I'm a sucker for a well-told pulp / radio adventure, and Zorro rarely disappoints. If you know Zorro in any form or format, you already know what to expect here. Yes, it's over the top, especially in the department of Spanish accents, but the result is 1940s style melodrama. There's really not much to say except... I want more of these. A lot more.
Comic book fans will be well acquainted with the setup for this book. Imagine a discussion over the latest issue of Batman where the Joker is captured and remanded back into custody at Arkham Asylum because he's legally insane, and therefore incapable of standing trial. Or perhaps there is an argument over gift taxes regarding the diamond that Superman shaped and gave to Lana Lang in Superman III. Exactly who's liable for the mission that turned the Fantastic Four into superpowered heroes and the Hulk into a living engine of destruction? Perhaps we should talk about insurance and the swaths of disaster cut by the average superbattle? And just how far can the Mutant Registration Act or similar such laws extend? For non-fans, it sounds ridiculous, and there are even some fans who will claim as much and still get sucked into such discussion, but for the rest of us (and we all know who we are), this book is a veritable gold mine.
The authors of this book are lawyers and self-described comic book geeks who bring their legal minds to questions that I have heard since the moment I first encountered other fans... and admittedly some of them were asked by me. Geeks love trivia, and in the comics world, the more pedantic the trivia, the better it gets. This book is 100% legal pedantry, wherein many, many, MANY examples of comic book conduct crosses into the real world. Dare I say it, this might be the most awesome way to learn about the U.S. legal system. Stuff like this is what makes geeks seem smart when they unleash their newfound knowledge upon their unsuspecting audiences. After all, knowledge is power, and with great power comes great responsibility (yes, I had to say it) to crush the ego of that one unrelenting know-it-all that every fan knows. Incidentally, if you don't instantly know who that is in your group... it's probably you.
I won't say that this book is all-encompassing, but I think anyone would be hard-pressed to figure out what might have been left out. Go for it, my fellow geeks, and get back to me on this one. I'll also say that there are a couple of points where I'm wondering if the authors actually read the comic they reference because, well, I'm a geek, and I spot these things where the story in question is much beloved. But for the most part, they do a great job, and for those interested in further reading, the actual case reference numbers are there for you to look up.
The narrator for the audio version does a good job as well, but again, I'm a geek, so I'm going to just call this outright. Ra's al Ghul is not pronounced as it is in the Dark Knight movies. For 30 years before Nolan ever got there, the name has a long A sound and the corresponding punctuation in the comics to prove it. Reference Batman: The Animated series to get it right. Also, other pronunciations such as J'Onn J'Onnz and Xavier are called into question. If you can let these slide without nerd rage, then this narrator will work well for you.
One last thing I'll point out, because I can. Nearly everyone I talk to in the past couple of decades seems to think that ultra-realism is better than merely having fun when it comes to superhero stories. After this book, you might be rethinking your stance on that. Pretty much every character you can name would be required to go back to the drawing board or spend life behind bars. Yes, even Superman. Maybe not Wonder Woman or Aquaman, assuming they have diplomatic immunity, but probably international wars would be inevitable. Eh, you get the idea. Get this book, and prepare to have your mind blown.
This might be the most heartbreaking review I ever write. I discovered the golden age of radio, The War of the Worlds, and The Shadow through Orson Welles. I discovered Welles at the end of his life when I was 12, when he performed the voice of the monster planet Unicron in Transformers: The Movie. It's not Citizen Kane, and it would never be anything remotely close. I get that, but that's how I came to appreciate one of the greatest geniuses the entertainment world has ever known. My love of radio happened because of this man. This man changed my life and expanded my world.
This biography is truly something special because it has something that other biographies don't have: Welles himself. Author Barbara Learning was able to contact and collaborate with Welles on this biography through means that typifies Welles' life story, and he gave her free reign and resources because he understood that there is Welles the man, Welles the legend, and his own memory, none of which were in alignment. He was curious to learn about all three aspects. More insightful than the story of Welles' life are the inserted dialogues between Welles and Learning, which adds both gravitas and that personal flourish that makes all the difference. Welles was an extraordinary man by any measure, and his life was as equally bizarre.
On a personal note... the epilogue shattered my childhood. After going through the highs and lows, after getting the personal reminiscences from greatness to virtual unemployment, the hardest part was hearing him refer to my first experience with him as "that horrible little project about Japanese robots that transform into vehicles and such" and how at least it'll help him to buy groceries or something. It was one of the last things he performed before he passed, and he didn't live long enough to see it released. I knew all along he wasn't pleased with it, and I get it, I really do. I can see how a man of Welles' star caliber might think that a string of voiceovers in commercials and cartoons would be something terrible, even after a long stretch of failure and unemployment. But to have his own commentary on it is rough. I like to think that it's little projects like this that will ultimately lead people of later generations to find his work through the back alleys when they might otherwise not seek out the likes of Citizen Kane. After all, that's how I discovered his work. And just like nobody could have predicted something like that, nobody could have predicted the kind of twists and turns Welles' life would take. I thought I knew about Welles before. This book expanded on so much I only thought I knew. As biographies go, this one's a treasure.
All of the things I said in my review of Book 1, The Name of the Wind, still hold true, only more so. The storytelling is lyrical. The characters are more real than many people you can name. The world building is as good or better than I've seen in any other fantasy setting from contemporary writers. If you've read the first, then you have some idea of what to expect from this one, though I think that if it's possible, this one is bigger and ever more rich in its scope and depth, especially in the second half. Rothfuss has already made a name for himself in the upper echelons of fiction's heavy hitters, and as far as I'm concerned, it's well-deserved.
I went into this expecting a steampunk mystery built upon a screwball, gender-bending premise. From there, the only assumption I made was that it would either be fun or absurd. I got both, and I got a few surprises along the way, which I won't spoil because that's part of the fun.
The characters are a blast. Oddly, as much as I like the two lead characters, it's the supporting cast that really makes this story tick. Kudos for the villain on this one. I love a good over-the-top "I'm the hero of this story" monologue in the classic style, and this one doesn't disappoint. As bizarre as the premise is, the story does offer some rather spectacular modern social commentary through the lens of Victorian society and its expectations. Explained through the villain's point of view... wow.
I'm looking forward to book 2 now. I'm curious to see what the author offers as an encore.
As most people know from Hollywood, the infamous shootout took place in the span of a few breathless moments. This book is not just the immediate story of the shootout itself, but rather the entire scope of the story going all the way back to the founding of Tombstone, the formation of the cowtowns and cattle trails, the origins of the Cowboys in the wake of the Texas Rangers, and the bios of each of the personalities involved in this most classic of Old West soap operas. Back room deals, barroom boasts, double-crosses, trial testimonies, politics, logistical data on capabilities of firearms... it's all here and then some, presenting such an incredibly rich tale that you can walk way from this book feeling both entertained and educated. Guinn leaves no stone unturned, no eyewitness account unheard, and no theory unexamined. As a bonus, Stephen Hoye's narration has the same enthusiasm and cadence of the old Lone Ranger series without being overblown, which for an old radio fan like me only adds to grin level. I think the only way to improve on this one might be to give it an old-fashioned musical score.
The setup led me to believe that we were dealing with a strong-willed, steampunk lady with a penchant for building devices and blowing things up. I'm good with the idea. The world needs more heroines like that, and as such I expected to like this one more than I did. I didn't NOT like it, but I didn't really like it as much as I hoped either. I kept waiting for... more. I admit, I got spoiled with Morris and Ballantine's Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels in regards to female leads such as this. But then, those are high-powered steampunk adventure novels, and this one... not really an adventure regardless of what the cover billing says. Not yet, anyway.
As origin stories go, this one's believable. The credibility is there, with the explanation of her father's death and loss of fortune serving to boot our lady to the next phase of her life. I think the issue is one of pacing. There's plenty of character here, but beyond her father's death and the subsequent fallout, not much happens until about the last hour or so of the audiobook. It's like our heroine is so smart that she knows how to avoid the plot before becoming truly victimized by it. By the time she becomes the Lady of Devices pretty much in a single moment, the story seems pretty much over before it really gets going. And as to her personality, she's likable enough, but it seems like she's sandwiched between the layers. She's too unconventional for the high society life she started in, but she's too conventional to be a streetwise success. I commend her for wanting to take care of the kids and set them on a better path and all, but... well, the kids are part of why I'm not really invested. I would rather she spend more time building gadgets and blowing stuff up (preferably by design rather than by accident) than teaching kids basic arithmetic and how not to steal. There are some good ideas skirting the edges of the story here and there, especially in regards to the tech, which is always mandatory in a steampunk novel, but again... more is better.
I can only assume, given the short, quickly-read nature of these books, that now that the origin story is out of the way, the path is clear to tell bigger stories. Thing is, I didn't get that idea by the end of it either. The way is clear, but to bigger stories? Not really convinced. Only one way to know for sure, and I may circle back around for book 2 at some point simply because it is a quick read. I'm open to seeing the potential unfold for this one.
Fiona Hardingham did a wonderful job with the narration, and she's got a beautiful voice, a perfect match for what I'd imagine the Lady of Devices to sound like.
When last I read any of the original Conan pulps, I was a kid. Going back through them via this collection, the first of 3 such compilations, has been a real treat. Despite all of the racism of the era and everyone in the stories moving "with the lithe suppleness of a great cat / lion / tiger / panther," it's really difficult to not appreciate the sheer fun and adventure that spawned the sword & sorcery genre. The kind of writing you find in these stories showcase nearly every kind of "bad" writing that's held up by the pros today as examples of what not to do, and yet, Conan has withstood the test of time. Such is the power of good old fashioned, classic storytelling.
The thing that really caught my attention, which I didn't know enough to think about as a kid, is how much Howard borrowed from existing mythology to shape his world, be it Sumerian, Egyptian, Norse, or the Elder Gods of his contemporary, H.P. Lovecraft. Having read quite a bit of Lovecraft and his followers over the years, it's actually a breath of fresh air to know that somebody in the multiverse stands up to the Elder Gods at all, to say nothing of winning.
The Ghostly Hitchhiker is one of the most classic ghost stories of all time. It's certainly one of the first I heard as a kid. There's a lonely romance to the concept. Even though the story has seemingly endless variations, ultimately it stays the same, fixed as though trapped in amber. I'm never quite sure what brings me back to this kind of story, but whatever that unknown ingredient is, Seanan McGuire has tapped into it in a way that seems effortless. Following our Ghostly Hitchhiker, Rose, and her experiences on the ghost roads, this story is deceptively simple, beautifully written, and creeps into your heart and mind in a way that won't let go. There's an evanescence about it that haunts you, if you'll excuse the unintentional pun. At least, that's the effect it had on me. It's written as a series of encounters, like short stories, but similar to the interconnected webs of ghostly highway she walks, Rose's story becomes something far larger and more compelling than the sum of the parts.
This book is not a horror story. It's neither gory nor gratuitous. If you're looking for that, shoot for Clive Barker. This is the other end of the ghostly spectrum that addresses the human side of things. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would be sappy and probably turned into some cheesy teen movie. Some still might think it so, but I found it endearing and satisfying.
This is my first book from McGuire, and if it's anything to judge by, it won't be my last. Her writing style is lyrical without being excessive, the kind of thing that either comes naturally or not at all.
For most people, this one's either really good or really bad. I found myself right in the middle. It's well-written, imaginative, and brilliant in its scope and depth, but I found it moved far too slow for me. Ultimately it's the old-world charm that kept me with it, and I'm glad I made it to the end, as the story starts truly building about 8 hours or so into it. I suspect this is one that, should I revisit it, I'll get even more out of it.
SImon Prebble brings his ever-present A game, and he is a more than comfortable choice for narrator.
Spy music is it's own genre, an eclectic merging of sounds from across other music genres - from swing to jazz to rock to classical and beyond - to create that definitive style that everyone knows. Any why does everyone know it? Because of "The James Bond Theme," one of the most recognizable movie themes of all time. As Bond himself put the spy craze in motion, likewise his theme put an indelible stamp on the music that defines the genre.
But the music of James Bond is far more than just that theme, and like the behind-the-scenes stories of the 007 movies, the stories behind the film scores are anything but boring. After all, the soundscape for these films are part of what kept Bond in style an updated with the times, and that means collaborations with big personalities and sometimes some big fighting.
Each film and its soundtrack are covered in-depth, and for the completists out there, this also includes the "unofficial" Bond movies, the 1967 spoof Casino Royale and 1983's Never Say Never Again. Each movie has it's own chapter, making it really convenient if you decide to revisit a chapter later. I know I appreciate that as I fully intend to go through this book again with my soundtrack albums on standby. Much like with many books about music, it'd be more convenient to have that music plugged into the audiobook, but I'm sure the licensing doesn't come cheap, and it would likely double the size of this audiobook. Makes me very grateful I have all of the movies and soundtrack albums at my disposal, but it's a missed opportunity to present the full potential of the audio format. After all, who says audiobooks have to merely be a reading of the print copy?
I only have two deep notes of criticism about this audiobook, and both are likely just the result of me being a fanboy, so pardon me while I fly that flag a bit.
The first is that this book is "incomplete" in my eyes. This book was one of the many tomes released in celebration of 007's 50th anniversary on screen in 2012, and as a result does not include a chapter on the movie that was released later that year, Skyfall. This irks me because, while the hardcover of this book is understandably missing this chapter, the paperback updated the material for it's 2014 release, which is when this audiobook was released. You'd think that maybe they could have gotten the narrator to read one more chapter, but nooooooo. Apparently that would make too much sense, especially since Adele won the Oscar and Golden Globe for her title song, and Thomas Newman got an Oscar nomination for his first 007 score. Yeah, I could see where that might be important enough to skip over...
The second issue, and this is admittedly just a gripe on style points, is the narrator. The one they got does a decent job and packs plenty of enthusiasm for the subject matter, don't get me wrong. He earned his money. But... this is JAMES BOND. When you hear "Bond... James Bond" spoken by a flat American voice right near the beginning of the book, it's the equivalent of backing a jazz ensemble with an accordian player; all the cool gets sucked right out of the room. Maybe I'm just thinking stereotypically, but I think perhaps a smooth British voice might have lent an air of class and dignity to a production like this. Extra style points if maybe they could have shelled out the money to get one of the many British actors or actresses who have featured in one of the films. Seriously, if they can re-record all of Flemings novels with top talent (and why aren't those new Audio Go recordings on Audible YET?!), then why not shoot for the moon? Yeah, I know... it's because this book won't make the money of the Fleming novels. But still, one can dream. At the very least, this is an audiobook on the sound of 007, so make it SOUND like a 007 audiobook. There are plenty of quality British narrators in the audiobook world. Simon Vance, for example, who narrates the Ian Fleming novels in the version Audible does have, would have been an excellent choice.
End of fanboy diatribe. Regardless of those two points of disorder, if you're a fan of the James Bond movies or a film score aficionado, this book is for you. It's a fun and insightful look into the music of film's greatest superspy, an absolute must for the uber-geeks out there. You know who you are.
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