One of the separation points I have when reading classical poetry is that it's just not the same when reading to yourself. Poetry of this caliber demands a performance. From Homer to Shakespeare and beyond, epic poetry requires the performance from a master with a strong voice to get the drama across on a higher level. Charlton Griffin delivers that punch, catapulting the listener through some of the best epic poetry ever offered in this planet's history.
For those who only think they know the story, and especially for those who seem to think of Paradise Lost as merely "Biblical fanfic," I would invite those people to spend some time in the mind of the literary genius of Milton through this work. And as a bonus, you get the sequel for free, as well as a 2-hour bio of Milton so as to place these works in the historical and spiritual contexts in which they were written - a time of ecclesiastical upheaval. Getting the proper perspective makes all the difference when understanding and appreciating a work like this.
America's first native fairy tale / ghost story is once again retold, and it's a great way to jumpstart the Halloween season as far as I'm concerned. This version is narrated by Tom Mison, who plays Ichabod Crane on TV's Sleepy Hollow. That version has virtually nothing in common with its source material apart from some names. The classic version has a decidedly much better writer, but I'm biased as this has always been one of my favorites growing up. Mison is an excellent narrator for this, capturing the old world feel of the tale perfectly.
For those new to the story, the thing to remember is that this is an old ghost story, and all that implies. It's all about setting the mood and leaving you with questions. It's not "complete" by modern standards, but by the standards when it was written, it's just about perfect.
Many a Tolkien fan knows that Middle Earth was forged by the fires of World War I. Some of the Tolkien scholars out there will even know a great deal about what's in this book. But what will separate this book from others is witnessing how Middle Earth evolves in parallel to Tolkien's life and service during the war. Sometimes that evolution is followed line by line, such is the detail level of this volume. Literary geeks, this book's for you.
Casual fans will likely find this book to be easy to follow, but too in-depth for their tastes. If you're one of the 3% of uber-fans who own, understand, and even recite The Silmarillion, you may be on your way to sharing a drink with the author. I personally fall somewhere in between as someone who appreciates the world and its evolution at all levels, loves the history, but often finds it overwhelming at the same time. That's part of why I love it, precisely because it is challenging and welcoming at the same time. For me, this book offered some incredible insight into the creative process and filled in a number of gaps in what I thought I already knew. Regardless on where you stand in your geekdom, it would be next to impossible to walk away from this book without having learned something new and deeply personal.
This is one of those books, however, where the narration is average, just average, really average. It's not bad, just lifeless, which is often the biggest criticism I have when an author reads the work themselves. Some can do it well, most can't or simply don't. In a way, it actually fits, seeing as how Tolkien's readings of his own work were equally as lifeless. I can say that because I've actually heard a couple of recordings, and it sounded like he couldn't wait to break away from the audience and return to world-building. Back to the point, a narrator that doesn't sound like a first-time news reporter would be a welcome addition to a work like this.
When AudioGo first announced this round of new recordings a couple of years ago, I was manic to have them. I own copies of the original Simon Vance recordings from my pre-Audible days, which are phenomenal, but being the Bond fan that I am, I'm always curious to see what others can bring to the table. Then I found out these new recordings weren't available outside of the UK, and my heart sank. I prayed Audible would bring them to me.
At last, my prayers have been answered, and wouldn't you know, I had to hunt for them. Instead of referring to them by their official series name of "007 Reloaded," they're called "celebrity performances." Well, by any other name, it means my 2 credits a month are dedicated for the next few months (barring Star Wars releases), and not being independently wealthy, I can't afford to spring for them all at once as I'd like to do. Curses, foiled again.
Be that as it may, I have begun the series, and I'm over the moon impressed with this new performance by Dan Stevens. He impressed me with his work on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and his work here is every bit as nuanced and incredible. I almost wish he could do the rest of them too, but the point is to have a variety of talent for this series, so I'm looking forward to riding that wave. As many times as I've gone through the original novels, I'm still not as familiar with them as I am the films, and this provides the perfect excuse for me to dive in again and live with them for a while.
For those new to the original Fleming novels, this is a great introduction to the series. You almost have to forget what you've seen on screen and take Bond in his original cold war context, but thanks to the recent Daniel Craig films coming closer to Fleming's work, the in-road to the classic version has never been friendlier. It might take some getting used to Bond using a Beretta instead of the Walther PPK, or driving a Bentley instead of the Aston Martin, but the core of everything that is Bond starts here and evolves into what we've come to know and love throughout the series. Fleming's incredible detail brings these stories to life at every level, from Bond's scoping the room for signs of intrusion and tampering, to food and drink, to the gambling tables, to the torture sequences, and beyond. It's visceral in a way that can only come happen thanks to practical, real world experience. That's what separates Bond from his world of knock-offs and wanna-be copycats. Setting the standard of all that's come before and all that will come to be in the action/spy genre, regardless of medium, there's only one name you need to know. The name's Bond. James Bond.
The first question anyone would likely ask is, "Why did you read this book?" A fair question. I like to consider myself open-minded enough to read a great many things. I'm constantly comparing religions and mythologies, both as a spiritually-minded type and as a writer who never knows where the next idea will come from. When I was 8, I found rituals on how to become a werewolf, and I've been looking at stuff like this for the sheer fun of it ever since. That said, I was rather intrigued by the title and book description. Having known my fair share of both old world witches and modern wiccans of a variety of different religious flavors, I feel confident that I'm at least conversational in these circles, and this aroused my curiosity.
With apologies to the modern practitioners who will buy it completely, and I'm sure some will get plenty out of this, I found the ideas far better than the rituals themselves. It's a personal bias, obviously, but I'm forced to wonder why old world plant spirits would want be summoned through English rhyme given everything that humanity has done to scorch our planet. Offering 3 drops of blood just doesn't really seem enough. Or maybe I've read too many Batman comics featuring Poison Ivy. Who can say? Either way, this is hardly the complex high magick of Solomon and his lesser keys. Is it old world witchery? Not even remotely close, unless your idea of "old world" is 1954. Read enough books on any given topic, and you learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, expert or not. It seems to me that changing the primal points of Gardnerian Wicca to something that seems even more primal (and probably isn't) does not an ancient magickal system make. But it does line up with some of the new age stuff I've seen from the Gardnerian camp. Don't get me wrong, it's an interesting new coat of paint, but that's essentially all it is. The idea behind all of this, being respect of the planet and its bounties, is a good one for spiritual philosophers to ponder. And the rest is a pretty decent grab bag for writing prompts. Having recently gone back through Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, it puts me in mind of the Ents, just on perhaps a smaller scale.
Following on the success of his previous Star Wars offering, Kenobi, and in conjunction with the newly-formed Lucasfilm Story Group, John Jackson Miller throttles us forward from the end of the prequel era and into the Dark Times, the largely uncharted territory between trilogies. The Clone Wars are over. The Empire has risen. The surviving Jedi are in hiding, hunted by Darth Vader and his minions. The management style of the day is subjugation, murder, and wanton destruction. And there are some people in the galaxy who truly see what's going on, and they can't just lie down and take it like "good citizens."
This book takes place some 6 years before the events of the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels animated series, which itself will take place 5 years before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. In other words, 8 years after Revenge of the Sith, and 11 years before A New Hope, squarely in the midst of the worst time the galaxy has ever suffered.
The story here covers the first encounter of our newest heroes, Jedi Kanan Jarrus and freedom fighter Hera Syndulla (perhaps related to Clone Wars era fighter Cham Syndulla?) as the Rebellion begins in the form of small, isolated cells. It also provides our first look at the new era of Star Wars, wherein everything is officially canon, so in this regard it's a New Dawn in more ways than one.
Although Kanan and Hera are most definitely at the forefront, their first adventure gives us a supporting cast as strong, rich, and three-dimensional as any that Miller has offered in the past. From the conspiracy theorizing Skelly to the Imperial monster Count Vidian (who is a most worthy addition to the Star Wars villains list), the supporting cast give us a very close look at what ordinary life is like under Palpatine's Empire... and what it means to rebel against it.
Kanan and Hera themselves seem to have the banter we've seen in the preview videos already intact, harkening back to the classic days of Han Solo and Princess Leia. It's that kind of dynamic, without being a carbon copy of it. With them, they bring along all of the adventure and swashbuckling we've come to know since 1977. I was excited for Rebels before. Now I'm chomping at the bit for it.
The audio production is as high quality as any of the offerings from the Star Wars camp in recent years. Veteran narrator Marc Thompson plays the roles to the hilt, and the subtle additions of John Williams theme music and those famous sound effects are dropped in to add that extra layer of awesome you just don't get from most audiobooks.
If everything that's been hinted at is true, this animated series will not only tie the trilogies together, but it will eventually play on themes offered from Clone Wars and offer some new threads to be continued in the upcoming Episode VII. As a fan, that's simply too hard to resist. The future looks bright ahead, and this book is the on-ramp.
I grew up on Sherlock Holmes. I have raided these stories countless times over my life, and I've compared them endlessly to the pastiches, knock-offs, parodies, and various screen and radio adaptations. This is no small feat, considering that perhaps only Dracula rivals the Great Detective in sheer amounts of spin-off material. As a result, I am going to be unabashedly biased here and just say this straight out:
You will not find a better audio version of these works anywhere, and the only competition this collection has is the print equivalent. For a single credit? This is more than a bargain; it's a steal.
This is Holmes and Watson, in their original forms, as products of their time and place, unabashedly Victorian and ahead of their time right from the outset, regardless of how many religious groups or racist cults they anger in the process. There is nothing remotely politically correct about them, and in the case of Holmes himself, it would be completely against his abrasive character to be toned down. The result is that you get some screwball historical curiosity mixed in with the otherwise astounding adventures within this collection.
For those well-versed with the classic canon, I did notice that "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" is posted later, within His Last Bow, rather than within The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Look up Memoirs on Wiki for the story behind that, but suffice to say, it does mark this collection as an American edition. Seems wrong for something so British, but hey, if this is the worst thing I can say about this collection, that makes me a very happy fanboy. My hardcover leatherbound collection has the same issue, so I kind of expected it. Note to self: fix that someday.
As narrator... I could not ask for better than the great Simon Vance, save for maybe a resurrection of TV's Jeremy Brett. Even then, it's a toss-up. Vance is one of my favorite Audible narrators, and I've had his voice along for more modern Holmes short story collections. As both Holmes and Watson, he is perfect. He also does an amazing job juggling the other characters and their myriad accents throughout the stories, bringing the tales of the Great Detective to uncanny life. If it were possible for him to play Holmes' violin during the recording, I half expect he'd try it. As it is, I can almost hear it anyway, such is the quality.
Collections like this will always affirm for me that no matter who tries to modernize them to make them somehow "more relevant," the truly great stories and characters, especially of this caliber, are beyond reproach and beyond improvement.
After watching 3 episodes of the TV series and hearing from friends who've read this how marvelous it is, I decided to go for full spoilers and get the book. You see, I'm not completely sold on the series yet at this point. Good characters, love the sets and the music, but... is there a story here beyond just your basic romance? That was question.
The short answer is no, not really. Romance novel fans will have little problem embracing this as the characters are solidly human in their personalities, and the little bits of Jacobite intrigue flavor the story nicely. It's just a question of how "steamy" and explicit you like it, because this book goes for broke on that front.
Having read similar books by Susanna Kearsley, even though Outlander is clearly one of the first of this kind of book, I think I'll stick with Kearsley. Gabaldon's writing style has spunk to the characters and more grit, but not as much gloss or magic as Kearsley. It comes down to personal preference on that front, but for me, I like historical fiction to be historical and fantasy to be fantastic. Gabaldon got this backwards.
For those of us who read historical fiction for the history, the devil's in the details. It takes a 2 second Google search to confirm that a Scottish claymore does not weigh 15 lbs. It weighs just around 5, a maximum of 6. That's a heavy sword. Smaller swords traditionally weigh less than 2.
There's a scene in this book that goes to great length to teach our heroine the proper use of a dirk. The only thing I can think of is this is how it must feel for astrophysicists to read science fiction, because I kept screaming at the instructor character for being a complete and utter moron. The historical martial arts community has a vast online presence, and they're very helpful to anyone -- especially writers -- who wish to aim for something resembling real life accuracy. Why would a self-respecting writer randomly make stuff up when such resources abound? It's like when Bugs Bunny puts his fingers into the barrel of Elmer Fudd's shotgun and makes it backfire. This book would have you believe that's how it works, and to those with even a basic knowledge of historical blades, the story just implodes on itself. As a swordfighter, I'm squarely in that category. Without that, I'm sure it's much more entertaining to the larger audiences, and clearly Gabaldon's fan following confirms that, so she must be doing something right.
With that in mind, the characters are still interesting, so I'll see where the TV version goes for now. Seems wrong to me when the TV version is better than the book, but there it is.
Davina Porter (by any name she uses) is a magnificent narrator, as always, lending her skills in languages and dialects in her typically superb manner. She gives this book an air of credibility that the writing just doesn't.
The lasting effect of this book on history cannot be understated. It is the singlemost influential book on Protestant thinking throughout the Reformation, often read from the pulpit as scripture alongside the Bible, thus shaping that world irrevocably. The original clocked in at over a million words, and the woodcut illustrations cemented the horrors in the imaginations of the Tudor and Stuart world.
I am, unfortunately, not yet able to find a physical copy with reproductions of the illustrations for my home library, but in my quest to further deepen my appreciation for Medieval and Renaissance history, this audiobook found its way to me, filling my ears with the propaganda of the age in a most personal way. Regardless of your particular spiritual stance (I'm not a Christian myself), it's very difficult to not be moved to anger, sadness, and sometimes pride for the various sacrifices within, both noble and indignant. Listening to these accounts of martyrdom in detail opens the window of understanding to a bygone age and makes me readily appreciate the amount of religious freedom and tolerance I am accustomed to today by comparison. My studies into history and comparative religion are going to be forever changed by my experience of this book, such is the brutality and courage found here. At the end of the day, regardless of the bias and agenda of the author, these are still tales of human suffering, and it's inhuman to listen to such things impassively. As such, this book is a mental and spiritual beating. For a Christian, especially one of that time and place, I can only imagine the effect it would have on the devout. I'm sure it still holds some power with the faithful today who encounter it. As an outsider in a Christian culture and amateur historian, I appreciate it from my own perspectives and understandings, but it further reinforced my own beliefs about organized religion vs. personal spiritualism. I would liken this book to Yoda's cave on Dagobah: what's inside is shaped and perceived by what you take with you, and you will emerge from the experience with some inherent change on your psyche that you will need to come to terms with. It will not be an easy journey, and only you can decide if it's necessary for you to confront this tome. Make no mistake, it will be a confrontation.
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect going into this. I had a feeling like this was either a book that took itself way too seriously for the wanna-be goth crowd, in which case it might be free comedy, or it would simply be a who's who in the world of negative folklore. This book is decidedly of the latter type, for which I'm thankful. Hey, sometimes you just have to take a chance and see for yourself. Essentially it breaks down the different kinds of entities by associated element: earth, air, fire, water. For example, mermaids, selkies, and nereids are water while djinn and demons are fire, and so on. Under each entry, it gives stories from lore and tells you how to beat them according to tradition. It rarely tells you why these methods work, only that they do, and as you might expect, some of the ways of dispatching these fiends will leave you scratching your head or laughing. But then, that's half the fun of folklore. Well, it is for me, at any rate.
This sort of book and a handful like it probably populate the shelves of every fantasy writer you can name. It's the sort of thing that inspires storytelling without forcing you to travel down every dead-ended rabbit hole on the internet to track down a given monster. Granted, it's not that easy to track them down in an audio format either, so a print version is probably better for writers who need a reference book. But for a few hours of entertainment for the average enthusiast, this one's a good primer for all the basics worldwide.
The sequel to this book is The History of the Renaissance World, which picks up where this one leaves off and stops right before the actual Renaissance. To my mind then, this book is only the first half of the Medieval world story. That irks me, seeing as how the Renaissance story is not actually told in this series. And that's too bad because like the previous volume dealing with the Ancient World, this volume is pretty freaking spectacular in terms of scope and depth. It says something when the worst I can say about a series is that I want more.
As with the Ancient World volume, this book covers every corner of the globe: every continent (except Antarctica), both hemispheres. Every major culture from the Mayans to the Chinese and everything in between are put on the timeline for comparison and contrast in the course of civilization's rise and fall. It's the kind of eye-opening overview presented in a way that really should be taught in schools, where focus is not on any one given civilization, but rather on parallel development between cultures. As different as the cultures are, the underlying patterns of humanity are revealed, showing that, regardless of where on the map we spring up, we're all capable of some amazing and equally devastating things.
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