable men and a woman who have overcome terrible physical and mental injuries in battle but who lack just about any realistic human qualities. And our heroine is a supremely put-upon widow whose trials seem to be based mostly on her partial gypsy origins. So the two make a determinedly brave pair.
As the romance slowly develops, we are introduced to mean and horrible family members and eventually to an idyllic time spent by our lovers in Wales. Suddenly quite lovely and utterly surprising family attachments appear, and our heroine is now rich and appreciated by villagers who care not that a torrid love affair is being conducted by their recently bereaved new neighbor.
Things work out in the end, of course, and our lovely couple face a future of happiness together as the Industrial Revolution promises to make them even richer and more beloved by the happily singing Welsh people who are increasingly being put to work down the family's coal mines.
I know this is meant to be light entertainment, but the complete disregard of the social and moral rules of the time is startling. Evidently Balogh believes readers no longer care (or, worse, don't know) about historical accuracy. And never to even hint at the less positive side of the emerging industries which she introduces into this plot line is a real distraction.
I was constantly thinking of repressive Victorian morals and of the black skies and dangerous working conditions in early mining towns. Just not real conducive to happily-ever-after!
Ian Caldwell is definitely a better writer than Dan Brown. He creates here a Vatican that breathes reality, and a Church that is rich in its beliefs and in its complexity. The characters have sincerity and could inhabit such a rarefied atmosphere. Church officials are especially well drawn and there are moments of great feeling.
Also, this is one of those books that takes you immediately to reviews of the work, details of the author's research, and wikipedia - loved being introduced to ancient manuscripts, unfamiliar branches of the Catholic Church, and new "evidence" about controversies like that surrounding the Shroud of Turin.
But there's no denying that there is much of the "deja vu" feeling about "The Fifth Gospel." Intriguing and thoughtful it may be, but it has been done before.
So a recommendation here is tricky. If you like religious and literary mysteries (with or without the conspiracy theories), then I'm pretty sure you'll like this. I went along quite willingly with the story and with the really wonderful narration of Jack Davenport.
If, like me, you remember this craze well, I think you'll find this book fascinating, appalling, and a bit unnerving. If you're too young to recall the time, then consider it a cautionary tale.
Never a fan or collector, I do remember being shoved around in line at McDonald's during the frenzy for "teenie beanies". I was there for a fish sandwich and quickly gave up in the wake of shrieking people grabbing Happy Meals they would throw into trash bins outside the store.
So, what is the benefit of listening to this sad tale? Well, it does give whatever insight can be given into the brain and motives of a worthless, hollow billionaire. He's a freakish, intriguing case, but of more interest to me, at least, is the story of the "delusion" mentioned in the title. Beanie Babies may have been a particularly intense example of the boom/bust cycle, but the human psychology behind such phenomena remains forever with us.
Those of us not attracted to that particular plush toy (at least not in adulthood) can still recognize the all too human tendency to be swayed by salesmanship, media hype, mass hysteria and general greed. And to the lies and excuses we are prone to use in justifying rash behavior after we come to our senses. The fact that the one undeniable huge fortune accumulated during the Beanie Baby bubble was that of Ty Warner, a man so insensitive and lacking in gratitude or generosity, pretty much sums up the result of most of the not-infrequent financial bubbles in history. Few benefit, most lose, then we start all over again.
We shake our heads and laugh at the folly of the fans of Ty and his babies, but there's a lesson here for all of us! And it's a lesson interestingly presented and very well narrated. Listen and marvel!
This is a good example of what "The Great Courses" do best. There's a lot of information here, clearly and enthusiastically presented. These four religious figures are described in their historical context, religious and ethical significance, and influence on their and our contemporary worlds.
At the outset, the Professor remarks that it is his goal that the listener not be aware of his own religious leanings by the end of the set of lectures - and he delivers on this promise of objectivity. We may argue to ourselves that one or another of these religious icons stands above the others, but this course presents them - quite rightly - as equal, giant figures in the history of religion and thought.
I suppose it could be said that this is pretty basic stuff if you are already well versed in the lives and significance of these men and in the study of world religions. For most of us, however, it seems to me that this is a wonderful overview and well worth the time spent.
If I could, I would have given this book minus ratings. If I dislike a book this much, I usually just either return it or decide not to review. But this time I think I should warn serious readers of psychological thrillers, dark mysteries, or romantic fiction.
The characters here are mere stereotypical ciphers, the dialog is trite and hokey. I could not believe that a woman writer could present women in such a way: there's the nagging scold, the grasping and icy social climber, the cowering battered wife - all without a trace of subtlety or insight. Men are manly men, total abusers, or not very interesting. And, heaven help us, there's even the chattering, gossipy, one-of-the-girls gay man! Seriously?
Add to this a nearly sickening and exploitative degree of graphic violence against women, child abuse, and utterly unimaginative and gratuitous sex scenes.
Even the "mystery" isn't all that good. It doesn't come as any surprise at all who the villain is.
Waste of time, money and/or credit. Skip it!
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