It’s been about 20 years since I did graduate studies and encountered Matilda of Tuscany in one of my courses. My professor was a fan of Matilda and introduced us to this larger than life woman who had such a profound impact on Western history. Thus, when Kathleen McGowan dedicated the greater part of "The Book of Love" to the story of Matilda, she had me. Since much of what passes for the history of the middle Ages only focuses on the military and economic conflicts among the narcissistic power brokers of the period, Matilda is often overlooked except in her political and military roles. Yet, this woman impacted so many aspects of medieval society that her influence is still being felt.
McGowan tells the story of Matilda within the context she introduced in her first book that includes Cathar beliefs, the theory that Magdalene was the wife of Jesus and that there has been an alternative “underground” Christianity since the time of Christ. In the author’s notes she makes it clear that she believes this to be true but that she presents it in the guise of historical fiction. She is a storyteller not an academic and is more comfortable presenting what she believes to be true in the form of story than as an academic disputation. She challenges the reader to consider the beliefs she presents on their own merit. Since this is a review of the book as a work of fiction, I will not attempt to discuss the merits of the beliefs presented in the book.
As a tale, the author draws me in whenever she tells the story of Matilda. She gives a nice sense of life in Medieval Italy and most of the characters from that period are fairly well developed and engaging. Even the villain of that part of the story, Henry IV, is believable in his malignant psychopathy. There are many little fables and vignettes, presumably from the “Red Book” that season the story and flesh out the mythological context in which the characters find themselves.
The author looses me when she shifts into the present. I get the feeling that the characters are there simply to explain the beliefs that the author is presenting in the book. Neither Maureen nor Beringer engage me as characters. Cousin Peter Healy seems to be the only character that shows any depth or development.
In a review of "The Expected One", her first book in this series, I complained that the villains were one dimensional, cardboard characters that were not really believable. At least one of the villains in "The Book of Love" is two dimensional. Most of the villains in the shell story are sneering, hooded figures, who skulk in the shadows and whose motivation is unclear. She develops the apparent leader of this cabal a little, yet the contemporary villains are not really necessary to the story. They don’t move the action forward to any significant degree, as that is done by the quest for the Book of Love and hints dropped by a mystery character.
As with the first book in the series, when the story is in the past I’m engaged and enjoy the series. That is what got me to read "The Book of Love" and that is what will get me to go on to the third book in the series.
The narrator does a good job and adds to the enjoyment of the audio book version.
Robert Heinlein is the master of 20th century science fiction. That is a given among anyone who has read much in the genre. When he was good, he was very, very good. However, it must also be admitted that when he was bad he was bad. Along with "I will Fear No Evil", this 1980 novel "The Number of the Beast" comprise the corpus of what I consider his “bad” novels.
This book explores the multiverse, which is an interesting concept, and suggests that works of literature are either expressions of real universes in the multiverse or real universes are generated when an author tells a story. This concept is introduced about about a third of the way into the book and there are a series of visits to literary universes before our protagonists encounter Lazarus Long and his buddies and everyone goes off on a little adventure that helps move along the Lazarus Long story arch. The story takes hundreds of pages in the print edition and 21 hours and 34 minutes in the audiobook. It is a story that could have been told better as a short story or a novella at most.
The protagonists are a group A-type personality, high achievers who are related by marriage and friendship but forced to stay with each other in the space of a large car for what turns into several weeks. Very quickly they can’t stand one another. The back and forth bickering among the characters gets irritating after a while. It might be forgiven if they were moving a plot line forward but there really isn’t much of a plot to the book. Even the end of the book is random, as if Heinlein’s editor called and asked when he was going to get his next book submitted. So, the master reached over, pullet the sheet of paper from the typewriter, tossed it in the box with the rest of the typescript and sent it off to be published.
There were four narrators but they didn’t consistently read the same character as would be the case in a dramatic performance of the book. The voice actor who played the character who begins the chapter would read the chapter, and do the voices for the other characters if they showed up in chapter. After a while you had four different versions of each of the four main characters to keep sorted in your head. It was confusing to say the least.
This audiobook is frustrating at so many levels! Yet, if you ask me if I will I read other Heinlein books in the future? Of course, he’s the master and he has many more very good books than bad ones.
As other reviewers have noted, Aslan does a fine job of pulling together the material on Jesus of Nazareth from all available first and second century sources both religious and secular. His conclusion is that Jesus of Nazareth saw himself as a messiah through which God was going to bring about the Kingdom and see justice done. This puts him in opposition to Rome and its representatives, such as the Temple leadership. He also does a nice job of helping the listener to see how the Christ of the Gospels and Epistles took shape from the life of Jesus and subsequent events in Rome and Israel that created the context in which Christianity emerged.
Nothing in the book is radically new but it is well written and the story told by Aslan is not only well researched but gripping. Rarely have I enjoyed a book on theology or scripture studies as much as Aslan’s Zealot.
The author also serves as the narrator, which usually proves to be a major ingredient in a recipe for disaster. However, Aslan did an excellent job of reading his book. I didn’t realize it was the author who had been reading until I finished the book and checked to see who the narrator was. He read with an appropriate mix of excitement and seriousness, drawing the listener into his vision of the historical Jesus and the world in which he lived.
As an author and researcher Aslan is also honest. His forward discusses his religious history, including his Islamic roots, an involvement with Evangelical Christianity in his youth and an eventual return to Islam. This allows the listener to be sensitive to any influences on the book from his life history. The resulting vision of Jesus that emerges is probably closer to the Islamic perspective on Jesus, as human and prophet, than the traditional Christian perspective, which divinizes Jesus. Yet, if the historical record supports the Christian tradition, he accepts that position, as with the death of Jesus by crucifixion. The final result is a reasonable, etic perspective on the historical material and well argued conclusions.
Magic Rises is a little different from the usual installment in the series. The setting is Europe. The action is focused largely on shape-shifter politics. It also develops the story arch of the series by introducing a couple of new characters that will no doubt be around in the future, wrecking havoc with several well established characters and moving along the kate-Curan relationship. It also develops the Hugh de Hombre character and Kate’s back story. If Hugh is on the scene in a big way, dear daddy (Roland) can't be far behind.
I have followed the series since the beginning and enjoy each new installment even more than the last. That pattern continues with this sixth installment. The story grabs you and takes you on a roller coaster ride from the first pages through to the end.
The narrator is excellent. She has been doing the narration for the series almost from the beginning and has honed the character voices well over the years. This installment showcases her craft and skill.
I'll keep it short. "Warbound" is the last installment in the Grimnoir Chronicles trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy and each time looked forward to the next installment. Warbound brings the story to a worthy end. It was pure listening pleasure all the way through. The plot twists and turns were unexpected but credible. The action was intense. The characters even more engaging than before.
The narrator took this already thoroughly enjoyable book and kicked it to an even higher level. Each of his voices was finely crafted and well acted. It was like listening to a full cast performance of the story.
Has their ever been a Neil Gaiman story that hasn't been magical, opening the doors to the reality that is behind the nundane surface world we think we inhabit? If so, I haven't found it yet. Ocean is another work of word magic and imagination that transforms the world and makes it exciting and mysterious. My biggest frustration with the book is that it comes to an end eventually.
It is the story of a seven year old boy who stumbles into contact with the world behind the world as a result of the foolishness of a wandering spirit who finds its way into rural 1960's England. It is a story of magic, memories, nightmares, buried fears and wonder. It is similar in some respects to Coraline but then not...
The book is narrated by Gaiman who does a fine job as the teller of his own story. His reading of the tale helps to draw you into it. It adds to the experience, a talent that is rare in many authors who attempt to narrate stories they have written.
Dan Brown always gets a mixed reaction from me. I enjoy the adrenelin rush of the constant chases and the "in your face" bad guys. I really disliked the Divinci Code but each subsequent book has gotten increasingly positive reactions from me. For me "Inferno"is the best of his Stephen Langdon books. It shows a fair amount research in support of the book. It deals with Dante's "divine Comedy" which doesn't get a small part of the attention it deserves in English speaking countries. It does a nice job integrating the symbolism that fills the DC into the adventure story that Brown tells. Not only does Brown tell a good story but there are twists and turns in the story that end up standing the story in its head, so that you can't be sure of anything until the last page. I enjoyed that as much as the action/adventure part of the story.
Brown takes on some serious ethical issues as well,underscoring the ethical grayness of some options available to humanity as well as the ethical evil of not acting to address the issues that face us. I'd go into more detail but I don't want to spoil the story for you.
In terms of negatives, aboutm the only thing I'll report is a bit of a let down by the ending. The ending was logical and made sense in the context of the story, yet there was sill as feeling of "that's it?"
I had a mixed reaction to Angelology, the first book in this series. The narration was good and the story was promising, though it would have benefited from some skilled editing. Angeloplois, the second book in the series, is shorter that the first book and a much more gripping story. The editing suggestion has paid off. This installment develops the characters and the plot, making the story much more complex and intriguing.
The angels in the first story were two dimensionl and lacked credibility. This time around they are more three dimensional and as interesting as the human characters. This in itself is a major improvement.
The narrator is excellent.
I look forward to the next installment.
The author presents her reflection on the Lord's Prayer in the context of her personal spiritual journey, as well as drawing on insight from the practice of Labyrinth prayer and a wide variety of works on Christian spirituality. While drawing on traditional sources, her personal insight and struggle adds depth to the work. While I've grown fond of her fiction, this book had me from the beginning. It also provides insight into the spirituality that she injects into her fictional works.
The audio book is the text of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and a commentary by the author. The gospel text is the surviving fragment of an apparently longer document that was lost over the centuries. The value of the book is not so much in the gospel text itself, which is available for free on the internet but in the commentary by the author which places the text in the setting of the Gnostic worldview in which it was written.
The canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were only four of many gospels that were circulated in the early Christian community. The various gospels took stories, collections of saying and other Christian oral traditions and reduced them to writing. These gospels were not neutral documents but were written from the perspective of a particular community or understanding of the Christian message. The gospels that have come down to us generally represent the perspective of the proto-orthodox (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and the Gnostic Christians (Thomas, Philip and Mary Magdalene). The author’s commentary takes the cryptic text of Magdalene’s gospel and breaks it open for the listener, so that it can be understood as an expression of the Gnostic worldview in which it was written.
The contemporary Christian often looks at the early years of Christianity and views it as a golden era of faith and a glorious march through history with little disagreement on the basic Christian teachings that have come down to us. The reality is that there was a great deal of confusion and disagreement on exactly what Christians believed. Gnosticism was one of the earliest interpretative filters of Christianity apart from what emerged as proto-Orthodox. The energy with which Church Fathers attacked it suggests that it was attractive to many people and influential in the Christian community. Leloup’s commentary on Magdalene’s gospel provides helpful insight into why Gnosticism might have been attractive to people of the first century.
"The Poet Prince" is the third book in Kathleen McGowan’s Magdalene Line series. Most church historians will agree that in the early years of Christianity there was a wide variety of understandings with regard to what Christ had taught and exactly who or what he was. In the Magdalene Line series McGowan introduces the reader to one a line of Christianity that goes back to Mary Magdalene. This version of Christianity sees Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, has a Gospel written by Jesus and views the law of love as a fundamental moral principle. The community that follow this line of Christianity lost out as the dominant Christian line in the years following the rise of Constantine and the transformation of Christianity from a persecuted sect to a state religion. In the McGowan novels this community continues to exist as a subtle, underground force throughout history, attempting to shape the world in light of the law of love, rather than the power politics that all too often uses religion as a tool to manipulate people and nations.
The first book in the series established a shell story to root the series in the present and to aid the reader in uncovering the world of the Magdalene Line. Each book also takes the reader back in time to see how different people played a role in the history of this clandestine community and its impact on the world. The first book focused on the tale of Mary Magdalene, as the foundation story for the series. The second book developed the doctrinal content of the series and the characters that populated the shell story in the present. The historical aspect of the book told the story of Matilda of Tuscany, one of the truly great women of the Middle Ages. The third book in the series focuses on Lorenzo de Medici, one of the moving forces of the Renaissance. The shell story is also developed.
While the first two books in the series had their virtues and were engaging enough to get me to come back for the next installment, the third book had me all the way through. The author focused on the story and the characters, with much less of the didactic that filled the earlier works. All of the significant characters in both the shell story and the tale of Lorenzo de Medici were much more multi-dimensional than in the first two books; not just the heroic lovers of each tale, as with the earlier books.
My biggest complaint regarding the first two books was that the villains were cardboard characters, who came across as mere plot devices rather than as real people. In The Poet Prince there was a real improvement with the villains. Each of the villains was sufficiently developed that you could understand why they made the choices they did. It became a cavalcade of the seven deadly sins, as the villains made their choices from greed, lust, envy, shame, pride and even psychosis fueled by toxic and fanatical faith.
My complements to the narrator, Cassandra Campbell; she did an excellent job of making the characters come alive and providing distinct voices for each of them.
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