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.
And so we come to the end of Ian Fleming’s original run of James Bond. This is a short story collection, published post-mortem at the height of the spy craze that was caused as a direct result of the successful 007 film franchise. Sean Connery had been in four Bond films to that point, with a fifth on the way, and by this point it was assumed (rightfully so) that regardless of any legal issues from Thunderball, 007 was going to live on for quite some time. Cashing in with the last of Fleming’s remaining stories would have been an easy call to make, especially since Fleming himself had planned to do so anyway before his untimely death.
As with For Your Eyes Only, this collection is largely more about Bond's character than big missions against supervillains. There are four stories here: Octopussy, The Property of a Lady, The Living Daylights, and 007 in New York. Each are very different in their tone, but all of them express sides of Bond's character and Fleming's interests in ways that Fleming has given us before, so the result is a comfortable and familiar end to the original canon.
Tom Hiddleston is a magnificent narrator on the first three of these stories, with his only flaw being that perhaps he's far too charismatic for Fleming's version of Bond. Even so, it's clear he has a great deal of fun with the character voices and performance opportunities. In keeping with my running commentary on how to pronounce "007," Hiddleston proves he's a proper fanboy and gives us a true "double-oh seven" instead of the awkward "oh-oh seven."
The fourth and final story is narrated by Lucy Fleming. While her range isn't nearly as broad as Hiddleston's, it doesn't need to be as the last story is mostly a fluff piece. Since this these stories are her heritage, and since she's producer of this 007 Reloaded series, it's only right to have her for the final tale.
All in all, this collection of short stories is a fun and satisfying end to Fleming's writings. It seems strange to come to the end at long last, but all good things...
Essentially, this is a lecture series recorded live in front of a group, covering the basic ideas of Buddhism. At my current level, I can only imagine what the well-versed would get out of this. I've only recently really started expanding my understanding of Buddhism as part of my continuing education on the religions of the world, and I found this easy to grasp but still difficult to fully appreciate. I think that's more the nature of the teachings, however, that understanding will unfold in time with practice and repeat exposure. I found the expansion of the ideas presented to be of immense value. To my mind, this might be as easy as it gets, if one can truly say such a thing of this system.
Having grown up in Texas, one of the biggest offenders against the idea of the masses thinking for itself as individuals, I can look almost anywhere in my surroundings and directly apply Zakaria's arguments. There is so much practical wisdom here that most will never see or take advantage of that it hurts. Zakaria's thoughts here are well-organized, well-defended, and transparent on every level, and yet, implementing it to its fullest goes beyond the level of the individual. Those in power have very little incentive to change the status quo because that's how they got to power in the first place. Even so, Zakaria makes an excellent case for the practicality and value of liberal arts and the power of a people who can hink for themselves. My personal suggestion would be the one path unthinkable to most: for an individual to continue such studies on their own. There are resources aplenty in the age of information. Play the game, get the degree you think you need, but never stop learning. If someone says a body of knowledge isn't necessary in modern society, there are many good reasons that knowledge should be pursued with enthusiasm.
If you know Colbert's brand of humor, you already know what to expect. Let that be your guide, because this is the self-proclaimed constitution for the Colbert Nation. I've got this in hardcover and on audio, for two very different reasons. The hardcover has a lot of side margin snarkiness and footnotes that you won't find in the audio, as well as stickers, signs, and other visual bits of awesome that you have to see to believe. The audio is narrated by the man himself, so it's all about presentation, which is jazzed up with music and sound effects here and there just because.
And if you don't know Colbert's brand of humor... what rock have you been living under? The Colbert Report has now ended, but the legacy lives on!
Published post-mortem, The Man With the Golden Gun is, for me, the weakest of the original 007 books. For those familiar with the movie, put it out of your mind. In this case, the golden gun is just a gold-plated revolver instead of one of the most iconic gadgets ever conceived for film, and the man wielding it is nowhere near as cool as Christopher Lee. The more Fleming's characters describe Scaramanga, the more laughable he becomes, ultimately coming across as a cheap thug.
The setup for this novel is interesting. A year after the events of You Only Live Twice, Bond has been missing in action, presumed dead. Now he turns up at MI-6, brainwashed by the KGB into assassinating M. The assassination fails, however, and M believes the best way to get Bond past his brainwashing and to strike back at those who did it is to send the assassin back at them. Bond's assignment is to kill Scaramanga, the freelance assassin who has given many state agencies a problem since the war.
Bond returns to Fleming's classic stomping grounds of Jamaica, infiltrates Scaramanga's group, and spends much of the novel thinking "it'd be easy to put a bullet in him right here." For as much short as this novel is, and as detailed as it's not by comparison of the other entries in the series, this one suffers from way too much padding. This is likely due to the novel being finished by someone else after Fleming's death. Even so, it's still a good read for the diehard Bond fan. It's just not the greatest. It ultimately comes down to how big of a fan you think you are.
To offset the story, Kenneth Branagh puts forth his thespian talents to carry this tale about as far as it can go, and he does a remarkable job, all things considered. Some voices are stereotyped, but nothing's over the top. In keeping with the running report on pronunciation, I'm pleased to say Branagh gives us a proper "double-oh seven" instead of saying "oh-oh seven."
When a legendary Zen master corresponds to a legendary master swordsman, the result cannot be anything other than special. To have these writings today, translated with care to other languages... this is truly a great treasure.
I've commented on other reviews that I study western swordfighting and incorporated martial arts, which I believe is more versatile due primarily to the nature of the weapon, but is considerably more limited mentally. The object is "I hit you, you hit the floor." The very things that make the martial arts an "art" is lost without the mental and spiritual applications that the eastern counterparts have refined to perfection. It's the difference between being a cheap thug and being a true warrior in every sense of the term. Honor and victory are in the warrior, not the weapon.
In my quest to cross-pollinate these disciplines and reap a greater reward, I discovered this audiobook. I could tell you how mind-blowing it was. I could tell you how these words opened myself to a new level of understanding and appreciation. I could even tell you how further elaboration on these concepts might water them down due to how perfectly presented they are.
But I won't. Instead, I will say that if your interests lie here, you will find exactly what you hope to find and so much more. I know I did. And I now I will listen again, because I know that such wisdom does not unfold itself in a single presentation.
I'm working under the assumption that if you went through part 1 of this, you already know what to expect, but just in case... this is a military history, not a biographical or political history. That means it's deals with logistical info and battle data such as troops, routes, supplies, equipment, and other such things. Political background is limited, so for those looking for an overview, this is not the place to begin. But for the advanced scholar of this era, this is more suited for war gaming simulations and such.
Where volume 1 of this deals with Edward III's campaigns and has English bias due to a lack of French information from the period, this volume has considerably more to work with on both sides of the fight. There era between Edward III and Henry V is largely glossed over, mostly due to lags between skirmishes, but from the road to Agincourt to the end of the war, it's all here in magnificent detail.
There are few offerings on Audible for this particular set of campaigns, so anyone interested in this really needs to know up front what they're getting into.
The first thing to note is that there are different kinds of historical accounts, and these serve different functions. This account is NOT a political history. It's a military history. That means that, just as the synopsis says, the causes of the war are briefly touched upon, but the bulk of this narrative deals with troop movements, battles, and the overall progress of the armies involved. For the armchair war gamer, this book will be the type that gets people to pull out the old maps and push around plastic markers.
For those not familiar with the time period, please understand that this work isn't targeted for those seeking to learn the basics, and it was never meant to be. In other words, you will not find here an understanding of who these people are and why they're doing any of what they do. This book is targeted for those who are already interested in (and thus have a solid idea of) the biographies and politics of the age and want to dig deeper into the campaigns themselves. Personally, I'd recommend starting with overview histories of Medieval England and France so as to learn who the key players are and to get a sense of the politics. Start broad so you can see how each era molds the next, then start narrowing the focus to this era. Get to know the likes of Edward III, the Black Prince, John of Gaunt, Philip the Fair, Henry V, and Joan of Arc. From there, move to a working knowledge of armor, of castle sieges, and of swords, longbows, and cannon, as these things will inform your understanding of what these troops were dealing with. And then if you decide you absolutely love the idea of a military history, this is the book for you. Most general history enthusiasts never get to this point. It's not a mark against the historian or the audience, it's simply a measure of the specialization involved. Some might take a book such as this as an opportunity to test their personal limits.
If you ARE in this target audience, you might want to know that some details within are compared to battles and movements through the same areas in World War I, and there are even parallels to the American Civil War, so if you know something about those campaigns, even better.
It should also be noted that this is not a fair and balanced account of the war. This is a more British-centric account, by a British historian, for a British audience, using mostly British resources. And while that might also be a big negative for some, it's folly to assume every history has to be a balanced account. There are considerably fewer Muslim-centric accounts of the Crusades available in English, for example, than there are Crusader-oriented accounts by the very nature of the historians. Understanding the strengths and interests of the historian helps to better understand the history being provided. General audiences will have a harder time wrapping their heads around this, but this is common, especially for military histories. It's also important to note that the French forces were largely pounded, especially under Edward III's campaigns, so their records are simply harder to find. That we have anything at all is of value.
Other reviewers have commented on the quality of the narration. I'm predisposed to enjoying Charlton Griffin's work, though admittedly most of what I've heard him narrate up to this point is more literary. For example, he did an amazing job with Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, but you won't find such poetry here. Griffin is clearly aware of it too. He brings some level of drama to this account, but the account doesn't lend itself to melodrama. It's dry and scholarly reading for a niche audience, as you might expect an historian to deliver. Griffin does his best to kick it up a notch, and to my mind he does so admirably. As to his pronunciation of French... I don't know French, so I can't tell how close to the mark he is. I only know that most British speakers have peculiar but consistent ways they mangle the French language as a cultural prerogative that goes all the way back to 1066, and this is probably in keeping with it. All things considered, it sounded good to my ears, but as I say, I don't speak French. My advice is to listen to the sample and judge accordingly.
Having understood up front what to expect, and being interested enough to give it a go anyway, I think my only real gripe is that this title is broken into two parts. For the life of me, I can't imagine why, especially since the physical book is a single volume. If I can get the entirety of the Bible or the original Sherlock Holmes canon spanning dozens of hours for only one credit, why can't I get 20 hours of military audio for the same? Also, it'd be nice if there were maybe some PDF material that gave us some workable military maps. Still, for what it is, I'm rather pleased with it. I'd still love to get some better political overviews of this era on Audible though.
Credited as the very embodiment of chivalry in a time with the concept was just coming into its own, William Marshal was very nearly executed at the age of five yet would go on to serve as the backbone of the Plantagenet dynasty. He would rebel against kings, serve alongside kings, go on Crusade, and become instrumental in the signing of Magna Carta. By any measure, this man is a legend in the annals of knighthood, England, and the whole of the Middle Ages.
This new biography is nothing less than impressive. While it does help to have some background knowledge of the Plantagenet dynasty and its key players (I highly recommend Dan Jones' The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England), the great thing about this book is that it does stand on its own for those who are just dipping their toes into this part of history. This means it works very well as both an introduction to the man and his times and as supplemental reading to other works. It's an easy read, but it's by no means lightweight in its approach. The result is that the Greatest Knight steps out to shine as one of the most respected men in history, fully accessible to modern readers some 800 years later.
Right from the beginning, this series has been a steampunk story flavored with one part James Bond and one part X-Files. This time around it's a bit more 007 (with shades of Skyfall), and we get a little Doctor Who type vibe thrown into the mix. I won't say how, because that would ruin some of the surprises.
Picking up in the immediate aftermath of Dawn's Early Light, our intrepid agents have kindled a romance, but their time to savor it has been cut short by a distress signal that calls them back to London. One of their Ministry Seven, their street urchin informants, is missing. Worse still, the Crown has disavowed the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, and its agents are now systematically being picked off by agents of the Department of Imperial Inconveniences. Our heroes must survive the culling, expose the villains, and rescue one of their own. Secrets are revealed! Backstories are explained! And if you pay close attention, there are a few jabs at modern pop culture to be had.
As with the previous entries in this series, it's a light, fun read with all of the humor, pseudo-science, and historical cameos you've come to expect. And as with the previous entries, the further this story goes, the more outlandish it gets. For all of these reasons, this continues to be my favorite steampunk series.
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