This thriller is great fun because it has a great Cold War plot, a believable romance, danger, and friendship, all along the backdrop of a city which is still exotic to Westerners. It is also plausible, unlike many James Bond novels. It is the simple story of a trap set up to avenge the death of a Russian operative using a pretty girl as bait. Along the way is a psychopath hit-man sent to kill Bond, an Enigma-type code machine, and a beautiful Russian girl who may or may not be falling in love and may or may not be defecting. Each facet of the novel is true and no one portion takes away from the other. It is a nice hat-trick Fleming pulled off here. Even a John LeCarré fan would like From Russia, with Love.
The plot is ingenious as you are given the trap first and then see how Bond is lured into it. As most present-day people saw the movies first and read the novels second, one might expect Grand Guingol set-pieces and villains. But it is a simple story, drawn out piece by piece as each participant is introduced and given their job. Unlike many Bond novels, where you only know what Bond knows, in this case we know more and that creates greater tension.
Darko Kerim is a great performance by Vance. His throaty Turkish rasp was filled with the mirth and joie de vivre you'd expect from a former circus performer who rose to become the head of the Turkish station. You grew to like the guy and could see why the Bond character, always suspicious and terse, would grow to like him also.
Fleming's novels are not terribly emotional, so it is difficult to become vested in the characters. This novel is different. As the characters are well-defined and the relationships are believable, one actually wonders what will happen to the beautiful Russian. And, frankly, despite all the torture and violence in Bond novels, this is the only one where you think he might get killed, even when you know the plot. It is very hard to put this one down.
This is the best Bond novel, hands down. Even if you don't read Fleming (and you have to be a fan to read a preponderance of them), this thriller will stand the test of time. You don't have to understand the canon to read this one and it doesn't matter if you read more stories. Enjoy a good Cold War yarn.
You Only Live Twice was published posthumously and I believe it is the final novel the author finished. There is one more, The Man with the Golden Gun, but if memory serves, that was a draft and not ready for submission.
James Bond goes to Japan. Bond, a complete wreck from years of torture, self-abuse (not the Catholic kind), stress, and his bride-of-one-day getting a bullet to the skull, is sent to Japan to retrieve some secrets from their government, what is considered an impossible task. But M does it to give Bond a sense of purpose. No one expects him to succeed and they figured it would be therapeutic.
The head of the Japanese secret service, Tiger Tanaka, takes a shine to Bond and decides upon a quid pro quo: you take care of this strange gai-jin who lives in a fortress surrounded by poisonous plants, sulfur springs, and deadly insects and reptiles, and we'll give you the information you want.
It seems that Japanese by the hundreds are going to Dr. Shatterhand's to have an easier seppuku. It is getting out of hand. Since he isn't breaking laws, the Japanese cannot do anything about it. But they don't like it. So why not have an English (Bond is technically British, being from Scotland, how is that for revealing how pretentious I am) agent do the dirty work.
The book is fun in the sense of travelogue (Fleming is pretty good at his exposition by now) with his upper-crust derision for both the decline of Britain's importance in the world and any culture but his own.
The story itself is odd and not terribly surprising. Fleming was on his second heart attack by now and probably rushed it to leave more money in his estate
What makes this books a joy on audio is Simon Vance. This guy sells the goods. He is capable of doing accents, handling foreign languages, making each character different vocally. And he does it without panegyrics.
The novels may be too violent for a family to listen to on a car trip, but if you had to choose something besides Harry Potter for everyone to listen to, these books may be the call. Most are no longer than seven hours. They have a little of everything.
This novel is definitely for a fan though. Simon Vance makes a mediocre book a lot better.
This is the final novel Fleming wrote before his death in 1964. Fleming has stopped using the Russians as villains now and is sticking to SPECTRE.
I'd argue that From Russia, with Love is Fleming's best novel; however, this is a close second. Again, it is a clever story with the villain, for once, really only wanting to be left alone. This plot lives in the real world, for once. It is not a fantastic, Grand Guignol tale that borders on science fiction. Blofeld decides that bioterrorism is the way to go this time. Bond is sent in to stop him.
I don't want to say too much for fear of giving away the plot. People who haven't read the book or seen the movie by now are probably rare. But there is always hope. Good stories aren't ruined by spoilers. We all know Romeo & Juliet die, but we still enjoy the story.
Fleming mixes all the elements well in this novel. A great plot, a great love story, and a great travelogue.
Simon Vance, as usual, does a marvelous job of narrating the story. I have become a real fan of his as I have listened to all the Bond novels now. He nails accents. He knows how to hit the beats of a sentence. And, he understands how to communicate the dry tone of Fleming's humor.
If you are going to listen to all of them, that is one thing. If you want to pick out one or two, do this book and From Russia, with Love.
Books of this type, I assume, are read by those who already accept the premise. But I don't think that only Christians read the Left Behind series and this would be a good book to read if they wanted to learn the concepts behind the story. It is a good primer on End Times prophecy with a minimum of preaching (which it does obliquely - homosexuals, pornographers, and substance abusers get a special mention).
This is not a scholar's book. It does not discuss translation or the use of a concordance. It uses various translations of The Bible when there is a quotation.
What the book does is present its thesis that the End Times will occur in the following way: 1) the conditions which must be met for the Tribulation Period to occur (mostly having to do with the geopolitics of Israel - it is largely believed that this has been met since 1967) mentioned mostly in the Books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, 2) The Rapture, 3) The Rise of the Anti-Christ, 4) the seven-year period of Tribulation, 5) The Book of Revelation with descriptions of the bowls, trumpets, horsemen, etc.
It is a frightening story and very provocative. I am not born-again, but I do find the subject fascinating. I think it is a great invitation to study The Bible and find what it means to you. And, in a selfish way, it is just fun. I mean, for a moment, let's just take its premise on face-value and accept it... it means we are all in for a real mess.
It is read in a straight-forward fashion. I have no complaints about the narration or subject matter. And I do wish it would find a larger following. It should be added that this belief is largely endemic to the United States. It is not mentioned in Catholicism (though John Paul II did mention it), Europe is largely secular at this point, and most Protestant sects do not go in for this either. Therefore, this is only going to be heard by the already converted. To me, that is a pity. It is a fascinating introduction to an esoteric subject.
Paul Johnson is a journalist turned historian. He is an excellent writer, meaning, he writes well. Given his age and education in England, he is going to form a killer sentence. He explains his theories well and gives a great narrative flow to his take on forces of history.
This book is not for everyone. It should be read widely, but given current trends in academia, it will not be. This is the opposite of A People's History of the United States. That is going to enrage some people and please others. But it is just one more voice speaking and should be heard. His grasp of history (going back to antiquity) is astonishing and seemingly nonchalant. It is amazing what he references. This is more of a history-as-biography as opposed to ideological concepts. Johnson believes history is made by individuals. And you get them in all arenas, political, ideological, and artistic.
This is a history of the western world from the 1920s (he posits that the confirmation of Einstein's theory is the beginning of the "modern" age) through the 1990s. The book derides moral relativism, defends Nixon, hates Communism, and describes the 1960s as "America's Suicide Attempt".
But he backs his theories up with abundant facts. There are some errors in the book, which is going to happen in a book this large. I do not feel they detract from the overall thesis. It is a great companion to his "A History of the American People". (The audio, which I have, is done by Nadia May, too.) A knowledge of Latin phrases is helpful.
Johnson has opinions and is not afraid to share them. I consider this more honest than a lot of histories that I read. (Read Rick Perlstein's arrogant Nixonland, and be astonished by his inherent venom toward Nixon and the implicit belief one would agree with him.) At least Johnson is explicit. You don't have to agree with him, but he presents his argument lucidly. Modern Times is therefore not objective, but what book is? He is a very religious man and blames the 20th century's "death of God" for things like fascism, Nazism, Communism, and the every-increasing power of the state filling in the vacuum left by religion. It is a book which praises the individual and not groups. His disdain for "-isms" is because they go after races, classes, groups, but does not create wealth. Johnson is an ardent capitalist.
Modern Times is also hilarious. I am not sure whether Johnson is intentionally funny or just writes so well that you find yourself laughing when he hits the nail on the head, but I laughed a lot. (If you are new to Johnson, check out his three-hour interview on C-Span's "In Depth" first. You'll get an idea from where he comes and might find the humor I did.)
This book is by a strong writer and historian and does not invite passive reading (or listening). His statements invite you to argue back, to put the book aside and ruminate on passages and theories, to get angry, to laugh. Not a bad feat.
Here is a good example. Johnson believes Lenin is the primogeniture of the horrors of the 20th century, "'Once Lenin had abolished the idea of personal guilt, and had started to 'exterminate' (a word he frequently employed) whole classes, merely on account of occupation and parentage, there was no limit to which this deadly principle might be carried. There is no essential moral difference ... between destroying a class and destroying a race. Thus the practice of genocide was born.''
Naida May is a very competent narrator. She does have a difficult time with some foreign words and phrases, as well as some names. It can be distracting at times. I think the book is better with a female voice. I also think she gets the humor of many of the passages and hits a few punchlines. The English accent also helps.
I have this both in hard copy and as an audio book. I would argue that this is a difficult book to listen to because it so easily makes one think. Next thing you know, five minutes passed without you having listened to them. This is a book of breathtaking scholarship and insight. Enjoy.
This is a great second-novel after the terse and violent Casino Royale. It is the least politically-correct novel of the series. If you can't deal with the "understood" racism in the US and UK in the 1950s, then don't read this. It will only anger you. Fleming's view of African-Americans is not enlightened except to the extend that Bond is willing to deal to achieve his ends.
The story is about a gold smuggling operation which takes Bond to Jamaica, Florida, and Harlem. There are many violent passages in the novel, again in keeping with the tone begun in the last novel.
It is interesting how Fleming's knowledge of the Cold War comes to light through his use of the Soviets using the nascent Black Power movements to further its cause. (Especially since KGB papers later released revealed how there was Communist infiltration into union and civil rights organizations.)
This novel also begins the travelogue feel that Fleming gave to his novels from his experiences as a journalist and an intelligence officer. We get a look at Idlewild Airport in the 1950s, which is interesting. Fleming's penchant for scuba also comes through.
This is another taut thriller in the tradition of the 1950s potboilers. It moves fast and is unforgiving to its characters. It is a good listen and Vance does a marvelous job narrating. I keep saying it, but I love these novels more because of the way he reads them.
This is a series of lectures on eschatology. People who have a natural inclination toward subjects like The Rapture, the Books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Revelation; Biblical prophecy, and The End Times will find this most interesting. Much of it is preaching to the choir. One should have a basic grasp of The Bible. I did not feel it was for someone new to the subject.
If you fall into the intermediate category necessary to understand what is going on, then this may be for you. I feel the author spoke in sweeping generalities and gave little example from Scripture to explain why he feels these events will occur. The lectures are: The Rapture, Fact or Fiction; The Russo-Islamic Attack of Israel, The Death of American and the Birth of a New World Order, The Appearance of the Anti-Christ: Is He Alive Today; The Glorious Appearing of Christ.
And, from what I have gleaned, he feels the answer is "yes". And that is about it. I would suggest if you are new to this subject that you check out the YouTube videos by Dr. Chuck Missler.
I should backtrack a little. This audio book is four hours long. One cannot go terribly deep in that time. Also, there is supposed to be a PowerPoint presentation to accompany this, which is not included. But I felt this was topical and without explanation for those who are new to the subject.
I keep saying this, but Simon Vance nails the tone of the novels. He has a great facility for voices and accents. He also handles foreign words and phrases well (a knowledge of French and German is very helpful in Fleming novels). Vance is able to take Fleming's narrative and make it into something unique. It is like listening to a radio drama. This novel, the first, is not for the faint of heart. It is extremely violent and noirish, almost in a Mickey Spillane tradition. Not one person in the story is worth a damn. It is a hyper-masculine novel filled with violence, sex, gambling, and drink. It does give an interesting look, I should say feeling, of what Britain was like after the devastation of WWII and how they felt about being a second-rate power after its ascendancy during the Victorian Era.
This is a no-brainer. It's James Bond. It is the first story and he is not surrounded by friends. Fleming was a journalist and his writing is very "just the facts, ma'am". Bond is much the same way.
I like the baccarat set-pieces. It is tough to make a card game tense and it was pulled off here. The torture scene is a leg-crosser.
I'll leave that to the professionals.
This novel is nice and simple and it zooms right along. It is also an interesting set-piece about Britain's view of itself and America post-WWII. No, Fleming's books are not deep, but they are a little bitter and that makes them interesting.
The narrative is terse and witty with a great narrator. Fleming was a journalist before he became a novel writer and he has the ability to craft a great story with necessary, but minimal exposition. I read all the Bond novels in seventh grade and haven't since. Listening to the novels is a lot of fun because you pick up the dry wit of Fleming a lot better.
There is a great travelogue sequence in the novel. I also like how the plot was unveiled. At no time do we know more than Bond, however, the audience is never treated poorly. Plot points are revealed naturally through exposition. Bond's internal monologue sets up the next set-piece or reveal. Fleming knows how to keep you interested. Even his bad novels, and there are a few of those, have a great narrative flow.
I love his ability to do the various voices naturally. There are a great deal of accents and foreign words and phrases in Fleming's books and Vance handles them well. He also does women's voices well, without resorting to major register-changes. Instead, he smooths out the gravel in his voice, gives a hint of accent. I actually prefer the Bond novels in audio form because of Vance. He handles exposition well. He hits beats and knows where punchlines are.
Fleming's novels rarely deal with the emotional lives of characters. In fact, I can only think of three where you may care about someone. What is fun about the novel is that it exists purely in the realm of a fantasy. Great food, drink, sex, cities, danger, gambling. And there is lots of humor. Goldfinger is just a lot of fun. But don't expect to care.
The best Bond novels are From Russia, with Love; On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever. Casino Royale is good, but so violent. If you don't care so much about the character progression, just listen to Russia. Vance reads it well and it is a great Cold War fantasy.
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